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The Washington Report – March 27, 2015

14 Apr 2015

The Washington Report – March 27, 2015


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

 

BIG BUDGET WIN, NOW THE HARD(ER) PART … FUN FACTS: VOTE-A-RAMA  … BOEHNER’S BACK … CONGRESS’ KUMBAYA MOMENT … HOW NOT TO RESIGN FROM CONGRESS … THE LATEST PERSON TO TEST THE THEORY THAT EXPERIENCE IS OVERRATED … THE “TIMES” IS A CONVENIENT NEW YORK STRIP STEAK TO TOSS … and other news of the week.
And of course our thoughts and prayers go out to the crew, passengers and families of those murdered in the Germanwings jetliner tragedy.  It really is beyond anything we can imagine.

Best,

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

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I’M STILL HERE NYTs: “Minority Leader [and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) nemesis] Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), the crusty ex-boxer from Nevada who has led Senate Democrats since 2005, will not seek re-election in 2016, bringing an end to a three-decade congressional career. He said in a video message released this morning that since his New Year’s Day exercise accident, “I have had more time to ponder and think. … And as a result of that, I’m not going to run for reelection.” He closed his statement by saying, “I will still be here for 22 months … doing the same thing I’ve done since I first came to the Senate.”

ANOTHER SENATE RETIREMENT The Fix “Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN) announced Tuesday that he will not seek reelection in 2016. It was not an unexpected announcement, but it does set in motion a potentially competitive open-seat race in the battle for the Senate. And the competitiveness of that race relies in large part on one number: $9.9 million. That’s the ungodly sum of money that retired Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) has just sitting in his campaign account (and nearly twice what then-Rep. Joe Donnelly spent in the entire 2012 cycle to win the Hoosier State’s other Senate seat. Bayh succeeded Coats when Coats retired in 1998, and Bayh returned the favor by retiring and making way for Coats in 2010. (Bayh was a popular recent former governor in 1998; by 2010, he had to answer for his vote on things like Obamacare in an increasingly red state and a bad year.) The early conventional wisdom is that Bayh probably doesn’t run. … But in a presidential year in a state that Mitt Romney won by 10 points, that $9.9 million would be pretty helpful.”

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BIG BUDGET WIN Politico: “Right around 3:30 a.m., the Senate passed its first budget in two years after voting for 15 hours on more than 40 amendments that ranged from the minimum wage to Iran sanctions to boosting defense spending. Ultimately the GOP was able to corral 52 votes for its budget. NOW THE HARD(ER) PART Politico: “Convincing the Senate and House to agree on the same fiscal blueprint – something Congress hasn’t done in more than a half decade. The House narrowly passed its own budget on Wednesday, and the two chambers need to start hammering out a consensus spending plan as they near an April 15 deadline for producing a final budget … It won’t be easy to strike a deal that House Republican firebrands, defense hawks and Senate GOP moderates can all agree on. Hot button issues like the Pentagon budget, Medicare and Medicaid and domestic spending will all need to be resolved. Fiscal conservatives are angling for sharp cuts in government spending, while moderates are wary of going too far. And any budget that calls for major changes to entitlement programs like Medicare could be very risky.” FOR EXAMPLE Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) warned Senate leaders not to go along with the House on Medicare.”

SENATE APPROVES GOP BUDGET WITH OCO BOOST The Senate adopted budget follows the House in using the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) supplemental war account to increase defense spending to the level requested by the Pentagon without violating the Budget Control Act spending cap.”

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Thursday’s “vote-orama” [in the Senate] stretched well into the wee hours and provided lawmakers with the chance to highlight their pet issues and peeves — as well as jam the other party with (nonbinding) votes that could still come back to haunt them.

