Friday, March 11, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Three More Weeks!

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Friday, March 11, 2011

 Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama, having been woken at 4, promised that “the United States stands ready to help the Japanese people” recover from the 8.9 magnitude earthquake that struck at 2:45 (D.C. time) this morning. He also ordered FEMA to mobilize immediately to help American people and businesses hurt by the tsunami that swept across Hawaii starting at about 8:30 and is about to hit the West Coast.

The largest quake in Japanese history, the shifting momentum in the Libyan civil war and rising energy prices are sure to be among the topics the president is questioned about at an 11:15 news conference.

Obama will give the 2010 Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks the traditional White House welcome this afternoon, and after that some players will participate in a “Let’s Move!” street hockey workout and clinic for local kids on a rink set up on the South Lawn.

THE HOUSE: Convened at 9 and will be done for the week by early afternoon, after passing legislation to terminate HUD’s Emergency Mortgage Relief Program, which provides zero-interest loans, credit advances and $50,000 payments to unemployed people facing foreclosure. Doing so would save $840 million in the next decade. The bill is not going to pass with enough votes to override Obama’s threatened veto.

Five Appropriations subcommittees are holding hearings on proposals for fiscal 2012 domestic spending, as GOP leaders work to persuade conservatives to focus more of their budget-cutting fervor on the coming budget year instead of the one that’s almost half over.

THE SENATE: Not in session. Reconvenes at 2 on Monday.

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS: The Madison Building is reopening after a generator fire in the basement caused a brief evacuation this morning. There were no injuries and no immediate reports of damages, the Capitol Police said.

EASY PICKIN’S: House Appropriations  this afternoon will unveil its bill to cut about $6 billion from current spending levels in the three weeks that begin next Friday.

The measure is designed to pass the House with minimal fuss on Tuesday and be cleared by the Senate without any efforts at legislative hostage-taking before Friday, when the current CR expires. “It’s simply an extension of the time during which we can negotiate,” Hal Rogers, the House Appropriations chairman, said yesterday. “It’s not a substantive bill.”

What that means is the new CR won’t include any contentious policy riders and will claim the bulk of the GOP’s purported savings from two moves that Democrats have a tough time arguing against: whacking away at a list of previously approved earmarks, which lawmakers on both sides have agreed to spurn, and strangling programs a few months early that have lost Obama’s backing in his budget for next year.

The current CR eliminated about $2.7 billion in spending for energy, water, homeland security, labor, education, health, transportation, housing and legislative branch projects. But that still leaves a ripe roster of $6 billion in earmarks for agriculture, law enforcement, scientific, defense, military construction, environmental, public lands and foreign aid projects.

STRATEGY SEASON: Beyond the clear bipartisan agreement to give themselves just one more extension on finishing an assignment that was due last Sept. 30, there’s deepening discord — within both parties — about how to approach the budgetary semester that’s now under way.

There are factions of Republicans and Democrats that want to bring the debate over fiscal 2011 spending cuts to a quick end, concluding they’ve spent too much time and political capital already on what remains a relatively minor slice of the ballooning deficit and debt. There are also factions in both parties that think their side will get the best deal possible if they hitch the current spending impasse to all the other, bigger issues: the unavoidable need to raise debt ceiling this spring and the fiscal reality that raising revenue and curbing entitlement growth are the only ways to slow the spread of red ink.

Ten Senate Republicans made their move on that score yesterday, vowing to try to block all legislation except bills cutting spending in an effort to jump-start debate on a grand fiscal plan. Five of them, and three other GOP conservatives, have also announced their willingness to filibuster any legislation they consider “fiscally irresponsible.” (The five senators on both initiatives are Jim DeMint, John Ensign, Kelly Ayotte, Mike Lee and Rand Paul. The others in the new crusade are David Vitter, Jeff Sessions, Marco Rubio, Pat Toomey and Roger Wicker.)

ALL SYSTEMS GO? At a press briefing this afternoon, doctors at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center are expected to say that Rep. Gabby Giffords is recovering so steadily (and speedily) that she may be well enough to travel to Florida next month — to watch Endeavor, with her husband Mark Kelly in the commander’s seat, lift-off April 19 on what’s supposed to NASA’s final space shuttle mission.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Today, Democratic Rep. Jesse Jackson of Chicago (46). Both of North Dakota’s senators this weekend: retiring Democrat Kent Conrad (63) on Saturday and freshman Republican John Hoeven (54)  on Sunday.

