September 23, 2013

How the clock might tick as the fiscal year approaches

If you're planning your week around Congress' consideration of a fiscal 2014 budget, here's a guide to what may be coming next.

Keep in mind that it's all tenative. A last minute compromise, or one side's sudden decision to drop its opposition, or bad weather, for that matter, could change everything.

But at the moment, here's the plan:

Monday: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, formally takes steps to cut off debate on a motion to proceed to House continuing resolution. The CR, as it's called on Capitol Hill, would keep the government running at the start of the new fiscal year Oct.1, but also defund the 2010 health care law.

Wednesday: Vote on cutting debate likely in the morning. Sixty votes will be needed to limit debate. Democrats control 54 of the Senate's 100 seats. If the Senate gets 60, and as of now that's expected, 30 hours of debate are permitted.

Thursday: 30-hour clock runs out, probably around 6 p.m. Senate would then vote on motion to proceed to the budget bill. That motion requires 51 votes to pass.

If it passes, Reid is expected to file an amendment to the CR stripping out the defunding of health care language. He also is likely to invoke a procedure that will bar other amendments, and also seek to limit debate on the bill itself.

Saturday: Senate vote on limiting debate on the CR bill, probably in late morning. If the debate cutoff gets at least 60 votes, Senate would have a maximum of 30 more hours of debate.

Sunday: 30-hour clock runs out, probably in late afternoon. Senate would then take two votes: One on stripping the defunding amendment, then another on the "clean" CR. Each needs 51 to pass.

Sunday night/Monday: Houseof Representatives gets the "clean" CR. They then have until11:59 p.m. Monday night, roughly 24 hours, to figure out what to do before the fiscal year ends.

Americans want compromise, Gallup finds

Americans want compromise.

A new Gallup poll released Monday found 53 percent want their political leaders to compromise, more than double the number want them to stick to their beliefs.

Congress is currently sparring over how to fund the federal government after Oct. 1. The House of Representatives Friday passed legislation to defund Obamacare while keeping the government running, but the Democratic-led Senate is expected to reject the health care provision.

Constituents don't want all this bickering.

"There has always been a fine line between a representative's sticking to his or her principles in congressional debates and votes, and in some instances being willing to compromise those principles in order to reach an agreement," Gallup said in an analysis.

"The American people at the moment clearly tilt toward the sentiment that their representatives -- as a whole -- should compromise on important matters, even if it means voting against a particular representative's principles. Of course, these sentiments are measured in reference to Congress as a whole without respect to specific issues. It's quite possible that Americans would feel their particular representative should not compromise on issues of great importance to them personally"

The pollster noted that Congress' approval ratings remain low. "Gallup surveys show that the primary reason Americans give for their disapproval is indeed that Congress won't compromise and manage to find agreement on issues," it said. "The current data suggest that if Congress is unable to find a way to avert a government shutdown or doesn't deal with the debt ceiling, its approval rating has little chance of getting better, and a significant probability of dropping even lower."

To read more:

September 21, 2013

GOP governor: "We just need Washington to pause, reflect"

As tension mounts over whether the White House and Republicans can reach agreement on a budget, Republicans used their weekly address to urge people to look to the  states for guidance.

“It’s no accident that the fastest growing states with the best economies are all led by Republican governors," said Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval.

He didn't get into the details of the ongoing battle in Washington, instead describing his own state's experience. 

“These states differ geographically, economically, and even politically," Sandoval said. "But our ideas have and continue to work.

“Our founding fathers got it right.  Free enterprise and limited government have made, and will continue to make, this country great. Despite all we have endured, I could not be more proud and optimistic about the greatest nation on earth."

“I am confident that our core convictions provide the surest path to an America where economic opportunity still abounds, hard work still rewards, and dreams are still realized."

He also urged calm: “We just need Washington to pause, reflect, and see what is possible in our great nation."

To see the address:

September 19, 2013

Americans split over role of government, Gallup finds

Americans are split over how active they want their government to be.

"Americans couldn't be more divided in their basic preferences for the role of the U.S. government, with roughly one-third favoring an active role for the federal government, one-third favoring a limited role, and one-third something in between," according to a new Gallup survey released Thursday, "and that has generally been the case for the last few years."

Gallup asked people to rate, on a scale, how active they want government to act. About one in five said very active, and a nearly identical percentage said the opposition. One-third were in the middle of the spectrum.

Gallup did not in its analysis that "Americans seem to favor a less active role for the government than is currently the case, perhaps partly due to a desire for lower taxes but also partly due to perceptions that the current government tends to be more on the active side."

The conclusion--"Americans at this time may be more likely to favor proposed solutions to the major problems facing the country -- including the economy and jobs -- that rely less on government intervention and more on the actions of private entities, including businesses and individuals."

To read more:

May 17, 2013

Debt limit unlikely to be hit till after Labor Day, Treasury Secretary advises

Any confrontation  over the nation’s debt ceiling is now unlikely till after Labor Day.

The government is expected to hit the debt ceiling this weekend, but Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said in a letter Friday that “extraordinary measures” would likely allow the nation to continue
paying its bills “until after Labor Day.”

That means that any war over the debt limit—one that could involve limits on federal spending and perhaps higher taxes—is probably not going to occur in earnest this summer.

Two years ago, that fight not only led to a tense showdown between the Obama White House and congressional Republicans, and ultimately a debt-reduction deal, but saw a downgrading of the
government’s credit rating for the first time in 70 years.

Continue reading "Debt limit unlikely to be hit till after Labor Day, Treasury Secretary advises" »

May 06, 2013

Reid: "Why are my Republican colleagues so afraid?"

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid opened the Senate session Monday by urging Republicans to name negotiators and start work on a budget deal.

