Friday, May 06, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Friday, May 6, 2011

 Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is arriving in Indianapolis, where at noon he’ll make remarks on energy policy — and will offer his  take on today’s unemployment news — at the headquarters of Allison Transmission, which specializes in gearshifts for hybrid cars.

The president is then off to Fort Campbell, where he’ll start with a speech at 4 thanking troops recently returned from Afghanistan. Afterward he’ll have a private meeting to thank some of the participants in Sunday’s raid on Osama bin Laden’s lair. The Kentucky fort is home to the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, which flew the specially modified, stealthy “black box” Blackhawks into Abbottabad. Although they’re based in Virginia, some of the Navy Seals who actually stormed the compound have been flown to the base to receive a personal presidential thank-you.

THE SENATE: Not in session; reconvenes at 2 on Monday.  

THE HOUSE: There’s a brief pro forma session at noon; reconvenes for real again at noon on Tuesday.

GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS: Employers added 268,000 payroll positions last month, the Labor Department reported this morning. But state, local and federal governments eliminated 24,000 positions. The net boost in jobs was the seventh straight monthly increase and the biggest since May of last year. The economy has added almost 1.8 million positions since the post-recession low of February 2010.

Virtually every private industry added positions in April — except for temporary help services. That could merely mean that companies are now hiring for their own payrolls and not relying on Manpower Inc. and similar services to fill short-term staffing needs. So, that’s the good news.

The bad news is that the jobless rate jumped back up to 9 percent from 8.8 percent in March. That might be expected if the labor force was swelling with people who finally thought they might find work and were currently being counted — perhaps only temporarily — in the ranks of the unemployed. But the labor force remains stagnant. There was essentially no change in the total number of people who want to work, but there was a big increase in the number of people who say they are unemployed.

Coupled with a rise in new claims for unemployment benefits, that suggests a new round of job losses could be limiting the benefit from payroll gains.

The numbers are confusing — as they sometimes are, since they come from two different surveys. And it may take several months to see what the trends are.

Republicans, though, seized on the bad news to say their budget-cutting agenda is necessary to induce companies to hire even more new workers. “We are taking every step possible to foster economic growth and get people back to work — and that starts by creating an environment where businesses will start hiring and America can continue to innovate, compete and lead,” Cantor said.

Wait until June 3 for more jobs data and a chance at more clarity.

TABLE TALK: The House has left town today to the sound of an uncharacteristically mumbled message from its Republican high command.

Dave Camp’s announcement yesterday that he won’t put a bill privatizing Medicare before the Ways and Means Committee, combined with Paul Ryan’s concession that his own grand Medicare plan had become a political non-starter at least until after the 2012 election, sure looked like the GOP had realized it has neither the time nor the political strength to press for such big changes (in return for increasing the debt limit) before the start of the August recess.

But then their superiors went and pulled down the white flags, with both Boehner and Cantor insisting by the end of the day that a revamp of the most expensive federal entitlement program remained “on the table.” On one level, that sounds like those two have decided it’s too early in this new round of negotiations to cast off something that their tea party freshmen view as a just crusade.

Alternatively, they could be leaving the proposal on the table to wither in the sun, so conservatives can offer it a longing glance while the realpolitik negotiations move on — with the GOP putting all their efforts into getting a deal that shields the tax code (including the current breaks for oil and gas companies) from any spending caps that might be put in place. As for the negotiating surface, Boehner’s other sound bite yesterday was that “nothing is off the table, except raising taxes.”

IT DEPENDS ON WHERE YOU SIT: In a speech to the Economic Club of New York on Monday night, Boehner will try to reassure the financial markets that his team won’t perpetrate a government default. The next morning, Republicans will have their next big chance to refine their message when Cantor and Kyl have their second session with Biden, top White House officials and a quartet of senior congressional Democrats — which all sides promise will be more substantive than yesterday’s. It was designed only to “make sure each of us understand where the other guy’s coming from,” the vice president conceded. Cantor was a smidge more sanguine. At least, he said, there was “general agreement that things have got to change.”

Blair House looks to be a riper venue for collaboration next week than the Capitol, where the expected fiscal blueprint markup in the Senate Budget Committee is looking to be a totally partisan and angry affair. Top Republican Jeff Sessions is miffed that his side hasn’t seen the sketch Kent Conrad showed fellow Democrats this week and that the chairman might not allow aides to answer questions from senators, as is customary. For now, the leader of the vaunted Gang of Six seems to be positioned to be no more powerful than the school principal at a food fight.

