Friday, July 01, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: This Job Ain't for Everybody

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Friday, July 1, 2011

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is meeting with his senior advisers in the Oval Office now, then he heads upstairs to pack for the weekend. Marine One takes off at 4:30 for Camp David, where the first family plans to stay until July Fourth. (Assuming she’s got all her  summer reading done ahead of time, there will be a 13th birthday party there for Malia on Monday.)

THE SENATE: Convened at 11 for a brief pro forma session. Next convenes Tuesday at 2.

THE HOUSE: Convened at 10 for a brief pro forma session. Next convenes Wednesday (probably at noon).

FAMILIAR FACES: Although Geithner promised in Chicago last night that he’ll be staying in the Cabinet “for the foreseeable future” — which almost surely means through the 2012 election — that isn’t stopping a wave of speculation about who Obama might want as his second Treasury secretary.

Geithner’s hand was forced after reports surfaced yesterday that he was ready to leave Washington before the fall, or as soon as there’s a deal to raise the federal borrowing limit. (The hook for the stories was that Ben Geithner had enrolled at a school in New York for his senior year in high school.)  Any sense that Geithner was making himself a lame duck would have significantly weakened his stature in the budget negotiations — and his departure would mean that no member of the original Obama economic team would be on hand for a re-election campaign that’s going to be dominated by voter concern about  jobs. (Austan Goolsbee is leaving in a month; Christina Romer, Larry Summers and  Peter Orszag all left last year.) A transition at Treasury also would assure that Republicans could use the confirmation hearings for the next secretary as their open-mike forum for critiquing everything the president’s ever done (or not done) to try to pull the country definitively out of its recession.

The name-dropping about a possible Geithner successor, therefore, has already focused on people who would have the fortitude to weather those hearings, and the standing to win confirmation. Erskine Bowles, the former Clinton chief of staff who co-chaired Obama’s deficit reduction commission with Alan Simpson, was the name getting the most mention in the past day.

OMB Director Jack Lew has been confirmed twice in the past three years (he was previously deputy secretary of State) and maintains strong levels of bipartisan respect and affection at the Capitol that first began to build when he was Clinton’s budget director. Assuming Lew does not spend all his political capital in this summer’s budget showdown, he would be a clear option. Other Clinton administration veterans also being mentioned are investment banker Roger Altman, a Clinton deputy Treasury secretary; Berkeley professor Laura Tyson, who chaired Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers, and White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley, who was Clinton’s final Commerce Secretary.

DON’T MAKE ANY PLANS: The Treasury this morning reaffirmed Aug. 2 as the projected date when it will exhaust its borrowing authority. And the Senate’s grumbling and sluggish return to town on Tuesday evening — for a vote that, four weeks before that deadline, has nothing to do with fiscal policy — will offer cold comfort to members of the House.

That’s because its next recess will almost certainly be canceled as well. The reason is that the proposed week away would end on Friday, July 22 — which is the new public deadline being set by the administration for a bipartisan handshake on enough deficit reduction ($1 trillion) to be paired with an increase in the debt ceiling to at least $15.3 trillion, which would keep the government flush into next year. (That would still require a herculean legislative drafting marathon, followed by non-stop whipping efforts and carefully choreographed debates, to get a bill to Obama’s desk in just the next 11 days.)

Although it’s absolutely what Wall Street and the credit ratings agencies want, a deficit reduction deal that’s twice as big or bigger ($2 trillion to $2.5 trillion), and would be matched with borrowing authority that lasts beyond the election, seems to be teetering on the edge of abandonment because of the hardening Republican resistance to putting any new revenue in the recipe. And talk of a grand bargain in the neighborhood of $4 trillion has become all wistful and backward-looking.

Obama is on course to go to the Capitol on Wednesday for a meeting with Senate Democrats — an event that will create a false impression that the recess cancellation was leading to some budgetary progress. Of the Hill’s four party caucuses, the Senate’s majority will be the most on board with whatever deal the president can get. So unless the president walks through the Rotunda and sits down with Boehner and Cantor, there won’t be any hope for a budget breakthrough next week.

