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Economy & Budget
FACING GOP OPPOSITION, DEMOCRATS PUSH FOR HAGEL VOTE. After Republican senators pushed back against even allowing Defense secretary-designate Chuck Hagel’s Senate confirmation to reach a vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid took procedural steps to force a vote on Hagel, according to The New York Times. “What a shame. But that’s the way it is,” Reid said. Friday the Senate will vote to cut off debate, which needs 60 votes to pass. If it passes, Hagel would then need 60 votes to be confirmed. Several Senate Republicans reiterated Wednesday they would attempt to hold the vote until receiving Hagel’s financial records from certain speeches given to what Republicans worry are “extreme or radical groups.” But with the Democrats controlling 55 seats, Reid only needs five Republicans to join him to get Hagel confirmed Friday or Saturday. Read more
STOPGAP SPENDING BILL EYED IN HOUSE. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., says he is preparing to introduce a bill to keep government agencies funded through the end of the fiscal year that will be written with a spending level beyond what Speaker John Boehner has promised rank-and-file conservatives. Rogers’ proposal will reflect the $1.043 trillion discretionary spending cap for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30 that was agreed upon with the Senate under the 2011 Budget Control Act; the total is above the $974 billion level that is being promised by the speaker. But Rogers says that is largely a “technicality.” Read more
CONSERVATIVE GROUPS COURTED BY HOUSE GOP. Top aides to House Republican leaders are quietly holding closed-door meetings with influential conservative pressure groups in an effort to coalesce the party’s oft-opposed elements ahead of the coming fiscal fights, National Journal’s Shane Goldmacher reports. The invitation list for the meetings has included a who’s who of the tea party-infused groups—FreedomWorks, Club for Growth, and Heritage Action, among them—that have proved a thorn in leadership’s side. With Boehner promising to embrace an ambitious 2013 budget blueprint that will balance in 10 years, the Ohio Republican knows he can ill afford to take fire from both ends of the political spectrum. Read more
OBAMA HEADS TO ATLANTA. The next post-State of the Union rally will take President Obama to Atlanta, where he'll visit an early childhood learning center and continue to try to rally support for the policies he outlined in Tuesday’s address. A top Democratic official in Georgia says the visit is intended to help Democrats win the state in the next two election cycles, according to the Atlanta Business Chronicle. "In 2014 and into 2016, Georgia's going to be in play. And this is just the beginning, I think, of a lot of visits to Georgia to help turn the state Blue," said Mike Berlon, the chairman of the Democratic Party of Georgia. Read more
LEW OPTIMISTIC ON COMPROMISE AT HEARING. Treasury secretary nominee Jacob Lew touted his record of reaching bipartisan budget compromise as Bill Clinton’s budget director and said, “The things that divide Washington right now are not as insurmountable as they might look,” at a Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday, The New York Times reported. His confirmation is expected to sail through smoothly, despite questions about his investments in the Cayman Islands. Read more
REPUBLICANS VOW TO OBSTRUCT HAGEL VOTE. Republican senators continued to say on Wednesday that they have enough resistance to delay a Senate-wide vote on Defense secretary-designate Chuck Hagel. Minority Whip John Cornyn of Texas told The Hillat least one Republican would object if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid moved to a vote. Only Hagel’s disclosure of financial documents regarding speeches made to what Republicans worry were “extreme or radical groups” could change that, Cornyn said. Objecting to a vote would require Hagel to receive a 60-vote supermajority. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., also said it was “too quick to end the debate on this nomination,” at Politico’s post-State of the Union event, mentioning the same financial-disclosure objections. Read more
BRENNAN VOTE DELAYED UNTIL AFTER RECESS. Originally scheduled for Thursday, John Brennan’s Senate Intelligence Committee confirmation vote to become CIA director is now delayed. Wednesday night, Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., announced the decision in a statement, according to The Hill, reiterating her support for Brennan’s confirmation, but acknowledging calls from other committee members to wait for more information from the White House. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., announced Wednesday that he would hold Brennan’s nomination until he receives answers on drone strikes against U.S. citizens. The committee’s vote on Brennan will likely take place after the upcoming congressional recess next week. Read more
