This week’s Washington Report! To sign up for the direct email, click here.
Freezing rain, snow and record low temps in our nation’s capital. That annual rite of passage to spring in DC – the National Cherry Blossom Festival – is just 20 days away (March 20). Hard to imagine those trees will bloom on schedule.
That said, budget season IS blooming (sorry) in Washington. And, as usual, the Pentagon was the first out of the gate, briefing the press and Congress a week early on its fiscal 2015 budget proposal. Here are the week’s highlights.
The Capstone National Partners Team (John Rogers, Alan MacLeod, Steve Moffitt, Diane Rogers, Erik Oksala, Kate Venne and Joyce Rubenstein)
THE 2015 DEFENSE BUDGET IS MEANT TO MARK THE END OF AN ERA Politico writes, “Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel tried to do more than just lay out the Pentagon’s spending priorities for the coming fiscal year, it marked America’s passage into a new postwar era – though not exactly peacetime.
“This is the first time in 13 years we will be presenting a budget to the Congress of the United States that’s not a war-footing budget. You might say that it’s a defining budget because it starts to reset, reshape … rebalance, refine our enterprise for the future.”
– Secretary Hagel on Monday
SOME VERSION OF “OVER MY DEAD BODY” NPR writes, “Cutting defense spending in Washington is about as popular as proposing Social Security cuts. In other words, not very. Which explains congressional reaction to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s announcementMonday that the Obama administration’s new budget would propose shrinking the Army, closing bases and ditching weapons systems.”
BRAC The difficult politics and intense lobbying surrounding defense cuts explained why BRAC existed to begin with: Congress essentially outsourced base-closure recommendations to the panel because it was politically impossible for members to do the job themselves.”
YOU’RE INVITED to read Steve Moffitt’s Blog Post on the 2015 Defense Budget that he provided to our clients …”The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.”
THE BIZARRO BUDGET Defense One writes, “Hagel’s plan for fiscal year 2015 complies with congressional budget caps that limit the DoD budget to $496 billion. President Barack Obama wants to add another $26 billion, from a special new $58 billion fund that would be paid for with “a balanced package of spending and tax reforms.”
THE ORWELLIAN “OPPORTUNITY, GROWTH AND SECURITY FUND” Politico reports, “There weren’t too many new details about what the extra $26 billion would buy … or how it would be paid for … We do know that the Pentagon will use the $26 billion to buy back near-term readiness, which senior defense officials said yesterday remains one of the most critical risk factors. But some people are disappointed by the $26-billion request, saying it throws budget discipline out the window.”
BUDGET GAMBIT COULD BACKFIRE This strategy of linking a major cash infusion for education and other domestic priorities to new spending for the Pentagon risks sinking the proposal for everyone.
END STRENGTH SURPRISE James Hasik, a defense industry consultant and senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, said he was surprised that Army end-strength fared as well as it did. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the active-duty Army would drop between 440,000 and 450,000 soldiers, though it had been widely speculated that the Army would be forced to go to 420,000. But Hagel said yesterday this would only be necessary if sequestration remains in effect in 2016 and beyond.
“I don’t personally think that this [sequestration] is going to end until a lot of pain is felt by a lot of people.”
– HASC Chair, Buck McKeon on sequestration in 2016
THE LITTORAL COMBAT SHIP (LCS) Politicowrites, “The Pentagon’s fiscal 2015 budget submission calls for ending the Littoral Combat Ship program after 32 vessels, short of the previous plan for 52, the defense secretary said.” NOTE: This is not a done deal.
GOOD NEWS FOR SOME The Navy will submit alternative proposals to procure a capable and lethal small-surface combatant consistent with the capabilities of a frigate,” Hagel said, delivering happy news to shipbuilding advocates.”
WHAT’S UP WITH THE $1 BILLION FOR A NEW AIR FORCE ENGINE? Politico writes, “Another surprising detail in Hagel’s budget rollout was a short passage about a $1 billion infusion of funding for a new Air Force engine.”
GOVERNORS ARE NOT HAPPY ABOUT THE GUARD Politico writes, “Word has it that all 50 governors signed a letter to President Barack Obama, voicing their opposition to cutting the Army Guard and transferring their Apache helicopters to active-duty units in exchange for a smaller number of Black Hawk helicopters. At the Pentagon, though, DoD officials defended the moves, saying they’re only fair when the active-duty Army is taking an even bigger cut.”
