Friday, February 18, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Read My Lips

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Friday, Feb. 18, 2011

 Today In Washington

THE HOUSE: Convened at 9 and appears on course for final passage of the $1 trillion, seven-month spending package sometime tonight. Talk of a Saturday session has been fading, even though all sides agreed late last night to allow up to 23 more hours of debate on as many as 129 more amendments.

Three amendments are getting the lion’s share of attention. One would cut all federal family planning aid. Another would prohibit any spending to implement last year’s health care overhaul. The last would impose an additional $20 billion in cuts from current levels (on top of the $61 billion in the legislation), which the conservative Republican Study Committee says would accomplish its goal of bringing non-security spending down to 2008 levels.

THE SENATE: Senators have started their Presidents Day recess and won’t convene again until Monday, Feb. 28, when they’ll begin debating a patent law overhaul.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is flying from San Francisco to Portland. He’ll tour an Intel semiconductor factory in Hillsboro and meet with student finalists in the company’s talent search before a 2:30 speech. He’s due back in Washington at 8:30.

CLOSING TIME: Government shutdown brinkmanship got off to an unexpectedly rollicking start yesterday, but it will fade for a few days while both parties suss out their answer to the following question: How small of a very temporary spending cut will Democrats have to permit for Republicans to be able to trumpet their first clear-cut triumph on budget restraint?

Since elections have consequences, and the Republicans won shared control of the government last fall, they’re entitled to demand at least an initial victory. Since the Democrats have plenty of torque left in the legislative system, they’re entitled to insist that their acquiescence in a GOP win be mostly symbolic. And the need for another stopgap spending bill affords both sides the opportunity to get what they want. It will probably last just two weeks — from March 4, when the current CR expires, until March 18, the start of another weeklong congressional recess.

Republicans will want that measure to dictate an across-the-board cut to non-security spending. They’ll probably push for 12 percent, to match the amount in the comprehensive measure now before the House. But they’ll probably be willing to keep the government open if they get a smaller cut for those two weeks (5 percent, say), on the condition that — if the final fiscal 2011 deal isn’t made sometime in March — the next stopgap will impose a deeper across-the-board cut.

Reid may well go along. His response to Boehner’s shutdown threat yesterday was not to unilaterally oppose any cut — but only to lament that “he’s resorting to threats to do just that without any negotiations.”

In the 15 years since the last government shutdown, the conventional wisdom in both parties has been that Washington should never, ever let that happen again. And that thinking will ultimately prevail again this year. Democrats don’t want the doors to social service agencies and environmental regulators to get locked, even for a day or two. More importantly, Republicans don’t want the sort of public relations drubbing they endured after the 1995 and 1996 shutdowns. Bill Clinton was so successful in portraying the Gingrich revolutionaries as heartless and cavalier that he muted their first-year-in-the-majority momentum and kick-started what had been his own uphill drive for re-election.

The last thing the GOP wants is to afford Obama the same opportunity. Which is why, just maybe, Boehner was sending a subtle (or even subliminal) signal yesterday when he echoed the most famous broken promise in modern Republican history — George Bush’s 1988 presidential campaign vow to never allow a tax increase. “Read my lips: We are going to cut spending,” the Speaker said in delivering his shutdown threat.

K STREET DEAD ENDS: Whatever side you’re on in this week’s great House spending debate, it’s hard to argue about one thing: It’s been great. Great political theater. A great civics lesson. A great range of federal agencies being challenged in public, from the NEA to the IRS. A great percentage of roll calls that are NOT falling on party lines, as GOP moderates bond with Democrats to ward off some of the deepest possible cuts. A great display of the legislative process at its most robust and its most nuanced. (There have even been some great uses of points of order!) Veteran lawmakers and freshmen alike showing great stamina — three nights in a row after midnight — and great preparation.

But it hasn’t been so great for K Street. It’s totally out of practice for the current exercise, which relies on quickly written amendments and rapidly executed legislative tactical maneuvers. Lobbyists and advocates are at their best when they’re fighting rear-guard actions, working behind the scenes to get the language they want laced into the legislative depths — and what they don’t want bottled up in committee for months.

