Friday, February 11, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Lookin' Under the Couch Cushions

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Friday, Feb. 11, 2011

 Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama will speak about Egypt at 1:30. Mubarak’s resignation was announced this morning and throngs of protesters across Egypt convulsed with euphoria. "In these difficult circumstances that the country is passing through, President Hosni Mubarak has decided to leave the position of the presidency," Vice President Omar Suleiman said. "He has commissioned the armed forces council to direct the issues of the state." Mubarak left the presidential palace and flew 250 miles to the Sinai resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Robert Gibbs will conduct his final daily press briefing after the president's remarks. Sunday is his last official day as Obama's spokesman, a job he’s had since the 2004 Illinois Senate campaign.

THE HOUSE: Convened at 9 and by 2 will have its last vote of the week, adopting a resolution directing committees to review all the regulations of agencies under their jurisdiction.

The Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee will give the first endorsement to legislation that would ban federal funding of abortions.

THE SENATE: In recess until 2 on Monday.

HOW FAR UNTIL THE ABYSS? Republicans are clamoring to come up with their $100 billion in proposed domestic budget cuts by the end of the day. That’s the self-imposed deadline they think they must meet in order to stay on course for pushing the package through the House next week — and thereby leaving two full weeks for negotiations with the Democratic Senate and Obama before a potential government shutdown. (They also want to draw a sharp and immediate contrast to the budget the president puts out Monday.)

The demands of GOP conservatives have the leadership looking for an additional $26 billion to cut to make good (by their math) on their “Pledge to America” promise of last fall. But the thing they’re cutting from is Obama’s budget proposal of almost a year ago — NOT from current levels of federal spending. Using that much more traditional yardstick, the GOP is working to reduce appropriations no more than $58 billion from the fiscal 2010 levels that are now being maintained via the stopgap CR that expires March 4.

Fiscal watchdog groups are splitting on whether using the new, easier math to fulfill their campaign pledge is sufficient. The Club for Growth says it is. But Americans for Limited Government says it isn’t. "A promise to cut $100 billion can only be understood as a $100 billion cut from current spending levels, or else it’s just another stunt," said Bill Wilson, the group’s president.

Democrats, meanwhile, are slackjawed at the cuts being contemplated. They are eager to be seen as budget cutters, too, and would have been willing to come close to splitting the difference on the GOP's initial proposal for $32 billion in reductions. But splitting the difference on $58 billion is an ocean away, and so if the House passes any GOP plan, compromise with the Senate is entirely impossible.

Which is why Mike Simpson, a top House appropriator, has become the first senior Republican to talk openly about the possibility of a shutdown. “That’s not something leadership wants to do. Is it a possibility? Yes, it is a possibility, but we’re going to do everything we can to make sure that doesn’t happen,” he said yesterday.

Reid and Schumer are calling today for House Republican leaders to disavow any threat of a government shutdown.

NO TICKETS ON THE EXPRESS: This week’s CPAC presidential candidate cattle call is not the only place where the tea party movement is asserting its influence. The Tea Party Express, which is positioning itself to be the most vocal and muscular of the three major camps in the movement, has now put four veteran senators (two from each party) on its 2012 target list.

The Democrats on the list — Ben Nelson and, as of yesterday, Debbie Stabenow — are not all that surprising. Both are viewed as ripe for defeat next year, assuming that Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning will make good on his plans to run and a similarly top-tier Republican is recruited in Michigan.

What’s more notable is the group’s eagerness to confront the Republican Party establishment — and put safe GOP seats in potential peril — by going after at least two veterans: Dick Lugar and, as of yesterday, Olympia Snowe. She “dishonors the notion that the Republican Party is supposed to be the fiscally conservative, constitutionalist political party in America,” said Tea Party Express Chairman Amy Kremer.

But is’s also true that Snowe, Lugar and Scott Brown are the only Republican senators up in 2012 who can be described as moderates: Snowe backed Obama 66 percent of the time last year while bucking her leadership 27 percent of the time — more, in both cases, than any other current GOP senator except her Maine colleague Susan Collins. Lugar was No. 4 among Republicans on both lists, with 55 percent presidential support and 16 percent party opposition.

And if these centrists are ousted in their own primaries in favor of down-the-line conservatives, there’s a very real chance that a Democrat could be elected instead in Maine, Massachusetts and even Indiana — making the math for a GOP takeover of the Senate in 2013 so much more difficult.

THE SWEET TALK BEGINS: Long before Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty arrived in town to make their CPAC speeches today, they were quietly but aggressively wooing members of Congress for their presidential endorsements and organizational support — as firm evidence as exists that they’re the early anchor tenants in the Republican field.

