Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 9, 2016

January 14, 2014

Hill Budget’s Fine Print: Less Than Meets the Skeptic’s Eye


(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

That 19th-century aphorism “figures don’t lie, but liars will figure” comes to mind when poring over the mind-numbingly comprehensive midyear appropriations package — especially the 44 pages covering the political minefields and minutiae of spending on the legislative branch.

The nation’s legions of Congress-haters are scouring the fine print and concocting their own spreadsheets. They are expecting to uncover evidence that what’s labeled Division I of the omnibus is an exercise in deceitful and hypocritical self-dealing — and are confident they’ll be able to argue persuasively that those voting “yes” this week will be guilty of feathering their own nest at the expense of infinitely more pressing national priorities.

They are being urged on by dozens of Capitol Hill’s own current stewards. These most conservative Republican senators and House members are all too eager to demean the institution in which they work — especially when doing so serves as rationale for opposing a bill with a tough-to-comprehend bottom line cresting $1.1 trillion.

With a couple of narrow exceptions, the naysayers look to be quite disappointed. Full story

January 13, 2014

Will Miller’s Exit Leave Pelosi Too Lonely at the Top?


Is the retirement of Miller, center, a sign that Pelosi, left, is considering leaving Congress soon as well? (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Is the retirement of Miller, center, a sign that Pelosi, left, is considering leaving Congress soon as well? (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The long list of George Miller’s prominent official titles being unfurled is a reminder of why he is easily the most important member of the current Congress who has announced a retirement.

But his informal position — at the very center of  Nancy Pelosi’s inner circle — makes Monday’s news of his planned departure especially consequential.

Miller has been her uniquely influential patron, confidant, consigliere, travel buddy and liberal soul mate during the past three decades. More than any other lawmaker, he made and has maintained his fellow Californian’s hold on power in the House Democratic Caucus. Full story

January 12, 2014

A Balance of Powers Case With Senate GOP Power in the Balance


One of the biggest congressional stories of the decade starts unfolding Monday — not at the Capitol, but across the street.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments in an epic balance of powers battle between the other two branches, one that’s been waiting to happen since George Washington’s time. During the hour, the justices may or may not signal clearly whether they’re going to permit the continued expansive use of the president’s recess appointment authority — or seriously limit its use for the first time.

That second outcome would give the Senate enormously more influence over the leadership of the departments and agencies and the tenor of the federal courts. But if the court rules that way, it will be almost impossible to notice any difference in the power dynamic before the beginning of next year — if then.

It may sound a bit paradoxical, but it’s the “nuclear option” that would guarantee such a delayed reaction.

And during that delay, a new measure of importance would get attached to the midterm elections. Full story

January 10, 2014

An Ethics Conflict Avoidance Period?


Biggert was named to the board of the Office of Congressional Ethics. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Biggert was named to the board of the Office of Congressional Ethics. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

This week’s belated appointment of two new board members for the Office of Congressional Ethics suggests the independent watchdog agency is approaching the sixth anniversary of its creation with a fading shroud of controversy.

Judy Biggert, a Republican member of the House Ethics Committee during a particularly charged period, from 2001 through 2006, was Speaker John A. Boehner’s pick for the GOP opening. Biggert, who lost her bid in 2012 for an eighth term representing the Chicago suburbs, played a central role in the investigations and admonitions that led to the eventual downfall of her own majority leader, Tom DeLay, and in the investigation that found her leadership inattentive to House pages’ allegations of sexual advances by a GOP colleague, Florida’s Mark Foley.

Belinda Pinckney, an executive consultant and retired brigadier general, was chosen by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi for the Democratic opening. Pinckney’s final military job, from 2007 to 2010, was as the Army’s top diversity officer. Earlier in her career, she was on the Pentagon’s team of liaisons to the Appropriations committees.

They are replacing a pair of former House members, Minnesota Republican Bill Frenzel and California Democrat Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, who had been on the board since the start but had been due for replacements for the past year. Five other original members remain, and look to do so for at least another year.

