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The Washington Report – March 13, 2015

14 Apr 2015

The Washington Report – March 13, 2015


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

 

PENDING CAPS, OH MY! …. TIME RUNNING OUT FOR HIGHWAYS AND DOC FIX …. KEEP BI-PARTISAN HOPE ALIVE … STOP. BAN POWDERED ALCOHOL … DEAR AYATOLLAH … HISTORY LESSON: WHY WE HAVE A PRESIDENT … HILLARY CLINTON AND THE LAW OF GRAVITY … and other news of the week.
That’s right, it’s Friday the 13th.

Best,

Joyce Rubenstein and the Capstone Team (John Rogers, Alan MacLeod, Steve Moffitt, Diane Rogers, Erik Oksala, and Ross Willkom)

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BUDGET CONTROL ACT (BCA) SPENDING CAPS, OH MY! WSJ: “Republican leaders are expected to unveil House and Senate budgets next week that will keep the budget caps in place, although various options are being considered to provide added funding to the Pentagon budget. Should that occur, the question then is how the defense hawks respond: Armed Services Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) and some other hawks have said they’ll vote against a constrained defense budget, which would prompt a clash with the party’s fiscal hawks.”

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TIME RUNNING OUT FOR HIGHWAYS The Hill “Transportation funding is running on empty, forcing Congress to scramble to meet its next major deadline before the tank runs dry on May 31. Both parties say they want to avoid a repeat of last month’s tense standoff over funding for the DHS.  But the likelihood of an impasse increases with each day that passes without an infrastructure reauthorization bill, and transportation advocates warn that more brinkmanship would be disastrous. ALL AGREE, BUT… While all sides back passage of a long-term transportation funding measure this year, there is little consensus about how to pay for the new round of infrastructure spending. The gas tax has been the traditional source for federal transportation funding since its inception in the 1930s — predating the Interstate State Highway System by about 20 years. But it has struggled to keep pace with construction costs, as cars become more fuel-efficient. Road Builders want a 15 cent/gallon gas tax hike. It would raise $401 billion this year. LOTS OF MOOLA The federal government typically spends approximately $50 billion per year on transportation projects, but the gas tax only brings in about $34 billion. Lawmakers have turned to other areas of the federal budget in recent years to make up the difference, but the short-term solutions have resulted in Congress approving only a series of temporary infrastructure funding patches since a 2005 transportation bill expired in 2009, including an $11 billion 2014 measure that is now scheduled to expire in about 80 days.”

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AND THE DOC FIX The Hill “Optimism has been growing this week that Congress could finally reach its long-sought goal of ending the automatic cuts to doctors under Medicare, which come through what is known as the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR). The package being discussed by House leaders in both parties would partially pay for the cost of the $174 billion fix. Key word…’partially’ … conservative groups such as Club for Growth and Heritage Action are vowing to oppose any measure that is not fully paid for. DID YOU KNOW THAT THERE’S A ‘GOP DOCTORS CAUCUS’ IN THE HOUSE? The Caucus is composed of 21 medical providers in Congress who utilize their medical expertise to develop patient-centered health care reforms focused on quality, access, affordability, portability, and choice. (They support the package under discussion.)  There is no DEM DOC CAUCUS.

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LYNCH VOTE EXPECTED NEXT WEEK Bloomberg “The vote count to confirm Loretta Lynch as the next attorney general remains extremely close, and some of the more moderate Senate Republicans will have to support Lynch in order to avoid calling in Vice President Joe Biden to break a tie. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said her nomination will be on the floor next week.”

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$5.5 TRILLION TO BALANCE IN 10 YEARS? Politico: “Senate Budget Committee Republicans got a taste of things to come Wednesday as witnesses warned it will take $5.5 trillion in deficit reduction to bring the government into balance in a decade and the GOP can’t afford to take its eye off economic growth. “Just to put that in perspective that’s eight times the size of the [2012] fiscal cliff deal and it’s 65 times the size of the [2013] Ryan Murray deal which you recall we didn’t stick to for very long Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget told the panel.”

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GOP WIN IN AMMO FIGHT NYTs “… the Obama administration, for now, is backing off a proposal to restrict certain types of gun ammunition. An overwhelming number of Hill Republicans and some Democrats had protested the plan. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had proposed to restrict the armor-piercing 5.56-millimeter ‘M855 green tip’ rifle bullet, saying its increasing use in handguns that could be concealed posed a threat to law enforcement officers.”