Both former governors have assembled a small team of operatives in Washington with the assignment of building the relationships that will lead to an extensive roster of senatorial and House member endorsements as soon as their candidacies are officially announced. Special emphasis is being placed on wooing Chuck Grassley, Tom Latham and Steve King in Iowa, and Kelly Ayotte, Frank Guinta and Charlie Bass in New Hampshire. And one of those efforts seems to have come up totally empty already: Ayotte, New Hampshire’s new senator, made a tart joke at Romney’s expense during her comedy routine at Thursday night’s Washington Press Club Foundation congressional dinner.

CRASH PADS: The government watchdog group known as Crew (for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington) says it knows of at least 33 House members whose congressional offices double as their D.C. living quarters — and who are thereby violating House rules, misusing congressional funds and cheating on their taxes.

“House office buildings are not dorms or frat houses,” executive director Melanie Sloan said in announcing that Crew has asked the Office of Congressional Ethics to open an investigation. Living in a House office violates the prohibition on using taxpayer resources for anything other than performing official duties, the complaint says, while House rules say a member may not spend any of his official allowance — and all of the alleged violators are men — on personal expenses. And, since IRS rules say lodging is generally a taxable fringe benefit, members sleeping in Cannon, Longworth or Rayburn  should pay taxes for imputed income based on the fair market value of Capitol Hill studio apartments — which generally are renting for between $1,000 and $2,000 a month.

The veteran Republicans on Crew’s list are Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, Jason Chaffetz, Jeff Flake, John Sullivan, Tim Walberg and back-after-two-years Steve Chabot.

The 19 GOP freshmen are Sean Duffy, Stephen Fincher, Chris Gibson, Tim Griffin, Paul Gosar, Trey Gowdy, Morgan Griffith, Richard Hanna, Joe Heck, Bill Huizenga, Bill Johnson, James Lankford, Patrick Meehan, Ben Quayle, Todd Rokita, David Schweikert, Steve Stivers, Joe Walsh and Todd Young.

The seven Democrats are Dan Boren, Luis Gutierrez, Dan Lipinski, Mike Quigley, Bobby Rush and freshmen John Carney and Hansen Clarke.

LEVY CASE: Ingmar Guandique is about to be sentenced for the murder of Chandra Levy. Her disappearance on May 1, 2001, became an international sensation once her relationship with Gary Condit came to light — and D.C. police said they viewed the California congressman as their prime suspect. He was never charged, but lost the Democratic primary for a seventh term the next year. Guandique wasn’t arrested until two years ago, while serving a 10-year sentence for attacking two other women in Rock Creek Park, where Levy’s body was found.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Two House members share a birthday with Sarah Palin (47): Democrat Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin (49) and freshman Republican Rob Woodall  of Georgia (41).

TODAY'S TWEETER: CQ reporter Frances Symes (@dc2101).

— David Hawkings, editor

Become a Facebook fan at facebook.com/DavidHawkingsDC. Or follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/davidhawkings.

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Editor's Picks From The CQ Roll Call Newsroom

Tea Party Express Names Snowe as Its Next Target (Roll Call)

The Maine Republican has irritated her state's small and disjointed tea party movement for her willingness to work with Democrats. » View full article

Romney, Pawlenty Assembling Hill Teams for 2012 (Roll Call)

For the two former governors, House and Senate members from early primary states will be of particular importance. » View full article

Congress Eyes Cuts to the VA (CQ Weekly)

Lawmakers have made it clear that despite two wars, the department won't be getting the kinds of increases it's gotten used to — and it will be lucky to hold its budget near current levels. » View full article

House GOP Searches for Ways to Hit Its Budget Goal (CQ Budget Tracker)

Finding the $100 billion in savings demanded by House budget hawks could be difficult. » View full article

Lawmakers Seek Reassurance in Face of Unfolding Egyptian Unrest (CQ Today)

John McCain called yesterday for rapid regime change, while members of two House panels asked officials about how the Obama administration is positioned to handle the situation in Cairo. » View full article
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Thursday, February 10, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Growing Up Fast

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Thursday, Feb. 10, 2011

 Today In Washington

THE SENATE: Convenes at 4 for a few speeches and almost certainly nothing more.

Minority Whip Jon Kyl will announce in Arizona this afternoon that he will not run for a fourth term next year. The Senate seat is almost certain to stay in Republican hands. The potential candidates to succeed Kyl as the No. 2 GOP leader are Lamar Alexander, John Cornyn and John Thune.

THE HOUSE: Convenes at noon and will adopt a resolution directing its committees to review how current and proposed federal regulations affect jobs and the economy.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is on his way to Northern Michigan University in Marquette, where he’ll promote his proposal for expanding access to high-speed wireless to 98 percent of the population in the next five years.

Obama also may address Mubarak’s apparent decision to resign. (Air Force One is due to land just before noon.) CIA Director Leon Panetta told a House Intelligence hearing this morning that such an announcement is expected within hours.

