Monday, November 21, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: And That's That

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Monday, November 21, 2011

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama a few minutes ago signed legislation that represents the grand total of bipartisan achievement so far this fall on job creation. It pairs two new small tax breaks for companies that hire veterans (the president’s idea) with the repeal of a 3 percent tax withholding on all government contracts (the Republicans’ idea). "Just as they fight for us on the battlefield, it's up to us to fight for them when they come home," he said — in a seven-minute speech that made no mention of the supercommittee's collapse.

The president’s only other public event is at 7:15, when he and the first lady host an East Room celebration of country music (which PBS will broadcast Wednesday night). Lauren Alaina, The Band Perry, Dierks Bentley, Alison Krauss, Kris Kristofferson, Lyle Lovett, Mickey, Darius Rucker and James Taylor are among the expected performers.

THE SENATE: Not in session this week (except for pro forma meetings at 11 tomorrow and 10:30 on Friday).

THE HOUSE: Not in session this week (except for pro forma meetings at 10 tomorrow and 1 on Friday).

A WHIMPER: It’s all over but the shouting. There will be another flurry of furtive staff-level phone calls and a few more declarations about glimmers of hope from the lawmakers themselves, but the failure of the supercommittee will be officially proclaimed this afternoon — after the markets wind down for the day. (All three major stock indexes were sagging by more than 2 percent at this hour.)

Since the panel’s two sides couldn’t even agree on how to share a stage and admit they had defeated themselves, there will not be a best-public-face, on-camera event. Instead there will be only a written death certificate of sorts — a terse joint statement from co-chairmen Patty Murray and Jeb Hensarling. Although the panel had until Wednesday to approve a deficit reduction plan, tonight at midnight was the deadline for unveiling the legislative language.

The recrimination phase continued this morning, when supercommittee members Jon Kyl and John Kerry each made a series of separate appearances on the cable TV news networks — while standing just a few feet apart in the Russell rotunda.  Each senator insisted his side was more than willing to compromise but that the other side remained intransigent from the start. Kerry insisted that Democrats remained ready to sign on to an entitlement-curbing package so long as it also ended the Bush tax cuts for the most affluent. Kyl insisted that Republicans were willing to break their no-new-taxes orthodoxy but Democrats wouldn’t do their part on reining in the growth of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

The restating of those entrenched positions — on a day that was supposed to mark a historic bipartisan breakthrough on mopping up a potentially cataclysmic fiscal mess — was yet another clear reminder that, despite all their super powers and declarations that failure was not an option, the supercommittee members never got more than halfway to their $1.2 trillion target — and hardly even considered a path toward a “grand bargain” of $4 trillion or more, which is what most economists view as the minimum 10-year deficit reduction required to start putting the national financial house in order.

SO MUCH TO DO: In the short term, the supercommittee’s fade-to-black this week sets up a miserable month at the Capitol. When lawmakers return in a week, they will have four weeks not only to finish the rest of the routine spending bills for the current fiscal year — an enormously nettlesome task, by itself — but also to see if any agreement is possible on several politically voluble and economically consequential matters what were supposed to be gathered under the wing of the supercommittee. The agenda is big enough, and the partisan morass deep enough, that recessing for the year before Dec. 22 or so seems tough to imagine.

The supercommittee was widely expected to extend the payroll tax cut and the expanded unemployment benefits — both of which will otherwise lapse New Year’s Eve, thereby threatening the currently fragile economic recovery. There was also talk of once again preserving Medicare’s current formula of payments to doctors (the fabled “doc fix”) and once again reining in the reach of the Alternative Minimum Tax — two annual rituals of recent years that grow more politically problematic when asked to move as stand-alone legislation. And there’s a Postal Service insolvency that, in macro-budget terms, is right around the corner.

THE YEAR OF THE SEQUESTER: The triggers, though, are not going to be cocked for another year — and so there’s no real urgency, until well after Congress returns in January, to wade into the messy debate about whether (and then how) to wriggle out from under the shadow of those across-the-board spending cuts. (John McCain will lead an effort to abandon sequestration for the military during the debate next month on the defense authorization bill, but will likely be brushed aside in his initial attempt.)

