An unlikely group of lawmakers is telling House leaders that a long, partisan fight over the debt ceiling might not be worth it this time: conservative Republicans.
“Let’s avoid the theater and just move on with it,” Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., said Tuesday. “They’re just going to go through the motions anyways, and then whatever ideas conservatives put out there are going to be blamed for whatever standoff there is.”
California Republican Devin Nunes told reporters it was “unlikely” that House Republicans would be able to pass any legislation that they can all agree on.
“But,” he added, “we should try.”
During past budget fights, Republicans have tried to attach items from their policy wish list – like changes to the health care law – to the must-pass debt ceiling hike.
But the White House has made it clear that they do not intend to negotiate on the debt ceiling, the same stance they successfully used during last year’s showdown.
The debate over the next deadline at the end of February has left Republican leaders doing a delicate balancing act. House Speaker John Boehner must weigh the demands of rank-and-file Republicans who want to vote for conservative add-ons – without allowing his party to be blamed for another standoff.
“Nobody wants to default on our debt,” Boehner said. “But while we’re doing this, we ought to do something about either jobs and the economy, about the drivers of our debt.”
Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma echoed that sentiment.
“We’re not looking for a big showdown,” he said Tuesday. “But we have this to trigger a reaction to the fact that we’re borrowing money, so we ought to use it.”
One of the options Republicans are weighing would be the repeal of part of the Affordable Care Act that would give insurance companies subsidies if they end up paying considerably more in medical claims than expected.
Republicans have dubbed that part of the law – called “risk corridors” – a “taxpayer bailout” of the insurance companies if Obamacare fails.
But that plan hit a snag Tuesday, when the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that the risk corridors would actually save the government $8 billion through 2017.
A Republican leadership aide said that report would not have “a substantial impact on the debate,” noting that the CBO estimate is based on an assumption that the risk corridor provision “would not be abused.”
Aides and members also say Republicans could attach an approval of the Keystone XL pipeline to a debt limit increase, a provision that could also garner some support from Democrats.
Senate Democrats will try again this week to extend unemployment insurance aid for the long-term jobless -- over a month since the benefits expired for 1.3 million Americans.
Negotiators have been trying to work out a compromise to restart the jobless insurance since the end of last year. Republicans blocked a three-month extension of the program last month, saying that it was not fiscally responsible.
A new version of a deal would be paid for extending a tactic called “pension smoothing” – which allows companies to reduce some payments to pensions in the short term.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has scheduled a vote to advance that version of the bill on Thursday, but it’s not clear that Democrats will have enough backing to overcome a 60-vote threshold and keep it alive.
Reid suggested Thursday that the impasse was due to Republican callousness towards the unemployed.
"We have an issue here. They do not want unemployment insurance extension. They don't want that," Reid said Tuesday of the GOP. "They don't care about these people as voters. We do. We care about them as voters, as human beings."
President Barack Obama, who has been frustrated in his push for the jobless aid extension, announced a new program last week to help the long-term jobless overcome discrimination during their search for work.
“Each week that Congress fails to restore that insurance, roughly 72,000 Americans will join the ranks of the long-term unemployed who have also lost their economic lifeline,” he said Friday.
Even though immigration reform already passed the Senate overwhelmingly, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), in a contentious fight for reelection, contended today that it’s unlikely to get through Congress because of an “irresolvable conflict” between the House and Senate.
"I think we have a sort of an irresolvable conflict here," McConnell told reporters at the Capitol when asked about House Republicans' released immigration principles at their retreat last week. "The Senate insists on comprehensive; the House says it won't go to conference with the Senate on comprehensive; it wants to look at step by step. I don't see how you get to an outcome this year with the two bodies in such a different place."
That insistence of a "conflict" is despite despite President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner appearing to be open to finding common ground on the issue this year, including taking a piecemeal approach and eschewing an explicit path to citizenship.
Of course, many conservatives are nervous about bringing up an issue that could upset their base supporters come this fall. Conservatives feel they have momentum heading into the midterm elections after the bungled health-care website rollout and the president's struggling approval ratings.
McConnell is certainly one who does not want to see that momentum stanched. He is in a tough reelection fight, but more than that, if Republicans net the six seats necessary to take over the Senate, McConnell is in line to become majority leader.
Only four Port Authority officials met this week's deadline to turn over all documents subpoenaed in the New Jersey Legislature's investigation into the George Washington Bridge lane closures, according to a list provided to NBC News.
Fourteen others who were subpoenaed-- including officials in Gov. Chris Christie's office, members of his campaign committee, his press secretary and other top aides-- have either been granted extensions or have begun turning over material "on a rolling basis," according to a source close to the investigation.
Two of those subpoenaed -- former Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Kelly and former campaign manager Bill Stepien -- have invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination and declined to turn over any material.
The list of those who have yet to fully comply with the subpoenas includes David Sampson, Christies' close political ally who chairs the Port Authority; Charles McKenna, Christie's former chief counsel; Kevin O'Dowd, Christie's former chief of staff and nominee to be attorney general; Reginia Egea, Christie's incoming chief of staff; and Nicole Davidman Drewniak, a Christie fundraiser and wife of Christie press secretary Michael Drewniak.
Christie, in remarks during a call-in radio show on Monday, said he office was producing documents in response to the subpoenas.
"We, the Governor's Office, has started to produce things today,” he said. “We did not ask for an extension. We started to produce documents today but we’re doing so on a rolling basis. We’re working as hard as we can to get through because there was a lot of stuff asked for from us.”
All told, the special legislative committee investigating whether the bridge lane closures in September 2013 were politically motivated has issued 20 subpoenas to members of the Christie administration, his campaign and officials of the Port Authority, which oversees the bridge. The four Port Authority officials who have complied with the subpoena were William Baroni Jr., the former deputy executive director who resigned his post in December; Chief Administrative Officer Cristina Lado, Paul Nunziato, president of the Port Authority Police Benevolent Association, and spokesman Philippe Danielides.