Lobbyists persuade lawmakers to do their bidding over weeks of carefully choreographed meetings — an approach that can’t be applied when most House members are hanging around the floor for hours at a time. And these advocates solicit the help of Hill staff with a steady stream of e-mails and policy briefing books — an approach that’s pointless when there are several hundred proposals, arguments and counterarguments flooding in-boxes all at once.

CUTTING ROOM FLOOR: What’s also been less than great is the amount of attention paid to the House’s approach to cutting its own budget. The bill’s target is 13 percent — plus some more savings, potentially, from ending the “Green the Capitol” initiative so ballyhooed by Pelosi over the past four years.

But dozens of domestic programs would be cut much more. And, while business lobbyists are having a tough time getting members’ attention, insider lawmakers are working hard out on the floor to make sure there’s no more tinkering with congressional operations.

That’s one reason why a largely symbolic effort to make the House “Buy American” more often was quietly put to death without a vote. And it’s why Dan Lungren of California, the so-called mayor of the House, will likely win his argument that any more cuts would endanger the lawmakers themselves by compromising Capitol security.


TRAIL TIPS: (1) Janet Napolitano doesn’t seem likely to run for Arizona’s open Senate seat. The state’s former governor and attorney general “is devoting her time to getting the job done that the president asked her to do,” her spokesman at the Homeland Security Department, Matthew Chandler, said yesterday. But he did not categorically rule out the possibility she’d change her mind about trying to succeed the retiring GOP whip, Jon Kyl. Other names being mentioned by Democratic state leaders — other than their dream candidate, Gabby Giffords — include Rep. Ed Pastor, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon and Felecia Rotellini, last year’s candidate nominee for state attorney general.

(2) The Minnesota Republican Party will host a GOP presidential candidate cattle call in Bloomington the second weekend in October. It will be an ideal forum for both Tim Pawlenty and Michele Bachmann to bask in the applause of their home-state Republican friends — and for each to try to position themselves as their state’s favorite son or daughter. The former governor has a much deeper statewide organization, and a firmer commitment to seek the White House, and so the event will be a moment for Bachmann to test whether her tea party appeal close to home can help catapult her into the top ranks of the presidential field.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Deserving good wishes today — we were a day ahead of ourselves yesterday — are House Democrat Eliot Engel of New York (64) and House Republicans Steve Womack of Arkansas (54) and Brett Guthrie of Kentucky (47). For the record, celebrating on Thursday were Republicans Randy Forbes of Virginia (59) and Jim Jordan of Ohio (47).


SCHEDULING NOTE: With both the House and Senate in recess, there won’t be a Daily Briefing next week. We will resume publishing on Monday, Feb. 28.

— 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

Hill Bracing for Shutdown Showdown (CQ Today)

Boehner says even a short-term spending bill will need some cuts, or the government will turn off the lights in two weeks. » View full article

House Votes to Kill 'Green the Capitol' Initiative (Roll Call)

Pelosi's eco-minded effort has been pitched on the compost heap as part of the spending debate. » View full article

Republicans Take Aim at IRS With Budget Cuts (CQ Today)

The House GOP looks to take a chunk out of the agency's budget with hopes of a trickle-down effect on policy. » View full article

GOP's 'Tuesday Group' expands (CQ Weekly)

It seems the demise of the centrist Republican may be greatly exaggerated. » View full article

'Buy American' Rules: Patriotic, but Not Pragmatic (Roll Call)

Your gifts with purchase: confusing conditions and bureaucratic nightmares. » View full article

D.C. Decoder's Guide to Watching C-SPAN (Congress.org)

Craig Crawford cuts through the jargon to explain the procedural mess on everyone's favorite cable channel. » View full article
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Thursday, February 17, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Cut and Run

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011

 Today In Washington

THE HOUSE: Convened at 9 (after going home for the night at 3:43 this morning) with only an outside hope of a final vote by tonight on the midyear spending bill.

The only way to limit the debate on several hundred potential amendments is a unanimous agreement — hard to come by because Boehner has made so much of his commitment to an open debate, and because Democrats aren’t eager to allow the $61 billion or more in cuts to pass any sooner than they have to. (In a series of 13 rapid-fire roll calls this morning, the House rejected proposals to cut off all funding for the National Labor Relations Board and halve what's left in the bill for Amtrak.)

Before returning to the appropriations package, the House voted 279-143 to clear a 90-day extension of three expanded Patriot Act powers designed to help the FBI track down terrorists.

