Economy & Budget
SOTU IS A FUNDRAISING OPPORTUNITY. The White House and outside supporters of the president will use Tuesday's State of the Union address to launch separate targeted social media, public outreach, and fundraising campaigns tied to the policies Obama outlines in the speech, the Associated Press reports. "The wide-ranging outreach reflects a decision by the president and his advisers to focus more on using public support to pressure Congress rather than getting bogged down in partisan fights with lawmakers," according to AP. Read more
HAGEL VOTE SET FOR TUESDAY. The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a vote on the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be Defense secretary, despite demands from Republicans that Hagel provide more information on his post-Senate career, the Associated Press reported. Hagel’s nomination is expected to be approved by the Democratic-controlled committee, and the White House is confident of his prospects in the full chamber. But Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has threatened to hold up Hagel’s nomination—among others—until he gets more information on Obama’s actions during last September’s terrorist attack in Benghazi. The Washington Post explains that Graham’s actions may have a lot to do with 2014. Read more
WHITE HOUSE: WE ANSWERED YOUR BENGHAZI QUESTIONS. White House press secretary Jay Carney took a firm line Monday when asked about the senators, including Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who said they would block the Cabinet nominations of Chuck Hagel and John Brennan if the White House did not provide answers on the Sept. 11 attacks in Benghazi. "We have answered these questions," Carney said, adding, "What is unfortunate here is the continuing attempt to politicize an issue, in this case, through the … nominees that themselves had nothing to do with Benghazi, and to do so in a way that only does harm to our national security interests."
¿GOP EN ESPANOL? NOT SO FAST. One challenge facing Republican outreach to Hispanic voters is that the party is not speaking their language—and not just metaphorically. In an effort to address the communications gap, the House Republican Conference had planned last week to launch GOP en Español, which would translate and distribute Republican reactions to the State of the Union speech in Spanish. But not everyone was on board. Staffers working for two English-only hard-liners in Congress, Reps. Steve King of Iowa and Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, raised questions, arguing that the new program sent mixed signals about the importance of English in the United States. In an effort to build consensus, the conference decided to delay the announcement, as NJ’s Ben Terris reports. Read more
EXECUTIVE ORDER ON CYBERSECURITY TO INCLUDE POWER-GRID PROTECTIONS. The executive order President Obama is expected to issue Wednesday includes an opt-in program for electric grid operators to beef up their protections, The Hill reported. A full 40 percent of cyberattacks on critical infrastructure in 2012 targeted energy infrastructure, according to the Homeland Security Department. Jon Wellinghoff, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, has repeatedly sounded the alarm on the grid’s vulnerability to hackers, according to The Hill. The anticipated executive order coms after Congress failed to pass cybersecurity legislation last year. Read more
McCAIN’S SKEPTICISM OF HAGEL HAS LIMITS. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was one of the most vocal critics of Defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel. But flash forward a few weeks, and McCain has said he wouldn't support a filibuster of the nomination, and would not be part of a group of Republican senators who considered—but have apparently since rejected—walking out of Tuesday’s committee vote, calling such an action “disrespectful.” McCain offered a written statement saying that he has examined the information Hagel provided to the committee, “and I believe that he has fulfilled the rigorous requirements that the committee demands of every presidential nominee to be secretary of Defense.” Still, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., vowed Monday to "postpone" the nomination when it reaches the Senate floor. Read more
WHAT COFFMAN’S IMMIGRATION SWITCH MEANS FOR REFORM. Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., has evolved on immigration, he announced during a town hall meeting in his district Sunday. The man who replaced noted immigration hawk Tom Tancredo in Congress says he now favors a path to legal status for immigrants in the country illegally, plus a path to citizenship for children in that circumstance. But Hotline’s Scott Bland writes that while significant, Coffman’s switch may be motivated more by demographics than ideology. “It's no mere coincidence that Coffman's evolution coincided with his district's,” he writes. Looking at the wider implications, there are relatively few House Republicans positioned to make the same switch Coffman did. Read more
UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS TO ATTEND SOTU. Reps. Marc Veasey, D-Texas, and Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., have invited undocumented immigrants Julieta Garibay and Gabino Sanchez to Tuesday’s State of the Union address, the Huffington Post reports, in order to help promote passage of the Dream Act. A third undocumented immigrant, Alan Aleman, will attend as a guest of First Lady Michelle Obama. The three, all of whom would fall under the proposed Dream Act since they came to the U.S. as children, could be the first known undocumented immigrants to attend a State of the Union, according to The Dallas Morning News. Said Garibay: “This is a big step for Dreamers and indicative of how far this movement has come.” Read more
