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The Washington Report – December 12, 2014

13 Dec 2014

The Washington Report – December 12, 2014


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

 

CROMNIBUS … SHUTDOWN AVERTED … WALL STREET WON … SCHOOL NUTRITION LOST … MCCAIN-FEINGOLD DEATH? … BYE-BYE BIRDIE … FEAR AND TORTURE … DEPT. OF COOL STUFF … and more news of the week.
The House is gone – or rather, moved to DCA where a number of members are likely trying to grab flights home. The Senate will have a series of votes this afternoon.

Best,

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

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DAY OF DRAMA Politico: “In a big win for House Republicans and President Obama, the House passed a $1 trillion-plus funding bill. The final vote … after a day of behind the scenes arm-twisting and vote counting, was 219 to 206. ART OF COMPROMISE NYT: “Mr. Boehner built a coalition of 162 Republicans and 57 Democrats, a rare achievement for a Congress that has often operated along strict party lines. Congress also passed a two-day funding measure to give the Senate time to pass the legislation. … The adopted measure funds the government through Sept. 30, 2015. ON TO THE SENATE “The Senate could pass the measure as soon as [today] if the two biggest opponents of the measure, Democrat Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, consent. The Senate will first finish work on the NDAA before it takes up the government spending bill, which would require a unanimous consent agreement. If Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid cannot forge a UC agreement today, the government spending bill will likely be taken up on Monday.”

PELOSI NOT HAPPY Thursday’s results were a major blow to Pelosi, who had led Democrats in hours long closed-door meeting where they bashed the bill and counted on its defeat to help her recover politically following the Democratic debacle on Election Day. But 57 Democrats crossed the aisle to vote with 162 Republicans to help pass the measure.”

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SHUTDOWN AVERTED MorningD: “First things first: Congress avoided a government shutdown. … The vote was significant because it prevented the House from resorting to its backup plan of approving a several-month CR instead of an actual appropriations bill for the Pentagon and other federal agencies, which would have forced the military to wait even longer to start new initiatives planned in its fiscal 2015 budget.

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IT WAS AN IMPRESSIVE FEAT CONSIDERING LIBERALS VOTED NO Politico: “The White House’s aggressive push to salvage a spending bill on Capitol Hill left liberal lawmakers feeling burned by President Barack Obama – and raised significant doubts about their desire to cooperate heading into next year’s Republican takeover of Congress. … Thursday’sdeadline drama offered no signal of party unity, only fresh reminders of the post-election divisions between a president who’s looking to govern during his last two years in office and a newly invigorated populist wing of the party, led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).” SO DID CONSERVATIVES “Conservatives began the lame-duck session enraged over President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration and hell-bent on unraveling the moves they saw as illegal, unconstitutional and just plain wrong. Now they’re ending the year frustrated at their own party’s leaders, who they think cut them out of the funding process and fumbled a chance to pick apart Obama’s immigration actions as soon as they were announced by not using the must-pass funding bill to undo it.”

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SUMMARY of major elements in the spending package (Politico):
—The Pentagon is promised $490.2 billion for its core operations and another $64 billion in OCO funds counted outside the budget caps. The OCO number is significantly more than Obama first anticipated last spring and reflects the stepped-up U.S. military operations in Iraq and Syria as well as $175 million to aid Ukraine and Baltic states like Latvia in the face of Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
—The State Department and foreign aid accounts, including almost $9 billion in OCO funds. The extra OCO funds will help preserve what’s become a greatly expanded refugee assistance program of just over $3 billion annually. Almost $1.9 billion is provided in disaster assistance — again heavily dependent on OCO support.
CLOSER TO HOME the bill provides an estimated $260 million for a basket of programs to help Central America address some of the economic and social ills that drove the spike in child migrants this past year. But after all the tough talk of standing up to Egypt on human rights, the agreement backs away from cutting Cairo’s $1.3 billion in military aid and instead makes a small but surprising cut in economic assistance.
—The cuts from the IRS are the most severe, and the $10.95 billion provided is $346 million below the tax agency’s current funding. This is relatively close to what House Republicans had first proposed and dramatically less than Obama had requested. But as part of the same bargain, the bill drops House language that would bar the IRS from playing its critical role in implementing the president’s Affordable Care Act.
—Nuclear weapon activities within the energy and water chapter of the bill continue to grow: The $8.2 billion provided is $387 million above current funding. For the Bureau of Reclamation, $50 million is provided to address drought conditions in the West — a major priority for Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who oversees the bureau’s budget. And the bill directs that not less than $1.1 billion be provided for the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund for the Army Corps of Engineers — a $100 million increase.
—Major science agencies enjoy modest increases but often not enough to keep pace with inflation. The National Science Foundation’s budget would grow to $7.3 billion, for example, just $172 million more than this year. The National Institutes of Standards and Technology and Agricultural Research Service are virtually frozen at current spending as is the Office of Science in the Energy Department.
— The National Institutes of Health would receive just shy of $30.1 billion, a $150 million increase. But the bigger new money for NIH will come from its role in research and clinical trials related to Ebola.

