Friday, May 13, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Word From Herb (Kohl)

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Friday, May 13, 2011

 Today In Washington

THE HOUSE: Convened at 9 and two hours later was done for the week — and for the next 10 days. The last vote before the recess began was 392-15 to pass legislation authorizing classified budgets for the government’s 16 intelligence-gathering operations — including the CIA, the NSA and the foreign spying offices within the Pentagon, the FBI and the State and Homeland Security departments.

Appropriations subcommittees are marking up the first two spending bills for next year, one covering homeland security and the other for the VA and military construction.

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

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama has already had the one meeting on his public schedule — with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who’s pressing the United States to make more cutting-edge military technologies available to its European allies.

Biden is in New York to headline a fundraising lunch for his old Delaware colleague in the Senate, Tom Carper.

THE MONEY DID THE TALKING: Herb Kohl is the sixth member of the Senate’s Democratic caucus who will retire next year, he’s announcing this afternoon, and his decision to depart after four terms will enhance the rapidly building Republican hopes of a senatorial takeover next fall.

Kohl, who turned 76 in February, has had an unusually quiet congressional career. He remains best known back home in Wisconsin as a multimillionaire department store magnate and owner of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks. But the enormous amounts he’s been willing to spend holding his seat—including a $1 million loan to his campaign last fall that he can now get back — had been scaring top-tier challengers into silence so far.

The immediate speculation this morning was that the Republicans would look to recruit state Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen (who won his second term with 58 percent last year) and that Mark Neumann, a wealthy former GOP House member who has lost bids for senator and governor in the past, would try for statewide office again. Democratic talk centered on whether Russ Feingold, who lost his campaign for a fourth term by 5 points last year, would seek a Senate comeback. Rep. Ron Kind is very likely to go after the seat.

HARDY PERENNIAL: McConnell’s call for spending caps that would apply to Medicare and other entitlements after a few years (and to discretionary programs right away) will get a boost at least for this afternoon — when the trustees who oversee Medicare and Social Security release their annual report on the programs’ finances.

The trustees will remind Congress, as they do every year, that medical inflation is putting Medicare in more rapidly worsening shape than Social Security. Last summer, the trustees projected that Medicare’s trust funds would be empty in 2029, eight years ahead of insolvency for the Social Security trust funds. But that was assuming the new health care overhaul law would be implemented in full, which Republicans in Congress have made their No. 1 goal to prevent. The trustees also assumed payments to doctors would be cut 23 percent, as scheduled — reductions that Congress has repeatedly postponed through a regular series of “doc fix” bills.

So if those two big and (for now) improbable assumptions are dropped, the solvency deadline will likely be pushed forward a couple of years. And if the new fiscal shelf life is down to 15 or 16 years, that means potential trouble for thousands more of the elderly people whose medical bills are covered by the federal government.

That will add fuel to the Republican argument that it’s high time to start reining in the program so it survives longer — as well as to the Democrats’ argument that the top priority needs to be preserving the status quo for today’s beneficiaries. But a worsening timetable will not create any groundswell of support for the House’s privatization-and-voucher alternative, even though that plan would only apply to people who are now below AARP membership age.

And the trustee report won’t close the space that’s expanded in the last day between the top two congressional Republicans. The Speaker seems to be hardening his position against the sort of spending caps the Senate leader says he likes, reiterating yesterday his demand for the sorts of immediate spending cuts and entitlement curbs the House has voted for. For Boehner — at least while there’s a couple of months left before the talks have to get really serious — the main issue is not what McConnell’s talking about across the Capitol, but what the most conservative members of his own caucus are cooking up as a way to try and hold the leadership to the most fiscally dramatic negotiating position possible.

And the fact that Social Security will be solvent for about another quarter century (meaning only people younger than 40 need to worry) is the main reason why possible salvations for the system have effectively been swept off the table and under the rug by both sides in the budget talks. Also, nearly 55 million retirees receive monthly Social Security checks. That’s 9 million more people than are covered by Medicare.

RIPE AT 75: When Ron Paul became the first sitting member of Congress to enter the race for the 2012 Republican nomination this morning, he essentially reversed what he said a year ago — when he declared that he was too old (he’s now 75) to remain the standard bearer for the sort of tea party conservatism he’s long espoused. “Time has come around to the point where the people are agreeing with much of what I’ve been saying for 30 years. So, I think the time is ripe,” the Texas congressman said on ABC this morning, before heading to New Hampshire for his announcement rally.

