Friday, July 20, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: 'There Are Going To Be Other Days for Politics'

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Friday, July 20, 2012

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama called off the second day of his campaign trip to Florida, ordered most of his TV ads off the air and is flying back to Washington for more briefings on the suburban Denver movie theater rampage that has left at least 12 dead and 38 wounded.

“There are going to be other days for politics. Today is a day for reflection and prayer,” Obama told the crowd gathered a few minutes ago for the cancelled campaign rally at the Harborside Event Center in Fort Meyers. He promised his administration would do whatever it could to support Aurora’s people and said he was committed to bringing the person responsible to justice, adding, “Such violence, such evil senselessness, is beyond reason." (The alleged gunman — who reportedly wore a bulletproof vest and unleashed an assault rifle, a shotgun, two handguns and a canister of tear gas during a midnight showing of the “The Dark Knight Rises” — was identified as 24-year-old James Holmes of Aurora.)

THE CHALLENGER: “We are praying for the families and loved ones of the victims during this time of deep shock and immense grief,” Romney said in his own written reaction to the Batman movie premiere massacre. “We expect that the person responsible for this terrible crime will be quickly brought to justice.” The candidate — with dark-horse running mate option Kelly Ayotte in tow — is in New Hampshire (four tossup EVs) and will speak on camera at 12:10 at Coastal Forest Products, a specialty lumber supplier in Bow.

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

THE HOUSE: Also not in session, and also next convenes at 2 on Monday.
SECURITY SOLUTIONS: Advocates of boosting cybersecurity protections say they may have divined the magic legislative formula — in time to get their bill passed by the Senate before the August break, and maybe as soon as next week.

Earlier this week, Reid spurred the negotiators toward a deal by saying he was willing to postpone debate in the annual defense authorization bill if a cybersecurity measure was ready. And yesterday five senators (Joe Lieberman, Susan Collins, Dianne Feinstein, Tom Carper and Jay Rockefeller) said they had reached agreement on a measure that substitutes carrots for the sticks that they were originally contemplating for the businesses in control of the computer networks that could cause the most chaos if attacked. The new bill would make compliance with new federal security standards voluntary for privately held utilities and other companies that own those most vital networks. And it would offer those businesses incentives — legal immunity in the event of an attack, most importantly — if they meet detailed standards for self-protection that would be  developed by private industry groups and then blessed by the administration.

The bill that had stalled would have set mandatory cyber-protection requirements on those businesses, which became anathema to deregulatory Republicans. The new measure should be able to draw enough GOP votes to overcome a filibuster by the most conservative senators. But some at both ends of the spectrum continue to be concerned about whether other provisions — designed to strengthen the sharing of threat information between the federal government and the private sector — would open the door to violations of individual privacy rights. It was those civil liberties concerns that slowed the eventual passage of a more limited cybersecurity bill in the House. But now it appears as though the Senate negotiating group has come close to winning over such privacy advocates as the Center for Democracy and Technology and the ACLU. (The legislation would ensure companies give their cybersecurity information only to civilian agencies and would restrict use of that data to protecting computer networks and shielding people from an imminent threat of harm.)

NOT A HOT COMMODITY: There is no sign that an appeal from one out of every seven House members is going to move Boehner off his position in the farm bill — which is to let it wilt for the rest of the summer and fall, then try to harvest some compromise from it in the lame duck.

“Inaction means economic, nutritional and employment crisis throughout our rural communities,” Pelosi said yesterday after 62 members signed a letter asking that the farm bill be debated in the next two weeks. But inaction also means that Republicans do not have to give airtime to another one of their continuing series of spats between tea party fiscal conservatives (who in this case think the farm bill would spend too much, especially on food stamps) and the caucus establishment (which is only willing to push the confrontational envelope so far). And that is why the leadership has made clear that the Agriculture Committee’s bill is not coming to the floor before the recess. Instead, the House floor will be the stage next week to promote a unifying GOP campaign theme — the need for economically stimulative regulatory relief.

The GOP leadership’s theory is that negotiators from the House and Senate, which has passed its farm bill, could come up with a deal after the election that would save $10 billion or more in the next five years — and that compromise could catch a ride on some year-ending deal that edges the country away from the fiscal cliff.

ONE FOR THE HOLIDAYS: At least six weeks before lawmakers return for the lame duck, Congress will have had to address its next absolute fiscal deadline — the start of the new budget year on Oct. 1. There’s universal understanding now that not a single one of the dozen spending bills that are supposed to be done by then will be finished; the only suspense is how long Congress will give itself (at least initially) to get the job done — and whether that first stopgap appropriations bill, or CR, will be held hostage to partisan disagreement on tangential (or not so tangential) matters.

