This week’s Washington Report! To sign up for the direct email, click here.
After 2” of snow shut down Atlanta, I’m reminded that snowstorm preparedness (or lack of it) and how elected officials respond can make or break political careers. Once again, former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill was right — “All politics is local.” And nothing is more local than being stuck in traffic for hours (even overnight) or having to sleep on the floor of the local CVS.
Both the Senate and House are out today.
Here are the week’s highlights — SOTU, Farm Bill, Immigration and a lot more.
The Capstone National Partners Team (John Rogers, Alan MacLeod, Steve Moffitt, Diane Rogers, Erik Oksala, Kate Venne, Jodi Hrdina and Joyce Rubenstein)
IS THE ECONOMY IMPROVING? FirstRead reports … ON ONE HAND “it depends on whether you ask a Republican Governor or Republican Member of Congress. Republican governors — especially those up for re-election later this fall — are talking up the economy, which grew at a 3.2% annual rate in the final quarter of 2013.”
ON THE OTHER HAND in December, Speaker John Boehner said, “… [the jobs report] shows, once again, that the president’s policies are failing too many Americans, many of whom have simply stopped looking for work.” …This rhetorical split between national Republicans and GOP governors looking to tout falling unemployment rates in their states occurred during the 2012 presidential election … don’t be surprised if you hear more politicians — Democratic and Republican — cheering the economy in 2014, which could produce interesting storylines come the fall elections. (The national unemployment rate stands at 6.7%, down from 9.4% in December 2010.)”
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IF YOU SLEPT THROUGH THE STATE OF THE UNION (SOTU) compiled from the Washington Post,
“1. Obama framed his central argument early. “Let’s make this a year of action. That’s what most Americans want, for all of us in this chamber to focus on their lives, their hopes, their aspirations.”
2. He made clear that he will not wait for Congress to act. “Wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.”
3. He jabbed at political gridlock and (indirectly) at Republicans’ role in the government shutdown and debt ceiling showdown.
4. And took Republicans to task for trying to repeal Obamacare. “Let’s not have another 40-something votes to repeal a law that’s already helping millions of Americans.”
5. He also praised Republicans — like House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). “[Americans] believe, and I believe, that … our success should depend not on accident of birth but the strength of our work ethic and the scope of our dreams. … It’s how the daughter of a factory worker is CEO of America’s largest automaker, how the son of a barkeep is speaker of the House.”
6. And Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) for his hard work on realizing that the Earned Income Tax Credit doesn’t do enough for single workers who don’t have kids.”
7. Obama name-checked “Mad Men.” “It is time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a ‘Mad Men’ episode.”
8. VP Biden got some love…and so did job training. “Tonight, I’ve asked Vice President Biden to lead an across-the-board reform of America’s training programs to make sure they have one mission: train Americans with the skills employers need, and match them to good jobs that need to be filled right now.”
9. The emotional high point came when Obama mentioned Army 1st Sgt. Cory Remsburg, who was nearly killed in Afghanistan by a roadside bomb.
10. HIS CLOSING “The America we want for our kids — a rising America where honest work is plentiful and communities are strong; where prosperity is widely shared and opportunity for all lets us go as far as our dreams and toil will take us — none of it is easy. But if we work together; if we summon what is best in us, the way Cory summoned what is best in him, with our feet planted firmly in today but our eyes cast towards tomorrow, I know it’s within our reach.”
CONGRESS IS SOOO LAST YEAR – FEW MORE TAKEAWAYS The Fix writes, “As expected, President Obama made clear — both in terms of the policy proposals he outlined and the rhetoric he used to do it — that his focus for the next year would be on what he could do without Congress. … It’s easy to cast this speech as poisoning the well between Obama and Congress. But, that well was poisoned long ago. This speech simply formalized that reality
IMMIGRATION Obama’s rhetoric — guarded, hopeful, insistent — on immigration reform suggests that he genuinely believes there is a possibility of getting something major-ish done on the issue this year. GUN CONTROL In contrast to Obama’s 2013 SOTU he paid little more than lip service to gun violence.”