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A MARIJUANA BILL WashPo: “A historic Senate medical marijuana bill unveiled Tuesday would dramatically reshape the landscape for the plant, nearly 80 years after it was effectively criminalized. The bill, introduced by Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), would end the federal prohibition on medical marijuana and eliminate the ambiguity surrounding related state laws. It would untie the hands of veterans’ doctors when it comes to recommending the drug and bankers when it comes to providing business services to the industry. It would also facilitate very limited inter-state trade, expand research and shift marijuana out of the most severe category in the federal government’s drug classification.”

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KEEP HOPE ALIVE National Journal “Bi-partisan Senate duo — Ohio Republican Rob Portman and New Hampshire Democrat Jeanne Shaheen — are either gluttons for punishment or close to picking the political lock that often keeps even widely supported legislation out in the cold. The coming months could bring the answer. LONG STALLED On Wednesday the duo [reintroduced] major energy legislation to cut energy use in commercial buildings, manufacturing plants, and homes, a measure the senators have floated in one form or another since 2011. The bill, despite buy-in from well-connected business and environmental groups, has spent years waylaid by Beltway dysfunction and ensnared in fights over more volatile topics like the Keystone XL pipeline and Obamacare. It has reached the Senate floor twice in the last two years, only to stall out. NO BRAINER? The two senators say the case for the bill is obvious. According to a summary from their offices, the measure would, by 2030, create more than 190,000 jobs, save consumers $16 billion a year, and cut carbon-dioxide emissions by an amount equivalent to taking 22 million cars off the road. Supporters include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Alliance to Save Energy, the Business Roundtable, the Environmental Defense Fund, and a broad suite of other groups and individual companies, including corporate giants like Westinghouse and General Electric.”

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STOP (SOBER TRUTH ON PREVENTING UNDERAGE DRINKING REAUTHORIZATION) BANS POWDERED ALCOHOL The Hill “Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has introduced legislation to make the production, sale and possession of powdered alcohol illegal. Earlier this week, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau approved the federal labels for Palcohol, a powdered alcohol made by the company Lipsmark LLC that can be mixed with water and sprinkled onto food. But Schumer wants to keep Palcohol from ever hitting store shelves. Since it’s easy to conceal and can be snorted, he said, it creates an immense danger to teenagers. WHO COMES UP WITH THESE THINGS? Lipsmark said the powdered alcohol ban is the result of pressure from the liquor industry, which wants to protect its market share.” Lipsmark said it believes powdered alcohol is safer than liquid alcohol even though it can be snorted.”

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DEAR AYATOLLAH Tensions between the White House and congressional Republicans escalated Monday after  Republican senators sent a letter to Iran’s leaders intended to hinder the administration’s efforts to reach a nuclear deal with the country. TPM: “Led by freshman Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), 47 Republicans used the letter to inform Iran’s leaders that such an agreement would be “nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei.” They said the “next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time. CONSPICUOUSLY ABSENT among signatories to the letter is Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, who says he’s working to build a veto-proof majority for his legislation restricting President Barack Obama’s negotiating options with Iran and ensuring congressional approval before any deal is struck. He hinted that the Cotton letter wouldn’t help advance the cause.” (Corker needs 13 Dems to reach a veto-proof 67 votes.)

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THAT LETTER WashPo: “In less than three months, [Freshman Senator] Cotton has emerged as one of the most aggressive national security hawks in the Senate, audaciously challenging Obama’s foreign policy with harsh rhetoric and confrontational tactics. Unlike the 2010 Republican wave election, which produced a class that flashed a non-interventionist, war-weary streak embodied by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), the 2014 class is a more hawkish crowd. All 12 Republican freshmen signed Cotton’s letter. A quarter of them have served in the military: Cotton and Sens. Joni Ernst (Iowa) and Dan Sullivan (Alaska). Cotton said he first drafted his letter two weekends ago. He unveiled it at a Senate GOP lunch last week and lobbied hard for signatures in the ensuing days, contacting every Republican senator and reaching out to some Democrats. Seven Republicans declined to support Cotton’s letter, including Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). Corker said he was hopeful that Republicans and Democrats could overcome the rancor that has roiled the debate over Iran policy. THE LIMELIGHT Cotton has drawn widespread attention this week, but it’s not the first time he has landed on the national radar. He also attracted attention at a February Armed Services Committee hearing when he said that Guantanamo Bay detainees can “rot in hell.”  AND THEN THERE’S THIS
“I felt that our advice ought to be directed to the president of the United States, to the secretary of state and to our negotiators. It did not seem to me to be appropriate for us to be writing the ayatollah at this critical time during the negotiations.”
— Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) who declined to sign the letter

