This week’s Washington Report! To sign up for the direct email, click here.
It’s PI Day (for those who care about these things) … 3.14 Two physicists in Congress, Reps. Bill Foster (D-IL) and Rush Holt (D-NJ) are taking a break from the irrational Congress and celebrating an irrational number today with…pie!
Now, let’s take a look at the highlights of this busy week.
The Capstone National Partners Team (John Rogers, Alan MacLeod, Steve Moffitt, Diane Rogers, Erik Oksala, Kate Venne and Joyce Rubenstein)
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OVERTIME PAY The NYTs writes, “President Obama … ordered the Labor Department on Thursday to revise federal rules on overtime pay to make millions more workers eligible for extra pay when they work more than 40 hours a week. …Business lobbying groups denounce the changes as regulatory overreach, saying that they will crimp economic growth and leave companies with no choice but to shed workers as their costs rise.”
BIPARTISANSHIP PART I: JOBLESS BENEFITS Politico writes, “Senators struck a bipartisan deal on Thursday to extend for five months unemployment insurance for those out of work at least six months. After an afternoon of frantic negotiations, five senators from each party announced a deal that should finally deliver 60 votes necessary for the aid package to pass the Senate, barring procedural snags.
WHEN IS THE VOTE? “… in late March after the Senate returns from its St. Patrick’s Day recess.
THE HOUSE? The legislation still must go through the House where aides to Speaker Boehner declined to offer an assessment of the Senate deal. The bill would be paid for by extending user fees and by allowing employers to reduce pension payments.” (NJ)
BIPARTISANSHIP PART II and III: FLOOD INSURANCE WaPo writes, “The Senate voted 72 to 22 Thursday to pass a flood insurance bill that will roll back sharp premium increases to homeowners that were implemented as part of a federal overhaul of the flood insurance program.
CHILD CARE Senators also voted 96 to 2 to reauthorize a child-care development block-grant program. The law helps states provide child care to families of low-income households. The bill would make a range of updates to the federal child care program (Politico)
CLIMATE CHANGE TALKATHON The Fix writes, “The Democrats did their best to shove climate change back into the national conversation earlier this week when 28 Senators pulled an all-nighter at the Capitol building during which they delivered hours and hours of floor speeches about the need for legislative action. But other than some night-of media coverage, the climate change talkathon failed to truly thrust the issue into the spotlight this week. A new Gallup Poll illuminates why the Senate Democrats climate change push failed to catch on.
VOTERS JUST AREN’T THAT WORRIED In the survey, conducted March 6-9, only 24% of Americans say that climate change is something they worry about “a great deal” — ranking it near the bottom of the list of 15 political issues.
WHO IS MORE WORRIED? For what it’s worth, Democrats in the poll were decidedly more worried about the environment and climate change than Republicans.”
THE TWISTED TALE OF THE FEUD BETWEEN THE CIA AND THE SENATE INTEL PANELHaving trouble following the ins and out of the dispute between Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and the CIA? This story from The WaPo provides a straightforward telling of this slowly building fight, which exploded into public view on Tuesday. Check it out.
CAN THE “DOC FIX” COME BACK? NJ writes, “The House is set to vote today on a permanent “doc fix” — which ought to be a pretty big moment given that the endless cycle of temporary patches is crazy expensive, this has been doctors’ biggest lobbying issue for years, and the remarkable fact that both parties, in both chambers, have come to an agreement on an issue of health care policy. But today’s vote will look a lot more like just another health care vote, since Republicans are paying for the fix by delaying Obamacare’s individual mandate. That is, of course, a non-starter for the White House. The hunt for a more amenable pay-for is still ongoing, though, with about two weeks left until the current short-term fix expires March 31.”
THE SUPREMES NJ writes, “The Supreme Court is gearing up for its next Obamacare fight, and it’s anybody’s guess as to who will win. They will hear opening arguments in two cases March 25 regarding whether for-profit companies with religious objections to providing birth control to female employees can opt out of the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate. A ruling is expected in June, before the end of the Court’s session. EVERYTHING YOU WANT TO KNOW ABOUT THE CONTRACEPTION MANDATE (but were too afraid to ask)
U.S. HEALTH CARE IS THE BEST! AND THE WORST. Ron Brownstein for the NJ writes, “The picture in health care is more troubling still. An exhaustive 2013 study by the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine comparing health in the U.S. against other major countries divulged its conclusion on the title page: “Shorter Lives, Poorer Health.” The report identified a “U.S. health disadvantage” that stretches across every stage of life. Examining 16 peer countries, it found that the U.S. ranked second from the bottom in the share of low-birth-weight newborns and was the very worst in infant-mortality rates. Through adolescence, the study found, U.S. teens scrape the bottom in obesity and teen parenthood. As adults, we are more likely to die in car accidents and vastly more likely to expire through gun violence (our rate of death by firearm is roughly 20 times the average of the other major industrialized nations). Later in life, we develop diabetes, heart disease, and chronic lung problems more frequently than our international counterparts do.
