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The Washington Report – April 17, 2015

23 Apr 2015

The Washington Report – April 17, 2015

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This week’s Washington Report! To sign up for the direct email, click here.




Joyce Rubenstein and the Capstone Team (John Rogers, Alan MacLeod, Steve Moffitt, Diane Rogers, Erik Oksala, and Ross Willkom)


RUBIO IS IN … “YESTERDAY IS OVERPolitico: “Senator Mark Rubio (R-FL) … believes he can emerge as the consensus candidate who bridges the divide between the Republican establishment and tea party activists. … Rubio has decided his odds are good enough that he’s willing to give up a second term in the Senate. With a thousand supporters chanting ‘Marco,’ … the son of Cuban immigrants invoked his inspiring personal story … and showed he will inject a youthful vigor to the field. … Rubio’s strategists believe that the GOP base is in no mood for a coronation. So they plan to aggressively court support from both movement conservatives and establishment leaders exhausted by the idea of another Bush.” RUBIO’S YOUTH AGAINST CLINTON AND BUSH BuzzFeed:”In interviews with multiple Republicans familiar with Rubio’s strategy … the candidate’s youth [age 43] was repeatedly identified as a key 2016 selling point, and one that could help distinguish him from … Jeb Bush [age 62]. Rubio … will not be ‘competing for who can be the whitest, oldest rich guy’ in the Republican field. Instead, they will cast him as a symbol of America’s future … Rubio’s team will seek to draw generational contrasts with Bush in the primaries by using Clinton as a proxy target.”

CLINTON’S ROAD TRIP Politico: “On Monday, the newly minted Democratic presidential front-runner had nearly completed her 1,000-mile journey … to a first campaign event in Iowa, in the van her staff has likened to the rattletrap ‘Mystery Machine’ from the 1960s cartoon ‘Scooby-Doo.’ The trip was intended, in part, to rebrand the … 67-year-old multimillionaire accustomed to private jets and presidential suites, as a warrior for the middle- and working classes. …”[T]he van trip seemed to accomplish something that few in the press would have predicted … it injected elements of surprise, humor and a political Americana into the slog. The van left … Sunday morning, undetected … On Monday, the caravan made its way into the Rust Belt, stopping at a Chipotle in Maumee, Ohio.

flagsWHAT IT REALLY MEANS TO CALL HILLARY CLINTON ‘POLARIZING” Mark Leibovich in the NYTimes Magazine “… our politics are “polarized,” which, in the most basic dictionary sense, means we have “become concentrated around opposing extremes.” … To say that Hillary Rodham Clinton is a polarizing figure — as people do all the time — is to suggest that politics was like a big campfire singalong until this pantsuited fomenter showed up and turned us all against one another. Not true. No one person is to blame, or thousand people, or president, or talking head. The country has been divided for a long time and for a variety of reasons: the flood of money into the political system; the perverse proliferation and specialization of negative ads; partisan news channels; and the proverbial “coarsening of our culture.” Clinton is a product of that environment. She has adapted to it and at times thrived in it, but she hardly caused it. IN RECENT YEARS reporters have attached the adjective “polarizing” to pretty much anything that occasions a loud difference of opinion: climate change, Benjamin Netanyahu, … the Senate’s Iran letter, Kanye, the third season of “House of Cards,” etc. CLINTON has worn the polarizing badge more than any other politician since the word came into its unfortunate vogue, and she will undoubtedly continue to wear it [as] she runs for president in 2016.”


THE ECONOMY The Fix: “A new Gallup poll shows, for the first time during the Obama presidency and since the recession in which it began, a majority of Americans – 52% — say their personal financial situation is getting better. That’s 19 points higher than the 33 percent who say it’s getting worse. That margin is better not only than it has been for the entirety of the Obama administration, but also as good or better than it was for much of the Bush administration in the 2000s. And it’s not just Gallup. A Bloomberg poll also released Thursday showed that, for the first time in five years, more people say Obama is doing a good job on the economy (49%) than say he’s doing a bad one (46%). And for a president who has long been weaker on the economy than other issues … on the truest measure of the economy — whether people see it getting better for them personally — there has been a marked shift in Obama’s favor.”


