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Friday, May 18, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Lock 'Em Up

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Friday, May 18, 2012

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama kicked off four days of global summitry by announcing $3 billion in American private sector pledges to reduce hunger in Africa — hoping the donations pressure other global leaders to make good on (and maybe increase) their commitments to his $22 billion 2009 food security initiative, which seeks to boost sustainable agriculture across the continent in order to bring 50 million people out of poverty in the next decade.

Francois Hollande, who’s in his fourth day as president of France, is in the Oval now; he and Obama are expected to take questions at a photo op before noon. Those two and the six other G-8 leaders will convene at 7:30 for a working dinner at Camp David. (Since the 1950s, more than 50 heads of state have visited the 125-acre presidential retreat in Maryland’s Catoctin Mountains — but never before have more than two others have been there simultaneously.)

THE HOUSE: Convened at 9 and will be done for the week by 3, after voting overwhelmingly to pass its $643 billion defense budget and policy plan for the coming year.

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

TRIAL BALLOON: The House voted this morning that all terrorism suspects — even American citizens captured on American soil — should be subject to indefinite detention without any trial, either in a military tribunal or a federal court.

A solid majority was in favor of abrogating constitutional rights in this essentially unprecedented way — a clear sign that anxiety about the terrorist threat remains a more pressing political force a decade after Sept. 11 than the need to protect the voters’ civil rights. The 238-182 vote rejected the impassioned arguments from both of the libertarian ends of the ideological spectrum, in which both liberal Democrats and tea party GOP conservatives warned that current law already gives the government way too much power to enter people’s homes, arrest them and hold them indefinitely — and that the defense authorization bill the House is on the cusp of passing would make matters worse. These lawmakers note that, under the bill, American citizens could be jailed indefinitely for even a one-time contribution to a humanitarian group that’s later linked to terrorism.

The vote turned back an amendment by the top Armed Services Democrat, Adam Smith of Washington, to strip out much of the language on detainees that Republicans had added to the bill; he and Republican Justin Amash of Michigan pressed ahead with their efforts even though, late last night, the handwriting for their defeat went on the wall when the House voted (with a 78-vote spread) that detainee trials should as always be held in Guantánamo Bay and never in the United States.

On the second-most-important amendment considered this morning, the House voted to limit funding for Russian nonproliferation programs as some sort of tangential punishment for Moscow's weapons sales to Syria. (The programs are something the United States has long pushed Russia to implement over concerns about that nation’s aging nuclear weapons complex.)

Votes like these suggest that debate on the annual defense authorization measure — which has never failed to become law for the last half century — is going to drag on until the cusp of the election or beyond. (The Senate committee deliberations begin next week.)

POSITIVE TIP: The first TV ad of Mitt Romney’s general election campaign goes on the air today in four swing states — Ohio, Iowa, Virginia and North Carolina. (It will air through Tuesday at a cost of about $1.3 million.)  And, as the Republican candidate promised, it’s an entirely “positive” script, meaning it says nothing at all about (let alone critical of) the incumbent president — leaving the attacks, at least for now, to the devices of the outside groups and their super PACs. Instead, the “Day One” spot promises that within the first hours of a Romney administration, he would approve the Keystone XL pipeline, send Congress a tax cut package and “issue orders to begin replacing Obamacare.” Notably absent is any mention of what the newly inaugurated president would do to reduce federal spending on that day. (Notably present, though, is a Spanish-language version of the ad — essentially the first time yet that Romney has done anything overt to try to close the gap with Obama among Latino voters.)

LIFE DURING WARTIME: If Romney really wants his quest for the presidency to be all about fiscal and economic policy, and not about social issues, then he will have to so much more than brush back the Joe Ricketts of the world and their passionate interest in lambasting the president — sometimes in expensive and off-the-wall terms. For every potential independent advertsing campaign about Obama as the “metrosexual, white Abe Lincoln” — which can presumably be stopped in its tracks if the candidate quickly and unambiguously declares it out of bounds — there is a Republican member of Congress who is itching to restart the culture wars and has the power to get all the “free media” (meaning press coverage) for it that he wants.

That’s the role that Trent Franks got to star in this week, with yesterday’s Judiciary hearing on his bill to prevent women in the nation’s capital from getting abortions after 20 weeks’ pregnancy for any reason except to save their lives. Why the Phoenix-area Republican thinks he has any business trying to set such a policy in Washington is the first enormous question. The city did not elect him to anything, its liberal citizenry has almost the opposite view from him about abortion rights, and besides all that, such a blanket prohibition would have a tough time winning enactment in even many of the most conservative states in the country. But Franks must believe the measure is good enough politics, at least, that he took an extra step of making sure it got national coverage yesterday — baiting the “home rule” supporters who help set the nation’s news agenda, and the congressional traditionalists who do likewise, by preventing the city’s own non-voting delegate from taking the witness table to testify against the bill. Eleanor Holmes Norton was asking for nothing more than a courtesy that is afforded virtually all lawmakers who ask to speak at a hearing of a committee to which they don’t belong. The explanation that Franks gave — that the Democrats on the panel had chosen someone else to be the minority’s single witness — is specious on its face. That customary quota is almost never applied to a lawmaker.

