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The Washington Report – March 20, 2015

14 Apr 2015

The Washington Report – March 20, 2015


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

 

YOU CAN’T BLAME C-SPAN … FIRST TIME FOR JOE … VICTIMS AGAIN … WHEN A BUDGET IS REALLY NOT A BUDGET … WAR WITHIN THE REPUBLICAN PARTY: FISCAL HAWKS vs. DEFENSE HAWKS … GO BIG OR GO HOME … MEERKAT … and other news of the week.

Best,

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

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C-SPAN BIRTHDAY The Fix “On March 19, 1979, C-SPAN cameras went live in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives.  The first person to speak live was – and this is so perfect it makes my teeth hurt – then Tennessee Rep. Al Gore. “Television will change this institution just as it has changed the executive branch. But the good will far outweigh the bad.” predicted Gore in his one-minute address: “There is no censorship. Every word is available for broadcast coverage.  The solution for the lack of confidence in government is more open government at all levels.” Ok, so Gore wasn’t totally right about the impact of television on Congress. In the 3 decades since C-SPAN began airing House proceedings — it got access to the Senate in 1986 — trust in and approval of government has tanked.”

FnDzoz3upbFpcHYC1mcv2A2hUksci0Zf2OlTwnv8BPRGnZRA0SEO0a3C_DlP5_nQDXnOE_41wERlcWGfESq1KFKf3oWh6cF1tf9s2UrBRG3YpPsnKf1WzazhKlF_SEN9uTBomBHyv0kS2JKZssQXeo_PbgQ=s0-d-e1-ft

Q2_iNRj0OI1oBbf0nBSmXmiXuonrANgxZTdbiq-Hop9NCs_-SioMNJ5f6l84AhgGpXHh-DrCjbmbjyKvUvvy8OjkN9HzFmVlPP97ynkonMa5WvPpts9RbH6hifGmfKNcjkcFLRXKKqBnXT7hHzehvymi1g=s0-d-e1-ftYOU CAN’T BLAME C-SPAN The truth of the matter is that C-SPAN has done — and continues to do — a massive public service for anyone interested in seeing up close how their government works. Yes, much of the time the hearings and even floor speeches and votes that the network covers religiously are rote and boring. But, the very fact that the C-SPAN is just always there is what makes it so terrific.” Some favorite highlights, Jim Nussle and the brown paper bag (see picture) … when Cher called in on an open phone … “beam me up” from Rep. James Traficant.”

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MCCONNELL’S SENATE NYT: “When he became majority leader, propelled by sweeping Republican victories last year, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky vowed to run a more productive and traditional Senate than his Democratic predecessor, Senator Harry Reid (D-NV). In some ways, that has come to pass. Democrats have been given greater opportunity to amend bills than Republicans had when Mr. Reid had a majority. Mr. McConnell promised there would be no government shutdown, and he averted one over funding the DHS. And, occasionally, senators now have to work on Fridays. But when it comes to the central role of a Senate leader – getting things done – Mr. McConnell has been impeded by internal struggles in his party and the hostility that awaits him across the aisle.” AMENDMENT MILESTONE HuffPost “The McConnell-led Senate held more amendment votes in January 2015 alone than former Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid’s Senate did all of last year. In January 2015, there were 33 votes on amendments in the Senate, compared to 15 in all of 2014, according to data compiled by GovTrack.”

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LYNCH NOMINATION The Hill “Gun rights groups are making a vigorous push to stop the Senate from confirming Loretta Lynch as President Obama’s next attorney general. Advocates are organizing petitions, drawing up letters and hitting the phones to urge Senate Republicans to oppose Lynch in a floor vote that could take place as early as next week.”

FIRST TIME FOR JOE NPR “Vice President Joe Biden has been more visible than almost any of his 46 predecessors in the nation’s No. 2 office. He’s had more access to the Oval Office and more input on policy than all but a handful. But there is one VP duty Biden has never fulfilled, because he’s never had a chance: He has never broken a tie in the Senate, which is a salient VP responsibility embedded in the Constitution. In these past six years and two months, there hasn’t been a Senate tie to break. That may be about to change. Loretta Lynch’s nomination to be U.S. attorney general is awaiting a vote in the Senate, where she has only 50 announced commitments — all the chamber’s Democrats and independents and four Republicans. So, unless a fifth Republican comes around, Biden will be needed to break the tie. LITTLE HISTORY The use of the vice presidential tiebreaker was a standard feature of Senate legislating in the early years of the republic. George Washington’s VP, John Adams, still holds the record for tiebreakers at 29. A few decades later, Vice President John C. Calhoun managed 28 while serving two terms under John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. ANOTHER FIRST Yet, remarkably enough, if Biden rides to the rescue for the Lynch nomination, it will be the very first time the tiebreaker has ever been used to confirm a Cabinet nomination. There are a handful of Republican senators who have not committed themselves either way … and might yet come off the fence to make Lynch’s confirmation a done deal. But if none does, the deal could be sealed by a history-making, tie-breaking vote from Joe Biden.”

