Thursday, November 10, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Ain't Quittin'

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Today In Washington

David Hawkings is out today.

THE SENATE: Convened at 9:30 and will wrap up its work by mid-afternoon so senators can head home for the three-day Veterans Day weekend. Around noon, two Republican measures will be rejected in procedural votes: a resolution that would block the EPA’s cross-state air pollution rule, and another regarding the FCC’s “net neutrality” rule.

In the afternoon, the chamber will pass legislation to repeal a tax-withholding requirement for federal contractors, combined with provisions intended to improve the job market for military veterans. The final vote of the day will be on whether to proceed to the second “minibus” appropriations measure, which Democrats want to complete as soon as possible next week.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama has no public events; he meets with advisers at 5:15.

THE HOUSE: Not in session.

MAKING THE BEST OF IT: Rick Perry’s campaign quickly found a way to spin his epic “oops” from last night’s debate. This morning the Texas governor’s supporters were greeted by a fundraising e-mail that played up the incident as a “human moment” and announced the creation of an email address — — where people can send suggestions about which federal agencies should be eliminated.

Perry himself did multiple TV interviews this morning, noting that the third agency he’d eliminate — in addition to the departments of Commerce and Education — indeed would be the Energy Department. (He’s been on the record about the three-department hit list in the past, but couldn’t recall Energy last night.) And what about ending his campaign? “This ain’t a day for quitting nothing,” he told the Associated Press this morning.

In the end, Perry’s forgetfulness squares well with his well-noted disdain for Washington, D.C. And Washington doesn’t have much to offer in return. He hasn’t pursued congressional endorsements with much vigor, and the federal workforce is an unlikely base of support for a candidate who makes no bones about his desire to shrink the government drastically.

The winner here, of course, is Mitt Romney, who seems — without doing much more than being predictable — to be solidifying his status as the take-it-or-leave-it GOP candidate. A Quinnipiac poll released today shows Romney in a statistical dead heat with Obama in three swing states: In Florida, he led 45 percent to 42 percent; in Ohio, Obama led 45 percent to 42 percent; and in Pennsylvania, Obama polled at 44 percent to Romney’s 43 percent. No candidate has won the presidency since 1960 without taking at least two of those states.

The poll was taken Oct. 31-Nov. 7, a stretch when the sexual harassment accusations against Herman Cain came to light. For now, he’s still at the head of the GOP pack, polling at 27 percent. Romney had 21 percent, Newt Gingrich had 17 percent and Perry took 5 percent. Cain’s troubles weren’t much of a debate topic last night.

SMALLER, BUT FASTER? With all the talk about supercommittees and minibuses, another large, costly and familiar piece of legislation — the highway bill — has been moving more quietly than usual. The Democrat-led Senate Environment and Public Works panel approved a two-year, $84 billion measure yesterday (a $24 billion section of public-transit spending will be added later), and Boehner has promised that House Republicans will introduce their version sometime next week.

As with most major pieces of legislation these days, the core concern is how to pay for whatever either chamber decides on. A typical goal is a six-year highway bill that allows state governments and roadbuilding contractors to make long-term plans for projects. But with the Senate moving a two-year measure — and the House still looking for enough budgetary offsets to allow Transportation Chairman John Mica to write a six-year bill — it looks as though Congress is leaning toward the shorter option.

THE GABBERS: The supercommittee questions of the day are: Who’s talking to whom? And when? The fact is that the panel still has no plans to convene this week, with less than a fortnight to go before its deadline. But aides say members of the Big 12 are talking seriously, here and there, sometimes in person, sometimes not. If co-chairmen Jeb Hensarling and Patty Murray are still getting along as well as insiders say they are, it’s a sign that the process can, in theory, be rescued. But the committee’s most daunting task — deciding how (or even if) to raise new revenue — is probably bigger than whatever friendship the Texas Republican congressman and the Washington Democratic senator have built over the past couple of months.