EASY TARGET: As Facebook’s stock began trading on the Nasdaq today, a pair of Senate Democrats are intent on getting some good vibrations from the 99 percent constituency. The want to make life miserable for Eduardo Saverin, a member of Facebook’s original high command who renounced his American citizenship last year in hopes of skirting capital gains taxes from his IPO windfall. Chuck Schumer of New York and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania introduced a bill yesterday that would make it easier for the IRS to ban ex-pats with a net worth of more than $42 million from ever returning to the U.S. Saverin paid an exit tax when he left for Singapore, but the senators say it was $100 million less than he would have paid had he stayed in the U.S. (He’s a Brazilian native and a naturalized American citizen). Saverin is no longer part of the company, but reports say he owns shares that were worth about $3 billion as of the IPO.

The measure may yet be forced to a high-profile vote in the Senate, which might make potential investors nervous, but stands almost no chance of being taken up in the GOP House. (Yesterday’s IPO raised $16 billion for the company by selling 421 million shares at an opening price of $38 — meaning that on paper Mark Zuckerberg’s eight-year-old operation is worth a hard-to-fathom $104 billion).

DIRECT IMPACT: As Washington figures out how to respond to JP Morgan Chase’s $2-billion-and-counting loss — with a final version of the new Volcker rule that bans the sort of portfolio hedging the bank was engaged in, which seems more likely than anything legislative — the watchdog group Open Secrets is out with a report showing that 7 percent of members of Congress (15 Democrats and 23 Republicans) were JP Morgan stockholders two years ago. (The report was based on 2010 financial disclosure filings because the 2011 reports were only due on Tuesday and aren’t made public for another month). The holdings were worth $2 million and $4 million. (The reports list ranges of value only.) The single biggest shareholder at that point was Frank Lautenberg; the New Jersey Democrat, who’s among the half dozen richest senators, reported owning at least $1 million in stock. Five others reported holdings above $100,000: Sen. Mary Landrieu, fellow Democrat in the House Peter Welch, and House Republicans Leonard Lance, Jim Renacci and Jim Sensenbrenner.

TRAIL TIPS: (Money) The National Republican Congressional Committee outraised the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee last month, $6.9 million to $6.5 million — and began this month with about $6 million more in the bank. The two House political operations filed their April FEC reports this morning. For the GOP committee, the  report showed a bounceback after a lackluster spring of fundraising for its recruiting, candidate support and independent advertising operations — and also a sign that its “burn rate" is under control. (Its cash balance at the end of the month was $20 million more than in April 2010.) The Democratic committee, meanwhile, boasted of its best April of fundraising ever. (It raised just $3 million in April 2006, and won control of the House seven months later.)

(North Dakota) Last week’s first independent poll in the state’s open Senate race shows Republican Rick Berg with a surprisingly slim 7-point lead: 51 percent to 44 percent for Democrat Heidi Heitkamp, which is technically a tie because of the 4-point margin of error. The GOP essentially is banking on a Berg win as the first and easiest of the four  seats they need to assure a Senate takeover. Berg has been campaigning since last May, five months after he took the state’s sole House seat and watched Democrat Kent Conrad announce his retirement after 24 years. Heitkamp, a former state attorney general, was recruited to make the race last fall and is hailed by her party as its strongest possible candidate.

QUOTES OF NOTE: “This is a case that should define the difference between someone committing a wrong and committing a crime ... the difference between a sin and a felony,” Abbe Lowell said yesterday in his closing defense argument on behalf of John Edwards. Federal prosecutor Bobby Higdon, echoing the defendant’s own campaign rhetoric, declared that “campaign finance laws are designed to bring the two Americas together at election time” but “Edwards forgot his own theme.” A jury in North Carolina began deliberating this morning whether the former senator broke the law by orchestrating a scheme to solicit $925,000 from a pair of wealthy campaign donors and spend it to hide his affair with Rielle Hunter during his 2008 Democratic presidential bid.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Today, Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico (64); tomorrow, a fellow Democrat, Rep. Brad Miller of North Carolina (59).

— 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, May 17, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Another Kick of the Can

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Today In Washington

THE HOUSE: Convened for speeches at 10 and this afternoon will begin debating as many as 142 amendments to the annual defense authorization bill. (The last vote of the day will come before 7, with more amendments and passage tomorrow.) The measure’s $643 billion grand total is $8 billion more than the limit most members of the Republican majority voted for as part of last summer’s default avoidance deal. Obama has threatened a veto — laying out a laundry list of objections centered on the bill’s maintenance of programs and weapons (Global Hawk drones and a new East Coast missile interceptor center, most notably) the Pentagon is willing to do without.

THE SENATE: Convened at 9:30 and within the hour will confirm two capital markets experts to the Federal Reserve board: Jeremy Stein, a Harvard economist, and Jerome Powell, a former private equity executive and Treasury official. The votes will give the Fed a full complement of seven confirmed governors for the first time in six years. (Obama broke with normal practice last year and nominated a Republican, Powell, in a gesture designed to get all the seats filled as the Fed does its part to implement the Dodd-Frank law.)

Before going home for the week, senators are also expected to pass — probably on a voice vote — a compromise Reid and McConnell reached overnight on a package of sanctions against Iran that are designed to economically isolate the country until it abandons its nuclear weapons aspirations. The deal and its details have not been announced, but both sides say the bill would impose new punishments on companies that engage in or support censorship in Iran.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama has an empty public schedule. He’s presumably preparing for the back-to-back international summits he’s about to host: the G-8 leaders (including new French President Francois Hollande but not Russian President Vladimir Putin) at his weekend place at Camp David tomorrow and Saturday, then most of them and the other NATO leaders back home in Chicago on Sunday and Monday.

MAYBE NEXT YEAR: This week’s return to the budget barricades — Boehner’s revival of debt limit brinkmanship, the frosty hoagie summit, the Senate’s roll call revulsion at five different fiscal blueprints — has made one reality abundantly clear: The mother of all lame ducks will not come on the scene in November.

