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The Washington Report – November 1st, 2013
01 Nov 2013

The Washington Report – November 1st, 2013

A few excerpts from this week’s Washington Report. To read the full write-up click here. To sign up, click here.
Looking ahead, on deck for next week, the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) has a big sequestration hearing with all of the service chiefs on Thursday. Looking way ahead, the House plans to work 113 DAYS in 2014, returning to work on Jan. 7 after the Christmas break, giving them seven working days in the New Year before government funding runs out again.
The House is out today and back on Nov. 12. The Senate is out today and back on Monday.
Now for the week’s highlights.

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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REMEMBERING OUR FRIEND IKE SKELTON With heavy hearts we acknowledge the passing of former House Armed Services Chair, Rep. Ike Skelton. For over 34 years he was one of this country’s leading experts on defense where he wielded huge influence over the military and its budget. And he never failed to reach across the aisle to further what was most important to him, our troops and the national defense. He was a teacher who captivated all who knew him with his stunning knowledge and insights. As Thornton Wilder said, “The highest tribute to the dead is not grief but gratitude.” We on the Capstone Team, and so many others, are indeed fortunate to have known and worked with him. He will be deeply missed.


WORST. CONGRESS. EVER.  A new Wall Street Journal-NBC poll, paints a dire picture of American’s opinions about Congress. Here’s a summary from The Fix. 1. Congress isn’t getting ANYTHING done. 2. Congress isn’t popular. 3. People don’t trust Congress to do the right thing. 4. Congress is more polarized than ever before. 5. Lots of people want to fire EVERY member of Congress.
AND THE DECISIVE STROKE 6. More people believe they have seen a ghost than approve of Congress. Revealed in 7 charts.
THROW MY BUM OUT The Fix reports that the American public’s dissatisfaction with their representation in Congress — and their willingness to let “someone new” have a shot — are at historic highs in a new WSJ-NBC poll, a sign that incumbents — everywhere — need to be worried.

DO NOT PANIC 1. It’s October 2013, not 2014 (ah, this just may actually be a low point moment for Congress); 2. Grass is always greener and all that. An idealized “someone new” is not reality; there will actually be a human being on the ballot. 3. Thanks Gerrymandering – makes the bar very high for either side to make lots of pickups.
STILL TOXIC for anybody with a “Rep.” or “Sen.” before her/his name. The numbers suggest political peril is everywhere for elected officials.”


HOW THE iPOD PRESIDENT CRASHED Ezra Klein has the cover essay inBloombergBusinessweek, “The disastrous launch of … has dealt a devastating blow to Obama’s vision. In the months leading up to the Oct. 1 rollout of the site, the president rarely compared his signature policy achievement to Medicare or Social Security. Instead, he favored analogies to e-commerce sites such as Orbitz, Travelocity, and Expedia. Obamacare was supposed to be the model for a 21st century social program, not a replica of programs built in the 20th. Now Republicans are seizing on the breakdown of the health exchange to reinforce the idea that government can’t do anything right-particularly not anything of this size.”


GOOD SOLDIER The Fix writes, “Time and time again during a hearing on the problems with the rollout of Obamacare, HHS Secretary Sebelius put the blame squarely on herself for the issues with the Web site and refused to throw those “Hold me accountable for the debacle,” Sebelius said. “I’m responsible.” …In doing so, Sebelius did two things: She won the undying loyalty of many Dems for taking all incoming and became the face of Obamacare for every single person who doesn’t like the law.

BUT, BUT, BUT by bear-hugging responsibility she set herself up as the perfect sacrificial lamb if/when a decision is made to fire someone.
OR, if the web site is fixed, Sebelius may just get a pass.”

OBAMACARE FINGER-POINTING FLOWCHART The National Journal writes, “hours and hours and hours of testimony later – including bizarre non sequiturs to the lands of Oz and Chicken Little – the picture is a bit tangled.”


OBAMACARE SABOTAGE CAMPAIGN A step by step, Todd S. Purdam, Politico, writes,  “To the undisputed reasons for Obamacare’s rocky rollout — a balky website, muddied White House messaging and sudden sticker shock for individuals forced to buy more expensive health insurance — add a less acknowledged cause: calculated sabotage by Republicans at every step. That may sound like a left-wing conspiracy theory … but there is a strong factual basis for such a charge. … From the moment the bill was introduced, Republican leaders in both houses of Congress announced their intention to kill it [House voted 46 times to repeal it and then shut down the government in a last ditch effort]. Republican troops pressed this cause all the way to the Supreme Court — which upheld the law, but weakened a key part of it by giving states the option to reject an expansion of Medicaid. The GOP faithful then kept up …past the president’s reelection, in a pattern of “massive resistance.” … But the bitter fight over passage was only the beginning of the war to stop Obamacare. Most Republican governors declined to create their own state insurance exchanges — an option inserted in the bill in the Senate to appeal to the classic conservative preference for local control — forcing the federal government to take at least partial responsibility for creating marketplaces serving 36 states — far more than ever intended. … Then congressional Republicans refused repeatedly to appropriate dedicated funds to do all that extra work, leaving theHHS Department and other agencies to cobble together by redirecting funds from existing programs. On top of that, nearly half of the states declined to expand their Medicaid programs using federal funds, as the law envisioned. … Then, in the months leading up to the program’s debut, some states refused to do anything at all to educate the public about the law. And congressional Republicans sent so many burdensome queries to local hospitals and nonprofits gearing up to help consumers navigate the new system face-to-face that at least two such groups returned their federal grants and gave up the effort. So, some may say that all the Republican outrage is just, as Ethan Rome, ED of Health Care for America Now, a pro-Obamacare advocate said, “Jaw Dropping, turbo-charged hypocrisy.”


