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Akin Tops Most Conservative Lawmaker List


AKIN TOPS MOST CONSERVATIVE LAWMAKER LIST. Topping National Journal's annual list of the most conservative representatives in the House is former Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., who is perhaps best remembered for his comment about "legitimate rape" during his 2012 campaign for a Senate seat. On the other side of the aisle, 14 lawmakers are tied for the most liberal title—including Reps. William Lacy Clay of Missouri, Donna Edwards of Maryland, John Olver of Massachusetts, and four from California: Mike Honda, Barbara Lee, Pete Stark, and Lynn Woolsey. In the other chamber, Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., probably won’t have to worry about being the most liberal Senator, NJ’s Scott Bland reports. Read more


OBAMA TO CONGRESS: YOU MUST FIX THE SEQUESTER. President Obama turned up the pressure on House Republicans Tuesday, using a speech at the White House to emphasize the effects of the looming across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration, The Washington Post reports. Surrounded by firefighters and other emergency personnel, Obama said the sequester would take a "meat cleaver approach" to deficit reduction, at the expense of the poor and middle class. He also said the cuts would "jeopardize" national security and military readiness. Though many on the Hill have resigned themselves to the idea the sequester will take place, Obama is still pushing for another stopgap measure to delay the cuts to allow time for deal-making. Read more

WHITE HOUSE, RUBIO GO BACK AND FORTH OVER IMMIGRATION. White House press secretary Jay Carney returned a volley to Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Tuesday afternoon in the ongoing back-and-forth over on immigration. Rubio's spokesman said early Tuesday that the senator's staff hadn't spoken to the White House on immigration, but Carney said in his press briefing later, "We have been in contact with everybody involved in this effort on Capitol Hill." A senior administration official said later Tuesday that White House staff met with staff representing the "Gang of Eight"—including a Rubio staffer—five times in the past few weeks, The Huffington Post reports. Read more

KERRY PLANS FIRST FOREIGN TRIP, HEARS BACK FROM RUSSIA. Secretary of State John Kerry’s first foreign trip was announced Tuesday, an ambitious two-week tour of Europe and the Middle East, focused on Syria and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Foreign Policy reports. Kerry will leave Sunday and visit the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar. "He's characterizing this first trip more broadly as a listening tour," spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement. Nuland also said Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov finally connected this past Sunday to discuss North Korea’s recent nuclear test and the ongoing conflict in Syria. Kerry had reached out to several foreign ministers immediately after the North Korea test, and Lavrov was the only one not to touch base with Kerry that day, waiting until five days later. Read more


GEN. JOHN ALLEN TO RETIRE. In an interview with The Washington Post, the  leader of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan said he would be retiring from the military because his wife is seriously ill. “Right now, I’ve just got to get her well,” Allen said. “It’s time to take care of my family.” Allen, who had been nominated to be supreme allied commander in Europe, denied that his retirement had to do with a Pentagon investigation over e-mail exchanges he made with a Tampa socialite, who was part of the scandal that felled CIA Director David Petraeus. The retirement “deprives Obama of a four-star general with whom he had built a close wartime relationship and forces the White House to find a new candidate for the military’s most prestigious overseas assignment,” The Post writes. Read more


NO EFFORT TO STOP SEQUESTER. Republican and Democratic congressional leadership aides said Tuesday they see no signs behind the scenes that there is even the faintest rumblings of a bipartisan effort under way to avert the sequester. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., have no plans to meet, and there have been no direct conversations with President Obama and Republican leaders in either chamber, according to aides. Indeed, some House GOP conservatives were eager to embrace the looming cuts, as National Journal’s Stacy Kaper reports. At the same time, Republicans have distributed a playbook for how to blame Obama and Democrats for the cuts. Read more

SENATE RETIREMENTS COULD REACH 40-YEAR HIGH. Six senators have already announced their retirements ahead of the 2014 election, putting the upper chamber on track for “more retirements than at any point in the last four decades,” The Washington Post reports. If just four more senators retire this cycle, according to The Post’s calculations, the number of retirements in the last three election cycles will be the highest in 40 years. Read more


