Skip to main content

The Washington Report – May 15, 2015

17 May 2015

The Washington Report – May 15, 2015

Washington Report

SPYING PROGRAMS ON DEATH WATCH … HIGHWAYS & BYWAYS … EVEN WHEN CONGRESS DOES THINGS, PEOPLE HATE IT …. NDAA … TURTLES … WORLDWIDE THREAT ASSESSMENT, ANYONE LISTENING? …. MORE SEQUELS THAN ‘STAR TREK’ … and other news this week.

Best,

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

———–

STATES OF PLAY Politico: “The Senate is out today, meaning next week is going to be a pivotal one for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his two “musts” and his one “want.” Highway laws and the key PATRIOT Act provisions expire at end of the month, so Congress must renew them before leaving for Memorial Day break (the House has passed an NSA reform law that McConnell hates). And McConnell and President Barack Obama really want the Senate to finish the fast-track trade package.”

———–

PATRIOT ACT SPYING PROGRAMS ON DEATH WATCH The only thing that would make the debate over surveillance in the Senate any more heated is if it were called the New England Patriot Act!  Politico: “With only days left to act and Rand Paul threatening a filibuster, Senate Republicans remain deeply divided over the future of the PATRIOT Act and have no clear path to keep key government spying authorities from expiring at the end of the month. Crucial parts of the PATRIOT Act, including a provision authorizing the government’s controversial bulk collection of American phone records, first revealed by Edward Snowden, are due to lapse May 31. That means Congress has barely a week to figure out a fix before before lawmakers leave town for Memorial Day recess at the end of the next week. The prospects of a deal look grim: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday night proposed just a two-month extension of expiring PATRIOT Act provisions to give the two sides more time to negotiate, but even that was immediately dismissed by critics of the program.”

———–

TWO-MONTH PATCH FOR HIGHWAY FUNDING The Hill: “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has started procedures to expedite a short-term extension of federal transportation funding that is scheduled to expire on May 31. The details of the bill were not immediately clear.  McConnell’s procedural move, referred to as Rule 14, would fast-track the legislation by letting it skip going through committee and instead be taken up by the full Senate next week, ahead of the end-of-the-month deadline.

———–

IRAN REVIEW BILL The Hill: “The House on Thursday passed legislation requiring congressional review of a nuclear deal with Iran, handing a victory to critics of the talks who demanded that Congress have an oversight role. Passage came easily on a vote of 400-25. Only six Democrats and 19 Republicans opposed the measure. (The Senate passed the bill overwhelmingly last week in a 98-1 vote.) The carefully negotiated bill, which President Obama is expected to sign, gives Congress the power to approve or disapprove of a nuclear agreement with Iran during a 30-day period when economic sanctions could not be lifted.”

———–

THEY ARE BEWILDERED The Hill: “Chairman (of the Export-Import Bank) Fred Hochberg says his colleagues at similar institutions around the world are “bewildered” that the U.S. would end its export credit agency [after its charter expires June 30]. … Hochberg said failure to reauthorize the bank would put the United States at a competitive disadvantage against China in the global economy. U.S. WOULD UNILATERALLY DISARM Under the 2012 reauthorization of the bank’s charter, Treasury officials were directed to work with their colleagues around the world on talks to wind down export credit agencies around the world. … but he indicated there’s no interest from other countries given China’s efforts to support its businesses with government credit. At the semi-annual Berne Union conference in Florence, Italy, he said global business and foreign leaders told him “it’s very hard to compete with China Inc. if you’re a private sector company.” … “None of us want to replace the private sector — but there’s one thing that looms over all of this and that’s the role of China,” Hochberg said. Conservative Republicans are pushing to end it. They say the bank is a form of corporate welfare and that it picks winners and losers in deciding what projects to back. Supporters argue the bank plays a role in financing U.S. exports and that it would be foolish to shut it down when other countries have no intention of doing so. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups are lobbying to extend the bank’s charter.”

