Friday, June 08, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: The $6 Billion Man

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Friday, June 8, 2012

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama this morning cited the precarious European debt and economic situation — and the threat it could spread to the United States this summer — as the newest rationale for pushing his jobs package through Congress, where Republicans have shown no sign of relaxing their election year recalcitrance. (At the quickly arranged news conference, he also urged European leaders to inject capital into their weak banks and warned Greece that its “hardships will likely be worse” if it leaves the eurozone.)

After lunch with Biden, Obama will spend half an hour discussing Pacific Rim economic and security alliances with Philippine President Benigno Aquino, host the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants on the South Lawn at 2:45 and then head to the Jefferson Hotel at 5:10 for a fundraiser.

THE HOUSE: Convened at 9 and will be done for the week before 1, after passing a $3.3 billion appropriations bill that would freeze House office, leadership and committee spending for the next year, cut Capitol Hill maintenance by 11 percent, boost the Capitol Police budget another 6 percent and provide slight increases for the GAO, Library of Congress and CBO. (The Senate will add $1 billion for its own operations later.) Democrats tried without success (178-229) to symbolically restart their “greening the Capitol” initiative by banning polystyrene containers from the cafeterias and carryouts.

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

DOUBLING UP: It’s looking as though Reid has found a single way out for both of the top-flight legislative impasses that Congress is seeking to resolve before Independence Day.

That fact that Boehner and McConnell have not rejected the Senate Democratic leader’s offer of late yesterday — and in fact said they would consider it — amounts to something of a breakthrough in both the student loan and highway bill negotiations. In the main, that’s because Reid has suggested a way to fund both — a $6 billion one-year extension of the 3.4 percent Stafford subsidized loan rate as well as a partial replenishment of the trust fund that pays for public works projects — by using a pair of offsets that Republicans as well as Democrats have shown support for in the past. One is an accounting adjustment for companies that the Senate has already embraced as part of its highway bill, which would generate revenue by cutting business tax deductions. The other is a hike in premiums businesses pay to the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., which bails out the pension plans of companies that go out of business.

For roadbuilders and state highway officials, it’s become especially important that Republicans take yes for an answer on this offer — because the Speaker sounded unequivocal yesterday in saying that unless there’s a deal in the next three weeks, he’ll call off negotiations on the highway bill until the lame duck. (The House GOP is supposed to deliver its response to this week’s Barbara Boxer-Jim Inhofe compromise offer by the end of the day.) The only other remotely viable offset offer on the table today — and it, too, would be big enough to cover the cost of both measures — is Tom Coburn’s plan to recoup $13 billion in unspent and outdated federal earmarks for transportation projects.

NEW FORMATION: Barry Jackson has been a part of Boehner’s innermost circle on and off since the Ohioan first ran for Congress in 1990. Mike Sommers has not been in the same place for quite as long, but he’s been part of the Boehner team since a high school internship almost two decades ago. And so it’s tough to imagine that their changing jobs — Jackson’s becoming a “senior strategist” and Sommers is taking his place as chief of staff — is anything other than a coordinated and collaborative effort. Making the move now is also as clear a sign as is available that Boehner is very comfortable Republicans will hold the House this fall, and that he’ll be around to run the show again next year.

Jackson did not get pushed out; instead, he was a bit burned out — and concluded on his own that he could be more useful one step removed from the spotlight, where he’d become the “old school guy” staff lightning rod who drew criticism that was ultimately intended for his boss from the younger and more conservative members in the House GOP ranks. Sommers did not engineer any sort of coup; instead, it just became obvious that his operating style was a bit more in tune with the more confrontational approach that a majority in the caucus espouses — not only the 87 freshman but also a growing roster of senior backbenchers and even some subcommittee chairmen.

TWO IS A TREND: Democrats and Republicans appear to have found one new area for common cause this election year: National security leaks. Senators from both sides on the Intelligence Committee made clear yesterday that they will do more than jawbone their displeasure at the recent media disclosures about Obama’s personal drone strike targeting and the cyberweapon that wormed its way into Iran’s nuclear program. Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein talked about expanding inspector general powers to probe leaks, limiting access to classified information — and maybe even taking away the reporters’ protective shield when it comes to sources of classified reporting. Republicans signaled they’d go along with all that — but still want a special counsel named to investigate the current disclosures, an idea top Intelligence panel Democrats in both chambers did not reject.

Whether the leaks were sanctioned at top levels in the White House or not, it’s abundantly clear now that the Obama team’s previous efforts to do a limited modified hangout when it comes to national security triumphs — allowing filmmakers and TV crews and reporters unprecedented access to the Situation Room to tell the story of the year-old bin Laden raid, most notably — will need to be sharply curtailed. For the moment, Republicans are so interested in genuinely stamping out leaks with the help of Democrats that they’re holding their fire on calling the president a hotdog on national security. But their patience is just one showboat move away from disappearing. (In his brief news conference this morning, Obama said he took offense at any GOP suggestion that he had leaked classified information for political gain.)

