Friday, May 25, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: This Looks Like a Job For...

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Friday, May 25, 2012

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama’s being briefed now on the latest that American intelligence agencies have gleaned about all the world’s conflicted hot spots and terrorist threats. It’s the only event on his schedule for the start of Memorial Day weekend.

THE HOUSE: Convened at 10 for a 4-minute pro forma meeting; its next legislative session is Wednesday afternoon, when the FDA reauthorization will be the main business.

THE SENATE: Convenes at 2:30 for its own pro forma meeting; its next legislative session is in 10 days — on Monday, June 4. (The next vote — on whether to begin debating a Democratic bill that would make it easier for women to press wage discrimination lawsuits — will be the following afternoon.)

LOAN RANGERS: It sounded like a throwaway line, but McConnell may have genuinely latched on to a good idea yesterday when he suggested the Senate give the job of cutting a student loan deal to just two colleagues: Tom Harkin and Mike Enzi.

“They just successfully negotiated a bipartisan FDA bill; let’s see if they can do the same on this,” the minority leader said yesterday — soon after the Democratic chairman and top Republican on the HELP Committee secured a 96-1 vote for their bill to bring the federal review process for new medicines and medical devices in line with the new era of drug shortages, biotechnology breakthroughs and generic upstarts. If the pair could come up with a complicated package that Big Pharma, consumer groups and the FDA are all willing to live with for the next five years, in other words, surely they can come up with a winning formula for financing a simple one-year extension of the 3.4 percent Stafford student loan rate.

Iowa’s Harkin, a populist with a wide streak of pragmatism who’s been cutting deals since 1985, and Wyoming’s Enzi, who’s been finding solutions that make both sides “only 80 percent happy” since 1997, would seem up to the task. Their committee has jurisdiction over education policy, for starters. Both are well versed in the range of offset options available for generating the $6 billion required for this project. And both are well respected enough at their own ends of the ideological spectrum that if Harkin tells Obama and the liberal Democratic base he's secured the best deal available, and Enzi tells Boehner he’s done the same on behalf of tea party conservatives, then what they propose should have no trouble winning 70 votes in the Senate and 300 in the House.

Obama, Romney and almost all their congressional colleagues are eager to keep the student loan rate as it is, because neither party wants to take the blame from more than 7 million young voters if they’re required to take on an average $1,000 in additional college debt. And both congressional camps are also willing to come up with some sort of offset. In fact, the only two that are off the table — as yesterday’s back-to-back Senate roll calls showed — are the versions each side seized on as opening bids. For the Democrats, it’s eliminating a tax benefit for “S corp” small-business owners; for Republicans, it’s eliminating a preventive-care fund created under the health care overhaul.

The deadline for legislation to prevent a doubling of the rate is five weeks from today – when both the House and Senate are set to break for a coordinated July Fourth recess. Whether Harkin and Enzi (or anybody else) can find a straightforward middle ground in that time will stand as the most memorable, easily explained story about the state of congressional functionality in 2012.

PAIR DEAL: Reid offered his own version of a simple idea for compromise on the Senate’s getaway Thursday: Pair the reappointment of one of the Republican commissioners on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (Kristine Svinicki) with the confirmation of Obama’s nominee to become the new chairman (Allison Macfarlane).

The package deal sounds like it should be equally palatable to both sides. But, in the end, the majority leader would end up the bigger winner. Although Reid cannot stand Svinicki (he’s labeled her a liar, among other things) and had the power to bottle up a vote on her until after her term expires next month, he is willing to come across as magnanimous for a simple reason: His plan would allow the majority leader to quickly replace his former aide Gregory Jaczko, who announced his resignation this week, with someone who is just as emphatically opposed as he was to using Nevada’s Yucca Mountain as the nation’s nuclear garbage dump — and whose views on atomic safety are comparable to Jaczko’s, as well.

Look for the tradeoff to be executed with relative ease in a couple of weeks. Barbara Boxer, who chairs the relevant committee and had been on Reid’s side, says she’s willing to go along. And so does the main industry lobbying group, the Nuclear Energy Institute, meaning the Republican mainstream will quickly fall in line.

TRAIL TIPS: (Texas) David Dewhurst’s final ad before Tuesday’s open-seat Senate primary is a clear effort to sweep up just enough super-conservative support to get above the 50 percent threshold that allows him to avoid a July runoff against Ted Cruz, the state’s former top appellate lawyer and a darling of the insurgent conservative movement. (Polling has consistently given Dewhurst 40 percent or a bit more and Cruz about 10 points less.) The spot is a testimonial from Mike Huckabee, who calls the lieutenant governor and self-made millionaire the race’s “only proven conservative.” The aim is to take some votes away from the candidate mired in third place, former Dallas mayor and businessman Tom Leppert. Yesterday Cruz won Rick Santorum’s endorsement, while Houston state legislator and conservative talk show host Dan Patrick threw in with Dewhurst. (He also has the aggressive backing of another GOP presidential aspirant, Gov. Rick Perry). The ultimate winner is destined to take Kay Bailey Hutchison’s place; the last Democrat to win statewide in the state was 16 years ago.

