Friday, March 23, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: One Way or Another

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Friday, March 23, 2012

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama surprised the international financial world this morning by nominating Dartmouth’s president, Jim Kim, to head the World Bank.

As a native of South Korea and a physician with an expertise in public health — he’s best known for work to slow the spread of AIDS and tuberculosis — the 53-year-old Kim should be able to counter criticism from developing countries that the United States has misguided priorities for the 187-nation global lending consortium, which focuses on fighting poverty and promoting economic growth. “It’s time for a development professional to lead the world’s largest development agency,” the president said. (As a practical matter, the U.S. has always been able to decide who runs the bank because it’s the biggest stakeholder. Bob Zoellick is stepping down after five years. Other candidates the president considered included Susan Rice, John Kerry, Larry Summers, Laura Tyson and Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi.)

Air Force One takes off for Seoul at midnight. (On Sunday the president will visit some of the 28,500 U.S. troops stationed at the DMZ — hoping an appearance at the world’s most heavily defended border might help get North Korea’s new leader, Kim Jong Un, to the nuclear disarmament bargaining table. On Monday and Tuesday the president will be at a 60-nation summit on keeping nuclear weapons material away from terrorists.)

THE HOUSE: Not in session; next convenes at noon on Monday.

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

PROMISES BEFORE ARGUMENTS: McConnell vowed this morning that legislation to repeal the health care law would be his first order of business next January if Republicans take control of the Senate this fall — and if the Supreme Court upholds the statute this summer. “Even if they find it’s constitutional, it’s still the biggest mistake that’s been made in recent history, and it ought to be undone,” he said.

The minority leader’s declaration, in a rare Friday news conference at an otherwise deserted Capitol, came on the second anniversary of Obama’s signing of the measure — and 72 hours before the justices open an even more unusual three days of oral arguments, which center on whether the law’s mandate that individuals obtain coverage, or else pay a penalty, exceeds the power of Congress to regulate the nation’s commerce. Mitt Romney, who signed a Massachusetts mandate into law as governor, detailed his view about the differences of the state and federal statutes in an op-ed in USA Today in which he reiterated his promises to push to “repeal ObamaCare.” McConnell conceded, however, that the odds of an outright repeal are highly unlikely — because there’s no chance his side would have the required 60 votes to overcome a Democratic filibuster — and instead Republicans would be compelled to do their best to dismantle the statute piece by piece.

The Republicans essentially had the megaphone to themselves for the day, because other than issuing a dry white paper on the topic, the White House arranged nothing to celebrate the anniversary of this president’s signature domestic achievement. The country remains split on the law, with only a narrow edge disliking it, and public opinion could swing decidedly one way or the other depending on how the justices decide the case this summer — probably 20 weeks or so before the election.

NOISE FROM A BIG GUN: The all-but-on-official-stationery endorsement of Mitt Romney by Jim DeMint is at least as important as the blessing the Republican frontrunner got earlier in the week from Jeb Bush. The only senator whose endorsement could do Romney as much good, in turns of locking up Washington’s tea party establishment, would be Mike Lee of the candidate’s adopted Utah.

Demint was by far the most important guest yesterday at a meet-and-greet session for Romney with Republican members of Congress at the NRCC — especially after the South Carolina senator gave his blessing, which focused almost entirely on his view that Romney is every bit as fiscally conservative (and focused on debts and deficits) as tea partyers want. The senator also gave a thinly veiled shove to both Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich (and Ron Paul as well), saying “the best thing they can do probably is help the one that’s going to win” by doing some quick soul-searching that ends in decisions to get out of the race.

DeMint and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy were the only lawmakers who met privately with Romney. The two were the joined by such other conservative stalwarts as Lee and fellow GOP senators Kelly Ayotte, John Barrasso and Ron Johnson, and Jim Jordan and Steve King from the House. (Lee said afterward that he was going to stay neutral.) Romney also raised about $400,000 during the fundraiser portion of his morning on Capitol Hill.

The atmosphere of Romney inevitability that started to envelop the Hill does not extend to Louisiana, where Santorum remains the prohibitive favorite in tomorrow’s primary. (Polls close at 9 and 46 delegates are at stake.) The final Public Policy Polling survey in the state has the ex-Pennsylvania senator up by 14 percentage points (42 to 28) with Gingrich at 18 percent and Paul at 8 percent.

