Friday, June 29, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Something for Everybody

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Friday, June 29, 2012

Today In Washington

THE HOUSE: Convened at 9 and will close up shop for its July Fourth recess before 2. Within the hour a solid bipartisan majority will embrace the highway, student loan and flood insurance package. After that, another lopsided vote will pass the House’s sixth fiscal 2013 spending bill, allocating $51.6 billion in non-trust-fund money for housing and transportation programs.

The big package allows nearly $80 billion to be spent on road, tunnel and bridge construction in the next 27 months and another $21.3 billion for mass transit projects — essentially holding funding at current levels. It shrinks the number of distinct highway programs by two-thirds and streamlines environmental reviews of proposed public works.  It extends the current 3.4 percent interest rate for federally subsidized, undergraduate student loans for a year but limits their eligibility and sets an accelerated payback timetable. It revamps federal flood insurance premium rates, subsidies and deductibles in a bid to make the program more actuarily sound. And it gives 80 percent of the BP oil spill fine payments to the Gulf Coast states.

THE SENATE: Convened at 10 and by this afternoon will also be done for the next week. Senators will be free to go after voting to send the highway-loan-and-flood-insurance package to Obama, which looks to happen as soon as the paperwork shows up from the House. Reid and McConnell will probably get unanimous consent after that to advance a collection of noncontroversial bills and confirm some second-tier nominees.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is on the way to Colorado Springs, where he will spend 170 minutes surveying damage from the most destructive wildfire in state history and thanking the people trying to contain the blaze, which has destroyed more than 400 houses, forced evacuations of at least 30,000 and is licking up against the Air Force Academy. (The president formally declared the fires “a major disaster” this morning in order to free the flow of federal aid.) Obama will be back home at 8.

THE CHALLENGER: Romney is headed to Buffalo to raise a projected $1 million, first at a $2,500-a-ticket cocktail party at the Burchfield Penney Art Center and then at a $10,000-a-head dinner hosted by businessmen Anthony Gioia and Mark Hamister.

STORY TIME: Today’s party positioning about the medical insurance overhaul is encapsulated by a pair of riffs on the same famed Biden faux pas: “Health Reform Still a BFD,” declares a T-shirt the Obama campaign is selling for $30. “This is a big f***ing tax,” is the caption under a signing ceremony photograph posted on the NRCC web site.

In the 24 hours since the Supreme Court upheld the law, both sides have made firm — and in both cases almost gleeful — commitments to transform the ruling and its consequences into a major (if not quite principal) part of their coming campaigns. The end result could be that the justices have assured nothing more than a political wash for this summer and fall, with neither side leveraging the ruling to a clear-cut advantage — at least not until after the November election.

Democrats say they want nothing more than to sell the law to independent swing voters, an electorate they’re confident is open to getting past its ambivalence now that a bipartisan majority of the court has decided the get-coverage mandate is constitutional. Obama is sure to work into every stump speech a roster of the statute’s most popular provisions: a ban on coverage denials because of pre-existing conditions, free checkups for women, parents-foot-the-bill coverage for kids until they’re 26. He’s also likely to argue, as he did yesterday, that the uninsured crisis would be so much worse without his signature accomplishment.

Republicans say they want nothing more than to sell the Roberts’ ruling to those same independents — as proof positive that the other side wants nothing so much as to raise taxes and tried to hide its most recent effort behind all its fancy “regulate interstate commerce” talk. They’ll also say the law means Obama has broken his promise to keep taxes the same for everyone but the millionaires. (On this front, the GOP may have the tougher sell, because of course it was Romney who created the model you-must-be-covered-or-pay-a-penalty system as governor of Massachusetts.) If the tax argument turns out to be a dud, the backup plan will be to talk about the coming of health care rationing.

GAME PLANS: As soon as the election is over, however, the strategies will get some legislative meat and muscle behind them. Republicans are already talking about how — if Romney wins, they pick up a net three seats for Senate control, and the House stays in GOP hands — they would use the all-powerful budget reconciliation process next year to prevent any Democratic filibuster and kill the individual mandate and maybe tear down the whole law with it. (Reconciliation is supposed to be reserved for deficit reduction measures, though, and it’s not initially obvious that repealing the law would be a net gain for the federal balance sheet.)

If Obama is re-elected, though, even a totally Republican Congress would not have the power to sustain his veto of any repeal legislation, and so then the mandate would surely go into effect in 2014 and last beyond the election after this one.

In the meantime, the House’s July 11 vote for repeal would get the headlines, but the more meaningful GOP efforts will happen in the middle distance — with efforts to salt the remaining appropriations bills (which will all be combined into one during the lame duck) with restrictions on agency spending that should  at least slow the implementation of the health care overhaul.

DIFFERENT MONTH, SAME POCKETBOOK: Consumers spent statistically nothing more in May than they had in April — a direct consequence of the fact that personal income edged up only 0.2 percent, the Commerce Department reported this morning. Flat consumer spending and flat wages suggests the still-balky job market continues to hamper economic growth. Consumer spending accounts for about 70 percent of economic activity, and today’s reports signals that the second quarter GDP growth number may be below the very modest 1.9 percent annual pace recorded for January, February and March. (Spending on cars and other durable goods fell 0.4 percent last month and spending on non-durables dropped 0.8 percent — that was mainly because gas prices slipped — but that was all offset by a 0.3 uptick in spending on services.)

MOSTLY ON THE RECORD: The House vote to hold Eric Holder in contempt yesterday will be recorded in the long haul as both officially historic (because it’s the first time a sitting attorney general has been cited that way) and ultimately inconsequential (because the administration’s executive privilege claims will prove stronger than the GOP’s now-authorized lawsuit to enforce the subpoena.) But, in the short run, the vote will surely turn up in dozens of relatively close congressional races — especially in culturally conservative districts where disdain for Obama is rivaled only by disdain for gun control.

