Friday, April 20, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Neither Sealed Nor Delivered

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Friday, April 20, 2012

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama’s only scheduled public appearance is welcoming the Wounded Warrior Project’s Soldier Ride to the South Lawn at 4:45. (The four-day cycling trip, now in its sixth year, was created to help injured veterans boost their mental and physical health — and to remind the public about the consequences of war.)

THE HOUSE: Not in session; next convenes for legislative work at noon Tuesday.

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

SCHEDULED DELIVERY: Congress is back on track to pull the Postal Service in from the precipice of bankruptcy before the middle of May, when the agency says it will otherwise become essentially insolvent.

The plight of the Postal Service has been a decided afterthought in the national conversation. And that’s been understandable in a lengthening era when Washington remains totally gridlocked over the undeniably biggest issues facing the country — surging government debt, a balky economy, high unemployment and global warming, for starters — and in a “silly season” springtime where the top stories out of the capital are over-the-top captivating even for citizens who don’t care anything about what normally goes on in government: the GSA’s wrong-headed efforts to redefine the meaning of “procurement strategy” in Las Vegas (run by an official, Jeff Neely, who showed off a photo of himself and a nice glass of red wine in a federally-financed hotel hot tub) and the Secret Service’s wrong-headed efforts to redefine the meaning of “advance work” in Colombia (involving an agent, David Chaney, who showed off a photo of himself ogling Sarah Palin — complete with the Facebook caption, “I was really checking her out, if you know what I mean”).

But if the mail stops showing up, all of the public’s guffaws of disapproval over bureaucratic and bodyguard malfeasance, and all its collective head-scratching about political dysfunction in the face of macroeconomic and budget challenges, will be comprehensively superseded by genuinely disbelieving outrage. Congressional approval slipped only toward single-digit territory last year after Hill impasses created possible shutdowns of national parks and passport offices, halts to airport construction, cancellation of road projects and a possible default on U.S. bonds. It would plunge toward absolute zero if the nation’s bills and birthday cards and magazines and catalogues are not delivered. It may sound mundane and naive to all the Internet bankers and online shoppers inside the Beltway (and to those who find D.C.’s mail delivery less than adequate), but in vast stretches of the real America, timely mail service is the last bedrock of governmental competence. They do not know that the Postal Service is a mostly independent agency that’s been given ample freedom to run like a business. And they do not care.

Which is why it was a baseline survival move last night when Reid reached a deal with everyone else in the every-senator-for-himself-or-herself Senate last night — an agreement that puts the Postal Service overhaul package on a clear path to passage by Tuesday night. Although Congress is out on recess the week after next, the Senate’s move will give the House more than a week after its return to endorse the compromise and send it to Obama.

The heart of the measure is an $11 billion infusion of cash — basically a refund of past overpayments to a federal pension fund — which the agency wants to pay down debt and offer buyouts to 100,000 postal employees. The bill would also allow the Postal Service to make smaller future payments for retiree health benefits and trim benefits to its current workforce. But it would limit to only half steps many of the bold moves Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe wants to take in order to cut $22 billion in operating costs in the next three years — halving the number of mail processing centers he could close, slowing to a crawl his plans for shuttering under-patronized post offices and delaying for two years a decision about the future of Saturday delivery.

The key Senate vote on Tuesday will be on an amendment (by John McCain) that would give Donahue almost all of what he’s asked for — and would thereby emulate the House GOP leadership’s bill. He will need 60 votes to succeed, and he’s not likely to get them. If that happens, the question will be whether the tough-love, fiscally conservative crowd in the House is willing to accept the only politically viable option available before the deadline — or to hold the line on principle (and threaten a hold on mail delivery) by declaring an impasse.

TRAIL TIPS: (Money) One of the most influential and well-funded abortion rights groups, EMILY’s List, is announcing five more endorsements today. Its blessing will bring a big financial boost to these Democratic women, each of whom is waging a tossup or slight underdog bid for the House: Attorney Shelley Adler, who is running in southern New Jersey against freshman Jon Runyan (who defeated Adler’s now-dead husband, John); attorney Kathy Boockvar, who running in the Philadelphia suburbs against second-termer Mike Fitzpatrick; state Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, who is running in an open Southern California district where the other front-runner is independent Ventura County Supervisor Linda Parks; Carol Shea-Porter, who served two terms in the House and is now waging a comeback bid in New Hampshire against Frank Guinta; and former state Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who’s running in a newly created and vast eastern Arizona district.

