Friday, June 24, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: A Symbolic Slap

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Friday, June 24, 2011

Today In Washington

THE HOUSE: Convened at 9 and has voted 240-167 to set the stage for this afternoon’s twin showdown roll calls on the U.S. military role in Libya. Shortly after noon the House will defeat a resolution belatedly authorizing American involvement in the NATO campaign. The vote on a bill that would stop funding for offensive U.S. military action will come between 2 and 3. Momentum is moving steadily in favor of passage despite dogged White House efforts.

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

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is using a trip to the robotics engineering complex at Carnegie Mellon University to promote innovative technologies for lowering manufacturing costs and speeding the time it takes to get new products from the drawing board to the assembly line. Air Force One is wheels-up out of Pittsburgh at 12:45, which puts the president back in the Oval by 2.

NON-HOSTILE HOSTILITY: A majority of Republicans (the isolationist and whatever-Obama-does-is-wrong types) and a near-majority of Democrats (the anti-war and the pro-War Powers Resolution types) are going to band together this afternoon to pass legislation that would conscribe the mission in Libya.

It’s a dead letter in the Senate, which will never even take up the bill, but it’s nonetheless going to be a historically important symbolic gesture — the first time either chamber has voted against the president’s prosecution of an ongoing military campaign since the House (albeit on a tie vote) declined to back Bill Clinton’s involvement in Kosovo 12 years ago. That 1999 vote, like today’s, afforded NATO an opening to say “back at you” to those (most recently, Gates a week ago) who complain that the alliance’s dynamic has long been the U.S. does all the giving and the Europeans do all the taking.

Hillary Clinton’s appeal yesterday and the White House lobbying team’s overnight efforts have been unable to reverse the tide in favor of the Tom Rooney bill. The new Gallup poll out today doesn’t help, either; it found public disapproval of the Libya mission at 46 percent, to 39 percent approval.

The biggest thing working in the president's favor is the leaked intelligence that Qaddafi is about to beat feet out of Tripoli and head to his own undisclosed location — the clear implication being that he’s losing his hold on power and has downgraded his objectives to retaining his hold on life. But the legislation sort of anticipates such a development, because it would allow money to keep flowing into the surveillance and reconnaissance efforts that are designed to make sure our spies know where the dictator can be found.

THE 19TH HOLE: Yesterday’s budget talk phrase of the day was “at an impasse.” Today, it’s “in the next phase.”

And it’s a phase that’s been expected since the work toward a deficit-reduction-for-debt-limit deal began two months ago. The Biden summit never set out to come up with all the details, or even all the big decisions. And there was never much chance that the only Republicans in that room, Kyl and Cantor, were going to sign off by themselves on their party’s willingness to break on tax increases. There’s been bipartisan consensus from the start that Obama and Boehner would need to take charge in order to close the deal.

So the only surprise was yesterday’s timing. It sure looked like the vice president’s group had enough to talk about to keep going into next week before handing off to the principals. Alternatively, there’s reason to suspect the final phase began last weekend on the Andrews Air Force Base golf course — a theory that’s bolstered by the fact that neither the West Wing nor the Speaker’s office will provide any details about Boehner’s secretive trip to the White House for a follow-up session Wednesday night.

Cantor has not explained why he decided his timing for pulling the plug. Maybe his objective was to distance himself from a tax increase he knows is inevitable, and in plenty of time to assure he won’t lose his House Republican tea party base. Probably he’s succeeded on that score. But maybe his aim was to pick the moment that made life as politically problematic as possible for the man who holds the job he covets — a theory supported by word that Cantor did not give Boehner a heads-up about his decision. On that, it’s way too soon to tell. If Boehner and Obama come up with a winning deal that the public perceives as important, a default crisis is averted and Republicans make gains at the polls in 2012, the Speaker will look like a hero and will probably have the strength to push Cantor out of his way 19 months from now.