— 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

In Remapping, No Guarantees (CQ Weekly)

Despite all the high-tech mapping systems in use, control of congressional redistricting still involves educated guesses based on voting patterns in the recent past. » View full article

Groups Fret About Budget Cuts to Architect of the Capitol (Roll Call)

They're calling on Congress to spare the Architect's budget this year, citing concern that putting off construction projects will cost more in the long term. » View full article

Senator Says Clapper's Latest Remarks Are the 'Final Straw' (CQ Today)

Republican Lindsey Graham particularly dislikes the DNI's public assessment that Qaddafi is likely to prevail against rebels. » View full article

GOP's Energy Blame Game Pins Obama for Pain at the Pump (CQ Today)

As part of the strategy, Republicans have repackaged their "all of the above" plan as the American Energy Initiative. » View full article

Congress Q&A: Oil Subsidies (Congress.org)

A reader asks about how the government assists the industry. » View full article

Fiscal 2012 is Next Target for House Republicans (CQ Today)

The debate on this year's spending bill sets the table for bigger ideas in the next budget, Republicans say. » View full article

GOP Senators Threaten to Stall Floor Activity (Roll Call)

The Republicans told Reid they want the chamber to focus on fiscal issues. » View full article
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Thursday, March 10, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Budgetary Baby Steps

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Thursday, March 10, 2011

 Today In Washington

THE HOUSE: Convened at 10 and at noon will begin debating legislation ending the FHA Refinance Program. Passage by 7 is a sure thing, but the majority probably won’t be big enough to override Obama’s threatened veto. The program offers low-interest government loans to people who are “underwater” on their mortgages, meaning they owe more to the bank than the home is worth. Ending it is supposed to save $175 million during the next decade.

An Energy and Commerce subcommittee approved a measure blocking the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions. The Oversight and Government Reform Committee will approve a bill keeping the D.C. school vouchers program alive.

THE SENATE: Convened at 10 and is expected to be done for the week by 2:30, after voting to confirm Asheville attorney and former federal magistrate Max Cogburn Jr. as a federal judge in North Carolina.

THE WHITE HOUSE: “If there’s one goal of this conference, it’s to dispel the myth that bullying is just a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up. It’s not,” Obama said this morning as he and his wife opened a five-hour administration gathering at the White House on the perils of such abuse and what schools and communities can do to stop it.

The president will meet with advisers and lawmakers at 2 to discuss his strategy for pushing a rewrite of the No Child Left Behind education law.

THIS IS A TEST: Yesterday’s 10 Democratic votes against the Senate majority’s own opening bid for midyear spending cuts means party leaders (starting with Obama) will have to propose much more than $5 billion if they want to accomplish three things: forming a united front against the full depth and breadth of the GOP’s aspirations; getting the House Republicans to take their bargaining opponents seriously; and giving their most vulnerable incumbents a fiscal platform on which to campaign next year.

Five of the 10 plan to run for re-election in 2012, and each is at least potentially vulnerable: Herb Kohl in Wisconsin, Joe Manchin in West Virginia, Claire McCaskill in Missouri, Bill Nelson in Florida and Ben Nelson in Nebraska. (The 11th caucus member to vote “no” was independent Bernie Sanders, who’s a lock for another term in Vermont.)

What would be best of all for these Democrats is claiming a part in a grand deficit-reduction bargain combining spending cuts, both domestic and military, with reductions in tax expenditures and limits on the growth in Medicare and Medicaid. That’s why Schumer, the party’s congressional message guru, pushed hard yesterday to intensify talks toward such a deal. But within hours of his call, he was more or less rebuffed by the White House spokesman Jay Carney, who said that while such negotiations may eventually occur, they were unlikely in the context of funding the government for the rest of this fiscal year.

Still, Biden gets back from Europe tomorrow night and is expecting to revive face to face talks with congressional leaders of both parties before the weekend is over.

WAR CHEST: McCain is positioning himself as the main obstacle to quick enactment of the next CR, which will be the sixth since fiscal 2011 began in October.

The stopgap bill House Appropriations will unveil tomorrow will keep the government going until either April 8 or April 15 and will dictate cuts of about $2 billion a week along the way. The House will pass that along party lines early next week, because the Republican freshmen and other conservatives are willing to postpone their drive for big social policy changes along with their spending cuts (ending subsidies for Planned Parenthood, first of all).