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HOW UNPRECEDENTED IS THAT LETTER? Politico: “The senator was outraged. Congress had challenged the foreign policy of the president, ignoring that he is “the sole person to whom our Constitution gives the responsibility for conducting foreign relations.” It was “an unconstitutional encroachment on the presidential prerogatives and power,” he fumed. The words may sound like they come from a Capitol Hill Democrat, reacting to the Senate Republican letter to Iran’s leaders about their nuclear talks with President Obama. On Monday, Vice President Joe Biden said in a statement that those lawmakers were attempting to “undercut our President and circumvent our constitutional system.” NICARAGUA In fact, the angry speaker was Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah — reacting in 1987 to Congress’s passage of the Boland Amendment, cutting off U.S. aid to Nicaragua’s Contra rebels against the vehement wishes of President Ronald Reagan. (Some of those aides would ignore the ban, later producing the Iran-Contra scandal). Experts say the Senate GOP’s Iran letter may be an unprecedented breach of foreign policy protocol both in its form and its boldness. But national security has long been a fierce battleground between Congress and the White House — and both parties have accused the other of sabotaging foreign policy goals.”

IN A LEAGUE OF ONES OWN There have been many bitter battles” over the years, said Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. But, he added, the tone of Monday’s letter to Iran from 47 Republican Senators may be in a league of its own. “What’s unusual about this — but completely in tune with what’s happened in Washington in recent years — is the contempt with which it treats the president,” Mann said.

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WE HAVE A PRESIDENT FOR A REASON Kathleen DuVal, UNC OpEd “THE letter that 47 Senate Republicans addressed to Iranian leaders this week, warning them about making a nuclear deal with President Obama, came as a surprise to many Americans. But it would not have surprised our earliest forefathers. After all, it was not uncommon, in the years immediately following the American Revolution, for individual Americans to negotiate directly with representatives of foreign governments. (Click here for a History Lesson)

SPEAKING OF FOUNDING FATHERS The Fix: “When President Obama was born (1961), President Herbert Hoover was still alive (1874-1964). When Hoover was born, President Andrew Johnson (1808-1875) was still alive. When President Johnson was born, President John Adams (1735-1826) was still alive. And just like that, we’ve connected present day to the Founding Fathers.”

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WISHIN’ AND HOPIN’ AND UNFUNDED REQUIREMENTS Politico: “House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry is asking the military services and combatant commands to provide him with unfunded requirements lists, which are often used by lawmakers to justify funding weapons and other items that weren’t in the White House’s official budget request.”

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BEATING BACK BRAC – STATES INVEST IN BASE INFRASTRUCTURE: Politico: “The mere threat of military base closures is spurring state and local governments to do the unusual: invest in the infrastructure on and near local installations. It’s a strategy designed to help some bases cope with the current Pentagon budget crunch – and increase the long-term value of their facilities in hopes they’ll be better prepared to survive another round of Base Realignment and Closure, or BRAC, which the Pentagon is seeking again in its fiscal 2016 budget request to begin in fiscal 2017.”

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AUMF IN TROUBLE Politico: ” After yet another hearing on the issue Wednesday, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker sought to lower expectations about the prospect of Congress voting for a fresh war authorization, saying a path forward would be ‘somewhat difficult’ given the sharp divide between Republicans and Democrats. And he played down the urgency of the effort, explaining that the White House believes it has the authority to continue the current military campaign. SENATE DEMS: NO ‘BLANK CHECK’ FOR ISIL FIGHT  Reuters‘ “U.S. Senate Democrats made clear on Wednesday they have serious concerns about President Barack Obama’s war authorization request for his Islamic State campaign, although they hoped lawmakers could pass a compromise measure … Despite appeals from top administration officials for bipartisan support, Republican Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, told a committee hearing that no Democrats backed the proposal.”

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HILARY TIMESTHE LAW OF GRAVITY” The Fix: It’s been wall-to-wall Clinton coverage over the past two weeks, attention that reminds people of the circus that forever surrounds the Clintons. Time’s new cover — and the accompanying story — try to get at the Clinton conundrum — political stars that operate under their own set of rules — that seems like it has always been with us. Writes the amazing David Von Drehle: “… Whatever rules may apply to them, the law of gravity is not one.”