The subpoenas from the legislative committee are separate from those issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Newark, N.J., which also is investigating the bridge lane closures. Christie confirmed Monday night that his office had been served with a subpoena from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, along with his campaign committee and the New Jersey Republican Party.
More from NBC News Investigations:
The top conclusion from a new report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office is that the federal deficit will fall to just $514 billion in 2014 -- down from $1.4 trillion five years ago.
But what has attracted the most attention in the report are its projections on President Barack Obama’s health-care law. Republicans have seized on them to claim that the law will hurt employment. “Obamacare to print even more pink slips,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office.
The White House has fired back: “Claims that the Affordable Care Act hurts jobs are simply belied by the facts in the CBO report.”
So what does the CBO report say about the health-care law? Here are four major takeaways:
1. The law will reduce the labor supply by 2 million full-time equivalent workers in 2017 and 2.5 million in 2024
“CBO estimates that the ACA will reduce the total number of hours worked, on net, by about 1.5 percent to 2.0 percent during the period from 2017 to 2024, almost entirely because workers will choose to supply less labor—given the new taxes and other incentives they will face and the financial benefits some will receive… The reduction in CBO’s projections of hours worked represents a decline in the number of full-time-equivalent workers of about 2.0 million in 2017, rising to about 2.5 million in 2024.” (Page 123)
This, however, is largely about people’s desire to remain in the workforce, not about whether employers think the law is too costly to hire people. For example, under the health-care law, a 62-year-old worker might decide to retire from his job because he can obtain health insurance on the exchanges or expanded Medicaid -- rather than through his employer.
Indeed, the CBO report says that labor demand -- that is, businesses’ desire to hire workers because of the law -- will mostly be unchanged.
“Beginning in 2015, employers of 50 or more full-time equivalent workers that do not offer health insurance(or that offer health insurance that does not meet certain criteria) will generally pay a penalty. That penalty will initially reduce employers’ demand for labor and thereby tend to lower employment. Over time, CBO expects, the penalty will be borne primarily by workers in the form of reduced wages or other compensation, at which point the penalty will have little effect on labor demand but will reduce labor supply and will lower employment slightly through that channel.” (Page 130)
2) In 2014, 1 million fewer folks – from 7 million to 6 million -- will sign up for insurance coverage in the exchanges due to the website problems
“Those changes primarily reflect the significant technical problems that have been encountered in the initial phases of implementing the ACA.” (Page 118)
3) The controversial “risk corridors” that Republicans are attacking reduce the deficit by $8 billion
Many Republicans are opposed to the so-called “risk corridors” in the health-care law – payments to insurance companies in the event that the risk pools end up worse than expected. But the CBO says the risk corridors actually decrease the deficit.
“CBO now projects that, over the 2015–2017 period, risk corridor payments from the federal government to health insurers will total $8 billion and that the corresponding collections from insurers will amount to $16 billion, yielding net savings for the federal government of $8 billion.” (Page 116)
4) Average health-insurance premiums are lower than expected
“CBO and JCT lowered their estimate of average premiums for insurance coverage through exchanges in 2014 by about 15 percent on the basis of a preliminary analysis of plans offered through exchanges. Because the information about premiums and enrollment is still limited, however, CBO and JCT have not adjusted their projections of premiums for years after 2014. (Page 120)
President Barack Obama talks about technology in America's schools while speaking at Buck Lodge Middle School in Adelphi, Md.By Michael O'Brien, NBC News
President Barack Obama wants the internet to be as available in schools as it is in most coffee shops.
"In a country where we expect free WiFi with our coffee, we should definitely demand it in our schools," he said at an event Tuesday in Maryland where he outlined steps to be taken by both the government and major corporations to expand access to high-speed internet in school.
The initiative is part of Obama's State of the Union agenda that emphasizes steps the president can take without the approval of Congress to advance his agenda.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Obama said, would make a $2 billion "down payment" on expanding internet access that he said would expand internet access to 20 million students in 15,000 schools across the country.
Obama also highlighted some corporate contributions. Apple, he said, had pledged $100 million in hardware for disadvantaged school and Sprint committed to offer free wireless service for as many as 50,000 low-income high school students.
"My country invested in me. My parents invested in me, my grandparents invested in me, but my country invested in me," Obama said at a school in Adelphi, Md. "And now I want the country to invest in you."
House Speaker John Boehner became animated Tuesday over the proposed Keystone Pipeline, castigating the Obama administration for not having approved the project yet.
Republican House Speaker John Boehner says there's "nothing complex about the Keystone Pipeline," and that it's time to build it.
"Complex? You think the Keystone Pipeline is complex?!" Boehner responded to a questioner. "It's been under study for five years! We build pipelines in America every day. Do you realize there are 200,000 miles of pipelines in the United States?"
The speaker went on: "And the only reason the president's involved in the Keystone Pipeline is because it crosses an international boundary. Listen, we can build it. There's nothing complex about the Keystone Pipeline -- it's time to build it."
Boehner said the president had no excuse at this point to not give the pipeline the go-ahead after the State Department released a report on Friday indicating the project would have a minimal impact on the environment.
Republicans have long pushed for construction of the project, which enjoys some measure of Democratic support as well. The GOP is considering conditioning an extension of the debt limit on approval of the project by Obama.
The White House, though, has said that it has no timetable for a final decision on the project.
The Congressional Budget Office said Tuesday that higher tax revenues and restrained spending will produce smaller budget deficits in the next few years, but after 2015 deficits will start rising again. That will happen because federal spending will grow more quickly than the economy will.
Unveiling the agency's annual budget and economic forecast, CBO director Douglas Elmendorf told reporters, “The projections today make clear that the fundamental challenges of the federal budget remain. The fundamental challenge is that the aging of the population and the rising cost of health care now abetted by an expansion of federal subsidies for health insurance -- those changes are putting a huge upward pressure on the cost of a handful of large federal programs.”
By 2024, the end of its ten-year forecasting period, a surge of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security spending will push federal debt held by the public to nearly 80 percent of GDP -- “eventually increasing the risk of a fiscal crisis” in which investors would demand higher interest payments to buy federal debt, the CBO said in its annual budget report.