FILLING UP THE SCHEDULE: The House will be voting Wednesday night, Thursday and Friday morning on bills that have something to do with the budget, although all would have to be revisited under any deal that calls for moderate-or-more cuts in spending. On tap are the defense appropriations package, a bill limiting the reach of the federal flood insurance program and maybe the energy and water spending bill.

Senators, though, are coming back to debate the merits of American military involvement in Libya. And that’s assuming Reid has the seven Republicans he needs to abandon their party leadership’s filibuster against the Libya measure. (He’s probably got no more than McCain and Lindsey Graham at this point). The GOP’s dilatory move is essentially a reflection of its genuine fury at Obama — whom they view as having been unnecessarily combative, condescending and disingenuous this week, when he pressured Congress to cancel all its time off to work on the budget and then spent much of the next day raising re-election money out of town.

If McConnell can stop the Libya debate, look for him to propose deliberations instead on his side’s budget-balancing constitutional amendment. And look for the Democrats to try to force votes on repealing tax breaks for yacht and horse race owners,

TRAIL TIPS: (1) Southeastern Michigan’s Thaddeus McCotter, one of the quirkiest conservatives in Congress, is ready to announce an extremely-long-odds presidential candidacy tomorrow. Now in his fifth House term, he gained some influence in the Republican leadership ranks as the chairman of the conservative Policy Committee for the previous four years, then astounded his colleagues by pressing to have the organization abolished last summer. (It wasn’t.) And he’s essentially unknown nationally; he went to New Orleans for last weekend’s Republican Leadership Conference but ended up finishing last in its straw poll, with less than 2 percent support. He spent part of this week on an Iowa Tea Party bus tour of the state.

(2) Heath Shuler is doing nothing to rebut reports that he’s being recruited to become athletic director or football coach at the University of Tennessee, where his work as quarterback made him the 1993 Heisman Trophy runner-up. The western North Carolina congressman’s office is declining to discuss his interest in switching careers, saying only that “currently” he expects to be a candidate for a fourth term. But his odds of winning could be lengthened considerably by the state’s Republican legislature, which has the power to draw a redistricting map much less favorable to him. Shuler is co-chairman of the Democratic’ conservatives Blue Dog Coalition, the power position he secured after challenging Pelosi for minority leader last fall.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: No congressional  celebrants again today, and just two over the  holiday weekend: GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander  of Tennessee (71) on Sunday and Democratic Rep. Sam Farr of California (70) on Independence Day.

PUBLISHING SCHEDULE: The next Daily Briefing will be Wednesday, July 6, because Monday is a federal holiday and on Tuesday the House will remain in recess while the Senate returns for what’s expected to be a minimally productive afternoon.

— David Hawkings, editor

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

Thursday, June 30, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Recess Canceled

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Today In Washington

 

THE WHITE HOUSE: “Quite simply, one of America’s finest public servants,” Obama said at this morning’s sun-drenched Gates mustering-out ceremony at the Pentagon – where he surprised the crowd by awarding the 22nd secretary of Defense the highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

After a senior staff meeting that’s now getting started and then lunch with Biden, the president is heading to Philadelphia for his customary two-part fundraising routine: a speech to a throng of medium-money donors in a hotel ballroom (the Hyatt at the Bellevue at 5:30) followed by an intimate high rollers’ dinner at a non-publicized private home. He’s due back in the family quarters at 10:50.

THE SENATE: Convened at 9:30 and after a morning of speeches – Jeff Merkley called for eliminating the $126 million in tax breaks for the horse-racing industry secured by McConnell three years ago – will take up the nomination of Gen. David Petraeus to be CIA director. He’ll be confirmed by an overwhelming majority at about 2, in time to get ready for the Leon Panetta double switch tomorrow.

THE HOUSE: Not in session this week.

SCHOOL'S IN FOR THE SUMMER: Reid took the president’s bait today and canceled next week’s Senate recess. "We'll do that because we have work to do," the majority leader said.

Since Independence Day is Monday, he said senators would be expected back in town Tuesday evening and that there would be at least one roll call then. But he offered no details – other than some vague rhetoric about the need for job creation – on what that vote would be about or what the legislative agenda would be during the next few days. (The House was already scheduled to be in session next Wednesday through Friday, but its legislative agenda for that time hasn’t been announced, either. And Reid’s move will put significant pressure on Boehner to cancel the House recess now on the books for the week of July 18 – the penultimate full week before the Treasury’s deadline for raising the debt limit.)

