Friday, June 10, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Rick's Roll

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Friday, June 10, 2011

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama has nothing public on his schedule. He, Michelle and the girls are beating the D.C. heat — a humid high of only 92 this afternoon, and a 40 percent chance of thunderstorms — by departing at 4 for at least one night at Camp David in Maryland’s Catoctin Mountains.

THE HOUSE AND SENATE: Neither is in session; both next convene at 2 on Monday.  

PERRY, PRIMED: Is the nation ready to elect as president another governor of Texas who’s known as well as anything for being pre-emptively combative and especially prone to rhetorical contortion?

It looks more and more like the voters may get to answer that question in 2012. After closing the door to the idea for months, then pushing it ajar two weeks ago, Rick Perry is quickly tilting toward a run for the Republican nomination — in large measure because he now has the opportunity to hire on two of his closest political advisers. Dave Carney, his lead political consultant since the late 1990s, and Rob Johnson, who managed his campaign for a third full term last year, were the most prominent and powerful among the 16 staffers who quit and probably sank for good the Newt Gingrich campaign yesterday.

Probably, though, Perry will stay uncommitted and mostly in Austin for the next two months — and hope that in that time GOP voters come only more forcefully to the view that none of the other possibilities is a compelling and obvious pick for the nomination. If he still senses that vacuum in the middle of the summer, Perry would have the fundraising prowess to launch a campaign then — probably after a meeting with the GOP governors he recently invited to a day of prayer Aug. 6 in Houston — and have ample resources to compete by the time of the probably pivotal early contests in Iowa New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.

If his timing is right, he might even make his announcement in time to generate a wave of support and then have an exceeding-expectations showing (even without participating) at the Iowa Straw Poll in Ames on Aug. 13.

The Texas governor would be able to campaign not only as a reliable economic steward — more than 254,000 new jobs were created in Texas in the past year, the most of any state — but also as the sort of unambiguous social conservative who appeals to so many GOP primary and caucus voters.

THE NO-LOVE BOAT: That Newt and Callista Gingrich would cruise the Greek isles for two weeks so soon after the initial implosion of his campaign, then sound stunned when all the top people on his staff mutinied because the candidate would hardly listen to them, comes as no surprise to the aides and lawmakers who worked with Speaker Gingrich from 1995 through 1998. His remarkable skills as a political visionary back then were exceeded only by his total lack of message discipline and his unwillingness to take sound (even obvious) advice from senior aides and fellow lawmakers — which is why he came so close to being toppled in a coup in 1997 and lasted only a few days after his impeachment crusade backfired into an historic loss of House seats in the 1998 midterm.

FINALS WEEK? The Biden summiteers are promising to pick up the pace, with meetings on discretionary spending cuts, budget caps and entitlement curbs next Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoons in hopes of setting the table for before next week's main event: The Obama-Boehner golf date on Saturday. All sides seem to be realizing that, with the jobless rate above 9 percent and only seven weeks until the deadline for a potential for default, it’s time to figure out how to declare an incremental victory and go home.

The segue toward a sense of urgency came after one more meeting in which the two sides strained to avoid getting annoyed with each other while spouting their at-cross-purposes talking points. Geithner made his pitch for raising taxes as part of any responsible course, and Cantor said doing so would irresponsibly threaten the recovery. But the surprise trial balloon of the week — Obama’s suggestion of suspending the business half of Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes in a bid to goose job creation — was left floating. Republicans, who like the sound of any tax cut, are intrigued but wary of the price the president would demand for this idea.

STILL UNCONVINCING: Anthony Weiner is interpreting the continuing public silence of the Democratic leadership, a few slivers of support in the liberal blogosphere, a new poll  and — most importantly — the reported encouragement of his wife as reasons to believe he should remain in Congress.

NY1-Marist pollsters who spent Wednesday in the neighborhoods of Brooklyn and Queens that Weiner represents found 56 percent of registered voters saying he should not quit, 33 percent saying he should and the rest unsure.