———–

EVEN WHEN CONGRESS DOES THINGS, PEOPLE STILL HATE IT The Fix: Gallup released new job approval numbers on Wednesday that tell a very familiar story: Most Americans think Congress is doing a bad job. Its overall approval rating is up slightly, to 19%. At no point since January 2010 has more than a quarter of the public approved of the job Congress is doing. But Congress is actually doing stuff, or so the theory goes. If you assess that on the always-contentious metric of “bills passed,” the 114th Congress has moved 11 so far this year, which isn’t unusually high. On a number of contentious issues, though, stalemates have been replaced by action. Maybe that’s what explains the (slight) uptick in approval. Historically, though, there’s no link between Congress passing bills and Congress being popular. So what could make Congress more popular? In the 1990s, it was probably in part the booming economy that improved people’s assessments. The spike in 2001 was solidarity following the attacks on 9/11. In 2009, Congress was more popular as Barack Obama came into office and made people of all partisan stripes feel better about the political process. Barring exceptional events like that, it’s not really clear what Congress can do to make people like them more. Congress is stuck being unpopular, even when it’s effective.”

———–

NDAA DRAMA Politico: “House lawmakers on Friday passed a roughly $612 billion annual military spending bill, concluding a week of fighting on issues ranging from congressionally mandated spending caps to immigration. The NDAA passed 269 to 151 in a largely party line vote.”

GOP IMMIGRATION AMENDMENT Politico: “The House on Thursday voted to strip out language in a must-pass defense authorization bill that would have encouraged the Pentagon to study whether young undocumented immigrants should be allowed to serve in the U.S. military. On a 221-202 vote, the Republican-controlled chamber reversed the move made by the HASC last month that called for a review of whether immigrants who have qualified for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program should be allowed to enlist. That provision was written by Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.). The success of the amendment sponsored by Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), one of the most conservative Republicans on immigration, could bring a sigh of relief for Republican leadership angling to pass the annual defense policy measure on Friday. …  Immigration could have split off some more GOP vote.”

———–

SASC APPROVES NDAA Politico: “The SASC approved its version of the defense authorization bill on Thursday, but ranking member Jack Reed of Rhode Island and three other Democrats voted against it because of an extra $38 billion added to the war budget. ‘If we don’t effectively find a way out of this BCA [Budget Control Act] dilemma this year, then what we’ve done is institutionalized the OCO as a way to fund a defense bill every year,’ Reed told reporters, explaining his decision to oppose the fiscal 2016 National Defense Authorization Act. ‘And I think it’ll grow and grow and grow.’ Reed offered an amendment to fence off the $38 billion in OCO funds until the Budget Control Act caps were modified or an equal increase was given for non-defense spending, but it failed on a party-line vote.”

———–

TANGO…RATHER THAN TANGLE “SASC Chairman John McCain says his committee’s version of the defense authorization bill would provide a pathway for President Barack Obama to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba – if he can submit a plan that Congress approves. ALSO … the defense authorization bill includes $355 million in funding for the A-10 Warthog – $328 million less than the House’s version. The bill does not authorize funding for re-winging the planes, unlike the House, which included $240 million to do so.

———–

SHELL GAME The Hill: “Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) says he’s not offended by jokes that compare him to a turtle.  ‘I loved it,’ McConnell said in response to a question about how he feels when ‘The Daily Show’ host Jon Stewart likens him to a turtle.”