The rare upending of the congressional calendar came even as Obama – whose parent-like scolding of lawmakers yesterday included the line, “You need to be here; I’m here” – prepared to spend eight hours on his fundraising trip to Philadelphia. But the president plans a series of telephone calls (some with Biden on the line) with congressional leaders of both parties both today and tomorrow in search of progress in the budget talks, White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer said on MSNBC this morning.

McConnell is one of the leaders who was promised a call, but that did not stop him from taking a swipe at Obama’s schedule. The minority leader took to the floor and invited the president to come to the Capitol to meet with the Senate GOP caucus over lunch  – “or any time this afternoon that he can make it. That way he can hear directly from Republicans why what he’s proposing won’t pass.”

Reid’s decision can be viewed less as buckling to presidential opprobrium and more as facing the facts of life in a closely divided and highly partisan Senate. Republicans – led by several increasingly visible freshmen, including Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson and Utah’s Mike Lee – had the power to stop any quiet adjournment and made clear they were prepared to use it. Reid outmaneuvered them once yesterday, but sooner or later he would have been forced into the politically toxic position of having to arrange a vote in favor of what the GOP would have described as “going on vacation while the nation’s in a budget crisis.”

PICKING ON THE LITTLE GUYS: When he said yesterday that, “at a certain point, they need to do their job,” Obama was following a long tradition of presidents who have sought to boost their own poll numbers a smidgen on the backs of Congress – which traditionally has a much lower approval rating than the president and emphatically does so now: just 18 percent in the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll.

But it’s hard to see how the president’s chiding tone helps bring the current “break up to make up” period in the budget talks to a sooner-than-the-last-minute conclusion. By chiding everyone at the Capitol for failure to act on a problem that’s clearly the shared responsibility of both the legislative and executive branch, he runs the risk of making almost as many fellow Democrats look ineffectual as he does the rival Republicans. That will make many on both sides furious – especially the 520 senators and House members with essentially no role in finding a solution to the current impasse.

But it’s those rank-and-file lawmakers who are going to decide whether whatever the leadership cooks up is endorsed or spurned. And the more they feel simultaneously ignored and lambasted by the big dogs, the less likely they are to fall in line. The 87 House GOP freshmen, especially, seem to be lying in wait for the opportunity to say “No – and we told you so long ago” if they’re presented with a take-it-or-leave-it proposition that includes no more than a symbolic collection of politically easy revenue raisers ($3 billion in higher taxes on corporate jet buyers and a higher tax rate for private equity managers, for example).

NO BUDGING: In one small sign of progress, Senate Democrats say they have a consensus on their own plan for reducing the deficit – and may roll it out next week, though they won’t turn it into a formal budget resolution unless and until there’s a debt-hike-for-deficit-cut deal. The bottom line of the plan is still under wraps, but Budget Chairman Kent Conrad has made clear he won’t settle for anything short of $4 trillion over 10 years for a package he’d be willing to advance. And to get there, he’s talked about more than $1 trillion in higher taxes, a number that’s now the very definition of a non-starter.

In a signal that Senate Democrats were seeking to keep their powder dry a while longer, Max Baucus this morning canceled a Finance hearing that was supposed to start at 10 on deficit-cutting entitlement and tax options. (McConnell is also trying to use a parliamentary tactic to prevent Finance from convening another meeting at 3, to consider how to implement the South Korea, Panama and Colombia trade agreements.)

TRAIL TIPS: (1) Biotech executive John Crowley announced on his Facebook page last night that he won’t run for the Republican Senate nomination in New Jersey next year. (He was portrayed by Brendan Fraser in “Extraordinary Measures,” last year’s movie about his decision to leave his job as a pharmaceutical company executive to start a small firm that went after a cure for his children’s rare disease.) The decision boosts the likelihood that state Sen. Joseph Kyrillos will be the challenger to incumbent Bob Menendez, who’s after a second full term.

(2) Virginia’s status as the nation’s premier swing state is underscored by the numbers in the newest Quinnipiac University Poll. It found Obama’s approval and disapproval ratings in the state at an identical 48 percent. And it showed a virtual dead heat in the state’s open seat Senate contest, with Democrat Tim Kaine at 43 percent and Republican  George Allen at 42 percent.