UNCOOL: The sordid John Ensign saga came to a very anticlimactic and official end yesterday. Doug Hampton, the disgraced former senator’s onetime best buddy and top aide, pleaded guilty to lobbying the Nevada Republican while he was supposed to be in his post-congressional cooling-off period — a cooling-off period that Hampton was forced into by Ensign, who looks to have arranged a K Street job for Hampton mainly so the aide wouldn’t go public with the details about how his boss and his wife were sleeping together. There is no indication whatsoever that the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section will do what it’s supposed to do and go after the biggest available public-figure fish. Instead, the only punishments Ensign looks to face are public humiliation and the surety that his aspirations — to be majority leader and maybe even president — will now be laughed at by congressional historians.

TRAIL TIPS: (Utah) Romney is getting off the presidential campaign for a few minutes tomorrow to do a Salt Lake City photo-op fly-in for Orrin Hatch. It’s the second bit of help the presidential candidate has given the senator this year — Romney taped radio and TV spots for Hatch in the run-up to the state Republican convention — but the visual endorsement will be extra help for Hatch’s efforts to win a seventh term, which will be assured if he wins the June 26 primary against running-to-his-right state Sen. Dan Liljenquist. Hatch looks in solid shape at the moment.

(North Dakota) Republicans may be coloring the state’s Senate map dark red a bit too quickly. A Mason-Dixon poll conducted earlier this week for two TV stations puts Democrat Heidi Heitkamp, the former attorney general, in a statistical tie with Republican Rick Berg, the state’s sole House member for the past 18 months and before that the state House majority leader. She was at 47 percent, he was at 46 percent — and she was winning among independents by 15 points. The state is a lock for the GOP at the presidential level, and Gov. John Hoeven won the other Senate seat with 76 percent two years ago. But, before that, the last GOP victory in a Senate race in the state was in 1980.

(Michigan) Local GOP leaders decided not to wait until Monday to pick a replacement for Thad McCotter; instead, they voted 11-0 yesterday to back Nancy Cassis to take his place in the solidly Republican congressional district west of Detroit that McCotter has represented for a decade, but where he comprehensively dropped the running-for-re-election bureaucratic ball. Cassis is a former state Senate majority leader (and was briefly a candidate for governor in 2006) who was term-limited in Lansing two years ago. She says she’s willing to spend $200,000 of her own money, and the $80,000 left in her political account, mounting her own write-in campaign in the Aug. 7 primary — which should be plenty to get past the only person on the ballot tea-party reindeer rancher Kerry Bentivolio.

QUOTE OF NOTE: “My first choice had always been my father. I campaigned for him when I was 11 years old. He’s still my first pick, but now that the nominating process is over, tonight I’m happy to announce that I’m going to be supporting Gov. Mitt Romney,” Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said on Fox News last night.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Today, GOP Rep. Ken Calvert of California and former Democratic Rep. Gabby Giffords of Arizona (42), who celebrated last night with a reception for 300 of her past — and potentially future — D.C. donors; tomorrow, the congressman for all of Alaska since 1973, Republican Don Young (79).

— 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, June 07, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: I Know You Are, but What Am I?

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Today In Washington

THE HOUSE: Convened at 10 for speeches and will vote  this afternoon to repeal a new 2.3 percent tax on the producers of the medical hardware sold to doctors and hospitals— from catheters to CT scanners. The tax was created under the 2010 health care law, is set to begin in January and promises to raise $29 billion in the coming decade. (The bill would also ease restrictions on health savings and flexible spending accounts and would be paid by recouping excess insurance subsidies created under the overhaul.) Today’s majority won’t be big enough to override Obama’s promised veto, but the measure won’t ever get that far; Reid says he won’t even put it to a Senate vote.

Debate will continue on the welter of amendments to the $46 billion Homeland Security Department spending bill, with the last vote promised before 11 and final passage on course for tomorrow.

THE SENATE: Convened at 9:30 and has just voted, 90-8, to defeat an initial farm bill filibuster by Southerners, who view the five-year revamp of agriculture subsidy policies as unfair to their region’s peanut and cotton growers. The legislation is now officially open to amendment, but the next showdown votes aren’t coming before next week. (The bill may yet get bogged down by proposals unrelated to farm and food policy; Republicans want to add language limiting aid to Pakistan and compelling the Pentagon to detail its plans for complying with the sequester spending cuts.)

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is getting ready for a $2,500-an-omelette breakfast for 300 at the home of developer Charles Quarles in L.A.’s View Park neighborhood, known locally as Black Beverly Hills. (His campaign and the Democratic Party announced this morning that they raised a combined $60 million in May for the re-election effort; a few hours later, Romney and the GOP announced a comparable total of $77 million.)

The president will be in Las Vegas for a 3:50 (D.C. time) speech at UNLV, where he’s expected to definitively reject the House GOP’s ideas for offsetting the $6 billion cost of holding the Stafford subsidized student loan rate steady for another year. (The Senate’s majority Democrats rejected the pay-for package yesterday.) Obama is due back on the South Lawn at 9:25.

SCHOOLYARD POLITICS: In the annals of congressional dysfunction, this week looks to be remembered as the moment when the two parties could muster nothing more constructive than dueling versions of “So’s your mother.”

Pelosi yesterday trotted out a trope that’s often tried in the Senate, but rarely on her side of the Capitol: She melodramatically called on Boehner to cancel next week’s House recess to keep lawmakers focused on the looming expiration dates for the highway funding system and the student loan rate — knowing full well that he had no intention of doing so and, besides, such a move would infuriate plenty of Democrats, who have just as much campaigning and fundraising (and trips to the hardware store) planned for next week as the Republicans.