TAKE A HIKE: Despite his ramped-up rhetoric against tax hikes again yesterday, the Speaker probably realizes that his party will have to give in on this score. If $2.4 trillion in deficit reduction is the magic number — so it can be paired with an equivalent amount of new debt that keeps the Treasury flush past the election — and if $2 trillion in cuts have already been put on the table by the Biden summit, then that means $400 billion in revenues. That’s a 5-to-1 ratio of spending cuts to new taxes.

Most teams would view a 5-1 score as a win for their side. And, if the deal is to lay any claim to being a grand bipartisan bargain, then both sides have to be able to claim they got something grand and bargained away something big. The Democrats are almost certainly letting go of entitlements and social spending they’ve held dear for years. How can Obama and his Hill allies not insist that the GOP let go of some tax breaks, especially for big companies and rich people — especially at a time when the polls show the public clamoring for a deal in which both sides give? The latest Washington Post/ABC poll found 57 percent favoring a deficit reduction plan with a combination of tax hikes and spending cuts. And this week’s Bloomberg poll found 56 percent describing as a scare tactic the notion that tax hikes will boost the unemployment rate.

JAY AND NOT-SO-SILENT BOB: Two more West Coast congressional Democrats are making clear their plans to seek other offices next year.

Jay Inslee is ready to announce that he’s running for governor of Washington. (Christine Gregoire announced last week that she would not seek a third term.) The suburban Seattle district that Inslee has held for eight terms is about to be reconfigured, in part because the state is getting a 10th House district, but is going to remain reliably Democratic. This is where Dennis Kucinich has been talking about moving and running once his district in Cleveland is dismantled. But several local politicians are already getting ready to run, including former state Rep. Laura Ruderman, state Rep. Marko Liias and state Rep. Roger Goodman.

Bob Filner is running for mayor of San Diego. Only a small part of his House district is in the city now, but he was a school board member and city councilman there for a combined nine years before his election to Congress in 1992. A crowded mayoral primary will be next June, and if no one wins a majority the two top finishers will square off in November. The nonpartisan re-mapping of California is likely to yield a reliably Democratic open district along the Mexican border, and state Sen. Juan Vargas (who has run in primaries against Filner three times) is seen as the early front-runner.

QUOTE OF NOTE: "I expect continued impatience with me on occasion. But understand this: Look, I think of teenagers like the one who wrote me, and they remind me that there should be impatience when it comes to the fight for basic equality. We've made enormous advances just in these last two and a half years. But there are still young people out there looking for us to do more," Obama told the gay and lesbian campaign donors in New York last night when they pressed him on his non-endorsement of gay marriage. “If you keep up the fight, and if you will devote your time and your energies to this campaign one more time, I promise you we will write another chapter.”

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: None today, but GOP Rep. Leonard Lance of New Jersey turns 59 tomorrow.

 

— 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

Thursday, June 23, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Biden Talks on the Brink

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama and Biden spent more than an hour in the West Wing with Pelosi, Hoyer, Clyburn and Van Hollen, starting at 10, to talk about foreign policy and the party’s posture in the debt-increase-for-deficit-reduction talks — which appeared at an impasse this morning.

The president leaves in an hour for Fort Drum in upstate New York, where he’ll meet at 2:30 with soldiers from the Army's 10th Mountain Division, many of whom have just returned from Afghanistan. Then he heads down to the city to appear at evening fundraisers in a midtown Sheraton, a foodie-favorite restaurant (Daniel) and a Broadway theater. Air Force One takes off at 11 for Pittsburgh, where Obama will spend the night.

THE HOUSE: Convened at 10 and in about an hour will resume debate on the increasingly troubled patent overhaul bill. The vote that may well determine the measure’s future will come before 2 — on whether to drop a provision letting the patent and trademark office keep the fees it collects so that the agency can speed up its review process. Almost all Democrats and many Republicans back that funding stream and may have the votes to sink the bill if that language is dropped.

No matter what happens, the last vote of the day will be by 5 — so that lawmakers can attend this evening’s cavalcade of end-of-the-second-quarter fundraisers. Work will begin on the annual defense spending package, but debate has been put off until the week after next on amendments that would tug on the Pentagon’s purse strings in order to change Obama’s polices on Afghanistan, Pakistan and maybe (again) Libya.

