Friday, September 09, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Credibility Without Certitude

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Friday, September 9, 2011

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama has arrived in Cantor’s district and is about to take the podium at the University of Richmond, where he’ll offer an encore performance of last night’s blunt-spoken pitch for his second economic stimulus package. Another day of flood-inducing thunderstorms permitting, Air Force One will take off at 12:45 and by 2 he’ll be back in the Oval Office, where his only other scheduled event is a 5:15 ambassador credentialing ceremony.

THE HOUSE: Convened at 9 and will be done for the week in a few minutes, after passing its version of the annual bill authorizing activities of the CIA and 15 other sometimes even more secretive intelligence agencies. (Many of the measure’s policy provisions are written into a top secret appendix.) The legislation was amended by voice vote to drop two unclassified provisions that have prompted a White House veto threat: one setting a restriction on the transfer of prisoners from Guantánamo Bay and another requiring Senate confirmation of the NSA chief.

After a moment of silence, a resolution marking the 10th anniversary of the al Qaeda attacks was adopted by voice vote.

THE SENATE: Convened at 9:45 for speechmaking only.

FAMILIAR FEELING: There’s a much more visible police presence on the streets of the capital this morning, as counterterror officials keep up the scramble that began last night to run down what they describe as a specific, credible but unconfirmed report that three al Qaeda terrorists have recently entered the country from Pakistan and are making preparations to blow up truck or car bombs in Washington or New York sometime between tomorrow and Monday. (The intelligence gathered suggests that bridges and tunnels would be the preferred target. At rush hour the Duke Ellington Bride, which carries Calvert Street over Rock Creek Park, was closed after reports of some suspicious activity there.)

“There’s no certitude” about whether the details of the intelligence are true, Biden said during appearances on all three network morning shows. “The thing we are all most worried about is what they call a lone ranger, a lone actor, not some extremely complicated plan like it took to take down the World Trade towers.”

The assistant FBI director in charge of the Washington field office, James McJunkin,  says his agents aren’t seeking any particular individuals. D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier says all her officers will be working 12-hour shifts (not eight) indefinitely and added in a statement that “maintaining a certain sense of unpredictability is essential to the success of any security plan.” She says unattended cars parked in odd locations risk being towed in the next few days. But city officials said this morning that they have no plans to cancel any of this weekend’s events to mark the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

The White House said this morning that Obama plans to hold to his Sunday schedule, when he plans to visit all three places where Osama bin Laden’s hijackers downed their planes — the down-pouring fountain memorial at New York’s ground zero, the rebuilt west wall of the Pentagon and the hole in the rolling Pennsylvania hills near Shanksville.

SOMETHING FOR SOMETHING: Top Republicans continued today to sound a surprisingly conciliatory tone toward Obama’s jobs package — even though it’s grown 50 percent bigger in recent days, is more than half as big as the two-year-old economic stimulus package they uniformly ridicule and won’t be submitted as draft legislation with proposed offsets attached until a week from Monday.

Cantor (who’s on his way home to Virginia for his own job-creation photo op a few hours after the president leaves) said on the CBS “Early Show” that the House majority is willing to work to reach a deal with the president so long as he doesn’t insist on an “all-or-nothing” approach. (Last night, Boehner declared that Obama’s proposals “merit consideration” so long as “he gives serious consideration to our ideas as well.”) And the administration is signaling today that it’s ready to reach for a quick compromise — even though the most memorable aspect of Obama’s joint session address last night was his call on Congress to a “pass this jobs bill” (or some close variant) no fewer than a dozen times. Biden said on the morning shows that Obama is prepared to consider aspects of the Republicans’ more deregulatory approach but is “not prepared to compromise in terms of doing nothing” because so many people are “hanging on the edge” waiting for federal help to put them in a more economically stable place.

NOTHING IS CERTAIN: Politically, the president would probably be able to take credit for a victory even if he gets only a dollar more than half of what he’s after — although as a matter of economic reality that would mean the legislation couldn’t be counted on to do much to create jobs or push the unemployment rate below 9 percent. (The president noticeably never claimed how many jobs his plan would create nor what it would do to the unemployment rate — if for no other reason that his bold predictions in 2009 turned out to be so far off.)