Boehner hardly dignified the minority leader’s written request with a response, but had his spokesman defend the House calendar — and this week’s stating-the-obvious comments from Cantor that the House majority has essentially downshifted its legislative machinery into first gear until after the election — on the grounds that majority Senate Democrats are insisting on such a de minimus pace. But then the Speaker upped the histrionic ante a notch — saying it was the president who should do the canceling, by calling off this afternoon’s Las Vegas speech (a “rally,” hetermed it) in favor of coming back to Washington to negotiate on student loans.

Each side began today by defending their own brickbats, and accusing the other of manufacturing phony crises in order to emphasize policy differences that aren’t all that great — with each side saying the other is exaggerating for campaign purposes. Genuine disagreements, starting with the future of the tax code, continue to fester. (The next congressional approval ratings poll is out next week.)

FIREWORKS BEFORE THE FOURTH: Assuming the farm bill takes only a week to finish, then look for the defense authorization bill to fill the Senate agenda the last week of the month — with passage the get-out-of-town vote before the July Fourth recess. One of the reasons Reid wants to feature the legislation right before the break is that he knows the debate will produce amendments, from each side, designed to raise hot-button issues that stir passions at each end of the ideological spectrum — the base voters both Democrats and Republicans want to energize and keep energized for four full months before Election Day.

The most explosive vote will put abortion politics — the political forebear of this campaign’s “war on women” contretemps — before the Senate for the first time this year. The bill would allow abortions in military hospitals not only when the mother’s life is in danger (the current law) but also in cases of rape or incest — a change that abortion opponents will work vigorously to have excised from the measure, while abortion rights groups seek to preserve it as the absolute floor for their cause. The other amendment debate that’s likely to generate campaign spots in states where senators face their toughest re-election fights — Montana, Missouri, Florida and Ohio for the Democrats, Nevada and Massachusetts for the Republicans — will be about whether to block the transfer of suspected terrorists from Guantánamo Bay for trial on the mainland. (Heated as the rhetoric will get, the outcomes are essentially foreordained; the bill will probably be amended as the GOP wants to block the transfer of detainees, while Democrats will be able to preserve the abortion provision.)

SCRAMBLE FOR THE TOP: The Ethics Committee may have cleared itself of wrongdoing in the Maxine Waters case, but it has in no way absolved the California congresswoman. In fact, there’s is little doubt but that the panel will now turn back to its painfully slow and deliberative process of deciding whether Waters advocated improperly on behalf of a bank in which her husband was an investor. Slow and deliberate may often be the way to go on matters of justice — but often not on matters of internal House power dynamics. Waters is banking on a resolution of her case before the election, on the assumption she will be no-billed and can then lay claim to be Barney Frank’s successor in the top Democratic seat on Financial Services. But if Billy Martin – the fabled D.C. defense lawyer who probed the Ethics panel’s propriety and will now take over the Waters case itself — pushes for a comprehensive inquiry, including the naming of a special investigative subcommittee, the resolution might not come before next year, which would make Waters’ committee campaign subject to a challenge by New York’s Carolyn Maloney.

TRAIL TIPS: (California) Now that they’ve finished sifting through the results of the first jungle primaries in all 53 of the state’s congressional districts, political strategists in both parties are expecting Democrats will gain at least three and maybe five House seats because of the dramatically reconfigured state map. But one district the Democrats had been counting on picking up in November — in the easternmost L.A. suburbs — isn’t on the list, because Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar finished about 1,000 votes out of the running to take on Republican Gary Miller, who is seeking an eighth term in territory that’s largely new to him. (Instead, his opponent will be fellow Republican Bob Dutton, a state senator.) The biggest pleasant surprise for the Democrats, on the other hand, was that state Assemblywoman Julia Brownley made it into the final round in a newly drawn and open Ventura County district. She will now be in a dogfight with GOP state Sen. Tony Strickland — because of the faded-to-oblivion candidacy of the Republican-turned-independent candidate who seemed poised to finish first only a week ago, County Supervisor Linda Parks.

(Michigan) Republican leaders in southeastern Michigan agreed yesterday on a vetting process for finding a consensus primary write-in alternative to Thad McCotter, the congressman who forgot to file his re-election paperwork. The group plans to make a single endorsement by Monday evening, hoping that will avoid a free-for-all in the run-up to the Aug. 7 primary — the winner of which should be a lopsided favorite in the fall. Aspirants expected to fill out a questionnaire and submit to interviews with the GOP elders are former state Rep. Rocky Raczkowski, former state Sen. Loren Bennett, former congressional aide Paul Welday and state Judge Kimberly Small.

(Connecticut) Bolstered by an early and self-funded $3 million advertising blitz, pro wrestling impresario Linda McMahon’s Senate candidacy is doing substantially better than three months ago. A Quinnipiac poll out yesterday showed her with a 59 percent to 30 percent Republican primary lead over former Rep. Chris Shays — a margin that’s three times the 9-point gap that separated the two in a Q Poll in March. (The primary is Aug. 14.) The new survey also shows McMahon in a statistical dead heat against the likely Democratic nominee, Rep. Chris Murphy (he’s at 46 percent and she’s at 43 percent; in March he was up by 15 points.) Murphy also has a yawning 30-point primary lead over former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz. The numbers may well snuff out the fundraising that Shays needs to preserve his comeback hopes, which have been predicated on his claim that he could win a general-election upset but McMahon could not.