For the current fiscal year, spending will grow by 2.6 percent, while tax revenues will grow more than three times faster, by about 9 percent, the budget office said.
The CBO said the deficit for the current fiscal year, FY 2014, which ends on Sept. 30, will be $514 billion, or 3 percent of the nation’s economic output, or Gross Domestic Product (GDP). That level will be close to the average for the past 40 years.
CBO’s projected deficit for FY 2014 is down from a deficit of 4.1 percent of GDP in 2013, and represents a huge improvement from the recession year of 2009, when the deficit reached 10.1 percent of GDP.
Beyond 2017, the budget office is forecasting that economic growth will be less than the average growth over the past several decades, in part due to an aging population and slow-growing labor force.
NBC's Domenico Montanaro discusses Sec. of State John Kerry's reported doubts about the administration maintaining its current policy on Syria. And while money continues to flow into Democratic campaign organizations, is another left-leaning group hurting the DNC?
Obama administration divided over Syria?... Where was Obama’s cabinet after the State of the Union?... President heads to nearby Maryland tout broadband/wireless initiative at 11:30 am ET… Is OFA diverting resources away from the DNC?... Wrapping all of the Christie-related developments from last night… On last night’s Sink-vs.-Jolly debate in FL-13… Top Obama operatives critical of Hillary’s early 2016 positioning… And Scott Walker heads to Texas.By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** Obama administration divided over Syria? For the past week, we’ve been writing about intra-party divides -- Republicans on immigration, Democrats on trade. But now here’s a different divide: One of President Obama’s top cabinet members is reportedly criticizing the administration’s handling of Syria, especially after the administration has touted Syria turning over its chemical weapons. Per the Daily Beast’s Josh Rogin: “Secretary of State John Kerry has lost faith in his own administration’s Syria policy, he told fifteen U.S. Congressmen in a private, off-the-record meeting, according to two of the senators who were in the room. Kerry also said he believes the regime of Bashar al Assad is failing to uphold its promise to give up its chemical weapons according to schedule; that the Russians are not being helpful in solving the Syrian civil war; and that the Geneva 2 peace talks that he helped organize are not succeeding. But according to the senators, Kerry now wants to arm Syria's rebels.” Kerry’s office has denied any split here. "At no point did he, during the meeting, did Secretary Kerry raise lethal assistance for the opposition," spokeswoman Jen Psaki said yesterday. "At no point did he state what, I think, was quoted, that the process has failed." And, of course, the two senators who were in the room with Kerry -- Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham -- are huge proponents of further U.S. intervention in Syria. But this is the latest Middle East headache for the administration. And if you are looking for the rationale for why U.S. policy on Syria MIGHT change and change soon, look no further than this overlooked comment from DNI James Clapper last week: “The Syrian militant group tied to al-Qaida, the al-Nusra Front, wants to attack the United States and is training a growing cadre of fighters from Europe, the Mideast and even the U.S., the top U.S. intelligence official told Congress.”
Rainer Jensen / EPA
US Secretary of State John Kerry, during the opening of the so-called Geneva II peace talks in Montreux Switzerland, 22, January 2014. Representatives of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a deeply divided opposition, world powers and regional bodies started a long-delayed peace conference aimed at bringing an end to a nearly three-year civil war.
*** Where was Obama’s cabinet after the State of the Union? Speaking of Obama’s cabinet members, observers have criticized the White House for often underutilizing the cabinet, especially when it’s trying to amplify a message. And this remains a legitimate criticism. Consider the activity (or lack thereof) after the president’s State of the Union address last Tuesday. According to a First Read review of cabinet secretary travel, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell today is holding a roundtable discussion on climate change at the University of Washington. Also today, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, and Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack are on a panel discussing the “Promise Zones” Obama touted in his State of the Union. And on Thursday, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and Vice President Biden attend a transportation-infrastructure event in Philadelphia. But that’s it for the State of the Union-themed cabinet activity since Obama’s speech last week. Yes, President Obama hit the road for two days after his speech (to Maryland, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Tennessee). Yes, he’s holding an event today on promoting broadband/wireless access for students (more on that below). And yes, some of the cabinet members are overseas (like Kerry), working on the debt limit (like Treasury Secretary Lew), or working on signing up folks for health-care coverage (like HHS Secretary Sebelius). But if you were expecting a full cabinet blitz after the State of the Union, you didn’t get it. And that’s been a mystery for some time, especially when you have some pretty big heavy hitters,
*** Obama heads to nearby Maryland tout broadband/wireless initiative at 11:30 am ET: Meanwhile, Obama today heads to Adelphi, MD to deliver remarks at 11:30 am ET on “connecting 99% of students to next-generation broadband and wireless technology within five years,” the White House says. This is his ConnectED initiative. But it’s worth remembering that it’s essentially a replay of announcement the White House did back in June 2013. See here.
*** Is OFA diverting resources away from the DNC? So far this 2014 election cycle, Democrats mostly have been outraising Republicans -- the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has hauled in almost $15 million more than the National Republican Congressional Committee, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has the edge over the National Republican Senatorial Committee. The DCCC also will release a memo today touting that its candidates have outraised GOP ones. But there is one exception to all of this: The Republican National Committee has outraised the Democratic National Committee, $73 million to $63 million. (And the DNC also has more than $15 million in debt compared with $0 for the RNC.) Yet here’s another figure to chew on: President Obama’s Organizing for Action raised $26 million last year, which raises this question -- is OFA taking money away from the DNC? Yes, OFA can accept unlimited checks from wealthy donors, while the DNC and RNC cannot (and some of the big-money checks OFA is getting are from maxed-out DNC donors). Then again, the average 2013 contribution to OFA was just $37, so not all of these donations are from big-money folks; in fact, they’re from Obama’s army of grassroots donors. But that brings up another question: Why doesn’t OFA turn over that grassroots army to the DNC? The DNC has not been a great small-donor organization, and it appears Team Obama isn’t exactly helping the effort as well as it could.
