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The Washington Report – February 6, 2015

09 Feb 2015

The Washington Report – February 6, 2015


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

 

WHAT HAPPENS IF DHS SHUTS DOWN … $4 TRILLION EXERCISE IN WISHFUL THINKING … BLACK BUDGET … THE FOUNDING FATHERS ARE LOOKING DOWN AND SMILING … SEEKING A VACCINE FOR IGNORANCE … and other news of the week.

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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NO, I INSIST, AFTER YOU National Journal: “Three weeks before the Department of Homeland Security’s funding runs out, Congress is skipping town for a long weekend – and GOP leaders in both chambers are pointing fingers at each other on who must find a way out of the logjam. For the third time, Democrats blocked a funding bill that would keep the department running on Thursday, and they show no signs of letting up. If Democrats remain unwilling to accept anything less than a clean DHS bill—with no provisions blocking President Obama’s executive actions on immigration—Republicans will be forced to pick from an arsenal of limited options. And of those that remain, none look good for the GOP. If Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has a plan, he isn’t sharing it with his members, much less the public. Sen. John Thune, McConnell’s number three, said Thursday that his party’s strategy had ‘yet to be determined’ and called it ‘a work in progress,’ while Sen. Jeff Flake said simply: ‘We don’t know yet.’

WHAT HAPPENS IF DHS SHUTS DOWN? The Hill: “Of the more than 230,000 employees who work for DHS, the vast majority — around 200,000 — would continue to work, but without paychecks. The ‘essential’ employees who would remain on the job include the department’s 40,000 border patrol and customs officers, 50,000 TSA screeners, 13,000 immigration law enforcement officers, 40,000 active duty Coast Guard members, and 4,000 Secret Service agents. Those workers would be nearly certain to be paid eventually, as lawmakers have routinely approved retroactive compensation after other government shutdowns. IRONIC TWIST … a funding lapse at DHS would not stop the Obama immigration programs that Republicans are fighting to stop. Because the programs offering deportation relief and work permits to certain illegal immigrants are funded through fees, they’d continue even in a shutdown.”

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budgetOBAMA’S BUDGET: A $4 TRILLION EXERCISE IN WISHFUL THINKING Politico: “President Obama’s budget may seem like…. wishful thinking, given that the Republicans who control Congress have their own ideas for shaping the nation’s spending. But a deep dive into the document, proposed Monday, pulls up a smattering of proposals that could well earn bipartisan support — as well as others that are unlikely to be enacted but still have the power to shape debate.  … what policies have even a glimmer of hope at becoming legislation: tax reform has a pulse; medical research is hale and hearty; proposals to bolster manufacturing are alive and kicking; expanding preschool is in critical condition; addressing climate change is in extremely critical condition; and bolstering national security is in surgery.”

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Budgets are not much more than political documents, and this one is no different. It’s going nowhere in the Republican-led House and Senate, but it will add numbers to those priorities. Here’s a look at how well some agencies fare under Obama’s budget:

EPA (+5.8%) The budget plan calls for $8.6 billion for the EPA — roughly $450 million more than allocated last year. There are also other initiatives to combat climate change, including setting up a $4 billion fund for states to help curb pollution at power plants, provided Congress agrees to it, and $2.3 billion for a clean drinking water program for states. Department of Transportation (+31%) The DOT’s $23 billion operating budget would go toward infrastructure reform: repairing and improving roads, bridges, rails, etc. The plan would hike highway and transportation spending to $487 billion over the next six years – and would seek taxes from wealthy corporations on profits made overseas to help pay for the massive plan. Housing and Urban Development (+10.3%) The plan calls for an operating budget of $48.3 billion, in part to allow HUD to restore more than 67,000 housing vouchers to the poor that were eliminated under sequestration. The budget would also allocate $500 million for a new housing program to help communities devastated by natural disasters. Department of Homeland Security (+9.1% The budget proposes $48 billion for DHS as Obama presses for immigration reform. An extra $162 million would go toward dealing with the crisis at the border … it gives Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) an extra $27.6 million to help transport children caught across the border and beefs up Customs and Border Patrol’s technology and IT budget by $373 million. Meanwhile, the Secret Service would get an extra $8.2 million to retool White House security after several embarrassing breaches. Defense Department(+7.7%) The Pentagon’s spending cap would be lifted by $35 billion, increasing its overall 2016 budget to $585 billion, with operations and maintenance getting $209.8 billion, military personnel $136.7 billion and procurement $107.7 billion. Also, service members and civilians would receive a 1.3% raise. Meanwhile, the overseas war budget would be reduced by 21%. (Yahoo Finance)