(Illinois) He will still bear the label “freshman likeliest to lose” but at least tea party hero Joe Walsh is shedding his “deadbeat dad” moniker. His former wife, Laura, yesterday dropped her lawsuit for $117,000 in child support after the two reached a financial settlement — and she even issued a statement declaring “Joe is not and was not a ‘deadbeat dad’ and does not owe child support.” (The couple divorced nine years ago and their children are now 24, 21, and 17.) With or without his personal affairs tidied up, though, the suburban Chicago district where Walsh decided to run is so Democratic that he remains a clear underdog against Iraq War veteran and former VA official Tammy Duckworth.

(North Carolina) Just when the “birther” movement seemed to be finally fading to discredited oblivion, the Republican favored to win a newly drawn Charlotte-area House seat has revived it. “There’s no question President Obama is hiding something on his citizenship,” Richard Hudson declared at a tea party campaign forum this week, and he said if he defeats Democratic incumbent Larry Kissell he’ll push legislation requiring the chief justice to certify the citizenship of every president-elect. (As a reminder, Hawaii’s official records show Barack Hussein Obama II was born in Honolulu at 7:24 p.m. on Aug. 4, 1961 — meaning he’s a natural-born citizen as the Constitution requires.) Hudson is the clear front-runner in the May 8 primary; that he’s campaigning on the birther issue is all the more surprising because he’s a product of the Hill GOP establishment: He has been legislative director to Kissell’s predecessor, Robin Hayes, and chief of staff to Texan Mike Conaway.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Third-term Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas (76) and a fellow Republican in the House, freshman Dan Benishek of Michigan (60).

— 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, April 19, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: 2 Percent, Milked

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Today In Washington

THE HOUSE: Convened at 9 and will be done for the week within an hour, after voting along party lines for Cantor’s bill to provide a one-year, 20 percent tax deduction for companies with fewer than 500 workers — which the GOP labels “small businesses” but which actually account for more than 95 percent of all the nation’s employers. The measure, which would cost the Treasury $46 billion next year, is a non-starter in the Democratic Senate and faces an Obama veto threat in any case. But, as with the “Buffett rule” millionaire’s tax debate on the other side of the Capitol earlier in the week, the legislative outlook is beside the point; both proposals are all about positioning for the fall campaign.

THE SENATE: Convened at 9:30 to confront an impasse over the Postal Service bill, with negotiators scrambling for a deal before test votes at 2:15 that will be the final roll calls of the week. Reid is working to shorten the roster of proposed changes to a scaled-back version of the legislation, which would give the financially imperiled postal system an $11 billion cash infusion but delay other steps in the name of long-term solvency — closing post offices and ending Saturday delivery. Senators who want to prevent such politically unpopular cutbacks in service altogether may have the 41 votes they need to sustain a filibuster.

More maneuvering on legislation to update the Violence Against Women Act, which has almost inexplicably stirred a partisan election-year fight, is off until next week.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama has a senior staff meeting in the Oval at noon, a photo op with another national sports champion on the South Lawn at 2:20 (Alabama’s Crimson Tide football team this time) and his weekly D.C. hotel fundraiser around the corner at the W two hours later.

DRAWING LONG LINES: It’s been clear for weeks now that a $19 billion spending difference — between what a bipartisan Congress and Obama agreed upon last summer and what the House Republicans have since decided is their lower ceiling — would be this year’s top reason for delaying and complicating the annual discretionary budget ritual. What’s becoming evident now, even as the House and Senate appropriators start moving their bills through committee this week, is that the process may not get anywhere substantively farther down the runway before the lame duck — six weeks after agencies are supposed to have their annual budgets in hand.

That's because the White House has told Congress in no uncertain terms that Obama will not sign any spending bills unless and until the House GOP leadership defies the wishes of its most conservative members and once again endorses the $1.05 trillion spending target agreed to last August as part of the debt limit deal. (The difference between the two numbers is about 2 percent.) The fiat was made in a letter to appropriators sent yesterday by acting OMB Director Jeffrey Zients. His language is designed to make it clear from the outset that the president will not be trapped (as many of his predecessors have been) into a piecemeal process by which the defense and non-controversial domestic bills are produced quickly, and with minimal spending reductions, and then all the deep cuts are reserved for the contentious social-program and environmental-spending measures at the end of the year.

So long as that line in the sand remains firm, there is little incentive for members of either chamber to put much effort into the time-consuming and politically difficult tasks (especially in this earmark-free era) of picking agency winners and losers. The only real reason to plow ahead anyway is that there’s not going to be much else going on legislatively come this summer to compete for the House and Senate’s attention — and Republicans and Democrats alike at last have a shared interest in having some legislation to debate mainly so it can serve as a vehicle for campaign-defining votes on policy riders.

WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN? While partisans and the press continue their angels-dancing-on-the-head of-a-pin argument — should Kent Conrad get credit for breaking the 1,085-day Senate Democratic budget proposal drought yesterday or not — his decision to throw a spotlight on the $5.4 trillion Simpson-Bowles fiscal discipline plan, and then walk away from it, has satisfied essentially no one. Not Republicans, who publicly condemned yesterday’s choreographed Budget Committee move, saying the chairman had broken a promise last summer to present a budget and hold a vote. Not Democrats, who quietly lamented the move, saying it only highlighted the reality that their side is fearful of taking politically tough votes. And certainly not Conrad himself, who has been reduced to all sorts of rhetorical contortions in explaining the rationale for his maneuver. (His speech on the floor this morning was particularly tough to witness.)

Beyond all that, as an effort at a political sidestep, the Conrad maneuver may not prove all that effective. As a procedural matter, the absence of an officially endorsed budget resolution will allow Republicans to press for roll call votes later this spring on a range of deficit reduction ideas – including the preferred alternative of the Senate conservatives (by Pat Toomey of Pennsylvaia), the Ryan budget from the House and Obama’s own dead-on-arrival blueprint.

TRAIL TIPS: (Pennsylvania) Jason Altmire led fellow House Democrat Mark Critz by only 4 percentage points (43 percent to 39 percent) in a poll taken last weekend and released yesterday by the Tribune-Review and another big Pittsburgh media force, WPXI. That’s a statistical tie given the survey’s margin of sampling error, but it nonetheless shows how Critz has significantly closed the gap in the reconfigured district in the state’s southwest corner; a month ago, Altmire released an internal poll giving him a 24-point lead. The two are facing off in the year’s third member vs. member primary on Tuesday. But, unlike the winners of the first two — Democrat Marcy Kaptur in Ohio and Republican Adam Kinzinger in Illinois — next week’s victor cannot claim a clear path to election; the redrawn Pennsylvania map makes this November tossup in either case. The GOP nominee will be attorney Keith Rothfus, who took 49 percent against Altmire last time.

(Indiana) Richard Mourdock is in a statistical dead heat against Dick Lugar (ahead by 42 percent to 40 percent), according to an internal poll the state treasurer’s campaign put out yesterday. But the survey’s most sobering news for the six term incumbent senator is not that head-to-head result; instead, it’s that 65 percent of likely voters in the May 8 Republican primary agreed with the statement that Lugar has been in Washington for too long. The senator’s best hope, the poll suggests, is that many centrist Democrats and independents take advantage of the open primary rules and decide to vote in the GOP contest. An ad being taped by John McCain this week could help that. Rep. Joe Donnelly is a shoo-in for the Democratic nomination.

(Florida) Although his approval rating is a very tepid 36 percent and his disapproval rating is within 4 percentage points of that, Democrat Bill Nelson has sizeable leads in his bid for a third Senate term over both of his likeliest Republican challengers, the latest Public Policy Polling survey shows. The incumbent is ahead of Rep. Connie Mack by 10 points (47 to 37) and ahead of his former appointed Senate colleague, George LeMieux, by 14 points (48 to 34).

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: No sitting lawmakers; former members include Clay Shaw (73), a Florida Republican who chaired the Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee at his defeat in 2006.

— 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, April 18, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Budget Hawk Down

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is about to hop aboard Marine One for the start of an 11-hour trip to a pair of Midwestern swing states with a combined 34 electoral votes on the line. He’ll promote his economic policies in a 2:30 speech at Lorain County Community College, after meeting with a group of unemployed Ohioans in a job retraining program there. (He’s sure to emphasize how such programs would be cut under the House GOP budget.) He’s got a pair of top-dollar evening fundraisers in Michigan, the first at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn — coincidentally (or not), the venue Mitt Romney used to announce his unsuccessful bid for president four years ago.

THE HOUSE: Convened at 10 for speeches and this afternoon will take up yet another (the 10th) short-term continuation of road and mass transit programs. Republican leaders expect a provision compelling Obama to approve the Keystone XL pipeline will be a sufficient sweetener to get an essential bloc of conservatives to vote “yes.” Passage of the 90-day extension would, as a procedural matter, allow formal negotiations with the Senate on a longer-lasting and policy-altering highway bill.