BUDGET FREE-FOR-ALL Politico: “Budget reconciliation is — wait for it — dividing House and Senate Republicans. Obamacare? Tax reform? Entitlement reform? They’re all the in mix right now. Dozens of members have different ideas for how to take advantage of the powerful tool, but the two chambers’ leaders will have to settle on a single set of priorities if they want to deploy it. But even they seem divided. Senate GOP leaders, who just took the majority a few months ago, want to take advantage of the 51-vote threshold and focus on repealing Obamacare. On the other side of the Capitol, House Republican leadership, which has orchestrated a nearly endless stream of repeal votes over the past five years, thinks that strategy is short-sighted. LET”S JUST APPOINT EVERYONE GOP leaders have appointed the entire Senate Budget Committee as conferees in the bicameral conference. At least no one’s feelings are getting hurt.”

ALL THE BUDGET CONFERENCE’S A STAGE RollCall: How do Republicans and Democrats from the House and Senate conference a partisan budget that is little more than a messaging document? They don’t — at least, not really. No one truly expects both sides to come to a consensus agreement on the budget. No one even really expects Democrats to play much of a role in the budget conference. It could be, as one Democratic aide with knowledge of the situation predicted, one public meeting “just for show, just to check that box.” But there are plenty of House and Senate differences on the budget that will need to be worked out BETWEEN REPUBLICANS AND WELL, REPUBLICANS. For starters, and perhaps most importantly, negotiators must work out which committees will be tasked with finding savings in a reconciliation bill. Negotiators could issue reconciliation instructions to all relevant committees — like the House — or limit it to a few committees, like the Senate. Much of that will depend on whether conferees want to open up a reconciliation bill to more ideas than simply rolling back the Affordable Care Act. Figuring which committees will have a role in a reconciliation bill is one of the major things to watch in a budget conference that might wrap up its work in a week. SENDING A MESSAGE The budget may carry no force of law, but it is a strong message to voters about spending priorities. While the blueprint itself may not ever need the president’s signature, it does facilitate a process for a reconciliation bill that could find its way to President Barack Obama’s desk. And that bill, which could theoretically dismantle Obamacare, would be an even clearer message to voters that the only person standing in the way of ending the 2010 health care law is the person in the Oval Office. THREADING THE NEEDLE WITH FISCAL HAWKS Another hotly contested message — one that could play an important role in future defense spending decisions — is how the budget deals with defense spending. Both budgets, in a naked ploy to get around the defense budget caps, parked tens of billions in the Overseas Contingency Operations account to appease defense hawks. RECAP The Senate budget established a 60-vote threshold for any OCO spending beyond the $58 billion the president requested in his budget, while the House budget funded and waived points of order up to $96 billion for the OCO account. That spending in the House bill is outside the defense caps set under sequestration and is not offset SYMBOLIC FIGHT BETWEEN Rs AND Ds IN A SYMBOLIC CONFERENCE ON A SYMBOLIC DOCUMENT The budget itself is typically an overhyped document, given that it doesn’t become law and primarily just sets a topline number for discretionary spending. And this resolution is even less significant than many previous efforts. The topline spending level is already enshrined in the sequestion-level budget caps that were part of 2011’s Budget Control Act — an unpalatable spending level for President Barack Obama and many in Congress. But regardless of the president, and regardless of whether Republicans can agree among themselves, the real budget conference will come later in the year, probably much later, with the White House and top leaders or designees hammering out a compromise.”