But then the measure will run headlong into McCain, who will use the threat of a government shutdown next Friday night as leverage to get a comprehensive, six-month defense spending package attached to the CR. The top Republican on Senate Armed Services, he says the military spending levels in the House-passed, rest-of-the-year appropriations package are inadequate. His alternative would provide $535 billion in non-war spending through the end of September. It would provide $500 million to support the Iraqi army and police — funding the House would eliminate. And to pay for that, McCain would eliminate $300 million in medical research and $250 million in school construction money.

FUMBLED HANDOFF? McCain’s move is supposed to give a bit of help to the administration, where senior officials at both State and Defense are lamenting that the balky appropriations process is hampering their already challenged efforts to manage the transition from a U.S. military to civilian lead in Iraq.

But McCain’s efforts are all about the military aspects of Obama’s plan, not the foreign aid part. For that, the president will be able to look to an even less likely ally than his 2008 Republican opponent. Former first lady Laura Bush, in an interview with Bloomberg TV, said she will soon start telephoning lawmakers to lobby them to abandon the House’s 16 percent cut in foreign aid.

The spending is “worth it because of our own moral interest to be generous and to help other people, but it’s also worth it both for our national security and for economic interests,” she said.

ISLAM HEARINGS: “To back down would be a craven surrender to political correctness,” Peter King said this morning as he convened his House Homeland Security Committee hearing on Islamic radicalization in America. “There is nothing radical or un-American about conducting these hearings,” the chairman said, because “homegrown radicalization is part of al Qaeda’s strategy to continue attacking the United States.”

The Long Island Republican has faced withering criticism, and threats to his safety, from critics contending that the proceedings amount to an anti-Muslim witch hunt or modern-day McCarthyism. Securtity in the Cannon hearing room was exceptionally tight. To help rebut his critics, King called as his first witness John Dingell, whose career as a vigorous investigator is without peer in the modern Congress. The Michigan Democrat said he kept a picture of Joe McCarthy on his wall to remind him how not to use his power, and he asserted that King’s hearings were in the best tradition of congressional oversight.

The next witness, Keith Ellison, the Minnesota Democrat who was the first Muslim elected to Congress, broke down in tears recalling the story of a Muslim first-responder at Ground Zero whose patriotism was questioned after Sept. 11.

OFF THE GRID: The president of the Gridiron Club, USA Today’s Susan Page, is getting ready today to formally reject C-Span’s annual request to broadcast the elite journalist group’s annual (and only officially off the record) white-tie dinner on Saturday night, where Obama will appear for his first time as president.

“The public clamors for openness and transparency in Washington,” Brian Lamb said yesterday in his request. “Televised coverage will permit the public to see the Gridiron Club’s 125-year-old demonstration of a Washington, D.C., establishment that can laugh together for an evening while preserving the important watchdog role of the Fourth Estate.”

DAVID BRODER: Twenty-seven years later, I still remember the time David Broder took me to breakfast as one of the highlights of my career. I learned an enormous amount from him in that hour, about both reporting technique and electoral politics, even though he did nothing in the least bit didactic. Instead, he simply listened, and encouraged me with his gentle questions to say more, about a sliver of national news that I happened to be covering pretty closely as a cub newspaper reporter. (It was the rise of Henry Cisneros, then San Antonio’s mayor and later HUD secretary). He was extraordinarily gracious, polite, curious and insightful — and his effect that morning cemented my interest in working to become a good enough journalist to be in his company again. Thank you, sir. RIP.

 

— 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

King Hearings Called Political Witch Hunt (Roll Call)

The New York Republican's look at religious radicalization kicks off as Muslim groups continue to slam the effort. » View full article

Senate Votes Put 2012 Politics in Spotlight (Roll Call)

Campaign organizations marked their scorecards after Wednesday's test votes on spending, with New England Republicans and moderate Democrats getting extra attention. » View full article

Duncan: Fix 'No Child Left Behind' (CQ Today)

The Education chief got an earful from Republicans while urging a House panel to get moving on a rewrite of the law. » View full article

Rothenberg: An Early Look at 2012 'Elite Eight' Battleground (Roll Call)

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Budget Delay Hurts Iraq Transition (CQ Today)

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Recent Supreme Court Bills (Congress.org)

Lawmakers have their own Supreme Court opinions. » View full article
-----

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David Hawkings
dailybriefing@cqrollcall.com

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Wednesday, March 09, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: The Cat-Herders

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

 Today In Washington

JOINT MEETING: Convened at 11 for an address by Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard. “Real mates talk straight,” she said. “You have an ally in Australia.”

