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The Washington Report – September 26, 2014
26 Sep 2014

The Washington Report – September 26, 2014

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


113th Congress Legacy … They Kept the Lights On (mostly) … Eric Holder … Vast Majority of Americans Get It Wrong … Define “Recession” … ISIL and OCO and Boots on the Ground … Midterms … Happy Hospitals … Cracking Down On Dentists … Voters, Tigers and Beers, OH MY! … and other news of the week.

Enjoy the weekend!


Joyce Rubenstein and the Capstone Team (John Rogers, Alan MacLeod, Steve Moffitt, Diane Rogers, Erik Oksala, Kate Venne, Kathryn Wellner, Maggie Moore and Ross Willkom)




113TH CONGRESS IS A WRAP. FIRST LOOK BACK The Fix interview with Paul Kane, WaPo Chief Congressional Reporter, “The sad thing is, the 113th isn’t quite wrapped up, because there’s gonna be a lame-duck session after the election, …These first 22 months have been so blah, by any possible measure, that the last two months, which could include legislation to allow state sales tax on Internet purchases, authorizing new war footing for our military in Iraq and Syria, and an extension for popular-but-narrow tax breaks like the R&D credit, are likely to be more significant than the previous 22 months. There was much written that the 112th Congress produced the fewest laws and was the least productive, but the 113th is on pace to blow it away. Worst of all, through the chaos of the 2011 and 2012 fiscal showdowns in the 112th, what emerged was some of the most significant fiscal doctrine of this young century. REMEMBER THE BUDGET CONTROL ACT OF 2011 … it was forged after an epic debt ceiling showdown, is forcing more than $2 trillion in spending cuts. The American Taxpayer Relief Act, as the legislation is called that ended the 2012 New Year’s Eve fiscal cliff standoff, was the most significant piece of tax legislation this century, raising nearly $700 billion worth of taxes on the wealthy while also creating permanent fixes to the estate tax and the Alternative Minimum Tax. That was ugly sausage making but at least in the 112th, the sausage ended up cooked.”


113th LEGACY II — THEY KEPT THE GOVERNMENT LIGHTS ON… and for nearly three weeks last October, lawmakers couldn’t even do that.


THE 114TH … THE WORST IS YET TO COME The Fix continues, “The overall view of the next Congress, from 30,000 feet, is not likely to be any more beautiful than the current mess. That’s the case whether Republicans control both chambers or if it remains a divided Congress. The reality is, the can has been kicked into next year on a number of issues that will create, rather than one big fiscal cliff, a series of small hills to climb: the “Doc Fix” in March, the highway fund expiring in May, Ex-Im Bank in June and debt ceiling sometime in early summer.”


VAST MAJORITY OF AMERICANS GET IT WRONG The Fix writes, “… A new Public Religion Research Institute poll shows a whopping 72% of people think we are still in an economic recession. This is flat-out wrong. We are not in a recession. DEFINE ‘RECESSION’ A recession is technically defined as two straight quarters of a declining Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Over the last four years, we have had only two total quarters of a declining GDP. And the last one was not negative, so even if the next one was, we would not be in a recession. OK, hypothetically, we could be in a recession if the current quarter and the next one after it both show negative GDP. But that is highly unlikely, if not nearly impossible. And people aren’t really predicting that.) SO WHAT IS IT ABOUT POLLING? Does it matter that the American people are wrong on this question? Well, kind of. It shows that many/most Americans, when they answer pollsters’ questions, aren’t exactly basing that response on a whole lot of information. But the fact is that these low-information Americans are also low-information voters, and these low-information voters still decide who is elected to Congress … and president.” Something to think about.


THERE MUST BE SOME OTHER WAY Gallup paints a pretty rough sketch of public opinion regarding the two-party system. “58%, say a third U.S. political party is needed because the Republican and Democratic parties ‘do such a poor job’ representing the American people.”


