Tuesday, January 24, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Mitt's Contribution

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama will arrive at the Capitol at about 8:45 to deliver his third formal State of the Union address. (The speech he gave to Congress a month after taking office doesn’t get that title, because it’s considered presumptuous for a new president to know what the “state of the union” is so soon.) Capitol Hill will be on high-security lockdown, with cars barred from all the close-in streets, starting at 6.

Obama will start talking soon after 9, following the customary back-to-back standing ovations when he enters the House chamber and then when the Speaker introduces him. Administration officials will start leaking talking points, and their favorite sound bites, at mid-afternoon.

THE HOUSE: Convened at 10 and at noon will start debating five non-controversial bills, including an extension of FAA programs only until Feb. 17 — a deadline designed to force a deal on a long-term reauthorization. The final roll call is promised before 4, and the chamber will be closed before 5:30 for the pre-speech security sweep.

THE SENATE: Convened at 10 for nothing other than six hours of speechifying — with a break at lunch for the first party caucuses of the new year.

HAPPY RETURNS: Obama could not have asked for better timing: His still-likeliest Republican opponent is coughing up hard evidence of his card-carrying membership in the 1 percent — an effective tax rate of 14.5 percent on nearly $42.6 million in income the previous two years — hours before the president calls for a more equitable tax code as the centerpiece of his re-election-year State of the Union.

That Mitt Romney kept some of his millions in an honest-to-goodness Swiss bank account (and closed it only when he committed to this presidential campaign) is a little bit of catnip in the tax forms his campaign released this morning — a detail his opponents can use to underscore how at least one presidential candidate is different from almost every other American. Romney made all his money in 2010 and 2011 while essentially campaigning full time, without a salary — but with plenty of his wealth invested profitably, so almost all the $6.2 million in taxes in those two years were at a 15 percent rate, on the capital gains he realized when he sold securities to pay his bills and write his tithing checks to the Mormon Church.

That lower rate for unearned income is one of the provisions in the tax code that will soon expire, and which Obama will call for altering as part of his crusade for economic fairness as the route to long-term prosperity. (Look for him to repeat the theme from his highly touted middle-class revival speech in Kansas last month — “This country succeeds when everyone gets a fair shot, when everyone does their fair share, when everyone plays by the same rules” — tonight and many nights this year, through his Charlotte convention speech in September and beyond.) The president also is expected to promote his ideas for making college more affordable, restoring stability to the mortgage business and persuading manufacturers to create more jobs. He’ll offer some lip-service to the notion that he’s open to Republican ideas — knowing full well that he’s counting, politically, on the GOP thwarting him at every turn and thereby giving him openings to use his executive authority at the margins while lambasting an obdurate Congress.

FACES IN THE CROWD: Obama is not going to mention Romney by name in his discussion of the tax code — but instead will revive his talk about “the Buffett rule,” the notion that billionaire investors should always pay taxes at a higher effective rate than their secretaries. (Warren Buffett’s personal assistant, Debbie Bosanek, will be in the spectator’s gallery for effect; so will Mark Kelly, who will watch as his wife Gabby Giffords appears on the House floor a final time before her resignation.)

But if the vivid Romney illustration about the growing income divide catches fire with the public, the White House can be expected to make one final push for a“millionaires’ tax” to offset the cost of the yearlong Social Security payroll tax cut, unemployment benefits and a sustained Medicare “doc fix.” The idea may well be different from the simple surtax Reid was pushing all fall; instead, Democrats may turn to the idea of ending the “carried interest” tax law, which allows private equity managers — like the people who work at Bain — to see almost all their income taxed at the lower capital gains rate. (The first formal conference committee meeting on the extenders legislation is at 2:30; the negotiators are looking at an end-of-February deadline.)