Which is why the roster of 17 Democrats who supported the contempt citation is heavy with NRA-backed lawmakers with credible GOP challengers — and, in the case of Indiana’s Joe Donnelly, a Senate candidate with a shot only if he’s seen as being to the right of center. The 13 seeking re-election to the House were Barrow, Boren, Boswell, Chandler, Critz, Hochul, Kind, Kissell, Matheson, McIntyre, Owens, Peterson, Rahall and Walz. (Lipinski voted present.) The three departing Democrats were Altmire, Boren and Ross. All told 109 Democrats did not vote, although a handful of them were absent all day and so not part of the walkout — in which all the members of the party leadership participated. (Just two Republicans opposed contempt, Rigell and LaTourette.)

FAIR BUT UNBALANCED: It was the Democrats who got to hold the Republicans in their own overtly collegial but absolutely schadenfreude-laced version of contempt last night — with their 18-5 thumping of the defensively hapless GOP squad in the annual CQ Roll Call congressional baseball game. Pelosi did not show up at Nationals Park until after Mike Doyle’s squad rounded the bases 11 times in the second inning — but then she literally shimmied in the aisles after Cedric “The Franchise” Richmond laced a line drive up against the left-centerfield wall in the third. (He also easily notched his second straight complete-game win.) By the middle innings, the Democratic aides and advocates banked behind the third base dugout remained about 4,000 strong, while the GOP partisans across the diamond numbered about half that.

QUOTE OF NOTE: “Just because a couple people on the Supreme Court declare something to be ‘constitutional’ does not make it so,” Rand Paul said yesterday — the ophthalmologist-turned-libertarian Kentucky senator offering the most originalist (and original) reaction to the health care ruling. (It was not until 1803, after all, that Marbury v. Madison locked into our system of governance that deciding what’s constitutional is precisely the job of the justices.)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Solicitor General Don Verrilli (55) — what a coincidence — and two House members, Republican Virginia Foxx of North Carolina (69) and Democrat Collin Peterson of Minnesota (68).

PUBLISHING SCHEDULE: Because the House and Senate will both be in recess for all of July Fourth week — and there’s nothing next week on the congressional primary calendar, either — the next Daily Briefing will be on Monday, July 9.

— 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 28, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Roberts' Rules of Order

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Today In Washington

THE SUPREME COURT: The justices upheld the individual mandate that’s the linchpin of the health insurance overhaul — and therefore declared that virtually the entire law, including all of its politically popular provisions, is constitutional. But the exception was potentially a big one: The court said the federal government may not withhold Medicaid funds from states that opt out of the law’s expansion of that program for the poor, which was a central piece of the 2010 effort to bring medical coverage to the almost 10 percent of the population now uninsured.

The justices also voted 6-3 to strike down as unconstitutional (on First Amendment grounds) a 2006 law making it a crime to lie about having received top-tier military medals.

THE WHITE HOUSE:  Obama will be in the East Room at 12:15 to claim victory and vindication from the court’s ruling. (After lunch with Biden, he’s  planning to spend almost three hours visiting with wounded veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan at the Walter Reed military hospital in suburban Bethesda, Md. He’s got a meeting with Panetta — who turns 74 today — after that.)

THE CHALLENGER: Romney will react to the ruling at 11:45 from a corporate law firm’s offices at the foot of Capitol Hill. (Donald Trump says he’s still expecting the candidate to show up this evening for the $50,000-a-plate dinner for 50 he’s hosting in New York, at the Pierre Hotel penthouse apartment of investor Martin Zweig. But the Romney campaign has been squishy about whether the event will be postponed in light of the court ruling.)

THE HOUSE: Convened at 10 and will vote (probably between 5 and 6) to hold Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with Oversight Committee subpoenas seeking records about the Fast and Furious program — especially those revealing how the Justice Department planned to spin it at the Capitol. Republicans will all vote “yes,” as will between 20 and 30 Democrats who covet support from the NRA — which suspects the gun-walking program was a convoluted effort to boost support for gun control. But many Democrats (especially Congressional Black Caucus members) will walk out when the roll is called, just as four out of five Republicans did when the House voted to hold a pair of Bush administration officials in contempt four years ago.

A sitting attorney general has never been held in contempt before. He’s shown no signs of backing away from Obama’s claim of executive privilege in withholding many of the documents, and it’s very unlikely federal prosecutors will take the House case against their boss to a grand jury. Then the House can file a lawsuit, but it would remain in limbo well beyond the election.

As many as four dozen members will seek to put the day’s overwhelming partisan tensions aside by suiting up (in the uniforms of their favorite college or minor league teams) and playing the 51st annual CQ Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game; the first pitch is at 7:05 at Nationals Park, tickets are $10 and proceeds go to the Washington Literacy Council and the local Boys and Girls Club. Right-handed freshman Cedric Richmond of New Orleans will start for the Democrats and look to repeat his complete game, one-hit, 13-strikeout performance of last year. GOP manager Joe Barton hasn’t revealed his starter yet. The Republicans have dominated the series, 33-16 (there was once a tie), but the Democrats have won the last three.  

THE SENATE: Convened at 9:30 and is on course to give its blessing this afternoon to the package combining a 27-month highway bill with a one-year extension of the 3.4 subsidized student loan rate and a revamp of the federal flood insurance program for the next five years. (The formal conference agreement was finalized just before 1 this morning.) That would be the final roll call before senators leave for their July Fourth recess.

