IMMIGRATION DEBATE OPENS IN HOUSE. The House jumps into the immigration reform debate today featuring two panel discussions that "examine our current legal immigration system and ways to improve it" and "discuss the extent to which our immigration laws have been enforced.” Left off the table for now: the more contentious issue of what to do with the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants living in the U.S. right now. House Judiciary Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., has been a staunch opponent of any measure he deems “amnesty,” as The New York Times reports, but he said his panel is open to all proposals. “We don’t want to prejudge anything,” he said. The witness list includes Julian Castro, the mayor of San Antonio, who key-noted the Democratic National Convention. Read more
CANTOR AIMS TO SOFTEN TONE WITH SPEECH TODAY. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., will deliver a speech today at the American Enterprise Institute that his aides are billing as an important shift of tone for the Republican Party. The speech will attempt to cast the House GOP’s traditionally conservative policy agenda in terms that appeal to parents, explaining why school vouchers, tax breaks, repealing the health care law, and other Republican standards would “make life work better.” He plans to ask Congress to require universities to warn students when their academic majors lack employment opportunities; to repeal the tax on medical devices, a provision of President Obama’s health care overhaul; and to shift spending to “hard” sciences such as cancer research. Read more
CBO TO RELEASE LATEST BUDGET OUTLOOK. The Congressional Budget Office will release its annual Budget and Economic Outlook on Tuesday, the first major nonpartisan analysis of the fiscal-cliff deal. The outlook will set new budget projections that Republicans and Democrats will be working from as they write competing budget proposals. Of particular interest are the deficit projections; the smaller they are, the easier it will be for House Republicans to meet their goal of a balanced budget within 10 years. The Washington Post has a handy primer on why the projections are so important politically. Read more
GOP COMING UP SHORT ON MASSACHUSETTS SENATE CANDIDATES. In the days since former Sen. Scott Brown announced he would not run in the special election in Massachusetts to fill the Senate seat vacated by Secretary of State John Kerry, the field of potential Republican contenders has narrowed further. On Monday, Mitt Romney’s eldest son, Tagg, quashed rumors he might run by releasing a statement saying he had decided against a bid. Others who have decided against include former Gov. William Weld, former state Senate Minority Leader Richard Tisei, and Mitt Romney’s former Lt. Gov., Kerry Healey. State Rep. Dan Winslow, who served in Romney’s administration, will announce today whether he is running. Read more
MEMO DETAILS LEGAL CASE FOR DRONE STRIKES ON AMERICANS. NBC News obtained a confidential Justice Department memo detailing the legal justification behind the U.S. government targeting and assassinating American citizens. It says if an American is believed to be a “senior operational leader” of al-Qaida or “an associated force,” they can be targeted for assassination without evidence that they are currently engaging in a plot to attack the U.S. After years of outside forces pushing for the government’s to explain it’s legal decision making process in such killings—like the September 2011 drone strike assassination of alleged al-Qaida operative Anwar al-Awlaki—the 16-page brief provides some answer. The American Civil Liberties Union has been pressing the government for years for this type of explanation, but remained unsatisfied by the explanation, calling it "a stunning overreach of executive authority." Read more
DEMOCRATS RETREAT TO TALK ISSUES. Democratic senators will gather at a two-day retreat behind closed doors in Annapolis beginning today, and House Democrats will leave for their own conference in Leesburg, Va., on Wednesday. While gun control and immigration issues are likely to be discussed at both, sequestration—and how to avoid or mitigate it—will take center stage, National Journal’s Billy House reports. Former President Bill Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden will address House Democrats. The White House has said that President Obama will also be speaking at the retreat on Thursday, a day after he makes an appearance at the Senate Democrats’ retreat in Annapolis, Md. Read more
CATCHING UP WITH THOSE WHO LEFT THE SENATE. Many of the 14 former senators who left office last month are wondering: What will life look like now? As National Journal’s Erin Mershon reports, many have signed with speakers’ bureaus, and some have taken university posts. Others will join organizations—including law firms and lobbying shops—that will keep them involved in policy. Despite the ethics rules that prevent senators from lobbying Congress directly for two years after their tenure, the path from Congress to K Street is well worn. But there are also those too who are glad to be away from whirlwind Washington. Former Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said he’s enjoying evenings with his wife on the porch of their Santa Fe home. As he put it, “I’m following the news, but I haven’t seen a whole lot going on that I was sorry I wasn’t involved in.” Read more
McCAIN OPPOSES FILIBUSTER ON HAGEL VOTE. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told reporters Monday he is against using the filibuster to block a vote on Chuck Hagel's nomination to Secretary of Defense, Reuters reports. "I don't think it's appropriate and I would oppose such a move," McCain said. His opinion will bolster Democratic hopes that Hagel will squeak through the chamber, despite a lackluster showing at his hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee last week. "Administration insiders say their 'head count' shows that all 53 Democrats in the Senate, as well as two independents and a handful of moderate Republicans, are likely to vote to confirm Hagel," according to Reuters.