OLD FRIENDS: While the pyrrhic pirouettes over the budget continue, appropriators are doing their best to get the debate over next year’s dozen spending bills off to a regular-order start. Today is the deadline for House members to submit requests for language in the annual Homeland Security and Military Construction-VA bills, putting the measures on course for subcommittee markups in three weeks.

TIM’S SHOW: It’s hard to see how Tim Pawlenty will derive any benefit from being the only top-flight contender on stage last night for the first debate among Republican presidential aspirants. His complex mixture of offense (he was forceful and clear in his critique of Obama) and defense (he was apologetic about his past backing of cap-and-trade and the red ink he left as governor) surely wasn’t the lap-the-field performance that he could have scored in the debate, which included only Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, Herman Cain and Gary Johnson.

And he offered nothing, in his affect or his rhetoric, to combat the notion that he’s just too gosh-darn boring and bland — at best, too “Minnesota nice” — to take on the incumbent. Santorum turned in the most persuasively passionate conservative performance of the night — reminiscent of some of the speeches that a decade ago made him a rising star in the Senate.

In short, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney shouldn’t be concerned they stayed away from South Carolina, and Mike Huckabee and Mitch Daniels have no reason to be any more skittish about joining the field than they already are.

CORRECTION: Yesterday’s e-mail edition incorrectly said Biden would be with Obama in New York for the Ground Zero commemoration. The vice president was at a Pentagon ceremony instead.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Republican Sen.  Dick Shelby of Alabama (77) today, and three House members tomorrow: Democrat Ted Deutch of Florida (45) and Republicans Blaine Luetkemeyer of Missouri (59) and Candace Miller of Michigan (57).

— 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

Boehner Says Only Taxes Are Off the Table (CQ Today)

In the deficit-reduction discussions with Biden, the Speaker says his side will never agree to tax increases. But participants were encouraged by the overall tone of the talks. » View full article

First GOP Debate Introduces Pawlenty to Nation (Roll Call)

Romney and Gingrich skipped the Fox News-hosted forum in Greenville, S.C. » View full article

Does Daniels Really Fit GOP's Bill? Maybe So (Roll Call)

Stuart Rothenberg writes that plenty of political insiders and campaign operatives think the Indiana governor would be a formidable contender. » View full article

GOP Wants to Force Changes to Consumer Financial Agency (CQ Today)

They plan to filibuster any nominee to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — absent significant changes to the new agency's structure. » View full article

China Makes Its Mark in Latin America (CQ Weekly)

China has supplanted the United States as the leading trading partner of Brazil and Chile, and it is gaining ground elsewhere. Lawmakers say the situation demands a response, but there is no consensus about what to do. » View full article
-----

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Thursday, May 05, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Budget Trigger Happy

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Thursday, May 5, 2011

 Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama has arrived in New York, where he plans to say nothing at all during a 1:25 wreath laying ceremony at Ground Zero, now the site of a 9/11 memorial and the skeleton of a new skyscraper dubbed Freedom Tower. After that he plans to spend half an hour or more in off-camera meetings with relatives of some of those who died in the al Qaeda attacks commanded by the late Osama bin Laden.

The president will be back in the capital in time to host a Cinco de Mayo reception at 6 in the East Room — where much of the talk will be about Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s endorsement of a federal commission’s proposal (to be formally unveiled tomorrow) for building a $600 million Smithsonian museum of American Latino history at the foot of Capitol Hill.

THE HOUSE: Convened at 9 and will be done legislating for the week before 1, after passing a bill ordering the sale of four new offshore oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico and off the Virginia coast.

THE SENATE: Convenes at 10 for a day devoted entirely to speech-making. Senators aren’t due back in town until Monday evening.

SMALL BALL: It’s quickly becoming the incredible shrinking budget deal.

Republicans are sending clear signals that they’re ready to abandon their drive to privatize Medicare and otherwise rein in the most expensive entitlements until after the next election — and will condition their support for raising the borrowing limit above $14.3 trillion on getting a deal with Obama this summer that locks in several years of spending caps.

What’s not yet locked down is whether they’ll push for overall limits on federal spending relative to the size of the national economy, or limits only on domestic and military discretionary accounts, or maybe include some means testing of entitlements such as farm subsidies and medical care for the armed forces and veterans — which cost tens of billions of dollars a year but are dwarfed by the expenses of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

And the biggest unsettled matter of all will quickly become the specificity and strength of the triggers that will need to be created to hold the government to those limits while driving down the deficit. In other words, which spending would be limited if such triggers are pulled? And would tax breaks also be curtailed, as the Democrats are making clear they’ll insist?

