This week’s Washington Report! To sign up for the direct email, click here.
The Hobby Lobby Supreme Court Case, the Secret Service’s Baddest Bad Boys (aka “CAT”), Partisanship is Good … just some of the week’s highlights.
Joyce Rubenstein and the CNP Team (John Rogers, Alan MacLeod, Steve Moffitt, Diane Rogers, Erik Oksala and Kate Venne)
P.S. Gloat time in Wisconsin — after a most impressive performance last night, the UW Badgers are headed to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. Play on!
PARTISANSHIP IS GOOD. A new poll conducted by USA Today and the Bipartisan Policy Center largely affirms the conventional wisdom that people strongly disapprove of how Congress is handling its business (48%) and want their members of Congress to “work across party lines” (67% agree with that idea). But, there’s one question contained within the poll that suggests a growing number of people don’t think partisan polarization is that bad a thing. In 2013, just one in five people said that the divisions between the parties are “a good thing because it gives voters a real choice.” One year later, that number had doubled. Why? “The shift in public opinion….may reflect broadening acceptance of Washington’s polarization as an inevitable fact of life. … It sets a landscape that could boost Republicans in the November elections, minimizing the impact of Democratic charges that GOP forces have been obstructionist.
IN A NUTSHELL Whatever the reason, the shift in public opinion is a telling indicator of how the idea of “partisanship = bad” is both a) overly-simplistic and b) changing.
STILL PLENTY OF GRIDLOCK Politico writes, “The Senate took a key step forward on renewing expired unemployment benefits, voting to open debate on a bipartisan measure on Thursday afternoon. The 65-34 vote was a significant breakthrough, putting the Senate on a glide path to final passage next week. WHOA But Speaker John Boehner has indicated he has no intention of putting the proposal on the House floor, citing concerns about implementation and a dearth of job-creation provisions in the package. Some Senate Republicans forged ahead anyway, despite Boehner’s opposition.”
ISSA HANDLING OF IRS PROBE Politico writes, “It was supposed to be an easy win: The most loathed federal agency engaged in what amounted to discrimination against tea party-backed nonprofits. But 10 months out from the first IRS scandal headline, some Republicans are unhappy with their party’s investigation – and they point a finger at the man who helped sustain the national uproar: Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.). In background interviews with more than a half-dozen House Republicans on the Oversight and Ways and Means committees, the two panels probing the matter in that chamber, members expressed frustration that the investigation has become a spectacle that’s dragged on and distracted from serious charges.”
THE RULES OF OBAMACARE ARE CHANGING AGAIN. WHY IT MATTER LESS THAN YOU THINK. The Fix writes, “The news broke late Tuesday night that the Obama Administration has decided, yet again, to extend the enrollment deadline for people to sign up for healthcare under the Affordable Care Act.
ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER OBAMACARE DELAY It’s hard to argue that this latest delay is good news for President Obama or, more importantly in the near term, Democrats on the ballot this November. But, there’s also reason to believe that …this latest extension of the enrollment deadline will have less of a negative impact on the political playing field than many people in both parties seem to believe.
THE REASON: “Opinions about ObamaCare are baked in” (acknowledged Republican pollster Neil Newhouse). If you like the law, there’s no one piece of information that is going to change your mind. And, if you hate the law, nothing that happens is going to make you hate it any more. The Kaiser Family Foundation has been conducting polling on the law for the last several years and its data shows the remarkable consistency of support and opposition to the law.
TO SUMMARIZE On Obamacare, public opinion is settled. Delays, changes and the like won’t change whether you like or hate the law.”
SIGN-UPS TOP 6 MILLION Wall Street Journal: “The White House said the ACA crossed a key threshold as it announced Thursday that more than six million people have signed up for private health coverage through state and federal insurance exchanges. The number, released days before the Monday deadline for most people to enroll for this year, surpasses the nonpartisan CBO’s revised estimate that six million people would enroll in private health plans for 2014-down from its initial forecast of seven million.”
Supporters of the law called the enrollment total a milestone that shows the ACA had turned the corner after its disastrous rollout. The federal HealthCare.gov exchange had such crippling technological problems that on the first day of enrollment in October, only six people completed applications for insurance, according to internal federal health-agency documents. …
Opponents of the law said the figure had little meaning given the lack of detail so far on the makeup of the enrollees.”
OBAMACARE’S INVISIBLE VICTORY NJ writes, “As the final figures before the end of open enrollment are posted, a significant chunk of people who bought insurance under the law will be missing from the official tally. That’s because people who bought insurance directly from insurers, and not through the law’s exchanges, will not be included. And just how many people that represents is a figure that will not be available in time for the
BIG ENROLLMENT-REVEAL —and likely not for a long time after. Off-exchange enrollment is the forgotten piece of the ACA, but it could represent millions of people who are also getting covered as a result of the health care law—many of whom are the young, healthy customers the administration is so aggressively pursuing. Anecdotal evidence includes Washington state—one of the only states to release this information—where more people signed up outside the exchange than inside of it. The state insurance commissioner’s office says 183,618 people had enrolled in private plans outside of the exchange as of the end of February, compared with 125,000 paid enrollments the state exchange is reporting as of March 23. …WellPoint has reported that as of the end of January, 20 percent of its 500,000 new customers did not enroll through the ACA’s exchanges.