TEN THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT VOTE-A-RAMA (this is fun … from MCRB&T):
1. It’s “open mic night.” Any Senator can offer any amendment on any topic.
2. It’s as close to real democracy as the Senate gets. No filibusters, holds or cloture. Leadership cannot block or “fill the tree.” No debate as all time for discussion has expired… just voting.
3. It’s all for show. Even if the Senate passes an amendment 100-0, it carries no legal force. The budget is a non-binding “resolution” and cannot be vetoed or signed into law.
4. It’s all about politics. Both parties look to force politically-tough or embarrassing votes, setting up future campaign attacks and demagoguery. It’s speed dating for oppo researchers.
5. It’s hard to lobby. Many amendments are offered at the last minute to ambush others and avoid advocates. Votes occur in rapid succession without deliberation or debate, with all 100 Senators on the floor or in the Cloakroom and no longer reachable.
6. It’s over quickly. Several hundred amendments get floated initially, but Members usually withdraw those that are redundant or not top priorities. The effort gets old fast and Senators want to leave for spring break and foreign codels.
7. It doesn’t happen every year. No Vote-A-Rama was held for FY 2003, 2011, 2012 or 2013, when the Senate failed to pass a budget.
8. It has grown more political over time. Senators have been introducing more amendments and fighting fewer each year. In the ‘80s an average of 47 amendments were offered & 36% passed. In the ‘90s it was ~61 offered and 55% passed; the 2000s saw ~69 offered and 70% passed.
9. It’s politically revealing. In addition to Sen. Cruz, who has already announced his candidacy, four more sitting Senators may run for President (Paul, Rubio, Sanders & Warren). 2016 watchers will eagerly observe which amendments they introduce and support
10. It “whip checks” the hottest issues.
THE SENATE FINALLY VOTED ON IRAN Politico: “All 100 senators agreed to the budget amendment that vowed to take action against Iran if it cheats on a deal. Well, sort of: Hawkish Republicans and dovish Democrats both took their own meaning from the vote.”
THE ‘VOTE-A-RAMA’ QUICKLY TURNED INTO A 2016 BRAWL Politico “Four GOP senators are trying to gain the upper hand on the commander-in-chief test – Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham – and their competition was on vivid display as the Senate took up a Rubio plan to pump tens of billions of dollars more into the Pentagon budget. Paul blasted the idea because the new spending wasn’t offset by other cuts. And caught in the middle was Cruz, who’s pitching himself as a fiscal conservative who can appeal to the hawkish and libertarian wings of the GOP but ultimately sided with Rubio and Graham.”

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HOUSE ALSO APPROVED BUDGET WITH INCREASED WAR FUNDING Politico: “House Republican leaders have succeeded in finding the sweet spot between two warring factions in the GOP, defense hawks and fiscal hawks. The House passed a budget blueprint [Wednesday] that pleases the defense advocates by raising the Overseas Contingency Operations war fund while placating the fiscal conservatives by sticking to the Budget Control Act caps.”

HERE’S HOW THEY DID IT In a complicated parliamentary procedure called ‘Queen of the Hill,’ that allowed the House to vote on different budgets. The budget with the most votes wins. The first, dubbed ‘Price 1’ for Budget Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.), is what the Budget panel approved last week. The second, unsurprisingly called ‘Price 2,’  increases OCO spending by an additional $20 billion.”

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SOMETHING BOTH DEFENSE AND FISCAL HAWKS CAN AGREE ON Politico: “The practice of slipping unrelated or pet projects into spending bills for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – from new helicopters to fighter aircraft – has long been derided as deceptive and financially irresponsible. NO MORE PRETENDING But now lawmakers have taken the budget gimmickry to a whole new level – no longer even pretending that billions of dollars in additional war spending would go to fight Islamic State militants and the Taliban. SLUSH FUND The proposals in the House and Senate to add about $38 billion to the Obama administration’s $58 billion war spending request threatens to create an authorized ‘slush fund,’ according to budget analysts and spending critics. The beefed-up war budget is an attractive option for both defense and fiscal hawks because it would not count against the spending caps imposed by the Budget Control Act but is seen by some as a dangerous precedent for how Congress finances the Pentagon.”