Not even the relatively golden light that’s supposed to break over the Capitol between an election and the start of a new year will be sufficient to help Washington’s leaders tackle the fiscal cliff. It is so high and treacherous that the most Republicans and Democrats will agree on is to back away from the crumbling rock for a few more months. Look for the debt ceiling to be increased by only a few hundred billion dollars, for the across-the-board sequester cuts to be put on hold for a few months and for the Bush tax cuts to be left alone for an equivalent amount of time. As a practical matter, the new deadline is probably beyond the first natural break in next year’s congressional calendar, a Passover and Easter recess the last week in March. That is, after all, just nine weeks after Obama or Romney takes the oath of office. A more realistic expectation is for another round of all-nighters in the run-up to Memorial Day 2013.

This inevitability was assured by the way Obama and Reid, between bites of their turkey-and-provolones yesterday, brusquely rejected Boehner’s call to begin negotiating on spending cuts that would exceed the amount of the next borrowing limit boost. The Speaker may have been right in saying that, unless talks on such a mammothly complex and interconnected set of problems start now, there’s no chance any deal could get done in the seven weeks between Election Day and Christmas. But he was just as correct in his hints that, if neither side is willing to start bargaining in good faith now, it’s best for everyone to declare sooner rather than later that it’s can-kicking time once again.  

Doing so affords the Speaker and his House majority a chance to back away from the voter-unfriendly perception that hostage-taking is the only move in their legislative playbook.  Doing so permits Reid and McConnell to stand pat, knowing that they will have almost equivalent power for the big showdown, no matter which one of them has 51 or 52 votes next year. And doing so also allows — and essentially requires — both Obama and Romney to offer specifics about how they would address spending, debt, deficits, entitlements and revenues next year. And both seem eager to do so, which means voters could have a very crisply defined choice to make this fall.

But the public can rest assured that neither side ultimately wants to permit an enormous passive tax increase and the start of indiscriminate and deep spending cuts at New Year’s – because they both know that would mean beginning the new year with the jolt of a $7-trillion-over-a-decade shock to the system that would likely hand the next president and the next Congress another deep recession.

WRIGHT OR WRONG: The Romney campaign worked to distance itself today from a Republican-leaning super PAC’s plans to mount a $10 million advertising blitz this fall that would highlight Obama’s ties to his controversial former pastor. (The group, bankrolled by conservative billionaire Joe Ricketts, is the same one that made a late and ultimately crucial investment in Deb Fischer’s upset winning campaign in the Nebraska GOP Senate primary this week.)

Revelations about the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s racially incendiary sermons at the Chicago church the Obamas attended stalled and complicated his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, but in the fall campaign John McCain explicitly prevented his advertising team from raising the issue. Now the same ad guru who was rebuffed then, Fred Davis, is the mastermind of the new advertising plan, which was detailed in today’s New York Times. In response, Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades says the former Massachusetts governor would repudiate any efforts that amount to “character assassination.”

The news broke on the same day Romney’s team said he and the party had raised a combined $40.1 million in April – just $2.5 million less than Obama’s take for himself and the Democrats last month.

GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS: The Conference Board’s index of leading economic indicators slipped 0.1 percent in April, to 95.5, the first decline after six months of increases. The board’s report today showed the drop reflected weakness in housing and hiring. At the same time, though, the Labor Department said this morning that weekly jobless aid applications remained unchanged last week (at a seasonally adjusted 370,000) and the less-volatile four-week showed a decline of 5,000 – suggesting a modest but sustained improvement in the job market.

TRAIL TIPS: (Nebraska) The state’s about-to-be senior senator, Mike Johanns, says he’s none too happy with his GOP colleague Jim DeMint. The South Carolina senator’s effort to further his tea party kingmaker reputation — by having his leadership PAC spend $1.4 million on behalf of state Treasurer Don Stenberg — was an “error in strategy” that did the conservative insurgent much more harm than good, Johanns said after Stenberg ended up finishing with 19 percent and a distant third to upset winner Deb Fischer in Tuesday’s GOP Senate primary. Johanns referred to Stenberg as a “true-blue conservative” whose solid base of support should have translated to more than a third of the vote. The senator says he’s also unhappy with the Club for Growth for its “tone deaf” ads targeting original front-runner Jon Bruning, the state attorney general. As for Fischer, the senator described her as “a practical, common-sense conservative,” but added, “I would not classify her as tea party.” He predicted she would readily repel Democrat Bob Kerrey’s comeback bid this fall.

(Washington) Dennis Kucinich has decided against moving from Ohio to the West Coast to try and keep his congressional career alive for a ninth term. “After careful consideration and discussions with Elizabeth and my closest friends, I have decided that, at this time, I can best serve from outside the Congress,” the liberal icon and two-time Democratic presidential aspirant told his supporters in an email last night.  In a redrawn district connecting his Cleveland to her Toledo, Kucinich was crushed by Marcy Kaptur in the first member vs. member contest of the year. He then made several trips to the Seattle area to scope out his chance in the new district awarded to Washington in reapportionment. The candidacy filing deadline is tomorrow.

(Florida) Connie Mack, who positioned himself as a public thorn in Newt Gingrich’s side and otherwise did yeoman work for Mitt Romney before the state’s primary, has been rewarded by the presidential candidate’s Senate endorsement. Romney’s backing should boost the congressman’s surprisingly tepid bid for the GOP nomination to take on two-term Democrat Bill Nelson, who for now has a decided edge even though the state will once again be an intense presidential battleground. Mack’s principal rival remains George LeMieux, who served more than a year as an appointed senator in the last Congress. The primary is Aug. 14.

