Friday, June 03, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: You're Not Helping

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Friday, June 3, 2011

Today In Washington

THE HOUSE: Convened at 9 and at about 2 will adopt a resolution tacitly endorsing the American role in the bombardment of Libya while lambasting Obama for failing to lay out a “compelling rationale” for the U.S. military’s involvement — and demanding he do so in the next two weeks. It would oppose any boots being put on the ground, which the president says he has no plans for, anyway.

Boehner has rallied the GOP behind that language in the last day — thereby breaking a coalition of conservatives and liberals that was surging behind a measure calling for an end to the American role in the NATO campaign within 15 days. That resolution will now be rejected.

The dueling Libya votes will be the last business before a weeklong recess.

THE SENATE: Convened at 10:30 and before 10:32 had turned off the lights until 2 on Monday.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is flying toward Ohio, where at 1 he’ll tour Chrysler’s sprawling operation in Toledo. (More than 1,700 are employed there producing the Jeep Wrangler, Jeep Liberty and Dodge Nitro.) When he takes the podium he’ll boast that the plant’s robust operation is proof that the $81 billion in loan guarantees for GM, Chrysler and their suppliers he supported when he took office was money well spent. (The government now estimates it will get back four-fifths of it.)

HARD LINES CAN ONLY GET HARDER: This morning’s jobs report was disappointing — and not only because it reinforced the view that the recovery has slowed to a near-stall, with just 54,000 new jobs created in May, while concluding the unemployment rate had inched up again, to 9.1 percent. Those two headlines are bad news, to be sure. But, beyond that, the report was particularly unfortunate in that it will do nothing to change the political stalemate over the economy.

The employment news was bad enough that the Republicans were able to immediately pounce and repeat their rhetorical assault on the Democrats. “Our economy is not creating enough jobs, and Democrats’ binge of taxing, spending, borrowing and over-regulating is a big part of the reason why,” Boehner said in a statement just 5 minutes after the Bureau of Labor Statistics released the latest figures.

The Democrats seized on the numbers to make their case, as well. “Now, as the slow recovery threatens to stall out, the most important thing Congress and the president can do is to back away from negotiations to dramatically cut back on health and retirement programs,” said Roger Hickey, co-director of the liberal Campaign for America’s Future. “And if we really want robust job creation that both parties claim they want, we will need an emergency program of expanded public investment.”

In truth, the jobs report said almost nothing that wasn’t already understood. Economic growth is currently slow at best. Gross domestic product expanded at a 1.8 percent annual rate during the first three months of the year, and there are few signs it’s gained altitude since then.

Still, the economy hasn’t crashed, either. The net number of new jobs in May included 83,000 payroll positions added by private employers — a weak number, but positive nonetheless — and 29,000 positions eliminated by governments at all levels. That level of job growth is barely letting the economy account for the number of new Americans of working age. The share of the population that’s working has been static for a year now at about 58.4 percent – roughly the low point for the recession. That figure was roughly 5 percentage points higher in early 2007, before the global economy took a dive.

For now, nothing that either party proposes to address this situation has any appeal across the aisle. And that’s likely to remain true if the numbers remain in this nether world.

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THEY DON’T PLAY NICE: Maybe the experts at Moody’s haven’t spent very much time in Washington, or maybe they have and they’re just sick and tired of the capital political rhythms. Either way, the rhetoric behind the firm’s announcement yesterday — that it may downgrade the government’s top-of-the-line credit rating next month in the absence of a budget deal — was a bit surprising. “The degree of entrenchment into conflicting positions has exceeded expectations,” the firm declared, and “heightened polarization over the debt limit has increased the odds of a short-lived default.”

So much anxiety — with 61 days to go until the Treasury slams into its current borrowing ceiling — comes off to many as unwarranted; there are, after all, eight weekends of talk shows to go before Zero Hour. But, alternatively, Moody’s may have calibrated its comments to give both Obama and Boehner what they would like more than anything else — a spur to get their blame-the-other guy forces arrayed behind them to shut up long enough so that they (and, yes, Reid) can come up with a minimalist deal before Independence Day. The basic tenet of such a bargain is clear: A decade’s worth of spending curb promises in the neighborhood of $2 trillion in return for an increase in borrowing authority of about the same amount, which  would push the next budget impasse beyond the election.