Sam Johnson led a moment of silence in tribute to the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was 38 years to the day after the Texas Republican returned to the United States from seven years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, a choked-up Boehner told the House.

Ways and Means will approve a bill to repeal the 1099 business tax reporting provision in the health care overhaul.

THE SENATE: Convened at 9:30 and is about to hold a crucial test vote on the aviation bill: whether to cut off a filibuster on an amendment that would set the stage for more long-distance flights at Reagan National. Reid says he won’t send senators home for their Presidents Day recess until the bill is passed.

Secretary of State Clinton is conducting a closed-door Middle East briefing for all senators.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama met with a bipartisan group of lawmakers this morning to discuss ways to alter the “No Child Left Behind” education law: Tom Harkin, Jeff Bingaman, Mike Enzi and Lamar Alexander from the Senate, and John Kline, Duncan Hunter, George Miller and Dale Kildee from the House.

After a lunch with Biden, Pelosi, Hoyer, Clyburn and White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley, the president will sign a law naming the new Tucson federal courthouse for slain Judge John Roll.

Then he’s flying to San Francisco for an off-camera dinner with a group of tech industry titans including Apple’s ailing Steve Jobs, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Google’s Eric Schmidt and Yahoo’s Carol Bartz.

CAN THE SENATE PLAY NICE? Whether the final House vote before the recess comes tonight or tomorrow, the outcome seems certain: Virtually all the Republicans will vote to make some of the deepest reductions in federal discretionary spending ever contemplated — a minor rebellion by the fringe group of GOP moderates having been put down — and virtually all the Democrats will vote against them.

And then Reid and McConnell will have a full week to ponder what to do next. Whatever approaches the leaders take, the result will be the first serious test of their commitment to running the Senate in a less confrontational way.

Even under the most optimistic scenario, though, there’s no way the Senate can pass its version of the appropriations package, and come to a compromise with the House that Obama will endorse, in the five days between when Congress returns on Feb. 28 and when the current stopgap spending law expires. So another short-term CR is a given.

What’s also a given — now that Senate Democrats have endorsed the five-year discretionary spending freeze proposed by Obama — is that some deep cuts are on the way.

“We believe there should be cuts in spending. We recognize that,” Reid said yesterday. Bur he made clear he will push his caucus to view that freeze as a ceiling for the level it will support, not a floor. Some Democrats, especially fiscal moderates facing intense fights for re-election in 2102 (Claire McCaskill, Ben Nelson, Jon Tester and Joe Manchin, for example) will want to go further, but their leaders are confident there is nowhere close to 13 of them — the number that would be required to team up with all the Republicans to get what will become a necessary 60-vote supermajority for cuts.

McConnell says Republicans will push the Senate to embrace the same grand total of cuts approved by the House, although he is signaling his troops won't robotically embrace line-for-line every trim sent across the Capitol. Instead, they might propose changing the priorities around somewhat.

SPOTLIGHT DANCE: The Democrats who run the Senate are a bit tired of finishing a distant third in this winter’s battle for the nation’s attention — behind Obama and the Republicans who run the House. And given the complex political map they’re looking at for 2102,  they need all the attention they can get for policies that could resonate with independent voters.

So it’s a bit unclear why they chose yesterday — when the House was drawing so much attention to its spending debate — to roll out their agenda for the year. Schumer, who was in charge of the effort, has a reputation for getting the maximum press exposure for whatever he's promoting.

In general, the agenda is for the Senate Democrats to get right in the president’s wake when he talks about “winning the future” with targeted spending that could spur job creation. And many of the things in Schumer’s plans have drawn some GOP support in the past, suggesting the agenda was written in an effort to portray the party as both moderate and sensible about what can be accomplished in the current environment. Among the ideas: updating the highway bill, revamping patent law, altering No Child Left Behind and extending the research and development tax credit indefinitely.

TRAIL TIPS: (1) Bill Burton has disappointed House Democratic recruiters happy by deciding not to run in the special election to replace one-term-and-one-month punch line Chris Lee in upstate New York — but he is moving on tomorrow after two years as deputy White House press secretary. Having been passed over for the top job, Burton is opening a political and strategic consulting firm with Sean Sweeney, who has worked for both of Obama’s first two chiefs of staff, Rahm Emanuel and Pete Rouse.

