Friday, September 16, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: It's All in the Tone

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Friday, September 16, 2011

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: "When I was a freshman in high school, none of my work was patent-worthy," Obama conceded this morning as he signed the most significant patent-process overhaul in six decades. The ceremony was at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in the D.C. suburb of Alexandria, Va., and the president also looked in on the work of a handful of budding inventors.

Biden is visiting storm damage in northeastern Pennsylvania, where he was born.  At 4 he’ll arrive in Wilmington, his official hometown now, to donate the papers from his 36 years in the Senate to the University of Delaware.

THE SENATE: Convened at 10 for speechmaking only. (Reid’s big aspiration for next week is to pass a rewrite of the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, which provides aid to people whose jobs move overseas.)

THE HOUSE: Not in session. Next convenes for a pro forma meeting at noon Monday.

AND THAT’S THAT: He didn’t exactly say “read my lips,” but Boehner has left himself almost no wiggle room for supporting tax increases of any kind this fall — neither to pay for job-creating federal programs, nor to offset the cost of job-spurring tax incentives, nor to help achieve Congress’ self-imposed target of cutting deficit projections at least $1.2 trillion in the next decade.

The tone of his speech yesterday to the Economic Club of Washington was markedly less conciliatory than his inner-circle had assured people it would be. And it was so emphatic against taxes as to leave little reason to predict there will be any kind of jobs package this fall, or that the supercommittee will find seven votes for any budget plan. For the next few weeks, at a minimum, the gridlock meter will be cranked up to the same high level where it was stuck for so much of this summer’s standoff over raising the debt limit.

If there’s a silver lining for either side, it probably belongs to Obama. With the House Republicans locked into “Just Say No” mode once again — “We don’t believe that taxes should go up on anybody,” Cantor said on CNBC this morning — the president can lay claim to plenty of airtime for his efforts to talk to the Republicans, some recalcitrant fellow Democrats, and the public into saying “yes” to something. His efforts start Monday, when the White House will deliver its recommendations for tax hikes and entitlement curbs (with no mention of Social Security) to the supercommittee. Next week’s visual highlight, though, will come on Thursday, when Obama will say “pass this bill” for perhaps the 200th time while standing on a bridge linking Boehner’s Cincinnati to McConnell’s Kentucky.

(The joint committee, meanwhile, will convene its third public meeting on Tuesday to hear testimony about options for revamping the tax code — both in ways that raise revenue and ways that don’t. Boehner yesterday called for the panel to lay down the antecedent, if not the details, for a revenue-neutral overhaul as part of its November proposals.)

Off camera, meanwhile, the administration will be working overtime to shore up support for the president’s plan — and for his newly in-your-face approach — with lawmakers of his own party. David Plouffe and Gene Sperling went to the Capitol yesterday for an exhaustive sales pitch, staying to answer questions about substance and politics until the number of lawmakers left in the room had dwindled to only four. That outreach effort was clearly timed in anticipation of today’s surge of bad press for the White House staff. A wave of Democratic congressional grumbling about Bill Daley spilled onto the airwaves this morning, as did leaks from a new book detailing personal rivalries and petty conflicts inside the now mostly dismantled economic team.

ORDER, IF NOT REGULAR: A seven-week stopgap spending bill is the only legislative must-do next week, before the last week this year when both halves of Congress are scheduled to be in recess. The bill, which would start shaving 1.5 percent from discretionary programs (the amount agreed to in the debt bill this summer), faces a pretty easy path through both the House and Senate — assuming the resolution of a disagreement over how much should be spent right away on disaster aid, and how much of it should be offset by cuts elsewhere. (The bill the House will pass on Tuesday would allocate $3.6 billion for recovery from this summer’s bad weather, and $1 billion of that would come out of a program that gives loan guarantees to the makers of electric and hybrid cars. But 62 senators voted to spend almost twice as much, $6.9 billion, and without any pay-fors.)

How easily that ultimately minor matter gets finessed will say a lot about how easily Congress can meet its new deadline (the weekend before Thanksgiving) for getting the entire fiscal 2012 spending debate out of the way. House Republicans are readily admitting they have not kept their majority-making 2010 campaign promise to return regular order to the appropriations process — for which they blame alternately the Senate Democratic majority or the impasse between Obama and Congress on the debt ceiling, which delayed agreement on the grand total that can get spent next year.

But those same leaders sound confident they will be able to smooth over all their differences with the Senate — ranging from a $17 billion defense spending disparity to a disagreement about federal control of D.C. tax dollars being spent on abortions — by the middle of November. And if they can do that, they are confident the public will view it as an improvement on past performance, and will forgive lawmakers for reversing course and bundling all 12 bills into one — especially if that clears the legislative decks, and the political air, for the more consequential debate on the next decade’s worth of deficit reduction.