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DOD SPENDING PLAN Politico: “Pentagon’s new budget request renews several fights with Congress that the military lost last year and concedes defeat on at least one major issue in what amounts to billions of dollars worth of bait intended to lure Republicans into a deal to boost the caps on federal spending. The $585 billion budget proposal for the Defense Department, includes $534 billion in base spending and $51 billion in OCO funding for the new 2016 fiscal year beginning Oct 1. The total is a big boost from this fiscal year’s enacted $560 billion – and about $35 billion above the caps put in place under the Budget Control Act of 2011 that set in motion sequestration. But to make the plan a reality, Republicans would have to agree to a budget deal raising the federal caps on defense spending. And Democrats are almost certain to demand that such an increase be coupled with a hike in the corresponding caps on spending for other government agencies, allowing President Barack Obama to put in place at least part of his domestic agenda.”

SPIES SEEK BUDGET BOOST “The nation’s intelligence agencies are asking Congress for a more than $3 billion increase in funding for 2016.  Included in President Obama’s budget blueprint is a “black budget” request for $53.9 billion to fund spying programs in six federal departments as well as the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. That would be a sizable increase from the $50.5 billion given to spy agencies last year, and the $52.7 billion given in 2013. The 2013 figure was ultimately reduced to $49 billion, due to across-the-board sequestration cuts. Full details about the breakdown of the classified “black budget” will remain secret, as disclosures might unwittingly detail ongoing operations among the agencies.” ACCORDING TO EDWARD SNOWDEN …  In 2013, documents released by Edward Snowden showed that the CIA received the largest slice of the classified “black budget,” followed by the NSA and the National Reconnaissance Office, which builds and operates spy satellites. (The Hill)

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ISIL VIDEO NYTs: “The Islamic State released a video on Tuesday showing the execution of a captive Jordanian pilot by burning him alive.”

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DARPA ON 60 MINUTES Lesley Stahl will report on the U.S. military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and Dan Kaufman, who heads its software unit, working on cyber warfare and making the internet more secure.

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ASH CARTER’S CONFIRMATION Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) wants Ash Carter to be confirmed by the full Senate as defense secretary by the end of next week before Congress breaks for the long Presidents Day weekend. … Carter made clear [at his hearing] that he’s not afraid to stake out his own position separate from the at line. On most major issues, however, Carter is in lockstep with Obama.” WHAT YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT ASH CARTER The Boston Globe is out with a profile of Carter that has new details about his life as an independent thinker unafraid to go against the grain, including sneaking away from his friends on the lacrosse team in high school to read medieval history and doing calculus problems as a way to relax.

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CLAY HUNT SUICIDE PREVENTION BILL Military Times: “After another unexpected delay, the Clay Hunt suicide prevention bill is headed to the White House to become law. The Clay Hunt Bill, named for a Marine veteran activist who took his own life in 2011, would require an annual evaluation of VA suicide prevention programs, to determine how effective they are at helping troubled veterans. The measure also would require VA to develop a new website better detailing existing mental health resources and call for new peer support programs for struggling veterans. And it would launch a pilot program to repay student loans of psychiatry students, helping VA officials more quickly fill those specialty vacancies.”

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WELCOME BACK HARRY WashPost, “Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-NV) made his formal return to the Senate on Monday, still sporting a patch over his fractured right eye … a month after a violent accident left one eye battered and several ribs broken.”

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REMINDER FOR DEMOCRATS ON WHAT LIFE IS LIKE IN MINORITY National Journal, “Democrats and Republicans joined together this year to reform the ‘No Child Left Behind’ law, led by two of the most well respected members of their conferences, potentially offering the only significant policy change that could clear the president’s desk this year. What Democrats got instead was a reminder of what it’s like to be in the minority. Almost immediately, Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander released a conservative draft of the legislation without any Democratic input. And he issued a schedule that will give committee members just until the end of February-around the same time the House plans to pass its own version of the bill-to enact some of the most significant policy changes the Senate has dealt with in years.”