(New Jersey) Bob Menendez is maintaining a solid but hardly insurmountable lead over Republican state Sen. Joe Kyrillos in his bid for a second full Senate term. A Quinnipiac University poll out today puts the Democratic incumbent’s  lead at 45 percent to 35 percent – essentially the same spread as a survey by the school’s pollsters six weeks ago. But the facts that a seven-year statewide official is not above the 50 percent threshold (and one in five voters is undecided) are automatic warning signs. So too is the fact that Kyrillos is doing so well, even though 75 percent of those surveyed say they don’t know him well — a situation that could change if the challenger’s political best friend, Gov. Chris Christie, puts some muscle into the race.

— 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, May 16, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Insurgency 201

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is welcoming Boehner, Reid, Pelosi and McConnell to a working lunch in the smaller dining room on the State Floor, where he’s going to press for even a sliver of bipartisan agreement on a slice of the legislative “to do” list he rolled out last week. (The last time the president and the congressional leadership got together was Leap Day.) This morning, the president went to the 14th Street branch of Taylor Gourmet, the locally owned, foodie-favorite hoagie chain, to promote a piece of his agenda that would give a 10 percent tax credit to companies that create new jobs or increase wages this year and also extend 100 percent expensing for all businesses this year.

After a meeting with Clinton to discuss diplomatic hot spots, at 3:10 Obama will ward a posthumous Medal of Honor to Leslie Sabo, a 22-year-old Airborne Ranger from north of Pittsburgh who was killed in combat 42 years ago this month while serving as a rifleman in Cambodia.

THE HOUSE: Convened at 10 and this afternoon will pass the Republican version of legislation to update the Violence Against Women Act — brushing past a veto threat from Obama, who says the bill needs to do more (as the Democratic Senate’s version would) to provide federal protections to gay people, American Indians and illegal immigrants who are battered or sexually assaulted.

After passing a routine rewrite of the federal flood insurance program — the last roll call of the day is promised before 5:30 — preliminary debate will get started on the annual defense authorization measure.

THE SENATE: Convened at 9:30 and, starting at 3:45, will vote to reject five different deficit-reducing budget blueprints: the Paul Ryan plan pushed through the House along party lines in March, one that emulates the Obama budget and three different offerings by conservative GOP senators (Rand Paul, Mike Lee and Pat Toomey). The symbolic roll calls almost certainly will stand as both the first and last formal senatorial action on a budget resolution this year.

SO MUCH TO TAKE AWAY: Deb Fischer’s decisive win in Nebraska’s Republican Senate primary is both the biggest upset and the most consequential outcome so far in this year’s congressional contests.

Reminders of many important campaign lessons — and clues about the rest of the 2012 campaign to control the Capitol — can be gleaned from the way Fischer, a 53-year-old rancher and eight-year veteran of the legislature, was able to surge in less than two weeks from single digits in the polls to victory last night — and by fully 10,000 votes over the establishment pick, Attorney General Jon Bruning. (She took 41 percent of the vote and carried a big majority of the state’s counties, Bruning ended up with 36 percent, and state Treasurer Don Stenberg, who the was insurgent alternative on the right backed by most national conservative powerhouses, got a paltry 19 percent.)

The first campaign reminder is that the amount in a candidate’s own coffers is getting less and less meaningful all the time. She raised a minimal $440,000 while Bruning raked in $3.6 million — but the most important money of all was a $200,000 weekend TV ad blitz mounted by an outside group under the control of Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts. Second, maintaining a campaign message that’s more humorous than belligerent when it goes negative (as Fisher did with a ribald ad featuring bulls tagged with her opponents’ names) often works best, especially when the purported front-runners are clobbering each other. Third, Sarah Palin (who offered Fisher a crucial last-week endorsement) may still have a better brand in tea party circles than Jim DeMint (who put his organization behind Stenberg early on). Fourth, peaking late is often better than starting strong and clinging to a lead.

The main clue about the fall is that this may well be a year when Republican conservative outsiders rack up an even higher winning percentage in Senate races than they did in 2010’s year of the tea party (when Sharron Angle, Ken Buck, Joe Miller and Christine O’Donnell still came up short). Fischer’s relatively small paper trail and so-far benign image could well make her an even more formidable opponent than Bruning (who was bedeviled by questions about his finances) in the fall race against Bob Kerrey, who (despite his last decade in Greenwich Village) remains about as much of an old shoe as is possible in Nebraska politics because of his long runs as governor and senator. She now joins Richard Mourdock, last week’s Indiana winner against Dick Lugar, as an outsider conservative with a strong November shot. Next up is the safe-for-the-GOP open Senate seat in Texas, where the insurgent conservative who ends up finishing second in the primary in two weeks — it could be former state Solicitor General Ted Cruz, former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert or former ESPN analyst Craig James — will become the favorite in the July runoff against Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the establishment choice. Beyond that, there are outsiders whose summertime primary victories would make them front-runners in the general elections in Arizona, Missouri and Wisconsin.

MIDDLE MEN: Today’s vote on legislation to update the Violence Against Women Act — which, until now, had provided federal money to prevent domestic abuse and protect its victims for 17 years without starting any partisan warfare — affords the relative handful of GOP centrists remaining in the House to rise up and cause some heartache for the leadership.