EDWARDS INDICTMENT: John Edwards was charged with conspiracy, four counts of illegal campaign contributions and one count of false statements today by a federal grand jury in North Carolina. He is set to make his initial appearance in the case at 2:30 in Winston-Salem.

The indictment of the former senator and 2004 Democratic candidate for vice president, which had been expected for weeks and is the culmination of a two-year investigation, alleges that he coordinated a scheme to use campaign donations to keep his love-child affair with Rielle Hunter a secret during his second run for the presidency, in 2008. More than $1 million in hush money was allegedly paid to Hunter, and to former aide Andrew Young, whom Edwards initially fingered as the child’s father. (The D.C. Democratic establishment has come to ridicule Edwards mercilessly, but he still has one of Washington’s most high-profile attorneys — Greg Craig, who represented Clinton during his impeachment and was Obama’s first White House counsel.)

TAX TALK: The top House Democratic tax writer, Sandy Levin, vowed today to fight hard against the sort of tax-code overhaul the Republican majority wants. He says  the GOP plan, eliminating some so-far-unspecified tax breaks to offset the cost of reducing the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent, would end up hurting the poor because “you would have to eliminate virtually every tax incentive for middle income and poor families.”

His comments, to the Center for American Progress Action Fund, suggest that this year’s early optimism about a bipartisan approach to simplifying the tax code may have been overblown.

PROBABLY VERY FEW PALABRAS: Obama will become the first president since Kennedy to make an official visit Puerto Rico; he’ll fly to San Juan on June 14 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of JFK’s visit.

Once the White House makes the formal announcement today, there will be a blizzard of lobbying from all sides in the commonwealth’s dizzyingly complex political world. Some will want Obama to endorse statehood for the territory; others will press him to embrace independence for the island; yet another group will urge him to leave things just the way they are — which is what’s sure to happen, because the population is so triple-split on its desires. And so there would be little advantage in Obama calling for a toppling of the status quo. By playing it safe, he will have nothing but benefits in ginning up enthusiasm for his re-election among the 4.6 million Puerto Ricans living on the mainland (and most important, for him, the 850,0000 in bellwether Florida).

ON TO ANOTHER FLAVOR: Most departed lawmakers spin through the revolving door with ease. But not Charlie Melancon, who’s lasted just four months as the top lobbyist for the nation’s 850,000 franchise owners. The International Franchise Association said yesterday that he was leaving to pursue unspecified “business opportunities related to his broad experience” — long before the one-year cooling off rules allowed him to start approaching his former colleagues directly.

A conservative Democrat, Melancon represented Louisiana's Cajun country in the House for six years before losing a bid for the Senate last year. (Before getting into politics he owned a collection of Baskin Robbins franchises and spent 11 years as the top lobbyist for the sugar cane growers.) The franchises group said it was replacing Melancon with Judith Forman, who had lobbied for the American Beverage Association.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Maryland Republican Roscoe Bartlett, the second-oldest current House member, turns 85 today. Utah Republican Mike Lee, the youngest sitting senator, turns 40 tomorrow.

— David Hawkings, editor

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Thursday, June 02, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Large Ball

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama’s fourth and final meeting to discuss the debt and deficit impasse with a congressional caucus is at 2:30, when he will take questions from House Democrats in the East Room.

THE HOUSE: Convened at noon but may not be finished with the Homeland Security spending bill before taking its last votes of the night at about 6. There are plenty more amendments to come after the 15 that will be voted on early this afternoon — including proposals to bar TSA workers from unionizing, neutralize the Davis-Bacon prevailing wage law and push more first-responder grant money to small cities.
If the Homeland bill gets done, lawmakers will then move on to their second appropriations bill for next year, apportioning $72.5 billion (a 1 percent cut) for veterans’ programs and military construction. A session tomorrow is assured.