DEFENSE WARNS HILL ABOUT FURLOUGHS. The Pentagon warned Congress on Tuesday that it must furlough many of its 800,000 civilian workers under sequestration unless a deal is reached ahead of a March 1 deadline, Politico reports. “The warning is the latest attempt to rattle lawmakers’ cages about the dangers of the automatic, across-the-board budget restrictions and is set for the same day that President Barack Obama made a new anti-sequestration push of his own,” according to the story. Sequestration would force cuts of $46 billion to its 2013 budget. Read more

RUBIO: THE ELECTABLE CONSERVATIVE? FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver takes a look at Sen. Marco Rubio’s chances at a 2016 run and concludes that the Florida Republican has high favorables compared with other ideologically similar candidates. He is more conservative than George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan but to the left of potential foes such as Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. That combination might help him in the so-called “invisible primary” now under way to convince party insiders and donors that he is a viable candidate. Read more

JESSE JACKSON JR., WIFE, TO APPEAR IN COURT WEDNESDAY. Both former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., and his wife have already agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges that they engaged in an alleged scheme to spend $750,000 in campaign funds on personal items. But Wednesday, they will appear in court to make that plea official. Jackson is charged with conspiracy. His wife, former Chicago alderman Sandi Jackson, is charged with one count of falsely filing joint federal income tax returns from 2006 through 2011. The two will appear separately in court, but both face maximum penalties of several years in prison. Jesse Jackson Jr. could also face fines and forfeitures up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Read more

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CLIMATE CHANGING ON CLIMATE CHANGE. Though Obama lavished attention on climate change in both his inaugural address and State of the Union speech, he still has little chance of getting Congress to pass a law limiting carbon emissions. But he could achieve the same goal using regulation from the Environmental Protection Agency, and he is now in a better position to withstand—and even welcome—the confrontation with the energy industry this would entail, thanks to both economic and political shifts, as Ronald Brownstein reports for Quartz. Read more

HIDDEN OBSTACLES TO IMMIGRATION REFORM. You can’t blame the White House for being surprised and flustered that parts of its draft proposal on immigration reform leaked. That’s what happens when you have precious little experience drafting legislation of your own and submitting it for agency review. Other than the Jobs Act, drafted almost entirely as a campaign document, the White House has no experience submitting policy ideas for the gauntlet of agency review. All sorts of things can happen there. Rude questions can be raised, policies can be challenged, or things can be leaked for nefarious reasons, as National Journal’s Major Garrett reports. Read more

BIDEN HEADLINES FACEBOOK TOWN HALL ON GUN CONTROL. Vice President Joe Biden was surprised by the questions he got at a Tuesday Facebook Q and A on gun control with Parents magazine, Politico reports. "One questioner equated gun control to drug control—if criminalizing drugs didn't get them off the streets, why will criminalizing guns?” according to the paper.  Biden responded: "Is this Parents magazine?" he asked. "I have Parents magazine. I've never heard anybody in Parents magazine ask these kinds of questions." The White House also announced Tuesday that Biden will travel to Danbury, Conn., on Thursday to speak at Western Connecticut State University, which is 10 miles from the site of the Newtown school shooting. Read more

AXELROD JOINS NBC NEWS. David Axelrod, a chief strategist for President Obama’s two presidential campaigns, will join NBC News and MSNBC as a senior political analyst, The Washington Post reports. Axelrod, a frequent MSNBC guest, also served as a senior adviser in the White House for two years during Obama's first term. Read more


KERRY’S FIRST SPEECH FOR STATE TO DISCUSS FOREIGN ‘INVESTMENT.’ John Kerry will deliver his first speech as secretary of State on Wednesday at 11 a.m. at the University of Virginia (Thomas Jefferson, the university’s founder, was the country’s first secretary of State). The speech will focus on how “a relatively small investment in our foreign policy and diplomatic efforts results in a big return for America’s economy and security,” according to a release, and will be the first in a series of addresses from Kerry. Read more

WHAT EVERYONE MISSED: HAGEL’S DECADE OF STRATEGIC THINKING. It looks awfully likely that Chuck Hagel will squeak through confirmation as President Obama's Defense secretary. But it is also likely that he'll enter the Pentagon a damaged figure, a nominee tainted by the lingering impression that he is not ready to handle the vast complexities of a defense budget slated for slashing. But what has gone largely unnoted by the punditocracy is that, over the past decade or so, the former Republican senator from Nebraska has distinguished himself with subtle, well-thought-out, and accurate analyses of some of America's greatest strategic challenges of the 21st century—especially the response to 9/11—while many of his harshest critics got these issues quite wrong, writes National Journal’s Michael Hirsh. Read more