REMINDER FOR REPUBLICANS ON WHAT LIFE IS LIKE IN THE MAJORITY NYT: “Republicans are beginning to learn the limits of their newfound power. For the third day in a row, Senate Republicans called a vote on a bill to keep the DHS funded. And for the third time, it failed to clear a Democratic filibuster. The problems were old and new: political divisions within the party, difficulties over managing the expectations of conservative lawmakers, and the simple arithmetic of getting to the filibuster-proof threshold of 60 votes when there are only 54 Republican senators. The tactics that had served them well when they were in the minority were now being effectively exploited against them. Democrats were gleeful as, one by one, they flashed thumbs down to the Senate clerks and recorded their no votes.”

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HACKERS TARGET HEALTH CARE SECTOR WashPo: “Hackers gained access to the private data of 80 million former and current members and employees of Anthem in one of the largest medical-related cyber-intrusions in history. … Security experts said health care has become one of the ripest targets for hackers because of its vast stores of lucrative financial and medical information. Health insurers and hospitals, they added, have often struggled to mount the kinds of defenses­ used by large financial or retail companies, leaving key medical information vulnerable.”

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OBAMACARE REPEAL VOTE The Atlantic,: “House Republicans are holding the repeal vote “for the freshmen-that is, the 47 House Republicans who just took office a month ago and have never had the high honor and privilege of voting to repeal Obamacare. By holding the vote, these lawmakers can head back to their districts and tell their constituents that yes, they did everything they could to get rid of the reviled law. ‘We’re just getting it out of the way,’ one Republican aide told the Washington Examiner, reflecting a sentiment probably shared by a party leadership that has seen this game play out several times already.”

OBAMACARE PERIL FOR THE GOP Politico: “The Supreme Court could be months away from blowing a huge hole in Obamacare – and Republicans on Capitol Hill are at odds over how they’ll respond if their side wins. It’s the latest example in a long-running quandary for Republicans: They don’t agree on what alternative, if any, their party should offer to President Barack Obama’s signature health care law. But the issue is taking on new urgency for the GOP congressional leaders as the court takes up a case that could leave more than 5 million people without Obamacare’s crucial subsidies. If they simply “fix” Obamacare, they’ll anger their right wing that wants the party to focus solely on repealing the law. If they do nothing, they invite blame for making health care unaffordable for millions of Americans – including some of their own constituents.” (SEE CHART BELOW)

factsFACTS “The percentage of uninsured Americans has fallen from 13.9% to 10.2 % since Obamacare coverage took effect, according to new data from the Urban Institute. The difference is even more pronounced in states that expanded Medicaid under the law. In those states, the uninsured rate dropped from 12.6% to 8.4% from the second quarter of 2013 to the third quarter of 2014. In states that didn’t expand Medicaid, the uninsured rate still fell but not quite as significantly: 16.3 % to 12.5%.”

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“THE FOUNDING FATHERS ARE LOOKING DOWN AND SMILING” “FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s announcement that he will seek to re-classify broadband as a common carrier under Title II of the Communications Act, ensuring equal access to all websites by treating the Internet like a public utility, is [a huge] victory for  bottom-up organizing. When pro-net neutrality groups … opposed Wheeler’s initial proposal for “fast lanes” for companies that pay for speedier website loads, hardly anybody gave them a chance of securing a truly open Internet. WHY THIS FIGHT SUCCEEDED There were unique contours to the net neutrality fight. First of all, you couldn’t have picked a better way to maximize public engagement than to make a villain out of major telecom companies. Time Warner and Comcast literally took up four of the five top slots of the most hated companies in America in a recent study by the University of Michigan (one each for their Internet service provider, and one for their television service). Banks look good compared to telecoms. ON THE OTHER SIDE IN THE ROLE OF ‘HERO’ is America’s ultimate time-waster, key method of social interaction, economic engine and virtual lifeblood: THE INTERNET. The universe of potential participants in a movement to defend the Web numbers in the hundreds of millions. Older, more established companies, like Google, Facebook and Apple, didn’t do much beyond affirming long-held principles in press releases. But the second generation of companies, from Netflix to Reddit to Kickstarter to Digg, offered more meaningful support. They all participated in the Internet Slowdown, a day-long event to drive awareness and activism around the FCC rules. And they used their platforms to get users interested in the issue. This isn’t too surprising. The older-line Internet companies have some incentive to allow fast lanes, as long as they remain the only websites that can afford to use them. Upstart companies saw an unequal Internet as a real threat, and they acted accordingly. NOT YET OFFICIAL until a final vote on February 26. (New Republic)

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CONGRESS TO WELCOME POPE WashPost: “In a landmark event … Pope Francis has agreed to address a joint meeting of Congress this fall.  Francis will speak Sept. 24, marking the first time the head of the world’s Roman Catholics will address Congress. It will come during the first U.S. visit of Francis’ two-year-old papacy, a trip also expected to include a White House meeting with President Barack Obama, a speech to the United Nations in New York and a Catholic rally for families in Philadelphia.”

