This week’s Washington Report! To sign up for the direct email, click here.
Attention Fellow Binge TV Watchers! Netflix today released the second season of its original series “House of Cards” — thirteen straight hours of a fictional (wink) show that centers on bad-behaving politicians in D.C. Some might call this D.C.’s Valentine to itself and the rest of us!
Debt Ceiling Backstory, The Upcoming 501(c)(4) Election, Mini-History of the QDR, In the Weeds with Employer-Based Healthcare…and more of 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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NOBODY DOES “ALERTMAGEDDON” LIKE D.C. The Wall Street Journal said it best, “Finally, Washington had a blizzard worthy of seven days of storm tracking, closures, cancellations and widespread hoarding. The capital city … approaches every forecast of snow, no matter how sketchy, with an orgy of meteorological modeling, thousands of words of commentary and a run on the dairy section. Hurricanes, by comparison, don’t get much attention.”
‘Just a matter of time: waiting for the @VA_GOP to claim this winter storm was caused by The Affordable Care Act. #Snowbamacare’
-from Sen. Mark Warner’s office, making a joke about the storm that shut down DC. It was deleted after 26 seconds with an acknowledged apology.
Take a look at Kate Venne’s piece on why you should never argue with the weatherman, especially if he’s Al Roker, here.
HOUSE PASSES ‘CLEAN’ DEBT CEILING BILL The Washington Post writes, “The House approved a year-long suspension of the nation’s debt limit Tuesday …after a collapse in support for an earlier proposal advanced by Speaker John A. Boehner (R-OH). In a narrow vote, 221 to 201, 28 Republicans joined nearly all Democrats to approve a “clean” extension of the government’s borrowing authority — one without strings attached. The legislation … eliminates any chance of default on $17.2 trillion in debt until March 2015.
BACKSTORY — THE ADULT IN THE ROOM Standing alone before his colleagues, Speaker Boehner said, “Listen – we’re going to move forward.”
STUNNED “Instead of bringing up the leadership’s plan, which would link a restoration of recently cut military benefits to a debt-ceiling extension, … he was going to do what he thought was best for the GOP, in spite of the widespread angst. For the past week, Boehner said, he had gone through all of the possible options with the conference, had mulled a variety of scenarios, all with the hope of getting 200-plus Republicans united. But nothing ever gained traction, even the military pension fix, which he thought could win Democratic votes.”
“WE’RE NOT GOING TO MAKE OURSELVES THE STORY” “Ahead of the midterm elections, Boehner argued that now is not the time to get drawn into weeks of dramatic headlines and fiscal battles with President Obama. But there were no outcries or boos. … Boehner just stood there for a moment after he finished, eyed the room, and walked toward his seat. On his way there, Boehner shook his head, then turned to the nearly mute crowd and wondered aloud why he wasn’t getting applause. “I’m getting this monkey off your back and you’re not going to even clap?” Boehner asked, scowling playfully at some tea-party favorites.”
AND THEN IN THE SENATE Politico writes, “The chamber ultimately passed the bill 55-43 in a vote that only required a simple majority. But on its way to that final vote, things got a little dramatic when Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a leader of the GOP tea party wing, mounted a filibuster attempt to force a 60-vote threshold for proceeding on the debt ceiling measure. However, a dozen Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, joined Democrats to overcome the filibuster on a 67-31 procedural vote that avoided another politically damaging legislative impasse over spending.”
IS TED CRUZ PLANNING A LONG CAREER IN THE U.S. SENATE The Fix writes, “On Wednesday, Ted Cruz did something you almost never see in the Senate: He purposefully made political life harder for his Republican colleagues. By forcing the Senate to round up 60 votes to end debate and force a final vote on a clean increase of the debt ceiling, Cruz knowingly complicated things for the top two Republicans in the chamber — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) and Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (TX). Both men face primary challenges from their ideological right and neither relished the idea of helping break a filibuster for a debt ceiling increase with no Republican proposals attached.”
SEN CRUZ: “MINORITY MAKER” WSJ reports, “We’re all for holding politicians accountable with votes on substantive issues, but Mr. Cruz knew he couldn’t stop a debt increase the House had already passed. He also had no alternative strategy if the bill had failed, other than to shut down the government again, take public attention away from Obamacare, and make Republicans even more unpopular. Democrats beat the odds and retained their Senate majority in 2010 and 2012 in part because they stuck together. If Republicans fail again this November, a big reason will be their rump kamikaze caucus.”
FLY IN THE OINTMENT The Fix … “Almost gleefully, [Cruz] has been willing to shake up the institution. But this latest gambit may well be the most telling because it directly impacts two men who, if Cruz had any thought of sticking around the Senate for any extended period of time, not only could, but would make life very uncomfortable for him.
