Friday, May 27, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Prairie Fires

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Friday, May 27, 2011

Today In Washington

THE SENATE: Convened at 9:30 for a pro forma meeting that lasted less than a minute. (Mark Begich of Alaska presided.)  Similar sessions will be held next Tuesday and Friday at the insistence of Republicans, because that way Obama will not be able to use his recess appointment powers to put controversial nominees on the job without confirmation votes. But for all intents and purposes, senators are on a one-week Memorial Day break.

THE HOUSE: Not in session; next meets at noon on Tuesday.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is about to arrive in Warsaw (the last stop on his weeklong European trip) for two days of meetings on security, energy and joint U.S.-Polish efforts to promote democracy in North Africa and Eastern Europe. After laying a wreath at the Warsaw Ghetto Memorial, the president will attend Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski’s dinner for 20 central and eastern European leaders holding a yearly summit.

TOUGH TURF: All five of the House Republican freshmen from Illinois and at least two GOP incumbents would be in serious political jeopardy under a congressional redistricting map that emerged overnight as the top choice of the state’s Democratic legislative leadership. (The state Senate may vote for the map this weekend.)

Illinois is the biggest state where redistricting is being controlled entirely by Democrats, and the lawmakers in Springfield have left little doubt all spring of their desire to turn the state’s congressional delegation — which is now 11 Republicans and eight Democrats — into one with 11 Democrats and seven Republicans. (Illinois lost a seat in reapportionment.) And they appear ready to do that by making life mainly miserable for the newcomers.

The best options for both Randy Hultgren or Joe Walsh appear to be to run in a primary against each another or else take on the veteran Republican Don Manzullo and hope that he decides to retire. (There’s also a chance that Hultgren will decide his best option is to take on another veteran incumbent Republican, Judy Biggert.)

Two other freshmen have been drawn into reliably Democratic districts: Bob Dold’s home is now represented by Jan Schakowsky, and Adam Kinzinger is now a constituent of Jesse Jackson Jr.

The fifth freshman, Bobby Schilling, has been drawn into a district with a solid Democratic base (it includes big chunks of both Peoria and Rockford) but no other incumbent.

The mapmakers have been able to go beyond making life difficult for so many Republicans — they’ve also opened up a reliably Democratic open seat in the Chicago suburbs. Raja Krishnamoorthi, a former state deputy treasurer, will go after that seat, as will Tammy Duckworth, the assistant VA secretary who lost a highly touted bid for Congress in 2006 to Peter Roskam.

Roskam, Tim Johnson, John Shimkus and Aaron Schock are the GOP incumbents whose seats would remain safest under the map, which also would protect all of the current members of the Democratic delegation.

WISHING MACHINE: Jim Clyburn says the “odds are very, very good” that the Biden budget summit (in which he’s one of the two House Democratic negotiators) will yield a deal on between $3 trillion to $6 trillion in spending cuts and tax increases before the end of July.

That’s about the most optimistic word yet from inside those talks, and it needs to be tempered with some other things Clyburn says in an interview with Bloomberg’s Al Hunt that’s airing this weekend: The assistant Democratic leader says any deal will “absolutely” include raising more revenue — which Republicans are still insisting is absolutely a non-starter. And, as for Medicare, he says, “We are not going to reduce benefits at all” — even for people who are not yet old enough to be in the program, which is of course the central tenet of the Paul Ryan budget plan that Republicans are standing behind.

In other words, wishing it won’t make it so — although it’s still not too late in the game to try. The Aug. 2 deadline set by the Treasury for the breaching of the debt ceiling, which has become the de facto deadline for the budget talks, is still more than nine weeks away. That’s an eternity in the world of congressional negotiations. It’s so far away, in fact, that yesterday’s meeting of the Biden group was essentially devoid of substance and devoted almost entirely to scheduling meetings for the next six weeks — assuring there won’t be deal until after July 4.

The growing “what's the rush” sentiment is being stoked especially hard by Republican senators. McConnell and 16 others sent Geithner a letter yesterday asserting he has the power to extend the deadline — and had better do so because Congress might not be ready to meet the current timetable. “It is irresponsible and harmful for you to sow the seeds of doubt in the market regarding the full faith and credit of the United States,” they said. And in a separate letter, another 23 senators pressed Geithner to create a contingency plan for funding the government next year without the ability to borrow. “We believe it is irresponsible to ignore the broken political system and the very real possibility that the debt ceiling might not be raised in time,” they said.

