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The Washington Report – November 15th, 2013
15 Nov 2013

The Washington Report – November 15th, 2013

A few excerpts from this week’s Washington Report. To read the full write-up click here. To sign up, click here.

Competence. Credibility. Complexity. Consequences. That about sums up the week.

Now, for the highlights…Best,

The Capstone National Partners Team (John Rogers, Alan MacLeod, Steve Moffitt, Diane Rogers, Erik Oksala, Kate Venne, Jodi Hrdina and Joyce Rubenstein)

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GOOD NEWS ON VETERANS DAY First, military suicides are down 22% this year, the AP reports. And, another relative bright spot tweeted from Washington Post Kabul Bureau Chief Kevin Sieff, “For US troops, this was one of the most peaceful months of the last 12 years. Three troops killed.”

SEASON OF RECORD-BREAKING VOTER ANGER NPR’s Alan Yu summarizes the current political situation.  Yu writes, “Anger toward politicians and governments isn’t exactly new. What is unusual is the sheer number of polling records that have been set in recent weeks – both lows and highs.

Congressional Approval For the first time since Gallup began asking the question 39 years ago, the approval rating for Congress is in the single digits. The firm’s latest poll shows only 9% of Americans approve of how Congress is doing its job.
Presidential Approval is registering the lowest of his presidency. Just 39% of voters approve of the job the President is doing, according to the most recent Quinnipiac University poll.

Party Favorability Midway through the October government shutdown, public sentiment toward the Republican Party sank to a record low: Just 28% of Americans said they had a favorable opinion of the GOP, the lowest measured for either party since Gallup began asking the question in 1992. And 62% had an unfavorable opinion of the Republican Party, a record-high. The silver lining for the GOP? Forty-nine percent of Americans viewed the Democratic Party unfavorably.

Anti-Incumbent Sentiment People don’t even like their own representatives anymore. Voters typically want to throw the bums out of Congress, except for their own representative, of course. Now, even that distinction is gone, according to Pew Research. A record-low of 48% of registered voters want their representative in Congress to win re-election in 2014 – and 38% say they want their representative in Congress defeated, the highest percentage in more than two decades.

Top Problem Facing the Country “Dissatisfaction with government” now ranks as the most important problem facing the country, ahead of healthcare, unemployment, the economy and the federal budget deficit. According to Gallup, dissatisfaction with government has been cited as the top problem for the past two months – something that has never happened before, and the polling firm has been asking this question since the 1930s.

Public Trust In Government is just a tick above its historic low. Only 19% of people trust the federal government to do what is right just about always or most of the time. It’s been this bad only one other time in history, according to Pew Research Center – after the House Banking Scandal of 1992, when trust in government hit a low of 17%.”



EMERGING DEMOCRATIC DIVIDE Hotline writes, “Republicans are in the midst of a messy civil war between its establishment wing and the tea party grassroots. But with President Obama’s approval ratings collapsing amid problems with his signature health care law, Dems are starting to face their own deepening divisions. … American political history shows that the president’s party tends to be united, while the opposition often looks leaderless, rudderless, and divided. But when the president’s approval rating sinks into dangerous territory, that formula becomes inoperative. And Obama is now facing the reality that allies are now looking out more for their political survival, than taking one for the team.”

SIX YEAR ITCH The Fix writes, “There is a panoply of theories to explain the historical consistency of the six-year itch. Here’s nonpartisan political handicapper Charlie Cook’s explanation: When a president is elected, he is full of energy and new ideas. There is an excitement surrounding the election of a new commander in chief in the first couple of years and a considerable amount of momentum. In the third and fourth years, all of those favorables are harnessed in reelecting the president. In their fifth and sixth years, presidencies tend to run out of gas and new ideas, and their novelty has worn off. The public begins to gradually and increasingly grow weary, resulting in bad six-year itches.”