LAWMAKERS CLAIM TO BE ‘VERY CLOSE’ ON POSTAL SERVICE DEAL. Bipartisan legislation to help the beleaguered Postal Service “could be enacted and sent to President Obama’s desk within months,” The Hill reports. In testimony before a Senate committee Wednesday, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said that a deal could be imminent, with Cummings saying a bill could make it through Congress before the end of March. “We spent some time in the red zone,” Cummings said at the Senate Homeland Security hearing. “But America expects us to get into the end zone.” Read more
BOEHNER DEFENDS COMMENT ON OBAMA’S LACK OF ‘COURAGE.’ Boehner defended his comments that Obama lacked the “courage” and “guts” to get a debt deal done. “What I suggested was that during the debt talks the president didn’t have the courage to take on members of his own party,” Boehner said in an interview that aired on NBC’s Today show Wednesday morning. Following Obama’s address, Boehner put out a statement saying that Obama had “chosen a go-it-alone approach to pursue his liberal agenda.” Read more
REP. TO GOP: HASHTAGS ARE SO 2008. Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., thinks the GOP’s recent attempt to get hip to Twitter is a bit behind the times and lacking in substance. Within the past month, House Republican leaders have heavily promoted Twitter hashtags to brand their legislation or political ideas. #NoBudgetNoPay, #RequireAPlan, and #Obamaquester have been prominently displayed at press conferences in the last month. "I occasionally use hashtags, but I think it's kind of 2008," Amash told BuzzFeed. "It's just a marketing ploy a lot of times, and they hope it takes off. Some of them do take off, but I don't think it's that frequent that they do." Read more
PRESIDENT TO HOLD GOOGLE-PLUS HANGOUT. The president will hold a Google+ hangout this afternoon at 4:50 p.m. EST to discuss the policies he outlined in his State of the Union address, following the tradition he began after the speech in 2012. Viewers can vote on which questions he should be asked, and he will respond live. Alongside him will be a panel of people who are used to discussing policy online, CBS reports. Read more
OBAMA READY TO FIGHT GOP ON MINIMUM WAGE. One of the most high-profile policies to come from President Obama's State of the Union address was his push for a $9 minimum wage. Speaker John Boehner has already rejected the proposal, but Roll Call reports that may not be a bad thing for Democrats. The debate could be useful as a wedge issue in the next election, whether or not the proposal becomes law. Read more
WHITE HOUSE WOULD NOT VETO PAY FREEZE BILL. The White House opposes a House Republican bill that would freeze federal pay for the entire year, rather than allow a half-percentage point raise to go into effect next month, The Hill reports. The White House, however, stopped short of threatening a veto on the proposal, according to an Office of Management and Budget statement. Federal pay has been frozen since 2010. Read more
OBAMA’S SOTU ROAD SHOW HITS N.C. FACTORY. Obama traveled Wednesday to a once-shuttered North Carolina factory that now produces automotive parts, in an effort to build momentum for the economic message he offered in Tuesday night’s State of the Union. His address called for revitalizing the nation’s manufacturing sector, and he emphasized that point Wednesday, too, saying that the site of the factory, Asheville, has a “comeback story to tell.” Read more
IRAN NUCLEAR TALKS GO NOWHERE. Discussions on Iran's nuclear program ended inconclusively, according to Thursday remarks from a senior official on the United Nations nuclear supervisory body, The New York Times reports. The official also said international inspectors were not granted access to a site they suspect Iran may have used to test bomb triggers. The discussions failed to produce a deal that would resolve issues with the potential military aspects of Iran's nuclear program, according to Herman Nackaerts, the deputy director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, who declined to say whether any progress had been made and said no date was set for further talks. But later this month, Iran will engage in separate, broader negotiations with six countries, including the U.S. Read more
MILITARY TO GATHER FACIAL INFORMATION VIA SMARTPHONE. A new $3 million research contract awarded by the Defense Department could provide the technology to eventually turn a smartphone into a device that scans and transmits data from someone’s eyes, face, thumbs, and voice, Wired reports. Currently, this information has to be gathered with a single-use device. “In a few years, the soldier, marine or special operator out on patrol might be able to record the facial features or iris signature of a suspicious person all from his or her smartphone—and at a distance, too,” according to the report. Read more
NEW COMBAT MEDAL RECOGNIZES IMPORTANCE OF CYBER-WARFARE. Defense officials took another step in acknowledging the importance of cyberattacks with the announcement Wednesday that the Pentagon is creating a medal to be awarded “to troops who have a direct impact on combat operations, but do it from afar,” the Associated Press reports. The Distinguished Warfare Medal deviates from all other combat medals in that it does not require the recipient to risk his or her life to receive it. It will rank slightly above a Bronze Star, but below a Silver Star, defense officials said. Read more
