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The Washington Report – November 22nd, 2013
22 Nov 2013

The Washington Report – November 22nd, 2013

A few excerpts from this week’s Washington Report. To read the full write-up click here. To sign up, click here.
Today, we pause to remember John F. Kennedy. A half century after the assassination, the enormity of the crime just doesn’t fit the insignificance of the criminal. It never will.

Both the House and Senate have adjourned for the Thanksgiving break. The House returns on Dec. 1st, and the Senate on the 9th. The Washington Report will be back after Thanksgiving.

Here are 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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A PLACE CALLED DEALY PLAZA WaPo‘s Joel Achenbach writes from Dallas: “The place hasn’t changed much since Nov. 22, 1963. Some signage is different. Skyscrapers loom in the distance. The live oaks are bigger. Otherwise, it’s remarkably preserved, including the building on the northeast corner of the plaza, which in 1963 was a warehouse known as the Texas School Book Depository. Up there, behind a pile of boxes in the southeast corner of the sixth floor, Lee Harvey Oswald pulled the trigger. ‘It’s smaller than I thought it would be,’ Kimberly Feare, 52, of Redwood City, Calif., said of Dealey Plaza on a recent Saturday afternoon. ‘But maybe it’s dwarfed by the incident itself. It’s such a huge thing.’ — “There, off the cuff, from a tourist, is the central tension of the Kennedy assassination. This was, as she noted, a huge thing, a moment routinely and almost numbingly cited as an end to our innocence, as the termination of postwar conformism and the beginning of the chaos and madness and rage of the 1960s. It killed the first television president, his death captured on film. The assassination has been, ever since, the subject of obsessive investigation. There is always more to learn, always another factoid to gnaw.”

The Dallas Morning News’s yearlong series ” JFK50” is packed with stories, slideshows and videos marking the 50th anniversary of the tragedy.



SENATE DEPLOYS NUCLEAR OPTION NJ writes, “Filibusters on executive-branch and lower-court judicial nominees are gone, but this change importantly doesn’t include picks for the Supreme Court. Reid’s move effectively closes a decade-long debate on appropriate filibustering of nominees, especially those tapped for the D.C. Circuit Court.”

NUCLEAR OPTION DEBATE IN 2 CHARTS Democrats take only option open to them in the face of historical Republican blockading?

OR Democrats purposely overreact to routine obstruction in order to get their way. The Charts.

“Senate Republicans have been very, very fair to this president.”
— Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, arguing against changing Senate filibuster rules



WHY HARRY REID WENT NUCLEAR Politico writes, “He once called the ‘nuclear option’ an ‘un-American’ move that would destroy the Senate and ‘ruin our country.’ But on Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid did it anyway. He took the unprecedented step of gutting Senate filibuster rules for presidential nominees on a straight party-line vote, a high-stakes gambit that could have enormous implications for future presidents, reshape an institution he’s served in for 26 years, and ultimately define Reid’s legacy as one of the longest-serving Democratic leaders in history – one with a penchant for bare-knuckled tactics. … He bucked up his troops ahead of the hugely controversial move. ‘This is the right thing to do,’ Reid told one of his closest advisers. ‘If I don’t do this, I might as well just walk away.’ … Reid called in a heavy hitter to close the deal: President Barack Obama, according to sources familiar with the matter. Obama personally called senators on Wednesday to back the move, and Reid ultimately won the vote on a slim margin, 52-48. Just three Democrats broke with Reid: the retiring Carl Levin of Michigan, the moderate Joe Manchin of West Virginia and the vulnerable Mark Pryor of Arkansas. When the seismic moment finally came, shell-shocked senators in both parties couldn’t believe that Reid pulled the trigger – and were grasping to understand the far-reaching ramifications. Asked how history would remember him after this move, Reid said, ‘I don’t write history.”

REACTION The latest move left Republicans howling in protest and warning that Reid would ultimately come to regret it. Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina called Reid ‘a puppet of the president.’ Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said he was acting like a ‘bully.’ And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Reid had broken his word that he ‘never, ever’ would go this route. ‘For Harry Reid, this has always been about power,’ said Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.). ‘He rammed a rule change through. It’s historic.'”

