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Politics

Why Block Hagel? For White House Intel

February 15, 2013

TOP FIVE

WHY BLOCK HAGEL? FOR WHITE HOUSE INTEL. Former Sen. Chuck Hagel did not become Defense secretary on Thursday. He likely will be confirmed after next week’s congressional recess. But that’s hardly the point. His turbulent nomination served as an important conduit of information for a trio of defense hawks—Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., John McCain, R-Ariz., and Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.—who scored a major win this week and are hungry for more, as National Journals Stacy Kaper reports. Read more 

COULD HAGEL FIGHT REVIVE FILIBUSTER REFORM EFFORT? Those who were disappointed in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for not pushing hard enough on filibuster reform are enjoying an I-told-you-so moment this week, as Republicans refused to vote for cloture on the Hagel nomination, Roll Call reports. “I think the important thing is that the leader is getting concerned,” said Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M. He interpreted some of Reid's statements this week to mean “if this is going to continue, he’s going to look at other ways to make the institution more productive and less bogged down.” Republicans, however, say that not passing cloture to end debate is not the same as filibustering.  “All we’re doing is extending debate. We could have another vote tomorrow," Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said. Read more

LAYOFFS AND FURLOUGHS ON THE HILL IF SEQUESTER PASSES. Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer told his nearly 925 employees the automatic spending cuts known as the sequester could require furloughs and layoffs among his staff, Roll Call reports. "Management could be looking at a salary shortfall of $4 million to $5 million and general expense reductions of $7 million. Those numbers would only increase over time ... [and] his department has already shaved $22 million from its budget over the past three years," according to Roll Call. The department is also initiating a program to provide financial incentives for those willing to retire from the department. Read more

 

‘CAN REPUBLICANS BE SAVED FROM OBSOLESCENCE?’ That’s the provocative title of a New York Times Magazine piece on the future of the GOP, which argues that younger, would-be Republicans are being increasingly turned off by the party. “The party brand—which is to say, its message and its messengers—has become practically abhorrent to emerging demographic groups like Latinos and African-Americans, not to mention an entire generation of young voters,” Robert Draper writes. The most eye-opening section: a focus group of young women and men who used these words, among others, to describe the GOP: “Racist,” “out of touch,” “corporate greed,” “old,” and “hateful.” Read more

A SHORT HISTORY OF THE MINIMUM-WAGE FIGHT. The minimum wage is a relatively new part of the nation’s—and the world’s—economic landscape. George Washington would not have recognized the term, nor would Abe Lincoln. The idea of a just-wage theorem, between an individual and an employer, had dominated for centuries. And, as National Journal’s Matthew Cooper writes, the minimum wage is “a modest economic measure but a big political one—a proxy for larger discussions of freedom and justice even as its economic significance diminishes.” NJ’s Catherine Hollander takes up the debate on whether the minimum wage is a job creator or job crusher. Read more

CONGRESS

SENATE DEMS OFFER SEQUESTER PLAN. A group of Senate Democrats is floating a plan to avoid sequester that would involve tax hikes on those earning more than $1 million a year, The Wall Street Journal reports. The plan would delay defense spending for a year and would replace automatic cuts with spending reductions; it projects to lower the deficit by $110 billion. The plan incorporates the so-called “Buffett Rule” that President Obama had touted. Still, there is not much chance it will pass. "This is not a solution. Even they know it can't pass," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., of Democrats on Thursday. The White House has endorsed the plan. Read more

WE’LL GIVE YOU VISAS, WE’LL KEEP OUR ASSAULT WEAPONS.  Republicans know that tinkering with the Second Amendment is a high-risk, low-reward endeavor that has minimal support among their constituents and could easily result in a primary challenge from the right. And so, House conservatives are crafting a message that will allow them to get behind an immigration overhaul but block efforts to further regulate guns, as National Journal’s Tim Alberta reports. Read more 

