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The Edge

The Edge: Baucus Still Has Tough Road on Tax Reform

May 1, 2013

The Edge is National Journal's daily look at today in Washington -- and what's coming next. The email features analysis from NJ's top correspondents, the biggest stories of the day -- and always a few surprises. To subscribe, click here.

Baucus Still Has Tough Road on Tax Reform

When Max Baucus announced last week that he wasn't running for reelection, he said he would instead devote his efforts to passing tax reform.

 

But is the Senate Finance Committee chairman's retirement announcement a game-changer for tax reform? Not really, say Washington lobbyists who are paid handsomely to handicap legislative action.

“I don’t think the landscape has changed because of Baucus’s announcement. He’s got 18 months to get it done and he had 18 months to get it done before,” said Jade West, a top lobbyist for the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors.

Optimists see Baucus’s desire for a lasting legislative legacy as a key to success. Pessimists, or more accurately status quoers, don’t believe the Baucus news shifts the political dynamics enough to make a difference.

So the two forces cancel each other out and the odds remain long of getting comprehensive tax reform done before 2015.

Chris Frates
cfrates@nationaljournal.com

TOP NEWS

THREE MORE CHARGED IN BOSTON BOMBING CASE; TWO ARE SUSPECT’S ROOMMATES. The Boston Police Department announced Wednesday that three suspects have been taken into custody in connection with the bombing at the Boston Marathon. University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth students Azamat Tazhayakov and Dias Kadyrbayev, both Kazakhstan nationals who were roommates of suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, faced obstruction charges for allegedly removing from a dorm room a backpack belonging to Dzhokhar three days after the attack. Authorities say the backpack contained fireworks and a laptop. A third suspect, Robel Phillipos, was charged with lying to investigators. The White House, meanwhile, denied a report Wednesday that in 2012 Saudi officials warned the U.S. that Tamerlan Tsarnaev posed a threat to the U.S. Read more

  • The Atlantic Wire has a helpful roundup of the suspects, including the fact that one of them had a license plate that read “TERRORISTA #1”

OBAMA NOMINATES WATT TO OVERSEE FANNIE, FREDDIE. President Obama nominated Rep. Melvin Watt, D-N.C., to serve as director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, The Washington Post reports. Watt would be the agency’s first permanent director in more than four years; North Carolina banking commissioner Joseph Smith withdrew from consideration in early 2011 after his nomination was opposed by Senate Republicans. Acting director Ed DeMarco has resisted calls by the Obama administration to partially forgive mortgage debt owed to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Watt has served on the House Judiciary and Financial Services committees since entering Congress in 1993. News of the selection drew criticism from both liberals and conservatives. Read more

WHY GABRIEL GOMEZ (PROBABLY) ISN’T SCOTT BROWN. The general-election matchup in the race to fill Secretary of State John Kerry's old Senate seat in Massachusetts is set, and everyone wants to know: Is Republican Gabriel Gomez the next Scott Brown? The short answer: Probably not, Hotline’s Kevin Brennan reports. Read more

CRUZ REPORTEDLY CONSIDERING 2016 WHITE HOUSE BID. People close to Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, say that he is considering a presidential bid in 2016, National Review reports. Encouraged by a groundswell of support on the right, Cruz reportedly is courting Republican donors and members of the legal community. A former colleague notes, “We all see a path, and he does, too. This isn’t someone who needs to be told the obvious. He didn’t run for the Senate to get cozy, so no one who knows him is surprised that he’s at least looking at it.” Cruz downplayed the report on Facebook. Read more

HOUSE GOP: BENGHAZI WHISTLEBLOWERS WILL TESTIFY NEXT WEEK. Republicans say that witnesses with information about how the Obama administration handled last September’s attack on a U.S. mission in Benghazi will testify at a hearing next Wednesday, The Hill reports. The House Oversight Committee chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., will “expose new facts and details that the Obama administration has tried to suppress,” said Issa. Aides said that witnesses will include federal employees with direct knowledge of the attack that led to the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. The State Department has denied knowledge of potential whistle-blowers. Read more

POLL SHOWS AMERICANS FEAR ECONOMIC HARM DUE TO SEQUESTRATION. A New York Times/CBS poll found that “nearly half of Americans agree with the Obama administration’s contention that the economy will be hurt by the spending cuts prompted by the sequestration,” The Times reports. The belief was common to respondents who self-identified as Democrats, Republicans, and independents. Read more

