Friday, March 04, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Not So Fast, Guys

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Friday, March 4, 2011

 Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Having hosted his old chief of staff, Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, for an Oval Office photo op this morning, Obama is getting ready to fly to Miami. He and former Gov. Jeb Bush will speak at a high school that both of them agree has been turned around by No Child Left Behind’s money and mandates.

That bipartisan gesture, however, will be followed by the president headlining a pair of fundraisers, for Bill Nelson as he launches his bid for a third Senate term and for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

THE SENATE: Convened at 10 for speechmaking only. Senators will vote Monday evening on whether to limit debate and ward-off unrelated amendments to the patent overhaul bill; they’ll likely decide to do so, meaning the legislation will pass in the first half of next week.

THE HOUSE: Convenes at 2 for a quick, pro forma session.

WHOSE NUMBERS ARE THEY? Republican congressional leaders claimed partial credit within minutes for today’s better-than-expected jobs report, which showed the biggest increase in payrolls since last May and the second-biggest increase in private employment since March 2006. The jobless rate fell to 8.9 percent — the lowest in 22 months.
 
“We will continue our efforts to cut spending, overreaching regulations and government waste so that businesses have certainty to grow and create jobs and more people can get back to work,” Cantor declared. He particularly took credit for House votes in the past few weeks to cut spending and repeal the 1099 tax-reporting requirement in the health care law that’s so vigorously opposed by smaller companies.
 
But the House GOP is perhaps getting a bit ahead of it itself, since it hasn’t really changed the direction of government spending and tax policy yet. Year-over-year, private employers have been adding jobs for the past seven months — since August, three months before the midterm election. That followed 28 straight months of declines, which began nine months before Obama was elected president.

And promoting job growth isn’t exactly a partisan affair. The numbers for February were seen as encouraging by liberals as well as conservatives.

What’s also clear is that the GOP’s spending-cut policies may limit overall improvement in the job market. While the report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed 1.3 million new jobs created over the past 12 months, that number would have been significantly higher if a quarter-million government employees hadn’t lost their jobs since last February. Those eliminated positions essentially all came at the local level, and more than half of them were teachers and other local school employees.

HALFWAY POINT: The White House and the Hill’s top Democrats have made  what sounds like a clear-cut (and enormous) concession: At yesterday’s hourlong confab, they declared themselves ready to “meet Republicans halfway” on spending cuts. Now all they have to do is reach agreement — among themselves and with the GOP — on what the meaning of the world “halfway” is. And that is certain to take longer than the two weeks available under the latest stopgap spending law.

First, the Republicans will have to agree on what number should be used to represent their position: the $100 billion they say they’re on course to cutting below Obama’s (totally ignored) request for the budget year that’s almost half over, or the $61 billion from current spending levels embodied in the bill the House passed two weeks ago.

If it’s the first number, then the Democrats should be allowed to claim that their endorsement of a discretionary domestic spending freeze is worth about $40 billion (the difference between Obama’s budget of 13 months ago and the spending levels of today). Then they'd be well on their way to their halfway mark.

If it’s the second number, then the two sides are still very, very far apart — because under the most generous accounting the Democrats have so far endorsed only about $10 billion in cuts from current levels: the $4 billion in the two-week CR that’s just taking effect, plus another $6.5 billion that Biden brought to the table yesterday. That means they’ve only committed themselves to one-sixth of what the GOP wants — and they have another $20 billion to go.

CUE THE KABUKI: The next step in the negotiating process is a bit of theater: Reid will arrange for test votes next week on both the House’s $61 billion package and the White House’s $6.5 billion proposal. Neither will get the necessary 60 votes to move forward, because all the Democrats will spurn the former and all the Republicans will spurn the latter. But at least then all the combatants — especially the hell-bent-for-leather House GOP freshman — will see plainly that they have no choice but to move toward one another or else be blamed for a shutdown.

At that point, there will be just one more week until the current CR lapses. One option is for the Democrats to propose a four-week CR (lasting until the April 15 start of the spring congressional recess) that comes close to meeting the House demand for ongoing cuts (at a $2 billion-a-week pace) by embracing the $6.5 billion Biden package —  filled as it is with such politically easy targets as never-begun earmarked projects, unspent grants to state and local police departments and aid money set aside for disasters that haven’t happened yet.

PROTOCOL DISPUTE: Boehner is taking the hard line, and threatening a partisan row, in his second big test as the steward of congressional tradition and institutional prerogative.

