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April 23, 2014

Posts in "President Obama"

April 21, 2014

President Pressured to Use Pen for LGBT Workers

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

It could be dubbed the federal contractor trifecta.

Employees at businesses that do a lot of work for the government began this election year hoping to benefit in three distinct ways from President Barack Obama’s vow to act on his own whenever Congress deadlocked on his legislative priorities.

Two of those expectations have now been met. In January he ordered contractors to start paying their blue-collar laborers at least $10.10 an hour, realizing his proposal to raise the $7.25 federal minimum wage to that amount was doomed. And this month he declared that workers on federal contracts must be free to discuss their salaries, so women may more easily expose pay inequities at those companies while legislation that could close the wage gender gap nationwide languishes.

Now, the pressure will only intensify for Obama to make good in the third area. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees being paid under federal contracts want to benefit from the same sort of executive order that is aiding female and low-wage workers. And their advocacy groups, along with allies on the Hill, are signaling they’re tired of waiting for the president to apply his “we can’t wait” mantra to their cause.

The issue is job bias against LGBT people. While steady advances continue in the states for same-sex marriage — still the paramount political cause of the gay community — outlawing employment discrimination has become the principal gay rights cause in Washington, in part because it’s unambiguously subject to federal regulation or legislation in a way that marriage equality is not.

Only 21 states have made it illegal to fire or harass someone based on sexual orientation, or to deny a raise or refuse to hire on that same basis. More than 11 million people work in the remaining 29 states for companies without policies protecting workplace civil rights for gay people, according to a recent study by UCLA Law School.

Last November, 10 Republicans joined 54 Democrats in the Senate to pass legislation that would prohibit gay job bias nationwide at businesses with more than 15 workers, with some exceptions for religious organizations. But House Republicans have no interest in putting the bill on the floor. (Known as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, it’s currently 16 votes shy of guaranteed passage, in any event.)

In short, the gay rights community sees their “ask” as a clear parallel to the minimum wage and pay parity issues. They argue Congress isn’t ready to change the situation nationally, so Obama should at least start paving the way by helping out people working for or seeking employment from government contractors. Full story

March 25, 2014

Hill’s Bipartisan Deadlock on Phone Records May Be Easing

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NSA compromise is brewing for House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., right, and ranking member Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Eight months ago, in one of its most important and fascinatingly nonpartisan votes of recent memory, the House came up just seven members short of eviscerating the government’s vast effort to keep tabs on American phone habits.

The roll call revealed a profound divide in Congress on how assertively the intelligence community should be allowed to probe into the personal lives of private citizens in the cause of thwarting terrorism. It is a split that has stymied legislative efforts to revamp the National Security Agency’s bulk data collection programs.

Until now, maybe. Senior members with jurisdiction over the surveillance efforts, in both parties and on both sides of the Hill, are signaling generalized and tentative but nonetheless clear support for the central elements of a proposed compromise that President Barack Obama previewed Tuesday and will formally unveil by week’s end.

The president, in other words, may be close to finding the congressional sweet spot on one of the most vexing problems he’s faced — an issue that surged onto Washington’s agenda after the secret phone records collection efforts were disclosed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

If Obama can seal the deal, which he’s pledged to push for by the end of June, it would almost surely rank among his most important second-term victories at the Capitol. It also would create an exception that proves the rule about the improbability of bipartisan agreement on hot-button issues in an election season. Full story

March 23, 2014

Oberweis’ Illinois Senate Bid Testing Theory That Persistence Pays Off

oberweis032114 445x291 Oberweis’ Illinois Senate Bid Testing Theory That Persistence Pays Off

(CQ Roll Call File Photo)

They don’t call him the Milk Dud for nothing, but right now, he is on a little roll.

Jim Oberweis made most of his fortune in the family business, a high-end dairy delivery service and chain of ice cream parlors in Illinois. And in the space of six years in the previous decade, he poured many gallons of his riches into five failed campaigns for high-profile positions — earning not only that enduring nickname, but also the enmity of Republican operatives and officeholders from Capitol Hill to Springfield, Ill.

Now Oberweis has launched his second act in American politics by winning two straight elections. He took an open state Senate seat in the GOP outer suburbs of Chicago in 2012, and last week he claimed the nomination to try and stop Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin from winning a fourth term.

But virtually no one expects Oberweis to extend his winning streak come November. At best, his allies concede, his caustic rhetorical approach and willingness to tap his own bank account could combine to make the fall campaign more expensive and uncomfortable for Durbin. (The Democrat, who counts President Barack Obama as his proudest mentoring achievement, remains favored in a year when the president’s sagging approval is the defining dynamic nationwide.)

And at worst, losing a sixth high-profile election could doom the 67-year-old Oberweis to live with the ridicule that comes with the label “perennial candidate,” no matter what he ends up accomplishing after returning to the state legislature.