MAN WITH A PLAN: The Speaker is explaining to the Capitol Hill press corps this morning how his team plans to start doing a better job of counting votes for legislation and gauging dissatisfaction from within the GOP ranks. And — as Exhibit A for his case that the new majority is through making rookie mistakes — he’ll point to a significant change in strategy for the coming budget debate. (The House in-basket still contains all three moderately important bills the Republicans counted on passing easily this week: to maintain aid to trade-afflicted workers, keep counterterrorism laws in place and demand money back from the U.N.)

Yesterday’s trial balloon from the Appropriations Committee — details of $41 billion in proposed domestic discretionary spending cuts for the rest of this year — was shot down in a conservative fusillade, even though the appropriators offered up $9 billion more in cuts than they were required to make. GOP budget hawks made it abundantly clear they’d spurn the package outright unless it got much, much closer to their ballyhooed $100 billion campaign-promise target. (As written, the plan calls for a 9 percent reduction in nondefense, discretionary spending below current levels.)

And so it’s back to the drawing board today. The leadership is in discussions on assembling $100 million in cuts with the conservative Republican Study Committee, which counts two-thirds of the House majority caucus in its ranks; the arguably even-more-conservative group of 87 freshmen; and the Appropriations Committee.

But that process may last into the weekend, meaning a delay of plans to open the headline-grabbing budget cut debate in the House at essentially the same time as Obama’s rival budget submission.

The current CR, which is funding the entire government at fiscal 2010 levels, expires three weeks from tomorrow. And there’s no way a year-ending deal can be assembled in that time if the House presses ahead with deeper cuts, of course, because those will make the package an even deader letter than it already is in the Democratic Senate.  

HOW TO KEEP YOUR HOUSE SEAT: There are two big reasons why Chris Lee was transformed in less than an afternoon from a prince in the Republican House (with a brand-new seat on Ways and Means) to just the sort of out-of-work toad he’d promised his potential Craigslist paramour that he wouldn’t be. Both things should be cautionary for other lawmakers out on the prowl:

One is that Boehner already had made clear he was going to insist on the political death penalty, and very quickly — because he has no patience for colleagues whose moral transgressions threaten to hinder the advancement of “the team.” (Remember how long Mark Souder lasted in his Indiana seat after his parked-car affair with an aide was exposed last spring?) And that will be especially true for Republicans who have been warned by the leadership that their behavior is bordering on out-of-bounds. During the height of the fall campaign, upstate New York’s Lee, Omaha’s Lee Terry and a handful of others were told by Boehner to “knock it off” because their carousing with female lobbyists was drawing serious gossip and ridicule.

The other reason is that (apparently in a misguided effort to draw less attention to his social life) Lee was steering clear of the downtown steakhouses and instead had gone online. Which meant, inevitably, that there would be a picture. The sight of his flexed right bicep and hirsute chest on every cable news station in the world was in no way survivable, politically. But any photographic evidence of a congressman stepping out will be a career-ender. There’s no doubt that if Larry Craig had been snapped in that airport men’s room he would not have been able to serve out his senate term — and that if David Vitter had been filmed leaving a New Orleans cathouse, or Jon Ensign had been photographed with his chief of staff’s wife, they would not be senators today.

THE KING AND WHO? There’s little suspense about whether Lee’s district —  which connects the Rochester and Buffalo suburbs and has previously been represented by GOP political powers Bill Paxon and Tom Reynolds — will stay in GOP hands in the special election. It’s true that for most of 2009 and 2010, it was just “the King and I,” as Lee used to say in noting that he and Long island’s peter King were the only Republican congressmen from New York. But the 13 percentage point margin that McCain racked up there is not so wide that it couldn’t theoretically be breached by a top-tier Democrat.

It’s a longshot, though, to be sure — and a much longer shot at this point than the party’s OK-but-wobbly odds of retaining its Senate majority next fall. The GOP needs to pick up a net of four seats to be guaranteed of a takeover in 2012 (and only three if a Republican vice president is elected next year) and the party now can bank on only two of them: the seat Kent Conrad is leaving open in North Dakota and (unless Tim Kaine runs) the seat Jim Webb is leaving open in Virginia. Beyond those, the seats of Ben Nelson in Nebraska, Jon Tester in Montana and Claire McCaskill in Missouri are looking riper for the GOP by the day, but all three of those incumbents have plenty of centrist fight left in them. And whatever seats the GOP might take away could be offset by two big-time potential Democratic pickups — Scott Brown’s seat in Massachusetts and John Ensign’s in Nevada.

MITCH’S MOMENT: Tea party House members Michele Bachmann, Kristi Noem and Raul Labrador dominated the podium this morning as the Conservative Political Action Conference got under way at the Marriott Wardman Park. And one of the movement’s favored senators, Rand Paul, has a prominent speaking time at mid-afternoon.

