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The Washington Report – May 2, 2014
02 May 2014

The Washington Report – May 2, 2014

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


Welcome Back Congress!

Jobs, Big Data, Washington’s Next Cliff, Keystone XL, Belief Echoes, Amal Alamuddin and other news this week.


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

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THE SENATE’S LONG WEEKENDS: Politico writes,” … noticed the Senate hasn’t voted on a Friday since December?  “It’s 8 a.m. on a Friday. Do you know where your senators are? Probably not in Washington, where it’s been months since the Senate conducted real business on a Friday, apart from brief housekeeping and pro forma sessions. [This week, after coming back from a 2-week recess] senators voted Thursday in the early afternoon and most exited the Capitol about 2:30 p.m., not to return until late Monday afternoon. To be fair, the House had left an hour earlier.


HOLLYWOOD IN WASHINGTON White House Correspondents (WHC) star-studded 100th Anniversary celebration is Saturday night where everyone from the president and lawmakers rub shoulders with some of the entertainment industry’s elite. Grab your copy of “This Town” by Mark Leibovich [the ultimate insiders read that peels back the curtain on Washington, DC]. One weekend a year companies large and small open their checkbooks to join in the fun of the establishment celebrating the establishment at the White House Correspondents Dinner, which doesn’t have much to do with the White House or its correspondents anymore.

NOT THE NERD PROM It’s not entirely clear who first started referring to this annual dinner as “Nerd Prom,” but, according to Politico‘s Roger Simon, it’s really a humblebrag [‘subtly letting others know how fantastic your life is while undercutting it with a bit of self-effacing humor or “woe is me” gloss’ (Urban Dictionary)], a way of saying, “I’m going to this thing that is so dorky because everyone who goes is such a brilliant nerd, and did I mention I am going to it.” Also handy, it provides a bit of cover for those who might otherwise be criticized for going to an event just to kiss up to celebrities: “No, no, it’s a total nerd event.”


UNEMPLOYMENT… ER, EMPLOYMENT “The U.S. unemployment rate plunged in April to its lowest level since September 2008 as employers added 288,000 jobs, the most in two years. The figures are a clear sign that the economy is picking up after a brutal winter slowed growth. The Labor Department says the unemployment rate fell to 6.3% from 6.7% in March.” (AP) “

OPTIMISM The Fix writes, “Friday’s surprising jobs numbers … might give Democrats some reason for optimism about the 2014 election. Republicans will disagree with that premise altogether, noting that the labor force participation rate is still very low (which makes the unemployment rate look better) and that the first-quarter gross domestic product — released in a report just this week — was poor. But for a Democratic Party in search of some (or really ANY) motivation for its base, Friday’s jobs report helps.

3843e3d89262284075985224_280x181“The most important determinants of macro midterm outcomes are the economy and presidential popularity and one of the most important drivers of presidential popularity is the economy. So an improving economy is a twofer. If the economy improves the whole electoral environment for Democrats improves.”

– Mark Mellman, Democratic pollster

1f858d54070f81ce7e454b14_280x173ALMOST BACK TO ZERO
The Wire writes, “We’ve nearly recovered all the jobs lost in the Great Recession. If we keep April’s pace, the United States economy will reach a pre-recession level of employment on May 12.” (Graph from Bill McBride on Calculated Risk.)

The unemployment picture in the states holding key Senate races is actually quite a bit better for Democrats than the national picture. According to the most recent state figures available, from March, the unemployment rate in 11 of the top 13 states Democrats are defending was below the national average, and the rate was actually at or below 5% in six of those 11 states. Those 11 states include arguably the three most pivotal states when it comes to the Senate majority: Alaska, North Carolina and Louisiana. Meanwhile, in the two states Republicans are defending — Georgia and Kentucky — the unemployment rate was above the national average. But the totality of the data does suggest the economy– at the very least — isn’t going to be Democrats’ Achilles heel in many key Senate races.” For Total Political Nerds, unemployment trends by state. Scroll down.


BIG STORY: BIG DATA The White House released its much-anticipated report on the way companies use data on private citizens. The New York Times reports, “The report’s policy recommendations: 1) passing a national data breach law that would require companies to report major losses of personal and credit card data, after attacks like the one on Target that exposed credit card information on roughly 100 million customers; 2) seeks legislation that would define consumer rights regarding how data about their activities was used; 3) suggests extending privacy protections to individuals who were not citizens of the United States; and 4) argues for action to ensure data collected about students was used for only education purposes.”