GUN CONTROL ADVOCATES TARGET DEMOCRATS WITH NRA TIES. Organizations in Washington who want tougher gun laws are going after Democrats they feel are too cozy with the National Rifle Association by sponsoring new attack ads, The Hill reports. Their goal is to make any Democrats' relationship with the NRA a liability, putting pressure on their allies before they go after the GOP. One Democratic strategist compared the strategy to influential tax lobbyist Grover Norquist's campaign to rally Republicans against new taxes. The gun control advocates see strength in presenting a united front. Read more
LOBBYISTS JUMP INTO ACTION ON IMMIGRATION. As Congress begins to chew on immigration reform, interest groups have their lobbyists working hard to make sure their voices are heard, The Hill reports. Gay and lesbian groups are just as adamant as the tech, hospitality and agricultural industries that their favored provisions be protected. Silicon Valley is especially "bullish about the chances for a long-sought overhaul of the visa program for high-skilled workers," according to The Hill. Read more
BIPARTISAN HOUSE GROUP ‘FURTHER ALONG’ THAN SENATE ON IMMIGRATION. A secretive, bipartisan House group is working on immigration reform, The Hill reports, and will attempt to release a draft bill around the time of President Obama’s State of the Union speech next week. The group includes Democratic Reps. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois and Xavier Becerra and Zoe Lofgren of California, as well as Republican Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida and John Carter and Sam Johnson of Texas. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., the new chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, expressed confidence that the House will pass some sort of legislation; he will be holding that panel’s first full hearing on immigration today. On Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid predicted immigration reform would pass in his chamber. Read more
GOP FRESHMAN: IMMIGRATION REFORM IS ‘ABOUT BUYING OFF LAWBREAKERS.’ A freshman House member sent a fundraising e-mail Monday decrying efforts at proposed changes to immigration law as a “shameless political ploy to buy new voters.” Rep. Kerry Bentivolio, R-Mich., wrote that "immigration reform shouldn't be about buying off lawbreakers so they'll consider becoming Republican.” The rhetoric could make Republicans a little nervous, as the party is trying to reposition itself with Latino voters. Read more
OBAMA RENEWS IMMIGRATION PUSH. The administration's juggling act on policy continues. Just a day after addressing Minneapolis on gun violence, President Obama will meet business and labor groups to discuss immigration at the White House today. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who traveled to San Diego on Monday, will head to El Paso, Texas, today to inspect border security operations, meet with locals, and discuss efforts to secure the border without blocking travel or trade.