The White House, meanwhile, appears to be maintaining its distance from the talks. There hasn’t been much of a reaction to the shuffle at the West Wing that elevated Pete Rouse (known for his stint as a powerful Senate aide) to a more prominent role in congressional negotiations, and Bill Daley taking a step back. It’s probably safe to say that if the administration hasn’t stuck its nose into the supercommittee’s action yet, it’s not going to bother between now and the Nov. 23 deadline, no matter how much rapport Rouse might have with his former colleagues on the Hill. (Today there’s another personnel decision worth noting: Reggie Love, the president’s personal assistant and basketball buddy, plans to leave the White House.)

Congressional conservatives, meanwhile, are continuing their push for a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution. The latest effort — some non-binding “sense of the Senate” language by John McCain — will be rejected by the Senate sometime today as it wraps up its work for the week.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia (68), fellow Republican Bill Johnson of Ohio, a House freshman (57), and Democratic Rep. Silvestre Reyes of Texas (67).

— Joe Warminsky and the CQ Roll Call staff

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Wednesday, November 09, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Ploy Story?

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Today In Washington

David Hawkings is out today.

THE SENATE: Convened at 9:30 and began debate on proceeding to a Republican resolution that would block the FCC’s “net neutrality” rules from 2010 — but votes on the measure aren’t expected until tomorrow. Once that talking is over, senators will return to a bill that would repeal a tax-withholding requirement for all government contractors. Action related to that measure — including a vote on the Republican alternative to Obama’s jobs plan — also will spill into tomorrow.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama meets early this afternoon with senior advisers, has lunch with Biden, and then at 4:15 has a meeting with President Anibal Cavaco Silva of Portugal. Tonight he speaks at the annual awards dinner National Women’s Law Center, at the Washington Hilton.

THE HOUSE: Not in session.

SIZING IT UP: Although Monday’s offer from supercommittee Republicans was somewhat out of character (especially considering that the name of a tea party favorite, Pat Toomey, was attached to it), it’s not an immediate turning point for a process that needs a true breakthrough with exactly two weeks before its big deadline arrives.

Along with oft-discussed cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, the GOP proposal purports to generate $300 billion in new tax revenue over 10 years. Whether that tax portion is a Republican ploy to create some political cover (as Democrats say) or a genuine starting point for debate on bringing in extra money, the supercommittee’s work is looking more and more like this year’s other negotiations on big spending bills: Suspicion is each side’s default position, and every new offer seems to arrive with more baggage than momentum.

If the supercommittee is doing anything differently, it’s that individual members say they’re still talking to one another in earnest — although not in public — at a time when the negotiations easily could have dissolved into total acrimony. And the revenue-raising ideas floated by Republicans — including the elimination or restriction of tax deductions for high earners — at least appear to track with one of the core arguments in various debt-reduction plans pitched recently by bipartisan groups: Certain entities will have to pay more in taxes if the government is to get out of the hole.

IT’S STILL HERE: One of the GOP’s traditional budget wishes, meanwhile, is still getting airtime in the Senate. John McCain has teed up legislation that would, among other things, express that the Constitution needs a balanced-budget amendment. McCain’s measure is not expected to get the necessary 60 votes to be added to a bill that would repeal a 3 percent withholding requirement for payments to federal contractors. That measure will pass tomorrow with a different amendment added to it: a provision offering tax credits to companies that hire unemployed veterans and encourage job training to outgoing servicemembers.

BREATHING ROOM: Lamar Alexander’s decision to step down from the Senate GOP leadership after this year hasn’t produced much on-the-record drama since he made the announcement in September. The Tennessean said he wanted more freedom to deviate from the party line, but so far he hasn’t voted against Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentuckian, on any high-profile issue. That will change tomorrow, when Alexander sides with most of the Democratic caucus in opposing a measure that would block an EPA rule designed to limit power-plant pollution from crossing state lines.

McConnell and Alexander are friends, but the Tennessean says he’s looking out for his constituents (and the Great Smoky Mountains) first on this issue. And Alexander isn’t making a surprise turn here: He drives an all-electric Nissan Leaf and is known for being environmentally conscious.