GOP AIMS TO CATCH UP TO DEMOCRATS ON DATA GENERATION. The Republican National Committee will launch a broad data-mining and sharing project in an effort to close the gap with Democrats in the next cycle, Roll Call reports. The party will partner with Liberty Works to creative “an interactive data hub,” while Data Trust will manage the system. The national party will share the information with individual campaigns, state party committees, and outside groups. Referring to the GOP’s post-election “autopsy report,” RNC spokesperson Kirsten Kukowski said, “One of the biggest priorities identified by the Growth and Opportunity Project was the need to improve our data as a party, but also to increase access to data.” Read more

TOOMEY: SOME IN GOP VOTED AGAINST GUN BILL TO DENY OBAMA WIN. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., in an interview Tuesday suggested that some in his party cast their vote against a bipartisan background-check provision out of animus for the president. “In the end it didn’t pass because we’re so politicized,” Toomey said, according to the Times Herald of Pennsylvania. “There were some on my side who did not want to be seen helping the president do something he wanted to get done, just because the president wanted to do it.” He later walked back the comments. Read more

JAMESTOWN COLONISTS ENGAGED IN CANNIBALISM DURING ‘STARVING TIME.’ Scientists at the National Museum of Natural History have concluded that some of the earliest settlers in Jamestown, Va., resorted to cannibalism during the winter of 1609-10, The Washington Post reports. While contemporaneous accounts described occasional acts of cannibalism, anthropologists “now have evidence of the practice in the form of the skeletal remains of an adolescent girl, which have the telltale marks of an ax or cleaver and a knife.” Scientists presented their findings, along with the bones and a reconstruction of the girl’s head, during a news conference Wednesday. Read more

TOMORROW

OBAMA TO MEXICO. On Thursday morning, the President will depart Washington for his visit to Mexico and Costa Rica. “This trip is an important opportunity to reinforce the deep cultural, familial, and economic ties that so many Americans share with Mexico and Central America,” according to a White House statement. In Mexico, the president will meet with President Peña Nieto. He will visit Costa Rica on Friday.

QUOTABLE

"Let me use an indelicate word. Bull----. That's what that is.... That's the excuse they use.” – Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., on sand-dune opposition (Star-Ledger)

BEDTIME READING

THE MEMOIRS OF A CURRENT GUANTANAMO DETAINEE. In 2005, Mohamedou Ould Slahi began to detail his experience from the confines of the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, writes Larry Siems for Slate, which has published a three-part series of excerpts from his manuscript. Slahi explains an “endless world tour” of detention, interrogation, and torture that started shortly after he went in voluntarily for police questioning in November 2001. “What followed was one of the most stubborn, deliberate, and cruel Guantánamo interrogations on record,” Siems writes. “I was living literally in terror,” writes Slahi, who is still mired in perpetual detention. “I don’t remember having slept one night quietly; for the next 70 days to come I wouldn’t know the sweetness of sleeping. Interrogation for 24 hours, three and sometimes four shifts a day. I rarely got a day off.” Read more

PLAY OF THE DAY

THE POLITICS OF DEFENSE CONTRACTING. President Obama’s recent pledge to close the detention centers at Guantánamo Bay was on late-night hosts’ radars Tuesday night, with Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien both hitting economic notes in their bits. Colbert Report host Stephen Colbert opened his show on the topic of the sequester and a tank program the Army doesn’t want. Members of Congress from Ohio want it because the political cost of losing jobs at the plant would be too high. Colbert mocked the political aspect of the entire process. Watch it here

TODAY’S PHOTO GALLERY

TWO YEARS ON, CHILDREN PLAY ON RUINS OF BIN LADEN’S COMPOUND. Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, has been razed and National Journal takes a look at the remains and the city that sheltered him. The same spot that once held the most wanted man of the last decade now gets trampled on by children, playing with the debris as though it were any other open lot. What a difference two years can make. See it here

PROFILE AT A GLANCE: TOM WHEELER

  • Why he is in the news: President Obama has nominated him to chair the FCC
  • Current job: Managing director, Core Capital Partners
  • Education: B.S. in business administration, Ohio State University, (White House)

Career Highlights

  • Led the Obama-Biden transition team’s Agency Review Working Group on science, technology, and the arts in 2009 (Core Capital Partners)
  • Served as CEO of the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association until 2004 (Core Capital Partners)
  • Served as president of the National Cable Television Association from 1979 to 1984. (Core Capital Partners)
  • Cofounded online targeted news service SmartBrief in 1999; currently serves as board chairman (SmartBrief)

Of Interest

  • Published Take Command!: Leadership Lessons from the Civil War in 2000 and Mr. Lincoln's T-Mails: The Untold Story of How Abraham Lincoln Used the Telegraph to Win the Civil War in 2006.
  • In announcing his nomination, Obama called Wheeler “The Jim Brown of telecom or the Bo Jackson of telecom.”(Bloomberg)
  • Maintains a blog: “Mobile Musings”

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