SO…off-exchange enrollment is largely left out. It’s quite possible this number would more than balance out the premium payment discrepancy—but unfortunately for HHS, they might not know for a very long time.”
HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE HOBBY LOBBY SUPREME COURT CASE The Fix writes, “This week the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, two highly anticipated cases that deal with the Affordable Care Act, religious freedom and women’s access to contraception.
WHAT’S THIS ABOUT The ACA law stipulates that employers need to provide health care for their employees that covers all forms of contraception at no cost. However, the owners of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood (for-profit corporations) insist they should not have to pay for all of these services — especially those that conflict with their religious beliefs. They are willing to offer insurance that covers most forms of birth control, but aren’t willing to cover emergency contraceptives — like Plan B or ella — or IUDs.
HERE”S THE CRUX Do for-profit companies have a right to exercise religious freedom under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a federal law passed in 1993 that states the “Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.” If they do, does the government have a compelling interest to override it in this instance? AN FYI There is a separate set of cases dealing with whether religiously affiliated businesses are exempt from the ACA’s contraception mandate.
HOW DID THIS CASE GET TO THE SUPREME COURT? As CNN noted, “Three federal appeals courts around the country have struck down the contraception coverage rule, while two other appeals courts have upheld it. That ‘circuit split’ made the upcoming Supreme Court review almost certain.” There are at least 47 cases that have been filed concerning for-profit companies and the contraception mandate.
HOUSE INTEL CHAIR MIKE ROGERS TO RETIRE The Detroit News‘ reports, “U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, the 50-year-old chairman of the House Intelligence Committee who has represented Michigan in Congress since 2001 and has been an ardent defender on the need for U.S. intelligence programs, said early Friday he will not seek re-election. The announcement comes less than a month before the filing deadline – and is the third major departure for the state’s congressional delegation following the decisions of Rep. John Dingell (D) and Sen. Carl Levin (D) to retire. …He announced he will become a radio talk show host.
HOUSE OF CARDS CNN reported, “What happened in the House Thursday was something out of an episode of the television series “House of Cards,” a show about intrigue and sneaky deals in the nation’s capital. Facing defeat on a bill to head off major cuts to physicians who treat Medicare patients, House GOP leaders abruptly pulled it from the floor Thursday morning. They called a recess, sending most members back to their offices to await word on the schedule for the day. Republican and Democratic leaders huddled behind closed doors. Then, a surprise move. While people were still in their offices, the same bill was brought up and quickly passed by a voice vote. Members were caught off guard when they showed up on the House floor and learned the bill had passed.”
RARE SHOW OF BI-PARTISANSHIP Both parties were in cahoots on the unusual legislative maneuver circumventing an actual roll call vote on the measure. The Hill writes, “Angry House conservatives denounced the Republican leadership for abruptly ramming through a fix to Medicare doctor payments.”
NO LONG TERM FIX To recap, the measure is an annual delay to the sustainable growth rate formula that this time would prevent a 24% cut in Medicare reimbursement payments to doctors set to begin at month’s end. The change is broadly supported by Republicans and Democrats most years, but it drew opposition from the AMA, which has pushed for a long-term solution to the problem instead of annual patches. House and Senate leaders have agreed on a resolution to repeal the formula, but they can’t agree on how to pay for the $180 billion cost over a decade, necessitating the stopgap measure.”
DISCHARGE ON IMMIGRATION? Lacking any control of the House schedule, Democrats have tried twice unsuccessfully in the past six months to use a discharge petition to force a vote on legislation they support.
WHAT IS A “discharge petition?” It’s a procedural tactic that allows an absolute majority of the House of Representatives (218 lawmakers) to force a floor vote on a bill, even if leaders who control the House floor oppose the measure. Successful use of discharge petitions conceivably could help the minority party hijack the majority party’s legislative agenda.
BUT THEY RARELY WORK as Democrats have learned twice in the past six months. First they tried and failed to use one to force a vote on a plan to immediately reopen the government during the 16-day partial shutdown. Then they tried last month to force a vote on a proposal to raise the minimum wage.
THIRD TIME’S A CHARM? This time they are filing a discharge petition to force a vote on a Democratic-backed immigration bill.
WON’T HAPPEN It’s simple math. The House Democratic caucus includes 199 members — 19 short of the votes needed for a petition to succeed. No House Republicans have said they plan to sign the petition.
PUSH FOR ANOTHER ROUND OF BRAC “Senior U.S. Army leadership has doubled down on its support for another round of shuttering and shrinking domestic installations,” reports Defense News.’ Army Secretary John McHugh told the HASC, “the service could save about $1 billion a year by undertaking a new round of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC).”Meanwhile, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said any new round of BRAC would not be as expensive as the last round of closures in 2005.”