Weiner said with the sounds of certitude yesterday that he would not resign. But so what. He also told every TV network two weeks ago that he didn’t tweet his briefs for the benefit of a Seattle college kid. And besides, he is still hanging out in the peculiar bubble of New York City — not on Capitol Hill, where he’s due to return to on Monday. There, the immediate ostracism from his colleagues, the certain deflating of his storied fundraising prowess and the probably fast pace of the Ethics Committee  investigation (How long will it take them to decide his actions did not “reflect creditably on the House,” even if he used his personal hardware?) will quickly combine to push him out.

And once he’s gone, it’s highly likely that only a placeholder will be elected to replace him. That’s because Rep. Joe Crowley, who is also the Queens Democratic chairman, will get to pick the nominee — and is making it quite clear he’d like to lay claim to a big chunk of Weiner’s current constituency (the white Roman Catholic neighborhoods) in redistricting.

REID INSIDER TO LEAVE: Jon Summers is resigning after less than six months as Reid’s top Senate spokesman to become a vice president at the political consulting firm GMMB. The firm will make the announcement today. Summers was a central figure in the majority leader’s ultimately upset re-election win in Nevada last fall, and his official position was to be a big-time message manager for the Senate majority as a top aide at a new Democratic Policy and Communications Center. But that organization is run by Chuck Schumer, who gave most of his own people the big jobs and left it to Summers to mainly serve as Reid’s personal flack.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Today, Rep. Lynn Jenkins of Kansas (48); tomorrow, fellow Republican Rep. Mike Conaway of Texas (63) and Democratic Rep. Charlie Rangel of New York (81).

— David Hawkings, editor

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Thursday, June 09, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Up, Up and Away

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Today In Washington

THE SENATE: Convened at 9:30 for its last day of legislating this week. But there’s no breakthrough in sight on the Economic Development Administration reauthorization — the latest relatively non-controversial measure that’s become mired in unrelated GOP amendments. Senators will vote at 2:15 on an Olympia Snowe proposal to ease some small business regulations.

Beyond that, Rand Paul wants a doomed-to-fail test vote (like the one in the House last week) on a debt ceiling increase without any deficit reduction attached. And Jim DeMint wants to end a special vein of U.S. aid for developing countries seeking to shrink their carbon footprints.

Armed Services convened at 9:30 for a hearing on Leon Panetta’s nomination to be Defense secretary.

THE HOUSE: Not in session this week.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is meeting with his senior advisers in the Oval Office now. His only other announced meeting is at 4:45, with President Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon. (He holds the rotating presidency of the U.N. Security Council this month, and he told Clinton this week that Gabon wants to use its leverage as the third-largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa to help impose more sanctions on Iran.)

HOT AIR: The sixth meeting of Biden and the half-dozen congressional budget negotiators means another afternoon of talking about trial balloons — one from the left, one from the right — but only the most tangential and conceptual progress is expected. (The summit convenes at the Capitol at 12:30.)

The vice president will be pressed by Cantor and Kyl to explain word out of the West Wing that Obama may move to make a continuation of some economic stimulus spending part of this summer’s deal to curb deficits and allow a higher debt ceiling. That sounded like a waste-of-time non-starter until the other half of the presidential thinking was revealed yesterday: That Obama also may move to sweeten the deal for the GOP by proposing a temporary cut in business payroll taxes — what companies contribute to Social Security and Medicare — in the hope that it would drive unemployment back below 9 percent. (Conquering the jobs number is of course what the president needs to drive his own approval ratings back above 50 percent. CBS’ new poll pegs the number at 48 percent, down 9 points since the Bin Laden takedown; the latest Quinnipiac topline for the president is 47 percent, a drop of 5 points in a month.)

The Republicans, meanwhile, will be pressed to explain why — weeks after the idea seemed to be pushed off the edge of the table — they are back to emphatic talk about tying this summer’s debt ceiling increase to the imposition of new and binding spending caps. The short answer is the Club for Growth, which continues to carry significant weight as a voice for fiscal conservatives — but threatens to lose its place at the GOP table unless it starts operating in the mainstream of the current debate. The club excoriated Kyl this week for proposing “nothing more than maintaining the Washington status quo” — $2.5 trillion in promised cuts, parceled out over more than decade, in return for a bit less borrowing authority than that until after the election.

