Friday, February 25, 2011

AmCham EU presents the Recommendations to the Hungarian Presidency of the Council of the European Union

On 1 January 2011, Hungary took over the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union. This is Hungary’s first time at the helm and has proposed an ambitious programme outlining several key priorities to meet the EU 2020 objectives. According to the Hungarian presidency website the Hungarian Presidency of the Council of the European Union wishes to build its political agenda around the human factor, focusing on four main topics: growth and employment for preserving the European social model; stronger Europe; citizen friendly Union; enlargement and neighbourhood policy.
After initial outreach meetings in Brussels with key Hungarian stakeholders and the Permanent Representation and a delegation visit to Budapest AmCham EU is happy to release the Recommendations to the Hungarian Presidency of the Council of the European Union. In the report AmCham EU highlights the top business priorities for ongoing dossiers at the Council.

Please click on the link below to see the e-version of the Recommendations.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

U.S. tries to line up aid to help stabilize Egypt

By Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times
Reporting from Washington
As anti-government protests threaten additional change across the Middle East, the Obama administration and its allies have been quietly collaborating on plans to shore up Egypt's fragile transition government with a transfusion of economic aid. U.S. officials, eager to demonstrate they are helping stabilize a country that has been a bulwark of American interests in the region, are soliciting contributions to an emergency financial package for Egypt, fearing that further strains on its overtaxed economy could kill the fledgling reform effort and lead to a new round of chaos. In the four days since President Hosni Mubarak stepped down in the face of a public uprising, U.S. officials who helped facilitate his exit have been working to put together a package that will probably total several hundreds of millions of dollars, as well as funds to help build political parties and other institutions, U.S. and foreign diplomats say. The United States currently gives Egypt about $1.5 billion per year, most of it going to the Egyptian military, the most respected institution in the nation. Public anxiety over Egypt's struggling economy, including high unemployment and rising prices, was one of the key forces driving the 18-day uprising that toppled former Mubarak. Now that the authoritarian leader is gone, analysts say Egyptians may be overly optimistic in expecting rapid economic improvements. Michele Dunne, a Middle East specialist who has advised the Obama administration on Egypt in recent weeks, said the economy is "one of the greatest vulnerabilities for a country that's in a transition like this." The Egyptian Finance Ministry has estimated that the unrest cost the economy about $310 million a day, and some private analysts have estimated that investors have been withdrawing funds at a rate of about $1 billion a day. Before the protests, Egypt was expected to have 5% annual economic growth; now the consensus is closer to 1%. Dunne, with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said if Egyptians have high expectations about economic opportunities and instead conditions worsen, "it could really sour relations between people" and the transitional government. U.S. officials, who have been consulting widely on Egypt in recent days, declined to discuss their aid goals in details, saying they were in the early stages of discussions. They said they expect international development banks may also play a part in the effort. The push for more aid comes at a difficult time for the United States and many allies, who are already struggling with severe austerity budgets. The Obama administration is trying to prevent Republicans from imposing steep cuts on foreign aid. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met with House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) on Monday and expressed her concern about proposed reductions for the State Department and aid programs. Clinton said she hoped that as Congress considers "the national security and economic consequences of these cuts, they will chart a different course." The United States must promote stability in countries such as Egypt or "we will pay a higher price later in crises that are allowed to simmer and boil over into conflicts," Clinton said. Mubarak's overthrow has been welcomed by Democrats and Republicans, and some analysts predict there will be bipartisan support for at least some increase in Egypt's aid, to ensure its stability as well as that of neighbour Israel and other Middle East states. "I think they'll feel this cause is worth it," said Stephen McInerney, executive director of the Project on Middle East Democracy. Congressional Republicans, and especially those in the House, have made it clear they intend to target overall foreign aid for reductions, at a time when both parties are looking for ways to reduce the projected $1.6 trillion federal deficit. Clinton wrote a letter Monday to Republican Rep. Harold Rogers of Kentucky, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, complaining that the committee's proposal for foreign affairs funding for the next fiscal year was would reduce the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development budget by 19% from the amount sought by the administration, and would reduce funding for humanitarian aid by 41% from 2010 spending. She wrote that such cuts would be "devastating to our national security" and would damage U.S. leadership around the world. However, there remains considerable Republican support for a number of U.S. national security missions overseas, including those in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and lawmakers say it is unclear how much Republicans would want to cut the civilian aid related to those efforts. A spokeswoman for Catherine Ashton, the European Union's foreign affairs chief, said the EU is considering aid for Egypt, perhaps through loans by the European Investment Bank, an EU international finance arm. President Obama, in a statement last weekend, said the United States was committed to offering aid to Egypt "to pursue a credible and orderly transition to democracy, including by working with international partners to provide financial support." The aid discussions have come at a time when the administration has been reaching out to allies in the Middle East, Europe and elsewhere, trying to work out a common position on how to encourage democratic change in Egypt. U.S. officials and allies have been closely watching Cairo's new military leadership take a series of steps, including some that have raised concerns among the Egyptian protesters. The military leaders have resisted pressure to lift the emergency law that limits rights, and they have given mixed signals about how long they would retain Cabinet members who were part of the Mubarak regime. Some demonstrators have been upset that the military has sought to clear out the remaining protesters from central Cairo. But Clinton praised the military leaders and offered a strong endorsement of their actions to date, which include announcements that they would dissolve the parliament, draft amendments to the constitution, and set elections within six months. In an appearance on Capitol Hill with Boehner, Clinton said "the steps they have taken so far are reassuring," and that "thus far they've demonstrated a seriousness of purpose and a commitment to pursuing the kind of transition that we hope will lead to free, fair elections."