REACTION MUTED Politico writes, “The White House’s report on big data had a rare impact in the Washington echo chamber yesterday: Neither tech companies nor consumer advocates found much to hate. While the report recommends updating the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and data breach notification legislation, it steers away from advocating excessive regulations.”


WHITE HOUSE SEXUAL ASSAULT PUSH One in five college-aged women is sexually assaulted in college – most often by someone she knows. This week the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault released its first-ever report and announced a series of actions to help address the problem and make sure victims know they are not alone. To make enforcement data and other sexual assault resources accessible to students and schools, the task force launched a new website,


THE TWO PARTIES…WAIT FOR IT…DON’T AGREE. AT ALL. The Fix writes, “A Senate Rules committee hearing opened Wednesday with a big announcement: This year, Senate Democrats plan to hold a floor vote on a constitutional amendment that would give Congress the power to overturn Citizens United and other controversial Supreme Court campaign finance decisions. The next two hours illustrated why the bill has little chance of success in a divided Congress. The hearing was set to examine the influence of political groups financed by secret donors, but it did more to expose the current chasm between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to regulating money in politics.

THE LEFT – along with independent Sen. Angus King of Maine, who chaired the session – spent the morning bemoaning the flood of unregulated money into campaigns.

THE RIGHT used the session to decry campaign finance restrictions as attempts to curtail free speech.”


KEYSTONE VOTE MIGHT ACTUALLY HAPPEN WSJ reporting, ”There’s a 75% to 80% chance we can work something out on Keystone,’ Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) said Thursday. He confirmed that the chamber likely would vote on a stand-alone Keystone bill, instead of making it an amendment to another measure. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Mary Landrieu, (D – LA), and Sen. John Hoeven, (R., N.D.), introduced legislation earlier Thursday that … has support from all Senate Republicans and 11 Democrats, including six up for re-election. Ms. Landrieu said Thursday it was her ‘understanding’ that Mr. Reid would bring that bill to the floor for a vote, adding that there are ‘ongoing negotiations’ with the White House on the Keystone vote.”

See our very own Steve Moffitt’s blog post … his take on the Keystone XL Pipeline, “Good Government is Good Politics.”


WASHINGTON’S NEXT CLIFF Politico writes, “Washington now is facing … the highway cliff. Sometime in the next four months, the Highway Trust Fund – which pays for infrastructure projects across the nation – will run dry. And this slow-moving Congress … has to figure out a way to fill the coffers or risk halting construction projects across the country. The Department of Transportation estimates the … highway account will be broke by the end of August.”


“[A] bill to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 failed to advance in the Senate Wednesday, garnering less than the 60 votes needed to move ahead. The bill failed 54-42. … Democrats have pledged to bring the bill back up again and again. In reality, the minimum-wage bill is one part of Democrats’ 2014 election-year legislative agenda, intended to energize voters and draw a contrast between Democrats and the GOP.” (National Journal)

THE WILL OF THE PEOPLE The Fix writes, “… another issue on which Republicans in Congress have now voted against the will of the vast majority of Americans: raising the minimum wage. The Senate’s defeat of an increase in the minimum wage to $10.10 Wednesday– on a near-party-line vote — comes as upwards of three-fourths of Americans say they want to increase the minimum wage. But as with many other issues — including gun control and immigration reform — those national polls completely over-sell the actual electoral impact of voting against a popular proposal. Here’s why. A Quinnipiac University poll from earlier this year showed that, while 71% of people supported raising the minimum wage, many of those same people said it has little to do with their vote. Just 58% said they would punish someone electorally for opposing the minimum wage. As a point of comparison, that same poll showed 56% of people opposed Obamacare. But the vast majority – 77% — of them said they were more likely to oppose a candidate who supported the law. Similarly, while 53% of people disapproved of President Obama, 81% of that group said they would be more likely to vote against someone who supported him. That’s what a voting issue looks like.

SOFT SUPPORT In other words, there is plenty of support for the minimum wage, but it’s actually quite soft. And the numbers above don’t even tell the whole story.

MINIMUM WAGE AS AN ISSUE None of this is to say the minimum wage isn’t a good issue for Democrats. It reinforces the argument that they have been making for years: Republicans favor the wealthy.”


FULL OBAMACARE ENROLLMENT REPORT RELEASED NJ reports, “The total number of people who signed up for plans on the exchange is 8,019,763. Some 28% of those are ages 18-34. And 54% are female. Nearly 63% of those who reported their race and ethnicity are white.


