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.
Under Sequester, Nobody Wins
Congress completes a 10-day vacation this weekend and returns to Washington to face a $1.2 trillion question: Can we do a deal?
If the answer is no, starting a week from today, federal programs will be slashed haphazardly, hundreds of thousands of jobs will be jeopardized, and the economy could be hurt under a legislative gimmick called sequestration. It was agreed to by the White House and Congress to avert a fiscal crisis in 2011.
At the time, nobody thought Democrats and Republicans would be foolish enough to let the cuts take place. They just might be.
In the short term, Republicans seem at most risk. Polls give President Obama the upper hand over GOP leaders on most issues, and voters tend to blame Republicans most for sequestration.
But voters hold presidents responsible for the economy. Deep, long-lasting cuts that slow the already-sluggish recovery could rob Obama of his reelection political capital.
HAGEL HAS THE VOTES. Despite a flurry of activity from Republican senators, Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel's confirmation "appears assured,” The New York Times reports. Republicans such as Sen. John McCain of Arizona have said that they intend to drop their attempts to block the nomination, and Democrats will push ahead with a vote next week, perhaps as early as Tuesday. Read more
- As NBC’s Chuck Todd notes, the 15 GOP senators who penned the letter to President Obama to withdraw the nomination is a sign they don’t have the votes to stop Hagel.
EXPECT 90 MINUTE FLIGHT DELAYS IF SEQUESTER HITS. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said today that air travelers should expect delays of up to 90 minutes at some major airports if the automatic budget cuts known as sequester become reality March 1, according to MarketWatch. "It's not possible to continue the same schedules with less people," he said, adding that furloughs for FAA workers would begin in April. LaHood is also in talks with unions to potentially close 100 air-traffic control towers at “smaller airport locations” due to the sequester cuts, CNN reports. Read more
DOJ TO SUE LANCE ARMSTRONG. The Justice Department is joining Lance Armstrong's former teammate in suing the cyclist, The Wall Street Journal reports. The lawsuit, filed by Floyd Landis, claims Armstrong and others defrauded the government because they took sponsorship money from the U.S. Postal Service. The money came with the understanding there would be no use of performance-enhancing drugs on the team, and Armstrong recently admitted to doping throughout his cycling career. Having Justice join the suit may increase its chance of success. Read more
IS OBAMA USING IMMIGRATION AS A WEDGE ISSUE? Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said recently that he believes the president has no desire to see immigration reform pass, and instead wants to use it as an issue to beat Republicans in 2014 and 2016. The Washington Post notes that such a scenario leaves Republicans with two unappealing options: Cut a deal and enrage the base, or walk away and further damage the party’s standing with Hispanics. Read more
MEET THE GUN-LOVING 2016 DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL DARK HORSE. Former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer could be a 2016 presidential dark horse. He was a popular Democratic governor in a red state and is no stranger to working the media and the national stage with his larger-than-life personality. This is a governor who, despite a gun ban in the state Capitol, kept one on his office wall. A governor who vetoed Republican bills by burning the word “VETO” onto them using a branding iron. And in an interview with National Journal’s Elahe Izadi, Schweitzer didn’t rule out a run. Read more
HOW MANY U.S. TROOPS WILL BE IN AFGHANISTAN AFTER 2014? NATO ministers meeting in Brussels today bandied about draft proposals on how many troops will stay in Afghanistan following the departure of coalition troops after 2014. The New York Times reported that some proposals discussed would envision nearly 10,000 U.S. troops combined with 6,000 from other countries. Another official said the level of U.S. troops could be in the 8,000 to 12,000 range, though a Pentagon spokesman said that the figures represented “the overall NATO mission, not the U.S. contribution.” Read more
- The numbers are all preliminary, and NATO members stressed that any foreign presence in Afghanistan would depend on successful negotiations with the Afghan government.
OBAMACARE’S BIGGEST BENEFICIARIES ARE SKPETICAL OF LAW. A new poll of adults who are likely to qualify for new benefits under the Affordable Care Act shows that many are afraid of shopping for insurance, are not aware of the new health provisions, and—even when they do learn of the benefits—are skeptical it will be affordable, The Washington Post reports. Read more
U.S. DEPLOYS TROOPS TO NIGER TO SET UP DRONE BASE. The U.S. continues to take the fight against al-Qaida to Africa. One hundred U.S. troops have been deployed to Niger in West Africa to set up a drone base, The Washington Post reports. Obama wrote a letter to Congress today outlining the plan. In it, the president did not use the phrase “drone base” specifically, but instead wrote that troops would “provide support for intelligence collection.” Information gathered would support the French in their military operation in neighboring Mali, where they are pursuing Islamist militants. The Post reports the 40 troops that arrived in Niger on Wednesday specialize in supporting drone flights. Read more
NEW GUN AD FROM OBAMA ADVOCACY GROUP. The grassroots group started by President Obama’s former campaign staff is out with a new ad Friday that pressures 13 Republican lawmakers to agree to expand background checks for all buyers of guns, The Washington Post reports. The ads are running on local news websites in the lawmakers’ home districts. A spokesperson for the group said the ad focuses on background checks because of the “broad consensus” on the matter. Read more
- @jmartpolitico If ya needed another tell that WH has reduced its gun control goal to b'round checks
THE FIRST AND TRUE RETELLING OF ‘ARGO.’ With Ben Affleck’s Argo a leading contender to win best picture at Sunday’s Academy Awards, The New Yorker revisits the first—and more truthful—retelling of the Hollywood-meets-hostage-crisis thriller. In 2007, Wired was the first outlet to publish the full account of how the CIA snuck six escaped hostages onto a commercial flight and out of Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis. “It was getting later and brighter,” Joshua Bearman wrote about the escape. “The airport was filling with people. They knew there was no backup plan. [CIA agent Tony] Mendez wasn’t even carrying a gun, and the Revolutionary Guards were arriving, wandering around in fatigues and harassing passengers.” Read more
“Is this journalism or oppo research? There’s not really any reporting involved in this.” —Romney strategist Stu Stevens, quoted by The Washington Post, on Mother Jones winning a George Polk Award for uncovering the "47% video." Read more
BASHING ‘OBAMACARE’ NOT WHAT IT USED TO BE. Several Republican governors, notably Florida’s Rick Scott, have flip-flopped on the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion. A number of factors could be in play, including appeals to growing minority communities and the lure of federal cash. Then there is the political calculus: Five of seven Republican governors who have accepted the Medicaid money represent swing states that backed Obama in the election, and the Republicans who continue to resist federal intervention include two potential presidential candidates from battleground states—Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker—as well as possible red-state contenders such as Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. Read more
On the Sunday talk shows, it’s a parade of governors, who are in town for the winter meeting of the National Governors Association.
NBC’s Meet the Press hosts Republican Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Democratic Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.
CBS’s Face the Nation hosts Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Tim Kaine, D-Va., Democratic Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, Republican Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, Democratic Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, and GOP Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer.
ABC’s This Week hosts Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., and Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y.
Fox News Sunday hosts Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., Democratic Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, and Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
CNN’s State of the Union hosts Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, and Democratic Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy.
Capitol Gains hosts Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa.
C-Span’s Newsmakers features Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va. (C-SPAN, Sunday, 10 a.m./6 p.m.)