Early, Long Whip Race Will Test GOP Cohesion

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will not endorse in the Minority Whip race between GOP Sens. John Cornyn (second from left) and Lamar Alexander (right).
What has been a remarkably cohesive and collegial Senate Republican leadership team threatens to be torn asunder over the next 18 months by a potentially divisive race for Whip and additional jockeying for other top Conference posts. Aides to Sens. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) and John Cornyn (Texas) insist that the close personal friendship shared by the two Republican leaders will prevent their competition to succeed Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz.) as Whip from becoming bitter. Similarly, Sen. Mike Johanns (Neb.), bidding to replace Alexander as Conference chairman, predicted little negative fallout from the leadership contests. But with nearly the entire 112th Congress to fight it out and the high stakes involved, the professional and personal relationships of a Republican team often described as close-knit and complementary will undoubtedly be tested, as will the group’s ability to deliver for rank-and-file Members. Alexander, Johanns and Cornyn, the National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman, all hit the phones looking for votes within an hour of Kyl’s Thursday announcement that he won’t seek re-election in 2012.
“One of the key areas to watch will be the activity during leadership meetings and how they work together,” a former Senate Republican leadership aide said. “It’s going to matter around the leadership table and how they showcase themselves.” This former aide predicted the first year could see a “quieter” campaign and added, “It’s going to be the election year where the intensity will ratchet up.” On the House side, a long and bitter campaign for Democratic Whip between Reps. Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Steny Hoyer (Md.) years ago kept tension high. Pelosi won the 2001 vote, and their frayed relationship never was fully repaired. Alexander and Cornyn going head-to-head for the No. 2 Whip slot, and Johanns running in a so-far-uncontested race for the No. 3 Conference chairman position might only be the beginning of a wider leadership shake-up as Republican Senators seek promotions. Policy Committee Chairman John Thune is considering a run for Whip as well, should he decide against running for president — the South Dakota Republican and fourth-ranking leader plans to reveal his plans by month’s end. Meanwhile, Conference Vice Chairman John Barrasso (Wyo.), who ranks fifth and only entered leadership last fall, is eyeing Thune’s position as well as the NRSC. Johanns expressed confidence in an interview Friday that the multiple intra-Conference campaigns would not sow caucus disunity. “We’re all on the same team,” he said. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) does not endorse in leadership races as a matter of policy and is not expected to discuss the matter publicly. However, McConnell has been friends with Alexander for four decades, and the two are confidants. The votes will not occur until after the 2012 elections. Any new Senators elected would have votes, potentially giving Cornyn the advantage given his position at the NRSC.
Whom Republicans favor as an eventual successor to McConnell could be a factor in the outcome of the Whip contest. Should Cornyn or Thune replace Kyl as the No. 2, either might be seen as having an advantage toward becoming the Republican Leader whenever McConnell retires. The Kentuckian is up for re-election in 2014. He’s said he plans to run. If Senate Republicans want to leave their options open, Alexander might appeal as a placeholder who is unlikely to run for Leader, depending on the Tennesseean’s ambitions. “Whoever wants to replace McConnell would be pleased to have Lamar in the second slot,” a Republican lobbyist with Senate relationships said. “If you allow Cornyn or Thune to replace Kyl, you are probably signaling who the next Leader is. This makes vote-counting hard because some of your competitors will vote for Lamar to keep their pathway cleared.” The Senate campaign in Arizona to succeed Kyl could also be competitive and contentious, although the Republicans appear more organized in their efforts to hold the open seat in a state that leans Republican. However, the Democrats are optimistic about their prospects and believe recent population gains benefit their side. President Barack Obama briefly considered making a campaign push in Arizona in the 2008 presidential race but opted against it when Arizona Sen. John McCain (R) became the nominee. Considered a frontrunner at the outset and expected to announce his candidacy soon is Rep. Jeff Flake (R). Former Rep. J.D. Hayworth, beaten badly by McCain in the 2010 GOP Senate primary, is interested in running again in 2012. Rep. Trent Franks (R) is examining a bid but is not expected to jump in, and freshman Rep. Ben Quayle (R) has been floating his name. But Quayle’s father, former vice president and Indiana Sen. Dan Quayle (R), is telling people he would prefer that his son wait and run for McCain’s seat when Arizona’s senior Senator calls it quits, according to a Republican strategist based in the Grand Canyon State.  None of the current statewide GOP officeholders are expected to run at this point, including the governor, attorney general and treasurer. State Senate President Russell Pearce is out, but he plans to run for Flake’s House seat and was on the phone making endorsement calls Thursday evening.  One notable Republican who is thinking of running is Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who has made national headlines over the years for his tough stance on crime and illegal immigration. Arpaio has hinted he might be more interested in national office.  Among Democrats, several names are being discussed, but it remains unclear who is giving serious consideration to running. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, former Arizona governor and state attorney general, has made calls over the past few weeks to gauge support for a Senate bid. She could emerge as the early frontrunner. Wealthy businessman Jim Pederson, who challenged Kyl in 2006, isn’t saying no, and Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon could run. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords — currently recovering from an attempted assassination — could enter the race as late as April 2012 and still raise enough money to be competitive. Democrats in the state have told reporters that Giffords should have the “right of first refusal” to run for the seat. “Things are moving fast,” the Arizona Republican strategist said.
Roll Call Politics rates this race Leans Republican.

Tea party: The next generation?

Despite the tea parties' efforts to recruit the next generation, many young conservatives are steering clear. The grassroots conservative movement is too radical for some, and not enough so for others. But the main divide appears to be on tactics: Young people at the Conservative Political Action Conference in D.C. this week said they prefer volunteering on campaigns to holding protest signs. "Going to protests and trying to get on the news, that's not really for me," Adam Paul, a senior at Western Michigan University, said. "They represent most of the same things that I do, but I'm more focused on trying to get people elected." Even the leaders of high school and college tea-party chapters say they focus more on volunteering and positivity than the larger movement. Students standing in the CPAC registration line with Paul shared his skepticism. "I think a lot of the people who go [to tea-party events] are more radical than I am," Kelsey Shawl, a senior at Agnes Scott College in Atlanta, said. Justin Doherty, 21, and Shane Alan, 22, students at Massachusetts' Northern Essex Community College said they share the tea parties' concerns about government bailouts, but they prefer their college group. Across the hall, Kevin DeAnna offered a different reason for not being a tea partyer. Though he has attended rallies, the 27-year-old founder of the anti-immigration Youth for Western Civilization said the tea parties should take tougher stances. "As far as whether the tea party is too right wing, if only," he said. Such sentiments among CPAC's young participants contrasted with last year's conference, when tea partyers seemed to be the stars of the show. In 2010, tea partyers used the event as a platform to launch their fiscally minded Contract From America. Colonial outfits and "Don't Tread on Me" flags announced their presence. This time around, tea partyers were less visible at the 11,000-person event. The conservative lollapalooza, which draws young conservative leaders from across the nation, was a mishmash of groups instead, some with conflicting ideals. It was the sort of place where a man with a "No mosques" T-shirt could walk by a Muslims for America booth, where activists proudly wore anti-war stickers and pot legalization shirts while mingling with more mainstream Republicans. Some celebrated the diversity. Blayne Bennett, a recent Arizona State University graduate, said she wasn't concerned that tea partyers and students have not joined forces. "It might be okay to have each separate demographic doing their own thing," Bennett, a communications manager for Students for Liberty, said. She speculated that college students might not be joining tea parties because their campuses already have thriving conservative groups that better address their concerns. "Student groups are so effective because they are where the students are," she said. But she credited the tea parties with making students more aware of the nation's fiscal standing. Brandon Greife, national director of the College Republicans National Committee, agreed, saying that his group's members share the tea parties' concerns—just not their anger. "Young conservatives are growing up at a time when conservatism is on the rise versus a lot of tea-party members who feel the need to fight back in the space," he argued. So, younger activists prefer to make phone calls and knock on doors during elections, where "they see tangible results." The leaders of student tea-party groups also differentiate what they do from the larger movement. "While we believe in the same values, we have different life experiences and we have different needs," said Douglas Smith, president of the Conservative Society of America's Next Generation in New York. The group of 400 bills itself as the nation's first youth tea-party organization. "We bring a different vibe," Smith said, saying his group focused on voter registration drives during the elections. "We try to reach out to people our age." Across the country, a high school student has the same goal. Tessa Wade, 16, started The Founding Children Tea Party in Mesa, Ariz., last month. Inspired by her grandmother's involvement in the movement, Wade said she wanted to create a space for learning where anyone can come – even her liberal friends who back President Obama's health care overhaul. "I'd like it to be about principle, not parties," she said.
About two-dozen teenagers gathered at Wade's meeting last week, where they played games designed to teach them about the Constitution. They might hold a rally in the future, Wade said, but she wants to avoid protests. "I am just trying to get them to love their country," she said.
Back at CPAC, at least one group expressed gratefulness for the tea parties. Jeff Frazee of Young Americans for Liberty — which supports Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) and is part of the tea-party movement — said he remembers the cool reception his concerns about limited government received at CPAC several years ago. "During the Bush years, I felt very much alone," he said, crediting the tea parties for changing the conservative movement's priorities. "The difference is light and day."

