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Washington Report 1.22.16
22 Jan 2016

Washington Report 1.22.16


To all our friends on the East Coast … stay safe!
Joyce Rubenstein and the Capstone Team (John Rogers, Steve Moffitt, Alan MacLeod, Diane Rogers, Erik Oksala and Kayla Baca)




SNOWMAGEDDON II Politico: “The federal government is closing at noon today, and Metro service is shutting down completely until Monday as Snowmaggedon – the sequel – bears down on Washington. Depending on how bad the potentially historic storm is, things could be paralyzed for days. …. The House preemptively canceled Monday votes, with both chambers now out until at least Tuesday.

“The U.S. Capitol Police said sledding on Capitol Hill — which only recently became legal after an act of Congress — would be welcome for the first time in decades.”


CHUCK GRASSLEY BREAKS RECORD The Fix: “… on an otherwise-quiet Tuesday evening in the U.S. Senate, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) broke the record for longest streak without missing a vote — an astonishing 22 years, six months and six days. That’s longer than most senators’ careers. The previous record-holder was the late Sen. William Proxmire (D-WI).


BIG OBAMA WIN Politico: “President Obama’s landmark climate change rule for power plants can move forward while its opponents challenge it, a federal court ruled Thursday. The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia denied a request by West Virginia, dozens of other states and various energy interest groups to put a judicial stay on the regulation, saying the challengers didn’t show that the stay is needed. The rule, known as the Clean Power Plan, mandates a 32% cut in carbon dioxide emissions from the nation’s power plants.”


FOR YOUR RADAR – Pentagon’s budget request for next fiscal year may be previewed ahead of the White House’s planned budget rollout on Feb. 9, according to Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis.

BABY STEP ON AUMF The Hill: “The push to authorize the war against the ISIS is getting a boost in the Senate. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) fast-tracked a wide-ranging authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to the Senate calendar on Thursday. The procedural move lets the bill skip over the Foreign Relations Committee.”


07094b652e9372ec58223e37_280x182PROVIDING PEOPLE WITH BASIC SERVICES WITHOUT POISONING THEM NPR: “High lead levels in Flint, Mich.’s water has led President Obama to declare a state of emergency, as criticism mounts that the problem has not been handled promptly. The problem started when Flint switched its water source to the Flint River in April 2014. The new supply was harder water, which corroded the city’s pipes and leached lead into the tap water. Residents quickly started complaining about the water. General Motors stopped using it in October 2014 because it was corroding machinery. Even though the city switched back to its original supply in October 2015, the damaged pipes continue to contaminate the water. Weaver says Flint residents don’t know when the city’s water will be safe to drink again — even though they’re still paying for it. THE GOVERNOR The Fix: “It seems like every day, there’s more bad news for Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) and the local, state and federal officials in charge as the Flint water crisis worsened. A high-ranking federal official in charge of monitoring Michigan for the EPA resigned following criticism that she was too slow to intervene on behalf of drinking water poisoned with lead in the hard-scrabble city. There may be a congressional hearing soon. Through it all, Snyder has born the brunt of criticism in the local health crisis that has turned into a national scandal. But unlike many other politicians facing crises of leadership, Snyder may also be his own best counter-programming. There’s no easy way to explain governmental failure, but the Republican governor elected in 2010 struck a delicate balance in the attempt: He came across as outraged yet clear-headed, as willingly shouldering responsibility for the problem yet confident he can fix it, as candid about government’s failure yet not defensive about his role in it. BUREAUCRATIC AND WINDING DRAMA Basically, Snyder indicated Friday morning that for the past year and a half or so, health safety experts didn’t see or understand what was wrong with Flint’s water, despite residents’ complaints about it. Those people didn’t alert the heads of two state departments watching over water safety, who in turn didn’t alert the governor. It wasn’t until individual researchers made news this fall for their findings of untreated water from Flint River corroding lead in old city pipes that the governor says he found out what had happened. …the story Snyder shared Friday morning on national television is consistent with what he’s been saying in Michigan all along: People below him messed up, and as soon as he found out, he got mad and took action. It remains to be seen whether Snyder’s explanation is enough to repair the people of Flint’s understandably damaged trust in whether government can provide them basic services without poisoning them — and then listen to them when they say there’s a problem. But at the very least, the articulate governor isn’t making things worse for himself. That’s a lot more than many other politicians in similar crises can say.”


