BOEHNER HAS MOMENTUM ON DEBT PLAN. House Speaker John Boehner is gaining momentum ahead of Wednesday’s critical vote to raise the debt limit temporarily, National Journal’s Shane Goldmacher reports. Now, he must ensure that he’s got the votes, as potential conservative opponents inside and outside Congress began to fracture on Tuesday. Perhaps the biggest boost came from the powerful Club for Growth, which announced on Tuesday that it would remain neutral on the bill. Some of the House’s most conservative members, like Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., predicted defeat for their faction. “Political reality looks like it will pass,” he told NJ. Read more
SENATE DEMOCRATS WOULD BACK DEBT-LIMIT EXTENSION. Should the House pass a House Republican bill to suspend the debt ceiling until May and require the Senate to pass a budget, Senate Democrats are likely to support it, ensuring that the government can pay its bills while lawmakers attempt to solve another raft of tricky fiscal issues this spring, Democratic aides said. Forcing Senate Democrats to accept a short-term debt-limit fix and write a spending plan, after years of refusing to pass a budget, would be a political victory for Republicans. But, if the legislation passes, House Republicans will have also made a major concession in dropping their demand that debt-limit legislation must be tied to spending cuts. Read more
WHITE HOUSE WELCOMES DEBT-LIMIT DEAL. Press secretary Jay Carney told reporters on Tuesday that the White House will not stand in the way of a bill proposed by House Republicans to raise the debt ceiling for three months, should it pass the House and Senate. "We take heart from the numerous statements … in which Republicans made clear that it was not the right thing to do to play chicken with the full faith and credit of the United States," he said. But he clarified that the short-term proposal was not the ideal solution: “It is not good for the economy to raise the debt ceiling in increments or short- term periods."
CLINTON BENGHAZI TESTIMONY TO COVER ATTACKS, GENERAL DIPLOMATIC SECURITY. Outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will finally testify before Senate and House committees on the terrorist attacks in Benghazi today. Clinton will answer specific questions about the Sept. 11 attacks that led to the deaths of four Americans. The Washington Post reports that she will also be peppered with more-general questions on the topic of protection for U.S. diplomats abroad. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said Tuesday that he did not expect “any bombshells” to come from the hearings. National Journal’s Matthew Cooper notes that Clinton has been in the spotlight many times in her career and emerged unscathed, and that the Benghazi matter will be no different. Read more
WHO IS THE NEW OBAMA? That's the question posed by National Journal's Ron Fournier, who sees a president at the height of his power, nevertheless facing certain decline. In Washington, Republicans as well as Democrats are drunk on partisanship, hostage to a political structure built to reward extremism and reject compromise as capitulation. In this environment, it is understandable why Obama chose to reject the post-partisan, problem-solving brand that he rode to the White House four years ago in a decidedly liberal second Inaugural Address. Chastened by four years in Washington, Obama has decided to fight partisan fire with fire. Surely it feels good, but will it work? Read more
REPORT: BOEHNER TO HOLD BUDGET VOTE. Speaker John Boehner said Tuesday that the House would work to pass a budget and that House Budget Chair Paul Ryan will be leading the charge, according to Politico. “Passing a short-term [debt limit] hike buys time for the House and Senate both to pass a budget,” Boehner said at a closed party meeting, according to a source who spoke to Politico. “With the right reforms in place, Paul’s goal is to advance a budget that balances within a decade.” The announcement, as Politico notes, is “an attempt to get conservatives to vote in favor of the three-month suspension of the debt ceiling,” which is scheduled for a floor vote today. Read more
REID: SANDY AID FIRST, FILIBUSTER REFORM SECOND. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday that efforts to reform the filibuster will take a back seat, temporarily, to efforts to pass an aid package for victims of Hurricane Sandy, Roll Call reported. Reid will try to move the $50.5 billion supplemental relief package, a holdover from the previous Congress, whose failure to pass caused a backlash against Republicans. Reid said he will then look to filibuster reform, saying that “the Senate will take action to make this institution that we all love — the United States Senate — work more effectively. We’ll consider changes to the Senate rules.” Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have been negotiating on changes, and are reportedly making progress on an agreement. Read more