(Texas) Silvestre Reyes remains the only House incumbent in the delegation in any danger of losing his primary next week. The eight-term Democrat is being opposed by former El Paso city councilman Beto O’Rourke, who has the backing of the anti-incumbent Campaign for Primary Accountability and has been emphasizing his political independence. The primary campaign — which is tantamount to election in the westernmost district in the state — has turned intensely negative in its final days. O’Rourke’s most recent ad recounts the circumstances of a $200 million, no-bid federal border fence contract awarded to IMC, a company that employed Reyes’ children and donated to his campaign. The congressman’s most recent ad is about his challenger’s 15-year-old drunken driving conviction. Reyes appears to have figured out the insanity of the challenge in time to rebut it; early voting has been big, a sign the incumbent’s organization operation is at work.

(Missouri) Claire McCaskill will launch a weeklong, $200,000 statewide ad buy on Memorial Day with a spot emphasizing her record on veterans’ issues — particularly legislation she's pushed to address the recently exposed mismanagement at Arlington National Cemetery, where unmarked and mismarked graves have gained national attention and millions in spending is unaccounted for.  The senator is in a tossup race for a second term no matter which Republican wins the Aug. 7 primary: former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman, self-funding businessman John Brunner or Rep. Todd Akin. The NRSC chastised McCaskill’s efforts to “use the gravesites of our fallen heroes to help advance” an effort to obscure her record of backing Obama’s agenda.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Today, Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota (52) and Republican Rep. Ed Whitfield of Kentucky (69); tomorrow, Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina (59), Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois (68) and GOP Rep. Rich Nugent of Florida (61).

PUBLISHING SCHEDULE: Monday is Memorial Day and the lights will be off in both congressional chambers Tuesday, so the next Daily Briefing will be Wednesday, May 30.

— 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 24, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: All This and Then Some

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Today In Washington

THE SENATE: Convened at 9:30 and will be done for this week (and the next) by the evening — after mustering a solid bipartisan majority for legislation updating the FDA’s industry-financed system for reviewing new medicines and medical equipment. Votes on a dozen amendments will precede passage; adopting almost any of them would complicate the path to compromise with the House. The most controversial proposals would speed generic versions of popular drugs to market, allow imports of low-cost Canadian prescriptions, intensify the regulatory review of genetically engineered salmon, stiffen penalties for drug-marketing fraud and make it easier for businesses to make health benefit claims about their products.

Senators also will take dueling votes on Republican and Democratic plans for coming up with the $6 billion to cover the cost of a one-year extension of the current 3.4 percent Stafford student loan rates. Neither will get the 60 votes needed to advance, perpetuating a standoff one month before the rate is set to double.

THE HOUSE: Not in session this week.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is having breakfast with donors at the Fairmont Hotel in San Jose, his third Silicon Valley fundraiser in the past day. (The combined haul is estimated at $4 million.)

The president will arrive in Iowa (six tossup electoral votes) at 4 (D.C. time) for a five-hour visit combining official and campaign events. He’ll use a speech at TPI Composites in Newton, where 700 people have gone to work making wind turbine blades since appliance maker Maytag moved away, to press for congressional renewal of the wind industry production tax credit and an expanded tax credit for green energy manufacturing. Then he’ll make a straight-up stump speech to several thousand expected at the Iowa State Fairgrounds. He’s due back on the South Lawn just before midnight.

FOUR ON THE FLOOR: Reid today enunciated an ambitious Senate “to do” list for the four-week run of legislating that will get started after the Memorial Day recess. The first debate in June will be on Democratic legislation designed to subject Republicans to renewed “they’re waging a war on women” complaints; the bill would boost the legal remedies available to women who aren’t paid the same as men for doing equivalent work — allowing them to win punitive damages in their lawsuits (now they can get noting beyond double back pay) and to file class action suits in wage discrimination cases.

Next up after that will be the farm bill. The timing is designed not only to push growers of subsidized crops toward certainty about their incomes starting next year (in part by getting the House to move up its farm bill timetable) but also to help Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow portray herself as a fiscal moderate (because the bill promises to shave $23 billion from the deficit in the next decade) and thereby shut down the long-shot challenge to her third-term re-election bid from former GOP House member Pete Hoekstra. The majority leader was a bit vague about what order he envisioned for the other four items on his agenda for June: Passing a bill to bolster cybersecurity, in part by setting new federal rules for companies (such as utilities) responsible for “critical infrastructure” networks that could be vulnerable to attack; passing one or more appropriations bills; advancing a long-term rewrite of the federal flood insurance system; and coming up with a compromise to keep the student loan rates from rising in July (which already looks like the get-out-of-town vote on June 29).

NOW & LATER: Part of what’s notable about any such list of legislative aspirations is what does not get mentioned. In this case, the two most important and interesting omissions are the highway bill and the defense authorization measure.