SKYPE HYPE: Michele Bachmann last night seemed to hurry up her plans for announcing her presidential candidacy.

Stuck in D.C. waiting for the final vote in the House, she arranged a Skype feed into a GOP fundraising banquet she was supposed to headline in Des Moines and declared:  “We already have a hired staff in Iowa, New Hampshire, in South Carolina. We have every aspect that we need in this effort.” She also said she would announce her plans in June in Waterloo, where she was born in 1956. (Being a native Iowan affords her “every advantage a girl would want to have,” she added.)
 
It was a clear sign that, while Bachmann is publicly and forcefully rebutting the notion that she and Sarah Palin are after the same tea party niche in the GOP field, she knows there’s not enough room in the race for both of them. And so she wants to get as much advance momentum (and airtime) as possible while Palin test-markets the lingering potential for her own candidacy during her Northeastern bus tour next week — which gets rolling at Sunday’s Rolling Thunder motorcycle rally on the Mall.

QUOTE OF NOTE: “The president need not personally perform the physical act of affixing his signature to a bill he approves and decides to sign in order for the bill to become law. Rather, the president may sign a bill within the meaning of Article I, Section 7 by directing a subordinate to affix the president’s signature to such a bill, for example by autopen.”

That’s the concluding paragraph of the July 7, 2005 memorandum by Howard Nielson, then a deputy assistant attorney general, which the White House cited in explaining why a fighter jet ferrying a few sheets of paper did not have to fly through the night to France in order to get the Patriot Act extensions enacted. (The plane would not have arrived in time to prevent a brief lapse in three parts of the law, which were to expire at midnight, because the House did not clear the bill until just before 8.)

But a footnote providing the Justice Department’s advice about how to implement the autopen exemption was redacted from the published copy of the memo.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Today, Democratic Rep. Pete DeFazio of Oregon (64).

Five Republicans celebrate tomorrow — most notably the youngest House member, Aaron Schock of Illinois, who’s turning 30 (and already celebrated with an ’80s-themed dance party fundraiser Wednesday night on the roof of the record industry lobby’s office building) and the second-youngest senator, Marco Rubio of Florida, who will be 40. The others are House members Tom Petri of Wisconsin (71), Steve King of Iowa (62) and Scott Rigell of Virginia ( 51).

— David Hawkings, editor

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Copyright 2011 CQ Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved | Privacy Policy

Thursday, May 26, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Do the Bump

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Today In Washington

THE SENATE: Convened at 9:30 and has voted, 79-18, to break the final filibuster against the Patriot Act bill. But opponents can still keep the debate going until Friday morning — and could offer an array of amendments along the way. Unless Reid and Rand Paul reach a deal soon, the three expiring law enforcement powers will lapse, at least temporarily, at midnight tonight.

THE HOUSE: Convened at 10 with a plan for plowing through the 101 remaining possible amendments, starting at noon, and then passing the $690 billion defense authorization bill by about 2. Lawmakers are sure to add language picking a fourth veto fight with Obama, by insisting that all suspected terrorists be held at Guantánamo Bay and never be prosecuted on the American mainland. (The president  says that would unconstitutionally limit his powers.) House members won’t be allowed to leave for the long weekend, though, before clearing the Patriot Act extension.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is finishing the first day of meetings among all the G-8 leaders in Deauville, France, but will have a one-on-one with Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan before a seafood feast for all the leaders at Le Ciro’s Barriere — a restaurant known for dishes such as lobster salad with truffles and marmite of scallops with sauterne and saffron.

ALL IN THE TIMING: The economy grew at a pretty soft 1.8 percent annual rate in the first three months of the year, the Commerce Department reported this morning.

The unexpectedly weak GDP growth rate will almost certainly give a public relations bump to the job-creation package the House Republican leadership is introducing today — although the news probably won’t do anything to improve the legislation’s chances of actually becoming law, because the Democratic majority in the Senate is sure to block almost anything the House sends over.