IS THERE OR ISN’T THERE? The morning after a last-minute deal averted this year’s second shutdown of the FAA, the two senators at the center of the impasse can’t agree on what they agreed to. Republican Tom Coburn says he allowed the stopgap transportation measure to clear only when he was assured that “the next bill coming six months from now will have an opt-out” allowing states to avoid spending a required 10 percent of their highway money on such things as bike paths and roadside plantings. Not quite, insists Democrat Barbara Boxer, who chairs the committee that will write the bill. “There’s no opt-out,” she says.

TRAIL TIPS: (1) Chris Murphy is the clear front-runner for both the Democratic nomination and in the general election for Connecticut’s open Senate seat, according to a Quinnipiac University poll out today. The third-term congressman from the state’s northwest corner easily bested millionaire wrestling impresario Linda McMahon — who also got trounced as the GOP Senate nominee last fall — 49 percent to 38 percent, and was more narrowly ahead of former Rep. Chris Shays, 43 percent to 37 percent. (Shays’ best hope in the poll is that his favorability number is 41 percent and 44 percent don’t know him well enough to have an opinion; McMahon’s unfavorable number is 45 percent with just 17 percent lacking an opinion.) Murphy, meanwhile, leads his main primary rival, ex-secretary of state Susan Bysiewicz, by 10 points — although 35 percent of Democrats remain undecided.  

(2)  A thousand California Republicans are assembling in L.A. today for their annual convention, where Topic A will be recruiting a big name candidate to take on Dianne Feinstein’s bid for a fourth full term. And they may have some success in light of a new Field Poll pegging her approval rating at 41 percent, the lowest of her Senate career, and her disapproval number at a statistically even 39 percent. A 44 percent plurality said they were “not inclined” to vote for her while 41 percent were. Two names being mentioned most often are presidential son Michael Reagan, a former conservative talk-radio host, and Rules Chairman David Dreier, whose prospects of winning a 17th House term have been made much more complex by redistricting.

(3) She’s said “no” a thousand different ways to running for president again, and Hillary Clinton is sure to be asked a few times more in light of a Bloomberg poll out this morning. It found her favorability rating has soared to an all-time high, 64 percent, and 34 percent confessing a form of buyer’s remorse — by saying the country would be better off now if she’d defeated Obama for the Democratic nomination and then won the White House in 2008. (That number is 9 points higher than when the pollsters asked the same question in July 2010.) Thirteen percent say things would be worse now if she were president; 47 percent say things would be about the same. When the same question is asked about John McCain, 29 percent say things would be better if he’d beaten Obama, 35 percent say worse and 28 percent say about the same.

QUOTE OF NOTE: “It’s hard enough for me to go to funerals of people I know, much less people I don’t know,” Boehner said yesterday, explaining to a questioner at the Economic Club of Washington why he has no interest in the 2012 Republican vice-presidential nomination.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Michigan Democrat Dale Kildee, who’s retiring next year when his 18th House term ends (82); Jo Ann Emerson of Missouri (61) and fellow House Republican David Rivera of Florida (46).

— David Hawkings, editor

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Thursday, September 15, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Speaker Speaking

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Today In Washington

THE HOUSE: Convened at 9 and will be through legislating for the week by 1:30, after voting to countermand an effort by the NLRB and permit Boeing to keep operating its new 787 Dreamliner assembly line in South Carolina — a plant constructed after a series of disputes with the unionized workers at the company’s complex outside Seattle. (Republicans say the labor board’s efforts to stop operations at the new plant wrongly interfere with corporate rights; Democrats say the bill would eviscerate the NLRB’s appropriate authority to punish retaliatory actions by companies.)

The two newest congressmen, Republican special election victors Mark Amodei of Nevada and Bob Turner of New York, were sworn in this morning.

THE SENATE: Convened at 9:30 and is crawling toward action on the $6.9 billion disaster aid package. Unless Tom Coburn relents, it will be tomorrow morning before senators can vote on breaking the Oklahoma Republican’s filibuster — but then Coburn could slow-walk things for another 30 hours. (Reid is working for a deal that would not only allow the disaster bill to pass, but also clear a stopgap renewal of transportation programs; the FAA will see its second partial shutdown of the year this weekend unless that measure is sent to Obama.)

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is meeting with Geithner (who’s heading to Europe to consult on the continent’s debt crisis) at noon. At 2:45 in the East Room, the president will bestow the Medal of Honor on Dakota Meyer, a Marine corporal credited with saving the lives of 13 Marines and soldiers, and 23 Afghan troops, by providing them cover during a six-hour firefight with the Taliban two years ago this week. Meyer, who served tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan, is the third living recipient of the medal for actions in those two wars.

The president is going to a pair of private residences in Washington (the owners and their address are not made public in advance) between 7 and 9 for a pair of high-roller fundraisers.