NOT SO FAST WITH THOSE EXTRA OCO DOLLARS HASC Chairman Mac Thornberry says his committee plans to authorize spending from the OCO fund the same way that it handles base defense funding, disputing critics who have accused Congress of creating a massive war “slush fund.” Thornberry said yesterday his panel would authorize OCO spending “program by program,” a departure from some prior years where it simply authorized a topline.”

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BOEHNER BACK LIKE HE NEVER LEFT Politico: “First he passed a Republican budget, then he and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi negotiated a major permanent change to entitlement programs and scuttled the doc fix cliff. John Boehner has a tighter grip over the speaker’s gavel heading into the March recess than perhaps he’s ever had.  Opponents were writing his obituary at the end of 2014, when he passed the so-called cromnibus to fund the government over the objections of some conservatives. He then lost a stunning 25 votes in his reelection to the speakership. In late February, he had to pull a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security after conservatives resoundingly objected to it … Over the past two weeks, though, Boehner, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) turned things around. They deftly navigated the gulf between defense and budget hawks to pass a 2016 spending blueprint … Then on Thursday, 392 lawmakers – including 212 Republicans – voted for a bipartisan fix to the system for paying doctors who treat Medicare patients.”

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CONGRESS HAD A KUMBAYA MOMENT NYTs “The House overwhelmingly approved sweeping changes to the Medicare program on Thursday in the most significant bipartisan policy legislation to pass through that chamber since Republicans regained a majority in 2011. The measure, which would establish a new formula for paying doctors, increase premiums for some Medicare beneficiaries and extend a popular health insurance program for children, has already been endorsed by President Obama and awaits a vote in the Senate. HOW CONGRESS IS SUPPOSED TO WORK The legislation, approved in the House by a vote of 392 to 37, embodies a rare and significant agreement negotiated by Speaker John A. Boehner and the House Democratic leader, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California. Both saw the value in ending a problem that has bedeviled the nation’s health care system for more than a decade, and in demonstrating that the nation’s legislative branch could function. DOC FIX TO PERMANENTLY PUT AN END TO THE DOC FIXES +Under the bill, Medicare would pay doctors based on their performance, rewarding them for higher-quality work rather than the volume of services. The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) would be extended for two years, rather than the four years sought by Democrats. More money also would be appropriated for community health centers, with a restriction for abortion services (which is no change in current policy). To help offset the costs, some higher-income Medicare beneficiaries would be required to pay higher premiums for coverage of doctors’ services and prescription drugs. But about two-thirds of the costs would be added to the deficit. The CBO estimated that the bill would add $141 billion to federal budget deficits in the coming decade over current law.”

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HOW NOT TO RESIGN FROM CONGRESS The Fix: “Note to soon-to-be-former-Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL): You cannot say you resign from Congress with “humility” and then, in the same speech, compare yourself to Abraham Lincoln. And yet, that’s what Schock has done, noting Thursday that the former president who once held his congressional seat also faced trials and tribulations. We’re guessing Lincoln’s had little to do with Downton Abbey and a Justice Department investigation. Though he did have his own mileage problems! (It seems Lincoln also came under fire for his mileage reimbursement claims. Back in 1848, the legendary New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley busted Lincoln for claiming excess mileage in his travels between Springfield, Ill. and Washington. By Greeley’s calculations, Lincoln collected “some $677 in excess mileage — more than $18,700 today — among the House’s worst offenders,” according to a March 17 post on the ProPublica Nerd Blog by Scott Klein based on a paper he prepared last year.) No, Schock is not quite saying that he is a modern-day Lincoln. But to even place himself in the same context as one of the greatest presidents is, at worst, in extremely poor taste, and at best, shows extremely poor political judgment. But in fact, the stunning lack of self-awareness in this quote is a pretty good bookend for a political career defined by too much self-promotion and too little humility”

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REDUCTION IN BURDENSOME REGS  Politico: “HASC Chairman Mac Thornberry of Texas and ranking Democrat Adam Smith of Washington state have released their sweeping acquisition-reform bill that they plan to roll into the fiscal 2016 National Defense Authorization Act. The measure would rein in the paperwork that Pentagon program managers are required to complete and make it easier for them to decide which types of contracts to use.”