MR. POPULARITY NO LONGER Americans hold a more negative personal view of Obama for the first time in his presidency in an WSJ-NBC News. Just 41% say they have a positive view of the president, while 45% say they view him negatively.

TWO POLLS A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll also shows a decline in Obama’s personal popularity, his favorability (50%) is virtually indistinguishable from his job approval rating (48%). In the WSJ-NBC poll, Obama’s job approval is 42%, just about even with his personal likeability. The numbers mark a notable shift. For most of his presidency, Obama’s personal popularity has outpaced his job approval rating. The public’s attitude has generally been akin to: “Well, he may not be doing a terrific job, but I still like the guy.”


DEMS SHOULD BRACE THEMSELVES for the political fallout from Obamacare’s problematic implementation. National Journal writes, “the latest NBC/WSJ poll suggests that if the growing problems aren’t resolved by next year, the party behind the law stands to bear the brunt of public’s growing dissatisfaction. — The most important midterm question is which chamber is more in play: the Senate (for Republicans) or the House (for Democrats). After the shutdown, Dems looked like they could entertain hopes of expanding the House playing field. But Senate Democrats always faced the biggest exposure; their members are running in deeply conservative states. If you think the national numbers are bad for President Obama, they’re much worse in states like AR, LA and AK. All these states’ Democratic senators voted for the health care law and are up in 2014. — The most significant numbers from the poll: 43% now “strongly” oppose the health care law, matching its all-time high.”

“These rapidly shifting data suggest Republicans would do well to stay out of the Administration’s way and let it continue to implode,”
— Republican pollster Glen Bolger, assessing the latest shifts in public opinion against President Obama


INTRPARTY DISSENSION The Wall Street Journal writes, “October was clearly a cruel month for both President Barack Obama and the Republicans, both of whom saw their images slump to new lows…. But hidden within the data is a more disturbing reality for the Republican Party. Put simply, Democrats are largely content with their own party, while distaste among Republicans for the GOP has grown exponentially this year. The most recent WSJ/NBC News poll, offers a stark window into widening divisions within the GOP over strategy and what kind of leaders Republicans want going forward. The Democratic Party, by comparison, is a picture of unity.”


JON STEWART PART II As we noted last week, Conservatives have pointed to Jon Stewart’s jokes about Obamacare as proof that the law isn’t working. Last night he responded. 


TWO POLITICAL AMERICAS A fascinating read by Jim Tankersley, Washington Post, “detailing the vast differences – cultural, economic and political – between areas represented by tea-party aligned Members of Congress and the rest of the country. … If the two sides often seem like they are talking to two totally different electorates on every issue, it’s because they are. … He notes that in the 45 districts represented by MOCs who have routinely opposed Speaker John Boehner on things like the fiscal cliff deal, farm bill and aid for Hurricane Sandy victims, “the media income (in 2012) was 7% lower than the national median, according to the Census Bureau. …average unemployment rate was 10%, almost 2% higher than the national rate.” And the two sides don’t a) live in the same places b) watch the same TV shows or movies c) buy the same cars or d) read the same newspapers, watch the same news or read the same blogs. …” Full Article.


WHAT BUDGET? According to Stan Collender, budget expert (and long ago colleague from my Washington DC Hill days), “If there’s a deal and I doubt there is going to be, it’s going to be small.” That said, Politico writes, “Each budget battle has its own do-or-die deadlines that loom ominously in the future. If you haven’t yet, circle these dates in red on your calendar as the latest fiscal showdown has officially begun.

– Nov. 13: When the 29 lawmakers that make up the bipartisan budget conference committee have agreed to meet again.
– Dec. 13: The deadline for the committee to reach a deal on funding for the rest of the fiscal year.
– Jan. 15: Government funding is set to run out. Not coincidentally, sequestration also kicks in.
– Feb. 7: The U.S. must raise its legal borrowing limit to avoid default on its debt.