IMAGINE THAT: While the supercommittee’s efforts and the jobs legislation inch along, Senate appropriators have quietly (and relatively quickly) worked up a plan to finish their business without punting any fiscal 2012 measures into January. The current three-bill “minibus” — funding for the Commerce, Justice, Transportation and HUD departments, scientific research and agricultural and FDA programs — could be sent to the president by the end of next week. That package will include a stopgap spending measure to give Congress until mid-December to finish the other nine annual bills.

And those remaining measures probably will be combined into one rest-of-the-bus package by the Senate, with passage coming there coming as early as next week. Assuming the House accepts that plan and passes it soon after the Senate does, appropriators from each chamber would have a couple of weeks to negotiate a final version of the package and get it back to the floor in each chamber.

Spending-bill conference committees are rarely easy, however, so there’s plenty of time for the plan to fall apart. Conferees on the minibus, for instance, are still haggling over protections for gun owners that are provided every year under the Commerce-Justice-Science measure.

TRAIL TIPS: (1) Virginians must to wait to see if Republicans will win a working majority in the state Senate, which would mean a GOP push to restart a stalled congressional redistricting process with the aim of protecting the party’s 8-3 majority in Virginia's U.S. House delegation. One Senate race remained uncalled: Incumbent Democrat Edd Houck trailed Republican Bryce Reeves by 86 votes with all precincts reporting. A victory by Reeves would give the Senate a 20-20 split with Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a Republican, holding tiebreaker powers.

(2) Herman Cain’s recent troubles have all but guaranteed that his name, for better or worse, has been the most prominent in the GOP presidential field for at least a week. But Perry, Romney and the rest of the field will have a chance to make some noise tonight at 8 in their latest debate, at Oakland University in Rochester, Mich. With CNBC running the event, the main topic is ostensibly the economy, but “kicking Cain while he’s down” is sure to be another theme. For Cain, the lack of new accusations and/or televised denials probably made today a bit easier than any day since the sexual harassment allegations took off.

WHAT’S THAT SOUND? At 2 p.m. the federal government will do the first-ever nationwide test of the TV and radio Emergency Alert System. Although the loud beeps and warning messages are familiar for local harsh-weather alerts and other situations, FEMA says the system has never been activated everywhere at once. The test will last for about 30 seconds.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio (59) and freshman Republican Rep. Scott Tipton of Colorado (55).

— Joe Warminsky and the CQ Roll Call staff

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Tuesday, November 08, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Revenue Razor

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is touring the Yeadon Regional Head Start Center in the Philadelphia suburbs, and in a few minutes he’ll announce another change in education policy — without any No Child Left Behind rewrite by Congress: a requirement that lower-performing Head Start programs compete for federal funding, instead of receiving it automatically. He’s due back in the Oval at 1:35 and has nothing else on his public schedule.

THE SENATE: Convened at 10 and is spending the bulk of the day debating legislation to repeal the 3 percent tax withholding for government contractors. But, just before the weekly caucus lunches, senators will promote Judge Evan Wallach from the Court of International Trade to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

THE HOUSE: In recess this week.

THE SUPREME COURT: Heard oral arguments this morning in a case of Antoine Jones, who says the FBI and D.C. police violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free of an “unreasonable search” when they slapped a GPS device on the underside of his car in 2004, without a warrant, and tracked his every move for a month. The government (which used the evidence to convict Jones of a cocaine conspiracy) says people should have no expectation their driving patterns will be private.

WILL THEY OR WON’T THEY? The supercommittee’s tenuous collegiality is facing its first public test today.  Unless the lawmakers decide to take a collective deep breath, any of the past two months’ tentative and balky progress toward a deficit reduction deal threatens to be destroyed in an all-too-familiar round of partisan name-calling by this afternoon — and with only 15 days to put it back together.

