This week’s Washington Report! To sign up for the direct email, click here.
On this day in 1884, the Washington Monument was finished.
Began in 1848, delayed by lack of funds, oh, and the Civil War, six years later Mark Twain described the unfinished monument as looking like a “hollow, oversized chimney.” Not until 1876 – 28 years later (!) – did construction begin again. In Washington, it really does seem that the more things change the more they are the same!
Before the week in review, we just want to note the passing of Nelson Mandela, a remarkable man who truly belongs to the ages. RIP.
The Capstone National Partners Team (John Rogers, Alan MacLeod, Steve Moffitt, Diane Rogers, Erik Oksala, Kate Venne, Jodi Hrdina and Joyce Rubenstein)
ONLY 5 DAYS The Fix reports that “As of now, there are just five days in December when the House and Senate will be in Washington at the same time and available to put the finishing touches on unfinished business. The House session ends Friday, Dec. 13. The Senate doesn’t return until next Monday and is planning to leave town on Friday, Dec. 20.
ON DECK: BUDGET Of the unresolved issues, a budget agreement is most critical. House and Senate budget negotiators have set Dec. 13 as a self-imposed deadline to reach an agreement. Assuming the deadline isn’t pushed back, Congress will have just six days when it returns on Jan. 7 to strike a deal by Jan. 15, or risk another government shutdown.
FARM BILL Already two years overdue is due by Jan. 1. Failure to enact a deal by then means certain agricultural policies will begin rolling back to laws passed in the 1930s and 1940s. The biggest hurdle for House and Senate negotiators is agreeing on how much money to cut from the federal food stamp program (SNAP). The Senate would cut about $4 billion from SNAP over the next decade, while the House hopes to slash nearly $40 billion. Talks are also at an impasse over how to rewrite commodity titles, an issue that earns little attention broadly, but outsized concern in several rural farming states.
NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT (NDAA) is currently up for debate in the Senate. But Senate leaders can’t agree on how many amendments to consider. Already senators rejected competing proposals regarding detainees at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but more controversial amendments over how the Pentagon should handle a rise of sexual assault cases in the ranks also await votes.
STAY TUNED Can all of this be done in five days — or will the House and Senate stick around a little longer to finish their work?” TBD
The U.S. economy added 203,000 jobs in November, “nearly matching October’s revised gain of 200,000. The job gains helped lower the unemployment rate” to 7%, “a five-year low” and “encouraging sign for the economy.” (AP)
IMPROVING ECONOMY DEFIES DC Politico writes, “Washington has tried very hard this year to crush the economy with debt ceiling fights, clumsy budget cuts, a government shutdown and complete legislative gridlock. It does not appear to be working. Nearly every recent report shows an economy picking up at least a little speed heading into 2014: The jobless rate is falling, house prices are rising, the stock market is soaring and overall economic growth just handily beat expectations. Friday’s employment report …suggests the economy has shrugged off the most recent Beltway blows.
PARTY POOPERS …hold the celebrations for now, many analysts say. The numbers themselves are not quite as good as they appear. And there are still several ways Washington could make them even worse next year, from more poorly designed spending cuts and bitter fighting over Obamacare to a potentially botched effort by the Federal Reserve to tap the breaks on its unprecedented stimulus efforts.”
WHO TO BLAME? FirstRead writes, “…the last 112th Congress (2011-2012) was the least productive in modern history, according to the available data. And so far, the 113th Congress (2013-2014) is on pace to be even more unproductive. Democrats … blame House Republicans for their reluctance to compromise and their insistence (sometimes violated) to bring legislation that only has support from a majority of Republicans. House Republicans point the finger at the Democratic-controlled Senate. “To date, the House has passed nearly 150 bills in this Congress that the United States Senate has failed to act on,” House Speaker John Boehner said yesterday. But as The Hill’s Bob Cusask has noted, Boehner in July stated: “We should not be judged on how many new laws we create; we ought to be judged on how many laws that we repeal.
IS THE REAL PROBLEM DIVIDED GOVERNMENT Yet here’s the thing: Divided government has NEVER produced such a small number of laws until now.
BOTTOM LINE This is an unprecedented level of unproductivity even during a time of divided government.
113th Congress (Obama in the WH, Dem SEN control, GOP House control): 56 laws — so far
112th Congress (Obama in the WH, Dem SEN control, GOP House control): 283 laws
110th Congress (Bush in WH, Dem SEN control, Dem House control): 460 laws
106th Congress (Clinton in WH, GOP SEN control, GOP House control): 580 laws
105th Congress (Clinton in WH, GOP SEN control, GOP House control): 394 laws
104th Congress (Clinton in WH, GOP SEN control, GOP House control): 333 laws
102nd Congress (Bush in WH, Dem SEN control, Dem House control): 590 laws
101st Congress (Bush in WH, Dem SEN control, Dem House control): 650 laws
100th Congress (Reagan in WH, Dem SEN control, Dem House control): 713 laws
99th Congress (Reagan in WH, GOP SEN control, Dem House control): 663 laws
98th Congress (Reagan in WH, GOP SEN control, Dem House control): 623 laws
97th Congress (Reagan in WH, GOP SEN control, Dem House control): 473 laws
SOMEHOW, AMERICANS THINK CONGRESS CAN GET SOMETHING DONE IN 2014 NJ reports, “Despite dismal productivity in 2013 and what looks to be a disruptive 2014 campaign season, more Americans than not believe Washington can enact major legislation next year, even on the most divisive issues. The latest United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll found people are optimistic about the odds that Congress can pass gun-control and immigration legislation in 2014. But respondents were decidedly more pessimistic about whether Washington could enact major fiscal reforms.”