OBAMA PUSHES FOR GUN BILL; REID LESS CERTAIN. Obama jetted to Minneapolis Monday and, after meeting with law enforcement officials and local leaders, delivered a campaign-style address touting his proposal to expand background checks and ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazine clips. "No law or set of laws can keep our children completely safe," Obama said while advocating for "basic, commonsense steps to reduce gun violence." He also vowed that no new law will “subvert” the Second Amendment and urged citizens to keep the pressure on Congress. Still, gun legislation faces an uphill climb in Congress, where not just Republicans, but swing-state Democrats fear new laws. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid declined over the weekend to endorse an assault weapons ban. Read more
NO TIME FRAME ON BUDGET, CARNEY SAYS. Press secretary Jay Carney could not say when President Obama will release his budget, when asked by reporters aboard Air Force One on Monday. He missed the deadline for submitting a fiscal 2014 budget yesterday—the fourth time in five years. Republicans have blasted him for failing to submit a plan. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan said, “We still don’t know when we’ll receive the president’s request. And for nearly four years, Senate Democrats haven’t passed a budget at all. We deserve better.” The National Republican Congressional Committee released a rib-poking list of Obama’s top-10 excuses for the delay, including “I Haven’t Recovered From Beyoncé’s Lip Syncing” and “Manti Te’o’s Girlfriend Had It.” Read more
OBAMA'S GAY-MARRIAGE POSITION COULD AFFECT SUPREME COURT CASES. Obama's support for same-sex marriage has shifted. Last May, he said the issue should be decided state-by-state, but in his recent Inaugural Address he favored a more national approach. His public positions on the issue could have an outsized impact on the two gay-marriage cases Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. will argue before the Supreme Court in March, according to The New York Times. One of the cases addresses California's Proposition 8 ban on gay marriage, a position the administration does not support. Read more
WHAT AFGHANISTAN WILL LOOK LIKE IN 2015. What will Afghanistan look like after NATO and U.S. forces are nearly gone after 2014? Wired set out to answer that through a yearlong investigation into a little-covered Taliban attack on an Afghan government compound in Sharana. The episode illustrates the American mantra “Afghan good enough,” which officials have been using to temper expectations about the country’s future. Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal takes a look at how Afghan troops are preparing for a U.S. drawdown by scaling back the amount of help they are asking for from American troops. Read more
AMERICAN DEATHS IN AFGHANISTAN HIT FOUR-YEAR LOW. Over the past three months, there have been 30 U.S. deaths in Afghanistan, the lowest for any three-month stretch of the war since late 2008 and early 2009, the Associated Press reports. The low total is likely a result of reduced direct combat and fewer Taliban attacks. Only three soldiers died in January, according to Pentagon statistics, the lowest total since December 2008. Read more
WHO SHAPED CLINTON’S LEGACY MORE: CLINTON OR OBAMA? With Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s departure from office at the end of last week, laudatory comments have poured in from many in the political sphere. But The New Yorker this week takes a look at how Clinton was, at times, boxed in by Obama, who tempered her more aggressive approach to foreign policy and denied her the chance to be a “truly great secretary of State.” Instead, Clinton’s legacy will be her impressive worldwide engagement. “Clinton’s true legacy might be the countless public events that she held from Lahore to Kinshasa, where thousands of ordinary people got to question the U.S. secretary of State, and where the topic was often something like women’s rights or access to clean water.” Read more
FRANCE TO HAND TIMBUKTU BACK TO MALI AT WEEK’S END. French forces continued their targeted airstrikes in Mali on Monday, taking out fuel depots and remote camps of the Islamist militants who fled to the deserts after being expelled from cities they controlled, according to the Associated Press. At the same time, French officials announced a plan to hand Timbuktu—controlled by the rebels until last week—back over to the Malian army by week’s end. The New York Times details the steps locals took while under rebel control to preserve the millennia-old Timbuktu’s ancient treasures. Moving forward, the goal of France’s targeted airstrikes is to ensure desert hideaways do not become launching pads for international terrorism. Read more
GOVERNMENT DELINEATES PROTOCOL FOR CYBERWEAPON USE. Government protocols for dealing with cyberattacks are amorphous and ill-defined, but The New York Times reports that a clandestine legal review of the government’s use of cyberweapons concluded Obama has extensive unilateral powers to order preemptive strikes if given enough evidence of an impending digital attack from abroad. In the coming weeks, the administration will continue to delineate, for the first time, how the military can respond and defend against cyberattacks. Some issues on the docket will be the level of monitoring U.S. intelligence agencies can conduct on foreign computer networks and when these agencies would be allowed to inject foreign networks with destructive code. Read more