The group’s new president, former Rep. Chris Chocola of Indiana, said Republicans should be insisting instead on a budget-balancing constitutional amendment and an iron-clad limit on government spending to 18 percent of the national economy — ideas that were set aside by the GOP as their own waste-of-time non-starters weeks ago.

WHEELS KEEP TURNING: This morning’s trade report reinforces other evidence that the economy does continue to grow and that consumers are continuing to spend, even if at a tepid pace.

The U.S. trade deficit narrowed a bit in April , though it’s wider for the year to date over 2010. Exports grew slightly faster than imports, and sales overseas are continuing to increase this year, giving some hope to exporters that they will keep adding to GDP. Imports also are rising rapidly this year, a sign of reinvigorated consumers. And while the trade gap is greater this year, any sign that people are buying is evidence that the economy isn’t yet poised to slide back into a recession.

And now that the administration is cheering about how the auto bailout of 2008 and 2009 has gotten GM and Chrysler back on their feet, the trade numbers for cars are also notable. Imports and exports of both autos and parts slipped a bit in April, but both show big increases from the figures posted in April a year ago. Significantly, auto and parts exports are up 18 percent for the first four months of this year over the same period in 2010, while auto imports are up 20 percent. That’s helping both domestic manufacturers and domestic dealers.

EYES ON THE CAUCUS: Anthony Weiner is a former congressman walking. The roster of prominent Democrats publicly urging his resignation is sure to grow today beyond the current dozen or so. But it looks like the Queens representative is going to wait to face the inevitable until next week, when he and his colleagues return from their districts — and he’s confronted with a humiliatingly overt public shunning.

A few days in which no fellow House member will agree to cosponsor a bill with him, stand next to him at a podium or even shake his hand (especially now that they have more than enough information about where it’s been) should compel a resignation even from someone with such a big ego.

The telephone apology tour with his colleagues, now in its fourth day, is only delaying the inevitable. Sooner or later, there’s no way a married congressman can stay in office who lies repeatedly to the country before admitting he’s been hitting on at least six women online — especially when there are pictures to prove it. The death knell will be sounded whenever word comes from the new Democratic national chairman, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, another fortysomething native of the outer boroughs whose prominence, like Weiner’s until now, has stemmed from being a clear-eyed partisan tactician and a forceful practitioner of message discipline. Once she says he’s got to go for the sake of the party’s fortunes in 2012, his departure will be swift.

In perhaps the most ironic way possible, though, Weiner’s actually getting a one-news-cycle reprieve from the New York tabloids this morning. Unable to print the most lurid Weiner self-portrait that’s surfaced online yet — call it a full Brett Favre — the papers are leading with the news that the congressman conceived a child with his wife, State Department official Huma Abedin, three months ago in between trips to the computer. (“Pop goes the weasel” is the Post headline, while the Daily News declares “Little Weiner in the oven.”)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Don Young, the Republican former riverboat captain who’s been Alaska’s only House member since he was 39, turns 78 today.

— David Hawkings, editor

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Wednesday, June 08, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Frank Discussion

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Today In Washington

THE SENATE: Convened at 9:30 and at 2 will hold its banks-against-retailers showdown vote on the future of swipe fees. The banks need 60 votes to advance their cause — a one-year delay in reductions on how much they can take out of each debit card transaction — and appear a whisker away from victory.

Senators may vote later in the day on proposals to nullify new regulations on for-profit colleges and ease regulatory burdens on small businesses. All the proposals are amendments to legislation reauthorizing the Economic Development Administration; fiscal conservatives are out to defeat the bill, arguing it’s a budget-buster.

THE HOUSE: Not in session this week.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is giving a speech — on the need to improve training for manufacturing jobs as a means of boosting U.S. global competitiveness — at Northern Virginia Community College in Alexandria.