HOUSE DEMS DISCUSS ‘OPERATION BUST THEIR CHOPS.’ Privately, the liberal Democrats behind an aggressive new legislative strategy targeting House Republicans are calling it “Operation Bust Their Chops.” That was the actual title that Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., used when he announced the plan during an appearance late last month at the closed-door strategy summit in Pikesville, Md., according to attendees. Democrats are developing what they call an “amendment bank,” ready-to-go Democratic attachments for House GOP bills on any number of topics—education, transportation, veterans’ affairs, or whatever—that they believe could force some Republicans into potentially embarrassing political boxes, as National Journal’s Billy House reports. Read more 

HOUSE TAKES UP FEDERAL PAY-FREEZE EXTENSION. The House is expected to take up a bill to extend a pay freeze for federal workers, who are currently set to receive a 0.5-percent raise in April. The White House has voiced its opposition to the measure but stopped short of a veto threat. A vote on the bill, which is expected to pass the House, is scheduled for Friday. Read more

MORE TROUBLE FOR MENENDEZ? Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., is facing increasing scrutiny. The Washington Free Beacon reported that nearly a decade ago, when he was a member of the House, Menendez intervened to try to stop a merger between two media companies that would have hurt the company in which he had invested. Meanwhile, The Star-Ledger of Newark reported this week that Menendez helped a company involved in a contract dispute in the Dominican Republic that benefited New Jersey investors who had contributed to his campaign. Still, as Roll Call has noted, quid pro quo cases are difficult to prove.

WHITE HOUSE

A LAST-MINUTE BENGHAZI LETTER FROM OBAMA. According to a Thursday letter from the White House attorney to senators, Obama did not speak with Libyan leaders on the day of the terrorist attacks in Benghazi, the Associated Press reports. Then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton did contact Libyan President Mohamed Magariaf that day, at the request of Obama, who spoke to him the next day. Republican senators, led by Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona, have been holding up the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be Defense secretary until they got more information about what Obama was doing on the night of the attack. Read more

OBAMA’S FINAL STOP ON POST-SOTU TOUR: CHICAGO. To wrap up his post-State of the Union tour, President Obama is heading home. He is set to speak Friday at Hyde Park Academy in Chicago—just blocks from his house—on a proposal to raise the minimum wage and “pair businesses with recession-battered communities to help them rebuild and provide job training,” the Associated Press reports. Obama also plans to hit on job creation for low-income young people, and the benefits of marriage for low-income couples. Read more

OBAMA TOUTS EXPANDED PRE-K IN GEORGIA. President Obama was in the Peach State Thursday touting his plan to broaden access to pre-K education as part of his post-State of the Union barnstorming tour. The White House started leaking details Thursday on Obama’s plan to “make high-quality preschool available to every single child in America.” Basically, the federal government would subsidize the costs of preschool in exchange for states meeting certain quality standards. To some, it’s a huge government spend—by some estimates $8 billion. To others, it’s a great investment. Studies show that kids who attend preschool do better in school, get better jobs, make more money, pay more taxes, and have a better chance of avoiding jail and welfare. Read more

OBAMA MEETS MAN WHO RELEASED 47 PERCENT VIDEO. During a swing through Decatur, Ga., on Thursday, President Obama came face-to-face with the man who released the infamous “47 percent” video of Mitt Romney that completely changed the language of the presidential election. The man responsible, opposition researcher James Carter, met Obama backstage before Obama’s education event. When Obama was told about Carter’s role, he “jumped forward to embrace him. ‘Thank you, thank you so much,’” Obama told Carter, according to Politico. Read more

WHY VALERIE JARRETT IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER. Some inner-circle advisers have moved into the outer orbits of Obamaworld, but adviser Valerie Jarrett remains the constant—influential for both personal and policy reasons. And, with electoral considerations a thing of the past for Obama, Jarrett appears poised for a second term where her proximity to the president manifests itself more powerfully. Already, Obama has signaled that his approach to governing, emphasizing take-it-to-the-people outreach over closed-door talks with Congress, has shifted, and in a direction squarely toward Jarrett’s portfolio, as National Journal’s Jim O’Sullivan reports. Read more