THE SENATE: Convened at 10 and is about to vote on two GOP amendments to the confirmation streamlining legislation. One would prevent the president from installing policy “czars” in the West Wing who haven’t been blessed by the Senate. The other would keep the head of the Bureau of Justice Statistics as a confirmable post. Senators have made a bipartisan promise to keep their amendments relevant to the bill, but the vote on passage won’t come before next week.

DEBT WALKS: Cantor announced this morning that he would not go to today’s budget summit meeting, which is set to start at 2. He said the negotiators were at an impasse over taxes and so the session was pointless — and he called on Obama and Boehner to take it from here. Kyl is preparing to join him.

The surprise development could mean one of two things: The House majority leader realizes that the Biden talks are really on the verge of collapse and wants to be the first to get his side clear of the coming political debris, or he has concluded that fellow Republicans won’t support even the slightest boost in revenue unless the Speaker himself insists on it (and maybe not even then). So, Cantor’s decision is designed either to distance himself from Boehner (whose job he wants sooner or later) or to raise the political pressure on his superior.

“Once resolved,” Cantor said of the tax question, “we have a blueprint to move forward to trillions of spending cuts and binding mechanisms to change the way things are done around here.” That statement was a tacit confirmation of what has become clear in recent days, and made the Democrats very apprehensive: The negotiators had come to accord on perhaps $2 trillion in projected savings in the next decade, an amount that would allow an increase in the debt ceiling beyond the election under the dollar-for-dollar formula that both sides have adopted.

It has also become clear that Democrats have dramatically downgraded their expectations for how much new revenue they can get to contribute to the deficit reduction formula. They are now talking only about cutting corporate and other “special interest” tax breaks, like the one for ethanol that ran into a Senate buzzsaw last week.

The Democratic rank-and-file are extremely worried that the budget deal will rely disproportionately on cuts to health care and other social programs for the poor and old, which is why they are now pushing hard to get some economic stimulus sweeteners that would offset some of the coming cuts to entitlements. And GOP leaders show shows signs of willingness to support provisions that will help create jobs or minimize the pain of unemployment — perhaps a payroll tax holiday for employers or more highway spending or the preservation and maybe even expansion of the Trade Adjustment Assistance program.

LIBYA VOTES: The president’s timetable for the Afghanistan drawdown is getting decidedly mixed congressional reviews — and after July Fourth, Pelosi may lead House Democrats in pushing legislation that would force Obama to bring more of the troops home sooner. But within hours of last night’s speech, the bulk of congressional short-term anti-war angst was back on Libya, and originating mainly with House Republicans.

Boehner has lined up a pair of House votes (probably tomorrow) that would amount to a swift kick of the presidential behind. One will be on a straightforward “use of force” resolution that would back the president's policy — and that everyone now knows is doomed to rejection. And so the marquee moment will come when majorities of both Republicans and Democrats vote to prohibit the use of funds for direct U.S. military engagement in Libya. Only “non-hostile actions” would be allowed under the measure (refueling other NATO planes, surveillance, etc.) — a direct swipe at the president’s declaration that the U.S. role in the bombing campaign does not amount to hostilities and so he’s not required to ask permission to keep at it.

FILL 'ER UP: Thirty million barrels of oil will be released from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in an effort to respond to lost oil supplies caused by turmoil in the Middle East and Libya, Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced this morning. That amount will be matched by the other 27 member countries of the International Energy Agency. The release is designed in part to hold pump prices in line this summer — not only to mollify vacationers but also because the spring’s high oil prices and the resulting increase in the cost of gasoline are part of the reason for the continuing economic slowness.

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton excoriated the move, saying the reserve should be tapped only for genuine emergencies and that the better way to boost domestic supply would be to support the GOP legislative agenda for expanded drilling and exploration. “Releasing our reserves to calm the market is emblematic of an administration whose energy policy is irrational and counterproductive,” he said.