The administration seems eager to go along with a focus on just spending limits, because the White House thinks getting that much done before a breach of the debt ceiling — the new deadline is Aug. 2 — would go a long way to reassuring the financial markets and thereby keeping the economic recovery on a steady pace.

What’s also not clear is how the administration plans to finesse the need to address the future of the Bush-era tax cuts before the end of next year.

Paul Ryan, whose name is on the House-adopted budget that’s now been roundly excoriated by the public for its Medicare overhaul, has sounded more optimistic than almost anyone (especially Senate GOP leaders) all year. But he essentially threw in the towel yesterday, declaring there’s no chance for a “grand slam” deal this year.

“My hope at this moment is to get a single or a double,” he said. “We’re not going to get a big comprehensive agreement because of just the political parameters that have been set.”

BLAIR BONES: Today’s opening of the Blair House budget talks was never going to amount to much, especially given that the host had to leave so soon after his congressional guests arrived. Biden is on his way to New York to be at this afternoon’s Ground Zero ceremonies, leaving Treasury’s Tim Geithner, OMB’s Jack Lew and top White House economic adviser Gene Sperling behind to pose for pictures with a group of lawmakers that has dwindled from the proposed 20 to just these six: Daniel Inouye and Max Baucus for the Senate Democrats, Jim Clyburn and Chris Van Hollen for the House Democrats and only two Republicans of any kind, Jon Kyl and Eric Cantor. And those two signaled yesterday that they won’t say much until Obama offers more specifics about his ideas for spending limits.

JOBS REPORT: In a potential foreshadowing of worse-than-expected news in tomorrow’s April unemployment report, the number of people applying for unemployment benefits surged last week to the highest level in eight months — by 43,000, to a seasonally adjusted 474,000. The Labor Department said that some unusual factors were involved but that the four-week rolling average had climbed 23 percent in the past four weeks.

BUS SAFETY: The commercial bus industry will face tighter federal regulation, with new licensing requirements and stronger Transportation Department power to close down unsafe operations and take commercial licenses away from drivers, Secretary Ray LaHood announced this morning outside Nationals Park.

Attention to bus safety by the administration and Congress has surged because of a series of recent incidents, most dramatically the crash that killed 15 as a bus sped through New York after a trip to a Connecticut casino. There’s been growing pressure for clamp-down legislation on Capitol Hill, and that may not abate in some quarters because today’s LaHood proposal is silent on some areas that have lawmakers particularly worried: the new rules, for example, would not mandate that buses have passenger seat belts, reinforced roofs and windows and more-sophisticated emergency exit mechanics. (Even as LaHood spoke, a bill that would boost bus regulation was endorsed by the Senate Commerce Committee.)

REDISTRICTING TWISTS: (1) Fellow Democrats from Washington are responding with a mixture of bemusement and disdain, but not any measure of support, to Dennis Kucinich’s thoughts about trying to move his congressional address from Cleveland to the West Coast. Ohio is losing a House seat after next year, and it’s almost certain that as a consequence Kucinich will be pushed toward a Democratic primary against Marcia Fudge — and in a largely African-American district that would favor her. Kucinich’s office says he’s received entreaties from liberals in 20 states urging him to get a new city to live in, but the Seattle area is the only place where he’s spent any well-publicized time in recent weeks.

(2) Russ Carnahan is now assured of the same political dilemma that’s looming for Kucinich, but the Missouri congressman isn’t going to move away from a state where his family name is Democratic legend. The state Legislature yesterday finalized a new House map that essentially eliminates the district Carnahan has held since 2005 and puts him and Lacy Clay in the same St. Louis seat. Carnahan is now likely to either lose a primary in that largely African-American territory or lose the general election in the closest nearby suburban (and largely Republican) district.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Democratic Rep.Charlie Gonzalez of San Antonio (66).