THE SENATE: Convened at 9:30 to debate whether to debate legislation reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act — a parliamentary placeholder while Reid and McConnell negotiate the terms for debating the bill designed to forestall a financial meltdown at the Postal Service.

QUIET FINALE: Kent Conrad came to the Senate a quarter-century ago promising to leave after one term unless the deficit was cut in half. Neither thing happened in the 1980s of course, even though the pool of red ink was a fraction of what it is today. Conrad was persuaded by his North Dakota constituents to stick around and keep trying. And today, his crusade essentially is coming to an end.

Now the Budget Committee chairman for the past five years, Conrad had threatened to defy Reid and the wishes of so many fellow Democrats one final time by calling a genuine budget resolution markup that would have subjected so many of his sticking-around colleagues to so much election-year grief. Instead, at the last minute he decided to accede to all the grumbling and do nothing more than propose the 10-year, $5.4 trillion deficit Simpson-Bowles package — the politically unrealistic handiwork of an Obama commission that was rejected by the president himself at the end of 2010. Conrad is not even going to ask his colleagues to really vote on it. (The panel meeting begins at 2.) The gesture will serve as a coda to all the years he has been leading the congressional budget hawks in the cause of frustrated futility — and a reminder of how the current polarization and dysfunction at the Capitol are only the latest expressions of states of being that began decades ago.

Two years ago, the Simpson-Bowles plan had a brief chance of getting a vote in the lame-duck Congress. Conrad says he has a sliver of optimism that could happen in the next lame-duck, when so many other fiscal moments of truth will be pressing on Congress (Bush tax cuts, sequestration, etc.) that — theoretically — could be wiped away with such an enormously bold single stroke. But there’s no chance enough departing and defeated lawmakers will be around to vote for such a thing. (Remember, only 38 House members voted in favor of it during a test vote in March.)

LIKE, NOT LOVE: The reaction that so many congressional Republicans still have toward Mitt Romney — ranging from ambivalence to half-hearted enthusiasm — was perfectly captured by McConnell yesterday. When the normally precise and proper senator was asked by a reporter if he was ready to follow Boehner, who earlier in the day had endorsed the all-but-official nominee when another reporter asked, the best McConnell could come up with was a “Yeah,” followed by: “As you have noticed, the party is in the process of unifying behind him. And I think it’s going to be an incredibly close, hard-fought race . . . we’re all behind him and looking forward to the fall campaign, which is actually already under way.”

The leader’s understated blessings were unable to come close to masking the minimal high regard that so many conservative House members allowed to seep into their comments after a caucus yesterday. Time and again, the best those Republicans could come up with was that they were thrilled to have settled on someone who might defeat the president — not that they were excited it was Romney who had won the job. “I would say first we’re excited about the opportunity to beat Barack Obama, more than anything,” said Republican Study Committee head Jim Jordan. “I am not as excited as I am desperate” to replace Obama, Louie Gohmert of Texas said.

The Romney camp made little fuss about the offhanded and apparently uncoordinated blessings from the Speaker and the Senate minority leader — but was eager this morning to trumpet the endorsement from Mitch Daniels, who had curiously but consistently declined to endorse Romney before his lock on the nomination was airtight. Daniels is the only I-thought-about-running-myself Republican who is likely to end up being vetted for vice president — along with at least three other governors: Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal and Bob McDonnell, who seems to be testing all the unwritten rules about hinting interest by launching a series of TV ads across Virginia designed to plump up his own approval ratings. (Getting ready to run again cannot be the reason for those spots, because the state limits its governor to a single term.)

TRAIL TIPS: (Arizona) Republicans in Tucson and the state’s southeast corner have decided to give Jesse Kelly, a businessman and tea party favorite, another chance to win the congressional seat that had been held by Gabby Giffords. Kelly (who came within 4,200 votes against Giffords two years ago) won yesterday’s four-way primary with 38 percent — besting retired Air Force pilot and political newcomer Martha McSally by 17,000 votes and 13 percentage points. Ron Barber, the former congresswoman’s district aide and anointed successor, was unchallenged for the Democratic nomination in the June 12 special election — and the next seven weeks are supposed to yield a tossup campaign. After that, the district will be reconfigured to become slightly more Democratic. Who will win the August primaries for that seat is way up in the air — in part because Barber (who was wounded in the shooting rampage that disabled Giffords) has not made his intentions clear.