In the end, the bill will pass, because it would take two dozen Republicans and all the Democrats to stop it. And probably no more than 15 “no” votes will be cast by the more moderate Republicans (a term that puts them much farther to the right on the ideological spectrum today than it would have when the law was first written in 1994). Nearly all the GOP dissenters will be facing tough re-election fights in swing districts — just the sort who the Democrats have in mind when they tell the public to fear all Republicans, because their commanders are purportedly waging a war on women.

What remains a bit of a mystery is why the GOP leadership is unwilling to acquiesce in the only slightly more expansive version the Senate passed three weeks ago — because doing so would surely calm down the war-on-women talk a bit and thereby protect some of their most vulnerable incumbents.  Instead, their plan is to pass their version of the measure today, then essentially walk away from negotiations with the Senate. Which is all the more surprising given that one of the main disputes (besides whether the law should be applied to gays, lesbians and transgender people) is over something that the overwhelming majority of the electorate cares not a whit about — whether rapes and other violent crimes against women on Indian reservations should be prosecuted in tribal tribunals or federal courts. (Republicans say the first option is unconstitutional.)

WHAT HE MEANT: The congressional insider’s view about Boehner’s big announcement yesterday was that he is making an unambiguous effort to rally the tea party wing behind him for the last big battle of his first term as Speaker. (Polling made clear that the electorate thinks otherwise, but the freshman insurgents and their GOP allies still view the high-water mark of the past year to be the deficit reduction that happened the first time Boehner held the debt ceiling increase hostage until there was a deal on spending cuts bigger than the new borrowing.) But the view is also that the Speaker is  totally sincere in his view that such brinkmanship will be the only way to get anything that his side might find meaningful out of the lame duck.

Having told his colleagues privately that after the election he’s not going anywhere near a grand bargain that would include both entitlement curbs and tax increases, the best he'll be hoping for is a short-term deal, worth much less than $1 trillion, that punts the big fiscal standoff into the first half of 2013. One effect of that move would be to disconnect the debt debate from the deliberations over what to do with the Bush tax cuts, which are set to lapse at the end of December. (The true debt limit deadline, Geithner conceded yesterday, could be put off into early next year with some of Treasury’s customary book juggling.) And, in a less-covered portion of the Speaker’s speech yesterday, he promised the House would vote before the election on legislation extending the 2001 and 2003 cuts on income tax and capital gains, while also creating a process for expedited passage of a broader tax overhaul in next year that would yield a “fairer, simpler code.” The legislation will have no chance of becoming law the way the House passes it, but it will afford GOP candidates one last pre-election vote they can use to define their differences with the Democrats.

SHIFT OF ENERGIES: Kevin McCarthy is launching the House GOP’s latest effort to capitalize on an eventual but so far elusive summertime surge in pump prices as a way to advance his party’s approach to creating jobs and helping the economy. The majority whip has been working to refine the party’s energy agenda for months and was explaining it this morning at the weekly House GOP caucus. Unlike previous summer energy-price messaging efforts — which held to the “drill baby drill” mantra coined four years ago — this one will be more about an economic critique of the administration.

OBAMA’S APRIL NUMBERS: The president raised a combined $43.6 million last month for his own re-election bid and the Democratic Party. Campaign manager Jim Messina said this morning that the money came from 400,000 people — 42 percent of them first-time donors. But the April haul, both online and from one or more lavish fundraisers each week, was nonetheless $9.4 million less than what Obama raised in March. (The newest numbers do not include the take — reportedly $15 million — from last week’s start-studded event at George Clooney’s house in Hollywood.)

The money is surely sufficient to pay for the re-election campaign’s first big TV buy, rolled out last week. And, in response to those ads, Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS announced this morning that it is spending $25 million to air ads that are critical of the president’s policies for controlling the federal debt. They’ll appear in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

The Romney campaign has until Sunday night to file its April report with the FEC. At the end of March, he and the GOP reported $43 million in the bank, while Obama’s campaign and the Democratic Party had about $124 million in cash on hand.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Indiana’s other Republican senator, Dan Coats (69), and a pair of veteran House Democrats, suburban Virginia’s Jim Moran (67) and Detroit’s John Conyers (83).

— 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, May 15, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Hardy Perennial

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Today In Washington

THE SENATE: Convened at 10 and this afternoon will send Obama legislation raising the Export-Import Bank’s lending limit by 40 percent over the next four years, to $140 billion, so overseas buyers of jet aircraft and other big-ticket American products have easier access to credit. Starting at 2:15, senators will soundly reject five amendments by conservative Republicans that would curtail or outright kill the bank, which they view as inconsistent with their free-market principles. (The majority to clear the bill, which is a top priority of Big Business, will be considerable and bipartisan, just as it was in the House last week.)

THE HOUSE: Convenes at noon for speeches and at 2 will begin debating 11 non-controversial measures; one would create a federal communications network to help states and cities with their “blue alert” efforts to catch people who assault or kill police. The votes will be after 6:30.

THE WHITE HOUSE: “Every American who wears the badge knows the burden that comes with it,” Obama said a few minutes ago at a memorial service in the Capitol for the 72 law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty last year.

He’ll be in the East Room at 2:15 for a photo op with the Major League Soccer-champion L.A. Galaxy, in the Oval Office after that for meetings with Biden, Panetta and Geithner, and in the Blue Room at 7 for a thank-you dinner with top war commanders and their spouses.

IT’S BACK: The stakes for the lame duck got a lot higher this morning when Boehner revived the line-in-the-sand demand that propelled the government to the edge of default last summer: House Republicans will not vote to raise the debt ceiling again — which will be necessary before the start of the next Congress — unless Obama and congressional Democrats agree to cut spending by at least as much as the increase in the borrowing limit.