(3) One of the most expensive and hotly contested House contests in the country is essentially set for next year – in South Florida, even though the legislature there is months away from finalizing a dramatic redrawing of the state’s congressional map. No matter what the contours of the districts north of Miami Beach, freshman Republican tea party favorite Allen West seems certain to face his rhetorically fiery equal, in Democrat Lois Frankel, the former mayor of West Palm Beach. Early estimates are that the race could cost a combined $10 million.

 

— David Hawkings, editor

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

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Thinking Globally

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is about to begin a news conference in the East Room that’s sure to be dominated by questions about his objectives and bottom lines in the deficit-and-debt negotiations, as well as his assessments of Afghanistan and Libya. (It’s  the president’s first full-blown session with the press since March and was arranged only last night. The timing likely will upstage the Senate Republicans’ rollout of their balanced budget constitutional amendment, also set to start at 11:30, as well as a 12:30 speech by John Brennan to detail the administration’s counterterrorism strategies.)

The president may make some budget decisions in his Oval Office meeting at 3 with Reid, Durbin, Schumer and Murray, as well as at a 4:30 session with Geithner; in two days the Treasury secretary plans to announce that he’s shifting (but only by a day or two either way) his Aug. 2 prediction for the breaching of the debt ceiling.

The rest of Obama’s day is packed with public events: He’ll welcome the WNBA champion Seattle Storm to  the Rose Garden at 1:50, make an LGBT Pride month speech in the East Room at 5:45 and host a small dinner party at 7 for Gates on his last night as secretary of Defense.

THE SENATE: Convened at 9:30 and within the hour will pass legislation trimming the roster of presidential appointments subject to confirmation. Senators will then adopt some changes to their own rules in order to expedite their process for considering nominees.

Senators rejected, 44-55, an amendment designed to block $108 billion in the International Monetary Fund’s lending authority — a tiny bit of good news for French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde the morning after she was picked to head the IMF.

THE HOUSE: In recess this week, its second “district work period” of the month.

A NUDGE AND A FUDGE: The IMF today urged Congress to move “expeditiously” rather than wait until the 11th hour to raise the U.S. debt ceiling above $14.3 trillion, warning that much more delay could prompt a spike in interest rates that would harm not only the American economy but also world financial markets.

The recommendation came in IMF’s annual report on the U.S. economy, which was written before the fund’s board chose Lagarde as the new managing  director. (She will be returning to Washington — where she graduated from the all-girls’ Holton-Arms in Bethesda in 1974 after an internship with Bill Cohen, then a freshman House Republican from Maine — to take the IMF corner office starting on Tuesday.) But the timing is propitious because last night Boehner reversed course on his preferred timing for a deficit-cut-for-debt increase deal. The Speaker, who had been urging an agreement by July 4 as a way to provide “certainty” to the markets, declared he no longer views the deadline as being five weeks from now. “Dealing with this debt problem and this deficit problem is far more important than meeting some artificial date created by the Treasury secretary,” he told Fox News.

It may well be the case that Boehner is working to ease the pressure on the negotiations, which appear to be in a particularly tenuous and fragile state. Or he may be trying a bit of reverse psychology by suggesting lawmakers should feel free to take more time this summer to get to a deal. That’s because, once they look at the calendar and realize that they’re  due to begin their four-week summer break on Aug. 5, many if not most senators and House members are likely to redouble their efforts to get to “yes” before then.

THE REVENUE SIDE: For the next couple of days though, any meaningful back-channel talks between people in the White House and at the Capitol are being overshadowed by a flotilla of trial balloons — several of which have to do with tax increases that go well beyond the move to end the break on corporate jet purchases.

Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad is promoting a big bargain in which his side would get behind extensive and lost-lasting reductions in the amount of money raised through the alternative minimum tax if Republicans would acquiesce in some of the president’s loophole-closings.

