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Politics

Inaugural Short on Olive Branches

January 22, 2013

TOP FIVE NEWS STORIES

INAUGURAL SHORT ON OLIVE BRANCHES. President Obama’s inaugural address shed new light on his second-term legislative priorities but did little to win over Republicans in the House who unswervingly opposed his first-term agenda. At least 10 times during his address, Obama made unmistakable allusions to Republican ideas that he rejects and wants the country to reject – even as he wrapped the critiques in a call for togetherness. “It was almost like it was a speech for a Democrat endorsement meeting rather than trying to reach out to Republicans who control the House to try to govern,” Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Ohio, a strong ally of House Speaker John Boehner, complained to The Columbus Dispatch shortly after the address. Read more

A CALL FOR ‘COLLECTIVE ACTION.’ Obama called a bitterly partisan nation to “collective action” in his inaugural address Monday, knowing his second-term agenda will be too ambitious for many and too meek for others, writes National Journal's Ron Fournier. As the nation’s 44th president, and just the 17th to deliver a second inaugural address, Obama demanded leadership worthy of this era of economic and social transition. “Americans,” Obama declared, “we are made for this moment, and we will seize it – as long as we seize it together.” Read more

 

WHAT OBAMA WANTS AND WHAT HE'LL GET. In his second inaugural address, Obama spelled out his legislative priorities for the next four years, which will likely be echoed in his State of the Union address next month. National Journal's Stacy Kaper and Rebecca Kaplan round up the issues that will have the friendliest reception in Congress, like immigration; which will likely be rejected, like climate change; and which will be accomplished elsewhere, like the protection of same-sex marriage rights, which could be decided by the Supreme Court, and changes to the voting process, which may be decided by the states. Read more

GOP DEBT PLAN IS BIG GAMBLE FOR BOEHNER. Only one month after the failure of John Boehner’s “Plan B” proposal during the fiscal-cliff talks, the speaker is forging ahead with another go-it-alone legislative strategy to gain leverage in the federal-deficit fight. Republicans are poised this week to bring to the floor a measure to raise the debt ceiling temporarily to stave off default and reorder the coming series of fiscal crises more to their strategic liking. As National Journal’s Shane Goldmacher reports, the plan faces an uncertain fate as Boehner must keep his unruly conference nearly unanimously in line. If Democrats stay united in opposition, he can afford to lose fewer than 20 Republicans, including those who have pledged never to raise the debt ceiling, period. Read more

DETAILS SCANT ON DEM BUDGET PLAN. A day after announcing a plan to draft a budget resolution for the first time in four years, Senate Democrats provided few details on what the resolution would entail and whether it would go through the regular committee process, The Hill reports. Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray, D-Wash., declined to answer questions about the budget in an interview with reporters. Republican reaction was generally positive. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said he was “gratified” at the move, but added: “If they intend to follow the law, then they will need to act in accordance with the legal deadline to approve a budget in committee by April 1.” Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Sunday that Democrats want to use reconciliation – a simple majority vote – on the budget to avoid filibusters in rewriting the tax code. Read more

CONGRESS

HOW WILL HISTORY GRADE BOEHNER AND OBAMA? As Obama officially began his new term on Monday, sitting not far away was John Boehner, who earlier this month kicked off his own second term as House speaker. For two years now, the two men have often been mentioned in the same sentence, joined by the spotlight thrown upon top party leaders who clash openly and often. Yet on a day thick with historical reference and talk of legacy, a deeper question beckoned: Will history join these two leaders? If so, how? “I think they will find a place together in history,” said political scientist Paul Brace of Rice University. “The question is whether they will ultimately be recalled as succeeding together, or having failed and tried to leave the other holding the bag.” Read more

STAGE SET FOR HOUSE VOTE ON DEBT CEILING. The House plans to vote on its plan to suspend the debt ceiling for three months, perhaps as early as Wednesday, in exchange for Democrats drafting a budget, The Hill reported. The House Rules Committee is to hold an emergency meeting today. “While past measures to address the debt limit have simply increased the borrowing cap, the House bill would actually suspend the debt limit until May 19,” The Hill reports. “On that date, the debt limit would be automatically increased from $16.4 trillion to accommodate Treasury's borrowing beyond that cap.” The move would give Republicans political cover, since they won’t be forced to vote on a dollar amount that could be used against them later. Read more

REID POISED TO STRIKE ON FILIBUSTER REFORM. In what could be the culmination of a years-long push to reform the Senate’s filibuster rules, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is poised to announce as early as this week whether he has struck a deal with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to alter the parliamentary procedure or if he plans to adopt the rule change with only Democratic support. In question is whether the notoriously change-resistant Senate can reform a rule critics charge has made the chamber nearly unworkable, but defenders say protects the rights of the minority party. Read more

