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The Washington Report – May 9, 2014

09 May 2014

The Washington Report – May 9, 2014

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

 

Have Politics Killed the Supreme Court … Benghazi … NDAA … Big Data … Mouchers and Freeloaders … New Glass Ceiling … What’s the (Likely) New Name of Union Station and more news this week.

If you need reminding, SUNDAY is Mother’s Day! Great “mom salary” infographic for stay-at-home and working moms. Check it out.

Best,

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

If you want to connect with us, find us on TwitterFacebook and LinkedIn.
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HAVE AMERICAN POLITICS KILLED THE IMPARTIAL SUPREME COURT? The Fix writes, “New data from Democracy Corps … shows that the public thinks the court is a political creature. And the public does not care much for political creatures in 2014. … With the decisions reached in Bush v. Gore, the Affordable Care Act, Citizens United, Shelby County v. Holder and many others, justices were blamed for guiding American politics based on their own ideology rather than simply interpreting the law. New vacancies on the court are now treated as events of the utmost historical and strategic importance. … All of the political factors weighing on the Court have created the most partisan bench in history, according to a study by Richard Posner and Williams Landes. And while the Supreme Court has always been political, the fractious confirmation hearings and the media attention surrounding high-profile decisions have left the public more attuned to the politicking.

NO SURPRISE Despite the American public’s complaints about politicking on the Supreme Court, public opinion of the Court is completely dependent on whether partisans agree with the decisions the justices reach. The Pew Research survey released on Tuesday tracks public opinion of the Supreme Court since 2008, broken down by political party. When the Supreme Court made a decision that aligned with their ideology — or a justice nominated by a president from their party was confirmed to the court — opinion jumped up. When the Supreme Court’s decision did not align with their ideology, opinion dropped.”

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df1ec3e0d4e8783f31d9f82a_139x93“The people who serve as judges on the Supreme Court have been vetted by political parties, have often worked for political parties, frequently have loyalties to people in political parties who helped their career, and spend much of their time in Washington, where they sort into social groups they find congenial. They are, in other words, more, not less, political than most Americans.” – Ezra Klein

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4b7c093d55026b570c190374_100x100#BRINGBACKOURGIRLS CNN writes, “With every passing day, the wait for the kidnapped Nigerian girls gets more agonizing. Boko Haram seized the nearly 300 schoolgirls and vanished into a dense forest last month. A team of U.S. experts has been sent to Nigeria to help find them.” [The anguish of the families is just unimaginable.]

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BENGHAZI McClatchy reports, “On Thursday, the House of Representatives voted along party lines, 232-186, to convene a select committee to investigate the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador, Christopher Stevens. Republicans said creation of the panel was necessary for Congress to carry out its oversight role into how the attack happened and whether the Obama administration purposely obscured facts afterward.”

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SELECTIVE OUTRAGE IS RAMPANT Charlie Cook writes, “Elected officials and candidates, along with their handlers … know that there is another important side to every story, especially when they decide to leave out pertinent facts as they heave rhetorical red meat to their party’s base. They do what they feel they need to do to maximize their chances of winning, even if fairness or truth get a little bent in the process. A by-product of this tendency to bend the truth is that the public, or at least the slice that relies exclusively on ideological voices and sources for their news, can get an awfully one-sided perspective.

ENTER BENGHAZI I also have no doubt that things could have been done to prevent the horrible incident and that, in retrospect, Obama administration officials and political appointees, as well career civil servants and members of the military, wished they had handled some things differently. But many asking the questions seem unaware of certain facts and points of view. Last March, when Face the Nation moderator Bob Schieffer asked former Defense Secretary Robert Gates (originally a GW Bush appointee) about Benghazi, Gates, who had left his post 14 months before the attacks occurred, said, “Frankly, had I been in the job at the time, I think my decisions would have been just as theirs were.” Gates went on to say that certain people seem to have a “cartoonish” view of military capabilities in such situations.”