SENATE GOP FILIBUSTER[s] The Washington Pos writes, “Senate Republicans blocked President Obama’s nominees to oversee the home mortgage industry and to serve on a powerful appellate court, refusing to stop a filibuster of the two selections amid fresh rumbling from Democrats about changing the chamber’s rules. On a 56 to 42 vote, the Senate fell four votes shy of the 60 required to choke off debate in the GOP filibuster against the nomination of Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) to run the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.WSJ’s Washington Wire writes,
WHY REPUBLICANS DON’T WANT MEL WATT TO OVERSEE FANNIES AND FREDDIE “… Mr. Watt, the argument goes, would cooperate much more closely with the Obama administration on any housing-finance overhaul, possibly dimming the urgency for legislative action in the near-term and giving the White House greater leverage in the ultimate outcome of those discussions.”


FOOD STAMP CUTS The Hill writes, “…recipients saw their benefits cut on Friday as a scheduled across-the-board reduction was allowed to go into effect. Both the House and Senate were out of town as the nation went over the so-called “food stamp cliff.”The cut to the benefits of an estimated 47 million recipients came as a result of the Nov. 1 expiration of provisions in the 2009 Obama stimulus law that temporarily boosted benefits. Food stamps are being cut by $5 billion this year and a total of $11 billion over the next three years. An individual receiving the maximum monthly benefits of $189 under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will see an $11 cut while a family of four will see $36 taken out of their monthly benefits. Under the Agriculture Department’s often-criticized method for calculating food costs, this means 20 fewer meals for that family this month. …On Capitol Hill Wednesday, the House and Senate had their first Farm Bill conference meeting to try and enact a new 5-year plan for agricultural policy and SNAP. The agriculture industry, estimated to serve some 16 million jobs, has relied upon temporary provisions since 2012. SNAP funding, which is nearly 80% of all spending in the Farm Bill, has remained the thorn in the side of farmers. Republican House leaders have requested an additional $40 billion in cuts over 10 years, while a bipartisan Senate plan passed this summer requested about $4 billion.”


APPROPRIATORS: GIVE US A NUMBER BEFORE THANKSGIVING via Politicowrites, “House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) are asking congressional budget negotiators to work out a topline for fiscal 2014 discretionary spending before Thanksgiving. That way they’ll have time to craft a full-year appropriations bill before government funding runs out on Jan. 15, they said in a letter yesterday.”


NOMINATION DRAMA-RAMA RETURNS TO THE SENATE Morning Defense writes,On Wednesday, the Senate confirmed Alan Estevez as the new deputy undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics. But it’s unclear how quickly the Senate will confirm a substantial number of other DoD nominees.  “In quick succession, Senate Republicans held together Thursday to block two of President Barack Obama’s key nominations. The votes threatened to upend the relative peace that has taken hold in the Senate over the past few months since leaders agreed to not change the chamber’s rules to make it harder for the minority to block nominations – the so-called ‘nuclear option.'” Plus, you’ve got Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) threatening to block all nominations going forward until he gets more information on the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attack against the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya.

STILL PENDING Civilian nominations waiting on a floor vote include Debbie Lee James as Air Force secretary, Jessica Wright as undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness, Frank Klotz as undersecretary for nuclear security at the Department of Energy, a post overseen by the Senate Armed Services Committee and Jo Ann Rooney, to be undersecretary of the Navy.

GILLIBRAND (D-NY) is blocking Rooney over her views on handling sexual assaults in the military. The White House is standing by its embattled nominee.


ON-GOING TRAGEDY From the ArmyTimes, nine active-duty soldiers committed suicide in September, a slight decrease from the month before, the Army announced Oct. 31. … So far this year, 115 active-duty soldiers are believed to have committed suicide. … Among reserve-component soldiers who were not on active duty, as many as 112 soldiers are believed to have committed suicide.


WORTH NOTING Reuters reporting that “The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons says Syria has destroyed all of its declared chemical weapons production facilities.”


BILL COULD BLOCK EPA POWER-PLANT REGS RollCall reports, “Two coal-state lawmakers (Sen. Manchin (D-VA) and Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY) introduced legislation that would block EPA federal regulations to limit carbon emissions from power plants. The EPA last month issued new draft rules that would limit emissions from new power plants. The limits would mean that no new coal plants could be built unless they use technology to capture and store carbon emissions.


IT’S OFFICIAL Former Newark Mayor Cory Booker was … sworn in as a U.S. senator (D-NJ) Thursday by VP Joe Biden.


GREAT NEWS FOR ALEC BALDWIN (and other electronic-obsessives) National Journal writes, “the FAA announced Thursday that it “can safely expand passenger use of Portable Electronic Devices (PEDs) during all phases of flight.” Now, you can use your tablets and e-readers from gate-to-gate. FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said the agency is already working with airlines to implement the long-standing policy.”


FOR THE “WHY BOTHER” CROWD National Geographic writes, “The final days of life on Earth will come some 2.8 billion years from now, suggests a sobering new study. Currently at a comfortable temperature for life on Earth, our aging sun will slowly warm over its lifetime. Within about five billion years, the sun will exhaust its nuclear fuel and bloat into a “red giant” star that may even engulf our planet.

THE BRIGHT SIDE There are a lot of unknowns. Hey, why do we care anyway?


WORLD BIRTHS & DEATHS IN REAL TIME (Beta) Must watch this hugely popular interactive simulation.

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