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HOW WALL STREET WON Politico: “Wall Street’s success in using the year-end spending bill to weaken a provision of the 2010 financial reform law shows how it plans to wield its clout in the months ahead — slowly and methodically, piece by piece, leveraging the legislative process. The banks prevailed, showing that when it comes to rolling back Dodd-Frank, the financial-services industry is willing to play the long game. The Dodd-Frank provision in question – the so-called SWAPS PUSHOUT RULE – has been controversial since it was first put forward by former Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Blanche Lincoln (D-AK) and big banks for years have worked to get rid of it or to at least water down its impact.WHAT’S THE PUSHOUT RULE? The Pushout Rule bans banks from making certain risky derivatives trades in units backstopped by a government guarantee and requires them to move those parts of their operation to separate affiliates.” GOVERNMENT BAILOUT … I MEAN ‘BACKSTOP’ The banking industry for years has railed against this section of the law as impractical and ill-conceived, but advocates of tougher regulation say it is a necessary check on Wall Street banks’ penchant for taking big risks in the parts of their operations that enjoy government backstops, such as deposit insurance.” Wall Street’s strategy started with a stand-alone House bill (that had bi-partisan support) but this year, the focus shifted to working the issue more through the annual appropriations process, where must-pass bills can help carry policy provisions into law.”

SHERROD BROWN TPM: “The next ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee will be a populist and vigorous critic of Wall Street: Sen. Sherrod Brown. The Ohio Democrat will lead his party on the influential panel in the new Republican-controlled Senate that convenes on January 3, he announced on Friday.”

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HIDE YOUR CHECKBOOKS Politico: “A provision tucked deep inside the $1.1-trillion spending bill … would dramatically increase the amount of money a single rich donor could give to national party committees each year – from $97,200 to $324,000 or more.

ARE WE WITNESSING THE DEATH OF McCAIN-FEINGOLD? The Fix: “… The ten-fold increase in donation limits left many Democrats up in arms, insisting this was the latest attempt by enemies of campaign finance reform to unravel the law spearheaded by Sens. John McCain and Russ Feingold last decade. Seeking answers on how much trouble McCain-Feingold might be in, Michael Toner, a former chairman of the FEC, Republican election lawyer and longtime advocate for less regulation of money in politics said, “McCain-Feingold is on life support.  Ever since Justice Alito replaced Justice O’Connor on the Supreme Court in 2006, the Court has chipped away at the McCain-Feingold law through a series of decisions invalidating key aspects of the law, including the Citizens United ruling which struck down restrictions on corporate independent expenditures and corporately financed electioneering communications aired in the final weeks before an election.  The last remaining pillar of the McCain-Feingold law was the soft-money ban barring the national political parties from raising and spending funds outside of the federal limits.  While the national political parties will continue to be prohibited from raising and spending corporate contributions, these new campaign finance provisions in the budget bill create the potential for the national parties to raise significantly more money from individuals – perhaps up to $50-$100 million more funds for the 2016 election.  The passage of these provisions also might create momentum for additional legislation to be enacted in the future further relaxing the contribution limits on political parties.”