IMMIGRATION FACES HURDLES IN CONGRESS. There’s no shortage of political will to get immigration reform done in Congress, but lawmakers still have several major hurdles to overcome. On the policy front, lawmakers will have to decide whether to include a path to citizenship or merely a legal status for immigrants now living in the United States illegally. There’s also the issue of size. Some want a comprehensive package, but that gives everyone something to hate. Some lawmakers say it would be easier to tackle smaller bills that attract distinct coalitions of support. Read more

NEW CONGRESS FACES OLD HURDLES ON FARM BILL. Is there any reason to think Congress is more likely to pass a five-year farm bill in 2013 than in 2012? Not based on what happened at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual convention in Nashville, Tenn., last week and the statements issued by anti-hunger groups and some farm-bill reformers. When the Farm Bureau released its “strategic plan” for the year, it put immigration reform and passage of an inland waterway bill first and second. The farm bill was listed as “another important priority.” Read more

WHITE HOUSE

OBAMA’S SPEECH WIDELY VIEWED AS A LEFT TURN. A Washington Post editorial called it a “liberal manifesto.” James Fallows, writing for The Atlantic, called it “the most sustainedly ‘progressive’ statement Barack Obama has made in his decade on the national stage.” And David Remnick at The New Yorker wrote, “This was Barack Obama without apology—a liberal emboldened by political victory.” Reaction to the president’s inaugural speech seemed to conclude that Obama took a decided turn to the left on Monday. Whether that is good or bad, of course, depends on one’s political point of view. Wrote The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page: “Mr. Obama was laying down a marker that he has no intention of letting debt or deficits or lagging economic growth slow his plans for activist, expansive government.”

HALF AS MANY ATTENDED SECOND INAUGURATION. About 1 million people packed the National Mall to watch yesterday's inauguration, an inauguration official told Politico. In 2009, an historic 1.8 million people attended the event. Metro ridership was also down by about 63 percent from Obama's first inauguration. The numbers, however, are still nearly unprecedented; until Obama's 2009 ceremony, the 1.2 million attendees at Lyndon B. Johnson's inauguration set the record for the largest. Read more

INAUGURAL BALL WAS ONE BIG BASH. The thousands who attended the official inaugural ball at the Washington Convention Center Monday night dined on nearly 4,200 pounds of tortellini and penne, topped with 750 gallons of tomato cream sauce, and 30,000 dinner rolls, according to The Wall Street Journal. And all were able to toast the president and his wife with a glass from one of 10,000 bottles of Gallo wine. Barack and Michelle Obama danced their first dances at both balls to Al Green's "Let's Stay Together," sung by Jennifer Hudson. The tune is the same one he famously sang on the 2012 campaign trail, The Hill reports.

WASHINGTON PARTIES, K STREET PAYS. Inauguration Day in Washington is really just one big prom, college graduation, and New Year’s Eve all rolled into one, as National Journal’s Chris Frates writes. The balls, galas, receptions, and cocktail parties go on before, during, and after the president’s swearing-in. And as anyone who’s ever picked up the tab knows, an open bar ain’t cheap. In Washington, it’s often big business, and the public-affairs and lobbying firms that represent them, paying the bill. Read more

NATIONAL SECURITY

INAUGURAL SPEECH OUTLINES FOREIGN-POLICY IDEALS, NOT SPECIFICS. While President Obama did not go into specifics on any current foreign-affairs conflict in his second inaugural speech, he did lay out a general vision for his second-term foreign-policy agenda. Saying America should support democracy around the world and be a “source of hope” to the marginalized, Obama also championed the end of a “decade of war,” adding that we are “heirs to those who won the peace and not just the war, who turned sworn enemies into the surest of friends, and we must carry those lessons into this time as well.” Read more

THREE AMERICANS AMONG THE DEAD IN ALGERIA. The body count from the four-day Algerian hostage crisis that ended on Sunday continues to rise. Algerian officials said Monday that at least 37 hostages from eight countries were killed, up from previous reports of 23. A U.S. official told the Associated Press that the FBI had recovered the bodies of three slain Americans on the site of the standoff. Seven Americans escaped unharmed. On Monday, Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal said that Islamic terrorists disguised in Algerian military uniforms, working with others inside the plant, were able to take over the natural-gas facility. About 29 terrorists were killed, he said, while three were captured. Read more

U.S.-FRANCE ALLIANCE IN MALI INCREASINGLY STRAINED. The United States has been quietly backing France in its war in northern Mali against al-Qaida militants, but the two countries’ alliance is showing signs of strain, The Wall Street Journal reports. French officials are upset over an initial U.S. demand that the French government cover all military expenses from any Air Force transport flights. The U.S. later backed down, but the two sides still differ over the U.S. military’s role in the conflict. The U.S. has been providing “intelligence-gathering” help, but has yet to make a decision on France’s request to use U.S. planes to refuel French fighters mid-flight. The administration has also not made a decision on France’s request for additional manned and unmanned surveillance spy planes. Read more