And more and more Republicans continue to make clear that their “no new taxes” call is not an absolute — especially if any tax hikes are described with more euphemistic terms like “revenue enhancements” or “increased user fees” or “reduced tax expenditures” (which has the added benefit of sounding a bit like a spending cut). Jon Kyl (a member of the on-hiatus Biden summit team) has made clear that he’d back new user fees and that he’s only opposed to “most tax increases” — the ones harmful to economic growth. John Cornyn (who is running the Senate GOP campaign team) says taxes should at least be up for consideration in the talks. And Tom Coburn (of the late, lamented Gang of Six) says he could support as much as $1 trillion in new revenue — if it was paired with $8 trillion in cuts.

Coburn is also the author, with Joe Lieberman, of a plan to cut $600 billion in Medicare spending over the next decade — in part by gradually raising the eligibility age by two years,to 67, and assessing higher premiums on wealthier seniors. Democrats are rejecting it out of hand — but look for that to change in the next week.

THE POTENTIAL BELLWETHER: If House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp goes ahead and publicly announces his support for an emerging trade deal with Senate Democrats and the White House — which would pair approval of the South Korea, Colombia and Panama trade deals with a renewal of the Trade Adjustment Assistance worker training program — it would be an enormously good opening for a summer of compromise.

TRAIL TIPS: (1) Michele Bachmann is spending another day in South Carolina after drawing the largest crowd yet for a 2012 GOP presidential candidate in the second primary state. More than 400 showed up for a rally outside an aquarium in Myrtle Beach last night. (Her introductory music was “American Girl,” even though Tom Petty asked her yesterday to stop using his song.) But the level of scrutiny she’s faced since her recent surge in the polls continues to intensify: A former congressional chief of staff, Ron Carey, has an op-ed in the Des Moines Register describing Bachmann’s House office as “wildly out of control.” NBC reported that her husband Marcus Bachmann has collected $137,000 in Medicaid payments for his therapy practice since 2005, while the L.A. Times reported that a family farm in which she is a partner has recently received nearly $260,000 in federal crop subsidies.

(2) He may be the Washington Republican establishment’s favorite non-candidate for president, but Chris Christie is less than beloved back home. A Bloomberg poll of New Jersey voters out today finds 51 percent don’t back him for a second term in 2013. His favorable rating is 43 percent, 10 points below his unfavorable number. His education spending cuts were opposed by 65 percent — while 51 percent oppose his cancellation of an $8.7 billion rail tunnel to New York.

(3) It was one year ago this week that the House Ethics Committee cleared Laura Richardson of wrongdoing in relation to a foreclosure dispute over a house she owns in Sacramento. But now the watchdog group CREW (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington) is bypassing the ethics panel and has asked the FBI to investigate the third-term Democrat from suburban Los Angeles. The complaint is based on a cache of e-mails suggesting she illegally forced her congressional staff to work on her campaign, required them to perform personal errands, intimidated them into making political contributions, solicited contributions on federal property, improperly used appropriated funds and made false statements to Congress. Richardson’s office is denying any impropriety, but the congresswoman has told reporters in California that House Ethics investigators have been interviewing her employees for the past few months.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina (68) and Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota (67). Jonah Frank King, first child of CNN congressional correspondent Dana Bash and CNN national correspondent John King (1 day).

— 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 28, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Lugar's Turn

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Today In Washington

THE SENATE: Convened at 10 and is about to vote to confirm James Cole as deputy attorney general, the job he’s had under a recess appointment since December — and for which he was first nominated 13 months ago. Republicans are still critical of his work in private practice for failed insurance giant AIG and for some of his views about terrorism prosecutions, but they’ve relented and allowed the vote even though they were able to keep a filibuster alive a month ago (albeit with 10 senators missing those proceedings).

After the weekly caucus lunches, senators will resume debate on legislation to streamline the process for future presidential appointees, 14 percent of whom would no longer have to wait for the Senate’s consent before going to work. Most proposed amendments would keep specific jobs subject to confirmation.

THE HOUSE: In recess this week.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is on the way to Iowa — where he won the caucuses with 38 percent in 2008 and took 54 percent in the general — for his first visit there as an announced candidate for a second term. (None of the announced GOP presidential aspirants will be in the first-voting state today, but Sarah Palin is heading to Pella for an evening screening of the new documentary about her, “The Undefeated.”)

The president will tour Alcoa Davenport Works, an aluminum factory, and give a speech at 2 about his eagerness to boost manufacturing jobs. Air Force One takes off from the Quad Cities airport at 3:45 and the president is due back at the White House before 6.