MARITAL PROBLEMS: Obama’s first fundraiser tonight is a top-dollar affair for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender donors — and he could be arriving just as the state Senate is casting the climactic vote on whether to legalize gay marriage in New York. (The bill still seems to be a vote shy of passage, and negotiations are under way to create exceptions on religious grounds that would assure passage.)

Members of the LGBT world are overwhelmingly in the president’s corner, but less overwhelmingly than three years ago. And the reason is simple: The president’s “still evolving” thoughts about gay marriage have not been evolving nearly fast enough for them. And so — even if the donors inside are willing to give the president a pass on the issue — the arriving presidential motorcade will be confronted by a candlelight vigil of protesters.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Freshman GOP Rep. Bob Dold of Illinois (42).

 

— 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, June 22, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Mission (More or Less) Accomplished

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama will tell the nation how many troops he’s bringing back from Afghanistan, and when, in a nationally televised 10-minute speech from the East Room starting at 8. Word circulated on the Hill this morning that senior lawmakers have been told 10,000 will be pulled out by the end of this year and another 20,000 will come home next year. (The president’s national security advisers will officially leak the headlines in a background press briefing at 3.)

THE HOUSE: Convened at 9:30 and has just started debating the patent overhaul bill, which now seems assured of passage by a relatively comfortable margin by late afternoon. Debate will then begin on a bill to ease regulation of energy drilling in Alaska’s waters. And, in the face of solid Democratic opposition, the House will defeat (because a two-thirds majority is required under an expedited process) a proposal to close the Election Assistance Commission.

THE SENATE: Convened at 9:30 with negotiations continuing on the ground rules for debating legislation that would reduce the roster of executive branch jobs subject to confirmation. (The bill’s sponsors are working to ward off extraneous amendments that would slow or derail their measure.)

THE ANNOUNCEMENT: The president will declare tonight that a steady but stately drawdown of soldiers and Marines from Afghanistan is appropriate to begin in a few weeks because each of the three objectives he laid out 18 months ago, when he announced his 30,000-troop “surge,” has been more accomplished than not: denying al Qaeda a safe haven, weakening the Taliban so it can’t take over the country, and boosting Afghanistan’s own government and military enough that they can hang on after we’re gone.

The president will not, however, make any mention of the rationale for withdrawal that’s being used more and more on Capitol Hill: There’s hardly enough money in the Treasury (Iraq and Afghanistan combined have cost more than $1.3 trillion) or support in the heartland to keep this thing going much longer. Since so many Republicans — including the leading presidential candidates — now agree with so many Democrats on this score, the president will buy a heaping helping of bipartisan goodwill for the coming announcement.

Some of the true isolationists on the right, and some of the diehard doves on the left, will say the president’s timetable is too slow, but the majority will breathe a big sigh of relief that America’s longest war has an endpoint somewhere in sight.

LIBYA STRATEGY: Just how much goodwill on foreign policy that Obama has acquired at the Capitol will start to become clear as soon as tomorrow, when the House is supposed to express its opinion about the manifestly apparent hostilities in Libya.

Boehner is explaining to fellow Republicans at 2:30 his plans for back-to-back votes on two measures he unveiled late yesterday. (He wants them considered independently of the Defense spending package.) One would demand an end to anything that resembled a combat role in Libya. The other would belatedly endorse the military’s current role in the NATO-led airstrikes, but nothing more — the very authorization the War Powers Act says is required but which the president insists he does not need.

But he wouldn’t mind having it — and, even more importantly, he would mind a lot if the House flat-out voted against language endorsing the status quo. And so Pelosi and Hoyer will have little choice but to back the president and help him find a significant number of Democrats (maybe a few more than half, or 100) to go along.