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ENVIRONMENTAL PRICE TAG U.S. News World Report “In what’s now a familiar pattern – Obama administration enacts an initiative, Supreme Court challenge ensues – the high court is set to hear arguments over whether the Environmental Protection Agency can enact tough new regulations over power-plant emissions, one of the leading producers of health-damaging mercury as well as other gases linked to global warming. The legal issue: whether cost should be a factor in setting up tougher new regs. The regulations have been in the works for nearly two decades. Work on them began in the Clinton Administration, got derailed in the George W. Bush administration, and then revived and adopted in the Obama administration. The regulations were subsequently upheld by a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., last year. They stem from 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act, which ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to expedite limits on power plant emissions of mercury and 188 other dangerous air pollutants. The answer seems obvious but that, apparently, is beside the point.”

SUPREMES REJECT GERRYMANDERING The U.S. Supreme Court called a district court ruling that upheld Alabama’s redistricting plan, which overloaded some districts with black Democrats, “legally erroneous.” In a 5-to-4 ruling, the justices rejected the ruling and sent it back to the lower court. …The high court was asked to decide “whether a 2010 state legislative redistricting in Alabama overloaded some districts with black Democrats on the basis of race or party.” SUPREMES DECLINE TO HEAR CHALLENGE TO WISCONSIN VOTER ID LAW The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Monday not to hear a case involving the constitutionality of Wisconsin’s strict voter ID law means … the Wisconsin law is now set to go into effect, although the state’s attorney general, Brad Schimel, said that won’t happen until after state elections are held April 7.”

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FROM BACKBENCHER TO WHITE HOUSE CONTENDER Politico: “Ted Cruz is just the latest presidential hopeful to test the theory that experience is overrated. Cruz has held elected office for barely two years. He’s written a single law and refused to take part in any significant deal-making in Congress. Yet on Monday, the Texas senator announced he … [is] running to be leader of the free world.” LAUNCHES AS UNABASHED CHRISTIAN CONSERVATIVE Ted Cruz, proclaiming himself a steadfast conservative who would undo much of President Barack Obama’s agenda and stand for Christian ideals, launched his presidential campaign … at Liberty University, the world’s largest Christian school.”
THE CURSE OF BEING FIRST Politico: “When Ted Cruz officially launched his presidential bid on Monday, he joined the ranks of a group with a dismal recent track record. No other first-in candidate has won the presidency in the past 15 years, and only one, Al Gore, has even clinched a party nomination.”
DEFINITION OF ‘CHUTZPAH’ Des Moines Register “We will presumably go on the exchange and sign up for health care, and we’re in the process of transitioning over to do that,’ Cruz … told The … Register … Cruz’s wife, Heidi, is going on an unpaid leave of absence from her job at Goldman Sachs to join Cruz full time on the campaign trail … [and] Cruz … would no longer be covered under his wife’s health insurance plan.” (In case you don’t remember, Ted Cruz, has been the leader of those who have sworn a blood oath to repeal Obamacare –note  the 21 hour speech Cruz gave on the Senate floor in opposition to Obamacare in Sept 2013, and the Cruz-led subsequent government shut down over Obamacare.)
YOU CAN’T KILL ROCK AND ROLL’ On ‘CBS This Morning,’ the Texas senator [said] he ‘grew up listening to classic rock … My music taste changed on 9/11 … I actually intellectually find this very curious, but on 9/11, I didn’t like how rock music responded. … And country music, collectively, the way they responded, it resonated with me. … I had an emotional reaction that said, “These are my people.” … So ever since 2001, I listen to country music.’