QUOTE OF NOTE: “I’m not gonna do it and I’m not gonna be asked and it’s not gonna happen. . . . I’m not gonna be a candidate with him . . . under no circumstances,” Jeb Bush said when asked about being Mitt Romney’s running mate today on CBS “This Morning.” Asked if he’d ever run for president, the former Florida governor said: “I’ve not made that decision, although there’s a window of opportunity in life for all sorts of reasons, and this was probably my time.”

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Mike Pence, the former House Republican Conference chairman who’s strongly favored to win the Indiana governorship this fall (53), and two-term Democratic Rep. Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico (40).

— 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, June 06, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Gas or Brake Before the Break?

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Today In Washington

THE SENATE: Convened at 9:30 for a day of speechmaking about the farm bill, while negotiations continue on setting parameters for a debate expected to last most of this month. (A cloture vote to get the ball rolling, and test the strength of the bill’s mostly Southern opponents, will come tomorrow.)

For rural America, the most controversial feature is a revamp of the crop subsidy system; $5 billion annually in direct payments to farmers — some who leave their fields fallow — would be replaced with a bolstered federal crop insurance system and a new “shallow loss” program that pays farmers for sustained annual losses on what they grow. (Southerners say the new system would hurt cotton and peanut farmers more than the wheat, corn and soybean farmers up north.) For urban America, the most controversial feature is a $23 billion cut in food stamps during the next decade.

THE HOUSE: Convened at 10 and will be voting until close to 11. There are two dozen more amendments to be disposed of before a lopsided vote to pass the energy and water spending package. Another wide-open debate will then get started on the House’s fourth fiscal 2013 appropriations bill, providing $39 billion (a 1 percent trim) for the Department of Homeland Security and $5.5 billion for disaster relief. FEMA funding would be boosted, but the Coast Guard, the Transportation Security Administration, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement would be cut.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Air Force One is on the way to California, where Obama will raise money at a pair of events in San Francisco this afternoon and at two more fundraisers in Los Angeles this evening — one a Beverly Wilshire gala for gay and lesbian supporters paying $25,000 a couple.

MORE LANES, SAME TRAFFIC: The Republican majority is getting ready to deliver the House’s counteroffer to a comprehensive compromise plan on the highway bill put out by the top Senate negotiators yesterday. House Democrats are noticeably boxed out of the process, even though transportation has been one of the few policy areas that has resisted metastasizing partisanship in recent years — and even though the Senate offer came from lawmakers anchoring the ends of the ideological spectrum, Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer and top Republican Jim Inhofe.

The Oklahoma senator is emerging as this week’s version of the indispensable man in the talks. That's because a deal looks possible only if he  persuades fellow tea-party-style conservatives in the House that jump-starting highway and mass transit construction — in a measure including language streamlining environmental reviews — can be sold as a fiscally responsible position (because it will aid the economy and put people to work). State highway officials, construction industry groups and chambers of commerce are all making the same point, and have been for months.

But what’s standing in the way of a deal before the end-of-June deadline also hasn’t changed for months: Some in the GOP leadership are convinced an impasse is better politics than a deal — partly in the cynical view that a big burst of public works hiring before the election has to be prevented, so as not to help Obama with a campaign season jolt to the economy. Others insist they are willing to bury the entire highway bill unless it guarantees top-speed approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline (and maybe stops EPA regulation of coal ash). Those issues were purposely left out of the Boxer-Inhofe offer the House is now considering. So, too, is the all-important language about how to finance all the new construction at a time when gasoline taxes aren’t sufficient to cover the costs.

STAFFORD STANDOFF: The rationale for taxpayers paying for most of Obama’s latest West Coast fundraising trip will come tomorrow, when the president makes an official speech on a matter of policy — at UNLV, on the student loan impasse. The venue affords him a prime opportunity to claim credit for one of the last bipartisan legislative victories that can be expected before the election. He could do so by embracing one of the two new Republican offers for offsetting the $6 billion cost of extending the 3.4 percent interest rate on federally subsidized college loans for a year.

But don’t expect that to happen. Instead, the president is likely to offer some vaguely worded “we can work this out” language, maybe accompanied by the outlines of a counteroffer. Biden made clear yesterday that the administration isn’t close to declaring victory with fully three weeks left on the countdown clock — because, he said, the White House fears some sort of trap lies ahead. It was totally unclear what he was talking about, though, because all of the offset options are things the administration itself has been behind at various points in the last year of budget brinkmanship: increasing the cost to federal workers of their retirement benefits, limiting federal loan eligibility for part-time students, curbing Medicaid expenses a hair and combatting Social Security overpayments. None of those relatively minor budget tweaks faces anything close to top-flight opposition within the Democratic base, and it’s undeniably true that, if such rounding-error limits to  entitlements cannot be made in the cause of a hugely popular idea like keeping college costs in check, there’s no reason to hope that much bigger entitlement limits will ever be seriously considered in the name of politically painful budget discipline.

Boehner says he doesn’t expect a deal before the rate rises on July 1. It looks for now as though he’s right. For 7.4 million Stafford loan students, though, the good news is it will be a relatively painless bureaucratic matter to deal with a retroactive lowering of the rates back from 6.8 percent this fall — before any payments are due, but also probably after the election.