It will be Paul’s third try for the White House. He actually finished third in the popular vote (with half a percent) as the Libertarian nominee in 1988. Three years ago, he got 1.1 million Republican primary votes (6 percent of the total) and claimed 21 convention delegates.

THE ‘T’ WORD: By 64 percent to 33 percent, investors around the world say they believe the United States cannot cut deficits substantially without raising taxes, according to a Bloomberg poll Monday and Tuesday of 1,263 of its customers who are investors, analysts and traders. That finding is especially noteworthy because those polled who describe themselves as “right-of-center” outnumber “left-of-center” by more than 3-to-1, albeit  with 37 percent saying they’re “centrists.”

Sixty percent of those polled expressed some doubt that a budget deal would be cut before the new fiscal year begins in October, although only 24 percent expressed worry that Obama and Republicans would be unable to agree on terms for raising the debt ceiling before the early August deadline. And 22 percent view a “big risk” that during the next two years the deficit will trigger a market crisis resulting in much higher interest rates. (That’s up from January’s 18 percent but still below November’s 24 percent.)

Investors worldwide are cleanly split over which side has the better approach to the budget: 39 percent say Obama, 38 percent say the congressional GOP. In the U.S, though, the Republicans are the lopsided preference, 62 percent to 24 percent — even though a majority 55 percent of American investors say it won’t be possible to lower the deficit without raising taxes.

COMPARISON POINT: The same Bloomberg poll found that, in other countries, Obama is now rated stronger than Bush on fighting terrorism, 48 percent to 16 percent. Those surveyed in the United States, though, said the previous president deserved better marks, 54 percent to 26 percent. The investors were split on whether the killing of Osama bin Laden increases the risk of terrorist attacks: 40 percent predicts it will have no effect, 37 percent says attacks are more likely and 17 percent say less likely.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Today, Rep. Chris Gibson of New York (47); tomorrow, fellow House Republicans Paul Broun of Georgia and Erik Paulson of Minnesota (46) as well as Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier of California (61).

— 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 Limit Vote: You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet (Roll Call)

Stuart Rothenberg predicts that the issue won't be resolved in the next eight weeks. » View full article

GOP's Refrain Is Still 'Entitlements' (CQ Today)

It remains unclear, however, how much leverage Republicans hold in the budget debate — and whether they can extract entitlement cuts while still ruling out tax increases. » View full article

House Conservatives Seek Tough Series of Votes on Spending (CQ Today)

The chairman of the Republican Study Committee says the group will call for, among other things, a tough balanced-budget amendment and deeper cuts than proposed for fiscal 2012 appropriations. » View full article

For Some in the Senate, Losing Once Is Way to Win (Roll Call)

For the world's most exclusive club, it sure has a lot of losers. » View full article

A Profile of Herb Kohl (CQ's Politics in America)

The multimillionaire senator, who will announce Friday that he will retire, shuns publicity while quietly working to protect the dairy industry, the elderly and farm programs. » View full article
-----

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Thursday, May 12, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: To the Left, To the Left

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Thursday, May 12, 2011

 Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is meeting on the budget and the rest of his legislative agenda with all 47 Senate Republicans, in the same Eisenhower Executive Office Building room where he held yesterday’s parallel session with the Senate Democrats. Then he’ll have lunch with Biden to prepare for the third Blair House deficit negotiating session, which the vice president will convene at 2:30.

The president will honor the National Association of Police Organizations’ Top Cops award winners at 1:50, meet with the Congressional Black Caucus in the State Dining Room at 2:30 and sit for interviews starting at 4 with Telemundo and Spanish-language TV stations in Las Vegas, Miami and Dallas.

THE HOUSE: Convened at 10, and at noon will return to the bill lifting the offshore oil drilling moratorium. After passing that, debate will begin on the annual bill authorizing the nation’s covert spying and other intelligence gathering operations. Lawmakers will be sent home by 5, meaning passage will likely be put off until tomorrow.

Financial Services is considering legislation that would delay the new strictures on  commodity and derivatives markets ordered in last year’s financial services regulatory rewrite.

THE SENATE: Convened at 9:30 and aspires to nothing more (before going home for the weekend at about 2) beyond the fourth confirmation of a federal judge this week: Michael Urbanski, who’s getting a promotion to the District Court for Western Virginia after seven years as the magistrate in Roanoke.