A SPEECH (AND A DANCE): House Republicans are guaranteed the headlines on today’s jobs and deficit reduction stories because of Boehner’s speech an hour from now to the Economic Club of Washington. (Those who ignore what he has to say to the economists do so at their peril; it was in a similar speech in the spring, remember, that the Speaker laid out his bottom-line bargaining position for the summer’s big budget standoff — that each dollar of debt ceiling increase had to be matched by at last a dollar in deficit reduction.)

Boehner is planning to sound a conciliatory note at the outset, by promising that the House will consider Obama’s jobs package and conceding that there’s plenty in it that Republicans are amenable to, because they’ve been in favor of similar proposals in the past. But he’ll then argue that the president’s package won’t create as many jobs as the House GOP formula of spending restraint, limits on labor and environmental regulations as well as a tax code simplification (including a corporate tax rate cut) that the supercommittee should propose as part of its much bigger red-ink-reduction plan.

That could include the closing of some “loopholes,” he will say, a signal that Republicans remain open to raising some revenue under that rhetorical rubric. But Boehner will assert that straightforward tax increases remain a non-starter for the GOP — which means the way the president would pay for 90 percent of his $450 billion package, by limiting the tax breaks available to people making $200,000 or more, is not something the Speaker’s side will consider.

His balancing act underscores how Boehner and other GOP leaders still want to find a way to get to “yes” this year on legislation that could be labeled a jobs-creator — if for no other reason than they don’t want to be labeled obstructionist going into the election year and they worry that Obama’s “pass this bill” mantra, if he keeps it up and they turn him down flat, could paint them into that box. (A Gallup poll out today found 45 percent of voters wanting their members of Congress to support the president’s package, 32 percent advocating a congressional “no” vote and 23 percent conceding they don’t know enough to advise their lawmakers.)

CLOSE THAT DOOR: The 12 supercommittee members decided that their first meeting off camera, and away from the braying throngs of lobbyists and reporters, should be breakfast this morning — not the dinner they had originally planned. The panel, which got to write its own rules for carrying out its mammoth mandate, agreed that closed-door business meetings would be permitted — concluding that the need for speed in making substantive progress outweighed any desire for transparency to the public.

Today’s meeting was described afterward as more of a getting-to-know-you session than an actual debate for the three members of each party from each chamber, many of whom are relative strangers to one another. (To review: They have until Thanksgiving to propose at least a $1.2 trillion, 10-year package of deficit reduction. Congress has until Christmas to take it or leave it; if it chooses the latter, across-the-board spending cuts are set to kick in a year later.) “We got to eat breakfast without a camera in our face,” the House co-chairman, Jeb Hensarling, said when asked what had been accomplished at the session.

The supers are also awaiting an announcement this afternoon from Republican Saxby Chambliss and Democrat Mark Warner, two leaders of the Senate’s “gang of six,” who are expected to unveil a letter from many other senators urging the big committee to strive for a grand bargain that includes spending cuts, more taxes and significant entitlement curbs in pursuit of $4 trillion or more in savings. (The conservative House Democratic Blue Dog Coalition issued a similar call yesterday.)

THIS TIME IT WAS DIFFERENT: All three House Republicans on the supercommitteee (Hensarling, Dave Camp and Fred Upton) are in the extraordinarily large group of 166 lawmakers who voted both for the August debt limit increase and deficit reduction deal — and, yesterday, for essentially blocking $500 billion of that very same debt limit increase. Cantor and Paul Ryan also placed themselves in that “I was for it before I was against it” camp, as did a handful of other committee chairmen. (Just two Democrats are in that group, Utah’s Jim Matheson and Pennsylvania’s Jason Altmire.) The bill to block the debt increase passed the House even though it had already been rejected in the Senate. (On that side of the Capitol, 25 GOP senators voted for the repeal after also voting for the August deal.)

HOUSEKEEPING: The stopgap appropriations bill that Congress will take up next week (House Rules got the process started this morning) would cut discretionary programs by 1.4 percent for the first seven weeks of the new budget year. That would make good on the spending ceilings set in August – which is why the bipartisan leadership is describing the bill as a “clean” CR. But that’s not quite true, because the measure contains several policy riders, including buying the Postal Service time to make a big benefits payment, extending the federal flood insurance program and extending sanctions on Myanmar. (The big fight, though, will be over the bill’s line-item for disaster aid — assuming that the stand-alone relief package that’s now before the Senate remains bottled up.)

Senate appropriators, meanwhile, this afternoon will unveil their plans for what will become four sections of the giant omnibus package that must be written to settle all the spending disputes for the remaining 45 weeks of fiscal 2012. (The goal is to get it done by the weekend before Thanskgiving.) They will propose freezing defense spending at its current $513 billion level, boosting spending for the new SEC and CFTC regulatory efforts ordered up in the Dodd-Frank financial services oversight law, increasing NASA spending to nearly $18 billion (with big help for the next generation space telescope) and trimming spending on congressional overhead.