BLOWBACK: The revelations of the last week that Obama unilaterally launched a Stuxnet virus attack on Iran’s nuclear centrifuges, and personally signed off on al Qaeda drone attacks, have raised surprisingly few audible hackles in a Congress where members of both parties (but most of all, these days, Republicans) could have been expected to rail against an excessive use of unilateral presidential power. Instead, the rebukes over the disclosures have been almost all about the fact that there were disclosures.

In other words, Congress seems more concerned about finding and punishing the messengers — the officials who may have leaked classified information to The New York Times and other journalists — than about debating the merits of the little-known policy messages their stories put in the sunshine. While the FBI has reportedly opened its own investigation of the leaks, the bipartisan outrage has been more transparent in the Senate. Yesterday John McCain and fellow Armed Services Republican Saxby Chambliss called for a special prosecutor and a hearing on the issue, while Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein vowed to amend her version of the annual spy powers bill to require that Congress be told about authorized disclosures of classified information and insist on stronger investigations of unauthorized leaks.

CLINTON AND THE CLIFF: The latest CBO warning about the country’s long-term fiscal illness is serving as a Rorschach test for lawmakers sizing up the fiscal cliff. Same goes for the latest somewhat-off-the-reservation comments by Bill Clinton.

Boehner, McConnell and almost every other Republicans crowed today that the former president had given them all the ammunition required to lock down an extension of the Bush tax rates — at least for another year. Clinton told CNBC last night that the national economic predicament was rocky enough that tinkering with the tax code before next year (meaning in the lame duck) was unwise. That goes directly against what Obama and many Democrats have said they’re after, which is some higher taxes – either for the sort-of-rich and above or only the very rich – starting in January. (But Clinton’s office later walked back that comment, saying that he doesn’t believe in any more extensions of the “tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans” and that all he meant to do in the interview was make the obvious point that any grand budget bargain would have to come after the election.)

Extending the current tax rates for families with income above $250,000 would cost about $850 billion in the next decade — meaning that, if those tax cuts were allowed to expire, budget negotiators would be about a quarter of the way toward their “grand bargain” target of $4 trillion in cumulative deficit reduction (and attendant debt growth slowdown). And that’s where the latest long-term CBO forecast comes in. The report detailed two alarmingly different scenarios. Extending the Bush tax rates and skipping out on the plans for  automatic spending cuts would allow the debt to grow from three-quarters the size of the GDP, which it is now, to twice the size of the economy 25 years from now. If the tax cuts are allowed to expire and the sequester takes place, the debt would shrink in the next quarter-century to half the size of the GDP.

House Budget was grilling CBO chief Doug Elmendorf about the report today, with each side in predictable form — blaming the other for intransigence on addressing the coming budgetary chasm.

TRAIL TIPS: (Wisconsin) Scott Walker’s recall rebuff was undeniably decisive — he won by 7 percentage points and 173,000 votes, an even better showing than when he beat Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett 18 months ago — but the results also suggest the special election was less of a national referendum (or a harbinger of the presidential race in Wisconsin) than Republicans are claiming today. The exit polls showed Obama carrying the state’s 10 electoral votes by 7 points in the state at the moment, 51 percent to 44 percent. And the state’s 6.7 percent jobless rate remains well below the national number on which much of the campaign will be fought. But that did not stop RNC Chairman Reince Priebus from declaring that the party “infrastructure and enthusiasm” that propelled Walker’s victory can be readily redeployed and that Romney will now contest the state with vigor. (Although Obama carried the state by 14 points, John Kerry and Al Gore each won it by less than a point.)

(New Jersey) Whether it was Bill Clinton’s backing or his own old-fashioned organizational skill, Bill Pascrell effectively won a 9th term yesterday by almost 20 points — trouncing his former Democratic congressional friend and newly testy rival, Obama-backed Steve Rothman, on the strength of a 9-to-1 triumph in his home base of Passaic County. In the closing days, Pascrell also worked to energize Latino and black voters by deriding Rothman’s efforts to challenge questionable absentee ballots — and by calling him a carpetbagger in a district that was essentially drawn to combine chunks of territory each had represented for the past decade. (Don Payne Jr. easily defeated fellow Newark councilman Ron Rice in the primaries that will determine who holds his father’s seat in the lame duck and next year.)

(California) Brad Sherman ended up with only a 10 percentage point (42 percent to 32 percent) lead over fellow Democrat Howard Berman in the most expensive member vs. member race in the country this year — ensuring that the second, general-election round of their contest to represent the San Fernando Valley will be even more intense and expensive. In the Bay Area, Pete Stark only came out 6 points ahead of local official and fellow Democrat Eric Swalwell (42 percent to 36 percent) ensuring that the 80-year-old, four-decade incumbent will have the campaign of his life this fall. But the closest an incumbent came to finishing second in his own "jungle" primary in the state was east of Los Angeles, where Gary Miller took only 27 percent in territory almost entirely new to him — and will be chased hard until Nov. 6 by fellow Republican Bob Dutton, a state senator with a local base who took 25 percent.