Senators in both parties are signaling some progress toward defusing any talk of such brinkmanship (and the potential for a government showdown) with plenty of time to spare — maybe even before the summer recess. Their goal is to unite behind a single CR that postpones the day of reckoning until the middle of December, which would create only one opportunity for end-of-the-year mischief, and make it clear — even before the campaign kicks into its highest gear — that the shutdown countdown clock can be turned off until after the election. The other main issue that will need to be negotiated is what pace of spending will be allowed under the CR. Democrats will be arguing for an annualized rate of $1.047 trillion, the amount for fiscal 2013 agreed to a year ago in the debt limit deal. And Republicans are already talking about $1.028 trillion, the number the House embraced this spring in an effort to keep alive their budget cutting cause. The difference is $19 billion over an entire year — but only $4.7 billion over the time between Oct. 1 and Christmas, by which there’s every hope a deal settling the discretioary budget battle will have been reached.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Today, the longest-serving woman senator ever, Democrat Barbara Mikulski of Maryland (76). Tomorrow, Assistant Minority Leader Jim Clyburn of South Carolina (72); fellow House Democrat Ed Towns, who’s retiring from his Brooklyn seat (78); Senate GOP Conference vice chairman John Barrasso of Wyoming (60); two House Republicans from Tennessee, Jimmy Duncan (65) and Phil Roe (67); and GOP freshman Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina (45).

— David Hawkings, editor

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

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Thursday, July 19, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: The Wiggles

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Today In Washington

David Hawkings is away.

THE SENATE: Convened at 9:30, and at 2:15 will vote against proceeding to a bill that would cut taxes for multinational businesses that move jobs to the U.S. and would eliminate tax breaks for expenses related to moving operations abroad. Republicans fundamentally reject the revenue-raising provisions in the bill, and they are taking the familiar stance that Democrats aren’t allowing the GOP enough amendments on the floor.

THE HOUSE: Convenes at noon to continue considering the fiscal 2013 Defense spending bill, which probably won’t see passage until Friday. Detainee policy and funding for drone aircraft will be among the topics up for debate today.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is en route to Jacksonville, where he’ll begin a Florida campaign trip at 1:45 at the Prime Osborn Convention Center. He’s got two events in West Palm Beach in the evening and will stay overnight in Manalapan.

THE CHALLENGER: Romney has no public events scheduled, but wife Ann will hold a campaign event at 12:30 in Greensboro, N.C.

NO REASON TO PANIC: With all the recent talk about how to handle the big budget sequester at the beginning of next year, the Oct. 1 deadline for annual appropriations measures has temporarily become a bit of a sidelight. And although fiscal 2013 spending represents a relatively small chunk of Congress’ budgetary issues, the end of September is coming fast. The harshest result, of course, would be that House Republicans and Senate Democrats allow the government to shut down on Oct. 1 — but each side has multiple reasons for avoiding that kind of outcome (especially a month before Election Day).

The game then, as with so many other things, hinges on how much wiggle room — time-wise, in this case — each is willing to live with. Money-wise, the two sides are still about $15 billion apart on how much discretionary spending federal agencies should have overall in fiscal 2013. Republicans would like to enact less than the $1.043 trillion being spent for this year, but Democrats see no reason to go below that. (Thus the reality that the fiscal 2013 bill-writing process is far behind where it should be at this time of the summer.)

But the money issue could be temporarily set aside, because there are GOP lawmakers who now say they would be willing to live with a stopgap spending measure funding the government roughly at current levels into early next year, when Republicans might have control of both chambers of Congress.

The concerned GOP members say they want action before August on such a stopgap measure — but there probably won’t be any decisions on the issue until September. For now, one of the possibilities that remains on the table is to punt the appropriations process only into December, thus adding the risk of a government shutdown to whatever year-end debate happens on the sequester. As with so many things in the budget debate, either side could potentially use it as leverage at that point in the year.

THE MOVER: If there’s any doubt about what Rob Portman represents as a potential Romney running mate, consider his recent push for legislation that would overhaul how Congress handles what used to be a routine bill that helps specific U.S. industries by suspending tariffs on certain chemicals and other materials. The Ohio Republican senator’s effort —  which is designed to help the bill get around Congress’ earmark bans — is a classic inside-Washington effort, one befitting his combination of legislative and executive-branch experience (he served in both Bush administrations). And it’s politically complicated: He’s not only going against his Republican friend Dave Camp, the House Ways and Means chairman, but he’s also joined by Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill in pushing for the overhaul. Portman says he’s just trying to help the country in a small but important way; Camp and his Democratic tax-writing equivalent in the Senate, Finance Chairman Max Baucus, say the process of compiling the tariff reduction bill is just fine the way it is.

FAMILY MATTERS: One of Democrats’ loudest presidential-campaign talking points — that Romney should release more of his past tax returns and thus allow more public scrutiny of his financial dealings as a private-equity investor — dovetails with an issue that Congress’ brothers Levin have been attacking for years: offshore tax havens. Sander Levin (the older brother and House Ways and Means ranking member) and Carl Levin (the six-term senator) have long said that any rewrite of the tax code should include a clampdown on schemes that allow Americans to use overseas accounts to protect their money. As a result, they can take the high road when it comes to calling for Romney to be more transparent with his finances: The Michigan Democratic brothers say that if he’s elected president, and Congress sets about overhauling tax laws, then the American people deserve to know how he might’ve benefited from the existing ones. (In particular, the Levins want to require presidential candidates to release 10 years’ worth of tax returns and fully disclose all assets and bank accounts.)