TRADE BILL CIVIL WAR Politico: “The most important trade bill in a decade has pitted Harry Reid against President Barack Obama. Liberal Democrat Rosa DeLauro against moderate Democrat Ron Kind. Labor unions against pro-business Democrats. And Elizabeth Warren against virtually everyone who supports a landmark piece of legislation that would allow the president to close what could be the biggest free-trade deal in history. The open warring among Democrats over fast-track trade legislation, and the party’s broader existential crisis on free trade, grew more pronounced Thursday as senior lawmakers announced a breakthrough on the trade bill. Many Democrats still feel the burn, 20 years later, of lost manufacturing jobs from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) – pushed through by former President Bill Clinton – and they fear another Democratic president is on the verge of turning his back on working-class Americans by negotiating a trade deal that would send jobs overseas.” DEEPER DIVE AP “Top congressional lawmakers struck a long-sought, bipartisan agreement Thursday for the broadest trade policy pact in years, allowing President Barack Obama to negotiate trade accords for Congress’ review and move forward with talks on a sweeping partnership with Pacific nations. Obama quickly said he will sign the bill if Congress passes it. PARALLEL BILL Traditionally, trade legislation has also been accompanied by a parallel bill that provides funding under the Trade Adjustment Assistance program for American workers who are adversely affected by international accords. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-OR, and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, unveiled the parallel bill shortly after the trade agreement was announced. Wyden also introduced separate legislation to renew an expired health care tax break for workers eligible for trade adjustment assistance. The bill would provide a tax credit equal to 72.5% of the cost of health insurance. WHAT ABOUT TRADE PROMOTION AUTHORITY The past several presidents have had so-called ‘trade promotion authority,’ under which Congress may vote yes or no on proposed international deals, but not amend them. Authority lapsed in 2007, and key congressional leaders agreed on Thursday to give Obama special authoirty to finish negotiating one of the world’s largest trade accords, opening a rare battle that aligns the president with Republicans against a broad coalition of Democrats.  Approval of the legislation will be challenging, given the opposition trade bills draw from Democrats and the opposition of Republicans who deeply oppose Obama’s policies and say they are reluctant to increase his authority in any area.” WHO IS IN? MorningD “The bipartisan agreement on a trade promotion authority bill that was reached yesterday received a quick endorsement from Defense Secretary Ash Carter and SASC Chairman John McCain. Carter said the agreement would allow trade deals that make “strategic sense for our country.” McCain, meanwhile, said at an event yesterday that putting trade first “sounds a little strange coming from the chair of the Armed Services Committee.” “But it has to be the number one priority . . . I would argue that the future of America’s economy is directly related to that as well,” he said.


SENATE GOP PLAYING IT SAFE Politico: “In a surprise procedural vote Monday night, the GOP-controlled Senate backed a pitch to give gay married couples equal access to certain entitlements and constitutional protections – suggesting Republicans want to stay away from the same-sex drama plaguing the Indiana governor.” MESSAGE OR MESSENGER? HuffPost “[T]he Indiana Economic Development Corporation is looking to rebuild it’s image after the ‘religious freedom’ fisasco ‘as a welcoming place to live, visit and do business.’


LYNCH BATTLE HEATS UP NYTimes: “Senators on Thursday reopened negotiations on a stalled bill to combat human trafficking, while bickering intensified among Democrats and Republicans, and even the White House, over the stalemate that has ensnared the attorney general nomination of Loretta E. Lynch.” Politico: “Not that it wasn’t already a big fight, but the stalled vote for Loretta Lynch as attorney general takes another turn for the worse as the White House takes a swing at Sen. Chuck Grassley, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid threatens to break from Senate protocol to force a vote, and everybody went home without getting closer to confirming Lynch. NOT THERE YET Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), who introduced the trafficking legislation, said he was hopeful that his work with Democrats would help them move past the protracted debate about his once bipartisan bill … [he] introduced an amendment that would replace the Hyde amendment language in the current bill with the same language included in the SGR (Medicare Sustainable Growth Rate) legislation. That’s probably not going to do it for Democrats.”