OH, THE CYNICISM comes when one recalls an even greater tragedy that occurred on Oct. 23, 1983, when the Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, were bombed during Ronald Reagan’s administration. In the latest New Yorker, Jane Mayer writes about having been in Beirut as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal at the time of the horrible bombing, when 241 American military personnel, including 220 Marines, were killed in the largest single-day loss of Marines since Iwo Jima in World War II. Although Democrats controlled the House and Tip O’Neill was speaker, there was little partisan grandstanding over the tragedy, even though mistakes were made. As Mayer notes, a gate was left open, and the personnel on guard were under orders to keep their weapons unloaded. Congress conducted a matter-of-fact, brief investigation, recommendations were made, and everyone moved on. Scoring political points was not the name of the game, even though the loss of American lives was more than 50 times greater than in Benghazi. It was a different era. One wonders how some of [today’s] conservatives would have reacted to such circumstances. Selective outrage is rampant in our political process today. The facts are too often swept to one side, or under the rug, for political purposes.”

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FORGET ABOUT OBAMACARE. IT’S ALL ABOUT BENGHAZI IN 2014 The Fix writes, “Today’s Daily Digit is brought to you by the fine folks up on Capitol Hill, who have mentioned the word “Benghazi” 72 times during floor speeches in the past eight days, according to data compiled by the Sunlight Foundation. Ninety-eight percent of the mentions since January have come from Republicans. Meanwhile, the word formerly known as the hottest buzzword of 2014 has gone incognito … “Obamacare” has been mentioned a paltry 19 times in floor speeches in those eight days. Republicans seem to have found a new word to hang their 2014 hopes on.”

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FIRESTORM AT THE VA Christian Science Monitor writes, “Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki faces a House subpoena and mounting calls to step down. The concerns: that some VA hospitals are misrepresenting wait times for veterans to get doctors’ appointments – and that patients are dying in the meantime. The Hill reports, “Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Thursday declined to join Republicans in demanding the resignation of Veterans Affair Secretary Eric Shinseki, saying the problems at the VA are “systemic” and won’t be solved by a change at the top.”

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NDAA From DefenseNews, “The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) early Thursday unanimously approved a measure that would authorize just over $600 billion in 2015 US defense spending. After a marathon markup session, the committee easily approved its version of the 2015 NDAA that includes a $495.8 billion base Pentagon budget level and $79.4 billion more for an overseas contingency operations (OCO) budget. The bill, which also authorizes $17.9 billion in Energy Department defense programs and $7.9 billion in mandatory defense spending, could grow even larger. That’s because the OCO amount is a placeholder; senior lawmakers expect the White House will send over an exact amount for the war in Afghanistan and other needs before the bill hits the House floor, likely this spring. The $495.4 billion — if the final amount authorized and appropriated for the Pentagon — would be cut by around $35 billion because sequestration remains in place. That sequestration cut amount was reduced by $9 billion under December’s bipartisan budget deal.”

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HOW MUCH OF THE HASC BILL WILL BECOME LAW? Politico writes, “Although the House’s largest committee has finished its work, the annual defense policy bill typically undergoes a major transformation all the way up to the point it actually passes – and some changes come just days or even hours before.”

WHAT SAY YOU, PENTAGON The Hill writes, “The Pentagon on Thursday said it stands “firmly” behind President Obama’s 2015 defense budget request, much of which was rejected by the HASC. The House panel … turned aside most of the president’s proposals, including the retirement of an aircraft carrier and the A-10 aircraft, the closing of excess bases, and cuts to troop pay raises and benefits. Military chiefs have warned that, if those proposed cuts are not made, training and maintenance that would keep troops ready to fight would be affected.”

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DOUBLING DOWN ON UAS From C4ISR& Networks, “For the most part, there is only one part of the fiscal 2015 budget request beside cybersecurity that is expected to grow: unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). While most programs budgets are down or flat, there is more than one instance of UAS programs receiving more money than the U.S. military requested.”