Republicans have balked, saying they want some agreement on how the talks might proceed.

Reid began the Senate session, the first after a nine-day recess, noting of the sequester, "Democrats and Republicans voted for these arbitrary cuts and Democrats and Republicans will have to work together to reverse them.

"Why are my Republican colleagues so afraid?" the Nevada Democrat asked. "We know the two sides won't agree on every aspect of the budget. We know finding common ground won't be easy, but we can get it done."

Reid's bid to get GOP negotiators named fell short, since no Republicans were present on the floor. He said he'd bring the matter up again soon.


May 01, 2013

Gallup finds public "remains unsure" about sequestration's impact

Despite the recent furor over the impact of automatic spending cuts, or sequestration, on the nation's air traffic system, "the public remains just as unsure now as it was in early March about the effect of sequestration," according to a Gallup survey released Wednesday.

"These perceptions could change if sequestration dramatically affects Americans' daily lives in the months ahead. But even the high-profile air traffic controller dilemma did little to shift opinions," it found. "Americans' lack of outrage or discomfort may reveal that the threat of sequestration in the future will not prove to be an effective tool to motivate legislators to reach a budget compromise."

Siince early March, when the sequester went into effect, Gallup has been asking about its impact. Every time, about half of Americans were uncertain.

"Americans have become slightly more likely to feel unclear about the impact of sequestration on themselves personally, with 62% who say so now, up from 55% the first time Gallup asked about it in early March," Gallup found.

To read more: Gall




April 24, 2013

Inhofe: Reid sequestration plan "an irresponsible budget gimmick"

Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, doesn't like the idea of cutting overseas contingency operations funding to help restore automatic spending cuts.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, is pushing the plan, but no resolution is expected this week.

Inhofe was not pleased with Reid's idea.

"Sen. Reid’s amendment to cut future Overseas Contingency Operation funding in order to offset current sequestration cuts is an irresponsible budget gimmick that undermines our national security and sends a terrible message to allies and adversaries alike at a time when we face the greatest array of threats in generations,” Inhofe said.

Here's the rest of his statement:

Continue reading "Inhofe: Reid sequestration plan "an irresponsible budget gimmick"" »

Reid pushes sequester replacement plan

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid Wednesday pushed his plan to stop the automatic federal spending cuts that went into effect last month. But it was uncertain, and increasingly unlikely, the Senate will act until next month.

Reid made his case in his opening remarks to the Senate.

"We have seen the devastating impacts of these arbitrary budget cuts. Now it’s time to stop them," he said.  "Last night I introduced legislation that would roll back the sequester for the rest of the year. This bill would give Democrats and Republicans time to sit down at the negotiating table and work out an agreement to reduce the deficit in a balanced way."

Reid would pay for the restoration of funding with savings from the windown of the wars Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Before Republicans dismiss these savings, they should recall that 235 House Republicans voted to use these funds to pay for the Ryan Republican budget. They didn’t consider it a gimmick when it served their own purposes," Reid, D-Nevada, said.


April 23, 2013

Baucus, powerful Senate finance chairman, to retire

Sen. Max Baucus, the veteran Finance Committee chairman who's had a hand in major tax and health care legislation for decades, will not seek re-election next year.

"After  much consideration and many conversations with my wife Mel and our family, I have decided not to seek reelection in 2014. I will serve out my term, and then it will be time to go home to Montana," the Montana Democrat announced Tuesday.

First elected in 1978, Baucus heads the powerful Senate committee charged with writing tax and health care legislation. He was instrumental in crafting the 2010 law overhauling the federal health care system, and was embarking on a new effort to revamp the tax code.

But Baucus, 71, faced re-election trouble in his increasingly conservative state. Last week, he joined four other Democrats in voting against a gun control measure, toughening background checks, pushed hard by President Barack Obama.

Baucus had been painted as too friendly to Washington lobbyists, and some liberals Tuesday hailed a retirement.

"Goodbye, Senator K Street. Max Baucus has a history of voting with corporate interests and not the interests of Montana voters -- taking millions from Wall Street, insurance companies, and lobbyists. Montana will finally have a chance to have a senator with its best interests at heart, and we hope Brian Schweitzer jumps into the race immediately," said Stephanie Taylor, Progressive Change Campaign Committee co-founder.

Reactions from the two parties varied along predictable lines. Republicans were pleased that Baucus, who has the ability to raise millions, is stepping down -- though former Gov. Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat, could seek the seat.

Nonetheless, Rob Collins, National Republican Senatorial Committee director, chided Baucus over the health care law.
"Its architect Max Baucus waved the white flag rather than face voters," Collins said.
"The 2014 electoral map is in free–fall for Democrats, who were already facing a daunting challenge," he said. Republicans are defending 21 seats to the Democrats' 35. Republicans need a net gain of six seats to win control of the Senate.
Sen. Michael Bennet, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chairman, disagreed. Bennet said Baucus would be "sorely missed," and noted that Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., won a tough race last year.
"Democrats built an unprecedented ground game in Montana in 2012 when Senator Tester was reelected, and we will continue to invest all the resources necessary to hold this seat," Bennet said.
Baucus said he would "continue to work on simplifying and improving the tax code, tackling the nation’s debt, pushing important job-creating trade agreements through the Senate, and implementing and expanding affordable health care for more Americans.

"Deciding not to run for re-election was an extremely difficult decision," he said. "After thinking long and hard, I decided I want to focus the next year and a half on serving Montana unconstrained by the demands of a campaign. Then, I want to come home and spend time with Mel, my son Zeno, and our family enjoying the Montana public lands we’ve fought hard to keep open and untarnished.


"Planet Washington" covers politics and government. It is written by journalists in McClatchy's Washington Bureau.

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