THE ELDER STATESMAN: Senate Foreign Relations convened at 10 for a hearing on Libya and the latest episode in the five-decade warmaking power rivalry between the president and Congress. The heated rhetoric is foreshadowing what the panel is likely to do at 2:30, when it will begin debating language to authorize — and probably limit —the American role in the NATO-led efforts to drive Qaddafi out of power.

Dick Lugar, who made Obama his protégé on the panel back when he was a freshman senator, is using his post as the panel’s top Republican to lead the opposition to the president’s Libya policy. (He’s also hoping to boost his conservative bona-fides in advance of a tough GOP primary for his seventh term next year.) “Even if one believes the president somehow had the legal authority to initiate and continue U.S. military operations in Libya, it does not mean that going to war without Congress was either wise or helpful to the operation,” he said this morning before leading an excoriation of Harold Koh, the State Department lawyer who helped convince the president that the U.S. engagement in Libya doesn’t constitute “hostilities”’ and so doesn’t require congressional consent under the War Powers Act.

And this afternoon, Lugar probably has the votes — Virginia’s Jim Webb is the linchpin on a panel with 10 Democrats and nine Republicans — to add at least two pieces of limiting language to the authorization, which is being promoted by Kerry and McCain. One would insist that there are hostilities and so the war powers requirements do apply. The other would deny any support or funding for the use of ground forces. If Lugar gets his way on those (even if he loses on amendments to limit the mission to NATO support and block funding for the eventual rebuilding of Tripoli), he is likely to support the overall resolution and assure it gets to the Senate floor for a debate now anticipated the week after next.

IT’S ALL IN HOW YOU LOOK AT IT: The Democrats are starting to get specific about the sort of tax changes they want in the deficit-cut-for-debt-hike deal in a last ditch effort to get the public on their side. The Republicans hardly seem to mind. They’re convinced they can persuade the typical voter to see any revenue increase as a tax hike, and they’re confident that their corporate allies (the main beneficiaries of the breaks and tax expenditures on the table) will help them kill almost all the Obama-Reid-Pelosi proposals.

Calling for an end to the tax break on corporate jet purchases, preventing the Big Five oil companies from claiming a deduction on domestic production (to generate $21 billion over a decade) and curbing deductions by the richest people ($155 billion) won’t be viewed as recession-assuring job-crushers by the public, the Democrats are betting. Same for taxing hedge fund managers at a higher rate than they get currently (which is the capital gains rate) or repealing the so-called LIFO  inventory accounting tax break for manufacturers and retailers ($79 billion) .

Assuming the Republicans are right, and that they’ve already pulled out to an irreversible advantage in framing the tax debate, then only a symbolic victory on less than $100 billion in extra revenue will be awarded to the president (a quarter of what he’s after) — and the big number for the July stage of the budget deal will be dropped to between $1.3 trillion and $2 trillion by Independence Day, meaning an election-year vote on increasing the debt limit beyond a new total of $16 trillion or so. (The assumption here is that — with Reid and McConnell having made their pilgrimages downtown, and with the Biden talks on ice — there’s nothing but back-channel deliberations from here on out, and that almost all of them will be bilateral talks between the Boehner and Obama teams.)

Even if an accord is announced next week, it will take a herculean effort — in the legislative drafting and the procedural execution as well as the enormously difficult political heavy lifting of rounding up the votes — to get the deal into law by the Treasury’s within-a-day-or-two Aug. 2 default deadline. The numbers with three commas — as in $600 billion in domestic discretionary spending reductions, for example — will all have to be turned into line-items expressed in the millions.

SOFT NUMBERS: The slowing economic expansion and weak job growth are weighing heavily on consumers. The Conference Board said today that its consumer confidence index fell this month to a seven-month low. The decline was mostly unexpected, but it’s not clear what it really means for the state of the economy in coming months.

Economists say confidence is often a better indicator of where things have been — it tracks stock prices as closely as anything. So, while consumer spending has been tepid, other indicators, particularly the June employment figures which will be released on July 8 (one week from Friday), are likely to be more telling about whether the economy in the second half of the year has a chance of being stronger than it was in the first.