TRAIL TIPS: (Texas) Lamar Smith’s efforts to stop online piracy have made him the face of everything that’s wrong with Congress in the collective eyes of the Internet. And, although the House Judiciary chairman has been ordered by the GOP leadership to set that crusade aside for the year, an upstart social media group is working to make sure Smith won’t ever get to try again. It’s a very uphill fight: The Republican has held his Texas seat with ease since 1986 and has a gavel that allows him to raise all the money he needs, and the Reddit-based Test PAC has raised only $10,000 so far — for a billboard over a major road in Smith’s San Antonio. But the effort bears watching, because the PAC’s crowdsourcing strategy holds the potential to dramatically (and suddenly) change the way political contributors put their money behind outside groups. The GOP primary, which is tantamount to election, is May 29. Smith’s opponent is Richard Mack, a tea party activist and former sheriff in Arizona.

(Iowa) The conventional wisdom is that challengers want as many debates as possible and incumbents do better without such encounters (because they tend to put the lawmaker and the wannabe at the same credibility level). But the situation is reversed these days in the northwest corner of Iowa. Republican Steve King, who’s become nationally known during his decade in the House for his hard line on immigration, has been pressing for weeks for a six-debate commitment from Christie Vilsack, who’s nationally known among Democrats as the state’s former first lady and spouse of the Agriculture secretary. And yesterday Vilsack said yes to the unusual request. (King, who’s never debated his opponents before, is only a slight favorite at the moment, and Democrats have made the race one of their top Midwestern targets.)

(Washington) Dennis Kucinich is headed to the Seattle suburbs in three weeks to give a speech on the future of Social Security at Highline Community College — firing up the lingering suspicion that he really is going to run for a ninth term in Washington’s newly created and solidly Democratic 10th District. The April 12 speech was announced by Washington Citizens for Kucinich, which tried to talk him into running on the West Coast from the start. (Instead, he remained in Ohio and was crushed in this months’ primary by fellow House veteran Marcy Kaptur.) “Tomorrow’s victories will be built from the embers of defeat. Of this I have no doubt,” Kucinich wrote in an email to supporters yesterday. Washington’s candidate filing rules would make his move logistically easy; all he would have to do is register by May 18 (meaning he’d have to rent a place) and pay a $1,700 filing fee.

(Indiana) The Club for Growth is backing David McIntosh’s bid to come back to Congress after a dozen years away — boosting his standing as the frontrunner in a crowed May 8 GOP primary field to succeed the retiring Dan Burton as the House member for suburban Indianapolis. McIntosh left after three terms to make an unsuccessful bid for governor and is now a partner in the D.C. law firm Mayer Brown. He got his big break as a conservative wunderkind working as an adviser on deregulation to a fellow Hoosier, Vice President Dan Quayle — a relationship that points to the deeply interconnected politics of Indiana and the GOP. The Club for Growth’s chairman is another former Indiana congressman, Chris Chocola, and he has infuriated the Quayle network this week by pointedly urging GOP leaders to stay out of Ben Quayle’s primary campaign against fellow freshman Dave Schweikert in Arizona.

QUOTE OF NOTE: “You know, If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon,” the president said in the Rose Garden this morning, his first comments on the shooting death in February of the unarmed suburban Orlando boy by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who says he shot the 17-year-old Martin in self-defense. The Justice Department and FBI have opened a civil rights investigation and a Florida grand jury is considering whether to charge Zimmerman. “Every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this and everybody pulls together, federal state and local, to figure out exactly how this tragedy happened,” the president said.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: No current lawmakers, but at least three former House members: Iowa’s Neal Smith, an Appropriations Democrat ousted in 1992 in his bid for an 18th term (92); Norm Lent, a Long Island Republican who retired that same year after 11 terms (81); and Karan English, a Democrat from Arizona ousted in 1994 after a single term (63).

— 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.

Copyright 2012 CQ Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved | Privacy Policy

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.

Copyright 2012 CQ Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved | Privacy Policy

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.

Copyright 2012 CQ Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved | Privacy Policy

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Pride Goeth Before the Fall

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Today In Washington

THE SENATE: Convened at 10 and has postponed until 4 (because of some airport weather delays) the first two votes on legislation lowering regulatory barriers to stock sales by smaller companies. More than 60 senators will vote to scuttle a package of investor-protection changes proposed by liberal Democrats, and then more than 60 will vote to allow debate on an amendment that would extend and expand the lending power of the Ex-Im Bank.