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203b25e4ee6a3fdd4827517f_280x155THERAPY DOGS AND PTSD AP writes, “After three deployments to Iraq and three to Afghanistan, Staff Sgt. Dennis Swols is agitated, prone to bouts of anger and unable to really talk about his time on the battlefield. But as Swols sits in a small office in the Robinson Health Clinic at Fort Bragg, his hand drops to the furry head beside him and his mood brightens. Settled at his feet, Lexy, a 5-year-old German shepherd, gives Swols a few moments of distraction. It’s her job. And, according to Swols, she’s good at it. There is a slowly evolving form of treatment, animal therapy … where dogs like Lexy are being used almost as co-therapists. Others routinely work as service animals and are often used for animal-assisted therapy, including in visits to patients in the hospitals.”

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FAVORITE (AND MOST UNLIKELY?) QUOTE OF THE WEEK

 “If your goal is to make the military healthy, let’s outlaw war. That’s as unhealthy as you can get.”

– Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) said during a debate over limiting cigarette sales within the military. Hunter’s defense of tobacco sales on military installations eventually won the day in HASC’s new defense authorization bill, reports Military Times

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BIG DATA, BIG DATA A new forecast predicts that federal spending on Big Data technologies will start picking up in 2016 and rise steadily through 2018. …Federal spending on Big Data-related services and software is projected to climb from $1.55 billion this year to $2.25 billion by 2018. Those figures do not include spending on data storage, which also is projected to climb from $3.44 billion this year to $3.52 billion in 2018. Combined, the projected federal Big Data spending will increase from $4.99 billion this year to $5.77 billion in 2018, according to  Alex Rossino, principal research analyst at Deltek. Driving the spending increases are the Defense Department and science, technology and research agencies — particularly NASA, the Energy Department and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. At DoD, spending on Big Data-related software and services is projected to jump from $670 million in 2013 to $880 million in 2018.”

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SPAT OVER R&D TAX CREDIT National Journal: “Despite a White House veto threat, scores of Democrats rebuffed the White House and their own leadership on Friday, voting for a bill to permanently extend a tax cut encouraging companies to invest in research and development. The vote passed 274-131, with 62 Democrats breaking with their party to vote with all but one Republican to pass the bill.

NO OFFSETS The bill makes permanent an R & D tax credit for businesses-without offsetting the $156 billion cost over the next decade. The White House and some Democrats who oppose the measure as-is have acknowledged they support the aim, but they won’t back the bill because they say it represents a case of political inconsistency-if not hypocrisy.”

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MEDICARE CHOICES EMPOWERMENT AND PROTECTION ACT Time Magazine reports, “Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) is introducing a law that will pay you to write your end-of-life directive ahead of time. The bill is co-sponsored by Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) and the Act would allow people on Medicare to get a payment of $75 from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for completing an online directive, and $50 for manually creating one, Reuters reports.

WHY? Dying is expensive, and planning ahead may be one way to cut costs since end of life spending is in the billions of dollars in the United States. According to The Medicare NewsGroup, in 2011, Medicare spending reached about $554 billion, and of that, Medicare spent about $170 billion on patients’ last six months of life. A 2011 study of 3302 Medicare beneficiaries found that advance directives were associated with less Medicare spending, a lower risk of dying in a hospital, and higher use of hospice care in areas of the U.S. characterized by higher spending in end of life care. Advance directives also make it easier for doctors and family members to make decisions with confidence, and are meant to protect—and carry out—patients’ choices.” The bill has been referred to the Finance Committee which will decide whether to send the bill to the Senate.”

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“DO YOUR JOBS ACT” RollCall writes, “ Freshman Sen. John Walsh (D-MT) – recently appointed to fill the unexpired term of Max Baucus — introduced a bill Thursday that would block congressional recesses until there’s an agreement on a budget resolution that balances within a decade. … Walsh’s bill, of course, has virtually no chance of seeing the light of day, let along becoming law. Senate Democrats have dismissed the idea of advancing a budget resolution this year, since the bipartisan budget agreement hammered out between House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., set levels that allow appropriators to craft the fiscal 2015 spending bills. Walsh, the former lieutenant governor of Montana, is running for a full term in November. That race is rated “Tilts Republican” by the Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call.”