The current temporary extension of the road and mass transit policy law is set to expire at the end of next month, and lawmakers in conference negotiations on a multiple-year extension have sounded increasingly optimistic in recent days that this deadline (unlike dozens in the past few years) could well be met. Because the House is out, there have not been substantive talks this week. But top Senate negotiator Barbara Boxer yesterday hailed “great progress” in the talks and — having spent some time on the phone with Boehner the day before — said she firmly believes a deal can get done in the first half of June. If she’s correct in her assessment and early agreements don’t unravel, then there’s no reason why the highway bill should have been left off Reid’s roster. (Of course, she conceded that a few issues remain in limbo, and it’s the oldest rule in the book that there’s not final accord on anything until there’s a final accord on everything.)

There is much less time pressure on the Senate defense package, because few expect a final compromise will get done before fall. But it’s also true that the Armed Services panel generally likes to get its annual behemoth before the Senate as soon as possible after the committee draft is finished — and that’s going to be no later than tomorrow, and probably this evening. The $639 billion bill, being put together behind closed doors, will align more closely with the Pentagon’s spending priorities and and policies than the version the House passed last week; it won’t, for example, do what the House bill does and  insist on building a new missile defense site along the Eastern Seaboard in the next three years.

POKED: Facebook’s troubles as a publicly traded company are only five days old, but they’ve already put  the social media pioneer and its investment bankers into the congressional cross hairs.

There’s probably not much that Congress can do, legislatively, beyond maybe taking a populist swipe at taxing co-founder Eduardo Saverin and others who have renounced their citizenship to avoid what they thought were sure to be many millions in IPO capital gains taxes. But there are still ways that lawmakers — especially Senate Democrats — can use their oversight powers (and their ability to command TV cameras) to raise an election-year eyebrow. As a political matter, they can ill afford to avoid the opportunity, given the enormousness of the stock offering, the intense interest in the situation among hip young voters, and the fact that federal regulators are already looking at whether Facebook crossed into the insider-trading territory by selectively sharing sensitive information with a small group of investors before its public debut last Friday.

“I have instructed my staff to conduct due diligence regarding issues raised in the news about Facebook’s IPO,” Senate Banking Chairman Tim Johnson said last night, and those aides will talk to company executives and regulators and then decide if hearings are necessary. But that pledge is a long way from demanding that Mark Zuckerberg put on a tie and come to Washington to testify. Such an appearance  would be phenomenal theater, but it might make more trouble than it’s worth for the investigators at the SEC and other agencies — and might sow just the sort of anxiety in the markets that members of both parties presumably want to avoid. Instead, if there are any hearings, look for the Democrats instead to summon officials at Morgan Stanley (who presumably wouldn’t need to be reminded about neckwear) to describe Facebook’s balky IPO process.

HIS TERMS: Beyond making the boldest promise yet in his six years as a presidential aspirant — that he would bring the unemployment rate to 6 percent or less in his first term — Romney made news in yesterday’s Time interview that’s of more pressing concern at the Capitol: He said that if he wins in November he will ask Congress to put off any legislation to deal with the “fiscal cliff” until after his inauguration. That promise is the latest illustration of how complex the setting of the lame duck agenda could be. If Romney wins, the Democrats who still control the Senate for the rest of 2012 probably would want to leverage Obama’s waning months in power to shape the future of the Bush tax cuts, a framework for a tax overhaul, a debt limit increase and discretionary spending decisions (including the future of sequestration) to their liking — either through a “grand bargain” or a short-term measure that only lasts into the early weeks of the new administration.

TRAIL TIPS: (Ohio) Josh Mandel has returned the $105,000 in suspect Senate campaign contributions he’s received from 21 employees of the Suarez Corp. marketing firm in Canton, which is the subject of a federal investigation into potential illegal laundering of super-big donations through intermediaries. “We believe we have no reason to be concerned with the contributions, but out of an abundance of caution and until the investigation is complete, we believe this course of action is most appropriate,” the Republican state treasurer’s campaign said, hoping to get out from under a controversy that could slow the momentum of his challenge to incumbent Democrat Sherrod Brown. (Freshman GOP Rep. Jim Renacci, who faces Democratic Rep. Betty Sutton in November and has received the same amount from the Suarez folks, says he’s taking a wait-and-see approach before returning any money.

(Massachusetts) The state’s Senate race remains as tight as ever, according to the latest poll of likely voters by Suffolk University and Boston’s 7News, taken earlier this week: Republican incumbent Scott Brown is at 48 percent, Democratic consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren is at 47 percent — and, remarkably for a race that’s five months off, only 5 percent call themselves undecided. The poll also suggested that voters don’t care much about how Warren has described herself in the past as partly American Indian; 69 percent said it’s not a significant story to them (and 49 percent say they believe she’s telling the truth).

(Florida) Just as Connie Mack’s bid for the GOP Senate nod seems to be picking up a big head of steam — a Quinnipiac Poll out today has him at 40 percent, to 7 percent for former Sen. George LeMieux and 8 percent for tea party favorite Mike McCalister — the congressman is having to amend statements about the endorsement he received from Puerto Rican Gov. Luis Fortuño, who is probably the second-most-prominent Latino Republican in the country after Marco Rubio (and the only other one beside the Florida senator with any shot of ending up as Mitt Romney’s running mate). The Mack campaign originally quoted Fortuño — without any basis — as using the identical “lockstep liberal” phrase that Mack is fond of using in lambasting Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson. (The Q poll, meanwhile, shows Mack and Nelson in a dead heat in November.)

