Friday, January 27, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: The Importance of 3

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Friday, January 27, 2012

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: “We are putting colleges on notice: You can’t assume that you’ll just jack up tuition every single year. If you can’t stop tuition from going up, then the funding you get from taxpayers each year will go down,” Obama said this morning at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, the final speech in his State of the Union highlights tour of five swing states. (The proposals he sketched out Tuesday night for overhauling the higher education financial aid system nonetheless face long odds in Congress.)

Air Force One is due at Andrews within the hour, when Obama will hop aboard Marine One for a quick trip to Cambridge, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. His speech to the House Democrats at their annual planning and bonding retreat is at 1:20. After a quick stop in the West Wing — where it’s Bill Daley’s final day on the job as chief of staff — the president’s final public event is a 4:30 fundraiser in the Mandarin Oriental on the Southwest waterfront.

THE HOUSE: Not in session.

THE SENATE: Not in session.

FASTER BUT NOT FAST ENOUGH: The news was good and not so good for the U.S. economy this morning.

The gross domestic product — the government’s measure of total economic output — accelerated in the final three months of last year to a 2.8 percent annual rate. That’s the strongest pace of quarterly growth since the second quarter of 2010, and it’s within striking distance of the 3-percent-plus rate that most economists say will need to be sustained to pull the current 8.5 percent jobless rate back down to a more acceptable level. Still, the Commerce Department said, growth for all of 2011 was much slower, at 1.7 percent, than the 3 percent recorded in 2010, and most projections show the economy expanding at roughly 2.5 percent for all of 2012. The Federal Reserve’s most recent forecast, released Wednesday, doesn’t expect a sustained 3 percent growth rate until 2013.

Investors were a tad disappointed this morning because expectations — or maybe they were hopes — were for fourth quarter growth to actually touch 3 percent. So U.S. stocks fell a bit in early trading. The most recent statistics contain a number of guesstimates, though, and the fourth quarter and full-year figures will be revised in coming months. If net exports or some other unclear data come in stronger than Commerce currently estimates, then the GDP figures might prove to be higher. The reverse, of course, is also possible.

Republicans, meanwhile, focused on the not-so-good half of the report and blamed Obama for making it so. “The economy simply isn’t expanding fast enough to generate a sufficient number of jobs to bring down the unemployment rate rapidly,” said Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, the top Republican on the Joint Economic Committee.“It’s time this president understood that his economic policies are making the situation worse, not better. Instead of dividing Americans over their share of economic pie, the president should focus on making the pie bigger.”

STOCK ACT, COOKING: Momentum is gaining fast for the idea of cracking down on insider trading by members of Congress — so fast, it seems, that the only legislation won't pass the Senate next week is if it’s derailed by too many lawmakers clamoring to hitch extraneous proposals to the bill.

The measure has more than enough bipartisan support to survive its first test, on Monday night, when Reid has arranged for a 60-senator-majority-required vote to begin formal debate. Between now and then, he will be working to limit the temptation, in both caucuses, to propose amendments that have nothing to do with congressional ethics and could poison the well for one of the few moderately important legislative initiatives that has a chance of becoming law this year. (It also remains the only part of Obama’s finger-wagging package of State of the Union proposals for Congress to “reform” itself that has any hope of consideration.)

The measure, by Republican Scott Brown and Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand, would allow both the Hill ethics committees and (much less likely) the Justice department to look at allegations that lawmakers bought or sold securities based on information they got in the cloakrooms about legislative or political maneuverings — in other words, tips not available to other traders about how congressional actions might boost or cripple a business. Senators and congressmen would already appear to be subject to the same SEC insider trading restrictions that apply to everyone, which are written with the use of non-public corporate information by people on Wall Street in mind. And some senators — Republican Tom Coburn most prominently — see the bill as unnecessary feel-good window dressing, because Senate rules already prohibit the use of public office for private gain. (The bill would, though, strengthen disclosure rules by requiring the publication of all lawmaker  transactions within 30 days — not just once a year.

If the bill gets through the Senate, the House Republican majority’s leaders would seem to have little choice, politically, but to go along. Cantor tried to slow-walk a markup last fall but says he was doing so only because the bill wasn’t ready for prime time. Now he says he’s ready to move — and 240 lawmakers have signed on as cosponsors.

MUCH IS THEORETICAL: The top brass of the Air Force and Army will explain more of the details (and offer full-throated endorsements) of the Pentagon’s budget highlights this afternoon — although the actual numbers remain under wraps for the next two weeks.