HOUSE POSTPONES VOTE TO BLOCK FED WORKER PAY RAISE. Republican leaders have postponed a vote planned for this week on a bill to block Obama’s proposed across-the-board pay increase for federal workers in 2013, National Journal’s Billy House reports. The measure, sponsored by Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., would prevent a 0.5 percent pay raise set in April for federal employees, which is estimated to cost about $11 million a year. No new date for floor action on the vote has been set – but it would not occur until next month at the earliest. House members are likely to adjourn on Wednesday until Feb. 4. Read more
AMONG REID’S FIRST 10 BILLS: SCHOOL VIOLENCE AND IMMIGRATION. Reid released a list of the first 10 bills he plans to address in the 113th Congress, Roll Call reported on Tuesday. Democrats hope to focus on “a strong middle class” and fairness for all Americans with the top-priority bills, Reid said. The full list: Comprehensive Immigration Reform, the Sandy Hook Elementary School Violence Reduction Act, the Strengthen our Schools and Students Act, the Rebuild America Act, the Violence Against Women Act, the Putting Our Veterans Back to Work Act, the Preparing for Extreme Weather Act, the End Wasteful Tax Loopholes Act, the Clean and Fair Elections Act, and an Agriculture Jobs Bill. Read more
THE SENATE BUDGET DILEMMA: CAN THEY TURN AUSTERITY INTO ACTION? The Washington Post uses a tiny fellowship program to illustrate the vast difficulties of passing budget legislation that lives up to the rhetoric on spending cuts and greater efficiency. President Obama has called the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation inefficient and redundant. House Republicans want to get rid of it, too. There were seven attempts to axe the program in 2012 alone. But it lives on, thanks to Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss. “Cutting ... is actually a lot harder than people think,” said Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., who also failed to kill the program last year. Read more
REID TO HOLD OPEN AMENDMENT VOTE ON GUN CONTROL. As the Senate continues to consider new gun control measures, Reid said he would soon hold an open amendment vote on a firearms regulation bill, The Hill reported. The move is seen as one that could potentially weaken the legislation, but increase its chances of actually passing the Senate. Reid has expressed reservations about an all-out ban on assault weapons, which President Obama supports. Indications are that hearings on the bill will begin next week. Read more
OBAMA ATTENDS NATIONAL PRAYER SERVICE. Rounding out days of festivities surrounding the inauguration, President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and their families attended a prayer service at the National Cathedral on Tuesday. Rev. Adam Hamilton, a senior pastor at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kan., led the interfaith service, which more than 2,200 attended. He began by joking that Obama should have been a preacher for his ability to inspire.
POTUS, FLOTUS, AND BO GREET WHITE HOUSE TOUR GUESTS. The president, the first lady, and their dog Bo surprised White House tour guests Tuesday in the Blue Room. Most of the visitors were Obama for America and Democratic National Committee staffers and volunteers, according to The Huffington Post. In a tweet from her new account, @FLOTUS, Michelle Obama said, "I love doing this." The president even gave one visitor a fist bump. Read more
JOHN ALLEN CLEARED OF ANY WRONGDOING AFTER EMAIL INVESTIGATION. An extensive Defense Department investigation of Gen. John Allen's email exchanges with a woman involved in the David Petraeus sex scandal found nothing improper. Allen is the top commander in Afghanistan. The Associated Press reports that officials said concerns over Allen's email exchanges were "unsubstantiated." Read more
NETANYAHU RETAINS MAJORITY, BUT WILL BE PUSHED INTO COALITION. It was by a narrow margin, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies won a victory in Israel’s election Tuesday. According to exit polls, Netanyahu’s Likud party, which has taken an aggressive stance toward Iran and the Palestinians, won a slim majority in the parliamentary elections, positioning Netanyahu to return for another term as prime minister. But there is a good chance he will be forced to govern via a broad coalition after a better-than-expected showing for a new centrist party. As a result, Michael J. Koplow writes for The Atlantic, Netanyahu will come out as the big loser from Tuesday’s vote. Read more
CONTINUED BUDGET DISPUTES FORCE PENTAGON TO SLOW SPENDING. Since last February, the Department of Defense has been spending money based on the assumption that a budget would be passed allocating money more or less in line with what the Department had requested. But it’s been a year, and there’s still no budget. On Tuesday, Politico reported that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has been discussing ways to lower the agency’s “burn rate,” or rate of spending. A memo dated Jan. 15 stipulated that officials not award research and development contracts worth more than $500 million without first clearing them with Undersecretary of Defense Frank Kendall, Politico reports. Read more