THE SENATE: Convened at 9:30 for speeches and will reconvene this afternoon for more debate before the back-to-back roll calls starting at 3 on the competing spending-cut packages. Neither the Republican plan for the second half of fiscal 2011 passed by the House (now totaling $57 billion), nor the plan assembled by Senate Democrats (now worth $5 billion) will get close to the 60 votes needed to advance.

THE HOUSE: Convenes after the joint meeting to set the ground rules for debating legislation, tomorrow and Friday, that would save $9 billion by ending a pair of mortgage-relief programs started during the 2008 financial crisis. (The White House has issued veto threats against both bills.) The last vote of the day will be at about 2:30.

An Energy and Commerce subcommittee will endorse legislation to block the FCC’s net neutrality regulations.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama formally announced his nomination of Gary Locke, his Commerce secretary for the past two years, to be ambassador to Beijing. "Our relationship with China is one of the most critical of the 21st century," he said. “As the grandson of a Chinese immigrant who went on to live the American dream, Gary is the right person to continue this cooperation."

Obama is meeting now with Secretary of State Clinton, national security adviser Tom Donilon and CIA Director Leon Panetta on possible no-fly zone and other military options for intervening in the Libyan civil war. (Discussions on tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to try to hold down oil prices are being left for another day.)

Tonight the president is hosting a party at the White House for members of the Illinois and North Carolina congressional delegations to watch the Chicago Bulls play the Charlotte Bobcats.

ROUNDUPS: The suspense about this afternoon’s spending test-votes is all about how many senators might stray from the party line.

McConnell is working much harder than Reid to hold his 47 troops in line, and he may well corral all four of the potential strays — centrists who have signaled their disdain for the depth of the cuts passed by the House: Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, Scott Brown and Dick Lugar.

The reason the votes didn’t happen yesterday, as both sides had initially agreed, is that the Republican whip team wanted more time to secure a united front, at least for the first (and, ultimately, least important) budget vote of the year. They appeared to have turned the momentum their way at the weekly caucus lunch. Before he entered the room, Lugar said flatly, “I’m opposed to it,” when asked how he’d vote on the GOP package. Afterward, he pledged his support for the overall spending target while saying he still is against the House bill’s deep reductions in foreign aid.

Reid has already lost West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, who views the Democrats’ opening bid as pointlessly small and today’s entire exercise as a ridiculous waste of time when the budget year is ticking away and the only way toward a deal would be to put the president at the head of the negotiating table. The two other senators likeliest to dissent are, like Manchin, facing tough re-election campaigns next year: Ben Nelson in Nebraska and Claire McCaskill in Missouri. If all three vote “no” on the Democrats’ opening bid, then Mary Landrieu will likely join them, even though she’s got until 2014 to shore up her centrist bona-fides in Louisiana.

For now, members of the bipartisan “Gang of Six” senators working on a plan to implement last fall’s Simpson-Bowles commission recommendations for broad and deep deficit reduction are going to stay in their partisan camps: Dick Durbin, Kent Conrad and Mark Warner for the Democrats and Tom Coburn, Michael Crapo and Saxby Chambliss for the Republicans.

EYES ON THE BACK BENCH: Boehner and his team are likely to need all the etiquette tips at their disposal to calm the outrage in the Republican ranks if the House appropriations package is rebuffed by even a few GOP senators. And they will need to move fast to quell the anger, because otherwise the tea-party freshman may get so riled up that they insist on politically untenable cuts and policy provisions in the next CR, which will need to be enacted with ease and speed next week.

House leaders are confident for now that the next stopgap, which they’ll unveil Friday, can be passed swiftly as long as it includes language cutting $2 billion for each week the measure lasts. (It will probably be for four weeks, to buy some real negotiating time and to create a real deadline: The April 15 start of the two week Passover/Easter recess.)

There’s still no viable plan, though, for advancing a full-on defense appropriations package, which the Pentagon wants badly so it can get its procurement house in order.