COUNTDOWN TO ANOTHER FISCAL FAIL NJ writes, “Lawmakers in both parties could face a dangerous political dilemma after they return to Washington: Either endorse a second round of damaging sequester cuts or prepare for another government shutdown. The situation is that stark, and it’s coming on fast. Budget negotiators led by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray are racing to beat a Dec. 13 deadline to draft a deal that would keep the government open beyond Jan. 15. They could get it done. Even House Speaker John Boehner says he’s hopeful.
IF NO DEAL But other lawmakers and aides say the odds are not good, and that’s why House Republicans are now prepared to pass a short-term continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government at the $966 billion level that’s dictated by the Budget Control Act, ushering in round two of the sequester cuts. DON’T HOLD YOUR BREATH Politico reports, “Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray are only a few billion dollars in budgetary savings away from a deal … but hurdles remain, as in finding those few billion dollars.”
SEQUESTRATION IN 2014 Washington Post reports that the Progressive think tank, Center for American Progress, has found common ground on this issue with the conservative Heritage Foundation. The Center for American Progress lists four factors making next year’s sequestration even more damaging than this year…1) Budget cuts are scheduled to be larger in 2014 than 2013; 2) Many of the 2013 cuts have not yet been implemented; 3) “One-time fixes that mitigated sequestration’s worst impacts in 2013 cannot be used again” in 2014; and 4) Sequestration made cuts to little-noticed but critical functions of government — cuts that will be particularly devastating if they are not reversed soon.” Absent congressional action, sequestration will take a bigger bite in 2014. It was designed to cut $109 billion from the budget each year, but legislation reduced that to $85 billion in 2013. “Unless Congress acts again,” says the report, “the full $109 billion in sequestration cuts will take effect in 2014.” The Report concludes, “Sequestration was never meant to happen, and Congress made a mistake by allowing it to kick in. As long as that mistake is fixed soon, the damage can be contained.”
PING-PONG STRATEGY TO PASS NDAA via Politico, “With the clock ticking, congressional leaders are getting creative with how they can pass the defense bill in time …they’re now looking to use what’s called the “ping-pong” strategy, where congressional negotiators meet and work out a final version of the bill that the House would pass before sending it to the Senate. There, it would be “amendable” before a final vote, but with the House recessing on Dec. 13, there would be little time left for another so-called volley. While this strategy may get the law done in time, it would likely prevent votes on controversial amendments dealing with Iran sanctions and sexual assault.”
NEW CHAPTER National Journal writes, “The Obama administration and congressional Democrats seem to have finally stopped the political bleeding from Obamacare’s botched rollout. That doesn’t mean everything is working like it’s supposed to, or that Democrats don’t have anything to worry about in 2014.” …The news is not just good for the site’s repair effort but for the law overall, as the administration is banking on getting enough people enrolled in the coming months to ensure the law works as intended down the road.”
BUT IS POTUS ALREADY SCREWED? A new study from Harvard finds a majority of Americans under 25 don’t support Obama. And most of them aren’t too keen on Obamacare, either.
SPEAKING OF MEDICAID USA Today reports that the 20 states choosing not to expand Medicaid will lose billions of dollars in federal funds, according to a new study released Thursday. By 2022, Texas could lose $9.2 billion … Florida $5 billion … Georgia $2.9 billion …Virginia $2.8 billion over that period, the study conducted by The Commonwealth Fund shows. Commonwealth was founded in 1918 to improve health services for Americans. “There are no states where the taxpayers would actually gain by not expanding Medicaid,” said Sherry Glied, lead author on the study. “Nobody wins.”
MEDICAID AN ACA SUCCESS STORY A new CMS report finds that applications jumped 15.5% in states expanding Medicaid in October.
THREE WAYS YOU CAN TELL THE HEALTH WEBSITE IS WORKING National Journal writes, “Just five days into the re-launch of the new and improved HealthCare.gov … the initial numbers look good, although important back-end problems remain, the site has handled close to a million users some days, and more people signed up Tuesday than in all of October. But we don’t need the stats to know the website is working in at least one important way: politically. Here’s how you can tell. 1) Republicans have mostly stopped attacking the website. 2) Democrats have calmed down. 3) The media has started to move on.”
CONGRESS GETTING LEFT BEHIND National Journal writes, “President Obama is forging ahead with rules controlling carbon emissions. Major companies, including ExxonMobil and American Electric Power, are beginning to price carbon into their budgets. The nation’s legal system, led by the Supreme Court, has mostly held up the authority to regulate carbon emissions. That means you’re the odd one out, Congress. Most policymakers are not paying attention to this issue, and the lawmakers within each party who are focusing on it aren’t making many inroads to either stop EPA’s climate rules or to push for a federally mandated price on carbon.”