The new Speaker was uniformly hailed by Democrats for his somber, respectful handling of the House’s response to the Gabby Giffords assassination attempt in January. But a pair of Democrats — West Virginia’s two senators, Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin — are forcefully going after Boehner now. They’re furious he’s decided the House will not permit the remains of the last surviving American veteran of World War I to lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda.

Boehner has not yet explained his decision, but it’s hard to argue with the notion that mere longevity — Frank Buckles was 110 when he died last Sunday on his farm in Charles Town, W.Va. — warrants the same rare tribute usually reserved for presidents and national heroes. (In the last two decades the Rotunda honor has been awarded by the joint congressional leadership only four times — to Gerry Ford, Ronald Reagan,  Rosa Parks and the slain Capitol Police officers J.J. Chestnut and John Gibson.)

Rockefeller lamented “a big disappointment and a surprising decision by the Speaker,” while Manchin called it “unconscionable.” The senators said the tribute would be more about honoring all war veterans than about the contribution of their former constituent, who served in England and France mostly as a driver and warehouse clerk. (Obama has ordered government buildings to fly their flags at half-staff on the day of the funeral at Arlington, which has not yet been scheduled.)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Today, House Republicans Chris Smith of New Jersey (58) and James Lankford of Oklahoma (43). Tomorrow, a pair of House members from Pennsylvania: Democrat Tim Holden (54) and Republican Todd Platts (49).

— 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

Iowa GOP Chairman Warns Other States Over 2012 Calendar (Roll Call)

Matt Strawn had some things to say to Florida, in particular. » View full article

Senators Continue to Urge 'No Fly' Zone (CQ Today)

McCain and Lieberman both made the case that the United States is morally bound to prevent Qaddafi from killing any more of his people. » View full article

Who Won When Boeing Won? Tony Podesta. (Roll Call)

The Democratic lobbyist seems to be on the winning side a lot lately. » View full article

GOP Senators Move to Block For-Profit College Regulations (CQ Today)

Their bill would stop the Obama administration from tightening rules on federal loans to students attending for-profit colleges. » View full article

Five States Move Ahead on Health Care Law (Congress.org)

Not every state is challenging the 2010 overhaul. » View full article
-----

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Thursday, March 03, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Biden Time

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Thursday, March 3, 2011

 Today In Washington

THE SENATE: Convened at 10 for another day of debate on legislation that would make “first to file” (instead of “first to invent”) the guiding principle behind awarding patents. How quickly a vote on passage occurs — there’s an outside chance it’s tomorrow — depends on whether appropriators press ahead with plans to try and attach a fiscal 2011 defense spending measure.

THE HOUSE: Convened at 10 and is expected to wrap up legislating for the week before 2, after passing a bill to eliminate the 1099 tax reporting requirement from the health care overhaul law.

THE WHITE HOUSE: After assembling his national security team for its monthly meeting on Afghanistan and Pakistan, Obama is spending the afternoon in meetings with Mexican President Felipe Calderón, although neither country is expecting any breakthrough that would relax tension over drug-war violence along the border. (The presidents will hold a joint news conference at 1 in the East Room.)

Tonight the president will call the crews of the space shuttle Discovery and the International Space Station.

THE SUMMIT IS ON: After balking all day yesterday and overnight, Boehner and McConnell have decided they have no choice but to accept Obama’s offer to begin face-to-face spending cut negotiations with the administration.

The GOP leaders said this morning that they will head to Biden’s ceremonial office in the Capitol at 4, where they’ll be met by the vice president, White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley and OMB chief Jack Lew, along with Reid and Pelosi.

Beyond the photo op, however, there’s likely to be almost no horse trading. Although Treasury Secretary Geithner, Lew and Daley met with top House Democrats last night to plot strategy, none of the parties has had sufficient time to assemble the sort of detailed bargaining books necessary before even preliminary dealmaking can begin.

Instead, the meeting’s highlight will probably be the Speaker and the minority leader saying directly to Obama’s men what they’ve been saying to the cameras for the past several days: We’ve made our detailed opening bid — the House’s bill to slash current spending levels by $61 billion in the final half of this fiscal year — so now it’s the president’s and turn to put something specific out on the chopping block. After Obama called yesterday for the direct talks to begin, Boehner and McConnell sent word they were unlikely to attend unless Obama, or at least the Senate Democrats, put forward such a plan.