But one of the lunchtime slots has gone to Kentucky’s other senator. “It’s because you stood by your principles that we’ve now got Speaker Boehner instead of Speaker Pelosi,” McConnell says in his prepared text. “It’s because you stood by your principles that we’re having a serious debate in Washington right now about how much to cut, not how much to spend.”

Among the potential presidential candidates, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum will address the group this afternoon. Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain and Mitch Daniels will speak tomorrow. And Haley Barbour appears on Saturday morning. (The most prominent no-shows are Sarah Palin, and Mike Huckabee.)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Republican Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina (68).

TODAY’S TWEETER: CQ’s managing editor for enterprise reporting, John Cranford (@jcranford).

— David Hawkings, editor

Become a Facebook fan at facebook.com/DavidHawkingsDC. Or follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/davidhawkings.

-----

Editor's Picks From The CQ Roll Call Newsroom

Boehner Faces First Defections (Roll Call)

GOP leaders disputed the notion that they had lost control of the caucus. » View full article

Conservatives Spurn Spending Plan (CQ Today)

Once again, the House GOP's most demanding fiscal hawks changed the course of their party's agenda. » View full article

Is the Tweet the New Sound Bite? (Congress.org)

Which came first: the speech or the tweet? Obama's recent use of Twitter while giving speeches shows a shift in speechwriting. » View full article

GOP Hungry for New Menu (CQ Weekly)

It's not just the bills and the hearings that are different in the House these days. » View full article

Webb Out, Senate Map Tilts to GOP (Roll Call)

The National Republican Senatorial Committee immediately gloated after the Virginia Democrat said he would retire. » View full article
-----

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dailybriefing@cqrollcall.com

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Wednesday, February 09, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Two for Two

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2011

 Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama and Biden are having lunch in the West Wing at 12:30 with Boehner, Cantor and McCarthy — the first such meeting since those three became the top leaders of the new House majority a month ago.

The Republicans are expecting to emerge with some detailed insight into the presidential budget coming out on Monday — including its plans for ending taxpayer support for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and a set of ideas for easing the states’ budgetary woes, including forgiving $3.6 billion in interest payments during the next two years on money states borrowed to pay jobless benefits.

THE HOUSE: Convenes at noon and will debate a bill (borne from the GOP’s YouCut program) that seeks the return of $179 million in overpayments to the U.N.

The GOP is pressing its efforts to alter health care policy on three fronts: An Energy and Commerce subcommittee has a hearing on legislation to ban taxpayer funding of abortions; Education and the Workforce considers the economic effects of the health care law; and Judiciary marks up a bill to limit medical malpractice litigation.

THE SENATE: In recess while the Democrats continue their annual agenda-setting and strategy retreat in Charlottesville.

Virginia Democrat Jim Webb announced that he will not run for a second term, creating another big pickup opportunity for the GOP.

THE TEMPORARY DEFECTORS: Republican leaders are scrambling to recover from a pair of significant tactical miscalculations yesterday that exposed their rustiness in running the House as well as the surprising challenges from conservative troops awaiting at almost every turn.

The most dramatic mistake was exposed last night when the GOP leadership was rebuffed on the House floor — because 26 of their own members (eight of them freshmen) voted against what was supposed to have been a noncontroversial and short-term extension of three laws designed to ease the hunt for terrorists. Because 122 Democrats also voted “no,” the bill did not get the two-thirds majority required for passage — a threshold set by the Republican leaders themselves, because they thought the legislation was such an easy lift that it would pass under the “suspension of the rules” process.

Of course, the GOP leaders will be able to pass the bill when they bring it back under regular procedures. But in the meantime, what they’ve been reminded of is the old Politics 101 lesson about ideology being more of a circle in many ways than a straight-line continuum: Eventually, the views of the left and the right often connect up.

And so it is when it comes to civil liberties. The sort of libertarian conservatism that’s at the heart of the tea party movement — and which more and more of the GOP rank and file is embracing — is all about warding off the reach of government into personal space. So aggressive wiretap authority, the ability to seize library and business records and wide-reaching surveillance power don’t sound any better to those Republicans than to ACLU liberals.

Which is why Ohio Democrat Dennis Kucinich struck a chord when he urged GOP conservatives to show their anger at Big Brother by opposing a bill to perpetuate the Patriot Act. The freshmen who then voted “no” were: Amash, Fitzpatrick, Gibson, Hultgren, Labrador, Schilling, Schweikert and Woodall. The other Republicans were Bartlett, Bishop, Broun, Campbell, Duncan of Tennessee, Graves of Georgia, Heller, Johnson of Illinois, Jones, Kingston, Mack, Marchant, McClintock, Paul, Rehberg, Roe, Rohrabacher and Young of Alaska.