— 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

Debt Talks Start With Biden (CQ Today)

The next chapter of the fiscal saga has begun as lawmakers discuss the borrowing limit with the vice president. » View full article

Conservatives Push Spending Curbs (CQ Today)

The Republican Study Committee wants votes on a series of stand-alone bills before any action on the debt limit. » View full article

Senate Whip Race Has Gone Dark (Roll Call)

Concerned about the appearance of impropriety, the GOP has quieted the competition to replace Jon Kyl. » View full article

Kucinich Eyes a Left-Coast Address (Roll Call)

The Ohio representative might move to Washington if his district gets eliminated for 2012. » View full article

Ethics Cuts Gay Spouse Disclosure Proposal (Roll Call)

Lawmakers and staffers won't have to file financial reports for same-sex unions -- to the satisfaction of both supporters and opponents of gay marriage. » View full article

Bus Safety Spinning Its Wheels (CQ Weekly)

Changes to commercial bus regulations have been stalled for decades. Will March's deadly crash make a difference? » View full article
-----

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Wednesday, May 04, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: The Gang That Didn't Shoot?

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

 Today In Washington

THE SENATE: Convened at 10 and at noon will vote against ending debate on the small-business research measure that’s been under consideration since the middle of March. Republicans want to keep the bill alive as a potential vehicle for all sorts of party-defining policy amendments, but Reid will ditch it after the failed cloture vote.

Senators will then hold a too-close-to-call vote on whether to break a filibuster on a federal trial court nominee — only the third such cloture vote in the past four decades. Republican critics say that John McConnell’s career as a plaintiff’s lawyer is filled with ethical lapses and that his time as a top official in the Rhode Island Democratic Party shows he’d be too political on the bench.

Reid dislocated his right shoulder and got a scrape over his left eye after a fall at about 8 this morning, but was quickly treated and released at George Washington Hospital and was at the Capitol (with his arm back in its socket but still in a sling) less than three hours later. Aides said the 71-year-old majority leader went out in the rain for his usual morning run and fell after leaning against the slippery surface of a parked car.

THE HOUSE: Convenes at noon and will pass legislation (no amendments will be considered) that would permanently ban all manner of federal funding — including tax breaks or subsidies for insurance plans — to pay even indirectly for almost all abortions. Locally raised D.C. tax revenue would be subject to the same restrictions. (The current, annually extended exceptions for pregnancies that result from rape or incest, or that endanger the woman’s life, would remain.)

The annual defense authorization bill continues to take shape in markups by Armed Services subcommittees.

THE WHITE HOUSE: The administration plans to announce whether it will release either the bloody still photographs of Osama bin Laden after he was shot dead or the video of his shrouded body being tipped into the Arabian Sea.

After welcoming the Wounded Warrior Project’s bicycle ride to the South Lawn, Obama will meet in the Oval Office at 4:30 with Prince Charles. Four days after his elder son’s wedding, the heir to the British throne arrived in Washington yesterday, his  first trip to the U.S. in four years.

0-FOR-6? There definitely won’t be a Gang of Six deal before tomorrow’s start of the budget talks Biden is convening at the White House — which would have afforded those half-dozen senators the ideal launching pad for a bipartisan agreement.

And with each passing hour it looks like the Gang’s long-simmering but balky and incomplete progress will be shoved to the sidelines — at least on the surface — by one of its own members. Chairman Kent Conrad says he’s “running out of time” and is now on course to convene the Senate Budget Committee as soon as Monday to consider his own version of a budget blueprint.

Conrad’s quarter-century career in the Senate has been all about pushing for fiscal discipline, and he seems to be concluding that a start-by-going-it-alone approach is his last best hope for getting something accomplished (with his name on it) before he retires next year. But his plan got generally scathing reviews when the North Dakotan sketched it for fellow Democrats yesterday. It seeks to trim $4 trillion from projected deficits in the next decade — with a substantial amount from higher taxes, what he called “modest savings” from Medicare and no changes at all to Social Security.

Even Democrats who admire Conrad’s fiscal boldness are aware his budget recipe sounds far to the right of where Obama wants to be (at least for now) and so makes a terrible opening bargaining position for their party in the coming budget talks — especially if it does not have significant GOP backing from the outset. “At this stage,” Reid said,  Democrats “should all be very, very careful signing onto a piece of legislation until we know what the endgame is.” Which means Democrats should feel free to avoid the Conrad budget, in hope that a delayed Gang of Six deal will eventually become the winning ticket.

NOW & LATER: When Cantor said yesterday that the House might hold a vote relatively soon on raising the debt ceiling, his rationale was that the legislation’s defeat would make clear to Obama and Hill Democrats that a higher borrowing limit will have to be paired with the deep and locked-down spending reductions that Republicans demand.