How the talks proceed after today is an open question, because Biden is supposed to depart on Sunday for a week of visits to Finland, Russia and Moldova — and, given his success at cutting the big tax deal with McConnell in December, the White House is keen to have him in the room this time. But the CR that the president signed yesterday keeps the government going only one week after the vice president gets back.

In the meantime, though, there’s no chance the Senate will debate the House bill — in part because Reid doesn't want to make life any more difficult for his moderates. “We’ve reached a point now where things are so political and so complex that we have to sit down for these mega-meetings to try to put it all on the table and resolve it.” Durbin said yesterday.

OPENING A NEW FRONT: Only 15 incumbents (down from 25 two years ago) are being given the special fundraising and strategic planning attention of the DCCC’s “Frontline” incumbent retention program, the House Democratic campaign organization announced this morning.

That’s largely because fewer Democrats represent swing districts these days, since Republicans scored a net gain of 63 seats last fall. But DCCC Chairman Steve Israel says it’s also because the party has a much more offensive strategy in mind for 2012, when Obama will be at the top of the ticket. Though the coming redistricting will change the demographics of many seats, there are 61 districts today that have a GOP House member but that Obama carried three years ago.

Gabby Giffords is the most prominent name on the Frontline roster, the surest sign yet that her inner circle — including her friend Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who’s running the program — thinks she’ll be well enough by next year to seek a fourth term in her Tucson-based district. (Giffords won last fall by just 4,156 votes.)

The others on the list are Tim Bishop and Bill Owens of New York, Leonard Boswell of Iowa, Russ Carnahan of Missouri, Ben Chandler of Kentucky, Gerry Connolly of Virginia, Mark Critz of Pennsylvania, Larry Kissell and Mike McIntyre of North Carolina, Jim Matheson of Utah, Jerry McNerney of California, Gary Peters of Michigan, Kurt Schrader of Oregon and Tim Walz of Minnesota.

OVER THE RAINBOW: For most of his two decades in the Senate, he’s been first among equals in at least one sense — “Mr. Akaka” has been atop the alphabetical roster of senators, so his name is the first the clerk has whispered aloud during countless quorum calls. (Those with really long and trivia-clogged memories will recall that Brock Adams came first until he lost in 1992, and Spence Abraham was first from 1995 until he lost in 2000.)

That curious distinction is likely to fall to Lamar Alexander starting in 2013, because no one with an earlier name in the alphabet is emerging as viable Senate candidate — and Akaka is saying aloha to Washington next fall, when he’ll turn 88.

Hawaii’s other octogenarian senator, Dan Inouye, remains the state’s Democratic kingmaker and will have plenty to say about whether this open seat becomes a viable GOP pickup opportunity. Linda Lingle, who just stepped down after two terms as governor, is probably the most popular Republican on the islands in their half-century of statehood and seems eager to go for the Senate. But she should be beatable — especially with native son Obama topping the ballot — as long as Democrats can avoid the sort of bitter internal strife that caused them to lose one of the state’s two House seats for a few months last year.

Inouye was unable to push former Rep. Ed Case out of the way and clear the field, at least initially, for Colleen Hanabusa — although by last November they’d papered things over, and she now holds the congressional seat . Both she and Case are eyeing the Senate race now, as are former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann and Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz.

Until the field gels, put Hawaii in the same “maybe a GOP pickup” category as the open Senate seats now held by Democratic Caucus members Jeff Bingaman in New Mexico and Joe Lieberman in Connecticut. And keep as “likely a GOP pickup” the other two seats from which Democrats are retiring, Kent Conrad’s in North Dakota and Jim Webb’s in Virginia.

EQUAL TIME: Fox News’ decision to take Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum off the air isn’t all that surprising, because there’s been little doubt for weeks now that both of them will be seeking the Republican presidential nomination.

What’s more surprising about yesterday’s announcement is what it says about two other prominent Republicans on contract to deliver their analysis and commentary on Fox. It seems relatively easy to conclude that Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee are remaining in the network’s stable of on-air talent because they’ve sent word to the suits at Fox that they are not likely to go after the presidency in 2012.

(By the way, the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, out last night, showed Huckabee leading the potential field with 25 percent support among likely Republican voters, Mitt Romney second at 21 percent, followed by Gingrich at 13 percent and Palin at 12 percent.)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Republican Rep. Dave Schweikert of Arizona (49).