(Texas) Bill Clinton is in El Paso today to campaign for Silvestre Reyes, the latest in a growing roster of House Democrats who have won the former president’s public endorsement this year. Reyes faces a surprisingly tough bid for nomination to a ninth term in the May 29 primary because of the efforts of the anti-incumbent Campaign for Primary Accountablity super PAC. And — like all the other candidates who are getting the Clinton treatment this time — he backed Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama in 2008.  That’s why the 42nd president is behind Brad Sherman (who has known the Clintons since the 1980s) over Howard Berman in California and Mark Critz (who was an aide to super-Clinton-backer Jack Murtha four years ago) over Jason Altmire in Pennsylvania. And it seems to be only a matter of time before Clinton endorses in another member-vs.-member primary June 5 — choosing Bill Pascrell, who endorsed his wife, over Steve Rothman, whose ads in New Jersey boast of his longtime fealty to the president.

(Florida) After an 18-month investigation, state prosecutors are ready to announce that they’re closing their investigation of David Rivera’s campaign finances and financial disclosure truthfulness without bringing charges — but without exonerating him, either. The decision should give a boost for the freshman Republican congressman’s flagging fundraising, and may well improve his chances of securing a second term in his Miami area district. But the Department of Law Enforcement’s final report on the case will prove ample fodder for his Democratic opponent — likely the real estate businesswoman Gloria Romero Roses. The report says that, as a state legislator, Rivera filed erroneous reports on his personal fiances, falsely amended those disclosures following media exposure of the initial falsehoods and received reimbursements from campaign and government accounts to cover personal expenses. There’s ample evidence he “purposely falsified his financial disclosure forms in an attempt to legitimize other sources of income” beyond his government salary, the report says, but state law is ambiguous and the statute of limitations makes prosecution impossible. Still, the FBI and IRS are conducting their own inquiries.

QUOTE OF NOTE: “The president’s gonna try to make the election about anything other than his failed economic policies. Because he can’t run on his record. And so they’re gonna — they’re gonna pull out every bogeyman they can,” Boehner told Charlie Rose on CBS this morning.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: House Democrat Gwen Moore of Wisconsin (61) and House Republicans Bob Latta of Ohio (56) and Justin Amash of Michigan (32).

— 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, April 17, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Pie Slicers

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is rolling out his latest effort to show the public he’s got rising gasoline prices in his sights. This morning he asked Congress for a six-fold, $52 million increase in the surveillance and enforcement staff at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (to better deter oil market manipulation), more CFTC spending on technology to monitor suspicious energy trades, increased penalties for manipulative behavior and permission to boost the amount of money traders must put behind their own positions. The package won’t have any effect on prices at the pump unless lawmakers agree — and it will be met with tepid support at best on the Hill, especially from Republicans who have a totally different approach centered on more domestic oil and natural gas exploration and a freeze on new regulations for car and refinery emissions.

After a meeting with Geithner in the Oval at 2, Obama has a 4:50 photo op on the South Lawn with Tony Stewart, last year’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion.

THE SENATE: Convened at 10 and is voting on legislation designed to put the Postal Service on firmer financial footing — albeit much more slowly than Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe says is necessary in light of declining mail volume, rising labor costs and enormous pension obligations. (The first caucus lunches in three weeks will then get started.) A bill taking many of the assertive cost-cutting steps Donahoe wants was repelled by the Senate last month. To pick up the necessary votes, the new version would scale back many of the changes — maintaining overnight service for at least several years, keeping Saturday deliveries going indefinitely and tightening the rules for closing rural post offices and declining-volume mail processing centers.

THE HOUSE: Convened at 10, will start legislating at noon and before 7 will pass legislation making federal lands much more widely open to recreational hunting, fishing and shooting — in part by barring new permit requirements and preventing any limits based on environmental concerns.

ONLY THE BEGINNING: This year’s version of the budget wars began this morning, when Republican House appropriators announced they’re moving to cut 3 percent from Obama’s request for what’s supposed to be the least politicized and most bipartisan of the dozen annual appropriations packages — for the Energy Department, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers. The GOP’s $32.1 billion alternative, which will take its first legislative step tomorrow, would essentially freeze the energy and water budget for the coming year.

The Democrats running the Senate, meanwhile, will give initial approval to two other spending bills this afternoon, both of which — Commerce-Justice-Science and Transportation-HUD — would give the president almost everything he wants. (The most notable exception is that the president’s cherished high-speed rail initiative will be shortchanged to finance a more robust roster of public works grants to the states.) And on the same day the space shuttle Discovery buzzed the Capitol, the Washington Monument and the White House — hitching a ride aboard a Boeing 747 for the final flight in its 149-million-mile history before going on display at the Smithsonian — an Appropriations subcommittee will call for an increase in NASA’s budget above the $17.7 billion the president has asked for.

