Friday, May 04, 2012

Show your potency

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Little Lift in Jobs Report

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Friday, May 4, 2012

Today In Washington

David Hawkings is away.

THE WHITE HOUSE: With Congress about to return from its one-week hiatus, Obama just before noon will cross the river into Arlington to stump for his big domestic issue of the past two weeks: lower interest rates for federally subsidized student loans. He’s been in a tussle with the House on how to fund the difference in potentially lost revenue between the current 3.4 percent rate and the 6.8 percent rate that would go into effect in eight weeks without a formal extension. Obama will speak before a presumably favorable crowd of juniors and seniors at Washington-Lee High School in a state that, with 13 electoral votes that could go either way, is likely to get nearly as much attention from Obama and Romney as many of the states with bigger EV hauls.

Obama carried the Old Dominion by 7 points in 2008 and leads by a similar margin in a recent poll, but the GOP has recently worked on its ground game in the state. Adding to the intrigue: Popular Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell is on the short list of possible ticketmates for Romney, who’s been publicly auditioning prospective choices.

Just before 5 p.m., Obama leads a Rose Garden welcome to the men’s national basketball champions, the University of Kentucky Wildcats.

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

THE SENATE: Not in session, either, and also next convenes at 2 on Monday.

HOLDING ON: About the best thing that can be said about the latest monthly jobs report is that the economy is holding its own but isn’t gaining much altitude.

The 115,000 net increase in payroll positions in April was the smallest in six months. The jobs total is actually somewhat better than the April tally alone shows because of revisions to February and March figures. And overall, employers have added 1.8 million payroll positions over the past 12 months and 3.7 million since the recession’s low point in February 2010. It’s a slim reed for Obama to hang onto, but the total number of payroll positions is now higher than at any time since the president took office. The official jobless rate also dropped another tenth of a point in April to 8.1 percent. But that’s little comfort to the millions of Americans who are out of work.

In fact, the net increase in jobs over the past two years has just barely matched the population increase over that time. The percentage of Americans over 16 who want to work and count themselves as part of the labor force has been declining for more than a decade, and it slumped considerably during the recession. The so-called labor force participation rate is now at a more-than-30-year low of 63.6 percent. And the share of the population that is actually employed —58.4 percent in April — has been essentially stagnant for more than two years.

As for where the jobs are, all the gains since the recession have come from private employers. Federal government payrolls have been trimmed in 20 of the past 23 months and are down by 52,000 since April a year ago. State payrolls are 27,000 lower over the past year and local governments have eliminated 136,000 jobs in that time — most of them teachers or other school-related positions. There are roughly as many local school jobs today as in April 2005.

The responses to the latest figures were predictable all around. Wrote GOP economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin, head of the conservative American Action Forum: “The April jobs report has little sunshine. Look for the left to blame ‘austerity’ and renew calls for ‘temporary stimulus.’ Unfortunately we are now in year 4 of this failed strategy.” From the United Steelworkers union-backed Alliance for American Manufacturing: “There’s still a lot that Congress and the Administration should be doing to boost job creation in America: pass an infrastructure plan, lower the trade deficit, and target tax breaks towards American manufacturing.”

Now we wait until next month.

SEQUESTER SEQUEL: House Democrats are rolling out criticism of Republicans’ budget reconciliation plans as lawmakers prepare to return next week. Chris Van Hollen, Paul Ryan’s Democratic counterpart on the Budget Committee, released a report calling out the GOP for “slashing vital services” by proposing specific cuts to entitlements, health care and other Democratic priorities to avoid an automatic sequester next year that would affect all government agencies. Members in both parties are concerned that the sequester, mandated by last year’s budget deal, could harm critical Pentagon programs. But most Democrats have assailed the GOP approach.

Van Hollen’s report previews what is expected to be a vigorous Democratic counterattack on Monday, when Ryan’s panel will mark up the reconciliation package that was vetted by authorizing committees. In the two weeks before recess, six committees came up with $261 billion in alternative cuts to replace some of the sequester. Van Hollen said the proposals, which include stricter eligibility requirements for food stamp recipients and limiting subsidized health care, disproportionately affect low-income people.