———–

LAWMAKERS AND NATIONAL SECURITY OFFICIALS JUST DON’T SEEM TO BE LISTENING TO EACH OTHER WashPost: “The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) celebrated its 10th anniversary in April, and its leadership recently passed its ninth annual trial by public fire — namely, providing Congress the unclassified Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community. This document is a snapshot of the collective view of the intelligence community about the greatest challenges to the nation’s security, as well as an analysis of crises worldwide. LITTLE INTEREST But there seems to be less interest than ever on the Hill in what the intelligence community has to say about worldwide threats to the U.S. This year, Director James Clapper was asked to provide the briefing only to the SASC. Neither the House nor the Senate intelligence committees requested a threat briefing, unlike last year or the year before. This is a pity, as the intelligence community and the Hill aren’t seeing eye to eye on what each entity considers important — an issue that needs to be resolved. WHAT DOES THE INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY ACTUALLY THINK THREATENS U.S. THE MOST? Over the past few years, the threat emanates from one word: cyber. However defined, cyber has emerged as the No. 1 threat that U.S. security services think the United States should be concerned with, and should have been concerned with, for some time. No. 2 issue … traditional spying on the United States seems so Cold War and passé in this post-9/11 world, but intelligence agencies think it’s the second biggest challenge to the country, and has been so for years — even before Edward Snowden became a household name. Of course, American intelligence professionals are loath to discuss foreign activities in public, yet this is an issue that members of Congress either overlook or ignore, at least publicly. $4 TRILLION (WITH A ‘T’)  It’s also interesting to see how the United States’ wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — the places where the nation is on track to have spent $4 trillion — have vanished over time from positions of importance in the assessments. It’s as though after 2008, when former DNI Michael McConnell discussed “the significant gains in Iraqi security,” the country’s security establishment moved on, even though thousands of U.S. troops were still fighting and dying in both countries for years afterward. DISCONNECT [From the questions they asked] … lawmakers publicly care more about their particular interests, regardless of what the intelligence community says are the “threats.” … On the House side, questions were all over the map — Afghanistan; Benghazi, Libya; Snowden; and the workings of the HealthCare.gov Web site (yes, really.) This year, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) focused most of his questions on the war in Ukraine, even though that particular conflict only showed up on page 17 of the assessment. …But even if Congress seems a bit disinterested in the analysis offered in the Worldwide Threat Assessment, it does serve one critical constituency’s appetite for information: the public. All in all, the assessment is a good place for regular taxpayers to peek into the “wave tops” as Clapper calls them, of what their intelligence authorities perceive as threats to national security. The classified version of this brief often delves into more detail about what is in the unclassified version, but the analytical assessments are the same.”

———–

DOD SPORTS PROMOTIONS The Hill: “Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) is demanding answers from the Defense Department following reports that the Pentagon has paid 14 NFL teams $5.4 million in federal funds  from 2011 to 2014 to honor service members during games.”

———–

AMTRAK The Atlantic: “Investigators don’t know yet why an Amtrak passenger train was traveling twice the speed limit at Frankford Junction when it derailed in Philadelphia. But officials have the technology that would have prevented the fatal crash that killed eight people and injured scores more on Tuesday night.  A communications safety system known as Positive Train Control could have slowed the speeding Amtrak train before it entered into the curve at more than 100 miles per hour. This system—part monitoring system, part emergency brake, part remote control—isn’t obscure or hypothetical. The 110th Congress made PTC mandatory in 2008. … USANews: “According to Amtrak, PTC was installed in the section of track where the Philly accident occurred,” a committee source writes in an email to U.S. News. “There have been delays in ‘turning it on’ associated with FCC dealings and getting the bandwidth to upgrade the radios from 900 MHz to something higher (for more reliability). Amtrak’s application for the bandwidth needed to use the positive train control system was approved in “early March,” an FCC official says. Federal officials investigating the crash said that had the system been in place, (and operational) the incident could have been averted.”

RAILROADS, CONGRESS FEUDED WHILE LIFE-SAVING TECHNOLOGY LAGS Politico: “Tuesday’s fatal Amtrak crash followed seven years of feuding between Congress and the railroad industry over who should bear the cost of technology designed to prevent such accidents — while the process of installing the safeguards fell disastrously behind schedule. POINTING FINGERS Some members of the Senate on Thursday were quick to blame the railroads and their lobbyists for foot-dragging on installing technology that has been available for decades. … But Congress largely refused to provide money for the technology, even as recently as Wednesday. Railroads have complained repeatedly about the costs, which they said in 2010 would outweigh the benefits 11 to 1, and clashed with the FCC, which rebuffed Amtrak’s request four years ago for free access to the wireless airwaves the systems require. Unexpected technical hurdles arose, including resistance from some local communities to putting up the necessary antennas. … The requirement has inspired years of friction — both between the industry and regulators and between regulators and Congress. The sides were sparring even before lawmakers imposed the requirement in 2008.

