A few excerpts from this week’s Washington Report. To read the full write-up click here. To sign up, click here.
Congress Countdown … just 19 days in session before the end of 2013. Both the House and Senate are out till next week.
And now the 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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BOTCHED LAUNCH The Wall Street Journal writes, “At the first congressional hearings on the faulty federal health-care exchange website on Thursday, contractors said no one in the government “made sure the many complex parts of the … website worked together properly, and testing of the complete site didn’t take place until two weeks before its Oct. 1 launch.”
OBAMACARE HEARINGS TAKEAWAY Politico writes, “…standing-room-only … HealthCare.gov saw a parade of [federal contractors] who weren’t about to take responsibility … We just do what the client asks, they said – and in this case, the client was the Obama administration. But the hearing by the House Energy and Commerce Committee also showed that Republicans are capable of prying out some answers to the practical questions that most Americans want answered … Democrats proved they’re just mad enough about the website that they’ll take a few whacks at the gang that built it, too.
OVER TO YOU, SEBELIUS … Thanks to all the buck passing, the hearing ramps up the pressure on the two star administration witnesses who will testify at back-to-back hearings next week. On Tuesday, Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, will be grilled by the House Ways and Means Committee — which is sure to ask her about all the decisions Campbell said were up to her agency. And on Wednesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius — Tavenner’s boss and the administration official who’s under the most fire over the breakdowns — is expected to give her side of the story to the Energy and Commerce panel. Both are sure to be asked why the administration didn’t call off the Oct. 1 launch after reported code problems — especially given that the main contractors didn’t think two weeks was enough time to conduct the end-to-end testing for such a massive IT project.
“This is not a monkey court!”
Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), referring to Thursday’s Obamacare hearing
DEMOCRATIC UNITY – GONE THE WAY OF THE MACARENA Politico writes, “The great Democratic unity of 2013 held for five-and-a-half days. For weeks leading up to the shutdown – and over the 16 days it dragged on – President Barack Obama did the unthinkable: he held every Democrat in the House and Senate together. … Like any fad, that’s gone the way of trucker hats and the macarena. The problems with the Obamacare website have transformed the president from a man who seemed to have gotten a sudden infusion of political capital to a man who’s been pushed back on his heels.” … WSJ reports that late Wednesday, the Obama administration said it would establish what amounts to a six-week extension in the time people have to obtain insurance coverage before incurring a penalty, responding to what some have described as a lack of clarity in the law over the deadline.”
CALLING FOR DELAY Nearly every targeted Senate Democrat in 2014 is now calling for a delay in the Obamacare enrollment period. The latest to join the pack: Kay Hagan (N.C.), Michelle Nunn (Ga.), Alison Lundergan Grimes (Ky.), and even the Udall cousins in Colorado and New Mexico.
HOW JON STEWART BECAME PRESIDENT OBAMA’S BIGGEST PROBLEM The Fix writes, “President Obama’s biggest problem when it comes to selling the American public on the so-far rocky rollout of his health-care law is … Jon Stewart, the host of the wildly popular “Daily Show” on Comedy Central, who has emerged as a harsh critic of HealthCare.gov and the Obama administration’s inability to fix it. Stewart dedicated the entire first 10 minutes of his show — three full segments — on Monday to slashing hits on the Web site and the president’s handling of the problems.
WHY CARE “The Daily Show” has the 2nd largest share of young viewers – aged 18-29 – of the 24 media outlets tests (only higher is Colbert Report).THE PROBLEM For Obamacare to succeed it needs young people to sign up. And these same young people tend to get much of their news — and therefore have their opinions shaped — not by places like The Washington Post or the CBS Evening News but rather by Stewart. He is their Tom Brokaw, their David Brinkley. So, what Stewart says matters — a lot.
DANGER FOR GOP IN TURNING THE WEBSITE INTO A PROXY FOR THE HEALTH-CARE LAW First Read writes, “… as we wrote earlier this week, the GOP’s political problem might be the more significant (and lasting) one, because Republicans — unlike the Democrats — aren’t working to fix their problem. In addition, the website could become a proxy if the health-care law (and government) actually works. So what happens if/when the website gets fixed? Does that outcome turn into the health-care law and government work, too? T
“It’s a tactical error to draw attention to an opponent’s flaw when that flaw is easy to fix. It’s a favor. Distracts from the big issues.”
– tweet from chess-master Garry Kasparov is instructive
LISTEN AND LEARN FROM THE “MASTER OF DISASTER” on how to solve the Obamacare rollout message muddle. The Fix writes, from Crisis Communications majordomo, Mark Fabiani, here is what it’ll take for the administration to turn its message around.
Fix: Fire Someone?