TRAIL TIPS: (New Jersey) Steve Rothman says he stood up for Bill Clinton. And even though the former president may not be returning the favor, Rothman says he’s not concerned. Because the Garden State lost a seat in reapportionment, the Democrat is locked in a primary fight with fellow eight-term incumbent Bill Pascrell, whom Clinton may endorse for the June 5 primary. The simple reason: Rothman backed Obama over Clinton’s wife in the 2008 primary, while Pascrell supported Hillary. Despite the former president’s vaunted prowess on the stump, Rothman expresses no worry about Clinton’s plans, stressing his “very strong defense” of the president during the impeachment crisis in 1998. Bill Clinton hasn’t weighed in officially. But he has had a good recent track record in aiding loyalists. Just last month in the Democratic primary for western Maryland’s 6th District, he endorsed John Delaney, who raised a lot of money for Hillary Clinton in 2008, over party establishment favorite Robert Garagiola, the majority leader of the state Senate. Delaney won comfortably.

(Nevada) In an effort to introduce herself statewide, Democrat Shelley Berkley is on the air with her first TV ad for her Senate race against incumbent Republican Dean Heller. In the ad, Berkley, a seven-term member of the House from Las Vegas, underscores her sponsorship of legislation that ensures that all VA medical centers be outfitted with substance abuse treatment services. The ad features the father of an Iraq War veteran whose death after a diagnosis of post-­traumatic stress syndrome led to enactment of the bill. Heller lives in Carson City and won three statewide elections as secretary of state, then snagged a House seat in 2006. He was appointed to the Senate a year ago yesterday to replace scandal-plagued Republican John Ensign.

(Arkansas) John McCain is backing Tom Cotton, an Army reservist running for the 4th District GOP nomination. A Harvard Law grad, Cotton is in a competitive primary with 2010 GOP nominee Beth Anne Rankin. “Tom Cotton volunteered to fight for our freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan when he could have continued a promising legal career,” McCain said in a statement. The primary is May 22. The race thus becomes somewhat of a proxy fight for former GOP presidential candidates. Mike Huckabee, the former governor and a conservative alternative to McCain in the 2008 nomination race, is supporting Rankin, an entrepreneur and former Miss Arkansas. The district, which takes in much of the southern portion of the state, became an open seat after Blue Dog Democrat Mike Ross announced his retirement to ponder a bid for governor in 2014. No matter who wins the House nomination, the seat is likely to shift to the GOP column.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Today, Colleen Hanabusa of Honolulu (61), who faces a rematch with former GOP Rep. Charles Djou; tomorrow, her House Democratic colleague Charlie Gonzalez of San Antonio (67), who’s retiring after seven terms; on Sunday, Republican Sen. Dick Shelby of Alabama (78), whose fifth term lasts another four-plus years.

Kent Allen and John Cranford, editors

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Thursday, May 03, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Hard Copy

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Today In Washington

David Hawkings is away.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama has lunch with Biden at 12:30, meets with senior advisers at 2 and speaks at a Cinco de Mayo reception at 5 in the Rose Garden.

THE HOUSE: Not in session again until Monday.

THE SENATE:  Same as the House.

LAYING IT OUT: House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa and some of his fellow Republicans have been making a steady series of TV news-show appearances in recent weeks as they’ve ramped up their efforts to get the Obama administration to turn over more information about “Operation Fast and Furious,” which was supposed to track weapons smuggling but ended up putting guns in the hands of Mexican drug cartels. Issa has been threatening to prepare a contempt-of-Congress citation against Attorney General Eric Holder, and today the chairman put it on paper, releasing a report on the scandal and a draft resolution that would penalize Holder for not fully complying with a committee subpoena.

Issa says the department has failed to share information and has been uncooperative in other ways with the committee’s investigation. (One of the weapons in the “gunwalking” plan was found at the scene of the killing of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.) “The committee has held three hearings, conducted twenty-four transcribed interviews with fact witnesses, sent the Department of Justice over fifty letters, and issued the Department of Justice two subpoenas for documents,” says a memo from Issa. “The Justice Department, however, continues to withhold documents critical to understanding decision making and responsibility in Operation Fast and Furious.” The department has said that it is regularly sending documents to the Oversight panel and will continue to do so.