TRENDING Time magazine is catching hell for its cover supposedly giving Hillary Clinton devil horns. They sought to extinguish the flames of the online firestorm … by pointing out that this has happened to plenty of subjects in the past — given the placement of the “M” — and was in no way intentional. The magazine’s website published a gallery of 34 other covers that similarly appear to feature devilish horns. This list includes former U.S. presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, several popes, actor John Travolta, former U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and “Star Wars” villain Darth Vader.

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THE EMAIL EXPLANATION NYTs “Mrs. Clinton’s attempt to put a whirlwind of questions and critical news reports behind her — and to get back to mustering enthusiasm ahead of her expected announcement that she will make another run at the White House — devolved, over the course of 21 minutes, into an exchange of sharp-toned questions and increasingly defensive responses … Clinton’s defense of her personal email use at a news conference did not seem to put to rest questions about whether it was appropriate. She said she had only convenience in mind when choosing to use a personal rather than a government account as secretary of state.”

THE NUMBERS: Clinton’s account had 62,320 emails sent and received between March 2009 and February 2013. – 30,490 of those were turned over to the State Dept. in printed form (55,000 pages). – More than 90% of those involved accounts ending in state.gov (meaning they were already in the State Department’s system.  About 3,000 weren’t. – Just under 300 of the e-mails related to Libya and were turned over to the House Select Committee on Benghazi last November. – 31,380 of the e-mails were not turned over because they were deemed to be “private, personal records.” – Zero of the e-mails included classified information.”

TWEET DU JOUR Playbook — Mark Espinoza @markespinoza99 (Jesse Vasquez on “Beverly Hills, 90210″): … Who cares about emails? I wanna see all of Cheney’s ‘Secret Task Force’ docs. Now THERE’s some good readin’!”

CLINTON FRENZY IN HOUSE Politico: “… No fewer than three House committees have launched or are considering probes into Clinton’s email practices, a feeding frenzy that could allow the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee to cast the investigations as yet another partisan witch-hunt.”

VAGUE EMAIL RULES = CHAOS NYTs “Although the White House has strict requirements dating back two decades that every email must be saved, there is no such requirement for federal agencies. Instead they are in charge of setting their own policies for determining which emails constitute government records worthy of preservation and which ones may be discarded.  … While many agencies’ current practice is to print and file emails deemed worthy of saving, an Obama administration directive in 2012 mandates that agencies must devise a system for retaining and preserving email records electronically by the end of 2016. Mr. Obama signed legislation late last year requiring government officials who use personal email addresses for official business to bring those records into the government within 20 days. Before that, the National Archives and Records Administration simply required those messages at some point to be provided to the government.” WIGGLE ROOM …for Mrs. Clinton those policies didn’t come into play until after she was gone” from the State Department in early 2013, said Thomas S. Blanton, the director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University, an independent, nongovernmental organization focused on transparency.”

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ZERO TOLERANCE The Hill “University of Oklahoma President David Boren (former Governor and Senator) has been at the center of one of the week’s major stories: a viral video showing multiple members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity at the university singing a racist chant. Boren issued a scathing condemnation of the video  Monday as he closed the fraternity and sent its members to find other living accommodations. On Tuesday, Boren expelled two of the students that the school says led the chant.”

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Attorney General Eric Holder , after two police officers were injured during a protest in Ferguson: “This was not someone trying to bring healing to Ferguson. This was a damn punk, a punk who was trying to sow discord.” (NYTs)

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“Scandal” star “Kerry Washington to Star as Anita Hill in HBO Movie ‘Confirmation’,” by Hollywood Reporter’s Lesley Goldberg: “will detail the … 1991 Clarence Thomas Supreme Court nomination hearings.” (Hollywood Reporter)

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PUPPYPOLICE PUP-IN-TRAINING The Dodo “Before becoming an official member of the force, it’s essential that every K-9 officer must pass through the very important and quite adorable first step of being a police-pup-in-training. A behind-the-scenes peek into how playful puppies are transformed into quick-thinking crime fighters. Check out this video. (Full disclosure, the puppy in the picture is a different puppy then in the video. They are both adorable.)

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APPLE WATCH LAUNCH  NYT‘s  “…  Just about anything you can do with your phone, you can do with your watch, faster. … Whether it’s calling an Uber car, checking into your hotel or answering a text, the watch will allow you to interact with the digital world at a glance, in a less outwardly antisocial way than you now do with your phone.”

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HOPE FOR SPRING Bublr Bikes will launch its ride-share season #2 in Milwaukee, WI on Monday. Yes, that’s right; Milwaukee has a bike share program. Goal is 40 rental stations in 2015!

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