Mark: “Accountability is important — but this is a marathon and not a sprint …the White House should make clear that a specific entity — someone with well-respected national expertise — has been brought in to fix the issue; they should specify a series of short-term expectation markers they are confident they can reach; they should meet those expectations; and then make sure in the long-run that the person brought in actually has the real chops to get this working.”
Fix: How do you handle a crisis in the Twitter age, when every utterance is parsed, tweeted and turned into a Buzzfeed listicle?
Mark: “All too often, fundamental mistakes are made in the fog of crisis by those who either panic or feel so much pressure that they say or do something that in fact only throws more fuel on the fire. … the White House, in this situation, needs a real game plan to substantively understand how the online issues can in fact be fixed and then develop its campaign based on these facts — even if it means getting beaten up for a few days.”
Fix: Finish this sentence: When in the middle of a political crisis, the best thing to do is________.
Mark: “Realize that at the end of the day your north star is rebuilding trust by (A) doing no further harm; (B) Maintaining your discipline in the fog of the crisis and executing on your long-term game plan; and (C) Understanding the importance of maintaining and building credibility as this is the path to restoring trust.”
HOW HEALTHCARE.GOV IS BROKEN in one graphic (for the policy geek), from WonkBlog.
NO IMMIGRATION REFORM Politico writes, “House Republican leadership has no plans to vote on any immigration reform legislation before the end the year … and there are a number of reasons why immigration reform is stalled this year. Following the fiscal battles last month, the internal political dynamics are tenuous within the House Republican Conference. A growing chorus of GOP lawmakers and aides are intensely skeptical that any of the party’s preferred piecemeal immigration bills can garner the support 217 Republicans – they would need that if Democrats didn’t lend their votes. Republican leadership doesn’t see anyone coalescing around a single plan, according to sources across GOP leadership…
HOW ABOUT 2014 – an election year – would be incredibly difficult. That’s why immigration reform supporters are growing increasingly worried that the window for a bigger reform package could be slipping away.”
OBAMA SOFTENED TONE TheL.A. Times writes, “After months of insisting the House should take up the comprehensive immigration bill that passed the Senate in June, [the President] changed tactics Thursday and said he might consider GOP proposals to overhaul separate parts of the immigration system … Obama 1 signaled that he might consider a package of smaller bills as long as they provide a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people in the country without legal status.”
A WEEK OF DAMAGE CONTROL Morning Defense writes, “It’s amazing to think that it was May when we first started hearing about Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who’s now exiled in Russia. The fallout from his leaks seems never ending. This week, it has rattled U.S. relations with some of its staunchest allies. Reuters reports that German Chancellor Angela Merkel demanded a ‘no-spying’ pact between the U.S. and Franceand Germany by the end of the year, and in Brussels today, leaders of the European Union said the distrust caused by revelations of U.S. spying could hurt intelligence sharing in the future, harming the fight against terrorism, reports the BBC.
JACK LEW AND PAUL RYAN IN AGREEMENT Politico writes, “For now, everyone seems to agree on one thing…sequestration is bad. The Treasury secretary said yesterday that the across-the-board spending cuts scheduled to kick in needed to be replaced with more “commonsense” measures that will rein in spending. … That didn’t sound too far off from the message of House Budget Committee Chairman. Paul Ryan (R-WI). Implicit in Ryan’s remarks is a warning that Republicans won’t back away from sequestration simply to protect defense. But the chairman was clearly signaling he is open to a good-faith bargain in which mandatory savings can be substituted for appropriations to restore more order for both sides.”
AND HAWKS: DARN RIGHT This is just what Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee want to hear. Yesterday, members of the committee wrote to Ryan and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, urging them to undo sequestration as they try to hash out a budget deal. Still, it’s early days in this round of budget negotiations – the time when everyone broadcasts that their side is open-minded and eager to get something done.”
WORDS TO REMEMBER – “OVERSEAS CONTINGENCY OPERATIONS”Politico writes, “OCO is the DoD account that lives outside of the base budget and funds “overseas contingency operations,” which these days mostly means Afghanistan. “Saying the Budget Control Act base is $495 billion is accurate, but it does not count these additional funds. As they are three-quarters operations and maintenance [funding], they are entirely fungible with the accounts that have been most affected by sequester,” Gordon Adams, a fellow at the Stimson Center and former national security budget official in the Clinton Admn. In other words, OCO has acted as DoD’s cushion.” OCO has allowed the Pentagon to cover a multitude of sins and shortfalls. … I expect all of the services to ask for a big OCO in the next budget. It is the department’s escape valve from the sequester.”
DOD BUDGET BASICS – UNDERSTANDING THE NUMBERS (from Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments’ Todd Harrison, defense budget expert) Under the current CR, the Pentagon’s base budget is roughly $495 billion – about $30 billion less than the $523 billion the Pentagon requested for 2014. If the CR is extended and sequestration remains in place, the Pentagon would need to cut an additional $20 billion during this fiscal year. That’s how you get the $50 billion figure that Pentagon officials often cite.