— 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

Face-Off Begins on Budget Cuts (CQ Budget Tracker)

Policy language in the House-passed spending bill could make it impossible to enact. Removing it, though, could incur the wrath of the conservative base. » View full article

Push for Democracy Funding May Feel Fiscal Squeeze (CQ Today)

John Kerry is leading an effort to get extra funding to bolster the "Arab awakening." Republicans are wondering where the money is coming from. » View full article

Senate Moderates Look for More Influence (Roll Call)

Triangulation could be making a comeback as the nameless group of 17 Democrats targets education, the debt and clean energy. » View full article

Democrats Need GOP Voters to Win (Roll Call)

If registered Republicans don't buck current trends and deliver some crossover votes in 2012, incumbents will be in serious peril. » View full article

ANWR Debate Reopens (CQ Weekly)

Rising gas prices and turmoil in the Middle East have lawmakers thawing out their arguments on Alaska oil exploration. » View full article
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David Hawkings
dailybriefing@cqrollcall.com

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Wednesday, March 02, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: A Fight of Three Rounds

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

 Today In Washington

THE SENATE: Convened at 9:30 and has just voted 91-9 to clear the measure keeping the government operating until March 18. The two-week CR, which Obama has until Friday to sign, dictates $4 billion in cuts, either to programs the president has already abandoned or to earmarks that lawmakers have already abandoned.

Prospects are growing for the Senate to pass its patent overhaul legislation by the end of the day.

George W. Bush is expected at the Capitol for the 3:30 unveiling of Bill Frist’s official portrait in the Old Senate Chamber. The 43rd president was instrumental behind the scenes in engineering the Tennessee Republican’s quick ascent to majority leader after the fall of Trent Lott in 2002.

THE HOUSE: Convened at 10 and will pass legislation by mid-afternoon extending $64 billion in authorizations for highway, mass transit and transportation programs through September — another stopgap measure necessary because the last highway bill, enacted in 2005, expired in September 2009.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama, Biden and Hillary Clinton will meet this afternoon to weigh military options for Libya, including whether to embrace the Senate’s call last night for creation of a no-fly zone.

Before that, the president will award the National Medal of Arts to 10 people in the East Room including pianist Van Cliburn, musicians Quincy Jones and James Taylor, author Harper Lee and actress Meryl Streep. He’ll also award 10 National Humanities Medals; among those honorees are historians Jacques Barzun and Gordon Wood, and authors Joyce Carol Oates and Philip Roth.

DING! Round 1 in the spending fight has gone swiftly and easily to the Republicans, who have used the most recent CR to change the terms of this year’s budget debate. It’s no longer not about whether to cut domestic discretionary appropriations. It’s about how much to cut.

And the only way for the Democrats to claim any measure of success in Round 2 — which must climax before the next congressional recess can begin in only 16 days — is for Obama to become much more publicly engaged. The White House’s half-hearted effort of this week — asking, at the last minute, for an extension of this CR for four or five weeks to allow time to negotiate the big deal — won’t be repeated again.

The president appears to be realizing he must climb into the bully pulpit now, so that he, Reid and maybe even Pelosi can at least claim with straight faces that the coming cuts will not hurt their party’s priorities. That’s the message Democratic centrists in GOP-leaning districts and states want to be able to take on the campaign trail next year — after they vote in favor of whatever compromise package of cuts wraps up the budget debate for the remaining months of this fiscal year.

“The president’s going to take this to the American people,” Reid promised yesterday, “because the only message that we have from the Republicans is to wipe out programs that are so important to people, especially people who can’t help themselves, the middle class and other programs.”

EXPECT MORE PUNCHING: The big compromise will not happen during Round 2, because two weeks is not nearly enough time to negotiate such a deal — even if the two sides quickly grew much closer than they are. The House GOP’s $60 billion, which earned thank-yous from conservative groups, is still well above the unstated ceiling of Obama and the Senate Democrats, which is probably $20 billion at the absolute max.

Instead, look for the next CR to last five weeks, from March 18 until the start of the congressional spring recess, the two-week break for Passover and Easter that starts April 15. That date is also the opening of the six-week window during which the Treasury says it will reach its $14.3 trillion borrowing limit — meaning the budget debate and the debt-ceiling debate are sure to be commingled.