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VICTIMS AGAIN: HUMAN TRAFFICKING BILL SCUTTLED (BY ABORTION ADVOCATES OR ABORTION OPPONENTS … PICK ONE) It’s a cause any politician would have a hard time opposing: cracking down on human trafficking. Instead, in a breakdown sensational even by Senate standards, a bill to address the issue [was blocked] in a partisan firefight. The cause of the row? Democrats didn’t read the 68-page bill to discover its provisions dealing with abortion, and Republicans didn’t disclose the abortion language when Democratic staffers asked them for a summary of the legislation. The spectacle has infuriated groups that advocate for cracking down on sex trafficking and left Democrats and Republicans even more skeptical of whether they can trust each other. The aim of the bill, sponsored by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), is simple. It would create a “Domestic Trafficking Victims’ Fund” financed by fines from crimes, with the money used to aid victims. The legislation breezed through a Judiciary Committee markup on Feb. 26 with minimal changes, and seemed set for easy passage sometime this month. But when GOP staffers began promoting the legislation, Democrats say they didn’t mention they had included language that would bar money from the fund from being used for abortions. And Democrats didn’t notice it until this week. HYDE AMENDMENT The provision is essentially an expansion of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits taxpayer funds from being used for abortions and is routinely included in spending bills. Provisions similar to the Hyde Amendment are included in other types of programs, such as the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. NO WAY OUT Members of each party tried to figure out a way out of the mess, to no avail. Republicans came up five votes short of the number needed to advance the bill. The final vote was 55-43.

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FEDS CARBON FOOTPRINT NPR “With 360,000 buildings and 650,000 vehicles, the government is the nation’s single largest energy consumer. President Obama signed an executive order at the White House on Thursday directing the federal government to cut its emissions of greenhouse gases by 40% from 2008 levels within the next decade and to increase its use of renewable energy sources to 30% of total consumption. It’s unclear how the U.S. plans to meet its goals. Major corporations such as GE and Northrup Grumman that contract with the federal government also announced plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions. IBM said it would cut CO2 emissions 35% by 2020 and buy energy from renewable sources for 20%.” AND IN RESPONSE … McCONNELL’S WAR AGAINST OBAMA’S WAR ON COAL NYTs: “On Thursday, Mr. McConnell sent a detailed letter to every governor in the United States laying out a carefully researched legal argument as to why states should not comply with Mr. Obama’s regulations. In the letter, Mr. McConnell wrote that the president was ‘allowing the E.P.A. to wrest control of a state’s energy policy. The letter doubles down on McConnell’s ‘just say no’ campaign, which was launched in his recent opinion piece that called for states to decline to work with the agency or submit plans to cut CO2.”

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SECRET SCIENCE’ BILL PASSES The Hill “The House easily passed its bill to stop the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from using “secret science” Wednesday, despite a veto threat from the Obama administration. The bill, similar to past versions, would require the EPA to make publicly available all the details of any scientific research it uses in regulating. If the science isn’t public, the rule can’t be promulgated. The legislation is the second part of an effort by the House GOP to reform the way the EPA uses science. On Tuesday, lawmakers voted to reform the EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board. But opponents charge that the GOP is just trying to impede the EPA’s rulemaking power.”