THE HOUSE: Convened at 10 for speeches and before 5 will pass legislation creating a pilot program for speeding the disposal of surplus government real estate through auctions, with the profits dedicated to deficit reduction and homeless aid.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is coming to the Capitol for the first time since his State of the Union address eight weeks ago. He, Biden and Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny are expected at 1:15 for the Speaker’s annual “Friends of Ireland” lunch. The president and the taoiseach spent an hour alone in the Oval this morning, and Kenny will be back at 7 for the annual St. Patrick’s Day party in the East Room.

Obama’s only scheduled policy event is a 4:30 meeting with Panetta.

BRACKETOLOGY: Given how much else had already been trial-ballooned, the tax cut proposals are the most newsworthy aspect of the budget Paul Ryan unveiled this morning.

They have no more chance of becoming law this election year than the Budget chairman’s plans for turning Medicare into a “premium support” system for people younger than 55 — or cutting Medicaid, food stamps, Pell Grants, farm subsidies and the other safety net programs that Obama and congressional Democrats have the power and the commitment to protect. But the budget’s discussion of taxes offers an unexpected sketch of the policies the House Republican majority will campaign on this fall — and would pursue next year if they hold on to power and have a newly installed GOP Senate majority and a Republican president to work with. The document makes plain that — while aspiring to end the current era of runaway deficits and spiraling debt after two decades — Republicans are committed to keeping overall revenue about where it is as a share of the overall economy, through the economic expansion they’re confident would come from lowering rates while simplifying the code and broadening the base of taxpayers.

Overall, the Wisconsin Republican’s plan calls for $2 trillion in lower taxes during the next decade and $5.3 trillion in reduced spending — for a cumulative bite out of the red ink of $3.3 trillion, which is still less than was being contemplated last summer and far short of what would be needed to balance the books.

The Ryan budget calls for just two income tax brackets (down from the current six) of 10 percent and 25 percent — although the document does not say which income levels should pay which rates. (The top rate today is 35 percent.) It would do away with the alternative minimum tax, which was designed to hit only the wealthy but affects middle-income earners more and more. And to help finance all that lost revenue, it calls for eliminating many individual tax preferences – but does not say which ones should be scrapped. The budget would also reduce the corporate tax rate by 10 percentage points, to 25 percent, and virtually eliminate taxes on corporate profits made abroad. (Of the White House aspirants, the proposal seems most similar to the tax plan of Rick Santorum, who would replace the current system with two rates: 28 percent and 10 percent. Mitt Romney’s proposal would result in reducing all tax rates by about one-fifth; Newt Gingrich wants a 15 percent flat tax.)

WHO’S WITH HIM? When the plan gets its  first test tomorrow, during an all-day debating session before the House Budget Committee, the chairman’s biggest obstacle will not be the panel’s 16 Democrats — because their opposition is so thoroughly understood and downright gleeful (because they’re totally confident the GOP’s fiscal policy positioning is an even bigger political blunder this campaign year than it was last year) as to be totally anticlimactic.

Instead, Ryan will spend most of his attention trying to quell a rebellion by potentially more than half of his 21 GOP colleagues on the panel — whose commitment to spending-cut discipline is dug-in enough (and the chorus in their ears of intraparty frustration at the lack of balance is loud enough) that they could alter the budget in one significant and debilitating way: They want to cut the top line for allowable discretionary spending next year far below the $1.047 trillion that had been agreed to by both parties and Obama last summer as part of the default-avoiding debt limit deal. Ryan already has signaled acquiescence in the idea of cutting that number by 2 percent, or $19 billion, but many conservatives are talking about ditching the agreed-upon number and insisting on 11 percent (or $116 billion) less — or close to $931 billion. If most panel Democrats make a strategic (and entirely cynical) decision to band with the conservatives to vote for such  a cut, it could be accepted over Ryan’s objections — which would create a dead budget walking when the document arrives on the House floor next week.

Even if the $19 billion-lower-than-before number survives and is adopted by the House, though, the debate is far from put to bed. Although the Democratic Senate won’t even debate a budget this year, it will stick by the debt-deal top line for its spending bills — and both Budget Chairman Kent Conrad and Appropriations Chairman Dan Inouye wrote to Boehner yesterday that anything less from the House would amount to a “breach of faith” that “would risk a government shutdown.” Beyond that, this dispute could totally poison the waters for lame-duck negotiations on an alternative spending-cut package that would be big enough to avoid the coming sequestration — across-the-board cuts of $55 billion from defense accounts and $43 billion from non-defense accounts.