Full story

January 29, 2014

Before Going It Alone, Obama Goes After Members

“Upbeat.” That’s the adjective being used as much as any other to describe the tone of Tuesday’s State of the Union address. Members from both parties could be forgiven for hearing it a bit differently.

The speech may well be remembered longest for its genuinely stirring finale, when President Barack Obama merged the story of a 10-times-deployed and gravely wounded Afghanistan war veteran, who was sitting in the balcony, with the country’s difficult path toward a more perfect union. “Like the America he serves, Sgt. 1st Class Cory Remsburg never gives up, and he does not quit,” Obama declared to a sustained and teary-eyed standing ovation.

But in the preceding 63 minutes, the president mixed it up plenty with the audience in the House chamber. And he made clearer than ever that he views the Capitol as a readily avoidable impediment — generating headlines about Obama pursuing a “year of action” mainly on his own authority. He also took a handful of swipes at Congress, and they were arguably aimed at least as often at the institution’s bipartisan shortcomings as at his Republican tormentors.

The japes were somewhat subtle, by the standards of today’s political discourse. And they are being overlooked, probably for a couple of reasons that have to do with the ritualized ways of the modern State of the Union:

The lawmakers themselves have become almost excessively adept at cooking up their partisan talking points hours beforehand, and repeating them verbatim with minimal regard to what they actually hear. So not all that many of them picked up on his poking one-liners — all of which were at the relative low end of the dismissive-disdainful-disparaging spectrum.

Full story

January 28, 2014

A Minimum Wage Move With Maximum Confrontational Consequences

Among the stranger phenomena of the modern State of the Union tradition is how White Houses of both parties work so hard to drain it of almost all news value before the speech actually gets delivered.

The demands of the continuous news cycle, which affords the president so many opportunities to spoon out dollops of his agenda, now easily outweigh the traditional virtue of surprise — and the old-time verity that there’s no use annoying your hosts, your opponents or your potential partners before you absolutely have to.

The trend seemed locked in place Tuesday morning, 13 hours before the national television audience was asked to start paying attention. That was when the administration revealed what was guaranteed to be among the biggest, if not the biggest, headlines out of the address: President Barack Obama is going to give many thousands of blue-collar workers a raise — on his own authority.

In other words, not only was Obama making good on his promise to make this his most assertive year yet for maneuvering around the gridlock at the Capitol, but he was getting started even before going through the formalities of seeking congressional buy-in. (Of course, he made a major push for a $9 minimum wage in his State of the Union address a year ago, and that went nowhere.) Full story

January 27, 2014

Seat Scramble for Big Speech Loses Its Crossover Appeal

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In 2011, Republicans and Democrats arranged to sit side by side at the State of the Union as a gesture of bipartisan goodwill. (Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Seems like “date night” just isn’t a thing anymore.

Three years ago, many dozens of Republicans and Democrats arranged to sit side by side at the State of the Union. The break with decades of tradition was orchestrated in hopes of persuading the country that civil discourse and bipartisan collegiality had gained renewed value in Congress after the assassination attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

The roster of cross-aisle seating arrangements remained plenty big the next year, but there was a noticeable falloff in 2013. And, unless the situation changes in the last hours before President Barack Obama arrives at the Capitol on Tuesday, spotting crossover seatmates in the House chamber looks to be a genuinely difficult task this year.

The putative tradition, like the annual House “civility retreats” more than a decade ago, looks to be fading toward oblivion. The soft ending nonetheless underscores how the bilious nature of today’s congressional culture can slowly poison even the most benignly symbolic and fleetingly telegenic gestures toward cultivating common ground.

A survey of two dozen senators, all of whom connected with senators of the other party in 2012, found only four couples volunteering plans for keeping the custom alive on Tuesday night.

Full story

January 24, 2014

At Retreat, House GOP Will Decide Best Way to Sound Retreat on the Debt

Better-than-even odds say the Great Debt Limit Debate of 2014 will be over before it really gets started, maybe by the end of this week.

House Republicans will decamp from the Capitol on Wednesday, hours after sitting on their hands through most of the State of the Union address, and will reconvene 85 miles away at a sleek golf resort on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. By the time their annual policy retreat ends two afternoons later, their leaders expect to have an answer to one of the most vexing questions they’re confronting this election year: How hard does the rank and file want to resist the next increase in federal borrowing?

The congressional calendar, combined with the vagaries of the government’s balance sheet, argue strongly against procrastinating. And this time, taking a relatively easy way out of the impending jam looks to be the way the House GOP will go. They are likely to signal that retreat at the end of their retreat.

The leaders have a few fig leaf feints in mind — one involves the Keystone XL pipeline, the other congressional pay — and it’s likely they’ll settle on a plan that allows their team at least one burst of bellicosity and a couple of hostage-taking roll calls.

