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The Washington Report – April 24, 2015

27 Apr 2015

The Washington Report – April 24, 2015


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SUDDEN UNFREEZING … THE MIDDLE IS IRRELEVANT IN AMERICAN POLITICS … THE BUDGET … KEEP YOUR HANDS OFF ‘CHIMP’ … SCIENCE DOLLARS … NDAA UNDERWAY … DOD AND BIG TECH … ‘ONION’ 2016 COVERAGE … BUSH CAMPAIGN EXOSKELETON AND MORE ON 2016 … CHIPOTLE … NERD PROM NO MORE … and other news of the week.

Best,

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

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CONGRESS GETS CREDIT FOR SEEMINGLY RETURNING TO NORMAL The Fix: “No one could have seen this one coming. Suddenly, Congress is actually doing things. Making compromises. Passing legislation. Confirming people. In short order, Congress has passed the “doc fix” to close a Medicare payment loophole that had been kicked down the road dozens of times … moved toward giving President Obama fast-track negotiation authority on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, voted on the long-delayed confirmation of Loretta Lynch as attorney general and, with it, struck a deal on legislation aimed at human trafficking. … Some of the tension of recent years may be subsiding. WHY? One Explanation …the most important factors these initiatives have in common is a consensus on the role of government and committee leadership that want to work together to get things done. Where an issue lacks consensus on government’s role, such as immigration, health care or environmental protection, Washington still appears stymied. OR: … progress the last several years had been prevented by [no-longer] Leader Harry Reid. OR: McConnell is making the Senate work again, and President Obama (in the final quarter of his presidency) would like some sort of second-term legacy.”

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WHO DO YOU [NOT] TRUST? The Fix: “Buried in a massive Pew study on the public’s feelings about data and open government is this amazing nugget: Just 23% trust the federal government to do the right thing “at least most of the time. … Not surprisingly, how you feel about the federal government depends somewhat on your party affiliation. Twice as many Democrats as Republicans say they trust the government to do the right thing most of the time, a function of the fact that the “government” is currently represented, symbolically speaking, by a Democratic president. Those splits would likely reverse themselves if a Republican was in the White House. DEMOGRAPHICS There are also a few intriguing demographic and age differences. Young people (age 18 to 29 for these purposes) are nine points more likely to trust the federal government to do the right thing than those over 65. Whites (19%) are the least likely race/ethnicity to trust the government; Hispanics (33%) are the most likely. People who live in urban areas (28%) are more likely to trust the federal government than those who live in rural areas (22%). One thing that everyone — regardless of party, ethnicity, education level or anything else — agrees on is that state government is, slightly, better than the federal government and that local government is far superior to either of the other two. … the fact that so few Americans believe the federal government gets it right most of the time presents a massive challenge for any elected official who is part of the government leviathan.  If people don’t fundamentally trust that you will do the right thing(s) for them, it’s almost impossible (or close to it) to connect with them on any level. That’s politics 101.”

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GRAPHMIDDLE IS IRRELEVANT IN AMERICAN POLITICS The Fix: It’s become fashionable in American politics to talk about how the ranks of independents, those famously fickle people without a preferred party, are growing in every state as people sour on the traditional bifurcated model of elections. True enough. But as the chart via Pew shows, it’s also somewhat meaningless. Why? Because politics has increasingly become about campaigns and candidates talking to people who are already paying attention to what they are saying. Again, why? Because those high news consumption folks also happen to be — surprise, surprise — the sorts of people who turn out to vote. And where do those people tend to reside on the political spectrum? On the far left and the far right, of course. Independents? Not so much. IN YOUR FACE Think back to the 2012 election. Did President Obama win a second term because of his capacity to persuade undecided/independent/unaffiliated voters? Nope! Mitt Romney won independents 50% to 45%. At the heart of Obama’s victory was his team’s understanding that the key to winning wasn’t convincing independent or unaffiliated voters but rather ensuring that everyone who was already for him (or would be for him if they were contacted in the right way at the right time by the right person) turned out.”