*** All of the Chris Christie-related developments from last night: Participating in a radio Q&A, the governor “acknowledged that his office had been subpoenaed by the U.S. attorney in New Jersey in relation to the bridge scandal that has rocked his administration,” NBC’s Mike O’Brien reports. He also dismissed the questions about his knowledge of the Fort Lee, NJ lane closures as “just a game of gotcha.” Said Christie: "The most important issue is, did I know anything about the plan to close these lanes? Did I authorize it, did I know about it, did I approve it — did I have any knowledge about it beforehand?" But around the same time as the Q&A was being conducted, former Christie Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Kelley -- who wrote the words “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” -- invoked her 5th Amendment rights in refusing to turn over documents subpoenaed by state investigators.
*** House Republicans continue to want something in return for debt-ceiling hike: And here’s the latest in the debt-ceiling debate, per the Washington Post: “Several House members told The Washington Post on Monday that Republican leaders have narrowed their list of possible debt-limit strategies to two options: trading a one-year extension for approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, or trading a one-year extension for repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s risk corridors. Both plans, which were first discussed last week at the House GOP’s annual retreat in Cambridge, Md., will be debated further Tuesday morning, when House Republicans meet at the Capitol. House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) is said to be open to either approach, as long as it can win heavy GOP support.” But here’s what House Republicans face in opposition: The White House maintains, as it has in the past, that it won’t negotiate over raising the debt limit.
*** About last night’s FL-13 debate: Want to know why so many political observers are paying close attention to the special FL-13 congressional election between Alex Sink (D) and David Jolly (R)? It’s because the two candidates in this swing district are test-driving many of the messages we could see in November. At last night’s debate, Jolly hit Sink on health care, per NBC’s Sarah Blackwill. “It was founded on a premise that now has been called the lie of the year, and how a candidate can favor Obamacare is beyond me. I would favor repealing it immediately.” Here was Sink’s response: “This Affordable Care Act has not been perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but my position is it should not be repealed because we cannot go to where we were before.” More: “We have to fix what's wrong with the act, and one of the reasons I'm running for Congress is to go to Washington and work with others -- work across party lines -- and fix them.” And here was Jolly defending his opposition to raising the minimum wage: “Barack Obama is not an economist and neither are most members of Congress. I think it's silly that we let Congress arbitrarily choose a wage rate. Let's decide on what the wage should be, index it to inflation, take it out of the hands of politicians once and for all.”
*** Top Obama operatives critical of Team Hillary’s early 2016 positioning: Turning to 2016 news, Buzzfeed has a piece with folks in Obama World criticizing Hillary Land’s positioning so far. “Top advisers and former aides to Barack Obama say Hillary Clinton is repeating the mistakes she made in 2008, building a machine in lieu of a message and lumbering toward the Democratic nomination with the same deep vulnerabilities that cost her the nomination eight years earlier.” The biggest problem in Hillary Land right now -- which we’ve noted before -- is that there are TOO MANY people involved. And the criticism that’s not becoming public has the message: “It’s time to rein in some of these people.”
*** Walker heads to Texas: Lastly, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker today heads to Dallas to raise money from Harlan Crow.
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“President Obama is set Tuesday to announce more than $750 million in charitable commitments from technology and telecom companies for a new effort to bring high-speed Internet to the classroom,” The Hill writes.
Exhausting all options by March… The Washington Post: “Treasury Secretary Jack Lew urged Congress on Monday to act quickly to raise the federal debt limit, saying he will run short of cash to pay the nation’s bills by the end of the month without additional borrowing authority. Enforcement of the debt limit is suspended, but it will come back into force Friday under the terms of a deal lawmakers struck in the fall. That leaves Lew bumping up against the limit in tax-filing season, he said Monday, when he will have far less flexibility to juggle the books and ward off disaster.”
The Hill: “White House National Security Adviser Susan Rice strongly criticized Israel Monday night for attacking John Kerry after he warned failed peace could lead to a boycott of Israel by other countries.”
AP remembers Joan Mondale, “who burnished a reputation as ‘Joan of Art’ for her passionate advocacy for the arts while her husband was vice president and a U.S. ambassador, died Monday. She was 83. … An arts lover and an avid potter, Joan Mondale was given a grand platform to promote the arts when her husband, then-Democratic U.S. Sen. Walter Mondale, was elected Jimmy Carter‘s vice president in 1976. Carter named her honorary chairwoman of the Federal Council on the Arts and Humanities, and in that role she frequently traveled to museums, theaters and artist studios on the administration’s behalf. She lobbied Congress and states to boost public arts programs and funding.”
“Congress is on the verge of dramatically overhauling federal farm and nutrition policies affecting a broad range of issues, from how food is packaged and sold to how the government helps poor people pay for their groceries,” the Washington Post reports. “After three years of arduous haggling, the Senate is expected to give final passage Tuesday to a new five-year farm bill that the House passed last week. President Obama is expected to sign it when it gets to his desk. The $956.4 billion package has sailed through Congress in recent days with little opposition, making it a rare bipartisan accomplishment in an otherwise rancorous and unproductive era.”
AP: “Congress is poised to send a massive, five-year farm bill that provides food for the needy and subsidies for the nation's farmers to the White House for President Barack Obama's signature. The Senate was expected to pass the almost $100 billion-a-year compromise bill Tuesday; the House passed it last week. The bill provides a financial cushion for farmers who face unpredictable weather and market conditions, while also continuing to subsidize services for rural residents and communities who have hit hard times in recent years. The majority of the bill's cost is food stamps, which supplement meal costs for 1 in 7 Americans.”
NBC’s Tom Curry: “The biggest and most publicized portion of the bill is nutrition assistance, mostly food stamps, which will be cut by $8 billion.” More: “The Congressional Budget Office says the bill will cut deficits by nearly $17 billion, compared to prior law. Last year’s House version of the farm bill would have gone much further, cutting deficits by $50 billion.”