NORTH KOREA WARNED U.S. ABOUT TEST. Foreign Policy reports that North Korea gave both the United States and China a heads-up several hours before their nuclear test. The U.S. would not explain exactly how the two countries had communicated, but it was widely assumed to be through North Korea’s U.N. mission in New York City. The Wall Street Journal reports that South Korea’s incoming leader, President-elect Park Geun-hye, rejected the North Korean explanation that the test was an act of self-defense against the U.S. Republicans used the test as an opportunity to attack President Obama’s handling of the North Korea situation as too passive, reports Roll Call. Read more
RAND PAUL CONTEMPLATING 2016 RUN. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who gave his own rebuttal to Obama’s State of the Union on Tuesday night, told USA Today on Wednesday that he’s contemplating a presidential run in 2016. "We're thinking about it," he told the newspaper. "I do want to be part of the national debate. I want to be part of deciding what the Republican message is and who the Republican leaders are." Paul is being less coy than most prospective candidates at this point in an election cycle, though he did add, “We haven’t finalized any plans.” Read more
LINDSEY GRAHAM ALLIES WILL FORM SUPER PAC. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., will have a friendly super PAC on his side during his 2014 reelection campaign. Graham allies will soon form a super PAC called the "West Main Street Values Fund," former South Carolina Republican Party chairman Katon Dawson said on Wednesday. "You'll be hearing more about it in the next few weeks," Dawson said. "We'll be pro-Lindsey all the way." Read more
OPERATIVE HOPES TO REBRAND GOP WITH SUPER PAC. With the launch of NewRepublican.org, Alex Castellanos, whose clients have included Mitt Romney and George W. Bush, is joining a growing cottage industry of Republicans who are trying to rebrand and rebuild the party. He points to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal as role models. “If you are tired of the old, slow, dumb, top-down Washington way of doing things, you are thinking like a new Republican,” Castellanos said, describing his new initiative as a “super PAC marries a think tank.” The group is not advocating that the GOP abandon its conservative principles. Rather, the group hopes to help the party figure out how to present them in a more modern and effective way. Read more
SANDERS AND BOXER TO ANNOUNCE CLIMATE BILL TODAY. Just two days after Obama called on Congress to act on climate change—and vowed to use executive action if it didn’t—Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., will announce new legislation this morning that would price carbon pollution. The approach has the backing of several leading conservative economists, but Republicans in Congress are virtually certain to block the bill, paving the way for the president’s promised executive actions—including a likely new rule from the Environmental Protection Agency that would curb emissions at existing power plants.
50 ARRESTED OUTSIDE WHITE HOUSE AT KEYSTONE PROTEST. About 50 climate activists, including former NAACP Chairman Julian Bond and actress Daryl Hannah, were arrested outside the White House Wednesday during a protest of the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline, The Hill reported. "The Keystone pipeline has become the purest test that there's ever been on whether the president is serious about doing something about climate change or not," 350.org founder Bill McKibben said in a speech to protesters before they tied themselves to the gate outside the White House. McKibben’s organization will hold a much larger Keystone protest at the White House on Sunday. Read more
MICA RIPS U.S. CHAMBER CHIEF OVER GAS TAX. Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., the former chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said Wednesday that the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce should “seek other opportunities for employment” after advocating for a gas-tax increase to solve the nation’s transportation needs. Mica said Chamber President Tom Donohue had “lost touch with the business people he represents” in advocating for the tax. “The supposed key private sector business spokesperson has backslided again to a myopic tax and spend agenda,” Mica said in a statement Wednesday. Read more
ECONOMY & BUDGET
BIG ADMINISTRATION NAMES TO TESTIFY ON SEQUESTER. The Senate Appropriations Committee will hold a hearing on the “impacts of the sequestration” today at 10 a.m., and the witness list includes a number of Cabinet members, including Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, and HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, in addition to Danny Werfel of the Office of Management and Budget. Read more