EDUCATION LAW REWRITE AP “ … education law rewrite is winding its way through the Senate, which could vote on the bill later this spring: “The legislation would continue to require annual standardized tests to measure student performance but would allow the states to determine how much weight to give them in evaluating schools … Over three days, the [Health, Education, Labor and Pensions] committee approved 29 amendments to their legislation, but it also set aside some of the more divisive amendments for the full Senate to debate.”


‘BREAKTHROUGH ON IRAN Politico: “You might have thought that everyone in Congress was always a huge fan of the Iran congressional review bill passed by Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker and ranking member Ben Cardin on Tuesday. It passed unanimously in committee and you have to look really hard to find any critical statements about the bill at this point. As you know, it wasn’t always this way: This legislation has been a controversial flashpoint in the Senate for weeks, ever since Corker and a bipartisan group of senators introduced it straight into a veto threat in February. But something happened over the past week that might seem unfamiliar to many Hill denizens: Urgent bipartisan deal-making HOW CARDIN AND CORKER GOT IT DONE The pivot point was right after Sen. Robert Menendez was indicted, elevating Cardin to the ranking member position. The low-key, conciliatory Marylander was immediately designated by Democratic Leader Harry Reid as the Democrats’ point man. “Every team has one quarterback,” Reid told Cardin, according to sources familiar with the call. “And you’re it.” From there it was constant phone communication between Cardin and Corker, talks with Sen. Chris Coons while he was in Africa and attempts to hold off conservative members like Marco Rubio from offering his Israel amendment that could kill the bill. By Monday night Corker and Cardin had it, and on Tuesday afternoon it passed committee by a whopping 19-0 margin.”

IRAN BILL’S HIGH HURDLE: Despite that big bipartisan breakthrough on the Iran oversight bill, which could be picked up and passed by both chambers by the end of the month, the hurdles are still quite high for the GOP Congress to disapprove of any deal. Republicans need at least 13 Senate Democrats and 44 House Democrats to vote against the president if he reaches a final agreement, a high bar that’s going to take a really terrible deal to clear. “If the deal ends up looking a lot like the framework, I think the president will be able to sell it,” said Sen. Tim Kaine, an unwavering backer of the bill.”

GOOD WEEK FOR TENNESSEANS Sen. Lamar Alexander is chairman of the HELP Committee, which unanimously passed the education bill. Meanwhile, Sen. Bob Corker steered the Iran review bill through the Foreign Relations Committee, with no objections.

OH, BUT THE SENATE WASN’T DONE WITH IT’S BIPARTISANSHIP Poltiico: “No, the chamber stayed in late on Tuesday night … finally fixing a flawed Medicare payments system. At 9:33 p.m. the Sustainable Growth Rate was done away with, 92-8, giving Congress one last cliff to confront every year. Resident SGR expert Jen Haberkorn: “It got through the Senate just hours before providers would have seen a 21% cut in payments. The legislation repeals the old Medicare payment formula (repealing Medicare ‘Doc Fix’ Law, ending annual scramble), called the Sustainable Growth Rate, and replaces it with a new one. It also funds the Children’s Health Insurance Program and community health centers for two more years. It will be paid for by having high-income seniors cover more of their Medicare costs and by requiring basic co-payments in Medigap plans.” Presidential contender round-up — Supporting: Rand Paul, Lindsey Graham. Opposing: Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz.”