TRAIL TIPS: (New Mexico) Republican former Rep. Heather Wilson is making it clear that she sees the Hispanic vote as a key factor in her campaign to claim the Senate seat left open by Democrat Jeff Bingaman. Her opponent in the close race, Democratic Rep. Martin Heinrich (who represents the Albuquerque-based House district that Wilson once held), has a slight edge overall in polling and fundraising, and he expects to win about two-thirds of the Hispanic vote in November. But Wilson says she traditionally has done better with Hispanics than the average Republican in statewide races — a point she made to reporters at least twice this week.

(Texas) The state GOP establishment continues to consolidate around Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in the Republican primary race for the Senate seat being left open by Kay Bailey Hutchison. Former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert (once on the short list of viable GOP candidates) has endorsed Dewhurst, who faces a stiff challenge from state Solicitor General Ted Cruz, who is picking up support from tea party activists and some conservative groups.

(Money) Senate Democrats’ campaign fund pulled in $2.5 million in the three days after the Supreme Court’s ruling in June to uphold the health care overhaul. Overall the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee said it raised $8 million for the month, up from the $5.6 million in raised in May (which was better than the $3.9 million raised by the National Republican Senatorial Committee during that month). The NRSC numbers are expected today.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Third-term Republican John Campbell of California's Orange County (57).

— Joe Warminsky

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

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: What Payroll Tax Cut?

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Today In Washington

THE HOUSE: Convened at 10 and will vote before 1:30 to pass legislation requiring Obama to detail his plans for carrying out the across-the-board spending cuts set to take effect in January. The bill is an expression of buyer’s remorse by the lawmakers (three-quarters of Republicans, half the Democrats) who voted a year ago to impose such sequestration as a punishment for congressional inability to come up with a more discerning deficit-reduction deal.

Lawmakers will spend the rest of the day (and the rest of the week) debating the Defense appropriations bill, with votes on amendments until 11. The measure would allocate $519 billion for weapons procurement, payroll and other regular military accounts next year — essentially the same as this year, 0.6 percent ($3 billion) more than Obama asked for, but 1.6 percent ($8 billion) above the limit set by last summer’s debt-reduction law (which also means a 10 percent cut in fiscal 2013 military spending if sequestration takes effect). The bill allocates another $88.5 billion for non-routine military operations, the bulk for Afghanistan.

THE SENATE: Convened at 9:30 and will spend the day debating legislation giving tax breaks to companies that return jobs to the U.S. from overseas and taking away writeoffs from businesses that send American jobs abroad. (The test vote is tomorrow, and Republicans will be able to block the bill, which seeks to give a shove to the Democrats’ “Romney-was-an-outsourcer” line of attack and help its sponsors, Michigan’s Debbie Stabenow and Ohio’s Sherrod Brown, in their fights for re-election.)

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is in the Oval now with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to discuss the federal response to the most widespread drought in decades. (More than half the counties in the Lower 48 have such a significant shortage of water.) He’s got a photo op in the East Room at 2:25 with the NCAA women’s basketball champion Baylor Bears. He also has separate meetings with Biden, Clinton and Panetta before heading to the Mandarin at 5:40 for a fundraiser.

THE CHALLENGER: Romney is arriving now for a $10,000-a-couple reception followed by a $50,000-a-plate lunch at the downtown Toledo Club. He’ll be at the Bowling Green Community Center at 2 for a town meeting, where he’s hoping to make the bipartisan calls for him to release additional tax returns — the National Review urged him to do so today — fade into the background by reprising yesterday’s more-passionate-than-usual stump speech, in which he said of his opponent, “I’m convinced he wants Americans to be ashamed of success.”

JANUARY SURPRISE: Obscured by all the intensified summertime blame-spotting about the size of the fiscal cliff is one reality that may be tough for millions of middle-income voters to accept: Neither party is showing any interest in another extension of the payroll tax cut.

The Obama administration and the congressional leaders of both parties are signaling that the debate over the payroll tax — which paralyzed Washington for so much of last winter — will not be revisited again as part of the lame-duck debate over the looming wave of expiring tax rates and across-the-board spending slashes. They all seem content to live by their declarations, made when the current year’s $2,000-a-year break for most Americans was set this spring, that the 2-percentage-point trim in their Social Security trust fund payments would be a temporary relief designed to provide a little election-year economic stimulus. After that, they said, the trust fund’s long-term viability really relies on that $120 billion a year.

Still, the effect of this rare bipartisan agreement will be a tax increase borne by 160 million American wage-earners, while ending or preserving the current tax rate on income above $250,000 — the topic of so much passionate partisan campaign rhetoric — would have an effect on maybe 6 million. (The former group has little by way of an organized lobbying presence to advocate on their behalf on tax fairness; the latter group does.) And so, unless there is some sudden groundswell of grass-roots support from the silent majority, their tax burden will go up in January — assuming they are not among the tens of thousands who might lose their jobs if Congress does not figure out a way to step back from the sequestration precipice.