TWO-THIRDS AND FIFTY: Mitt Romney is on course to score the sort of decisive, double-digit-margin win in the Illinois primary today that would revive the “he’s the inevitable guy” narrative he’s wishing would bring the melodramatic race for the Republican nomination to its end.

But that won’t happen unless he does more than rack up such solid majorities in the Chicago suburbs and the city to secure two-thirds or more of the state’s delegates. To create the impression that he’s given Rick Santorum a debilitating shove, Romney’s goal is to do well enough in the much more  conservative downstate areas that he gets an outright majority of the statewide vote — a 50 percent threshold he’s yet to crack in any genuinely contested race. (In other words, Idaho and home-state Massachusetts don’t really count.) The polls close at 8 (D.C. time) and the results will determine the allocation of 54 of the state’s 69 delegates, with the rest assigned at the state convention in June. (Romney is assured at least 10 tonight because the Santorum camp didn’t get its paperwork done in time in four congressional districts.) The Romney campaign has spent $1.1 million in the state, and the super PAC Restore Our Future has put in $2.6 million, while Santorum and the super PAC backing him, the Red White and Blue Fund, have spent a combined $532,000.

No matter what happens, though, Santorum is showing no signs of backing away — and has every reason to expect at least one more victory, in Saturday’s Louisiana primary. (Romney has essentially given up there and will campaign tomorrow in Maryland.)

But after that, the primary map is pretty easy on Romney’s eyes through the end of next month, when he’s the heavy favorite in seven and the underdog only in Santorum’s native Pennsylvania. The ex-governor of Massachusetts should sweep the trio of contests on April 3 — probably scooping up all 19 delegates assigned to D.C. and winning three delegates to every one for Santorum in both neighboring and equally moderate Maryland (37 total) and in Wisconsin (42). Three weeks later, he should feel confident of getting all 28 delegates from next-door Connecticut and could lock up all 17 from Delaware and 19 from Rhode Island, too. Combined with a 2-to-1 win in New York and a decent showing in Pennsylvania, that would give him about 170 delegates on the night — or four times what his main rival can hope for. (It’s tough to see Newt Gingrich or Ron Paul getting a single delegate in April.)

TRAIL TIPS, ILLINOIS EDITION: (1) Don Manzullo still has the edge over Adam Kinzinger in the most hotly contested congressional primary. He also has a late and quiet endorsement from Boehner — in the form of a $5,000 campaign donation last week, which arrived soon after Cantor endorsed the freshman and a super PAC aligned with the majority leader made a $50,000 radio ad buy. Cantor’s decision to take sides in the first of this year’s quartet of member-on-member GOP primaries is now looking to backfire big time — not only by saddling his handpicked candidate with an unwanted “insider” label but also making many in his caucus annoyed and affording a new opportunity for the Speaker to get an edge in their long-running leadership rivalry.

(2) The Campaign for Primary Accountability, the anti-incumbent super PAC that helped defeat Jean Schmidt and made life a bit tougher for Spencer Bachus, is not going to get the scalp it wanted in Illinois. Judy Biggert is running unopposed for the GOP nomination for an eighth term in a sprawling newly drawn district — because her rival, Kane County Clerk Jack Cunningham, was kicked off the ballot last week by a state appeals court, which ruled that two of his signature-filled petitions were invalid. Biggert still faces a tossup race in the fall, though, against looking-for-a-comeback Bill Foster, the Democrat who took Denny Hastert’s place for one term.

(3) Republican freshman Bob Dold’s chances of survival are looking a bit better because of last-weekend polls that give a double-digit edge in the district’s Democratic primary to progressive MoveOn.org organizer Ilya Sheyman, a 25-year-old Russian immigrant, over establishment pick and businessman Brad Schneider.

(4) In the open seat outside St. Louis created by Democrat Jerry Costello’s retirement, the solid favorite to win the Republican nomination (despite a balky campaign) is Jason Plummer, the party’s 2010 nominee for lieutenant governor. But he remains the underdog against the almost certain Democratic primary winner, regional school superintendent Brad Harriman.

(5) In the western Chicago suburbs, Iraq War veteran and former VA official Tammy Duckworth is going to win the Democratic primary over former Illinois Deputy Treasurer Raja Krishnamoorthi. Her victory would put her on solid footing to avenge her unexpected 2006 loss (to Pete Roskam) by defeating over-the-top GOP freshman Joe Walsh.