That’s surely true, but the majority leader might have mentioned how an early, doomed-to-failure test vote would serve another, perhaps equally important purpose: It would afford an opportunity for a big bloc of tea party freshmen and some other lawmakers to make good — at least once — on campaign promises to vote against raising the debt ceiling. Some of them made that commitment without caveat last fall, but since arriving in Washington, they’ve been convinced by Wall Street and their leadership that such a pledge was a mistake. And so a debt limit vote this month would allow those people to vote “no” now, before using their strength in numbers to get the sort of spending cut concessions that would push them into the “yes” column when it really counts later in the summer.

THE SECOND DRAFT: The White House is not doing itself any favors by changing three key details about the death of Bin Laden: It now says the al Qaeda leader was not armed when he was shot; that he did not use his wife as a human shield; and that he was not shot twice over the left eye by a Navy Seal, but once that way and once in the chest.

The American public will buy the White House rationalization that the fine print of the narrative was bound to change, especially in the adrenaline-fueled rush to tell so much of the dramatic story so soon. But the conspiracy theorists in the Arab world will surely point to the alterations as evidence that Bin Laden may not be dead. That clamor will only surge if there are any more changes to the deadly details.

And that, in turn, would significantly raise the pressure on the administration to release its photographic proof — even though the American public isn’t clamoring to see the grisly images and they’ll only inflame the Islamic world even more. Releasing the pictures will especially complicate the already difficult American involvement in Afghanistan at a time when senior members of both parties are accelerating their skepticism about the long-term U.S. military strategy there. Which makes it all the more surprising that Leon Panetta, who’s getting ready to take over managing that war as Defense secretary, is the leader among the minority of administration officials favoring the release of the photos.

NEW NUMBERS: Another national poll out today shows Obama getting a measurable bump, but not quite a surge, in public support because of the showdown in Abbottabad.

The two-day New York Times/CBS poll out this morning puts the bounce at 11 points from a month ago — to 57 percent. Approval among independents matched the overall spike, while the boost among Republicans was 15 points. The day after, a one-day Washington Post poll showed a 9-percentage-point spike in his approval rating.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Freshman Democratic Rep. Colleen Hanabusa of Hawaii (60).

— David Hawkings, editor

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

-----

Editor's Picks From The CQ Roll Call Newsroom

Hopes for 'Gang of Six' Wane (Roll Call)

The bipartisan group of senators is quickly running out of time to cut a deal on the budget and raising the debt limit. » View full article

Reid Strives to Keep Democrats Unified in Debate on Debt Reduction (CQ Today)

The Senate majority leader is urging his caucus not to draw lines in the sand. » View full article

Some Hope to Add Abortion Measure to Debt Vote (Roll Call)

The House will briefly wade today into the social-policy wars of the 1990s. » View full article

Lawmakers, Experts Question Military Strategy in Afghanistan (CQ Today)

Critics note that the original post-9/11 mission has become a draining U.S. military and civilian involvement in Afghanistan's civil war. » View full article

SEALs' Home Turf Is 2012 Battleground Territory (Roll Call)

Obama narrowly carried Virginia's military-rich 2nd district in 2008. » View full article

Firm's Exit Raises a Point of Loyalty (CQ Weekly)

Only days after agreeing to represent the House in its defense of a 1996 law barring federal recognition of same-sex marriages, King & Spalding abruptly withdrew from the case. » View full article
-----

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dailybriefing@cqrollcall.com

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Tuesday, May 03, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Back to the Home Front

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

 Today In Washington

THE SENATE: Convened at 10 and will bask in bipartisan relief at the death of Osama bin Laden for one more day, by adopting a resolution commending the Seals and the spies who brought it about. (The vote will come after a senators-only classified briefing on the operation at 5 by CIA Director Leon Panetta.)

John Ensign’s resignation will take effect and fellow Republican Dean Heller will resign his House seat to become Nevada’s newest senator.

THE HOUSE: Convenes at noon and will be done for the day before 6, after passing bills that would repeal mandatory funding for state insurance exchanges and for school-based medical construction that was created in the 2009 health law.

A statue of the last House member who moved directly into national office — Gerald Ford, the minority leader before his appointment as vice president in 1973 — was unveiled in the Rotunda this morning by Boehner, Pelosi, Reid and McConnell.  Michigan decided last year that the 38th president should be one of its two favorite sons honored in the Statuary Hall collection.

THE WHITE HOUSE: After a Rose Garden ceremony that’s just getting under way to honor the Teachers of the Year, Obama will convene a Cabinet meeting at 12:45. He’s called members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to the State Dining Room for an off-camera meeting on immigration policy at 2:30.

