Tuesday, January 17, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Pink Slips for Everybody

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is meeting in the State Dining Room now with the corporate and academic leaders he formed a year ago into his Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. After lunch with Biden, the president will spend 45 minutes hearing King Abdullah II of Jordan explain his view of recent “baby steps” toward Middle East peace. Then Obama’s off to an East Room photo op at 3 with the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals. His final scheduled event is a 4:30 meeting with Panetta — leaving plenty of time for the president to get ready to take the first lady out to dinner on her 48th birthday.

THE HOUSE: Convenes at 2 but will put off its two must-do pieces of opening day business until 6:30, when more lawmakers will be in town: An attendance vote to make sure a quorum (218 in this case) is available to get legislating started for the year, and a vote to make Paul Irving (who ended his 25-year Secret Service Career in 2008 as the assistant director for administration) the 36th sergeant-at-arms.

THE SENATE: Convened at 10:15 for only a 23-second pro forma session.

THE SHERPAS OF OPINION: With the streets slippery, the West Lawn soggy and the lights turned on in only the south half of the Capitol, the Occupy movement probably could have picked a better day for its latest march on Congress. But the chances that the protesters will be rewarded for their sodden persistence with some prominent TV coverage increased this morning with the release of the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll. It shows that, on at least one score, the earflap-beanie crowd is speaking for the entire country today.

The Occupiers expect what would be, for them, a record crowd demonstrating disapproval of Congress — particularly the influence of corporate money in lawmakers’ campaigns and subsequent decision-making. And the new poll signals they are onto something, because it offers another stunning set of numbers illustrating just how low Congress has fallen in the public estimation: 84 percent said they disapprove of the institution’s job performance. Just 13 percent said they approve. The nationwide disdain falls more heavily on the Republicans — 75 percent disapprove and 21 percent approve of their work, compared with 62 percent and 33 percent for the Democrats — but the poll nonetheless makes clear that this may well become an anti-incumbent election as much as a referendum on how one party is running the House and the other party is running the Senate. Which is why the Occupiers might  get some TV time for their theatrical gesture of the day: an effort to produce a symbolic “pink slip” for every lawmaker.

The crowd is planning to follow its noon rally with a march to the Supreme Court at 2, and then down Pennsylvania Avenue at rush hour toward the White House. But after today, the odds are growing that the city will work with the National Park Service for help in moving to evict the twin encampments from Freedom Plaza and McPherson Square. Mayor Vince Gray says the conditions there have moved beyond unsanitary to downright dangerous to public health. And, while the protesters have a strong case to make that their free speech rights are especially sacrosanct when exercised on federal property, the law is clear that they may not sleep there — so their tents have been in violation of the rules from the start.

GET USED TO IT: Tomorrow in the House will offer a scale model for the year of legislative impasse that lies ahead. The Republicans will push through legislation underscoring their view of fiscal policy — a symbolic rejection of the latest increase in the national debt ceiling — knowing full well the measure will be rejected outright as soon as the Democratic Senate takes it up. Then, having acted out its half of the standoff and with nothing else to do, the House will adjourn until next week.

So it will go for the winter, spring and summer. The House will take votes designed to remind the GOP political base what its majority stands for. (Energy drilling and deregulation, for example.) The Senate will do exactly the same thing, for the benefit of the Democratic base. (Immigration and job creation, for starters.) Plenty of time will be set aside for lawmakers to go home and defend their use of the Capitol as a campaign stage set. And almost no legislation altering federal public policy will end up on Obama’s desk — which is just the way he wants it, too, because he’s planned his whole re-election campaign as an attack on the do-nothings who have stood in the way of so much of the “change” he promised four years ago.

Yes, there probably will be a relatively close-to-on-time appropriations agenda — because the grand totals for fiscal 2013 discretionary spending are more or less locked in place at $1.047 trillion, at the start, minus the $97 billion that will have come through the no-supercommittee sequester. And, yes, before the end of next month (but, naturally, only at the last minute) there will be a deal on an extension of the payroll tax cut, new jobless aid and a preservation of the “doc fix” through the end of the year. But, no, there will not be a deal this year to rein in online piracy. There will not be a long-term rewrite of federal aviation programs, or highway programs, or aid to elementary and secondary schools. Instead, when Obama delivers his State of the Union speech a week from tonight, he will already be looking forward to seeing whatever he talks about addressed, if at all, in a lame-duck session, when Congress must unavoidably consider (at a minimum) the latest expiration of the Bush tax cuts even if it sticks to its guns and leaves the sequester alone.

THE SHAKEOUT: With four days and just one more debate before the South Carolina primary, there’s as little reason as ever to bet against Mitt Romney.

His performance before the raucous crowd in Myrtle Beach last night was probably his weakest in  the 16 GOP presidential debates so far. But the fact that he stumbled into Rick Santorum’s trap about voting rights for convicts in Massachusetts, that he couldn’t quite remember whether he shot a moose or an elk — and, most curiously, that he declined to squarely face the inevitable and make a straightforward promise to release his tax returns — matters hardly at all. The old political adage that has defined his campaign’s soft-but-steady success all along — you have to have somebody to beat somebody — still applies. There are still three more-conservative somebodies out there trying to stop him. Unless there’s only one, Romney wins. Transforming himself from the 25 percent man to the 35 percent man in the past two weeks is about to prove good enough.

Newt Gingrich was in top form last night — and he went on CBS this morning to argue that his debating skills alone should earn him the nomination, because it will take someone of his rhetorical skill to rattle Obama this fall. But he conceded it would be almost impossible to catch Romney if he gets above 40 percent on Saturday. And the ex-Speaker is still about 10 points behind in the South Carolina polls, meaning the ex-governor is in striking distance of meeting that expectation. And there doesn’t seem to be any hope that his old “junior partner” from the days of the GOP congressional revolution will defer to him in time to make a difference; the maybe-not-so-strong-as-first-presented evangelical leaders’ endorsement that Santorum got over the weekend — and his sense of being disrespected by the former Speaker — are enough to keep him in the race until his credit card maxes out.

As for Ron Paul, he’s settled decisively into his role as a sideshow. Even if he stays in the hunt until the end, he has no hope of plumping up his share of the vote as long as he keeps emphasizing his isolationism and odder foreign policy views — last night he suggested a trial would have been the preferable option for Osama bin Laden — as much as his libertarian economic ideas. And the longer he stays in, the more time the media have to write fun stories about him. Two today: He’s got the prostitutes at the Moonlite Bunny Ranch in Nevada working to raise money for him (he supports their industry as an appropriate free-enterprise exercise) and he’s used his congressional expense account to buy first class seats on at least 74 flights between D.C. and Houston in the past two years.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: No lawmakers today, but a pair of GOP House members celebrated over the long weekend: Tennessee’s Diana Black (61) yesterday, and Texan Michael McCaul (50) on Saturday.

— David Hawkings, editor

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