Wednesday, March 21, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: The Dynasty Checks In

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Today In Washington

THE SENATE: Convened at 9:30 and is voting 75-22 to speed the so-called Jobs Act (which is actually about relaxing federal regulations on smaller businesses that want to sell shares to the public) toward a final vote tonight. There’s still a chance the bill may be amended this afternoon to boost investor protections — something Democrats became much more intent on doing once their preferred sweetener (an expansion of Ex-Im Bank lending) was unexpectedly rejected yesterday. Language requiring crowdfunders (people who want to use social media to raise capital) to register with the SEC is a leading candidate.

There will be a pause in the debate at 2:30 for a ceremony honoring Maryland Democrat Barbara Mikulski, who on Saturday became the longest-serving female lawmaker in congressional history. (She started representing Baltimore in the House in January 1977.)

THE HOUSE: Convened at 10 and will spend the afternoon debating legislation that would cap some awards in medical malpractice cases and kill the IPAB, an independent commission empowered by the 2010 health care overhaul to limit Medicare spending growth. Some amendments will be considered today, but the last vote is promised before 3.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Air Force One is headed out West so Obama can tout his all-of-the-above energy agenda at very different venues in two tossup states. He’ll talk about his support for renewables in a speech at 4:20 (D.C. time) at the nation’s largest operating photovoltaic plant — Copper Mountain Solar 1 in Boulder City, Nev. (six electoral votes), where almost a million solar panels power 17,000 homes. He’ll tout his commitment to expanding domestic oil and gas drilling at 8:15, his backdrop the 70 active rigs on a parcel of federal land outside of Maljamar, N.M. (five EVs). Then he’s off to spend the night in Oklahoma City; tomorrow, in Cushing, he’ll tout his decision to expedite permits for building the southern stretch of the Keystone XL pipeline, between that huge petro center and the Gulf Coast.

A VICTORY AND A GIFT: “We are almost there,” Mitt Romney declared in an email that arrived overnight in the inboxes of millions of his supports — a proclamation that has become much more likely, if not quite a sure thing, because of his decisive Illinois primary victory.

But the win was big enough to secure Jeb Bush’s endorsement this morning. “Primary elections have been held in 34 states, and now is the time for Republicans to unite behind Governor Romney and take our message of fiscal conservatism and job creation to all voters this fall,” the former Florida governor said — thereby silencing talk, once and for all, that he could be drafted as some sort of party savior in Tampa this summer.

As a matter of pure math, Romney’s delegate haul from Illinois (45 at a minimum) will still leave him just shy of the 572 that would put him halfway there. But as a matter of perception, his 12-percentage-point, 100,000-vote margin of victory — and his winning several groups that have spurned him so far, including poorer Republicans, married women and tea party fans — surely marks the beginning of the end of all the talk about a contested Republican convention.  The Bush endorsement is an exclamation point. But the aura of inevitability and the affect of self-confidence Romney projected in his speech last night — which, like the one in New Hampshire, sounded very much like a Tampa preview — were all clearly stage-managed to push the self-fulfilling-prophecy story line along.

And not without ample justification. Rick Santorum may be the solid favorite to win Saturday’s primary in Louisiana, a state that’s tailor-made for the brand of cultural, religious conservatism that defines him (in part because he can’t seem to talk about blue-collar populism for more than a few minutes without mentioning “life”). But after that, he’ll have just 10 days to come up with a formula for winning his first Rust Belt bellwether — because the still-on-the-fence Republican leaders aren’t going to wait for him to resurrect himself in his home state of Pennsylvania on April 24; they’ll want to see him pull off an upset on April 3 in Wisconsin. If he cannot, more and more money and a last wave of GOP big guns will start lining up fast behind the former Massachusetts governor. (Don’t look for a pre-primary Romney endorsement from the nation’s most prominent Wisconsin politician. Even though Romney gave a full-throated endorsement to the Paul Ryan budget yesterday — in an effort to cement his fiscally conservative bona fides — the congressman is making it clear he really has no interest in being on the ticket this fall and so has no incentive to take sides before his own constituents vote.)

And as for Newt Gingrich — who finished fourth behind hardly-trying Ron Paul yesterday, and could hardly get his face on the cable TV coverage for more than a couple of minutes — he’s quickly sliding toward becoming this year’s version of Harold Stassen. The polls have made clear he cannot propel Santorum into contention by throwing his supporters that way — because half of them would go to Romney. And a review of the GOP convention rule book in recent days has reminded the former Speaker that he doesn’t have what it takes to be a player at convention — because for that, to make it simple, you need to have won five state contests, and he looks to be stuck at only two.