THE SENATE: Not in session; it’s the fourth weekday of the Memorial Day recess.

CUT AND RUN? When Geithner originally planned to go to the Capitol this afternoon to meet with the 87 House GOP freshmen, he had two main objectives: First, to convince the bulk of them that he can be trusted when he says the deadline for increasing the debt ceiling is really immovable at Aug. 2. (Many of them really don’t believe that.) And second, to convince them that the consequences of not borrowing more money by then will mean a recession and a global panic that would almost surely spell a quick end for many of their careers, and the end of nascent GOP majority in 2012. (Most of them are starting to come around to this point of view.)

But a new and almost equally important mission for the Treasury secretary has arisen in the past 24 hours: He needs to gauge the willingness of the freshmen to accept the sort of relatively modest deficit-reduction-for-debt-increase swap that’s quickly becoming the default setting.

Boehner made it so yesterday, when he declared that “it’s time to play large ball rather than small ball” — meaning that the Blair House summit (set to reconvene a week from today) should be shut down so he, Reid and the president can get in a room and cut the best deal possible by the end of this month. The goal would be to avoid a welling-up of anxiety on Wall Street, which almost certainly would happen if another crop of “countdown clocks” start popping up on cable news networks, showing the number of days left before a default.
The Speaker’s let’s-cut-to-the-chase moment came after he heard what Obama told the Republicans yesterday (more revenue has to be part of the mix) and what his caucus said in reply. (That would be “no.”) Since that standoff shows no signs of easing — and the “demagoguery” Paul Ryan accused the president of yesterday is sure to start spreading from all partisan corners — here’s what is likely to happen now more than ever: Obama will agree to spending restraint during the next 10 years (domestic and defense discretionary and second-tier entitlements) of a bit more than $2 trillion. And in turn the GOP will agree to raise the federal borrowing limit by a touch less than that amount — an amount that would nonetheless be high enough to keep the government in cash through the end of next year.

In other words, it would be a deal that postpones the fundamental debate about taxes and Medicare’s future for the next Congress and the winner of the next presidential election. Boehner is presumably calculating that he’ll still be Speaker and that, even if Obama is still president, the GOP’s hand may be strengthened because by then McConnell may be the new majority leader.

NO-AUTHORIZATION ZONE: For Obama, there’s one big reason it’s in his best interest to get the debt ceiling behind him as soon as possible — even if that means it would return to his front burner right away if he wins re-election, and even though by then his side’s negotiating power may be much weaker. The reason is that he’s got no chance to change the subject to anything else pro-active until this latest budget impasse is past.

The present standoff has given conservatives and liberals alike ample reason for annoyance — and they’ve decided to give voice to their grumbling over Libya. If the president has the political capital to get a modest budget deal done before July 4, then he will have the political capital to get Congress to go on record very belatedly supporting his unilateral bending of the rules and inserting U.S. forces into the Libya no-fly zone. Until then, Congress won’t — and the bipartisan chorus will only grow louder about the former constitutional law professor flouting the law by not getting the required congressional authorization.

TIMES, CHANGING: Jill Abramson was promoted today to become the first woman executive editor in the history of The New York Times — essentially making her instantaneously the most influential journalist in the English-speaking world. A former D.C. bureau chief, and one of the paper’s two managing editors since 2003, the 57-year-old Abramson is replacing Bill Keller, who’s unexpectedly being returned to writing full time after eight years in the top job.
The paper also announced that the current Washington bureau chief — Dean Baquet, a former editor of the LA. Times — will go to New York to become the second African-American managing editor in Times history.

LOGICAL CONCLUSIONS: Anthony Weiner emerged from his Rayburn office this morning and — with seemingly absolute “certitude” — told the phalanx of camera crews staked out there that he would not be answering any questions today about his Twitter imbroglio. By his count, he spent 11 hours yesterday in damage-control interviews — asserting he did not send any photograph to a Seattle college student he follows on Twitter, but declining to answer with “certitude” about whether he’s in the picture of crotch-swollen gray briefs.