WHAT THE ROBERTS ENDORSEMENT MEANS: The court’s decision is undeniably an historic and politically all-important victory for Obama and all the congressional Democrats who supported the signature domestic policy achievement of his presidency.

They now have a golden stamp of judicial approval for their crusade as an appropriate exercise of federal power — even though the justices said it was the power to tax that Congress used properly, not its power to regulate interstate commerce. (Chief Justice Roberts and the four most reliable liberals — Breyer, Ginsburg, Kagan and Sotomayor — united behind the notion that a federal law could make people pay a penalty if they could afford minimal coverage but decided against buying such a policy. Kennedy, the perceived swing vote, instead wrote the minority opinion asserting that the entire law should be struck down; he was joined by Alito, Scalia and Thomas.)

Whether or not the public agrees with the law’s now-enshrined policies over the long term — or even for the 131 days until the election — the court has essentially taken away the sting of any rhetoric deriding the president or Hill Democrats as overzealous power grabbers. No lesser conservative authority than the Roberts Court has said it is so, for the ages.

At the same time, though, Romney and the congressional Republicans have been handed a far-from-worthless political consolation prize. By keeping the law on the books almost just as it was enacted 26 months ago — with the apparent exception of the Medicaid mandate on the states — the court guarantees that the GOP will campaign vigorously this summer and fall on the promise to do what the court would not: get the statute off the books altogether, or at least remove its heart, the individual mandate.  Within minutes of the ruling, Boehner announced that the House would hold another vote to repeal the statute in two weeks, as soon as it returns from the July Fourth recess.

As a matter of political strategy, Republicans can probably get away with doing nothing this year beyond making that Pyrrhic gesture — which of course the Senate will laugh off. Instead, they will vow all summer and fall that, if put in charge of Washington they can be counted on to both “repeal and replace” the law next year. The electorate will probably not insist that Republicans make clear during the campaign what specifically they would put in its place — and how (if at all) they would preserve the most popular provisions that have been made affordable for insurers because of the mandate: a guarantee that people younger than 26 can stay covered by their parents’ policies, preventive care with no copayments and an end to coverage denials because of pre-existing conditions. (Cantor’s vague statement this morning promised only that the party would push “patient-centered, affordable care where health care decisions are made by patients, their families and their doctors, not by the federal government.”)

The early guess is that — with the blessing of the court now and the Democrats certain to have comfortably more than the 41 Senate votes needed to mount a filibuster next year — the individual mandate will survive at least long enough to go into effect in 2014, providing insurance companies with perhaps tens of millions of new customers. Those with modest incomes — but not so poor as to be covered by the expansion of Medicaid — will be able to take advantage of tax credits to cover the cost of buying private coverage, many through state-run exchanges that will need to be set up in a hurry by many of the states that were counting on the court ruling the other way.

“Now, Teddy can rest,” Pelosi told Victoria Reggie Kennedy in a phone call just after the ruling was announced, the minority leader’s office said.

EXPRESS DELIVERY: The highway bill package finalized overnight will stand as the final exception that proves the rule about the second session of the 112th Congress. It’s a sterling example of bipartisan horse-trading, in which both parties on both sides of the Capitol gave up cherished priorities in the name of compromise. And there aren’t going to be any more of those in an election year when both sides, in the House and Senate, will be remembered by history as having little lasting interest in legislating in the middle ground because so many more contributions and so much more money can be generated by standing with a standoff scowl and arms crossed in the end zone.

The legislation — which will sail down to the White House tomorrow, a day ahead of the deadline, with the votes of significant majorities of both Democrats and Republicans — also provides an unexpectedly long measure of certainty to the public works construction industry. The bill (the first long-term update of surface transportation policies since 2005) will maintain the current levels of spending (plus an inflation adjustment) on federal road, bridge and mass transit projects for 27 months — until September 2014, or two months before the election after this one. Sen. Barbara Boxer, the lead Democratic negotiator, asserts that will preserve or create 3 million jobs.

To get to that point, Republicans had to acquiesce in Democratic opposition to both of the riders the GOP had been insisting on for months: requiring approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast and barring the EPA from regulating fly ash as hazardous waste. Democrats had to bend to the Republicans’ insistence on streamlining the environmental reviews and other regulations that often create years of delay between when new roads are mapped and when the shovels can start digging. The GOP also won a provision that will allow states to get out of the requirement that their road projects spend 1 percent or more on bike and pedestrian paths and landscaping.

To pay for it all, the deal keeps intact the 18.4-cents-a-gallon gasoline and diesel tax (that much was never in doubt) and dictate $27.2 billion in revenue above what those taxes are projected to generate — mainly by stabilizing pension interest rates and raising company premiums for the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. (The money from those moves is also sufficient to generate the $6 billion needed to keep the Stafford loan rate the same for the coming school year, saving about 7.4 million students an average of $1,000.)

QUOTE OF NOTE: “We thought we could no longer be surprised by congressional hypocrisy when it comes to the nation’s capital, but Mr. Paul’s willingness to turn his back on his supposed libertarian principles and devotion to local rule is truly stunning,” a Washington Post editorial says today –  the morning after Kentucky Republican Rand Paul effectively killed Senate legislation giving D.C. new budget autonomy, by insisting the bill carry language barring abortions and boosting gun sales in the city.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin of Michigan (78) and a trio of House members: fellow Democrats Ed Pastor of Arizona (69) and Donna Edwards of Maryland (54), and Republican Mike Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania (49).

— 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 27, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Putting It Together

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is hosting the annual congressional picnic on the South Lawn this evening, and the weather is forecast to be unseasonably perfect (sunshine, mid-80s, low humidity); he’ll presumably use his on-camera remarks at 7 to urge his gingham-and-tent-stripe-clad guests to wrap up their pre-July Fourth legislative agenda quickly and collegially.