'HOUSE OF CARDS' IS ALL OVER THE HILL. Capitol Hill staffers have gone gaga for the new Netflix show House of Cards, BuzzFeed reports. The show, which premiered two weeks ago, "has become a cultural touchstone on Capitol Hill, having tapped into two of the preeminent streaks in Congress: Unwavering political nerdiness and vanity," BuzzFeed writes, adding, “Indeed, the question, ‘Have you seen House of Cards?’ has become nearly as common on the Hill as ill-fitting men's suits and networking coffees.” Read more
STATE OF THE UNION PROMISES NOT ALWAYS EASY TO KEEP. It isn't always easy to convert State of the Union promises into reality. Just look at the task force of prosecutors Obama promised to unleash on Wall Street in last year's address. Politico reports the group, called the Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities Working Group, has fallen off the priority list. Congress never provided the early funding, and the Department of Justice has faced criticism that it has dragged its heels on prosecuting the banks in an effort to keep the fragile economy from crumbling. Read more
GUN VIOLENCE VICTIMS FILL SEATS AT TONIGHT'S ADDRESS. President Obama will be stressing jobs in his State of the Union speech tonight, but the audience attending will be straining their ears to catch mention of another big-ticket item on his agenda: gun control. Democrats in Congress have invited a sea of gun control advocates to attend the State of the Union address, as the Associated Press reports. Michelle Obama will sit with the parents of the Chicago teenager shot and killed last month, and at least 23 House members and four senators have invited people affected by gun violence, Roll Callreports. Gabrielle Giffords will attend as the guest of her former aide, Rep. Ron Barber, D-Ariz., who was wounded alongside Giffords during a meeting with her constituents in Tucson two years ago. Read more
THE CURSE OF THE SOTU AISLE SEAT. It’s one of the great ironies of lawmakers who fight for the aisle seat: they wait up to 12 hours (some try to put a book or a coat down, but the Secret Service says this is technically against the rules) to get one of these choice seats, for some sort of personal glory, but the cost can be more than just the time spent protecting their spot. Aisle-lovers say it lets their constituents see them working for their interests—but there’s no real proof that it does them any good at the polls. Last year, Salon made a list of the six most egregious aisle hogs. Of those six, only one (Jackson Lee) remains in Congress. Read more
TED NUGENT TO ATTEND SOTU. Rocker Ted Nugent, a vocal critic of Obama, will attend the State of the Union address at the request of Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas, Politico reports. Nugent has made several threats of violence against the president, including drawing the attention of the Secret Service when he said, "If Barack Obama becomes the president in November again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year." In a statement Monday, Stockman praised Nugent as a "patriot," saying "after the address I’m sure Ted will have plenty to say.” Read more
WHY POPES MATTER TO PRESIDENTS. With Monday’s surprising news that Pope Benedict XVI would resign Feb. 28, National Journal’s Matthew Cooper explains how the papacy helped presidents like Ronald Reagan but may not matter much to President Obama. Indeed, no American president met with a pope until Woodrow Wilson did so in 1919, and after that there was no meeting for another 40 years, when Dwight Eisenhower met with John XXIII toward the end of his presidency. Read more
NORTH KOREA CONFIRMS THIRD NUCLEAR TEST. North Korea confirmed its third nuclear test on Tuesday. According to South Korean defense officials, the blast was six to seven times more powerful than the country’s first test in 2006, and slightly more powerful than its second test, in 2009. But the explosion still had a little less than half the impact of the bomb the United States dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945, according to The New York Times. North Korea’s actions were condemned worldwide, with Obama calling it “highly provocative.” The United Nations Security Council will meet Tuesday to discuss the matter. Read more
MILITARY CONSIDERS SCALING BACK DRONES. As both a cost-cutting measure and nod to the wind down in Afghanistan, the Pentagon is considering reducing the steady drone buildup it has overseen in recent years. It’s the first time the Pentagon has openly considered drone reduction. The Associated Press reports that Air Force leaders believe there may already be enough drones to meet the war needs of the future. And costs on unmanned aircrafts have skyrocketed—from $284 million in 2000 to $4 billion in the last fiscal year, making it a good cost-cutting area. The Pentagon now owns 7,500 drones, up from 200 in 2002. Read more
NEW SENSORS ON U.S.-MEXICO BORDER DELAYED BY TECH ISSUES. An overarching U.S. government plan to put new ground sensors at the Mexican border has been delayed, reports Wired. The delay—not the first for this plan—centers on issues around the bandwidth and frequency of the new sensors. Basically, they cannot communicate with current tech equipment along the border. If implemented, the next-generation technology would be “unattended ground sensors,” according to Wired. While the plan has not been canceled, it is now unlikely to occur at any point in 2013. Read more