Robert Costa: “Republican leaders have narrowed their list of possible debt-limit strategies to two options: trading a one-year extension for approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, or trading a one-year extension for repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s risk corridors. Both plans, which were first discussed last week at the House GOP’s annual retreat in Cambridge, Md., will be debated further Tuesday morning, when House Republicans meet at the Capitol. House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) is said to be open to either approach, as long as it can win heavy GOP support.”
National Journal: “Members of Congress and their aides took more free trips around the world in 2013 than in any year since new restrictions were put in place after the Jack Abramoff influence-peddling scandal.”
Legistorm’s analysis: “Lawmakers and their staff broke a record for taking the most privately funded trips since 2007, when reforms came into effect after a major lobbying scandal. In 2013, members of Congress and their staff made nearly 1900 trips costing $6 million, breaking the record for the most privately sponsored travel since rules were tightened in 2007. By comparison the previous post-reform high was 2011, when privately financed travel cost $5.8 million for 1600 trips.”
Time: “In just four months, Republicans have shifted their Obamacare strategy from “repeal” to ‘repeal and replace.’ That’s a twist in tone and policy ahead of the 2014-midterm elections that recognizes the public’s weariness of government obstructionism and approval of some aspects of the health care law. The Republicans’ move is a politically savvy calculation, after three years and 47 votes in the Republican-controlled House to defund and dismantle the law, plus a government shutdown led by Obamacare-obsessed members that sank the party’s approval ratings to record lows.”
“Republicans may need immigration reform to avoid extinction in the long run, but there's a growing fear within the party that bringing it up now -- as House GOP leaders have laid the groundwork to do by releasing a pro-reform blueprint -- would depress conservative voter turnout and damage their standing in the 2014 elections,” Talking Points Memo writes.
Said on House GOP aide: “No way it happens. I just don't see it going anywhere. I think 2014 is a slam dunk to us otherwise and this would really piss off the base."
The Hill: “Environmental groups are warning President Obama that his liberal base might stay home on Election Day if he approves the Keystone XL oil pipeline.”
“Every vulnerable Senate Democrat up for re-election in 2014 voted with President Barack Obama at least 90 percent of the time in 2013, according to CQ Roll Call’s latest vote studies, released Monday.”
But David Hawkings notes, “The atmospherics offered plenty of clues, but the numbers don’t lie: The House was an even more polarized and partisan place last year than it was when the tea party class of Republicans took over the place two years before. And that’s in part because those lawmakers have grown even more antagonistic to President Barack Obama’s agenda — and even more willing to toe the party line. That is among the central takeaways from CQ Roll Call’s analysis of 2013 congressional voting patterns, the latest installment in an annual study that began six decades ago.”
“It won’t be easy, quick, or simple, but Mitch McConnell can likely force a vote one way or another on President Obama’s climate-change rules,” National Journal writes. “The Senate minority leader last month invoked a rarely used legislative tool—the Congressional Review Act—to try to block the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rule clamping down on carbon emissions from the nation’s power plants.”
Hillary Clinton’s teaming up with Univision on her “Too Small to Fail” initiative.
Stu Rothenberg with some long-view perspective: “Not a single Democratic seat up next cycle is in a state that was carried by Mitt Romney in 2012. In fact, only two of the states, Colorado and Nevada, could even be characterized as competitive. By contrast, seven Republican senators up in 2016 sit in states Obama carried in 2012 — Florida, Illinois, Iowa, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — and an eighth sits in a state Obama carried in 2008, but narrowly lost in 2012 (North Carolina). It’s too soon to know if Democrats can win any or all of those states, and with the notable exception of Illinois, they are competitive states, not reliable Democratic bastions. That makes them different from the current cycle, when many of the Democratic Senate seats up are in substantially red states.”
ARKANSAS: The Farm Bill could be a factor in the Arkansas Senate race, NBC’s Tom Curry writes: “The farm bill is an issue in the tossup Senate race in Arkansas, the nation’s leading rice-producing state. Sen. Mark Pryor, a Democrat seeking his third term, attacked his Republican opponent Rep. Tom Cotton, the only member of the Arkansas congressional delegation to vote against the bill last week. … Cotton said the bill costs too much and ‘fails to make real reforms – lacking even common-sense work requirements that would provide job training to able-bodied adults receiving food stamps.’”
CALIFORNIA: The San Diego-area CA-52 is now a “Pure Toss Up” instead of Democrat Favored, per Rothenberg.
GEORGIA: The Hill reports that a GOP poll shows Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) leading a seven-candidate field for Georgia Senate. Gingrey gets 19% followed by Karen Handel 14%, Rep. Paul Broun 13%, Jack Kingston 11%, David Perdue 8%. The poll is sponsored by Citizens United, which is backing Broun. It was conducted by KellyAnne Conway’s firm inc./Woman Trend.
KANSAS: What’s the matter with Kansas? Nathan Gonzales changes the governor’s race from Safe Republican to Republican Favored, as Democrats have a credible candidate and Gov. Sam Brownback’s approval ratings are struggling.
NEW HAMPSHIRE: Scott Brown went shirtless, and it was on the front page of the New Hampshire Union Leader in an event to benefit the Special Olympics.
NEW JERSEY: Former Christie Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Ann Kelly is refusing to go along with a subpoena from the state committee investigating the bridge scandal, citing the Fifth Amendment. The Record: “She joins Christie’s campaign manager as the second person to put up a roadblock to an ongoing legislative probe.”
*** Tuesday’s “The Daily Rundown” line-up: Chuck will interview the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) regarding the latest news coming out of Syria. Plus, Chuck will speak with the Director of the White House Policy Council, Cecilia Munoz about the Administration’s agenda over the next few months . Then, we’ll talk trade policy with Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT). All that plus the latest on Governor Christie with NBC’s National Investigative Correspondent Michael Isikoff, a packed data bank and Chuck’s Tuesday Takeaway.