The president’s other announced events are lunch with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi and a midafternoon fundraiser at the Jefferson Hotel.

THE CHALLENGER: Romney will deliver his message of the day at 5 at the Sterling, Va., headquarters of electronics engineering and manufacturer EIT. Then he’s coming to Georgetown for a $50,000-a-plate dinner in the waterfront condominium of shopping center developer Bob Pence and his wife, Suzy.

THE SENATE: Convened at 9:30 and is marking time on the flood insurance reauthorization until there’s a process in place for advancing something of more immediate concern (the highway and student loan bills, confirmation of two Nuclear Regulatory Commission members).

THE HOUSE: Convened at 10 for speeches and will spend this afternoon debating an unpredictable hodgepodge of amendments to the Transportation ($69.6 billion) and HUD ($33.6 billion) appropriations package. The last vote will be done before 5:30.

EXIT STRATEGY: The get-out-of-town deal combining a revamp of the nation’s surface transportation programs with a continued freeze on subsidized student loan rates is quickly starting to gel today.

Boehner emerged from the weekly House GOP caucus meeting this morning to signal that the big bulk of his troops are willing to embrace the package. Resistance from conservative Republicans is the only factor standing in the way of back-to-back votes in the House and Senate on Friday on a single measure accomplishing both of the “must do” items on the pre-recess agenda: Extending from Saturday through the end of next year the authority to levy gasoline and diesel taxes — and to spend the money (probably about $100 billion) improving highways, bridges and mass transit systems — and extending for another year (at a cost of $6 billion) the 3.4 interest rates on subsidized Stafford loans that are otherwise due to double after Saturday.

Reid and McConnell cut a deal yesterday that would pay for a loan rate extension (and generate a bit more for deficit reduction) mainly by raising the premiums companies pay for their pension insurance. That pay-for was not as much of a problem for Republicans as the very notion that students should get such a great deal on their loans at a time of such a deep fiscal hole — an argument that was apparently overpowered by election year considerations.

On the highway bill, the negotiators broke through in the last few hours on almost all the remaining issues — and in the main their agreement was to reach no agreement other than to drop from the bill altogether the riders the House GOP had been insisting on for at least the past six months. The final bill will make no mention of accelerating the permitting of the  Keystone XL oil pipeline, deregulation of the cement additive fly ash as a hazardous material, or restricting funding for land and water conservation. But there will be a provision directing that 80 percent of the Clean Water Act fines assessed for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill be turned over to a Gulf Coast restoration trust fund. And, in a concession to the House GOP in return for dropping those riders, Democrats in the Senate embraced a significant streamlining of environmental reviews for infrastructure projects.

IT’S HAPPENING: Boehner said unequivocally this morning that the House would vote tomorrow on whether to hold an attorney general in contempt of Congress for the first time ever. That’s because the Obama administration is “not willing to show the American people the truth about what happened,” the Speaker declared.

There looks to be no turning back on the symbolic swipe at Eric Holder for three reasons: First, Republicans would have no face-saving rationale for backing down — because there was nothing close to a compromise reached during a rare meeting at the White House yesterday among Darrell Issa’s staff, Boehner’s staff and senior administration officials, where everyone was looking for agreement on which additional pieces of the Fast and Furious paper trial might be released despite the president’s executive-privilege claim. Second, staging the debate tomorrow allows the GOP to have the best of two worlds, going through with a vote that delights its political base at a time when the rest of the country will be preoccupied instead with the Supreme Court’s health care decision.

Third — and maybe most importantly — the NRA is insisting on the vote and promising to make the roll call part of its annual gun rights congressional scorecard, which rather bizarrely guarantees the vote will be one of the more bipartisan affairs on the House floor in recent weeks. (At least 30 and perhaps 40 Democrats want to bend over backwards to do what the gun lobby wants in an election year.) The NRA is of the view that the administration told the ATF to intentionally lose track of the guns the agency allowed to walk from Arizona into the hands of Mexican drug lords so that there would be more violence along the border — which would then provide Obama with a rationale for tighter gun control laws.

A LOT OF HOT AIR: For a vote that tests the thrift-begins-at-home mantra of so many fiscally conservative Republicans, it is tough to top last night’s House roll call on a proposal to slash the Essential Air Service program, which provides subsidies — sometimes worth hundreds of dollars on every ticket — to commuter airlines serving 43 remote towns in Alaska and an additional 120 isolated and smaller airports across the country. And in the end, it wasn’t even close: 238 lawmakers — 77 of them Republicans, and one-third of that group members of the freshman class — voted to leave the program alone at an estimated $214 million next year. Only two-thirds of the Republicans (154 of them, plus 10 Democrats) voted to cut the subsidies in half. A review of the roster of lawmakers who voted to hold the subsidies harmless, and the roster of towns served, provides an almost exact one-to-one match. And that’s even though the House made a big to-do last year about voting for the theoretical prospect of eliminating the program altogether — knowing full well that the even more rural-centric Senate would insist on keeping it in place.

TRAIL TIPS: (Oklahoma) The GOP gained one de facto member-elect in the biggest congressional upset from yesterday’s five states’ worth of primaries: Jim Bridenstine, a tea-party-backed former executive director of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum and former Navy pilot, decisively ousted John Sullivan from the seat he’s held for a decade. (Sullivan’s share of the vote had actually gone up in each of his five general elections in territory that McCain carried by almost 2-to-1.) Bridenstine won with 54 percent and a 4,000-vote margin in a contest that seemed to get competitive only at the very end; it’s the first time a member of the state delegation has been defeated in 18 years. The two argued about who was more conservative and who had the better private-sector résumé, but what made their contest unusual was the way congressional attendance played a central role. Bridenstine lambasted Sullivan as an out-of-touch job shirker, but in only one year — 2009, when he sought inpatient treatment for alcoholism and missed 23 percent of the roll calls — did his attendance fall markedly below the House average; last year it was 95 percent.