(New Mexico) Martin Heinrich defeated state Auditor Hector Balderas with 59 percent to take the Democratic nomination for the Senate seat Jeff Bingaman is leaving behind. Heather Wilson took the GOP nomination with 70 percent against Las Cruces businessman Greg Sowards. And the Democratic nomination for the Albuquerque House seat that Heinrich now holds (and Wilson had previously) went to County Commissioner Michelle Lujan Grisham; he won with 40 percent in an upset in the three-way field. (State Sen. Eric Griego was backed by major labor unions and liberal organizations, while former Albuquerque Mayor Marty Chavez was the Bill Clinton candidate.)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Majority Leader Eric Cantor (49) and another House Republican, Tennessee’s Marsha Blackburn (60).

— David Hawkings, editor

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: All Eyes on Wisconsin

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Today In Washington

THE SENATE: Convened at 10 and at 2:15 (after the weekly caucus lunches) will kill legislation mandating equal pay for equal work and easing the path to the courthouse for women alleging wage discrimination.  Democrats never expected their bill to get the 60 votes needed to advance — but are delighted to be able to describe the defeat as part of the GOP “war on women.” (Republicans say what they’re waging war on is an excessive federal hand on business practices.)

THE HOUSE: Convenes at noon for speeches and again at 2 for legislating — with GOP leaders pushing for lawmakers to restrain their amendment urges and allow passage before 11 of next year’s $32.1 billion spending package for the Energy Department and Army Corps of Engineers, which would be a hair less than what’s being spent this year. (Votes are expected this evening on proposals to cut research into green, nuclear and fossil fuel energy.)

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is in a senior team meeting now. His public schedule has nothing on it afterward.

JUDGMENT DAY: The ever-so-slight, and dwindling, edge goes to Scott Walker in today’s marquee election — in which Wisconsin’s controversial Republican leader for the past 17 months is seeking to become the first governor to survive a recall campaign.

The polls close at 9 (D.C. time) and both sides are working fervently to get out their vote, with recount attorneys on hand and a razor-thin margin expected. State officials predict turnout between 60 percent and 65 percent. The final survey by Public Policy Polling, taken last weekend, had Walker ahead of Tom Barrett, the Democratic mayor of Milwaukee, by 3 percentage points — 50 percent to 47 percent, a statistical tie that nonetheless signals that only an unusually small group remains undecided. (The previous PPP survey, taken three weeks ago, had Walker up by 5 points; a Marquette University Law School poll had him up by 7.)

The outcome will be by far the most consequential election result before Nov. 6 for both presidential candidates, their national party organizations, those parties’ political bases — the tea party movement for the GOP and organized labor for the Democrats — and the outside organizations that have shattered all spending records for a race in the state: more than $63 million, with three out of every four dollars on behalf of Walker. (Obama’s investment of his own political capital amounted to a tweeted personal endorsement of Barrett last night.)

A Barrett victory would mean the president could continue to count on Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes as leaning slightly but undeniably his way. A Walker victory would assure that Romney invests heavily in the state and probably makes it a tossup all fall. (Reagan in 1984 was the last Republican to carry the state.) A Barrett win would be a repudiation of Walker’s brand of fiscal conservatism, which centered on his drive to strip state employees of their collective bargaining rights in order to plug the hole in Wisconsin’s budget. It would also be a sign that organized labor, having been beaten so badly in Wisconsin and a handful of other GOP-run Midwestern states that made similar moves last year, has figured out how to bounce back and remains relevant in American electoral politics. A Walker win would be a validation that aggressive fiscal conservatism promoted with intense partisanship can be rewarded even by the most closely divided electorates. And it would surely reignite drives in other states to rein in the power of public employee unions. Finally, a Barrett win would keep alive hopes for those hoping to wield the midterm recall weapon in other states; a Walker win would deflate those hopes. (Democrat Gray Davis in California nine years ago, and Republican Lynn Frazier of North Dakota 91 years ago, lost the only prior gubernatorial recalls.)

JERSEY SCORE: The battle between Steve Rothman and Bill Pascrell is the day’s premier congressional primary — and may end up as the tightest of this year’s 13 member-against-member contests. The two seem incredibly well matched. Both have the same amount of House experience (16 years), both are on premier committees (Rothman’s on Appropriations, Pascrell’s on Ways and Means) and both have one president in their corner (Rothman was photographed with Obama in the Rose Garden last week, while Clinton has been out in front for Pascrell.)  But in the end the slightest of edges goes to Rothman, because the redistricting mapmakers created a district that combined their old, reliably Democratic, suburban Northern New Jersey stomping grounds in a way that retained a bit more of Rothman's old district.

The other primary to watch in New Jersey is in Newark and its surrounding suburbs, where Councilman Donald Payne Jr. is hoping his and his late congressman father’s old fashioned political machine is in better working order than that of Councilman Ron Rice, and his own namesake father,  a state senator the past 26 years. The better bet is on Payne; the winner in the overwhelmingly Democratic district will be assured of a special-election win in time to attend the lame duck.

LAW OF THE JUNGLE: The other topflight member vs. member race today will not mean one lawmaker has to start packing up his office on the second floor of Rayburn. Brad Sherman looks to finish first in the San Fernando Valley district where both he and Howard Berman have staked their claim — he was ahead, 31 percent to 24 percent, in the last poll taken — but both are destined for the November ballot under California’s new “jungle primary” system, in which candidates of all stripes are on one ballot today and the top two finishers advance to the fall. Berman, the senior Democrat on House Foreign Affairs, has been the bigger spender so far ($3.4 million to $2.1 million), but his ability to keep up the fundraising for the second round will be debilitated if he finishes too far back in second place tonight. And Sherman, who's a senior member of Judiciary, will have no trouble boosting his take.