The package will make good on some of the proposals promised in last year’s Pledge to America campaign platform and is focused on removing what Republicans view as regulatory barriers to business expansion. The package also reiterates the party’s call for expanded offshore oil drilling, more tax breaks for businesses and the approval of the three pending trade liberalization pacts.

Today’s economic growth report, which was based on more detailed data, matched the government’s initial estimate for the GDP in the first quarter — which wasn’t such a good thing, because the expectations were that the number would be revised up to about 2.3 percent.

The main culprits for the sluggish first quarter growth were rising gasoline prices, shrinking government budgets (falling at an annual rate of 5.1 percent) and weaker-than-expected consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of the economy and was on pace for just a 2.2 percent increase this year. (That was about half the rate of the previous quarter.) Also, imports are growing faster than exports. (Shipments out are surging at a 9.2 percent rate, but shipments coming in are growing at 9.5 percent.)

IT WAS BOUND TO HAPPEN: This week’s Patriot Act debate has been yet another object civics lesson in the power of a single senator to slow, if not quite upend, the legislative wishes of even a lopsided bipartisan majority. It’s also been the most colorful illustration yet of something that’s been widely predicted since the November election: Rand Paul was going to make his brand new Kentucky Senate seat into one big burr under the majority leader’s saddle.

Reid's long fuse finally reached its end yesterday, when he stretched the bounds of senatorial decorum by declaring that Paul’s delaying tactics were about to give “terrorists the opportunity to plot attacks against our country, undetected.” And Paul fired back in kind, declaring that he was only doing he job his tea party and libertarian friends asked him to do — and that the "scurrilous attack" by Reid for questioning a law’s constitutionality is both out of bounds and “personally insulting.”

Paul says the law gives federal agents inappropriately broad power to eavesdrop on people, look at their business records and even glance at their library book lists — all arguments that the bulk of small-government conservatives would probably have mounted a decade ago, but which have become politically poisonous to most Republicans since Sept. 11.

HANDS TIED: Libya is sure to be one of the main topics at this year’s G-8 summit, with Obama in the position of having to resist behind-the-scenes entreaties from France’s Nicolas Sarkozy and Britain’s David Cameron for the United States to ramp up involvement in the NATO bombardment.

But the president will almost certainly resist, because any additional support for the campaign against Qaddafi would run into a buzzsaw in Congress. Lawmakers in both parties are being more vocal than expected in their annoyance that the president has essentially stiff-armed the apparent legal requirement (let alone the political imperative) that he seek congressional approval for the relatively limited and entirely airborne Libya campaign now that it's lasted more than two months. (The White House says it doesn’t think the War Powers Resolution applies.) But any deeper involvement would absolutely require a legislative sign-off, and at this point that probably would be hard to come by.

The House this week has cast a handful of votes (as part of the defense bill debate) that express lawmaker frustration at the lack of consultation so far, but only in an oblique way. A bipartisan Senate resolution belatedly endorsing the U.S. role in enforcing the no-fly zone will probably be adopted — but not for another two weeks.

IMMOVABLE OBJECTS: When today’s Biden budget summit convenes in the Capitol at 1, the meaning of yesterday’s Senate budget votes will obviously be Topic A. Now that 89 percent of Republican senators have endorsed the Paul Ryan budget — joining the 98 percent of House Republicans who did so — the two GOP negotiators, Kyl and Cantor, will almost certainly declare this afternoon that the document remains essentially their party’s bargaining position.

There are two reasons why they're likely to stick to that posture for maybe another month, at least in public and on the surface of the budget talks: First, Republican lawmakers will be rewarded for their fealty to the plan whenever they run into members of their tea party base over Memorial Day weekend — and even beyond, once Americans for Prosperity and Grover Norquist fully launch their efforts to whip up enthusiasm for the $4 trillion-over-a-decade deficit reduction plan. And second, GOP lawmakers still think they can leverage their solidarity behind their idea for making Medicare into a voucher-like system after 2022 (unpopular though it remains with the overall electorate) to get Obama and the Democrats to agree to significant entitlement curbs as part of the deficit-reduction-for-debt-increase deal that must be done before August.