BOTTOM LINES: Today’s budget headline may come from measuring how emphatic Boehner sounds in the next few minutes about his bottom lines for this year’s budget debate: trillions of dollars in cuts; less than that amount in debt increases; and no new taxes.

After that, attention will turn for a time from the House Republicans to their fiscal policy opponents in the Democratic Senate. Conrad says he’s planning a budget markup for next Wednesday, suggesting that he has fine-tuned his plan enough to secure the united front he needs among the 12 senators on his side on the Budget panel. His new apparent top lines: $2 trillion in tax increases — including a surtax on millionaires — and $1.5 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade.

That’s a total non-starter (even with the president, of course), but apparently it was the macro formula required to win the liberal populist Bernie Sanders’ essential support for getting any budget onto the Senate floor. It also, in theory, creates even more running room before a compromise — so that the Senate might be able to say it went “more than halfway’’ to get a final deal.

(By the way, The government has run up $870 billion in red ink through the first seven months of the fiscal year, the Treasury says. That’s $70 billion, or 9 percent, higher than at the same point in fiscal 2010, which ended up with a record $1.3 trillion deficit.)

ATTACK DOG: What this next step means is that the top Republican on Senate Budget, Jeff Sessions, will have little more to do for the next few weeks beyond leading his side in laughing at the chairman’s plan. And he says he’s fine to be playing such a secondary, attack-dog-only role among the Republicans with titles that put them at any fiscal policy negotiating table — at least for now, because he concedes he hasn’t yet developed sufficient expertise during his first year in his post to weigh in with the gravitas that surrounded predecessors Judd Gregg and Pete Domenici.

House Republicans, meanwhile, have a tougher assignment next week: use their recess to shift from total defense to partial offense in discussing their Medicare vote with constituents. In town hall meetings, and maybe some early NRCC ads as well, Republicans will assert anew that their plan is the only responsible way to save federally funded medical care for the elderly over the long term, and that the status quo will lead to a collapse not too long from now in the entire system of health care for the elderly. But they are surely worried their “it will be good for you in the long run” argument may end up falling flat, the same way that, two years ago, the same argument failed to help the Democrats ward off the political damage from their cap-and-trade votes.

HAT IN THE RING: Yesterday’s tweet about his presidential bid may be remembered primarily as the only time Newt Gingrich ever announced anything in less than 140 words, led alone 140 characters. The former Speaker’s candidacy is being met with highly arched eyebrows across the spectrum of Republican pundits and plotters — and perhaps most tellingly on the House side of the Capitol, where supporters are especially tough to find. Only one in five members of this GOP majority was in office when Gingrich was last the most powerful Republican at the Capitol, in 1998. And a whole lot of them remain quietly but firmly amazed (and outraged) that the man who led them down the politically losing Clinton impeachment path believes he has a chance to overcome his own adulterous, sleeping-with-a-staffer past now.

Already, the Hill’s attention is being diverted to speeches today that could go a long way to deciding whether two other Republicans will be top-tier 2012 candidates. In Michigan at 2, Mitt Romney will test-market his rationale for sticking up for the health care law he signed as Massachusetts governor while lambasting the pretty-darn-similar law Obama signed a year ago. And tonight, Indiana first lady Cheri Daniels is expected to reveal whether she’ll reverse her long disdain for the political spotlight and essentially endorse her husband’s thoughts about running.

Whoever ends up claiming the nomination in Tampa next summer is almost certainly going to consider Florida’s rising conservative star, Marco Rubio, as a running mate. Presumably, by then he’ll have at least something of a senatorial paper trail for vice presidential vetters to look at. But not now. At the moment, Rubio is the only one of the 13 senators who took office in January who hasn’t made his maiden speech.

DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION: Several Obama policies would be reversed, and some of his weapons priorities reordered, under the annual defese authorization bill that was approved after 2 this morning. The only vote against it at House Armed Services was cast by Democrat John Garamendi of California, an ardent opponent of the bill’s provisions sustaining the Afghan war. (He decided not to put his proposal to bring the troops home to a vote, where it was doomed to a lopsided defeat because of the generally hawkish membership of the panel. Instead, he says he’ll push for a vote by the full House at the end of the month.)

The grand total the legislation would authorize the Defense Department to spend next year is $553 billion. That number is something of an apples to oranges comparison to the amount the House will be called upon to appropriate for the Pentagon next year, which is $20 billion less. But the disparate numbers nonetheless show that even national defense will come under the budgetary knife just a little bit.