The moves on both sides of the Capitol are as preliminary as it gets, and they offer almost no clues about trends in this year’s budget debate other than this: The House and Senate deliberations are not at all coordinated and are destined to drag on deep into the fall — almost surely well past the start of fiscal 2013 in October, and probably beyond the election and into a lame duck. That will be almost assured when the House makes a procedural maneuver this afternoon that’s designed to lock down the GOP majority’s commitment to spending $19 billion less than the Senate in its appropriations bills. When the total pie is above $1 trillion, that 2 percent may not sound like all that big a deal — but, as any couple who disagrees about the finer points of a family budget knows, even that amount of dissonance can yield big discontent if allowed to fester for too long.

CUTS AND CONRAD: The language the House will adopt also allows six of its panels to start moving their pieces (the deadline is the end of next week) of a $261 billion, 10-year savings package, which if enacted would replace the across-the-board sequestration cuts that are set to be launched come January. Judiciary is going to come up with a plan to save $100 million a year by overhauling the medical liability system. Agriculture is readying a plan to save $7.7 billion a year, mainly from limiting food stamp benefits.

The Senate has no similar “shadow reconciliation plan” on its docket — but it looks as though it will at least break its 1,085-day record of not having any sort of formal budget document at all. Tomorrow is Kent Conrad’s swan song as Budget Committee chairman; his panel will debate his final version of a significant deficit reduction package, which will presumably include both tax increases and entitlement cuts; the details are supposed to be revealed this afternoon. But they don’t matter much — because his plan is doomed to sit on a high and dusty shelf once the markup is over, whether the chairman can get his plan through on a party-line vote or whether it stalls in his own committee. (Reid is plainly annoyed that Conrad is going ahead with these deliberations, because he thinks his party does not benefit at all from a televised budget debate so close to the election, and so he will do whatever he can to keep a budget resolution off the Senate floor.)

BACKING OFF: House Homeland Security Chairman Peter King came to the defense of the Secret Service this morning — a signal that the second bureaucratic scandal of the spring, even though it’s more potentially consequential than the GSA’s $823,000 Las Vegas bacchanal, may not be subject to the same sort of congressional whipping. King said on the “Today” show that Director Mark Sullivan so far looks to have acted quickly and decisively in the case of the at least 11 agents who may have taken the “wheels up, rings off’ culture way too far by bringing prostitutes inside the security perimeter at a Cartagena hotel. “It looks like we really lucked out on this,” King said, because all the evidence so far is that the agents did not compromise presidential security — since their partying in Colombia was done before Obama arrived. But King’s tone remains in contrast to that of Darrell Issa. Fresh off his GSA hearing yesterday, the Oversight Committee chairman says he still interested in holding hearings on a “pattern of misbehavior” by agents.

TRAIL TIPS: (Pennsylvania) Tim Holden is fast becoming an underdog in his race for an 11th term, mainly because redistricting has compelled him to run in territory where he’s largely unfamiliar — and his Blue Dog brand of fiscal conservatism hasn’t been selling all that well. Republican legislators who redrew the state’s House map packed nearly every Democrat in northeastern Pennsylvania into a district that stretches from Holden’s home (Schuylkill County) north through Scranton all the way to the New Jersey line. (Only one in five voters has ever had a chance to vote for him.) And so, with minimal incumbent name recognition, the new frontrunner in next Tuesday’s Democratic primary is well-funded attorney Matt Cartwright, whose  liberalism is more in line with the electorate and who also has help from the anti-incumbent Campaign for Primary Accountability Super PAC.

(Indiana) The editors of the conservative National Review have endorsed state Treasurer Richard Mourdock for the Senate, lamenting that six-term incumbent Dick Lugar not only “has become a carpetbagger in his own state” but also “evinces a political philosophy so subtle that in unfavorable light it scarcely seems to exist at all.” Lugar  has not had a primary challenger since he was mayor of Indianapolis and first won election in 1976 and has not been in a genuinely close race for re-election since 1982, but now finds himself falling toward underdog status just three weeks before the Republican primary.

(Florida) Lackluster fundraising by Connie Mack (who’s only barely outraised former senatorial appointee George Lemieux) has some in the state’s Republican establishment wondering aloud whether there’s still time to switch horses and find a better Senate challenger against two-term Democrat Bill Nelson. (The filing deadline is not until June 8.) The new person getting all the attention is Jeff Atwater, a former state Senate president who is Florida’s chief financial officer and had been making plans to run for governor in two or six years. Atwater later told the Palm Beach Post yesterday he was going consider entering the race because “I’ve been asked by a number of people who I have tremendous respect for in conservative circles around the state.”