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HUMAN TRAFFICKING CNN: “After a long delay, the Senate Wednesday easily approved a bill to combat human trafficking. The vote was 99-0. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, was the only senator who did not vote. The bill had been hung up on a controversial abortion provision — the so-called Hyde Amendment — attached to the measure, by Republicans without the knowledge of most Democrats. The amendment is a common provision attached to most government funds for health programs that bars such funds from being used to pay for abortions, but Democrats said it was an unprecedented expansion to non-taxpayer dollars. But that issue was resolved Tuesday after weeks of negotiations. The deal is essentially a cosmetic fix that lets both parties claim a win: It allows Republicans to say they’ve won their battle against funding abortions with government money, and Democrats to say they’ve avoided expanding the Hyde Amendment. AND THEN LYNCH CONFIRMED WashPost: “Loretta E. Lynch’s long wait to become U.S. attorney general ended Thursday, with the Senate voting 56 to 43 to confirm the veteran New York prosecutor five months after President Obama submitted her nomination to Congress. Lynch is expected to be sworn in as the nation’s 83rd attorney general Monday … In the end, the confirmation vote margin was wider than expected: Ten Republicans, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), joined the Senate’s 44 Democrats and two independents in supporting Lynch. Forty-three senators, all Republicans, were opposed.”

WHERE’S TED Politico: “Ted Cruz came to Washington two-and-a-half years ago pledging to be the anti-senator. But he’s been more like the no-show senator. The Texas Republican seriously lags most of his colleagues in attending hearings and casting votes in what has been a Senate career long on rhetoric and short on Senate business. He’s skipped the vast majority of Armed Services Committee hearings, is below-average in attendance on his other major committees and ranks 97th during the first three months of this year in showing up for roll call votes on the Senate floor.”

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SPLIT ON PATRIOT BILL Politico: “Republicans are in a state of disarray on surveillance reform with Congress barreling toward a May 31 deadline to extend or curtail some of the National Security Agency’s key powers. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr want to reauthorize the bulk collection of phone records – the most controversial program revealed by Edward Snowden’s leaks. Presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Rand Paul want to effectively end it, as do many House Republicans. Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, who will be a key player in any legislation, hasn’t decided what to do.”

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GET SMART FAST. THE BUDGET PROCESS EXPLAINED. Just in case this is your first time seeing the process unfold.  Link here.

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KEEP YOUR HANDS OFF “CHIMPS” Politico: “Just as negotiators are pressing to finalize a budget, several top House appropriators waded into the debate Thursday and warned budget writers to stay away from a vital funding stream — lest they tank the entire appropriations process. House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers said an obscure budget provision backed by Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Senate Budget Chairman Mike Enzi (R-WY) would make his panel trim another $20 billion beyond what’s already required by the 2011 deficit-reduction law that first reduced, then froze spending for the past few years. Rogers was referring to a budgeting maneuver nicknamed “CHIMPS” — or, Changes-in-Mandatory-Programs — that allows appropriators to postpone mandatory spending for the upcoming year and use the resulting “savings” to increase funding for other programs. Fiscal hawks call it phony savings and a budget gimmick since most of the reported savings will still be spent sometime in the future — just not the next fiscal year. The provision backed by Corker and Enzi would phase out the use of CHIMPS and has become a sticking point in the ongoing budget talks, pitting appropriators against budget writers. Rogers said he’s pushed hard to get the provision dropped, but wouldn’t say whether it will be in a final budget deal. It’s unclear whether his comments were a warning against the current tentative budget deal, or an early rebuttal of budget hawks who may chastise appropriators for forcing negotiators to drop the provision. … When asked if it would change the top-line numbers of two spending bills set for floor consideration next week, he said: “Not at the moment.”

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DOUBLE THE N.I.H. BUDGET Newt Gingrich, NYTs: “No one who lived through the 1990s would have suspected that one day people would look back on the period as a golden age of bipartisan cooperation. But in some important ways, it was. Amid the policy fights that followed the Republican victories of 1994, President Bill Clinton and the new majorities in Congress reached one particularly good deal: doubling the budget for the National Institutes of Health. Unfortunately, since the end of the five-year effort that roughly doubled the N.I.H. budget by 2003, funding for the institutes has been flat. The N.I.H. budget (about $30 billion last year) has effectively been reduced by more than 20% since then. As 92% of the N.I.H. budget goes directly to research, one result is that the institutes awarded 12.5 percent fewer grants last year than in 2003. Grant applications, over the same period, increased by almost 50%. Even as we’ve let financing for basic scientific and medical research stagnate, government spending on health care has grown significantly. That should trouble every fiscal conservative. House and Senate negotiators are at work on a budget resolution for the fiscal year that starts on Oct. 1, and the N.I.H. should be a priority. Doubling the institutes’ budget once again would be a change on the right scale. … We are in a time of unimaginable scientific and technological progress. By funding basic medical research, Congress can transform our fiscal health, and our personal health, too.”

