This week’s Washington Report! To sign up for the direct email, click here.
Debt Ceiling … CBO Report and a Headline From the Report You Might Have Missed … Pentagon “Wish List” … Captain Kirk and Intergalactic Theology … and more of the week’s highlights.
The Olympics, of course, start tonight. Interesting to know, NBC News’ Richard Engel says you can be pretty certain your computer is being hacked if you’re at the Olympic Games.
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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IF YOU’RE COUNTING – CONGRESS HAS JUST SEVEN LEGISLATIVE DAYS LEFT TO RAISE THE DEBT CEILING Politico writes, “House Republicans left Washington Thursday without a plan to lift the debt ceiling. After several days of talks with their members, House Republican leaders have not been able to identify a debt ceiling package that could pass with only GOP support, according to multiple senior aides. In fact, they’re nowhere close. …Meanwhile, Senate Democrats are pretty clear in their position: They want a clean debt limit increase.” C’mon guys, we’ve seen this movie before. As The New York Times’writes, “This fourth debt ceiling standoff in three years is taking place in an atmosphere of fatigue and caution rather than brazenness and conviction.”
DEBT LIMIT EXPLAINER IN PICTURES.
DEBT CEILING IN ONE CHART (though it’s only through 2011, really interesting) From Wonkblog
THE FEDERAL GOV’T CHECKBOOK Washington Post writes, “Each and every day, computers at the Treasury Department receive more than 2 million invoices from various agencies. The Department of Homeland Security might say, for example, that it owes a contractor $1 million for new border security technology. The Treasury computers make sure the figures are correct and then authorize the payment. This is all done automatically, dozens of times per second.” That’s what they mean when they say that the Federal Government is the largest buyer of goods and services in the world!
SENDING MAX BAUCUS TO BEJING The Senate approved the Montana Democrat by a vote of 96-0. (AP) Just announced, Montana Lt. Gov. John Walsh, a Democrat, will be appointed to fill the Senate seat being vacated by Baucus.
DOMINOES NOW National Journal writes, “Max Baucus goes to China, Ron Wyden goes to Finance, and Mary Landrieu goes to Energy. That’s how the dominoes are likely to fall. The oil industry’s dream team will lead the Energy and Natural Resources Committee until at least November. Landrieu will be chair alongside ranking member Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. Landrieu will have the best shot she may ever get to pass her signature issue: revenue-sharing for coastal energy-producing states (including Louisiana).
DOMINOES POST-MIDTERMS If the Senate stays blue and Landrieu wins reelection, the ranking member would be Sen. John Barrasso, R-WY, who is not a shoo-in supporter of her revenue-sharing bill. If the Senate goes red, the Landrieu-Murkowski team remains intact, albeit flipped. If Landrieu loses, Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington is poised to be the top Democrat. Dominoes could turn out to be a lucrative game for the energy industry. “
THE MOST POLARIZED CONGRESS. EVER. AT LEAST UNTIL NEXT YEAR A National Journal report based on composite scores…
TAKEAWAYS from FirstRead:
1. It’s hard to believe, but Congress is likely to be even more polarized next year.
2. Republican presidential candidates in Congress continue to showcase their conservatism.
3. Red-state Democrats are breaking with their party, but their Obamacare votes still lurk.
4. The tea party is running out of conservatives to target.
5. Conservatives will have reason to be steamed (again) at John McCain and Orrin Hatch.
6. Al Franken wears his liberal brand proudly, even when facing reelection.
7. Liz Cheney would never have had a shot against Michael Enzi.
8. Elizabeth Warren: Not as progressive as advertised (ranked 31st-most-lib senator)?
9. The most liberal Democrats in the Senate are among the most hawkish on Iran sanctions.
10. Very few of the most conservative House Republicans face any serious Democratic opposition.
11. The oddest couple in the Senate: Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson and Tammy Baldwin.
12. Most members who benefited from redistricting didn’t change their voting patterns.
MOST LIBERAL SENATORS: Tied for 1st: Chris Murphy (D-CT); Chuck Schumer (D-NY); Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii)
MOST CONSERVATIVE SENATORS: 1st: James Risch (R-ID), 2nd: Mike Enzi (R-WY); 3rd: Tim Scott (R-SC)
“The last couple of Congresses have been among the most polarized in history. This is just a continuation of that. There’s nothing that will break this [trend]. Voters have been voting along party lines at the highest rate in 50 years; they expressed that vote at the congressional and presidential levels.