CONSERVATIVE LINES: Beyond the money, plenty of obstacles to a deal lie in the social policy changes that would be carried out under the year-ending spending proposal the House passed two weeks ago — by paring funding for last year’s health care overhaul, for example, and ending federal help for Planned Parenthood.

Pressed hard by conservative advocacy groups, and by many of their 87 freshmen, House GOP leaders are seriously considering attaching those two provisions to the CR that will be needed in two weeks. And that will make life especially difficult for the seven House Republicans who voted to keep federal money flowing to Planned Parenthood, which both sides in the abortion-rights debate view as the first key vote of the year. The group includes two freshmen (Bob Dold of Illinois and Richard Hanna of New York), along with Judy Biggert, Mary Bono Mack, Charlie Dent, Rodney Frelinghuysen and back-after-a-four-year-absence Charlie Bass.

GOSSIP GUYS: The Darrell Issa imbroglio is making fellow House Republicans increasingly annoyed, and the White House quite happy indeed. The new chairman of the House Oversight Committee was supposed to turn the Obama administration’s life into a never-ending series of subpoena responses and document dumps. But the committee had gotten off to a surprisingly slow start already, in the eyes of his GOP colleagues, and now the mini-tempest involving his press office is sure to delay the panel’s investigative agenda even more.

But the story is getting an outsized amount of attention in Washington’s newsrooms for another reason: Reporters and producers are panicking that their e-mails with now-fired spokesman Kurt Bardella will eventually become public. Some are worried and angry that details of stories they were working on will come out, thus denying them scoops. But others are worried that they’ll be revealed for trafficking in the sort of unfounded gossip and obsequious chit-chat that greases many relationships between the press and the flacks — and that can look pretty unseemly when viewed in the raw. Mark Leibovich of the New York Times, who’s using the e-mail in writing a book about the capital’s continued culture of coziness between journalists and their sources, is known as a reporter with a particularly keen eye for the colorful, snarky anecdote.

WHO IS RUSH HOLT? The answer is: He is the only House member who bested Watson, the “Jeopardy”-winning IBM computer, in an exhibition match Monday night. The New Jersey Democrat — a physicist who won some money on Jeopardy 35 years ago — earned a big round of applause when he showed up at a Natural Resources Committee hearing yesterday. He called his performance a triumph of “neuron-based thinking instead of semiconductor thinking.” (The other lawmakers who tried to best the machine were Republicans Nan Hayworth and Bill Cassidy and Democrats Jim Himes and Jared Polis.)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: House Democrats  Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut (68) and Hansen Clarke of Michigan (54).

— 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

Abortion Vote Lingers for Seven Republicans (Roll Call)

They voted to protect federal funding for Planned Parenthood. Anti-abortion groups say those GOP members will pay for that decision. » View full article

Conservative Juggernaut Melds Politics and Policy (CQ Weekly)

Crossroads GPS made its mark as a campaign-season operation, but the group is now unleashing its considerable financial resources in a different direction: the lawmaking process itself. » View full article

E-mail Flap Puts Issa to the Test (Roll Call)

The House Oversight chairman moved quickly to change the headlines after a spokesman inappropriately shared other reporters' e-mails with a New York Times writer. » View full article

Senators Question 'No-Fly' Zone Over Libya (CQ Today)

The Senate endorsed the creation of a "no fly" zone over Libya to support anti-government forces, but some veteran lawmakers questioned the implications of such a plan. » View full article

Momentum Builds for Passage of Patent Overhaul (CQ Today)

The measure would shift the system to basing patent awards on which inventor is "first to file" rather than on the current criteria of "first to invent." » View full article
-----

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David Hawkings
dailybriefing@cqrollcall.com

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Tuesday, March 01, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: The Qaddafi Corral

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Tuesday, Mar. 1, 2011

 Today In Washington

THE HOUSE: Convened at 10 and will start legislative business at noon. Before sunset it will pass the latest stopgap spending bill, which would cut $4 billion from fiscal 2011 appropriations and keep the government open for the next two weeks.

THE SENATE: Convened at 10 to continue debating what would be the first substantial patent law rewrite in half a century. The bill — which would switch from a first-to-invent to a first-to-file system of issuing patents — is quickly becoming a magnet for unrelated fiscal policy amendments that could slow its progress. One would offer an early test vote on raising the debt limit; another would endorse the idea of a balanced-budget constitutional amendment.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama has no public events scheduled. He and Biden will meet with Defense Secretary Gates at 4:30.