But there are plenty of reasons for pessimism that there will be any bill at all. That’s because many in the congressional GOP rank-and-file and all of the party’s presidential candidates (they all issued statements criticizing the speech) want to be much more confrontational than Boehner or Cantor, and many of the details of what Obama’s after are not yet well understood — and may be spurned once they are. Same goes for the way the package will be “paid for,” because there’s really going to be no way for the supercommittee to come up with a credible accounting for how much of its prospective proposal would be to cover the costs of the jobs bill and how much would be for reducing previously projected deficits — and it’s hard to envision how they might come up with a plan by Thanksgiving that claims $1.7. trillion or more in red ink reduction when the odds are already so squishy that they can come up with a plan that totals $1.2 trillion.

The miasmic Republican reaction suggests that, at best, the party’s leaders have decided on a temporary cease-fire. There is no truce. And both sides continue to hold books of rhetorical matches next to their ideological powder kegs. (The president last night seemed to be the one playing more assertively with the fire; consider his decision to mention just two public works projects that need federal help — a bridge connecting Boehner’s Ohio to McConnell’s Kentucky, and a mass transit project in Rick Perry’s Texas.)

STILL FIGHTING: All the talk about this fall’s jobs agenda is obscuring the evidence that some Republicans haven’t gotten over their buyer’s remorse about what they agreed to in order to end the debt-deficit-and-default standoff this summer.

The most conservative senators could not get their quixotic crusade to reverse the debt limit increase out of the Senate starting gate last night. Now, the most conservative House members are trying to rally Republicans to reject the overall spending level for next year set in the debt limit agreement ($1.043 trillion) in favor of the deeper cuts the House backed in the spring ($1.019 trillion). The Club for Growth is supporting that effort, spearheaded by fiscal hawk Jeff Flake, and as a result House appropriators scrapped a markup planned for Friday of the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill, which would have been given a bit of a reprieve from the deep axe because of the higher number.

At the same time, the getting-ready-to-retire Jon Kyl — the Senate GOP whip, a supercommittee member and before that a Biden summiteer — says he’s ready to pack up his poker chips and walk away from his super assignment rather than even consider any more cuts to defense. And if the panel reaches an impasse, he’s advocating that Congress reopen the debt debate and repeal the language that would impose across-the-board spending cuts as a consequence — because that sequestration, he says, “ would kill defense.” Kyl urged all conservatives to fight a sequestration should it come to pass.

BARBOUR’S CROSSROADS: Haley Barbour may not be running for president, but instead the Mississippi governor and formerly preeminent lobbyist is going to throw his profound fundraising prowess behind the efforts of American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, the twinned conservative groups spearheaded by Karl Rove. Barbour's decision has prompted Crossroads to double — to $240 million — the amount it wants to raise to help Republican candidates next year. (The groups drew plenty of attention, and had considerable success in 2010, when the raised less than a third as much for their political and issue advocacy efforts.)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: California Republican Buck McKeon, the House Armed Services chairman (73), and freshman Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware (48) today; two House Republicans, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming (57) and Ted Poe of Texas (63), tomorrow.

— David Hawkings, editor

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Thursday, September 08, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Let's Try It This Way

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama’s speech laying out his proposals for creating more jobs and warding off a double-dip recession starts at 7 and will last about 45 minutes. The  unusually early time — he’ll begin talking at 4 on the West Coast — was effectively dictated by the scheduling imbroglio of last week, in which the president was pressed to time his address so that it wouldn’t interfere with either last night’s GOP presidential debate or  tonight’s 8:30 Packers-Saints NFL season opener. (It will be his second appearance before a joint session Congress other than at State-of-the-Union time; the other was two years ago tomorrow, when he laid out his health care overhaul plan.)

THE SENATE: Convened at 9:30 and at about 5 will deliver to Obama one of his biggest domestic policy victories of the year — by clearing an overhaul of patent law designed to speed the time between an invention and the start of manufacturing. (Three potential killer amendments will be defeated beforehand.) The legislation, which would change the basis for awarding patents from “first to invent” to “first to file,” has been in the works for six years. But it gained new momentum this summer when the president, and rare, expansive bipartisan majority in Congress, came to view it as a potentially big-time jobs creator.

After tonight’s speech senators will vote to scuttle a legislative effort by the most conservative Republicans to undo the debt limit increase engineered with such angst only a month ago.