The office was created in 2008 to fulfill a Pelosi campaign promise — to “drain the swamp of corruption” at the Capitol — that was made on the way to winning House control in the previous midterm. The premise was to reduce the perception that the foxes were guarding the hen house in the House’s ethics process. So they turned some of the process over to an independent, bipartisan and knowledgeable panel, which would take on the initial job of reviewing and investigating allegations of misconduct by members and staff — and referring credible matters within three months to the Ethics Committee. That House panel still retains sole power to decide if the chamber’s rules or federal laws were broken and to propose sanctions by the full House. (There is no similar system in the Senate.) Full story

January 8, 2014

The Other Reed Begins to See His Senate Spotlight Brighten


Reed attended a press conference on jobless benefits Wednesday. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)

Reed attended a news conference on jobless benefits Wednesday. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)

If January’s award for biggest out-of-the-shadows move by a Senate Republican goes to Michael B. Enzi, then the companion prize for a Democrat must surely be given to Jack Reed.

Rhode Island’s senior senator takes such a somber and studious approach to his work that his name comes up as often as not at the Capitol in homonymous confusion with the majority leader. But not this week, when Reed is near the center of three of the new year’s biggest stories.

He’s the most visible face of the Democrats’ unexpected success in getting the Senate debate started on the renewal of expired jobless benefits for as many as 1.3 million of the long-term unemployed. Just out of view, he’s among the handful of senior appropriators (he chairs the Interior-Environment subpanel) working to shrink the roster of policy disputes so $1 trillion in spending decisions might get done close to on time.

And the new memoir by Robert Gates, with its surprisingly harsh criticism of President Barack Obama’s leadership and his commitment to the war in Afghanistan, is a reminder that Obama more than once seriously considered making Reed his secretary of Defense.

To top it off, the 64-year-old senator got a dollop of cute coverage Tuesday — a Washington Post “Reliable Source” item about being spotted with his 7-year-old daughter, Emily, at last weekend’s Kennedy Center matinee of the holiday musical “Elf.”

The multifaceted nature of Reed’s arrival in the spotlight is partly an accident of timing, combined with the unusual breadth of his topflight committee assignments and his increasing seniority.

It’s also a testament to how he’s something of a progressive liberal version of the conservative Enzi, a fellow member of the Senate Class of 1996 whose power profile is likely to grow in the coming year: Both are long on commitment to their ideological beliefs, but short of interest in spewing partisan animus; serious about pursuing their policy homework, but with a way-below-average level of senatorial self-importance; more interested in getting what they want out of hearings and legislative negotiations than in getting interviewed by the cable TV networks. Full story

January 7, 2014

Cheney’s Exit Is the Buzz, but Enzi’s Future Is the Story


Enzi is now n position to return to the Capitol a year from now as one of its most adept and best-positioned legislative forces. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Enzi is likely to return to the Capitol a year from now as one of its most adept and best-positioned legislative forces. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Few would argue that Michael B. Enzi ought to be the happiest guy in Congress this week.

As a practical matter, he’s just become the first of the 27 senators seeking new terms in 2014 to win re-election. Now that Liz Cheney has backed out of her GOP primary challenge, Enzi is as close as there is in politics to a sure bet to win his fourth term in solidly Republican Wyoming.

Once that happens, Enzi will be in position to return to the Capitol a year from now as one of its most adept and best positioned legislative forces, especially if his party has reclaimed control after eight years in the minority.

Enzi is not only unimpeachable from the right — as the former vice president’s daughter was belatedly starting to figure out — but he is also among the relatively few proven deal-makers in a Congress characterized by hardened ideological standoffs. The self-effacing nature suggested by his back story — he’s the only accountant, the only computer programmer and the only former shoe salesman in the Senate — comes off as the real thing in the daily legislative grind, where Enzi gains bipartisan admiration as an anchor tenant on the more virtuous end of the work horse to show horse spectrum.

In short, his low-profile but high-impact style of conservatism looks to be an essential piece of the Senate Republican strategic game plan for the rest of the decade, especially whenever his side is looking to strike a deal with the Democrats on domestic policy.

Enzi is not only positioned to make the most of it, but sounds determined to do so. “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu,” is one of his favored cowboy aphorisms. Full story

January 6, 2014

6 Sleepers Lurking on the Hill’s To-Do List


The first Senate vote of the new year — Monday evening’s confirmation of Janet L. Yellen as the first Federal Reserve chairwoman in its hundred-year history — kicked off the second session of the 113th Congress with a genuinely meaningful bang.

And, as outlined in this space, there’s a solid chance lawmakers will achieve three of the year’s marquee goals before the coldest weeks of winter are over.

A $1 trillion spending package that begins repairing the broken appropriations process seems on course for completion next week. A deal that finds the bipartisan sweet spot for reductions in both food stamps and crop subsidies may follow in a matter of days. And prospects are brightening daily for a relatively drama-free increase in the Treasury’s borrowing authority — lasting until after the election — soon after the Winter Olympics are over.