Thursday, February 10, 2011

House Republicans' spending cuts fall short of goal

By Lisa Mascaro and Richard Simon, Washington Bureau
Reporting from Washington
House Republican leaders unveiled a wide swath of spending cuts Wednesday but fell short of GOP promises to slice $100 billion, creating a political challenge for House Speaker John A. Boehner as he struggles to unite his majority before next week's budget vote.
Conservative lawmakers, including many newcomers inspired by the "tea party" movement, see the leadership's proposal as inadequate, despite substantial hits to longtime GOP targets including the Environmental Protection Agency, community policing and the arts. "It's not enough," said freshman Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.). Already this week, Boehner struggled in trying to lead a diverse, emboldened GOP majority when a coalition of newcomers and veteran conservatives joined Democrats to block an extension of terrorism surveillance legislation, seen by many as an overreach of government authority. In a politically polarized Congress, Democrats are unlikely to support the GOP's proposed spending reductions, leaving Republican leaders to rely mainly on their divided caucus for passage. Nevertheless, Boehner is pressing forward with plans for next week's debate on the budget proposal. The political exercise is expected to touch off one of Washington's biggest budget battles in years, coming as President Obama releases his proposed 2012 fiscal plan Monday. The cuts proposed Wednesday would affect the current year's budget. Congress must approve a spending plan before the existing plan expires March 4 or risk a government shutdown. A number of the cuts target programs championed by Democrats as crucial to the nation's economic recovery. Among the hardest-hit would be already financially strapped cities and counties, with cuts nearly wiping out funds for hiring police officers under a President Clinton-era community anti-crime program. Funding also would be reduced to neighbourhood improvements and social programs, such as those serving meals to seniors and paying for projects designed to prevent beach pollution. One of the biggest hits would be to the EPA, whose aggressive efforts under the Obama administration to regulate industry carbon emissions have been attacked by Republicans. The agency's $10-billion budget would be slashed by $1.6 billion. Democrats panned the proposed cuts. "Maybe they think eliminating important government services is a worthwhile thing to do, but I don't think that's where the American people are," said Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills). Republicans won the House majority by campaigning against government spending, promising to rein in deficits and vowing to reduce the nation's debt. Lawmakers risk retribution from conservative voters and tea party activists if they fail to deliver. Many conservatives want still more cuts. "I'm not big on not keeping our word," said Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas). In previewing the 70 proposed cuts, Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky.), chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, said more reductions would come when the full bill was unveiled Thursday. "Never before has Congress undertaken a task of this magnitude," said Rogers, saying the cuts would touch every congressional district in the nation. By positioning the cuts against Obama's proposed fiscal 2011 budget, which was never enacted, the GOP claimed reductions of $74 billion. But measured against the actual levels of spending, which in many cases are lower than in the budget proposed by the White House, the cuts amount to about $35 billion. Some areas the GOP promotes as reductions actually represent no change from Obama's 2011 plan and in some cases actually constitute spending increases. For example, Republicans targeted the FBI for a $74-million cut from Obama's proposal, but the GOP plan would actually boost existing spending levels. The Wilderness Society's Alan Rowsome said the proposed cut to a program that helps buy land for parks, forests and wildlife refuges would take funding back to the final year of the George W. Bush administration. Tom Cochran, chief executive officer of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, was already at work mobilizing local officials to fight cuts. "It's going take every one of us, not writing letters but getting in people's faces showing what it means for their constituents," he said.

Conservatives flex muscle in House

Conservative Republicans made a clear show of strength Tuesday just ahead of a major battle over fiscal 2011 appropriations by forcing House leaders to abruptly pull a trade bill from the schedule.
Though it has largely flown below the political radar, the measure to aid workers whose jobs or wages are harmed by imports was to have been one of the more significant bills to come before the House this year and the first to test the unity of the Republican conference, which is among the largest and most conservative in its history. That Republican leaders were unable to rally support for the bill signaled trouble ahead for the new House majority in reaching consensus on upcoming spending and budget matters as conservatives push for immediate spending cuts that go far beyond anything that Senate Democrats or President Obama might abide. Halting progress on the bill was not the only victory House conservatives captured Tuesday. At a pen-and-pad session with reporters, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., also signaled support for inserting language into a fiscal 2011 spending bill that would prohibit funding for last year’s health care overhaul (PL 111-148, PL 111-152). “I expect to see, one way or the other, the product coming out of the House to speak to that and to preclude any funding to be used for that,” Cantor said, referring to the health care overhaul and in an apparent bow to pressure from Republican conservatives. The trade legislation would extend Trade Adjustment Assistance programs (TAA) that expire Feb. 13, along with specific tariff reductions. The assistance programs provide aide and training to workers who lose their jobs or see their hours or wages reduced due to increased imports. While the TAA program has traditionally received a level of bipartisan support, the conservative Republican Study Committee, representing about two-thirds of the GOP conference, outlined several concerns in its legislative bulletin Tuesday morning, stressing that conservatives had voted to eliminate the program in the past. The RSC noted that the program was expanded as part of the 2009 economic stimulus law (PL 111-5) and argued that it picks “winners and losers” by singling out workers affected by increased imports for “extra generous treatment” by the government. The group called the program duplicative, overly expensive and ineffective. Trade adjustment benefits have long been used as a way to build support for free-trade agreements. The RSC argues that recent TAA extensions have been enacted as part of an implicit agreement that stalled trade pacts with South Korea, Colombia and Panama would be advanced; so far, none of those agreements has won congressional approval. Many Republicans, under pressure from conservative activists, remain reluctant to advance TAA without a commitment from the administration to send all three pending trade deals to Congress for approval — not just the deal with South Korea. The cancellation of Tuesday’s vote left the bill’s prospects unclear. Brad Dayspring, Cantor’s spokesman, said Republicans believed it was necessary “to have a further discussion about the legislation.” But Dayspring declined to say whether the bill would be brought to the floor with enough time to send it to the Senate before the TAA benefits expire at week’s end. Speaking for Democrats who consider the bill to be must-pass legislation, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said early Tuesday that he hoped to clear the bill by Thursday. Later in the day, a Senate Democratic leadership aide said that the Senate could “try to move something via consent on Thursday” even if the House doesn’t act by then. The aide added that an agreement with the House was “still possible” by that time. Cantor’s pledge to allow conservatives to offer an amendment addressing health care to the upcoming bill to fund the government through the rest of the fiscal year did not completely satisfy all RSC members. Many prefer it to be part of the bill. But Cantor expects any language dealing with health care probably to be added to the spending bill as a floor amendment, his aides said. Cantor has consistently promised to allow lawmakers to offer amendments to the bill that would make further spending reductions, but his comments Tuesday suggested that at least a health care amendment could win the support of a majority in the House. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, a member of the RSC, welcomed Cantor’s commitment but is among those who would prefer that health care language be included in the spending bill that Republican leaders bring to the floor. King noted that an amendment to add language to bar funding of the health care overhaul (PL 111-148, PL 111-152) is more likely to face procedural obstacles if it is an amendment. Republican leaders are expected to bring to the floor next week the bill funding the government for the remaining seven months of the fiscal year. The current stopgap spending bill (PL 111-322) is scheduled to expire March 4. Egged on by their large freshman class, GOP leaders have vowed to try every route available to repeal or “de-fund” the health care law. But the Democratic Senate will probably counter them at every turn. On Jan. 19, the House voted 245-189 to pass a repeal (HR 2) of the health care overhaul. Every Republican voted in favor of the repeal, while only three Democrats did so. In the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., offered a health care repeal amendment to pending legislation (S 223) to reauthorize Federal Aviation Administration programs. That amendment failed, 47-51, on a party-line vote Feb. 2. Although House appropriators are still working out the specifics of their upcoming spending bill, Republican leaders have signaled that it would cut $41 billion from current non-security spending levels and $32 billion overall.
Sam Goldfarb and Joseph J. Schatz write for CQ. Frances Symes and Brian Friel contributed to this story.