ABOUT CANDIDATE NO. 5: Rod Blagojevich’s conviction yesterday on 17 of 20 charges could complicate the congressional future of Jesse Jackson Jr.

The indictment described a “candidate No. 5” whom Blagojevich, in wiretapped 2008 conversations, had said was willing to raise money for him in exchange for appointment to Obama’s vacated Senate seat. Prosecutors later revealed that Jackson was that candidate, but last year the House Ethics Committee said it had agreed to a request by the Justice Department and would not investigate Jackson’s involvement until the Blagojevich prosecution was over.

Assuming the defense team is unable to get the verdicts tossed out and Blagojevich is sentenced by fall, that would allow the ethics panel plenty of time to conduct an inquiry before the 2012 election. Jackson has denied that he offered Blagojevich anything. (His somewhat suburban district has been kept largely intact by redistricting and so for now he’s a safe bet to win a ninth full term.)

GIFFORDS WATCH: Gabby Giffords last night made her first public appearance since the assassination attempt; she received a standing ovation when she appeared beside her husband Mike Kelly at the NASA center in Houston, where he was awarded the Spaceflight Medal. “I was not surprised at all,” said Giffords spokesman C.J. Karamargin. “For us it is clear the congresswoman’s physical strength is improving as well as her cognitive and verbal abilities.” After the third-term Democrat was released from the hospital two weeks ago, she made a brief visit to Tucson and met with her staff but made no public appearances.

MAZIE’S DAY: Emily’s List, the powerful fundraising organization for Democratic women congressional candidates, will endorse Mazie Hirono for the Senate today — a significant blow to Hawaii’s other congresswoman, Colleen Hanabusa, who has been taking steps toward announcing later this summer for the seat Daniel Akaka is relinquishing. (Emily’s List endorsed Hanabusa’s initial House bid last year.) Former Rep. Ed Case also wants the Democratic nomination — which will be a ticket to the Senate in 2013 unless Republicans succeed in recruiting former Gov. Linda Lingle to run.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin of Michigan (77) and three House members: fellow Democrats Ed Pastor of Arizona (68) and Donna Edwards of Maryland (53), and Republican Mike Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania (48).

— 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 27, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: The 'R' Word

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Monday, June 27, 2011

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama and Biden have been with Reid since 10:30, the first meeting that puts the budget negotiations unambiguously onto the president’s personal agenda. McConnell is due at 5 for his own two-on-one.

The president’s only photo opportunity of the day is welcoming the Major League Soccer champion Colorado Rapids to the Rose Garden at 1:35.

THE SENATE: Convenes at 2 for four hours of speeches but no legislating. (Bernie Sanders is preparing a 90-minute populist budgetary stemwinder.)

THE  HOUSE: Not in session this week.

WATCH MITCH: The government can keep borrowing to pay its bills for only another five weeks — a calendar benchmark that puts plenty of additional pressure on the people talking budget in the Oval Office today.

The meetings are getting so much attention because they begin the president’s long-anticipated direct involvement in bartering deficit-reduction tradeoffs. But the day’s biggest potential newsmaker is McConnell — who has been afforded a brief period to eclipse Boehner as the lead Republican negotiator. When the Senate minority leader emerges from the West Wing this evening, he will have the opportunity to help dictate the GOP terms on two fronts: timing and taxes.

If he continues to insist that a relatively incremental approach is the best course, then that may well be the way things go: A package of $1 trillion or so from among the most politically palatable spending reductions that the Biden negotiating group has identified — paired with an equivalent increase in the debt ceiling. But that would only keep the Treasury flush for a year, and it would really complicate life for the House GOP leadership, which worries that its troops have only one more debt-hike vote in them (and that even that one will be really tough to engineer) before November 2012. But they will have no recourse but to acquiesce in McConnell’s timetable if he holds firm.

On the other hand, if the senator uses the word “revenue” in the White House driveway, a much bigger deal could be in the offing — one that could total $2.5 trillion or so. (The signals in recent days have been that whatever cuts are coming will include much more from the Pentagon than the conventional wisdom assumed the GOP would countenance.) That would take care of the deficit-and-debt debate until after the election, and might even include enough concessions by Democrats on Medicare cost controls to make that issue go away for the House GOP next fall.