*** Tuesday’s “Jansing & Co.” line-up: MSNBC’s Ari Melber, filling in for Chris Jansing, interviews Chicago Sun-Times Washington Bureau Chief Lynn Sweet and White House Reporter for the Washington Post David Nakamura, Fmr. Clinton Drug Czar Gen. Barry McCaffrey and Variety Sr. Editor Ramin Setoodeh, Fmr. WH Political Director for GWB Matt Schlapp and Center for American Progress Action Campaign Director Emily Tisch Sussman, Bianca Bosker, The Huffington Post Senior Tech Editor and Jack Lerner, USC Intellectual Property and Tech Law Clinic, G Willow Wilson
*** “MSNBC Live” Line-Up at 11:00 am ET: MSNBC’s Richard Lui interviews technology writer Bob Sullivan, Retail & Economic Analyst Hitha Prabhakar , Dr. Rahul Gupta from the Kanawha-Charleston, WV Health Dept., msnbc.com’s Adam Serwer and Allan Levene – a congressional candidate in 4 states! Today’s Agenda Panel includes The Huffington Post’s Amanda Terkel, MaddowBlog’s Steve Benen and The Grio’s Zerlina Maxwell.
*** Tuesday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” line-up: NBC’s Andrea Mitchell interviews Sen. Bob Corker, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg and the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza.
*** Tuesday’s “News Nation with Tamron Hall” line-up: MSNBC’s Tamron Hall interviews Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Florida Times Union’s Larry Hannan on the Michael Dunn trial and the Asbury Park Press’ John Schoonejongen.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Monday night in a local radio interview that he had no knowledge of a plan to snarl traffic near the busy George Washington Bridge, telling listeners, "I had nothing to do with this." His statement comes on the heels of recent allegations from former adviser David Wildstein that "evidence exists" that Christie was in the loop.By Michael O'Brien, NBC News
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Monday acknowledged that his office had been subpoenaed by the U.S. Attorney in New Jersey in relation to the bridge scandal that has rocked his administration.
Christie said his office would comply with the federal subpoena.
The Republican governor's acknowledgement comes after a former aide, Bridget Anne Kelly, who allegedly conspired to close lanes on the George Washington Bridge as political retribution against a local mayor invoked her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination in the state legislature's investigation.
Christie nonetheless sought to maintain his footing by waving off new questions about the precise timing of when he learned about closed lanes on the George Washington Bridge last fall as "just a game of gotcha."
Speaking for the first time since a former Port Authority official said that "evidence exists" to contradict the governor's blanket denials about his knowledge of the lane closings on the George Washington Bridge, the New Jersey governor waved off the suggestion that he wasn't being forthcoming.
"The most important issue is, did I know anything about the plan to close these lanes? Did I authorize it, did I know about it, did I approve it — did I have any knowledge about it beforehand?" he said during a regularly-scheduled appearance on an "Ask the Governor" segment on WKXW radio in New Jersey. "And the answer is still the same: it's unequivocally no."
Christie later continued: "Here's the thing that I find so interesting, because what's going on now with all this other stuff is just a game of gotcha. When did I first learn about this or that, well, the fact of the matter is, I've been very clear about this. Before these lanes were closed, I knew nothing about it, I didn't plan it, I didn't authorize it, I didn't approve it. I knew nothing about it."
The governor's words represent an attempt to parry questions about the extent of his knowledge of the lane closings last fall after an attorney for David Wildstein, a former Port Authority official now at the center of the scandal, wrote to dispute Christie's assertions during a press conference following revelations that one of his aides had conspired to orchestrate the lane closings.
Christie said it's conceivable that someone might have mentioned gridlock in the city of Fort Lee, or that he might have read about it. But he said he didn't realize it was a serious issue worth of investigation until the concerns of the Port Authority's executive director, Patrick Foye, were reported publicly in the press.
"Whether I read any of those — if I did, or heard anything from anybody about traffic — it would not have been meaningful to me," he said.
Christie had kept a low public profile since Wildstein's letter broke last Friday, mostly attending to affairs involving last weekend's Super Bowl in New Jersey. The governor's associates had lashed out at both Wildstein and the New York Times (which first broke news of the letter before slightly revising its stories) in leaked memos to various media outlets.
The scandal has taken a toll on Christie's once-sterling reputation as a tell-it-like-it governor with bipartisan appeal. The governor's poll numbers have steadily drop since the scandal first emerged; more alarmingly, Christie has lost ground versus Hillary Clinton in early polls testing the possible 2016 presidential matchup.
Christie's office began producing documents "on a rolling basis" for the New Jersey state legislature on Monday to comply with various subpoenas related to the inquiry. Christie also confirmed his office has been subpoenaed by the U.S. Attorney's office, and he said his office would similarly comply.
NBC's Michael Isikoff contributed to this report.
Republicans are defending a series of websites they established that appear to support Democratic candidates for Congress, but instead direct contributions to the GOP.
The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) said its websites were not confusing, and accused Democrats of crying foul because their candidates were struggling.
The sites, like this one for Arizona Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, feature a "Kyrsten Sinema for Congress" banner, and a picture of the first-term congresswoman from a competitive Maricopa County district.
The sites also display a clear, but smaller secondary banner, urging contributions to "help defeat" (in this case) Sinema. At the bottom of the page, it features an NRCC disclaimer.
"Democrats are clearly pitching stories on these effective websites because they are worried about voters learning the truth about their candidates' disastrous records," said NRCC spokeswoman Andrea Bozek. "Anyone who reads the website understand these are negative attacks. Also as required our disclaimer is at the bottom."
Asked whether the website was potentially confusing to a potential donor seeking to support a Democratic candidate for Congress, Bozek said: "I think we give voters a little more credit than that."
The issue was highlighted by Democratic groups and reports in both National Journal and the Tampa Bay Times. The latter's report focused on an individual donor who had sought to give money to Florida Democrat Alex Sink's campaign ahead of a special election in the Tampa Bay area last month. The report had indicated that the NRCC had declined to return a donor's errant contribution.
Bozek said the report was published, though, before they heard from the donor featured in the piece. His contribution was refunded, and Bozek said the NRCC would refund anyone's contribution in error.
"Anyone who asks for a contribution or who was confused, we'd be happy to refund," she said.