NO POSSIBLE RECOVERY: Republicans were handed a budget-cutting gift overnight: Rogue political videographer James O’Keefe’s hidden-camera recording two weeks ago of NPR fundraising executive Ron Schiller — who not only derided the tea party movement as “racist” and “xenophobic,” but also said public radio would be better off without any government money.

Schiller’s immediate resignation (he had planned to leave this spring, anyway) was followed this morning by the resignation of NPR president and CEO Vivian Schiller. (They’re not related.) But the departures will do nothing to slow the surging momentum in Congress to end federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which supports programs distributed on NPR and PBS. The CPB is getting $430 million in the current fiscal year, and the House-passed spending bill would rescind that payment. (NPR receives about 2 percent of its revenue from federal grants, while its member stations get about 10 percent of their funding from federal and state governments.)

“This video clearly highlights the fact that public broadcasting doesn’t need taxpayer funding to thrive,” Cantor said last night, “and I hope that admission will lead to a bipartisan consensus to end these unnecessary federal subsidies.”

HIS GENERATION: The House majority leader was all too willing to pile on to the NPR bandwagon last night, after some of his remarks earlier in the day made conservatives in his caucus squeamish. And all he did was run a highlighter over some deficit-reduction math: “You cannot balance this budget in 10 years without severely impacting the benefits that current seniors and retirees are getting now,” he said.

Cantor says Republicans plan to assume major changes to Medicare in the budget resolution they’ve already stared drafting behind the scenes. But those changes, he says, would not effect benefits for people who are now 55 or older. “But for the rest of us, 54 and younger, we are going to have to come to grips with the reality that if we are going to have these programs around and save them, they are going to have to look a lot different for the younger people of this country,” he said.

INCEPTION: You could argue that one of the turning points in the history of the Republican Party was 21 years ago today, when the Senate rejected John Tower’s nomination to be secretary of Defense. Why? Because that set the stage for the rise of not one, but two, of the most important figures of the past two decades. If Tower had been confirmed, Dick Cheney might have stayed on as Wyoming’s only congressman for years, instead of becoming the fallback choice for secretary of Defense. And if Cheney had stayed in Congress, there would have been no opening for a new minority whip, the post that Gingrich secured as the first step up the House leadership ladder.

QUOTE OF NOTE: “There’s no question: At times of my life — partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country — that I worked far too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate,” Gingrich said in an interview with the Christian Broadcast Network, released this morning, when asked about his extramarital affair while he was Speaker with House aide Callista Bisek, who is now his third wife.

— 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

Congress Divided Over Asking Obama to Tap Oil Reserve (CQ Today)

The debate has returned amid projections of $4-a-gallon gas, a continued stalemate over national energy policy and worries that rising oil prices will hobble the economic recovery. » View full article

Senators Voice Reluctance on Military Action in Libya (CQ Today)

Their main reservation is that the United States risks over-committing the military, which is still deeply engaged in Afghanistan and Iraq. » View full article

Boehner Signs Up Staffer for Etiquette Class (Roll Call)

The Speaker's office spent $5,800 to register a staff member for a protocol class to learn the niceties of exchanging gifts, arranging seating plans and organizing large events with visiting dignitaries. » View full article

House Sell Begins on Next CR (Roll Call)

Republican leaders say they can muster enough support to pass a second stopgap spending bill before a government shutdown next week, despite pressure from their right flank. » View full article

Pentagon Response Time on Equipment Requests Draws Criticism (CQ Today)

Some lawmakers say the military has an ineffective system for procuring vitally needed battlefield materiel. » View full article

A Housing Lobby Divided (CQ Weekly)

By proposing to reduce federal aid to homebuyers and give more help to renters, the Obama administration has perhaps unwittingly split advocacy groups that for decades have worked side by side. » View full article
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David Hawkings
dailybriefing@cqrollcall.com

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Tuesday, March 08, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Locke's China Trade

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

 Today In Washington

THE SENATE: Convened at 9:30, facing the apparent collapse of a deal to have back-to-back test votes on the parties’ opening bids for spending cuts during the second half of this fiscal year.

Neither the $60 billion GOP plan nor the $6 billion Democratic plan would get any votes from the other party — meaning neither package would get close to the 60 votes needed to be enacted. But putting that standoff on the record was supposed to push negotiators toward the bargaining table, which is why leaders of both parties agreed to the procedure last week.