U.N. REPORT: AFGHAN CIVILIANS SAFER, BUT DRONE STRIKES ON RISE. The United Nations mission in Afghanistan released a report Tuesday detailing Afghan civilian casualties and injuries in 2012. Overall, Wired reports, the numbers show “civilians are safer from harm in Afghanistan’s decade-long conflict than at any time since before the U.S. troop surge.” Combined civilian deaths and injuries dropped for the first time since 2007, falling 12 percent from 2011. Insurgents were still the biggest driver of casualties, responsible for 81 percent. The U.S. and its allies were accountable for 8 percent of civilian deaths and injuries. But the Associated Press reports a rise in one particular type of U.S. attack: drone strikes. Read more

ALBRIGHT CALLS DRONES ‘VERY EFFECTIVE,’ ENCOURAGES DEBATE. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright endorsed the Obama administration’s use of fatal drone strikes, saying on MSNBC’s Morning Joe Tuesday that she saw them as “very effective” in eliminating terrorists, according to Politico. But Albright did encourage a public debate on the issue, recalling a similar debate during her tenure when the U.S. conducted airstrikes in Kosovo. “A lot of people said: ‘Well, that’s not moral, you should have boots on the ground,’ ” Albright said, explaining her rationale as, “Why should we get more people killed, why do you have to have boots on the ground when you can take care of the terrible things that are happening from the air?” Albright did concede that drone strikes have become a much more complex issue. Read more


REINVENTING THE KOCH BROTHERS. Faced with their 2012 defeat, Americans for Prosperity, the main political action committee of the Koch brothers, is working up a new political strategy, Politico reports. The group has said goodbye to its chief operating officer, most of its field staff and several fundraisers. They've also postponed their signature donor conferences, and they are currently awaiting the results of an audit. They're at a turning point, the paper writes. If they continue to animate tea partiers and push the party rightward, "they could find themselves on a collision course with Karl Rove, who’s pledged to raise big money to boost more centrist" candidates. But if they vocalize support instead for free-market and libertarian policies, they may lose some of their clout come Election Day. Read more

DCCC OUTRAISES NRCC IN JANUARY. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is off to a flying start for the 2014 fundraising cycle, bringing in $6.1 million in January and ending the month with $4.6 million in the bank, according to a DCCC aide. Its total was nearly $1.7 million larger than the National Republican Congressional Committee’s January haul. According to Roll Call, the NRCC raised $4.4 million last month and finished with $2.8 million in the bank. The DCCC outraised the NRCC in nine of 12 fundraising reports in 2012 on the way to outraising the Republicans for the cycle, a notable feat for a minority party. Read more

SUPREME COURT TO REVIEW LIMITS ON CAMPAIGN DONATIONS. The Supreme Court accepted a case Tuesday reviewing aggregate limits on individuals' giving to campaigns, reports NJ's Scott Bland. Donors can only give $2,600 per election to candidates, but they have an additional limitation to consider: They are allowed to give no more than $123,200 total—$48,600 to candidates and $74,600 to regular PACs and party committees—over a two-year election cycle. A decision favorable to anti-limits backers wouldn't technically destroy the most basic campaign finance regulation, the one limiting how much an individual can give to a single candidate or party. But it would seriously dilute the provision and could even lead to the undoing of contribution limits in the future, according to campaign finance experts. Read more

McCONNELL AD MOCKS DEMOCRATS. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., released an Internet video mocking the Democrats’ inability to find a suitable challenger for the 2014 race. Set to silly music, the three-minute spot intercuts Obama awkwardly calling on people at town hall meetings with various candidates that have declared,  followed by Obama saying things like “well, no, no, no, the guy behind you.” It also lampoons Ashley Judd for announcing her true “home” as both Tennessee and San Francisco—not Kentucky—at various times.