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FRACKING The Hill “The Obama administration is setting new standards for the controversial hydraulic fracturing process, the first major federal effort to crack down on the practice that has largely been behind the nation’s oil and natural gas boom. The fracking standards only apply to drilling on leased federal land and land owned by American Indian tribes, which account for less than a quarter of the country’s oil production and 17% of its gas. The vast majority of fracking happens off federal land, regulators said. The long-awaited rules from the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are meant, in part, to ease public fears about a practice that involves pumping fluids miles underground to extract oil and gas from small pockets in rock. The rules … set standards for well construction to minimize the risk of groundwater or other contamination, strict requirements for disposal of the fluid that flows back out of the well and a mandate to publicly disclose the chemicals drillers use in them. In addition, disposal fluid must be stored in covered, above-ground tanks. AGREE Environmentalists support the new standards … arguing that certain aspects of the fracking process can pollute waterways, groundwater, and the air and soil while posing serious threats to human health. To make matters worse, they say, drillers have used substances like formaldehyde, boric acid, benzene and xylene, and the industry has resisted calls to disclose the chemicals they use.  DISAGREE Congressional Republicans lambasted the regulations, calling them a direct attack on jobs and energy. The regulations also encountered opposition from oil and gas drillers.”

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IT’S ALL ABOUT THE BUDGET Both the House and Senate are expected to take up their budget resolutions on the floor next week, where the push from defense hawks for more defense dollars will be tested by both Democrats and fiscal conservatives.

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WHEN A BUDGET IS NOT REALLY A BUDGET (DEEP DIVE) NPR “As Republican leaders in the House and Senate unveil their proposed budgets this week, here is the most important thing to remember about the federal budget: It isn’t really a budget. Your school board passes a real budget, and your town passes an actual budget, and so does your state — with long lists of items and how much money each particular item will get. But the federal budget does not detail how much anything gets. Instead, it explains in broad strokes how its authors would structure federal priorities. “The bottom line is, the budget resolution is essentially meaningless,” said Stan Collender, a former Capitol Hill staffer who spent years working for both House and Senate budget committees. This current budget process was created in the 1970s. Before that process came into being, the original proposal would have authorized the budget committees to actually appropriate money and set tax policy. But leaders of the appropriations and tax-writing committees protested, so those powers were removed. Instead, the budget committees were left with the ability to set top-line spending and revenue numbers. If the House and Senate agree and pass a compromise resolution, the overall spending limit, in theory, is a hard cap — although lawmakers can still find a way around it, Collender added. AND THEN THERE’S BUDGET RECONCILIATION For Republicans, the budget process does offer a benefit that has almost nothing to do with federal spending: a procedural shortcut that allows them to pass legislation in the Senate without amassing the 60 votes that are otherwise necessary to pass a bill. Under rules of so-called “budget reconciliation,” legislation that is ordered by the adopted budget resolution needs only 51 votes to pass the Senate. This method was used to pass the Bush tax cuts a decade ago and part of Obamacare five years ago. Republicans are now considering using it to repeal at least portions of that health care law. A congressional budget resolution only needs majority votes in both chambers to take effect and does not go to the president. But a bill that passes Congress under reconciliation rules, like any other bill, does go the president — where a repeal of even a small part of Obamacare is likely to get a veto from its namesake, President Obama.”

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THE REPUBLICAN BUDGET DIVIDE NYTs, “The congressional push this week to secure the first Republican budget plan in nearly a decade is revealing a chasm between fiscal hawks determined to maintain strict spending caps and defense hawks who are threatening to derail any budget that does not ensure an increase for the military. A WAR ‘This is a war within the Republican Party,’ said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, who has vowed to oppose a final budget that does not ensure more military spending. ‘You can shade it any way you want, but this is war.'”

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POTENTIAL ANSWER TO DOD’S BUDGET WOES Politico “After some rockiness and drama, House and Senate Republicans appear to be on the same page in their quest to pass a budget that satisfies defense hawks’ budget demands and keeps the Budget Control Act cap in place. Their answer is the WAR BUDGET, which is not subject to the spending cap, and it could be used in both chambers to increase defense spending to the same level as President Barack Obama’s budget request for the new 2016 fiscal year.

IN THE SENATE The Budget Committee adopted an amendment yesterday from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) that allows for the Overseas Contingency Operations fund to be raised to $96 billion next fiscal year. Defense hawks scored a big win Thursday when the Senate Budget Committee agreed to add $38 billion in emergency war funding to its fiscal 2016 spending blueprint, a move that brings the Senate’s budget much closer to where the House GOP is headed and could make it easier for leaders to strike a final deal.”