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unnamedBYE-BYE BIRDIE “Before lawmakers could agree to a $1.1 trillion, last-minute deal to avoid shutting down the U.S. government, they first had to deal with a couple of birds. The result is a 1,603-page spending bill that includes a paragraph barring the Obama administration from approving endangered-species protections for two types of sage grouse, an imperiled, pheasant-like bird that is ruffling the petroleum industry’s feathers across the West by cohabiting on prime oil and gas land. Now environmentalists are squawking.”

DIALING BACK SCHOOL NUTRITION The Hill: “The CRomnibus contains language that would allow states to exempt struggling districts from having to offer all whole grain products and eases requirements for schools to reduce sodium levels. Health advocates are blasting provisions in federal funding legislation that are seen as dialing back school nutrition standards, even as the White House seeks to downplay the riders as “minor adjustments” to the first lady’s signature policy.”

WAIT. WHAT? GOP JUST NIXED PART OF OBAMACARE TPM: “The CRomnibus … included a GOP-proposed change to an Obamacare program long loathed by Republicans. A House aide confirmed … that Republican staffers requested the change to the so-called risk corridor program, which is designed to keep premiums stable by making payments to insurers if they lose more money than expected in the law’s first few years. Some health policy wonks picked up on the language, but it received negligible attention compared to the campaign finance and Dodd-Frank provisions that nearly derailed the spending bill in the House on Thursday night. The way the risk corridor program works: Insurers estimate in advance how their insurance pools will look and if in the end they’re significantly better than estimated, they pay money into the program; if they’re significantly worse than estimated, they are paid money by the program. The CRomnibus, which funds most of the government through the next year, prohibits the Health and Human Services Department from transferring funds from other sources to fund the program. The practical impact, one policy expert said, is that HHS can therefore only use money brought into the program to make payouts, effectively making it revenue neutral.”

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OBAMA LOSING GRIP ON THE DoD BUDGET MorningD: “President Barack Obama is losing some of the control over the defense budget that his administration clawed away from top military commanders early in his presidency, with the service chiefs and Congress once again conspiring to undo tough spending decisions made by the White House and the Pentagon. The result: an omnibus spending package for this fiscal year that includes money to buy lots of weapons the Pentagon didn’t request but top commanders signaled they wanted anyway.SOME HISTORY ON ‘UNFUNDED REQUIREMENTS Military commanders have long provided Congress with lists of “unfunded requirements” – items they want that didn’t get included in the Pentagon’s annual budget submission. Then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates pushed back on “unfunded requirements” early in Obama’s tenure to prevent the service chiefs from bypassing his office as he sought to rein in a defense budget that had ballooned during the George W. Bush administration. By 2012, unfunded requirements – sometimes called “wish lists” – had all but vanished, as Congressional Quarterly reported at the time. This year, though, marked the return of the lists, which provided a roadmap for lawmakers and industry lobbyists to subvert the White House’s spending plan for the Pentagon. AND SUBVERT THEY DID Case in point: The omnibus spending deal includes $1.5 billion for 15 Boeing EA-18G Growlers that the Pentagon hadn’t requested – but were on the Navy’s unfunded requirements list. The bill includes two extra Air Force F-35 fighter jets that were on the service’s list. And it includes funding boosts for a number of Army vehicles that were on unfunded requirements lists, including the Stryker armored fighting vehicle made by General Dynamics and the Bradley Fighting Vehicle made by BAE Systems.”

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2015 NDAA Politico: “The Senate is set to pass the policy bill today. 53 YEARS Like last year, the Pentagon’s going to get what it wants, albeit in a last-minute Capitol Hill scramble: a defense authorization bill – for the 53rd straight year – and an appropriations measure. Funding for the Defense Department remains a bipartisan priority and the annual NDAA is still a must-pass measure, but both are increasingly getting tied up in larger partisan spats. And next year, things will be even more difficult since there’s no clarity on where the Pentagon’s topline spending will end up. BUBBLE THOUGHTS FOR 2015 “The big questions: Can Hill Republicans and Democrats agree to another budget deal, like the Murray-Ryan agreement, to stave off further rounds of sequestration in fiscal 2016 and beyond? How will the GOP takeover of the Senate play into this? And would the president veto a Republican spending bill that increased the defense budget but busted the Budget Control Act caps without raising revenues?”