That GOP hope was given a little bit of a push yesterday by, of all people, Bill Clinton. He was captured by ABC News cameras in a candid behind-the-curtain chat with Ryan at a the Peterson Foundation’s deficit reduction gabfest. “I hope the Democrats don’t use it as an excuse to do nothing” on Medicare, the ex-president said about Kathy Hochul’s upset special election win in conservative upstate New York — which was based in large measure on her opponent’s support for the Ryan entitlements plan. (Ryan told Clinton he expects Democrats will go for no more than a minimalist deal this summer.)

ARIZONA ACTION: The Supreme Court today upheld, 5-3, a 2007 Arizona law that penalizes businesses for hiring illegal immigrants — rejecting the arguments that states have no role at all in policing immigration. That decision could give a hint as to how the justices may eventually be thinking about the much more sweeping and controversial immigration enforcement law that Arizona enacted last year. That statute is working tis way through the courts, with critics asserting that Arizona has far exceeded powers that should belong entirely to the federal government.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina (58). Democratic Rep. Jan. Schakowsky of Illinois (67) and freshman GOP Rep. Rich Nugent of Florida (60).

— David Hawkings, editor

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

Copyright 2011 CQ Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved | Privacy Policy

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Running Mediscared

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Today In Washington

THE HOUSE: Convened at 10 and will begin legislating at noon, first passing a bill making a discretionary program out of what’s now a mandatory pipeline of money for graduate medical education.

Lawmakers will then tuck in to as many as 152 amendments to the annual defense authorization bill, but will go home for the evening by 7 in expectation the debate won’t be done before Friday. Ten minutes is being set aside for each proposed change to the $690 billion package, which Obama yesterday threatened to veto unless changes are made to language about detained terrorism suspects, nuclear weapons programs and the F-35 engine. Some of those topics may be addressed today, along with amendments to end or limit the war in Afghanistan and speed the integration of openly gay people into the military.

THE SENATE: Convened at 10 and will spend the day biding its time, because Rand Paul and other civil libertarian opponents of extending three Patriot Act law enforcement powers have succeeded in pushing off the next procedural vote until tomorrow.

THE WHITE HOUSE: “Even as more nations take on the responsibilities of global leadership, our alliance will remain indispensable to the goal of a century that is more peaceful, more prosperous and more just,” Obama — who described himself as the grandson of a colonial Kenyan who served as a cook in the British army — told the British Parliament this morning. It was the first speech by an American president from the 11th-century Westminster Hall. “After a difficult decade that began with war and ended in recession, our nations have arrived at a pivotal moment once more.”

Earlier in the day, Obama ruled out a deadline for ending NATO’s military assault on Libya and predicted it would succeed in getting rid of Qadaffi “in a timely fashion.” And at their joint news conference, British Prime Minister David Cameron got totally behind the president’s statement and urged “patience and persistence” by both the American and British public.

Tonight the president is hosting a dinner for Queen Elizabeth II at the American ambassador’s residence — where everybody will be looking to see if his white-tie timing is better than last night, when a momentary pause prompted the Buckingham Palace orchestra to strike up “God Save the Queen” while Obama was still offering her his toast.

HELLO HOCHUL: Kathy Hochul will become the 193rd Democrat in the House as soon as tomorrow. And dozens of Republicans will glance at her across the aisle as an embodiment of one of their biggest worries about the next months: How long will voters remember that the House GOP emphatically embraced a fundamental restructuring of Medicare — and how much will they be punished for it by elderly voters in 2012, even though the plan will have been long abandoned by then and would have applied only to the younger generation anyway?

The Erie County clerk’s solid victory in yesterday’s special election in upstate New York — she took 47 percent of the vote to 43 percent for GOP state legislator Jane Corwin and 9 percent for tea party spoiler Jack Davis — is undeniably an embarrassing loss for Republicans, who had represented the areas between Rochester and Buffalo for half a century. Either they made an enormous error in having Corwin endorse the Paul Ryan budget (which gave Democrats their opening to crow about a vote of no confidence in the GOP majority), or they made an enormous error in not somehow neutralizing Davis and his $2.5 million (which the GOP is blaming for the loss.)