CHRISTIE’S ACTION: Being named a convention keynote speaker can be a ticket to national stardom or the ultimate consolation prize for someone passed over for the national ticket. Sometimes, it can be both — and that’s what looks to be the case for Chris Christie. Word is out in New Jersey today that the governor has been all-but-formally asked to deliver the official keynote speech on the second night of the Republican convention in Tampa next month. That absolutely means he’s not going to be tapped as Romney’s running mate, a possibility that has already faded into oblivion in recent weeks. But it will afford Christie a golden opportunity to show off his fiery, candid, pull-no-punches brand of rhetoric to party regulars and a national television audience. It also will make him one of the most sought-after figures in the party for the rest of the year — and thereby give him a leg up on all the others in the long list of Republicans who are already contemplating presidential candidacies in 2016 in case Obama is reelected. (Of course, for Christie that will also involve securing a second term for himself next year, which is no sure bet.)

HOMES UP: Construction got started on 760,000 new houses and apartments last month (at a seasonally adjusted rate) — a 6.9 percent increase from May and the biggest number since October 2008. Today’s report from the Commerce Department is solid evidence that the housing market is recovering from its depths of four years ago and that the economy might be stabilizing. (Each new home creates an average of three jobs for a year and generates about $90,000 in taxes, the industry estimates.) Starts were up 37 percent in the West and 22 percent in the Northeast, but fell in the Midwest and South. (But single-family homes, which are more than 70 percent of new residential construction, got started at an increased rate for the fourth straight month, and in every region of the country and reached a two-year high.)  

ARRESTS DOWN: Apprehensions for federal immigration violations dropped to 517,000 in 2010, the lowest level in 40 years and less than one-third the peak total of 2000, the government said today, a clear sign that the pace of traffic across the border from Mexico is slowing. But the same report, from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, said the ranks of people booked by the U.S. Marshals Service for more serious immigration crimes (mainly smuggling and repeat illegal entry) has surged — from 9,000 to 82,000 in the past 15 years, a reflection of the increased attention paid to law enforcement. (The number of Border Patrol offices has doubled in the past decade.)

TRAIL TIPS: (Maine) Angus King is on such a glide path to win the state’s open Senate seat — probably by a bigger margin than the last first-time independent winner, Bernie Sanders, who took 65 percent in Vermont six years ago — that he’s got the time and space to let both major parties fret over where he’d make his political home in Washington. The former governor is much likelier to caucus with the Democrats (he’s endorsed Obama’s re-election) than the GOP, although he says he’ll be open to hearing the best signing-bonus offers (Appropriations, perhaps?) from both Reid and McConnell — but not until after Nov. 6. And he’s also holding out the possibility that he might not formally join either caucus, because in his view the Senate rules would still allow him to claim committee assignments. (It’s not at all clear how that would work, but even if it didn’t, an independent senator could still wield some influence in a closely divided chamber.)

(New Jersey) Rob Andrews has become an institution in the state’s most reliably Democratic district, centered in Camden; his GOP opponent for a 12th full term this fall is a local high school’s athletic director. But if he’s ever going to realize his ambitions for statewide office, Andrews will have to put the ethical questions about his campaign spending behind him. And the House Ethics Committee isn’t helping. It said yesterday it will decide by the end of August whether to launch the full-scale investigation recommended by the independent Office of Congressional Ethics. Among the expenses at issue are a $13,000 family trip to attend a wedding in Scotland two summers ago and a $10,000 party that year to celebrate his first two decades in Congress and his daughter’s high-school graduation. (The costs are higher if you count the $100,000 the campaign has since spent on congressional ethics attorneys.)

(New York) Michael Grimm has a long way to go to become a political institution, even in the city’s most Republican-friendly district, centered on Staten Island. But that same independent Office of Congressional Ethics has given him a little help, announcing yesterday that it’s dropping its investigation of Grimm’s campaign financing practices two years ago. But the rationale is a classic technicality: In 2010 Grimm was a challenger, not an incumbent, and so neither the OCE nor the House Ethics Committee has any jurisdiction over his behavior. But federal prosecutors still do, and there’s every indication they and the FBI are still looking into reports that Grimm attempted to extort contributions from an influential rabbi and his congregation. The congressman’s campaign has already spent $321,000 on its own ethics lawyers. For now, though, he’s the favorite to win a second term against Mark Murphy, a former congressional aide and son of former Rep. John Murphy.

QUOTE OF NOTE: “The violence there has only gotten worse and the loss of lives has only increased, which tells us that this is a situation that is rapidly spinning out of control,” Panetta said at the Pentagon this morning after a rebel bombing of the National Security building in Damascus killed the Syrian defense minister, his deputy and his predecessor.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Democratic Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado (62).

PUBLISHING NOTE: The back-to-back national political conventions begin in 40 days, and the Daily Briefing will be there for both of them. Look for emails every afternoon before 4 — with updates and insights into the day’s developments (in both the presidential campaigns and the giant political trade shows staged in Tampa and Charlotte) and forecasts of the messaging strategies for the hours ahead. The special briefings will be delivered Sunday, Aug. 26 through Thursday, Aug. 30 for the Republican convention and Sunday, Sept. 2 through Thursday, Sept. 6 for the Democratic convention.