MEMORIES McConnell and Cornyn, both of whom are favorites to win their primaries, will never forget Cruz’s move this past week. And, Cruz is plenty smart enough to realize that.
PRESIDENT CRUZ? If he runs (likely), doesn’t win (likely), he won’t be up for re-election until 2018. Go the Jim DeMint route and simply walk away from the Senate (likely).
WELCOME TO 2014…the 501(C)(4) ELECTION The Fix writes, “If the story of the 2012 election was the rise of the super PAC, then the story of the 2014 midterms will be the rise of the politically-minded, non-profit organization — known in tax code parlance as a 501(c)(4). The Washington Post writes, “Americans for Prosperity, a 501(c)(4) funded by the Koch brothers already spent more than $27 million since August into ads blasting Democrats. The allure of these sorts of non-profit arms is simple: Unlike a Super PAC, neither the donors’ names nor the amount they have given must be disclosed — a cloak of anonymity that many wealthy individuals in both parties find alluring. The one drawback is that, according to tax law, these organizations must spend a majority of their money on “social welfare” activities — although just what falls into that category is at the center of an attempted rule change governing these groups by the Obama administration. The lack of specific guidelines as to what these 501(c)(4) groups can do combined with the appeal of anonymity for donors make these social welfare groups a booming industry in the world of money in politics.”
TIME WARNER DEAL SETS STAGE FOR ANTITRUST FIGHT The Justice Department’s Antitrust Division will review Comcast’s $45.2 billion deal to buy Time Warner Cable.
COULD BE GOOD FOR NET NEUTRALITY Comcast has already agreed to abide by the FCC’s net-neutrality rules until at least 2018, even though those rules were struck down in court. And Comcast’s agreement would extend to Time Warner Cable if the deal goes through. (NJ) At the end of the day… COMCAST READIES FOR WAR IN WASHINGTON.
SEN. RAND PAUL SUES OVER NSA: NJ writes, “The Kentucky Republican sued the Obama Administration on the grounds that the NSA’s spying programs violate Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights, and said his class-action lawsuit could potentially represent hundreds of millions of people.”
ENVIRONMENTALISTS NOT HAPPY The Fix writes, “Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) will bring a sharply different outlook to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee now that she has taken the gavel from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), who has moved over to chair the Senate Finance Committee. Landrieu favors building the Keystone XL pipeline, protecting tax breaks or incentives for oil drilling, and placing limits on the power of federal agencies to set mercury or carbon dioxide guidelines for coal-fired power plants. Wyden takes the opposite position on all those issues.”
CLIMATE FUND “President Obama will ask Congress to set up a $1 billion Climate Resilience Fund in his proposed budget next month. … The fund would go to research on the projected impacts of climate change, help communities prepare for climate change’s effects and fund ‘breakthrough technologies and resilient infrastructure.'”
Check out John’s Blog Post “Five Points to Live By.“
CYBERSECURITY Politico writes, “The White House on Wednesday unveiled a blueprint for power plants, top banks and other vital infrastructure to improve their cybersecurity, along with a message for Congress: Get it together.”
TO CONSTRAIN THE QDR OR NOT? THAT IS THE QUESTION Politico writes, “…DoD is putting the finishing touches on its strategy document that everyone loves to hate. One perennial QDR debate: Should it be tied to the budget or not? Well, by law, it’s not allowed to be. The original 1997 QDR legislation that requires DoD to submit the four-year review says each QDR will “make recommendations that are not constrained to comply with and are fully independent of the budget submitted to Congress by the president.” For those who believe strategy should drive the budget, which by default often means larger defense budgets, that’s a welcome requirement. For those who think defense strategy cannot – and should not – be separated from budget constraints, this clause drives them nuts.
IN THE WEEDS Rumor has it that [the law] was inserted by AEI’s Thomas Donnelly when he was a professional staff member on the HASC as … a way to measure of the cost of a force that could meet the national security and national military strategy, and the ‘two-war’ force-sizing construct that was established by the 1993 Bottom-Up Review. The QDR was very much a response to the BUR, and the clear understanding that the force and the budget did not meet that standard.”
MINI-HISTORY LESSON – THE BOTTOM-UP REVIEW The BUR, as it came to be known, was launched by then-Defense Secretary Les Aspin, and its goal was to present a U.S. defense plan for the post-Cold War era. At the time, President Bill Clinton had campaigned on the idea that with the fall of the Soviet Union and the changing threat environment, the U.S. could afford to cut back its defense spending.”