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MILITARY FORCE FOR ISIL FIGHT “The Senate Foreign Relations Committee narrowly approved on Thursday a measure to authorize the use of military force in the fight against the Islamic State after some heated debate over how restrictive it should be. The 10-8 vote was along party lines, with Democrats supporting the measure and Republicans opposing it. No floor debate is expected in the Senate, nor will the House take up the issue during the last days of this lame-duck session, leaving it for the new Republican-controlled Congress that will be seated in January.”

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THE VITTER AMENDMENT IS BACK Washington Post, “More Senate staff members stand to be forced out of the health plan for federal workers under a policy adopted Wednesday by Senate Republicans. The Senate Republican Conference accepted a resolution from Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) to add to the number of Capitol Hill staff already made ineligible for the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program because of the Affordable Care Act. The resolution makes it the policy of Senate Republicans to make staff members they employ ineligible for the FEHBP ‘regardless of whether they work in a member’s personal office, committee office, leadership office, the cloakroom or any other office.'”

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FEAR AND TORTURE: DEEP DIVE (worthwhile read) Adam Gopnik of The New Yorker tries to fathom how the harsh interrogation methods detailed in the Senate’s report on the CIA came to happen: “… the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s report on torture will not, and probably should not, fade any time soon. It reveals that Americans engaged in acts, on behalf of and with the approval of and under the direction of their highest elected leaders, that, when performed by others elsewhere, we have not only condemned but actually treated as capital crimes. There is no turning back from such knowledge. The excuses are many and are sure to proliferate, as will the defensive tone and the apologetics—and, not without some reason, some call for understanding. The defenses are of two kinds, both as false as they are deeply felt. First, there is the truth that the C.I.A. interrogators were, for the most part, following orders and doing what they had been told they were authorized to do; to make them the prime villains is to clear the democratically elected politicians who allowed this to happen—and, more important, to clear the democracy that elected those politicians. WE ARE ALL IMPLICATED, not just those who drowned and froze and tormented prisoners. If blame is to be had, it must not move only upward, to the bosses; it must move outward, to those who chose the top men and to the many who explicitly endorsed their reading of the “war on terror” and the threat of terrorism. (That prospect, one would guess, was at the heart of President Obama’s reluctance to release the report in the first place; to blame no one might be unacceptable, but to blame anyone in particular was to blame everyone.) Second, and running directly from the general responsibility, there is the claim that if we hadn’t tortured people—hanging them upside down, raping them rectally, and all the horrible rest—some terrorist would have been able to kill more Americans, possibly with a radioactive bomb, or worse. This is an empirical claim, but without much of an empirical foundation. … But it is also a moral claim of exceptionalism: after all, every nation can argue that it needs to torture prisoners in order to protect its people. … This is a good place to make it clear that, in this case, comparisons to Nazi and Communist tortures, far from being some kind of wild violation of decorum, are exactly what’s essential—essential because without the belief that, even in wartime, there are acceptable and unacceptable forms of violence, the post-Second World War war-crimes trials, in which we place great pride, would indeed be no more than what the ex-Nazis always said they were: pure victor’s justice. If we believe, as we do, that those trials were truly just, then that is because the acts that they sanctioned, including the torture of prisoners, were evil inherently, not just evil when done by other folks.