— David Hawkings, editor

Become a Facebook fan at 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, July 17, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Big Men on Campus

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is on the way to Texas for a day of fundraising. He has no hope of winning the state’s 38 electoral votes — the second biggest prize after California — but he’s confident of a $5 million haul from a quartet of events. He’ll speak at 2 (D.C. time) at a San Antonio convention center lunch for 1,000 Hispanic backers hosted by actress Eva Longoria, Mayor Julian Castro and Rep. Charlie Gonzalez (who is expecting to be succeeded next year by the mayor’s twin, Joaquin). After a top-dollar reception in the nearby home of politically ambitious personal injury lawyer Mikal Watts, the president is off to Austin to attend a Jerry Jeff Walker concert for lesbian and gay supporters and another high-roller party in the home of former Dell finance chief Tom Meredith. (He’s due back in the residence at 1:20 tomorrow morning.)

THE CHALLENGER: Romney is spending the day in western Pennsylvania, a pivotal region in the tossup campaign for the state’s 20 electoral votes. He’s sure to be pitching his own energy agenda (and contrasting it with the administration’s) in his 1:20 speech to a rally at the headquarters of Horizontal Wireline Services — a big player in the region’s natural gas fracking boom — in Republican stronghold Westmoreland County. Then he’s off to Pittsburgh for a major-donor fundraiser at the Duquesne Club.

THE SENATE: Convened at 10 and will vote along party lines at 3 (for the second time in less than 24 hours) to keep blockading legislation requiring super PACs to disclose their major donors and their major investments to sway elections. Reid arranged the do-over without any hope of reversing yesterday's outcome, but with every expectation he can make a campaign issue out of the Republican opposition to the measure.

THE HOUSE: Convenes at noon and starting at 2 will consider five minimally controversial measures, including a relatively narrow, one-year State Department policy bill that makes little mention of bilateral aid levels but would lift some restrictions on satellite exports. (Votes are put off until 6:30.)

THEIR TURN: Two of the most powerful Washington players of the past decade, Ben Bernanke and Dick Cheney, are making rare appearances at the Capitol today — hoping to shape the year’s climactic budget debate in their very different ways.

The Fed chairman appeared at Senate Banking this morning to press Congress to act “earlier rather than later” to step back from the fiscal cliff — saying that would do more to “help reduce uncertainty and boost household and business confidence” than whatever steps the monetary regulators might try. (He offered no hints about what those efforts could be, however.) Noting the CBO’s warning about a return to recession unless lawmakers come up with a plan that prevents both steep tax hikes and across-the-board spending cuts, Bernanke said that “the most effective way that the Congress could help to support the economy right now would be to work to address the nation’s fiscal challenges in a way that takes into account both the need for long-run stability and the fragility of the recovery.”

The former vice president, meanwhile, is about to arrive at the weekly caucus lunch of Senate Republicans, where he will work to steel their resolve for fighting against the $50 billion defense half of the current year’s sequestration that will start in January — absent either an alternative deficit reduction plan or a total retreat from the self-imposed bipartisan punishment of last summer. He’ll head over to the House side this afternoon for separate meetings with the majority whip organization and top GOP leadership. (Cheney was the Republican whip when he left the House 23 years ago to become Defense secretary.) At some point, Cheney is expected to take to the microphones to decry the across-the-board spending cuts’ weakening effect on the national defenses — but he’s unlikely to say anything about whether his party should back away from its no-new-revenue orthodoxy in order to some up with the money to buy the weapons he wants. (He’s also likely to point to a study out today from the Aerospace Industries Association concluding that the sequester would put 1.1 million defense industry employees out of work.)

His appearance will come just as the House prepares to take up its two marquee bills for the week — the annual defense spending package (worth $608 billion) and a measure requiring Obama to detail how he’d carry out the sequestration.

ON THE RECORD: Democrats are doubling down on their tax fight with the Republicans, taking steps this week to set up a series of test votes in the Senate during the next three weeks that will put their tax-the-rich ideas against those of the House, where Republicans promise a vote before the recess on extending all the Bush tax cuts for another year.

The bill Reid’s team will put before the Senate would reduce the deficit by $272 billion by doing what Obama wants and returning the tax rates to 1990s levels on annual household income above $250,000 — not $1 million, as at least eight senators in the Democratic caucus have called for. (The party has started referring to that as reviving “Clinton-era” tax policy because the economy was in good shape and there was a budget surplus back then.) The Senate package also would raise the rate on dividends and capital gains to 20 percent from 15 percent — a much gentler boost than the 39.6 percent new rate the president has most recently proposed.

There’s no way any Republicans will vote for that in the Senate, just as there’s no way more than a couple of politically imperiled Democrats will vote in the House to preserve the status quo. Instead, the votes will give the producers of campaign commercials something to work with in August — and will serve as the formal starting points for the lame duck’s deliberations about whether to approach the fiscal cliff by talking about new revenue or only about disarming the sequester.

CARING ABOUT COSTS: Added to the roster of opening bids will be a revised, $4 trillion comprehensive deficit reduction proposal from several members of the president’s Simpson-Bowles commission — updated with a more robust approach to controlling the pace of growth in health care entitlements in hopes of drawing more GOP support. The current Senate Budget chairman, Democrat Kent Conrad, and a former chairman, retired Republican Judd Gregg, are spearheading the effort with the help of outside budget experts and senators from last year’s bipartisan Gang of Six. (If the approach is going to survive to be taken seriously in the fall, of course, the partisan campaign rhetoric of the moment will have to be forgotten; yesterday, for example, Biden declared that Republicans have “made a clear choice — lower the standard of living for those on Medicare and Medicaid rather than ask anything of the wealthiest among us.”)