DATE NIGHT AT THE WHITE HOUSE. Obama treated the first lady to quite the Valentine's Day celebration last night, showering Michelle Obama with a gift, flowers, and a dinner out. “I’ve already got a gift, got the flowers,” he told a crowd in Georgia earlier in the day before heading back to Washington. “I was telling folks, the flowers are a little easier, though, because I’ve got this Rose Garden.” Read more 

NATIONAL SECURITY

CONGRESS WRITES NORTH KOREA LEGISLATION. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday approved the North Korea Nonproliferation and Accountability Act of 2013, intended to punish North Korea after conducting its third nuclear test in seven years. After being held up in committee by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., over fears that the bill could “authorize force,” the committee passed the legislation, which declares the U.S. and its partners should impose sanctions on North Korea for violating six United Nations Security Council resolutions, Foreign Policy reports. Secretary of State John Kerry spent his week building consensus for a united response. Kerry had no problems reaching anyone, except Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who has been notoriously hard to reach over the years, according to Foreign Policy. Read more

OBAMA IS LOSING THE FIGHT AGAINST NUKES. As president, Obama pushed hard to reduce the threat of nuclear war and unveiled an ambitious nonproliferation agenda just months after taking office. Today that agenda, which Obama long ago declared central to his legacy, is stalled and in danger of failing, National Journal’s Michael Hirsh writes. Iran is closer than ever to building a bomb, and this week, North Korea tested its third nuclear weapon since 2006—on the eve of Obama’s State of the Union address. Read more

ALLEN NOT LIKELY TO ACCEPT TOP NATO JOB. Gen. John Allen will likely withdraw from consideration for supreme allied commander of NATO forces, to spare his family more scrutiny over the e-mails he exchanged with the Florida socialite at the center of the scandal that caused former CIA Director David Petraeus to resign, NBC News reports. Allen has been cleared of any wrongdoing in his correspondence with the socialite, Jill Kelley. “After 19 months in command in Afghanistan, and many before that spent away from home, Gen. Allen has been offered time to rest and reunite with his family before he turns his attention to his next assignment,” an official on Allen’s staff tells the network. Read more

NAPOLITANO: SEQUESTER WILL HURT BORDER PATROL. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told the Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday that the department would be forced to reduce its border patrol workforce hours by the equivalent of 5,000 agents beginning in April, Politico reports. It’s the most detailed number the agency has provided and a near 25 percent reduction of the overall workforce. Read more

ARE DRONES MORALLY SUPERIOR TO TORTURE? Here is the worst-kept secret in Washington: Instead of capturing and grilling suspected terrorists, as agents did during the 2000s, the United States now kills them from above. Yet where the morality of President Bush’s tactics chewed up years of public debate, Congress and the press seem less interested in the legitimacy of drone strikes than in the process (and secrecy) that surrounds them, as NJ’s Sara Sorcher reports. Read more

NEW FRONT IN WAR ON TERROR: NORTHERN, EASTERN AFRICA. The military sees northern and eastern Africa as the next major battlefield of the ongoing war against terrorism. In a Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing Thursday morning, President Obama’s nominee to head U.S. Africa Command, U.S. Army Gen. David Rodriguez, said, “A major challenge is effectively countering violent extremist organizations, especially the growth of Mali as an al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb safe haven, Boko Haram in Nigeria, and al-Shabaab in Somalia.” Read more

POLITICS

SENATE RACE ON IN N.J. AS LAUTENBERG RETIRES. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., announced on Thursday that he won’t seek a sixth term in the Senate in 2014, potentially paving the way for Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a rising star in the Democratic Party, to succeed him. The 89-year-old Lautenberg’s intentions have been the subject of intense speculation since Booker announced last month that he was exploring a run for Senate. Lautenberg’s retirement sets up a potential primary matchup between Booker and Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone, who reportedly had been planning to run if Lautenberg opted not to seek reelection. Pallone hasn’t officially announced a run yet. Read more

CAN RUBIO LIVE UP TO THE HYPE? He's the GOP's Barack Obama, a fresh-faced politician with an immigrant name, a playlist full of rap, and a collection of fawning press clips. The challenge: He's selling the same old party message, as National Journal’s Beth Reinhard reports. Read more