STRONGMAN POLITICS: Hillary Clinton came to the Capitol this morning to gauge congressional support for a more aggressive American intervention in Libya, beginning with military support for humanitarian relief and rescue missions but potentially including imposition of a no-fly zone.

The Pentagon has confirmed that U.S. naval forces in the Mediterranean and military assets from NATO were being positioned closer to Libya to support possible humanitarian efforts. The secretary of State — who was appearing at House Foreign Relations after an overnight flight from talks with U.S. allies in Geneva — was certain to be questioned about that, and about indications that Obama is moving closer to sending the Air Force into the skies over Libya in order to protect rebel-held areas from attack by Qaddafi forces. (In the most recent skirmish, the rebels holding Zawiya, an oil town near Tripoli, repelled an overnight attack by government troops.)

But the most bellicose trial balloon raised at the Capitol since revolutionary fervor started sweeping over the Middle East — Joe Lieberman’s proposal that the U.S. arm the Libyan rebels — is landing with a quick thud. It’s being rejected by Dick Lugar, the top Republican on Senate Foreign Relations, and by two senior GOP senators on Armed Services, Susan Collins and Lindsey Graham.

Lugar also said he opposes a no-fly zone, but Collins said she likes that idea.

Susan Rice said this morning that the United States is worried about a “real humanitarian disaster” unless Qaddafi surrenders power soon — and she suggested he consider seeking exile as a way to “get off the stage” before revolutionaries take him off. But the U.N. ambassador said that scenario should not prevent him from being  prosecuted “for the crimes that he and those closest to him have committed.”

“One has to question his grip on reality,” she said of Qaddafi on both the CBS’s “Early Show”and NBC’s “Today.”

TWO vs. FIVE: The only suspense left in this week’s anti-climactic budget debate is whether the latest stopgap spending bill will keep the government open until March 18 or until April 8.

After a meeting with Reid in the senator’s office last night, Boehner rejected an unexpected White House request that the coming CR last about a month to buy potentially sufficient time to negotiate a deal lasting until the end of this fiscal year in September. An extension until the second Friday in April would allow five weeks for talks (although during one of them, the week of March 21, Congress will be in recess.) The bill before the House this afternoon provides funding for just two weeks, and no one is under the illusion that’s enough time to bridge the $60 billion gap remaining in the fiscal 2011 budget debate.

With new polling showing the public almost evenly divided about which party deserves blame for the budget brinkmanship, postponing the next potential government shutdown for a month could work to Republicans’ and Democrats’ mutual benefit. Talk about an extension will be Topic A at this afternoon’s weekly Senate caucus lunches. If Senate Democrats decide to press the idea, Reid has arranged for a 60-vote-threshold test vote on it tomorrow.

PLAY MONEY: Republicans, especially the tea-party-backed House freshmen, are sure to resist the idea — because they are keen to keep making cuts to domestic programs at the bill’s current rate of $4 billion every two weeks. And they’re going to be none too pleased if the public comes to view most of the purported cuts in the House’s bill as paper tigers.

More and more independent budget hawks are starting to deride the measure’s $2.7 billion in savings from abandoned earmarks as theoretical, at best, and illusory, at worst. Here’s why: The money was appropriated in fiscal 2010 and hasn’t been actually spent yet — and so by law remained available into this budget year. But, under longstanding practice, it would never get spent unless Congress re-upped its support for those  earmarks in fiscal 2011. And since Democrats and Republicans had already put themselves on a pork-free diet for the year, the measure before the House calls for “cutting” spending that most likely would never have occurred.

GUV LOVE: Obama’s likely to get just what he wants from his endorsement of legislation that would let states opt out of parts of the health care overhaul three years earlier than the law allows.

His backing of the bill gave the nation’s governors a little unexpected love yesterday, just when they were feeling particularly down and out about all the mandates they’re facing from Washington and all the budget anger they’re feeling back home. It allowed him to sound bipartisan and centrist and open to revisiting even his most emphatically argued views.

And yet in the end the president’s most prized legislative achievement (including the mandate that most people buy insurance) will almost certainly stay on the books essentially as-is — at least until the end of the court fight over the mandate’s constitutionality. That’s because there’s almost no chance that Congress will actually advance the legislation, which is known by the names of its Senate sponsors, Ron Wyden and Scott Brown. Cantor made clear yesterday that the House Republican majority is all about ending the law, not mending it — a position that will mean almost no legislative tinkering beyond the effort (now stalled over an offset dispute) to do away with the 1099 tax reporting requirement that small businesses find so odious.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: House GOP freshman Randy Hultgren of Illinois (45).