VOTESOURCING: Heated rhetoric and campaign positioning, of course, is what the floors of the Senate and Hosue are mostly about these days — and the next reminder of that will probably come tomorrow, when Reid moves off the campaign finance issue and on to legislation that seeks to draw a distinction between his troops and the GOP (Romney more than anyone) on the topic of outsourcing. He’s going to set up a sure-to-fail test vote on legislation by two of his more vulnerable incumbents — Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan — that would end a tax break they describe as essentially paying corporations to move jobs outside the United States. The brief debate will be the one and only time that all the outrage over where the Olympic uniforms were sewn gets something akin to a legislative airing.

VEEP WATCH: The Romney campaign is discounting reports that he has already made his choice for a running mate and that the announcement could come this week. And, if history is any guide, it's probably telling the truth. Except for 2004, when John Kerry picked John Edwards three weeks before their Boston convention began, every other major party ticket has been unveiled a week or less before the convention. That precedent would suggest strongly that the Republican vice presidential candidate will come to light after the Olympic closing ceremonies on Aug. 12 but before the lights go up in Tampa 15 days later. (The window to do so on the very early side closes at the end of next week, when he takes off for the London opening ceremonies and also visits Israel and Poland.)

The conventional wisdom, meanwhile, is that the short list continues to narrow and solidify — with frequent stumping sidekicks Rob Portman, Tim Pawlenty and Bobby Jindal at the top of every speculative roster. (John Thune is sending signals that he’s being formally vetted, but few believe his telegenic credentials would trump the calling cards of the other three.) Like Thune, Portman is a sitting senator, and he’s got a dozen years representing Ohio in the House also on his extensive resume. And Jindal spent four years in the House before becoming Louisiana’s governor. So all three would appear to have a leg up on Pawlenty, the former two-term governor of Minnesota, unless Romney has concluded that in this year of plummeted congressional approval ratings he has to defy modern political history and have an all-outside-Washington ticket. (The last time neither national candidate for a  major party had spent any time at he Capitol was 1948, when the Republicans nominated Gov. Tom Dewey of New York for president and Gov. Earl Warren of California for vice president.)

TRAIL TIPS: (North Carolina) Republicans today will choose candidates who will end up as certain, probable and very possible House freshmen next year. In a rock-solid GOP district that takes in many suburbs surrounding Charlotte, former state Sen. Robert Pittenger is the better bet than Mecklenburg County Commissioner Jim Pendergraph to win the runoff — which will be tantamount to becoming the successor to the retiring Sue Myrick. The other two second-round primaries are in districts the GOP sees as top-flight pickup opportunities because of redistricting. In the state’s conservative western reaches, real estate investor Mark Meadows is confident of beating businessman Vance Patterson and will then be the decided favorite in the fall against Hayden Rogers, a former chief of staff to the retiring Democratic incumbent, Heath Shuler. In a big swath between Charlotte and Fayetteville, another former congressional chief of staff, Richard Hudson (he worked for Robin Hayes, who held the seat for a decade), is the GOP establishment’s pick and has an edge over Club for Growth-backed dentist Scott Keadle; either one seems likely to deny Democrat Larry Kisssell a third term.

(Florida) Connie Mack has been told by the National Republican Senatorial Committee that they will take his campaign more seriously if he kicks his own fundraising into a higher gear. And the congressman has responded by hiring Jim McCray raise money nationwide and the team of Michael Gula and Jonathan Graham to raise PAC money. Mack is hoping to win back the Senate seat his namesake father held from 1989 through 2000; it’s been held since then by Democrat Bill Nelson, who for the moment is a solid favorite for a third term — in part because unseating him will require a multimillion-dollar effort that the GOP has so far shied away from committing to. But polls suggest the race is tightening without that investment; Nelson leads Mack by only 5 percentage points in the average of polls calculated by Real Clear Politics.

(Money) Fourteen incumbent Republicans raised less money than their Democratic challengers during April, May and June, the House Democratic campaign organization reported this morning — evidence, in the DCCC’s view, of their profound vulnerability in the fall. The lawmakers were Roscoe Bartlett, Charlie Bass, Judy Biggert, Brian Bilbray, Vern Buchanan, Larry Bucshon, Leonard Lance, Dan Lungren, David Rivera, Jon Runyan, Bobby Schilling, Joe Walsh, Daniel Webster and Bill Young. At the same time, the DCCC reported, 14 of the 19 Democratic incumbents the organization views as most vulnerable (the so-called Frontline members) raised more money than their opponents in the second quarter. The exceptions were Larry Kissell, Jim Matheson, Jerry McNerney and the two members facing GOP incumbents on Nov. 6: Leonard Boswell (who’s opposed by Tom Latham in Iowa) and Betty Sutton (facing Jim Renacci in Ohio).

QUOTE OF NOTE: “I can tell you based on a very good source that reports that the president was rebuffed are false,” deputy spokesman Josh Earnest said aboard Air Force One this morning — working to tamp down speculation that Michelle Obama had declined to be bussed the first time the “Kiss Cam” trained on them last night at Verizon Center. (Earnest said the first couple didn’t realize they were being watched the first time; the second time, there was a solid lip lock that drew a big ovation.)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: No lawmakers, but one politician whose policies could held decide the presidential election: German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who will drive any decision that solves, postpones or accelerates the European economic crisis (58). 