(2) Craigslist was at the heart of Lee’s egocentric downfall; Facebook might contribute to the downfall of another House Republican, Dave Reichert, whose suburban Seattle seat is already a top Democratic target for 2012. Junior staffer Quinton Hershiser posted pictures on his page of himself and two other aides unloading a moving van filled with the congressman’s belongings. (Reichert was nowhere in sight.) It’s not against the rules if these guys took a vacation day to help the boss (which they say they did) but the situation will undoubtedly be portrayed as evidence that the former sheriff has “gone Washington” and lost his ethical bearings.

(3) “Like a fractured bone, I have knit back stronger in the broken places,” Scott Brown writes in his new memoir, published just as he gets ready to launch a potentially intense 2012 campaign for a full Senate term in Massachusetts. Along with his “60 Minutes” interview, which CBS rolled out last night, the book reveals that Brown was sexually assaulted as a 10-year-old by a summer camp counselor on Cape Cod and was beaten by his stepfather.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY:  House Democrat Eliot Engel of New York (64); House Republicans Steve Womack of Arkansas (54) and Brett Guthrie of Kentucky (47).

— 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

Republicans Face Pressure to Vote in Lock Step (Roll Call)

House leaders want unity on procedural votes, so they're using "member education" to push for it. » View full article

Senate Democrats Try Leading (Roll Call)

After a month of counterpunching the GOP, Reid's caucus now has 20 items on its to-do list. » View full article

House's Cuts Will Test Senate (CQ Today)

Senate leaders vowed to play nice, but the spending bill en route from the House could strain the gentlemen's agreement. » View full article

Rep. Reichert Used Staff as Movers (Roll Call)

Three aides helped the Washington Republican move into new D.C. digs -- and according to some, an ethical gray area. » View full article

'No Child Left Behind' Gets Held Back (CQ Weekly)

The education law was intensely controversial from the beginning. A decade later, it's even more controversial. » View full article

Lobbyists Join Capitol Hill Staffs (Congress.org)

K Street is an appealing employment pool for freshman lawmakers searching for experienced lieutenants. » View full article
-----

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dailybriefing@cqrollcall.com

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Just Like Those Other Guys

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2011

 Today In Washington

THE HOUSE: Convenes at 10 for Day 2 of its midyear spending debate. Consideration of more than 700 amendments is theoretically possible, but GOP leaders are working behind the scenes to cull the list to a few dozen so the measure can get a final vote tomorrow. More urgently, they’re working to calm discontent among Republican moderates, who could team with Democrats to defeat the measure if the $61 billion grand total in cuts is increased.

The House also will clear a bill extending for just 90 days three FBI counterterrorism powers set to expire this month. The House originally voted for an extension into December, but Senate Democrats insisted on the shorter period so a more expansive debate about the future of the Patriot Act can occur before Memorial Day.
 
THE SENATE: Convened at 10 for another day debating legislation to bolster modernization of the nation’s aviation system. Votes to limit the deliberations, which began two weeks ago, come tomorrow morning. The delay is mainly because of a standoff over long-distance flights at Reagan National; senators from far away want many more, but those from states near D.C. want as few as possible.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama will met with Reid, Durbin, Schumer and Murray at 2:20 — three hours after the Senate Democratic leaders announced that their caucus is embracing the president’s call for saving $400 billion through a five-year freeze on domestic discretionary spending.

Jay Carney’s first briefing as presidential press secretary is at 12:30.

THE BIG OFF-SITE: Andrews Air Force Base? Camp David? Dayton? Louisville? Chicago? The momentum for a budget summit is building so fast that water-cooler talk is already turning to the political and climatological advantages of various locations that might host Obama and the bipartisan congressional leadership this summer or fall.

Obama kicked the door wide open yesterday to convening the sort of bipartisan deal-cutting session that worked for Reagan in 1983 on Social Security, the first George Bush in 1990 on deficit reduction and Clinton in 1997 on a budget-balancing plan. And more and more senior lawmakers of both parties are walking through that door by the hour. And there’s evidence that the president’s team has already approached top Republicans, behind the scenes and officially off the record, to gauge their willingness to negotiate ways to rein in tax expenditures and the soaring budgets of Medicare and Medicaid while ensuring Social Security’s long-term solvency.