REPUBLICAN RESPONSE “No drama. No problems. McMorris Rodgers’s understatedness and upbeat, check-the-box appeal was cheered by Republicans.”
MAKE IT STOP! Politico writes, “…so the power of the SOTU – however much it’s hyped – feels overblown. …Perhaps the framers were wrong to include a single sentence in the Constitution stipulating that the president “shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the state of the union.
“The Constitution’s mild requirement has become a tiresome exercise in political exhibitionism, [the speech is] the most execrable ceremony in the nation’s civic liturgy, regardless of which party’s president is abusing it” as a “made-for-television political pep rally.”
– Columnist George Will
WHO TO BLAME? A bit of history from Politico, “Blame Woodrow Wilson who decided to upend the tradition — begun by Thomas Jefferson — of simply sending a written message, instead he chose to deliver his 1913 report in person to a joint session of Congress. Blame Harry S. Truman, the first to make the address on TV, or Lyndon Johnson, the first to do so in prime time. Blame Lenny Skutnik, the plucky government office worker who rescued a freezing woman from the Potomac River after a plane crash and then became the first citizen-hero to be saluted by the president in the House gallery when Ronald Reagan honored him in 1982 (note: there were nearly two dozen honored guests this week in the first lady’s box). Blame the Democrats. Blame the Republicans. Blame social media, members of Congress, the wind or the weather. But the SOTU — as political event, public theater, real-time town hall or self-help reality show — has jumped the shark.”
DEFINE “JUMPED THE SHARK” from the Urban Dictionary, “a term to describe a moment when something that was once great has reached a point where it will now decline in quality and popularity. Origin of this phrase comes from a Happy Days episode where the Fonz jumped a shark on water skis. Thus was labeled the lowest point of the show.”
LOVE AFFAIR WITH EXECUTIVE ACTION – OR NOT The Fix reports, “President Obama served notice in his SOTU that he will be using more executive orders in the weeks and months ahead due to Congress’s failure to act on his priorities. Republicans are crying foul.
JUST THE FACTS A review of Obama’s use of executive orders shows he’s signed (so far) them at the lowest rate since the 19th Century. The last president to use so few executive actions was Grover Cleveland.”
“In the coming weeks, I will issue an Executive Order requiring federal contractors to pay their federally-funded employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour.”
— Obama, during Tuesday night’s State of the Union address
WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR DEFENSE CONTRACTORS? Politico writes that “…the Pentagon does not know what that means for its budget or its workers.”
CONFLICT AVOIDANCE! National Journal writes, “That was apparently President Obama’s mantra when it came to his relatively few comments on energy and climate issues in his SOTU. He gave a full-throttled endorsement of natural gas both as an economic driver and as a tool to cut carbon emissions … mentioned only in passing—and not by name—EPA’s regulations to cut carbon emissions. … He didn’t mention the Keystone XL pipeline, fossil-fuel exports, wind power, biofuels, nuclear energy, and coal. He went big on what he knew he could in a (mostly) politically benign way—natural gas—and went small on everything else. Other conflicts can wait another day.”
A TRIBAL WASHINGTON RITUAL The Fix writes, “[The] flurry of attention and coverage [of the SOTU] is inversely proportional to a) the speech’s ability to sway public opinion and b) the speech’s chances of becoming a major moment, rhetorically, in a president’s time in office. …The very nature of the speech itself plays a major role in its traditionally ho-hum content. Because it is, quite literally, a report from the president to the public on the state of our union, it’s a) long and b) it’s bit of a patchwork designed to offer both a report card and a prognostication on virtually every area of domestic and foreign policy.”
“For all of Obama’s rhetorical gifts, it was another speech that was mangled beyond recognition by the State of the Union sausage grinder.”
SERIOUSLY! “Let me be clear to you, you ever do that to me again I’ll throw you off this f***ing balcony. …You’re not man enough, you’re not man enough. I’ll break you in half. Like a boy.”
– Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) to a reporter following Tuesday’s SOTU address after being asked about an allegation of campaign finance wrongdoing. Grimm later apologized. Ah… Advice to Rep. Grimm (real name). Get some anger management counseling. Oh, and if you are planning to have a meltdown, don’t do it on camera (and with a mic sort of on). Then, don’t issue a statement that doesn’t apologize.
CHECK OUT OUR BLOG ON HOW-TO-APOLOGIZE.
AS FAR AS WE ARE WILLING TO GO’ ON IMMIGRATION Politico reports that “The House Republican leadership is trying to sell their colleagues on a series of broad immigration principles, including a path to legal status for those here illegally.” SOME HISTORYFirstRead writes, “The issue of immigration reform divided the Republican Party in 2006-2008 (see John McCain’s presidential bid). It divided the party again last year as the Senate passed the “Gang of Eight” legislation. And it appears headed to divide the party once again this year with House GOP leaders unveiling their “standards” for reform. These standards go out of their way to have tough language when it comes to border security, and they go out of their way to avoid the c-word — citizenship. ” …. Already conservatives are lining up in opposition (Heritage Action, Bill Kristol, Drudge). NANCY PELOSI said that for her caucus, “it is a special path to citizenship or nothing.”
W$N-W$N FOR THE DEFENSE INDUSTRY:Morning D writes, “BAE Systems CEO Linda Hudson told an audience that the U.S. defense industry would benefit from immigration reform because it would help attract the highly skilled engineering talent it needed. MORE WaPo reports that “An additional $38 billion in spending on border security that was included … would require the U.S. Border Patrol to acquire, among other items, six Northrop Grumman airborne radar systems that cost $9.3 million each, 15 Sikorsky Black Hawk helicopters that average more than $17 million apiece, and eight light enforcement helicopters made by American Eurocopter that sell for about $3 million each.”
THE COWS ARE FINALLY COMING HOME Given up for dead just months ago, a new five-year farm bill passed the House Wednesday morning by a 251-166 vote. It now heads to the Senate, where it is expected to pass as early as Thursday.
WHAT’S IN THE BILL? The Fix reports, CALLING OUT some neat, new and interesting anecdotes that might not normally see the light of day in the 959-page farm bill. About $23 billion in spending. …Most of the money is saved by slashing $19 billion from farm programs, including an end to direct payments to farmers — money that often went to farmers who don’t actually farm. There’s another $6 billion in savings by merging 23 separate conservation programs into 13. It’s a move supported by conservation groups nationwide … and then there’s $8 billion in cuts tied to the food stamp program. Total cuts add up to $33 billion but aides said that $10 billion of the sum is spent on several items, including crop insurance and rural development programs.”
YEAH, ABOUT CUTS TO THE FOOD STAMP PROGRAM (or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP) Negotiators found a way to cut about $8 billion in funding for the program over the next decade. The changes will reduce, but not eliminate, SNAP payments by about $90 monthly for about 850,000 households. Also, prohibits the Ag Department from spending money on TV, radio and billboard ads to promote the program and on programs designed to recruit new beneficiaries. And …USDA will need to ensure that illegal immigrants, lottery winners, college students and the dead cannot receive food stamps and that people cannot collect benefits in multiple states.
INDUSTRIAL HEMP For the first time, the farm bill will authorize colleges and universities to grow industrial hemp for research purposes in states that permit growth and cultivation of the plant (currently 11).
WHY REPUBLICANS AND DEMOCRATS CAN”T SEE EYE-TO-EYE, IN ONE INFOGRAPHICThe Fix writes, “The two major American political parties don’t just disagree on the issues; they are often fighting on completely different terms and with completely different sets of priorities. And their shifting priorities tell us almost as much about politics today as do their issue positions. Case in point: A New Pew Research Center poll shows that, while 80% of Republicans see reducing the budget deficit as a priority, just 49% of Democrats agree. Back in 2006, though, when George W. Bush was in the White House, it was Democrats who thought reducing the budget deficit was more important than Republicans, and by a similarly huge margin — 64-36. Play with this great graphic – particularly the slider at the top where you can examine the same poll for every year since 2002.