NEWS NOT ALL BAD We smoke less than the citizens of most other countries, consume less alcohol, generally have lower blood pressure, and are more likely to be screened and treated for cancer.
THEN AGAIN, YES BAD Life expectancy for Americans at birth now trails that of 25 other countries.
LIFE EXPECTANCY vs HEALTH CARE SPENDING PER CAPITA The U.S. spends twice as much on health care, on average, as the other 33 nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, but Americans live shorter lives than the citizens of most of them.”
WE WON! Republicans take a victory lap in FL 13th. That’s the subject line Republicans saw the morning after David Jolly beat Democrat Alex Sink in FL’s high-profile special election for a U.S. House seat last Tuesday. (Unofficial results, with 100% of precincts reporting: 48.4% for Jolly; 46.6% for Sink; 4.8% for Libertarian Lucas Overby – from the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections.)The e-mail itself had all the hallmarks of a sophisticated digital campaign. …To voters, it was merely another in a long string of campaign e-mails. But for the strategists who wrote the e-mail, it marked the end of a critical test for the party.
PLAYING CATCH UP Republicans openly admit having been bested by the Obama Campaigns’ savvy microtargeting and analytics team in the 2012 election. …Officials said the Florida race was the most comprehensive demonstration of their new approach yet. SPIN IS SPIN Republicans will argue that the win in a district carried by President Obama against a well-known and well-funded Democratic candidate — Alex Sink was the party’s 2010 gubernatorial nominee — in which Jolly’s messaging revolved around attacking Obamacare is a signal of things to come at the ballot box in November. Democrats will insist the district is less Democratic than Obama’s numbers suggest and that all Republicans did was hold a seat that Republican Rep. Bill Young had represented for decades before his death last year.
SHORT LIVED? Rep.-elect David Jolly (R) may have joked with the crowd at his victory party that the TV ads were over, but they won’t be over for long. FL-13 remains competitive, and Democrats are absolutely right that turnout won’t be as bad for them in the fall as it was in the special. ROUND 2 “Jolly … will have to face the gantlet once more when the seat is up again in November.” (Tampa Bay Times) Will Alex Sink run again in November? Stay tuned
TALE OF TWO BUDGETS (Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, wrote this op-ed earlier this week for The Hill)
“It was the best of budgets; it was the worst of budgets,
It was the age of the pivot; it was the age of sequester.
It was a time for rebalancing; it was a time for rebuilding.
It was a budget of constraints; it was a budget of balance.
It was a budget of hard choices; it was a budget dead on arrival.
It was a budget that prioritized future capabilities; it was a budget that protected current capacity.”
IN SHORT, this budget was so conflicted and confused even its chief proponents could not explain it. Harrison is referring to the FY2015 defense budget submitted last week that he says is “unlike any budget before…. While top Pentagon leaders briefed many of the details in advance, it is now evident that the budget DoD submitted is not as they described. While the budget is $115 billion more over the next five years than the budget caps set by Congress, that extra money does not fund the higher force levels Secretary Hagel and others said it would fund. Instead, it cuts Army and Marine Corps active end strength to 420,000 and 175,000, respectively, and it does not fully fund 11 aircraft carriers for the Navy.”
NO BUDGET CONFUSION AT PENTAGON Pentagon Comptroller (Robert Hale) responded: “In our future years defense program, we made the decision to allow the services to plan at sequester levels for certain forces, even though our overall budget request exceeds sequester levels,” he wrote, also in the Hill. “We made this decision because of the time required to plan effectively for significant changes in some end strengths and carrier levels. We must begin that planning now to be ready to confront the reality of sequestration, which remains the law of the land for 2016 and beyond.”