“BELIEF ECHOES” (REMEMBER THE TERM) Ezra Klein for VOX writes, “The most recent Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll had some good news and some bad news for Obamacare. The good news was that a plurality of Americans know the law signed up 8 million people. The bad news is that a majority of Americans nevertheless think the law fell way short of expectations on enrollment.

THAT’S … WEIRD. It would make sense if the public didn’t know the law signed up 8 million people and so they thought it had fallen short on enrollment. But knowing that the law signed up 8 million people is pretty much the same as knowing that it beat enrollment expectations. The response is roughly akin to people knowing that Barack Obama won the electoral college in 2012 but believing he lost the election. … The finding makes more sense, however, if you’ve read Emily Thorson’s “Belief Echoes: The Persistent Effects of Successfully Corrected Misinformation” [recommended].”

WHAT ARE “BELIEF ECHOES?” Exposure to negative information about a candidate creates what I call “belief echoes,” Thorson writes, “effects on attitudes that persist even after the information is shown to be false.”

OBAMACARE HAS A BELIEF ECHOES PROBLEM. For months, the press was wall-to-wall with coverage of Obamacare’s catastrophic launch. People knew that Obamacare was a disaster that no one was able to sign up for. Then, unexpectedly, the March surge was so overwhelming that enrollment beat expectations. But the impressions formed by the early coverage persist. People think the law missed its enrollment targets even as they’ve actually absorbed the data showing the law beat its enrollment targets.”


OBAMACARE IN 2014. THEN IN 2016. The Fix writes, “The general election hasn’t even begun, and Americans have heard thousands of reasons they should think of Obamacare when heading to the polls in November. In congressional floor speeches in March, the word “Obamacare” was uttered 293 times. Unemployment was only mentioned 42 times. …Americans for Prosperity has already spent tens of millions of dollars running ads blasting Democratic incumbents for supporting Obamacare in Arkansas, Michigan, Louisiana, North Carolina, Colorado and New Hampshire. “We do want to make sure that Obamacare is the number one issue in the country,” AFP President Tim Phillips told CNN earlier this month. Most Republicans seem to agree.

VOTERS HAVE SHORT ATTENTION SPANS All these early Obamacare ads might not matter in the end.

ADVANTAGE: REPUBLICAN Republicans are heading into November with a number of colossal advantages. During a president’s second midterm election, his party almost always suffers. Midterm elections are also dominated by older, whiter voters. The Republican Party is now dominated by older, whiter voters. The Democratic Party’s most reliable demographics — younger people and minorities, usually stay home in off-year elections. When you narrow down 2014 to the people most likely to cast ballots, the focus on Obamacare starts to make a lot more sense.”


NOT INTERESTED IN VOTING A new poll of 18-to-29-year-olds by the Institute of Politics at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government showed that interest among young voters is low and diminishing, and that conservative young voters are far more motivated to vote this year than their more liberal counterparts. Given the key role that younger voters, particularly young and single women, play in the Democratic core vote, the extent of the decrease among young voters directly hurts the Democrats’ ability to hold onto their imperiled Senate majority and keep House losses to a minimum.”


LET THE NDAA MARKUPS BEGIN Politico writes,  “The big news for defense watchers is the kickoff of the annual right of pushing the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) through Congress. This year’s bill faces particularly perilous politics as lawmakers weigh tacking on new Iran sanctions and an immigration proposal that could ignite an insurrection among conservative Republicans. Making matters even stickier for the NDAA – a must-pass measure for more than half a century – are the looming midterm elections this fall. If Republicans win control of the Senate, there could be little appetite to pass any bills until January, when the new Congress takes over.

THE NITTY GRITTY The full committee is expected to hold its markup on May 7, with a goal of getting the bill to the House floor the week of May 19.


ARMY WINS A BIG ALLY IN CARL LEVIN The Michigan Democrat, powerful chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he opposes a proposal that would freeze cuts to the Army Guard and Reserve until a commission issues a report on the structure of the Army. He said he would not object to establishing a commission to study the Army’s active-duty and reserves balance, but that the commission should not prevent the Army’s cuts from moving forward.


EVEN IN DC $11 BILLION IS A LOT OF MONEY Nextgov reports, “Sometime in the coming months, the DOD will bid out its Healthcare Management Systems Modernization contract, an effort so large in monetary size and game-changing scope that it could significantly influence the future of health care in the United States. The DHMSM contract’s estimated lifecycle value is approximately $11 billion and would include initial operating capabilities by 2017 and full functionality by 2023, according to Dr. Jonathan Woodson, assistant secretary of Defense for health affairs, who testified in February before the House Appropriations Committee’s defense panel.