President Obama's Organizing for Action says it's airing a new six-figure TV ad pushing Congress to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour.Watch on YouTube
"President Obama is urging Congress to give America a raise," the ad goes. "His plan raises the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and requires equal pay for women to boost family incomes."
It concludes, "Congress: Give America a raise. We've earned it."
The ad comes after Obama made raising the minimum wage a key part of his State of the Union address last night.
It also comes as critics charge that his proposals are playing small ball as the president begins his sixth year in office.
Here was NBC's David Gregory interviewing White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough on "Meet the Press" yesterday:
DAVID GREGORY: There's going to be some action, you've got to be behind it. Here's my question. He's got more than 1,000 days left. And yet, to a lot of people, it seemed like a smaller State of the Union, that his agenda is smaller, a shrinking presidency. Last year he talked about gun control, talked about climate change, remaking the health care system. Has he gone small?
DENIS MCDONOUGH: Well, I'll tell you, if you think about the things that he laid out on the table this week, $10.10 an hour minimum wage, that's not going to be small for the hundreds of thousands of people who benefit from that. When you think about long-term unemployment, the president bringing in 300 of the country's biggest employers to say to them, "Hey, let's resolve this issue that's really dogging our economy." And when those guys get a fair shot at a job and, in fact, a new job at some point, that's not going to be small to them.
Forget 2016, Christie’s top goal now is saving his governorship… When the response (attacking Wildstein) is worse than the revelation you’re responding to… Guess who’s coming to CPAC… DNC spikes the football against Christie in new web video… Recapping Obama vs. O’Reilly… And McDonough on immigration and Keystone.By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro, NBC News
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (second from front) departs City Hall in Fort Lee, New Jersey January 9, 2014. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
*** Forget 2016, Christie’s top goal now is saving his governorship: After the last 72 hours of new developments in the scandals hitting New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s administration, the political story here is no longer about whether Christie can survive to be a top presidential contender in 2016. Rather, it’s about whether he’ll be able to hold on to his governorship. For starters, former Christie Port Authority aide David Wildstein is now saying -- through his lawyer -- that “evidence exists” that Christie had knowledge of the lane closings in Fort Lee, NJ. Given that Wildstein appears eager to cooperate with investigators and tell his own story, who else follows suit? Former Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Kelly? Anyone else? It’s looking like it will be every man and woman for him/herself. (Wildstein didn’t produce any evidence, but he’s clearly in survival mode for himself. And that has to have the Christie folks in a mini panic, because who else could break?) In addition to Wildstein (and maybe others) talking, New Jersey lawmakers will start getting their hands on new subpoenaed documents as early as today. The New York Times: “On Monday, the first of what are most likely thousands of pages of documents subpoenaed by the State Legislature from prominent members of the Christie administration were to be turned over to investigators.” And finally, none of these new developments even touch on the other scandal rocking the administration -- the allegation from Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer (D) that Hurricane Sandy relief money was tied to her city’s approval of a private development project the governor’s office wanted.
*** When the response is worse than the revelation you’re responding to: Team Christie’s reaction to Wildstein might have been worse than Wildstein’s actual revelation. In a memo released on Saturday, Team Christie said this about Wildstein:
-- “As a 16-year-old kid, he sued over a local school board election.
-- “He was publicly accused by his high school social studies teacher of deceptive behavior.
-- “He had a controversial tenure as Mayor of Livingston
-- “He was an anonymous blogger known as Wally Edge
-- “He had a strange habit of registering web addresses for other people's names without telling them”
Attacking your accuser allows you to live another day, but it doesn’t help people believe your story. Bottom line: When you’re attacking the press or bringing up things that someone did when in high school, you are usually losing. And by the way, while Team Christie is now attacking Wildstein (“David Wildstein will do and say anything to save David Wildstein”), it’s worth pointing out that they PRAISED him after he resigned his post in the wake of growing scrutiny over the Fort Lee lane closures. “Mr. Christie’s spokesman, Michael Drewniak, said Mr. Wildstein had been a ‘tireless advocate’ for the state’s interests during his time at the Port Authority. ‘We are grateful for his commitment and dedication to the important work of the Port Authority and thank him for his service to the people of New Jersey and the region,’ Mr. Drewniak said in a statement.” Perhaps coming down hard on Wildstein is meant to send a message to anyone else who might be tempted to go public against the governor???
*** But guess who’s coming to CPAC: NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell confirms the news that Christie will speak at next month’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) event when he wasn’t invited last year. CPAC organizers defended the 2013 snub saying he wasn’t a conservative all-star back then. “CPAC is to conservative politics what all-star games are to professional athletes,” American Conservative Union head Al Cardenas said at the time. “[In 2012], he strongly advocated for the passage of a $60+ billion pork barrel bill, containing only $9 billion in disaster assistance and he signed up with the federal government to expand Medicaid at a time when his state can ill afford it, so he was not invited to speak.” Cardenas added, “Hopefully he will be back in top form next year. We would be delighted to invite him again in that case.” Talk about odd timing. But with the CPAC crowd, a Republican being under siege -- and the media attention that comes with it -- could be something of a positive. Enemy of my enemy is my friend, we guess. And if Christie is complaining about media attention, he’ll find plenty of allies at CPAC.
*** DNC spikes the football against Christie: Meanwhile, the DNC is up with a new web video on Christie that -- almost literally -- spikes the ball in the end zone. But as the saying goes, when your enemy is destroying himself, stay far, far away. We’re surprised Democrats want to contribute to the politics right now.