(New York) Charlie Rangel’s quite narrow but clear-cut primary win will almost certainly be the penultimate of his five-decade congressional career (the general election in his Harlem-based district, which now takes in part of the Bronx, is a formality). With the Democrats looking highly likely to stay in the minority next year, and his Ways and Means power base gone for good since his censure, Rangel has little incentive to stay now that he’s won the privilege of exiting on his own terms. But last night he promised he would not rest on his laurels during his 22nd term. “If they didn’t think after 42 years that I was the best-qualified,” he said of his critics, “I promise them that in the next two years they’ll have no question about the fact that we elected the best.”  He claimed victory even though the incomplete (84 percent of precincts) returns show him only 1,900 votes (albeit 45 percent to 40 percent) ahead of state Sen. Adriano Espaillat. Former DNC political director Clyde Williams was at 10 percent.

(New York) It took only nine months for Bob Turner to turn from a Republican world-beater to an asterisk in congressional history. His sliver of a political career came to an end yesterday when the TV talk show impresario from Breezy Point, Queens, took just 36 percent of the vote in his bid to become the sacrificial lamb this fall against Kirsten Gillibrand. Instead, the Republican Senate primary winner was Wendy Long, a Manhattan lawyer who was also backed by the state’s Conservative Party. Turner ran to the center in the race and promised to work with Democrats on a grand budget bargain if allowed to move across the Capitol. Instead, he will spend the summer packing up the office he inherited last September from Anthony Weiner.

(Utah) Orrin Hatch is promising that his seventh Senate term – which he effectively secured with his 2-to-1 GOP primary triumph yesterday — will be the end of his career. And in his victory speech last night, he said he would use his newly declared liberation from electoral politics (and the Finance gavel if it’s a GOP Senate next year) to push for dramatic and politically voluble limits on Medicare, Social Security and other entitlements. “I’m ready to bite the bullet,” he said. Hatch won with 67 percent (and a 73,000-vote margin) against former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist.

(Missouri) The roster of Democrats who are skipping Charlotte got its marquee lawmaker yesterday in Claire McCaskill, who totally tied her political star to Obama’s four years ago and almost landed this September’s national convention in St. Louis as a reward. The senator — who’s very vulnerable to losing her second-term bid this fall against any of her three potential GOP opponents — insists that she’s not trying to avoid  the top of the ticket (Biden is campaigning for her soon) but instead wants to spend as much time as possible on the stump. She also says her practice is not to go to the conventions in years she’s on the ballot. (She said she skipped Boston in 2004 while running for governor.)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Freshman GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire (44) and three House members, Florida Republican Jeff Miller (53) and Democrats Mike Honda of California (71) and David Scott of Georgia (66).

— 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 26, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Reid's Thin Reed

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Today In Washington

THE HOUSE: Convenes at noon and at 6:30 will dispose of 15 non-controversial measures — one of them clarifies that federal piracy crimes apply to oil rig hijackers — before taking up its sixth spending bill for next year, which would allocate $51.6 billion for transportation and housing programs. That’s 7 percent less than this year and 3 percent less than what Obama and Senate appropriators want. (The separate highway trust fund amounts set aside by the bill boost its grand total to $103.6 billion, but the numbers could change depending on the still-not-quite-complete highway bill negotiations.)

Votes on the first wave of amendments will be done between 10 and 11, with more work on the measure over the next two days — at least. The key votes will be on the Democrats’ efforts to restore money for Obama’s signature housing programs, known as “Choice Neighborhoods” and “Sustainable Communities,” and “Tiger” grants for road projects with national economic reach.

THE SENATE: Convened at 10 and is voting to make Robin Rosenbaum, a federal magistrate in Fort Lauderdale, a full-fledged trial court judge. After the weekly caucus lunches, the only three overt opponents of the FDA bill — Rand Paul, Richard Burr and Bernie Sanders — have the power to slow-walk the measure’s last step toward enactment for six hours. (There’s a top-secret intelligence briefing for all senators at 5; the topic is not known yet.)

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama flew this morning from Boston to Atlanta for a pair of fundraisers at the Westin Peachtree Plaza. (His speech at 1:25 is on-camera.) Then he heads to Miami Beach, where there will be a top-dollar dinner at the home of some Latino bundlers followed by a gala (Marc Anthony is headlining) at the Fillmore Miami Beach at the Jackie Gleason Theater. He’s due back on the South Lawn just after midnight. The haul for the day is estimated at $2.3 million.

THE CHALLENGER: Romney is addressing a rally at 12:25 at Carter Machinery, a huge Caterpillar dealer outside Roanoke, then heading to New Jersey for an evening fundraising reception (tickets from $2,500) and dinner ($50,000 a plate) hosted by Gov. Chris Christie at the Renaissance Woodbridge.

YOU’VE HEARD THIS ONE BEFORE: Reid pitched his customary pre-recess fit this morning — the sure sign that he’s got his Senate to-do list all lined up and ready to push through by Friday afternoon at the very latest.

Yesterday the majority leader made another of his regular threats about holding senators in Washington into the weekend (they’re supposed to be gone for a week for July Fourth) if that’s what it takes to clear the FDA bill, the highway bill and the student loan rate extension — and to pass an overhaul of the federal flood insurance system that’s been waiting in the wings for several weeks. Today he took it up a notch, declaring flatly that he “will not allow” senators to slow him down with dilatory tactics — including the “completely ludicrous” insistence by Rand Paul that he be allowed to offer an amendment to the flood insurance bill setting a federal policy that human life begins at conception.