BACK ATCHA Harrison, in response, applauded the Pentagon for acknowledging the Budget’s inconsistencies. “In his response to my op-ed, Mr. Hale confirmed the essential point I was making,” according to Morning Defense. “DoD submitted a five-year budget plan that is not consistent with its stated goals for force levels. The confusion arose because senior Pentagon leaders, with the exception of Mr. Hale, did not acknowledge or explain these inconsistencies in their descriptions of the budget.”
From an article in Foreign Affairs, by Paul K. MacDonald and Joseph M. Parent, THE BANALITY OF RETRENCHMENT, “It is hard to know what to make of this year’s proposed U.S. defense budget. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel bills it as a novelty: “the first budget to fully reflect the transition DoD is making after 13 years of war.” The New York Times portrays it as an antiquity: “Pentagon Plans to Shrink Army to Pre-World War II Level,” reads its headline. Senator Lindsey Graham (R–S.C.) paints it as a travesty: “ill-conceived, ill-designed, bad defense policy, detached from reality.” In truth, it is none of those things. Rather, the proposed budget represents a continuation of nearly three years of defense retrenchment, which is modest in scope and prudent in purpose. To read the full article.
WHAT IS YODA UP TO? Politico writes, “From Vladimir Putin’s body language to the histories of religious warfare, from the development of new technologies to accounts of ancient empires, there isn’t much the Pentagon’s internal think tank won’t pursue. The Office of Net Assessment (ONA), which is headed by a seldom-seen, 92-year-old Nixon-era defense analyst named Andrew Marshall (known as YODA), is just a tiny compartment in the labyrinthine Defense Department, but its interests are vast. Usually this kind of work, which costs around $10 million per year, flies well under the radar in a defense budget of roughly half a trillion dollars. … In a recent solicitation, the ONA said it’s seeking research about nuclear proliferation, future naval warfare and the use of space, among other topics. “One of the things that has made ONA so valuable to DOD senior leadership in the past is that it is the one place where ‘orthogonal’ issues — issues that may not obviously appear to affect the department, but that may indeed turn out to have important implications for the future security environment and future warfare that DOD will need to take into account — may be examined. In a capital that can be preoccupied with winning the day or kicking the can, the Pentagon needs an office pursuing many areas of interest with a long-range view, said Jan van Tol, a retired Navy captain and former military assistant to the ONA and now a senior fellow with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
VOCABULARY WORD FOR THE DAY “Orthogonal” (from the Urban Dictionary) A word used by the tech-savvy to sound smarter than the really are. More specifically: A math term that means perpendicular, but not just in 2D but in any dimension. Now commonly used to indicate an idea or concept that stands apart so much from everything else that it “sticks out,” is “from left field,” or is “third-way.”
493 DAYS SINCE HE LOST HIS MASSACHUSETTS SENATE RACE AP reporting that “Former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown has begun seeking campaign staff for a Senate run in NEW HAMPSHIRE. … having recently relocated to his seacoast New Hampshire vacation home, he is expected to launch an exploratory committee to enter the race.”
NUMBERS THAT SHOULD WORRY DEMOCRATS The Fix writes, “A new NBC-Wall Street Journal national poll that will (and should) trigger even more nervousness within the Democratic Party as the November midterm election draws closer. The entire poll is an embarrassment of riches for political junkies but three numbers in particular jumped out at us.
41. OBAMA’S JOB APPROVAL That’s President Obama’s overall job approval, the lowest he has been in the history of the poll.
44. NATIONAL ISSUES That’s the percentage of respondents who said that a “congressperson’s position on national issues” would be more important in deciding their votes than the “congressperson’s performance in taking care of problems in your district.” (SEE President’s job approval rating above).
33. ENTHUSIASM GAP One in three registered voters in the NBC-WSJ poll said that their vote for Congress this fall will be intended to signal opposition to President Obama, compared to the 24% who said their vote would be a way to show support for Obama.
SENATE 2014 – DEM MAJORITY HANGING IN THE BALANCE NJ writes, “Four February battleground-state Senate polls from Democratic polling firm Hickman Analytics show Democratic senators in varying degrees of trouble, from dire to vulnerable. Several takeaways: 1) Mary Landrieu (D-LA) is probably in deeper trouble than Pryor (D-AR), whose favorable ratings are still respectable; 2) Hagan (D-NC) is still in decent shape, with credible favorability while early impressions of opponent Thom Tillis are negative; 3) Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) is well-liked but his support is very soft; it’s clear why Rep. Cory Gardner gave up his House seat to run.”