DEMS WILL REGRET THIS Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader writes in a USA Today op-ed: “The truth is, we confirmed 215 of President Obama’s judicial nominees and rejected only two before this battle began. And when it comes to the court they picked this particular fight over, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, we just confirmed a nominee to that bench by a vote of 97-0. The D.C. Circuit Court is now evenly divided between Democrat and Republican appointees. It has more judges than it even needs with its light workload – using the same standard that Democrats themselves used to deny President Bush’s picks to the court. But the D.C. Circuit often decides the legality of a president’s executive actions, and Democrats do not want that check on their power. … Rather than learn from past precedents, Democrats have set yet another one; they will one day regret this one, too, when the Senate majority inevitably changes – as it always does.”

9 REASONS THIS IS A BIG DEAL Because we all love lists. (Washington Post)

ELECTIONS HAVE CONSEQUENCES Politico writes, “…Thursday’s historic vote in the Senate to obliterate the filibuster for most presidential nominees makes Election 2014 that much more consequential. With only 51 Senate votes – a simple majority – now needed to clear presidential nominees for cabinet posts and federal judges, the power of the majority has been significantly enhanced.”

DC LOVES [WAR] METAPHORS NJ writes, The term [nuclear option] is rife for puns and metaphors. Although it’s … not as bad as the “fiscal cliff” we were either going to run into, fall off of, or swan dive from (depending on the writer) at the end of last year. … How often do politicians “set off firestorms,” “mount attacks,” or go “on the offensive” without actually doing any of those things? Politicians even run in “campaigns,” which can be defined as “a series of military operations intended to achieve a particular objective.” Yes, this all might be a little superficial, but if we are to believe the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis that the vocabulary we use to describe a topic affects the way we think about that topic, maybe it isn’t. It’s clear from the headlines of the last few days, Congress = War.” Agree, nuclear-option is a dumb phrase.

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING FirstRead writes, “.. here’s a counter-intuitive thought: What if the rules change isn’t as bad as everyone thinks? For starters, it’s hard to imagine that Congress can get any more polarized. Next, eliminating the filibuster for presidential appointments might be a relief for the members of GOP’s so-called “Compromise Caucus.” If you’re a Lindsey Graham or Lamar Alexander, aren’t you glad you’re no longer always feeling responsible for having to cast votes for Obama’s nominees, especially with re-election coming up? And then here’s the reaction from Senate Republicans yesterday: Their chief argument against the Democrats’ rules move was that Democrats were creating a distraction from Obamacare. To us, that doesn’t scream, “This is the worst thing ever!!!” What if everyone — Democrats and Republicans included — was simply tired about fighting over nominees and they are secretly glad they did something to essentially hit the reset button in how the Senate works?”

CHANGING THE RULES BECAUSE THE RULES HAD ALREADY CHANGED But there was something else that triggered yesterday’s rules change. It used to be that the up-or-down vote was what ultimately mattered. But over the last few years, interest groups and partisan media began holding senators accountable for their cloture votes. It was no longer good enough to simply vote against a nominee on final passage; you also had to vote to deny that nominee the 60 votes needed to even consider the nomination. Just look at the number of cloture votes on presidential nominees (both executive and judicial) by president, according to data from the Congressional Research Service: Lyndon Johnson: 1; Richard Nixon: 1;Jimmy Carter: 3;Ronald Reagan: 6;George Bush 41:1; Bill Clinton: 18; George Bush 43: 38; Barack Obama (through five years): 80-plus.

BOTTOM LINE: This trend wasn’t going to end. As the numbers show, Republicans dabbled in this obstruction with Clinton; Democrats escalated this during the Bush 43 years; and then Republicans took it to ANOTHER level during the Obama presidency.”

JUST INTERESTING The New York Times editorial board supports the Democrats move to support the nuclear option. The Washington Post editorial board does not.




IMPACTS THE ENERGY WORLD National Journal writes, “With Congress gridlocked on energy and environment policy, major changes are being made within the Obama administration—and then the courts. The Senate rules change approved today will allow judicial and executive-branch nominees to be approved with 50 votes instead of requiring 60 to overcome a filibuster. At particular issue is a trio of nominees for the U.S. Court of Appeals-D.C. Circuit, which is considered the second-highest court after the Supreme Court (which is exempt from this rule change.) It will be the kind of effect you can’t discern easily or right away, but the judges that President Obama can now appoint to the D.C. Circuit Court will help decide several high-profile energy and environment cases, especially those involving EPA. The courts are poised to have a greater impact on these policies than anything done on Capitol Hill. Believe it or not, Congress just made itself even less relevant than it already was.”