CYBERESPIONAGE THREATENS U.S. ECONOMY, NOT JUST MILITARY. A new report representing the consensus of the U.S. intelligence community concludes that the United States is the “target of a massive, sustained cyberespionage campaign that is threatening the country’s economic competitiveness,” reports The Washington Post. And China is the country most aggressively seeking to mine information from American businesses and institutions to gain an economic benefit. The classified document describes the high level of hacking across a diverse range of industries over the past five years, including energy, finance, information technology, aerospace, and automotives. Read more
VOTERS SEE OBAMA AS NO BETTER THAN BUSH ON SECURITY VS. CIVIL LIBERTIES. Protecting the nation’s physical safety while also preserving civil liberties is a fine line tread by every president. And a new poll by The Hill shows that the majority of voters think President Obama has navigated that line no better than former President George W. Bush. Thirty-seven percent of voters agreed that Obama has been worse than Bush, while 15 percent thought he was “about the same.” Read more
SYRIAN REBELS SEIZE CONTROL OF NATION’S WATER AND ELECTRICITY SUPPLIES. Syrian rebels captured the country’s largest dam on Monday, a major blow in the near two-year long conflict. Since fighting broke out last week in the country’s capital, Damascus, both sides had been prepping for a pivotal week. The coup for opposition forces at the al-Furat dam in the northeastern province of Raqqa means they now control “water and electricity supplies to much of Syria, including government-held areas and large swaths of land the rebels captured during 22 months of conflict,” according to The Wall Street Journal. Read more
JOHNS HOPKINS NEUROSURGEON GETTING 2016 BUZZ. Ben Carson, who was raised by a single mother in a poverty-stricken home and went on to become a top Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon, has become the unlikely subject of Republican presidential buzz. Carson gave a nearly 30-minute speech at the National Prayer Breakfast last week that indirectly criticized many of the policies promulgated by Obama—all while the president sat just to his side. Since then, a YouTube video of Carson’s speech has racked up more than 1 million views, a Wall Street Journal editorial has run under the headline “Ben Carson for President,” and Sean Hannity has said he’d vote for Carson “in a heartbeat.” Read more
EARLY POLL: CAPITO IN POSITION TO TAKE W.VA. SENATE SEAT FOR GOP. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., is the early, prohibitive favorite to succeed Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller, according to the results of a GOP poll released Monday. The survey, conducted by the Charleston-based Mark Blankenship Enterprises, shows Capito with an 18-point lead over Democratic Rep. Nick Rahall, 55 percent to 37 percent. Pollster Mark Blankenship is a Republican strategist and one-time aide to former Republican Gov. Cecil Underwood. Results of the poll were first reported by MetroNews, an in-state radio news network. Read more
NRCC PICKS REGIONAL DIRECTORS. The National Republican Congressional Committee on Monday unveiled its regional political directors, rounding out its newly installed staff as the 2014 election cycle begins. The committee will target what it considers the seven most vulnerable Democratic-held seats. The NRCC is trying to maintain the GOP’s 17-seat majority in the House at a time when Democrats hold the presidency and remain likely to retain control of the Senate. Read more
GUILTY PLEA FROM FLA.’S EX-GOP CHAIR SPARES CRIST EMBARRASSMENT. Former Florida Republican chairman Jim Greer's decision to plead guilty to four counts of theft and one count of money laundering on Monday ends what was expected to be a rehashing of old party grievances and activities that could have potentially impacted former Gov. Charlie Crist, who was expected to testify in the trial. In Crist's deposition, which was released last week, Greer's attorney, Damon Chase, suggested that Crist couldn't remember what happened with Greer in 2009 "because he was drinking too much wine." Crist was also asked if he had instructed for Sen. Marco Rubio's credit card receipts to be leaked to reporters at newspapers including the Miami Herald and the Tampa Bay Times. Read more
IOWA DEM MIKE SHERZAN DECLARES HOUSE BID AGAINST LATHAM. Iowa Democrat Mike Sherzan says he's been eyeing a congressional bid since 2010 but needed time to transition his financial-services firm in preparation for a run. Now, he's ready to go: Sherzan announced Monday that he is running for Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District, and he won't be scared off by the fact that GOP Rep. Tom Latham just defeated a sitting House member in a district Obama carried. "This guy's 20 years into that position; most people can't tell you what he stands for," Sherzan said in a phone interview on Monday, shortly after announcing his candidacy. Sherzan made clear what his campaign themes will be—bolstering middle-class wages and protecting the social safety net. Read more
AD IN NYT CALLS FOR 'TIMEOUT' ON LNG EXPORTS AHEAD OF SOTU. As the manufacturing sector and the natural-gas industry battle over the immediate economic consequences of allowing natural-gas exports, an ad in The New York Times calls on the president to take "a timeout" on the approval of exports for environmental reasons. The ad calls drilling and hydraulic fracturing "dirty and dangerous" and argues, "Exports will allow the gas industry to make billions of dollars at the expense of our communities and public health." Environmentalists and industry will be watching the president’s State of the Union address for indications of his intentions for energy and climate policy in his second term.