U.S. MORE INVOLVED IN MALI AS FRANCE RETAKES TWO MAJOR CITIES. Despite disagreements between France and the U.S. over the level of U.S. involvement in France’s campaign in Mali, the U.S. military said on Tuesday it had conducted an airlift of troops and equipment. The airlift, spread over Monday and Tuesday, moved French soldiers and equipment from southern France to the capital of Mali, according to The New York Times. The move came on the same day that Malian and French forces reportedly took back control of two critical central Malian towns from Islamist militants. The country’s northern half had been overtaken by these militants, causing France to intercede on behalf of the Malian government. Read more
BIDEN READY TO RUN, FRIENDS SAY. Vice President Joe Biden hosted 200 influential Democrats at a party Sunday to celebrate the 2012 election, but some attendees are convinced he is looking toward 2016, Politico reports. “He’s intoxicated by the idea, and it’s impossible not to be intoxicated by the idea,” a Democrat close to the White House said. Even on the campaign trail, Biden was looking ahead. “He embraced [courting donors and fundraising] with a tirelessness and a gusto that even the president didn’t,” a campaign official said. Read more
AS ROE V. WADE TURNS 40, OPPONENTS FOCUS ON STATES. As the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision turned 40 years old Tuesday, the debate over abortion was raging in state capitals from Richmond to Phoenix. “The front lines of defending those rights are really in the state capitols, while there’s a bit of a stalemate on reproductive issues at the federal level,” said Anna Scholl, director of ProgressVA, which opposed Virginia’s widely publicized new law requiring women seeking abortions to undergo ultrasound exams. Scholl added: “The states are where the decisions that affect women, the soccer moms in the suburbs, are really happening.” Read more
DEMS TURN GUN CONTROL ON SCOTT BROWN. Democrats are confident that gun control will emerge as a pivotal issue in the upcoming Massachusetts special election to fill the seat that may be vacated by Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. Democratic operatives believe that former Republican Sen. Scott Brown’s past support from pro-gun interests could be a significant vulnerability, given that Massachusetts is a solidly Democratic state. Brown received more contributions from the gun-rights lobby than any other Senate candidate during the 2012 cycle, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. He received $30,275 in 2012 and $23,020 in 2010 from gun-rights interests. But the politically savvy Brown is working to neutralize any liability on guns. He previously opposed a federal assault-weapons ban, but has reversed his position since the Newtown, Conn., shooting. Read more
SOUTH CAROLINA’S SPECIAL ELECTION STAR-STUDDED. The special election to fill the South Carolina U.S. House seat vacated by now-Sen. Tim Scott is shaping up to be a little less C-SPAN and a little more like a Bravo reality show. In one corner is the likely front-runner, former Republican Gov. Mark Sanford, who is poised to make a comeback from his very public admission that he left the country to see his mistress after telling his staff he was hiking the Appalachian Trail. Comedian Stephen Colbert’s sister, Democrat Elizabeth Colbert-Busch, is also planning to run. Then there’s Teddy Turner, son of the media mogul, who is already out with the first ad of the campaign season, touting himself as a conservative. Read moreWASSERMAN SCHULTZ RETAINS DNC CHAIR POSITION. It wasn’t even close. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., was reelected unanimously for another two-year term as head of the Democratic National Committee. President Obama backed Schultz prior to the vote. Vice President Joe Biden met privately with the new DNC committee members after the voting was completed. Read more
HOW OBAMA CAN TACKLE CLIMATE WITHOUT CONGRESS. Obama’s Inaugural Address was his clearest signal yet that he intends to take on climate change. But what, specifically, can he do? For now, it’s unlikely he’ll be able to get a bill through Congress. But the president does have in his executive arsenal one powerful — and controversial — climate-change weapon he could wield without help from Congress. Under the terms of a Supreme Court ruling and the nation’s clean-air laws, the Environmental Protection Agency is required to issue a regulation that would force existing industrial polluters, such as coal-fired power plants and oil refineries, to slash their emissions of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming. The rule could reduce the nation’s global-warming pollutants by up to 20 percent. Read more
