Tuesday, September 27, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: It's Not Over Yet

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Today In Washington

David Hawkings is off today.

HOUSE: Not in session. The Republican majority has some decisions to make about the two options that the Senate passed last night for keeping the government funded past Friday. The chamber has a pro forma session scheduled for Thursday.

SENATE: In recess for the rest of the week. It also has a pro forma session scheduled for Thursday, but no more legislative action is expected in the chamber until October.

WHITE HOUSE: On his way back from the West Coast, the president stops at Denver’s Abraham Lincoln High School to tout the school-modernization proposals in his jobs package.

ONE WAY OR ANOTHER: Boehner and his leadership team now have two ways to quickly wrap up Congress’ latest stretch of less-than-graceful legislating: They can try to clear the “clean” seven-week CR by unanimous consent sometime this week in front of a largely empty chamber, with the hope that nobody objects. Or they can do the same thing with the mini-CR that would cover the government until Oct. 4, and then clear the longer stopgap measure by roll call vote early next week when members are back in town. (Anybody who objected to the buy-a-few-more-days bill would face some serious backlash. And even if the longer-term legislation has to wait for a roll call vote, it will pass easily.)

Either way, government workers wouldn’t be shut out of the office on Monday, and Congress could get back to big-picture economic concerns while temporarily putting aside its fiscal 2012 business. There’s no upside for Boehner — at least not from an institutional standpoint — in ignoring the smaller CR, allowing a federal shutdown over the weekend and waiting to clear the seven-week bill a few days later.

OFFSETS, OFF THE TABLE: FEMA’s better-than-first-reported financial state effectively allowed the Senate to alter its stance on the CR and find a way forward. It turned out that the agency had enough money in its disaster fund to edge into October, meaning that lawmakers no longer had to worry about covering fiscal 2011 concerns. And by extension, Senate Democrats could stop fighting against a House plan to offset a proposed $1 billion in emergency fiscal 2011 money by taking funds away from loan guarantees for promoting development of energy-efficient vehicles.

So the latest version of the stopgap spending bill contains no disaster aid for fiscal 2011. Instead, it would provide $2.65 billion for the fund in fiscal 2012, a figure that the House already voted once to accept.

The Senate passed the bill 79-12, and afterward Reid was able to cite Republican Johnny Isakson in saying “there is nothing to fight about” in it. Overall, the measure would allow the government to keep spending into mid-November at a rate that reflects the $1.043 trillion annual limit set under the debt limit law.

TRUCKING AHEAD: At least one piece of major legislation, the highway bill, appears to be making progress behind the scenes: House Transportation Chairman John Mica has the go-ahead from GOP leaders to look for enough revenue to write a bill that would keep highway funding at current levels. Nobody will say what that revenue might be, but Republicans are insisting that it won’t be an increase in the 18.4-cents-per-gallon gas tax. Boehner has suggested that an expansion in U.S. energy production could be linked to funding for transportation projects.

If Mica can find the revenue, he’d be able to write a bill close to what Senate Democrats are working on: a $109 billion, two-year measure that would maintain current levels of spending plus inflation.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Democratic Party Chairwoman and Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (45).

PUBLISHING SCHEDULE: The Daily Briefing will return Monday, Oct. 3.

— Joe Warminsky and the CQ Roll Call Staff

Become a fan of the Daily Briefing at facebook.com/DavidHawkingsDC. Or follow David Hawkings on Twitter at twitter.com/davidhawkings.

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

Monday, September 26, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: We Weren't Supposed To Be Here Today

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Monday, September 26, 2011

Today In Washington

David Hawkings is off today.

SENATE: Convenes at 3:30 and votes at 5:30 on Reid’s alternative to House-passed legislation that would keep the government operating after this week. The majority leader needs 60 votes to send the amended bill back to the House, but Republicans say they have the votes to block it.

WHITE HOUSE: Obama continues his West Coast swing with a town hall on the economy in Mountain View, Calif., presented by tech company LinkedIn. He’ll be in San Diego and Los Angeles for fundraisers in the afternoon and evening.

HOUSE: In recess all week, but members have been advised that the schedule could change.

NO END IN SIGHT: Although the Senate is back for a vote this evening, the end of the latest spending impasse probably won’t come Monday — unless Reid and Boehner start talking soon. And there were no indications that they had done so over the weekend. After midweek, neither chamber is likely to return for anything that requires roll call votes because of Rosh Hashana, which begins Wednesday evening.

So, unless Reid can bring seven Republicans around to his point of view, the GOP tonight will block Reid’s proposal to pass his version of the latest CR, including $3.65 billion that would help fill FEMA’s quickly draining disaster fund, but without the House’s proposed offsets to pay for that extra spending. The latest offer from the majority leader — who also has the option of trying to clear the House version — represents a compromise of sorts: Senate Democrats had been pushing for nearly $7 billion in disaster aid. So Reid’s willingness to accept the lower number has helped to refine what it might take to get a deal on the legislation, which would allow the government to keep spending through Nov. 18 at a rate that reflects the $1.043 trillion annual limit set by the debt limit law.

The offsets include taking away $1.5 billion from an Energy Department program that provides loan guarantees to automakers for the production of fuel efficient vehicles and cutting $100 million from another loan-guarantee program that solar-energy company Solyndra used before it went bankrupt.

BAD OMEN: Even if lawmakers find a way to avert shutting down the government, the current mess doesn’t augur well for late November, when they would have to revisit fiscal 2012 spending yet again. Although there is little incentive for Congress to continue its dysfunctional ways — the institution’s overall approval ratings probably can’t go much lower — it has shown that any spending legislation has the potential to sink under items that are relatively small, budget-wise.

For Boehner, however, those line items also tend to be the ones that challenge the unity of his caucus. The Speaker’s attempt to return to a relatively low-temperature form of legislating this fall has been upended, yet again, by a bloc of conservatives that sees every routine spending measure as an opportunity to make cuts on top of what Congress already has agreed to for fiscal 2012.

WHAT ABOUT THE DEFICIT? As the back and forth on the CR narrowed last week to the debate over offsets, the two issues that were supposed to dominate the fall — creating jobs and cutting the deficit — briefly faded to the background on Capitol Hill. And the White House wasn’t as mixed up in the fight as it was in the year’s first CR or the big budget deal over the summer. But when lawmakers get back to their big-ticket items — the ones so crucial to the 2012 elections — congressional Democrats will be looking for improved relations with a White House that has its own problems with approval ratings.

In the meantime, the supercommittee is starting to get into the weeds in its effort to trim $1.5 trillion from the deficit over 10 years, and some of the lawmakers responsible for providing guidance on the thorniest details — the chairmen of the House’s regular committees — have another three weeks to submit recommendations. But so far it doesn’t appear to be a straightforward process. The early indications are that the supers will have to sort out conflicting advice from the panel chairmen, who still retain the ability to control blocs of votes, should any big deficit reduction deal make it to the floor.

House Armed Services leaders, for instance, say they oppose virtually any cuts to the defense budget, despite friction from other lawmakers (including leading Republicans in the Senate) who say the Pentagon must learn to spend less. (The military, for its part, often creates confusion with how it produces estimates for big-ticket programs.)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Freshman Republican Rep. Frank Guinta of New Hampshire (41)

PUBLISHING SCHEDULE: If and when this week’s scheduled congressional recess  begins, the Daily Briefing will suspend publication through the end of the week. It will resume Monday, Oct. 3.

— Joe Warminsky and the CQ Roll Call Staff

Become a fan of the Daily Briefing at facebook.com/DavidHawkingsDC. Or follow David Hawkings on Twitter at twitter.com/davidhawkings.

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