#1 QUESTION: WHAT MAKES YOU THINK YOU’LL GET ANY OF THIS THROUGH CONGRESS? Huge battles await Pentagon officials when they head to Capitol Hill to testify. Whether it’s the force structure cuts, the Army-Guard helicopter “swap,” another round of BRAC, or cuts to military pay and benefits – lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle will use these issues as an excuse to huff and puff and blow DoD’s house down. But with it being an election year, the theatrics will be Oscar-worthy.
PUSHBACK AGAINST THE PUSHBACK Defense News reports, “Much of the criticism from members of Congress is just the same as its always been – protect your own backyard – nothing new there,” according to a senior defense official. “But the fact is, so long as Congress keeps voting for sequestration level spending we’re going to have to get smaller. And the sooner everyone accepts that the sooner the military can build a stronger force for the future.”
NOT SO FAST Politico writes, “Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the SASC and other members of Congress railed against the cutbacks in Hagel’s spending plan. They decried base closures, the retirement of the Air Force’s fleet of A-10 ‘Warthogs’ and even the topline budget numbers they themselves mandated.”
The Pentagon’s new budget request is built on a “naïve world view.”
– Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) The Hill
REJECT THE QDR Politico writes, “HASC Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA) plans to “reject” the upcoming Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) if he determines it’s “a budget-driven document,” according to a senior committee staffer.
HOW DOES ONE REJECT THE QDR? McKeon would “include a provision” in next year’s NDAA directing the Pentagon “to rewrite and resubmit the 2014 QDR in a manner that complies with the law.”
WHAT IS THE QDR? A review conducted every four years of the military’s long-term priorities and anticipated threats, was codified in the 1997 NDAA as a strategy document – intended in part to be independent of budget constraints, laying out an “optimal” force structure for carrying out DoD’s strategy. Since its inception, though, the QDR has been criticized by lawmakers as nothing more than a rubber stamp for White House priorities.
VETERANS BILL GOES DOWN Politico writes, “Senate Republicans on Thursday derailed a sweeping $21 billion bill that would have expanded medical, educational and other benefits for veterans – in another chapter of the ongoing feud over amendments, spending and new sanctions on Iran. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) moved Wednesday night to cut off debate on the bill and blocked consideration of amendments, including one on Iran sanctions demanded by Republicans. And on Thursday, Democrats came up four votes short of the 60 needed to keep the bill moving forward on a procedural budget vote.”
LO AND BEHOLD, A JOHN McCAIN HOLD Defense News‘ writes, “U.S. Sen. John McCain says he plan[s] on placing a hold two nominees for high-level Pentagon jobs — Robert Work, Work, President Barack Obama’s pick to be deputy defense secretary, and Christine Wormuth, nominated to be the Pentagon’s policy chief.”
DEFINE ‘HOLD’ From the Senate Parliamentarian, “An informal practice by which a senator informs his or her floor leader that he or she does not wish a particular bill or other measure to reach the floor for consideration. The majority leader need not follow the senator’s wishes but is on notice that the opposing senator may filibuster any motion to proceed to consider the measure.”
BUT … according to multiple congressional sources, McCain’s dual hold of Work and Wormuth is rather hollow because…
OF THE THE NUCLEAR OPTION In late November … Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., implemented the so-called “nuclear option” for most judicial branch and executive branch nominations. Under Reid’s rules, the tactic of blocking a nomination via a filibuster — or merely the threat of one — is dead.
SO…the best McCain can do is delay the inevitable.
ANOTHER OPTION The GOP has a few floor tricks up their collective sleeve, but that’s a lot of effort to block two individuals whom most in DC believe are well qualified for the Pentagon’s No. 2 and 3 civilian posts.”
DISAGREEMENT ON MINIMUM WAGE STRATEGY Politico writes, “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid isn’t budging on a proposal to hike the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. But not all of his Democratic colleagues are following their leader on the issue, which is key to the party’s election-year messaging. In fact, moderate Dems – including a handful up for reelection this year – are weighing support of a more modest increase designed to attract Republicans that could save them from having to oppose a tough bill before November.”