“This is the only avenue I see right now to force the elected leadership of this country to solve our structural fiscal imbalance,” the Speaker says in a speech he’ll deliver this afternoon during a conference of the fiscally conservative Peterson Foundation. “We shouldn’t dread the debt limit. We should welcome it,” he said. “It’s an action-forcing event in a town that has become infamous for inaction.”

Permitting the national debt to rise above $16.7 trillion is only one of the four enormously consequential fiscal policy matters that seem destined to remain in limbo beyond the election; the others are completing the dozen annual appropriations bills, deciding whether to continue or partially repeal the Bush tax cuts expiring at year’s end, and devising an alternative to the across-the-board spending cuts set to take effect in January. Boehner’s speech acknowledges how Herculean a task it would be — even for a Congress at the low, post-election ebb of the political cycle — to address all of them meaningfully in the seven weeks between Election Day and Christmas. And so he suggests that his 1-to-1 demand might be met only through a series of short-term measures. “If that means we have to do a series of stop-gap measures, so be it. But that’s not the ideal. Let’s start solving the problem. We can make the bold cuts and reforms necessary to meet this principle, and we must,” the advance text says. “Just so we’re clear, I’m talking about real cuts and reforms — not these tricks and gimmicks that have given Washington a pass on grappling with its spending problem.”

HARD PLACE: Demanding a 1-to-1 match of new borrowing authority to deficit reduction, which Boehner first did almost exactly a year ago, was the immovable bedrock of the GOP position in last year’s fiscal standoff. It ended with a last-minute agreement in August to pair a $2.4 trillion increase in the debt limit (which will keep the government solvent into early January at the latest) with an equal amount of spending cuts: half from appropriations over the next decade and (after the supercommittee failed to come up with an alternative) the other half from those automatic across-the-board cuts, known as sequestration, to both defense and domestic programs.

House Democratic leaders, including Jim Clyburn and Chris Van Hollen, are suggesting this week that their side would back a one-year delay in those automatic cuts — gambling that Obama will be reelected and their party’s strength in numbers on the Hill will be increased this fall, which would mean they have more leverage to negotiate an alternative deficit reduction package in 2013  (one that would rely on higher taxes for a quarter to a third of the savings) than they will late in the fall. Many Republicans, at the same time, are making the same gamble on their party’s political fortunes and also signaling that delaying the next really big fiscal showdown until next spring is in their best interests — another reason why their all-mandatory-spending-cut, $310 billion plan the House passed last week cannot be forgotten for too long.

SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE: Two government reports out this morning — one that consumer prices didn’t move last month, the other that core retail sales were up 0.4 percent — should buttress the strengthening sense of optimism about the economic future reflected in a pair of polls that are also out today.

The CBS News/New York Times survey found that 36 percent of voters view the economy as getting better, 39 percent see it as steady and 24 percent think it's getting worse — a decent set of numbers for the Obama campaign to try to build on and a sign that Romney should have his own optimism. The same can be said of the two campaigns’ views of the USA Today/Gallup poll: 71 percent say that current economic conditions are poor, but 58 percent predict things will be better a year from now. (The poll also shows 55 percent believing the economy would get better in the next four years under a Romney administration — but only 46 percent say the same thing about a second Obama administration.)

The Labor Department reported that the seasonally adjusted consumer price index did not change between March and April. (Excluding volatile food and gasoline costs, “core” inflation was 0.2 percent for a second straight month). The slow pace of price increases should provide consumers with a little more money to spend — meaning an economy that’s growing — but overall retail sales rose only 0.1 percent last month. While that sounds flat, details in the Commerce Department report offered reasons for optimism: There were notable increases in spending on big-ticket items such as cars, furniture and electronics, and in restaurants and bars. In the end, so-called core retail sales increased 0.4 percent.

NOT JUST HANGING AROUND: Ron Paul’s effort to put a too-cute-by-half coda on his third and final presidential campaign — he’s not going to spend any money in the 11 states with Republican primaries yet to come, but he is going to officially keep seeking delegates to the convention — is actually quite easy to understand. The Texas congressman, who has grown libertarian conservatism from the fringiest of fringe movements into a 10 percent vein within the mainstream of the GOP, wants to stay respectable and realistic and viable just long enough in his own 76-year-old right so that he can launch the national career of his son Rand, who’s now finishing only his second year as a senator from Kentucky but already has made his bigger ambitions abundantly clear. (He’s made no move to get in the way of the establishment this year, though, and has endorsed the Romney nomination.)

What is not clear is whether the elder Paul can bring his House career to a financially and ethically clean close. A libertarian organization that used to count Paul as its main patron — the Liberty Committee, a nonprofit group headed by former Paul aide David James — essentially has turned against the congressman. It revealed yesterday that an audit showed that $20,000 worth of Paul’s expenses it had paid over the years (mainly tickets for about 40 flights) were also paid by his congressional office account. “This practice of double or duplicate billing enriched you while draining funds intended for legitimate projects,” the group told the congressman in a tart letter. Paul’s congressional spokesman Jesse Benton said James is “pursuing a personal grudge” against Paul.

GOT 'IM: Mitt Romney is campaigning in Des Moines this afternoon, mainly by delivering a newly crafted speech at 3 about the rising debt and “out of control” spending. In advance of the address, he officially picked up the endorsement of Steve King, the conservative congressman who famously decided to stay neutral just before the pivotal caucuses in the swing state in January. “I’ve said all along I’ll be an enthusiastic supporter of our eventual nominee," King said yesterday.