IMPACTS OBAMACARE NJ Health Care Edge writes, “The Senate made it much easier yesterday for President Obama to get nominations through the Senate–and that has big implications for the future of Obamacare. For starters, it takes away the No. 1 argument against firing Kathleen Sebelius over the failed launch of the website. Sibelius’s job was seen as safe in part because it would have been impossible to get 60 votes to confirm a new secretary. Now it only takes 51. Sebelius may well still be safe, but not by default. The “nuclear option” will also allow Obama to make appointments to the health care law’s controversial cost-cutting board. The Independent Payment Advisory Board has been a magnet for GOP criticism and has sat empty, with no nominees, because trying to get 60 votes for the IPAB would have been a fool’s errand. But, again, it’s 51 now. Obama still might not want to wade into this fight before the midterms, when vulnerable Democrats might deny him even a simple majority. And the calculus could get worse for him after the midterms. But he can move ahead if he wants to–and if he doesn’t, Republicans will surely ask what’s standing in his way now that he doesn’t need their votes.”

IMPACTS THOSE WAITING Politico writes, “…filibuster change is good news for those waiting for executive branch confirmations … Janet Yellen at the Federal Reserve, Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) at the Federal Housing Finance Agency and Jeh Johnson at the Department of Homeland Security.”

IMPACTS NDAA Morning Defense writes, “One consequence of the historic rules change is that it killed any spirit of bipartisan compromise. And this does not bode well for the NDAA, which has been stalled all week as Senate leaders haggled over how to proceed with amendments.

SAID WITH A STRAIGHT FACE “I just think after today, legislating’s going to be pretty tough,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters.

NDAA ON LIFE SUPPORT FOR NOW: Later in the day, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid put forward a motion to end debate on the bill, but it failed, 51-44, nine votes short of the 60 needed to advance the bill.

BARELY ENOUGH TIME LEFT Why is Reid so intent on getting the defense bill out of the Senate? Because he’s looking at the calendar and sees there’s just a tiny window in December when the House and Senate are not in recess and can meet in conference to hash out their differences on the bill, likely just the week of Dec. 9.

LEVIN UNDETERRED “Given the importance of this bill to our troops, their families and our national security, I’m nowhere close to giving up on completing the defense authorization bill, even though we will only have days, not weeks, to complete it,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin said in a statement.

AMENDMENTS LEFT HANGING A number of controversial amendments are still awaiting votes, including ones addressing sexual assault in the military and a new round of sanctions against Iran. So, it’s now possible some may even be offered as stand-alone bills, if the defense bill can’t get off the ground in the Senate. The House has already passed its version.

HASC TO SENATE: PLEASE GET IT DONE “A House Armed Services Committee GOP source toldDefense News the differences between the two committees’ versions are not that stark, and likely could be ironed out quickly. “There is nothing in terms of substance that’s holding this bill up,” the HASC source said. “There are no policy debates or differences that we cannot come to agreement on.”



LOOKS LIKE MCCASKILL’S PROPOSAL WINS Politico writes, Sen. Claire McCaskill is on the verge of a historic victory reforming the Pentagon’s sexual assault policies,” but that win comes with a political price as she’s the only one of the Senate’s 16 Democratic women not on board with Gillibrand.”



A LITTLE MORE BREATHING ROOM ON THE DEBT CEILING Politico writes, “Though Congress agreed in October to hike the nation’s borrowing authority through Feb. 7, the Treasury Department’s use of extraordinary measures will likely give lawmakers an additional month to haggle over a deal to raise the debt ceiling above $17.1 trillion, according to the CBO.”



SAY WHAT … A BUDGET DEAL? Reuters’ writes, “Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma said that the 29-member Senate-House negotiating committee ‘would like to achieve’ a two-year budget. And while he said the talks were ‘close’ to a deal, he emphasized that details were still being debated.”