But “Republicans are reneging on that deal,” Reid declared this morning, apparently because they’ve decided they don’t want a test vote on the House-passed measure.  “Where I come from, people keep their word. I’m disappointed the Republicans refuse to keep theirs,” he said.

Depending on the outcome of the budget debate impasse, the “first to file” patent-process overhaul legislation will be put to a final vote today or tomorrow. Passage by an overwhelming, bipartisan majority seems guaranteed.

THE HOUSE: Convenes at 2 and will  debate a pair of bills. One would allow veterans to get Public Health Service grants and the other would make dentists part of the federal first-responder medical system.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is headed to Boston after lunch. He’ll speak at 3 at TechBoston Academy, a 6-through-12 public school opened in 2002 that integrates technology in all its courses with steady help from Cisco, Microsoft, IBM and Google. The visit is designed to draw attention to Obama’s proposal to create a $90 million federal agency to pursue breakthroughs in education technology.

The president will arrive back in Washington at 9:30 after he and Pelosi speak to a $5,000-a-head Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee fundraiser at the Museum of Fine Arts.

PLUM ASSIGNMENT: It’s a clarion-clear signal about 21st century geopolitics, global economics and America’s role in both: Ambassador to China is becoming a more prestigious and important assignment in the United States government than secretary of Commerce.

Obama is set to announce tomorrow that he’s nominating Gary Locke to become his envoy to Beijing. He would be the first Chinese-American to hold the job — just as he’s been the first Chinese-American to run the Commerce Department, which during the rise of the American Century was such an important and high-profile post that it propelled Herbert Hoover into the presidency.

And now it’s the current envoy to China, John Huntsman, who hopes that job catapults him toward the White House — which will require to overcome intense skepticism about his conservative credentials. (Huntsman is resigning at the end of April, and Obama and his senior team can’t thank the Republican former governor of Utah enough for all he’s done to support the president.)

The son and grandson of immigrants, Locke will arrive with great fanfare in his new job. (He’s also known there for his work on trade issues for the Seattle law firm he joined after his two terms as governor of Washington.)  But Locke will clearly have his work cut out for him. He says that at Commerce he’s helped boost U.S. exports to China by 34 percent, as part of Obama’s drive to double all U.S. exports. But America’s trade imbalance with China reached a record $273 billion last year.

Locke will go down as something of a footnote in the Cabinet, where he was 10th in the presidential line of succession. He’ll be Obama’s first department head to leave — something that will annoy Defense Secretary Gates, who had hoped to be gone by now but is being pressed hard by the White House to stay through the re-election campaign. And Locke has made little news during his two years on the job, for which he was Obama’s third choice to begin with. (Bill Richardson was pressed to give up the nomination after there was a whiff of political scandal back in New Mexico, and then Judd Gregg got cold feet about being a Republican in a Democratic administration.)

If Locke is confirmed (and there’s no obvious reason that won’t happen very quickly), he will be the first person to leave the Cabinet for an ambassadorship in a quarter-century — since Margaret Heckler, lambasted as an ineffectual and insufficiently conservative HHS secretary, was persuaded to resign and then became Reagan’s envoy to Ireland.

NO E-Z PASS: House appropriators have already started drafting the next CR, because there's no expectation that the year-ending spending deal will get done in the next 10 days. Republicans have not yet signaled the specifics, but they’ve made clear the next bill will continue the formula of the current temporary  appropriations law — meaning cuts on the order of $2 billion for every week that the stopgap funding is enacted.

White House spokesman Jay Carney derided that system yesterday as a “tollbooth” the GOP should abandon because such a system “is not good for the economy.” He also said that even though Obama’s top negotiator, Biden, is in Europe for the week, preliminary staff talks are undergoing between the White House and Congress.

HELLER PROPELLER:There are consequences to sin” was the John Ensign declaration yesterday that will surely be used in cautionary tales about political hubris for years to come. In the short term, though, the most readily apparent consequence is that Republicans now have at least a 50-50 chance of hanging on to one of Nevada’s Senate seats next year.

Those chances will grow better if Sharon Angle can be persuaded to try to become rural Nevada’s congresswoman instead of trying again for the Senate — which would allow Dean Heller (who’s leaving that House seat open after three terms) to have a clear shot at the nomination and would be the early general election favorite.