At issue was an effort yesterday by Senate Republicans on the panel (Pat Toomey, mainly) to portray themselves as willing to embrace raising as much as $500 billion in new revenue during the next decade by broadening the tax base while also reducing rates and limiting deductions — an overture that, if true, would clear a path for a deal promising to more than exceed the $1.2 trillion deficit reduction minimum assigned to the committee. They asserted that they were in back-channel talks with Max Baucus on such a revenue plan. But, late last night, aides working with the Senate Finance chairman strenuously denied that Republicans had put forward any ideas, to Baucus or anyone else, that might come close to overcoming partisan divisions on the panel.

The Democratic position remains that the deficit-cutting target should be $3 trillion, with new revenue accounting for half and entitlement curbs making up the bulk of the rest — a position that many liberals are disliking more emphatically by the day. Which is part of the reason why supercommittee Democrats have refused to meet with the full group until its GOP members make public offer involving taxes — and why Chuck Schumer (the party’s message maven in the Senate, but not a committee member) declared yesterday that the Big 12 were doomed to failure.

All this makes clear that the prospect of finding a majority of seven on the panel — or, ideally, a clearly bipartisan majority of eight, which would virtually guarantee adoption by the full House and Senate — remains no better than a 20 percent bet, and will get only smaller if the impending break-up-to-make-up period lasts into next week.

The self-imposed punishment for another budget standoff this fall — across-the-board defense and domestic cuts starting a year from now — remains the only reason why the odds are even as good as one in five. Which is why the leadership has been working hard to tamp down expectations that Congress might readily vote to abandon a sequestration process it accepted only three months ago. But McCain, who’s leading the charge from his seat as the top Republican on Armed Services, says he has more than enough votes in the Senate to make the prospects of those cuts ($500 billion from the military in the next 10 years) go away.

HOUSE ROUSE, SENATE ROUSE: The field promotion of Pete Rouse to direct the day-to-day management of the West Wing, which Bill Daley formally announced to his staff yesterday, is the chief of staff’s tacit acknowledgment he wasn’t doing a good job managing Obama’s relationship with either Democrats or Republicans at the Capitol. (For starters, Reid is still smarting at the way Daley kept him in the dark during the grand-bargain budget talks with Boehner over the summer, and the Speaker is still perturbed at Daley for the jobs-speech scheduling dust-up in September.)

Now it will be up to the rumpled Rouse — famously dubbed the “101st senator” from his days running Tom Daschle’s staff — to move to repair the cool-to-hostile relations with leaders and rank-and-file alike, especially if the president thinks he might want to back away from his current strategy of running for re-election by running against Congress. And Rouse will need to act quickly (and with more than invitations to meals and movies at the White House) if there’s any chance the president might want wavering lawmakers to cast tough budget votes yet this fall. Mainly, he will need to go overboard to make sure Pelosi, Reid and the GOP leaders are looped into (and have time to vent about) any big decisions, so that they might feel empowered and sound authoritative even in situations where they aren’t.

Rouse’s portfolio upgrade, which had been in the works for several weeks, means Daley can spend the next year doing what he seems to do best — applying his business skills to the task of managing the president’s relations with powerful corporate executives, big-time lobbyists, special interest advocates and top-dollar donors.

THE DAILY CAIN: “When I made the statement that I’m done talking about this, I was talking about the firestorm last week; I wasn’t talking about this new firestorm,” Herman Cain said last night in announcing that — in Scottsdale, Ariz., at 5 this afternoon (D.C. time) — he will take questions about Sharon Bialek’s groping allegations. “The feelings that you have when you know that all of this is totally fabricated — you go from anger, then you get disgusted,” Cain said on ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” “There’s not an ounce of truth in all of these accusations.”

Bialek said on a pair of TV shows this morning that she’s accepted no money and no job offer in return for going public and has had no contact with other GOP presidential campaigns. She said she decided to tell her story at the behest of her 13-year-old son, who urged her to get over her embarrassment at being an unsuspecting victim of Cain’s allegedly crude advances.

If her account proves more credible than his — and she says she told two friends about the incident soon after it happened 14 summers ago — the viability of Cain’s candidacy will be less sustainable than ever. The other three women remain anonymous to the public and have alleged workplace sexual harassment. Bialek has a public persona and is alleging something that’s approaching sexual assault — with the additional, aggravating suggestion that he’d help her get a job only if she relented. It’s impossible to be elected president if the public believes you’ve lied about inappropriate sexual contact with a woman. (Bill Clinton, after all, was impeached by the House and put on trial in the Senate because he lied about a consensual sexual relationship.)