Democrats Retreat to Beef Up Agenda

Senate Democrats convening for their annual retreat are hoping to put some meat on a sparse floor agenda and polish their messaging on the economy.
The trip to Charlottesville, Va., comes as the party is struggling to resolve splits within the caucus over when, where and how deeply to cut spending to shrink the $1.5 trillion deficit.
And while Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has promised to make the Senate’s agenda all about jobs, there are few bills of consequence ready to move to the floor, Democratic aides acknowledged.
A senior Democratic aide said the sparse agenda is largely due to the light early Senate schedule — including taking weeks off in January and only organizing committees last week — as well as the new bipartisan agreement to let the committee process work.
“In the new era of gentlemen’s agreements ... there’s going to be less dreaming up bills on the fly” and taking bills directly to the floor, the aide said.
Senate Democrats also wanted to wait for the president’s State of the Union address before setting out their agenda, a senior leadership aide said.
“We are focusing on the specific proposals we will push in the Senate to help create jobs and stretch middle-class paychecks,” Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said. “The president gave us a framework in the State of the Union, and we are filling in the details.”
But there are also at least as many ideas of what should be on that jobs agenda as there are Democratic Senators, and they all will be lobbying each other over the three-day confab at the Boar’s Head Inn resort.
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) is pushing for bold new measures to revive the housing market, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) will be talking up highway and water bills, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) hopes to resolve liability issues for oil drillers in the Gulf of Mexico, and others are pushing for broader legislation on energy, immigration and tax reform.
But the overarching question for party leaders is how to deal with the deficit and navigate competing demands from moderate Democrats for austerity and liberals who are rallying to protect entitlement and domestic spending programs from deep cuts.
The retreat agenda, according to Democratic aides, started with a welcome from Reid and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), as well as an overview of lessons learned from the 2010 elections and the challenges faced by the party.
Today, Democrats are expected to hear presentations on a message strategy. There will also be presentations on jobs, the economy and fiscal strategy, including appearances by White House economists Austan Goolsbee and Gene Sperling.
Thursday’s agenda will include a presentation on “going on offense” and finish with a review and next steps.
Moderate lawmakers, meanwhile, plan to push their colleagues hard during the retreat to get behind serious deficit reduction.
“If you’re going to vote on the debt ceiling ... you better have a plan in place to get your fiscal house in order,” Sen. Joe Manchin said at a bipartisan press conference Tuesday backing new authority for the president to get up-or-down votes on packages of spending cuts.
The West Virginia Democrat said he’s looking forward to talking to his colleagues at the summit about what he’s hearing back in his state — with fiscal responsibility at the top.
Sen. Mark Pryor said he expects the retreat will be a chance for Democrats to hash out a way forward on the deficit.
The Arkansas Democrat is one of a sizable bipartisan group interested in pushing something akin to last year’s presidential deficit commission, which would cut the deficit by $4 trillion over the coming decade and trim Social Security, Medicare, tax breaks and a host of other programs.
“It’s going to be very hard; it’s not a pleasant subject,” he said. But “the debt commission gave us a very good blueprint to follow.”
Pryor, like Manchin, also pointed to the coming debt limit increase as a focus point for getting a deal and said he hopes Democratic leaders and the White House ultimately get behind a plan.
“It’s a time for presidential leadership,” he said.
But liberals are pushing back, with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) leading the charge against cutting Social Security, a sentiment shared by Reid.
Sanders has argued that Social Security can pay current benefits until 2037 and hasn’t contributed a dime to the deficit, and he said he wants items such as an increase in the retirement age off the table.
Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who has opposed Social Security cuts, said the retreat will help separate “the wheat from the chaff” on the various proposals for dealing with the deficit.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) are leading the negotiations on a bipartisan deal with Senate Republicans to bring the fiscal commission recommendations to the Senate floor.
“We’re going to have a long discussion about that,” Landrieu said, adding that the retreat will give Democrats a rare chance to have some extended time together, instead of the fleeting conversations they tend to have in the Capitol.
Sen. Mark Udall said he hopes to discuss energy, immigration and the deficit, adding that those three issues are closely tied to job creation and will be critical for Democrats.
“We are going to talk substantive policy concerns, and of course, we’ll talk about our caucus, discuss how we can effectively work together — that wouldn’t surprise anybody,” the Colorado Democrat said, adding they will also discuss how to best communicate their message to the public.
But it won’t all be serious.
“We’ll have a little fun, we’ll be off site, people will be able to let their hair down. That’s always a good thing to do,” Udall said.
Republicans, meanwhile, poked fun Tuesday at the Democrats’ choice of location. The National Republican Senatorial Committee issued a release highlighting the fact that the retreat was being held at the posh resort instead of a location in Washington, D.C.
Sen. Chuck Grassley also mocked their light agenda.
“Do they have a jobs agenda?” the Iowa Republican asked. “Tell me what it is.”
“They’re going to come back from Charlottesville and they’ll have a ‘jobs agenda’ because they know that’s what people want. But they’ll all come back a little more fiscally conservative,” he predicted.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