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MORE THAN JUST KEYSTONE DIED IN THE SENATE NJ writes,”The perceived collapse of the bipartisan energy-efficiency bill may have imperiled the Senate’s Keystone vote, but it’s also got some members sweating their chances of moving other energy measures. (National Journal)

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FED HIGHWAY TRUST FUND HITS POTHOLE WSJ writes, “With money running low in the Highway Trust Fund, the main source of federal cash to build and maintain roads and transit systems, the Transportation Department has indicated it may need to delay reimbursing states for construction costs starting this summer unless Congress moves to replenish the account. While lawmakers almost universally agree the federal government should play a role in keeping the highway system funded, there is no consensus on how to do that.” “In the absence of congressional action, the balance in the trust fund’s highway account will fall to $2 billion by Sept. 30, and its mass-transit account to only $1 billion.” “That would force the Transportation Department to start delaying payments to states as soon as August to keep the accounts’ balances above zero, as required by law.” The delay could cost up to 700,000 jobs immediately. “Currently, most of the trust fund’s revenue comes from the 18.4-cents-per- gallon tax on gasoline and the 24.4-cents-per-gallon tax on diesel fuel. While those levels haven’t been raised since 1993, many House Republicans have said they don’t want to increase the taxes.”

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FORMER IRS OFFICIAL HELD IN CONTEMPT CNN reports, “Acting on a conservative battle cry and potentially triggering a court battle with the Obama administration, the Republican-led House voted Wednesday to hold former IRS official Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress for refusing to answer questions about her agency’s targeting of conservative and other groups. The 231-187 vote fell almost entirely along party lines, a decision that cut across three sharp divides: balance of power issues between the branches of government, political questions over the IRS scandal, and a Constitutional debate over Lerner’s individual Fifth Amendment rights.

TO THE RIGHT This is a blatant case of a government agency suppressing political thought from its opponents, mixed with question marks about whether anyone in the White House was involved.

TO THE LEFT This is ‘sooo’ blatantly political. House Republicans are again playing to the cheap seats with hyperpartisan witch hunts.”

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WELL, THAT WAS EASY NJ writes, “Sylvia Mathews Burwell sailed through her first confirmation hearing yesterday (to replace Kathleen Sebelius as Secretary HHS), drawing hardly any legitimately tough questions. Overall, the hearing was … boring. That’s good news for Burwell, who now seems poised for an easy confirmation.”

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THE FEDERAL MARKETPLACE COST LESS NPR writes, “An analysis of federal data (by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation) … finds that “the federal exchange was relatively efficient in signing up enrollees. Each one cost an average of $647 in federal tax dollars.” By contrast, it cost an average of $1,503 to sign up each person in the 15 state exchanges.

SUPRISE “The five states whose governors and/or legislatures were among the most adamant about resisting Obamacare — Florida, Texas, Georgia, Virginia and Michigan — ended up with the lowest per-person enrollee costs. Florida’s cost per enrollee was just $76; Texas’ was $102, and Michigan’s $427. All of the states with very high costs for each enrollee have one thing in common — relatively small populations. Yet it took millions of dollars to set up each exchange, so the smaller states couldn’t spread the costs.”

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MOUCHERS AND FREELOADERS The Atlantic writes, “…one of the more interesting maps appearing recently came from the personal-finance website Wallet Hub. Analysts there set out to determine how states compare in terms of their reliance on federal funding. The states deemed “most dependent” by the analysis are bright red on the map, those “least dependent” are bright green. CHECK OUT THE MAP. You can move your cursor around on the map to see how each state ranks. (There were some ties.)  The Wallet Hub analysts essentially asked how much each state receives back as a return on its federal income tax investment.