ROGERS THAT: In fact, defense would get a 3 percent increase and is the only one of the 12 House appropriations bills that would be spared any cuts under the allocations Chairman Hal Rogers rolled out yesterday. And the military would get 52 percent of all discretionary spending, meaning the eight entirely domestic spending bills would have to absorb a collective 10 percent cut to achieve the $30 billion in reductions the House is aiming for.

And that number will likely grow bigger whenever there’s a deficit-reduction-for debt-increase swap. Which may be why the chairman has decided that, rather than following the customary pattern of pushing all the bills through the House before the summer break, he’s going to keep three proposing deep cuts in his pocket until after Labor Day (which means after the  deadline for raising the borrowing ceiling).

They are the measures governing foreign aid (which he already wants to slash 18 percent below this year’s final funding level), the transportation and housing (14 percent less), and labor, health and education (12 percent). Holding them hostage would give the House GOP added leverage when the next big budget battle climaxes in the  middle of the summer.

BURR IN THE SADDLE: Richard Burr, who’s one of Boehner’s genuinely best friends in Washington, has been awarded the GOP seat on Senate Finance opened up by John Ensign’s resignation. McConnell tapped the North Carolinian instead of Dan Coats, Jim DeMint or Mike Johanns. The minority leader also gave New Hampshire freshman Kelly Ayotte the Budget seat Ensign used to hold.

HOUSE CHAPLAIN: A bipartisan vote at the end of the month to install the Rev. Patrick Conroy as House chaplain seems assured, now that Pelosi has decided she’s no longer worried about him. The minority leader’s office said she was satisfied after talking to the Jesuit priest yesterday. His order, the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus, agreed in March to pay $166 million to settle more than 400 claims of sexual abuse across the Pacific Northwest, but no one in the case is suggesting Conroy did anything wrong, and he may have turned in one of the pedophile priests two decades ago.

Pelosi conceded she didn’t know that background when she initially endorsed Conroy, and Boehner’s office isn’t disputing that he was ignorant as well. Both leaders are Roman Catholics, and this weekend Boehner’s giving the commencement address at Catholic University — even as dozens of professors at Catholic colleges have signed a letter to him lamenting his record on protecting the poor.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Republican Rep. Frank LoBiondo of New Jersey (65) and Democratic Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado (36).

— 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

Defense Authorization Approved by Committee (CQ.com)

House Armed Services reversed several national security policies and re-ordered Pentagon weapons spending in its measure. » View full article

Conrad Seeks Balance on Budget (CQ Today)

Liberal pressures are reshaping the Senate's budget resolution but adding political risk. » View full article

Medicare Vote Returns for the Recess (Roll Call)

House Republicans are bracing for an earful from constituents over the entitlement overhaul in the fiscal 2012 budget plan. » View full article

Sessions No Budget Wonk (Roll Call)

The top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee has taken a back seat in fiscal talks -- and he says he's fine with it. » View full article

Rogers Urges More Intelligence Spending (CQ Today)

The House Intelligence chairman wants to press the offensive as a follow-up to the bin Laden killing. » View full article

Rubio Silence: Waiting for His Maiden Speech (Roll Call)

Florida's senator is the only one in the freshman class yet to make a floor speech. » View full article

More Asian-American Judges Nominated (CQ Weekly)

Going by confirmations, Obama has already doubled up both Clinton and Bush -- but there are still only 13 on federal benches. » View full article
-----

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: The Work Must Go On

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

 Today In Washington

THE HOUSE: Convened at 10 and by 7 will have advanced all three of the Republicans’ “drill baby, drill” bills. The two being passed today would dictate a speedier process for approving offshore oil and gas drilling permits and increase the areas available for deep-water exploration leases. The other, passed last week, orders Obama to reverse course and sell leases in the Gulf of Mexico and off the Virginia coast.

Armed Services will take up the annual defense bill and vote on a Democratic  proposal to order 90 percent of the troops home from Afghanistan in two years.

After Energy and Commerce approves its bill limiting medial malpractice lawsuits, a subcommittee will take up a measure giving states more power to trim their Medicaid coverage.