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: No one now in Congress, no former members we could find, and no one really prominent in the administration or the judiciary, either.

— 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

Monday, April 16, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Scandalous Sound and Fury, Signifying ..?

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Monday, April 16, 2012

Today In Washington

THE SENATE: Convenes at 2 and at 5:30 will rebuff legislation to implement Obama’s “Buffett rule” — by creating a new alternative minimum income tax of 30 percent for about 210,000 people making at least $2 million annually, while phasing in the higher rate for those earning at least $1 million.

Sixty votes will be required to keep the measure alive, and there’s almost no chance the majority will be within five of that. (A pure 53-47 party-line result is the likeliest.) As will be the case on so many Senate votes over the next six months, the roll call is more about making a campaign ad than making a law, and the only suspense is whether any of the senators most vulnerable to defeat this fall — Claire McCaskill, Jon Tester and Bill Nelson among the Democrats, and Dean Heller and Scott Brown among the Republicans — go against the party line.

Senators also will confirm Stephanie Thacker, a former prosecutor who’s now partner at a firm in Charleston, W.Va., as a judge on the Fourth Circuit. She’ll be only the second new federal appellate judge seated this year; five other circuit court picks are awaiting floor votes.

THE HOUSE: Convenes at 2 and will be done no later than 6:30, after passing separate measures honoring Raoul Wallenberg, Lena Horne, Jack Nicklaus and Mark Twain.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama, who got back home from the Summit of the Americas in Colombia after midnight, has nothing on his public schedule.

His re-election campaign, meanwhile, announced this morning that he’d raised a combined $53 million for his own bid, the Democratic Party and other campaign funds in March — bringing his total haul this cycle to nearly $350 million. Mitt Romney hasn’t reported his March numbers yet, but through February had raised $75 million for his campaign. (He only started raising money jointly with the Republican National Committee a few weeks ago.) The all-but-official GOP nominee began March with $7.2 million in the bank; the president’s cash on hand at the same time was $85 million.

LINE ’EM UP: With essentially no sustained and meaningful legislating in the offing during the two weeks before the next recess, Congress will while away the time with the sort of oversight efforts that make terrific television (and pretty good campaign rhetoric) but do almost nothing to shape public policy or limit governmental waste and federal employee misbehavior.

The opportunities for sound-bite mischief-making were presented on a pair of silver platters by two federal agencies — one that hardly anybody outside the Beltway knows about (the General Services Administration) and one that’s more fabled in pop culture than any other (the Secret Service). The story that broke two weeks ago about the lavish Las Vegas conference held by the GSA two years ago will be fodder for no fewer than four hearings in the next three days — starting at 1:30 in House Oversight and Government Reform, where Chairman Darrell Issa is sure to have a highly covered field day lambasting the you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up excesses that GSA bureaucrats even took the time to put on film. (The organizer of the conference, Jeff Neely, will invoke the Fifth Amendment when he testifies.) House Transportation’s John Mica will take his own shots tomorrow, while a pair of Senate Democratic chairmen, Barbara Boxer and Dick Durbin, will wait until Wednesday to chime in on the GSA’s $800,000 boondoggle. And by the end of the day, it’s a sure bet that Issa, House Homeland Security Chairman Pete King and probably a couple of Senate chairmen will announce hearings as well into the revelations this weekend that Secret Service agents hired prostitutes after finishing their advance work obligations for the Cartagena summit.

But it’s tough to predict that anything substantive will come from such hearings. Issa and the Republicans will work hard to tie both the bureaucrats’ and agents’ misbehavior to one of their favorite narratives — which is that Obama and the Democrats are all to willing to turn a blind eye to governmental waste and abuse. But the Democrats will be ready with a worthy rebuttal, which is that the people and their misdeeds are about as apolitical as it gets in the government, and that such patterns of misbehavior cannot readily be linked to this president’s policies. In fact, it’s a reasonable assumption that the same sort of advantage-taking went on long before Obama took office, including during the eight years of his GOP predecessor. (In fact, GSA spending on conferences looks to have increased steadily during the George W. Bush years.)