TOPIC A: Now that the campaign trail back-and-forth about the president’s Afghanistan pronouncements has quieted down, the next hot spot for the debate is the annual defense policy bill, which each chamber’s Armed Services panel will consider this month. All combat forces are supposed to be home by 2014, but there are big gray areas about what the U.S. will leave behind for the purposes of training Afghan forces and continuing the hunt for al Qaeda fighters.

Senate committee Chairman Carl Levin — who was in Kabul with Obama this week — and some of his fellow panel Democrats are taking the president’s position that a steady drawdown in troops, over several years, is the best approach. But there are multiple divergent viewpoints within the panel: Some Republicans will call for maintaining the current baseline force for as long as necessary to ensure that the Afghans themselves can take over after the recent “surge” of 23,000 troops comes home in September. And there are Democrats who would prefer to see a drastically reduced American presence after 2014.

Levin’s job will be to let those sides talk themselves out, for now, while putting off the big decisions until late in the year, when Afghanistan’s brutal cold will stall fighting and allow American commanders a chance to reassess their situation. The end of May also includes a NATO summit in Chicago, and no firm demands on force size are likely to be made there, either.

House Republicans got out in front of the issue in April; their defense authorization measure would put annual limits on reductions in the size of the Afghanistan ground force from 2014 onward. House Armed Services considers the bill next week.

SWING TIME: Mitt Romney has caught up to Barack Obama in two of the big swing states (Ohio and Florida), according to the latest Quinnipiac poll, but the president has widened his lead in a third (Pennsylvania). The survey found that in April, the former Masschusetts governor pulled ahead of Obama in Florida, with 44 percent of voters choosing him versus 43 percent for the president. (A Quinnipiac poll in late March had Obama ahead, 49 percent to 42 percent.) Obama maintained a slim lead in Ohio — 44 percent to Romney’s 42 percent — after having polled at 47 percent to Romney’s 41 percent in late March.

The latest Ohio and Florida results essentially mark those races as dead heats, given the poll’s 3 percent margin of error. In Pennsylvania, though, Obama widened his lead, taking 47 percent, with Romney falling to 39 percent. The late-March numbers had Obama ahead, 45 percent to 42 percent.

CHECKING THE CHECKS: There might be some more campaign finance housekeeping in order for Marco Rubio, who paid an $8,000 penalty to the Federal Election Commission last month for taking donations beyond the legal limit in his 2010 Senate race. The Florida Republican senator and potential vice presidential pick is also facing questions about money taken in by Reclaim America, his leadership PAC. The FEC has asked about a $3,250 donation made by Van Wagner Miami, an outdoor advertising company based in New York. So far there is no comment from Rubio’s office about the matter. The PAC also said last month that it had refunded $5,000 each to individual donors who had exceeded the contribution limit. (Direct corporate donations to candidates and parties — including PACs run by members of Congress — are still forbidden.)

TRAIL TIPS: (Arizona) The special election to succeed Gabby Giffords is becoming an expensive fight: House Democrats have purchased a total of $473,000 in ad time for the 8th District matchup, which features Democrat Ron Barber (a former Giffords aide) and Republican Jesse Kelly (who nearly beat Giffords in 2010). The National Republican Congressional Committee, meanwhile, has plunked down $300,000 so far. The special election is June 12.

(New Mexico) The fact that Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul has endorsed a candidate in New Mexico’s GOP Senate primary is ultimately more about Rand Paul’s status as a tea-party favorite: Paul is backing businessman Greg Sowards, who is polling well behind former Rep. Heather Wilson in the race but supports a balanced-budget plan favored by the Kentuckian and some of his Senate allies. The last time Wilson ran for a Senate seat, in 2008, she was defeated from the GOP right by Steve Pearce, who lost to Democrat Tom Udall in the general election. Sowards had $706,000 in cash on hand at the end of March (about half as much as Wilson), but he doesn’t appear to have the name recognition to compete in the June 5 matchup.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Ralph Hall, the oldest member of the House, is now 89 — and remains a safe bet to win a 17th term (but only his fifth as a Republican) in northeastern Texas this fall. Also celebrating today are three senators whose seats aren’t up this year: Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon (63) and Republicans Jim Risch of Idaho (69) and David Vitter of Louisiana (51).