A growing coalition of Republicans and Democrats in the Senate is working to draft a grand deficit-cutting package, fully aware that it can’t become a reality unless the president and House leaders get on board as well. But top GOP leaders in the House are talking about such negotiations as nearly a fait accompli.

“I’ve been inviting the president to have that conversation since he took office two years ago,” McConnell said yesterday about the prospects for budget summit. “It doesn’t have to be in public. We all understand there are some limitations to negotiating significant agreements in public.”

JET LAG: This week’s House debate was supposed to be all about allowing freshmen Republicans and other conservatives to exercise their antagonism toward domestic social and environmental programs. But so far, the focus has been all about the military and foreign aid.

The first genuinely key vote of the year on spending restraint comes this afternoon. It’s on an amendment that would eliminate $450 million being spent this year on developing an alternative engine for the F-35 fighter jet. It’s a classic battle between defense contractors — who don’t often vie for the same work these days — with seemingly limitless lobbying budgets and deep political connections into every corner of each party’s leadership.

But the two sides in the debate are not what the Republicans had in mind when they arranged this week’s debate to show the nation their commitment to making “tough choices” even if jobs get lost along the way (“So be it. We're broke,” Boehner scoffed yesterday). But the Speaker himself is the most powerful House member in favor of the backup engine — which could secure hundreds of jobs for Ohio, where GE and Rolls-Royce are doing much of the work. And it’s Obama and Gates and top House Democrats who are leading the campaign to drop the extra motor, which could end up costing $3 billion over the next several years. That’s ultimately unaffordable in light of the tight budget and the military’s other needs, the administration says (and particularly because the principal Pratt & Whitney engine has been working just fine).

It’s likely that the $450 million will survive this afternoon — especially in light of what happened on the floor last night. The House rejected the first four amendments to trim the Pentagon budget, including one that would have taken a comparatively paltry $19 million from various advisory boards.

Foreign aid, meanwhile, stands to be cut 16 percent under the bill, unless conservatives win something deeper. The proposal is a sign that international assistance has minimal political support among rank-and-file House members, even at a time when global disquiet is ample, and when high-powered lobbyists for Egypt and other countries are working to use that unrest to their advantage. Those efforts are now turning toward the Senate, which has always been more supportive of foreign aid. And by the time the bill is debated there, the situation in the Middle East could be unavoidably compelling for continued U.S. help. (Protests demanding sweeping political change in Bahrain are now in their third, intensifying day, while some 2,000 police are in the streets of Yemen’s capital to try to put down a sixth day of demonstrations there.)

GIFFORDS UPDATE: Gabby Giffords has not yet been told the details of the Tucson shooting rampage, her congressional chief of staff Pia Carusone said on CBS’s “The Early Show” today. “Doctors have said it’s not really fair, as you can imagine, to tell someone something so tragic and someone that might not have the ability to ask the detailed questions that someone will have when they hear this news,” the aide said.

The congresswoman’s vocabulary, speaking ability and overall mental function are improving daily, Carusone said. “Short phrases, simple thoughts. There’s no doubt that she understands what’s happening around her. She laughs at the appropriate times,” Carusone said. “Every day there’s new progress that you see. So, you know, we feel very hopeful at her recovery.”

TRAIL TIPS: (1) Tim Kaine says he’s willing to be wooed personally by Obama before making up his mind about seeking Virginia’s open Senate seat. The two are supposed to speak by telephone by the end of the week. The former governor, who’s now chairman of the DNC, has sounded reluctant about running — but he’s seen as by far the best shot Democrats have at holding the seat. The Republican establishment is behind George Allen’s effort to get his old job back, but Richmond-area tea party activist Jamie Radtke is also after the nomination.

(2) As he gears up his presidential run, Rick Santorum is trying to get out in front of a challenge that’s sure to dog his efforts to boost his name recognition: How he comes across on Google. The former Pennsylvania senator says he can’t stop sex advice columnist Dan Savage’s crusade to give “santorum” a sexually scatological meaning — but Santorum can try to turn the effort to his advantage, by showing conservative voters the sort of moral crusades that he is willing to take on.