Clearly, it’s a bit of both. (Hochul got only 1 percent more of the vote than Obama did, after all.) But Corwin’s and the NRCC’s inadequate tactics in combating two opponents won’t be remembered beyond this afternoon. The way the Democrats were able to capitalize on the Medicare issue will be. They were clearly capable of disproving the GOP’s assertion that the electorate would appreciate bold leadership in tackling ballooning deficits and debt more than they would fear the consequences for their medical care in old age. "Mediscare," in other words, proved to be better politics than outside-the-box thinking.

SCARE TACTICS: The message will most immediately be heard by Senate Republicans, several more of whom (beyond Susan Collins and up-in-2012 Scott Brown) will now likely bolt from the fold whenever the House budget is put to a test vote on the Capitol’s north side.

But the most important audience for the message, for the GOP’s long-term future, will by Kyl and Cantor — the two Republicans participating in the Biden budget summit. They will now be under even more pressure to cut a deal, and quickly, on entitlement curbs, big discretionary spending cuts, tax break limits and an increasing the debt ceiling to last beyond the election — because giving the voters a new bold deal to appreciate will be the only way to get those same voters to forget all the talk about “privatizing” and “voucherizing” Medicare.

LOUGHNER RULING: Jared Lee Loughner is at the federal courthouse in Tucson today for a hearing to determine whether he’s mentally competent to stand trial in the Gabby Giffords shooting — and Judge Larry Burns is very likely to rule that the answer is “no.”

If that’s the case, Loughner can be confined essentially indefinitely in a federal psychiatric facility, where he can be medicated against his will in hopes of improving his mental state to the point where he can someday stand trial. Unless that happens, he may never be formally convicted (or acquitted) of the 49 charges against him — including counts of first degree murder for the deaths of the chief federal judge in Arizona, John Roll, and district caseworker Gabe Zimmerman.

The legal question is whether the 22-year-old college dropout understands the legal proceedings well enough to be able to assist in his defense. His lawyers have described him as “gravely mentally ill.” And both they and the federal prosecutors say the judge has all the information he needs to make his ruling: the sealed report that a pair of psychiatrists wrote after putting Loughner through five weeks of mental competency exams at a federal prison hospital in Missouri.

BUDGET HOLE: Construction would stop on the biggest federal public works project now under way in Washington, a $3.6 billion Homeland Security Department headquarters complex overlooking the Anacostia River on the site of the old St. Elizabeths Hospital, under the spending bill for the department approved by House Appropriations yesterday. Left empty will be a nine-story hole being dug with some of the $77 million being spent on the project this year. It’s the most tangible sign yet that — a decade after the Sept. 11 attacks propelled the creation of DHS and started it off with a seemingly bottomless pocketbook — the nation's budgetary morass stretches into every corner. Overall, the bill would cut the department’s budget for a second straight year, albeit by a relatively modest 3 percent.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota (51) and GOP Rep. Ed Whitfield of Kentucky (68).

— David Hawkings, editor

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

Copyright 2011 CQ Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved | Privacy Policy

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Blair House Bump

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Today In Washington

CONGRESS: Benjamin Netanyahu is starting to lay out his vision of a “secure peace” agreement with the Palestinians before a joint meeting.

In his appearance, which began 20 minutes late, the Israeli prime minister was expected to reiterate his categorical rejection of making the 1967 lines the starting point for talks about a Palestinian state, as Obama suggested last week. That’s sure to get a sustained and bipartisan ovation from the lawmakers, who are overwhelmingly in Israel’s corner whenever the Jewish state is at odds with anyone — even a president of a congressman’s own party. "No one should set premature parameters about borders, about building or about anything else," Reid told AIPAC last night, for example.

THE SENATE: Convened at 10 and after the Netanyahu speech will resume debating the four-year extension of three Patriot Act provisions set to expire Friday. A small band of civil libertarian opponents is vowing to delay the legislation as long as possible, which could mean the next procedural vote (on the formal motion to proceed to the bill) might not come until close to midnight.

THE HOUSE: Convened at 10 and will be done legislating by 6, after passing legislation designed to curb federal aid for medical education by $185 million in the next five years. Debate will begin on the coming year’s $690 billion defense authorization bill, but the first votes on amendments won’t come before tomorrow.