But then what? Much of the talk at the moment is about revived Republican interest in changing immigration law. But it will be summer, after the bulk of tea party challenges to House GOP incumbents have played out, before leadership decides whether it’s politically safe pull the trigger on an agreement that would easily rank as 2014’s biggest.

After that, there’s a substantial drop in headline appeal. But there are a range of policy areas where Republicans and Democrats might plausibly strike narrow, and narrowly consequential, agreements before the midterm elections. These are half a dozen to watch: Full story

January 5, 2014

3 Reasons Congress’ Year Might Start Unexpectedly Strong


Congress is reopening for business this week, to begin what President Barack Obama says “needs to be a year of action.”

When the president offered that call to arms for 2014, just as the Capitol lights were being dimmed for the holidays, the eye-rolling sentiment from so many lawmakers, aides, lobbyists and journalists amounted to: “Yeah, right. Good luck with that.”

The collective assessment is there’s no way that 2013, the least legislatively productive first year of an administration in six decades, is going to be followed by a more productive spurt from a divided Congress in an election year.

However, the next 10 weeks may hold some genuine prospects for rebutting the conventional wisdom, if only temporarily.

A trio of hallmark accomplishments in the second session of the 113th Congress have strong potential to get done before St. Patrick’s Day. Assuming the Republicans keep to their current course — confining their focus to avoid new, self-inflicted political wounds — lawmakers will be able to extend their current truce in the budget wars not only on the spending front but on borrowing as well. A food and farm bill that gives both sides a claim to victory is well within reach.

And, without traveling too far into optimistic fantasy-land, it’s possible to envision that bipartisan success on that trifecta by March would spawn interest in reaching for some additional deals in the spring. An immigration overhaul may still be the longest of viable long shots, but there’s some hopeful early talk about carefully calibrating compromise on a variety of second-tier issues left hanging at the end of 2013 — from sentencing disparities to water projects, patent lawsuits to online sales taxes, energy efficiency standards to physician reimbursement rates. Full story

December 23, 2013

The 7 Most Important Things Congress Did in 2013 (and the Top 25 Things It Didn’t)


Every lawmaker and staffer at home for the holidays is surely spending much of the break answering some version of this same derisive question: What’s it like, being a part of the least productive Congress in modern times? Two numbers frame the discomforting answer: 7 and 25.

The figures represent one rudimentary, but nonetheless accurate, way to measure the “score” for congressional accomplishment in 2013. Seven undeniably consequential things actually got completed at the Capitol during the year. But another 25 relatively big legislative goals — some set by only one party, but plenty claimed by both sides — were left at various points along the wayside.

It’s an even more lopsided outcome than was widely expected until just before the final flurry of activity for the year, just before the Senate adjourned on Dec. 20. (The House went home one week earlier.) In one final example of the sort of what’s-the-use paralysis that gripped the Capitol for so much of the year, Democrats gave up on their plans to secure all the confirmations they’d planned for and had the votes to achieve — because they were unwilling to wait around on the weekend before Christmas until the Republicans had exhausted all their allotted time for claiming they’d been railroaded.

The narrative’s been set for months: Record gridlock will be the “historic” hallmark affixed to the first session of the 113th Congress. Yes, there are the easy caveats: there are always limits to making laws in a divided government. Some of the most important issues of our time are too complex to solve quickly. Writing legislation is not necessarily the best way to address a national problem. And not all bills are created equal; renaming a post office is, of course, not as credit-worthy as mandating peace in our time.

Still, the final bill President Barack Obama signed before beginning his two-week vacation in Hawaii, a 10-year extension of the ban on plastic firearms, was only the 57th public law added to the books this year. And only another 17 more are being readied for the president’s signature — a couple of top-tier bills finished in the final days, the defense authorization measure and the budget deal, along with a passel of obscure tweaks to existing law. (One, for example, would smooth a benefits wrinkle for disabled veterans training for the Paralympic Games.)

Assuming Obama signs every bill he gets, which seems like a safe bet, that would mean 74 new statutes enacted in 2013 — a record for the smallest legislative output since before World War II, when the modern record-keeping regime was instituted.

The current mark is 90, from 2011, the opening year for the current configuration of divided government

As for the best apples-to-apples comparisons — to years when presidents were starting their second terms dealing with a divided Congress — the 2013 number will look even more meager. Bill Clinton signed 153 laws in 1997, Ronald Reagan wielded his pen 240 times in 1985, and Richard M. Nixon affixed his signature to 247 measures in 1973.

