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The Washington Report – December 13th, 2013
13 Dec 2013

The Washington Report – December 13th, 2013

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

For those who are superstitious, today is Friday the 13th.  After an exhaustive search, I have not found an adequate explanation of how, why or when these separate strands of folklore converged to mark Friday the 13th as an unlucky day. That’s probably because no one really knows.

The House has adjourned for the year and returns in January. The Senate pulled a second all-nighter and voted to confirm two nominees this morning. More votes on nominees today and over the weekend.

Here are the week’s highlights.


The Capstone National Partners Team (John Rogers, Alan MacLeod, Steve Moffitt, Diane Rogers, Erik Oksala, Kate Venne, Jodi Hrdina and Joyce Rubenstein)

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HOUSE PASSES BUDGET DEAL AND DEFENSE BILL – ALL EYES TURN TO THE SENATE Morning Defense writes, “Last night, the House wrapped up some major end-of-the-year business, sending both the bipartisan budget deal and the annual defense authorization bill over to the Senate for final consideration.”

ALL-OUT WAR Politico writes, “The simmering feud between House Republicans and movement conservatives is finally an all-out war. The tension exploded on Wednesday morning when Speaker John Boehner and outside conservative groups traded sharp barbs over the budget deal. “…The frenzied activity – just days before the House adjourned for 2014 – represents the ultimate culmination of a power struggle between institutional Republicans in Congress and outside groups, who are funded by well-heeled conservative donors and can pay for primary challenges.  …Many of these organizations accuse Boehner, his leadership team and some Republican members of Congress of being a BUNCH OF SQUISHES willing to abandon their conservative principles in favor of compromises. …The two sides are fighting over strategy, politics and policy – and, in a way, this skirmish neatly encapsulates the existential battle for the soul of the Republican Party. They are showing the tug between purity versus pragmatism, and loyalty versus the pedal-to-the-metal tactics to drag the party to the right.”

Are you kidding me?
Best. John Boehner Quote. Ever.  Letting out several years of frustration with tea party groups who were trying to sabotage the bipartisan budget deal.

Embrace the suck.
— House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, urging Democrats to vote for the budget bill despite the fact “that jobless benefits weren’t included” (NBC News)

Yes: 332 (163 Ds – 169 Rs)
No: 94 (32 Ds – 62 Rs)
Not Voting: 9

BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO Politico writes, “Groups like FreedomWorks and Heritage Action demanded Republicans reject Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget deal – or else. But 169 Republicans approved it anyway. And even though the deal itself was relatively small, it’s still a big moment for House Republicans. For the first time since they took back the House in 2010, a strong majority of Republicans have rejected the political absolutism encouraged by the professional right that mired Congress in gridlock for years and culminated in a government shutdown this fall.”

TEA PARTY POPULARITY The Fix writes, “The tea party continues to wield some influence on the campaign trail and in Congress. But it’s not winning any popularity contests.” – A new Gallup Poll.

BOEHNER BACK ON TOP The Fix writes, “It’s been a roller coaster year on Capitol Hill for House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). And it just ended on high note. A legislative session that kicked off in January with an embarrassing show of defiance against the speaker ended Thursday with his triumph over the most conservative wing of the GOP, which served as his foil for much of 2013. The House passed a bipartisan budget deal …with the support of 169 Republicans. Sixty-two Republicans voted against it. UNDERSTATEMENT Majority support from Republicans has been difficult for Boehner to cobble together this year. But this time, Boehner replaced the olive branch he’d often extended to the uncompromising right wing of the GOP with a spear, openly taking on groups like Heritage Action and the Club for Growth, who sought to sink the budget plan. IN STORE FOR 2014 Not clear. The sway he holds over his conference now could melt away. Or it could intensify. Only time will tell.”

BUDGET BILL IN BRIEF The House-passed budget bill sets top-line funding levels at $1.012 trillion for fiscal year 2014 and $1.014 trillion for fiscal year 2015, while providing $63 billion in sequester relief over two years, paid for through a combination of fees and mandatory savings. The deal will also reduce the deficit by $28 billion over the next 10 years. MILITARY There was some good news for the military where the agreement will increase defense spending by $31.7 billion above the sequestration cap over the next two years — $22 billion front loaded in 2014. This will mitigate about half of the sequester cuts that were expected. The bill also includes an amendment that will extend the “doc fix” formula, which is used to reimburse doctors under Medicare, for three months, while congressional negotiators continue to haggle over a long-term solution.”