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ALL THAT FOR NOTHING AP “The letter carrier who caused a full-scale security review in Washington when he violated national airspace by landing his gyrocopter on Capitol Hill expressed frustration Sunday that his message wasn’t getting through. Doug Hughes had hoped to raise awareness about the influence of big money in politics by deliberately breaking the law to deliver 535 letters, one for each member of Congress. Instead, the overwhelming focus of news coverage has been about the gaps he exposed in national security.”

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THE SCIENCE BILL Wired: “At a Federal level, scientific research dollars tend to flow with the political tides. For example, when Congress is dominated by Democrats, money pours into climate change research, and just as quickly sloshes over to fossil fuel research when the Republicans take over. But the influence of politics on science extends beyond the motion of money which is exactly what happened April 22 in the House Committee for Science, Space, and Technology, which spent the day proposing (Democrats) and shooting down (Republicans) amendments to a bill that will play a major role in determining which science gets done over the next year or more. Not because it’s been passed—the bill still needs to survive voting by the complete 435 member House, then the Senate, and then President Obama before it becomes law—but because it’s an important curtain-raiser for some twisted strategies for dealing with science. The America COMPETES Act (or, if you’re a fan of tortured acronyms: the America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science Act), doles out research dollars to several science-based federal agencies. Originally penned in 2007 in an effort to revitalize America’s international standing in STEM fields, … Two items that could undermine scientists’ ability to govern their own research goals. BOMB 1 A $7.6 billion bomb dropped on the National Science Foundation. That seems great—a $253 million increase from last year (but $126 million shy of what President Obama requested). But a little sobering when you get to some of the line items below, where the bill gives directions about how the NSF will allocate those funds. The NSF is an independent federal research agency, and has traditionally been operated under the premise that scientists-know-best (how to divvy up their congressional chunk of change). Put benignly, these instructions for allocations are hand-holding. Put frankly, it’s legislators telling scientists how to do their job. Despite a protest, it was passed into the final version. BOMB 2 … has to do with politicians micromanaging how an agency handles the money it’s been allocated. But in this case it requires that a Department of Energy program—called the Biological and Environmental Sciences programs—overseeing climate change-related research doesn’t duplicate climate change or sustainability research in any other federal agency. SOUNDS OK, BUT … Let’s streamline research, cut the fat, and make sure every study is targeting new mysteries. But this has the potential to place bureaucratic roadblocks in front of researchers studying climate. But it’s not just about targeting climate change. A BAD PRECEDENT FOR ALL SCIENCE: Experimental reproducibility is the tenet underlying modern research design. When asked about the issue, Congressman Smith replied in an email, “Rather than duplicating climate science research conducted with programs in the [Biological and Environmental Sciences program], the COMPETES Act invests across the board in basic scientific research across multiple programs.” That’s weird, because the Biological and Environmental Sciences program is the bill’s only target for crimes of duplicability. And it’s doubly perplexing as elsewhere in the bill, Smith (or whichever of his aides penned Section 117(a)(1)) writes, “the gold standard of good science is the ability of a researcher or research lab to reproduce a published method and finding.” SO WHAT HAPPENED? The bill slipped through and will see action sometime soon on the House floor. The Senate hasn’t released a mirror version of the bill, but Smith’s counterpart in the Senate science committee said he shares Smith’s vision. Of course, the President has been championing climate issues of late, and there are plenty of places where the bill could trip his veto alarm.”

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DAA UNDERWAY Politico: “The HASC begins the annual ritual of crafting the National Defense Authorization Act, which sets defense policy and offers a spending blueprint for appropriators. The action starts with the subcommittee sessions but they are usually pretty low-key affairs because members normally wait until the full-committee markup to offer amendments. That’ll be held next week, on April 29. THIS IS A PIVOTAL YEAR FOR THE NDAA Last year, there was consensus on topline budget levels because of the 2013 Murray-Ryan deal, which allowed the House and Senate Armed Services panels to draft an NDAA in line with the actual appropriations DoD would end up receiving. This year, though, topline budget levels are still very much up in the air – with congressional Republicans moving forward on a budget plan that the president is unlikely to accept. This could lead to two outcomes for the NDAA:

  1. The bill, which is expected to use the supplemental war funding account to shield the Pentagon from the lower budget levels required under the Budget Control Act of 2011, could showcase for lawmakers how the defense budget would look if they came to an agreement to lift the BCA caps. This could help spur a budget deal between Democrats and Republicans to give the Pentagon and other federal agencies some spending relief for at least one year, maybe more.
  2. If there’s no deal to lift the spending caps and the war budget boost is rejected by Senate Democrats or the White House, then the NDAA at the higher budget levels would be completely disconnected from reality – by tens of billions of dollars. Under this scenario, congressional appropriators would have to make the hard decisions about what to cut from the defense budget in order to comply with the caps – removing HASC and SASC from the process. The NDAA would be largely irrelevant, except on issues that are purely about policy and not about money.”