NO HOLDING BACK: The official Republican response to Obama’s speech will come from Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana. But the party’s leaders are already offering their “prebuttals”— none more stinging than the one from McConnell. “While we don’t yet know all of the specifics, we do know the goal,” he said as the Senate opened this morning. “Based on what the president’s aides have been telling reporters, the goal isn’t to conquer the nation’s problems. It’s to conquer Republicans. The goal isn’t to prevent gridlock, but to guarantee it.”

Other members of the party are focused on the news yesterday that the president’s fiscal 2013 budget proposal, which by law is supposed to come out Feb. 6, won’t be released until a week later — a sign, in the GOP view, that the president has no serious interest in fiscal restraint this year. (OMB offered no reason for delay, but it’s not unusual for the administration to push back the date. And the agency’s life is complicated this winter because its director, Jack Lew, is about to move to the West Wing as chief of staff.) Lamenting the delay, however, does give Republicans a news hook for talking about their long-shot plans for a process overhaul.

KIRK UPDATE: Mark Kirk’s return to the Senate is almost certainly months, not weeks, away. And so for all intents and purposes, McConnell will only have 46 Republican votes at his disposal for much of this year’s legislative maneuvering.

The 52-year-old freshman senator remains in intensive care in Chicago three days after suffering a significant stroke, because doctors need to be constantly monitoring the bleeding that caused sufficient swelling in his brain to require the pressure-relieving removal of a piece of the right side of his skull. The possibilities for complications — from infection, especially — are intense in the short term. In the long term, the senator faces a long and difficult period of physical and occupational rehabilitation — and despite the therapy, his doctors predicted yesterday, he may never recover the full use of his left arm (he’s left-handed) and have some lasting facial paralysis. The good news, neurosurgeon Richard Fessler at Northwestern Memorial said yesterday, is that the location of the blockage means Kirk’s prospects are strong for an eventually complete mental recovery. (South Dakota Democrat Tim Johnson, who suffered a brain hemorrhage in December 2006, spent several weeks in a medically induced coma and did not return to the Senate until the following September, but he’s now well enough to chair the Banking Committee.)

Until Kirk returns, his aides will be substantially but not completely limited in what they can do to advance the boss’ agenda. As in the case of other lawmakers who have been incapacitated, their staff my seek help from like-minded senators and congressmen to promote legislation, and from home-state colleagues to complete constituent casework.

NO SIR, THAT’S JUST A MONEYBOMB: The TSA may have picked the wrong senator for a full-on pat-down. Rand Paul is a member of the Homeland Security Committee, has a reputation for doggedness when it comes to defending civil liberties — and is eager to start distinguishing his own version of tea party Republicanism from that of his father (because the senator is already thinking about a presidential run four years from now, when his dad will be 80 and has promised to be out of public life). The senator says his experience at the Nashville airport yesterday — when he was prevented from getting on his first-choice flight after he triggered a magnetometer alarm and then refused to be touched by TSA agents — could spur him to offer legislation requiring the agency to allow airport passengers a second chance to go through screening machines.

After Paul bought a ticket on a different flight back to D.C. and cruised through a different checkpoint, he and TSA Administrator John Pistole talked — and agreed that maybe pat-downs should not be the only option for secondary screening. How fast Pistole moves now will determine how long Paul can make legislative hay from the contretemps.

LUNCHTIME CHATTER FODDER: Martin Scorsese’s fantastic Paris adventure tale “Hugo” received 11 Academy Award nominations this morning, more than any other movie; the silent film “The Artist” was second, with 10. Both were put up for best picture along with “The Descendants,” “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close,” The Help,” “Midnight in Paris,” “Moneyball,” “The Tree of Life,” and “War Horse.” (Because of a change in the nominating rules, the best-picture field is one fewer than in the previous two years.)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Two California Democrats with (for now) nearly abutting Northern California House districts: John Garamendi (67) and Mike Thompson (61); HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan (46).

— David Hawkings, editor

Become a Facebook fan at facebook.com/DavidHawkingsDC. Or follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/davidhawkings.

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