(Arizona) Ron Barber, the former Gabby Giffords aide who’s the Democratic candidate to be her successor in a June 12 special election, declined last night to say whether he would vote for Obama’s re-election. Republican Jesse Kelly, the 2010 nominee in the Tuscon-based district two years ago and the party nominee now, asked Barber what his presidential choice was at their only debate. Barber refused to go there, saying he was focused only on his own campaign. His demurral can only be interpreted as a sign this election will be closer than it first appeared.

QUOTE OF NOTE: "I think he’s failed in the one test America had for him, which was to unite the country," Heidi Heitkamp, the Democratic candidate for North Dakota’s open Senate seat, said of Obama yesterday in an AP interview. “I think he needed to be more hands-on. ... I don’t think he’s done enough to think broadly and come up with solutions that would engage both sides in a reasonable dialogue.”

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: House Democrat Steve Cohen of Tennessee (63); House Republicans Doug Lamborn of Colorado (58) and Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania (52).

— David Hawkings, editor

Become a Facebook fan at facebook.com/DavidHawkingsDC. Or follow me on Twitter @davidhawkings.

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

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

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: FOIA Team Sicced

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Today In Washington

THE SENATE: Convened at 9:30 and will vote at 12:30 on formally beginning debate on an update of the FDA’s industry-financed review and permitting system for new drugs and medical devices — although there’s still no deal on limiting amendments so the measure can pass this week. (The deadline for a final bill is Sept. 30.) Republicans want to make the measure a vehicle for all manner of proposals — some of them relevant (ending an excise tax on medical devices, allowing prescription drug imports from Canada) but others are not at all (revamping the federal flood insurance program).

Unless there’s agreement soon to circumscribe the FDA debate, Reid says he’ll set the measure aside and move on to something else — probably reconsideration of Obama’s plan to prevent student loans rates from doubling this summer.

THE HOUSE: In the middle of its week-ahead-of-time Memorial Day recess.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is in Colorado Springs, where at noon he’ll deliver the Air Force Academy’s commencement address — completing the customary four-year cycle of presidential graduation speeches at the service academies. He’s planning to declare that the U.S. position in the world, the strength of its alliances and the fight against al Qaeda are all better than when the graduates were first-year cadets — and he was just taking office.

The rest of the president's day will be spent raising money for his campaign and fellow Democrats: a reception at 5:30 (D.C. time) at the Hyatt Regency Denver; an intimate dinner for top-dollar givers in Atherton, the poshest address in Silicon Valley; and a soiree at the hip Fox Theatre in nearby Redwood City. He’s spending the night in San Jose.

A WHOLE NEW STORY: Try as both candidates really might, this presidential election will never be exclusively about economic growth and job creation. Not so long as outside groups retain their ever-more-outsized role in framing the debate. And one of the masters of the form, the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch, is out with another shape-shifter — which Republicans pounced on today as buttressing their passionately held view that Obama is more suited to being celebrity in chief than commander in chief.

Hundreds of Pentagon and CIA records obtained through a Judicial Watch FOIA request show that, within weeks of the killing of Osama bin Laden a year ago, West Wing officials made a senior Seal Team Six commander available to provide exclusive insider information and access to Kathryn Bigelow, the Academy Award-winning “ Hurt Locker” director, and screenwriter Mark Boal. The two are working to turn their account of the Abbottabad raid into a major motion picture — albeit not in time for a pre-election release.

Chairman Peter King this morning promised a full investigation by House Homeland Security. He issued a statement decrying the “damning story of extremely close, unprecedented, and potentially dangerous collaboration” between Hollywood and top officials at the CIA, the Pentagon and the White House — and also said he wanted to know more about the role of a top Democratic lobbying firm, the Glover Park Group, in facilitating the administration's coziness with the moviemakers. He said he was particularly galled at Judicial Watch’s reports that the filmmakers were allowed to visit a facility “so secret that its name is redacted in the released email” and also the CIA’s vaults, “which is absolutely shocking to those of us who know the sensitive nature of materials kept there.” (The Pentagon declined to confirm much of the story except to say the Seal who talked to the movie maestros was not directly involved in the raid.)

STAGE TWO: The staying power of the Hollywood kerfuffle as part of the GOP campaign talking points is sure to last longer than that of the Secret Service scandal, which has now slipped entirely off the partisan shot-taking radar — and has instead become a tale of genuine bipartisan concern about an unhealthy culture at an agency with profound life-or-death responsibilities. Senate Homeland Security convened its first hearing on the scandal this morning, with Chairman Joe Lieberman revealing his staff has uncovered 64 allegations or complaints about sexual misconduct by Secret Service employees in the last five years. He said the allegations heightened his concern about the culture of the agency but did not necessarily show a pattern of agent wrongdoing. But the panel’s top Republican, Susan Collins, described how several groups of Secret Service employees separately visited clubs, bars and brothels in Colombia and engaged in reckless, “morally repugnant” behavior that went beyond the hiring (and then seeking to stiff) prostitutes.