POLL: MENENDEZ UNSCATHED BY SCANDAL. A new poll shows little change in how New Jersey voters view Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez, despite recent allegations that he patronized prostitutes in the Dominican Republic and assisted a wealthy donor currently under investigation. The Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press poll shows Menendez's approval rating at 41 percent, one point higher than in April of last year, the last time they asked the question. The percentage of voters who disapprove of Menendez's job performance ticked up six percentage points over that time, from 25 percent to 31 percent. On balance, Mendendez's approval ratings in the poll closely resemble prior ratings during the last two years. Read more

BOUSTANY CONSIDERING SENATE BID. Add Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La., to the list of potential challengers to Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu in 2014. Boustany's campaign declined to say whether the congressman is actively looking at the race, but noted that "many local officials and community leaders approached Congressman Boustany to voice their support for a Boustany Senate candidacy" during recent Mardi Gras events in Washington. According to campaign spokesman Neal Patel, "The Congressman is committed to providing conservative leadership and getting real results for South Louisiana." Read more

FEWER THAN ONE-FOURTH OF HOUSE DISTRICTS COMPETITIVE. Democrats face an uphill battle as they seek to retake the House majority they lost in 2010, writes The Cook Political Report’s Charlie Cook. The chamber has largely sorted itself out. With 96 percent of Democratic House members representing districts carried by Obama and 94 percent of Republican House lawmakers representing districts won by Romney, each party pretty much has the intended seats. That means either party would require one heck of a head of steam to pick up a lot of seats from the other side, Cook writes. Read more

OBAMA’S SECOND-TERM AGENDA AIMS AT MILLENNIALS. The most striking aspect of Obama’s State of the Union address, writes NJ’s Ronald Brownstein, was how unreservedly he articulated the views of the coalition that reelected him, and how little need he felt to qualify those views for fear of alienating voters beyond it. There was a confidence bordering on swagger in his call for action on immigration reform, climate change, and gun control—issues that he almost entirely sublimated through his first term—and his unwavering defense of collective action through government. That edge reflects the Obama team’s assessment of the political landscape after he survived the headwind of 7.8 percent unemployment to become only the third Democrat ever to win a majority of the popular vote twice. Read more

ENERGY

McCARTHY EYED AS NEW EPA HEAD. Obama’s first-term Environmental Protection Agency chief, Lisa Jackson, officially stepped down on Thursday. By all accounts, the top contender to replace Jackson is her right-hand woman on clean air and climate-change policy, Gina McCarthy, EPA’s assistant administrator for air and radiation for the past four years, National Journal’s Coral Davenport reports. Read more

GAO CLASSIFIES CLIMATE CHANGE AS ‘HIGH RISK.’ The Government Accountability Office on Thursday added climate change to its biennial list of “high-risk” challenges in need of government action. “Climate change creates significant financial risks for the federal government, which owns extensive infrastructure, such as defense installations; insures property through the National Flood Insurance Program; and provides emergency aid in response to natural disasters,” the GAO found. “The federal government is not well positioned to address the fiscal exposure presented by climate change, and needs a government-wide strategic approach with strong leadership to manage related risks.” Congressional Democrats seized on the report as a call to action, The Hill reported. Read more

NEW BILLS WOULD CURB EPA AUTHORITY. Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., has introduced a series of new bills that would curb the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency and subject it to fines for missing reporting deadlines, The Hill reported on Thursday. “EPA is overreaching, overbearing, and overstepping boundaries that have long existed,” Johanns declared on the Senate floor. The four bills would subject EPA rules to congressional oversight; require the agency’s inspector general to report to Congress on its progress in meeting deadlines; fine the agency $20,000 every week it is past a deadline; and compel the agency to aid states in meeting federal rules, The Hill reported. Read more