THE OTHER MISCALCULATION: GOP leaders also assumed that this bound-to-be-rebellious rank and file would swallow a program it doesn’t like (benefits for people who lose their jobs because of imports) even for a few months in order to get something it does like (liberalized trade with South America). So many conservatives railed against that idea yesterday that the package was pulled off the House schedule — which means the Senate has nothing to do tomorrow night, when it was expecting to clear it by voice vote.

But the Obama administration was nonetheless laying down an  ambitious and definitive timeline on several key trade deals today. At the Ways and Means Committee,  U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk asked  Congress to vote on the South Korea agreement this spring and pushed for resolution on similar deals with Colombia and Panama by the end of the year.

BACK TO THAT OTHER REBELLION: In addition, two Republicans have cast the first votes against their House leadership’s $32 billion goal for domestic budget cuts this year, saying it’s not nearly deep enough. Arizona’s Jeff Flake and Wyoming’s Cynthia Lummis offered a preview of next week’s spending cut debate when they joined a united Democratic bloc in opposing the new spending target at the Appropriations Committee yesterday. (Among those endorsing the target were the three GOP freshmen on the panel : Kevin Yoder of Kansas, Steve Womack of Arkansas and Alan Nunnelee of Missisippi.)

BAD TIMING? Obama apparently will climb aboard the “dump Fannie and Freddie” bandwagon in his budget, proposing several alternatives to replace the troubled mortgage giants. While this idea has been gaining traction — even Barney Frank says they have to go — Fannie and Freddie still play a substantial role in keeping mortgages affordable for most Americans. If interest rates on home loans rise, the still-weak housing market will have trouble regaining its footing — and the latest news reinforces that point. The Mortgage Bankers Association reported this morning that applications for home loans, both for purchases and for refinancing, declined in the past week and are trending lower as interest rates are already starting to rise. And there’s no end in sight to the wave of foreclosures that’s still sweeping residential markets in many parts of the country.

DEFENSE BUMP: The Republicans who want to cut much deeper than their leadership (and thereby guarantee, should they succeed, an indefinitely postponed end to this year’s budget battle) will now have one other bit of political pressure to contemplate: Any delay in the domestic spending debate also will mean a delay in a small spending increase for the Pentagon — which even the most fiscally conservative Republicans say they’re in favor of.

That’s because the bill the House will debate next week would give Defense Secretary Gates what he wants: a fully detailed allocation of military spending for the rest of fiscal 2011. (He says that operating under a CR for the entire year would be too disruptive for the Pentagon). The measure that’s been drafted to would provide $518 billion, a 2 percent increase above fiscal 2010. (It also would allocate $450 million for continued work on the alternative F-35 engine — which Gates says he doesn’t want.)

THEY’LL KEEP THIS MONEY: One area of federal spending that’s likely to remain immune from any cut: the retirement benefits for former members of Congress, which are expected to top $26 million this year. Rep. Howard Coble, the North Carolina Republican who’s been crusading against the benefits for years, concedes that even in the current climate he sees no reason for optimism. (As evidence, he notes that only two of the House’s fiscally conservative freshmen, Illinois Republicans Bobby Schilling and Joe Walsh, have made any noise about trying to opt out of the benefits, which for newcomers like them are the same as for other federal government retirees.)

QUOTE OF NOTE: “From all of the women in my husband’s life, we want him to be healthy. He’s worked hard at it,” Michelle Obama said this morning on NBC’s “Today” in describing the pressure the president’s family had applied to get him to stop smoking. “It’s been almost a year.”

She also says her 49-year-old husband “cares very little about his appearance” and doesn’t color his “pretty gray” hair — although he might have started doing so a decade ago had he known then that he’d be running for president someday.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Perhaps not coincidentally, Webb is 65 today. Other birthdays: Democratic Rep. Jay Inslee of Washington (60); and House GOP freshmen Renee Ellmers of North Carolina (47) and Todd Rokita of Indiana (41).

— David Hawkings, editor

Become a Facebook fan at facebook.com/DavidHawkingsDC. Or follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/davidhawkings.