In his prepared remarks, Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan declared that the Cartagena incident in April wasn’t representative of the agency’s nearly 7,000 employees. He also offered his most forceful and public assurance yet that Obama’s security was never at risk. The officers involved could not have disclosed sensitive security details, he said, because their confidential briefing about the coming summit meeting hadn’t yet happened.
 
LESS SALTY: It sounds so 18th century, but in fact the Law of the Sea treaty is setting undeniably important rules about international commerce, environmental stewardship and military behavior on most of the globe’s surface these days. In fact, it’s been in force 18 years — even though the United States is the only seafaring nation that has refused to sign the treaty, which has been endorsed by 161 other countries and the European Union. There’s a good chance, though, that may change by the end of the year, because senior senators in both parties are signaling that treaty ratification will be the major foreign policy debate of the lame duck — on the theory that a bipartisan two-thirds majority can be assembled in the afterglow of this election in the same way that the New Start treaty overcame years of objections and won ratification in 2010.

The drive to put the Law of the Sea near the top of the congressional to-do list began this morning in the Foreign Relations Committee, where three top administration officials — Clinton, Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey appeared on a single witness panel to push for ratification. Dempsey testified that the treaty would strengthen American power by assuring the Navy’s navigational rights and freedoms to project and sustain force around the world.  The administration is hoping such testimony — and support from both the oil industry and the Chamber of Commerce — will stanch the drive by conservative Republican opponents to block the treaty, on the grounds that it would infringe on American sovereignty.

MEDAL OF FREEDOM: Obama will present the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor, to a dozen people in the East Room on Tuesday. The honorees who need no descriptive phrases next to their names are Madeleine Albright, Bob Dylan, John Glenn, Toni Morrison and John Paul Stevens. The others are Jan Karski, a Pole who gave some of first eyewitness accounts of the Holocaust to the outside world; John Doar, the chief civil rights official at the Justice Department in the 1960s; William Foege, who led the global smallpox immunization effort in the 1970s; Gordon Hirabayashi, who fought Japanese-American internment during World War II; Dolores Huerta, who was Cesar Chavez’ partner in founding the farm workers union; Juliette Gordon Low, who started the Girl Scouts a century ago; and Pat Summitt, the former Tennessee women’s basketball coach. In addition, Israeli President Shimon Peres will receive the medal at his own, not-yet-scheduled ceremony.

TRAIL TIPS: (Utah) Sarah Palin has endorsed Orrin Hatch’s effort to hold on to his Senate seat for a seventh term, labeling him “part of the 1 percent of national politicians who I think should be reelected.” The post on her website last night professed Palin’s confidence that the top Republican on the Finance Committee “will use his seniority and influence to dissuade politicians from continuing to raise the debt ceiling without any plan to balance the budget.” She also offered that, “unlike some others, Orrin has gone out of his way to embrace the tea party movement.” (Palin backed Richard Mourdock against  Dick Lugar in Indiana.) Hatch is 34 days from his primary against state Sen. Dan Liljenquist, who has sought to portray the senator as overly collaborative with Democrats and a far cry from the insurgent he ran as initially back in 1976. Hatch’s campaign is stressing the influence he can have on the state’s behalf if he returns for a 37th year.

(Kentucky) Thomas Massie, the executive of rural Lewis County and a favorite of Sen. Rand Paul’s allies in the tea party, can start packing for life in Washington in January. He took 48 percent to 28 percent for the old-guard establishment’s preferred candidate, state Rep. Alecia Webb-Edgington, in yesterday’s GOP primary to replace retiring Geoff Davis in the rock-ribbed-Republican northernmost counties of the state.

(California) The nonpartisan and independent panel system for redrawing the state’s 53 House districts was supposed to upend the old order of congressional campaigns in the state, and it did succeed in creating a dozen intensely contested seats in what for the last decade had been a state almost entirely safe for incumbents. But it has also had this unintended effect: Super PACs and other outside groups have already spent more than $2.4 million in independent expenditures — and their most recent FEC reports were filed well before the big advertising sprint to the finish. (The all-candidate “jungle” primaries are in 13 days.) And the overall outside spending total is actually much higher, because issue advocacy advertising media buys are not reported.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: No current lawmakers, but one who’s poised to return in January after two years away: Dina Titus (62), who lost in the Las Vegas suburbs to Republican Joe Heck in 2010 but is now assured of taking fellow Democrat (and Senate aspirant) Shelley Berkley’s central city seat this fall.

— 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 22, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Patience vs. Contempt

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Today In Washington

THE SENATE: Convened at 10 to begin substantive debate on legislation to update federal procedures for reviewing new prescription drugs and medical devices, allow the FDA to pass on the cost to the manufacturers for another five years, slow regulation of health-related apps and create a system to “track and trace” drugs all along the supply chain. (There will be a break for the weekly caucus lunches.) Sponsors in both parties are pressing colleagues to offer only germane amendments — one would end the decades-long fine-tuning of sunscreen regulation — as the only way to get the bill passed before the Memorial Day recess starts at the end of the week.