WHAT NOW: The normal rhythms of springtime Washington are still off — but only by a little bit — on the second full day after the hunt for Bin Laden ended. It’s clear that by tonight the normal sounds of the season (partisan sniping about the other side’s misplaced priorities) will be approaching full volume.

That will herald a quick and not significantly debated decision, by the congressional leadership from both parties, to essentially ignore Obama’s overt effort to leverage a boost in national mood in the service of his agenda. “It is my fervent hope that we can harness some of that unity and some of that pride to confront the many challenges that we still face,” the president said at last night’s congressional dinner, to which every committee chairman and ranking member was invited.

The Republicans who run the House made no move to go along, holding intact their schedule for debating legislation this week that would pick fights with the president not only on health care but also on energy and abortion policy. And in the Senate, Reid made clear that he was willing to call only a one-more-day truce in his deepening rift with McConnell over even the most minor matters.

DOMESTICALLY SPEAKING: What this means is that both sides are concluding that the economy, energy prices and the budget debate will be the driving issues in the 2012 campaign much more than anything that happens overseas. And for awhile, lawmakers and their campaign strategists will be avoiding any suggestion that they would seek to use the killing of Bin Laden for political advantage.

Behind the scenes, though, Democrats are confident the president’s call for the daring raid has won their side new credibility on foreign and national security policy, while Republicans are sounding just as confident they will be viewed over the long run as the party that drove the war against terrorism toward Sunday’s undeniably climactic and cathartic victory.

EYES ON ISLAMABAD: The bipartisan “Gang of Eight” congressional leaders is congratulating itself on keeping the mission a secret. But there’s disagreement in Congress about whether the white House should release the grisly photographs of Bin Laden with a bullet hole over his left eye, and about  whether the al Qadea mastermind’s burial in the Arabian Sea was more dignified than it should have been.

That quibbling, though, is being readily overshadowed by one area of strong agreement about the meaning of all the details pouring out about the operation: Republicans and Democrats alike are incredulous about Pakistan’s behavior.

All day yesterday, and at a Senate Foreign Relations hearing this morning, lawmakers were demanding answers about what the country’s government knew about Bin Laden having moved within 60 miles of the nation’s capital. Members of both parties are suggesting that the approximately $4 billion in mostly economic aid to Islamabad should be placed under intense scrutiny — no matter which way Pakistani military and intelligence leaders respond: that they were totally clueless that Bin Laden was hiding in plain sight, or that they knew his whereabouts but were ignoring his presence to protect him.

“I think this tells us once again that, unfortunately, Pakistan at times is playing a double game,” said Susan Collins, a senior Republican on Senate Armed Services. Pat Leahy, who chairs the Senate Appropriations panel that directs foreign aid, called for a reassessment of U.S. assistance to the country.

In an essay published this morning by The Washington Post, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari denied suggestions his country’s security forces sheltered Bin Laden and said their cooperation with the United States helped pinpoint his location.

“We’re not accusing anybody at this point, but we want to make sure we get to the bottom of this,” John Brennan, the top White House anti-terrorism adviser, said on NPR this morning.

REID’S NEEDS: Reid still plans to force a vote in which the Senate will reject the House’s Republican-written budget, but Bin Laden’s death is among several factors that has scuttled his hope of scoring that symbolic victory this week. The vote is now off the table until next week (and Republicans then will be able to arrange an offsetting vote on Obama’s initial fiscal blueprint).

The majority leader has an equally party-defining, electoral hot button vote he wants to arrange before the one on the budget: on ending tax breaks and other forms of federal help for the oil and gas industry – which Democrats see as an obvious winner as gasoline prices continue to climb. He’s hoping a handful of Republicans — some who are pure deficit hawks and others who are politically endangered — will join the Democrats, but there’s no chance his move will get the necessary 60 votes.

Beyond that, he’s still got to extract the Senate from its comically long standoff over a bill to revamp a pair of small-business research programs, which has become flypaper for all manner of totally extraneous GOP amendments. Unless the Republicans abandon that tactic, a cloture vote tomorrow will fail, consigning the minor legislation to the back burner indefinitely.

GRACE PERIOD: The high drama in Abbottabad may have postponed the budget debate for awhile, but the Treasury says not to worry that precious days have been squandered before the looming debt ceiling standoff. Higher-than-expected tax receipts mean the demand for borrowing has been eased a touch, and so the new, absolute “drop dead” date for raising the limit on federal bowing has been pushed back three weeks — to Aug. 2, the Tuesday of the last week before the congressional summer recess is set to begin.