AND THEN THERE WERE TWO (MEMBERS OF OBAMA’S ORIGINAL CABINET LEFT) WaPo writes, “Eric H. Holder Jr., who made history as the nation’s first African American attorney general … announced Thursday that he will resign his post. In an emotional ceremony at the White House, President Obama paid tribute to one of the last original members of his Cabinet and a close friend, calling Holder’s departure “bittersweet.” NEXT?Although the White House has begun interviewing candidates, people familiar with the search said there may be no nominee until after the November midterm elections.”

THE BLACK LEADER OBAMA COULD NEVER BE The Fix, “From his first days on the job, it was clear that AG Eric Holder was unbound by the racial constraints that his boss, President Obama, operated under. Just weeks after America saw the inauguration of its first black president, Holder gave what has come to be known as his “cowards speech” — an address that crystallized the now-outgoing attorney general’s place as Obama’s man/conscience/inner voice on race.” Memorable line…

“Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards.”

-Eric Holder

Even with Obama’s silence, and in some ways because of it, Holder has always been — both rhetorically and judicially — Obama’s go-to man on race, bolstering the civil rights division, unafraid to point to racial disparities. He moved to reform the “mandatory minimum” federal sentencing drug laws, which disproportionately impacted minorities. He sued Alabama over voter identification laws, in a case he ultimately lost in the Supreme Court even as he vowed to keep fighting that fight. Holder also made the case that states should repeal laws prohibiting felons from voting, and he spoke out against so-called “stand your ground” laws after Trayvon Martin’s death. As Ferguson, Mo., erupted this summer, it was Holder who met with residents and activists on the ground, recounting his own experiences with racial profiling.

HE MAY BE GONE, BUT REPUBlICANS WON’T SOON FORGET HIM Politico writes, “After six years of hostile exchanges at congressional hearings, scores of lawmakers calling for his resignation and a historic House vote holding him in contempt, Holder … who often dealt with the verbal assaults from Republicans tersely but directly, and sometimes with humor as lawmakers lined up to lambaste him in congressional hearing rooms – chiefly over his handling of the botched “Fast and Furious” gun-running operation but also for refusing to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court, for prosecuting terrorism suspects in federal courts and for ordering federal prosecutors to seek shorter sentences in some drug cases.”


5d9bcbab792b0cdb822b780c_85x120MEET PRESIDENT BARACK W. OBAMA The Economist cover this week will get people talking. It puts President Obama’s head on the body of then President George W. Bush — dressed in flight gear. It was 2003 and Bush had landed on the aircraft carrier the USS Abraham Lincoln to deliver what became known infamously as the “Mission Accomplished” speech regarding U.S. involvement in Iraq. More than a decade after that speech — and having been elected in part on a promise to bring an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — Obama is committing the country to battling the forces of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.”


U.S.-LED COALITION BOMBS ISIL-CONTROLLED OIL REFINERIES This week the U.S. and Arab allies (including Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates) began to bomb small oil refineries in eastern Syria controlled by the ISIL, seeking to deprive the group of one of its top funding sources. The strikes came as President Barack Obama addressed the United Nations General Assembly, delivering a 39-minute speech that left no doubt he’s given up his aspiration of bringing an end to U.S. military entanglements in the Middle East – and now views himself, however reluctantly, as a wartime president.”

‘BOOTS’ DEBATE COULD STYMIE WAR VOTE Politico reports, “A partisan fight over ‘boots on the ground’ could thwart the congressional push for a war vote, either in the lame-duck session of this Congress or in the new one seated in January. Democrats and Republicans have joined together to press for a vote on a new war authorization as U.S. airstrikes have expanded from Iraq into Syria, but the two parties are sharply divided over whether to restrict President Barack Obama from using U.S. combat troops.”