*** Obama vs. O’Reilly: Before last night’s Super Bowl, President Obama and Fox’s Bill O’Reilly clashed over questions about the 2012 Benghazi attack, the IRS scandal, and the botched health-care rollout, NBC’s Tom Curry writes. The New York Times adds that the president’s answers to the questions “shed little if any new light on some of the most controversial moments of Mr. Obama’s presidency, but it was a feisty 10-minute encounter that exposed the different world views of Mr. Obama and some of his sharpest critics,” who make up a large portion of O’Reilly’s audience. It was an interview that seemed designed to appeal to the O’Reilly viewer. Obama on whether he should have fired HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius after the health-care rollout: “My main priority right now is making sure that it delivers for the American people,” later adding: “I try to focus not on the fumbles, but on the next play.” On whether there was corruption inside the IRS: “There were some boneheaded decisions... Not even a smidgen of corruption.” Perhaps the biggest contrast of the day? Here was this question from O’Reilly: “I got a letter from Kathy ___— Mr. President why do you feel it's necessary to fundamentally transform a nation?" Compare that with this question NBC’s David Gregory asked White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough: “It seemed like a smaller State of the Union, that his agenda is smaller, a shrinking presidency. Last year he talked about gun control, talked about climate change, remaking the health care system. Has he gone small?” So which is it? Is Obama pushing transformation? Or is he playing small ball? Talk about contrasting world views.
*** McDonough on immigration: “We feel pretty good that we’ll get a bill done this year”: Also on “Meet the Press” yesterday, McDonough signaled that the White House will give House GOP leaders as much room as they want on immigration. “[T]he principles that were laid out by the Republican leadership towards the end of last week, we think that's a pretty good step, pretty good progress in this debate, coming from where they were to where they are now,” McDonough said. “Our job is to step back, let this debate happen in the House. And we'll obviously continue to press for our principles. The House Democrats will, as well. And we feel pretty good that we'll get a bill done this year.” The president essentially said the same thing to CNN last week.
*** McDonough on Keystone: State report isn’t the final word: McDonough also cautioned that Friday’s State Department report on the Keystone pipeline – which concluded that the project would have a minimal impact on the environment – wouldn’t be the final word on the matter. “ We have one department with a study. Now we have other expert agencies, the E.P.A., and many others, who have an opportunity-- the Energy Department, an opportunity to look at this and make their determinations. The president wants to protect their ability to do that, make this decision based on the best analysis and most sound science.” McDonough’s comment came across as moving the goalposts, since the so much had been hanging on the State study. But the White House claims others always were going to have to chime in before any final decision was made. But politically, the White House is stuck in no man’s land on this issue, giving enviros hope they’ll stop this, giving Democrats in red states more lines of attack and giving Republicans an issue to claim the president isn’t abiding by his own “all of the above” energy policy. One would think, no matter the decision, the White House would want to rip off the political band aid sooner rather than later. But this process is dragging on, which will likely mean more TV ads targeting Kerry from the left, targeting Obama on both sides and even hitting some Dems in red states.
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“Tens of thousands of people who discovered that HealthCare.gov made mistakes as they were signing up for a health plan are confronting a new roadblock: The government cannot yet fix the errors,” The Washington Post reports. “Roughly 22,000 Americans have filed appeals with the government to try to get mistakes corrected, according to internal government data obtained by The Washington Post. They contend that the computer system for the new federal online marketplace charged them too much for health insurance, steered them into the wrong insurance program or denied them coverage entirely.”
On Sunday, “Obama said the initial problems with the government’s Healthcare.gov web site have been fixed ‘and now it’s working the way it’s supposed to and we’ve signed up 3 million people,’” NBCNews.com’s Tom Curry reports from an interview between Obama and Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly.
James Kitfield notes that Joe Biden may very well have been right about dividing Iraq into three states, as it now sits on the precipice of descending back into civil war.
Janet Yellen takes over the Fed today.
Politico: “President Barack Obama is counting on Senate Democrats to help approve his legislative agenda during his final years in office. And though they are his staunchest allies on most economic issues, many Democratic senators are breaking with him on key issues in very public ways. From trade to Iran sanctions, the Keystone XL pipeline, Obamacare, the National Security Agency and energy policy, Senate Democrats seem unusually comfortable criticizing the president, with only minimal concerns about repercussions from the White House.”
Obama meets with Harry Reid today at the White House.
Beth Reinhard: “The gap in Clinton's public record between her first presidential campaign and the moment if and when she launches a second one offers both opportunity and risk. Opportunity for a baggage-laden veteran to reintroduce herself to voters and reposition herself to be more appealing to the rising populist Left. Risk, in that critics will scrutinize the reintroduction and repositioning for flip-flops.” Think NSA…
She did weigh in on one thing. Roll Call: “Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton strongly backs the Obama administration view opposing new Iran sanctions for now in a letter released by Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin Sunday. ‘At this moment it is of particular importance that our government’s efforts work in coordination, not at cross-purposes. We should give anyone watching from Tehran no reason to doubt America’s unity and resolve,’ Clinton wrote. ‘And should Iran fail to provide adequate assurances to the international community and undertake commitments to ensure it will not and cannot produce a nuclear weapon, then the legislative and executive branches will move with speed and unity, backed by America’s allies to institute even tougher sanctions.’”
National Journal looks at Americans’ for Prosperity’s latest anti-Obamacare ad.
National Journal looks at some of the strong and weak fourth-quarter fundraising numbers. Among the winners: Democrats Michelle Nunn and Kay Hagan as well as Republicans Mitch McConnell, Terri Lynn Land and Dan Sullivan.
Politico with this 2016 fundraising detail: “Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is headed to Dallas this week for a reelection fundraiser with rich Texas Republicans at the mansion of billionaire real estate titan Harlan Crow. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas invited Foster Friess to be his guest at last week’s State of the Union. Rick Santorum met last month in the Northern Virginia offices of his political guru John Brabender with top advisers, several of whom are on the payroll of his political outfit Patriot Voices. And Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who recently started a nonprofit that can accept unlimited donations, last week met some of the right’s most prolific donors at a Koch brothers’ retreat in the California desert.”
Liz Cheney says she’s not done with politics. Politico reports she said the following on a conference call with supporters announcing she wasn’t running in Wyoming this year: “At some point, I will be running for something else. This isn’t the right time for my family.”
NEW JERSEY: Chris Christie will speak at CPAC this year.
Bobby Jindal, Paul Ryan, and Rudy Giuliani stood by Christie Sunday.