AIR FORCE CHANGES The Hill writes, “In its report release Thursday, the National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force, said the Air Force should change the balance between its active and reserve forces in order to deal with the military’s budget pressures. The Air Force should keep the same total end strength, the commission recommended, but could save money by cutting active forces while increasing the Air Guard and Reserves. … The commission’s findings come ahead of the Pentagon’s 2015 budget proposal that will be released in March, where the military is weighing significant cuts in order to get under the budget caps passed by Congress, which are $9 billion higher than sequestration levels.EXPECTED RESPONSE Lawmakers have already pushed back against some of the cuts the Air Force is mulling.”
GCV IS SO YESTERDAY Inside Defense writes, “While the death knell continued to sound last week for the Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV), the Army quietly released a notice to industry requesting information about a new, air-droppable Ultra-Light Combat Vehicle that some speculate could be the future of the service’s protected mobility strategy.”
NEW NSA DIRECTOR is to be Vice Adm. Mike Rogers, a Navy code-breaker, intelligence director and cyber-operator for most of his career.
FLOOD INSURANCE The NYTimes writes, “The Senate on Thursday passed a bill to delay sharp increases in flood insurance rates for millions of property owners in coastal and flood-prone areas. The bill … passed 67 to 32. It would effectively gut a 2012 law that had aimed to overhaul the nearly bankrupt National Flood Insurance Program. … The prospects for passage in the Republican-controlled House remain unclear…”
GOP GIVES UP TOTAL OBAMACARE REPEAL Forbes writes, in a buried footnote, Congressional Republicans this week formally acknowledged they’re no longer trying to repeal all of Obamacare.”
INSTEAD National Journal writes, “Four years, two election cycles and 40-plus repeal votes after Obamacare became the law of the land, Republicans say they’re moving toward a replacement plan. House Republican leaders said at their party retreat yesterday that they will vote on a replacement plan this year, and Senate Republicans sought the advice of Republican governors on what a replacement should contain.”
NOT A RETIREMENT, AN INSTITUTIONAL SEA CHANGE (h/t Drew Altman) Politico reports that Rep. Henry Waxman will retire from Congress – after 20 terms — leaving a giant legacy. “… Anyone who has worked in the Washington policy trenches over the past four decades – especially in public health and the environment – also will remember Waxman as a legislative maestro who had an instinctive feel for finding the perfect equilibrium to pass landmark legislation.
THE RACE TO COME There’s a lot of pent-up ambition; expect an expensive, crowded and highly competitive free-for-all.
IT’S A FLUKE? Sandra Fluke, (remember…2012 Georgetown Law student … denied a chance to testify at a Capitol Hill hearing on Obamacare’s contraceptive requirements … controversy went viral when Rush Limbaugh called her a “prostitute” and “slut”) is “strongly considering “ a run and so are at least 5 others.
“With Democrats’ grasp on the Senate increasingly tenuous — and the House all but beyond reach — some top party donors and strategists are moving to do something in the midterm election as painful as it is coldblooded: Admit the House can’t be won and go all in to save the Senate.” (Politico)
DEAR AMERICA, I SAW YOU NAKED AND YES, WE WERE LAUGHING From confessions of an ex-TSA agent and aspiring satire writer, Jason Edward Harrington…” In private, most TSA officers I talked to told me they felt the agency’s day-to-day operations represented an abuse of public trust and funds.” (I knew it!)
DID YOU KNOW THE NFL DOESN’T PAY TAXES? Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), introduced a bill that would strip the NFL of its tax-exempt status. The bill would define any sports league with revenues over $10 million as a taxable entity. The NFL’s annual revenues are around $9 billion, and Commissioner Roger Goodell earns about $30 million per year. (The Hill)
WHAT WE WILL BE EATING ON SUPERBOWL SUNDAY? The annual splurgefest — 1.25 billion (with a “b”) chicken wings expected to be consumed and 104 million pounds of avocado. (Who figures this stuff out? Enjoy!)