The best possible outcome, then, is that both parties agree that there’s a longstanding and trans-administration pattern of loose spending on professional development events and “conferences” at all manner of agencies — and that, similarly, maybe some lax oversight by both sides has allowed the Secret Service to take a little too much advantage of its rock-ribbed reputation for probity. But even a congressional agreement on that much, and a shared Republican and Democratic decision to do a little wing-clipping, is probably too much to expect at this year’s Capitol.

THE SEARCHER: Beth Myers, who was Mitt Romney’s chief of staff when he was governor of Massachusetts and is now a senior campaign adviser, will be in charge of the running-mate selection process. The presumptive Republican nominee said so this morning as he arrived at Fenway Park for the annual Red Sox game on the morning of Patriots’ Day, describing her role as in charge of “selection and vetting and analysis” of possible ticket-mates. He promised he would make his choice before the GOP convention in Tampa the last week of August. “It’s way too early to begin narrowing down who the potential vice presidential nominees might be,” he said. “But we’re beginning that process, we’ll talk about a lot of folks, and then go through the kind of vetting and review process that you have to go through to make sure whoever you select will pass the evaluation that’s required by the American people.”

BOWING OUT: Ed Towns will announce his retirement today, giving up on what had become an increasingly uphill campaign to win the Democratic nomination for a 16th House term in a redrawn Brooklyn district. The 77-year-old congressman’s decision means that 42-year-old Hakeem Jeffries, a six-year veteran of the state Assembly, can essentially start looking for a place to live on Capitol Hill come January. The primary is June 26; two other Democrats, City Councilman Charles Barron and state Sen. Kevin Parker, may run. But over the weekend Jeffries reported raising more money than Towns in the first quarter — news that apparently prompted the incumbent to formally step away from a campaign to which he’d devoted only minimal energy.

Towns generally has been a low-key liberal in the House, with just enough of an iconoclastic streak to make his leadership wary of him. His standing at the Capitol slipped two years ago, when Pelosi said she would not support his efforts to remain in the party’s top seat on Oversight and Government Reform. (He chaired the committee in 2009 and 2010.) And his standing as a player in New York politics had slipped in the past year — first when he lost a bid to become Kings County Democratic chairman, and then when his daughter Deidra Towns was trounced in a state legislative special election.

REMATCH: Jury selection began at 9:30 in the most prominent congressional perjury prosecution in memory — of Roger Clemens, the pitching legend who told House Oversight and Government Reform under oath in 2008 that never used hadn’t used steroids or human growth hormone during his 24-season career. The seven-time Cy Young Award winner also is charged with lying to congressional aides in his deposition before the hearing. A larger-than-usual team of five federal prosecutors has been assembled to press for a conviction on the government’s second try; last summer, Judge Reggie Walton declared a mistrial on only the second day of testimony at the first trial, after prosecutors showed jurors evidence that had been ruled inadmissible. (None of those lawyers is back on the team this time.) Former trainer Brian McNamee will testify that he injected Clemens many times with the illegal drugs — and has the needles to prove it. Fellow pitcher Andy Pettitte will testify that Clemens confided his drug use to him.

The Justice Department’s dedication to the Clemens case seems to be less about protecting the investigative prerogatives and powers of Congress than it is about getting at least one headline-grabbing victory out of its long pursuit of professional athletes suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs. Its seven-year investigation of home run king Barry Bonds resulted in an a minor obstruction of justice conviction bringing a three-day sentence. And it recently abandoned altogether a two-year probe of seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong.

QUOTES OF NOTE: “I’m going to probably eliminate for high-income people the second-home mortgage deduction” while pushing to close HUD and dramatically shrink the Education Department, Mitt Romney told donors at a Palm Beach fundraiser last night — his uncharacteristically specific ideas broadcast so they could be heard by reporters on a nearby beach. Ann Romney, who turns 63 today, characterized last week’s “never worked a day in her life” comments from Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen this way: “It was my early birthday present from someone to be critical of me as a mother, and that was really a defining moment, and I loved it.”

HOT ICE: The puck drops in the Verizon Center at 7:42 for the third of the opening-round playoff games between the Capitals and the Bruins. (Boston won the opener in overtime, 1-0; Washington won on Saturday in double overtime, 2-1.) It’s been terrific hockey so far, and the best way to follow the Caps’ run at the Stanley Cup is to follow my favorite blogger on Twitter @HarryHawkings and read his posts at caps247.blogspot.com.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Today, Cliff Stearns of Florida, who faces a tough Aug. 14 Republican primary (71); over the weekend, two of the Californians who face other incumbent House Democrats in the June 5 primary: Howard Berman (also 71) yesterday and Laura Richardson (50) on Saturday.

— 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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