QUOTE OF NOTE: “It’s tempting to associate a candidate’s code word with some aspect of their personality. Sometimes this is true and sometimes it is not,” Marc Ambinder writes on the GQ website about the Secret Service monikers for Santorum and Romney. “ ‘Petrus’ is a biblical allusion — as in St. Peter, the first pope. (The Latin name is derived from the Greek word for ‘rock.’) Perhaps ‘Javelin’ is a reference to the ‘60s muscle car made by American Motors Corp.”

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: No current lawmakers, but two stars of “Broadcast News,” the best Washington movie of 25 years ago: William Hurt (62) and Holly Hunter (54).

— 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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Monday, March 19, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Return of the Ryan Show

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Monday, March 19, 2012

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama will head around the corner to the W Hotel for the 109th fundraiser of his re-election campaign at 5, a few hours after reporting a $45 million haul last month. That approaches his total ($52 million) for the previous four months combined, but it’s nonetheless below the $56 million he raised four Februaries ago, at the height of his drive for the Democratic nomination — and a sign he’s nowhere close to on course for raking in the $1 billion his GOP critics keep talking about. The president’s new FEC filing also shows that, while the dinners and concerts for top-dollar givers get all the press, about 340,000 people gave $250 or less last month, and $59 is the average donation so far this cycle.

Obama’s in a senior staff meeting now and has a 3:45 meeting in the Oval with Clinton.

THE HOUSE: Convenes at 4 to pass two minor measures, one to make Israeli exporters eligible for a special business visa and the other to shield countries from lawsuits connected to their loans of art to American museums. (There would be an exception for Nazi plunder.) The votes are set for 6:30.

THE SENATE: Convenes at 2 for speechmaking only; the first vote will be tomorrow morning on the small-business securities deregulation package.

RESOLUTION TIME: Paul Ryan is promising that the budget he’ll unveil tomorrow morning “tackles our generation’s defining challenges and doesn’t hide from tough decisions” — meaning House Republicans are going to stick by their bold proposals for remaking Medicare, curbing Medicaid and cutting taxes, too.

Their straightforward gamble is that the GOP base, and the all-important lion’s share of  independents, will reward the House majority for sticking by the courage of its convictions and being bold (especially in an election year) in taking on a debt that threatens to swamp and swallow the country in the next decade. And the Democrats are so eager to take that bet that — 24 hours before the chairman puts out any paper, and two days before the Budget Committee vote — the DCCC this morning launched an advertising and grass-roots campaign (complete with robo-calls that can connect recipients to their congressman’s office) targeting 41 politically vulnerable House Republicans for choosing “millionaires over Medicare.”

The budget, to be sure, still faces some nettlesome but not debilitating criticism from some tea party freshmen and others on the fiscal far right — who don’t think it’s bold enough on either entitlement curbs or discretionary spending restraint — but that minor rebellion is expected to be put down with relative ease by Kevin McCarthy’s majority whip organization. At that point, look for the document to get through the House without a single Democratic vote — even tough the Medicare reinvention language is similar to the premium-support program that Ryan cooked up last year with a prominent liberal Democrat, Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon. But the House budget has no future as a formal driver of policy, because the Senate won’t even take it up. (The only number with any real teeth in the coming months is the top line for Appropriations, which will be $19 billion — or 2 percent — below what senators plan to spend — and not lower as the most conservative Republicans are still talking about.) That said, the budget will stand as the fiscal platform of the GOP majority as it campaigns to hold power in the House for a second straight Congress.

NOT DIGGING IT: The gyrations over the House budget and the continued pressure being applied by the most conservative Republicans (freshmen and veterans alike) mean there will be no vote in the House on a real highway bill (either the Senate’s or something else) either this week or next. Instead, the GOP has resigned to yet another stopgap measure, maybe lasting a month, that would prevent a shutdown of road construction projects when the current interim law lapses at the end of March — and provide Boehner with a couple of weeks of breathing room once Congress returns from its spring break in the third week of April. The delay is extremely annoying to state and local governments, which wanted to use the early spring to get shovels in the ground on their shovel-ready projects. But Boehner and his whip operation are far from sure they have the votes for the two-year, $109 billion bill the Senate passed last week — and are still talking about making another run at the Speaker’s five-year, $260 billion alternative.