— Joe Warminsky

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Wednesday, May 02, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Known Unknowns

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama’s 15-hour trip home from Afghanistan put him back at his desk just after 11. As was announced yesterday, he’s now scheduled to stay close to home, with no on-camera events. After accepting the credentials of 10 new ambassadors (from Chile, Croatia, Guatemala, Haiti, Kosovo, Liberia, Malaysia, Qatar, South Korea and Thailand) at 3:45, he’ll head around the corner 45 minutes later for a pair of fundraisers at the W Hotel.

THE HOUSE: Not in session this week.


QUESTIONS AND MORE QUESTIONS: The Taliban’s assault this morning on a housing compound for foreigners in Kabul — killing seven with a car bomb and militants disguised as women just two hours after Obama left Afghanistan — was an emphatic reminder of the extraordinarily tough road ahead for the country and its American security forces. It was also a violent punctuation mark on the president’s mixed message last night: He told a national TV audience that, in effect, the United States is both ending its 10-year war in Afghanistan and keeping a presence in the country until today’s toddlers are in high school.

His “beginning of the end” construct — and its delivery after he and Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed a highly touted “strategic partnership agreement” that was little more than a plan to make a plan — looks to muddy the national security debate this election year. The voters may well be confused in hearing this Democratic president use rhetoric about Afghanistan that is remarkably evocative of what his Republican predecessor used to say about Iraq. And lawmakers in both parties may well be frustrated trying to run for re-election this fall — seeking votes from an ever more war-weary electorate — while at the same time addressing most of the tough questions Obama and Karzai gave left unanswered: How many U.S. troops will be staying in the coming year and afterward, how many people in uniform will the Afghan government produce, how much civilian aid will Congress be called on to provide during the current discretionary spending squeeze and what kind of help will the Afghans need.

Not only that, but after making its decisions this year, Congress — and Mitt Romney, if he becomes president — will be asked to engage in a debate over funding for Afghanistan every year until 2024 according to the timetable the president laid out. Which is why the Republican presidential candidate’s delayed reaction to the president’s speech was as muted and noncommittal as it was. “I am pleased that President Obama has returned to Afghanistan,” Romney said. “Our troops and the American people deserve to hear from our president about what is at stake in this war.”

NEW BRINKMANSHIP: Republican leaders in the House have no plans to take up a Postal Service overhaul bill in the next two weeks — essentially calling the bluff of Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe, who has said his operations will be so strapped for cash by May 15 that he will have to start closing as many as 1,000 under-used post offices. When they got word yesterday that the House planned to slow-walk the legislation, the four senators who steered a financial overhaul through their side of the capital last week — Tom Carper, Joe Lieberman, Susan Collins and Scott Brown — wrote letters urging the House leadership to reconsider that timetable and also urging Donahoe to continue his current moratorium on shuttering facilities.

With about 570,000 employees, the Postal Service is the nation’s second-largest civilian employer after Walmart. But with the increase in paperless communication and a commensurate decline in mail volume, the agency projects a $14.1 billion loss for the year — red ink of about $25 million a day. The Senate bill is designed to reduce the postal workforce by 18 percent in the next three years, eventually saving $8 billion a year, but stops short of many of the more politically problematic steps that Donahoe and many Republicans support, including quick closure of rural post offices and mail processing centers and an end to Saturday service.

ANOTHER VERSION: Three dozen House Republicans — including Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith and 19 of the 24 women in the caucus — have signed on to a revamping of the Violence Against Women Act that is markedly different from the version senators passed last week. The dissonance suggests the legislation also will serve as one of this election year’s main forums for the debate about which party has the best approach to assuring the safety and health of female voters.