But Republican skepticism is deepening and hardening. So, even if a slight majority of the minority votes in support of Obama’s efforts to topple Qaddafi, that would still require an uphill battle for Boehner to get half the GOP caucus to back the president.  Most of those votes will come from long-tenured and politically safe Republicans willing to support that cause so long as they get to assert their prerogative to have a say in the matter. But fully 36 percent of the Republicans (the freshman class) have never been called on to cast a vote supporting the use of military force, and their isolationist strain is strong — as is their interest in casting yet another vote that separates them from the president.

Whatever the House outcome, however, the final congressional word about Libya in the world’s mind will be left to the Senate, which has now decided to wait to vote next month on the measure that McCain and Kerry introduced yesterday.

ENTER CONRAD: If Biden and the six congressional negotiators want to unveil a deal by the end of next week, they probably need to decide by the end of this week just how much incrementalism they can accept. (Today’s talks are set to get started at 1 in Reid’s conference room off the Senate floor.)

The grand bargain of $4 trillion in deficit reduction sure seems to have been put on ice. A short-term deal of $1 trillion or less that lasts only until the fall or winter is being rebuffed by Cantor, who frets that House Republicans have only one more debt increase vote in them before the next election. So that leaves the $2 trillion to $2.4 trillion in mostly spending cuts, accounting creativity and rifle-shot revenue raisers that the Biden group is moving toward, because an equivalent amount of borrowing power would keep the Treasury flush until early 2013.

But is it possible that such a deal could be blown up — on the grounds that it’s too timid — by a bipartisan group of budget hawks? Probably not, but that’s not going to stop Kent Conrad from trying. The Senate Budget chairman, who’s been kept out of the negotiations, now says he’s looking for other lawmakers to join him in vowing to oppose any deal that does not “fundamentally change” the pace of the debt’s growth. And the $2 trillion number, he said, doesn’t do it. So he would urge a six-month debt limit increase to buy more time for a grand bargain search. “Kicking the can down the road one more time is not an acceptable outcome for me,” he said.

OH DEER: A fire consumed the kitchen of Capitol Hill’s legendary Tune Inn this morning — and the attention span of much of the House side of the neighborhood.

The smoky blaze started in the kitchen shortly after 7 and quickly spread through the ductwork and onto the roof, D.C. Fire Department officials said, causing about $75,000 in damage. There were no injuries, but neither will there be any cheeseburgers or beer served for several weeks.

The dark, ramshackle and occasionally sticky-floored bar is the kind of downscale hangout that inspires a strange allegiance among a certain Washington set. As a writer for Esquire once noted, “The mounted deer heads on the wall make this dive interesting. The deer asses make it great.” Last year, the Food Network elevated the place’s profile by featuring it on Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”

NUMBERS DOWN: There’s ample evidence of the nation’s sour outlook in Bloomberg’s most recent poll, out today. By 44 percent to 34 percent, Americans view themselves as worse off now than when Obama took office. Only 23 percent see signs of improvement in the economy, and 66 percent describe the country as on the wrong track. And 55 percent expect their children will have a lower standard of living than they do. (The poll was of 1,000 adults and has a 3.1-percentage-point margin of error.)

BOOK TALK: Assuming the House Ethics Committee approves, Gabby Giffords will write a memoir with her husband Mark Kelly, who announced his retirement from NASA and the Navy yesterday. (The panel will likely go along because the congresswoman won’t take an advance and will donate much of her payments to a Tucson charity.) The ghostwriter will be Wall Street Journal columnist Jeffrey Zaslow and the publisher will be Scribner, which has not set a publication date yet. The deal has been put together by super-agent Robert Barnett, who also cut similar deals for Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Two California Democrats: Sen. Dianne Feinstein (78) and Rep. Adam Schiff (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

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Patently About the Money

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama has a series of Oval Office meetings with top administration officials, including Geithner and Gates, and will be working on tomorrow’s speech unveiling his Afghanistan withdrawal plan. The time and place have not been announced. And the precise percentage of the 97,000 troops he will order home starting next month, and the pace of their return, are apparently still being refined.

(McCain, who’s not running against Obama again but remains the top Republican on Senate Armed Services, urged only a “modest” drawdown on the morning shows. With “one more fighting season, we can get this thing pretty well wrapped up,” he said.)