TRAIL TIPS: (1) Ohio’s new congressional map, which should have no trouble cruising through the state’s GOP-run legislative process, puts the party in position to claim a dozen of the state’s 16 remaining seats. (It lost two in reapportionment.) The map has prompted Dennis Kucinich to announce that he’s staying in Cleveland (not moving to Seattle to try for a congressional seat there) to face off in a Democratic primary against Marcy Kaptur, the most senior woman in the House, in a newly drawn district that connects their houses. The state’s other incumbent matchup will be west of Columbus, where Mike Turner and Steve Austria will both seek the GOP nomination in the same district — drawn together in part so that Boehner could be comforted with the most reliably Republican district in the state.

(2) Rick Perry is the Republican front-runner in another poll, this one taken by Bloomberg between the two most recent presidential debates. He had 26 percent support from the Republicans and GOP-leaning independents surveyed between Friday and Monday; Mitt Romney had 22 percent, while everyone else in the field was below 10 percent. But the poll showed that, while the Texas governor trailed Obama by 9 points in a general election matchup, the former Massachusetts governor trailed by only 5 points. And among independents, Romney led Obama, 48 percent to 45 percent.

(3) For most people working in Washington, next year’s second-most-important election is the race between a pair of former governors for Virginia’s open Senate seat. It’s a statistical dead heat, according to a Quinnipiac poll released today: Republican George Allen at 45 percent, Democrat Tim Kaine at 44 percent. The president’s approval rating in the state, which he carried by 6 points last time, has sunk to 40 percent — an 8-point swoon since June. And 51 percent say he does not merit re-election.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Freshman Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois (52) and fellow Republican Joe Barton of Texas, the former House Energy and Commerce chairman (62).

— David Hawkings, editor

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama has arrived in North Carolina, the state he carried by the narrowest margin (three-tenths of a point) three years ago, where his “pass this jobs bill” message will be focused on the purported benefits for small businesses. After touring WestStar Precision in Apex — which makes specialized components for aerospace, medical and alternative energy equipment — he’ll speak at North Carolina State in Raleigh starting at 1. (The company is represented by Democrat David Price, whose district favored Obama by 25 points; the university is represented by GOP freshman upset winner Renee Ellmers, whose district went for Obama by 5 points.)

The president will be back home in plenty of time to get ready for his 8:20 appearance at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s annual banquet in the Washington Convention Center.

THE SENATE: Convened at 9:30, with the Democratic leadership hoping not only to advance the $6.9 billion disaster aid package (which is hooked to a bill renewing sanctions against Myanmar) but also to clear legislation the House passed yesterday that will keep almost all federal transportation money flowing into the new year (which is supposed to allow time for lawmakers to finish overdue bills to alter aviation, highway and mass transit programs for the next several years). But Republican Tom Coburn signaled this morning that he’s prepared to hold up both unless he can get a vote on his proposal to cut federal spending on bike paths.

THE HOUSE: Convened at 10 and will be done for the day by 3, after casting an entirely symbolic vote on whether to reverse the debt limit increase approved six weeks ago. (The debate is important to conservative Republicans but substantively meaningless, because the Senate rejected the same legislation last week.)

SKEPTICS, PESSIMISTS AND POLITICIANS: The hesitantly receptive and increasingly skeptical Republican congressional approach to the Obama jobs package will be intensified and accelerated by the results of a Bloomberg poll out today. It finds that only 40 percent of  Americans believe the bill will do anything to lower the unemployment rate — and a majority (51 percent) predict it won’t help at all. At the same time, though, a solid 57 percent majority agreed with the GOP view that the best way to create jobs is to cut taxes and government spending.

Beyond that, respondents have now become statistically split on which side has the better long-term vision for the economy: Just 43 percent said Obama (a 12-point decline since March) while 41 percent said the GOP.(Still, 53 percent said they have a generally negative view of the Republican Party, up 6 points since June, while 46 percent say the same of the Democratic Party, up 4 points.) The poll also pegged the president’s overall job approval at just 45 percent and his handling of the economy at only 33 percent, in line with the string of polling since Labor Day — as was the 72 percent who labeled the country as on “the wrong track.” (The poll was taken Friday through Monday.) And only 9 percent said they were confident the economy won’t return to a recession.

What all those numbers should add up to, politically, is some sort of bipartisan call to action on a compromise jobs program this fall — because such a bill would probably help prop up the economy broadly, even if there’s no certainty it would drive down the unemployment rate or induce companies to add to their head counts. White House officials keep signaling as much off camera, suggesting they’re amenable to some GOP cherry-picking of their $447 billion package and some of that party's deregulatory ideas — even as the president is having some long-missing success at stirring up the Democratic base with his aggressive “just pass the thing I sent you, because it’s so obviously perfect” tone on the stump.