SCOTT BROWN ‘THINKING ABOUT’ GOV RUN. Former Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., isn’t being coy about his gubernatorial intentions. In an interview with Fox 25 in Boston on Monday night, Brown said he is “thinking about” a run for governor next year. “I’m not going to be one of those ‘Ooh, I’m really not thinking about it,’ ” he said, according to The Boston Globe. “Of course I’m thinking about it.” He added that while he is mulling, he’s learning Spanish and how to play the guitar. Current Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick is eligible for a third term in 2014, but has announced he will not seek reelection. Read more

TEA-PARTY GROUP DEPICTS ROVE AS NAZI IN FUNDRAISING E-MAIL. A fundraising e-mail sent out by a top tea-party group Tuesday depicted Karl Rove’s face Photoshopped onto a Nazi uniform. “Wipe the Smirk Off Karl Rove’s Face” is the subject line of the e-mail, from Jenny Beth Martin, cofounder and national coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots. The photo illustration is a depiction of Rove’s face grafted onto a picture of an elite soldier in the German SS during Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich. Five hours after the e-mail went out, Tea Party Patriots issued a public apology to Rove, which he accepted. Read more


ACTING HEAD OF EPA USED PERSONAL E-MAIL. The acting head of the Environmental Protection Agency has in the past used a personal e-mail address for official agency communication, according to The Hill. Newly released documents showed that in 2010 Robert Perciasepe, then EPA’s deputy administrator, used the address in a message to three other officials. The e-mail wasn’t much: a clip from The New York Times about the EPA and so-called fracking. Still, Sen. David Vitter, R-La., called the disclosure part of an effort to “dodge the agency's mandatory recordkeeping policy.” Former EPA head Lisa Jackson had used a secondary government e-mail account under the name “Richard Windsor” for agency business. Read more

AIR FORCE JOURNAL TO QUESTION NAVY BIOFUELS PROGRAM. The Navy has touted its alternative-energy program, with hopes of deploying a strike group that runs exclusively on alternative fuels by 2016, and by 2020 having half of the Navy’s energy consumption come from alternative sources. But a forthcoming report from the U.S. Air Force journal, entitled “Energy Insecurity: The False Promise of Liquid Biofuels,” will be highly critical of the effort, Energy Trend Insider reports, including questioning whether using biofuels will require longer convoys and expose service members to increased enemy attacks.  Read more

A SURGE IN CHINA’S FOREIGN OIL OUTPUT. China is poised to produce enough crude oil outside its own borders that it could rival some OPEC countries, the Financial Times reports. In calculations conducted by the International Energy Agency, China’s companies will produce 3 million barrels a day abroad in 2015, nearly double the amount in 2011 and equal to Kuwait’s daily output. “China is set to become a major producing country outside of its borders,” Fatih Birol, chief economist at the IEA, told FT. “A significant part of the increased foreign production comes from [merger and acquisition] transactions last year.” At the same time, Bloomberg reports that China’s ambitions for shale gas production have not met with expectations. Read more


BOEHNER OP-ED: ‘MR. PRESIDENT … WHAT SPENDING ARE YOU WILLING TO CUT?’ House Speaker John Boehner published an op-ed in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal aiming to blame Obama for the looming March 1 sequester, and calling on the president to act before that date. “In a bit of irony, President Obama stood Tuesday with first responders who could lose their jobs if the policy goes into effect,” he wrote. “What they might not realize from Mr. Obama's statements is that it is a product of the president's own failed leadership. … Having first proposed and demanded the sequester, it would make sense that the president lead the effort to replace it. Unfortunately, he has put forth no detailed plan that can pass Congress. … Mr. President, we agree that your sequester is bad policy. What spending are you willing to cut to replace it?” Read more

GOVERNMENT WON'T FALL APART WHEN SEQUESTER HITS. Despite dire predictions that government agencies will board up their doors and layoff their workers, the immediate impact of the sequester will be minimal, Reuters reports. Some furlough notices may be issued and new government contracts could slow, but for the most part there will be few signs the cuts have launched. Instead, they will roll out over time. Congress, however, may feel the impact more quickly. They will need to begin preparing their staffs for layoffs or salary cuts to comply with an across-the-board 8.2 percent cut in office salaries and operating expenses, Politico reports. Read more