But the post-shutdown Republicans do not really have the stomach for another sustained confrontation that could rattle the markets. Nor do they have the sort of tactical myopia that will lead them for very long down a course that threatens to squander their current midterm election advantage. They know their only viable option is to extend the Treasury’s borrowing authority, with no policy strings that would raise President Barack Obama’s hackles, until after the midterm elections.

And so it’s possible that the required legislation will be cleared even before Valentine’s Day. That would prevent constituent or Wall Street anxieties from welling up during the Presidents Day congressional recess. Voters can also be counted on to have minimal patience for debt limit countdown clocks competing for coverage with the Winter Olympics, another argument against waiting until the last week of the month. Full story

December 13, 2013

Obama Replaces His Hill Lobbyist With a Senate Veteran

President Barack Obama replaced his chief lobbyist on Capitol Hill today, concluding that his legislative affairs director for the past year had lost the confidence of too many congressional Democrats and made minimal inroads with the Republicans.

Katie Beirne Fallon will be the fourth person Obama has had in the job. She’s been working in the West Wing as the president’s deputy communications director only since the summer. Before that, she was a top aide to Sen. Charles. E. Schumer of New York, serving as staff director of the Senate Democratic Policy and Communications Center.

In that post, the 37-year-old Fallon won effusive praise from both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. And White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough presumably picked her because she is plugged in to the Democratic leadership on the Hill, which will play the central role in shepherding whatever low-impact legislative agenda the president pushes in 2014. Full story

December 10, 2013

Daschle World Is Back at a Zenith, 5 Years Later

For the Washington fantasists who like speculating about what might have happened in policy and politics “if only,” one of the most interesting questions at the moment is this: How would the administration be faring now if only Tom Daschle had properly paid his taxes.

Part of the answer, especially in the past week, has become this: Maybe not all that differently, because so many veterans of his old Senate staff are now packing into the West Wing.

It was five years ago Wednesday that President-elect Barack Obama announced the former majority leader would be returning to government as Health and Human Services secretary, where he would be in charge of drafting legislation overhauling the health care system and then steering it to enactment.

The choice seemed an obvious, but astute, way to boost the likelihood that the new president’s top domestic priority would move through Congress relatively smoothly and quickly, and to assure the bureaucracy would then implement the inevitably complicated changes to medical insurance rules with minimal fuss. Full story

December 9, 2013

Obama Skips Holiday Balls and Chance to Repair Congressional Relations

This time there is a rock-solid excuse, but the sense of a continuing snub is sure to linger: Most members of Congress will not have any opportunity to socialize with the president this year.

Barack and Michelle Obama were not at home Monday evening, when several hundred of their invited guests arrived for the first of the congressional holiday balls. When the festivities began, Air Force One was still en route to South Africa. After the president offers one of the eulogies for Nelson Mandela during Tuesday’s memorial service at a stadium in Johannesburg, the plane will be on its way back during the second black-tie congressional soiree — originally added to the executive mansion’s packed holiday party schedule so every senator and House member might have a shot at a few extra moments with the first couple.

Instead, for several hundred of the less-prominent members — those who aren’t in the leadership and didn’t get a dinner invite during Obama’s long-on-hype-but-short-on-results “charm offensive” this spring — 2013 will end without any presidential face time at all.

The timing of the Obamas’ absence could hardly be helped. And not one lawmaker has been heard begrudging the president’s decision to join about five dozen current heads of state, along with three of his predecessors, at the service for Mandela — who was not only an international icon of racial reconciliation and the first black president of South Africa, but also a personal hero for the president since his college days protesting apartheid.

Still, the host-free holiday parties put an awkward capstone on a particularly bad year for relations between Congress and the president. Full story

November 5, 2013

Now the Midterm Campaign Begins — With Both Sides on Offense

The off-year election is over. Now the midterm campaign can genuinely begin.

The twin gubernatorial races settled Tuesday — always the marquee political events one year into each presidential administration — will be dissected endlessly for insights into the nation’s ideological shift and the outlook for each party’s congressional candidates next Nov. 4. Much of the extrapolation will be overwrought.

Yes, Virginia is turning a bluer shade of purple, but Democrat Terry McAuliffe’s performance is only somewhat a referendum on the GOP’s shutdown strategy or Obamacare — let alone a sign about the electorate’s interest in a Clinton restoration to the White House.

And, yes, New Jersey’s blue is now tinged a bit more purple, but Chris Christie’s vote totals only say so much about whether the establishment or the tea party will direct the future of his Republican Party in the next year or if he runs for president.

Most close House and Senate races will be decided next fall by a very different set of circumstances and arguments than those that saturated Virginia and New Jersey for the past year. Most Democratic congressional candidates will be stressing a menu of topics that only slightly echoes the things McAuliffe talked about, and a large collection of Republicans will be emphasizing issues that Christie seldom mentioned.