He’ll be back at the office in time to meet Auburn’s champion football team at 3 and with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan at 4:40.

SLOW ROAST: Anthony Weiner has survived to play with his congressional BlackBerry for another day. But if he’s looking for messages of encouragement from other Democrats, he’ll find an empty screen.

Members of his staff (who were accepting Weiner’s lies as the truth until he fessed up to them Monday afternoon, just before facing the cameras) have left his Rayburn suite largely unattended while they roam the halls looking for other jobs. Pelosi (ditto) has written an official letter doubling down on her call for a full-up Ethics Committee investigation — assuring the drip-drip of coverage will continue for months unless the one-time king of Queens politics quits Congress. Yesterday’s “Call someone else” will long be remembered as one of the most biting bits of advice Reid has ever given. Party officials in New York aren't taking his calls, either, while working to recruit an alternative candidate in the 9th District — either for 2012 or for a special election if Weiner resigns. Former City Councilman Eric N. Gioia of Queens would be their top choice.

But the most important sign of Weiner’s shrinking half life came on a Virginia TV station yesterday, where Senate candidate Tim Kaine made clear that Weiner-slamming is acceptable in public by 2012 congressional candidates. “Lying publicly about something like this is unforgivable and he should resign,” the former Democratic national chairman declared.

About the best news Weiner has received in the past 48 hours was in a NY1-Marist poll taken in the hours after his admissions; it found 51 percent of the city’s voters saying he should not resign, and an amazingly modest 56 percent urging him not to run for mayor in 2013.

FEE-FOR-ALL: In a year that’s shaping up as awfully thin on big-money lobbying battles, the fight over swipe fees is up there with the F-35 alternative engine as an enormous exception. And, like the Joint Strike Fighter debate — which is still simmering, months after it seemed to be settled when the House voted against Boehner and his two-engines-are-better-than-one argument — the combat over the buried costs in debit card transactions won’t end with today’s seemingly climactic Senate vote.

The outcome remained too close to call this morning, although the odds seem to favor the retailers, who want to keep the limit-the-swipe-fee regulations on course to take effect July 21. Their argument has more obvious resonance with consumers — even if there’s no way to prove that limiting swipe fees would prompt retailers to hold down their prices. And so some senators on the fence, including those on the 2012 ballot, will want to cast themselves as out to protect the little guy from getting nickel-and-dimed too much in a time of economic anxiety.

Beyond that, the retailers need only 41 votes to carry the day — and they have Durbin on their side. The Democratic whip is really good at counting votes, and last year he pulled off the closest thing there is at the Capitol to a surprise victory: getting the language ordering the Fed to limit swipe fees into the financial services law at close to the last minute.

On the other hand, the banks have their own consumer argument to make — that those fees help defray the costs of other services, like checking accounts. They appear to be pouring more money into their crusade. And their decision to pare what they want — it’s a one-year delay now, instead of two years — was surely calculated with confidence of winning over several senators. But even if they get 60 votes for their language today, the House still has to act — and their deadline is only six weeks away.

BACK TO BABY STEPS? When the Biden summit reconvenes tomorrow, the starting point for discussion will be the $2.4 trillion marker the Republicans had their Senate negotiator, Jon Kyl, set down yesterday. The number is the clearest signal yet that the GOP is ready to ditch all talk of a grand bargain in favor of an incremental deal that can get done in the next few weeks — but won’t push the deficit-cut-for-debt-hike debate beyond Election Day 2012. And there’s every reason to believe that pretty soon Obama will acquiesce in that approach, knowing it’s the best he can get in the time available.

(Cantor, the House GOP delegate to the talks, last night declared himself “cautiously optimistic” that a deal was nearly at hand — and urged his colleagues to steel themselves for a wave of lobbying to preserve cherished programs that were about to be put on the chopping block.)