REPORT: CARBON TAX COULD FINANCE LOWER CORPORATE TAX. The revenues from a carbon tax could be used in part to offset the cost to the government of lower corporate tax rates, though such a scheme could redistribute tax burdens regressively, according to a report released on Monday by the Tax Policy Center, a joint venture of the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution. “Policymakers can offset some of those impacts through other policy measures, such as paying lump-sum tax rebates. But doing so would reduce the swap’s efficiency benefits,” the report said. It also suggests that a scheme that is revenue-neutral at first but in which carbon tax revenues grow over time could contribute to deficit reduction at the same time it curbs environmental damage and lowers the corporate tax burden.
ENERGY EXPERTS SIZE UP OBAMA’S STATE OF THE UNION. If President Obama's Inaugural Address is any indication, he will devote significant attention to energy and climate-change issues in his State of the Union speech. As the president prepares to address a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night, National Journal’s Amy Harder asks in this week’s Energy Experts Blog what role energy and climate issues should play in the administration's next four years. Check in here as the experts weigh in throughout the week.
ECONOMY & BUDGET
MILLS STEPPING DOWN FROM SMALL BUSINESS ADMIN. Another member of President Obama’s administration is departing. Karen Mills, head of the Small Business Administration, and the former head of a private-equity firm, will be leaving her post, the White House announced today. “Over the last four years, Karen has made it easier for small businesses to interact with the federal government by reducing paperwork and cutting through red tape,” Obama said in a statement. It’s unclear who will replace Mills, who was thought to be staying on. Her deputy, Marie Johns, sent colleagues an e-mail last week saying she would be departing, The Washington Post reports. Read more
WHITE HOUSE: WE DO HAVE A SPENDING PROBLEM. The Obama administration said Monday that the country does have a spending problem, a day after remarks by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi indicating otherwise, Politico reported. “Of course the president believes that we have a spending problem," White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday, adding that the problem "is specifically driven by … health care spending. And that’s just a fact.” Carney also said that the president is open to cutting entitlements to get a bigger deal. On Sunday, Pelosi said it was “almost a false argument to say we have a spending problem.” Read more
HOME PRICES RISE IN 88 PERCENT OF U.S CITIES. Prices for single-family homes rose in roughly 88 percent of U.S. cities in the fourth quarter of last year, Bloomberg reported. In total, the median sales price rose in 133 of 152 metropolitan areas, according to the National Association of Realtors. In the third quarter, 120 areas had gains. “Home sales are on a sustained uptrend,” wrote Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the association, in the report. “Home sales are being fueled by a pent-up demand and job creation, along with still-favorable affordability conditions and rents rising at faster rates.” Read more
MEDICARE READMISSION RATES SHOW NO IMPROVEMENT. One in eight Medicare patients were readmitted to the hospital within 30 days of being released after surgery in 2010, while patients in the hospital for reasons other than surgery returned at an even higher rate of one in six, according to a new report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Both rates were unchanged from 2008, and in fact, analysis showed that readmission rates had not really changed since 2004, the earliest year studied. Readmissions have been a key target of health care reformers, because they indicate poor health outcomes and are costly. The Affordable Care Act has begun penalizing hospitals with poor performance.
RECORD-BREAKING RECOVERIES FROM HEALTH FRAUD INVESTIGATIONS. For every dollar spent on health care-related fraud and abuse investigations in the last three years, the government recovered $7.90, according to a new report from the departments of Health and Human Services and Justice. The government teams recovered $4.2 billion in FY 2012, and the return on investment was the highest in the history of the Health Care Fraud and Abuse program. Read more
WHITE HOUSE REVIEWS TWO MORE ACA RULES. The Obama administration has begun a final review of two significant rules concerning the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, The Hill reports. The first would set standards for essential health benefits under the law, and the second would define standards for programs that aim to protect health insurers from financial losses, since the administration believes losses would likely be passed along to patients. Both of the rules carry an annual economic impact of more than $100 million. Read more
OBAMA WON'T SUPPORT RAISING MEDICARE ELIGIBILITY AGE. White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday that Obama no longer supports raising the eligibility age for Medicare from 65 to 67. "The president's made clear that we don't believe that that's the right policy to take," Carney said. The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein writes that the shift is not terribly surprising, considering that there is evidence to suggest that the hike is not all that productive, and “the potential big deals that led the White House to mull raising the Medicare eligibility age are no longer available.” Read more
(YOU DON’T NEED TO KNOW. With Pope Benedict XVI resigning later this month, Americans immediately turned to Vice President Joe Biden, a prominent Catholic, for guidance. “I am not running,” he told reporters in Philadelphia Monday.) Read more
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