Friday, July 20, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: 'There Are Going To Be Other Days for Politics'

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Friday, July 20, 2012

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama called off the second day of his campaign trip to Florida, ordered most of his TV ads off the air and is flying back to Washington for more briefings on the suburban Denver movie theater rampage that has left at least 12 dead and 38 wounded.

“There are going to be other days for politics. Today is a day for reflection and prayer,” Obama told the crowd gathered a few minutes ago for the cancelled campaign rally at the Harborside Event Center in Fort Meyers. He promised his administration would do whatever it could to support Aurora’s people and said he was committed to bringing the person responsible to justice, adding, “Such violence, such evil senselessness, is beyond reason." (The alleged gunman — who reportedly wore a bulletproof vest and unleashed an assault rifle, a shotgun, two handguns and a canister of tear gas during a midnight showing of the “The Dark Knight Rises” — was identified as 24-year-old James Holmes of Aurora.)

THE CHALLENGER: “We are praying for the families and loved ones of the victims during this time of deep shock and immense grief,” Romney said in his own written reaction to the Batman movie premiere massacre. “We expect that the person responsible for this terrible crime will be quickly brought to justice.” The candidate — with dark-horse running mate option Kelly Ayotte in tow — is in New Hampshire (four tossup EVs) and will speak on camera at 12:10 at Coastal Forest Products, a specialty lumber supplier in Bow.

THE SENATE: Not in session; next convenes at 2 on Monday.

THE HOUSE: Also not in session, and also next convenes at 2 on Monday.
SECURITY SOLUTIONS: Advocates of boosting cybersecurity protections say they may have divined the magic legislative formula — in time to get their bill passed by the Senate before the August break, and maybe as soon as next week.

Earlier this week, Reid spurred the negotiators toward a deal by saying he was willing to postpone debate in the annual defense authorization bill if a cybersecurity measure was ready. And yesterday five senators (Joe Lieberman, Susan Collins, Dianne Feinstein, Tom Carper and Jay Rockefeller) said they had reached agreement on a measure that substitutes carrots for the sticks that they were originally contemplating for the businesses in control of the computer networks that could cause the most chaos if attacked. The new bill would make compliance with new federal security standards voluntary for privately held utilities and other companies that own those most vital networks. And it would offer those businesses incentives — legal immunity in the event of an attack, most importantly — if they meet detailed standards for self-protection that would be  developed by private industry groups and then blessed by the administration.

The bill that had stalled would have set mandatory cyber-protection requirements on those businesses, which became anathema to deregulatory Republicans. The new measure should be able to draw enough GOP votes to overcome a filibuster by the most conservative senators. But some at both ends of the spectrum continue to be concerned about whether other provisions — designed to strengthen the sharing of threat information between the federal government and the private sector — would open the door to violations of individual privacy rights. It was those civil liberties concerns that slowed the eventual passage of a more limited cybersecurity bill in the House. But now it appears as though the Senate negotiating group has come close to winning over such privacy advocates as the Center for Democracy and Technology and the ACLU. (The legislation would ensure companies give their cybersecurity information only to civilian agencies and would restrict use of that data to protecting computer networks and shielding people from an imminent threat of harm.)

NOT A HOT COMMODITY: There is no sign that an appeal from one out of every seven House members is going to move Boehner off his position in the farm bill — which is to let it wilt for the rest of the summer and fall, then try to harvest some compromise from it in the lame duck.

“Inaction means economic, nutritional and employment crisis throughout our rural communities,” Pelosi said yesterday after 62 members signed a letter asking that the farm bill be debated in the next two weeks. But inaction also means that Republicans do not have to give airtime to another one of their continuing series of spats between tea party fiscal conservatives (who in this case think the farm bill would spend too much, especially on food stamps) and the caucus establishment (which is only willing to push the confrontational envelope so far). And that is why the leadership has made clear that the Agriculture Committee’s bill is not coming to the floor before the recess. Instead, the House floor will be the stage next week to promote a unifying GOP campaign theme — the need for economically stimulative regulatory relief.

The GOP leadership’s theory is that negotiators from the House and Senate, which has passed its farm bill, could come up with a deal after the election that would save $10 billion or more in the next five years — and that compromise could catch a ride on some year-ending deal that edges the country away from the fiscal cliff.

ONE FOR THE HOLIDAYS: At least six weeks before lawmakers return for the lame duck, Congress will have had to address its next absolute fiscal deadline — the start of the new budget year on Oct. 1. There’s universal understanding now that not a single one of the dozen spending bills that are supposed to be done by then will be finished; the only suspense is how long Congress will give itself (at least initially) to get the job done — and whether that first stopgap appropriations bill, or CR, will be held hostage to partisan disagreement on tangential (or not so tangential) matters.

Senators in both parties are signaling some progress toward defusing any talk of such brinkmanship (and the potential for a government showdown) with plenty of time to spare — maybe even before the summer recess. Their goal is to unite behind a single CR that postpones the day of reckoning until the middle of December, which would create only one opportunity for end-of-the-year mischief, and make it clear — even before the campaign kicks into its highest gear — that the shutdown countdown clock can be turned off until after the election. The other main issue that will need to be negotiated is what pace of spending will be allowed under the CR. Democrats will be arguing for an annualized rate of $1.047 trillion, the amount for fiscal 2013 agreed to a year ago in the debt limit deal. And Republicans are already talking about $1.028 trillion, the number the House embraced this spring in an effort to keep alive their budget cutting cause. The difference is $19 billion over an entire year — but only $4.7 billion over the time between Oct. 1 and Christmas, by which there’s every hope a deal settling the discretioary budget battle will have been reached.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Today, the longest-serving woman senator ever, Democrat Barbara Mikulski of Maryland (76). Tomorrow, Assistant Minority Leader Jim Clyburn of South Carolina (72); fellow House Democrat Ed Towns, who’s retiring from his Brooklyn seat (78); Senate GOP Conference vice chairman John Barrasso of Wyoming (60); two House Republicans from Tennessee, Jimmy Duncan (65) and Phil Roe (67); and GOP freshman Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina (45).

— David Hawkings, editor

Become a Facebook fan at Or follow me on Twitter @davidhawkings.

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

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