A PICTURE IS WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS: Confused about how the Predator drone works? Let this graphic from The Onion explain it to you.
ON UKRAINE, YES, CONGRESS WORKS Politico writes, “The House and Senate easily passed measures that would provide aid to Ukraine and impose sanctions on Russia, edging Congress closer to sending a comprehensive package to the White House to respond to the crisis in Eastern Europe. The House approved the legislation in a 399-19 vote while the Senate simply cleared it in a voice vote. The two chambers have differing legislation, though the variances are minor after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) agreed to drop a provision to reform the International Monetary Fund that Republicans opposed. House and Senate leaders will have to reconcile the remaining differences before sending a bill to President Barack Obama for his signature.”
IMF TO PROVIDE UP TO $18 BILLION The Wall Street Journal writes, “The International Monetary Fund said it reached a deal to provide $14 billion to $18 billion to Ukraine as part of an economic reform program that Ukrainian officials said would require “painful” change.”
RUSSIAN INVASION? Foreign Policy writes, “American intelligence agencies have told Obama administration officials and key congressional staffers that there is mounting evidence that Russia is putting the pieces in place for an invasion of eastern Ukraine, and that the possibility of an imminent assault cannot be ruled out.”
ANOTHER COLD WAR? The WashPo reports, “A new poll shows half of Americans believe the United States is entering another Cold War with Russia.”
IT’S OFFICIAL…President Obama and the leaders of the biggest Western economies on Monday agreed to move their next summit out of Russia, in yet another bid to punish President Vladimir Putin for annexing part of Ukraine. The G-7 countries will meet in Brussels rather than attend the planned G-8 summit in Sochi.
EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT “CAT,” THE SECRET SERVICE’S BADDEST BAD BOYS The Fix writes, “Three Secret Service agents responsible for protecting President Obama in Amsterdam this week were sent home and put on administrative leave Sunday after going out for a night of drinking. The alleged behavior would violate Secret Service rules. The incident is …a stain on the reputation of one of the Secret Service’s most elite and demanding units, known internally as “CAT.”
Here’s what you need to know about the baddest of the service’s bad boys:
Q. What role does CAT play?
A. These are the guys with the heavy artillery. The role of the CAT team is clear: If the White House or the motorcade comes under an attack, CAT agents are the ones who will “lay down an unbelievable amount of suppressive fire.”
Q. How does that differ from other units protecting the president?
A. As CAT is providing cover, it is up to the protective detail (the guys in suits and sunglasses) to hustle POTUS to safety; it’s up to the “counter-sniper” unit to scan the perimeter for hidden enemy sharp-shooters. While CAT agents are classified as “special forces,” they are not swooping in to snatch the president from danger; rather, they are charged with engaging the enemy fire and providing time for POTUS to get away in “the Beast,” (AKA Presidential limo) which has 8-inch thick armored doors and weighs an estimated 15,000 pounds.
Q. It is difficult to become a CAT agent?
A. Extremely. The Secret Service prides itself on its exclusivity, and the CAT unit is one of the most exclusive of all because of the physical and mental demands.
Q. You call them “bad boys.” What about the girls?
A. Nope, no women serve in CAT.
Q. Okay, so have they ever deployed and laid down that overwhelming firepower?
GAFFE SEASON IN IOWA “Republicans are pouncing on Bruce Braley’s (D) gaffe about Sen. Chuck Grassley being a “farmer from Iowa who never went to law school,” with a $250,000 ad buy and the NRSC launching robocalls. Braley quickly apologized for the remarks, but this firestorm isn’t going away anytime soon.” IN NEW HAMPSHIRE, Scott Brown, who’s pursuing the Republican nomination for the US Senate in NH, said in an interview, “Do I have the best credicentials? Probably not, cause, you know, whatever.” IN KENTUCKY, it was Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) who included campaign footage of a victorious basketball team that was actually the 2010 Duke University basketball team – bigg no-no in the home state of the University of Louisville and University of Kentucky basketball powerhouses. Team Mitch apologized. AND TOP THIS Joni Ernst (running in a 5-way Iowa Republican Senate primary) announced in a campaign ad, “I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm” to show her cred at going to Washington to cut pork.
WIND-POWER INSTALLATIONS Fuel Fix writes, “A Navigant Research analysis found that installations of new wind projects fell 93% in 2013 measured by generation capacity after a wind-power tax credit expired.
ORGANIC FACEBOOK REACH HAS CRASHED Check out our intern, Adam Ballent’s blog post on what this all means.
MICHELLE FEVER IN CHINA According to a tally by the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, photos, videos and stories about Michelle Obama’s visit to China garnered more than 1 billion page views. Yes, that’s a billion; with a B. Chinese do not only see this leader to leader. They see it family to family and in a broader context the respect of the two great countries,” said Cheng Li, director of the John L. Thornton China Center at the Brookings Institution. “This is why people got so excited.”
[whohit]The Washington Report – March 28th[/whohit]