OTHER NDAA ISSUES TRACKING:– How, exactly, will HASC use the supplemental Overseas Contingency Operations war fund as a cushion for the Pentagon’s base budget? The Republican budget plans in the House and Senate would add $38 billion in OCO funding to bring Pentagon spending in line with the levels requested by the White House but without busting the BCA caps. We’ll be interested in the HASC mechanics to do this — The Personnel subcommittee is pushing a proposal that could be the most consequential aspect of this year’s NDAA. The plan, which would establish 401(k)-style accounts for all service members while scaling back the pensions that go only to those who serve 20 years or more, is drawing support from senior lawmakers, including HASC Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) and Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.). But the plan is also causing a rift among advocacy groups for service members and veterans — The Seapower Subcommittee is recommending a reduction in fiscal 2016 funding for the KC-46A tanker and long-range strike bomber programs because the schedule of both platforms has slipped. The Air and Land Forces Subcommittee would also authorize funding for additional Boeing-made Super Hornets, which were not included in the Navy’s budget but were on the service’s unfunded priorities list, according to a committee aide. And it would authorize funding for an additional six F-35 aircraft above the Pentagon’s fiscal 2016 request.”

DOD AND BIG TECH Politico: “Defense Secretary Ash Carter is headed back home today after laying the groundwork for what he hopes will be a profitable new Pentagon association with Big Tech. He used a major speech at Stanford University and visits with Facebook and other big players in the tech game to build the foundation for what he hopes is a new era of partnership. CASE STUDY: Carter told his Stanford audience how, after decades of enjoying the precise timing and navigation afforded by GPS, the military services must assume they can’t rely on access to it in a future conflict. (GPS, communications and other space systems would likely be the first targets of a high-tech adversary in a major 21st-century war.) So Carter wants a new generation of micro-miniaturized chips with clocks, accelerometers and other features that can give the U.S. military GPS-like capabilities without needing access to the radio signals from the GPS constellation in orbit.”

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MAYOR OF THE WORLD HuffPost: “Bloomberg Philanthropies is launching a new national program called ‘What Works Cities.’ It is the most comprehensive effort yet to help city leaders use data and evidence in their decision-making to improve the lives of residents. The $42 million program will do that by offering technical support and guidance to cities who want to do more with data.”

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HUGE FOR DEMS The Fix: “Democrats’ hopes for retaking the Senate majority got a boost over the weekend with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) — a pro-gun, antiabortion Democrat in an increasingly red state — announcing that he will stay on Capitol Hill in 2016 rather than run for governor.”

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‘ONION’ ELECTION COVERAGE … headlines that captured the essence of the campaign (for those who get most of their news by reading satirical news articles that your friends post on FB):

April 7: Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) announces his campaign,

HEADLINE: ‘Ron Paul Withholding Presidential Endorsement Until True Libertarian Candidate Enter Race’

April 12: Hillary Clinton announces her campaign.

HEADLINE: ‘Hillary Clinton To Nation: ‘Do Not F*** This Up For Me’

April 13: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) announces his campaign, and the Onion re-ups this 2013 piece.

HEADLINE: ’12-year-old Hispanic Boy Not Sure If He’s Supposed To Be Looking Up To Marco Rubio

April 20: It’s the start of another week, and the campaign is in full swing, and there’s no turning back, and who knows what Iowa restaurant patrons who just want to eat their waffles will be inconvenienced by a politician who wants to shake their hand.

HEADLINES: ‘Man Pleased To Find Most Of His Mid-’90s Anti-Hillary Rant Still Usable’ AND

‘Iowa Restaurant Patron Can Remember Every Breakfast Ruining By Presidential Candidates’

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KOCH BROTHERS LOOKING FOR THEIR MAN Politico: “Charles and David Koch are considering throwing their massive wealth and sophisticated organization into the Republican presidential primary for the first time, a potentially game-changing boost that could make even a second-tier candidate instantly viable. In another surprise, a top Koch aide revealed to Playbook that Jeb Bush will be given a chance to audition for the brothers’ support, despite initial skepticism about him at the top of the Kochs’ growing political behemoth. Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz debated at the Koch network’s winter seminar in January, and Scott Walker made a separate appearance. Those were the candidates who appeared to have a chance at the Koch blessing, and attendees said Rubio seemed to win that round. But those four — PLUS Jeb – will be invited to the Kochs’ summer conference,