— David Hawkings, editor

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

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

Monday, July 16, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: An Offer They Might Not Be Able to Refuse

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Monday, July 16, 2012

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama has arrived in Cincinnati for five hours of campaigning, with a town hall meeting at 12:30 and a stump speech at 2:20 in the cavernous downtown Music Hall. (The city is the most populous Republican stronghold in swing-state Ohio, which has 18 electoral votes.) Beyond putting in another pitch for his tax proposal, the president’s messages of the day are that the Romney tax plan — which includes limited levies on corporate income earned abroad — would lead to hundreds of thousands of American jobs getting “outsourced,” and that the administration’s 2009 auto industry bailout was a smashing success and his opponent was wrong to oppose it.

The president is due back in time to catch the end of the U.S. vs. Brazil women’s Olympic basketball exhibition game (and at least the start of the men’s matchup) at Verizon Center.

THE CHALLENGER: Romney has a lunch with small group of top donors in Baton Rouge (potential ticket-mate Bobby Jindal will also be on hand) and an evening fundraiser ($5,000 to $10,000 a couple) in Jackson, Miss. His campaign has asked another vice-presidential possibility, Rob Portman, to rebut Obama’s speech even before it’s delivered — with a speech of the Ohio senator’s own at noon in the Cincinnati suburb of Lebanon.

THE SENATE: Convenes at 2 and will vote along party lines this evening to sustain a Republican filibuster and block legislation that would compel quick disclosure of each $10,000-or-more independent political expenditure by a labor union, corporation or 501(c) group such as the Chamber of Commerce, Crossroads GPS and Priorities USA. (Before that, at 5:30, senators will confirm Newark appellate attorney — and Chuck Schumer brother-in-law — Kevin McNulty to be a federal judge in New Jersey.)

THE HOUSE: Not in session; next convenes at noon tomorrow.

ONE WAY OUT? The week begins with the Democrats taking a very tough line on how to avoid the fiscal cliff. As a matter of political brinkmanship, their strategy has a decent potential for success.

Patty Murray, No. 4 in the Senate Democratic leadership and her party’s co-chairman of last year’s supercommittee, is declaring that her side is ready to let the across-the-board spending cuts and the end of all the Bush tax cuts start happening in January — unless Republicans acquiesce in raising taxes on the richest Americans.

As a matter of fiscal policy and accounting, connecting the two makes simple and straightforward sense. The sequestration cuts, split down the middle between defense and domestic programs, would shave $90 billion of the coming fiscal year’s deficit; but, as an alternative, allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire on income above $250,000 would cut into the deficit by maybe $100 billion. As a matter of politics and marketing, connecting the two also makes sense. Essentially, doing so reduces to very simple terms the party’s notion that the country cannot really have it all and slow the growth of the national debt at the same time; to make a significant dent that both sides might be able to live with, some revenue has to be raised and some spending has to be reduced.

Murray is leveling that threat in a speech at the Brookings Institution this afternoon, five days after she and the rest of the party’s legislative and political leadership met with Obama to plot their opening strategy for dealing with this year’s big fiscal crisis. In other words, while the president hasn’t said so yet, it’s hard to imagine he has not bought in to this approach. What that means is that Obama has, in effect, told congressional Democrats to stiffen their spines for a post-election session in which (win or lose on Nov. 6) he will be leading their efforts to raise taxes on the rich — and not caving to the equally spine-stiffened Republicans the way he did in the last lame duck, two years ago, when he supported an extension of all the Bush tax cuts until this December after spending plenty of time vowing not to.

Another rationale for this strategy is this: If the Democrats hold fast to their threat and allow the Bush tax cuts to disappear in six months — essentially, allowing a tax increase by inaction — they will be creating a whole new playing field for the tax debate: Instead of a discussion about who should get a tax hike and whose taxes should stay the same — the current state of play — the 2013 debate will be about who should get a tax cut and whose taxes should stay the same. Democrats believe that new construct works to their advantage — and helps all those Republicans who have signed Grover Norquist’s no-new-taxes pledges to get out of the political and fiscal policy straightjacket they’ve put themselves in.

DELIVERY DEADLINES: Legislation to stabilize the hemorrhaging finances of the Postal Service is not going to be debated in the House before the August recess — because the GOP leadership has reached the same conclusion about that bill as it has about the sidetracked-for-the-indefinite-future farm bill: Republicans need to be sent home for the summer campaign break talking about issues that unite them (extending the Bush tax cuts, cutting regulations, preserving the current level of defense spending), and neither the postal nor the farm bill do that.

The mail legislation is already causing a behind-the-scenes rift in the majority’s ranks, between those concluding the proposed medicine for the system's ailments goes to far (ending delivery on Saturday, closing thousands of inner-city and way-out-in-the-country post offices) and those worried the financial strictures would not do enough. (As with the crop subsidy and food stamp package, the go-easy crowd is anchored by the incumbents in tight races, the tough-love group by conservatives in safe seats.)