And top Republicans, for all the agitating in the rank and file about denying the president almost any sort of achievement, are still pondering the notion that they need a legislative accomplishment to boast about at least as much as Obama does — because if they end up saying nothing more than “no” they will be labeled as putting petty politics ahead of people’s livelihoods.

NOTEWORTHY SHIFTS: The 12 members of the supercommittee will have some interesting numbers from the Bloomberg poll to mull over when they convene for their next meeting — an off-camera (and still officially not happening) dinner tomorrow night. A 51 percent majority says the panel should opt to raise taxes on higher-income earners before curbing entitlements; 35 percent said reducing spending on Medicare or Social Security should be considered before tax hikes on the rich. And support is rising for two bold ideas that were once seen as political non-starters:  Americans are now evenly divided, 49 percent in favor and 48 percent opposed, on raising the Social Security retirement age to 69. (In December, 60 percent opposed that idea.) And eliminating all tax deductions, even for mortgage payments, in exchange for lower rates is favored, 48 percent to 45 percent. (In December, that idea was opposed 51 percent to 41 percent.)

BACK TO 242: Essentially final special election returns this morning show that  70-year-old retired cable TV executive Bob Turner won in New York City by a comfortably decisive 8 percentage points and fellow Republican Mark Amodei, a former state party chairman, cruised to a 20-point blowout in rural Nevada. (When both are sworn in, probably next week, the majority caucus will have 242 members — 56 percent of the House and the same number as at the start of the year.)

GOP officials are of course spinning their victories as wonderful previews of the 2012 landscape, even while conceding that local dynamics had plenty to do with the outcomes — especially in the portions of Queens and Brooklyn that had known nothing but Democrats in the House for the past nine decades. The turnout there was infused with Orthodox Jews, who disdained Democrat David Weprin’s vote for the state’s new gay marriage law, were eager to send a message of disapproval for Obama’s Middle East policies and were also wary of Democratic machine politicians like Weprin in light of Anthony Weiner’s rising-star-to-sexting-scoundrel downfall.

“We have been told this is a referendum,” Turner said in declaring victory. “And we’re ready to say, ‘Mr. President, we are on the wrong track.’ ... We are unhappy, I am telling you. I am the messenger.”

HOW DID IT GET THERE? A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee opened a hearing this morning on one of the few Obama administration missteps that may earn the “scandal” sobriquet. The panel says it has evidence that the White House improperly pressed for a speeded-up OMB and Energy Department review of a $528 million federal loan guarantee for Solyndra Inc., a solar-panel maker, so that Biden could announce the money as an example of a stimulus funding success story. The company got the money, the vice president had his press event and two years later the company is going out of business.

“It is not the role of government to pick winners and losers in the market,” Republicans Fred Upton and Cliff Stearns said in a joint statement before the hearing. They also asserted that politics may have played a role in approving the loan guarantee because investors in Solyndra helped raise money for the Obama campaign.

QUOTE OF NOTE: “Middle-class families have been chipped at, hacked at, squeezed and hammered for a generation now, and I don’t think Washington gets it,” Harvard Law professor Elizabeth Warren said in a predawn video announcing her Senate candidacy — which makes her the officially clear front-runner for the Democratic nomination to face Republican Scott Brown. (Warren, who was blocked from becoming chairman of the new consumer-focused financial regulatory agency she helped create, is making in-person speeches today in Boston, New Bedford, Farmington, Worcester and Springfield.) “It’s is the big corporations that get their way in Washington. I want to change that,” she said.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: No congressional incumbents today. But Missouri’s Mel Hancock, a tea party Republican in the House long before the tea party even existed (from 1989 until 1996), turns 83.

— David Hawkings, editor

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Prix Fixe

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is leaving for Ohio in a few minutes. His speech is set for 2:15 at the Fort Hayes Arts and Academic High School in Columbus, which is in the middle of a multimillion-dollar renovation — affording the president a backdrop for highlighting the $25 billion school modernization and infrastructure spending in his jobs bill. (The school is about an hour’s drive from Boehner’s district and is represented by GOP freshman Steve Stivers; Obama carried the district by 9 points and the state by 5 points in 2008.)

The president is due back in the Oval Office for a 4:30 meeting with Biden and Panetta. Topics are sure to include today’s rocket-propelled grenade attack by Taliban insurgents on the American Embassy compound in Kabul, which puts fresh doubt on the Afghans’ ability to secure their country as U.S. troops prepare to withdraw. (Clinton said this morning that no U.S. officials had been killed.)

THE HOUSE: Convened at 10 with expectations of being done for the day before 3:30 after passing two measures: a several-month stopgap extension of both aviation and highway programs, and an expansion of the reach of federal aid for charter schools.

THE SENATE: Convened at 10 and is in suspended animation, with Reid working behind the scenes to jumpstart his drive for a $7 billion disaster aid bill. (A bill to maintain sanctions against Myanmar is being held at the starting gate to serve as the vehicle.) The weekly caucus lunches start at 12:30.