FORGET THE GLUT, OIL ENTERS IRRATIONAL TERRITORY Reuters: “World oil markets quietly breached an important barrier as they crashed nearly 30% to below $30 a barrel in the opening weeks of 2016, crossing the fuzzy line separating a rational response to fundamentals from an irrational fear 98c2c51e2e24b3bad6fe2872_212x280where the only way forward is down, down, down. Animal spirits have taken over the futures markets of New York and London, with momentum-driven algorithmic traders and big hedge funds driving oil prices far beyond the point that even once-bearish analysts say is justified – at least in the medium-term – by supply and demand. … But now things have gone too far, many say. Data due on Friday are likely to show that big funds and speculators in the U.S. oil market added to short positions that had doubled to a record 200 million barrels over the past three months.
GET SMART FAST Economist: “Who’s afraid of cheap oil?”: “Low energy prices ought to be a shot in the arm for the economy. Think again. … [T]he world could yet be laid low by an oil monster on the prowl.” Full Article


SHRINKING DEFICIT? WHO CARES? The Fix: “When Pew surveyed Americans about their top policy priorities in January 2001, two issues that are prominent today didn’t make the cut. No one was particularly concerned about terrorism, eight months prior to the Sept. 11 attacks. And no one was concerned about the federal budget deficit — because there wasn’t one. In the wake of the 2008-09 recession, as the government began spending in an effort to soften the blow of the stumbling economy, 6a08176fb4137b45c0635227_194x280the deficit spiked— as did concerns about it. But according to Pew’s most recent survey, conducted this month, concern about the deficit has fallen to levels last seen when Barack Obama first took office and the deficit was leaving the launchpad.

That fall began a bit after the deficit itself started to become smaller. Polling has repeatedly found that Americans didn’t know that the deficit had been falling, which may be why concern continued to rise as the deficit continued to decline. Part of it, too, is based on partisanship. Republicans are much more worried about the deficit than Democrats — at least since Obama took office and the deficit ballooned. When Bush was president, Democrats were more worried about the issue.

Even on Capitol Hill, members of Congress are less concerned about the deficit than they used to be. A search of Capitol Words shows that members of both parties are talking about the issue far less than they used to.

It’s possible that this decline is also driving the decline of public concern. Most Americans don’t pay much attention to what the deficit is doing on a regular basis but may hear politicians and elected officials worrying about it.

58adbd872131b8148e09f7c5_205x280The federal deficit and the federal debt aren’t the same thing of course. Donald Trump has spoken repeatedly about debt on the campaign trail, since even if the deficit is getting smaller, any deficit contributes to a rising debt. As deficits fall, though, the debt itself grows more slowly. This respite in concern about the deficit may be short-lived. For each of the next 10 years, the Congressional Budget Office predicts, the deficit will grow.”




GAME CHANGE Playbook:”There’s an increasing belief at the top of the GOP that, barring a shock, the race is effectively down to Trump and Cruz (a shock in itself). THE CONVERSATION has become: Who’d be worse? National Review and The Weekly Standard yesterday went functionally pro-Cruz by being theatrically anti-Trump. But there’s a sub-rosa, and possibly larger, pro-Trump camp in the Beltway GOP, based on both pragmatism and personality. As outlined in a seminal piece this week by Politico’s … Ben Schreckinger (“How Donald Trump defeats Hillary Clinton“), Trump has a not-implausible plan for winning the general, based largely on voter anxiety plus a message of pragmatism.

Choice between Trump, Cruz like ‘being shot or poisoned.”
– Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC):

Tweets: TRAITS OF A TRUMP SUPPORTER @JCRWFB The One Weird Trait That Predicts Whether You’re A Trump Supporter This is stunning.

And this … @JCRWFB “Got out of DC before the storm. But the huge storm is viturally everyone I talked to believes we could be saying President Trump. WOW.”

THE CONFIDENCE MAN by Bill Kristol (writting in the Weekly Standard, a conservative opinion magazine):”We have usually succeeded in distinguishing reality from reality show. … Our presidents have been a mixed lot, but no true tin-pot Caesar has yet occupied the Oval Office. …. when the time for comedy or irony or even philosophy is over, when things that matter hang in the balance, the con man is supposed to fail. Even if he doesn’t fail in the narrow sense—even if he makes a lot of money, pulls off scams and stays a step ahead of the law, and watches his children become respectable pillars of the community—he isn’t supposed to succeed in upending our politics or endangering our future. To quote Winston Churchill, who had a rich appreciation for comedy and irony and even philosophy: “Politics is not a game. It is an earnest business.”

