Tuesday, May 15, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Hardy Perennial

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Today In Washington

THE SENATE: Convened at 10 and this afternoon will send Obama legislation raising the Export-Import Bank’s lending limit by 40 percent over the next four years, to $140 billion, so overseas buyers of jet aircraft and other big-ticket American products have easier access to credit. Starting at 2:15, senators will soundly reject five amendments by conservative Republicans that would curtail or outright kill the bank, which they view as inconsistent with their free-market principles. (The majority to clear the bill, which is a top priority of Big Business, will be considerable and bipartisan, just as it was in the House last week.)

THE HOUSE: Convenes at noon for speeches and at 2 will begin debating 11 non-controversial measures; one would create a federal communications network to help states and cities with their “blue alert” efforts to catch people who assault or kill police. The votes will be after 6:30.

THE WHITE HOUSE: “Every American who wears the badge knows the burden that comes with it,” Obama said a few minutes ago at a memorial service in the Capitol for the 72 law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty last year.

He’ll be in the East Room at 2:15 for a photo op with the Major League Soccer-champion L.A. Galaxy, in the Oval Office after that for meetings with Biden, Panetta and Geithner, and in the Blue Room at 7 for a thank-you dinner with top war commanders and their spouses.

IT’S BACK: The stakes for the lame duck got a lot higher this morning when Boehner revived the line-in-the-sand demand that propelled the government to the edge of default last summer: House Republicans will not vote to raise the debt ceiling again — which will be necessary before the start of the next Congress — unless Obama and congressional Democrats agree to cut spending by at least as much as the increase in the borrowing limit.

“This is the only avenue I see right now to force the elected leadership of this country to solve our structural fiscal imbalance,” the Speaker says in a speech he’ll deliver this afternoon during a conference of the fiscally conservative Peterson Foundation. “We shouldn’t dread the debt limit. We should welcome it,” he said. “It’s an action-forcing event in a town that has become infamous for inaction.”

Permitting the national debt to rise above $16.7 trillion is only one of the four enormously consequential fiscal policy matters that seem destined to remain in limbo beyond the election; the others are completing the dozen annual appropriations bills, deciding whether to continue or partially repeal the Bush tax cuts expiring at year’s end, and devising an alternative to the across-the-board spending cuts set to take effect in January. Boehner’s speech acknowledges how Herculean a task it would be — even for a Congress at the low, post-election ebb of the political cycle — to address all of them meaningfully in the seven weeks between Election Day and Christmas. And so he suggests that his 1-to-1 demand might be met only through a series of short-term measures. “If that means we have to do a series of stop-gap measures, so be it. But that’s not the ideal. Let’s start solving the problem. We can make the bold cuts and reforms necessary to meet this principle, and we must,” the advance text says. “Just so we’re clear, I’m talking about real cuts and reforms — not these tricks and gimmicks that have given Washington a pass on grappling with its spending problem.”

HARD PLACE: Demanding a 1-to-1 match of new borrowing authority to deficit reduction, which Boehner first did almost exactly a year ago, was the immovable bedrock of the GOP position in last year’s fiscal standoff. It ended with a last-minute agreement in August to pair a $2.4 trillion increase in the debt limit (which will keep the government solvent into early January at the latest) with an equal amount of spending cuts: half from appropriations over the next decade and (after the supercommittee failed to come up with an alternative) the other half from those automatic across-the-board cuts, known as sequestration, to both defense and domestic programs.

House Democratic leaders, including Jim Clyburn and Chris Van Hollen, are suggesting this week that their side would back a one-year delay in those automatic cuts — gambling that Obama will be reelected and their party’s strength in numbers on the Hill will be increased this fall, which would mean they have more leverage to negotiate an alternative deficit reduction package in 2013  (one that would rely on higher taxes for a quarter to a third of the savings) than they will late in the fall. Many Republicans, at the same time, are making the same gamble on their party’s political fortunes and also signaling that delaying the next really big fiscal showdown until next spring is in their best interests — another reason why their all-mandatory-spending-cut, $310 billion plan the House passed last week cannot be forgotten for too long.

SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE: Two government reports out this morning — one that consumer prices didn’t move last month, the other that core retail sales were up 0.4 percent — should buttress the strengthening sense of optimism about the economic future reflected in a pair of polls that are also out today.

The CBS News/New York Times survey found that 36 percent of voters view the economy as getting better, 39 percent see it as steady and 24 percent think it's getting worse — a decent set of numbers for the Obama campaign to try to build on and a sign that Romney should have his own optimism. The same can be said of the two campaigns’ views of the USA Today/Gallup poll: 71 percent say that current economic conditions are poor, but 58 percent predict things will be better a year from now. (The poll also shows 55 percent believing the economy would get better in the next four years under a Romney administration — but only 46 percent say the same thing about a second Obama administration.)