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BEHIND THE NAME  The Fix “Conventional wisdom goes like this: Americans are sick of dynastic politics. And, that fact means that Jeb BUSH and Hillary CLINTON are going to face a series of challenges because of their last names that wouldn’t be a problem if it was Jeb Jones and Hillary Smith running for office. To which I say: Not really.  When asked whether they would be more or less favorable to a candidate who didn’t have the last name “Bush” or “Clinton”, a majority (NBC-Wall Street Journal national poll) — 51% — said it would make no difference.  One in five (22%) said it would make them much more favorable toward a candidate while 17% said it would make them somewhat more favorable.”

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WHY IT’S DUMB FOR POLITICIANS TO SAY THEY DON’T READ THE NEW YORK TIMES The Fix: “I don’t read the New York Times, to be honest with you,” Jeb Bush told Fox News Radio’s “Kilmeade & Friends” on Thursday. Uh huh. Insisting that you don’t read the New York Times has become standard stump fare for Republicans over the past decade or so.  It’s easy to see why this particular rhetorical turn is favored among Republicans and conservatives: Their base loathes the Times (from a 2014 Pew study of media consumption habits among partisans). The Times functions as a stand-in for everything — or at least many things — conservatives dislike: liberalism, the arrogance of big cities, intellectual elitism and out-of-touch-ness. THROWING RED MEAT TO THE PARTY BASE So, when you are Jeb Bush (or Chris Christie) and need to … convince them you are actually conservative, the Times is a convenient New York strip steak to toss. (ZING!) But let’s just be normal people for a minute, shall we? There is a roughly zero percent chance that Jeb Bush or Chris Christie — or any of the other national politicians who say they don’t read the Times — actually don’t read the Times. Why? Because whatever the base — or even these politicians themselves — might think of the Times’ ideological positioning (and, to be frank, I would guess the conflation of the editorial board and the newsroom is responsible for most of the “liberal” attack), the organization remains an absolutely essential read for anyone who cares about or follows politics. The Times, thanks to its near-worldwide name identification, national distribution and the raw number of eyeballs checking it out on the Web, is a central part of the political conversation. Always. Full stop. (I would argue that The Post is the same — and, as such, is subject to the same “you all are a bunch of liberals” treatment.)”

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INDIANA’S [SO-CALLED] BATTLE FOR ‘RELIGIOUS FREEDOM’ NPR “Indiana business owners who object to same-sex couples will now have a legal right to deny them services after Republican Gov. Mike Pence signed a bill known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law. The legislation, approved by Indiana’s GOP-controlled House and Senate, prevents state and local governments from “substantially burdening” a person’s exercise of religion unless a compelling governmental interest can be proved. … Democratic lawmakers, civil liberties groups and LGBT advocates opposed the measure as opening the door to legal discrimination. … But Gov. Pence insists the bill is not about discrimination. Religion News says: “Supporters of the law say it will keep government entities from forcing business owners — such as bakeries and florists who don’t want to provide services to gay couples — from acting in ways contrary to strongly held religious beliefs. Gay marriage became legal in Indiana last year following an appellate court ruling.” However, the law’s application could go beyond same-sex couples. During debate on the legislation, state Rep. Bruce Borders cited the example of an anesthesiologist who objected to putting under a woman who was preparing to undergo an abortion. A similar state law was passed by Arizona’s Legislature last year but it was vetoed by then-Gov. Jan Brewer. EARLY FALLOUT was an announcement via Twitter by Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff that his San Francisco company will stop sending out-of-state staff to meetings in Indianapolis with its locally based ExactTarget division.”

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WAR OF THE ROSES WashPo: “Former White House floral designer’s look clashed with first lady’s,” “Laura Dowling … left because her ‘fussy style’ was not in line with the first lady’s emerging modern and clean aesthetics, several sources said. (C’est la vie.)

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D.C. TOURIST ALERT The Capitol’s magnificent rotunda (best enjoyed after 5 p.m.) will be closed this summer for six weeks, Roll Call reports. The Rotunda will be closed from July 25 through Labor Day on Sept. 7 so workers can install scaffolding to repair the Rotunda’s interior. Damage to the Dome has caused water to leak through the more than 1,000 cracks onto the Rotunda, damaging the interior.”

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