Thursday, March 22, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Down From the Mountaintop

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Today In Washington

THE SENATE: Convened at 9:30 and will be done for the week at midafternoon — after a series of roll calls that start at 12:30 and could herald two of the final mildly significant legislative compromises between Republicans and Democrats in this election year.

A solid bipartisan majority will vote to send Obama legislation explicitly prohibiting members of Congress, their aides and executive branch officials from profiting from information gleaned on the job — and requiring thousands of government workers to file online reports within 45 days of every big financial transaction, so the public could keep an eye out for insider trades. The measure is the House’s version of the so-called Stock Act (as in Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge) because Reid could not find the votes to hang on to two of the strongest provisions in the original Senate version. One would have required lobbyist-like registration for purveyors of political intelligence — firms that snoop around the Hill and sell what they hear to securities traders. The other was designed to strengthen prosecutorial tools to press public corruption cases, which were recently reined in by the Supreme Court.

Another solid bipartisan vote is also on tap for a second bill with a clever acronym – the so-called Jobs Act (Jumpstart Our Small Business Startups), written in the view that relaxing the regulatory oversight of venture capitalists will end up putting more people to work. Senators will send the bill back to the House with new language to make “crowdfunders” register with the SEC, but they look ready to defeat a Reid-backed amendment (labeled a poison pill by critics) that would effectively boost the number of companies subject to securities regulation.

THE HOUSE: Convened at 10 and will be done for the week within the hour, after passing a Republican bill that would take two final swipes at Obama health care policy in advance of next week’s Supreme Court arguments on the constitutionality of the 2010 insurance overhaul. The measure would cap some medical malpractice awards (which the law didn’t touch) and close down the IPAB, a 15-member panel created under the statute with the power to limit Medicare spending.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama just formally announced that he’s ordered federal bureaucrats to speed up permitting for construction of the 485-mile portion of the Keystone XL pipeline between where he is — the massive petroleum distribution center in Cushing, Okla. — and the refineries on the Texas coast. The move will not quiet calls for approval of the other 1,200 miles of the pipleline, from Oklahoma to Canada, but it may help the president to counter GOP charges that he’s stifling domestic energy production and allowing gasoline prices to be way too high ($3.86 a gallon is the current average).

The president’s two-day energy tour concludes with a speech at 4:30 at Ohio State University (the tossup state has 18 electoral votes) touting his decision to raise fuel efficiency standards to 55 miles a gallon for new cars and trucks by 2025. He’s due back in town in time to appear at 7 at a Greek independence day reception in the East Room.

MORAL MAJORITY LEADER: If that old congressional leadership adage is true — the one that goes something like, “If I’m making both sides mad then I must be doing something right” — then Paul Ryan may have found the ultimate budgetary truth.

This morning at the Heritage Foundation he described his budget proposals for the coming year, which are really a proposed Republican campaign manifesto for this year, as “moral documents.” Maybe so, but the ideas are still being held in minimal high regard by his fiscally hawkish colleagues. The Budget Committee chairman pushed them through his own panel last night with no votes to spare — 19 to 18, with Tim Huelskamp of Kansas and Justin Amash of Michigan moving to the right of their chairman, breaking from the GOP fold and joining all the Democrats in opposition. (Another Republican, Rick Mulvaney of South Carolina, voted “yes” but said he might vote “no” on the floor.) The Democrats, to no one’s surprise, think the budget is wrong from start to finish — on tax cuts, entitlement curbs and slashes in the social safety net. Proponents of a grand bipartisan bargain lament, also to no one’s surprise, that Ryan made no overtures to raising revenue as part of his budget-balancing formula. But it’s the damning with faint praise and outright dismay from the conservative intelligentsia and their allies in the House GOP that is surprising and stinging more, and could have disastrous consequences when the document is debated in the full House next week.

Heritage is worried that Ryan’s budget would take way too long to get to balance, perhaps three decades. (Ryan disputed that today, saying it could be as soon as 2019 if the economy plumps up.) That group and the Club for Growth say he would not do nearly enough to assure sustained deep domestic spending cuts — because he would work around the sequester — or overhaul and restrain the growth of Medicare, Medicaid and maybe even Social Security. All of which makes it likely now that Ohio’s Jim Jordan and his 165 colleagues in the Republican Study Committee will move next week to ditch the Ryan plan and replace it with their own, even more assertive brand of budgetary knife-wielding. That effort will not succeed. But it’s still an open question how many of those conservatives will then vote against adopting the Ryan budget. Only four did so last year. But in an election year, a much larger number — especially those trying to fend off primary challengers to their tea party right — could oppose the document as too milquetoast. It’s hard to imagine there are two dozen of these dissenters (which would spell defeat), but even half that many could make big-time political trouble for the leadership.