Kyl’s figure is his reasonable estimate of how much new borrowing the Treasury needs to pay the government’s bills through the end of next year. And he says the GOP won’t grant that much authority — at least in one swallow — unless Obama agrees to at least that much deficit reduction, entirely in spending curbs, over the next “decade or more.” That’s a bit more wiggle room than the GOP has offered in the past, but not enough to win a sign-off from Democrats, who still want some tax hikes for the rich to minimize the depth of entitlement and social spending cuts.

And so the more and more likely outcome is an echo of the shutdown-avoiding appropriations shenanigans of the spring: a series of votes pairing incremental (but still hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of) projected savings with a few weeks or months of extra borrowing power. The small-bites-of-the-apple approach is being embraced by conservative Republicans, who think they’ll be helped (and the Democrats hurt) if there are several votes before the next election on cutting spending and increasing the debt limit.

PANETTA'S PLANS: “It must be understood that a smaller budget means difficult choices will have to be made,” Leon Panetta says in his 79 pages of answers to questions submitted by Senate Armed Services in advance of his confirmation hearing tomorrow morning.

There’s no doubt but that the CIA director will be confirmed as Defense secretary before Gates vacates the big Pentagon office at the end of the month; the only suspense has been just how forcefully he would bring his budgetary expertise to bear once he gets there. His questionnaire signals there’s no longer any suspense about that, either — although his written answers suggest he won’t tip his hand before he’s on the job about what weapons system or other projects are in his sights. (He’s not likely to get too far out front on Afghanistan or Libya, either, even as several senators on the dais will be expressing their skepticism about both operations.)

The former House Budget chairman and Clinton administration budget director told senators he planned to throw himself into coming up with options for cutting $400 billion from the military budget over the next dozen years — beyond the $78 billion Obama and Gates have already proposed over the next five years. His “strategy-driven approach,” Panetta said, is “essential to ensuring we preserve a superb defense even under fiscal pressure.”

GETTING-AROUND MONEY: The neighborhood of glass houses that is the self-policing congressional ethics process is about to get a new resident — if only for a moment. It’s hard to see how Boehner keeps taking his Speaker’s no-receipts-required $2,100 expense account check every month at a time when dozens of rank-and-file Republicans are champing at the bit to publicly join Cantor in calling for Anthony Weiner’s resignation. The arrangement is entirely legal — and there’s no reason to suspect Boehner is using it to buy himself cigarettes or baby-blue neckties — but every other member of the leadership in both parties has decided not to accept it. At a minimum, the current ethics climate will compel Boehner’s office to provide exhaustive detail about how he’s spending the money. More likely, fellow Republicans looking to make symbolic budget-cutting gestures will persuade the Speaker (without much fuss) to say goodbye to the perk.

SOONER OR LATER: Anthony Weiner isn’t the only lawmaker who has surprised and frustrated the House Democratic leadership. The same is true of Dan Boren, whose decision yesterday to leave Congress after just four terms has created an unexpected and big pickup opportunity for the GOP.

He’s been the only Democrat in the Oklahoma delegation since he started representing the "little Dixie" district, which remains solidly Republican in its leanings under the slight alterations of the post-redistricting map. Fortunately for his party, Boren’s predecessor, Brad Carson, who gave up the seat to run for the Senate in 2004, wants his old job back. Look for state Sen. Josh Brecheen to emerge as the GOP front-runner.

GIFFORDS CELEBRATES: Five months to the day after she was shot in the head, Gabby Giffords is celebrating her 41st birthday. “The congresswoman is going to spend most of her birthday the same way she spends every day: in rehab, working hard at getting better,” spokesman C.J. Karamargin says. That will consist of about six hours of physical, speech and occupational therapy at TIRR Memorial Hermann in Houston, followed by a small celebration with her husband Mark Kelly and a couple of friends and family.

Giffords is not expected to leave the hospital until later this summer, and her doctors have not yet decided whether her outpatient therapy should be in Texas or back home in Tucson.

THE OTHER HAPPY BIRTHDAY: GOP Rep. Ken Calvert of California (58).