AN IDEA WHOSE TIME HAD NOT COME: Americans Elect, a private organization established to run a third-party candidate for president this year, announced today that it is giving up — because no one mustered sufficient support before the deadline it had set for running in a June online primary. The group had done significant work to get a line on the ballot in many states and was sure a flood of candidates would compete for it. Political and business leaders needed to get preliminary votes of support from at least 1,000 people in at least 10 states to run in the online primary, but no one came close; efforts to draft Ron Paul and former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer came up several thousand votes short.

OH, DID HE SAY THAT? Those who held out hope (or a perverse fear) that the Senate was really about to move to rein in abuse of the filibuster can stand down: Reid’s people are sending word that his fulminations last week — when he said he should have backed efforts to reform the process when they started to gain traction last year — were nothing more than the man with the hardest job in Congress venting a little bit of steam.

TRAIL TIPS: (Massachusetts) Richard Tisei, who’s bidding to become the first openly gay Republican to win a House seat, has a 7-point lead (40 percent to 33 percent) over John Tierney in a poll taken last week in the North Shore district the Democrat has represented for eight terms. The poll also showed voters statistically tied, 36 percent to 37 percent, when asked if they have a favorable or unfavorable view of the congressman. The survey numbers will undoubtedly bolster fundraising by Tisei, who has spent half his 52 years as a state legislator and has already outraised Tierney in each of the past two quarters. (The state last elected a Republican to the  House in 1994.)

(Connecticut) Rep. Chris Murphy won the Democratic state convention’s Senate endorsement by a 3-to-1 margin over the weekend, which was not quite a big enough thumping to prohibit former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz from persevering until an Aug. 14 primary. The congressman also won the backing of the National Organization for Women last week, while Bysiewicz has the active organizational and financial backing of Emily’s List. On Friday, delegates to the state GOP convention will decide whether to endorse wrestling impresario Linda McMahon or former Rep. Chris Shays for the seat Joe Lieberman is leaving open, but a primary between those two is also foreordained.

(California) In a clear sign that Republicans really think they can take a significantly redrawn district north of Sacramento,  NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions is taking sides among the party’s four aspirants — by heading out west next week to headline a pair of fundraisers for Kim Vann, a Colusa County supervisor. The money should help Vann do well enough in the June 5 all-candidate primary to become the fall challenger to Democrat John Garamendi, who has represented a very different (and more Democratic) district closer to San Francisco since winning a special election three years ago.

QUOTE OF NOTE: “We deplore this weak and unjust decision,” Rebekah Brooks and her husband, Charlie, said in a statement his morning after the former head of Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid newspaper empire was charged with the British equivalent of obstruction of justice — by far the highest-profile prosecution yet in the News International phone hacking scandal. (Four others beside the couple were also charged with conspiring to destroy evidence last summer.)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: No lawmakers, but D.C. figures include HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (64), Fox News chief Roger Ailes (72) and lobbyist Linda Daschle (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.

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Monday, May 14, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Bank Shots

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Monday, May 14, 2012

Today In Washington

THE SENATE: Convenes at 2 without any agreement on which Republican amendments, if any, Reid will allow senators to debate before trying to pass legislation expanding the Export-Import Bank’s lending limits; doing so would help other countries finance purchases of big-ticket U.S.-made items, such as airplanes. (The GOP leadership wants to make the bill the latest vehicle for debating the best way to pay to hold student loan rates in check — and other unrelated issues that divide the parties; some tea party GOP conservatives want a vote on whether the Ex-Im Bank should be closed outright.)

Absent a deal, a cloture vote at 5:30 will perpetuate the standoff. But after that senators will confirm George Russell III, a state trial judge in Baltimore, and John Tharp Jr., a Chicago attorney, as U.S. District Court judges.

THE HOUSE: Not in session.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is spending the day in Manhattan, where last week’s endorsement of same-sex marriage is sure to be the focus of attention. At 1:10 he’ll deliver the commencement address at Barnard College — sharing the stage with Evan Wolfson, founder of the gay rights group Freedom to Marry, who is being awarded the college’s medal of distinction. He’ll be at the ABC studios at 3 to tape an appearance on “The View,” then head to the Village for a fundraiser at the Rubin Museum of Art. After another fundraiser in a private home, Air Force One is due to take off from JFK at 8:30.

ONE SIDE’S UNCERTAINTY: The multibillion-dollar hedging mistake by JP Morgan Chase has propelled one of this year’s hottest, costliest and most secretive lobbying battles out of the shadows and onto the election-year agenda. Democrats know right where they want to position themselves; Republicans, not so much.

The locus of the dispute is the Volcker Rule, a provision of the Dodd-Frank financial services regulatory overhaul that’s supposed to outlaw proprietary trading for a bank’s own benefit. But the language of the law has left plenty up to federal regulators, who have been besieged by the banks — JP Morgan first among them — to write fine print for the rule that’s as loose as possible.

Now that Jamie Dimon has conceded his firm sought to capitalize on the slow-moving regulatory process by making a huge and hugely complicated credit bet on the economy before the Volcker rule kicks in — and then lost at least $2 billion that belonged to their customers — Democrats are feeling emboldened to push for an even stricter version of the rule than they were originally going to go after this year (still hoping to keep getting at least a portion of Wall Street’s campaign cash). They say the trading disaster is all the evidence anyone should need — whether they live in Greenwich or Kokomo — that creative bank activities are going to keep putting the economic recovery at risk unless they’re reined in explicitly and quickly. Carl Levin and Jeff Merkley, who wrote the Volcker rule, will now push regulators to come up with language that would straight-up prohibit the sort of portfolio hedging activity at which JP Morgan failed so spectacularly. In effect, what those Democratic senators want is regulations that come as close as possible to reinstating Glass-Steagall, the law that kept banks and investment companies separated from the Great Depression until the end of the go-go '90s.