THE SENATE: Convened at 9:30 and will be done for the day shortly after 3. The only vote will be to confirm Arenda L. Wright Allen — the chief federal public defender in Norfolk and before that a civilian and Navy prosecutor — as a federal trial judge for the eastern half of Virginia.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama has invited all 53 senators in the Democratic caucus for a 4:30 meeting on the budget in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which means Bernie Sanders can explain to the president why he won’t even allow Kent Conrad’s opening deficit-reduction bid to get out of committee.

At 7,  the president is hosting a celebration of American poetry and prose in the East Room.

TWO-THIRDS OF THE WAY THERE: The big budget deal may well remain elusive for another three months, but the work of actually apportioning money for the government to operate must go on. And it will, starting today, when Chairman Hal Rogers unveils the amounts that each of his 12 House cardinals will get to spend in their first-draft appropriations bills for the year that starts Oct. 1.

The $1.02 trillion discretionary grand total of those dozen bills may come as a surprise, especially to all those Republicans who came to town this year vowing to cut $100 billion in spending right away — then changed their mind in the face of political reality and said it would be OK to cut that deep over their first year and a half in power.

But these same Republicans actually set a much more modest total by voting for the House budget approved in April, on the very same day Obama signed into law the government-shutdown-averting, highly contentious package that in the end cut only (by the most generous calculation) $40 billion from current appropriations levels for the final half of this fiscal year. The fine print of the new budget, which was largely ignored in all the talk about Medicare privatization and other grand plans for deficit reduction, calls for reducing the discretionary portion by only $31 billion more. So, if that holds, appropriated spending will be down $71 billion when the Republicans stand for election to another turn in the House majority — just two-thirds of what they campaigned on last fall as their goal for their first few months in power.

A FIRM TARGET: Conservatives can take heart that the Rogers numbers represent a ceiling on what the House can appropriate; under the GOP-imposed rules, the only amendments allowed on the floor must offer cuts to the bill; taking from Peter to pay Paul proposals are out of bounds this year. So, in theory, the relatively modest number was created on purpose, as a piñata that the tea party freshmen could have a high-profile chance to whack at. But what’s more likely is that — in a world where everything looks like a nail to the people assigned a hammer — even the Republican appropriators want to, well, appropriate.

BUSINESS AS USUAL: Two House subcommittees — one for Homeland Security, and the other in charge of the VA and military construction — will unveil their draft spending bills on Friday. Boehner’s goal is to get all dozen bills passed before the August recess starts (which will certainly require him to steer clear of the freewheeling debate rules he favored for the midyear spending bill). That would keep the process on the House’s idealized schedule, and suggest to the public that the GOP majority is competent at keeping the routine business of governance on course.

But there’s no indication yet that the majority Democrats in the Senate have the same idea about trying to revive regular order in the appropriations process, which has been broken for the better part of two decades. Passing spending bills in the Senate has proved almost impossible in recent years, and there’s one giant, new reason senators won’t have any incentive to alter their past practices and get a move on this year: the big budget talks.

If the deal that gets the debt ceiling increased before the August break compels deeper discretionary spending cuts in the coming year than the $30 billion the House now has in mind, that will essentially send the entire appropriations process back to the starting gate on Labor Day. And there’s absolutely no way Reid, McConnell or their troops have any interest in spending the summer debating measures that will have to be fundamentally rewritten come fall. 

TESTING ‘NO TAXES’ STANCE: The next steps on that arduous path toward that budget deal come tomorrow, when Obama will follow up today’s session with Senate Democrats with an even more important meeting with Senate Republicans, where he’s sure to try to suss out whether their “no new taxes” position leaves any room for raising revenue by limiting tax breaks, closing loopholes or otherwise reducing the $1.2 trillion in annual tax expenditures.

For the top Democrats, the main political focus of any effort to cut the deficit by limiting loopholes is going to be on tax breaks for the big oil companies, because Reid has concluded that that’s the best way to approach public anxiety about the summertime surge in gas prices. Rather than use savings from ending those tax benefits to pay for renewables research, which was the party’s original idea, the $21 billion over 10 years would be devoted instead to sopping up a bit of red ink.

SLOW GOING: The president’s meeting will limit the productivity of tomorrow’s third session of the Biden summit, which is still in the early stage of people laying out their various bargaining positions and hasn’t gone beyond general agreement about certain areas (farm subsidies, federal retirement benefits) that are ripe for a bipartisan cutting accord.

The slow pace is good news for Cantor — the only House Republican in those talks — who needs some time to come up with a creative way to sound like he’s amenable to compromise even as Boehner, his superior and unspoken rival, is drumming up interest in his bright-line call for $2 trillion in cuts and no more than that in new permission for borrowing.