The House bill is set for a floor vote the week after next. It would set mandatory minimum sentences for sexual assault — which the ACLU, the NAACP and many other liberal advocacy groups oppose in the belief it would have a chilling effect on women attacked by people close to them — subject more grant programs to federal auditors and spend more money reducing the backlog of untested DNA samples in rape cases. The Senate rejected all three of those ideas. The House bill also has none of the Senate’s language to protect domestic violence victims who are gays and lesbians, immigrants or American Indians.

GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN: Newt Gingrich’s often exhausting and occasionally exhilarating 38-year career in elective politics (he first ran for Congress in 1974) comes to a formal and totally anticlimactic end at 3 in Arlington, when he will formally announce the suspension of his presidential campaign and his endorsement of Mitt Romney. Although the nominee-in-waiting is in Washington to raise money and slap some backs at the RNC, he will not go to the Virginia suburbs to stand with his former rival — the latest reminder that the two men have a genuine and abiding dislike for each other.

Gingrich’s goodbye was foreordained when he was unable to win any nominating contest other than in his adopted Georgia and neighboring South Carolina, but he did not face the inevitable and concede he was dropping out until a week ago — at which point he said he needed several days to orchestrate a departure on his terms. He then postponed the news conference a day, and last night sent a goodbye video to thousands of volunteers and donors, rehearsing his speech text for this afternoon. The painfully drawn-out nature of his exit from the public stage remains remarkable for someone who used to be so renowned for his skill at political timing and stagecraft; partisan operatives on both sides still remember with grudging admiration the way Gingrich resigned his Speakership, and his House seat, as a public atonement less than 72 hours after the GOP’s stunning midterm defeats in the Clinton impeachment election of 1998. Now, however, his first goodbye (not to mention his leading the GOP out of the wilderness in 1994) threatens to be overshadowed by a presidential run that mixed dramatic rises and falls in the polls with more than enough moments of melodramatic behavior.

TRAIL TIPS: (Indiana) Grover Norquist’s endorsement of Richard Mourdock is the latest sign of peril for Dick Lugar. The six-term senator is among the small minority of congressional Republicans who has never signed the no-new-taxes Taxpayer Protection Pledge, but Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform nonetheless waited until a week before the primary (and reportedly gave the senator one more chance to put pen to paper) before announcing it was backing the tea-party-backed state treasurer. (The only general election poll taken so far in the state, meanwhile, shows Mourdock in a statistical tie with Joe Donnelly but Lugar beating the Democratic congressman by 20 percentage points.)

(Missouri) Gov. Jay Nixon is backing Lacy Clay aver Russ Carnahan in the state’s Aug. 7 member vs. member Democratic primary for a consolidated House seat in and around St. Louis. The first-term governor’s backing, which comes soon after Clay’s bid for a seventh term won the public support of Mayor Francis Slay, suggests that the party establishment is pulling away from years in the orbit of the Carnahan family dynasty. (The four-term congressman’s mother Jean took the Senate seat that his father Mel won posthumously in 2000 after eight years as governor.) Although it’s surprising that a governor would wade into such a hot intraparty contest, his endorsement should help bolster his own standing with African-American voters, who still resent his work as attorney general to curb school desegregation.

(Connecticut) Chris Murphy is consolidating the Democratic establishment’s support for his bid for the state’s open Senate seat, three months ahead of his primary against a decently funded and surprisingly resilient Susan Bysiewicz, a former secretary of state. Yesterday the third major Democratic aspirant, state Rep. William Tong, dropped out and endorsed Murphy, the congressman for the state’s northwest corner for the past six years — as did Gov. Dan Malloy and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman. (The Aug. 14 primary winner will be favored over either former Rep. Chris Shays or Linda McMahon, the former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO and losing Republican Senate candidate two years ago.)