Appropriators will advance their Homeland Security, Military Construction-VA and Agriculture measures for fiscal 2012.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama’s first overtly political meeting during a mostly ceremonial first day of his state visit to Britain is at noon, when he’ll arrive at 10 Downing Street to spend an hour with Prime Minister David Cameron. He’s meeting after that with Labor’s Ed Miliband, the opposition leader. Promoting his aid plan for the Middle East is a top priority.

After tonight’s state dinner hosted by Queen Elizabeth II, the Obamas will spend the first of two nights in Buckingham Palace — in the suite last used by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, aka Will and Kate, on their wedding night. (The couples met before this morning’s palace welcoming ceremony, which featured a 102-cannon salute.)

BLAIR AFFAIR: The Blair House summit resumes at 3 — but this time the meeting between Biden and the six lawmakers will be at the Capitol, not the presidential guest house. (Netanyahu has the place booked.)

And last night the top White House aide in those talks, OMB chief Jack Lew, declared himself optimistic that they wold reach a meaningful deal to raise the debt ceiling above $14.3 trillion and commit to hundreds of millions in spending cuts in plenty of time to ward off a default in August. “There’s a shared sense of purpose” to get a deal soon, he told the Economic Club of Washington, “because it’s not going to be easier to act six months or nine months from now.”

The first handful of meetings have produced $150 billion in tentative agreement, and so now the negotiators are going to move on to possible savings from the most expensive and politically voluble entitlements, such as Medicare and Medicaid.

“I can’t argue that it’ll be pretty,” Lew said of the potential deal and the path to getting there. But an accord will be struck in the end because of “a shared understanding that it’s just unthinkable” for the United States to default.

That shared understanding will be hard to find, at least in Congress, for the next several weeks at a minimum. It’s now probably going to be after the one-week Memorial Day break that senators make their next move, which will be entirely kabuki theater — casting offsetting votes rejecting both the Obama and House GOP budgets, and then maybe voting to reject some more conservative budgets as well. The only suspense there is how many Republicans in addition to Scott Brown and Susan Collins will vote against the House plan — and in particular its call for a Medicare revamp. Republicans know there’s a cost to their own base of coming out against the Paul Ryan plan to voucherize the system,but they also know there’s an even bigger cost among independents and Democrats to keep standing up for the plan (especially after it’s become a legislative non-starter).

LIBYA LAG: Another week of rapidly deflating senatorial momentum means there also probably won’t be a vote before the Memorial Day break on the Kerry-McCain resolution endorsing Obama’s decision to join the NATO campaign in Libya. (The coalition today launched perhaps its most intense bombardment yet against Qaddafi’s headquarters.)

The support of the Foreign Relations chairman and the top Republican on Armed Services — and a handful of other prominent senators on military and foreign policy from both parties — should mean smooth sailing for the resolution, which Obama asked for last week, just as his 60-day deadline for doing so under the War Powers Act was passing. But with each passing day without a formal Senate vote of endorsement — and no action yet announced in the House — the congressional assertion of its prerogative to have a say about war-making (which presidents including Obama don’t really recognize) will seem more and more marginalized.

STORM FRONT: Obama will head to tornado-ravaged Missouri on Sunday, the morning after he gets back from Europe. “All we can do is let them know that all of America cares deeply about them and that we are going to do absolutely everything we can to make sure that they recover,” the president said this morning about the people of Joplin, where the death toll now stands at 117 — even as 17 people have been pulled from the rubble alive in the past day.

Obama ordered FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate to travel to Missouri to coordinate what is for now an open-ended federal aid program — although this spring’s flooding and tornado outbreaks have increased the chances that Congress will have to go above the newly set spending limits in order to put sufficient money in the disaster relief fund. To “save money” on the books, Congress and the president have traditionally gambled that the weather won’t be too bad and kept the fund as low as possible. For the coming year, lawmakers are considering boosting the account to $3.5 billion, or 32 percent more than Obama asked for.