NUMBERS Through Nov. 2, 106,185 people had signed up, with about a quarter going through the federal website and the rest signing up via one of the 15 state-run exchanges. About 400,000 more people have received new benefits under the Medicaid expansion.
WHO’S THE BOSS NJwrites, “…State-run exchanges mopped the floor with the federal marketplaces when the administration released its first-month enrollment data Wednesday. Unofficial leaks had set the stage for about a 50-50 breakdown between state and federal exchanges, but the real numbers were much starker: State exchanges accounted for 75% of all enrollment; the 36 states relying on trickled in with just one-fourth of the total.
GOP SABOTAGE…OR SMART POLITICS …this is good reminder why health care experts and the administration always wanted states to take the lead setting up their own exchanges. GOP governors’ refusal to do so was, in part, an attempt to overburden the federal implementation process and break the system–even if it meant higher premiums and more federal control in their states. If Wednesday’s enrollment numbers are any guide, it’s working.”

THE FIX National Journal reports, “The president’s administrative “fix” to his signature legislative accomplishment will allow Americans to renew current health care plans they like until the end of 2014. The about-face allows insurers to restore canceled plans for an additional year even if those plans do not comply with Obamacare’s minimum benefits. The change differs from Rep. Fred Upton’s proposal.”

IMPORTANT SMALL PRINT Two key conditions for keeping insurance, according to the White House: 1) Insurers must notify consumers which protections their current plans do not include, and 2) Insurers must also notify consumers of new options available in the marketplace that offer better coverage.”

THIS ‘FIX’ IS GOING TO GET A LOT UGLIER BEFORE IT GETS BETTER Washington Post writes, “By allowing insurance companies to renew policies that are not up to snuff with the standards of Obamacare, the administration is creating a complicated mess for both insurers and state officials who regulate them.”

ANYONE OUTSIDE OF ADMINISTRATION LIKE THE FIX? Politico writes, “Obama’s fix is an attempt to keep more aggressive congressional changes at bay, but even Senate Democrats, led by Mary Landrieu and Mark Udall, are proposing a plan that would let people keep their current health-care plans, but require insurers to provide information on new plans that meet the laws stricter requirements.”

END-AROUND THE WHITE HOUSE The Fix writes, “Today, the Republican-controlled House passed [what’s being called the Upton] bill 261-157 (with 37 Democrats) that will allow insurance companies to continue offering to everyone — not just current policy-holders — health plans that don’t comply with the ACA. The president late Thursday indicated he would veto such a bill if it made it to his desk.

THE “KEEP YOUR CRAPPY PLAN” BILL The bill would let insurers sell inadequate policies to new and existing customers. That undermines both the risk pools and one of the most valuable ideas in the president’s health reform law — that health insurance should really be insurance.”

UPTON BILL GUTS ACA by allowing plans not compliant with the new law to continue.”

CHASTENED. APOLOGETIC. INTROSPECTIVE. The Fix writes, “Pick your adjective to describe President Obama’s tone during his press conference. All told, Obama’s demeanor — and his rhetoric — represented a marked change for a president who has been typically unwilling to engage in the sort of navel-gazing introspection that the Washington political press corps loves and politicians loathe. And, for a president and an administration who have come under considerable scrutiny from the White House press corps, the nearly hour-long talkathon was also a startling departure from precedent. There’s no question that this was a different Obama. But, whether Obama’s willingness to take his medicine/fall on his sword/admit he fumbled the ball will help arrest the political free fall in which he (and his party) currently find themselves on Obamacare is very much up in the air.
Put simply: Sometimes saying sorry just isn’t enough.

RECOVERING FROM A FUMBLE FirstRead writes, “A lot hinges on meeting the Nov. 30 deadline: Yet the true test if things ultimately get better for the White House is whether or not it meets its self-imposed Nov. 30 date to fix the website for a majority of Americans. A better-functioning website cures a lot of problems — enrollment numbers will go up, those with canceled plans might be able to find better deals, the negative feedback loop might come to an end. But not meeting that deadline could be disastrous. After all, if you think Democrats are skittish now, just think how they’ll be if the website isn’t significantly improved by Nov. 30. Given that, there are two ways to look at Obama’s news conference yesterday. One, he was offering Hill Democrats a “pound of flesh” to curtail the Democratic freakout. That’s why he was so apologetic, so introspective. [and] Two, he was trying — with his announced fix — to buy some time to get the website working.”

