Wednesday, July 11, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Missed Appropriations

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is meeting in the Oval at 2:15 with the Democratic congressional leadership to plot legislative and political strategies for the 118 days until the election. In addition to the predictable “big six” — floor leaders Reid and Pelosi, whips Durbin and Hoyer, their top lieutenants Schumer and Clyburn — the invitees are Chris Van Hollen and the chairmen of both congressional campaign committees, Patty Murray and Steve Israel.

THE CHALLENGER: “If I did not believe that my policies and my leadership would help families of color, and families of any color, more than the policies and leadership of President Obama, I would not be running for president,” Romney said this morning in addressing the NAACP’s 103rd annual convention, in Houston. He was booed loudly when he called for repealing the health care law but got applause when he talked about improving rundown neighborhoods and lowering unemployment among African-Americans. He’s off to Montana now for a $25,000-a-plate fundraising dinner in the restored Hamilton home of 19th century copper baron Marcus Daly.

THE SENATE: Convened at 9:30 with no announced way forward on the Democrats’ one-year, $29 billion small-business payroll tax credit proposal. Reid says he’s willing to allow Republicans some latitude to make the debate a venue for airing their campaign themes, but he and McConnell haven’t settled on which specific amendments will be put to a vote. (The GOP’s main objective is to get a roll call right away on whether all of the Bush tax cuts should be continued next year. And Democrats say they’re willing to put every senator on the record for or against Obama’s bid to end the tax cuts on income above $250,000 — but apparently not right away; this morning Reid formally blocked a Republican proposal for back-to-back votes on both ideas.)

THE HOUSE: Convened at 10 and will be done for the day by 4, after voting for the second time in 18 months in favor of a total repeal of the 2010 medical insurance overhaul. (The other 31 votes have been to defund or defang portions of the statute.) All the Republicans are going to vote “yes” and are hoping their newest line of argument —  that the law’s individual mandate amounts to a tax increase, because the Supreme Court says so — prompts as many as a dozen Democrats to join them. More likely, no more than six will go against the grain.

MONEY MARGINS: Now it looks like Reid won’t even try to get any of the dozen regular spending bills passed as stand-alone measures — an acknowledgment that all the herculean effort required to move even the least controversial of those measures through the Senate is not worth his colleagues’ time this election year. They would rather spend the rest of their time in Washington before the election — which will be no more than 35 days of work as of next Monday — debating officially-going-nowhere proposals that are nonetheless opportunities to help them define their opponents and raise money. (And all of that even though only four of the 10 incontrovertibly competitive Senate races this year involve incumbents: first-term Democrats Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Jon Tester of Montana, and partial-term Republicans Dean Heller of Nevada and Scott Brown of Massachusetts.)

Senate appropriators, who have delivered nine of their 12 bills, are annoyed at the change in plans, which used to be that at least three of the measures would get done this month. But there is a real, substantive reason why floor debates on appropriations bills — at least one at a time — can be portrayed as a waste of time: The Democratic Senate and the Republican House are so far apart on what the grand total for discretionary spending should be in the coming year that there’s little point in tackling the measures piecemeal; only a comprehensive, omnibus deal at the end can hope to bridge the difference. Senators want to spend up to the $1.047 trillion limit allowed by last summer’s debt ceiling deal, but the House is for now insisting on $19 billion less — a seemingly modest 2 percent difference that becomes more difficult when program-by-program deliberations get started. Almost half of the difference could be ascribed to their differing Defense measures; the House will debate a Pentagon package next week totaling $519 billion — a hair more than half that chamber’s grand total — but the Senate has committed to spending $8 billion less than that.

House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers excoriated Reid’s decision this morning. "The House and the Senate are free to disagree, and frequently do, but that should not give cause for one whole legislative branch to act like impudent children, effectively 'taking their ball and going home,'" he said.