In a letter delivered to every lawmaker yesterday, Secretary Tim Geithner that in order to do so, the Treasury will stop selling a type of bond that helps states and cities finance their operations and will stop reinvesting U.S. securities in federal employee retirement funds.

And, in a subtle jab at those who say they will oppose a debt ceiling increase unless it’s accompanied by a deficit reduction package, Geithner reminded lawmakers that their vote would permit borrowing for obligations already approved — meaning that lawmakers in essence already voted in support of a debt limit increase by approving the House budget resolution.

REVISED ITINERARY: Rep. Gabby Giffords will now have another week to continue her recuperation in Houston before she gets on another airplane. NASA said today that the final launch of space shuttle Endeavour (under command of the congresswoman’s husband, Mark Kelly) is now scheduled for 11:20 a.m. next Tuesday, May 10. The mission was called off Friday because of concerns about the shuttle’s heating system, and the initial 72-hour delay to fix the problem has now been significantly extended, in part because of weather pattern concerns.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: The oldest House member, Texas Republican Ralph Hall, is turning 88. Three senators also celebrate today: Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon (62), and Republicans Jim Risch of Idaho (68) and David Vitter of Louisiana (50).

— 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

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dailybriefing@cqrollcall.com

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Monday, May 02, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Next Step in War on Terror

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Monday, May 2, 2011

 Today In Washington


THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is sure to speak about the death of Osama Bin Laden — and the bravery of the two dozen Navy Seals who carried out yesterday’s raid — during a noontime ceremony where he will award posthumous Medals of Honor to a pair of Army privates who were heroes of the Korean War, Anthony Kahoohanohano and Henry Svehla.

The president is hosting an East Room dinner at 8:15 for the congressional leadership, the Cabinet and other senior administration officials.

THE SENATE: Convenes at 2, and at 5:30 will confirm a pair of personal injury lawyers with Hill experiences as federal trial judges: Skip Dalton of Orlando, who was Senate counsel to Republican Mel Martinez in 2005-06, and Kevin Sharp of Nashville, who was on the Congressional Office of Compliance staff in the 1990s.

THE HOUSE: Convenes at 2, and after 6:30 will vote to rename the federal courthouse and office building in Midland for both of the West Texas city’s most famous Republican past residents, the Presidents Bush, as well as for George Mahon, the area’s Democratic congressman from 1935-78.

JUBILATION, VIGILANCE: Shot through the left eye at his $1 million fortified Pakistan mansion and quickly buried at sea, bin Laden has presented official Washington with one final challenge today: How to join the nation in celebrating the cathartic killing of the most notorious enemy of the United States since Hitler — and at the same time press forward with the war against terrorism and prepare Americans for the strong possibility of a retaliatory strike.

“Though bin Ladin is dead, al Qaeda is not,” Panetta said in a statement to CIA employees this morning that encapsulated the conundrum. “The terrorists almost certainly will attempt to avenge him, and we must — and will — remain vigilant and resolute. But we have struck a heavy blow against the enemy. The only leader they have ever known, whose hateful vision gave rise to their atrocities, is no more. The supposedly uncatchable one has been caught and killed.”

That same “remain vigilant” phrase was used by almost every senior member of Congress who issued a statement overnight — including Boehner and Hoyer, Kerry and McCain. Peter King, the House Homeland Security chairman, went a bit further, declaring that because al Qaeda's remaining leaders would “try to avenge” the death of bin Laden, “we’ll have to be on full alert” across the United States for the foreseeable future.

Similar expressions of caution, with an emphasis on the ongoing threats to national security, were expected at a noon news conference called by the Senate Homeland Security panel’s leaders, Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins.

How the U.S. government should, specifically, “remain vigilant” will be at the core of many congressional debates that crop up in the weeks ahead, from the appropriate future size of the national intelligence budget (which has more than tripled since Sept. 11) to the proper ways to extend (or curtail) the Patriot Act — starting with the three expansive FBI surveillance powers set to expire at the end of this month. The House has voted to keep them in place, and now Chairman Pat Leahy of the Senate Judiciary Committee may well find himself fighting a quickly losing (and now, politically risky) battle to limit those powers to protect personal privacy and civil liberties.

One thing that’s certain about the congressional response: Panetta’s confirmation hearing to be Defense secretary will be one of the great love-ins in recent Senate history.