IMMIGRATION The WSJ writes, “President Obama “said Tuesday he would accept a piecemeal approach to overhauling the immigration system, a move aimed at jump-starting a moribund process that reflects the realities of a divided Congress.”



FROM WALKING ON WATER …TO THIS How Obama can get at least some of his cred back. A report from the Economist.



HOW DID THE INTERNET EVERY HAPPEN? Bloomberg writes, “The list of federal IT lapses and flops includes systems to modernize air-traffic control and to secure the nation’s border, and now even President Barack Obama is wondering why the government can’t get it right. …The U.S. government has spent more than $600 billion on IT over the past decade, and “has achieved little of the productivity improvements that private industry has realized from IT,” the U.S. Government Accountability Office said in a July report.”



26th IN LIFE EXPECTANCY Wonkblog writes, “…A new report from the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) shows that the United States’ average lifespan has fallen one year behind the international average, lower than Canada and Germany, more akin to the Czech Republic and Poland. …This 213-page, graph-laden report tells the story of why. It shows the United States as a country that is spending tons and tons on health care–but getting way less than other countries out of that investment. It exposes a country that’s really great at buying fancy medical technologies, but not so fantastic at using those medical technologies to extend life. It is, in short, the story of why our health care system is so screwed up.”



GOP ROADMAP OF ATTACKS OVER HEALTH LAW WashPost reports, “The memo distributed to House Republicans this week was concise and blunt, listing talking points and marching orders … the idea is to gather stories of people affected by the health care law—through social media, letters from constituents, or meetings during visits back home—and use them to open a line of attack, keep it going until it enters the public discourse and forces a response, then quickly pivot to the next topic.”



WHAT ARE GOOGLE “HANGOUTS” Google+ Hangouts is a free video chat service from Google that enables both one-on-one chats and group chats with up to ten people at a time.  While somewhat similar to Skype, FaceTime and Facebook Video Chat, Google Hangouts focuses more on “face-to-face-to-face” group interaction as opposed to one-on-one video chats, and utilizes sophisticated technology to seamlessly switch the focus to the person currently chatting.

USED IN A SENTENCE “Four House Republicans will host Google hangouts on Thursday, employing social media to troll for stories from their constituents.” (See Above)



FRACKING BOOM FRACTURES ENVIRONMENTAL MOVEMENT National Journalwrites, “As the U.S. uses more and more natural gas, divisions are growing over the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels. Before the fracking boom of the last five years, natural gas was widely considered by environmentalists to be a “bridge” fuel that could help the U.S. cut greenhouse gases while it developed more renewable energy, largely because gas produces far fewer carbon emissions than coal or oil. Now, with burning of natural gas growing at unprecedented levels, the environmental community is becoming fragmented on the issue of how much it should be used.”



CHRIS CHRISTIE WINS AGAIN The Fix writes, “…he was officially elected chairman of the Republican Governors Association.

SPRINGBOARD 2016 The new position will give Christie an opportunity the hobnob with high-dollar donors, and to travel around the country laying groundwork for a possible presidential bid; former Republican presidential candidates like Mitt Romney and Rick Perry have used the RGA as national springboards in the past.”



WHEN BIG DATA MET ANALYTICS The Fix writes, “Jim Margolis, senior media consultant and media buyer for President Obama’s 2012 campaign and Dan Wagner, chief analytics officer in that campaign recently joined forces in hopes of bringing big data and targeted media buying — the key to President Obama’s remarkable voter targeting effort — to downballot candidates and other causes.  Here’s what they are doing and why it matters.  As Margolis says, “in 2008 the big innovation was the use of social networks; today it is the use of big data and analytics to be relevant. We have flipped things on their head. We are trying to get from the individual up. From the one to the small groups.  Who watches “TV Land” at 3 am — and then a creative [effort] that follows them there.” Full discussion.


“The National Capital Planning Commission held firm Tuesday in its support for the Height Act limits that have shaped Washington’s skyline for 100 years — a crushing blow to D.C.-led efforts to ease those restrictions.” (Washington Business Journal)



We urge you to check out our blog for interesting insights from the team. ”Deal on Sequestration…Or Not?”… “Ethanol: Facts and Fiction”… and more.

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