THAT’S A LOT OF DEFICIT REDUCTION The WonkBlog writes, “In a memo distributedThursday to Senate Democrats, Budget Committee chairman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) totals the spending cuts and tax increases enacted during the 2011 debt-limit fight, the 2012 fiscal-cliff confrontation, last December’s budget deal and other negotiations, and then projects the impact on deficits over the next decade. THE RESULT: $3.3 trillion in total savings, with the burden falling heavily on agency budgets. The discretionary budget, which funds the Pentagon and other agencies, will absorb nearly half of the cuts, or $1.6 trillion … Murray’s math includes the sequester – but only through 2015. She declined to include sequester cuts for 2016 through 2021 because Democrats argue that the sequester should be replaced with other savings. If the full sequester had been included, Murray would show nearly $4.2 trillion in total savings.”
TAX CODE OVERHAUL SO OVER BEFORE IT GOT STARTED NRP writes, “In the three years Republican Rep. David Camp (R-MI) has wielded the gavel of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, overhauling the tax code has been his abiding ambition. The last revamping of the tax code was 28 years ago, and facing the prospect of having to relinquish that gavel at the end of this year, Camp declared this week that the time has come to start the debate on a new tax code overhaul. Camp’s plan would cut corporate and individual tax rates — just as his fellow Republicans have long sought. Still, there is scant enthusiasm on Capitol Hill for doing anything this election year on a tax code rewrite than simply talking about it. “
BLAH, BLAH, BLAH” said, House Speaker John Boehner, when asked about details. And Paul Ryan (R-WI), who is in line to succeed Camp, was also evasive when asked.
IN THE SENATE Republican leader Mitch McConnell said, “I have no hope for that happening this year.”
DAGGER IN THE HEART Politico reports, “Rep. Dave Camp’s tax proposal … has infuriated Republican donors on Wall Street. … That Wall Street would react so ferociously to a dead-end bill is a reminder of how hard a powerful player is willing to fight to protect its interests in Washington.”
‘BABE RUTH’ OF LEGISLATORS,’ HANGS UP HIS CLEATS Politico writes, “Congress is losing a lot of policy heavyweights this year, but there’s only one whose career spans from the creation of Medicare to the passage of the Affordable Care Act. In his nearly six decades in Congress, John Dingell (D-MI) has played a central role in more issues than most ordinary lawmakers ever get to touch – everything from health care to energy, environmental laws, food safety and telecommunications policy. … Dingell introduced a universal health care bill in every new session of Congress, keeping the cause alive. At the ACA signing ceremony in 2010, it was Dingell who sat next to Obama, grinning broadly as his cause became the law of the land.
OUTLASTED THE TWO INSTITUTIONS HE LOVED THE MOST – DETROIT AND CONGRESS David Maraniss in the Washington Post, “Which went bankrupt first is as much a theological question as a political or economic one, as is the question of which might have the better chance of returning to past glory, but there is no question about Dingell’s place in congressional history.”
ALL IN THE FAMILY Debbie Dingell is expected to announce that she will run to succeed her husband. A former General Motors lobbyist and Republican turned Democratic Party activist and her husband’s closest political aide, she will begin as a favorite.
“… Working on legislation with Dingell was ‘like playing baseball with Babe Ruth.
– Former Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA)
IN THE HOUSE – STOP GOVERNMENT ABUSE WEEK NPR reports that, “the House of Representatives has approved several bills that would limit and change the way the federal government regulates businesses. The Republican-backed measures were all passed by largely party-line votes; none are seen as likely to be enacted into law.
THE BILLS: The “Achieving Less Excess in Regulation and Requiring Transparency Act,” or “ALERRT,” sponsored by Rep. George Holding, R-NC.
AND The “Consumer Financial Freedom and Washington Accountability Act,” sponsored by Rep. Sean Duffy, R-WI. It seeks to replace the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau with a five-member commission that would be appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. The new body would be called the Financial Product Safety Commission.”
NUTRITION LABELS “The Food and Drug Administration for the first time in two decades will propose major changes to nutrition labels on food packages, putting calorie counts in large type and adjusting portion sizes to reflect how much Americans actually eat. The proposed changes include what experts say will be a particularly controversial item: a separate line for sugars that are manufactured and added to food.”