IN THE HOUSE things are more tenuous. “The House Budget Committee on Thursday morning passed the GOP’s 2016 spending proposal on a straight party line vote, but only after Republican leaders delayed their plan to dramatically boost Pentagon spending. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other GOP leaders, in an effort to win support for the budget resolution from defense hawks, want to pump tens of billions of dollars in new funds into the ‘Global War on Terror’ without reducing spending elsewhere, a move that would increase the deficit. But fiscal conservatives on the Budget Committee balked at leadership’s efforts on Wednesday night, leading to an embarrassing episode as House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) tried – and failed – to win their support. Now House GOP leaders plan to add the additional $20 billion in OCO funds to the budget resolution through the Rules Committee next week, a move that could spark opposition from fiscal hawks. That money is currently fenced off in a reserve fund that requires offsets, causing defense hawks to balk at the budget because they didn’t expect the money to materialize.”

IS THE POLITICAL DYNAMIC SHIFTING BACK TOWARD DEFENSE HAWKS? Politico “Since the BCA passed in 2011, Republican defense hawks have mostly played second fiddle to fiscal hawks, seeing only patchwork fixes to sequestration for the military. But that changed this week when defense hawks threatened to revolt in the House and kill the budget resolution – and are now on track to win added defense money as a result, even if it’s through the war budget. In the Senate, Armed Services Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) threatened to vote against the Senate’s budget resolution, and other GOP senators expressed enough concern about the lower defense topline that Republican leaders and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) agreed to back the boost to OCO, according to Senate aides.  … the efforts from defense hawks this week were the first time in recent years we’ve seen leadership change course out of a fear of losing needed votes from the defense hawks.

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FOUR SENATORS, A BUDGET AND 2016 Politico: “The four Republican senators considering a run for president will have to take sides in the feud between fiscal hard-liners and defense hawks over the budget. That will give voters a clear read on their ideology just as they’re hitting the campaign trail – and likely complicate Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s vow to shepherd a spending blueprint through the GOP-controlled Congress. Two of the White House hopefuls, Sens. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, have voted against GOP budget plans in past years and are viewed as potential “no” votes, given their calls for deeper cuts in previous battles. Two others, Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Marco Rubio of Florida, have pushed for more defense spending, an issue that has emerged as an early sticking point between the House and Senate as they try to craft their first Republican budget since the George W. Bush era.”

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GO BIG OR GO HOME Politico: “Over the next week, [Speaker Boehner (R-OH)] and his top lieutenants plan to jam two big-ticket items through the House – a show of strength for a leadership team stung by a string a defeats and facing doubts about whether it even can govern. First, to get a budget approved … then, the GOP leaders will try to pass a permanent fix to the “Sustainable Growth Rate,” a formula by which the federal government reimburses doctors who serve Medicare patients.”

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WELCOME TO TODAY’S WASHINGTON The Fix “The House Republican budget memo released Tuesday contains a number of proposals that, the party hopes, will pass both chambers of Congress. Under the heading “Holding Washington Accountable,” the document outlines ways in which the Republicans hope to eliminate waste of taxpayer dollars. It includes the following note: “The Department of Defense (DOD) and the CIA, two of the most important agencies in our national security apparatus, currently spend part of their budget studying climate change.” The statement is broad, and it’s not clear what cuts are proposed. But the DOD and CIA … wouldn’t [likely] consider a study of climate change as a waste. In a report released late last year, the DOD said that climate change “poses immediate risks to U.S. national security.” The 20-page report outlines a number of areas that require more assessment, including 20 specific, bulleted areas that the DOD “must assess.” In 2013, the head of U.S. forces in the Pacific stated that climate change “is probably the most likely thing that is going to happen … that will cripple the security environment, probably more likely than the other scenarios we all often talk about,” according to the Boston Globe. In September 2009, the CIA opened a Center on Climate Change and National Security. Its goal: to study “the national security impact of phenomena such as desertification, rising sea levels, population shifts, and heightened competition for natural resources.”

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SENATE GIVES OBAMA ANOTHER WEEK ON IRAN Politico: “The Senate will give President Barack Obama a few more weeks of breathing room as he seeks to lock down a political agreement with Iran on its nuclear program. After negotiating all week, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker and Robert Menendez, the committee’s top Democrat, said they will wait until mid-April before voting on legislation that would allow Congress to weigh in on a nuclear deal with Iran.”  WSJ “When international sanctions on Iran would be lifted has emerged as one of the largest remaining stumbling blocks to an agreement to constrain Tehran’s nuclear program by a March 31 deadline, according to U.S., European and Iranian officials. Tehran’s negotiators in Switzerland, according to these diplomats, have hardened their position that United Nations sanctions on their country be repealed at the front end of any deal reached this month with the U.S. and other global powers. The U.S. and its European allies are demanding the U.N.’s sanctions be suspended or terminated in a phased time-frame over years.”