UPSTATE UPSET: The polls close at 9 in the upstate New York congressional special election, with Republicans more or less openly conceding they expect to lose what had been a rare bedrock GOP bastion in the Northeast. (The suburbs of Buffalo and Rochester were represented by Jack Kemp and former NRCC heads Bill Paxon and Tom Reynolds before Chris Lee suited up for the job, albeit for only 25 months.) In one sure sign of GOP pessimism, several of Jane Corwin’s campaign aides were sending out resumes overnight to incumbent Republican House members.

Democrats are preparing to crow that a victory by Kathy Hochul, who’s now the Erie County clerk, is a clear sign the nation is turning against the new GOP majority because of its plans to remake Medicare. (Corwin, a state legislator, endorsed the House budget.) The GOP is preparing to rebut that analysis and blame their loss instead on the presence of a tea party spoiler, Jack Davis, who’s spending about $3 million of his own money and will likely draw about 10 percent of the vote. There are solid arguments to support both claims — and so in the end the Democrats won’t be able to make their bellwether-rebuke-to-Ryan argument stick for too long.

DEMOCRATIC SHUFFLE: Steve Israel this morning reshuffled the roles of some of his top lieutenants at the DCCC to account for Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s move to become chairwoman of the Democratic Party. Allyson Schwartz of Pennsylvania will expand her role beyond being in charge of recruiting; she’s now also in charge of allocating fieldwork and fundraising expertise to candidates. Jim Himes of Connecticut is taking over the Frontline Program, which provides special fundraising and organizational help to about 15 incumbents. And Maryland’s Donna Edwards and Colorado’s Jared Polis will be in charge of the Red to Blue program, which targets money and media to districts that are prime takeover targets.

DON’T MESS WITH TEXAS: Justice Department lawyers are scratching their heads about what to do once the state Senate clears, and Gov. Rick Perry signs perhaps by the end of this week, a law making invasive security pat-downs at Texas airports a misdemeanor. Under the bill, TSA agents could be fined $4,000 and jailed for a year for junk touching — which the legislation describes in explicit detail. Generally, officials in Washington don’t like it much when a state decides that federal agents are committing a crime by carrying out their assigned duties.

QUOTE OF NOTE: “The reason it thrives, the reason why this is such a natural partnership, is because it advances our common interests and shared values. It is a perfect alignment of what we both need and what we both believe. And the reason it remains strong is because it delivers time and again. Ours is not just a special relationship, it is an essential relationship — for us and for the world,” Obama and Cameron wrote of U.S.-British relations in a Times of London op-ed published this morning.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Three House members: Democrat Steve Cohen of Tennessee (62) and Republicans Doug Lamborn of Colorado (57) and Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania (51).

— David Hawkings, editor

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

Copyright 2011 CQ Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved | Privacy Policy

Monday, May 23, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: The Magic Number

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Monday, May 23, 2011

Today In Washington

THE SENATE: Convenes at 2 and at 5 will vote to limit debate on compromise legislation extending until June 2015 three about-to-expire Patriot Act provisions.

THE HOUSE: Convenes at 2 and at 6:30 will pass several non-controversial bills, three of which would tinker with veterans’ benefits.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama arrived in Dublin this morning to start his eighth presidential trip to Europe. He will visit Ireland, England, France and Poland during the next six days. The photo op of the day is his visit this morning to the hamlet of Moneygall, where Obama is continuing a long tradition of American presidents getting as close as physically possible to their Irish roots. A great-great-great-grandfather, shoemaker’s son Falmouth Kearney, lived in the village before immigrating to the United States when he was 19, in 1850. The president is visiting his forebear’s house, then repairing to the local pub for a pint of Guinness.

TIM’S IN, MITCH DITCHED: The 2012 Republican presidential field has taken something very close to final shape now that Tim Pawlenty has officially announced his candidacy. He did so in an internet video late last night, almost exactly 24 hours after Mitch Daniels announced he would not be running. And in his in-person announcement speech in Des Moines this afternoon, the former Minnesota governor will declare that Obama “won’t even tell us the truth about what it’s really going to take to get out of the mess we’re in. I’m going to take a different approach. I am going to tell you the truth.”