-----

Editor's Picks From The CQ Roll Call Newsroom

Democrats Retreat to Beef Up Agenda (Roll Call)

The three-day confab at the Boar's Head Inn resort will focus on polishing the caucus's approach to job growth. » View full article

Five States to Watch (Congress.org)

The last three election cycles have shown that decades-old patterns are starting to break. In 2012, Arkansas, Colorado, North Carolina, Nevada and Minnesota should be interesting. » View full article

Health Care Law's Legal Saga Comes to a Point (CQ Weekly)

The cases are generating public interest in what might otherwise be a largely academic and narrow debate over constitutional law — and whether the Commerce Clause, in granting Congress the power to regulate economic activity, applies to health insurance. » View full article

Former Members Get Millions From Pensions (Roll Call)

Lawmakers elected after 1984 are covered by the Federal Employees Retirement System. Those elected before then are in the Civil Service Retirement System. » View full article

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Tuesday was the worst day on the House floor for the new majority. » View full article

Conservatives Flex Muscle in House (CQ Today)

It was the first test of Republican Conference's unity, and conservatives decided they couldn't support a measure to aid workers whose jobs or wages are harmed by imports. » View full article
-----

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dailybriefing@cqrollcall.com

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Tuesday, February 08, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Deregulatory Derby

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2011

 Today In Washington

THE SENATE: Convened at 10 and has finished for the week after voting 96-1 to drop aviation research language from the FAA reauthorization bill that could have spawned a turf battle with NASA. (The reason the debate is moving at a snail’s pace is a standoff over whether to add more long-distance flights in and out of Reagan National; Reid said today that he’d move to cut off debate early next week if a deal isn't struck.) The Finance Committee, meanwhile, completed a section of the bill that would raise more revenue for airport improvements and air traffic control modernization.

The minimalist legislative week is so Democrats can head to Charlottesville to start their annual strategy retreat. Republicans are having their regular weekly caucus over lunch.

Democrats Tom Carper, Mark Udall and Michael Bennet joined Republicans John McCain, Rob Portman and Dan Coats to propose legislation this morning that would boost the president’s power — some call it a line-item veto, others enhanced rescission — to unilaterally stop the flow of congressionally endorsed money to programs he doesn’t like.

THE HOUSE: Convenes at 2 to debate a pair of bills GOP leaders views as non-controversial. (Votes won’t happen before 6:30.)

One measure would extend for nine months three counterterrorism provisions of the Patriot Act that are set to expire at the end of the month — roving wiretap authority, broad power to seize business records and an expanded surveillance program. The other bill would extend the Trade Adjustment Assistance program and trade preferences for Colombia and Ecuador until June.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama has a series of Oval Office meetings with senior administration officials but no public events planned.

CHAMBER MUSIC: The battle over the budget is giving way, at least for a few days, to the battle over regulation.

Starting Monday, when Obama’s budget is released, he and the GOP will be concentrating on persuading the public that their recipe for fiscal discipline is the best. But for the rest of this week, the tussle between the president and the new House majority is for the hearts and minds of the business community.

That’s why Obama went across Lafayette Square to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce headquarters yesterday — not with a fence-mending fruitcake, as he joked, but with a promise that his regulatory review would be aggressive in rooting out unnecessary and outdated rules. And it’s why Republicans are working to up the ante today, when the Rules Committee will consider a resolution instructing all House committees to prepare a list of regulations that limit economic productivity and job creation and ought to be wiped off the books.

Darrell Issa got the House GOP regulatory drive off the ground even before he got the House Oversight gavel, when he put out a call to American businesses to send in their gripes. And yesterday he released the first 2,000 pages of what he heard — which had a heavy emphasis on disdain for the EPA.

The likely long-term outlook for all this is a net zero, because whatever rules the House Republicans try to do away with as overzealous and meddling will be successfully defended by the Democratic Senate majority and the president as necessary to public health and safety. So businesses hoping for an early legislative present from Captiol Hill will be able to look for nothing beyond the coming repeal of the 1099 IRS reporting requirement.

MORE RED AHEAD: The deficit for the first third of this fiscal year was $424 billion, CBO estimated yesterday. While that’s $7 billion below the comparable figure a year ago, the deficit for the year appears headed to a record high if current law remains the same, CBO said. Spending for Medicaid is up 8 percent, while net interest on the debt is up 9 percent, “reflecting the substantial growth in the national debt over the past year.” On the other side of the ledger, revenues are up 9 percent, mostly because higher wages and salaries have boosted individual income and social insurance tax receipts.

CALIFORNIA DREAMING: Congressional seats in Los Angeles don’t come open very often. So it’s a sure bet that several million dollars will be spent by the candidates and their backers in the special election to replace Jane Harman in a district that (at least until next year, when redistricting kicks in) connects Venice Beach and Torrance along the Pacific Coast.

The timing can’t be set until Harman’s departure date for the Wilson Center is locked down, but it’s almost certainly this summer. And it will be the first special election held under a new state law in which the top two finishers in the first round, even if they’re from the same party, move on to a runoff unless somebody gets an outright majority in the primary.

The district has been reliably Democratic for the past decade (Obama 64 percent, Kerry 59 percent) and so the initial handicapping would be that both premier candidates getting ready for the race would square off in the finals: Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn and California Secretary of State Debra Bowen, who previously represented much of the district as a state legislator. A potential wildcard is liberal activist Marcy Winograd, who took 41 percent against Harman in the 21010 primary.