The headlines tell the story of the political reality of the botched health care law rollout and attempted fix (h/t NPR)
WSJ: “Obama Retreats on Health Care Rules”
Washington Post: “Democrats face major loyalty test”
New York Times: “As Troubles Pile Up, a Crisis of Confidence”
National Review: “Cancel Obamacare”
TPM: “Using Obamacare Confusion to sell junk insurance”


EVERYTHING COMING UP REPUBLICANS The Fix writes, “But, the party would be making a big mistake if it assumed that the problems with Obamacare were a panacea for all of what ails the GOP. The problems with Obamacare — and what it is doing and likely will continue to do to damage the president (and his party) — could well make the 2014 midterm a very good election for Republicans. But, the 2016 presidential election is another animal entirely — and one far less likely to be fundamentally influenced by Obamacare’s problems.

LOOK TO HISTORY The Republicans massive gain in the 2010 midterms — with the GOP picking up 63 seats and retaking control of the House. Those wins convinced many Republicans that Obama’s victory in 2008 was an exception, not the new normal of national politics.

WRONG The 2012 election exposed — to an even greater degree than 2008 had — the problems the GOP had when it came to winning a national presidential election. President Obama swamped Mitt Romney among Hispanics who viewed Republicans as aggressively opposed to their concerns, won among women who blanched at the GOP’s social-issues agenda and crushed Romney among young voters.

THE LESSON Opposing a president’s agenda might be enough to win a midterm election where (largely base) voters are in the mood to send a message to the man in the White House. But, simply saying “I am not that guy” is not enough (or even close to enough) to win a presidential election. … So, yes, Republicans are having a very good last month. They may well have a very good next year. And a very good 2014 election. But, that doesn’t mean that what ailed the GOP in 2012 (and 2008) has magically fixed itself. It hasn’t.”


JANET YELLEN EN ROUTE TO WORLD DOMINATION National Journal writes, “At the very least, she’s poised to become the most powerful women in the world as the first female Fed chairman. Her words will move markets and she’ll be around after Obama is gone from the White House.”

SENATE HEARING EASY BREEZY New York Times writes, “Obama’s pick to run the Fed encountered little resistance before the Senate Banking Committee, as both Dems and Republicans opted instead to use the hearing as an opportunity to spar over larger economic issues like income inequality and bank regulations.”


NDAA NEXT WEEK Politico writes, “The Senate is set to take a procedural vote Monday that, if successful, would launch debate on this year’s version of the defense authorization bill, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said [Thursday] evening. But the measure still faces potential delays. Sen. David Vitter says he may insist on getting a vote on an Obamacare amendment he’s pushing as part of the defense bill floor debate. …this could delay votes on the defense bill until December. … adding significant delays on other defense-related amendments dealing with military sexual assault, Iran sanctions and NSA surveillance.”

END OF AN ERA FOR DEFENSE HAWKS Politico writes, “The defense industry’s glory days on Capitol Hill are coming to an end. The past year has been tough for some of the industry’s stalwarts. In December, the defense establishment lost Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HA), a Medal of Honor recipient who then chaired both the Appropriations Committee and its subcommittee on defense. Just last month Rep. Bill Young (R-FL), chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, died. And a few days later, former Rep. Ike Skelton (D-MO), a longtime leader of the Armed Services Committee, died nearly three years after he was defeated for reelection. Still ahead is the retirement of Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), chairman of the Armed Services Committee. …The consequences of the defense brain drain are still unfolding. But they could be a gut punch to an industry already hard hit by sequestration and general budget tightening, said Mackenzie Eaglen, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. … Calling the shift a “startling and rapid descent of knowledge by sitting members of Congress,” Eaglen said, there’s “no doubt that this has significant short- and long-term consequences for the defense industrial base,” the Pentagon and the military.


NO MORE WWII VETS For the first time. The last — Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) — died in June.”
OR ALMOST ANY VETS “Today less than 20% of senators and representatives have active-duty military service on their records, despite the past decade of wars abroad,” (The Washington Post)
PROOF? Only 28 House Members attended a classified session on military readiness, not a great showing at yesterday’s briefing, which was intended to inform lawmakers who aren’t on the House Armed Services Committee about the potential consequences of further rounds of sequestration on military readiness. No House leaders attended, either.