The Labor Department reported that the seasonally adjusted consumer price index did not change between March and April. (Excluding volatile food and gasoline costs, “core” inflation was 0.2 percent for a second straight month). The slow pace of price increases should provide consumers with a little more money to spend — meaning an economy that’s growing — but overall retail sales rose only 0.1 percent last month. While that sounds flat, details in the Commerce Department report offered reasons for optimism: There were notable increases in spending on big-ticket items such as cars, furniture and electronics, and in restaurants and bars. In the end, so-called core retail sales increased 0.4 percent.

NOT JUST HANGING AROUND: Ron Paul’s effort to put a too-cute-by-half coda on his third and final presidential campaign — he’s not going to spend any money in the 11 states with Republican primaries yet to come, but he is going to officially keep seeking delegates to the convention — is actually quite easy to understand. The Texas congressman, who has grown libertarian conservatism from the fringiest of fringe movements into a 10 percent vein within the mainstream of the GOP, wants to stay respectable and realistic and viable just long enough in his own 76-year-old right so that he can launch the national career of his son Rand, who’s now finishing only his second year as a senator from Kentucky but already has made his bigger ambitions abundantly clear. (He’s made no move to get in the way of the establishment this year, though, and has endorsed the Romney nomination.)

What is not clear is whether the elder Paul can bring his House career to a financially and ethically clean close. A libertarian organization that used to count Paul as its main patron — the Liberty Committee, a nonprofit group headed by former Paul aide David James — essentially has turned against the congressman. It revealed yesterday that an audit showed that $20,000 worth of Paul’s expenses it had paid over the years (mainly tickets for about 40 flights) were also paid by his congressional office account. “This practice of double or duplicate billing enriched you while draining funds intended for legitimate projects,” the group told the congressman in a tart letter. Paul’s congressional spokesman Jesse Benton said James is “pursuing a personal grudge” against Paul.

GOT 'IM: Mitt Romney is campaigning in Des Moines this afternoon, mainly by delivering a newly crafted speech at 3 about the rising debt and “out of control” spending. In advance of the address, he officially picked up the endorsement of Steve King, the conservative congressman who famously decided to stay neutral just before the pivotal caucuses in the swing state in January. “I’ve said all along I’ll be an enthusiastic supporter of our eventual nominee," King said yesterday.

AN IDEA WHOSE TIME HAD NOT COME: Americans Elect, a private organization established to run a third-party candidate for president this year, announced today that it is giving up — because no one mustered sufficient support before the deadline it had set for running in a June online primary. The group had done significant work to get a line on the ballot in many states and was sure a flood of candidates would compete for it. Political and business leaders needed to get preliminary votes of support from at least 1,000 people in at least 10 states to run in the online primary, but no one came close; efforts to draft Ron Paul and former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer came up several thousand votes short.

OH, DID HE SAY THAT? Those who held out hope (or a perverse fear) that the Senate was really about to move to rein in abuse of the filibuster can stand down: Reid’s people are sending word that his fulminations last week — when he said he should have backed efforts to reform the process when they started to gain traction last year — were nothing more than the man with the hardest job in Congress venting a little bit of steam.

TRAIL TIPS: (Massachusetts) Richard Tisei, who’s bidding to become the first openly gay Republican to win a House seat, has a 7-point lead (40 percent to 33 percent) over John Tierney in a poll taken last week in the North Shore district the Democrat has represented for eight terms. The poll also showed voters statistically tied, 36 percent to 37 percent, when asked if they have a favorable or unfavorable view of the congressman. The survey numbers will undoubtedly bolster fundraising by Tisei, who has spent half his 52 years as a state legislator and has already outraised Tierney in each of the past two quarters. (The state last elected a Republican to the  House in 1994.)

(Connecticut) Rep. Chris Murphy won the Democratic state convention’s Senate endorsement by a 3-to-1 margin over the weekend, which was not quite a big enough thumping to prohibit former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz from persevering until an Aug. 14 primary. The congressman also won the backing of the National Organization for Women last week, while Bysiewicz has the active organizational and financial backing of Emily’s List. On Friday, delegates to the state GOP convention will decide whether to endorse wrestling impresario Linda McMahon or former Rep. Chris Shays for the seat Joe Lieberman is leaving open, but a primary between those two is also foreordained.

(California) In a clear sign that Republicans really think they can take a significantly redrawn district north of Sacramento,  NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions is taking sides among the party’s four aspirants — by heading out west next week to headline a pair of fundraisers for Kim Vann, a Colusa County supervisor. The money should help Vann do well enough in the June 5 all-candidate primary to become the fall challenger to Democrat John Garamendi, who has represented a very different (and more Democratic) district closer to San Francisco since winning a special election three years ago.

QUOTE OF NOTE: “We deplore this weak and unjust decision,” Rebekah Brooks and her husband, Charlie, said in a statement his morning after the former head of Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid newspaper empire was charged with the British equivalent of obstruction of justice — by far the highest-profile prosecution yet in the News International phone hacking scandal. (Four others beside the couple were also charged with conspiring to destroy evidence last summer.)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: No lawmakers, but D.C. figures include HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (64), Fox News chief Roger Ailes (72) and lobbyist Linda Daschle (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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