But two polls out today (both taken before Bialek went on TV) show that the anonymous allegations have taken only a minimal toll on the Cain candidacy. The Pew Research Center found that 39 percent of those who have heard a lot about the allegations said they thought the claims were true, versus 24 percent who view them as false, and the rest saying they’re unsure. An NBC/Wall Street Journal survey found his support unchanged in the past month among likely GOP voters, at 27 percent — meaning he’s still in a statistical tie for front-runner status with Mitt Romney (now at 28 percent support) while the Rick Perry candidacy slides toward the abyss. He has only 10 percent support now, a drop of 6 points in a month — to fourth place behind Newt Gingrich, who’s up to 13 percent.

HOLDER’S TAKE: The arms-for-drug-traffickers sting effort known as Operation Fast and Furious was flawed from beginning to end “must never happen again,” Holder told Senate Judiciary this morning, but the attorney general declined to discuss in public the Justice Department’s plans for disciplining or reassigning the officials involved. Holder defended his actions, which include asking for an inspector general’s inquiry of his own involvement. But that did not ward off a sharp and testy exchange with top panel Republican Chuck Grassley, who has been leading the criticism of the Mexican drug cartel investigation and the use of the controversial “gun-walking” tactic.

MINIBUS SLIDES: A second minibus won’t be coming before the Senate this week, after all — despite Reid’s crowing about how the strategy had worked so well the first time and ought to be replicated as soon as possible. But in the stuck-is-the-default-speed Senate, “as soon as possible” is now “next week,” because it will take until tomorrow to get the contractor tax-withholding (and tax breaks for hiring veterans) bill done, and afterward there’s only one more day before the three-day weekend. And that day is set aside for debating a GOP effort to block the EPA from regulating air pollution that crosses state lines.

Another challenge is that senators haven’t settled for sure on which regular appropriations bills should be combined next. Energy-Water and Financial Services are for sure, but lobbyists and aides say the appropriators may change their mind and not include State-Foreign Operations in order to avoid a floor fight over aid to Pakistan. If that happens, Homeland Security or Legislative Branch could take its place — assuming neither catches a ride on the bill now in conference.

TRAIL TIPS: (1) Democrats scored a significant Senate recruiting success today when Heidi Heitkamp, a still-popular North Dakota attorney general from the 1990s, announced she would run for the state’s open seat. Her decision means Republicans can no longer take for granted that their recruited candidate, freshman at-large House member Rick Berg, will pick up the seat next year, when Democrat Kent Conrad is retiring. Democratic officials were helped in wooing Heitkamp (who lost to John Hoeven in the 2000 governor’s race and decided not to take him on for the state’s open Senate seat last year) by a poll showing Berg leading a generic Democrat by only 4 percentage points, with 16 percent undecided.

(2) The Republican legislators who are running Pennsylvania’s redistricting process plan to unveil their congressional map by the end of the month. The headline will be the same as has been expected all year: To accommodate the loss of one House seat in reapportionment, Democratic incumbents Jason Altmire and Mark Critz will be drawn into the same district in the state’s population-sagging southwestern corner. But the cartographers don’t want to allow the winner of that presumed primary an easy ticket back to Washington, and are hoping to figure out a way to make the GOP candidate competitive — without siphoning off too many votes from other incumbent Republicans.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: No incumbents, but one lawmaker who left only in January: Dennis Moore, the sole Democrat in the Kansas delegation during five of his six House terms (66).

— David Hawkings, editor

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Monday, November 07, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: 'We're Going to Get It Done'

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Monday, November 7, 2011

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama will be in the Rose Garden at noon to urge the Senate to embrace his proposed tax breaks for companies that hire disabled or unemployed veterans. And, in a brief break from the jobs agenda gridlock, senators are getting ready to do just that as soon as tomorrow, because Democrats have decided, in this one instance, not to insist on offsetting the expense with a tax hike on millionaires.