New START Treaty Entry Into Force

Ryan calls for $32 billion in cuts

Paul M. Krawzak writes for CQ
In their pre-election “Pledge to America,” House GOP leaders said they would save at least $100 billion, which they say was based on the president’s request of $478 billion in fiscal 2011 non-security spending. GOP staff said the new budget allocation would cut non-security spending to 2008 levels for the remaining seven months of the fiscal year. Those cuts would amount to $58 billion in reductions over the next seven months, compared to the president’s request for the same time frame, they said. Overall, the allocation would cut combined security and non-security discretionary spending by $74 billion below Obama’s fiscal 2011 request. Conservative House Republicans have pressed leaders to cut a full $100 billion in fiscal 2011. But a GOP leadership aide said that with five months of the fiscal year gone by the time the stopgap expires, implementing the cuts only for the remainder of the year was the “fairest way” to craft the allocation. “You’re not going to achieve $100 billion over part of a year,” he said. In order to cut $100 billion before the fiscal year ends Sept. 30, appropriators would have to make even deeper cuts than the new allocation calls for, reducing the spending rate for the remaining seven months of the year below 2008 levels. Later on Thursday afternoon, House appropriators released their spending allocations, known as 302(b)s, which divvy up the total amount of money allowed under Ryan’s cap among the 12 Appropriations subcommittees. With the House steaming toward deep cuts, several Senate Democrats have said they would likely rebuff the kind of scaling back envisioned by House conservatives. Still, the No. 2 Senate Democrat said he expects lawmakers to agree to some funding reductions in the months ahead. “I say it with real regret and some major concern, but I have listened to the rhetoric from across the Rotunda and considered the reality,” said Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill. “I think that we’re going to be facing some cuts before the end of the year.” Some of the proposals coming from House have been “drastic” and would be “very hurtful” to the struggling economy, Durbin said. He said that cuts would need to be made carefully, in a way that would keep the economy on track. “Let’s do it in a sensible fashion, so that we don’t kill the recovery and we don’t stop the basic services of government,” said Durbin, who also serves as the chairman of the Financial Services Appropriations Subcommittee. Durbin is particularly worried about maintaining the strength of agencies that protect consumers, such as the Securities and Exchange Commission. If Durbin and his new House counterpart, Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., the chairwoman of the House Financial Services Appropriations Subcommittee, are able to work together on seeking ways to reduce spending, they would come up with cuts that would do less harm, according to Durbin. “They would be painful but they would be sensible, if we are given some time and some goals to meet,” Durbin said. Ryan’s allocation limits non-security spending to $420 billion for the current fiscal year, down $44 billion from $464 billion that was spent in fiscal 2010. Not all programs would be cut under Ryan’s budget limits. Security spending would rise to $635 billion in fiscal 2011, up from $627 billion last year. That is $16 billion less than proposed in Obama’s fiscal 2011 budget.
Because Congress did not pass any of the fiscal 2011 appropriations bills, the government is being funded by a stopgap measure. That law provides, over a year, a total of $1.087 trillion in discretionary spending and $461 billion for non-security spending. Ryan’s targets would reduce non-security spending by more than $40 billion from current stopgap funding levels and up security spending slightly, for net savings of $32 billion. The Budget chairman was given the authority to set the budget allocation as part of a GOP-authored House rule, which instructs him to scale back non-security spending to fiscal 2008 levels or less in the absence of a congressional budget resolution. Under the rule, Ryan, who is currently in Wisconsin, must publish the allocations in the Congressional Record for them to take force. He plans to do so when the House returns to session next week. Though Ryan divided the allocation, known as a 302(a), into non-security and security portions in Thursday’s release, when the allocation is published in the Congressional Record it will appear as a single total discretionary spending number. The discretionary total represents an even larger reduction from the $1.121 trillion that House Democrats had planned to spend in fiscal 2011. Although House Democratic leaders chose not to bring forward a fiscal 2011 budget resolution, the chamber passed a deeming resolution that capped discretionary spending at that level. That resolution expired at the end of the last Congress. House appropriators have been awaiting the numbers, which will allow them to complete a stopgap funding vehicle that incorporates domestic spending cuts. That measure is likely to be released late next week. Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said the House will consider the stopgap the week of Feb. 14, following President Obama’s release of his fiscal 2012 budget.
House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan released a fiscal 2011 budget allocation Thursday that would cap spending at $1.055 trillion and slice $32 billion from current government spending levels this year. The eagerly awaited numbers are sure to touch off a battle between House Republicans and Democrats in both chambers over where, how quickly and how much to cut spending. The allocation provides House GOP appropriators with the final target they need to write a stopgap funding measure to pay for the last seven months of fiscal 2011 after a continuing resolution (PL 111-322) expires March 4. The allocation by Ryan, R-Wis., represents a $58 billion reduction below President Obama’s proposed fiscal 2011 budget request of $478 billion for non-security programs. As defined by GOP leaders, non-security spending includes all discretionary spending not for defense, homeland security, veterans and military construction. The reduced budget allocation follows a House GOP campaign promise to scale back non-security spending to the levels in place in fiscal 2008 — $378 billion — before Congress plowed hundreds of billions of dollars into a bailout of the financial services sector and into stimulating the economy following the financial collapse.

Leahy: Aid to Egypt frozen for now

The Senate appropriator responsible for divvying up foreign aid said Thursday that he intends to freeze aid to Egypt until the current unrest in the country subsides.“The fact of the matter is, there’s not going to be further foreign aid to Egypt until this gets settled,” Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., said in an interview. “Certainly I do not intend to bring it through my committee.” That is the toughest language yet from Leahy, who has previously said only that he would consider withholding the huge sums of aid the United States provides Egypt annually. Leahy told MSNBC on Wednesday that the aid “pipeline would be turned off” if Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak does not step down. But on Thursday, he said that because of the growing chaos since protests first began more than a week ago, a temporary cut-off in funding will occur if the country does not stabilize in the next month. The current government funding law (PL 111-322) is set to expire March 4. The Senate and House are now drafting an appropriations bill to fund the government for the rest of 2011.
In his fiscal 2011 budget request, President Obama asked for more than $1.5 billion in aid to Egypt, $1.3 billion of which is military financing. Leahy lauded the role that Egypt’s military has played so far. He said he has been monitoring the violence that exploded on the streets of Cairo in the past two days and “one of the things I appreciate is the military have held back, and that’s to their credit.” But he still maintained that withholding aid was necessary at the moment. And he warned that if there is evidence that the military is violating human rights using equipment funded by the United States, their assistance “would be cut off immediately,” per a U.S. law that Leahy himself drafted. Leahy declined to say what sort of steps Egypt needed to take before he would reinstate the funding; reiterating only that no Egyptian aid “is going through my committee until this is resolved.” At least one senator warned against such a move. Speaking on the Senate floor, South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham called on his colleagues to “consider the consequences of such an action. Give the Egyptian people a chance to work this out.” The Republican-led House Appropriations Committee on Thursday released budget target numbers for the rest of the fiscal year, including a $47 billion target for the State Department and foreign aid budget. That represents a major cut compared with the president’s overall request of $56.8 billion. Republicans are not expected to decide how that budget will be divided up, including money for Egypt, until early next week. Texas Republican Kay Granger, Leahy’s counterpart on the House Appropriations Committee, is standing by her Monday statement in which she urged caution when discussing Egypt aid. “It is critical that we are deliberate about the actions we take,” she said. The Senate also approved a resolution by unanimous consent on Thursday night that calls on Mubarak to transfer power and help create a caretaker government in advance of Egypt’s presidential elections. Mubarak, who has been in office for the last 30 years, has announced he will not run for re-election but has refused to step down. Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., co-sponsored the resolution. According to Kerry, the final language of the resolution, which was hashed out on the Senate floor after the final votes of the night, does not explicitly ask Mubarak to stand down. He could remain a part of the transition government. “It depends on what they all agree to,” Kerry said. “We want them to make that kind of choice and not narrow the options here,” Kerry added. “But the key here is to respect people’s rights, end the violence.” McCain said on the floor that the resolution was a signal of where the chamber stands on the issue. “We are sending a message from the United States Senate that I’m sure the overwhelming majority of my colleagues will agree with.” This is a “seminal moment in the history of the Middle East and the world,” he said.