Reid does not have the unilateral power to prevent very much, but he does have the bully pulpit to browbeat colleagues into behaving senatorially and maturely at a time like this, and he’s proven for the past several years that he can wield that authority to great effect. So don’t look for any abortion rights showdown in the next 72 hours. Instead, look for him to get done at least three of the four things he’s set out to do: The FDA bill this evening and the highway bill and student loan bills on Friday, the day before authority for public works projects expire and the super-low 3.4 percent subsidized student loan interest rate doubles. (The flood insurance measure is not up against a tight deadline and so can be put off until next month.)

With each passing hour, though, there’s a good chance that the only way both the public works and education bills get cleared is if the latter catches a ride on the former. (Of course, that’s assuming there’s a deal on either other one, and no breakthroughs were announced this morning.) The changes in pension law that are the Democrats’ favorite offset option these days could generate enough revenue to cover the cost of both the student loan bill and part of the highway bill. And the two-bills-are-more-appealing-than-one strategy should help both proposals get past the nettlesome opposition of the conservative Republicans in the House.

‘FURIOUS’ WAR: Darrell Issa officially took issue today with Obama’s first claim of executive privilege, releasing a complaining letter to the president that will do nothing to end the Fast and Furious standoff — but will nonetheless afford House Republicans another few hours in the spotlight for their cause. That national attention is due to disappear the day after tomorrow, when the Supreme Court’s health care ruling will totally swamp the airwaves, and so only conservative donors and grass-roots advocates will notice if the House follows through with its planned vote to hold the attorney general in contempt the same day.

The House Oversight chairman’s letter maintains that Obama is using an improperly broad definition of executive privilege to withhold as many as 100,000 internal Justice Department memos and emails from the committee. Instead, Issa maintains the privilege is reserved only for documents to and from the president and his top West Wing advisers; he cited a D.C. Circuit decision from 1997 to back him up and questioned whether the president was going broader than that “solely for the purpose of further obstructing a congressional investigation.” In response, White House flack Eric Schultz said Issa’s analysis “has as much merit as his absurd contention that Operation Fast and Furious was created in order to promote gun control” and that the president was on solid legal ground established by presidents of both parties dating to Reagan.

The dispute, remember, is no longer about the propriety of ATF agents allowing guns to “walk” from Arizona to Mexico in hopes they would lead to drug smugglers. It’s about what Justice officials were thinking between February 2011, when they denied there had been gun-walking, to the end of last year, when they acknowledged their denial was in error.

NO TIMETABLE: Jesse Jackson may have proved his political staying power this spring, but his congressional career remains beset by personal turmoil and ethical questions. And they are now clearly taking a toll; his office announced yesterday that he’s on a medical leave of absence and being treated for exhaustion, but it’s declining to say how long the Chicago congressman will be away from work or where he is.

The leave started when the last House recess began two weekends ago, and waiting 15 days to make it public was a “family decision,” said his office, which has issued more than a dozen news releases quoting Jackson while he’s been away from the office. (The congressman, who has worked assiduously to maintain a perfect attendance record for roll calls after arriving 17 years ago, missed 32 of them last week.) Also last week, Jackson’s longtime fundraiser Raghuveer Nayak was charged with 19 counts of medical fraud. The move will put intense pressure on Nayak to repeat what he’s told federal investigators in the past — that he was Jackson’s emissary in offering Rod Blagojevich up to $6 million in campaign cash if the governor would name Jackson to the Obama seat in the Senate four years ago. Jackson vehemently denied he authorized anyone to make such an offer, but the Ethics Committee investigation into the matter continues. So does the publicly troubled marriage between the 47-year-old congressman and Chicago Alderwoman Sandi Jackson, who has described the couple as in intense counseling since she learned from news reports two years ago that Jackson was having an affair with former model and D.C. restaurant hostess Giovana Huidobro.

Despite all this, Jackson remains the prohibitive favorite to win a ninth full term this fall against GOP unknown Brian Woodworth. A newly drawn district on the South Side and nearby suburbs is reliably Democratic, and he trounced former one-term Rep. Debbie Halvorson in the primary.

TRACK SCRATCHED: Democratic convention organizers revealed an unusually late and dramatic retrenching of their logistics this morning — hoping to make up for some of their yawning $27 million budget gap by canceling plans to stage a Labor Day rally at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Instead of trying to find 100,000 people to pack that venue (and almost certainly failing) they said that delegates’ only obligation on the convention’s opening day will be to attend a neighborhood street festival.

The Democrats had already raised eyebrows by dropping one of the four customary days for formal sessions — which, in the case of an incumbent president unopposed for nomination to a second term, would have provided some valuable prime-time exposure for at least a couple of high-profile surrogates. Partly to save money by scrapping use of the convention hall and its laborers on a federal holiday, the first night was dropped in January in favor of an old-fashioned rally at the speedway 20 miles outside town. But the idea proved to be a total non-starter with the national media, which expressed minimal interest in covering the folderol (especially given the already enormous cost and headaches associated with moving from the indoor arena on Tuesday and Wednesday nights to the Carolina Panthers’ stadium for Obama’s speech on Thursay night).