For all those who will be spending the next couple of weeks defending their role in the dysfunction — to their constituents or their in-laws — here’s a clip-and-save list of reminders for boasting about or deriding what did and did not get done in 2013.

The 7 Most Important Things Congress Did:

  • Erase $45 billion in across-the-board cuts to domestic and military programs that were set to take effect in January, plus another $19 billion due a year later. (About $140 billion of the sequester that had been dictated in 2011 for both this fiscal year and the next one was left intact.) The additional discretionary spending is to be more than offset by projected savings and non-tax revenue increases worth $85 billion in the next decade, allowing the difference to be counted toward deficit reduction.
  • Eliminate the filibuster as a tool for blocking almost all nominees. The Senate changed its rules to lower the threshold for invoking cloture, or limiting debate, on executive and judicial nominations except to the Supreme Court — from three-fifths of all senators to a simple majority of those present. It’s the biggest limitation on the powers of the minority party, and the most fundamental alteration to the way the Senate functions, since 1975.
  • Shift the ideological balance on the nation’s second-most influential federal bench, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The Senate confirmed three of President Barack Obama’s choices for longstanding vacancies. When the year began, four active judges on the court were nominees of Republican presidents and three had been picked by Democrats.
  • Revamp the system for setting interest rates on federal college and graduate school loans. Before the start of every school year, the rate will be tied to the government’s own cost of borrowing, but also subject to new caps. The compromise did away with a fixed interest rate that Congress had been under pressure to reduce indefinitely.
  • Expand the reach of the Violence Against Women Act, which directs federal efforts to combat and prosecute domestic abuse. Gay and lesbian victims may now benefit from the law’s legal assistance, transitional housing, law enforcement training and hotline programs, and the rules were eased for using tribal courts to prosecute non-Native Americans accused of sex crimes on reservations.
  • Provide $50.5 billion to help local governments and individuals with Superstorm Sandy recovery and reconstruction. After one of the most damaging storms ever in the nation’s largest metropolitan area, the emergency aid was delayed 13 weeks because of disputes over whether the package was too generous or should be matched with offsetting cuts elsewhere in the budget.
  • Enact a defense authorization bill for a 53rd consecutive year, a record of consistency unmatched by any other measure that’s supposed to be updated annually. The bill’s most notable feature is a package of provisions designed to stanch an epidemic of sexual assault in the armed forces.

The 25 Most Important Things Congress Talked About, but Did Not Do:

  • Appropriate money for any programs or agencies by the start of the new budget year, leading to a suspension of non-essential federal services for the first 16 days of October. It was the first such partial government shutdown since early 1996.
  • Repeal or make any substantive changes to the Affordable Care Act, the 2010 law also known as Obamacare that overhauled the nation’s medical insurance system.
  • Expand the national background check system for prospective gun buyers, restrict the size of ammunition magazines or otherwise tighten federal gun control laws in response to a series of high-profile mass shootings.
  • Change immigration law, either by expanding border security or by creating a path to legal residency or citizenship for an estimated 11 million people living in the United States without documentation.
  • Confirm Janet L. Yellen as the first Democrat since 1987 to head the Federal Reserve, the government’s single-most influential economic policymaking position. The Fed vice chairwoman since 2009, she would be the first woman and only the 15th person to wield the gavel in the central bank’s hundred-year history.
  • Limit benefits provided by Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security, the biggest federal entitlement programs. Their projected annual growth rates pose the most substantial challenge to controlling annual federal deficits and the accumulated debt in the next two decades.
  • Extend a collection of routine and relatively non-controversial tax provisions — or begin an overhaul of the federal tax code to reduce the number of exemptions, exclusions and expenditures while expanding the ranks of people and businesses required to pay some taxes.
  • Advance any proposals for combating climate change by reducing the nation’s carbon footprint, even as the scientific consensus solidified that human activity has been responsible for most of the global warming in recent decades.
  • Revise conditions for providing aid to public elementary and secondary schools. The No Child Left Behind law, seen by both parties as in need of a rewrite, has been due for an update since 2007.
  • Reduce crop subsidies for farmers and food stamp benefits for poor people as part of a rewrite of the multi-year farm bill, which lapsed in 2012.
  • Limit the roles of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in the national housing market, either by ending or curtailing the government’s role as a guarantor of mortgages.
  • Tighten rules for the National Security Agency’s collection of civilians’ telephone calling or other electronic communication records, in response to the furor over the breadth of NSA spying programs.
  • Proscribe any alterations to foreign policy, despite intense debate over intensifying sanctions on Iran and launching a military strike on Syria to punish its use of chemical weapons.
  • Prohibit businesses with more than 15 employees from discrimination in hiring and employment based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • Overhaul and curtail the operations of the Postal Service so it can become financially viable in the era of declining mail volume.
  • Raise the federally guaranteed minimum wage above $7.25 an hour, where it has been fixed since July 2009.
  • Allow states to require that online retailers outside their borders collect sales taxes on goods purchased by their residents.
  • Streamline the 35 sometimes duplicative programs providing employment and job training aid to the states.
  • Replace the formula for limiting Medicare payments to physicians, which has been routinely ignored since its 1997 creation with a series of annual “doc fix” bills.
  • Update the Voting Rights Act in reaction to a Supreme Court decision overturning a central component while inviting a congressional rewrite.
  • Outlaw almost all abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy, the new top legislative cause of the National Right to Life Committee.
  • Expedite regulatory and environmental reviews of federal water projects and revamp the funding system for dredging and harbor maintenance.
  • Speed construction across the Great Plains of the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline, a focal point in the national debate about balancing economic development and environmental stewardship.
  • Continue a policy, started during the height of the 2008 recession, of extending jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed for 28 weeks beyond the usual expiration after six months.
  • Ratify the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The treaty, negotiated during the George W. Bush administration and ratified by 138 other nations, is designed to extend globally a system of accommodations for the disabled enshrined in federal law since 1990.