Even the vice president is sounding unsure whether his own guests at Blair House can strike a deal. “Whether we can get to the finish line with this group is another question,” he said as yesterday’s session broke up.

TRAIL TIPS:  (1) The Tea Party Express made its first 2012 endorsement this morning, getting behind Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning’s bid for Ben Nelson’s Senate seat. What’s notable is that Bruning is nothing like the sort of outsiders the group got behind with decidedly mixed success (Sharron Angle, Christine O’Donnell, Joe Miller) last year — and he already has enough establishment backing to make him the favorite for the GOP nomination against state Treasurer Don Stenberg. Nelson is the most conservative Democratic senator, but his bid for a third term has already become a tossup in the solidly Republican state.

(2) Two retired generals are launching congressional candidacies this week that make Democratic recruiters very happy. Ricardo Sanchez, the Army’s top commander in Iraq in 2003 and 2004, should have broad appeal among Hispanics and military-minded Texans when he campaigns for the open Senate seat there. (The  Republican field to succeed Kay Bailey Hutchison hasn’t altogether gelled, with the presumed front-runner, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, not fully on board.) And in that outer surburb of Northern Virginia, the Air Force’s John Douglass will challenge Frank Wolf’s bid for a 17th House term no matter whether redistricting creates more or less of a swing district. He’s a former head of the Aerospace Industries Association and in the 1990s was a senior staffer at Senate Armed Services.

— 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

Sides Remain Split on Debt Issues (CQ Today)

Despite recent optimism, the parties are heading in different directions on deficit reduction. » View full article

Can Cantor Reach Boehner's Debt Deal Goal? (Roll Call)

The Speaker's demands for deep spending cuts may leave Cantor in a no-win situation. » View full article

Energy Debate Is All Wind (Roll Call)

The bills under consideration in Congress are more likely to send a political message than lower gasoline prices. » View full article

Judges Question Virginia's Standing to Challenge Health Care Law (CQ HealthBeat)

The judges — all appointed by Democratic presidents — grilled lawyers involved in two separate lawsuits. » View full article

Pollution Worries Surface Along With Energy Trove (CQ Weekly)

"Fracking" raises questions about how much oversight the federal government should have over the natural gas industry. » View full article

Pelosi, Boehner Clash Over Chaplain (Roll Call)

The minority leader is reconsidering her support of a House chaplain nominee after learning of his order's child sex abuse settlement. » View full article

Democrats Raising Money They Oppose (Roll Call)

Operatives are going to play by the same rules as Republicans, regardless of whether they like those rules. » View full article
-----

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dailybriefing@cqrollcall.com

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Simple Math

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

 Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is on his first trip to the U.S.-Mexican border as president. He’ll visit a Rio Grande border crossing and deliver a 3:30 speech in El Paso launching a dead-on-arrival effort to revive legislation putting millions of immigrants on a path toward shedding their illegal status.

Air Force One then heads to Austin, where the president will appear at a pair of DNC fundraisers. He’s due back home at 1:15 in the morning.

The second Blair House budget summit meeting is off-camera at 3:15. For the president: Biden, Geithner, OMB chief Jack Lew and economic adviser Gene Sperling. For the Hill Democrats: Max Baucus, Dan Inouye, Chris Van Hollen and Jim Clyburn. For the GOP: Jon Kyl and Eric Cantor (assuming he gets back from ringing the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange).

THE HOUSE: Convenes at noon but will wait until 4 to begin debating legislation that would limit and then expedite lawsuits challenging the award of Gulf of Mexico oil and gas exploration leases. Once it’s passed tomorrow, the bill will absorb the measure passed last week to compel lease sales in the gulf and off Virginia. It's part of the GOP effort to convince the public that they're combating high gas prices.

Before going home at 6:30 the House will pass a bill ordering a presidential report on relief efforts 16 months after the Haiti earthquake.

Energy and Commerce will approve a bill limiting medical malpractice lawsuits.

THE SENATE: Convened at 10 and until 5 will be in a speechmaking stall, choreographed by Reid to prevent rogue senators from trying to force test votes on their own budget plans. (The weekly caucus lunches will go on as scheduled.)

SIMPLE MATH: There’s going to be a boomlet of interest in the simple formula that Boehner proposed last night: Make deeper cuts in federal spending than the amount of any increase in the debt limit.

