Friday, February 17, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Photo Op

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Friday, February 17, 2012

Today In Washington

THE HOUSE: Convened at 9 and has just voted, 293-132, to endorse the final, $143 billion version of legislation extending the 2-percentage-point payroll tax cut for 160 million workers through the end of the year, continuing but limiting benefits to the long-time unemployed and forestalling a 27 percent cut in Medicare reimbursements to doctors. The package was opposed by 91 Republicans and 41 Democrats.

THE SENATE: Convened at 10 and will clear the payroll tax cut, jobless aid and “doc fix” package within a few minutes — and an atypically lengthy 12 days before all three were set to expire. The vote is the last piece of business before all of Congress goes on recess for the next week. Look for a much closer vote than in the House, with a handful of conservative Democrats as well as a solid majority of Republicans  voting “no.”

Senators voted this morning against limiting debate on the two-year, $109 billion version of the highway, mass transit and freight rail policy rewrite that Reid is pushing, suggesting plenty of work ahead for senators interested in reviving the bill after the recess. The roll call was 54-42, but 60 votes were required. But senators brushed aside a handful of conservative GOP critics and confirmed Jesse Furman, a federal prosecutor and the younger brother of White House economics adviser Jason Furman, to be a federal judge in New York.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama takes off from San Francisco at noon (D.C. time) and heads to the mammoth Boeing Everett Factory north of Seattle, where 747s, 767s, 777s, and the new 787 Dreamliner are all built. It’s an obvious location for his 2:30 speech reiterating his views about the importance of manufacturing and exports to “an economy built to last,” which is the only non-fundraising stop of the day. Fresh off an announcement that he raised $29.1 million for his re-election campaign and for the Democratic Party in January, he’s got an event at 5 in the home of Susan and Jeff Brotman (a Costco co-founder) and another at 6:45 in the Westin Bellevue hotel. He’s due back in the family quarters at 1 tomorrow morning.

THE SUPREME COURT: The justices returned from a nearly monthlong recess and held a closed-door conference to deliberate several cases — the first such session since Breyer was robbed of $1,000 by a machete-wielding intruder at his Caribbean vacation home. (Oral arguments resume Tuesday.)

THE OTHER SIDE: When Barbara Boxer and Kirsten Gillibrand took to the Senate floor this morning, their rhetoric was a stark reminder that those who fail to appreciate history are doomed to repeat it. More than two decades after an all-male Senate Judiciary Committee decided it believed Clarence Thomas more than Anita Hill — and at a time when the number of women in Congress has plateaued at 17 percent — the two Democratic senators were able to have a political field day over Darrell Issa’s “just doesn’t get it” moment in the House yesterday.

The two needed to do nothing more than ask “Where are the women?” as they described the giant photo they had brought with them — of the five witnesses, all of them men, who testified as the first panel of experts on birth control before Issa’s House Oversight Committee yesterday. In so doing, the senators underscored how the culture wars can absolutely cut both ways — and are not always be won by the Republicans. The Thomas hearings were responsible for big gains by the Democrats, and especially their women candidates, in 1992 because voters tied antiquated chauvinism and the GOP together. The GOP’s efforts to make Terri Schiavo’s permanent vegetative state into a right-to-life caused totally backfired seven years ago — because the public thought the Republicans had gone way too far and had their eyes off the “real” issues. Those two lessons are on the minds of political operatives on both sides now, who wonder aloud whether the GOP is about to overplay its hand in the Obama birth control mandate, not only because women will rise up against them but also because voters of both genders think this year should be spent talking about the parties’ prescriptions for the economy and not about life in the bedroom.

EYEBALLING AN OVERHAUL: They may deride what they view as his occasionally flippant and all-too-frequent smirk, but House Budget Committee Republicans were delighted with one thing Geithner said yesterday: that the administration will soon offer a plan for a corporate tax overhaul. He said the president has not given up on those aspirations when the grand-bargain and supercommittee talks foundered last year. “We’ll have a chance to talk about this in the coming weeks,” the Treasury secretary said, and he promised  a “broad framework” for ending “dozens and dozens of the special preferences in the corporate tax code today” while preserving “a much narrower, targeted set” of corporate tax provisions aimed at “encouraging investment in the United States.” It’s highly unlikely the administration’s corporate tax plan will resolve partisan differences over tax policy — and certainly not in an election year. But the paper will give both sides something to ponder in anticipation of a significant tax-code overhaul debate next year if the present is re-elected — and a document filled with evidence the Republicans can use to criticize the president during the campaign.

NOT A FACTOR: The cost of living rose less than forecast in January, supporting the view that inflation is among the least of the nation’s election year economic worries. The consumer price index increased 0.2 percent after no change in December, the Labor Department says this morning. The so-called core measure, which excludes more volatile food and energy costs, also increased 0.2 percent, following a 0.1 percent uptick the previous month. (The absence of inflation is one reason for the the Federal Reserve’s decision to keep interest rates low through at least 2014.)

WHERE HAVE ALL THE GOOD TIMES GONE: It looks like next Wednesday’s debate in Mesa, Ariz., could be the 20th and last of the 2012 Republican presidential campaign. That’s because the debate scheduled  in Atlanta on March 1 was called off by CNN and the Georgia GOP yesterday when Mitt Romney said he wouldn’t be there — and Rick Santorum and Ron Paul quickly dropped out as well. The prospects for all four to show up at the PBS debate being planned for Portland, Ore., on March 19 look to be fading as well. The development could not come at a worse time for Newt Gingrich, consistently the best performer at such events in the past few months, who was hoping to revive his faltering candidacy with a strong showing in his hometown. (He’s spending five of the next 14 days in Georgia, his main Super Tuesday target. He has three campaign offices and a full-time staff of a dozen in the state — the biggest operation he’s set up since South Carolina, which is the one state he’s won so far.)

BIG LEAD: Scott Brown was solidly in front of Elizabeth Warren, 49 percent to 40 percent, in a survey taken this week and released last night by Suffolk University, the premier polling authority in Massachusetts. The margin of error in the poll of 600 voters was 4 points; only 9 percent were undecided. And among the all-important independents, who tend to decide such tossups, the incumbent Republican senator was way ahead, 60 percent to 28 percent. A poll out earlier this week had the race essentially tied — but it was focused on likely voters, while the new survey was of registered voters.

QUOTE OF NOTE: “I took a chance at the Apollo and I’m not going to take a chance again,” Obama said at his San Francisco fundraising dinner last night, where Al Green was the guest entertainer and there was enormous speculation the two might sing a duet. “Now, what is possible is, after reelection, I might go on tour with the good reverend. Be his opening act. But I don’t want to lose any further votes because of my singing voice.” (Still available from his campaign is a ring tone of the president  crooning  “I’m so in love with you” at the New York  fundraiser.)

ANOTHER QUOTE OF NOTE: “I’m not responsible for every comment that a supporter of mine makes,” Rick Santorum said on CBS this morning about his super PAC’s biggest benefactor, Foster Friess, who yesterday touted an aspirin tablet (held by the knees) as a low-cost and effective birth control method. “It was a bad joke, it was a stupid joke, and it is not reflective of me or my record on this issue,” said the presidential aspirant, who does say states should be free to ban contraceptive sales.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: House Republicans Randy Forbes of Virginia (60) and Jim Jordan of Ohio (48).

PUBLISHING SCHEDULE: Because of the Presidents Day congressional recess, there will not be a Daily Briefing next week unless significant news demands it. Regular production will resume Monday, Feb. 27.

— David Hawkings, editor

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