Predicting where each party’s campaigns will be on offense next fall is a risky proposition, because of the obviously true cliché that a year is way more than a lifetime in politics.

Just two weeks ago, remember, the national storyline was all about how Democrats were ready to make unexpected inroads now that the GOP had taken its confrontational tactics one step too far in pursuit of a lost cause. And now, the narrative is about how President Barack Obama’s twin self-inflicted wounds over health care — the mess with the insurance marketplace website and his at-best overly simplistic claims about retaining existing policies — have given Republicans a big new opening to make 2014 into what midterms are mainly supposed to be: A final opportunity for voters to express their presidential buyer’s remorse by strengthening the congressional hand of his opposition. Full story

October 28, 2013

5 Lessons for D.C. on Sandy’s First Anniversary

On the anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, the communities along the Jersey Shore and surrounding New York Harbor are living with a profoundly complex mixture of emotions: stubborn triumph at the resilience of their recovery efforts and deep frustration at how much work remains.

The political class in the nation’s capital, meanwhile, has spent the past year confronting an array of political and policy lessons from one the most catastrophic natural disasters in modern American history — and certainly the most politically consequential since Hurricane Katrina.

For the political class, the biggest takeaway from Katrina was how not to behave. One of the iconic photographs of George W. Bush’s presidency is of him peering out the thick windows of Air Force One as it flew high above a submerged New Orleans, two days after that storm made landfall. The image captured the sense that Bush was isolated or indifferent to the magnitude of the problem, leading to the slow and inefficient federal response that ranks as a domestic low point for his administration.

A president who had recently won re-election as a decisive leader, effective manager and still-compassionate conservative was made to look as though all those attributes had disappeared — a collective public assessment from which he never recovered.

But Bush’s shortcomings also provided some remedial instruction to presidential aspirants and congressional candidates of both parties about the need to project both empathy and competence with speed, sincerity and simplicity when national disasters strike. By the time Sandy struck, every politician with anything at stake knew that a top-notch performance was essential. But what of the lessons learned subsequently?

Here are five of the most important to remember at the Capitol: Full story

October 21, 2013

He Said, They Said: Scrambling to Frame the Obamacare Web Snafu

Congressional Republicans and President Barack Obama have the same aspiration for this week: Focus the national conversation on implementation of the health care law.

They look to be getting their rare shared wish. With the Senate in recess and the House meeting for just two days, the void created by this fall’s budget ceasefire is packed with arguments about the meaning of the government’s flawed online medical coverage marketplace.

The more persuasive side could gain an important leg up in the 2014 midterm campaign, which has just 54 weeks to go. The same goes for the political party that does the better job framing a clear health care message and then sticking with it consistently. Full story

Obama Concedes Obamacare’s Web Flaws

President Barack Obama is going much farther than he has in the past in conceding the problems with the health care law’s rollout. He’s hoping today’s promised improvements will ease the public apprehension that’s surged to the forefront of Washington’s attention now that the shutdown and default drama has been set aside.

“There’s no sugarcoating it,” Obama said about the new website’s limitations, which he admitted was leaving the impression that the new policies were also subpar. “Precisely because the product is good, I want the cash registers to work properly,” he said in the Rose Garden at his first staged event since the scope of the problems became apparent.

The president’s declarations will do nothing to change the perception of all congressional Republicans, who remain unified in describing the law as flawed beyond saving even as they remain deeply split on when to take another shot at repeal.

Many of the Hill’s politically vulnerable Democrats, who have remained largely unified in defending the law and dismissing its website failures as predictable and fixable, are now inclined to be even more critical than the president.

“What has happened is unacceptable in terms of the glitches,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “They were overwhelmed to begin with. There is much that needs to be done to correct the situation.”

One other important signal of Democratic restiveness came as Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., declared on Fox News that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius would ultimately have to testify about the Obamacare computer problems. She and other administration officials have so far declined requests to appear at congressional hearings to discuss the reasons such a crash-prone was opened and how quickly the system will be fixed. That reticence has only fueled GOP fury, with some lawmakers now calling for Sebelius to resign. Full story

October 8, 2013

What’s in a Name? Plenty of Super-Bad Memories on Both Sides (Video)

Legislation is enacted empowering an equal number of Republicans and Democrats, senators and House members to set to work on a hurry-up timetable in search of a way out of a thick budgetary morass that has brought the country near the brink of default.

They are called a supercommittee, right?

That was absolutely true two years ago, when the nickname stuck hard and fast to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction even before its proposed creation was unveiled.

But that is absolutely not going to be the case this time, if the people who cooked up the idea for a Bicameral Working Group on Deficit Reduction and Economic Growth have anything to say about it. Full story

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