CRUMBLING INFRASTRUCTURE, OPTICS Politico: “House Republicans voted Wednesday to chop about a fifth of Amtrak’s budget, less than a day after a deadly train crash. … They also rebuffed Democrats’ attempts to provide money for an advanced speed-control technology that federal investigators later said would have prevented the crash.” HUH? The Senate delayed introduction of a rail bill on Wednesday after the crash. Why didn’t the House delay consideration of the spending bill for at least a few days?”

WHY IS FUNDING AMTRAK SUCH A STRUGGLE? YES, IT’S A REPUBLICAN DiSTRICT-DEMOCRATIC DISTRICT THING The Fix: “… Congress has delayed passing long-term legislation to fund Amtrak since 2013, instead repeatedly reauthorizing existing funding levels. The last time it passed a long-term bill, in 2008, the vote passed only after a rail disaster. Which, of course, happened again Tuesday night. The constant struggle of Amtrak to get funding derives largely from the fact that … Ridership is heavily centered in the Northeast, in the corridor between Boston and Washington where Tuesday’s accident occurred. But more than that, ridership is unevenly distributed politically. Data from the National Association of Railroad Passengers shows the number of passengers that get on or off the train in any given congressional district, and reveals an obvious reason why Republicans might not be too concerned about funding the system. There are 184 congressional districts in which not one person got on or off a train in 2014. Sometimes, that was a function of there being a nearby station that saw many more passengers — like the districts in Manhattan that don’t include Penn Station. Sometimes, it’s for the obvious reason that there are no rail lines operated by Amtrak (like in Hawaii). But [there are] wide stretches of the country where rail service is simply not that commonly used. Of those 184 districts, 116 are currently represented by Republicans. On average, ridership in Republican districts was about 41,000 in 2014 — compared to 261,000 in Democratic districts.”

———–

JEB BUSH’S TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD WEEK Fox News: “Former Florida governor Jeb Bush would have authorized the 2003 invasion of Iraq, as his brother and then-president George W. Bush did, he told Fox News’ Megyn Kelly. ‘I would have [authorized the invasion], and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody. And so would almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got,’ the likely 2016 presidential contender said.” HE DIDN”T MEAN IT The Fix: “Jeb Bush has been in politics long enough to have learned one of the key lessons of campaigning: Keep your answers short and to the point. It appears that he’d maybe forgotten that lesson, though, as he struggled over the course of the week to answer a question that any relative of George W. Bush should have practiced in the mirror repeatedly. Was the Iraq War a mistake? Fox News‘ Megyn Kelly asked him Monday. And though his answer — and subsequent answers — didn’t deviate as widely as reports would suggest, it wasn’t until Thursday that he offered the short, to-the-point response that people expected to hear … ‘I would not have gone into Iraq.” MORE SEQUELS THAN ‘STAR TREK’ “In four days, Jeb Bush gave four different answers to questions about whether he would have handled Iraq the same way as his brother did, knowing what we know now. Bush began with an answer Monday about what he would have done if he didn’t know what we know now. By Thursday, he was saying that he would not have gone to Iraq. In between, multiple other Republican contenders were asked the same question, and answered that they would not have gone. As Jon Stewart put it on “The Daily Show” Thursday, Bush’s answer had “more sequels than ‘Star Trek’ and ‘Madden Football.'”