THE HOUSE: Convened at 10 for a brief pro forma meeting, but almost all members are gone until next Tuesday.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama’s public schedule is empty.

SLOWER, BUT STILL SOMEWHAT FURIOUS: Expectations two years ago that the new House Republican majority would be vigorous and vituperative in its oversight of the Obama administration have come down to this: a balky move to express official annoyance at a single official for not being altogether cooperative in the one investigation that’s consumed almost all the GOP’s oversight oxygen.

Chairman Darrell Issa and his staff at House Oversight, who once boasted of an unprecedented campaign to expose waste, fraud and abuse all across Obama’s world, have instead appeared consumed by Operation Fast and Furious, an undeniably sketchy Justice Department effort to catch Mexican drug cartel operatives by allowing thousands of government-marked weapons to “walk” in their direction. But since the program’s origins stretch back into the Bush era, Issa’s team has been compelled to focus its attention less on the operation itself and more on Eric Holder’s slow-walk approach to helping congressional investigators pound on it.

Now comes word that — with the reluctant backing of Boehner, who had been concerned the inquiry will come across to voters as a silly partisan sideshow — the House Republicans have finally settled on a plan: They’ll give the attorney general another month to turn over the records that Congress has a right to see, and if they get even partially stiff-armed then they’ll put a contempt of Congress resolution to a floor vote. But even if that’s adopted (which it probably would be along purely party lines), it would be the anticlimactic end of the affair for the rest of the year. There’s no GOP appetite for a contentious verge-of-a-constitutional-crisis move to get federal prosecutors going after their boss so close to the election, because all the top GOP dogs from Romney on down are really, really insisting the campaign should be about jobs and the economy and nothing else. (In the same vein, if Holder gives Issa everything he wants, the investigation will go into quiet combing-through-the-files mode until after Election Day.)

DOWN THE MIDDLE: Colin Powell declined today to renew the endorsement of Obama he delivered at a crucial juncture four years ago — but he didn’t back Romney, either.

“I always keep my powder dry, as they say in the military,” Powell, the younger Bush’s first secretary of State and the elder Bush’s Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, said on NBC’s “Today.” He said he was “still listening” to the campaign pitches of both candidates, called Romney “a good man” and suggested he would wait to make an endorsement until after a GOP vice presidential pick. “It’s not just a matter of whether you support Obama or Romney. It’s who they have coming in with them,” he said. But he also praised Obama’s efforts to stabilize the economy and rescue the auto industry, and he said the president had taken the right course in Afghanistan and toward Russia.

Powell — who was undeniably the most influential African-American in public life before Obama — had no mention at all about Romney’s work at Bain Capital, which Obama is now making clear will be a centerpiece of his own re-election campaign.

TOO BIG TO IGNORE: Two top financial regulators are telling Senate Banking this morning about what their agencies can — and cannot — do under current law to punish JPMorgan Chase for its multibillion-dollar loss or to prevent other megabanks from making similarly outsized hedging bets. Chairwoman Mary Schapiro says her SEC is examining JPMorgan’s disclosures to its shareholders about its trading loss — in light of the way Jamie Dimon dismissed concerns about his company’s practices as a “tempest in a teapot” just weeks before acknowledging his team had lost at least $2 billion. And Chairman Gary Gensler says his CFTC has opened an investigation “related to credit derivatives products as traded by the chief investment office” at the bank.

Beyond their pledges to get to the bottom of what happened, though, are the statements generally along party lines from the senators on the panel — with Democrats calling for the strictest possible regulations under the Dodd-Frank law’s Volcker rule provisions and Republicans suggesting that overly tight restrictions on big American banks would drive their operations overseas in the long run and would be unworkable from the outset . (The Volcker rule is supposed to prevent banks from placing big bets in search of profit for themselves — which is known as proprietary trading — on the grounds that otherwise customers’ government-insured deposits could be wiped out and taxpayers could end up getting handed the bill for the banks’ bad bets.)

RHETORIC SURGE: The simmering feud between Hamid Karzai and Dana Rohrabacher burst onto the airwaves yesterday, just before the Afghan president went home at the end of the NATO summit in Chicago.

The California Republican, who chairs the Oversight Subcommittee of House Foreign Affairs, will not be allowed back in Afghanistan “until he changes his tongue, until he shows respect to the Afghan people, to our way of life and to our constitution,” Karzai told CNN — an extraordinary public rebuff of an eminent American legislator by a prominent American ally. Rohrabacher shot back in a statement last night in which he promised that no apology was forthcoming. “Afghanistan is failing because Karzai and his corrupt clique are incompetent leaders, not because the U.S. hasn’t pumped enough money or blood to help the brave people of Afghanistan,” he said.
 