BRITTLE SENATE The Senate will begin consideration of the budget deal on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on Friday morning. CQ writes, “While the outcome is not very much in doubt, Senate debate on the budget deal could extend well into next week. …Rand Paul (R-KY), a strong opponent of the deal, said he would try to slow it down and object to any efforts by Democrats to speed up floor action. However, Republicans have not indicated they would actually block the budget package or offer their own alternative.”

MIRACLE? Barring a meltdown in the Senate next week, Congress is on the verge of making a little modern history. If concerns are overcome and the Senate can muster 60 votes to move to the bill, it will mark the first time since 1997 that Congress has passed a complete budget. To do that, Senate Democrats will need five Republicans to join them in voting for cloture next week to get the bill to the floor. They are expected to get them, though many Republican senators are staying mum about whether they will back the budget deal.

WHAT’S NEXT CQ writes, “Once the deal is cleared and signed into law, appropriators who oversee domestic spending in the two chambers will face sharply different tasks in putting together final bills. The House will likely be adding money to appropriations bills written earlier to an austere top line of $967 billion. The Senate will have to trim spending back from the $1.058 trillion cap that the chamber’s Democrats had used in their bills.  Keep watch on how House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., and his Senate counterpart Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., figure out how to allocate funds out of the new $1.012 trillion top line in the budget package.”

DID PAUL RYAN JUST RUIN HIS CHANCES FOR 2016 National Journal writes, “Unlike some conservative voices, the potential Republican presidential contenders had the courtesy to wait until after the budget deal was unveiled to declare their opposition. But they didn’t wait long. Swiftly came the denouncements from Sens. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Rand Paul. Conservative groups piled on the agreement negotiated for their side by Paul Ryan, calling it “a huge Republican cave-in” and “surrender.” Ryan—also a possible presidential candidate—now finds himself in the awkward position of trying to sell an agreement blessed by President Obama to a conservative base that reflexively opposes anything with a whiff of bipartisanship.”
“It’s a strange new normal, isn’t it,”
-Ryan’s response to disapproval from conservative groups that have hailed him in the past for proposing sweeping changes to the federal budget to slash Medicare spending and tax rates.

GOLDILOCKS AND THE THREE BEARS There was a wide-range of responses to the recent bi-partisan budget deal from the national security community. Some say the deal did not do enough to help out the military, while others say it went too far and restored unnecessary funding. No one seems to think Congress got it just right.(H/T Politico)

NDAA TO SENATE Morning Defense writes, “The House on Thursday approved a compromise version of this year’s defense authorization bill [350-69], kicking it to the Senate under a fast-track process that precludes senators from tacking on controversial amendments dealing with Iran sanctions and other divisive issues. The Senate is expected to take up the bill on Tuesday or Wednesday. It will need some Republican support to get the 60 votes required to advance. Some Republicans have complained about the prohibition of amendments. But backers emphasize this would be the Senate’s last chance to approve the bill this year – and maintain an unbroken annual passage record for the yearly measure of more than half a century.”

DOD (sort of) HAPPY Politico writes, “Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel threw the Pentagon’s weight behind the compromise budget agreement on Thursday, grateful to get the wolf of sequestration away from his door – but wary the threat will continue to lurk.”
HARD BUDGET CHOICES‘: Center for a New American Security writes, “the budget deal would add $22 billion to the Pentagon budget this year and $9 billion in 2015. But “even with the additional $22 billion, DoD will still have to cut $32 billion from its original budget request of $552 billion, or approximately 5.7%.”


STUDY LINKS TBI to PTSD Stars and Stripes writes, “Traumatic brain injuries during deployments appear to increase the risk of troops experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder after returning home, according to Department of VA-sponsored research published Wednesday. In some cases, a service members’ chance of acquiring PTSD was doubled by serious head or brain injuries suffered while deployed, the study in the Journal of the AMA Psychiatry found.”


NSA, CYBER COMMAND POLICY The Washington Post writes, “The Obama administration has decided to preserve a controversial arrangement by which a single military official is permitted to direct both the NSA and the military’s cyber warfare command, U.S. officials said. The decision by President Obama comes amid signs that the White House is not inclined to impose significant new restraints on NSA’s activities — especially its collection of data on virtually every phone call Americans make — although it is likely to impose additional privacy protection measures.”