The Brooklyn congressman is under enormous political pressure to get this story behind him, and fast – and that pressure is only magnified by the personal pressure he’s facing, too. Hardly anybody in the Republican ranks knew Michele Lee of Clarence, N.Y., whose husband was forced out of the House in the year’s first online come-on picture scandal. But many if not most Democrats know, like and respect the State Department’s Huma Abedin – who had a high D.C. profile of her own long before she and Weiner got married last year. Now 34, she’s been a central player in the world of aides surrounding Hillary Clinton since the days of Monica-gate. And so if Weiner plays the modified limited hangout game as long as possible, only to disclose in the end that it’s him in that photo, support in his own caucus (and his mayoral hopes) will collapse as quickly as lawmakers rally to shield Abedin from as much embarrassment as possible.

RULES, RULES, RULES: Cantor led House Republicans today in excoriating the Obama administration for issuing new regulations designed to crack down on for profit colleges. “This misguided regulation will hinder job creation and could prevent as many as hundreds of thousands of individuals from bringing new skills into the workforce every year,” he declared — and he noted that it runs counter to a bipartisan consensus that’s become clear through some test votes in Congress this year.

The new rules, which wouldn’t take effect for a year, would eliminate federal financial aid for programs that produce a high number of graduates who never repay their student loans — or who end up owing much more than their new jobs could allow them to pay back. The Education Department estimates that almost one in five for-profit programs will fail those standards.

QUOTE OF NOTE: “Government under President Obama has grown to consume almost 40 percent of our economy. We are only inches away from ceasing to be a free market economy. I will cap federal spending at 20 percent or less of the GDP and finally, finally balance the budget. My generation will pass the torch to the next generation, not a bill,” says the prepared text of Mitt Romney’s presidential announcement speech, to be delivered at noon in Stratham, N.H. “We will return responsibility and authority to the states for dozens of government programs — and that begins with a complete repeal of Obamacare. From my first day in office my number one job will be to see that America once again is number one in job creation.”
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: GOP Rep. Mike Rogers of Michian (48).

— David Hawkings, editor

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Wednesday, June 01, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Bracketology

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama’s first meeting with all the lawmakers in the House Republican majority started at 10. Since today is the start of Atlantic Hurricane Season, the president will get a briefing at 11:30 on the government’s long-range weather forecast and on disaster preparedness