On the “We can’t wait” front, Obama will also announce creation of a Labor Department program providing new veterans six months of personalized case management, assessment and counseling at career centers, and a new VA website where ex-servicemembers can search for jobs they’re qualified for — and where companies can post jobs they want to fill with vets.

After a 3:15 meeting with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the president has a top-dollar fundraising dinner in a local mansion, but the location won’t be known until the motorcade arrives at 7:15.

THE SENATE: Convenes at 2 and will vote at 5:30 to begin debating the House’s measure ending the 3 percent tax withholding from all government contract payments. (It’s the bill that will become the vehicle for Obama’s tax credits for veterans.)

THE HOUSE: In recess for the week. (There was a two-minute pro-forma session at 10.)

THE SUPREME COURT: Heard oral arguments this morning in a dispute between 9-year-old Menachem Zivotofsky, who wants “Jerusalem, Israel” listed as his birthplace on his U.S. passport as a 2002 law specifically allows, and the State Department, which says the statute unconstitutionally restricts presidential power to make foreign policy.

NO EXTENSION: Sixteen days to go, and there’s still no sign of white smoke out of the supercommittee — although one of its House Democrats, Chris Van Hollen, predicted today that the panel would agree on a deficit reduction deal and would not seek an extension. “More time won’t get us there,” he said on MSNBC. “This is the moment to get it done, and we’re going to get it done.” He cited as his reasons for optimism the constituent pressure on lawmakers in both parties to show they can govern, the worry about the market’s reaction to an impasse and the bipartisan distaste for across-the-board cuts if there’s no deal.

Of course, Van Hollen is just one of the dozen in the room — or, more properly, the metaphorical room, because no new negotiating sessions of the entire group have been announced. (Lawmakers are meeting in ad hoc groups of two to six, though). There’s a deepening notion that a deal in the $4 trillion range is where all the effort should go until close to the last moment — because the political pain required on all sides to accept a package of that size is only marginally more than what’s required to meet the $1.2 trillion threshold that avoids automatic cuts. At the same time, it’s become clear the partisan impasse is no longer about whether there should be any new revenue raised — but about what’s the proper ratio of new revenue to curbs on entitlements and other new spending restraints. (If there is a deal, it won’t include higher income tax rates, but instead some new limits on deductions and a set of loophole-closers.) The Democrats want a 1-to-1 ratio of new revenue to spending cuts. The Republicans want something close to the 4-to-1 ratio embodied in the scuttled Boehner-Obama grand bargain of the summer.

FORGET ABOUT IT: One reason for a shade more optimism about a deal is the big fade in the we-can-always-repeal-the-sequester boomlet. While it’s true that defense hawks in both parties are determined to prevent indiscriminate cuts to military programs — which, along with equivalent domestic cuts, would take effect in January 2013 if there’s no supercommittee plan — their campaign is running headlong into the political realities confronting the leadership: Getting another contentious budget bill through Congress next year is far from a sure thing, because dozens of lawmakers in each party would be all too happy to say, “The country has to swallow this bitter and nonsensical fiscal pill now because the people on the other side wouldn’t do the responsible thing.” And even if a bill to abandon the sequester got through, Obama would surely veto it — with a campaign-season war cry about how he has to stop a do-nothing Congress from doing the one thing that would make the budget situation worse.

The reality that the sweeping cuts really could happen is why Panetta did his part over the weekend to spur talks toward a deficit compromise — by offering a peek at a sequester roster of Pentagon reductions including more base closings, new cuts in the nuclear arsenal, fewer F-35 purchases, troop reductions in Europe, and higher fees for the military health insurance program.