That same dynamic seems assured in the state’s other incumbent matchup, also in the Los Angeles area. Laura Richardson will make it into the second round, but her candidacy is limping irreversibly — and struggling financially — because of the Ethics Committee investigation into allegations that she’s been forcing her congressional aides to do her campaign work since arriving in Congress five years ago. With the backing of most Latinos and even a small slice of African-Americans today, freshman and fellow Democrat Janice Hahn will become close to a lock for the fall.

The other California incumbent in genuinely deep trouble this fall is Pete Stark, who’s running for a 21st term in the Bay Area at a curmudgeonly age 80 — mainly against 31-year-old Eric Swalwell, a local city councilman who has bested the veteran in fundraising and rattled him with past-his-expiration-date campaign rhetoric. The two Democrats will make it to the finals, but Swalwell has a solid shot at finishing in first place tonight.

ROUGH ROAD: While most of the Capitol’s attention is on elections elsewhere, the one big legislative development is that this is looking to be make-or-break week for the highway bill. And “break” looks to be the likelier outcome. If negotiators “can’t get serious about finding common ground, the bill will fail,” the House GOP leadership’s principal delegate to the talks, Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania, says. And the list of areas in which House members want senators to buckle is a long one — headlined by language mandating a speedy start to the Keystone XL oil pipeline project and another provision that would stop EPA regulation of coal ash. Unless there’s a clear breakthrough in the next four days (after which the House is gone for a week), then the House will probably move yet another bill keeping highway and mass transit programs running in place — this time, until after the election.

That would mean the future of the depleted Highway Trust Fund would be added to the roster of fiscal policy questions that amount to the so-called fiscal cliff. (Since the fund’s highway account would be almost empty by the end of the year, given the current pace of gasoline tax collections, federal administrators would be pressed to slow down payments to the states for job-generating projects during the fall campaign — making the balky economy just a little bit more so.)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Jill Biden, the wife of the president of the Senate (61). No current lawmakers; the most famous former member is Enid Greene of Utah (54), who came to the House on the 1994 GOP tide and but didn’t run again two years later — after a soap-operatic campaign finance fraud perpetrated by her estranged husband, Joe Waldholtz.

 

— 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, June 04, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Stepping Back From the Cliff

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Monday, June 4, 2012

Today In Washington

THE SUPREME COURT: The justices ruled 8-0 today to give Secret Service agents significant latitude to limit the First Amendment rights of protesters they believe could harm the people agents are protecting. The court tossed out a lawsuit by Steven Howards, who said he was wrongly arrested for expressing his opposition to the Iraq War to Dick Cheney at a Colorado shopping mall in 2006. The agents said they had reason to believe Howards broke the law by lying to them about touching the vice president during the confrontation.

THE SENATE: Convenes at 2 for an afternoon of speechmaking on the Democrats’ not-going-anywhere gender pay equity legislation, followed by a 5:30 vote to promote Timothy Hillman, a federal magistrate in Worcester since 2005, to one of the two vacant District Court judgeships in Massachusetts.

THE HOUSE: Not in session; next convenes at noon tomorrow, with votes put off until 6:30.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is doing business in the West Wing until 3:25, when he leaves for a nine-hour fundraising trip to New York — with Bill Clinton as his sidekick. After a private dinner for top-dollar donors and a reception at the Waldorf, the pair will appear as the grand finale of a “Barack on Broadway” gala at the New Amsterdam Theater. (Others on stage will include James Earl Jones, Stockard Channing, Tony Kushner, Angela Lansbury, Megan Hilty, Jeffrey Wright, Patti LuPone, Cheyenne Jackson and Audra McDonald.)

CHOOSING THEIR BATTLES: Republicans are firming up plans for pushing back much of the fiscal cliff by a full year — because they’ve concluded their post-election political muscle won’t be strong enough to impose all of their fiscal will, either in the lame duck or early in the next Congress.

It’s outside the realm of possibility that the GOP will be running the table unilaterally in Washington next year; although Romney is now an even-money bet to defeat Obama, and his party has every reason to expect it will hold the House (albeit with a narrower majority), the best Republicans can hope for is a takeover of the Senate with a vote or two to spare — nowhere close to the unprecedented 13-seat pickup required to take away the filibuster cudgel from the Democrats. And so, as a practical matter, continued divided government is an almost sure thing in 2013.

What that means is that Republicans will have to pick their priorities for victory — and it looks as though preserving all of the Bush-era tax cuts for at least one more year is No. 1 on the list. House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp has signaled as much in recent days (saying the extension should be paired with language shielding 30 million from the reach of the AMT and extending the payment rate for doctors who have Medicare patients).

Republicans expect they can get their wish for several reasons: Democrats are split over whether to insist on ending the decadelong tax cut for everyone making more than $250,000, or to make the politically easier demand that only those earning above $1 million should get taxed more. (Raising taxes on the larger group would mean about $365 billion in debt-reducing revenue in the next decade — an amount that could be used to limit the size of the entitlement cuts that would be part of any big budget deal.)  Many Democrats — none more so than the president, whether he wins or not — are wary of beginning the next period of governance by insisting on policies that could be blamed for a return to recession. And so a crucial number of Democrats may well be willing to join the GOP in calling for a one-year timeout in which Congress could come up with the first comprehensive tax code overhaul in more than a quarter-century — one that raises revenue not by raising income tax rates but by eliminating loopholes and deductions so that the base of people and businesses paying some measure of taxes is significantly expanded.