Although Obama carried Nevada by 12 points in 2008, and Reid was able to use his organizational muscle to hang on in 2010, the state has plenty Republican about it. (The party picked up a House seat and held the governorship last fall, for example,) Rep. Shelley Berkley of Las Vegas is eager to move to the Senate, but she could face tough primary competition from as many as three statewide office holders: Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, Secretary of State Ross Miller and Treasurer Kate Marshall.

HASTINGS COMPLAINT: He survived impeachment from the House and expulsion from a federal judgeship by the Senate to win a politically safe congressional seat two decades ago. But now Alcee Hastings faces allegations that could put his career in serious jeopardy once more.

The conservative legal watchdog group Judicial Watch sued in federal court in Washington yesterday, accusing hastings of making sexual advances and touching an aide, Winsome Packer, while he chaired the congressional Helsinki Commission and she worked there — and that the congressman and the panel’s staff director, Fred Turner, then pressured Packer into not coming forward regarding her allegations.

In addition to her suit — which Hastings labeled as “ludicrous” and vowed to fight  — Packer also published a novel last year, “A Personal Agenda,” about the murder of a disgraced African-American former congressman.

NEW ENEMIES: Here’s something that was tough to predict only a few days ago: a rhetorical war between Lamar Alexander and Donald Trump. The real estate mogul — and increasingly possible presidential candidate — excoriated the Senate GOP Conference chairman yesterday, saying Alexander should “stop trying to get free publicity on the back of Donald Trump.”

Over the weekend, the Tennessee senator declared that Trump has “absolutely no chance of winning” the White House. In response, Trump issued a statement saying that Alexander, “who I do not know and have heard very little about over the years — perhaps because of a certain ineffectiveness — has recently stolen my line, word for word, about Ron Paul, by stating that ‘Donald Trump has absolutely no chance of winning’ in a presidential contest.”

— 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, March 07, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: A Recipe for Outrage

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Monday, March 7, 2011

 Today In Washington

THE SENATE: Convenes at 2 and is on course for a vote this evening that will curtail debate and limit amendments to the patent system overhaul, paving the way for passage by tomorrow. (The cloture vote will forestall an effort to attach a six-month defense spending bill to the patent measure; the Pentagon is eager to get such a bill enacted, separately from the domestic spending standoff, mainly so new procurement contracts can be awarded.)

Senators will also fill three openings in the U.S. district court system by confirming federal magistrate Anthony Battaglia for a vacancy on the bench in San Diego, Illinois trial judge James Shadid for a judgeship in Peoria and Illinois appeals judge Sue Myerscough to the bench in Springfield.

THE HOUSE: Not in session. Next convenes at 2 tomorrow.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, after a morning meeting, met reporters in the Oval Office and pledged mutual cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region and the ongoing war in Afghanistan. (As a gesture signaling that her country is one of the United States’ most reliable allies, Gillard was given free run of Blair House for the weekend.)

IT ALL BLURS TOGETHER: All the hubbub for the next 11 days will once again be about the threat of a government shutdown. Worry not — the chatter is essentially meaningless. Another stopgap CR with a several-billion-dollar haircut (probably lasting four weeks) will be cleared before next Friday (March 18), because both sides have decided they eventually can get pretty close to a compromise they can live with — and avoid the brinkmanship, too.

But their walk toward a deal on spending may be so slow that, in the end, accord on how much to cut from current, fiscal 2011 appropriations becomes deeply enmeshed with the debate that’s just getting under way about the budget for fiscal 2012 — not only on spending but also on entitlements and on the debt ceiling.

The more big-ticket items that get thrown in the deal-making mix, the more likely that each side will be able to claim a measure of satisfaction — which means each side will be forced to live with a measure of outrage. (This is, after all, exactly how the big tax deal got done in the lame duck; Republicans got their extension of the Bush tax cuts, but Democrats got their extension of jobless benefits.) So the final spending number that Congress sets for next few months may well end up being lost under much bigger agreements about domestic discretionary spending reductions for all of the next budget year, and maybe some limitations on tax expenditures and the growth of Medicare and Medicaid.

Of course, it may prove politically impossible for such a deal to be reached at a budget summit — even if Obama, Boehner and Reid end up as the only people in the room. Which is why the three of them will be looking in with interest tomorrow when the chairmen of last year’s debt commission, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, come to the Senate Budget Committee to talk about their continued determination to cut the biggest budget deal of all time.