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While I suppose this means I’ll spend this Easter in Sedona rather than Siberia, I couldn’t be more proud of being sanctioned by Vladimir Putin for standing up for freedom and human rights for the Russian people and against Putin’s deadly aggression in Ukraine.”
– Sen. John McCain, when hearing that he was on the Putin sanction list

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DEFENSE POLICY BILL “SASC Chairman John McCain is open to making a major change to the way his committee handles its annual defense policy bill: marking it up in public. The House has conducted an open markup of the NDAA for several years now, but the Senate has worked behind closed doors under the wishes of former Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.). Now, with Levin’s retirement this year, backers of a public markup see an opening and are preparing to crank up their lobbying efforts. … They could have an ally in McCain, who had voted from 2009 through 2011 to make it public before switching the past three years. His personal views aside, McCain said he wants to leave the markup question to the wishes of the committee’s 25 other senators.”

SPEAKING OF NDAA Defense watchers should clear their calendars on April 29 – that’s when the HASC plans its full markup of the defense authorization bill. The HASC subcommittees will mark up their bills during the week of April 20, ahead of the full markup. The panel’s goal is to put the bill on the House floor the week of May 13.

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HAS CONGRESS GIVEN UP ON PASSING AUMF? Politico: “If anyone wanted further evidence that Congress is stalled in its effort to pass a separate resolution authorizing military force against the ISIL, a House hearing Wednesday provided plenty of signs. HASC advertised its testimony with Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey as a discussion of the so-called Authorization for the Use of Military Force, but the issue hardly came up. Instead, lawmakers discussed Pentagon budget details for three hours.”

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BAD BLOOD BETWEEN BARACK AND BIBI NPR “The U.S.-Israeli relationship was one of the issues in the Israeli elections — in particular Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s poisonous personal relationship with President Obama. Now with Netanyahu’s return to power, that relationship doesn’t look like it will be improving anytime soon.” Excellent Thomas Friedman read on the current situation.

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SCHOCK! Politico ” Rep. Aaron Schock’s (R-IL) resignation, effective March 31, came so abruptly that the Illinois Republican didn’t even give Speaker John Boehner or his leadership team a heads up. He told no one. [This followed news that] investigators from the Office of Congressional Ethics had begun reaching out to individuals in Rep. Aaron Schock’s political orbit, a possible first sign of an official investigation.” THANKS DAD Two years from now he’ll be successful, if he’s not in jail,’ Congressman Aaron Schock’s father said of his son.”

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SHRUNKEN MIDDLE CLASS HuffPost: “A new analysis by the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Stateline blog shows that the percentage of middle-class households — defined as those earning between 67% and 200% of a state’s median income — dropped in every U.S. state between 2000 and 2013. Wisconsin, Ohio, North Dakota, Nevada, and New Mexico had some of the largest declines in middle-class households over the 13-year span, while Wyoming, Idaho, Alaska, and Hawaii suffered the least.”

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Y3U3a59yMj5h7KltO7rviXkHuRZt5Uej4i7nR5TDDqqPI7-BCUYDI0FqnSS_ozQfVGx-oVSh-hKaAqK5SjKARryj9XEMgBCavtLV4vgloC8-mYf-GKTwZZ7roFNSTkosCxJuqOUg2NoRGRW7lL2UUIlwfmE=s0-d-e1-ftEVERYBODY IS TALKING ABOUT MEERKAT Politico: “Meerkat [has] officially become the social media tool of the 2016 presidential election. The iPhone application, which allows Twitter users to stream live video footage to their followers, debuted at South By Southwest last week and has now firmly caught on with politicians and political reporters. It’s not just the kids. Jeb Bush is meerkating. Dan Balz is meerkating. This is happening.”

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MAGNUM, P.I HOME IN HAWAI The Fix: “Readers of a certain age will be entertained by the idea of President Obama buying the house featured in the once-upon-a-time-popular television program, “Magnum P.I.” There’s a local news report citing rumors that the Obamas may have used an intermediary to buy the property, located a bit east of Honolulu. It was owned by the family of a local politician for decades. Update/eye-roll: A number of nerds have pointed out that the house was not Magnum’s but rather the enigmatic Robin Masters’. (Hence the name of the compound on the show: Robin’s Nest.) You know who cares about that distinction? Nerds.”

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OH, THE MADNESS For all us NCAA fans, the fun begins.

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