Searching for ultimate responsibility, we look at individuals … but we need to look also at ourselves. We need to look at the climate of fear that all but a few created and participated in after 9/11. That climate of fear made the imminent threat of more and worse terror attacks seem plausible, even highly likely. It was, in part, the natural and inevitable consequence of an atrocity that took so many lives so quickly and so unexpectedly. If that could happen, what couldn’t? But it was also engineered, crafted, and engaged in by many who knew better, or should have. When … the language of revenge and reprisal instead of the wiser language of recovery and resilience; when the thick cloud of fear was not dispelled by increased understanding but held in place by panic—when all of these things happened, the move toward the violation of all the norms of decency was almost certain to follow. Our collective fear made bad things happen that we can now hardly believe took place. “Be not afraid!” a wise man said, seven times, summing up his lesson. It is even deeper wisdom than we knew.”

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“I know from personal experience that the abuse of prisoners will produce more bad than good intelligence. I know that victims of torture will offer intentionally misleading information if they think their captors will believe it. I know they will say whatever they think their torturers want them to say if they believe it will stop their suffering. McCain added (emphatically) that “the use of torture compromises that which most distinguishes us from our enemies, our belief that all people, even captured enemies, possess basic human rights.”
Sen. John McCain spoke in favor of the Senate report’s release in a floor speech.

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TORTURE REPORT CREATES DEEP DIVIDES  NYTs:”Senator Dianne Feinstein was still speaking on the Senate floor Tuesday morning about the Intelligence Committee’s report excoriating the C.I.A.’s interrogation program when a new website went live. Its name was self-explanatory: ciasavedlives.com. The site, created by a dozen former top officials of the CIA, was only one element in a broad counterattack against the long-awaited Senate report, which says the program, which is now defunct, violated American ideals by torturing Al Qaeda suspects and got little useful information in return. The program’s outspoken defenders say the C.I.A. was advised that its methods were not torture, that the program played a critical role in dismantling Al Qaeda and that the interrogators deserve praise, not vilification.”

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THE NEW AMERICAN ‘MALAISEThe Fix: “Three major national polls were released late Wednesday and Thursday. And all of them were nothing short of depressing.

1) A New York Times poll showed just 64% of Americans believe in the American Dream. That’s the lowest that number has been since at least 1996.
2) A Pew Research Center poll showed just under half — 49% — of Americans said they expect next year to be a better year than this year. That’s the lowest that’s been since the recession, and a couple years before, too.
3) An AP-GfK poll shows just 13% of Americans say they are confident that Republicans and President Obama can come together to address the country’s problems. (A similar question from Pew found just 20% expect Congress and Obama to “make progress” on important issues.)
So, to recap, Americans have hit low points on their belief in our country’s main economic principle, their general feelings about life and their faith in our government. That just about covers it. ALL THIS AS THERE IS INCREASINGLY GOOD NEWS ON THE ECONOMY including month after month of solid job creation, unemployment below six percent, fast-falling gas prices and even rising economic confidence.
CRISIS OF CONFIDENCE’ Back in 1979, President Jimmy Carter’s pollster famously explained the state of the American public in a memo to Carter. “What was really disturbing to me,” the pollster, Patrick Caddell, said, “was for the first time, we actually got numbers where people no longer believed that the future of America was going to be as good as it was now. And that really shook me, because it was so at odds with the American character.” Caddell said the American people were suffering from a “crisis of confidence” that needed to be addressed … by the president. DID YOU KNOW THAT JIMMY CARTER NEVER ACTUALLY USED THE WORD ‘MALAISE?’ Carter soon delivered what came to be known as the “malaise” speech — though he never actually used that word. He lost reelection a year later. But Caddell’s thoughts on a “crisis of confidence” certainly could be applied to the poll numbers referenced above. Americans have little confidence in much of anything these days, up to and including many of the major American institutions.”

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GOODBYE LAST WWII VETS NPR: “The World War II era is about to officially draw to a close in the United States Congress. This comes after seven full decades during which there was always a veteran of that war in the legislative body. The last two World War II veterans will leave office at the end of the current session of Congress. They are 88-year-old Michigan Democrat John Dingell and his longtime friend, 91-year-old Republican Ralph Hall of Texas.”

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THE VANISHING MALE WORKER NYT: “The share of prime-age men – those 25 to 54 years old – who are not working has more than tripled since the late 1960s, to 16%.”

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