Daniels’ opt-out and Newt Gingrich’s over-sharing appear to have firmed up — in just a few days — a top tier for the GOP field that had remained amorphous and steadily shrinking for the past few months: Mitt Romney, the runner-up in 2008, assumes the traditional role of the Republican who’s “next in line” and so becomes the establishment front-runner by default. Pawlenty (who’s really been running ever since he got passed over as McCain’s safe-bet running mate) remains everybody’s second choice. And John Huntsman, who wowed the political class with his easy and articulate manner in New Hampshire over the weekend, takes the role of fresh-faced potential savior for a party that’s really, really worried it’s about to let a golden White House opportunity slip by.

Those three will have a few weeks, at most, to dispel all the grumbling among Republican operatives and big-money donors that none of them has what it takes to topple the incumbent. And even if they can tamp down that sour talk — and Rick Perry, Chris Christie and Jeb Bush all remain in the barn, as expected — they probably cannot stop Michele Bachmann from launching a candidacy in hope of galvanizing the still-underfunded and still minimally organized tea party movement. The main consequences will be that Iowa’s caucuses, where she might have her one standout performance, will become less all-important; that Ron Paul will be eclipsed as the token member of the House in the race; and that Sarah Palin may be pushed to seriously contemplate moving into Bristol’s house in Maricopa and running for Arizona’s open Senate seat.

JOPLIN RESPONSE: Obama called Gov. Jay Nixon this morning and pledged a comprehensive package of federal help to Missouri recover and rebuild after the deadliest storm in the state’s history. Most of the assistance will be provided by FEMA.

Last night’s tornado that ripped across the state’s southwest corner killed at least 89 people, Joplin city manager Mark Rohr announced at dawn. And many other bodies will likely be uncovered as search and rescue teams start poring through the fields of rubble and knocking on the remaining doors today.  The twister went right through the center of the town, destroying St. John’s  Hospital and leaving a footprint of near-total destruction six miles long and more than a half-mile wide. (The response was going to be made more difficult by more heavy — but twister-free — thunderstorms today.)

WAIT ’TIL HE GETS BACK: Obama’s European trip means his meetings with the two parties’ House caucuses are off until next week. But the fourth Blair House budget negotiating session will convene tomorrow in hope of adding a bit more to their current total of tentatively agreed-upon cuts ($150 billion over 10 years). Biden and the six congressional negotiators now have 10 weeks to come up with (and get enacted) a package of spending cuts coupled with an increase in the national debt ceiling — preferably to a level of about $16.5 trillion, which would keep the government solvent until after the 2012 election.

Those slow-moving talks nonetheless hold the prospect of yielding the only real budgetary news this week. The big but entirely symbolic set piece will be the offsetting senate votes to reject both the House GOP budget and Obama’s budget. The other event that will draw cameras — but no consensus — will be Wednesday’s fiscal policy conference put on by the deficit-hawkish Peter G. Peterson Foundation, where think tanks and politicians from all across the ideological spectrum will get a chance to rationalize their ideas.

The event was going to be super-high-wattage until one prominent speaker, Mitch Daniels, announced that he would not be running for president. Now the Indiana governor will be just another Republican budget expert with some potentially bold ideas. And all the attention will be focused on Paul Ryan, another fiscal policy expert with bold ideas — but one who over the weekend propped the door open, if only a tiny bit, to getting into the presidential race.

THE RYAN EFFECT: A day before the special election, Democrat Kathy Hochul appears to be surging toward an upset in the upstate New York House district left open by the resignation of Republican Craigslist poser Chris Lee. She led Republican Jane Corwin, 42 percent to 38 percent, in a Siena Research Institute poll released over the weekend — with self-financing gadfly Jack Davis, a former Democrat running under the Tea Party banner, taking a crucial 12 percent (much of it presumably from the GOP base). Republicans will surely blame Davis if they lose the seat, but the polling shows that the very same Paul Ryan and his House GOP Medicare proposal (which Corwin initially endorsed) has crippled their candidate: 21 percent in the poll named Medicare as the race’s top issue, and 74 percent of those respondents said they’d vote Democratic.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: No lawmakers today. Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota (60) on Saturday, and yesterday GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska (54), GOP Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers of Washington (42) and Democratic Rep. John Sarbanes of Maryland (49).

— David Hawkings, editor

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