December 19, 2013

Now the Hard Part: 3 Weeks to Apportion $1 Trillion


Appropriators from both parties and both sides of the Capitol have opened intentionally secretive negotiations on the mammoth and complex measure necessary to make good on the budgetary truce just called by Congress.

The four-dozen or so members involved have given themselves less than three weeks to agree on the several thousand line items in the bill, which will be written as non-amendable legislation dictating all of the government’s discretionary spending for the final 37 weeks of this budget year.

The enormity of the task and the extraordinarily tight time table would normally present significant obstacles to a smooth or successful outcome. But the lawmakers who have taken the assignment are betting that those challenges will be eased by several factors:

  • The fiscal deal the Senate cleared Thursday, which President Barack Obama will sign before leaving this weekend to spend the holidays in Hawaii, sets a grand total of $1.012 trillion for the package that both parties’ negotiators say they can live with. The figure is $45 billion, or 4.6 percent, more than would have been allowed if the sequester had remained fully on the books.
  • The vast majority of lawmakers, not to mention hundreds of lobbyists and advocates, will be away from Washington during the next two work weeks. That should afford the negotiators and their aides an opportunity to set their priorities and make their tradeoffs without the usual volume of importuning — a tiny silver lining, also, for having to work through Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
  • The leaders of the talks, Kentucky’s Harold Rogers for the Republican majority in the House and Maryland’s Barbara A. Mikulski for the Democratic majority in the Senate, have agreed to draft the bill as a take-it-or-leave it package deal. Their bet here is that substantial numbers from the rank and file in all four caucuses will be willing to set aside their reservations about the content and their annoyance about the process and vote “yes” — because they know defeating the measure would threaten another government shutdown as the first congressional action of the midterm election year.

The timetable for the next three weeks sketched by Rogers and Mikulski, the chairmen of the two Appropriations committees, begins with a deadline they have set for themselves for the end of the week: apportioning the spending grand total into a dozen slices — the so-called 302(b) spending caps for the subcommittees that are supposed to write 12 different spending bills every year.

This is an immensely important first step, because it means choosing winners and losers at a macro level. A relatively generous number for the subcommittees with jurisdiction over labor, health and education programs, for example, would provide some relief from social spending limits that Democrats would embrace. But that money would mean somewhat smaller top lines for subcommittees in charge of the domestic programs Republicans typically favor, which cover such things as water projects, law enforcement and homeland security. Full story

December 18, 2013

With His BFF Leaving, Is Boehner Eyeing the Exit, Too?


(Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)

(Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)

With the postmortems of this year’s biggest congressional events winding down, it’s not too early to start forecasting the top Hill stories of the year ahead.

Whatever happens in the career of John A. Boehner is sure to make the list.

