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The Edge

Why Some People Hate Congress

February 15, 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.

Why Some People Hate Congress

The amount of unfinished business is stunning: A vacancy atop the Pentagon’s chain of command, billions of dollars of haphazard budget cuts due soon to take effect, immigration reform, gun control, climate change, and millions of jobless Americans. So what’s a Congress to do?

 

Take a vacation.

In Washington, it is politely called a 10-day “recess.” Lawmakers explain how hard they work at town halls and fundraisers back home. But their job is to legislate and to fix problems.

If you took 10 days off with critical work undone and deadlines threatening, how would your boss respond?

One lawmaker led this week. Freshman Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., used her perch on the Banking Committee to expose how little the Obama administration has done to punish those responsible for the 2008 financial collapse.

Clear-eyed oversight of failing federal agencies is a job lawmakers have largely ceded to partisanship. That, along with legislating solutions, is what a Congress is supposed to do.

—Ron Fournier
rfournier@nationaljournal.com

TOP NEWS

OBAMA BRINGS MESSAGES ON ECONOMY, GUNS HOME. To wrap up his post-State of the Union tour, President Obama headed home, speaking today 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 discuss gun violence, which has plagued the city, job creation for low-income young people, and the benefits of marriage for low-income couples. Read more

HOUSE CONDEMNS NORTH KOREA’S NUCLEAR TEST. In an easy 412-2 vote, the House passed a resolution today condemning the nuclear test North Korea conducted on Tuesday. The resolution calls on the White House to exert as much pressure as possible on North Korea—and on China to prevent any shipments that might aid the country’s nuclear program. Read more

  • Reps. Justin Amash, R-Mich., and Tom Massie, R-Ky., were the two lone “no” votes, The Hill reported.

HOUSE VOTES TO FREEZE FEDERAL PAY. The House voted 261-154 this morning to freeze pay for federal employees and members of Congress. Forty-three Democrats joined the majority, while 10 Republicans voted against the bill, which is not likely to be taken up by the Senate. But the House will have another chance to put the measure into law when Congress takes up a continuing spending resolution before the current one expires in late March, The Hill reported. Read more

OBAMA HONORS SLAIN SANDY HOOK WORKERS. The president posthumously awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal, the nation’s second-highest civilian honor, to six adults killed in the December mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., today. He also bestowed the award on 12 living recipients, including former Sen. Harris Wofford, D-Penn., for his lifetime of public service and civil-rights work. Read more

SEQUESTER FURLOUGHS NOT SCHEDULED UNTIL APRIL. Turns out April may be the cruelest month, not March. Though sequestration is set to go into effect in March—and Congress looks increasingly unlikely to prevent it—many unpaid leaves for Defense employees would not go into effect until April, The Washington Post reports. That’s because federal agencies are legally required to give unions 30 days of notice before putting workers on furlough. Other cuts could go into effect sooner, however. Read more

RAHM DENIES PROBING 2016 BID. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been exploring the possibility of a 2016 presidential run with Democratic donors, unnamed sources tell The Daily Beast. But the mayor explicitly denies that will ever run for any other office. "Not interested. Not going to do it. No. I'll do it in Hebrew: lo," he has said regarding a presidential run. Read more 

REPORT: JESSE JACKSON JR. COULD GET 46 MONTHS. Former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., is expected to plead guilty to conspiracy, making false statements, and mail and wire fraud, unnamed sources tell Politico. Prosecutors are expected to recommend 46 to 57 months of jail time for the former House member. His wife is expected to plead guilty on a tax charge. Read more

GENERATION OF SOLDIERS GONE FROM SENATE. With the announcement Thursday that Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., will retire at the end of his term, the Senate is set to lose its last World War II veteran in 2015. In charts, The Washington Post tracks the declining representation in Congress of veterans, who once dominated the legislative branch. Read more

TODAY’S THE DAY FOR HEALTH CARE EXCHANGES. Today is the last day for states to decide whether they want to partner with the federal government in setting up the health insurance exchanges required in the Affordable Care Act. Seventeen states and the District have already been approved to run their own marketplaces, and about 20 states have said they will let the federal government run their exchanges. Read more

HERMAN CAIN SIGNS WITH FOX. After revealing that it would not renew its contract with Sarah Palin last month, Fox news announced today it was signing on former Godfather’s Pizza CEO and presidential candidate Herman Cain, Politico reports. Cain has proven anything but camera-shy since his 2012 bid floundered, as evidenced by his appearance on The Daily Show last April. Read more

QUOTABLE

"What you say in your district now matters in my district. Today, it affects me in about, oh, 140 characters and 30 seconds." —NRCC Chair Greg Walden, signaling that House Republicans will have to help lead the party's rehabilitation (On Call).

BEDTIME READING 

‘THE MOST EXPENSIVE WEAPON EVER.’ The Pentagon plans to buy 2,457 F-35 jets at a cost of almost $400 billion, making it the most expensive weapons program in human history, Time magazine reports. But the plane has been plagued by problems that have many in Congress and elsewhere asking questions. “Instead of the stars and stripes of the U.S. Air Force emblazoned on its fuselage, it might as well have a bull's-eye,” the magazine reports. Read more

OVERLOOKED

OBAMA’S SPEECH, ANNOTATED. While many have moved on from the president’s State of the Union address on Tuesday, James Fallows in The Atlantic revisits the text, adding context, observations and notes in a comprehensive series of mouse-overs. “Friends and foes alike recognize that oratory has played an unusually large part in his political ascent,” Fallows writes. “But given that formal speeches make up a bigger part of Obama's still-unfolding legacy than, say, Bill Clinton's, note this remarkable fact: You can barely remember a word of what he says. Obama's eloquence exists almost exclusively on the macro scale.” Read more

UP THIS WEEK 

GRAHAM, McCAIN, AND AYOTTE. Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., John McCain, R-Ariz., and Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., scored a major win this week by using the confirmation of former Sen. Chuck Hagel as Defense secretary to pry information on the terrorist attack in Benghazi out of the White House. And with more confirmations coming, they are primed to try it again. Read more 

DOWN THIS WEEK

THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION. The administration was compelled to tell Congress, in a letter from the White House lawyer, that the president did not speak with Libyan leaders on the day of the terrorist attacks in Benghazi, an admission compelled by key Senate Republicans, who blocked Hagel’s confirmation to get the information they wanted.

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