IS SEQUESTRATION THE FLOOR OR THE CEILING? “The main takeaway from the report is the sequestration-level spending caps may not be the floor for defense like a lot of people are thinking. That really might be the ceiling,” Harrison said. “The floor, I think, would look something more like prior drawdowns and that would be a significantly steeper reduction.” Under sequestration, the lowest the base budget will fall is to $475 billion in 2014. But if this drawdown follows the same pattern as past drawdowns, DoD spending could drop as low as $415 billion. This wouldn’t happen immediately in 2014, but over time, Harrison explained.
PROCUREMENT PROBABLY WON’T HIT HISTORIC LOWS In previous drawdowns, procurement spending fell to about $62 billion in today’s dollars, according Harrison’s analysis. Harrison said he doesn’t think procurement dollars will drop that far this time around. Under sequestration, procurement money falls to $99 billion.”
AUSA ROUNDUP Army leaders kicked off the first day of the Association of the U.S. Army conference yesterday by railing against all the budget uncertainty and the toll it’s already taking on soldiers. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno got everyone’s attention when he said only two of the Army’s 42 combat brigades are ready to fight. Meanwhile, Army Secretary John McHugh warned Congress and the defense industry: If sequestration isn’t done away with in the coming months, some of the Army’s big-ticket weapons systems are going to be canceled.
“Name your favorite acquisition developmental program and it’ll probably be affected,” McHugh said.
REST IN PEACE – REP. BILL YOUNG (1930-2013) Florida Rep. Bill Young, the House’s longest-serving Republican and a powerful defense appropriator, died Friday at the age of 82.
SUCCESSOR Rodney Frelinghuysen, a wealthy 10-term congressman who served in the Army inVietnam, is expected to succeed the late Rep. Bill Young as chairman of the powerful House subcommittee that oversees Pentagon spending.
ENVIRONMENTALISTS WON National Journal writes, “In the environmental business, delay is success. In the business world, delay is at least detrimental, and it can be financially fatal. That’s why environmentalists have won and business has lost the fight over the Keystone XL pipeline, which has been stuck in regulatory limbo—largely due to successful grassroots opposition by environmental groups—for more than five years. …No matter what Obama decides, the environmentalists have already succeeded by making the debate about climate change and delaying the review to a point where the pipeline’s necessity is in doubt. Most of all, they have set a precedent for protracted environmental reviews for future energy projects.”
AND NATURAL GAS WON National Journalwrites, “The best kind of PR is the kind you don’t have to do. A day after the Energy Information Administration reported higher-than-expected natural gas production from the Marcellus shale formations in the Northeast, the EPA said carbon emissions from power plants declined 10 percent from 2010 “due to the growing use of natural gas,” which burns half as much carbon as coal. The natural gas industry couldn’t write press releases that help it nearly as much as these government-endorsed numbers and statements do. Of course, the industry has its issues, chiefly fracking and the PR handling of the environmental risks associated with this drilling technique. But the big natural-gas picture coming out of the Obama administration is unequivocally positive. Meanwhile, this week’s losers include environmentalists trying to ban fracking; as well as the coal industry, which loses the more that natural gas wins.”
RULE OF POLITICAL TWEETING – DON’T BE DUMB The revelation that White House national security staffer Jofi Joseph had been anonymously tweeting pejorative things [FOR TWO YEARS] about, well, everyone, cost him his job this week. … thinking (again) how dangerous Twitter is for politicians — and the people they employ.
CAREFUL WHAT YOU SAY ON THE ACELA, via Politico, ”While riding on the train, Tom Mattzie, the former Washington director of MoveOn.org Political Action, overheard former NSA Director Michael Hayden giving “off-the- record” quotes, “disparaging” the Obama administration. And of course, Mattzie tweeted about it.”
STEM CELL BURGERS (especially interesting to supporters of science)Popular Mechanics reports that “Scientists in the Netherlands unveiled a technique that could use a tissue sample for a cow’s rump to create 175 million patties. Once stem cells are plated onto a petri dish, a gel made from the calf’s blood is used to nourish them and they start dividing … [after much hocus pocus] a 100% lean burger with – reportedly – the same taste as traditional meat. Sure, it’s gross, but this could eliminate factory farming’s big environmental footprint.”
A MUST READ…IS THERE SUCH A THING AS POLITICAL GENES or CAN YOUR GENES PREDICT WHETHER YOU’LL BE A CONSERVATIVE OR A LIBERAL? The Atlantic’s Avi Tuschman writes, “Scientific research shows political partisanship transcends economics, environment and upbringing. FASCINATING READ Did you know conservative students had a larger right amygdala; greater liberalism, on the other hand, was associated with a larger anterior cingulated?!