For starters, keeping the budgetary punishment in place is something that Obama, Boehner and Pelosi have all endorsed without any perceptible caveat. And the prospect of sequestration is what is keeping the credit rating companies and the financial markets a bit more sanguine than they might otherwise be — because, if left in place, those cuts will generate the same $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction that was asked of the supercommittee. (The red ink reduction will come from about $500 billion each in military and civilian spending cuts in the next nine years, with the rest from savings interest on slightly smaller debt payments.)

KILDEE RESPONDS: Dale Kildee will go on camera today to deny that in the 1960s he sexually abused a 12-year-old second cousin. The congressman has arranged the news conference to rebut allegations from the alleged victim’s mother, stepfather and sister that were reported over the weekend by the Washington Times. The Michigan Democrat — who is hoping that a nephew, Dan Kildee,  will succeed him next year when he retires after 36 years representing the Flint area — called the allegations “completely false and shameful” in a written statement last night, and said his relatives were working with “political adversaries to destroy my reputation by lying about something that never took place.” The congressman said the allegations were first made during the 2010 campaign and he reported them to the FBI. He also distributed a copy of a 1988 letter — addressed to “My Dear Cousin Dale” — in which the alleged victim asks the congressman for assistance in combating hunger in Zimbabwe.

FRONTRUNNER OF THE WEEK: Newt Gingrich has 22 percent support among Republican registered voters in a USA Today/Gallup poll out today — which gives him an (albeit statistically insignificant) 1 percentage point lead over Mitt Romney. (Herman Cain has dropped to third at 16 percent, with  Ron Paul at 9 percent and Rick Perry at 8 percent.) The former Speaker is the sixth different candidate to lead that particular poll this year.

The survey was taken before Saturday’s candidate forum hosted by an Iowa Christian group — in which Gingrich continued his “Say anything” campaign by declaring that, at the height of his congressional influence in the 1990s, he sought advice from Alcoholics Anonymous books because he felt both addicted to power and unsatisfied by the sway he had. “I wasn’t drinking but I had precisely the symptoms of someone who was collapsing under this weight,” Gingrich said. “And I found myself, this emerging national figure ... trying to understand where I had failed, why I was empty and why I had to turn to God.”

So far, Gingrich’s surge in the polls has not translated into any new congressional endorsement. He still has just six, and only two (Joe Barton and Jack Kingston) are lawmakers who were in the House when Gingrich ran the place. Mitt Romney continues to lap the field with 42 — including a particularly important one announced yesterday, that of Sen. Kelly Ayotte of first-in-the-nation-primary New Hampshire. Rick Perry is second with a Texas-centric roster of 14 Hill backers. But overall, congressional Republicans are remaining noticeably neutral. Just six weeks before the voting starts in the Iowa caucuses, only 66 have publicly backed a candidate, compared with 111 at this point four years ago.

STEVENS UPDATE: The special prosecutor who investigated the botched case against Ted Stevens is not recommending criminal charges against any of the Justice Department attorneys who tried the legendary Republican senator from Alaska in 2008 — despite finding widespread misconduct beyond what has yet been publicly revealed. The recommendations by the lawyer, Henry Schuelke, were revealed today in an order from federal Judge Emmet Sullivan, who wrote that the investigation found the Stevens prosecution was “permeated” by the prosecutors’ concealment of evidence they collected that could have helped the senator’s defense.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Today, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois (67), fellow Democrats in the House Chaka Fattah of Philadelphia (55) and Yvette Clarke of Brooklyn (47), and GOP Rep. Tom Rooney of Florida (41). Yesterday, the vice president (69) and Democratic Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts (52).

The other three congressional celebrations this week are all on Wednesday: Senate Democrats Chuck Schumer of New York (61) and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana (56), and Democratic Rep. Bobby Rush of Chicago (65).

PUBLISHING SCHEDULE: Because Congress is in recess and the supercommittee’s efforts have come to nothing, the Daily Briefing will be on Thanksgiving break until next Monday.

— David Hawkings, editor

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