SEXUAL ASSAULT LEGISLATION ENTERS FINAL STAGE Morning Defense writes, “The backers of rival amendments to tackle the military’s sexual assault problem are making their closing arguments before the Senate votes on the defense bill. …About two dozen senators have yet to decide whether to support Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s controversial amendment that would remove the chain of command from prosecuting sexual assault and other major military crimes.”

OPPOSITION WSJ writes, “The Army chief of staff [Gen. Ray Odierno] called Gillibrand’s measure—which would strip commanders of oversight of sexual-assault and other federal prosecutions in the military—”a big mistake.”

GILLIBRAND AMENDMENT WOULD COST $113 MILLION The estimate comes from an analysis by DoD’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation Office and covers the additional personnel needed to stand up and implement the proposed changes in policy, according to a senior defense official.”


NO IMMIGRATION REFORM IN 2013 John Boehner signaled that immigration reform is off the table for this year saying, “I’ll make clear we have no intention ever of going to conference on the Senate bill.” (CNN)


GOP SHUTS DOWN IDEA OF ANOTHER SHUTDOWN BuzzFeed’s Kate Nocera reports: “If you thought the disastrous first month of the Obamacare rollout might give conservative Republicans on Capitol Hill another case of shutdown fever, think again. Republicans’ efforts to tie federal budget negotiations to Obamacare-related demands backfired for the GOP in October when the party shouldered the majority of public blame for the government shutdown. The problems with the health care law since then have given Republicans endless fodder for attacks against Democrats – and many in the GOP are basking in an ‘I told you so’ moment. But even the conservative lawmakers who dragged their leadership into a politically perilous fight over defunding the health care law in October have no desire to go down that road again.”


ENERGY SHIFT FROM COAL TO GAS IS IN MOTION National Journal writes, “As House Republicans held another hearing berating EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy on everything from cows to climate change to ice ages, real news happened outside the Beltway. Government-owned Tennessee Valley Authority, which provides power for a large part of the Southeast, announced today it will close six coal power plants in Alabama and replace two others in Kentucky with natural-gas plants. Meanwhile, political leaders in West Virginia, a top coal producer, lauded plans also announced today for a new natural gas-processing facility in the state, which sits atop the Marcellus shale-gas formation.

A ONE-TWO PUNCH of cheap, plentiful supplies of cleaner-burning natural gas and tougher environmental rules are driving our nation’s shift from coal to gas. … Rarely do the shifts in America’s energy landscape materialize so clearly in one day.”

ENERGY POLICY DECISION ON ETHANOL Politico writes, “The EPA is proposing to scale back the amount of ethanol it will require refiners to blend into the gasoline supply next year, handing a major victory to the oil industry and a loss to corn growers and other biofuel producers. The Obama administration’s proposal on the 2014 renewable fuel volume requirements has become one of the year’s most heavily lobbied energy policy decisions. Congress created the mandate during the George W. Bush administration, with the aim of using home-grown biofuels to combat worries about oil imports and greenhouse gas emissions.”

CARBON TAX? The Hill reported, “The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) floated 103 ways to help cut the deficit Wednesday, and one option takes out a much bigger bite than any other: A carbon tax. A $25-per-ton tax that rises 2% annually would raise slightly over $1 trillion over a decade, according to the nonpartisan CBO.  Closest competitor? Increasing the payroll tax rate for Medicare hospital insurance by one percent, which would raise an estimated $859 billion between 2014 and 2023.

NOT ANY TIME SOON Carbon tax proposals don’t have traction on Capitol Hill and the White House, which is moving ahead with carbon emissions regulations, has flatly ruled out floating a carbon tax. But some advocates of the idea, such as Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA), hope for an eventual opening during wider fiscal and tax policy debates in Congress.”


DON’T YOU… FORGET ABOUT ME… DON’T, DON’T, DON’T YOU First Read writes, “…perhaps the biggest 2016 news of the week was about former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.” FromPolitico, “Several top GOP sources on Wall Street and in Washington said this week that Bush has moved from almost certainly staying out of the 2016 race to a ‘30% chance’ of getting in. Several sources mentioned the precise 30% odds as up from closer to zero just a few months ago.”

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