OBAMACARE ENROLLMENT: A NUMBERS GAME IN FINAL STRETCH: “Four million down. Two million to go. Five weeks to get it done.” (Politico)
GOP EXPECTS PROMISING ELECTION YEAR “Surprise decisions by a slew of top-tier Republican challengers to enter this year’s Senate race show that the GOP really does believe Obamacare’s disastrous implementation will deliver a sweeping set of victories in November.” (National Journal)
GOP TOO FOCUSED ON OBAMACARE, SOME REPUBLICANS WARN Nearly every advertising dollar being spent against Democratic congressional candidates is going toward pounding them on the health law. (Washington Post)
THE REPUBLICAN HEALTH-CARE PLAN IS ALMOST HERE, AND ALWAYS WILL BE: There’s no plan out there that is both ideologically acceptable to conservatives and politically defensible. (New York Magazine)
BRADY BILL ANNIVERSARY The Fix writes, “Today marks the 20th anniversary of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which went into effect in 1994. The law — named after James Brady, who was shot during an attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan in 1981 — made background checks a requirement for gun purchases from licensed dealers. From the law’s passage until 2009 — the latest year statistics are available — over 107 million Brady-mandated background checks were conducted.
GUN POLITICS CHANGES A few notable examples:
1. When gun policy gets passed, it’s usually about loosening gun restrictions, not tightening them.
2. 242 members of the House had an “A rating” from the NRA in December 2012. 46 Senators. Great interactive graphic explains.
3. In 2013, a plan to expand background checks failed.
4. In 1998, gun violence was seen as the most pressing issue in the country, according to a Gallup survey. In October 2013, 1 percent of respondents saw violence and crime as the most pressing issue in the country.
5. Opinions of the NRA are about the same as they were 20 years ago.
6. In the 1993-1994 election cycle, the NRA spent $2.3 million. In the 2011-2012 election cycle, they spent $24.8 million.
7. New gun-control groups are starting to spend big money … NJ reports “gun-control groups spent five times as much on federal lobbying in 2013 as they did the year before, but the NRA and others still outpaced them by more than 7-to-1.”
8. In 1993, 34% of Americans thought it was more important to protect the right to own guns than control gun ownership. In 2013, 48% of Americans thought that.
9. Firearm homicides reached a peak of 17,075 in 1993. In 2011, about 9,900 people were murdered by guns.
10. In October 2011, 47% of Americans said they had a gun in the home — the highest number since 1993.
11. Things that didn’t exist in 1994 that politicians have to think about now: online gun sales, 3-D printing and smart guns.”
BUSINESS WENT DEFCON 1 FOR GAY RIGHTS IN ARIZONA LA Times writes, “Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a bill Wednesday that would have bolstered a business owner’s right to refuse service to gays and others on the basis of religion. Critics had described the bill as anti-gay, unconstitutional and divisive — and potentially harmful to Arizona’s economy and reputation.” Politico writes, “… What Arizona proved … is that there’s currently no more powerful constituency for gay rights than the Fortune 500 list. …The corporate community’s engagement in the fight over S.B. 1062 was overpowering: American Express … JPMorgan … Wells Fargo … Apple, Marriott and other big corporations with significant Arizona-based investments. The Arizona Super Bowl host committee, concerned about losing the 2015 championship that’s expected to generate a half-billion dollars in economic activity, joined in Wednesday with a public call for Brewer to veto the bill. … Business leaders in Arizona and Washington called the campaign to kill 1062 a moment of triumph for the corporate world.”
WHAT JAN BREWER’S VETO TELLS US According to The Fix, “She’s probably not going to run for re-election.” (She is two-term limited, but there’s a bit of a disagreement over whether her abbreviated first term in office counts.)
RNC chairman Reince Priebus announced the finalists to serve as the host city for the 2016 Republican National Convention via Twitter on Thursday: Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus, Denver, Dallas, Kansas City, Las Vegas and Phoenix.
CURTAIN CLOSES ON SOCHI NYT writes, “Russia had so much to prove at the Winter Games. …The closing ceremony on Sunday night … seemed as much a great sigh of happy relief as anything else.” Hey, what about those athletes! Amazing.
ACADEMY AWARDS THIS SUNDAY For that Trivia contest:
First Academy Awards held at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel: May 16, 1929; …Oscar statuette is 13½ inches high and weighs 8½ pounds; Estimated global viewership of 86th Academy Awards: 700 million….Value of freebies in this year’s Oscar swag bags, at least $55,000. Michelle Obama was the first, First Lady to present an Oscar — when she gave the Best Picture award to “Argo” in 2013. “Argo,” directed by and starring Ben Affleck, told the true Iran-hostage-era story of six Americans who escaped the country by pretending to be a Hollywood film crew. What surprises await this year? Can’t wait. (h/t USA Today)