HOME STRETCH: Negotiators are aiming to wrap up their first minibus spending conference by the end of this week — without any additional public meetings where House and Senate disagreements could be settled in public. The maximum size for a federally insured home mortgage has emerged as one of the big sticking points. The breadth of the agreement is still likeliest to be confined to the $128 billion bill for five Cabinet departments and a handful of agencies that the Senate passed last week, plus an extension of stopgap spending powers until the week before Christmas. But appropriators have not altogether given up on the notion of adding legislative branch and Homeland Security Department spending packages at the last moment, if they conclude that it would not stir up a hornet’s nest of opposition among House GOP conservatives.

POVERTY DATA: The government today increased by 2.9 million its estimate of the number of Americans living in poverty. The new total is 49.1 million, or 16 percent of the population, the Census Bureau said. In September, the agency pegged the numbers at 46.2 million, or 15.1 percent. Much of the increase came because of a recalculation of everyday costs, especially inflation in non-prescription health care items. As a result, the population 65 and older had the biggest poverty jump — to 15.9 percent from 9 percent. But the poverty rate for Hispanics rose to 28.2 percent, surpassing that of African-Americans for the first time.

NOT MUCH TO SEE HERE: A year from today, Americans will know who the president will be for the next four years and which parties will control the Senate and House for the next two. Tomorrow, voters in four states will cast votes that one side or the other will end up claiming (with very limited credibility) as harbingers for 2012.

Republicans are looking good to win a majority in the Virginia Senate, but only very narrowly, and that outcome won’t really predict much about the titanic open-Senate-seat battle between George Allen and Time Kaine — or about the Republicans’ already-decent prospects of putting the state back in the GOP presidential column, where it was for 10 straight elections before Obama’s win there. The much more important vote is in Ohio, where the Issue 2 referendum will give a decent clue about the lingering level of strength in the organized labor movement. The question is whether the voters will affirm or repeal the law limiting collective-bargaining rights for public-sector workers pushed through this year by Gov. John Kasich and his GOP colleagues running the legislature. Momentum is on the side of the unions and the Democrats pressing a “no” vote — and if they win that will suggest Obama still has a good shot at carrying the 18 electoral votes remaining for this bellwether state. If business groups and Republicans engineer a “yes” majority, the state is sure to stay a presidential tossup to the end.

The outcome of the two gubernatorial races are pretty well set and will be a partisan wash: Democratic incumbent Steve Beshear is going to easily win a second term in Kentucky, and Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant is going to have little trouble being elected to succeed the term-limited Haley Barbour in Mississippi.

SELECTIVELY QUIET: Herman Cain’s campaign is plowing into a second full week since the sexual harassment allegations against him first surfaced — and aides say he’s not likely to have anything to say this afternoon, when A-list discrimination lawyer Gloria Allred plans to introduce a fourth woman who will accuse Cain of inappropriate behavior (but, if she shows up at the 1:30 news conference in New York, the first to go on camera).

The new stiff-arm strategy shows every sign of working so long as conservative opinion leaders and money people (starting with his self-described “brothers from another mother,” David and Charles Koch) continue to stand by Cain, and so long as he does not do himself any self-inflicted damage. (“We are getting back on message, end of story,” he said over the weekend in promising not to answer any more press queries about his time at the National Restaurant Association.) That means it will be up to the other GOP presidential candidates, who have so far treated the situation with collective kid gloves, to ask the next round of questions — which, to do any damage, need to go beyond Jon Huntsman’s appeals yesterday that Cain be more forthcoming. The next opportunity will be at Wednesday night’s CNBC debate about the economy. Odds are, though, that the other candidates will play the waiting game and hope that Cain self-destructs at some point wile discussing his 9-9-9 tax prescription.

QUOTE OF NOTE: “The American people have a funny way of figuring. If they decide that the unemployment rate is that high because the Congress refused to work with the president and their numbers remain markedly lower than his, he might win anyway,” Bill Clinton said of the current president in an interview with USA Today to promote his new book, “Back to Work.” “I still think he’s in pretty good shape.”

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Sam Graves of Missouri, the House Small Business Committee chairman (48) today; fellow Republican John Carter of Texas (70) yesterday; and two House freshmen, Arizona Republican Ben Quayle (35) and Florida Democrat Frederica Wilson (69) on Saturday.

— David Hawkings, editor

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