— David Hawkings, editor

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Tuesday, June 07, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: The Busiest Man in Congress

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: After a 19-gun-salute arrival ceremony and a 90-minute meeting about the global economy, the Miiddle East peace process and NATO’s role in Afghanistan and Libya, Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are conducting an East Room news conference.

Merkel will cross the plaza from Blair House at 6 for a black-tie dinner in the Rose Garden, where she will be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. It’s Obama’s first such dinner for a European leader and the first in 16 years for a German head of government. (The two leaders shared a table for two last night at 1789 in Georgetown.)

THE SENATE: Convened at 10:30 for a day of wheel-spinning (and the weekly caucus lunches). Reid said he’s been unable to speed things along and so it will be tomorrow when senators cast their next vote, to allow debate on a multi-year reauthorization of the Economic Development Administration. It’s not a very controversial bill, but some of the amendments lying in wait are contentious. First among them is a proposal to delay implementation of rules (approved by Congress only last year) capping credit card swipe fees.

THE HOUSE: Not in session this week, allowing members and their aides to spend some time in their districts — or on overseas trips.

SO MANY PICKLES: Serial sexter Anthony Weiner’s new life of non-stop damage control will accelerate in the coming days, but it may well come to a definitive end with his departure from Congress in the next week.

The now-tearful Twitterer has at least four different campaigns to wage, and on very different timetables. Saving his new marriage and then winning back some measure of trust from State Department official Huma Abedin could take years — if she’s even really willing to allow him to try. Preventing fellow Democrats from dismantling his largely Jewish congressional district in Brooklyn and Queens to the principal benefit of Gary Ackerman (they’ve got to sacrifice one House seat in the city under redistricting) could take the rest of this year. Defending himself in an Ethics Committee probe of every possible connection between his official life as a congressman and his secret life as an online Lothario will take months.

But, more imminently than any of those, Weiner only has a few days if he’s going to successfully ward off the clamor for his resignation — and that’s assuming no new pictures of his pecs or his pants go viral. (Conservative activist Andrew Breitbart, who first revealed Weiner’s fabled crotch shot two weekends ago, said on the “Today” show this morning that he has an X-rated picture of the congressman that he’s keeping secret as “an insurance policy” against any reprisal from Weiner or his allies.)

Waiting to make his admissions until yesterday bought a few crucial days for him to save himself. That’s because, with the House in recess, dozens of his slack-jawed-with-outrage Democratic colleagues — the ones who never felt much love for the voluble and self-aggrandizing Weiner, anyway — have not been able to bond in the cloakroom about how to engineer his ouster.

But that may change when lawmakers return Monday. Lawmakers in re-election trouble, especially, are sure to tell Pelosi that being “deeply disappointed and saddened” and calling for that ethics inquiry are totally insufficient gestures. And they’ll tell the minority leader she needs to be more like Boehner — to adopt the sort of zero-tolerance policy that made sure Chris Lee, the previous New York congressman to bare his chest online, was gone within three hours. (The likelihood of that happening grew this morning, when the House GOP campaign organization moved assertively to capitalize on the scandal: It called on 17 House Democrats to return “the scandal-tainted donations” they’ve received from Weiner over the years.)

If Pelosi, whose own standing among her colleagues is less than secure, summons Weiner to her office and tells him it’s time to go, he will have little choice but to obey — and hope that, since he’s only 46, he will have an opportunity someday to be an example of another truism in politics (besides the one they never learn, about how the coverup is worse than the crime): Everybody gets rehabilitated, sooner or later — especially politicians like Weiner, who have proved themselves to be adept policy players and partisan messengers.

LAST ONE OUT: Austan Goolsbee’s return to Chicago this summer to spend more time with his students will mark the final departure from Obama’s original inner circle of economists — the people who will share the credit in the history books for stopping an historic recessionary spiral two years ago, but are getting much of the blame these days for a recovery that hasn’t yet gotten above a simmer. (The others are the previous chair of the Council of Economic Advisors, Christina Romer, who went back to Berkeley; Larry Summers, who went back to Harvard and Peter Orszag, who went to Wall Street.)