HOUSE APPROPRIATORS TO BOOST VA FUNDS Military Times “House appropriators appear poised to give Veterans Affairs Department officials almost everything they want in next year’s budget. The subcommittee charged with overseeing VA’s fiscal 2016 budget offered its first draft Wednesday, a $163.2 billion plan that would boost department spending by about 2.5% above current levels. The plan — which still must wind through the House and Senate in coming months before becoming law — represents another in a steady line of VA budget hikes since the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2004, the total VA budget was just under $64 billion, almost $100 billion less than what the department could spend in fiscal 2016. … It contains $68.7 billion in discretionary funding, a small increase from fiscal 2015 but several billion below what the White House requested. Most of the difference comes from a steep cut in VA’s plan for its construction budget, where appropriators are supporting only about two-thirds of the department’s $1.5 billion request. … The appropriations plan includes $7.5 billion in mental health care services, $6.7 billion in homeless veterans programs, $144 million for suicide prevention activities and $233 million for electronic health records modernization. It also includes $455 million in funds related to ending the disability claims backlog, with several million set aside to hire 770 new staff to address that ongoing problem. … The full House Appropriations Committee is expected to vote on the proposal next week. Similar draft legislation is expected from Senate appropriators in coming weeks.”


HELICOPTERFLYING UNDER THE RADAR … LITERALLY WashPost “Things on the West Front of the Capitol sure seem unsettled. On Saturday a man committed suicide there and on Wednesday a protesting man in a gyrocopter landed in the vicinity, causing quite the scene outside. The man’s name was Doug Hughes, who telegraphed his intentions to the Tampa Bay Times and then landed his contraption right outside the Capitol. Hughes “attached a big U.S. Postal Service insignia to the aircraft fuselage, loaded it onto a trailer last Friday, and drove north. DID NOT GO POSTAL, JUST AIRBORNE … to deliver 535 letters to members of Congress urging them to tighten the rules on money in political campaigns … Air defense systems did not detect the copter as it entered restricted airspace above Washington, according to a North American Aerospace Defense Command spokesman. No one tried to stop the gyrocopter, which sounds like a lawnmower and looks like a flying bridge chair.”

WHAT’S A GYROCOPTER Politico:”Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson had the same reaction as much of Washington when he heard about the small helicopter that landed on the Capitol lawn on Wednesday: ‘What’s a gyrocopter? … The flight, which passed through restricted airspace around the Capitol, prompted a shutdown of the area while raising questions about security and whether officials should have acted earlier to stop Hughes.”  HUGHES CHARGED, RELEASED FROM JAIL, via CNN: “The Florida mailman … appeared Thursday wearing his USPS jacket in federal court. He was charged with two federal crimes and let out on bail.” IN CASE YOU ARE INTERESTED … The most popular way of obtaining a gyrocopter is by building it from a gyrocopter kit. The gyrocopter kits are sold for between $7,000/$8,000 and $25,000/$30,000.


THE DAY LINCOLN WAS SHOT … 150 YEARS AGO “Original AP report of Lincoln’s assassination”: “WASHINGTON, APRIL 14 — President Lincoln and wife visited Ford’s Theatre this evening for the purpose of witnessing the performance of ‘The American Cousin.’ … The groans of Mrs. Lincoln first disclosed the fact that the President had been shot, when all present rose to their feet rushing towards the stage, many exclaiming, ‘Hang him, hang him!’… The entire city to-night presents a scene of wild excitement, accompanied by violent expressions of the profoundest sorrow. … The military authorities despatched mounted patrols in every direction … to arrest the assassins.”


WOMANA WOMAN ON THE $20 BILL WashPost “The Senate will consider whether to support a campaign to put a woman on the $20 bill, after Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) introduced a measure that would require the Treasury to “convene a panel of citizens” to discuss the idea. Shaheen announced the introduction of the bill Wednesday. The senator’s office said the bill is a “complement” to a grassroots campaign that raised the issue of women on currency earlier this year. The campaign, called “Women on 20’s,” has been asking supporters to vote for the woman they’d most like to see replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill. From a list of 15 selected by the organization, the field has narrowed down to four finalists: Eleanor Roosevelt, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks and Wilma Mankiller, the first female chief of the Cherokee Nation. While the campaign helped spark a national discussion, only the Treasury can actually change whose face appears on the $20 bill.”


An article by Op-Ed Columnist David Brooks (The Moral Bucket List) is worth reading. Let’s say it puts things in perspective. … “It occurred to me that there were two sets of virtues, the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Read the full article.

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