– Gary Jacobson, a University of California (San Diego) political scientist, who specializes in congressional politics
IN THE FUTURE, WE WILL ALL WORK LESS Quartz writes, “A new ]CBO] forecast that America’s new health care law could lead some 2 million workers to leave the workforce has become a political flashpoint. But short-term infighting … is missing the point—all the trends in the modern economy are leading toward less work, and Obamacare’s effects are something of a drop in the bucket.
Because Obamacare works to delink health care from employment by improving and subsidizing the insurance market for individuals, fewer Americans will need to work full-time simply to obtain healthcare, or delay their retirement until age 65 to access Medicare, the public healthcare program for seniors. Instead, they can work part-time and retire sooner, and, because of the way subsidies reduce with income increases, some low-income workers will have less incentive to seek small increases in hours or wages—although this also means that their employers will have an incentive to pay them more.” And that’s what it’s all about.
WHAT DOES THE CBO REPORT ACTUALLY SAY “The CBO estimates that the ACA will reduce the total number of hours worked, on net, by about 1.5% to 2.0% during the period from 2017 to 2024, almost entirely because workers will choose to supply less labor—given the new taxes and other incentives they will face and the financial benefits some will receive…”
TO CLARIFY From FirstRead, “This is largely about people’s desire to remain in the workforce, not about whether employers think the law is too costly to hire people. For example, under the health-care law, a 62-year-old worker might decide to retire from his job because he can obtain health insurance on the exchanges or expanded Medicaid — rather than through his employer. Indeed, the CBO report says that labor demand — that is, businesses’ desire to hire workers because of the law — will mostly be unchanged.
WHAT ELSE? In 2014, 1 million fewer folks – from 7 million to 6 million — will sign up for insurance coverage in the exchanges due to the website problems.
HEADLINE FROM CBO REPORT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED “The federal deficit will fall to just $514 billion in 2014 — down from $1.4 trillion five years ago.”
ANOTHER DEAD END ON UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS Washington Post writes, “The Senate remained gridlocked over the effort to renew emergency unemployment insurance for the long-term jobless, including more than 1.7 million Americans without work who lost their benefits as the federal program expired in late December. In a largely party-line vote, Democrats came a single vote shy of the 60-vote hurdle to break a filibuster by Republicans, who complained that the latest proposal did not have a proper offsetting spending cut to lessen the impact on the federal deficit. Additionally, the two sides continued to squabble over procedural matters related to how many amendments the Republicans would be allowed to offer.”
SEXUAL ASSAULT FIGHT RENEWED The Hill writes, “The Senate renewed its fight over sexual assaults in the military Thursday, with Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Claire McCaskill holding dueling press conferences over whether such cases should be stripped from the military command. It remains unclear whether Gillibrand’s proposal, which would remove the chain of command from prosecuting sexual assault cases, will prevail, which is currently seven votes short of passage. A vote is expected sometime next week.” That said, it’s the Senate, so you never know what could happen.
BOEHNER DOUBTS IMMIGRATION The House Speaker said he probably does not have enough support from other Republicans to pass the kind of immigration measures he has supported for more than a year.” (NYT)
DÉJÀ VU ALL OVER AGAIN … DEFENSE SPENDING AFTER 2015 National Defense writes, “The powers-that-be must soon make a decision on how to cut military spending before sequestration returns in 2016. Rep. Adam Smith, the top Democrat on the HASC said, “We face seven more years of sequestration and there is no clear picture of how that’s going to be handled.” Congress, against all odds, last month passed a two-year budget resolution that set defense spending for 2015 at approximately $498 billion, or $9 billion above the spending limit mandated by the 2011 Budget Control Act.”
SAY WHAT?! THE PENTAGON IS SUBMITTING A $26 BILLION WISHLIST WITH ITS 2015 BUDGET? Bloomberg reports, “That’s right. When the new budget goes to Capitol Hill on March 4, it’ll go with a list of items the Pentagon would buy if given the extra money. … the White House OMB had asked DoD in mid-January to “produce the what-if list as part of an ‘investment fund.”
A BIT OF HISTORY It wasn’t too long ago that each military service would individually send to Congress a list of what it called “unfunded requirements.” Starting in 1995, lawmakers would ask service chiefs to prepare lists of things they wanted but didn’t get money for in the Pentagon’s annual funding request. During the Iraq War, the process got totally out of hand, with each service sending over billions of dollars worth of nice-to-have items. For example, for the 2009 budget, the Air Force wish list totaled $18.7 billion. Congress would grant the money without batting an eye. At their peak, the services’ lists totaled roughly $30 billion. Finally, in May 2009, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.” He told the services to send him their unfunded lists before sending them to Congress. And lo and behold, this effectively brought an end to the practice. The 2015 investment fund in some ways marks a return to the unfunded requirements of yore.