THE ROBOTS ARE HERE The Fix: “When we speculated last fall that a campaign run by political action committees was on the horizon — an electoral system that operates completely separately from the candidate — it seemed a bit like political science fiction, a rise-of-the-robots future to contemplate. BUSH CAMPAIGN EXOSKELETON … Jeb Bush’s imminent presidential campaign is expected to outsource a great deal of its campaign efforts to Right to Rise PAC, according to the AP. Right to Rise will function as Bush’s campaign exoskeleton. It will reportedly run television spots and direct mail, and may also operate the campaign’s field program — that is, voter contact — up to and including Bush’s get-out-the-vote efforts. There are enormous advantages to a strategy like this, and only one real — if significant — downside. The advantages: 1. The PAC can raise much more money than the candidate. Federal campaign contribution limits apply only to Bush, not Right to Rise. Donors can only give Bush $2,700, maximum per primary and general election. They can give Right to Rise as much as their little hearts desire. 2. The PAC can coordinate with other PACs. Right to Rise can share information and strategy with any other PAC that might want to weigh in on behalf of Bush. Let’s say he gets the endorsement of the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity. 3. Right to Rise can have Bush help fundraise. In March, the Post’s Matea Gold wrote about the rise of PACs in political campaigns, noting that candidates can still appear at fundraisers for affiliated PACs, although they can’t ask for more than $5,000. 4. It frees up Bush to spend a lot less time on the exhausting process of raising money. That said, Bush will have to spend far less time trying to raise money into his own campaign. He’ll need some, of course — he needs to travel and so on — but far less than if he were also buying TV spots and running scores of field offices and so on. AND DOWNSIDE? Bush can’t coordinate with Right to Rise. At all. Once Bush is a candidate, he and Right to Rise cannot strategize about what each is doing. Right to Rise could put out a mail piece making an argument that Bush objects to, in theory, and Bush can’t prevent that from happening. Of course, it will help that, as the National Journal reports, a top Bush strategist appears to be moving over to Right to Rise. This downside, by the way, is replete with loopholes. The boundaries of what counts as coordination are constantly being tested by campaigns and by PACs.”

HILLARYLAND Bloomberg: “To run the risk of understatement, Thursday did not begin well for Hillary Clinton’s nascent presidential campaign. A slew of negative stories raised yet more questions over donations to the Clinton Foundation and hefty speaking fees paid to Bill Clinton during his wife’s tenure as secretary of state, a steady rumbling that could prove detrimental to her presidential aspirations, and a rumbling resulting from the impending release of Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich, by Peter Schweizer. A BIT ABOUT THE AUTHOR … JUST SAYIN TPM: “Clinton Cash’ is written by a conservative author and activist, and the president of the “Government Accountability Institute.” He’s a 501(c)(3), funded by conservative powerhouse donors — the Koch brothers … and the Mercer Family Foundation, headed by magnate Robert Mercer, [said to be] the top bankroller for Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) presidential campaign.”

“Have we had enough of a ruling political class that doles out favors to the wealthy and well connected few?”

– Carly Fiorina, likely Republican Presidential candidate (said with a straight face)

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CHIPOTLECHIPOTLE BEGINS DELIVERY (now here’s some news of the week) USA Today: “Chipotle … has begun offering delivery for online and mobile orders in 67 cities.”

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The Fix: “The White House Correspondents’ Dinner is Saturday, with festivities starting Thursday and lasting all weekend. The annual funniest/glitziest/most over-done night in Washington will be full of self-deprecating laughs and selfies with celebrities. “Saturday Night Live” comedian Cecily Strong will host. NERD PROM NO MORE The Fix: “Once upon a time, the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner was jokingly referred to as “prom.” Like, this is the night that the insular D.C. schoolroom of journalists and elected officials get dressed up and slip vodka into the punchbowl. There’s no dancing, but fine, whatever. Have fun. And then, in 2009, GQ’s Ana Marie Cox (then of The Guardian), started using the hashtag #nerdprom to refer to the thing on Twitter. And then, everything became garbage. The dinner went from hosting an unpopular incumbent in a world with (almost) no Twitter to featuring one of America’s hottest celebrities in a room filled with people who’d spent the 40 hours prior to and following the event chatting with each other on social media. The D.C. world suddenly had someone that could lure real-life celebrities. The WHCD had become the cool ticket. In 2013, Politico’s Roger Simon said that the term “nerd prom” was used mockingly. That could not be further from the truth.”

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