— 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

Santorum Talks About Longtime Google Problem (Roll Call)

The former senator and likely Republican presidential candidate sounded slightly defeated when asked about it recently. » View full article

Senators Seek to Resolve Reagan Airport Flights Fight (CQ Today)

Westerners are pressing for more flights into and out of the airport. Washington-area senators are fighting to limit long-haul flights. » View full article

Lobbyists Ride Out Regime Change in Egypt (Roll Call)

K Street firms hired by the turbulent nation have remained active â€Â" due in part to their long-standing ties to the Egyptian military now running the country. » View full article

Pentagon Contracts: No Bid Required (CQ Weekly)

The lack of competitive bidding in Pentagon contracts is notorious. But the problem extends well beyond the highly publicized cases that stem from a cozy or even possibly corrupt relationship between Pentagon officials and contractors. » View full article

Senate Momentum Builds for Deficit Cutting Deal (Roll Call)

Kent Conrad says the White House shouldn't wait to set up negotiations. » View full article

CR Causes Headaches for GOP (Roll Call)

Moderates have stopped short of threatening to vote no on final passage. But they're complaining that leaders have been too arbitrary about the bill's spending cuts. » View full article

Proposed Cuts to Foreign Aid Are Cause for Concern in Senate (CQ Today)

Senators from both parties are questioning the House's plan to cut back on humanitarian and international development aid. » View full article
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dailybriefing@cqrollcall.com

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Machete-Free Budgeting

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2011

 Today In Washington

THE HOUSE: Convenes at noon to begin three scheduled days of debate on a bill to set discretionary spending levels through September. It would provide $60.9 billion less than in fiscal 2010 and $99.6 billion less than Obama wanted for fiscal 2011, according to the Appropriations Committee. The amendment process is wide open, for now, although GOP leaders will have the power to shut things down if things get out of hand; by last night 403 changes had been submitted for possible debate, and many more are expected before tonight’s deadline. The section on Defense spending will be considered first.

THE SENATE: Convened at 10 for more debate on the aviation bill, with votes on amendments to prevent TSA employees from unionizing and to ban distribution of images made by airport security screeners. Reid has vowed to push the measure to passage by the end of the week.

THE WHITE HOUSE: “We’ve taken a scalpel to discretionary spending, rather than a machete,” Obama said in defending his budget at the start of a news conference that began at 11, less than three hours after it was scheduled. Although the budget had no proposals for curbing entitlements, he said he was confident a deal with the GOP could be reached this year — just as it was on taxes last fall. “We can find common ground, but we are going to have to work at it,” he said.

Treasury Secretary Geithner is defending the president’s plan at House Budget this morning, and OMB chief Jack Lew will do the same at Senate Budget this afternoon.

Obama will award the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, at 1:30 to the elder George Bush (the sixth former president so honored) as well as Atlanta congressman John Lewis, Natural Resources Defense Council leader John Adams, poet Maya Angelou, investor and philanthropist Warren Buffett, painter Jasper Johns, Holocaust survivor and author Gerda Weissmann Klein, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, civil rights activist Sylvia Mendez, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, baseball great Stan Musial, basketball great Bill Russell, former ambassador to Ireland Jean Kennedy Smith and former AFl-CIO chief John Sweeney. (Tom Little, an optometrist murdered by the Taliban while on a humanitarian trip ton Afghanistan, will be given the award posthumously.)

Secretary of State Clinton will announce that retired diplomat Marc Grossman is replacing Richard Holbrooke, who died in December, as special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan.

BAIT, OR SWITCH? The president’s decision to hold a news conference this morning was undoubtedly motivated by the poor to awful reviews his budget is receiving — not only from Republicans but, more important to him, from his liberal Democratic base and from deficit hawks both inside and outside government.

The Democrats are damning the budget with such faint praise because the social and public works programs that would get cut deepest are favorites of theirs, the programs targeted for increases have soft supporter constituencies and the restraints on military spending and tax expenditures are less than they want.

The fiscal hawks and congressional GOP leaders sound both amazed and perturbed that Obama took such a cautious approach. The president called it a down payment on getting to long-term budget restraint. Republicans called it a punt on first down. But either way, the fiscal 2012 budget embraces none of the recommendations from Obama’s own bipartisan fiscal commission for confronting entitlements and making other tough spending cut and tax-increase choices.

And so the president’s allies are wondering which of the following is true:

1) Obama has concluded the only path to re-election is to abandon his once grand ambitions — not only for expanding the role of government in slowing global warming and boosting access to medical care, but also for leading the country toward lasting fiscal stability by promoting the required but politically toxic mix of tax increases and cuts to Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security.