MILITARY PENSIONS Morning D writes, “The president plans to sign the just-passed bill that would roll back cuts to pensions for working-age military retirees that was included in December’s bipartisan budget deal. …Still, the measure would retain the pension cuts for new recruits who joined since Jan. 1.
ACTIVE-DUTY FORCE Speaking last night at the Center for Foreign Relations, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said, “As a minimum, I think our end strength should be 450,000. … DoD’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office has recommended the active-duty force shrink to 420,000, but it’s no secret Odierno has been fighting this number inside the Pentagon.”
HEALTHCARE NUMBERS NJ writes, “HHS said yesterday that 3.3 million people have selected a plan through the law’s insurance exchanges, meaning enrollment is about a month behind estimates and is likely on track to hit the new target of 6 million enrollees this year.
UNINSURED RATE Wonkblog reports, “On a related note, Gallup said yesterday that the latest poll found 16% of U.S. adults report being without insurance, the lowest rate since 2009. Interesting to note that this poll shows where people are getting insurance, which suggests the healthcare law is playing a role in the drop. So…is Obamacare the reason? It will take a few more months of data to find out.
FIVE THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT THE LATEST OBAMACARE NUMBERS: Enrollment is just about on track; January saw slight drop-off, as expected; number of young people is steady; we don’t know how many have paid premiums; we don’t know how many were uninsured. (National Journal)
EMPLOYER-BASED HEALTH CARE From NPR interview, IN THE WEEDS AGAIN – WHY IS HEALTH INSURANCE TIED TO EMPLOYMENT? Partly because of historical accident and some decisions that FDR made during wartime back in World War II our health care has been much more tied to employers. That’s not the case in most other developed countries. During World War II, pay raises were strictly limited by the government. But benefits were not. So many employers began offering health insurance as a way to attract scarce workers, and the idea stuck. As recently as 2000, workplace health insurance covered nearly 70% of Americans under the age of 65. As employers cut costs though, that number has been shrinking. By 2010, it had dipped to less than 60%. $250 BILLION (with a “b”) But the federal government still offers a big sweetener to people who get health insurance through the workplace. Unlike your paycheck, that insurance is tax free.
A THOUGHT “You don’t get other kinds of insurance through your employer. You don’t get car insurance…so, there’s no particular reason why health insurance should be gotten that way.
– Greg Mankiw, advisor to George W. Bush
AFFORDABLE CARE ACT MEANS WHAT IT SAYS AND SAYS WHAT IT MEANS. UNTIL IT DOESN’T NJ writes, “…The arbiter is President Obama and a phalanx of health care advisers and political strategists….It’s time to concede that no one has been more adept or aggressive about delaying and defanging Obamacare than Obama himself. Systematically and with an eye toward his party’s immediate political troubles, Obama has reshaped, photo-shopped, reimagined, and reengineered Obamacare. It all sounds techy and cool and flexible—at least to the administration. To those who must live with and live under the law, the arbitrary is the norm. The only pattern is chaos. Obamacare’s worst enemy is Obama.
LATEST SWITCHEROO DEALS WITH THE EMPLOYER MANDATE, which the administration has delayed for another year for medium-sized businesses and softened for big employers. Companies with 50 to 99 employees will not have to provide health insurance under fear of fines (between $2,000 and $3,000 per full-time employee) until January 2016. Until Monday, the deadline was January 2015. Also, companies with more than 100 employees can provide insurance coverage to just 70% of their workforce in 2015 instead of the original 95% requirement. The employer mandate is a significant component of the law … this is a not an Affordable Care asterisk, although health care economists argue it has little impact on increasing insurance coverage. That may be true, but it drove medium-sized businesses to distraction, and they lobbied the White House for a reprieve—and won the midterm political lottery.”
A federal judge struck down Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban Thursday, finding that it violates the equal protection clause under the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution.” (Richmond Times-Dispatch)
BUFFALO’S GAIN, NEWSEUM’S LOSS “Starting this fall,” the late Tim Russert’s “office will be on permanent display at the Buffalo History Museum,” Rep. Brian Higgins (D-NY) “announced Tuesday.” The office has been on display at the Newseum in Washington for the last four years. (Buffalo News)
Shirley Temple Black died Monday night at age 85. And, while most of the remembrances of her focused on her child stardom, Temple Black had a long — and fascinating — history with American politics too. Here’s a look at four memorable moments. 1. She once starred in a film with Ronald Reagan; 2. She ran for Congress in 1967…and lost during the Republican primary. 3. She had three different ambassador gigs. 4. The U.S. Government thought she might be a Communist…when she was 10. RIP