PLATED UP: The veneer of polite curiosity about the Obama jobs package that had surrounded the House GOP leadership for the past week is starting to crumble today — now that they know the president wants to cover the $447 billion cost almost entirely with the very tax increases, on the rich and on corporations, that the GOP rejected out of hand only a few weeks ago.

At the same time, the president’s own rhetoric, and the signals being sent by his own team, are suggesting the White House is not as interested in finding a bipartisan compromise on the jobs package as it had originally indicated. “We’re not in a negotiation to break up the package,” Obama’s top re-election strategist, David Axelrod, said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “It’s not an a la carte menu.”

(The administration, which was excoriated for its overly optimistic forecast about job creation from the 2009 stimulus, has been wary of repeating the political risk in discussing this jobs bill. But in an interview NBC aired yesterday the president endorsed the 2 million estimate from economist Mark Zandi of Moody’s Analytics.)

The proposed offsets were not detailed in the legislative draft that the administration sent to Capitol Hill yesterday, but White House budget director Jack Lew said the president’s proposal would generate $20 billion more than necessary in the next decade to cover the jobs spending and tax breaks Obama wants for next year. The bulk, nearly $400 billion, would come from limiting to 28 percent the itemized deductions and certain exemptions that could be claimed by people making more than $200,000 a year (or couples with income above $250,000). The president would also raise $40 billion by ending oil and gas industry deductions on domestic drilling, $18 billion by taxing investment fund managers at the regular income tax rate (instead of at the capital gains rate) and $3 billion from changing the tax treatment of corporate jets.

BACHMANN’S VOLLEY: The open season on Rick Perry that began in last night’s debate continued this morning when Michele Bachmann — whose only chance for the Republican nomination is to dominate support on the tea party right at the governor’s expense — accused him of “crony capitalism” in ordering  a vaccine for all Texas school girls against a sexually transmitted disease linked to cervical cancer. (The state legislature overturned his 2007 decision.)

The HPV controversy has nothing directly to do with any issue that might face the winner of the presidency, but it’s nonetheless become a lightning rod for conservative Perry skeptics for two reasons: They say his executive order reveals a penchant for big government intervention and is evidence of his well-documented commingling of policymaking and the rewarding of political allies and donors. Last night, Bachmann emphasized the donation that vaccine maker Merck & Co. had made to Perry’s campaign, but it was only $5,000. Today she focused on the fact that Mike Toomey, one of the drug company’s three lobbyists in Texas at the time, had been the governor’s chief of staff. “It’s very clear that crony capitalism could likely have been the cause” of Perry’s executive order, the Minnesota congresswoman said on NBC’s “Today.”

The intense scrutiny his rivals are trying to focus on the governor — who has become the front-runner in all national polls since joining the field last month — was given new ammunition in a poll out this morning from CNN, which cosponsored last night’s debate with the tea party movement. It found that although 55 percent view Social Security’s fiscal problems as “serious and can be fixed only with major changes to the current system,” fully 72 percent labeled it “not accurate” to use Perry’s characterization of the entitlement program as a failure or a “monstrous lie.” Those numbers are sure to spur Mitt Romney to redouble his efforts to reclaim the top spot in the polls by drubbing Perry for his Social Security views.

IT’S IN THERE: Whether Reid can get his own disaster aid package off the ground  in the Senate or not, House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers is writing all the money the administration says it needs (about $7 billion) into his more-than-a-month-long stopgap spending bill, which is going before the House next week. The inclusion of the emergency aid should ease the measure’s passage, though some conservatives are pushing a CR with lower spending levels. Cantor reiterated yesterday that the leadership wants to keep all discretionary spending going temporarily (until a big omnibus deal gets done, they hope before Thanksgiving) at an annual rate of $1.043 trillion, which is just $7 billion below this year’s level and is what was decreed in the August avoid-any-default law.

MARCHING ORDERS: Chairman Carl Levin told the Pentagon this morning that it needs to hurry up with its recommendations for $400 billion more in defense spending cuts during the next decade so that Senate Armed Services can embrace them as its own proposals for the deficit supercommittee. He made the request of Ashton Carter, the Defense Department’s acquisition chief, during his confirmation hearing to become the military’s No. 2 civilian leader — and Carter promised to comply as soon as he was confirmed. The exchange came as the supercommittee itself convened for its second public session, at which CBO head Doug Elmendorf was laying out the economic and political predications for the current fiscal morass.

THERE’S ALWAYS ROOM FOR MORE: You can call Jim Manley No. 5,401. The 21-year Senate Democratic master of spin, who stepped down as Reid’s top spokesman last fall, starts tomorrow in a top post at the bipartisan lobbying powerhouse Quinn Gillespie & Associates. (Among its other top communications rainmakers is John Feehery, who was the top House Republican spin master when Hastert was Speaker.)