THE HOUSE: Convened at 10 and this afternoon will begin debating legislation designed to broaden the reach of federal aid for starting and expanding charter schools. The only votes will be over by 2, and at 4 the chamber will be cleared out to allow a security sweep and other preparations for the speech.

JUST JOCKEYING: Bill Daley used a trifecta of morning show appearances to prod Congress to act quickly on the president’s $300 billion prescription for driving the unemployment rate below 9 percent — keenly aware that Obama’s ideas are getting a bit more of a welcome reception from the Republican House than they were just a few days ago.

“The only reason some of these people may not support it now is because of the politics that’s going on, which is again unfortunate for the American people,” the White House chief of staff said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” — and, in more or less identical words, on the CBS “Early Show” and NBC’s “Today.”

“Congress has been gone for about five weeks now, and it’s time for them to get back to work,” Daley said, and he promised that a high percentage of the president’s proposals are versions of ideas that have drawn Republican support in the past.

That includes continuing the 2-percentage-point reduction in workers’ Social Security payroll tax for at least another year — a notion spurned by top Republicans in recent days but then given an all-important and unexpected (if only tangential) endorsement by Cantor yesterday. And doing what Obama wants, by expanding it to include a reduction in the employers’ portion as well, looks more and more likely to win a bipartisan embrace because it would actually do much more to give businesses financial breathing room when they add to their head counts.

The House majority leader’s tone this week suggests that his side (at least its top echelon) is working overtime to take a different rhetorical approach to the president this fall — hoping to start reversing the abysmal congressional approval ratings if they come across as bending over backwards to find areas of agreement with the Democrats and their leader. Yes, a handful of the most combatively conservative lawmakers are making a show of staying away from the Capitol tonight, but there’s a general expectation the president will receive a respectful reception from the half of the room to his (logistical, not ideological) left. Of course, by tomorrow they will return to emphasizing their own, deregulatory proposals as the better tonic for the economy — but they appear ready to give the president at least one night of breathing room, and to follow it with an emphasis on the worth of their own ideas more than a derision of the president’s plans.

(That may change next week, when the legislative language of what the president is calling his American Jobs Act will be delivered to Congress — and it becomes plain that much of the way the package would be offset is by ending as soon as possible the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest filers. The paperwork will make it almost certain that any job-creating legislation and its offsets will become the purview of the supercommittee.)

NO NOISE FROM THE INSIDE: The dozen members of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, as the supercommittee is formally called, convened for their first open session this morning in the House Energy and Commerce hearing room — where the chairman’s chair was left symbolically empty. Jeb Hensarling wielded the gavel but said he and Patty Murray would alternate that responsibility. “Deficit reduction and a path to fiscal sustainability are themselves a jobs program,” the Texas Republican House member said. The Democratic senator from Washington denounced the “petty bickering” that has characterized so much of the budget debate in recent years and said a bipartisan deal to reduce red ink by at least $1.5 trillion would be possible only if all the members are “open to compromise and the ideas of others” and avoid “drawing lines in the sand.”

After a round of predictable opening statements and a vote to adopt some rules and procedures, the panel was expected to adjourn until calling its first hearing next week. (The only drama was that a large group of protesters in the hallway outside the Rayburn hearing room was shouting “Jobs, now!” so loudly that it drowned out some of the speechmaking.)

COME BACK IN A FEW WEEKS: Congress will vote, probably two weeks from today, to extend current discretionary levels into the first seven weeks of the new fiscal year. (The timing of the vote, about 10 days before the Sept. 30 deadline, is officially because both the House and Senate will be in recess the last week of this month.) Beyond that, though, enacting a relatively lengthy stopgap CR then will clear the air of any more talk about potential government shutdowns — and for long enough to allow Washington to focus its public face almost exclusively on its job growth and deficit reduction assignments.

No more individual spending bills will be put on the House or Senate floors in the interim, but the Appropriations committees will endeavor to get drafts of each version of the 12 measures done in time for negotiations on the one giant package that looks to carry all $1.043 trillion in fiscal 2012 spending. (That grand total, which would shave $7 billion from current levels, was written into the default-avoidance bill and is no longer in dispute.) But the Democratic Senate signaled yesterday that it has some pretty different priorities from the GOP House on how that money should be allocated. Senate appropriators unveiled proposed limits for their bills (the so-called 302(b)s) proposing a freeze for defense — the House calls for a $17 billion Pentagon boost — while spending $5 billion more than the House on foreign aid and several billion more as well for the Labor-HHS-Education bill.

