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GOP: Stop Me Before I Sequester Again
Knotted up in internal divisions, the Republican Party has discovered that it actually likes the political stratagem that began as a doomsday scenario: the sequester.
What could be better for a party that can’t find its future with both hands? After all, isn’t this the same kind of blunt instrument that a previous generation of Republicans embraced: a balanced-budget amendment? When you can’t deal with the reality of deficit cutting, why not just create a meat ax and let it drop?
So there’s every reason to think that when House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell go into Friday’s 11th-hour meeting at the White House, they’ll be relaxed about what’s about to happen.
Many people will be hurt by the automatic spending cuts, but the most politically toxic portion for Republicans—the defense budget—may take care of itself, according to a Congressional Research Office analysis that found that Pentagon officials could probably avoid the worst hits to military readiness.
So bring the sequester on! Can we talk, maybe, about another one?
OBAMA TO HOST CONGRESSIONAL LEADERS ON FRIDAY. President Obama will host House Speaker John Boehner and other congressional leaders at the White House on Friday to discuss mitigating the harmful effects of the sequester, which is scheduled to go into effect at midnight Friday, the Associated Press reports. Meanwhile, the Senate plans to vote tomorrow on a bill that would avert the sequester, but the House is unlikely to take up the legislation. Read more
- The game of chicken is on, with The New York Times reporting that the White House is confident Republicans will bend on taxes as the drip-drip-drip of bad news begins to flow.
NEWTOWN FATHER URGES WEAPONS BAN AT GUN-VIOLENCE HEARING. The father of a 6-year-old killed in the December massacre in Newtown, Conn., called on the Senate to pass legislation preventing another mass killing during a committee hearing Wednesday, USA Today reports. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on her bill to ban more than 150 types of firearms and limit high-capacity magazines–one of four bills being considered. Also at the hearing, Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn sparred with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., over the former’s support of universal background checks. Read more
- "I'm not here for sympathy or a pat on the back. I'm here to speak up for my son." -- Neil Heslin, father of dead Sandy Hook Elementary student Jesse Lewis
CONSERVATIVE JUSTICES VOICE SKEPTICISM ON VOTING RIGHTS ACT. The conservative and liberal wings of the Supreme Court sparred Wednesday morning over the future of the Voting Rights Act, as the Court heard arguments in a case that challenges one of the central pillars of the law. At issue is whether Congress can continue to require jurisdictions in certain states to obtain federal approval before changing voting rules. "Times change," said Justice Anthony Kennedy, on whether the federal government still needs to protect the voting rights of blacks. Read more
- National Journal’s Matthew Cooper writes that if the VRA is struck down, the ball will be in Congress’ court.
HAGEL SWORN IN AS DEFENSE SECRETARY. Following his swearing in ceremony at the Pentagon on Wednesday, Chuck Hagel addressed Pentagon staff for the first time as secretary of Defense, National Defense reports. His speech focused on facing the "reality" of the looming cuts, which will axe $46 billion from the Pentagon's budget on Friday. He also said the department should continue to focus on national security and remember it can be a “tremendous force for good." Read more
VOTE ON LEW EXPECTED LATE WEDNESDAY. The full Senate is scheduled to vote on Jacob Lew’s nomination to lead the Treasury Department by 7:30 p.m., The Hill reports. Lew’s nomination passed the Senate Finance Committee 19-5 on Tuesday, and is expected to pass the full Senate as well. Read more
OBAMA DEDICATES ROSA PARKS STATUE. Rosa Parks remains on the shrinking list of things Democrats and Republicans in Washington can still agree about. Leaders from both parties heaped praise on the civil-rights hero at the dedication of a statue of her at the Capitol earlier Wednesday, NPR reports. “We can do no greater honor to her memory than to carry forward the power of her principle and [her] courage born of conviction," Obama said at the dedication. Read more
BENEDICT MAKES FINAL PUBLIC ADDRESS AS POPE. Before a crowd of 150,000 in San Marco Square Wednesday, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of moments of "joy and light” during his tenure as well as trying times when “it seemed like the Lord was sleeping," the Associated Press reports. It was his final public address as the leader of the Catholic Church. A papal conclave will convene in mid-March to choose his successor. Read more
BRENNAN VOTE EXPECTED, BUT RAND PAUL VOWS HOLD. The Senate Intelligence Committee is planning a vote on Obama’s nominee for CIA director, John Brennan, Thursday, with a full Senate vote expected sometime next week. But Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has threatened to hold up the nomination if he doesn’t get an answer to his question: Can the Obama administration legally authorize the use of lethal force—such as a drone strike—against a U.S. citizen on American soil? Read more
KERRY TO MEET WITH SYRIAN REBELS IN ROME. Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with leaders of the Syrian opposition Thursday in Rome as part of his nine-country tour. Earlier this week, factions within the Syrian opposition were pushing to boycott the meetings, because the United States has refused to provide military assistance. But after entreaties by Kerry himself and British Foreign Secretary William Hague, Syrian National Coalition leader Moaz al-Khatib announced on Facebook that the group would attend the meeting, NBC News reports. Read more
"In America you have a right to be stupid - if you want to be" – Secretary of State John Kerry, to German students in Berlin. (Reuters)
VAN CLIBURN, COLD WAR MUSICAL ENVOY, DIES. It’s hard to fathom, but classical pianist Van Cliburn—who passed away Wednesday at the age of 78—was described by Time magazine in 1958 as “Horowitz, Liberace, and Presley all rolled into one.” At the age of 23, Cliburn became a cultural, pop-star level phenomenon when he took home the gold medal in the inaugural Tchaikovsky competition, held in Moscow. The feat “was viewed as an American triumph over the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War,” according to The New York Times. One hundred thousand people lined the streets for his ticker-tape parade through Lower Manhattan, which ended with a ceremony at City Hall. Cliburn was also celebrated behind the Iron Curtain. “The Soviet public celebrated Cliburn not only for his artistry but for his nationality; affection for him was a safe expression of affection for America,” wrote Max Frankel of The Times. Read more
JUST HOW BADLY WILL AIR TRAVEL BE IMPACTED UNDER SEQUESTER? The Washington Post’s Fact Checker is on the case with a lengthy post over the administration’s claim that $600 million in cuts to the FAA will badly harm air travel. But House Republicans say cuts to personnel and air towers can be averted by making cuts elsewhere – to consultants, travel, and supplies. The Post says that experts in the industry have “serious skepticism about the administration’s math,” but still contends they make “a better case” than Republicans. (On Wednesday, the FAA head told Congress that the agency had little flexibility with regard to its budget, hence the need for furloughs.) “For air travelers at major airports, the effect of sequester may simply be as if the entire United States has a permanent bad weather day,” Glenn Kessler writes. Read more
BIG BUSINESS BACKS GAY MARRIAGE. The big news yesterday was that dozens of Republicans had signed a legal brief to the Supreme Court in favor of same-sex marriage rights, but almost just as interesting is the fact that 60 businesses like Alcoa, American International Group, Panasonic, Nike, Xerox, Office Depot, and Barnes & Noble have filed briefs supporting gay couples’ right to wed. As the prominent blogger Andrew Sullivan, who is gay, notes: “These businesses want to attract the best workforces they can. And if they are in states that treat gay couples as second class citizens, they may lose them.” He adds: “In the end, the free market matters. And in the end, it wants gay equality.” Read more
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