THE HOUSE: Convened at 10 and at noon will begin debating its first appropriations bill for the budget year that starts in October — a $40.6 billion (3 percent cut) measure for the Department of Homeland Security. The wide-open amendment process that’s traditional for spending bills means it’s hard to predict timing of the vote on passage; it may be tomorrow, because lawmakers have promised the last roll call of the day will be by 7.
Kathy Hochul, the upset winner of last week’s special election in upstate New York, will be sworn in as the House’s newest Democrat.
THE SENATE: Nothing’s happening there this week.
IN THE BEGINNING: Years from now, yesterday’s House show vote against raising the debt ceiling without conditions will be remembered as the opening bracket for the period of time when Republicans and Democrats actually came together on a plan that gives projected deficits a visible but not too-visible haircut — and also avoids a government default, although only for perhaps the next 18 months, until the 2012 winners of the White House and Congress are at the controls.
And there will be some good clues from the rhetoric of this afternoon, once the East Room meeting is over, about whether the other side of that bracket will be closed in just a few weeks, or not until the calendar is right up against the Treasury’s Aug. 2 deadline for needing additional borrowing authority.
If both Boehner and Obama come out of the room describing the atmospherics as collegial — and declaring that their side is ready to give as much as it wants to get — then the summer could yet be smoother than its start is suggesting. But that also will mean the deal both sides envision is the most minimalist required to assuage the big players in the  financial markets, who have enough heartburn in their lives already and thus want Congress to play against type and finish this deal a week or more before Zero Hour.
But get ready to postpone vacation plans — and to envision a more historic bargain — if the president goes to the microphones and shakes his head about GOP intransigence against raising more revenue, and if the GOP rank-and file starts tut-tutting about what a shame it is that their first invitation to such a White House meeting was a waste of time because the words “entitlement reform” weren’t heard. A continued public standoff means both sides will want to use all their available bargaining time to push for the grandest deal possible.
GEEK CRED: Boehner went into the meeting with a manifesto, signed by 150 economists, that endorses the Speaker’s bargaining position: That whatever amount the borrowing authority is increased must be exceeded by the amount of projected deficit reduction. Doing otherwise, the economists say, "would harm private-sector job growth and represent a tremendous setback in the effort to deal with our national debt."
The 87 GOP freshmen are sure to pound on that theme when they have their own meeting tomorrow with Geithner, who in return is bound to emphasize the calamitous and long-lasting global economic consequences of not raising the debt ceiling in time — and thereby preventing the government from paying its bills punctually.
That session will come as Obama has the fourth and final budget listening session meeting with one of the congressional caucuses – the always-an-afterthought-this-year House Democrats.
NOMINATION SITUATION: Jim Inhofe is vowing an all-out effort to stop John Bryson from being confirmed as Commerce secretary.
The top Republican on Environment and Public Works, who’s become world-famous for calling man-made global warming a hoax, says he’s dead-set against Bryson because he helped to found the Natural Resources Defense Council, which the Oklahoma senator deems “a radical environmental organization,” and because the nominee also worked on a U.N. advisory group on climate change.
It’s hard to see how Inhofe might be mollified. But the Business Roundtable and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce quickly endorsed Bryson, so his filibuster would probably be broken with the help of most other Republicans — so long as they get what they want in return for their confirmation votes. McConnell reiterated yesterday that Republicans would block the confirmation of any new Commerce secretary until the administration formally submits its trade liberalization pacts with South Korea, Panama and Colombia for congressional approval. (Democrats want to use those bills as a vehicle for extending the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, which helps U.S. workers who lose their jobs because of overseas competition.)
Bryson, 67, would replace Gary Locke, who seems to be on course to win confirmation as ambassador to China. Bryson retired in 2008 after 17 years running Edison International, California’s largest electric utility, and is now running the solar-plant developer BrightSource Energy.

ILLINOIS SUIT? Disgruntled Illinois Republicans, who could see their delegation halved next year, and disgruntled Hispanics, who think a second Chicago seat should have been created for them, may yet team up on a lawsuit that tries to block the new state congressional map that Democrats muscled through the state legislature over the weekend.
But if that litigation comes to nothing, then Democrats may already be one-fifth of the way to gaining back control of the House in 2012. (They need to pick up 24 seats, and the Illinois map could yield five of those.) Not only that, but the Justice Department has now endorsed the implementation of a Florida referendum that was designed to limit the ability of the GOP legislature to gerrymander that state’s map, meaning the Democrats should have a reasonable shot at maybe another five gains there, as well — putting them within striking distance of making Steny Hoyer the Speaker (yes, that’s right) more than a year before the actual voting.
SHORT ON INFORMATION: Anthony Weiner is just a couple of tabloid-frenzy news cycles away from being toppled from his newly prominent perch as one of the most trenchant and vigorous voices in the new House Democratic minority — which would also mean his dream of becoming mayor of New York would probably be gone for good, too.
The bulging-briefs photograph that was sent from the congressman’s Twitter account to Gennette Nicole Cordova’s Seattle inbox was initially easy to dismiss as the work of a prankster/hacker — because how could it be humanly, politically possible for someone as smart as Weiner not to have learned from Chris Lee’s example.
But the congressman has refused every opportunity to deny that he sent the picture. He’s hired an attorney to help him handle the summer’s first Capitol sex scandal. He’s declined to have that lawyer call the Capitol Police to investigate. (A little bit of software sleuthing will prove where the picture came from). And he’s refused to answer why he was following the young woman on Twitter in the first place.
Instead, every time he’s asked about the matter he says it’s a distraction akin to having a pie thrown at him while he’s giving a big speech. But that rebuttal isn’t the refutation that the Daily News and the New York Post will insist on having before this story goes away.