HUGE NUMBER OF CONSERVATIVES SHRED DONALD The Fix: “Donald Trump must be stopped: That’s the theme binding an avalanche of essays by conservative thought leaders — 22 in all — that the National Review sent thundering down the political mountain onto GOP voters late Thursday, along with an editorial by the magazine’s editors. … Perhaps [the 35% of Republicans who support Trump] will dismiss “Against Trump” — the title of this special collection by one of the nation’s preeminent conservative publications — as just another chorus of naysaying from the loathsome, out-of-touch “establishment.”

So far in this presidential election cycle, the front-running Trump has proven remarkably impervious to media criticism; if anything, he has been strengthened by negative press. What stands out in “Against Trump” is the clear and genuine respect that the National Review and its contributors … have for the troops encamped at Fort Donald. There’s no mockery, no sarcasm. They understand and sympathize with the frustrations that would cause someone to fall in line behind Trump; they just think he’s the wrong leader, and they’re here to explain why.”

HOUSTON WE HAVE A PROBLEM The National Review was just disinvited from the RNC debate scheduled for Feb. 25th. The reason [according to the publisher] – our ‘Against Trump’ editorial and symposium. We expected this was coming. Small price to pay for speaking the truth about The Donald.”


0c9eeb4b53cb139ac96bf9cc_280x244PROBLEMS WITH POLLING IN IOWA The Fix: “New polls … offer a noticeable shift from other recent surveys. Loras College surveyed Iowa from Jan. 13 to 18, putting Donald Trump and Ted Cruz at about even in the state. In CNN/ORC’s poll, conducted from Jan. 15 to 20, Trump is up by 11. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton led Bernie Sanders by five points in the polling average. CNN/ORC has Sanders up by 8. … FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver notes that the CNN methodology is based on the possibility of more than 300,000 people turning out to caucus. In 2012, the number was 121,503. The highest recent turnout for a caucus was the 2008 Democratic contest, which saw 40% turnout. If 40% of Iowa Republicans turn out this year, that’s 245,000 caucus-goers. Assuming higher turnout benefits both Trump and Sanders. In the Des Moines Register/Bloomberg polling in Iowa earlier this month, Trump trailed Cruz by five points among those who definitely planned to caucus. Among those who might go, though, they were tied. More maybe-voters showing up to vote means more support for Donald Trump. The pattern has been similar for Sanders. SO HOW TO READ THE POLLS? One good way is to look at the averages of recent polls in the state, which can help smooth out some of the oddities and differences found in individual surveys.[This chart] is how the Republican and Democratic contests look, according to Real Clear Politics. (This includes the new CNN polls.) The races are close. Since Jan. 1, Cruz’s lead has fallen or been erased; Clinton’s has narrowed. More polls will come out. Maybe we should take a deep breath and look at the big picture, which is admittedly less fun.”


SANDERS NO LONGER UNDERDOG The Hill “…NEW HAMPSHIRE At this moment, in one poll, [Sanders] is nearly 30% points ahead of Clinton in New Hampshire. … if this holds up, the Clinton forces will say that New Hampshire is a neighboring state of Sanders’s Vermont and that independents can vote in the primary. (But to win, a candidate needs to do well with independents.) IOWA, a caucus state, is perfect for a candidate like Sanders. So if Sanders starts with two big wins, Clinton must win big in Nevada and South Carolina. March 1 is being called the Southern Primary. That’s supposed to be Clinton’s firewall. African-Americans know her and like her and every day she is calling out President Obama’s name and tying herself to it. She has a great many of the Democratic establishment superdelegates. Will these big shots stay loyal and stick with her if she starts losing? RIGHT NOW both Sanders and Clinton are beating Republican front-runner Donald Trump in the polls. Sanders’s lead is 15 points, while Clinton’s is 10 points. But we are in January. Needless to say, anything and everything can change. TWO SEASONS There are distinct and different political seasons. One is the nominating season. The other is the general election season. At present, Sanders seems to have the spirit and pizzazz. It’s up to the Clinton campaign to stop the flow by winning down the road and letting the “realists” take over.”

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