Having to quit as CEA chairman in order to preserve his tenured position is a bit of a chuckle. (Surely, the University of Chicago would have been willing to bend its rules for one of its most prominent faculty members.) But it helps minimize the notion that at least part of the real reason Goolsbee is departing (in addition to Obama wanting his overt help on his re-election campaign) is that the White House decided it needed to make a clean break with its original economic team going in to 2012.

The merits of that approach were underscored a few hours after the Goolsbee announcement, in the latest Washington Post-ABC poll. Taken last Thursday through Sunday (during the time the new jobless numbers came out), it found 59 percent disapproval for Obama’s economic stewardship,  and 61 percent disapproval for his approach to the deficit. (The other big finding is that the president trailed Mitt Romney, 49 percent to 46 percent, among registered voters polled, although Obama won trial heats against Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, John Huntsman, Tim Pawlenty, and Michele Bachmann.)

The president is likely to look for another academic economist to take the gavel at the CEA and may be interested in someone who understands the labor force and could suggest ways to cut into the unemployment rate. One slightly outside-the-box idea would be to tap the Nobel-winning Peter Diamond —  who’s looking for something to do since yesterday, when he withdrew his nomination to the Federal Reserve in the face of Senate GOP objections.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Republican Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana (52) and Democratic Rep. Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico (39).

— David Hawkings, editor

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Monday, June 06, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Two Guys Walk Onto a Golf Course ...

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Monday, June 6, 2011

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama convened his monthly war cabinet meeting in the Oval Office at 10 — after reading  a trial-balloon top story in the New York Times reporting that many of those national security advisers are pushing to further accelerate the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.

That campaign’s massive cost at a time of dire deficits, the killing of Bin Laden and frustration with the slow pace of progress by Hamid Karzai’s government make up the  three-part rationale for a quicker drawdown — which would also be welcomed by a growing bipartisan chorus in Congress, where more and more lawmakers say it’s time to wind down America’s longest war.

Not at the meeting is the highest-ranking advocate for the slow-withdrawal status quo — the lame-duck Defense secretary, who’s in Kabul on a farewell tour of the troops. Robert Gates, and many generals, think it’s too soon to conclude that the death of al Qaeda’s leader will soon break the back of the Taliban.

THE SENATE: Convenes at 2 and at 5:30 will vote to break a limited filibuster that’s slowed the confirmation of Donald Verrilli to be solicitor general. Some Republicans don’t like that Verrilli, a deputy White House counsel, had a hand in Obama’s decision to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act. Others don’t like his approach to trying suspected terrorists. (The job of chief administration advocate at the Supreme Court has been vacant since Elena Kagan went to the Supreme Court 10 months ago.)

THE HOUSE: It's their turn to be out for a week.

THE DUFFER SUMMIT: The Blair House budget negotiations (which have now been more or less relocated to the Capitol) resume Thursday, although the new date that everyone’s marked on their calendars is June 18.

Obama and Boehner have scheduled their long-talked-about golf date for that Saturday, and nobody is expecting the outing to be purely social. The two are both highly competitive out on the links, and there’s every reason to believe those competitive juices (and a shared desire to ease the markets’ tension over the budget impasse) will prompt them to mix business with pleasure that morning. Cloistered fairways — look for the easily secured Army Navy Country Club in Arlington to get the presidential call for a tee time — have produced countless big American business deals in the past century. There’s every reason to expect the president and the Speaker will use the time to set the parameters of a limited deficit-reduction-for-debt-crease swap that might get done before Independence Day.

The  intervening news void will be filled by growing speculation about how Boehner and Cantor each are using the budget debate to secure an advantage in their own simmering rivalry. The majority leader, who’s the only GOP House member at the Biden summit, begins his 49th year today sounding deeply committed to that group producing a deal with his fingerprints prominently on it. And the Speaker seems eager to find a way to step in and get credited with saving the day. But that’s right now. If all the talks collapse, or if any final deal is spurned by most of the GOP caucus, both are prepared to point the finger at the other guy. Cantor’s view would be that an impasse or a bad deal shows that Boehner is in over his head. Boehner’s view would be that an impasse or a bad deal was inevitable once his top deputy strayed off the reservation.