TRAIL TIPS: (New York) Extremely low turnout gives Charlie Rangel and his still-well-oiled organizational machine a slight advantage as he seeks his 22nd (and probably final) term today. “I got a clean bill of health. I’m fired up and ready to go,” he said in predicting victory this morning. It’s the first time he’s faced voters since he was censured for failing to pay all his taxes and for filing misleading financial disclosures, and since then his Harlem-based district has been reshaped to extend into the Bronx and become majority-Hispanic. But that Latino community is split between Puerto Ricans, who consider Rangel one of their own, and the Dominicans who are hoping to propel one of their own, state Sen. Adriano Espaillat. Beyond that, there are two others in the Democratic race, which is tantamount to the general election, and one of them is former Clinton White House official Clyde Williams, who should siphon more votes away from Espaillat than from Rangel. (In the two other hot primaries in the city, to fill a pair of open and reliably Democratic seats, City Councilwoman Grace Meng looks to have no trouble winning her three-way race to replace Gary Ackerman in Queens, which would make her the state’s first Asian-American House member, and state Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries has almost surely pushed back an insurgent challenge from vituperative City Councilman Charles Barron to take the place of Ed Towns.) Polls close at 9

(Utah) The polls close at 10 D.C. time in Utah, where the only suspense is whether Orrin Hatch breaks the two-to-one victory margin in his first contested Republican primary since winning his Senate seat in 1976. The better bet is that he will — a remarkable reversal of fortune for only two months ago, when he looked almost as vulnerable as the other septuagenarian sixth-term GOP senator on the ballot this year, Indiana’s Dick Lugar. But former state Sen. Daniel Liljenquist never got his conservative challenge totally off the ground, and the momentum he looked to have after the state convention did not give him a second win. (The fact that Hatch spent some of his money to hire many of the tea party activists who propelled Mike Lee’s defeat of Bob Bennett two years ago surely helped.) The winner of the GOP primary will be the sure-bet favorite to win in November against Democrat  Scott Howell.

(Missouri) “Own polls” are generally put low down on the roster of useful information for political prognosticators, but a survey showing a 2-to-1 lead for one candidate still offers something important. And St. Louis businessman John Brunner released a Senate poll yesterday showing him with 40 percent support among fellow Republicans — against 20 percent backing for both his better-known rivals, former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman and Rep. Todd Akin. Brunner’s campaign said the poll was a clean test, meaning there was no rhetoric in the questions to push respondents toward or away from any candidate. The primary is in six weeks, and whoever wins is seen as a providing a tossup test for first-term incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill.


QUOTE OF NOTE: “There is no way that I will do this because it’s really not me. I know my strengths and weaknesses,” Condoleezza Rice said when asked on “CBS This Morning” today about becoming Romney’s running mate. “I didn’t run for student council president. I don’t see myself in any way in elective office.”

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: No current lawmakers, but former members include Democrats Chuck Robb (73), a two-term Virginia senator, and Neil Abercrombie (74), a 20-year House veteran who’s now governor of Hawaii.

— 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 25, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: The OTHER Ruling You Were Waiting For

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Monday, June 25, 2012

Today In Washington

THE SUPREME COURT: The justices struck down three of the four challenged provisions of Arizona’s new illegal immigration law — and gave only a tentative blessing to a requirement that police check the status of everyone they suspect is in the state illegally. Democrats hailed the ruling as gutting a crackdown that had gone too far; Republicans said the big victory was retaining the statute’s core provision. In other words, immigration will be even more of a defining campaign issue now than it was after Obama’s relaxed deportation decision.

The court was unanimous in upholding the “show me your papers” rule as something Arizona was within its purview to make, but said the provision could be subject to additional constitutional challenges. The vote was 5-3 to strike down the other sections as trumping the prerogative of the federal government to set immigration policy: Requiring all immigrants to carry registration papers, making it a state crime for an illegal to seek or hold a job and allowing arrests of suspected illegals without warrants.

The decision on the future of the health care law will be announced at 10 on Thursday. The justices said their term would end after that three-day extension; decisions are also due in cases on lying about military medals and real estate kickbacks.

Two other cases announced today showed the justices’ knife’s edge ideological split. By 5-4 they ruled that it’s unconstitutional to sentence a juvenile murderer to life in prison without parole. But they also ruled 5-4 to strike down Montana’s law limiting corporate campaign spending, thereby reaffirming the two-year-old Citizens United ruling.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama’s in the Oval discussing world hot spots with Clinton before taking off on a campaign swing in New England. He’ll speak at a rally at 2 at Oyster River High School in Durham, N.H., then head to Boston for three fundraisers — at Hamersley’s Bistro, at Symphony Hall and in a private home — before overnighting there.

THE CHALLENGER: Romney’s in Arizona; his only announced event is a fundraising lunch at the Scottsdale Plaza Resort.

THE SENATE: Convenes at 2 and will vote at 5:30 to clear away the last possible obstacle to the FDA bill, assuring it gets on Obama’s desk this week. The measure will continue the user-fee program for prescription drug and medical-device approval, create similar programs for generic and biologic drugs, speed up the approval process and take several steps to combat prescription drug shortages.

THE HOUSE: Convenes at 2 for a pro forma session; members aren’t expected back for votes (on some routine bills only) until 6:30 tomorrow.

WHAT WERE WE TALKING ABOUT? There’s a good chance the Republican showdown with Eric Holder will be totally over, swept into indefinite delay or at least pushed off the front pages by Thursday, the tentative day House leaders have set for their unprecedented vote to hold a sitting attorney general in contempt of Congress.

With the Supreme Court set to rule on the health care law that morning, cable TV and Web coverage will be so all-consuming  for the rest of the day and afterward that — no matter whether the law is altogether upheld, totally struck down or somewhere in between — the House’s vote will have a nearly impossible time getting on the mental radar screens of millions of Americans. And there was a strong hint yesterday that the GOP thinks the distraction might be just as well, anyway, because the party doesn’t have its overall story straight anymore and is concluding that it’s better to get the focus back on the economy (and the next steps on health care) sooner rather than later.