NEW PLAN FROM SIMPSON-BOWLES; SAME RESULT LIKELY. The outlook is bleak for any “grand bargain” on reducing the nation's debt, according to Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, who headed the now-defunct debt commission in 2010. The two unveiled a new plan Tuesday that splits the difference between proposals offered by the White House and congressional Republicans—and they hope to pressure the two sides to act, but aren't optimistic about getting anything done. The new plan would reduce the deficit by $2.4 trillion over the next decade, with larger cuts to Medicare and Medicaid than the White House wants, and far more revenue than the House GOP have heretofore supported. The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson examines why the plan is more favorable toward Republicans. Read more

WILL FED SIGNAL AN END TO STIMULUS? The Federal Reserve will release minutes of last month’s meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee today. Markets are weighing whether the Fed will signal that it will be ending its third round of stimulus measures, known as quantitative easing. Gold declined for the fourth session in a row Tuesday. Read more

VICE CHAIR OF FED EXPLAINS RECOVERY IN THREE CHARTS. Janet Yellen, vice chair of the Federal Reserve, gave a recent speech, and rather than focus on “what’s holding this recovery back, she focuses on the forces that have driven past recoveries,” The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein notes. Some of the key findings include a too-restrained fiscal policy, a sputtering recovery in the housing sector, and a lack of “faith” in the public that things will get better. Klein notes that Congress could do more to more on the fiscal policy front. Read more

SHOULD WE BE WORRIED ABOUT WAL-MART’S FREAK OUT? Bloomberg published some panicky e-mails from Wal-Mart executives recently, in which they discuss dismal sales numbers, and The Washington Post’s Brad Plumer wonders whether the rest of us should panic, too. The answer: Maybe. Wal-Mart attributed the decline to the end of the payroll-tax holiday, and since the retailer is considered a bellwether for the economy, such a decline may be a bad omen. Or perhaps Wal-Mart is simply having a tough time with competitors. Read more


INSURERS: MEDICARE ADVANTAGE CUTS GO TOO FAR. The insurance industry reacted to the Health and Human Services Department plans released Friday that would cut payments to Medicare Advantage plans by 2.2 percent in 2014, a cut far more drastic than any expected. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services argues that since the growth of traditional Medicare costs has slowed, they should hold private plans that cover Medicare beneficiaries to the same cost goals. But America's Health Insurance Plans blasted the cuts as a "crushing blow" to seniors and people with disabilities. "The combined effect of the ACA cuts and new proposed payment changes will likely result in seniors facing higher out-of-pocket costs, reduced benefits, and fewer health care choices," AHIP President and CEO Karen Ignagni said in a statement Tuesday.

2014 CUTS ALREADY AFFECTING INSURERS’ STOCKS. One reason the insurance industry is balking about the Medicare Advantage cuts? Their stocks are already falling, The Washington Post reports. The industry, already bracing for cuts and new taxes under the Affordable Care Act, were hoping their per-capita growth rate for Medicare beneficiaries would help them maintain profits despite those new cuts and taxes. Last year, for example, Medicare Advantage plans got a 2.5 percent-per-beneficiary pay boost, compared with this year's 2.2 percent reduction. Read more

MICH., N.H., and W. VA. WILL PARTNER ON EXCHANGES. HHS announced new applications from Michigan, New Hampshire, Iowa, and West Virginia to partner with the federal government to build health insurance exchanges, Reuters reports. The announcement from HHS brings the total to seven partnering states. HHS released its tally following Friday's deadline, noting that it will build exchanges on its own in 26 states. Read more

SCIENTISTS: CLOSE DOUGHNUT HOLE BEFORE 2020. A new report shows that Medicare beneficiaries with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia are hospitalized less often if they continue receiving drugs even after they hit the coverage gap for prescription drugs, USA Today reports. The data has led scientists to call for closing the "doughnut hole" in medication coverage before 2020, when it is scheduled to close under the Affordable Care Act. They also called for patients to use more generics to avoid hitting the reimbursement gap and to save taxpayers money. Read more

(YOU DON’T NEED TO KNOW. After playing 18 holes with Obama in Florida this weekend, Tiger Woods made his assessment of the president’s game: "He's got amazing touch. He can certainly chip and putt. If he ever spent—after these four years—spent more time playing the game of golf, I'm sure he could get to where he's a pretty good stick." Read more)

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