A day after Panetta rolled out the headlines, the reaction has been muted (meaning mostly acquiescent) from the bipartisan cluster of defense hawks who dominate the military spending debate at the Capitol. Most of the lawmaker resistance has been focused, predictably, on the idea of another round of base closings before the 2014 election. But that’s about the biggest potential parochial political pain in the budget so far — because so much of the savings called for in the coming year would be achieved on paper, by postponing (rather than ending) the purchases of such big-ticket weapons as the F-35 and a new submarine. The most readily-understood dramatic cut — saying goodbye to 100,000 ground troops — has been looming for years, and if it happens the total roster of soldiers and Marines will still be higher than on Sept. 11.

The big numbers are $525 billion for the regular defense budget (which is only about 1 percent less than is being spent this year) and $88.4 billion for Afghanistan and other “overseas contingency operations,” which is a considerable drop. The Pentagon says its long-term plan, meanwhile, is to keep increases in spending slow enough that they would amount to a slight decline once inflation is factored in — and it’s in those “out years” that the Pentagon will surely face even more emphatic calls for reduction, whether across-the-board sequestration reductions happen or not. Another war would change the picture, however.

FIRED UP: An assertive, on-his-toes but not petulant-sounding Mitt Romney so totally dominated an almost-addled Newt Gingrich in last night’s debate that he put himself in solid position to win the Florida primary in four days. And if that happens, the ex-governor once again will be hailed as the clear and almost-unstoppable frontrunner. Even before the debate, the tide in the state seemed to be turning in Romney’s favor; the daily Quinnipiac tracking poll for Thursday showed him with 38 percent support among likely GOP primary voters, to 29 percent for the ex-Speaker. (The day before, the two were in a statistical tie.) Ron Paul was at 14 percent and Rick Santorum at 12 percent in the Thursday survey.

The best news for Gingrich was that 32 percent say they might change their mind by Tuesday — although there won’t be any statewide stage between now and then where Gingrich might take another shot at countering Romney’s new tone, which seemed to ring truest last night when he talked about their differences on immigration (“Repulsive,” Romney called Gingrich’s anti-immigrant attacks) and on space (“You’re fired,” Romney says he’d tell Gingrich if they were in a business meeting on the subject). The next debate is not for four weeks — hosted again by jeering-and-cheering-encouraged CNN on Feb. 22, six days before the Arizona primary.

Rick Santorum, meanwhile, said this morning that he was getting off the stump for a couple of days and wouldn’t do any more campaigning in Florida before Sunday – an acknowledgement that, despite a widely hailed debate performance last night, he has no chance of winning the state’s winner-take-all contest and would by getting some rest and raising some money to keep his candidacy afloat in some less-costly states. Weekend fundraisers are planned in both his native Pennsylvania and Northern Virginia, where he lives with his wife and seven kids. Santorum says he plans to try to complete his own taxes this weekend, too.

THE ONE THAT THEY WANT: One of the longest-lasting conventional wisdoms of the topsy-turvy campaign — that Marco Rubio is almost assured of the Republican vice-presidential nomination, no matter who’s at the top of the ticket — gained ample on-camera support last night. Both Romney and Gingrich made clear the 40-year-old freshman Florida senator was at the top of their running mate short lists. And they said so despite a Reuters report, earlier in the day, that Rubio was “upside down” on his Miami home — owing more on his mortgage than the property’s worth. (That news, however, was largely overshadowed by the fact that the wire service has already issued five corrections of other portions of the profile.)

Rubio will get the chance to raise his profile a notch more tomorrow, when he’ll provide the official Republican response to the president’s weekly radio address — meaning he’ll get to reprise his excoriations of the State of the Union (and test out some rhetoric he might use on the stump this fall if he’s playing the traditional veep-candidate “attack dog” role) before a national audience. That McConnell tapped him for the task right before Rubio’s home-state primary is a clear sign the GOP establishment wants to do what it can to keep him happy and in the limelight. Rubio hasn’t endorsed anybody but has said several things critical of Gingrich this week.

QUOTE OF NOTE: “It is now time to take a stand before it is too late. If Gingrich is the nominee it will have an adverse impact on Republican candidates running for county, state, and federal offices. Hardly anyone who served with Newt in Congress has endorsed him and that fact speaks for itself. He was a one-man-band who rarely took advice. It was his way or the highway,” Bob Dole says in a statement posted on the National Review’s website last night. “In my run for the presidency in 1996 the Democrats greeted me with a number of negative TV ads and in every one of them Newt was in the ad. He was very unpopular and I am not only certain that this did not help me, but that it also cost House seats that year. Newt would show up at the campaign headquarters with an empty bucket in his hand — that was a symbol of some sort for him — and I never did know what he was doing or why he was doing it, and I’m not certain he knew either.”

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Chief Justice John Roberts (57); Republican John Mica of Florida, the House Transportation chairman (69).

— David Hawkings, editor

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