———–

FEINGOLD/JOHNSON, THE SEQUEL Former Sen. Russ Feingold is taking on current Sen. Ron Johnson for the Wisconsin Senate seat, and if early indications prove true, this could be the ugliest Senate race of 2016. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: “Feingold was first elected to the Senate in 1992 and served three terms until Johnson defeated him 52% to 47% in the Republican wave of 2010. Since his defeat, Feingold has written a book, been a visiting professor at several law schools and served for 18 months as a U.S. envoy to the troubled Great Lakes region of Africa. Feingold left that temporary assignment in March, amid broad speculation that he would mount another Senate campaign. He is teaching a course on central Africa to law and graduate students at Stanford University in California that ends early next month. Senate rematches are a rarity. Wisconsin has never had one. It’s also rare for a senator to return to the chamber after losing office.”

———–

REGRETS NPR: “The chief news anchor at ABC is the subject of controversy. George Stephanopoulos acknowledged giving $75,000 to the Clinton Foundation. (That figure represents charitable contributions of $25,000 in 2012, 2013 and 2014.) Stephanopoulos has apologized, but the revelation is a reminder of his earlier career in politics working for the Clintons. And now many conservative critics are claiming it’s proof of liberal bias. He said that in a statement – in an interview with Politico that broke this story – that he had been just thinking about this as a philanthropic gift – and meant it to go to help fight HIV in emerging nations; meant it to help fight deforestation, an issue dear to many of those concerned about climate change. He now says, that he should’ve acknowledge this, but he didn’t really see this as something that came with political attachments to it, at least that’s what he’s claimed publicly.”

———–

facebookFUTURE OF NEWS: INTRO TO INSTANT NEWS Verge: “Facebook [has rolled] out ‘instant articles,’ quick-loading stories from publishers including The New York Times and BuzzFeed that load on Facebook’s flagship app 10 times faster than before. The articles, which are hosted on Facebook’s servers, are well designed and create a genuinely better experience than the typical 8-second wait for an article to load on the mobile web. But if the format proves successful, and Facebook maintains its dominance in distributing news online, publishers could become ever more dependent on a platform they can’t control.”  REVENUE SOURCE  FB designed Instant Articles to give publishers control over their stories, brand experience and monetization opportunities.   Publishers can sell ads in their articles and keep the revenue, or they can choose to use Facebook’s Audience Network to monetize unsold inventory.”

———–

MILLENIALS ARE TAKING OVER! THE WORKFORCE THAT IS. The Fix: “If you’ve spent your life worried about robots taking your job, some bad news: It’s actually going to be a #Millennial. Pew Research, which has been on the millennials-taking-over beat for a while, projects that the live-with-their-parents BuzzFeed-lovers are now the largest generational component of the labor force. Wow! So how did that happen? Because, you know, millennials are now adults? Of course it’s going to be a millennial taking your job if you are not a millennial: Millennials are younger than you. There’s nothing particularly abnormal about the current moment in the labor force. Over the past seven decades, the age ranges of the labor force have largely followed the baby boom. As the boomers got older, the age ranges they covered swelled. SO THE POINT IS: More people born from 1980 on are in the workforce now, because those people are now old enough to hold jobs, making memes and apping iPhones and so on. In a few decades, we’ll see stories about how the next generation, the kids being born now and who have no generational name yet, are taking all of the jobs. Because generations die out and are replaced. C’est la vie, quite literally.”

———–

JUST INTERESTING Top 25 hedge fund managers earn more than all kindergarten teachers in U.S. Combined The Fix: “According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2012, the nation had about 158,000 kindergarten teachers, excluding those who work in special education. The average salary was $53,480 (for a total of $8.5 Billion). An annual ranking of top hedge fund managers found that the 25 most successful pulled in $11.62 billion in 2014. In other words, those 25 men — yes, they were all men — made about $464 million apiece.”

Related Posts

Washington Report November 11, 2016

“Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” - Winston Churchill....

Washington Report June 10, 2016

THE CEILING SHATTERED ... BLOW TO CONCEALED CARRY ... RARE MOVE ON PUERTO RICO ......

CHRIS CHRISTIE IS SPEAKING FROM THE HEART

Though I’m a loyal democrat, like many voters I am closely following the GOP’s crowded...

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*