Republicans are for now insisting they have an upset opportunity, especially if businessman Damon Dunn (who lost the secretary of state race to Bowen last fall) goes after the seat. Mattie Fein, who took just 35 percent as the GOP nominee against Harman three months ago, may also try again.

EGYPT EVOLUTION: Egypt is still taking much of the administration’s attention as the protests in Tahrir Square continued for a 15th day, but it has become increasingly clear that Obama is giving up on any effort to persuade Mubarak to resign immediately. Instead, his team’s new position is that a precipitous departure by the embattled Egyptian president could backfire on U.S. efforts to help engineer a democratic transition.

But the administration’s more deliberative and patient efforts will succeed only if Congress backs away from any effort to cut off the $1.5 billion in annual aid to Egypt — a movement that’s been fading among Democrats but could gain traction among Republicans, who see all foreign aid as ripe for reduction in the pursuit of a smaller deficit.

QUOTE OF NOTE: “Freezes aren’t going to cut it,” McConnell said on the Senate floor this morning — six words that seem destined to serve as the Republican bumper sticker talking point in their coming battle with Obama over discretionary domestic spending.

THE FIELD (AMENDED): Due to a brain freeze, yesterday’s odds on the likelihood that various Republicans will run for president omitted three of them: Put Jon Huntsman in the 67 percent likely category, and both Jeb Bush and Jim DeMint in the 10 percent chance group.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Republican Rep. Gus Bilirakis of Florida (48)

— David Hawkings, editor

Become a Facebook fan at facebook.com/DavidHawkingsDC. Or follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/davidhawkings.

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Editor's Picks From The CQ Roll Call Newsroom

Harman's Departure Tees Up First Special (Roll Call)

Just hours after the retirement was announced, big-name California Democrats were kicking the tires on a special-election candidacy. » View full article

Everybody Has a Rule They Hate (Roll Call)

More than 200 corporations, associations and mom-and-pops handed in their homework to Darrell Issa: listing the regulations they can't stand. » View full article

Fight Over Regulations Intensifies (CQ Today)

The president says he's willing to give a few inches on federal regulation to help out business. Some Republicans, though, are thinking about miles. » View full article

Plan Would Give Obama Power to Cut (CQ Today)

Sens. McCain and Carper want to hand the White House some new scissors to pitch in with budget trimming. » View full article

Political Economy: To Catch a Cheat (CQ Weekly)

Cheaters are a big cause of the tax gap, but they're getting off easy in the rush to repeal the 1099 requirement. » View full article

Congress Q&A: Foreign Aid (Congress.org)

The Egypt crisis has brought foreign aid into the spotlight -- so here's a glance at where the money goes. » View full article
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dailybriefing@cqrollcall.com

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Monday, February 07, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Game On

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Monday, Feb. 7, 2011

 Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: In a speech at 11:30 at U.S. Chamber of Commerce headquarters, Obama is reprising the theme of this week’s radio address: “If we make America the best place to do business, businesses should make their mark here in America,” he said Saturday. “They should set up shop here, and hire our workers, and pay decent wages and invest in the future of this nation. That’s their obligation.”

THE SENATE: Convenes at 2 to resume debate on the aviation bill. In the evening it will confirm the first three new federal trial court judges of the year: Marco Hernandez of Hillsboro, Ore., Paul Kinloch Holmes III of Fort Smith, Ark., and Diana Saldana of Laredo, Texas.

THE HOUSE: In recess until 2 tomorrow.

Jane Harman is expected to announce her resignation to become director of the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. (Former Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana is retiring from that post.) Harman’s Los Angeles-area seat, where she just started her ninth term, can be counted on to remain Democratic in a special election.

PICKING THEIR PIECES: This is the week when the year’s big budget-cutting game of “Can You Top This?” is supposed to enter the national consciousness in a big way — and overshadow, at least for a while, the partisan bickering over health care and maybe even the no-end-in-sight standoff in Egypt.

The shape of the game board won’t become clear for another week, when Obama unveils his budget for fiscal 2012 — which starts in October — and then the House debates changes in spending for the final seven months of this fiscal year. (By law, the president’s budget is supposed to come out today, but there’s no penalty for missing the deadline and many other presidents have been late with their fiscal blueprints.) So this is going to be a week of spinning, with the White House and the House GOP each working to convince the public that it has the better tough-love priorities for domestic spending cuts.

Jack Lew was first out of the box yesterday, promising in a New York Times op-ed that Obama’s budget would propose cuts to “scores” of programs in order to allow increases to some others while still realizing an overall freeze in domestic spending. The OMB chief went so far as to name three cuts in the budget designed to save $775 million — to a community service program, a Great Lakes ecology program and the community development block grants program.