(California) Pete Stark, the fourth-most-senior Democrat in the House, has now issued the second public apology of what had been seen as his snoozer of a bid for a 21st term representing the Bay Area. Last month, the 80-year-old lawmaker said he was sorry after accusing his principal June 5 primary opponent, Dublin City Councilman and local prosecutor Eric Swalwell, of taking “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in bribes — without offering any evidence. Yesterday, in a San Francisco Chronicle editorial board meeting, he accused the paper’s conservative columnist Debra Saunders of donating to the Swalwell campaign, then said his reading of FEC reports had been mistaken.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Partial-term House member — and long-shot GOP Senate candidate — Bob Turner of Queens (71) and Vermont’s only House member since 2007, Democrat Peter Welch (65).

— David Hawkings, editor

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

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Tuesday, May 01, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: A Raid on the Past

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is spending the day off camera; he’s in a senior staff meeting now, and his only other scheduled meeting is a 4:30 with Biden and Panetta.

THE HOUSE: In recess for the week.

THE SENATE: In recess for the week.

WHATEVER THE CASE, HE’S STILL DEAD: On the night Osama bin Laden was killed, even the most hardened cynics about the depth of partisan dysfunction in Washington were hard-pressed to predict the Navy Seal raid would become a presidential campaign hot-button. But that is so one-year-ago.

Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have broken into an open feud about credit-claiming for the al Qaeda leader’s death, about which of them is a more steely-spined crusader against terrorism — and about who made the first move to politicize what had been one of the rarest and biggest nationally unifying moments of the past decade.

It started as background noise from their surrogates on the Sunday shows, but by yesterday the president and his presumptive Republican challenger had engaged. “Even Jimmy Carter would have given that order,” Romney japed in response to the Obama campaign’s contention that Romney wouldn’t have made the call to attack the Abbottabad compound. That prompted the president to snap back at Romney — although not by name, urging “everybody take a look at people’s previous statements in terms of whether they thought it was appropriate to go into Pakistan and take out bin Laden.” And in fact, in 2007, when both were making their first presidential runs, Romney on several occasions criticized Obama for vowing to strike al Qaeda targets in Pakistan.

Romney appeared to try to put the genie back in the bottle this morning — declaring that there are “plenty” of differences between the two on foreign policy, so “let’s not make up ones.” Obama “has every right to take credit” for ordering the mission, he said on CBS. “At the same time, I think it was very disappointing for the president to try and make this a political item by suggesting that I wouldn’t have ordered such a raid. Of course I would have. Any American — any thinking American — would have ordered exactly the same thing. But of course you give the president the credit for the fact that he did so.”

INSIDE BUT NOT INSIDER: Although it’s been widely reported that the Office of Congressional Ethics has decided that the way Spencer Bachus played the markets did not amount to insider trading, that conclusion merits repeating here as a matter of fairness — because the suspicions about the House Financial Services chairman’s rapid-fire puts and calls were mentioned so often in the runup to enactment of the so-called Stock Act.

In the end, the appearance of impropriety was trumped by the reality of life in Washington, in which members of Congress very often have a front row seat as market-moving news is being made, but are not all that often told things that totally contradict the facts that the rest of the world is trading on. The crime of insider trading is acting using non-public, confidential, behind-closed doors information to try and get rich — not being more attuned to the out-in-the-open legislative dynamic than the Average Joe. And so Bachus was on solid ground when he offered his rebuttal to one of the most supposedly clear-cut cases of his misbehavior — making a $5,700 profit on a bet that markets would decline on Sept. 19, 2008, the day after Hank Paulson and Ben Bernanke warned Bachus and other senior lawmakers (in a closed meeting the substance of which was widely reported almost immediately) that the financial crisis was deeper and more immediate than had been widely understood. “You would have to be living under a rock not to know” by the time of that meeting that the economy was in bad shape, he wrote in his defense to the ethics office. Clearly, they agreed with him.

TRAIL TIPS: (Indiana) Dick Lugar lost $200,000 in financial support today from the American Action Network when the “center-right” PAC gave up the TV time it had purchased for the final week before the Republican primary. The move is the latest evidence that the GOP establishment has concluded the six-term senator is going to lose — perhaps quite decisively — to state Treasurer Richard Mourdock, and does not want to taint him just before he enters what will become a closer-than-expected race against Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly. There is also a budding disdain toward Lugar within topflight GOP circles in both Washington and Indiana, with senior operatives lamenting at how Lugar failed to set aside his courtly, old-school ways and unleash his considerable financial advantages in time to counter Mourdock’s insurgency form the right. Their view is that, a languid campaign that began as a muddle evolved too late into a fevered collection of disparate negative attacks.