JAPAN CAN’T QUIT NUCLEAR POWER. Since the Fukushima meltdown, Japan has tried to reduce its reliance on nuclear reactors. But change is difficult, reports NJ’s Olga Belogolova. Japan lacks alternate sources of energy that are plentiful and cheap. After 60 years of dependence, the country is economically, historically, and culturally handcuffed to the atom. It has no ready remedy, and even the long-term fixes could break its economy, which may explain why Japanese voters elected a new prime minister who is more open to restarting Japan’s stalled nuclear industry than his predecessor. The election represents a choice that Japan and many other countries have made and will keep making: immediate economic security over long-term safety and environmental concerns. Read more

ECONOMY & BUDGET

FREE TRADE: OBAMA TAKES UP ROMNEY’S BANNER. In a single line toward the end of his State of the Union address, almost as an afterthought, Obama announced “talks on a comprehensive Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union—because trade that is free and fair across the Atlantic supports millions of good-paying American jobs.” Though it has been on Obama’s agenda for months, making a big, new trade push was, of course, a key plank of Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign plan. Obama’s renewed push for free-trade agreements, coming after a first term in which the administration rarely emphasized such efforts, illustrates again how the president seems to be taking a new tack in trying to manipulate Republicans. Read more 

FOR THIS VALENTINE’S DAY: A SUGAR WAR. Before you bite into that next Valentine’s Day morsel, you may want to contemplate the complex sugar subsidies behind it — and their far-reaching impact on the U.S. economy. A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a bill Thursday that would unwind price supports for domestic sugar producers. Authors of the bill argue they are unnecessary and unfair, boosting sugar prices at the expense of consumers and jobs. But sugar producers say those same subsidies keep prices in check and the industry competitive. It’s a perennial battle that can affect jobs or trade, depending on whom you ask, as National Journal’s Niraj Chokshi reports. Read more

HEALTH CARE

STATES MUST DECIDE ON HEALTH EXCHANGES. Today is the last chance for states to tell the Health and Human Services Department whether they want to have any role in planning the health insurance marketplaces that are set to open for enrollment in October. So far, the government has conditionally approved 20 states and the District of Columbia to set up their own exchange or partner with the government. A number of previously unenthusiastic states may still apply, but it could take a few days before HHS reviews their applications—so don't expect to know who's in and who's out before Monday. And then? The real work of building the exchanges begins.

PREMIUM SUPPORT BY ANY OTHER NAME. In the months leading up to the election, politicians were engaged in a linguistic war over how to describe Republican Medicare reform plans. Democrats, eager to demonize the partial privatization favored by Mitt Romney and his running mate Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., repeated the word “voucher.” Republicans kept correcting the record; their plan was “premium support,” not vouchers. Since the election, there’s been another linguistic shift. Three major Republican Medicare reform proposals have surfaced in Congress. All of them share the basic structure of a “premium support” system. But none are going by that name. The new preferred nomenclature: “competitive bidding.” Read more

DEMOCRATS GRILL HHS ON ACA IMPLEMENTATION. At a hearing Thursday on the progress of implementing the Affordable Care Act, the top Health and Human services official faced a series of pressing questions from a less-than-likely source: Senate Democrats, The Hill reports. Gary Cohen, the director of the HHS office overseeing the bulk of the law’s implementation, was hammered for allowing Congress to cut funding for a new nonprofit insurance model and for the administration's delaying the implementation of the Basic Health Program, an option for states to provide lower-cost health coverage outside of Medicaid and the new insurance exchanges. Read more

HEALTH REFORM CAN IMPROVE CHILD WELFARE. Most of the discussion around the Affordable Care Act has centered on the average adult, but children can earn substantial benefits from the new law—provided that states' children and family officials get involved to ensure their states unroll the full protections and services now available, reports Governing. Some of the ways children will benefit? Those in foster care can stay on their parents' coverage until 26. And the process for enrolling in Medicaid will now be much more streamlined for children, as well as for the parents of child welfare recipients. Read more


(YOU DON’T NEED TO KNOW. At a press conference Thursday, NBC News’ Luke Russert asked House Speaker John Boehner what he had gotten his wife for Valentine's Day. Boehner blew Russert a kiss as he exited the podium. “Same thing I got you, honey,” he said. Read more)


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