CHINA CRITICIZES CLINTON ON EAST CHINA SEA REMARKS. The Chinese government took exception to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s phrasing during an otherwise normal press conference on Friday. China and Japan are in an ongoing dispute over islands in the East China Sea, and Clinton held a news conference with Japan’s foreign minister, Fumio Kishida, during which she said the Obama administration opposed “any unilateral actions that would seek to undermine Japanese administration” of the islands. The New York Times reported that the comments were perceived in Japan as a disavowal of China’s recent actions in the East China Sea. In an unusual response, the Chinese government said Clinton “ignores the facts and confuses right and wrong.” Read more

TALIBAN SEIZE GOVERNMENT BUILDINGS. The Taliban continued its ongoing campaign against the Afghan government on Monday, capturing the traffic-department headquarters in Kabul and using it as a base for an hours-long gunfight with nearby Afghan police buildings. The Wall Street Journal reports that at least three and as many as six insurgents were behind the attacks. The Taliban fighters gained access to the compound by setting off an explosives-laden car at the traffic department’s gate. From there, they climbed to the top floors of the building and sprayed bullets and rocket-propelled grenades on Afghan and U.S. forces. Afghan police officials said at least one officer was killed and 11 others were injured. Read more

POLITICS

OBAMA MAY ALIENATE BLACK SUPPORTERS ON GAY RIGHTS. By linking the founding moments of women's rights, African-American rights, and gay rights, Obama stepped forcefully into a politically charged zone. He became the first president to mention the word "gay" and the issue of gay rights in an inaugural address, according to ABC News. The remarks might raise eyebrows in the African-American community, where social conservatism runs deep. One indication of the issue’s divisiveness in the black community: Prince George’s County, just outside D.C. in Maryland, is 65 percent black. On Election Day, it voted 90 percent to 9 percent for Obama over Mitt Romney. But on the same day, on a ballot measure in Maryland to legalize same-sex marriage, it voted only 51 percent to 49 percent in support. Read more

POLITICS AS USUAL, EVEN ON INAUGURATION DAY. Tradition dictates that politics move to the back burner on Inauguration Day, as the capital celebrates. But make no mistake: The president and the Republican leadership in the House kept the political fire kindled on Monday, writes National Journal's Michael Catalini. The president's speech made public the president's penchant for highlighting liberal philosophy. Obama was not alone, though, in telegraphing political messages on a day traditionally set aside for ceremony and unity. House Republicans announced on Monday that the Rules Committee would meet today to consider their measure to extend the debt ceiling, which Boehner used last week to criticize Senate Democrats. Read more

McCONNELL BREAKS OUT THE OLIVE BRANCH. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., struck some conciliatory notes while extoling the virtues of divided government in a statement released on Monday, as Politico reports. “Every four years on Inauguration Day, America shows the world that our major political parties can disagree with civility and mutual respect," he said. "The President’s second term represents a fresh start when it comes to dealing with the great challenges of our day,” McConnell continued, emphasizing spending and the debt in particular. "Republicans are eager to work with the President on achieving this common goal, and we firmly believe that divided government provides the perfect opportunity to do so.” It was more than two years ago that McConnell told National Journal that the GOP’s top priority was to make Obama a one-term president. Read more

MUNOZ TAPPED TO BE FIRST LATINO TO HOLD DNC FINANCE CHAIR. Henry R. Muñoz III, a fundraiser for President Obama and a national chairman of the Futuro Fund, will be named the finance chair of the Democratic National Committee, Politico reports. Muñoz has an accomplished business record as the chairman of the board of directors of the largest minority-owned architectural firm in Texas. Read more

ENERGY

OBAMA ADDRESSES CLIMATE CHANGE, WITHOUT SPECIFICS. After a campaign in which climate change was made conspicuous by its absence, Obama confronted the issue head-on in his inaugural address on Monday, saying, “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.” The president did not offer any policy specifics, though he did call for American leadership in renewable-energy technology. Those hoping for a concrete plan will now look to next month’s State of the Union address. Read more

BIDEN REASSURES ENVIRONMENTALISTS. Hours before Obama put climate change near the top of the national agenda, Vice President Joe Biden made a surprise appearance at the inaugural “Green Ball” on Sunday night, Politico reported. He counseled environmentalists to “keep the faith” and promised, "I don't intend on ending this four years without getting an awful lot more done.” But like the president on Monday, Biden did not come bearing specific proposals. Read more

