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Defense Budget Politics

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Jan. 21, 2011, 1:13 a.m.

‘02/‘08 NH-01 can­did­ate/ex-HHS Com­mis. John Steph­en (R) has raised $89K more than Gov. John Lynch (D) “since the primary.”

Steph­en’s cam­paign said 10/13 he had raised al­most $221K since the Sept. 14 primary. Lynch re­por­ted rais­ing $132K. Steph­en “out­spent Lynch dur­ing the peri­od” — $435K to $376K by Lynch. Steph­en also has more CoH, $322K to Lynch’s $294K (AP, 10/13).

Want More On This Race? Check out the Hot­line Dash­board for a com­pre­hens­ive run­down of this race, in­clud­ing stor­ies, polls, ads, FEC num­bers, and more!

Just Not Enough

State House and Sen­ate GOP­ers “failed in their at­tempts to get the Le­gis­lature to re­con­sider part of a pa­role law that passed last ses­sion” (Schoen­berg, Con­cord Mon­it­or, 10/14).

The is­sue “has be­come a dom­in­ant one” in the GOV race (See 10/13 story for more) where “two con­ser­vat­ive groups” have already bought $450K in at­tack ads crit­ic­al of Lynch’s sup­port for the law. Steph­en “called for re­peal of the en­tire law but sup­por­ted this GOP le­gis­lat­ive man­euver” (Landrig­an, Nashua Tele­graph, 10/14).

Op­pos­ite Day

Two “statewide groups of law-en­force­ment of­fi­cials weighed in on op­pos­ite sides” of the con­test this week.

The NH Assn. of Chiefs of Po­lice on 10/12 en­dorsed Lynch for re-elec­tion, in what Lynch’s cam­paign de­scribed as the group’s first GOV en­dorse­ment in memory. The same day, Steph­en was en­dorsed by the NH Sher­iffs Assn. All nine elec­ted sher­iffs in the state are GOP­ers (the sher­iff’s of­fice in Rock­ing­ham Co. is cur­rently va­cant) (Leubsdorf, Con­cord Mon­it­or, 10/14).

Already, the smart money in Wash­ing­ton is bet­ting that the con­gres­sion­al su­per com­mit­tee cre­ated by this week’s debt-ceil­ing deal to de­vel­op a plan for tam­ing the long-term fed­er­al de­fi­cit will stale­mate along party lines and fail.

No one has won much money lately bet­ting against fail­ure in Wash­ing­ton. But each party has power­ful in­cent­ives to seize the op­por­tun­ity this com­mit­tee of­fers to set the na­tion on a sus­tain­able fisc­al path through paired en­ti­tle­ment and tax re­form. “There is real po­ten­tial for a win-win agree­ment for both sides,” said one seni­or White House of­fi­cial closely in­volved in the ne­go­ti­ations.

(PIC­TURES: Who Might Be On the Su­per Com­mit­tee)

That po­ten­tial ex­ists be­cause the su­per com­mit­tee rep­res­ents the one ray of light in the sor­did debt-ceil­ing struggle. The battle set an omin­ous pre­ced­ent. Since 1940, Con­gress has raised the debt ceil­ing al­most 100 times. It’s fair to say that at each of those mo­ments, a ma­jor­ity of sen­at­ors or House mem­bers had at least one im­port­ant beef with the pres­id­ent. But nev­er be­fore had that ma­jor­ity been as will­ing as House Re­pub­lic­ans were this year to risk the na­tion’s cred­it rat­ing to press their de­mands.

Al­though the cre­ation of the su­per com­mit­tee doesn’t jus­ti­fy this quantum leap in polit­ic­al com­bat, it does open a win­dow for pro­gress. Un­der the deal Pres­id­ent Obama signed on Tues­day, the top four Re­pub­lic­an and Demo­crat­ic lead­ers in Con­gress will each ap­point three mem­bers to a spe­cial com­mit­tee that must re­com­mend by Novem­ber 23 at least $1.5 tril­lion in ad­di­tion­al de­fi­cit re­duc­tion through 2021. If a ma­jor­ity of com­mit­tee mem­bers en­dorse a pro­pos­al, that plan is guar­an­teed a floor vote in both cham­bers by Decem­ber 23 without amend­ment or Sen­ate fili­buster.