...AND THEY CHOOSE THIS ONE: To be clear, Republicans are not preparing to step back from every crevice in the cliff. For now, at least, they remain intent on provoking a confrontation during the lame duck over spending — by standing by the $109 billion in across-the-board cuts on course for January unless Obama and the Democrats agree to replace that indiscriminate sequester with a menu that goes much easier on defense programs and takes a bigger bite out of discretionary social programs and entitlements. (This is where Boehner’s return to his budgetary line in the sand comes in; he says that whatever the grand total is of any deal on spending cuts will be the limit of the next debt limit increase he’s willing to back.)

FARM FAIRNESS: Once the Republicans vote almost en bloc to block Barbara Mikulski’s equal-pay-for-equal-work guarantee (on the grounds it would lead to a flood of needless litigation), Reid will move quickly this week to legislation that may yet get enacted this fall — the new farm bill. Its fate doesn’t rest on the usual partisan divide; instead, the issue is whether Southern senators — who say the bill is unfair to the rice and peanut growers they represent – can muster the 41 votes they need to keep the measure in limbo until it can be altered to their liking.

Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow says she’s confident she has the 60 votes she needs  to overcome such a rebellion. But until she proves that’s true, the drivers of farm policy in the House — including Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas — say they are going to keep their powder dry, and won’t move to even begin assembling their version of a bill. (They see no need to make tough choices and pick winners and losers among the various commodities if the bill stands no chance of getting done this year.) It’s at best an even bet that the two chambers will pass competing bills and get them compromised into a final farm bill before the end-of-September deadline, or the election.

RODGERS TAPPED: The Romney campaign tapped Cathy McMorris Rodgers today to be its liaison to House Republicans. The fourth-term congresswoman from Spokane, who’s also No. 5 in the majority caucus leadership hierarchy, will be a deputy of sorts to Roy Blunt, the Missouri senator who’s in charge of maintaining lines of strategic and legislative communication open between the presidential campaign and the congressional GOP. Selecting McMorris Rodgers for the high-profile campaign role — in which she’s certain to be tapped as a surrogate this fall — is a clear effort to help Romney rebut the “war on women” rhetoric of the Democrats.(The congresswoman’s favored reply is that the Democrats are waging a  “war on reality.”)

The announcement came as the Obama campaign released its newest TV ad — which will air in the nine most obvious battleground states. It lambastes Romney’s economic stewardship during his term as governor of Massachusetts. The 60-second spot says the state lost 40,000 manufacturing jobs and dropped to 47th in job creation among the states while Romney pushed a tax-cuts-for-the-rich, tax-hikes-for-the-middle-class agenda. “We’re happy to compare the 4.7 percent unemployment rate Mitt Romney achieved in Massachusetts to President Obama’s weak record any day,” the GOP campaign replied.

TRAIL TIPS: (Michigan) Now that Thad McCotter’s quirky congressional career has come to an especially oddball end, look for Republicans to coalesce quickly behind former state Sen. Loren Bennett, who has the mainstream conservative credentials, and the organizational skill, to win the necessary write-in campaign in the Aug. 7 primary. If she does — which will mean besting the only person left on the ballot, politically unknown teacher, Santa Claus impersonator, reindeer breeder and tea patry enthusiast Kerry Bentivolio — the GOP should have no trouble holding the reliably Republican seat in the exurbs of Detroit. (The Democrats had been ready to concede a sixth term to McCotter, who gave up his own write-in campaign over the weekend in the face of a criminal inquiry into his efforts to get back on the ballot after essentially forgetting to file in time.)

(Arizona) Three days before the special election, Gabrielle Giffords will appear at a concert and rally in Tucson this weekend to help her chosen successor, Ron Barber, whose somewhat avuncular campaign to win as a centrist Democrat (or maybe one even to the right of his former boss) seems to be running into considerable trouble. Republican Jesse Kelly is mounting a better-organized and more centrist candidacy than he did two years ago, when he lost to Giffords by less than 2 points.

(Massachusetts) Elizabeth Warren secured a primary-free path to the Democratic Senate nomination at the state party convention over the weekend, and two more polls out today show that the controversy over her American Indian ancestry claims has not cut into her standing against Scott Brown. Instead, the two remain in a statistical dead heat. The Boston Globe has Brown leading, 39 percent to 37 percent, while the Springfield Republican newspaper has Warren ahead, 45 percent to 43 percent, including people who say they’re “leaning” to one or the other.

QUOTE OF NOTE: “Why wouldn’t she run? She’s a magnificent secretary of State,” Pelosi says in a San Francisco Chronicle profile published yesterday, when asked about Hillary Clinton (who insists she’s about to retire from public life) as a 2016 Democratic presidential prospect. “She’s our shot.”

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Today, the youngest current senator, Mike Lee of Utah (41); yesterday, the second-oldest incumbent House member, fellow Republican Roscoe Bartlett of Maryland (86).

— 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