THE SENATE: Convened at 10 for one of its most potentially productive days in weeks.

In a few minutes senators will confirm Michael Simon, the Perkins Coie partner in charge of the firm’s litigation practice in Portland, as a federal trial judge in Oregon. After the weekly caucus lunches, senators will vote at 4:15 to confirm Leon Panetta as secretary of Defense. (He’ll take over at the end of next week.)

Senators will then decide whether to limit debate on two measures. Their answer will be “no” on the Economic Development Administration reauthorization bill, which will be put in a deep filibuster freeze because it’s attracted a series of contentious, unrelated amendments during its two weeks on the floor. But the answer will be “yes” on bipartisan compromise legislation that would eliminate the confirmation requirement for hundreds of executive branch jobs. It’s on course to pass by week’s end.

THE HOUSE: Convenes at noon and will formally accept Anthony Weiner’s letter of resignation — effective at midnight tonight, five days and 10 hours after he promised to end his “distraction” by departing.

After debating four bills to rename post offices, lawmakers will vote at 6:30 to kill off the Election Assistance Commission, created after the disputed 2000 presidential contest to award money to states for modernizing their voting systems. That job is largely done.

IT WORKS, FOR NOW: The appropriators have won the first big turf battle in the Republican House this year. But their win is a pretty narrow one, and may prove unsustainable once the Senate has its say.

How (or even whether) the dispute over the patent bill is finally settled will determine whether Congress completes any top-tier domestic policy legislation in a summer that’s otherwise captive to the great budget debate  — and whether Republicans and Democrats alike get to claim credible credit for enacting a law that holds some (ideally low-cost) promise for lowering the unemployment rate, which is still the number-one-with-a-bullet statistic shaping the 2012 campaign. (Approval of more patents, and faster, is the legislation’s main goal — because that would mean creation of more new businesses, and more jobs.)

The fight is about who gets control over the $2.1 billion in fees collected annually from businesses or inventors when they apply for patents and trademarks. This spring, 95 senators (and Lamar Smith’s House Judiciary panel) voted to give the agency that considers those applications total control over the money — so it could spend millions more every year speeding up what has become an extraordinarily slow progress.
 
But Chairman Hal Rogers of Appropriations (with the all-important backing of Budget’s Paul Ryan) refused to yield their power over the money, and they had the votes to defeat the bill as a result. So yesterday a Solomonic compromise was reached: What the House will debate tomorrow — and almost certainly pass, despite some lobbying against other provisions — would keep the Patent and Trademark Office subject to annual appropriations, but any above-budget money the agency collects will be put in a kind of lock box under its exclusive control. (For the budget wonks, it’s a bit like how the Highway Trust Fund works.)

If Smith says it’s a good deal, then the Senate backers of the original idea would have incentive to relent. But backer No. 1 is Tom Coburn, and his initial position is to say absolutely no way to the House compromise.

LITTLE DEALS: Crunch time for the budget talks starts at 1, when Biden arrives at the Capitol for three (or four, if there’s sufficient progress) consecutive afternoons of talks with Kyl, Cantor, Baucus, Inouye, Clyburn and Van Hollen — plus Geithner, OMB’s Jack Lew and presidential economics adviser Gene Sperling.

McConnell spurred the negotiators on in a floor speech this morning that kept alive (at least rhetorically) the Republican hope that sweeping changes to Medicare and Medicaid be part of any deal. But all the signals point to people in the room narrowing their aspirations so that entitlements can be mostly avoided. Same for taxes; despite last week’s solid GOP support in the Senate for ending ethanol tax breaks, party leaders continue to hold the line against all but the most peripheral proposals for raising a relatively modest amount of revenue. (The formula of $4 in spending cuts for every $1 in revenue raised is the outside of the aspirations for the Democrats.)

If Biden and Boehner’s metaphorical bicycle and golf clubs are really being taken off the trading block, though, it will be difficult to get to $2.5 trillion — the amount of deficit reduction that, if paired with a similar hike in the debt ceiling, would postpone the budget debate beyond Election Day 2102 — without some imaginative accounting between now and the target unveiling of a deal before Independence Day.