COMPANIES PLAN FOR CARBON TAX More than two dozen of the largest companies in the U.S. think a carbon tax is inevitable—and they’re planning for it.”
THE ARTS ARE WORTH HOW MUCH? The Bureau of Economic Analysis partnered with the National Endowment for the Arts to release today the first federal deep-dive into the impact of the arts and culture sector on GDP. The agencies said in their first release that arts and culture contributed $504 billion to GDP in 2011, or 3.2 percent of the total. Travel and tourism, by comparison, contributed 2.8 percent. The data gives advocates of public arts funding something new to point to when they make their case to lawmakers.
HOUSE STABS AT PATENT TROLLS Bloomberg reports that “The U.S. House passed legislation to rein in some patent lawsuits that technology companies say could reduce the time they spend fighting such suits in court. House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte’s Innovation Act passed the House on a 325-91 vote. The measure would place limits on entities that buy patents in order to demand nuisance royalties from as many companies as possible. Called ‘trolls,’ such firms filed 19% of all patent lawsuits from 2007 to 2011, according to the GAO. The bill now goes to the Senate.”
BOEHNER AND BIOFUELS National Journal writes, “One energy policy Boehner won’t touch with a 10-foot pole any time soon is the renewable-fuel standard, which divides his caucus (and the Democratic Party too, for that matter) along so many lines it’s going to take a Herculean effort to get every member in the same book, let alone on the same page, when it comes to this contentious biofuels mandate.”
SENATE 2014: DEMS ON DEFENSE National Journal updates the Senate landscape. “…Republicans took a significant hit when their efforts to derail the Affordable Care Act resulted in a federal government shutdown. But the struggles in implementing that law have swung the pendulum back in the GOP’s favor in recent weeks. Combined with a favorable map, Republican momentum has put control of the Senate firmly in play. In fact, the 7 seats most likely to switch parties in our latest Hotline Senate Rankings are only Democratic-held. If Republicans flip 6 of the 7 — without losing any of their own vulnerable seats — they would control the Senate in 2015. Overall, 13 of the 15 most vulnerable seats are held by Democrats. Just two GOP-held seats are even somewhat in danger of flipping parties: Georgia, where Republicans could nominate a controversial candidate like Rep. Paul Broun, and Kentucky, where Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell isn’t popular and faces well-funded primary and general-election challengers. The seats are listed in order of their likelihood to switch partisan control after the 2014 elections. These rankings represent The Hotline’s current read of the Senate landscape.
2014: ANOTHER YEAR OF THE WOMAN FOR DEMS? Hotline writes, “Wendy Davis. Alison Lundergan Grimes. Mary Burke. Allyson Schwartz. Michelle Nunn. Natalie Tennant. …As party operatives prepare for the 2014 midterm elections, Democratic women are being cast in starring roles, on the ballot and at the ballot box, as the party tries to take back politically important governor’s mansions and keep its fragile majority in the Senate.”
A U.S. bankruptcy judge in Michigan ruled Tuesday that the city of Detroit “is insolvent, had proper authorization to file for bankruptcy and could not practically negotiate with thousands of creditors with competing agendas.” The ruling “sets up a contentious fight between the city’s creditors and Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, who is now empowered to slash pensions.” (Detroit News)
FINDERS, KEEPERS? Not for the TSA. The agency made half a million dollars this year from forgotten pocket change, but Congress is making the TSA donate it to charity. (Washington Post)
WHAT NELSON MANDELA CAN TEACH POLITICIANS The Fix writes, “[Politicians] would do well to study the former South African president’s life and career to understand some deep truths about the art of politics. Here are three: 1) Words have power. Every time the eyes of his country (and the world) shined on Mandela, he recognized the moment and found the right words to say. 2) Sports can bridge (seemingly) unbridgeable gaps. Mandela understood that no matter how many differences there were in a society, sports was a common passion on which much could be built. 3) You have to be able to laugh at yourself. Humility and its cousin humor may be the two most undervalued qualities in most successful politicians. He understood laughter had the power to disarm even your sworn enemies. It’s not by accident that the enduring image of Mandela is him laughing/smiling.”
PROFOUND IMPACT OF NELSON MANDELA MEASURED From the Monkey Cage, “… Integral to the creation and health of any country is a shared sense of identity among its citizens — what the political scientists Juan Linz and Alfred Stepan call “stateness.” …Apartheid was precisely the kind of system that created profound differences as to who had real civil and political rights in South Africa. …One sign of apartheid’s impact was evident in a simple survey question: “How proud are you to be South African?” …in apartheid South Africa, there was a striking gap between whites and blacks. MANDELA’S LEGACY IN ONE GRAPH.
“For now, let us pause and give thanks for the fact that Nelson Mandela lived — a man who took history in his hands, and bent the arc of the moral universe toward justice. May God bless his memory and keep him in peace.”
— President Obama
Urge you to check out our blog for fascinating insights from the team.