News of Manley’s path through the revolving door leaked yesterday just as the online public disclosure website LegiStorm issued a study concluding that 5,400 congressional staffers have left for K Street in the last decade alone — and 2,900 of them are lobbying for clients this year. (The number would be bigger except that 605 of the aides-turned-lobbyists have gone back to the Hill again in the last 10 years, many of them in the past year to provide grownup oversight for the 87-member House GOP freshman class.)

WHEN TO CHECK YOUR P.D.A. TONIGHT: The polls close at 9 in the special election in New York, where businessman Bob Turner (and Republican politicos nationwide) are chilling the champagne in anticipation of an upset victory over state Assemblyman David Weprin to represent parts of Brooklyn and Queens that have been held for the past four decades by such Democratic luminaries as Liz Holtzman, Gerry Ferraro, Chuck Schumer and (OK, so he’s not exactly a luminary) Anthony Weiner. That outcome would double the size of the city’s GOP delegation, but probably only until the end of next year, by which point the district will have been dismantled.

The polls close at 10 (D.C. time) in Nevada, and soon thereafter former state GOP chairman Mark Amodei should have a big enough lead to claim victory over Democratic state Treasurer Kate Marshall. Turnout is expected to be exceptionally slight in the rural expanses of the state that Dean Heller represented before being appointed senator.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Chief Deputy House Majority Whip Peter Roskam of Illinois (50) and freshman Democratic Rep. Cedric Richmond of New Orleans (38).

— David Hawkings, editor

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Monday, September 12, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Two for Tuesday

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Monday, September 12, 2011

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: “Pass this bill,” Obama said at least a dozen more times in the Rose Garden a few minutes ago. Flanked by a tableau of teachers, police, firefighters, construction workers, small business owners and veterans, he announced he’s delivering the actual text of his $447 billion job-creation bill to Congress by the end of the day. "Some world events may be beyond our control, but this we can control,” he said.

THE SENATE: Convenes at 2 and at 5:30 will vote to take up a bill continuing the trade curbs on Myanmar for another year. (It’s going to become the legislative vehicle for a bill extending both highway and aviation funding for several months.)

THE HOUSE: Convenes at noon and after 6:30 will pass three small-bore bills, one of which would allow federal judges to keep their annual financial disclosure forms a secret in the interest of their own personal security.

The leadership of both the House and Senate and dozens of rank-and file lawmakers will assemble at 6 for a Sept. 11 commemoration on the East Front steps — where so many of them sang “God Bless America” on the evening of the attacks. (Lawmakers decided they’d rather be with their constituents on yesterday’s 10th anniversary than re-creating that moment of bipartisan unity.)

THEY'LL TAKE 'EM: Republicans are looking more and more justified in their excitement about both of tomorrow’s special congressional elections. They are poised to score a symbolically rich (although ultimately ephemeral) upset victory in New York and are sure to rebuff what had been a concerted Democratic insurgency in Nevada.

Bob Turner, who’s been best known until now as the reality impresario behind “The Jerry Springer Show,” has become the man to beat in the Brooklyn and Queens district that used to belong to Anthony Weiner. (And that’s even though he took just 39 percent as the 2010 GOP nominee for the seat and John McCain took only 44 percent there in 2008.) Two surveys in recent days, by Siena College and Public Policy Polling, show Turner with a 6-percentage-point lead — essentially outside the margin of error — against state Assemblyman David Weprin. (Even a well-greased get-out-the-vote effort by the labor unions probably won’t be enough to save the Democrat, because one in three Democrats say they’re ready to vote Republican.)

Both polls offer dramatic evidence of the biggest reason why Chuck Schumer's old House seat is ready to flip to the GOP: Obama’s approval rating among the local electorate is an abysmal 31 percent in one of them and only 43 percent in the other. At the same time, though, the polls suggest that the area’s largely Orthodox Jewish constituency is at least as angry with the president over his Middle East policies as over the economy. It’s also true that Weprin has been a particularly memorable rhetorical stumblebum as a candidate and that plenty of voters want to cast a symbolic protest ballot against Weiner’s online misbehavior.

What all that means is that, in the end, this is yet another special election with dynamics that do NOT make it a harbinger of the future. And besides, no matter who wins, he’s going to be a 15-month congressional footnote because the 9th District will be carved up in redistricting.

Whatever suspense may exist in the outer boroughs has disappeared in the rural reaches of Nevada, where Mark Amodei — an attorney, former chairman of the state GOP and former state legislator — is now comfortably ahead (by 13 points in the most recent poll) in the district that fellow Republican Dean Heller represented until his appointment as John Ensign’s senatorial successor. Democrats had high hopes that Kate Marshall, who’s been the state treasurer since 2007, would have enough fundraising appeal and name recognition to make a race of it, but that didn’t happen.