Chairman Darrell Issa went on three of the Sunday shows to defend his stewardship of House Oversight’s investigation of the calamitous Fast and Furious gun-walking operation — but then made news by totally contradicting the rationale for the hard-charge offered by Boehner, his reluctant partner in pushing the contempt vote. Issa said his panel has no evidence to support what the Speaker claimed last week, which is that Obama or his top aides were part of a scheme to mislead and that’s why Holder decided to assert executive privilege in not complying with parts of the panel’s subpoenas.

The chairman also sounded an unexpectedly conciliatory note, declaring “we can postpone or cancel the contempt” if the Justice Department turns over certain documents and “if those documents say what Eric Holder says they say.” And the top Democrat on the committee, Elijah Cummings, also predicted that the two sides would settle on a way to defuse the standoff in the next 72 hours. The issue now is not how ATF lost several hundred weapons that it allowed to walk from Arizona into Mexico in hopes of creating an armed and dangerous trail of crumbs to a drug cartel. The issue is, once again, how and why the administration changed its story to Congress, which was initially that nothing much had gone wrong and that gun-walking, per se, had not taken place.

NO NEWS IS GOOD NEWS: The bigger of this week’s “supposed to do” items, a highway bill setting surface transportation policy through the end of next year, remains on course. There were no hints over the weekend about unexpectedly new and late stumbling blocks, and instead the negotiations on the fine print seem to be happening under a pretty thick cone of silence — usually a very good sign for those hoping a legislative deal is really coming together. The main question at the moment is how the House GOP and Senate Democratic conferees will decide to cover the $109 billion cost — with the collection of pay-fors in the Senate bill or raising the cost of federal pensions and the cots of pension insurance for businesses. The bet is still that a conference agreement on the core road and mass transit bill will be separated from a package encompassing the other big three items the House GOP wanted attached to the package: acceleration of the Keystone pipeline, deregulation of coal ash and delivery of BP oil spill fines to the Gulf states.

JUST A BIT OF COLLEGIALITY: Reid and McConnell are expected to announce within hours their $6 billion plan to finance a one-year extension of the 3.4 percent Stafford subsidized student loan interest rate. But House Republicans begin the week sounding ready to spurn the deal — because a growing number of them are hardening on the notion that the super-low borrowing costs for college students are not worth the added expense, especially because in their view the 6.8 percent rate (due to take effect this weekend for new borrowers) is low enough. They also note that the interest rate was dropped five years ago at the behest of the Democrats who then controlled Congress, who described it at the time as only a temporary economic boost.

The suspense will come from gauging exactly how many GOP fiscal conservatives are willing to put that position ahead of political expedience so close to an election. As many as 210 of them could vote “no.” The Senate’s deal looks to rely on two pension-related offsets that Reid suggested two weeks ago. One (which is similar to the highway bill pay-for) would change the method used to determine how much money businesses must invest in employees’ defined-benefit pension plans. The other raises the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. insurance premiums paid by businesses.

TRAIL TIPS: (Florida) Vern Buchanan’s ethical troubles got a lot worse over the weekend, when his former business partner went on camera to allege the congressman schemed to launder money from his chain of four car dealerships into his campaign treasury — and tried to get others to cover it up. “It was to a point where I said, ‘Chief, we can’t give you this kind of money. At which point he said, ‘Just run it through the corporation,’” Sam Kazran told CNN. “What he said to me was ‘Get people to write a check to the campaign and then pay them back through the corporation.’” Kazran — who has been in a financial dispute with Buchanan for years — says he gave CNN the same information and documents he’d given to the FBI and the FEC. He also says a deal to settle their dispute collapsed when Buchahan asked Kazran to sign an affidavit saying the congressman knew nothing of the cash swap. The investigations have given Democrats high hopes that the winner of their Aug. 14 primary, probably former state Rep. Keith Fitzgerald, can deny Ways and Means member Buchanan a fourth term. The congressman has denied wrongdoing.

(Utah) Orrin Hatch’s bid for a seventh Senate term drew 60 percent support in the last poll before tomorrow’s Republican primary — by the Deseret News and KSL-TV; the survey showed former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist at only 32 percent, creating a yawning 28-point gap that’s far outside the margin of error and would preclude any potential for an upset. The moral of the story seems to be that if your fellow GOP senator gets blindsided by the tea party, you can avoid the same fate two years later by spending almost $10 million in a cheap-TV state, shifting your voting record to the right a notch, downplaying your longtime calling-card role as a bipartisan dealmaker, pointing to your potential future as Finance chairman, winning the endorsement of your state’s adopted-favorite-son presidential candidate — and skipping two weeks of floor votes for extra campaign time, just in case.

(Montana) The state’s Chamber of Commerce has endorsed Denny Rehberg for the Senate, breaking with the almost universally followed practice of business groups sticking with incumbent lawmakers unless their ideology and voting records are downright offensive to corporate America — which Democrat John Tester’s are hard to describe that way. But the state chamber said it was impressed with the Republican’s “consistent voting record in scorecards like the U.S. Chamber, NFIB, the National Association of Manufacturers, and even his record as a Montana legislator in the 80’s. In addition, the businesspeople present overall felt Rehberg would be more of a check on federal regulatory agencies like the EPA and the NLRB.” Rehberg, the state’s sole House member since 2001, is considered one of the GOP’s best shots for picking up a Democratic Senate seat. Tester is in his first term.
 
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Justice Sonia Sotomayor (58) and Republican Rep. Leonard Lance of New Jersey (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