EXPECT A NON-DEFENSE COMPONENT TOO: “You couldn’t get this through the White House if there weren’t a non-defense component,” the Stimson Center’s Gordon Adams told Morning D. So, expect to see infrastructure and non-defense R&D initiatives included in a separate list. Still, it’s a bad sign for budgetary discipline at the Pentagon.
SO, WHAT’S GOING ON HERE? In a word, politics. Remember, it’s an election year, and no one wants to be seen as responsible for a bunch of unpopular spending cuts
WHAT WILL DoD INCLUDE ON THE LIST? Things the Pentagon said it would be funding in 2015 a year ago, but now are being cut to meet today’s budget caps, suggested Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. This means a lot of procurement and R&D programs, but not operations and maintenance.
SUCKS IF YOU’RE NOT ON THAT $26 BILLION LIST: Now, imagine you’re a defense program that’s been dropped in the 2015 budget, and you don’t even make it into the investment fund. What does that say? It probably means that you’re being cut for more than just budgetary reasons.”
CAPTAIN KIRK AND INTERGALACTIC THEOLOGY Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), writing forPolitico, includes a DoD workshop that “explored the relationship between Jesus and Klingons,” as one of his list of 10 most outrageous boondoggles he ever saw. Defense spending cannot be a “sacrosanct” area of the budget for Republicans, he writes.
MIDTERMS “How Republicans can win the Senate in 2014” From The Monkey Cage blog, “A Senate forecasting model developed by John Sides, Eric McGhee and Ben Highton shows that nationally, Republicans have a 54% chance of picking up the six additional seats they need to take control of the Senate.”
STATES TO WATCH According to Ben Highton, a political scientist at UC-Davis, Alaska, Louisiana, Iowa, and Montana – if R’s win, they are very likely to take control of the chamber.”
ELECTION DATA WARS Reuters‘ writes, “Democrats appear set to maintain their technological edge … in the 2014 midterm elections … It is not that the Republicans are not trying. The [RNC] is spending ‘tens of millions of dollars,’ spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski says, to ‘change the culture of our data and digital program’ with new data analysis teams in Washington and Silicon Valley. … Conservative groups funded by big-money donors such as … [The Koch brothers] continue to have their own digital teams, typically focused more on issues — such as … healthcare overhaul — than on individual candidates. But … campaigns and other groups often do not share information about voters and tactics. And even as party leaders are aggressively pursuing a new digital game plan, Republican strategists acknowledge that some conservative candidates and their supporters remain wary of changing tactics they have used for years, such as reaching voters through television ads and door-to-door campaigning.”
WHERE ARE THE DATA EXCEPTIONALS NOW? …”Several of Obama’s former digital and data staffers are turning their sights on 2014 … Precision Strategies, has been hired by the campaign of Charlie Crist … In Wisconsin, BlueLabs, which includes Obama 2012 data engineers Chris Wegrzyn and Daniel Porter, has gone to work for Mary Burke, the Democrat challenging Republican Governor Scott Walker … 270 Strategies, … led by … Obama battleground states director Mitch Stewart and national field director Jeremy Bird has signed on to help Democrat Wendy Davis’ long-shot bid for Texas governor … The 270 Strategies firm also is working for Ready for Hillary.”
YOUR MOVE WALGREENS In a act of corporate courage, CVS this week decided to ban the sale of cigarettes. Read Kate Venne’s blog..
MAKING WAY FOR THE NEXT GENERATION Jay Leno handed the reins of “The Tonight Show” to Jimmy Fallon (who takes over Feb. 17) last night with a heartfelt goodbye. The Tonight Show is the third-longest running show on NBC after Meet the Press and Today. Class Act.
LET THE GAMES BEGIN NBC News sums it up, “The Winter Olympics about to start in this coastal resort city are unlike any in recent memory – promising the glow of international harmony and fierce competition but opening in the shadow of terrorism, politics and uncertainty. Almost 3,000 athletes from a record 88 countries will be represented here, in a little-known, subtropical Black Sea resort that has been transformed – with an eye-popping $51 billion of Russian money – into a gleaming treasure chest of venues for the world’s biggest sports stage.”
TONIGHT AT 7:30 (EST) NBC will air the Opening Ceremony. And a heads up: this year, during the Parade of Nations, the countries will be introduced in alphabetical order according to their Russian spelling.