TOUGH TEN: The first 10 House GOP incumbents who will be getting special organizational and fundraising attention from the NRCC were announced today. The list will be expanded significantly in the next several weeks, as the campaign organization meets with virtually every politically endangered member and pushes them to commit to a rigorous program of raising money a year before the election — and threatens to cut off their NRCC assistance if they don’t do their part.
Identified for the special incumbency protection program were seven freshmen, two back-for-a-second-time lawmakers and one incumbent — Iowa’s Tom Latham, who’s been forced by redistricting into a race against incumbent Democrat Leonard Boswell. The other lawmakers are New Hampshire’s  Charlie Bass and Frank Guinta, Florida’s Allen West, Wisconsin’s Sean Duffy, Texas’ Quico Canseco, Nevada’s Joe Heck and Pennsylvania’s Pat Meehan, Lou Barletta and Mike Fitzpatrick.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Democratic Rep. Tim Bishop of New York (61) and Republican Rep. Gregg Harper of Mississippi (55).

— David Hawkings, editor

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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Promises, Promises

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Today In Washington

THE HOUSE: Convenes at noon but will wait until 6:30 (comfortably after most U.S. security traders have gone home for the night) before soundly defeating legislation that would raise the limit on federal borrowing to $16.7 trillion — but without any accompanying plans to rein in spending.

Appropriations marks up its Agriculture spending bill at 5; it would reduce discretionary spending at the USDA and the FDA by a net 13 percent.

THE SENATE: In recess this week, except for a blink-and-you-missed-it pro forma session this morning and another on Friday.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama has no public events on tap to interrupt his first weekday at his Oval Office desk since the Friday before last. He’s got a catch-up staff meeting at 4:15.

Gates is departing on his last scheduled foreign trip before stepping down as Defense secretary in a month. At both an Asian security conference in Singapore and NATO meetings in Brussels, he’ll offer reassurances that Panetta’s move to the Pentagon and the surprise elevation of Army Gen. Martin Dempsey to chair the Joint Chiefs won’t mean a fundamental remaking of U.S. military policy.

THE ONE THEY WANTED: This evening’s lopsided vote against an increase in the debt limit will serve two purposes for the House Republican leadership. It will demonstrate how the new GOP majority has fundamentally changed the debate in Washington. And it will give many of those lawmakers the political cover they’ll need once they cast a much more consequential vote at the end of July.

Republicans haven’t yet won the sort of historic government-shrinking victory so many of them promised to bring home in the 2010 campaigns. (The midyear spending bill that avoided a government shutdown was barely a rounding error in that effort.) But still, today’s vote will show unequivocally that it’s not politically possible — at least before the next election — for the government to borrow more money without making some sort of deficit reduction down-payment.

Nearly every Republican, and probably a majority of Democrats as well, will vote against raising the debt ceiling by 17 percent without any condition. And that is a significant shift from the start of the year, when Obama was pushing hard to decouple the current debt from future deficits — by arguing, accurately if not convincingly, that the requirement to pay the government’s bills of today is not directly connected to the aspirations about shrinking the ocean of red ink tomorrow.

THE ONE THEY’D RATHER AVOID: The vote’s second benefit won’t be so immediately realized — but it will become clear in another eight weeks. Putting the “clean” borrowing bill on the floor affords an opportunity for dozens of lawmakers (the freshman tea-party types, most of all) to cast the “no” vote they’ve been eager for all year. They will be able to go on record fulfilling their campaign promise to vote against putting the country deeper in debt. But since everyone knows up front that the bill’s going nowhere, Wall Street and the Chamber of Commerce won’t be rattled and won’t be angry (at least this time) that their buddies in the GOP have flouted economic reality and threatened default.

But this will stand as the one “free vote” for many Republicans, who will ultimately feel compelled to get behind whatever default-avoiding deal is struck this summer – either at Blair House or, if those talks come up snake-eyes, in a super-summit of Obama, Boehner and Reid. That’s because any bipartisan accord will almost surely include a tacit promise on both sides that they will rustle up majorities in their House and Senate caucuses for the bitter mix of spending cuts, entitlement curbs and, yes, tax increases.