NEBRASKA APPROVES KEYSTONE XL PIPELINE ROUTE. Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman wrote to President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton Tuesday to inform them that he had approved an alternative route for the Keystone XL Pipeline, The New York Times reported. Obama rejected the previously proposed route because it posed threats to the Sand Hills region and Ogallala Aquifer. Climate groups strongly oppose the pipeline, and forced the president to defer its final approval until after the election. Because the pipeline would cross a national boundary, the State Department must decide whether or not to issue a permit for the project after conducting an environmental impact review, which is expected at the end of the first quarter of 2013. Read more
TAR SANDS SPUR SIERRA CLUB TO FIRST-EVER ACT OF CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE. The staid Sierra Club broke with 120 years of precedent late Tuesday by announcing plans to peacefully break the law in protest of the Keystone pipeline and the use of tar sands as fossil fuel. The club will join Bill McKibben’s 350.org in an action designed to draw arrests at an upcoming protest. The escalation of tactics signals the increasing urgency of the climate crisis. “We are watching a global crisis unfold before our eyes, and to stand aside and let it happen – even though we know how to stop it – would be unconscionable,” said the club’s executive director, Michael Brune, in a statement.
SENATE DEMS DEFER TO EPA ON CLIMATE CHANGE. After years of trying — yet failing — to get climate-change legislation through Congress, top Senate Democrats are more publicly than ever handing over power to Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency. “A lot of people don’t recognize that EPA has huge authority to reduce carbon in the air,” said Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., at a briefing Tuesday. Boxer’s comments, combined with similar remarks from Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., indicate that the Democratic Party will not only defend EPA’s authority to regulate carbon emissions but also follow through on the regulations, despite Republican criticism and industry pleas to slow down the rules. Read more
HIGH COURT PASSES ON CHALLENGE TO EPA AUTHORITY. The Supreme Court also deferred to EPA authority, declining without comment on Tuesday to hear a challenge over the agency’s power to limit sulfur-dioxide emissions, Reuters reported. The decision continues a trend of judicial noninterference with the Obama administration’s greenhouse gas regulations, David Uhlmann, a University of Michigan law professor and former chief of the Department of Justice Environmental Crimes Section, told the news agency. The decision also has ramifications for climate change, because most sulfur-dioxide emissions come from the burning of fossil fuels. Read more
ECONOMY & BUDGET
CONSERVATIVES LOSING STEAM ON DEBT DARE. House Republican leadership appears to have quieted naysayers on the Right who recently seemed eager to threaten default and defy conventional arguments that such a hardline stance would trigger crisis, National Journal’s Stacy Kaper reports. As the House prepares to take steps to push back the debt-ceiling deadline until May, the debate within the party is still focused on how to achieve the GOP’s desired spending cuts using other less credit-threatening vehicles, such as the sequester or the soon-to-expire continuing resolution to fund the government. Republican aides said a major focus of last week’s retreat was on defusing interest in using the debt ceiling as a weapon to achieve spending cuts, arguing that it could be dangerous to the economy and backfire on Republicans. Read more
RYAN: OBAMA’S SPEECH LACKED DEBT TALK. Rep. Paul Ryan said Tuesday that President Obama’s inaugural address was woefully deficient in discussing the nation’s debt, saying that Obama’s message to the U.S. was “we will not fix this debt crisis,” adding: “What I was really hoping was he would say, 'I want to deal with this debt crisis before it takes our economy off the rails, before it guarantees our children and our grandchildren are sated with our debts.'" Ryan made the comments on Laura Ingraham's radio show, adding: "That's really what I was aching to hear." He also said that Obama’s speech indicated that the president did not want to take on entitlements. Read more
HOUSING SLIPS UNEXPECTEDLY. In a surprise, sales of previously owned homes fell in December, The Wall Street Journal reported. Existing-home sales fell 1 percent from November, according to figures from the National Association of Realtors, for an annual rate of 4.94 million. Economists expected sales to rise by 2 percent, or an annual rate of 5.14 million. Still the pace was the second-strongest since late 2009 and housing sales were the strongest in five years. The reason for the drop was lack of supply, according to Bloomberg, as the number of available homes is at its lowest level in more than a decade. November’s figures were also revised downward.