The number he threw out in his speech to the Economic Club of New York was $2 trillion in cuts — which would be a sizable down payment on the consensus Republican goal of going after at least $4 trillion in deficit reduction during the next decade. And increasing the borrowing limit by a little less than that amount would keep the government’s credit card active a bit beyond the next election.

In other words, under the Speaker’s approach the president would be allowed to avoid another budgetary showdown, while the GOP would score a significant budgetary victory this summer — and still be guaranteed another bite at the fiscal apple in 2013, when they’re sounding confident they will have held the House, may have taken over the Senate and perhaps may have even put one of their own in the Oval Office.

“That’s a realistic approach,” the top Republican on the Senate Budget panel, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, said of Boehner’s proposal this morning.

What sounded less realistic was Boehner’s rhetoric about locking in deep reductions in both mandatory entitlements and discretionary programs (and starting the cuts right away) as part of this summer’s negotiations, rather than settling for “broad deficit or debt targets that punt the tough questions to the future.” That’s a whiplash reversal from a few days ago, when the GOP position seemed to be that overall spending caps — that maybe wouldn’t take effect until fiscal 2013 and then would be enforced only somewhat — are the best that could be achieved on the relatively short 12-week timetable before the debt ceiling can no longer be ducked.

At least for one night, though, Boehner was talking about extracting some of the big savings from Medicare — and told the Wall Street heavyweights to their faces that they should get ready for means testing of their baseline old-age medical insurance. At a time when the nation is broke, he said, investment bankers and corporate chieftains need to be willing to lift at least that much more of the load. That was one of the few specifics he mentioned, although by saying that much he seemed to open the door to some other limits on tax breaks — meaning his “off the table” insistence about tax increases would apply only to income rates.

TEXAS TWO-STEP: Obama won’t set any sort of deadline for Congress to send him an immigration bill, because he already knows there’s no chance that Congress is going to give him what he wants in the next 18 months — and maybe not even if he’s re-elected. (And setting deadlines has already come back to bite the president once this year; he called for a rewrite this year of the No Child Left Behind education law, thinking that was an easy mark. Turns out, not so much.)

Advance word about today’s Texas speech (which climaxes a monthlong series of efforts with Latino lawmakers and advocates to drum up interest in the issue) has resulted in a bipartisan congressional thud. Any chance that Obama’s post-Bin Laden bounce might allow him to put this issue back on the agenda quickly evaporated yesterday. (The size of that bump was further conscribed in the NBC poll taken at the height of the post-raid excitement and released today, which found the president’s overall job approval at only 52 percent, just 3 points higher than in early April.)

Even Luis Gutierrez, the Chicago congressman who’s been the most ardent cheerleader for an overhaul, says it would be “a bit disingenuous” to suggest any legislative life for the notion that most illegal immigrants should be allowed onto the citizenship track. There’s not even a chance until after the next election for the so-called Dream Act, which would create that path for people who were brought across the border illegally as kids and who have gone on to finish college or join the U.S. military.

But Obama will press ahead today because other Latino leaders want him to, and because his political aides are keenly aware that the president got two out of every three Hispanic votes in 2008 — and will want every one of them to show up for him again in 2012 so that he can secure his hold on swing states including Florida, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and maybe even Virginia.

THE SPEAKER SPEAKS: (1) Boehner said today that he still trusts Pakistan and that, on balance, it “has been a real asset” in fighting terrorism over the past decade. But he said the country’s leaders have raised significant questions about their “willingness to pursue some terrorists but not others” because of their apparent decision to ignore Osama bin Laden’s residence in Abbottabad for as long as five years. “It’s a moment to look each other in the eye,” he said on NBC’s “Today” show. “If we’re really going to be allies, if we’re going to fight this war together, we need to be in it together all the time.”

(2) In the same appearance,Boehner made no mention of two of the apparent front-runners, Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty, when asked to assess the 2012 GOP field. Instead, he volunteered that announcing-for-president-tomorrow Newt Gingrich — with whom he worked in the House leadership in the 1990s — “brings an awful lot to the debate,” that Mitch Daniels has “got a real track record of ... the kind of reforms that we need to have in Washington,” and that Chris Christie would make a fine candidate because “he speaks English, which the American people like. English, like in plain talk.”

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Dean Heller is turning 51 on his second day as Nevada’s new senator; a former House colleague, fellow Republican Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania, turns 63.

— David Hawkings, editor

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

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