THAT WAS EASY: It looks as though the debate over disaster aid is going to quickly get disconnected from the routine appropriations process. No sooner did Reid announce yesterday that he planned to move a $6 billion package of assistance through the Senate by the end of the month — separate from the regular bills and with no mention of offsets — than Cantor essentially signaled that it would be fine with him and, therefore, the Republican House.

TWO FOR THE TITLE: There’s an essentially unanimous consensus in the political class that last night’s debate heralded the onset of a mano-a-mano race for the Republican nomination between Rick Perry and Mitt Romney.

There’s universal surprise that Michele Bachmann came across so timidly in the face of pressure to do something dramatic to reclaim the momentum she had after winning the Iowa straw poll. There’s amazement that Ron Paul claimed such a disproportionate amount of airtime on MSNBC and came across as so addled and inarticulate. There’s speculation that Jon Huntsman’s gentlemanly affect was a signal he’s already downgrading his 2012 aspirations to being one of the front-runners’ running mate. And there’s a slight bit of sadness that three of the most colorful characters in GOP politics today – Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Herman Cain – are fading into afterthoughts so soon.

There’s also plenty of befuddlement that the future of Social Security, which has been undeniably a second-tier issue (behind Medicare and Medicaid) in this year’s deliberations over the growth of entitlement spending, became the defining issue of the night. The governor of Texas fully embraced his past description of the program as a “Ponzi scheme” and his warnings that those who refuse to confront its long-term insolvency are perpetrating a “monstrous lie.” And Romney was delighted to allow that extraordinarily provocative sound bite to dominate the coverage, because it underscored what seems destined to become the default rationalization for the Republicans to make him the nominee — that he’s far more capable of winning a general election than is Perry. (Sticking up for those who once believed that the Earth rotates around the sun won’t work to the Texan’s favor on that score, to be sure.)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont (70); Republican Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho (60).

— David Hawkings, editor

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Wednesday, September 07, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Saving Some for Later

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Today In Washington

THE HOUSE: Convenes at 2 and at 6:30 will vote to extend duty-free imports from 129 developing countries through July 2013. (When it arrives in the Senate, the routine measure will become the vehicle for carrying a much more controversial bill updating the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, which helps retrain people put out of work because of liberalized U.S. trade. Passage of that Democratic priority, in turn, is essential to creating a bipartisan congressional majority for endorsing the stalled trade pacts with Colombia, South Korea and Panama, which the GOP and Obama hail as big-time job creators.)

THE SENATE: Convened at 10 and will spend most of the day in speechmaking mode — talking about the patent overhaul bill and paying  tribute to Mark Hatfield; the prominent centrist GOP senator from Oregon from 1967 through 1996 died a month ago today. (The weekly caucus lunches start at 12:30.)

THE WHITE HOUSE: After a series of Oval Office meetings (including with Clinton at 3 and Panetta at 4), Obama will stage a 4:45 photo op with drivers from last year’s Chase for the Nascar Sprint Cup — including five-time-straight champion Jimmie Johnson. (Four drivers say they won’t be there, but they it’s because of scheduling conflicts, not politics: Greg Biffle, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick.)

WHAT HE’LL SAY: The Obama job-creation formula — a combination platter of payroll tax cuts, jobless benefits, transportation and school construction spending and direct aid to states and cities — would pour $300 billion into the economy within a year. White House aides are leaking that grand total today, hoping it sounds big enough to mollify those on the president’s left who think he’s still too timid (not likely) as well as small enough to assuage those on the president’s right who think he’s still a just-doesn’t-get-it Keynesian (not likely either).

Aides say the president will propose offsetting that expense, albeit over a decade, but won’t explain how he’d do so in his speech to Congress tomorrow. Instead, he’ll wait until next week, when he’s promised to send the 12-member supercommittee his ideas on spending cuts, entitlement curbs and revenue increases that would exceed by several hundred billion dollars the panel’s $1.2 trillion target floor.