OMNIBUS AND MINI-OMNIBUSES Defense News writes, “Congress could take up a massive appropriations bill in January that would fund the entire federal government for the remainder of the fiscal year.  House Republican Deputy Whip Tom Cole, R-OK, said Thursday on the House floor that Congress will move “an omnibus” appropriations bill next month or “a series of mini-omnibuses.” The GOP leadership member was using Capitol Hill parlance to describe a single piece of spending legislation that would keep the government open beyond Jan. 15. That’s when the existing “continuing resolution” that is funding the Pentagon and other federal agencies will expire.”


SENATE’S UP ALL NIGHT ‘TILL THE SUN AP writes, “The Senate is churning through a round-the-clock session over President Barack Obama’s nominees, the latest chapter in the chamber’s saga of partisan warfare. Fuming over the Democrats’ new limits on filibusters, Republicans are refusing to give up debate time over 11 nominations that Majority Leader Harry Reid is trying to muscle through this week. So Reid has set the Senate in continuous session through Saturday, unless Republicans relent. There was no sign of that happening. Early Thursday, the Senate confirmed the first of those nominees, voting 51-44 to confirm Cornelia ‘Nina’ Pillard to the influential D.C. Circuit Court. The nominations don’t appear to be in jeopardy despite the infighting.” … a confirmation vote on Jeh Johnson to lead the DHS is expected on Saturday. And Deborah Lee James, nominated to become the next Air Force Secretary, will likely get a vote before then.”

GOOD NIGHT MOON We are currently looking toward the third all-night Senate session of 2013. According to the Senate Historical Office, it’s the first time the Senate has held three all-night sessions in one calendar year since 1954, when the Senate held three 35-hour-plus sessions in the span of one week, as it debated what would become the Atomic Energy Act.


DOC FIX’ LIVES ANOTHER DAY CQ writes,”… In an acknowledgement of remaining obstacles, the House passed a three-month “doc fix” to avert a scheduled year-end 24% payment cut due under the existing formula and buy more time to devise a long-term solution. Lawmakers eager to get out of what’s become an annual exercise of enacting such short-term patches understand they may not yet be through with the ritual.”


NO TIME FOR SHORT-TERM FARM BILL CQ writes, “The 30-day farm bill extension the House passed with little debate Thursday appears to have no legs in the Senate, where Reid and Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-MI, say it is unnecessary because a conference committee is promising to have a new multi-year farm bill ready for January floor votes. Higher dairy price support prices are due to take effect under a 1949 farm law if there is no new farm bill or an extension of the 2008 farm bill by year’s end, and some lawmakers fear being blamed if retail milk prices suddenly spike. …Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has recently said that his department would not act to implement the higher price subsidies if Congress approves a new farm bill in January.”

ANTIBIOTICS RULE The FDA issued two major proposals on Wednesday in an effort to cut back on antibiotics used on farms that can spur drug-resistant superbugs, making a final push to limit drugs fed to animals before they’re turned into steaks and pork chops. The move – just the latest by the agency to tighten regulation of the American food supply … comes on the heels of a recent effort to ban trans fats and a handful of other sweeping new food safety regulations.”


POLITICAL BRAIN Check out this visualization.
GENETIC HARD-WIRING OF POLITICAL OPINION The Fix writes, “A new paper on a group of @1,200 adult twins born in Minnesota concludes that to a surprising degree, our politics do not depend on our circumstances. Rather, they are partly determined at conception, encoded in the nucleus of every cell in our bodies. The researchers found that two identical twins are likely to respond in very similar ways to questions about politics and ideology. …A pair of fraternal twins are, by comparison, more likely to give different responses.” the study is interesting because it shows convincingly just how influential genes are in crafting our baseline political views. And maybe, this kind of research will make us more tolerant of those who see the world differently from ourselves. It’s not entirely their fault they’re wrong.


GIFT TO FLYERS Wall Street Journal writes, “”[T]he Department of Transportation … issued a surprise announcement saying it believes passengers and the airline industry are overwhelmingly against such cellphone use, and will consider banning in-flight voice calls.”  Thank goodness.

Urge you to check out our blog for insights on the budget…and other topics.

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