2) The budget was a clever, if mealy-mouthed, maneuver to bait the Republicans into making the first move toward a grand deficit reduction plan — in the belief that, if their salesmanship can ward off the political toxicity of entitlement cuts, then Obama can follow through with a proposal on taxes and eventually win credit for leading negotiations on a historic deal.

If that was the goal, than there’s a hint it may be working. “I think you are going to see some very bold reforms included” in the budget resolution that will now be drafted by the House GOP, Cantor said yesterday. “We are going to lead.”

QUOTE OF NOTE: “It’s fair to say that every side begins with its deeply held views,” Lew said in discussing where the budget debate goes from here. “It’s also true that, looking ahead, you have a hard time predicting where the moments of coming together are.”

ANTHRAX UPDATE: The National Research Council today released a review of the science used to investigate the 2001 anthrax letters to Tom Daschle, Pat Leahy and others. "It is not possible to reach a definitive conclusion about the origins of the anthrax in letters mailed to New York City and Washington, D.C., based solely on the available scientific evidence," the report said.

Those letters killed five people, caused the evacuation of much of Capitol Hill and forever changed the way lawmakers get their mail. The FBI sought the independent review of its methods because of continued doubts surrounding its conclusion that Bruce Ivins acted alone in making and sending the powder. The Fort Detrick researcher committed suicide in 2008 after learning he was about to be indicted in the case.

TRAIL TIPS: 1) Ron Paul sent an e-mail to his donors this morning asking them to pay for two trips he wants to make to Iowa next month. That’s a clear sign that the Texas congressman, who won the CPAC straw poll for the second straight year over the weekend, is rethinking his decision to stay away from the 2012 Republican presidential nominating contest.

2) Joe Arpaio, the outspoken Maricopa County sheriff, led a field of potential GOP Senate candidates in Arizona with 21 percent in a poll of likely primary voters last week. Rep. Jeff Flake, who announced his candidacy yesterday, and former Rep. J.D. Hayworth had 17 percent each. But 28 percent were undecided, suggesting plenty of room for Rep. Trent Franks, who now says he’s getting interested in succeeding Jon Kyl, too.

3) Rep. Dean Heller would trounce incumbent John Ensign, 53 percent to 38 percent, if next year’s Nevada Republican Senate primary were held now, according to a poll the congressman commissioned last month.

4) Charlie Rangel filed paperwork with the FEC yesterday declaring his plans to run for a 22nd term representing Harlem next year, when he will turn 82.

— David Hawkings, editor

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

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Monday, February 14, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Big-Picture Day

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Monday, Feb. 14, 2011

 Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: “While it’s absolutely essential to live within our means — while we are absolutely committed to working with Democrats and Republicans to find further savings and to look at the whole range of budget issues — we can’t sacrifice our future in the process,” Obama said this morning in announcing the highlights of his fiscal 2012 budget at Baltimore’s Parkville Middle School and Center of Technology. “Even as we cut out things that we can afford to do without, we have a responsibility to invest in those areas that will have the biggest impact in our future. And that’s especially true when it comes to education.”

The official budget press briefing, by OMB Director Jack Lew and CEA Chairman Austan Goolsbee, is at 12:15.

THE SENATE: Convenes at 2 to resume debate on legislation to revamp aviation programs and confirm two more federal judges: James E. Graves Jr., a Mississippi Supreme Court justice, for the 5th Circuit, and Edward J. Davila, a state trial judge in Santa Clara County, to be the first Hispanic on the federal trial court headquartered in San Francisco.

THE HOUSE: Convenes at noon and (because the ground rules from a week ago have been tightened) will pass legislation extending three of the Patriot Act’s special surveillance powers until December.

TRILLIONS AND TRILLIONS: Obama’s relatively temperate budget — which makes minimal effort to curb the growth in health care and retirement entitlements at the heart of the nation’s long-term fiscal calamity — is being rejected out of hand by congressional Republicans. They’re focusing their "dead on arrival" rhetoric on the president’s proposals to raise some taxes while freezing (instead of cutting) overall domestic spending in order to reduce projected deficits a cumulative $1.1 trillion in the next decade.