(California) Howard Berman has won the backing of both the Los Angeles Times and Betty White in his campaign against fellow House Democrat Brad Sherman, which seems destined to become the most expensive and heated of this year’s 13 member vs. member contests. The paper’s editorial page today says that, while there are only “small differences between two worthy candidates,” on balance Berman looks to “be more effective in the years to come at serving the voters of his district.” The 90-year-old actress, in a new TV spot, hails Berman’s “nice blue eyes” and support for animal rights. In addition, a super PAC backing Berman has purchased $500,000 in air time on San Fernando Valley cable stations between now and the June 5 primary. (The Berman campaign has bought more than $1 million in time, the Sherman camp $420,000.)

(Arizona) Jeff Flake has won the Senate endorsement of Jim DeMint, the conservative South Carolina senator who proved something of a GOP kingmaker in several contested Republican Senate primaries two years ago. The backing of DeMint’s leadership PAC, the Senate Conservatives Fund, should help the six-term Mesa congressman raise some of the millions he will need to remain the frontrunner for the seat Jon Kyl is leaving open. Flake’s status as the near-certain winner of the Aug. 28 primary has been taken away by real estate investor Wil Cardon, who has put $4.2 million of his own money into his campaign and made the primary a seriously contested affair. And Democrats still think former Surgeon General Richard Carmona has a shot in the fall, especially if Obama makes an investment in the state.

(North Dakota) The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has chosen the super-low-cost TV stations of the Great Plains for its first independent expenditures — dropping $76,000 for a buy that will last through the end of next week. The 30-second spot derides Republican Rick Berg for “doing things the Washington way” during his freshman term as the state’s sole House member, and promises that, for former state Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp, “It’s always the North Dakota way.” The ad was placed to counter the message of another independent ad, by the Republican-aligned Crossroads GPS. Berg has been seen as a clear frontrunner in the race for Kent Conrad’s open seat, but a poll of 478 likely voters last week out the two in a statistical tie because of the margin of error — albeit with Heitkamp ahead, 49 percent to 44 percent.

QUOTE OF NOTE: “That he has been able to get as much as he has — as little as it is — through the Senate is a tribute to him as majority leader,” LBJ biographer Robert Caro said when the Huffington Post asked him to assess Harry Reid. “I think he’s in near-impossible circumstances. I think he’s done a terrific job.”

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter of Colorado (59).

— David Hawkings, editor

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

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Monday, April 30, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Summer Break

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Monday, April 30, 2012

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama and Yoshihiko Noda, Japan’s sixth prime minister in as many years, are spending the next two hours discussing their shared interests in curbing the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran, promoting the rise of democracy in Myanmar and countering the growing economic and military power of China. (The countries announced last week that about 9,000 Marines now stationed on Okinawa will be redeployed more widely across the region.) An Oval Office meeting and working lunch will be followed by a Rose Garden news conference at 2.

“It’s time to take some of the money that we spend on wars, use half of it to pay down our debt, and use the rest of it to do some nation-building here at home,” the president told the AFL-CIO’s Building and Construction Trades Department’s annual legislative conference this morning — back at the Washington Hilton 36 hours after his tartly funny jabs at Mitt Romney’s real estate holdings and dog-portaging habits during Saturday night’s correspondents’ dinner. But, the president asserted, “Republicans in Congress would rather put fewer of you to work building fewer things than ask millionaires and billionaires to live without massive new tax cuts.”

THE HOUSE: Not in session this week.

THE SENATE: Not in session this week.

FIRM WORDS: Although he didn’t offer a clue about how, Boehner predicted unambiguously yesterday that Congress would call off the doubling of college loan rates that’s on course for four months before the election.