LOOK TO THE TOP: Even before this morning’s photo op, House Republican leaders were  promising that their committee chairmen will consider Obama’s new economic stimulus package “immediately” — meaning the dealmaking may not wait until November, after all. (It had become conventional wisdom in recent days that the jobs package would become the purview of the supercommittee, which has until Thanksgiving to propose a plan for deep deficit cutting, so that offsets for any tax breaks or spending for jobs could be rolled into the $1.2 trillion or more red-ink-reduction ball.)

Boehner said this morning that he would submit the president's draft bill for a CBO cost analysis so the legislative drafting could begin as soon as possible.

The scheduling shift is the latest underscoring of the notion that top Republicans want to get to “yes” with Obama on a decent share of his proposal — and are ready to rebuff those in the rank and file who want to deny the embattled president a legislative victory at essentially any cost. (In the meantime, though, the House GOP will start tomorrow its long-planned legislative assault on the administration’s labor and environmental regulatory policies, emphasizing their view that lowering the cost of doing business is by far the preferable way to boost the economy and create jobs.)

Extending and expanding the current Social Security payroll tax cut (worth half the Obama package’s cost) is the piece most obviously written to attract GOP votes. But so far, Republicans are hardly falling for it with enthusiasm. Members of the party still see tax changes as part of their economic prescription, but they have not come to a consensus on the details.

In an effort to keep up the presidential pressure, Obama will head to Columbus, Ohio, tomorrow (not quite in Boehner’s district, but close enough) and to North Carolina on Wednesday. And, staring today, the DNC is launching a several-week TV buy for a 30-second spot urging voters to call their lawmakers to endorse the Obama plan. (The spots will air in Denver, Tampa, Orlando, Des Moines, Las Vegas, Cleveland, Raleigh, Charlotte, Richmond, Roanoke, Washington and Manchester N.H. ) The key visual is the most-played sound bite from the president’s speech to Congress last week: “The next election is 14 months away. And the people who sent us here, the people who hired us to work for them, they don’t have the luxury of waiting 14 months.”

SEE YOU NEXT YEAR: Transportation leaders in Congress cut a deal over the weekend to combine two stopgap transportation policy extensions into one. The bill, which will start to move in the Senate this week, would extend aviation programs through January (at a cost of $5.4 billion) and surface transportation programs until March (at a cost of $21 billion). The legislation does not include retroactive pay for FAA workers who were furloughed this summer for a few weeks, when an impasse over union organizing prompted a shutdown. But neither does it include the 5 percent cut in aviation spending or the more limited reach of highway spending that conservatives want.

TRAIL TIPS: (1) Mitt Romney and Rick Perry have once again been awarded the center podiums for the GOP presidential debate that starts at 8 tonight in Tampa, where the same eight candidates who squared off last week will answer questions submitted by 31 different Tea Party groups from around the country. CNN, the sponsor, issued these results this morning from a weekend poll of 446 registered Republican voters: Perry at 30 percent, Romney at 18, Palin at 15, Paul at 12, Cain and Gingrich at 5, Bachmann at 4, and Huntsman and Santorum at 2. In the same poll, 42 percent said Perry had the best chance of defeating Obama, to 36 percent who picked Romney. But those results did not stop former aspirant Tim Pawlenty — who, along with Marco Rubio, is on every pundit’s short list of possible running mates — from citing the electability factor this morning when he announced his endorsement of the former Massachusetts governor.

(2) A debate over whether to combat California’s new, citizen-drawn congressional map is causing a deep and bitter rift inside the state’s 19-member Republican House delegation. Rules Chairman David Dreier is leading one camp, which wants to use a wrinkle in state law to push for a referendum on the new district lines, which could jeopardize as many as a half-dozen of the GOP-held seats. But the other most powerful member of the delegation, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, is at the head of a camp that wants to leave the map alone.

(3) House Republicans today are adding nine freshmen and one veteran to their high-profile, tough-love incumbent protection program, which provides extra fundraising help and organizational muscle to lawmakers facing the toughest (but potentially winnable) races. Three are from Illinois, where the Democrats have pushed through a new congressional map designed to gain as many as five seats: seventh-termer Judy Biggert and freshmen Bobby Schilling and Bob Dold. And three — Bill Johnson, Jim Renacci and Bob Gibbs — are from Ohio, where redistricting is costing the state two seats but the freshmen are all likely to be protected from incumbent-versus-incumbent matchups. The others: Jeff Denham of California, Michael Grimm of New York, Jon Runyan of New Jersey and Scott Rigell of Virginia.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Republican Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Democratic Rep. Ben Chandler of Kentucky, both born 52 years ago today. Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman of California is precisely 20 years older. The congressional Sept. 11 birthdays belong to GOP Rep. Tim Murphy (59) and Democrat Daniel Akaka (87) — who’s forever four days younger than Hawaii’s other senator.

— David Hawkings, editor

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