Reagan, the anti-Reaganite; 100 years after his birth, Republicans clearly still venerate his memory, but they have moved so far to the right that his actual record wouldn’t live up to their ideals

February 6 2011
A Ronald Reagan boomlet is sweeping the nation, thanks in no small part to an army of conservative admirers who have never missed a chance to buff his image – and then use it for their own ends. Today Reagan worshippers are celebrating the centennial of his birthday. Fittingly, Californians were first off the mark to celebrate their local hero: On Jan. 1, the Reagan Presidential Foundation and Jelly Belly, the jelly bean company that filled candy dishes at the Reagan White House, sponsored the first-ever Rose Parade float memorializing a president. Admirers in Nevada are trying to name a state peak Mount Reagan this year. In Illinois, his birthplace, the state GOP held a fundraiser Saturday; presidential hopefuls Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and John R. Bolton were scheduled to attend. Meanwhile, Ron Reagan has just released a book exploring his dad’s impact: “My Father at 100.” In this tsunami of adoration, Reagan is touted as the model of Republican, and even “tea party,” virtue. He’s the anti-Bush for those teed off at George W., who allegedly corrupted the GOP by engaging in enormous deficit spending and increasing the size of government, with programs such as the prescription drug benefit and No Child Left Behind. What’s more, invoking Reagan’s name has become conservative shorthand for denouncing President Barack Obama, as well as a rhetorical gambit in the effort to revive his potent coalition of economic, social and national security conservatives. He is a constant point of GOP reference. In her new book, Sarah Palin announces that America’s leaders must return to the idea of America “as the shining city on a hill that Ronald Reagan believed it is.” (She uses his name more than 30 times in the text.) Sen. Jim DeMint said in December that Palin had “done more for the Republican Party than anyone since Ronald Reagan.” Gingrich piously bows to Reagan’s economic prowess in his latest tract: “Just as Reagan ushered in a 25-year economic boom, with the right policies we could launch a new boom lasting till 2035.” With Republicans lining up to claim his mantle, the GOP credo for 2012 seems to be WWRD – what would Reagan do? But Reagan’s acolytes might be misunderstanding the master’s record. Is the Reagan who’s being touted as a paragon of conservative rectitude the Reagan of reality? Was Reagan an unflinching, true-blue conservative, perfect in every way? Or was he, in fact, something else – a pragmatic realist in both foreign and domestic policy and a leader, like most presidents, who committed mistakes and errors in judgment that can’t be wished away? Certainly Reagan faithfully adhered to GOP liturgy by bashing big government and spending. “A government bureau,” he once declared, “is the nearest thing to eternal life we will ever see on this Earth.” When it came to foreign affairs, he took the hardest of hard lines in a 1983 speech that dubbed the Soviet Union an “evil empire.” But in assessing any president, it’s more illuminating to focus on what he did rather than the bombast delivered to the rubber-chicken-and-mashed-potato circuit. Early in his political career, as governor of California, Reagan displayed his pragmatic side, signing an abortion bill and agreeing to a $1 billion state tax hike. Similarly, as president, he paid lip service to ending abortion but never did anything about it, and he worked with congressional Democrats on a massive tax hike in 1982, thereby averting the worst effects of the supply-side deficit spending he had endorsed when he entered office the year before. Moreover, Reagan, the putative foe of big government, accumulated hundreds of billions in debt by the end of his second term. It was Democrat Bill Clinton who cleaned up the mess, leaving a budget surplus behind in 2000. Nor did the Great Communicator display great fidelity to hard-line conservative principles when it came to foreign policy, especially in dealing with the Soviet Union. Instead, it was his conciliatory side that came to the fore. Even in his “evil empire” speech, for example, he crossed out typed text and inserted by hand, “This does not mean we should isolate ourselves and refuse to seek an understanding with them. I intend to do everything I can to persuade them of our peaceful intent.” Reagan placed a premium on alliances with Western Europe and tried to keep American troops out of foreign combat, including withdrawing them from Lebanon in 1983. He heeded his moderate advisors, such as James A. Baker III (his chief of staff, Treasury secretary and national security advisor) and George P. Shultz (his secretary of State), not extreme voices from the far right. When the far right did get its way, as in the Iran-Contra affair, a debacle that almost brought down Reagan’s presidency, it’s not clear that he was cognizant of its illegal actions. Nothing ended up infuriating the right more than Reagan’s fear of the prospect of nuclear war. To the outrage of conservatives such as George F. Will, he tried to cut a deal in 1987 with Soviet leader Gorbachev in Reykjavik, Iceland, that would have abolished nuclear weapons. He went on to sign the sweeping START I arms control treaty with the Kremlin, slashing the number of intercontinental ballistic missiles and prompting leading neoconservatives such as Norman Podhoretz to denounce “the idea that communism is a spent force,” while Sens. Jesse Helms and Dan Quayle called Reagan’s support for arms control “totally irresponsible.” So much for Reagan the ideologue. In fact, history may see in Reagan a great president, just not in the mold of his current boosters. His greatness rested precisely in his readiness to abandon his conservative principles when it made sense to do so. That’s how he helped achieve the gains often ascribed to him: He delivered the knockout blow to communism by making common cause with the enemy. He protected national security by backing away from nuclear weapons. Had he listened to his apoplectic right-wing critics, the Soviet empire would never have collapsed and the Cold War would not have ended. If Reagan could see how his disciples picture him, he might ask, as he did when he titled his 1965 autobiography, “Where’s the rest of me?” In short, a bogus myth about Reagan has become far more precious to today’s GOP than his actual record. Despite venerating Reagan, the party has moved to the right of him, suggesting that the federal government should be kneecapped and that a unilateralist, militaristic foreign policy would fulfill Regan’s legacy. Reagan, however, didn’t demonize his enemies, snub allies or try to destroy the federal government. Reagan, in other words, couldn’t be counted among contemporary Reaganites. As Obama shrewdly noted during the 2008 primary, Reagan was a transformative president. He rallied America from despair by appealing to its best, not its worst, instincts. Reagan would surely have approved both the budget deal with the Republican Party and the New START treaty with Russia that Obama pushed through and signed at the end of 2010. It may well be that Obama is much closer to the Gipper’s true spirit than those seeking to burnish his posthumous reputation. Jacob Heilbrunn, a senior editor at the National Interest, is the author of “They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons.” He wrote this for the Los Angeles Times.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Democrats Force Votes With Eye on Campaigns