The most creative accounting would be to claim close to $1 trillion in savings by projecting that the annual costs of the wars will immediately be cut by about two-thirds, to $50 billion or so. The other would be to claim another $1 trillion in savings by creating some sort of mechanism that would claim to cap discretionary spending (both military and domestic) for the next decade or longer at either a preset annual amount or at a level that might float as a percentage of the economy’s size.

TRAIL TIPS: (1) Lynn Woolsey will announce next week that she won’t run for an 11th term as the unambiguously liberal congresswoman for the North Bay Area. She will become the second House Democrat (after Oklahoma’s Dan Boren) to announce retirement plans for next year. The proposed remapping of California congressional districts would dramatically reconfigure the newly open seat, which would run from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Oregon border while   excluding Santa Rosa. But it’s expected to remain reliably Democratic, and Assemblyman Jared Huffman — who's already raised $120,000 in campaign cash — and Marin County political activist Norman Solomon are already making plans to run.

(2) Now that Anthony Weiner has given New York’s political mapmakers the Democratic district they needed to eliminate in the city, attention is focused on which Republican district upstate will also get the axe. (The state’s losing two next year.) The suspense may not last long. Ann Marie Buerkle’s seat is the consensus choice to be sacrificed. She won by just 700 votes, by far the narrowest margin of the state’s six GOP freshmen. Her  current territory, centered in Syracuse, is one of just 14 Republican districts that voted for both Obama and Kerry. And Dan Maffei is sounding totally confident he can wage a comeback to Congress no matter how the lines are drawn.

QUOTE OF NOTE: “We will not be the first American generation that lets down the next generation,” Jon Huntsman said this morning in declaring his presidential candidacy at  Liberty State Park in New Jersey. “What we need now is leadership that trusts in our strength. Leadership that doesn’t promise Washington has all the solutions to our problems, but rather looks to local solutions in our cities, towns and states.”

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: The summer solstice celebrants are Dan Burton of Indiana (73) and fellow House Republican Dana Rohrabacher of California (64).

— 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, June 20, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Floor Powers and War Powers

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Monday, June 20, 2011

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama has a senior team meeting at 11:40, a foreign policy meeting with Biden and Clinton at 3:45 and a meeting at 4:20 with a bipartisan group of mayors to discuss the economy and hear about local efforts to create jobs and spur economic growth. He’s headed to the Mandarin Oriental to speak to a DNC fundraiser at 7:25. (He made a trip to the hotel for another money-making meal this morning, as well.)

THE HOUSE: Convened at 10 for a pro-forma session lasting 5 minutes. (No resignations were announced, so Anthony Weiner remains a member of Congress for at least one more day.)

THE SENATE: Convenes at 2 for nothing except speechmaking, and no more than  three hours of it.

HOUSE VOTE ON LIBYA? Momentum is building fast for a House vote this week in favor of ending U.S. participation in the bombardment of Libya.

A solid majority of Democrats have an anti-war default setting and so would have no hesitation about cutting off money for the operation — even though that would amount to an enormous international slap at a president of their own party. And the number of Republicans who would do likewise has surged over the weekend. Many in the GOP were already furious that the president declared the situation in Libya doesn’t meet the threshold of “hostilities” requiring him to obtain congressional authorization under the War Powers Act. (The final deadline for doing so was yesterday.) And more Republicans got mad when it came out that the president rejected the view of several top administration lawyers, who told him the opposite conclusion was correct.

The issue will come to a head Thursday or Friday, when the House will be debating the annual Pentagon funding bill — unless Boehner wields a heavy parliamentary hand and blocks a showdown vote (which doesn’t look likely), or unless Obama’s imminent decision to order an accelerated Afghanistan troop withdrawal buys him a big scoop of congressional goodwill and a postponement of the Libya debate (a bit more likely).