— 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

John Cranford's Political Economy: Convenient Truth (CQ Weekly)

As is often the case, the political hand-wringing that results from a spike in oil and gasoline prices also ignores the broader reality of energy supply and demand. » View full article

Tea Party Shifts From Protesting to Advocacy (Roll Call)

The faithful gathered in Phoenix with an agenda that focused on ensuring the movement remains relevant in conservative politics. » View full article

Obama's Support for Health Law Change Could Force States' Hands (CQ HealthBeat)

The president agrees with a proposal to let states opt out of the law earlier than planned, but the nation's governors would still be forced to deliver on the law's goals. » View full article

Two-Week Spending Bill Expected to Advance in Senate (CQ Today)

The bill that Reid tries to move through his chamber could be different from the one the House is expected to pass. » View full article

Congress Q&A: Social Security (Congress.org)

A reader asks whether Congress has ever borrowed funds from the Social Security trust fund, and if so, whether those funds were replenished. » View full article

House, Senate Disagree on 1099s (CQ Today)

The House is expected to pass a bill Wednesday that would repeal a tax reporting requirement in the health care law — but the legislation would pay for the change differently than a similar measure in the Senate. » View full article
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Monday, February 28, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: One Slice at a Time?

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Monday, Feb. 28, 2011

 Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama and Biden are meeting with governors in town for their annual convention. Their top concern is how Washington might help them prop up their state budgets. Democratic and Republican governors alike are pushing hardest this week for more freedom to change Medicaid eligibility rules.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon is coming to the Oval Office at 2 to discuss the rebellion in Libya and the revolutionary fervor  spreading across the Middle East.

THE SENATE: Convenes at 2 and will continue a seasonal tradition dating to 1893: A senator reading Washington’s farewell address. (Georgia Republican Johnny Isakson is doing the honors this time.)

Debate will begin after that on legislation to revamp the patent system, and a pair of new judges will be confirmed for the federal trial court in Atlanta.

THE HOUSE: Convenes at 2 to debate four relatively non-controversial bills, one of which would make it a crime to aim a laser pointer at an aircraft in flight.

FROSTY FORTNIGHT: Don’t be fooled by the news that both sides have agreed to “blink” at the same time and allow a two-week cooling off period in their battle over spending. That’s because — to torture a pair of congressional clichés — the can they’re kicking down the road is filled with the lowest of the low-hanging fruit.

The legislation the House Republican majority will push through tomorrow — and the Democratic Senate will grudgingly clear a day or two later — makes what sounds like a dramatic $4 billion in cuts over just two weeks. But two-thirds of that will come from rescinding earmarks approved before lawmakers decided to go cold-turkey on pet projects for two years, and the rest from programs that had lost Obama’s backing — and had thereby jumped to the top of the bipartisan hit list for termination.

What that means is that the impasse that’s now postponed until March 18 — just before the start of the next congressional recess, which is when this latest stopgap CR comes to an end — will be even more intractable than the impasse just finessed.

Since this week’s arrangement was arrived at with relative ease, Republicans have every reason to try to replicate it — by proposing another, or several more, short-term CRs that make additional rounds of comparatively easy cuts. (There are still about $6 billion in earmarks for fiscal 2010 that have survived the axe so far, and at least $12 billion in additional discretionary program terminations or reductions in Obama’s most recent budget proposal.) As long as those kinds of cuts are still on the table, Senate Democrats will have a hard time saying “no” to quick-hit bills that carry them out — especially when refusing to do so would make them very vulnerable to being blamed for shutting down the government.

Boehner gave a strong hint that he liked this idea in a speech last night at the National Religious Broadcasters convention in Nashville. “If they won’t eat the whole loaf at one time,” he said of the Democrats, “we’ll make them eat it one slice at a time.”

What’s clear is that the firewall Obama and Reid hoped to create on spending (by embracing a several-year freeze in domestic discretionary appropriations) has already been breached — probably because Senate Democratic moderates up next year have told their leaders they can only win re-election by supporting deeper cuts.

But going a bit deeper than a freeze is a long way from what the tea-party-infused House Republicans want. Even if all the relatively “easy” cuts are made in this CR and another couple of stopgaps over the next few weeks, there’s at least $40 billion separating the two sides. And in a month, on April Fool’s Day, fiscal 2010 will be half over.