On both policy and politics, Republicans are in a trickier place. They’re not really in a position to go to bat any more for JP Morgan and the other banking behemoths that have lobbied so hard to minimize the coming regulation. Instead, their only viable option is to help the big banks argue that the $2 billion loss was from an activity that the law was not designed to prevent — and as a practical matter could never prevent: Banks hedging their bets on one portfolio of securities by trading in areas where their interests are in essence the opposite (putting $10 on red just in case the $100 bet on black goes bad). And what about the argument that congressional intent was to allow what JP Morgan did? It may be more true than not, on balance. But it makes at best a marginal argument, politically, at a time when the vast majority of voters will pay no attention to this latest Wall Street debacle beyond concluding that dysfunctional Washington hasn’t made their finances any safer despite all the warnings from the Great Recession.

(The bank confirmed this morning that chief investment officer Ina Drew, the executive responsible for the failed trading strategy, would leave the firm. At 55, she had risen to become one of the highest-ranking women on Wall Street.)

EYES ON ISSA: By the end of the week there will be a climax in Darrell Issa’s drive to get the House to hold Eric Holder in contempt. The Oversight chairman is working behind the scenes — and against the wishes of the leadership — to force a floor vote on whether the attorney general should be formally cited for not cooperating fully in the committee’s probe of the Justice Department’s ill-conceived Fast and Furious gun-running operation. He’s working to round up support not only from fellow Republicans but also from about 30 conservative or politically imperiled Democrats. But the resistance he’s running into is coming not only from Boehner and Cantor (and, of course, Pelosi) but also from a fellow Republican who previously chaired the committee. Dan Burton, the famously hot-headed lawmaker who launched so many probes of the Clinton White House in the 1990s, says he’s not in favor of a contempt proceeding, mainly because he thinks the investigation would produce more by waiting even longer for Holder to come through with what he’s promised. If Burton — who has absolutely nothing to gain by being a team player, because he’s retiring — is taking the leadership’s side, then the Speaker and majority leader should be able to put down this minor rebellion on their right — and do so before Friday, when a 10-day Memorial Day break begins.

WON’T GO THERE: There’s another example today of a famously hot-tempered (and coverage-craving) House Republican pulling his punches. Peter King, the chairman of the Homeland Security panel, says he will not make the New York tabloids apoplectic with glee by meeting with Dania Londoño Suárez, the don’t-call-me-a-prostitute-because-I’m-an-escort at the center of the Secret Service scandal. King said on CNN this morning that he would not be part of such “a publicity stunt,” especially not while his panel is conducting its investigation into misbehavior by agents on overseas trips. (Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan, meanwhile, said today that he would appear before Senate Homeland a week from Wednesday; it will be his first public testimony since the Cartagena incident, which has so far resulted in the dismissal of nine agents.)

TRAIL TIPS: (Nebraska) The topsy-turvy and suddenly tight three-way race for the Republican Senate nomination will be over after tomorrow’s primary. State Attorney General Jon Bruning, the establishment’s candidate and undisputed frontrunner for months after Ben Nelson announced his retirement, now finds himself more or less clinging to the pole position; his chance of winning rests on his  rivals splitting the much more conservative vote. But, just as easily, the momentum that state Sen. Deb Fischer has built in the last two weeks could carry her to victory; she won endorsements from Sarah Palin and Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Lincoln last week, and over the weekend TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts (who’s from Omaha but now lives in Wyoming) used his super PAC to spend $200,000 on TV ads praising her and lambasting Bruning.  But  state Treasurer Don Stenberg has built a solid base among conservatives and has benefited the most from third-party spending in recent weeks — a combined $2.1 million from the anti-tax Club for Growth, Jim DeMint’s Senate Conservatives Fund and tea-party-aligned FreedomWorks. (Raising plenty of Democratic money while waiting in the wings, remember, is Bob Kerrey.)

(Wisconsin) Tommy Thompson didn’t even come close to wrapping things up at last weekend’s Republican state convention. The former four-time governor and HHS secretary is still the favorite to win the Senate nomination (for the seat Herb Kohl is vacating) in the Aug. 14 primary, but he’s far too moderate for the conservatives who flooded the Green Bay gathering; instead, they gave almost 60 percent of their support on the first ballot to state House Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald — not quite enough for a formal endorsement but a surprisingly strong showing nonetheless, because Fitzgerald has lagged in both fundraising and the polls. On the symbolic final ballot, Fitzgerald edged Mark Neumann, a former congressman and unsuccessful governor aspirant two years ago, by 3 points. (The Democratic candidate is Rep. Tammy Baldwin.)

(Missouri) Claire McCaskill remains among the most vulnerable incumbent  senators this year — she was under 50 percent in a poll commissioned by fellow Democrats last week — but that same survey shows her narrowly leading all three of her potential Republican opponents. The poll puts her bid for a second term at 45 percent to 36 percent for former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman, at 46 percent to 38 percent for businessman John Brunner and at 44 percent to 39 percent against Rep. Todd Akin. Their primary is not until Aug. 7, and none of the three has been all that formidable either in fundraising or in campaign advertising — but each would have a solid shot in November because Obama (who has counted McCaskill as one of his best congressional friends since his first campaign) is not even contesting the state this time.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: House Republicans Paul Broun of Georgia (66) and Erik Paulson of Minnesota (47) and House Democrat Jackie Speier of California (62).

— 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