MATTERS OF TRUST: Congress won’t be able to enact any response this year to the Supreme Court’s most important last-day decision — that the 2010 Affordable Care Act is constitutional. But it may well be able to make quick work of legislation responding to the court’s other decision on June 28 — that the 2006 Stolen Valor Act is unconstitutional.

The court declared the law’s criminal provisions violated the free speech rights of people who want to cook up stories about their winning the Medal of Honor and other combat ribbons. So today Scott Brown, a colonel in the Army National Guard, is sending Obama a letter seeking an endorsement for his Senate legislation that is designed to overcome that First Amendment concern: It would sharply limit what false boastfulness is against the law — making it a federal misdemeanor to benefit financially (by getting extra federal VA and health benefits) from lying about military service, records or awards. Joe Heck, a colonel in the Army Reserves, is pushing companion legislation in the House, where his GOP leadership is highly likely to put the bill on the fast-track to passage this summer; if Obama gives it his blessing, a quick embrace by the Senate would seem assured. (The much broader original measure cruised through Congress on a pair of voice votes.)

TRAIL TIPS: (Illinois) Two prominent fellow Democrats in the state delegation, Sen. Dick Durbin and fellow Chicago House member Luis Gutierrez, are publicly calling on Jesse Jackson Jr. to explain what’s ailing him and when he might return from his indefinite medical leave of absence — which enters its second month today. “The people of his congressional district deserve it,” Gutierrez said yesterday, especially “if he’s going to stand for re-election.” For now the 47-year-old Jackson is a shoo-in to win a ninth full term in territory combining the South Side and close-in suburbs. “There reaches a point when you have a responsibility to tell people what you’re facing and how things are going,” Durbin said — holding up as an example the state’s other senator, Mark Kirk, who has offered frequent medical updates since his severe stroke. Jesse Jackson Sr. told a Chicago radio station that his son’s doctors would provide additional information “soon.”

(Florida) Vern Buchanan is not out of the woods yet, not with the House Ethics Committee and certainly not with the voters in and around Sarasota. The panel yesterday dismissed allegations that the NRCC fundraising chief — and multimillionaire car dealer — failed to report many of his financial holdings in four years’ worth of annual financial disclosures (and noted that those reports are riddled with errors by dozens of lawmakers year after year). But the committee is still investigating a much more serious allegation: That Buchanan offered a $2.9 million settlement to a disgruntled business partner on the condition that the man, Sam Kazran, recant everything he’d said about campaign donation laundering by their business in Buchanan’s initial 2006 campaign. (The Office of Congressional Ethics found evidence indicating that Buchanan knew about the scheme and pushed Kazran to sign a false affidavit saying he didn’t.) The Democrats haven’t picked a nominee to oppose the scarred incumbent, but the Aug. 14 primary frontrunner is former state Rep. Keith Fitzgerald.

(Massachusetts) The dynamics of the state’s single competitive House race are about to get much more complicated. Seth Moulton, a 33-year-old Marine veteran who did four tours in Iraq and has three Harvard degrees, will soon declare his candidacy for the seat John Tierney has held since 1997 — running as an independent this fall but promising to align with the Democrats if he ousts the incumbent. His supporters say they can raise $1 million, sufficient to make him a major factor in a race that had looked to be tilting toward moderate Republican Richard Tisei, a former state senator with a deep organization in the North Shore area. (Tierney’s own family is alleging he knew about their gambling operations.)

QUOTE OF NOTE: “I never thought the Speaker was going to give Mitt Romney a big, wet, slobbery, tongue-filled kiss,” Jason Chaffetz (who may be the GOP candidate’s closest personal friend in the House) said yesterday in defending Boehner’s disinclination to profess his “love” for the presumptive nominee. ‘We don’t expect a man crush. We want to come together and actually solve problems.”

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Democrat Ed Markey of Massachusetts (66), the ninth-longest-serving current House member and a lock for a 19th full term this fall.

— 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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