Meanwhile, tomorrow afternoon the Senate plans to hold dueling votes on the two sides’ opening bargaining positions for fiscal 2011 — the first on the House-passed spending bill to cut $61.5 billion and the Democratic alternative to cut $6.5 billion beyond the $4 billion cut last week. “Once these votes are behind us and everyone’s voice is heard, I hope each senator and member of Congress will find renewed motivation to do what we’ve needed to do since the beginning — come together, negotiate in good faith, and compromise,” Reid said Friday.

THE NO-FLY GUYS: Qaddafi launched fresh air strikes on rebel positions around the oil port city of Ras Lanouf this morning. The offensive is sure to intensify the growing and bipartisan talk in Congress about imposing a no-fly zone over Libya.

Bill Daley’s backhanded derision of all that talk yesterday is likely to backfire on Capitol Hill. "Lots of people throw around phrases of no-fly zone, and they talk about it as though it’s just a game on a video game or something," he said on NBC’s "Meet the Press." "Some people who throw that line out, have no idea what they’re talking about."

But the three senators who came out in favor of the idea on the other Sunday shows — the minority leader (McConnell), the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee (McCain) and the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee (Kerry) — undoubtedly know what they’re talking about when it comes to the use of American military force. And it’s hard to decide which of the three of them likes having his credibility questioned less.

KING’S BEEF: The New York tabloids are going to help turn Thursday’s House Homeland Security Committee hearing into the congressional circus of the week.

The panel’s chairman, Long Island’s Peter King, has been planning the hearing for months to highlight what he views as lax interest by the Obama administration — and American muslims — in the threat of home-grown Islamic terrorism. “I don’t believe there is sufficient cooperation” by domestic Muslims with law enforcement, King said yesterday on CNN. “Certainly my dealings with the police in New York and FBI and others say they do not believe they get the same — they do not give the level of cooperation that they need.”

Later in the day, about 300 protesters gathered in Times Square to lambaste the hearing as xenophobic. They say that singling out Muslims, rather than extremists, is unfair and unnecessarily divisive. That view will be represented at the hearing in testimony by Minnesota Democrat Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress.

The White House itself put extra attention on the hearings yesterday by dispatching a deputy national security adviser, Denis McDonough, to a suburban Virginia mosque known for its cooperation with the FBI and its rejection of the al Qaeda brand of Islam.

TRAIL TIPS: (1) It looks like each party will be able to able to claim one big Senate open-seat recruiting success this week.

Republican Heather Wilson is announcing her candidacy this afternoon for the New Mexico seat that Democrat Jeff Bingaman is giving up. The former House member would be by far the best general-election candidate for the GOP — assuming she and the party establishment can ward off what’s certain to be more than one primary challenger on her right. (She lost the nomination the last time a Senate seat came open in the state, in 2008.)

Tim Kaine appears to be leaning ever more in favor of running for the Virginia seat that Jim Webb is vacating. An announcement is likely by Friday. The former governor and current Democratic national chairman is the only person in his party with a strong chance to hold the seat in light of Republican George Allen’s comeback bid. (If Kaine doesn’t run, the party’s default choice will be Tom Perriello, who was ousted from the House after a single term last fall.)

(2) “The first event of its kind in the 2012 race with multiple potential candidates sharing the same stage!” the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition boasts about its candidate forum at 8 tonight in the Des Moines suburb of Waukee. In fact, the five aspirants will be speaking to the evangelicals in sequence, not debating. Sill, the event is as good a moment as any to mark the start of the race for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. The quintet is Herman Cain, Buddy Roemer, Rick Santorum, Tim Pawlenty and Newt Gingrich.

(3) Michele Bachmann said yesterday she hasn’t decided whether to join the presidential field, but she is headlining a pair of fundraisers for the state GOP in New Hampshire this weekend. And she’s doing nothing to tamp down the sort of rhetoric that has made her a favorite of the tea party movement. “I don’t take back my statement on gangster government,” she said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” when asked about her characterization of the Obama administration at a  tea party gathering last year. “I think that there have been actions that have been taken by this government that I think are corrupt.”

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Republican Rep. Elton Gallegly of California (67), Democratic Rep. Jason Altmire of Pennsylvania (43). (PS: There’s not another congressional birthday until Friday.)

— 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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