SOCIAL MEDIA EXPLODED “Tuesday morning,”HuffPo writes, “with people talking about President Obama’s appearance on Zach Galifianakis’s web series “Between Two Ferns.” The response to the video on Twitter was overwhelmingly positive with people calling it: “hilarious, “great,” and “glorious.” (Let’s be honest, regardless of your politics, you had to find at least some of it funny.) Some of the highlights included Galifianakis asking Obama, “What are we going to do about North Ikea” and inquiring as to whether Obama would build his presidential library in “Hawaii or in his home country of Kenya?” Of course, politics being the way it is, some on the right were outraged by the comedic video. For example, Peter Ingemi tweeted: “It’s when I see POTUS with Zach G. between two ferns that I wonder why Putin has no fear of the US.” …The push is for people under 35. Administration officials have estimated that about 40% of the enrollees in Obamacare have to be 18-34 because these ”YOUNG INVINCIBLES” generally require less health care which will help offset the higher medical costs associated with older Americans.”
CAN YOU ARGUE WITH SUCCESS? WSJ writes, “By standard metrics, the plug has been successful: The staged interview is already the online comedy website’s most-viewed video of the year, having soared from zero to 12 million views overnight; the hashtag associated with the video, #OBTF, had become a trending topic on Twitter, and Tara McGuinness, the White House’s Healthcare communications advisor, tweeted that the webisode was now the single largest generator of visits to the ACA health exchange site HealthCare.gov generating over 32,000 visits to the site that day; with traffic from FunnyorDie.com boosting overall HealthCare.gov traffic by 40%.
OK, TOO SOON Observers caution that it’s too soon to say whether the media stunt has truly succeeded in its underlying aim of enhancing the percentage of signups from 18 to 34 year olds from its current 25% toward a more actuarially appealing 40%. …As with most viral videos, however, the disruptive value of the White House’s curveball maneuver isn’t readily measurable in the first day of its release; according to research by Unruly Media. Sharing of viral videos tends to peak on the 2nd day after release.”
SPEAKING OF THE ACA According to the Insurance Journal, “4.2 billion people had enrolled in health plans through February. With a March 31 deadline, youth enrollment continued to expand, with 1.1 million people ages 18 to 34 signed up by March 1, an increase of 268,475 in a month, U.S. health officials said in a report. After March 31, open enrollment in private health plans is closed for 2014 and people can only sign up if they experience life changes such as getting married or losing a job.”
AS PREDICTED In AZ GOV, Gov. Jan Brewer (R) “announced Wednesday she will not seek another term in office, an effort that would have required a long-shot court challenge to the state’s term limits.” (Arizona Republic)
THE MISSING PLANE On everyone’s mind. It’s been almost a full week since Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 went missing with 239 people on board. Now the Wall Street Journal team is reporting that the “missing jet transmitted its location repeatedly to satellites over the course of five hours after it disappeared from radar,” and the U.S. plans “to move surveillance planes into an area of the Indian Ocean 1,000 miles or more west of the Malay peninsula where the plane took off, said Cmdr. William Marks, the spokesman for the U.S. Seventh Fleet.”
A REFERENDUM IN CRIMEA “Western officials believe there is little chance of delaying the referendum that is to be held in Crimea on Sunday to decide if the peninsula should rejoin Russia,” reports The NYTs. … Meanwhile, thousands of Russian troops are gathering at the Ukrainian border as part of a military training exercise that is clearly meant to send a signal.”
NAME YOU SHOULD KNOW…THE GUY WHO STARTED EMAIL ATTACHMENTS Quartz writes, “It was 22 years ago yesterday that Nathaniel Borenstein sent his colleagues the world’s first email attachment. …Borenstein, along with another researcher named Ned Freed, wrote MIME (Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions) because one day he hoped to get pictures of his grandchildren over email. To the delight of grandparents everywhere, his technology became ubiquitous; MIME is still used for every email attachment, and has spread to host content all over the web.”
CALLING ALL PET LOVERS NBC reports that Americans spent an all-time high of $55.7 billion, almost the annual GDP of Uruguay, on their pets in 2013 and will creep close to spending $60 billion this year, food accounted for $21.6 billion of the spending. Meet Cha-cha Ching.
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