FRIENDS AND ENEMIES IN THE MIDDLE EAST Who is connected to whom.  Shows how a solution defies simple solutions. Interactive from the Guardian


LOOK FOR AN OCO BOOST TO FUND ISIL OPERATIONS Morning Defense writes, “a former defense budget official in the Clinton administration (American University’s Gordon Adams) … estimated the air campaign against the ISIL could cost $15 billion to $20 billion next fiscal year – and the Obama administration will have to raise its request for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding, which isn’t constrained by the current federal budget caps. – For now, though, the administration has some wiggle room, because the CR passed last week would leave OCO at this year’s level: $85 billion for the Defense Department, which is above the $59 billion requested for next fiscal year. The CR, though, expires Dec. 11.  … it’s looking more and more like the winding down of the war in Afghanistan won’t bring an end to OCO, which the Pentagon has increasingly been using to cushion its base budget. BIG PICTURE IMPLICATION – “budget discipline is out the window … everybody seems to have discovered OCO now.”


REPUBLICANS OK WAR MONEY FOR EBOLA FIGHT Politico writies,  “A White House plan to tap into overseas war funds to help pay for the U.S. response to Ebola cleared an important hurdle in Congress Wednesday as Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee agreed it was an acceptable use of the contingency dollars. A total of $1.06 billion is at stake, comprised of two requests on September 8 and 16 to fund the Defense Department’s greatly expanded role in providing hospital equipment, personnel and airlift capacity in West Africa. … Wednesday’s decision is important in itself since the GOP had initially raised questions about even using the OCO account, which is counted outside the budget caps adopted last December.’


CRACKING DOWN ON DENTISTS National Journal writes, “The EPA released a proposed rule to limit the amount of mercury that winds up in the rivers and streams as a result of a routine dental procedure. The problem? Mercury often quite literally goes down the drain when dentists remove old filings. EPA is asking dental offices to adopt best practices to limit mercury waste and estimates that the rule could cut 8.8 tons of heavy metals from public water treatment plants each year.”


PAYS TO EXPAND MEDICAID Estimates that hospitals’ uncompensated care costs will drop by $5.7 billion this year, because of the reduction in the uninsured under Obamacare. (Vox) = HAPPY HOSPITALS

CHART SAYS IT ALL “Different private hospital chains and state hospital associations have been tracking data on how many patients they admit who never pay their bill. And, as this chart from the HHS report shows, most states expanding Medicaid have had their unpaid admissions drop by about 30 %. The small handful of non-expansion states tracking this data saw little change, with uninsured admissions either decreasing or increasing slightly.”


HOW EXPENSIVE IS HEALTHCARE.GOV? Spending for the federal Obamacare enrollment system has been about $2.1 billion, exceeding cost estimates from the administration so far, according to a Bloomberg Government analysis of related contracts. CMS disputed the report, saying the total is different because it measures other parts of the enrollment system project besides only its IT elements. (Bloomberg)


INSURERS JUMP IN NJ writes, “One of Obamacare’s goals was to bolster competition among insurers, and it looks to be succeeding. The DHHS announced that, nationwide, the number of insurance companies selling policies in the exchanges next year will be 25% higher than this year.”



NRA SITTING OUT ALASKA SENATE RACE In a big win for Democratic Sen. Mark Begich, the NRA has said it’s sitting out Alaska Senate race. The group cited Begich’s opposition to expanding background checks — one of only a handful of Democratic senators to do so during last year’s highly scrutinized vote. (NJ)

CAN’T BE GOOD TO BE COMPARED TO FURNITURE “He’s basically furniture in the Senate, and the people in Kansas know that. You could give the average Kansan 24 hours to come up with something Pat Roberts (R-KA) has done in the Senate, and after 24 hours, even the crickets would be standing there befuddled.” — GOP strategist John Weaver (Washington Post)

WHO KNEW THAT COSMO MAGAZINE ENDORSED CANDIDATES? A fierce advocate for women’s rights, New Hampshire’s first female governor and first female senator is running to hold on to her Senate seat. And while we wish we could support the man who once posed nude in our pages (that would be former Sen. Scott Brown), his policy positions just aren’t as solid as his abs were in the ’80s. We support Jeanne Shaheen (D) for Senate.”