Many of the GOP freshmen are already coming to understand (thanks to  a bombardment of “educational help” from their Hill leaders and their allies in the business community back home) that campaign declarations about “never” voting for more borrowing were naive and misguided. Many of them now realize that it will be good politics and good policy to embrace a big deficit reduction deal. But in order to do so, they will need to be able to have a Kerry-like “I voted against it before I was for it” conversion on the debt ceiling .

WHAT DEADLINE? The president’s efforts at getting more Republicans to say “yes” will begin tomorrow, when the entire House GOP caucus heads to the White House — which will be less about presidential hectoring and more about an exchange of ideas, if the pattern set in the president’s earlier meetings with Democratic and GOP senators holds. (The House Democrats get their turn on Thursday.)

With the Senate in recess this week and the House out next week, it’s not clear when the Biden summit will have its next formal session, although there’s talk of some over-the-phone conversations in the next couple of days. Treasury’s can't-be-moved-anymore Aug. 2 deadline to get more borrowing power is nine weeks from today. If that’s to be met — and if meaningful Medicare cuts are to be part of any deal (not the Paul Ryan plan, to be sure) — then the schedules will have to ramp up sooner or later.

SHOPPING LIST: There is no money for the alternative F-35 engine in the Defense spending bill that will take its first step in the House tomorrow.

The Appropriations Committee, as part of a new push for transparency, unveiled a summary of the legislation this morning, a full day before the subcommittee markup. The bill’s grand total is $530 billion, which would be a 3 percent increase but slightly below what Obama requested. The biggest line item would be another $119 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — because of projected troop withdrawals, a drop of nearly 25 percent from what’s being spent this year.

While the bill has nothing for the second F-35 engine, which is as Obama wants it, there would be $5.9 billion for 32 of those planes, known as the Joint Strike Fighter, as well as $15.1 billion for the construction of 10 Navy ships, $2.8 billion for 116 new Blackhawk helicopters, $1.4 billion for Chinook helicopters, $1.1 billion for 11 new C-130 planes, and $699 million for 48 more Reaper drones.

And the bill would provide for a 1.6 percent pay raise for 1.4 million active duty troops and 847,000 reservists, which is what the defense authorization bill calls for.

EYE ON AMENDMENTS: Republicans are going to allow wide-open debate on at least the two annual spending bills coming before the House this week — and maybe all of them if the pace of progress remains steady this summer, which will happen unless the other side slows the process significantly with long rosters of combative amendments.

That’s what happened when the Democrats ran the spending show the previous six years — and clamped down tight on the process once the Republicans slowed things to a crawl with all their proposed changes. And it may happen with the Homeland Security bill later this week. Although there’s bipartisan support for boosting FEMA’s budget in light of this spring’s surge in natural disasters, the Democrats want to raise lots of objections to proposed cuts in federal aid to state and local police and fire departments.

ASHCROFT RULING: John Ashcroft may not be sued over his role in the post-Sept. 11 arrest of an American Muslim who was never charged with a crime, the Supreme Court ruled today, 5-3. The decision reversed a federal appeals court, which had denied Gorge W. Bush’s first attorney general immunity from liability in this case. But beyond whether he could be sued or not, a majority of the justices also held that Ashcroft did not violate the constitutional rights of Abdullah al-Kidd, who was arrested in 2003 under a federal law intended to make sure witnesses testify in criminal proceedings.

TODAY’S POLL: Obama’s approval rating was 54 percent (and his disapproval rating 45 percent) among the 1,007 people polled by CNN last Tuesday, Wdnesday and Thursday. The approval number is up from 52 percent at the start of the month and 48 percent in April — and among Republicans it’s risen to 27 percent, the highest point in two years. But on 11 specific issues, the president is above 50 percent only on his handling of terrorism, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Freshman Republican Rep. Larry Bucshon of Indiana (49) today; best wishes were due on Memorial Day to DCCC Chairman Steve Israel of New York (53) and on Sunday to both House GOP Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling of Texas (54) and Republican Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas (57).

— David Hawkings, editor

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