Just off camera, the two have been in a tussle for months over the congressman’s push for a more decentralized Afghan government that reflects the country’s ethnic divisions. (The fact that his subcommittee has been investigating possible Afgan government corruption in the allocation of U.S. aid has also undeniably paid a part.) Last month, Clinton and Panetta were confronted by Karzai on the matter and then persuaded Rohrabacher to abandon a congressional delegation trip to the country for fear of inflaming the situation.

TRAIL TIPS: (Ohio) Two of the state’s most prominent Republicans, Senate candidate Josh Mandel and House freshman Jim Renacci, acknowledged yesterday that federal prosecutors are investigating questionable campaign contributions they’ve taken from employees of Benjamin Suarez, a direct-marketing magnate in Canton. (News reports suggest Suarez may have violated campaign finance law by arranging for, and paying for, 16 employees and their spouses to donate a combined $100,000 each to Renacci and Mandel; the company says its workers donated their own money of their own accord.) The news comes at an inopportune time especially for Mandel, the state treasurer, whose once long-shot attempt to unseat freshman Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown has shown considerable traction and staying power in recent weeks. Renacci is in one of the two member-vs.-member general election matchups — a for-now tossup contest against three-term Democrat Betty Sutton. Both Republicans said they were cooperating with the inquiry and had done nothing wrong.

(Kentucky) A very close finish is expected in the state's only interesting congressional primary today — in the northernmost House district, centered on Covington, where Republican Geoff Davis is retiring. Rand Paul, as part of his efforts to keep feet in both the national conservative insurgent camp and the GOP establishment fold, has chosen this race to try to play kingmaker back home and is pushing the Lewis County executive, Thomas Massie. But his principal rival, state Rep. Alecia Webb-Eddington, is being backed aggressively by both the outgoing congressman and Jim Bunning, whose retirement from the Senate two years ago paved the way for Paul’s arrival in Washington. Tonight’s outcome is tantamount to a general election victory because of the district's political demographics.

(Arkansas) One of the House candidates most often mentioned by Republicans when asked about the rising stars of 2012 is Tom Cotton — an infantry veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, Harvard Law graduate and McKinsey & Co. business consultant — and he will be formally anointed in today’s primary in the state’s southwest quadrant, a GOP-tilting seat Blue Dog Democrat Mike Ross is vacating after six terms. Democrats, meanwhile, see Rick Crawford as one of the most vulnerable freshmen Republicans from the South, and they have every expectation state Rep. Clark Hall (who’s invested $50,000 of his own money in the campaign’s closing days) will finish first in a three-way primary in a neighboring district that runs the length of the state’s Mississippi River frontage. There is some suspense, however, about whether he can get the majority required to avoid a June 12 runoff, which would almost certainly be against local prosecutor Scott Ellington.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska (55), GOP Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington (43) and Democratic Rep. John Sarbanes of Maryland (50).

— David Hawkings, editor

Become a Facebook fan at facebook.com/DavidHawkingsDC. Or follow me on Twitter @davidhawkings.

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

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

Monday, May 21, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Guns vs. Guns (Not Butter)

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Monday, May 21, 2012

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama and other NATO leaders are discussing how to better coordinate and lock down their plans for ending the increasingly unpopular Afghanistan War no later than 2014 — with the Karzai government taking the lead in combat missions and the United States and the other countries playing only a supporting role starting next summer.

The protest-choked Chicago summit will end with a presidential news conference at 3:30. Obama will then take off for Missouri, where at 8:15 he'll use a Joplin High School commencement address to praise the resilience and selflessness of the community in the year since a tornado leveled much of the town and killed 161 people. (The twister arrived hours after last year’s graduation.) The president’s due back in the residence just before 1 in the morning.

THE SENATE: Convenes at 2 for preliminary debate on legislation reauthorizing the FDA’s power to collect the user fees that finance reviews of all new drugs and medical devices — including the new wave of health testing apps. Party leaders are working to whittle down the roster of proposed amendments (germane and unrelated) so the final vote can be taken before the Memorial Day break. If there’s no deal, Reid may force a vote to choke off a preliminary filibuster this evening.

Either way, senators will decide at 5:30 whether to advance Paul Watford, an appellate litigator in Los Angeles, toward a final confirmation vote to join the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Although he’s been endorsed by a long roster of prominent conservative legal experts, some Republicans want to keep all three of the court’s vacancies open until after the election.

THE HOUSE: Not in session — today or the rest of the week.

DEFENSE DILEMMAS:  By the end of the week, defense contractors and people in uniform should have a better idea about whether or not their fall will be marked by uncertainty. It probably will be.

Tomorrow, Senate Armed Services starts putting together its version of a half-trillion-dollar military policy and weapons acquisition package for the coming year. The measure will be much more similar to the bill the House passed last week than it will be different — because, in the end, the views that Republicans and Democrats on both sides of the Capitol have about national defense priorities are much more in sync than the deeply dysfunctional state of affairs in Washington would suggest. At the same time, though, the relative handful of disagreements that exist — on such important topics as missile defense, the U.S. nuclear arsenal and infrastructure, and the treatment of terrorism suspects — are so intense, and the avenues for compromise so narrow, that they could easily keep the defense authorization bill in limbo deep into lame duck.