“Democrats and Republicans have been working together to get this resolved and I believe that we will,” the Speaker said — a forecast largely overshadowed by his declaration, in the same CNN interview, that Mitt Romney will win the presidency because Americans won’t vote “for a loser.” Boehner signaled that he’s willing to work with Reid, once Congress returns next week, to negotiate on an offset for the $6 billion cost of keeping the Stafford loan rate at 3.4 percent, as it has been for five years. (Doing so would mean $1,000 in the pockets of about 7.4 million students.) “If the Senate wants to do a different pay-for, that will be up to them, but we will have this issue resolved,” he said.

The bill Senate Democrats now plan to put to a vote would come up with the money by requiring wealthy individuals who run S corporations to pay Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes. That has proven a total non-starter with Republicans, suggesting the measure will never get beyond the death-by-cloture-vote stage. The House’s pay-for, on the other hand, did at least win over 13 centrist Democratic votes when the House passed its bill on Friday. (Thirty of the most fiscally conservative Republicans defied the leadership and opposed the bill.)  The House’s idea is to do away with a fund created in the 2010 health law that finances efforts to prevent tobacco use, obesity, heart disease, strokes and cancer. Closing the Prevention and Public Health Fund, though, would generate twice as much money as needed to cover the student loan extension; the rest would go to deficit reduction. And Democrats already have gone on record as willing to support cuts to the fund in order to fund other priorities, most recently a portion of the payroll tax cut extension this winter. That would suggest that a classic case of splitting the difference could do the trick in this instance. (Such a compromise would presumably mean that Democrats would stop talking about tapping the fund as part of the GOP’s “war on women” — a critique with a tenuous claim on the truth, at best, because little of the money is specifically targeted to female-only health matters.)

THE NEXT PHASE: The Obama re-election campaign unveiled its slogan this morning — “Forward” — along with a seven-minute video that makes the case for the president getting a second term by declaring there is still more (not clearly delineated) work to do. The film (which will be used to ramp up crowds at purely political rallies like the ones this weekend at Virginia Commonwealth and Ohio State) also describes the killing of Osama bin Laden one year ago as one of the president’s top accomplishments, something that’s infuriating the Republican base more and more; they say he’s tuning a nationally unifying moment into a partisan talking point. And the video also targets congressional Republicans, saying the president should be rewarded for getting so much done despite GOP obstructionism.

Mitt Romney, meanwhile, is campaigning in the smallest of the swing states (New Hampshire, with four electoral votes) with Kelly Ayotte — the state’s freshman senator and the latest on the GOP candidate’s long list of potential running mates to get something of an in-person tryout. Ayotte (who was previously state attorney general under governors of both parties) has become the conventional wisdom’s consensus choice as the woman likeliest to get a serious vice-presidential vetting in the months ahead. Boehner went conventional yesterday and named Rob Portman, Marco Rubio and Mitch Daniels when he was asked for his recommendations for the No. 2 spot on the ticket. (The Florida’s senator’s standing on the VP depth chart may be slipping, though, now that his 2010 campaign has agreed to pay an $8,000 fine for accepting slightly more than $210,000 in what the FEC called “prohibited, excessive and other impermissible contributions.”)

SIGNS OF SLOWNESS: Consumer spending increased just 0.3 percent last month after a 0.9 percent gain the month before, the Commerce Department reported today — a sign that many Americans are still worried about the economy and whether they have enough money to survive in it. What consumers spend accounts for 70 percent of the gross domestic product and grew by 2.9 percent in the first quarter, the fastest in more than a year; a sharp slowdown points directly at the tepid pace of job creation and weak income gains. (After-tax, inflation-adjusted income increased just 0.2 percent in March, today’s report said.) While spending on non-durable goods such as clothing went up 0.9 percent in March, spending on durable goods such as appliances went down 0.3 percent. Spending on services such as utilities and rent was flat. Because consumers were more restrained in their shopping, the savings rate edged up to 3.8 percent in March after dropping to a 30-month low of 3.7 percent of after-tax income in February.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Today, Democratic Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia (65); yesterday, Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan (62) and GOP House members Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey (66) and Mo Brooks of Alabama (58).

— David Hawkings, editor

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