METRO STEPS UP SECURITY: The evolving “hooray . . . but,” atmosphere was reflected on the streets of Washington this morning, as commuters were confronted with word that subway system security was being stepped up. Metro said its transit police would be working with area law enforcement partners to put more uniformed officers on train platforms by this afternoon — and that other security measures that are designed to be invisible to the public (and which the agency declined to describe) were being put in place.

That announcement was in crisp contrast to the tone in Lafayette Square late last night — where several thousand people gathered to sing patriotic songs and other tunes more often heard at sports events (“We are the Champions,” for example) after Obama went into the East Room at 11:35 and declared that “justice has been done” with the killing of the Sept. 11 mastermind.

BIPARTISAN MOMENTUM: “Let us think back to the sense of unity that prevailed on 9/11,” Obama said in his remarks. “We are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to.” The enormous question is how long that sense of unity might last, and whether it will spread beyond the White House gates, Times Square and Ground Zero into the backrooms of Capitol Hill.

It took almost a decade to find bin Laden (whose code name at the time of his death was Geronimo). Some members of Congress flying back to Washington were wondering aloud whether the surge in political strength the president has suddenly realized, combined with the bipartisan congressional sense of relief that this long-frustrated crusade is over, could make this “Sept. 12” period into a golden moment for reaching a deal that would push the federal budget toward balance — even if that crusade, too, takes almost a decade.

LONG HAUL AHEAD: The House and Senate both reconvene this afternoon for an unusually long 14-week stretch during which at least one chamber will in session. (In a scheduling move unprecedented in at least the last three decades, there will be no combined congressional recess for either of the early summer holidays: Only the Senate will be out during Memorial Day week; the House will be off the week before Independence Day, and the Senate will be gone the week that begins July 4.)

The oddities of the schedule, assuming it holds, mean Congress has until Friday, June 24 — eight weeks from now — to come to an agreement on legislation raising the legal limit on federal borrowing. The Treasury has said in no uncertain terms that it will be out of options for maneuvering underneath the current $14.3 trillion ceiling by the first week in July. And that date also remains the effective deadline for hatching a bipartisan deficit- and debt-reduction plan – because it won’t be until the last minute (if it happens at all) that Republicans concede the cataclysmic economic consequences of their current threats and back away from holding federal borrowing hostage to their demands for fiscal controls.

The first of the eight weeks is already going to be wasted. While there will be some news conferences about proposals to require a balanced-budget constitutional amendment, the House plans to turn its official attention away from fiscal battles for a few days — with votes instead on legislation to weaken the health care overhaul law and restrict federal funding for abortions. And in the Senate, Reid is planning to arrange a vote on the budget that House Republicans pushed through just before the start of the Easter/Passover break.

The majority leader’s effort is designed, of course, to pressure as many GOP senators as possible to vote in favor of the “Ryan plan” for changing the fundamental nature of Medicare, curbing Medicaid and extending tax cuts – since he is certain every one of his 53 caucus members will vote “no” and guarantee that budget’s rejection. (A meeting on health care entitlements that Biden plans to host at Blair House for congressional leaders is looking more and more like a photo op, and nothing more.)

Next week, though, stands as a pivotal week, because that’s essentially the self-imposed deadline for the Gang of Six senators to fish or cut bait on their search for a grand deficit-cutting bargain that combines entitlement limits, defense as well as domestic spending cuts, and tax increases — mainly in the form of limiting some cherished deductions — to cut as much as $4 trillion over 10 years.

TRUMP-ED UP: Last night’s dramatically surprising and historic events obliterated one of the annual rituals of governmental and journalistic Washington: The  water-coolerer rehashing of the highlights and lowlights of the White House Correspondents Association dinner. Which is in only one sense too bad, because it means there will be little opportunity for the collective cultural consciousness to rebut Donald Trump’s assessment.

“Seth Meyers has no talent,” he told the New York Times yesterday in assessing the night’s comedic keynote, who got his biggest laughs ridiculing the guest with the most unusual hair  and the most inexplicable presidential ambitions. “He fell totally flat. In fact, I thought Seth’s delivery was so bad that he hurt himself.”

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Peter Welch of Vermont (64) today and two other House Democrats over the weekend: Ed Perlmutter of Colorado (58) on Sunday, and Bobby Scott of Virginia (64) on Saturday.

— David Hawkings, editor

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

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-----

Contact The Editor

David Hawkings
dailybriefing@cqrollcall.com

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