ROVE’S COLORADO BIG-FOOT Crossroads GPS, the nonprofit issue advocacy arm of Karl Roves’s American Crossroads enterprise, is scheduled to spend about $5.5 million on the race between Cory Gardner and Mark Udall from mid-September to mid-October, according to sources tracking ad buys in the state. That’s an enormous sum of money, and one that — if deployed properly — would have to move numbers in arguably the biggest battleground of all the 2014 Senate races. (NJ)

958a5a637eac4f30e30cdbfe_210x280VOTERS, TIGERS and BEERS – OH MY! Baton Rouge, LA. Six weeks from Election Day, Sen. Mary L. Landrieu gathered the troops on the Louisiana State University campus, where tens of thousands of football fans and prospective voters congregated for hours ahead of the Saturday night game. That’s where she helped a fan do a “keg stand.”  “GET A LIFE” After being criticized by her Senate opponent, U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy (R) she also said the following about anyone wanting to criticize the keg stand. “They need to get a sense of humor.”  WHAT’S A KEG STAND? See picture where someone is held upside down drinking a, uh, beverage from a keg. According to newsreports, it was Landrieu’s first kegstand.

MORE ON THE LA RACE – GOP PREPARES FOR DAY AFTER ELECTION DAY Politico writes, “Top Republican strategists are quietly preparing to pour money into Louisiana after November, even reserving hotel rooms and millions of dollars’ worth of ad time. If Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) doesn’t win more than half the vote in the general election, she would very likely be forced into a one-on-one runoff with Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy…”


LIVE PIGEONS…REALLY! Several animal rights groups criticized” Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) “on Tuesday for a fundraiser he held earlier this month … in which live pigeons were thrown into the air for participants to shoot out of the sky.” (AP)

#GRAHAMSTANDING Politico: “One of the few interesting contested House races is going down in Florida, where Gwen Graham is using her father’s famous last name and a moderate profile to take on beleaguered incumbent Steve Southerland.  Graham, is “zeroing in on a message that balances emphasis on local issues and the ‘North Florida way’ with elements of the national party’s pitches to women – all while publicly keeping Washington Democrats at arm’s length … Graham emphasizes her disagreement with several aspects of Obamacare. And when asked … whether she would back Nancy Pelosi for minority leader, she said: ‘There needs to be new leadership on both sides of the aisle.” Ouch.


THE LONG ROAD OF POT LEGALIZATION IN D.C. Voters in the District will likely pass an initiative to legalize marijuana this November—but that’s only the first in a series of hurdles in the way of pot becoming legal. (National Journal) SPEAKING OF POT “The nation’s largest marijuana advocacy group has taken the first step toward qualifying an initiative for the 2016 ballot to legalize the drug in California for recreational use. The Marijuana Policy Project filed papers with the secretary of state’s office Wednesday saying it had formed a committee to raise money to campaign for the initiative.” (San Francisco Chronicle)


AND THEN THERE’S THE 2016 RACE … GOP’S OVERLOOKED (FEMALE) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE “She’s been to New Hampshire three times and South Carolina once. She’s heading to Iowa this weekend, and then North Carolina and Virginia after that. Clearly,” 2010 CA Senate nominee Carly Fiorina (R) “is thinking about 2016. But is anybody thinking about Carly Fiorina?” She “is hitting the campaign trail in the lead-up to Election Day for her new super PAC, teaching activists and politicians how to talk to female voters —and building herself a grassroots base in a half-dozen electorally important states in the process. While her efforts are focused on helping the GOP win control of the Senate in November, political strategists say Fiorina is doing all the right things to prep for a 2016 bid. And the message she’s touting is a preview of the kind of role she could play, if she runs.” (National Journal)


FOR HAPPY HOUR AND TABLE TOPICS Changes in values, economics, and gender patterns mean that the number of Americans 25 or older that have never married has doubled in the last 50 years. (Pew Research)

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