A few excerpts from this week’s Washington Report. To read the full write-up click here
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It’s crunch time before August recess. Here’s Capstone’s quick review of recent political and legislative happenings.
The Capstone National Partners Team (John Rogers, Alan MacLeod, Steve Moffitt, Diane Rogers, Erik Oksala, Kate Venne and Joyce Rubenstein)
With August vacation around the corner, the House and Senate are still without a budget deal, far apart on spending bills, and with no plan to raise the debt ceiling by fall.
THE ONLY CONSTANT IN TODAY’S POLITICS: PESSIMISM The Fix writes, “…for the past 20 years, Americans have taken a consistently pessimistic view of the direction of the country. Six in 10 Americans say they think things have gotten pretty seriously off on the wrong track, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. Just 36% say things are headed in the right direction. The findings are remarkably consistent with the new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll in which 61% say the country is off on the wrong track.
ANOTHER SIGN OF CONGRESSIONAL DYSFUNCTION Hotline writes, “Over the last 2 decades, the number of conference committee reports has declined precipitously. The number of conference reports, from the 104th Congress (1995-1996) to the 113th: 66, 46, 53, 37, 39, 29, 16, 15, 7, 0.”I hate compromise” — Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY), National Journal, 7/25
“[W]e should not be judged on how many new laws we create. We ought to be judged on how many laws we repeal” — House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) on Face the Nation
NOT SO FAST There’s no mistaking the Justice Department’s message to states rushing to adopt new voting restrictions and congressional maps after the Supreme Court freed them from the preclearance requirement of the Voting Rights Act: Not so fast. … The Fix writes, “The Justice Department on Thursday announced that it is fighting back after the Supreme Court effectively invalidated part of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). In its first step, Justice signaled that it would support a lawsuit against Texas’s GOP-drawn redistricting plan and seek to get a federal judge to require the state to continue to obtain pre-clearance for any electoral changes — as it did before part of the VRA was struck down. Justice is also expected to sue to stop Texas’s new Voter ID law. The move is a significant one, for a few reasons.
1. It signals that the Obama administration is not going to wait and cross its fingers hoping Congress will replace the VRA language that was struck down. The Supreme Court struck down the formula that determines which states and areas with a history of racial discrimination are required to gain pre-clearance for electoral changes — effectively rendering pre-clearance inoperable until a new formula is established.
2. A big Voter ID battle is coming. Texas is moving forward with its Voter ID law after the Supreme Court’s decision, and North Carolina is set to pass one of the strictest laws in the country. Both appear to be in the Justice Department’s crosshairs.
3. “Bail-in.” While Sections 2 and 5 are the most oft-cited parts of the VRA — the ones governing majority-minority districts and pre-clearance, respectively — and Section 4 is what the Supreme Court struck down, Section 3 has to this point been little-known and little-used. Basically, Section 3 allows for the Justice Department to ask a judge to require a state or jurisdiction that doesn’t otherwise meet the (now void) pre-clearance formula to be forced to obtain pre-clearance — a process known as a “bail in.” It has been used in the past, including on Arkansas and New Mexico, but is a very tough case to make for the Justice Department — essentially because it requires the government to show deliberate discrimination. The question is whether that case becomes easier to make in jurisdictions that previously were required to get pre-clearance under the now-struck-down formula. Texas will be the first test case.”
DRONES, BAD? via Politico, “The FBI has used domestic drones for surveillance in eight criminal and two national security cases since 2006, an FBI official wrote in a letter to Sen. Rand Paul, who is maintaining his … hold on the nomination of FBI Director Robert Mueller’s potential successor, James Comey, until he receives specifics on the domestic drone program.”
DRONES, GOOD? Washington Post reports, “For those special in-the-know few, the Air Force was offering to tuck a neatly folded Stars and Stripes into the mosquito-shaped drone’s fuselage, where it would remain for the duration of the 22-hour round-trip flight to northern Iraq. … Afterward, the flags were presented to visitors or delivered to lucky recipients in the United States, along with a personalized certificate. Included were details about the surveillance operation, code-named Nomad Shadow, and facts about the drone on which the flag was flown. The Air Force has a tradition of offering souvenir flags that have flown on its warplanes, but almost always with an actual pilot in the cockpit. Having an Old Glory that flew on a Predator might be especially prized, given the intense secrecy surrounding drone operations.” [Before lining up for your flag, a spokesperson for the Air Force and Pentagon declined to say whether the program is still active.)
SEQUESTER WATCH – ROCKY START FOR DOD STUDENTS Politico writes, “Sequestration means a herky-jerky start to the school year for about 84,000 kids on military bases … students will be out of school for five days between the start of classes and Sept. 21 because of employee furloughs that affect teachers, principals and other school employees.”
GOOD NEWS FOR INVESTORS, BAD NEWS FOR DEFENSE INDUSTRY “A year ago, the top players in the defense game were telling Congress and the public that sequestration would be devastating. This week, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics and other brand-name companies told investors they’d experienced good overall financial performance in the second quarter. So good news for investors may be bad political news for the industry – the less obvious pain there is from sequestration, the less incentive Congress has to act to undo the budget restrictions. But industry advocates reject the idea that they overstated the risks from sequestration.”
1.6M JOBS Keeping sequestration in place through 2014 could cost up to 1.6 million jobs, a new CBO study says, providing new evidence that the budget cuts are having a negative effect on the economy in the short term. However, CBO notes that while canceling sequestration this summer could boost GDP and lead to lower unemployment, it could be dangerous for the long-term health of the economy.
SENATE PASSES STUDENT-LOAN DEAL “The Senate voted Wednesday to roll back a student-loan interest-rate hike and to restructure the way many federal student-loan rates are calculated,” reports the National Journal. “The vote, 81-18, came after weeks of negotiations by a bipartisan group of senators that also exposed a divide between many Senate Democrats and the White House over how to handle an automatic rate hike on subsidized Stafford loans. The Senate-passed version, which received White House backing, resembles the House’s student-loan bill but differs slightly on rates and does not allow rates to fluctuate over the life of individual loans. Democratic senators who have spoken to House leadership say they are optimistic the House will pass the Senate provisions.”
DEMOGRAPHICS OF EVERY CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT IN ONE INTERACTIVE CHART You’re going to want to play with this tool…and bookmark this census bureau website.
25 THINGS “D.C.” PEOPLE SAY BUT DON’T REALLY MEAN … must read from BuzzFeed Politics.
And the last word on ANTHONY WEINER’S INCREASING IRRELEVENCE in one chart (The Fix).