EXPOSING HYPOCRISY Here is how Business Insider handled the story:

“[W]ho really benefits from government spending? If you listen to Rush Limbaugh, you might think it was those blue states, packed with damn hippie socialist liberals, sipping their lattes and providing free abortions for bored, horny teenagers. . . .  As it turns out, it is red states that are overwhelmingly the Welfare Queen States. Yes, that’s right. Red States — the ones governed by folks who think government is too big and spending needs to be cut — are a net drain on the economy, taking in more federal spending than they pay out in federal taxes. They talk a good game, but stick Blue States with the bill.”

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GOP ESTABLISHMENT CONQUERED NORTH CAROLINA The Fix writes, “Thom Tillis’s win Tuesday in North Carolina’s Republican primary for U.S. Senate was unquestionably a major victory for the Republican establishment. Tillis’s nomination was a testament to three factors: A flurry of outside spending on his behalf; ads from allies that were not too confrontational; and a weak field of opponents who tried to wear the tea party label but never convinced powerful tea party interests to join them.”

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573814929db026bc16c09955_440x253PARTISAN DIVIDE ON CLIMATE CHANGE On climate, Republicans and Democrats are from different continents. NYTimes writes, “ … American exceptionalism on the climate stems almost entirely from Republicans. Democrats and independents don’t look so different from people in Japan, Australia, Canada and across Europe.

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NEW GLASS CEILNG Ron Brownstein for NJ writes, “Polarization and paralysis in Washington are transforming the notion of the glass ceiling. Traditionally, the glass ceiling has referred to the invisible barriers that allow women and minorities to rise to a certain level in major institutions, but no further. The new glass ceiling blocks the rise of innovative grassroots solutions to the country’s biggest challenges, such as education or inequality. Creative thinking is flourishing in local governments, community nonprofit organizations, and public-private partnerships. But almost none of these new approaches are penetrating the frozen debate between the parties in Washington. The new thinking stalls against the calcified ideological disagreements that form the capital’s glass ceiling.

FILLING THE VACUMN The most encouraging example of new forces filling the vacuum created by Washington’s immobilization is neither left nor right. It’s found in the proliferation of nonprofit organizations and public-private partnerships sprouting in communities across the country. Social entrepreneurs blending business savvy with public mission are crafting new means to meet old goals. …These efforts are expanding partly because advances in information technology are making it easier for social entrepreneurs to raise money, organize supporters, and deliver services. But this golden age of grassroots direct action also draws on the spreading sense that communities can’t wait for distant leaders to solve problems. In the new Heartland Monitor Poll, a majority identified only two institutions as doing more to help than hurt on the country’s biggest problems, and each was locally rooted: community groups and small business, though … ultimately, most respondents said, the country can’t solve its problems without national-scale solutions. … The energy crackling in local innovation shows that a flow of talent and new ideas is ready when Washington finally lifts the glass ceiling.”

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LOOKING TO RENAME D.C.’S UNION STATION RollCall reports, “Washington, D.C., has no memorial or statue in the Capitol to honor President Harry S. Truman, who left office in 1953 as one of the most unpopular chief executives in history but whose legacy has been more than rehabilitated since then, with members of both parties grabbing for his legacy. So Missouri’s senators want to honor the only man from their state to lead the nation by designating the District’s most iconic train station the “Harry S. Truman Union Station.”

SOME HISTORY The Bethel granite building, completed in 1908, has special significance to Truman’s tenure in D.C. In 1948, when Truman decided to run for a full term in the White House, he launched a 30,000-mile whirlwind tour of the nation to get his message to the people. His “whistle-stop campaign” tour began and ended at Union Station. During his presidency, the station was home to the presidential rail car, U.S. Car No. 1, which he used extensively to travel the states.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY HARRY The senators introduced the bill on Thursday, Truman’s 130th birthday.

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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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