Those rules provide this group with vastly more lever­age to sta­bil­ize the na­tion’s fin­ances than any pre­vi­ous com­mis­sion has pos­sessed. The pro­ced­ures ef­fect­ively pree­mpt a minor­ity veto — either through the Sen­ate fili­buster or the in­form­al House rule that le­gis­la­tion reaches the floor only if a “ma­jor­ity of the ma­jor­ity” party sup­ports it. Be­cause a ma­jor­ity pro­pos­al from the com­mit­tee could be passed with any com­bin­a­tion of Re­pub­lic­an and Demo­crat­ic votes, it provides a unique op­por­tun­ity for the cen­ter of both parties to im­pose a bal­anced solu­tion on the ideo­lo­gic­al van­guard of left and right.

The first in­dic­a­tions aren’t en­cour­aging that Con­gress will seize this op­por­tun­ity. House Speak­er John Boehner has ruled out ap­point­ing to the su­per com­mit­tee any­one who might con­sider rais­ing taxes; Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell has been al­most as Sher­manesque. Demo­crat­ic lead­ers haven’t signaled as much ri­gid­ity, but un­less Re­pub­lic­ans on the pan­el are will­ing to raise rev­en­ue, the Demo­crat­ic ap­pointees won’t en­ter­tain en­ti­tle­ment re­form. That would pro­duce stale­mate — and a fall­back to the blun­der­buss $1.2 tril­lion in de­fense and do­mest­ic spend­ing cuts that the deal es­tab­lished as a back­stop.

The wager­ing in Wash­ing­ton is that each party will find stale­mate safer than rat­tling their base by ac­cept­ing more taxes or en­ti­tle­ment cuts. And that wager might be right. However, there are two good reas­ons for each party to re­con­sider that cal­cu­la­tion. One is policy. The oth­er is polit­ics.

The polit­ic­al in­cent­ive for bold ac­tion is self-pre­ser­va­tion. It turns out that Amer­ic­ans don’t care much for the spec­tacle of their lead­ers ne­go­ti­at­ing at gun­point. In the United Tech­no­lo­gies/Na­tion­al Journ­al Con­gres­sion­al Con­nec­tion Poll re­leased this week, the share of adults who said their mem­ber of Con­gress de­served reelec­tion was lower than it was be­fore the 2006 and 2010 land­slides that flipped con­trol of the House. Con­gres­sion­al ap­prov­al rat­ings also are well be­low their mea­ger levels in 2006 and 2010. Like­wise, Obama’s ap­prov­al rat­ings in some sur­veys this week reached their nadir.

No one can pre­dict how such all-points dis­con­tent will af­fect 2012. But like Flor­ida home­own­ers board­ing up be­fore a hur­ricane, both parties may find it prudent to for­ti­fy their po­s­i­tion with a ser­i­ous ac­com­plish­ment such as a bal­anced long-term deal on the de­fi­cit.

The policy reas­on for avoid­ing stale­mate is that the out­lines of a plan that could win ma­jor­ity con­gres­sion­al sup­port are clear. Three bi­par­tis­an ef­forts — the Simpson-Bowles and Domen­ici-Rivlin com­mis­sions, and the “Gang of Six” Sen­ate pro­cess — all offered blue­prints that linked en­ti­tle­ment re­form with the clos­ing of enough tax loop­holes to lower tax rates and re­duce the de­fi­cit. Even the Boehner-Obama talks covered sim­il­ar ground. “Every ser­i­ous ef­fort has had the same frame,” says Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., who helped launch the Gang of Six.

The biggest risk for the su­per com­mit­tee is that Boehner and Mc­Con­nell will en­sure dead­lock by ap­point­ing only mem­bers un­al­ter­ably op­posed to rais­ing taxes. Stale­mate on the su­per com­mit­tee, however, would deny Re­pub­lic­ans the heat shield of Obama sign­ing ser­i­ous en­ti­tle­ment re­form (such as rais­ing the Medi­care eli­gib­il­ity age) and ex­pose them to the danger that he will veto an ex­ten­sion of the Bush tax cuts when they ex­pire on Decem­ber 31, 2012, even if he loses the elec­tion. All of this may not be enough to per­suade con­gres­sion­al GOP lead­ers to ap­point com­mit­tee mem­bers open to a big com­prom­ise that last­ingly de­fangs the de­fi­cit threat. But it should be.

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