OBAMA NOMINATES RECESS PICKS TO LABOR BOARD. President Obama on Wednesday nominated two recess appointees at the National Labor Relations Board, which will almost certainly set up a showdown with Senate Republicans over confirmations, The Wall Street Journal reports. In 2012, Obama installed Labor Department official Sharon Block and former union lawyer Richard Griffin Jr. to the NLRB, a move that angered Republicans. Last month, a federal court ruled that Obama was in violation of the Constitution by installing the two, as well as a Republican who has since resigned. Read more
BIPARTISAN SENATE BILL GOES AFTER ONLINE SALES TAX AGAIN. With support growing among Republican and Democratic governors to collect online sales taxes, a bipartisan group in the Senate will introduce a bill today in an attempt to resolve the unsettled issue, Reuters reports. The group includes Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the bill’s sponsor, along with several Democrats and two Republicans—Sens. Mike Enzi of Wyoming and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee. National and local brick-and-mortar retailers collect sales taxes on online transactions, but many have argued that online-only merchants like Amazon.com should be forced to collect taxes as well. The bill is expected to exempt any merchant with sales of $1 million or less. Read more
RETAIL SALES SHOW MODEST RISE, COULD IMPACT GDP. Sales at retail outlets barely rose in January, with experts blaming tax hikes and high gas prices as culprits, Reuters reports. The Commerce Department reported Wednesday that retail sales inched up 0.1 percent, a number which met estimates, following a 0.5 percent rise in December. Some blamed the expiration of the payroll tax holiday and a tax hike on higher earners for the middling report, which could be a harbinger for a slow-growth first quarter. Economists don’t seem very concerned that consumer spending will sag, though, given higher home prices, job growth, and a stock market surge. Read more
WHAT'S REALLY BEHIND THE HEALTH SAVINGS? In his State of the Union address, Obama was quick to take credit for a perplexing-but-welcome trend, the recent slowdown in health care spending. But the president’s optimism may be ahead of the data. It is true that the United States has just experienced four straight years of slow health care growth, a trend with huge implications for the federal budget, wages, and many people’s out-of-pocket costs. But what’s causing the trend and whether it’s here to stay are both big unanswered questions, as National Journal's Margot Sanger-Katz reports. Read more
SENATE FINANCE TO CONSIDER MEDICARE NOMINEE. The Senate Finance Committee has agreed to hold a confirmation hearing for Medicare administrator Marilyn Tavenner, who has been acting director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and who was nominated for the post in 2011, reports The Washington Post. The agency has not had a confirmed administrator since 2006, thanks largely to the contentiousness of the policies it oversees, including George W. Bush's Medicare Part D program and President Obama's Affordable Care Act. Read more
ENERGY AND COMMERCE SUBCOMMITTEE DEBATES ‘DOC FIX.’ The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Health Subcommittee will hold a hearing Thursday on repealing the flawed doctor-payment formula known as the “sustainable growth rate.” The Congressional Budget Office’s good news for the deficit turned out to also be good news for those favoring SGR repeal. Lower projected spending put a major dent in the estimated cost of eliminating the formula and freezing doctors’ pay rates. Two proposals for repealing and replacing the formula are now making the rounds, including one from Rep. Allyson Schwartz, D-Pa., and Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., that was introduced as legislation last week.
SENATE FINANCE LOOKS AT MARKETPLACE PROGRESS. The Senate Finance Committee will also hold a hearing Thursday to evaluate state efforts to implement health insurance marketplaces in the states. The health insurance marketplaces, or exchanges, will be the place where individuals, families, and small businesses can shop for insurance using tax credits. They are a key element of the law, because they will be the place where uninsured Americans can purchase health plans. CBO’s new baseline report expressed skepticism that the marketplaces would be fully functional in time. Compared to earlier estimates, they said fewer uninsured people will get coverage, insurance options will be more limited, and more employers will stop covering their workers. Today, HHS and state officials can tell their side of the story.
(YOU DON’T NEED TO KNOW. The National Republican Congressional Committee spent nearly $1.7 million trying to oust Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga., in 2012, so what's another $814? The committee is taking advantage of President Obama’s stop in Atlanta Thursday, reserving a plane ticket for Barrow to join him in Georgia for the event, where Obama will attempt to sell some of the policies he proposed in Tuesday's State of the Union address. The committee would love to tie Barrow to Obama, who garnered just 43.6 percent of the vote in Barrow's Augusta-based district in 2012. Read more)
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