Democrat Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and Republican Joe Heck of Nevada both have written proposals to block money for the U.S. operation, which at this point is mostly logistical support for the NATO bombing runs. (Heck’s would give the president a little more time and wiggle room to get out.) Neither of the proposals is an assertion of War Powers Act authority, per se – although if the House rejects the amendments, that would be widely interpreted as  a tacit endorsement of the mission.

THE GRAHAM-MCCAIN FACTOR: But even if such language is added, there’s little chance it would become law. The anti-Obama, isolationist and pro-congressional-warmaking-authority ranks of the GOP are thinner in the Senate than in the House, and so the votes aren’t there to cut off the money — and certainly, not by a veto-proof majority.

John McCain and Lindsey Graham vowed yesterday, in separate Sunday-show appearances, to use their sway as top GOP authorities on military policy to keep the mission funded — and to push the Senate, as soon as this week, to adopt a resolution endorsing Obama’s policies. “The president’s done a lousy job of communicating and managing our involvement in Libya, but I will be no part of an effort to de-fund Libya,” Graham said. “Congress should sort of shut up and not empower Qaddafi.”

SUNNY MONDAY: The golf summit yielded no public breakthrough, but Saturday’s apparently collegial atmosphere suggests that both sides remain committed to getting to some sort of “yes” on a deficit-cut-for-debt-increase deal by the end of next week.

McConnell offered a big olive branch yesterday, declaring that Senate Republicans would support a stopgap, several-month increase extension of Treasury borrowing power if there was genuinely serious progress on a budget package — including entitlement limits — by Aug. 2, the point at which the government would default without more borrowed money to pay its bills.

Biden and his six congressional summiteers will be intensifying their deliberations starting tomorrow, with at least three and maybe four face-to-face meetings again this week. (Aides are getting ready for essentially round-the-clock work on the fine print.) Chris Van Hollen, one of the two House Democrats in the room, says the group has decided that it has done enough talking about the big picture that it can delve into the details and make July 4 their put-up-or-shut-up deadline for a deal. Those inside the talks say that their glimmers of optimism are mostly based on a consensus that both sides want a deal and would bend over backward to avoid blowing things up, but they concede there are deep policy disagreements still between them.

And the lifeline that AARP seemed to throw the talks at the end of last week has been pulled back. The group emphatically rejected reports that it was ready to talk about raising the retirement age for lowering benefits for future Social Security recipients as part of a grand bargain this summer. “Social Security should not be used as a piggy bank to solve the nation’s deficit,” CEO A. Barry Rand said. “Any changes to this lifeline program should happen in a separate, broader discussion.”

TRAIL TIPS: (1) Michele Bachmann is already confronting the reality that her every move at the Capitol will come under magnified scrutiny during her presidential campaign. There hasn’t been much attention on the way she’s used her campaign, PAC and congressional offices to become a national political force in just her third House term. But ethics watchdogs — and surely some small-government conservatives — will be disturbed at word she spent $3,400 in taxpayer money to help underwrite an anti-health-care-bill tea party rally at the Capitol in 2009. (Three other House Republicans pitched in from their office accounts as well.) House rules prohibit use of official funds for political activities. Bachmann says the event was justifiable as an official congressional news conference, but no questions were taken from reporters at the event.

(2) Only 38 percent of Utah voters are solidly behind Orrin Hatch’s bid for a seventh term, and fully 59 percent say it’s time for a new senator, according to poll results published yesterday by the Deseret News of Salt Lake City. The poll found the Senate Finance Committee’s top Republican and Rep. Jim Matheson tied at 47 percent in a theoretical general election matchup (the Democrat is unsure about taking the race) — and Hatch also statistically tied (40 percent to 41 percent) against his probable GOP primary challenger, Rep. Jason Chaffetz. “I’m surprised it’s as good as it is, because incumbents are always down in the polls” at this stage in a campaign, Hatch told the paper.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: No lawmakers today, but two House members yesterday: Tennessee Democrat Jim Cooper (57) and Arizona Republican Trent Franks (54).

— 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