ONE HE CAN WIN: A confident-sounding Mitt Romney turned aside all talk about Rick Santorum while campaigning in Illinois this morning and instead road-tested some of the lines he hopes to use in the fall. While the economy is on the upswing, he said at a diner in Springfield, the current administration’s policies are slowing the pace of the recovery — and as president the former investment banker would have the chips to move things along quickly. “There are dramatic differences between me and President Obama,” Romney said. “I’m not an economic lightweight. President Obama is.”

The jab came as the newest survey in Illinois, by Public Policy Polling,  showed the ex-governor surging one day before the state’s primary — and holding a commanding 45 percent to 30 percent lead over Santorum. If there’s a similar blowout when the actual voting happens, it will mark something of a breakthrough for Romney, who time and again has seen his overwhelming organizational and financial advantages translated into underwhelming victories. His ability to get such a big lead in delegates without closing the deal is one reason a good number of party elders have yet to get in his camp:  Haley Barbour, the former Mississippi governor and onetime potential presidential candidate, said yesterday that his primary vote went to Newt Gingrich.

SMOOTH HANDOFF: Don’t expect to see any whiz-bang graphics or hear any over-produced theme music on “Washington Journal” two weeks from today, the first weekday morning in the 33-year-history of C-SPAN when Brian Lamb won’t be in charge. The network, which revolutionized public affairs programming in the 1970s, remains a bedrock of the best journalistic values to this day — in part because it has the luxury (as a nonprofit) of making change deliberately and non-theatrically at a time when most media organizations feel compelled to draw attention to routine cosmetic reinventions. And Lamb’s co-successors, Rob Kennedy and Susan Swain, have both been at C-SPAN since the 1980s and have been cultivators of its deliberate culture since becoming co-chief operating officers six years ago. Under the new organizational structure, which is being announced today, familiar on-air presence Swain will oversee content and marketing, while Kennedy will oversee business, engineering and IT. Lamb, 70, will become executive chairman and will continue to host “Q&A,” his Sunday night interview show. (The three C-SPAN channels operate on a $60 million annual budget that comes from a 6-cents-a-month charge that cable and satellite providers pay for each subscriber.)

TRAIL TIPS: (Illinois) The closing momentum looks to be with Don Manzullo in the year’s first redistricting-made GOP primary between two sitting congressmen. If the former Small Business Committee chairman defeats freshman Adam Kinzinger tomorrow in a solidly Republican district that wraps around the outer edges of the Chicago metro area, it will be a significant upset — a victory for age (Manzullo is 67, Kinzinger 34) and insider experience at a time when House Republicans have been looking to remake themselves as the party of the fresh-faced and anti-establishment. The problem for Kinzinger, it appears, is that Cantor and other leaders in the caucus have been so eager to help one of their fair-haired tea party heros (a big radio Super PAC ad buy over the weekend included) that they’ve made him look like the insider — and allowed Manzullo to position himself for his 11th term as the candidate less beholden to the party bosses at the Capitol.

(Indiana) Two new polls financed by groups seeking to oust Dick Lugar (Citizens United and the campaign of Rep. Joe Donnelly, the Democratic recruit for the race) show the exact same numbers seven weeks before the Republican primary: The incumbent Indiana senator at 45 percent, well below the outright majority a 36-year veteran and icon of state politics should enjoy, 39 percent for tea-party-backed state Treasurer Richard Mourdock and a sizebale 16 percent still up for grabs. The numbers are a clear sign that Lugar’s enormous fundraising advantage has been insufficient to sweep away the solidifying narrative that he has become woefully detached from the state — both in his interests (foreign policy over farming) and his logistics (no true Hoosier residence to call home). In a similar poll in October, Lugar was up by 12 points.

(New York) The Democratic organization in Queens yesterday endorsed Grace Meng, a 36-year-old state legislator from Flushing, for the House seat Gary Ackerman is unexpectedly leaving open. Along with the redrawn district’s demographics — more than three of every eight voters is Asian American — the endorsement gives her the initial edge in the June 26 primary in which her main rival will be another member of the Assembly from Queens, 43-year-old Rory Lancman. The winner will be a prohibitive favorite in the fall. The state has never sent an Asian American to Congress; Meng’s father, Jimmy, broke that racial barrier in the state Assembly a decade ago.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Today, second-termer Mike Coffman of Colorado (57); yesterday, 14th-termer Howard Coble (81), a fellow House Republican.

— 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.

Copyright 2012 CQ Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved | Privacy Policy