But the details in the budget books, released about an hour ago, will be plenty useful in predicting the outcome of the imminent spending battle. The domestic programs the president is proposing to trim or eliminate — ranging from airport construction to Pell Grants, water treatment plant subsidies and to Great Lakes restoration — automatically become the lowest of low-hanging fruit for GOP budget cutters, who will get to work on the House floor tomorrow.

Total spending in the Obama budget comes to $3.73 trillion, or 2.4 percent less than what he projects will be spent in the current budget year.

The budget would nonetheless yield a deficit of $1.1 trillion for fiscal 2012, which starts in October — the fourth straight year of deficits represented by a dozen zeroes. The deficit for the current year, $1.65 trillion by the budget’s estimate, would be 10.9 percent the size of the national economy, the highest since a 21.5 percent share of the GDP at the end of World War II. But the administration says its budget would reduce the deficit’s share of GDP to 7 percent next year and to 3.2 percent by 2015.

The overall formula for stanching some of the red ink is about two-thirds spending restraint, one-third new revenue — from, for example, limiting some deductions available to the rich and ending many tax breaks for energy companies.

A SHOW BUT NO SHUTDOWN? The Republicans will reclaim the budget headlines tomorrow, when the House begins three days of wide-open debate on cutting spending for the rest of this year. The amounts GOP leaders proposed Friday night — $58 billion below the current level, $100 billion below what Obama asked for a year ago, at the time of his previous budget submission — probably will get a bit bigger by the time all the amendments are considered and the bill passes on Thursday.

And why not? There’s no way cuts of that magnitude will be enacted. Senate Democrats and Obama are compelled by the current political climate to acquiesce in the sorts of domestic spending reductions that they abhor. But the target being set by the Republicans is tens of billions of dollars beyond what the Democrats or the president will accept. So the only way to avoid a government shutdown this spring will be for those fiscally zealous and anti-establishment freshman Republicans to realize their limits in a divided government and agree to a classic legislative deal — one in which the bottom line is only barely palatable to either side.

Getting to that point is going to take some time — and GOP leaders know it — which is why no one should worry that the government will close its doors in three weeks, when the stopgap spending law expires. House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan promised as much on “Fox News Sunday.” “I think that’s a very viable possibility: a short-term extension while we work out a compromise,” he said. On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Boehner promised that his strategy did not include ever forcing a shutdown.

THE ETHICS HORIZON: Now that Chris Lee is gone, House Republicans appear to be free of any ethical dead weight for the time being. And the rank and file is content that Boehner is getting continued good press for his reputation as having minimal tolerance for the moral shortcomings of his troops. So it will be fascinating to see what standard the Speaker sets when it comes to financial transgressions. Freshman David Rivera of Florida — just the sort of relatively young (45) lawmaker that tea party activists and others see as the future of the GOP — is off to a rocky start. He’s under investigation by local law enforcement on suspicion that he failed to report $130,000 in loans from a company owned by his mother. So far, Boehner has steered clear of the matter, on the grounds that the incident predates Rivera’s service in Congress.

EYES ON ARIZONA: The campaign for the open Senate seat in Arizona gets off to a fast start today. Jeff Flake is announcing that he’s giving up the reliably Republican suburban Phoenix House seat he’s held for a decade in order to try to become a senator, while Gabby Giffords’ allies are sending clear if subtle signals that they believe she really could speak, move and mentally process well enough by next year to make the Senate race herself — a prospect that would both amaze and delight Democratic strategists.

The race for the other job that Jon Kyl is giving up — GOP whip — was really off the ground even before his retirement announcement last week — and threatens to open deep rifts in a caucus leadership team that has remained remarkably unified for the past two years. Lamar Alexander and John Cornyn get along well enough that their shared desire to move up to the No. 2 spot shouldn’t create too much friction. But neither of them will take it well when John Thune officially decides in the next two weeks that he’s going to try to become a top-tier Senate leader instead of running for president next year.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: The only lawmaker born on Valentine’s Day is Democratic Rep. Richie Neal of Massachusetts (62); belated good wishes from yesterday to freshman Democratic Sen. Dick Blumenthal of Connecticut (65).

TODAY'S TWEETER: Congress.org's activism reporter, Ambreen Ali (@ambreenali).

— David Hawkings, editor

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

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David Hawkings
dailybriefing@cqrollcall.com

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