ALGERIA PASSES INCENTIVES FOR FOREIGN-ENERGY PARTNERS. Algeria’s parliament passed new tax and other incentives for foreign companies that partner with the state energy firm Sonatrach on Monday, Reuters reported. The move, which comes after years of flagging demand for Algerian fossil-fuel rights, also comes on the heels of the bloody hostage crisis at an Algerian gas field that ended this weekend with dozens of people killed. The debacle will only increase Western firms’ wariness of major investments in the country. At the same time, the Algerian government is looking to attract partners for more ambitious projects to extract shale oil and gas, Reuters reported. Read more

NATURAL GAS NOW POWERING FRACKING. In a sign of the disruptive nature of the country’s natural-gas boom, natural-gas companies have begun converting the diesel-powered pumps used in hydraulic fracturing to run on natural gas, the Associated Press reported. The new pumps will run either entirely on natural gas or on a natural-gas diesel blend. Fracking, as the mining method is known, has made natural gas cheap and plentiful, which both drives the search for new uses for the energy source and puts pressure on natural-gas companies to lower the cost of extraction. The savings could be significant, as the industry consumes 700 million gallons of diesel annually, according to an estimate cited by the AP. Read more

ECONOMY & BUDGET

INSIDERS: SLASH THE DEFENSE BUDGET. Defense cuts may be on the table in a new fiscal-cliff deal, as the deadline to avoid sequestration is just weeks away. National Journal's National Security Insiders say: Go for it. A whopping 80 percent of Insiders said the defense budget, over the next decade, could be reasonably reduced by more than $100 billion. The largest group of Insiders, 35 percent, supported cuts between $100 billion and $300 billion. Read more

ANALYSTS PREDICT HIGHEST HOME SALES SINCE 2009. Today’s numbers on existing-home sales, set for a 10 a.m. release, are expected to be the most robust in more than three years, according to Bloomberg News. The figure, for the month of December, is predicted to climb to 5.1 million, according to forecasts of economists who were surveyed. It would be the second-highest figure since August 2007, prior to the financial crisis. The reasons for the rebound include historically low mortgage rates and a brightening job market. “The housing market is coming back, gaining momentum, and it’s one of the bright spots for the economy as we start 2013,” Robert Dye, chief economist at Comerica in Dallas, told Bloomberg. Read more

DID DODD-FRANK GO TOO FAR? The Wall Street Journal takes a look at a bank in Columbia, Mo., which claims it went under because of Dodd-Frank, the financial regulations passed in response to the 2008 financial crisis. “The bank's closing was entirely due to new regulations to do with Dodd-Frank," Ron Wheeling, the chief executive of Shelter Financial Bank, told The Journal. The reason? Wheeling says Dodd-Frank required the bank’s parent company to use different accounting standards, and complying would have added $1 million in costs, too much for the small institution. Camden Fine, chief executive of Independent Community Bankers of America, raised an eyebrow at the claim, telling The Journal: "Dodd-Frank is a convenient whipping boy. … I haven't heard of a single community bank that closed because of regulatory issues." Read more

HEALTH CARE

MILLIONS MORE SEEK CARE AT HEALTH CENTERS. More than 22 million Americans use health centers today, up from 18 million in 2008 and 15 million in 2005, according to new research from the National Association of Community Health Centers. Growth has been possible, the organization said in a release, because of investments from the Affordable Care Act and the 2009 stimulus bill. As health premiums continue to rise, the centers could see even more use by those unable to afford coverage; more than a third of those who currently use the centers are uninsured. Roughly 71 percent live in poverty and 92 percent are considered low income.

AMA TO OFFER MED SCHOOLS GRANTS FOR TRAINING PHYSICIANS. The American Medical Association is offering millions in grant money to medical schools with new ideas on how to train future physicians. The group has put $10 million toward the competitive grant initiative. "Rapid changes in health care require a transformation in the way we train future physicians,” AMA President Jeremy A. Lazarus, M.D. said in a statement. “The AMA is deeply committed to redesigning undergraduate medical education to prepare the medical students of today for the health care of tomorrow.”

WILL KASICH EXPAND MEDICAID IN OHIO? Some in the Buckeye State are betting that Republican Gov. John Kasich will expand Medicaid in the state. According to Thomas Suddes, an editorial board member for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, "he'll do so because it's the right thing, and because it's the common-sense thing. Partisan caterwauling aside, Medicaid expansion is a matter of economic development. An expansion probably would bolster Ohio's smaller community hospitals."

(YOU DON’T NEED TO KNOW. Although attendees to the main inaugural ball paid as much as $1,000 to get in the door, they were greeted with Cheez-It crackers and pretzels to eat as appetizers. But guests had been warned. Inauguration officials, in an effort to manage expectations, said the scaled-down inaugural balls would reflect the austerity of the current economic climate. Read more)

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