HERITAGE FOUNDATION RETREAT LACKS STAR POWER. The Heritage Foundation heads to Baltimore this week for its three-day retreat. And as usual, it will be attended by some of the House’s most high-profile conservative members. But, as Roll Call reports, it will be lacking some significant GOP star power without the presence of Heritage President and CEO, former Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C. The Foundation is handling DeMint “with kid gloves,” it said, wary of the rule barring former senators from influencing lawmakers for two years after leaving Congress. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., also opted out, as did Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, former Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, and Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia. Read more
LAUTENBERG RAISED JUST $11K LAST QUARTER. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., raised roughly $11,000 in the fourth quarter of 2012, Roll Call reports, an extremely small sum for an incumbent seeking reelection. Lautenberg, one of the wealthiest members of Congress, has self-funded his campaigns in the past, and he started off the 2008 campaign with similarly dismal numbers, but the figure could add to questions over whether the 89-year-old Senate fixture will seek another term. Newark Mayor Cory Booker has announced that he is exploring a run at the seat, causing some intra-party fireworks, and Rep. Frank Pallone, another potential contender, has a $3.4 million war chest. Read more
LEVIN’S EMPTY WAR CHEST FUELS RETIREMENT SPECULATION. Federal records show that Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., raised only $13,206 in the fourth quarter of 2012, fueling rumors that he will not run for reelection next year, the Detroit Free Press reported. Levin’s office maintains that he has not yet decided whether the 78-year-old will make his fifth term in the Senate his last. “He has said all along that he’d make a decision in the beginning part of this year,” a Levin spokeswoman wrote in an e-mail to the Free Press. “I expect a decision in the next few weeks.” Read more
WESTMORELAND, REED OPT OUT OF GA. SENATE RACE. The field of potential candidates for the open Senate seat in Georgia narrowed by two on Monday, with Republican Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, and Atlanta Democratic Mayor Kasim Reed both opting out of the race. Westmoreland, who had been considering a run to succeed retiring GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss, said in a statement on Monday that after discussing the potential bid with his family, he has decided instead to run for reelection to the House. Reed said that he too is taking a pass on the Senate race. Still, the list of potential candidates remains long. Republican Reps. Paul Broun, Jack Kingston, Tom Price, Phil Gingrey and Tom Graves are all mulling bids for the seat. Read more
BABBITT TO GIVE CONSERVATION ADDRESS. Former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt will deliver an address today encouraging the administration to prioritize conservation as it navigates America’s natural gas boom. Babbitt will announce “a new proposal to help translate the current energy boom into sustainable economic growth and improved stewardship of iconic landscapes for future generations,” according to the National Press Club, which is hosting the event. In 2011, Babbitt called administration staffers “munchkins” for what he saw as their failure to adequately protect public lands. Expect a more pragmatic tone in today’s speech.
REPORT: OPENING FEDERAL LANDS WOULD GENERATE $14.4 TRILLION. Opening restricted federal lands and waters to oil and gas exploration would generate a total of $14.4 trillion in economic activity, according to a fossil-fuel industry report released this morning. That figure includes $127 billion annually over the next seven years and $450 billion annually in the long run. The report also contends that the move would create 552,000 jobs per year over the next seven years and 1.9 million jobs annually over the next 30. The report, put out by the Institute for Energy Research, aims to build on an August report from the Congressional Budget Office that found opening up federal lands would generate $150 billion in leasing revenue for the federal government over 10 years.
MURKOWSKI BLUEPRINT CALLS FOR LNG EXPORTS, CONTINUED COAL RELIANCE. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, calls for allowing the export of natural gas and the continued long-term use of coal in her energy policy blueprint, unveiled on Monday. Despite concerted lobbying efforts by manufacturers who benefit from the cheap price of domestic natural gas, Murkowski comes down on the side of the gas industry and free market principles by advocating for natural gas exports in the report. She also calls for making coal an integral part of the nation’s energy portfolio for the foreseeable future even as the industry has seen its long-term viability come into doubt in the face of a domestic natural gas boom and stricter environmental regulations. The blueprint lists the five broad policy goals of making energy “abundant, affordable, clean, diverse, and secure.”