Those specifics give Obama a bit of a PR edge at least until the end of the week, when Republican House appropriators will roll out their line-by-line ideas for trimming $32 billion from the levels of domestic spending that have been set through March 4, when the current stopgap CR expires. That plan will be put on the House floor next week, when conservatives will be able to offer amendments that would push the cumulative cut toward $100 billion.

An initial Senate stalemate over the cuts is inevitable because Reid has labeled the $32 billion number “unworkable.” McConnell, however, says all 47 Republicans will go to bat for whatever cuts the House passes — and they could be joined by a pivotal handful of Democrats looking at tough 2012 re-election races. Eleven of the most conservative GOP senators, meanwhile, are vowing to try to get the cuts to $100 billion if their House counterparts aren't able to.

TV ROOM: Figuring out new ways to exploit social media may be all the rage for congressional flacks, but it’s still true for almost all lawmakers that a big national TV hit creates by far the best public relations bang they could hope for.

Which is why Boehner has been working in recent weeks to make the House a somewhat more TV-friendly place. While he’s rebuffed C-Span’s perennial push to get its own cameras installed in the chamber, the Speaker says he’s open to allowing TV reporters some access to the House floor — maybe even to do live shots during particularly high-profile debates.

After three meetings between his staff and the Radio and Television Correspondents’ Association, Boehner has told the notoriously camera-shy Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Livingood to try to work out the fine print of rules that would allow TV reporters some floor access and create three new stakeout locations for camera crews near the House floor. “Enhancing opportunities for media coverage can make the House more open and transparent to the American people,” Boehner said in a letter to the radio and TV committee on Thursday.

What’s not exactly clear is how that sentiment squares with the letter he sent the same day to C-Span CEO Brian Lamb rejecting the network’s proposal to install robotic cameras that could film people in the chamber who were not speaking. (The cameras from which C-Span now gets its footage are fixed on the podiums in the room and controlled by the House.) Boehner’s rationale was that lawmakers should be able to count on the fact “that when they step up to speak, the nation is watching.”

PARLOR GAME: The Iowa caucuses are scheduled for Reagan’s 101st birthday — Feb. 6, 2012, or one day less than a year from now. That date will hold unless some other states try to position their contests earlier on the calendar.

That year-from-now marker — and the three-day gathering of the most influential voices of both the socially right and the tea party movement at the Conservative Political Action Conference, which convenes Thursday at the Marriott Wardman Park — are reminders of how fluid the Republican presidential field remains. (In early February of 2007, by contrast, the fields for both nominations were essentially set and four candidates — McCain, Romney, Clinton and Obama — had already established themselves as lasting front-runners.)

But these days, there remains an extraordinary level of mystery about who will actually decide to run. It creates an opportunity for this assessment about which of the people who have been pondering a presidential quest are likeliest to actually get in, and which of them are likeliest to end up staying away. Based on everything they’ve said and done — and not said or not done — this is the way it looks:

• 99 percent sure to run: Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum.
• 80 percent likely: Haley Barber, Newt Gingrich.
• 67 percent likely: Mitch Daniels.
• 40 percent chance: Mike Huckabee, Michele Bachmann.
• 33 percent chance: Sarah Palin.
• 10 percent chance: John Thune, Ron Paul, Donald Trump, Rick Perry.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl of Wisconsin (76), House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings of Washington (70), and these three House GOP freshmen: Allen West of Florida (50), Michael Grimm of New York (41) and Stephen Fincher of Tennessee (38).

— David Hawkings, editor

Become a Facebook fan at facebook.com/DavidHawkingsDC. Or follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/davidhawkings.

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Editor's Picks From The CQ Roll Call Newsroom

Social Issues Still Drive GOP Base (Congress.org)

Many leaders say abortion and gay marriage are still the primary concerns of the conservative vote. » View full article

Tea Party Freshmen Take Center Stage at Annual Meeting (Roll Call)

CPAC will be hearing from many newcomers; the conference's organizers say it's a also chance for those tea partyers to meet the larger conservative movement. » View full article

Keeping Cuts at Bay (CQ Weekly)

K Street's earmark experts are playing lots of defense as Congress looks to curtail the practice. » View full article

Suddenly, Cairo Gets Complicated (CQ Weekly)

The historic uprising in Egypt has forced the White House to consider the plight of protesters, the value of Mubarak and the growing concerns of Congress. » View full article

With Mandate Imperiled, Lawmakers Consider Alternatives (CQ HealthBeat)

Such contingency planning seemed unnecessary just a few months ago. » View full article

Social Media Goes Viral on Capitol Hill (Roll Call)

The role of social media in congressional leaders' messaging and outreach has expanded over the past few years — but there's a divide between the savvy and those still in the dark. » View full article
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David Hawkings
dailybriefing@cqrollcall.com

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