The difference between revamping farm policy and rescuing the Postal Service, though, is that the former can wait but the latter really cannot. In 16 days the semi-autonomous agency owes $5.5 billion in prepayments for its retirees’ medical bills — a payment that’s already a year overdue — and at the end of September it owes another $5.6 billion as this year’s advance savings. But it’s losing $25 million every day and doesn’t have the money to make even a good-faith down payment on those bills. What that means is that, at a minimum, Congress will decide to clear legislation in the next three weeks granting the Postal Service a legal extension on those payments (which it’s done in several previous years) so it does not go into technical default.

After the conventions and before the pre-election recess, the House may vote for its version of the postal bill, which is designed to cut $22 billion in operating costs over the next four years (and thereby make the service solvent) by creating an independent commission with the power to come up with a base-closing-style list of post offices to be closed — and maybe end weekend delivery, too. That would set up negotiations in the lame duck with the Senate, which has passed a bill that would put off those dramatic steps. The likeliest outcome at the moment is that a Postal Service compromise would then become part of the more sweeping deliberations on stepping back from the fiscal cliff at year’s end. The reason the two are connected is straightforward: Unless Congress creates conditions for the mail system to fix its own fiscal problems, the postmaster general will be coming to Congress soon enough with hat in hand — asking lawmakers to deepen their own deficit hole by making an insolvency-avoiding payment that would be the agency’s first appropriation in three decades.

DOWN, BUT STILL BETTER: Retail spending fell 0.5 percent last month, the Commerce Department reported today — creating the first three-month-straight decline in that economic indicator since the height of the financial crisis in the fall of 2008. Still, retail sales were still 4.7 percent higher in April, May and June than in the second quarter of last year. Some of the weakness in the second quarter was because of falling gasoline prices, which have dropped 50 cents a gallon nationwide since early April. But, even without sales at gas stations, retail spending fell 0.3 percent between May and June. Sales at auto dealers fell 0.6 percent in the month, while the drops were 0.7 percent at department stores, 1.6 percent at building supply stores and 0.8 percent at electronics and appliance stores.

TRAIL TIPS: (Arizona) Jeff Flake’s surprisingly beleaguered bid for the Republican Senate nomination got a symbolically important boost over the weekend when he was endorsed by both of the state’s senators. John McCain and Jon Kyl (who’s retiring and whose backing has more resonance with the pivotal social-conservatives voting bloc) became the first colleagues in the delegation to back the doesn’t-make-friends-easily congressman from Mesa, who is facing intense opposition six weeks before the primary from self-funding ($3 million so far) real estate baron Will Cardon. (Trent Franks is backing Cardon; the other three GOP House members from the state all have competitive primaries of their own to contend with on Aug. 28 and are staying neutral.) Flake’s small-government conservatism and his crusade against earmarks before it was cool have hampered his fundraising so far; he was outraised in the spring by the presumed Democratic nominee, former Surgeon General Richard Carmona.

(Michigan) John Conyers, the next House incumbent who’s facing a hotly contested primary, won a decidedly backhanded endorsement over the weekend from the Detroit Free Press: “His energy has slowed and he is not delivering for his district the way he used to, or the way he should be. Then there is the matter of his wife, Monica, who’s serving a federal prison sentence for shaking down vendors when she was a member of the Detroit City Council; implausibly, the congressman swears he knew nothing of the conspiracy she pled guilty to taking part in. But elections are about finite choices, and while all of Conyers’ Democratic opponents are competent, none offers sufficient support for turning out a congressman of his seniority and influence,” said the editorial, which said the paper was backing the 83-year old top Judiciary Committee Democrat for a 25th term “mostly with the hope that he will soon retire.” Conyers’ main opponent in the Aug. 7 primary is state Sen. Glenn Anderson, who represents many of white suburban neighborhoods that were added in redistricting to make the territory 60 percent new to the incumbent. (Two others in the race are African-American state legislators, Bert Johnson and Shanelle Jackson.)

(New York) Anthony Weiner is gauging whether to launch an earlier-than-expected bid to get back into electoral politics — probably by running next year for New York City public advocate, a powerful ombudsman-watchdog position that is also first in the line of mayoral succession. (That’s the job Weiner has wanted since he arrived in Congress.) One reason for the rush — aside from all the chatter about the size of Weiner’s ego — is that he has $4.5 million in his political bank account but would no longer qualify for municipal matching funds after next year. The strategy would be to use the public advocate’s office as a way to scrub away some of the stains from his sexting-fueled finale in Congress a year ago. “The general feeling is that you can’t text pictures of your penis to a girl, then lie about it, then get kicked out of the House and then run for mayor right after,” said a political consultant quoted anonymously in the New York Post, which broke the story over the weekend. “But people believe there is a way for him to run for a lesser office.”

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Three House members today: Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers of Alabama (54) and Democrats Barbara Lee of California (66) and Tim Ryan of Ohio (39). Four House members yesterday: Foreign Affairs Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida (60), fellow Republican Mac Thornberry of Texas (54), and Democrats Dan Lipinski of Illinois (51) and David Cicilline of Rhode Island (51).

— David Hawkings, editor

Become a Facebook fan at 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