House Democrats have launched a floor strategy aimed at forcing freshman Republicans to take tough votes on politically sensitive topics, mirroring a tactic that the GOP deployed when it was in the minority. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) is consulting with her leadership team, including Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.), on how to use a procedural tool known as a motion to recommit to force Republicans to take politically challenging votes. Under House rules, the minority party is allowed to offer one motion to recommit, which functions much like an amendment, for each piece of legislation as the last step before final passage. With their return to the minority, Pelosi and her leadership team are trying to be savvier about using the motions to put Republicans on the politically unpopular side of issues that Democrats want to champion ahead of the next election.  So far, Democrats have offered four such motions this Congress: a proposal to require Members to publicly disclose whether they will accept government health insurance, a measure barring a health care repeal bill from taking effect unless a majority of lawmakers forfeit their government-sponsored health insurance, a proposal to bar companies that outsource jobs from obtaining government contracts and a proposal to require disclosure of foreign campaign contributors.  The motions “will build thematics that we will keep coming back to,” a Democratic campaign official said. The campaign official said Democrats’ proposals are aimed at highlighting what they call the hypocrisy of Republican lawmakers accepting taxpayer-funded health care while campaigning to repeal the health care law. This “became part of building the narrative” that Democrats are going to push on the health care front. Israel acknowledged that Democrats are attempting to mimic the strategy that Republicans used when they were in the minority for the past four years. Republican leaders transformed the use of the motion to recommit into a tool that frequently forced vulnerable Democrats into difficult votes. Even Democrats acknowledge that they didn’t use the tool as effectively the last time they were in the minority. “The Republican playbook when they were in the minority had three chapters: Chapter 1, go on offense; Chapter 2, just say no; and Chapter 3, don’t lift a finger to help,” Israel said. The only chapter in their playbook that I will use is Chapter 1. We will be aggressive, and we will be on offense.” Pelosi’s office has been running the effort to craft the motions, in informal consultation with members of the Caucus, particularly with those whom she views as having strong messaging skills. Rep. Robert Andrews said that Pelosi “has asked a number of Members to make recommendations on motions to recommit” and that he is among those she has reached out to. “And then she assesses what she thinks is best for the Caucus, and she makes the decision,” the New Jersey Democrat said. When deciding what motion to offer, Andrews said, Democrats “think about whether the motion advances a substantive position” that they support. “Sure there’s a political assessment,” he said. “But we intend to pursue substantive points with which we agree. For example, we don’t think you should be able to repeal health care for your constituents and keep it for yourself.” After no Republicans voted Jan. 19 for the Democratic motion to recommit that would have required a majority of Members to waive their government health benefits for the health care repeal to take effect, the DCCC sent an e-mail blast to local media in the districts of GOP freshmen.  “It’s a clear opportunity to demonstrate the clear differences between Democrats and Republicans, and we will continue to use them for that,” Pelosi spokesman Nadeam Elshami said. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, who is heading the DCCC’s recruitment efforts this cycle, said the motion to recommit votes would help Democrats’ campaign messaging. “Everyone is held accountable for these votes,” the Pennsylvania lawmaker said, noting that many of the 84 Republican freshmen came to Congress without a voting record. “This is their chance to demonstrate to their voters who they stand up for: Will they stand up for their voters or stand up for their leadership only?” Schwartz said. But Republicans are confident that Democrats’ efforts will have little, if any, electoral effects. “We didn’t win a single race because of an MTR last year,” a House GOP aide said.
Still, Republicans acknowledge that the most effective way to counter the Democratic assault is to get all of their Members to vote “no.” And they’ve been successful to date, with one exception. Rep. Walter Jones Jr. (N.C.) voted Wednesday in favor of Democrats’ motion to recommit on a Republican bill ending public funding of presidential campaigns. Republicans point out that Democrats, meanwhile, have had at least one member of their Caucus vote against three of their four motions to recommit, including Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.), who voted against Democrats’ motion on the health care repeal bill. Still, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who chaired the DCCC during the past two campaign cycles and is now the ranking member of the Budget Committee, said Democrats would continue to craft motions to recommit that “boil it down to a key issue” that Democrats think works in their favor. The Maryland Democrat said freshmen, in particular, could pay a price. “They’re walking in lock step with their leadership, straight party line,” he said. “Let’s just see how their constituents take to it.”