NEWT MAY BE NEXT: Gingrich, who coordinated  the House GOP’s last shutdown strategy, has clearly concluded that not many general election voters will remember their disdain for those tactics back in the 1990s — and that conservative Republican primary voters will view his time as Speaker as heralding today’s small-government crusade. The Gingrich camp is signaling that in the next week or two he’ll take the legal steps needed to start a presidential campaign.

Right now, former Godfather’s Pizza executive Herman Cain is the only Republican who’s created a 2012 exploratory committee. And the other likely contenders are set to hold off on the formalities until this spring, even though the first votes will probably be cast in early January, after all. (Florida’s move of its primary to Jan. 30 will prompt Iowa and New Hampshire to abandon their schedules and leapfrog until earlier in the month.)

Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty and Rick Santorum have been joined in the 99 percent certain to run camp by Gingrich and Haley Barbour. John Huntsman is looking about 90 percent sure, now, and Mitch Daniels is sounding about 80 percent likely. Mike Huckabee and Donald Trump? Coin flips. And Sarah Palin is slipping to about a 1-in-3 shot these days — especially after her showing in a new Des Moines Register poll, in which her “very favorable” rating among Republicans who say they’ll go to the Iowa caucuses has slipped to 18 percent, down 9 points from the last such poll 14 months ago.

WALLET WATCH: There were new signs today that Americans are talking a very cautious approach to signs of economic recovery.

Personal incomes rose 1 percent in January, the biggest monthly jump in almost two years, the Commerce Department reported — mainly a consequence of the 2 percentage point reduction in Social Security withholding taxes that just took effect. But consumers increased their spending just 0.2 percent at the same time, the smallest gain since June. (Still, a survey of the National Association for Business Economics released today predicts  consumer spending will rise 3.2 percent during the year, which would be a huge boost over the 1.8 percent figure for last year.)

The disparity between income gain and spending helped the personal savings rate rise four-tenths of point in January to 5.8 percent — matching the figure for all of 2010, which was approaching triple what it was (2.1 percent) in 2007, before the recession hit.

One thing limiting consumers’ ability to save: gasoline prices, which rose 4 percent last week to a national average of $3.29 a gallon. That is the most expensive ever recorded in February, and pump prices are poised to go higher because of all the unrest in the OPEC belt. (Oil prices pushed past $99 a barrel in early trading today.)

GOP TWITTERATI: Here’s a statistic that should rebut the assumption that Republicans are way behind Democrats in their understanding of how social media is becoming a dominant medium in political communication: 72 percent of this year’s Senate Republicans (34 of the 47) have Twitter IDs — a much higher share than the 55 percent of the Senate Democratic Caucus (29 of 53) using Twitter to talk to the folks back home.

— 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

Labor Shifts Resources to the States (Roll Call)

This reallocation, union officials say, reflects the urgency of the situation outside of Washington, as well as a recognition of the limited role that organized labor can play in pushing its agenda through a politically divided Congress. » View full article

Compromise: Who Needs It? (CQ Weekly)

Grover Norquist has told a few GOP senators that he's alarmed to see them teaming up with Democrats on a possible deficit bill this year. » View full article

Why Obama's Veto Threat Will Stick (Congress.org)

The president said he'd reject any bill with spending earmarks. That kind of specificity often adds strength to a veto threat. » View full article

Hill Staff Bracing for Possible Shutdown (Roll Call)

Thousands of aides are asking the same question these days: "Am I essential?" » View full article

In Spending Debate, House Leaders Strive for Conference Unity (CQ Today)

GOP leaders held two calls with members during the Presidents Day recess: One specifically to gauge freshman Republicans on spending legislation, while the second was open to the whole conference. » View full article

Rise in Oil Prices Reignites Energy Debate (CQ Today)

Experts say there is little that Congress can do in the short run to affect the prices that motorists will pay during the summer driving season. » View full article

Lott the Lobbyist Still Advises Old Colleagues (Roll Call)

While the former senator said he likes his new role as a senior adviser at Patton Boggs, he maintains a distinctly senatorial schedule of toggling between Washington and Mississippi. » View full article
-----

Contact The Editor

David Hawkings
dailybriefing@cqrollcall.com

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» CQ Today   » CQ HealthBeat   » See all CQ Roll Call
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