HOW A FED PRESIDENT’S WARNINGS WENT UNHEEDED. The Wall Street Journal points to the recently released transcripts of the Fed’s proceedings in 2007 to take note of comments by Richard Fisher, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. In the transcripts, Fisher warns about the risk that companies like the now-defunct Bear Stearns were creating. Responding to assurances in June 2007 by then-New York Fed President Timothy Geithner, Fisher noted, “I was once a hedge fund manager – I know all the tricks that are played there, including, by the way, the valuation of underlying securities.” He added, “I don’t think the issue is contained. I do think there is enormous risk.” Read more
PRICE WANTS MORE REPEAL VOTES ON ACA. Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., who backed off a threat to challenge House Speaker John Boehner last year, wants more votes on the health care law this year to get the 35 freshman members on the record. “I think it’s also important to give the other side – I think they have 45 who’ve never had an opportunity to voice an opinion,” he said. Cue the political ads. Other GOP members appeared to be following his lead. Two bills are up for discussion in the 113th Congress that would repeal major provisions of the law: One would scale back requirements for employers and another, to be introduced today, would eliminate a Medicare cost-control board. Neither, of course, has a shot at becoming law.
WASHINGTON REMEMBERS ROE V. WADE. In honor of its 40-year anniversary, lawmakers and industry groups on Tuesday celebrated – or blasted – the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized some forms of abortion. Some, including the National Partnership for Women and Families, called it a tremendous advance for women's health and equality. After an inaugural address that failed to touch the issue, President Obama released a statement reaffirming his commitment to expanding reproductive rights. But Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, in a statement, called on Americans to "once again cherish the inalienable rights for the unborn, as well as the born.” The issue has become particularly politicized in the wake of the Affordable Care Act, which gave women easier access to contraception and other preventive health care services. With federal policy in place, state legislatures are taking up the mantle to rescind portions of the law, reports National Journal's Beth Reinhard. Read more
COORDINATED CARE CAN REDUCE MEDICARE HOSPITAL ADMISSIONS. Minimizing readmissions is an obvious way to drive down health costs, and the Affordable Care Act incentivizes a reduction in readmissions. Hospitals, however, have struggled to substantially reduce readmission rates despite those financial incentives, and the report emphasizes that there is no clear and easy solution to minimizing the costly problem. Nearly one in five Medicare patients return to the hospital within a month, The New York Times reported last November. A report from the Altarum Institute released Tuesday found one small bright spot: in communities that worked with their Quality Improvement Organizations to coordinate care, there was a nearly 6 percent reduction in hospital readmissions and admissions.
HOUSE PASSES PAHPA REAUTHORIZATION. Tuesday, the House passed the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Reauthorization Act of 2013, a five-year reauthorization of a 2006 bill that aims to address health disaster preparedness. Versions of the legislation passed both chambers in the 112th Congress, but its final passage was stymied by unrelated amendments.
MOODY'S: NEGATIVE OUTLOOK ON NOT-FOR-PROFIT HOSPITALS. Revenues at nonprofit hospitals are positive, but the rate of growth in the industry has declined, leading the credit ratings agency to keep the 2013 outlook at "negative" for those institutions. The new report does note, however, that the hospitals have shown operating stability despite large shifts to government payers and a decline in patients.
(YOU DON’T NEED TO KNOW. Pop singer Beyoncé rocked the nation’s capital on Tuesday. The Grammy-award winner was the victim – or perpetrator – of a terrible scandal: lip-synching the National Anthem. Whether she did so is still a matter of some question. The U.S. Marine Band initially said the singer mouthed her way through a pre-recorded performance, then backed off that claim later in the day, The New York Times reported. Read more)
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