WON’T BE LIKE THIS AGAIN: Cantor did not suffer an embarrassing black mark on his political acumen, after all, in the marquee Illinois congressional contest. The majority leader’s candidate, freshman golden boy Adam Kinzinger, won a decisive 12-percentage-point, 9,000-vote victory over 10-term veteran Don Manzullo in the first of this year’s four member-on-member GOP primaries — aided not only by an apparently superior ground game but also with significant help from the super PAC run by a former Cantor aide, the YG Action Fund. Its involvement in the intraparty fight made the two others who formed the House GOP “young gun” trio a few years ago, Paul Ryan and Kevin McCarthy, none too comfortable, and highlighted how the majority leader, majority whip and Budget chairman are increasingly in different places in their own congressional and political careers.

That lingering awkwardness (and Kinzinger’s unexpected, come-from-behind triumph) makes it unlikely Cantor will risk more alienation from his colleagues (or the bad press of a defeat) by taking sides in the other three internecine primaries: John Mica vs. Sandy Adams in Florida, Charles Boustany vs. Jeff Landry in Louisiana and Ben Quayle vs. Dave Schweikert in Arizona. And the same is true for other leaders, including Boehner, who backed Manzullo financially but did not make a public fuss over him.  The leadership also faced new pressures to stay out of the way today from the Club for Growth. Its president, former Rep. Chris Chocola of Indiana, said the influential conservative group and its PAC would throw its weight behind Schweikert — but only if members of other leadership or the Young Gun super PAC went for Quayle.

THE DEMOCRATIC SIDE: The biggest upset of the night came in the primary to decide which Democrat would take on GOP freshman Bob Dold. Progressive favorite Ilya Sheyman, a MoveOn.org organizer, lost by 8 points to management consultant Brad Schneider, whose much more centrist ideology made him the more appealing general election candidate for party leaders; Democrats now are all but counting that seat as one of their November pickups. They are also banking on former VA official Tammy Duckworth to pick up the suburban Chicago seat where Joe Walsh, one of the most outspoken members of the current freshman class, has staked his claim. Duckworth, a disabled Army combat pilot who lost a highly touted race four years ago, won her primary by 2-to-1 against former deputy state treasurer Raja Krishnamoorthi.

Democrats redraw the state map (which now has only 18 districts, a loss of one) with aspirations to pick up as many as five seats — or 20 percent of what they need to win back a House majority. But that assumes the party will hold the state’s only open seat — far downstate, where Jerry Costello is retiring — a task that became more complicated yesterday because self-financing lumber millionaire Jason Plummer, the lieutenant governor nominee in 2010, won the GOP nomination by a solid 20 points. The Democrat in that race is regional schools superintendent Brad Harriman.

SALES JOB: The Ryan budget will get through the House Budget Committee today, although the markup that started at midmorning will probably stretch late into the night — and the necessary measure of conservative support on the panel is not yet locked down. If all 16 Democrats vote against the chairman’s package (which is a sure thing) then the “no” votes of just three Republicans would doom the blueprint to rejection. The panel is stacked with conservative Republican Study Committee members and tea party freshmen, who lament loudly that Ryan’s plan wouldn’t bring the books into balance for as long as three decades. But in the end almost all of them will vote for it, because they understand that the alternative in this election year would be a cataclysm for the party. So far, only one Republican, Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, has promised to vote against the plan. And only two others, Todd Akin of Missouri and Justin Amash of Michigan, have described themselves as undecided. Presumably, the leadership will wrestle at least one of them and maybe all three back into line by tonight.

One of the reasons Ryan’s budget will succeed is that he’s successfully selling his top line on discretionary spending — $19 billion less than under the bipartisan debt limit deal of August — as the best way to get started on avoiding sequestration at the end of the year. He’s maintaining that the lower spending level is actually higher than what spending would be if the roughly $98 billion in automatic discretionary cuts triggered by the failure of the joint deficit committee last fall were allowed to go into effect. “A lot of people in Washington would like to simply think that we can spend as we’re going and ignore the fact that on Jan. 2 the sequester kicks in. We don’t think we should ignore this,” he said. But it’s highly unlikely — given the Senate Democratic recalcitrance that McConnell & Co. are not working hard to crack (or talk about, much to the House GOP whip operation’s dismay) — that Congress is going to even touch the fiscal elephant in the room until after the election.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Jim Matheson, the only Democrat in the Utah congressional delegation since his arrival in 2001, who faces another uphill House campaign this fall (52).

— 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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