The rumblings are a reminder that, even though Ryan has fundamentally reshaped the way Congress even talks about its budget, that shift to a “new normal” by itself is not enough to rein in all of this year’s brand of GOP revolutionaries. Which means that, no matter what happens once some sort of budget is through the House, the nation can look forward to the reappearance of the “government shutdown" countdown clocks on the cable TV news channels come September — when they will make their last meaningful contribution to the budget debate just before the election.

BOTTOM OF THE 9TH: The standoff over public works policy between the Democratic Senate and the Republican House intensified this morning, when Reid said he is “not inclined” to endorse a ninth stopgap extension of the current law governing highways, mass transit and rail programs. A three-month extension of the current highway bill is what Transportation Chairman John Mica promised the House would vote on next week, after which the current law will lapse and Congress will be on its two-week recess for Passover and Easter. House Democrats don’t like that idea and are pushing instead for the House to clear the two-year, $109 billion measure produced by the Senate — a position Reid got behind today. So, even if the government shutdown clocks won’t be dusted off before fall, the “public works shutdown” clocks will be pulled out next week. A similar impasse over a bill governing airport construction caused a two-week shutdown of much of the FAA, furloughing thousands of workers and costing the government $25 million a day in lost revenue. There’s a genuine chance that something similar might happen with roads and bridge construction in 10 days, with furloughs and a suspension of federal payments to states for projects under way.

TRAIL TIPS: (Maryland) Donna Edwards endorsed John Delaney for Congress in a neighboring Maryland district this morning. The two campaigned together at the Shady Grove Metro station — the latest evidence of the deep split among the state’s most prominent Democrats two weeks before the primary, but also a sign the DCCC views the millionaire investor as having the best chance to defeat 10-term Republican Roscoe Bartlett in the fall. (Edwards is in charge of the Democratic campaign organization’s Red to Blue program, which pays special attention to prime House pickup opportunities.) The congressional district was redrawn to add western Montgomery County — and initially, it was assumed, to promote the candidacy of a state senator from Potomac, Rob Garagiola, who has the backing of several major unions and liberal groups as well as House Democrats Steny Hoyer, Elijah Cummings and Dutch Ruppersberger. (Chris Van Hollen and John Sarbanes are neutral.) Delaney has the backing of Bill Clinton and state Comptroller Peter Franchot.

(Connecticut) Linda McMahon is ahead of Chris Shays by 9 percentage points (51 to 42) in the race for the Republican nomination for Connecticut’s open Senate seat, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today. But the former pro wrestling executive’s lead over the former congressman is down from 15 points in the last Q Poll, in September — and the new numbers have Shays doing much better than his rival against both leading Democratic candidates to succeed Joe Lieberman. (The primaries are Aug. 14.) Shays and Democratic frontrunner Chris Murphy are in a statistical tie (40 to 41) with a fifth of the vote undecided, while the survey shows the third-term House member for the state’s northwest corner besting McMahon by 15 points (52 to 37). Shays is also in a dead heat (43 to 42) against Susan Bysiewicz, but the former secretary of state is ahead of McMahon by 10 points. (In the Democratic field, Murphy holds a 12 point lead, but 29 percent are undecided.) McMahon spent $50 million of her own money but lost the state’s last open Senate race, two years ago, by 12 points to Dick Blumenthal.

(Indiana) There’s a new chapter today in the carpetbagger-in-his-own-state narrative enveloping Dick Lugar. The Indiana Democratic Party demanded to see the comprehensive results of an internal audit the senator said he recently conducted of his office — which is resulting in a promise to reimburse the Treasury for $4,500 in Indianapolis hotel bills paid from his Senate account in the past decade. The possibly appropriate charges (such expenses are allowed in many circumstances) are nonetheless a reminder that the Republican has not owned a home in his state since soon after his initial election 36 years ago. State Treasurer Richard Mourdock hopes that fact will help propel him to a tea-party fueled victory in the May 8 primary. The winner will face Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly.

QUOTE OF NOTE: “The issues I’m running on will be exactly the same,” Mitt Romney said last night when asked to respond to campaign guru Eric Fehrnstrom’s likening of the start of a general election campaign to a swept-clean Etch a Sketch. “I’m running as a conservative Republican. I was a conservative governor. I will be running as a conservative Republican nominee.”

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Orrin Hatch of Utah, the second-most-senior Senate Republican (78), and Pete Sessions of Texas, who’s in his second term chairing the National Republican Congressional Committee (57).

— David Hawkings, editor

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

More congressional campaign coverage is on Roll Call’s At the Races politics blog.

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