This is especially true because, in many areas of discord, the disagreement is not so much between hawkish Republicans and dovish Democrats as it is between a Congress that wants to bust the agreed-upon-last-year defense spending limit by $8 billion and a Pentagon that wants to do the same by $4 billion. Those amounts are barely more than a percentage point rounding error in the grand scheme of defense budgeting. But they are enormous in their own right — and they represent some important strategic and macro-fiscal policy differences between the lawmakers and the president. Obama wants to trim the Air National Guard; both the House and Senate don’t. He wants to make military retirees pay more for their medical insurance; they don’t. He wants to mothball some ships and slow the assembly lines on the 21st century Navy; they don’t. Those and other standoffs are destined to remain until conference negotiations.

Before then, however, several of the more provocative moves the House endorsed last week will likely disappear, because the Senate has no interest in going along. Among them are a delay in the implementation of the New START accord, a suspension of strategic aid to Russia, orders to begin work on a new missile defense site on the East Coast and orders for the Pentagon to stop developing alternative-fuel technology for all its vehicles.

NUCLEAR SHAKEUP: Greg Jaczko announced this morning that he would step down as chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as soon as a replacement was confirmed — bringing an end to a three-year tenure marked by conflicts with both Congress and the other commissioners. Jaczko, who had been Reid’s top science adviser a decade ago and also worked for Ed Markey in the House,  was instrumental in getting the commission to end government consideration of Yucca Mountain as the nation's main nuclear waste dump — a decision that infuriated many. So did the way he asserted his powers at the NRC after the meltdowns of Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi reactors after the tsunami of last spring.

MIRROR IMAGES: The present and previous Speakers sounded remarkably alike in their most recent Sunday show appearances.  Both Boehner and Pelosi said their team was in good shape to win control of the House in November. Each accused the other’s side of renewing its inappropriate intransigence on fiscal policy. And each said the talks to address the so-called fiscal cliff — the debt limit, expiring Bush tax cuts, sequestration — should begin before the election. (Beyond that, McConnell made clear that he will back Boehner’s renewed insistence that any increase in the debt ceiling be paired with an equivalent amount in spending cuts.)

On politics, Pelosi said she viewed as winnable 75 House seats held by the GOP. Boehner declined to restate his one-in-three prediction of losing the House. “Most of our members are doing very well," he said. “ But again, you never know what’s going to happen over the next six months.” The magic number to flip control, remember, is a net 25-seat switch to the Democrats. Pelosi declined to say if she would seek to reclaim the Speakership were that to happen. (Boehner, on the other hand, is absolutely interested in remaining in the top job — and faces no viable challenge at this point, no matter how much smaller his majority might get on Nov. 6.)

TRAIL TIPS: (Texas) A poll out today shows Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and former Solicitor General Ted Cruz positioned to meet in a July 31 runoff to decide who will be the Republican Senate nominee — which means almost certainly becoming the state’s first new senator in a decade. The poll, by the Texas Tribune and the University of Texas, shows Dewhurst drawing 40 percent of likely voters to Cruz’s 31 percent. Former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert is at 17 percent, probably too big a gap to close in the time left before the first round of voting a week from tomorrow. (Former football star Craig James is at just 4 percent.) Dewhurst, the most powerful GOP establishment figure in the state — and also an energy mogul who’s invested $6 million in the race — has stayed stuck at about two-fifths support in every poll this year, but he plans to spend heavily (as does a super PAC run by his former chief of staff) to try and win 50 percent next week and avoid a runoff. Cruz, a tea party and Club for Growth darling, will otherwise be the favorite in the second round because he’ll be able to consolidate the not-Dewhurst vote.

(Illinois) Rodney Davis, a top aide in Springfield to Rep. John Shimkus for the past 16 years and the interim executive director of the state GOP, was chosen by 14 downstate Republican county chairmen over the weekend to take the place of Rep. Tim Johnson, who decided to retire after winning the nomination for a seventh term. Davis becomes the slight favorite in November against David Gill, a liberal emergency room physician from Bloomington, who was the upset winner of the March Democratic primary. The others considered by the county chairmen, who met behind closed doors, were former Miss America Erika Harold, businesswoman Kathy Wassink, and Jerry Clarke, the chief of staff to Rep. Randy Hultgren.

(Connecticut) World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon was endorsed for the open Senate seat at the state Republican convention over the weekend, taking 61 percent of the delegate vote to 32 percent for Chris Shays. But the showing by the former congressman, who lost his bid for an 11th term in 2008, was good enough to allow him to insist on an Aug. 14 primary — and both candidates are suggesting the campaign will be intense and personal. Shays says McMahon’s lopsided loss in her first Senate run, two years ago, shows she has no chance of winning this fall; McMahon says the Shays brand of iconoclasm is out of step with what the party wants now. (The Democratic primary is between Rep. Chris Murphy and former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz.)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Today, Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota (61); yesterday, Republican Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho (also 61), GOP Rep. Wally Herger of California (67) and a pair of Democratic House members, Nick Rahall of West Virginia (63) and John Carney of Delaware (56).

— 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