If he makes good on his own current assertions by securing a third consecutive term as speaker of the House, that will be one of the more notable events at the Capitol in 2014. That’s because it would seal a total turnabout from the shaky hold he had on his power only a few weeks ago and would mean he’s engineered an uneasy truce in the Republican Party’s war with itself.

If he says he wants to stay in the top job, and his colleagues turn him down, that would be an enormously bigger deal. That’s because it would mark yet another reversal of his fortunes, no speaker has been turned out by his own colleagues in more than a century, and such an insurrection would mean the GOP’s ideological civil war would surely rage on.

But if he calls it quits, by relinquishing the speaker’s gavel or maybe even his congressional district in southwestern Ohio, that would be an outcome somewhere between those first two on the importance continuum. (All of these scenarios are predicated on the safe prediction that the GOP will retain control of the House for the 114th Congress.) While such a decision would assure a fascinating fight for the caucus leadership, it would say less about the party’s future than about Boehner’s fascinatingly evolving personality.

Still, it’s the “Boehner is about to hang it up” narrative that’s captivated the rumor mill this week. That talk is based on only one new piece of information, albeit an extremely important one: Tom Latham is retiring. Full story

December 16, 2013

Lackluster Final Score for Congress This Year: 8 to 22


Every lawmaker and staffer who’s about to head home for the holidays knows to expect to spend the break answering some version of the same dreaded and derisive question: What’s it like, being a part of the least productive Congress in modern times?

Here are two simple numbers for prolonging the uncomfortable conversation: 8 and 22.

Assuming the Senate does everything it’s expected to do this week, eight undeniably consequential things actually will have been completed at the Capitol this year. But another 22 relatively big legislative goals — some set by one party, but plenty claimed by both sides — will have been left at various points along the wayside.

The narrative’s been set for months: Record gridlock will be the “historic” hallmark affixed to the first session of the 113th Congress. Yes, there are the easy caveats: There are always limits to making laws in a divided government. Some of the most important issues of our time are too complex to solve quickly. Writing legislation is not necessarily the best way to address a national problem. And not all bills are created equal; renaming a post office is, of course, not as credit-worthy as mandating peace in our time.

Still, the 10-year extension of the ban on plastic firearms, which President Barack Obama signed a week ago, was only the 57th public law added to the books this year. And with the House gone for the year and the post-“nuclear” Senate in no mood to compromise on the little things during this final week, no more than a handful more measures will become statutes before 2014.

There’s no way the total will reach 90 — the figure for 2011, which was the smallest annual legislative output since before World War II. As for the apples-to-apples comparisons to years when presidents were starting their second terms dealing with a divided Congress, the 2013 number will look even more meager. Bill Clinton signed 153 laws in 1997, Ronald Reagan wielded his pen 240 times in 1985, and Richard Nixon affixed his signature to 247 measures in 1973.

Add to this numbers crunched over the weekend by the New York Times, which calculated that the House’s legislative weeks lasted an average of just 28 hours this year, while the Senate is on course to have the fewest days with roll calls a non-election year since 1991 — just more than 100, depending on how this week plays out.

For all the people who will be forced to spend the next two weeks defending their role in the dysfunction — to their constituents or their in-laws — here’s a clip-and-save list of prompts for boasting about or deriding what did and did not get done in 2013. 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 11, 2013

Will Paul Ryan’s High-Risk Budget Deal Return High Rewards?


Ryan addressed his budget deal at a GOP leadership press conference Wednesday. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)

Ryan addresses his budget deal at a GOP leadership press conference Wednesday. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)

This week is a turning point in the career of Paul D. Ryan — one that’s even more consequential than what happened to him 16 months ago.

Being picked to be the Republican nominee for vice president, it turns out, is only guaranteed to be politically transformative if your ticket wins the general election. Engineering a genuinely bipartisan if undeniably modest budget agreement, on the other hand, is sure to change the trajectory of the 43-year-old Wisconsin congressman’s life.

Ryan will find out within a matter of hours whether the deal has propelled his ambitions forward, or accelerated his long-rising star toward oblivion.

By Wednesday evening, a day after the deal was unveiled, a ratification vote by the full House looked more and more likely. It also looked quite possible that most of Ryan’s fellow Republicans would be on board, even though all the major conservative advocacy groups are pressing for its defeat. Those outcomes are the only legislative mysteries; a solid bipartisan majority is lined up in the Senate, and President Barack Obama is eager to affix his signature.

House passage would be profoundly rewarding for Ryan for several reasons, especially if his plan secures a majority of the majority. 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

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