SUPERDOME BLACKOUT COULD ADD MOMENTUM ON ENERGY POLICY. Murkowski is also hoping the nation’s energy agenda will benefit from an unexpected source of attention: the blackout at the Superdome that stalled the Super Bowl for half an hour on Sunday night. “This issue of immigration: Why are we all focused on that? Well, it’s because the Republicans lost the election because in part we did not have the Hispanic community behind us,” Murkowski said on Monday. “What is it that brings about that motivation? Maybe it could be something like a gap in the Super Bowl causes the focus on energy that we need to have. I can only hope.” Read more
ECONOMY & BUDGET
BUDGET CUTS LOOM OVER CONGRESSIONAL RETREAT. As Senate Democrats begin to strategize on the across-the-board spending reductions set to hit next month and other fiscal issues on Tuesday at their retreat in Maryland, House Republicans are pointing fingers at the White House, claiming that the administration came up with the idea for the sequester cuts in the first place. In truth, the cuts—now set at about $85 billion divided between defense and domestic discretionary programs—have a much more complicated and bipartisan history than Republicans may want to acknowledge, as National Journal’s Billy House reports. But regardless of the sequester’s origin, many lawmakers in both parties would prefer to replace, or at least mitigate, the pending cuts. Read more
REPORT: U.S. TO FILE CIVIL CHARGES AGAINST RATINGS AGENCY. The Justice Department and state prosecutors are looking to file civil charges against Standard & Poor’s Ratings Service over its handling of mortgage-bond ratings prior to the 2008 financial collapse, The Wall Street Journal reports. The suit, which could be filed this week, would center on “allegations related to the model used by S&P to rate mortgage bonds,” according to The Journal. The suit would be the first federal action against a credit-ratings agency. Read more
KASICH OPTS IN ON MEDICAID EXPANSION. Ohio will expand its Medicaid program, Republican Gov. John Kasich announced Monday, according to The Plain Dealer. The decision to take advantage of federal funding under the Affordable Care Act will grant coverage to about 456,000 more Ohioans. A July Supreme Court decision ruled that states could choose whether to expand Medicaid, and until recently many Republican governors saw the expansion as a tacit endorsement of the Affordable Care Act. But Kasich is the fifth Republican governor to back the expansion; including Ohio, 20 states and the District of Columbia are now on board. Read more
LEW ACCUSED OF BREAKING MEDICARE LAW. In a letter sent to the White House on Monday, Senate Republicans accused treasury nominee Jack Lew of breaking a Medicare budget law when he was director of the White House budget office in 2010 and 2011. Federal law requires the president to warn Congress if Medicare funding becomes imbalanced, and to send Congress a plan to repair the finances. "The administration has failed each of the last four years to respond to these funding warnings despite receiving several communications from Congress urging them to comply with this unambiguous legal requirement," the letter reads. Read more
DOCS, MEDICAL STUDENTS TO CONGRESS: KEEP FUNDING RESIDENCIES. Physicians and medical students are urging Congress to retain funding for graduate medical education programs that currently comes through Medicare. They also asked Congress to lift the cap on the number of available residency slots, citing a need to address a growing physician shortage. “Residency training gives new physicians hands-on experience and provides high-quality care to patients,” American Medical Association President Jeremy Lazarus said in a statement. “Limiting the slots available to train physicians as they leave medical school creates a bottleneck in the system and prevents the physician workforce from growing to meet the needs of our nation’s patients.” Read more
(YOU DON’T NEED TO KNOW. Take a closer look at this photo from last August, posted by House Speaker John Boehner’s office. Notice the phrase “Illegitimi Non Carborundum” on the plaque behind the lamp. It’s a translated World War II saying, roughly meaning “don’t let the bastards grind you down.” Then there’s the tiny desert garden in a snifter glass, the scented candle and the cartoon about herding cats. BuzzFeed rounds up the most interesting items on the Speaker’s desk. Read more)
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