LARGEST IT-RELATED CONTRACT IN GOVERNMENT What’s unique about this effort is that the Pentagon wants a single contractor to lead the integration of a commercial electronic health records system to cover its nearly 10 million beneficiaries and large assortment of health care facilities worldwide. Defense is one of the largest health care providers in the country, on par in size with the Veterans Affairs Department and private sector leaders like Kaiser Permanente. Defense officials want to award the contract by the end of 2014, and the winning contractor would have a chance to advance interoperability within DoD’s health records system, which has continually been one of the biggest faults of its current health records system.”


BENGHAZI IS BACK Politico writes, “House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) has issued a subpoena to Secretary of State John Kerry to testify about the 2012 attacks in Benghazi. The subpoena comes one day after Issa accused the Obama administration of potentially criminal behavior over allegations that the White House withheld emails from Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes discussing the attacks, which killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens. Issa, who confirmed the subpoena in a tweet, is asking Kerry to testify before his committee on May 21. … Rep. Nancy Pelosi went all Pelosi when asked about Benghazi, “‘Diversion, subterfuge. Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi. Why aren’t we talking about something else?’ Pelosi asked.”

BENGHAZI WILL NEVER GO AWAY NJ writes, “Someone tweets about Benghazi every 12 seconds. Not every 12 days or every 12 minutes, but every 12 seconds. Over the past month, that’s added up to more than 200,000 tweets, according to the social-media tracking firm Topsy. And while mentions of the attack on the American compound in Libya soared in the past few days thanks to new revelations about the government’s handling of the incident, Benghazi still scores about 5,000 tweets per day during the long periods between fresh news developments.”


AMERICANS WANT A LESS AMBITIOUS U.S. FOREIGN POLICY “Americans in large numbers want the U.S. to reduce its role in world affairs even as a showdown with Russia over Ukraine preoccupies Washington, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds. In a marked change from past decades, nearly half of those surveyed want the U.S. to be less active on the global stage, with fewer than one-fifth calling for more active engagement – an anti-interventionist current that sweeps across party lines.”


60c61a3a4aff2169e52ae88e_280x160GMO LABELING LAWS A Washington Report reader pointed out last week (H/T Chris) that Congress recently introduced the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2014 [some might say that the title of this act is the exact opposite of what it purports to do] that would create a voluntary labeling program at the federal level for foods with genetically modified organisms (GMO). If passed, this would establish federal standards nullyfying any state laws mandating GMO labeling. At this time the bill has little chance to pass the current Senate.

VERMONT FIRST IN NATION The Vermont state Senate recently passed a bill to require mandatory labeling of foods sold in Vermont (beginning July 1, 2016) that contain GMOs. …Unlike bills passed last year in Maine and Connecticut, which require four or five other states to pass GMO labeling laws before they can be enacted, Vermont’s law contains no “trigger” clauses, making it the first “clean” GMO labeling law in the country. Law suits from opponents such as Monsanto, Coca-Cola, Grocery Manufacturers Association, etc., are expected.


MCALLISTER NOT RUNNING Vance McAllister (R) will not run for reelection. A video published by a local newspaper showed the first-term Republican in a romantic embrace with his scheduler.


“It’s expectable. I’m now the oldest judge on the court. I can’t say that I ignore it, but I have to do what seems to me to be right.”

— Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, on the calls from some liberals for her to retire before the 2014 elections (Wall Street Journal)


DONALD STERLING Disgraced LA Clippers owner. Banned for life from the NBA and infamous recorded racist. He is a Republican and has given money to Democrats.  His politics don’t matter. #BanishSterling


LONDON HUMAN RIGHTS LAWYER AMAL ALAMUDDIN IS ENGAGED Hilarious headline… Her husband-to-be is an American actor and director who played ‘Kip Howard’ on the television mystery program ‘Murder, She Wrote’” That would be George Clooney. Shout out to all the smart, accomplished, ambitious, single ladies.


JACK IS BACK.  Return of Jack Bauer…and “24” on Monday night.


Capstone Public Affairs is a full-service public affairs firm with offices in Washington, D.C and Milwaukee, WI, with more than 20 years of experience developing effective ways to tell their clients stories. Specialties include social media, crisis communication, advocacy campaigns and government relations. 

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