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BACK HOME Politico: “As they traverse rural stretches of Iowa and small towns of New Hampshire in search of critical early backing, a number of 2016 presidential candidates are losing the support of the voters who know them best: Their own constituents. In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie has seen his poll numbers plummet in recent months, even among the Republican voters who once consistently supported him. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio would lose his home state to Hillary Clinton if the election were held today. In Louisiana, a late-September poll showed more voters would rather have convicted felon and former Gov. Edwin Edwards back in office than Republican incumbent Bobby Jindal, who’s now moving toward a national run. And last month, Democrat Martin O’Malley departed the Maryland governorship with record-low approval ratings. His replacement, Republican Larry Hogan, notched a stunning upset in the blue state by connecting his opponent to O’Malley.”

WALKER LEAD The Hill: “Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) holds a big lead among New Hampshire Republicans in the early primary state, drawing 21% among likely voters in a poll by new network NH1 released Wednesday. The governor is the biggest beneficiary of 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s decision to sit out 2016. Two weeks ago, when Romney was flirting with a bid, Walker won 8% of the vote. Romney led that poll with 29%. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is second, with 14%, followed by Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, each at 8%. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee follow, at 6%, with Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) at 5%. GOOD NEWS for Walker, whose stock has been rising since he gave a widely praised speech at the Iowa Freedom Summit in January. He also led a recent poll in Iowa, which holds the first contest on the primary calendar.”

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NEWS ANCHOR IN THE NEWS NYTimes: “For years, Brian Williams had been telling a story that wasn’t true. On Wednesday night, he took to his anchor chair on “NBC Nightly News” to apologize for misleading the public. On Thursday, his real problems started. A host of military veterans and pundits came forward on television and social media, challenging Mr. Williams’s assertion that he had simply made a mistake … MISTAKES IN THE AGE OF TWITTER LA Times: “People are … Photoshopping pictures of Williams into historical images and sharing them on Twitter with the trending hashtags #BrianWilliamsMemories and #BrianWilliamsMisremembers.” Including Brian at MLK’s dream speech, on the moon landing, “Saving Private Brian,” riding shotgun with O.J., at Iwo Jima, “Reporting Live from the Declaration of Independence creation.”

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VaccineSEEKING A VACCINE FOR IGNORANCE Kathleen Parker: “Flashback: Galileo is under house arrest pondering the unyielding ignorance of The Church for refusing to consider his heliocentric proposition that the Earth circled the sun. We find this historical anecdote preposterous today, but people were persecuted for lesser heresies in Galileo’s time.”
Parker’s opinion piece is A worthwhile read.
TWEET OF THE WEEK:  “The Science is clear:  The earth is round, the sky is blue, and #vaccineswork.  Let’s protect all our kids. #grandmothersKnowBest”  – Hillary Clinton

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MIDDLE CLASS: A STATE OF MIND “I’ve come to the conclusion that middle class is more of a state of mind than an income threshold. ‘Middle class’ basically means a feeling of being in a similar economic situation to the people around you, combined with a sense of overall optimism and security about that economic situation. In other words, if you think ‘I’m doing O.K., and most people around me are doing O.K. too,’ you’re in the middle class. That’s why inequality kills the idea of a middle class, even if it improves people’s standard of living overall. When everyone makes $50,000 a year, it’s easy to tell that you’re middle class. If half of those people suddenly start making $150,000 a year, it’s no longer so easy.” (Bloomberg View)

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DOWNTON ABBEY Politico: “In a classic D.C. teapot tempest, the office of Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) contains color and decor that was inspired (according to its designer) by “Downton Abbey,” and members of his office seem upset that we think this is news. Have they not met the news media lately? …Besides, this choice of decor is perfectly reasonable — if anything, MORE congressional offices should look like the red dining room from “Downton Abbey.”
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H/T to Capstone Team member Ross Willkom for his blog post this week.  Check it out.
 

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