The president will propose extending this year’s 2-percentage-point reduction (to 4.2 percent) in the Social Security payroll tax paid by workers, and pairing it with a new cut in the portion of the payroll tax paid by employers. That’s the biggest ticket item in his package.

With so many of the specifics already well understood, one of the big questions is what sort of rhetoric Obama will deploy from the most prominent bully pulpit afforded any president. He’s sure to use the audience of lawmakers before him as a foil — but probably won’t wag a scolding finger at the half of the chamber filled with Republicans. Instead of chiding them for their past recalcitrance, he’s more likely to invoke next week’s 9/11 tenth anniversary and declare that everyone in Congress needs to recapture that moment of national political unity given the current domestic economic peril. (The message would also be a clear signal to his liberal base that they better not bellyache very long or loud.)

SOUNDS OF SILENCE: Republicans say they will not claim the network TV time they’re entitled to for responding to the president’s 7 o’clock speech, even though there should be plenty of time between when he finishes and the 8:30 kickoff of the NFL’s opening night game between the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers and the New Orleans Saints.

Pelosi is labeling that decision the latest sign of GOP disrespect for the president, but instead it’s probably just a tactical move: The details of Obama’s plan are being kept under wraps, and Republicans don’t want to shoot the package down altogether until they’ve scoured it for something they might like. (Boehner and Cantor have asked for a bipartisan Hill leadership briefing before the address and wrote the White House yesterday to say they’re eager to find areas of cooperation — even though they made clear how far apart their deregulatory approach to spurring job creation is from the president’s pump-priming prescriptions.)

YOU CAN SEE WHERE THIS IS GOING: The president’s decision to make his jobs-bill-offset ideas a part of his deficit-reduction proposal is a pretty big signal that, sooner or later, the fall’s two big agenda items are going to be merged into one — and that means the expectations-are-already-out-of-hand supercommittee is going to take the lead on both.

The panel’s first meeting tomorrow morning won’t offer many clues. Instead, it will be all about anodyne opening statements and a historic photograph. The picture to get will be of the co-chairmen, GOP Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, reportedly meeting in person for the first time — even though thye’ve been in Congress together since 2003.

But four of the members — Republican Jon Kyl and Democrats Max Baucus, Chris Van Hollen and Jim Clyburn — have spent an extraordinary amount of time together, just this year, because they were also a part of this summer’s Biden summit group. Before that  bunch’s push for a big deficit deal foundered over taxes, it had come up with a bipartisan consensus for about $200 billion in savings from mandatory programs. Those ideas are expected to become the lowest of the low-hanging fruit as the panel searches for much bigger reductions in Medicare, Medicaid, farm subsidies and perhaps Social Security.

Another target for cuts could be the Pentagon’s operations and maintenance accounts, which are typically the most vulnerable to defense budget cuts because routine overhead (keeping the fuel flowing into the jeeps and generators in Afghanistan, for example) has few parochial defenders.

ANOTHER MOVER: A pivotal player in the search for sacred cow savings will be Sarah Kuehl, an entitlements “tough love” acolyte of Kent Conrad’s at the Senate Budget Committee who’s been tapped as supercommittee deputy staff director. Just as Senate Finance tax expert Mark Prater’s selection for the top staff job signaled the GOP was willing to look seriously at raising some revenue, the choice of Kuehl suggests Democrats are ready to engage on some of the politically toughest  entitlement questions.

MARKED BUT NOT SORTED: Yet another top-flight issue that’s looking to come under the supercommittee’s purview is the future of the financially beleaguered Postal Service, which is going to lose $10 billion this year (mail volume has plummeted 22 percent in the past five years) and says it may have to stop delivering the mail altogether a year from now unless it can take three politically radical steps: ending Saturday delivery, cutting more than 100,000 jobs and dropping government health benefits for the remaining workers.

The quasi-governmental post office’s most immediate financial problem, though, is a $5.5 billion payment into a Treasury benefits trust fund due at end of the month. The White House is proposing a 90-day extension for that payment to allow an opportunity for lawmakers and the administration to reach a deal on the Postal Service’s financial future. The timing would allow the tough decisions about weekend mail and postal carrier benefits to get wrapped into the giant all-in-one, up-or-down vote supercommittee package.