Difficult tests ahead for Senate truce

The agreement reached last week by Senate leaders to ease procedural brinkmanship and partisan gridlock in an institution that has come to be defined by delay will be tested in coming weeks, as the chamber prepares to confront several divisive issues.
Under the deal reached Jan. 27 by Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Republicans promised to resist the temptation to block motions to bring up legislation on the Senate floor in return for a Democratic pledge to allow the minority to offer more amendments to legislation. Sharp ideological divisions between the parties on issues such as health care and federal spending are certain to make it difficult for the two leaders to honor their commitment. The “gentlemen’s agreement” does little to change the usual inclination of the majority to avoid votes on politically dangerous amendments, particularly because 23 Democratic caucus seats are up for re-election in 2012. The pact also does not dampen Republican efforts to oppose President Obama’s agenda. Both tendencies will only intensify as the upcoming presidential and congressional elections edge closer. “This is an unusual and exceptional agreement, and its viability is invariably in question,” said Steven S. Smith, a political scientist at Washington University in St. Louis. “It’s a commitment that these guys are going to have a hard time living up to.” The accord included several additional changes to Senate procedures, but McConnell’s pledge to avoid filibusters of motions to proceed to legislation and Reid’s promise in return to allow an open amendment process could have the most significant short-term effect on how the chamber operates, experts said. The agreement is likely to allow legislation to be taken up on the Senate floor more quickly and, conversely, draw out the time for debate as more amendments are offered and voted on. Reid already has promised a “good old-fashioned Senate debate” on the first bill set for floor action, a measure (S 223) to renew the Federal Aviation Administration’s programs for the first time since 2007, legislation that Reid says will create jobs.
Reverting to Form?
In theory, the agreement could return the Senate to the way it operated in the 1980s, when senators of both parties often offered hundreds of amendments, debated them and ultimately exercised self-restraint by settling on a smaller list for votes in an effort to wrap up consideration of a piece of legislation, said Sarah Binder, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a political science professor at George Washington University. Over the last three decades, however, “sheer partisanship and ideological differences have emerged,” and those forces make it hard to envision how the Senate can revert to more free-wheeling discourse, Binder said. Already, the lack of support among Democrats for more substantial rule changes indicates some concern among the majority that the upcoming elections could send Democrats into the minority in 2013, Binder added. Reluctance for more change also is driven by a recognition that Republican control of the House is likely to stop some Democratic legislative priorities, making individual senators loath to give up any of their procedural prerogatives. “Senators of both political parties value the rights and privileges they have under the rules,” Binder said. Certainly, history suggests, comity is hard to sustain. At the start of the last Congress in 2009, Reid was careful not to resort to procedure known as “filling the tree” to block amendments. Because of his initial restraint, the Senate debated and voted on many amendments during the first few months of 2009. At the time, McConnell praised Reid’s flexibility in allowing Republican amendments. “I certainly commend him for the way in which we have operated this year,” McConnell said in a floor speech that March. But by the end of the last Congress, such exchanges of compliments were virtually nonexistent, and Republicans repeatedly complained of being shut out of legislative action. Republicans estimated that over Reid’s four-year tenure as majority leader, he had filled the tree, effectively blocking Republican amendments, 44 times., Democrats complained just as vociferously that Republicans were obstructing Senate business by objecting to motions to proceed to legislation. The Senate voted 26 times in the last Congress to try to overcome such filibusters, Democrats estimated. An early test of the new agreement will be whether Reid allows a vote on the House-passed repeal (HR 2) of the 2010 health care overhaul (PL 111-148, PL 111-152), which McConnell is insisting that the Senate take up. Another trial will come when the Senate takes up a measure to increase the nation’s statutory debt limit. Some Republicans have threatened to block that bill if they are unable to attach provisions aimed at cutting government spending. An open amendment process could drag out debate on a debt limit increase for weeks, and expose Reid to pressure from the Obama administration to shut down debate and pass the bill to avoid a government default on its obligations.
Election Pressure
As the 2012 elections draw closer, pressure also will grow on both parties to engage in procedural fights in the Senate. Conservative activists will urge Republicans to block Democratic legislation, while liberal activists will pressure Democrats to push measures opposed by most Republicans. “The political fundamentals here have not changed,” Smith said. “The electorate is fairly polarized, and there’s an incentive for most Republicans and Democrats to appeal to the activists on each side.” Another reality is that Senate rules empower each senator to object to legislation. This means that the agreement between Reid and McConnell does not necessarily control every senator. Rank-and-file Republicans could still force votes on motions to proceed to bills, and Democratic senators vulnerable to defeat at the polls could pressure Reid to block votes on amendments that could damage their re-election chances. Another rules change, a standing order aimed at ending “secret holds” by forcing senators to publicly announce their objections to Senate consideration of legislation or nominations, also will be put to the test. Senators alert party leaders to their objections to legislation and nominations by placing behind-the-scenes holds on such measures. The rules change (S Res 28), adopted 92-4 on Jan. 27, requires disclosure of the identity of the objecting senator within two days after the senator notifies his or her party leader of an intent to place a hold. This significantly reduces the six days that had to pass after a hold was announced on the floor. Under the new rule, if a senator does not step forward publicly, the hold would be attributed to that member’s party leader or whoever else objected on behalf of the senator on the floor. Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., pushed the change after a previous attempt to limit secret holds in 2007 proved ineffective. Alert to potential loopholes in the new standing order, McCaskill issued a warning on the floor. “If anyone thinks they can figure out a way around this, all of us who have worked on this are not going to give up,” she said Jan. 27.

Obama treads lightly on Egypt carefully calls for change and end to violence

The Washington Times
He won a Nobel Peace Prize and has made outreach to the world's Muslims a key part of his agenda, but President Obama finds himself with little choice but to referee from the sidelines as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's government teeters in the face of widespread unrest. Even as the White House on Monday stepped up public calls for change that reflects the will of the people, strategic concerns have dictated caution as U.S. officials struggle to assess the longtime ruler's hold on power as well as possible replacements to his regime. It's a delicate needle to thread, though, for a president who traveled to the heart of Egypt and plugged universal rights, but analysts say Mr. Obama doesn't have many options. "I don't see what else they can or should do," said Joshua Muravchik, a fellow at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. "I think it's very important for us to talk about elections — to go beyond that and say Mubarak should step aside I think is just sticking our thumb in it too far." Administration officials have cautiously stepped up their rhetoric over the past week, with the message evolving from Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.'s initial comments that Mr. Mubarak is not a dictator to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's calls on Sunday for an "orderly transition" that meets the democratic needs of the Egyptian people. Hours after the White House said it was reviewing about $1.3 billion in annual aid to Egypt in light of the crackdown, Mr. Obama weighed in Friday evening with a carefully worded statement in which he urged Mr. Mubarak's government to reverse its suspension of Internet and cell phone access and "refrain from any violence against peaceful protesters." He pledged U.S. support for human rights sought by protesters while cautioning them to forgo violence. The Monday briefing by White House press secretary Robert Gibbs underscored the administration's tricky balance. Mr. Gibbs said the "way Egypt looks and operates must change," yet he was pointedly vague in what that change would look like. Mr. Gibbs added that, for Mr. Mubarak, it's "not about appointments," but actions — a not-so-veiled hint that Mr. Mubarak's appointment of a vice president and reshuffling of his government was not enough to satisfy U.S. officials. Still, Mr. Gibbs stressed that U.S. officials are not "picking between those on the streets and those in the government," and he shrugged off questions about whether Mr. Mubarak should step down. "That is for the people of Egypt to decide and determine," he said. The State Department announced that it has dispatched Frank Wisner, a former U.S. ambassador to Egypt, as a special envoy to help press Mr. Mubarak's government to embrace political reforms. Spokesman P.J. Crowley also said the U.S. government evacuated 1,200 citizens on nine flights Monday; six additional flights are planned for Tuesday. Some lawmakers on Capitol Hill have been more outspoken. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican, this weekend called for Mr. Mubarak to schedule elections, a position that was endorsed by liberal Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich, Ohio Democrat. Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida Democrat, went a step further Monday, saying Mr. Mubarak must assure Egyptians that he will not participate in the elections. In his 2009 speech at Cairo University, Mr. Obama signaled a break with the "freedom agenda" of predecessor George W. Bush, which argued that the aggressive promotion of democracy around the world benefited the United States strategically as well. Mr. Obama told the Cairo audience that "no system of government can or should be imposed by one nation" on another. The president said governments must reflect the will of their people, but he notably left out any mention or criticism of Mr. Mubarak's regime, which is seen as a key U.S. ally on issues involving Iran and the Middle East peace process. Mr. Obama "made his No. 1 foreign policy priority improving relations with the Muslim world, and he believed that he had a special insight into how that might be accomplished, and part of that was to stop pressing them to democratize," Mr. Muravchik said. "That certainly puts some pressure on him." He added: "It also seems that the people in the Middle East are facing very profound problems that really don't have a heck of a lot to do with whether America is deferential toward them or not." While struggling to keep abreast of the crisis in Cairo, the White House insists that recent events have not interfered with Mr. Obama's domestic agenda, including his emphasis on economic innovation and the need to build up the job market. But the events in the Middle East have been an unwanted distraction as Mr. Obama tries to build on the momentum of last week's State of the Union address and a bump in the polls as his re-election effort gears up for 2012.
The Washington Times, LLC.