ASK, AND IT SHALL ALREADY BE DONE: It’s a classic arrow in the quiver of congressional correspondence: Fire off a letter making a demand that you know has already been met.

That’s what five Democratic senators (four of them in competitive races for re-election next year) did this morning when they sent Biden a note insisting that he rebuff any big Medicare overhaul as part of this summer’s budget deal.

Missouri’s Claire McCaskill, Montana’s Jon Tester, Ohio’s Sherrod Brown, Florida’s Bill Nelson and Maryland’s Ben Cardin (the only one in a safe seat) can rest easy. And so can the elderly voters whom they’re trying to reassure. The continuing Republican talk about standing behind the House’s revamp idea — McConnell said yesterday that it's still “on the table” — will not amount to anything. If savings from Medicare are part of the ultimate  deal, they’ll be shavings around the edges from projected growth. Paul Ryan’s bold plan (which would have limited future benefits for baby boomers, not today’s elderly) is a dead letter for the year.

WHY $1 TRILLION? One of the reasons that’s true is that the aspirations for this summer keep shrinking. A couple of weeks ago, it looked like both sides were after a $2 trillion deal — because that much in deficit reduction (even over a decade) would be genuinely significant, and that much more borrowing would cover Treasury’s obligations through the election. But the new number on everybody’s lips is half that amount.

That’s because $1 trillion could still be sold to the voters (by both sides) as “historic.” It could well be accomplished without deal-breaker cuts to the big three entitlements. It could also be done with the help of some revenue increases that both sides would avoid labeling as tax cuts. And it would give a big bloc of conservatives what they say they want: Another debt ceiling limit — and the opportunity to demand more cuts — at the height of the 2012 campaign. (That handwriting went on the wall today, in a letter signed by 103 members of the conservative Republican Study Committee. “‘We believe it is prudent to limit the extension of borrowing authority as much as possible, in order to demand accountability from Senate Democrats and the Obama administration," they say.

DIAMOND, ROUGHED: A deep and nuanced understanding of the American labor force is either a help to setting the nation’s monetary policy at a time of 9 percent unemployment — or it’s not. For now, the “not” side of the argument has (surprise!) won the day.

MIT professor Peter Diamond, who took home an economics Nobel just last fall for his work on the jobs market, formally announced on the op-ed page of The Times this morning that he was withdrawing as a nominee to fill one of two vacancies on the Federal Reserve. Obama has tried to put Diamond on the Fed three times, but Senate Republicans have steadfastly blocked his confirmation. Most recently, they have railed against Diamond for backing the Fed’s  “quantitative easing” plan to buy $600 billion in Treasury securities as a way to spur economic growth, ward-off deflation and spur job creation.

The top Republican on the Banking Committee, Dick Shelby, who had declared that Diamond was unqualified because labor economics was not important to shaping Fed policy, urged Obama to take a different course with his next nominee and “not seek to pack the Fed with those who will use the institution to finance his profligate spending and agenda.”

BARLETTA'S LEGACY: The crusade that propelled Republican Lou Barletta to Congress last year (on his third try) got new life at the Supreme Court today. The justices ordered the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals to take a new look at the crackdown on employment and housing for illegal immigrants that Barletta engineered as the mayor of Hazleton, Pa. The appeals court had barred the city from enforcing its regulations that deny permits to business that hire illegals or landlords who rent to them.

QUOTE OF NOTE: “I apologize if I stepped on any — any of that PR that Mitt Romney needed or wanted that day. I do sincerely apologize. I didn’t mean to step on anybody’s toes,” Sarah Palin declared (with a hard-to-miss sarcastic smirk) when asked yesterday on Fox News (her employer) why her bus tour made sure to get as far north as New Hampshire on the day Romney announced his presidential candidacy.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia (48) and GOP Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee (59).

— David Hawkings, editor

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