LINING UP: Discretionary spending for the next year, the $1.043 trillion total of which was dictated by the August default-avoidance law, is one of the few must-do items for the fall that for sure won’t be touched directly by the supercommittee. But appropriators are signaling they want to tie at least the scheduling of their work to the timetable facing the Big 12: They want the coming stopgap CR, which will keep the government going until all the spending deals are cut, to last until Nov. 23 — the day before Thanksgiving, which is also the committee’s deadline for making its proposal.

THE NEW GUY: Tonight’s 105-minute debate at the Reagan Library (starting at 8 on MSNBC) is the fourth of the Republican presidential race but the first since Rick Perry got in, let alone became the front-runner in all the polling. That means the Texas governor’s sure to be asked the most provocative questions. One of them seems destined to be about how he weighs the relative values of modern science and his personal faith in understanding the causes of the record drought and the currently resulting wildfires across his state. (Perry, like Michele Bachmann, has been out front in questioning the virtues of the scientific method in understanding global phenomena.)

As Ed Rollins himself said just before stepping aside on Labor Day as the Minnesota congresswoman’s campaign guru, the race at the moment seems to be between Perry and Mitt Romney — with Bachmann alone in the second tier. So the story lines for tonight are about whether Perry soars or stumbles in his first nationally televised confrontation with his rivals; whether Romney confronts Perry directly or tries to rise above the rest by talking about the business-friendly package of deregulatory moves he’s promising for creating jobs at the start of his presidency; whether Bachmann does something dramatic to take the headlines away from those two; and whether Jon Huntsman,  Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum or Herman Cain can do anything to raise their profiles.

QUOTE OF NOTE: “I thought about shooting sparks out my butt,”former Republican aspirant Tim Pawlenty declared on the Stephen Colbert show last night, after describing how he came to a belated understanding that it takes both “an entertainment component” and “a record of serious policy approaches” to win the White House.

CORRECTION: Yesterday’s Briefing misstated the main sticking point in the FAA bill. It’s a dispute over language affecting unionizing efforts by Delta workers.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: The Senate president pro tempore and Appropriations chairman, Democrat Dan Inouye, is also the second-oldest senator. He was born in Honolulu 87 years ago today.

— David Hawkings, editor

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Tuesday, September 06, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: All the Way Down

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Today In Washington

THE SENATE: Convenes at 2 and at 5:30 will vote to break a potential filibuster and begin debating the House’s version of legislation to streamline the patent approval process. Proponents from both parties, who are marketing the measure as a jobs creator, will then start working to ward off all amendments so the bill might be sent to Obama by next week. The big showdown will be about whether to allow the Patent and Trademark Office to spend all the fees it collects — which would be a poison pill for the House.

Senators this evening will also confirm Bernice Bouie Donald, a federal trial court judge in Tennessee for the past 15 years, for promotion to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe will tell the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs panel at 2 how the Postal Service wants to deal with its mounting debt. (Its latest problem: On Oct. 1 it will not be able to make a required $5.5 billion payment to its retiree medical benefits trust fund.)

Two Appropriations subcommittees will unveil their spending ideas for fiscal 2012, which starts in four weeks: Energy and Water at 2 and Homeland Security at 3. Both will include boosts (without offsests) in funding for disaster aid in light of last month’s earthquake and hurricane.

THE HOUSE: Convened at 10 for a quick pro forma session; the first post-recess legislative business is tomorrow afternoon, with debate on three non-controversial bills.

THE WHITE HOUSE: There are no on-camera appearances on Obama’s schedule. He’s spending this morning in a senior staff meeting, having lunch with Biden and presumably working on his Thursday-evening jobs speech to Congress.

LOW, LOWER, LOWEST: All three polls released in the last day paint really grim pictures of how the nation views Washington — with Obama doing really poorly but Congress doing even worse.

But perhaps the most important truism shining through the numbers is that the public has minimally high expectations that this fall’s legislative push will do anything to improve the economy or start to drive down the unemployment rate. The polls make plain that voters have very low confidence that — in the last few months before the 2012 campaign comes to totally dominate the capital’s thinking — either their lawmakers or their president will stop mimicking Groucho Marx when he crooned in “Horse Feathers” 79 years ago: “Your proposition may be good, but let’s have one thing understood: Whatever it is, I’m against it! And even when you’ve changed it or condensed it, I’m against it.”