The Democrats might be willing to ease the pain Republicans faced after voting for the Paul Ryan budget if the deal allows them to claim some measure of victory against their favorite whipping boys — the multi-millionaires and the oil companies and other big corporations in which they invest.

Accelerating the end of the Bush tax cuts, which are due to expire next year, only on people making more than $1 million annually would nonetheless raise tens of billions over the next decade. Still, it’s probably the toughest thing to get the GOP to agree to, because there’s really no way to avoid calling that a “tax increase,” and the party will only be able to consider tax increases if they can be described as revenue enhancements or loophole limitations. And that’s the language that could be employed to describe curbs on subsidies for ethanol or other energy sources — or putting an end to corporations’ LIFO (last-in, first-out) accounting methods, which critics deride as Loophole No. 1 and which will cost the Treasury maybe $70 billion in the next decade. A change to how the government calculates inflation — which has an effect on entitlement payouts — is also on the table.

SPENDING IS FLAT: Consumer spending was unchanged between April and May — the first time it had been totally flat like that in 20 months, since September 2009, the Commerce Department reported today. (Adjusted for inflation, the spending that accounts for 70 percent of all economic activity actually dropped 0.1 percent.)

COURT ACTION: As the Supreme Court moved closer toward the end of its annual term, it issued a pair of important First Amendment decisions this morning. The justices ruled 7-2 that a state may not ban the sale or rental of violent video games to children. That decision upheld a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision that a California law — which set a fine of $1,000 for each sale of a violent game to a person younger than 18 — violated minors’ free-speech rights. The court also voted 5-4 to strike down an Arizona law that gives extra cash to publicly funded candidates for state office who face privately funded rivals and independent groups. The law was enacted in response to a public corruption scandal and was intended to reward candidates who forgo raising campaign cash, but the court said it infringed on the speech rights of the better-monied interests.

SHE’S IN: Michelle Bachmann became the second House member to formally announce a 2012 presidential bid this morning. She made her declaration in Waterloo, Iowa — where she was born 55 years ago — one day after The Des Moines Register published a poll putting her in a statistical tie with Mitt Romney among likely Iowa caucus-goers.

“As a constitutional conservative, I believe in the Founding Fathers’ vision of a limited government that trusts in and preserves the unlimited potential of the American people,” said the third-term congresswoman from the Twin Cities suburbs, who started the Congressional Tea Party Caucus last year.

The poll showed her with 22 percent, and Romney with 23 percent, among people saying they were likely to participate in the first voting for the Republican nomination — planned for 32 weeks from today. Georgia businessman Herman Cain is at 10 percent. The other current House member in the race, Ron Paul of Texas, is at 7 percent, as is Newt Gingrich. (The former Speaker has been endorsed by four House members, but neither Bachmann nor Paul have any colleagues’ endorsements to boast about yet.) Tim Pawlenty is at 6 percent and Rick Santorum is at 4 percent.

Beyond the poll, Bachmann is getting another publicity bounce from her interview on Fox News yesterday in which Chris Wallace’s final question was, “Are you a flake?” “I think that would be insulting to say something like that because I’m a serious person,” Bachmann retorted — and the switchboard at the network soon lit up with conservative viewers supporting her and lambasting the anchor for perceived sexism. He later issued a statement that said: “In the end it’s really all about the answers and not about the questions. I messed up, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean any disrespect.”

NOT-SO-QUIET RECESS: Eight politically vulnerable freshmen Republicans have arrived home for this week’s House recess to confront advertisements lambasting their votes to provide “a trillion dollars in tax cuts for the wealthy” and at the same time “end Medicare as we know it.”

The House Majority PAC, a so-called super PAC that’s raising money independently of the official Democratic Party arms, has reported spending $147,000 on four days of radio and cable TV time, starting today. The targets are Steve King of Iowa, Joe Heck of Nevada, Scott Tipton of Colorado, Bobby Schilling of llinois, Chip Cravaack of Minnesota, Charlie Bass of New Hampshire and Tim Griffin and Rick Crawford of Arkansas. All of them voted for the Paul Ryan House budget resolution.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire (43) and three House members: Republican Jeff Miller of Florida (52) and Democrats David Scott of Georgia (65) and Mike Honda of California (70).

— David Hawkings, editor

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