The NBC/Wall Street Journal poll out this morning pegs Obama’s approval rating at 44 percent, the lowest of his presidency and a 3 percentage point drop from three months ago. He also scored just 37 percent approval for his economic stewardship. Those numbers are in line with the Washington Post-ABC poll out yesterday (43 percent overall approval, a low point in that survey’s history for him, and 36 percent approval for his handling of the economy) and a George Washington University/Politico poll published today (45 percent approval, a 7 point drop since May, and 39 percent approval on the economy).

However, the Post-ABC poll gave him better marks than congressional Republicans; their approval rating was just 28 percent, 40 points below the disapproval number. The Journal-NBC poll, meanwhile, found a whopping 82 percent  disapproving of Congress’ job — the highest-ever mark in that survey. And 54 percent said they would vote if they could to replace every member of Congress — including their own. (Just 41 percent opposed that idea.)

All three surveys found the public statistically divided when asked whether they trust Obama's or the Hill GOP's proposals more for boosting the economy and creating jobs, and in all the surveys the number answering “neither” to those questions was somewhat higher than earlier this summer.

STILL AT ODDS: The polls were all taken at about the time Obama and Boehner were bickering about the scheduling of the president’s address to Congress — which is destined to be remembered as a new nadir in the history of comity and statesmanship among the nation’s leaders. There’s been no sign since then that the raw partisan rancor and resulting pettiness has abated on either side.

What that means is that two of the ideas Obama test-marketed in his speech in Detroit yesterday — an extension and expansion of the current payroll tax holiday and a boost in federal spending to repair crumbling roads and bridges — are going to be rejected more or less out of hand by Republicans as soon as he formally unveils them the day after tomorrow. And that’s even though the former proposal is undeniably the very same tax break the GOP promoted two years ago, and public works spending has been embraced by Republicans for decades as part of their prescriptions for ailing economies.

At the same time, the president has essentially no interest in signing on to the Republican program for job growth — which Boehner is going to officially unveil next week and will be centered on reducing federal labor and environmental regulations.

NO FLIGHT PLAN: Evidence of the potential for total standoff and gridlock is no clearer than in the fate of the bill to revamp aviation programs. After the FAA was forced to shut down for two weeks this summer (because neither side was ready to give in on even a temporary extension of the agency's powers) Congress was excoriated for the resulting construction job furloughs and forgone ticket-tax revenue — and both sides promised to redouble their efforts to find a compromise on their remaining disputes, which have mainly to do with unionizing by rail workers. But the next deadline is the end of next week, and neither side is reporting any progress whatsoever.

ON THE PERIPHERY: The only two areas that appear ripe for dealmaking that could boost jobs are the patent bill coming before the Senate this week (which is supposed to increase employment by speeding the protection of innovative technologies) and the pending free-trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama — which would presumably boost exports but may yet be side-carred over a dispute about retraining funds for people who lose their jobs overseas.

At this point, there remains no agreement on whether the deficit supercommittee, which will hold its first open organization meeting Thursday morning, will take on the task of wrapping job-boosting measures into its deliberations over how to find another $1.2 trillion in red ink reduction during the coming decade. Like so many other decisions, that’s one that the dozen committee members (powerful as they are) will be leaving to the leadership.

CR SEASON: With only about a dozen workdays scheduled in both the House and Senate before the start of the next budget year, there’s absolutely no chance all the spending bills will get done on time. The House has passed six of the dozen regular measures and has no plans to bring any others to the floor; the Senate’s passed just one but is talking about trying to pass at least a few more. But there’s also no talk at all about government shutdowns and budgetary hostage-taking. Instead, next week the leadership — maybe even in a bipartisan way! — will decide how many weeks the first of the stopgap spending bills will last, and what spending level that CR will dictate. (The debt ceiling and deficit deal enacted in August, remember, allows $25 billion more in discretionary spending than the House GOP had in mind.)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: House Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline, a Minnesota Republican (64), and House Democrats Sandy Levin of Michigan (80), Danny Davis of Illinois (70) and Bill Keating of Massachusetts (59). The only Labor Day celebrant was Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings of Florida (75).

— David Hawkings, editor

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