Newsletters - Feb 28, 2014: The Elevator Speech Overview

by Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP
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The U.S. House and Senate were both in session this past week, returning from a week long work period in district. The National Governors Association (NGA) met in Washington DC for their annual winter meeting, discussing education, transportation, jobs and the economy.  Ahead of next week’s release of the President’s FY2015 budget request, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel proposed a scaled down defense budget with emphasis on changing threats. President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH-8) held a private meeting in the White House Tuesday that both men called “constructive” but, by all appearances, was largely eventful only because they…well…met. The tea-party movement became five year olds, or is that five years old, on Thursday. On Wednesday, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer (R) vetoed a bill that would have allowed businesses to refuse service to gays and lesbians if they felt serving them infringed on their religious rights. On the same day, a federal judge in Texas struck down the state’s ban on gay marriage as unconstitutional.

The long-awaited issue of tax reform regained some momentum this week when House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI-4) released his plan for overhauling the tax code Wednesday. With Camp in his last year as chairman and election year politics in play, passage of the bill is unlikely. Nonetheless, the proposal is a thorough benchmark that will set a baseline for tax reform discussions going forward.  Because the proposal touched upon items such as the mortgage interest deduction that many had thought were sacred cows, companies and even industries are already gearing up for a fight.

The Week's Top 5

Here’s a look at some of the top political stories of the week:

  • Hagel’s Military Budget Focuses on Changing Threats – “Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel proposed a defense budget designed to turn the military’s attention away from the long ground war in Afghanistan and toward emerging cyberthreats from China and increasing challenges from al Qaeda-affiliated groups in Africa. The Pentagon road map, sure to face fierce resistance from lawmakers in both parties, calls for reducing the military’s reliance on manpower-heavy troop buildups, investing instead in more agile special forces and cyberwarriors. In unveiling the first Pentagon budget to bear his imprint, Mr. Hagel took aim at rising personnel costs and revived an earlier plan to shrink the Army to its smallest force levels since World War II…” (WSJ)

  • Ways and Means Chairman Releases Ambitious Tax Plan – “The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Dave Camp [R-MI-4], on Wednesday released an ambitious overhaul of the nation’s tax system that would touch every aspect of the tax laws, affecting home buyers, savings for retirement and how the government treats corporations’ overseas profits… House Republicans have little expectation that the bill will come up for a vote this year, or even pass the committee… It is an election year, meaning Congress will have little appetite for taking on a tax overhaul. Despite all that, some Republicans seemed excited that the conversation was beginning…” (WSJ)  Some highlights of the plan can be found here.

  • Arizona governor vetoes bill on denying services to gays – “Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) vetoed a controversial bill Wednesday that would have allowed businesses in the state to deny service to gays and lesbians if they felt that serving them would violate their religious rights. Gay rights advocates had denounced the legislation, labeling it a form of legalized discrimination, and Arizona’s two GOP senators and leading Republican candidates for governor had urged Brewer to veto the bill…” (WaPo)

  • White House Weighs Options for Revamping NSA Surveillance – “Administration lawyers have presented the White House with four options for restructuring the National Security Agency’s phone-surveillance program, from ditching the controversial collection altogether to running it through the telephone companies, according to officials familiar with the discussions… None of the three options for relocating the data have gained universal favor… Of the three options for relocating the data, two of them – with phone companies or another government agency – appear most technically possible.” (WSJ)

  • Obama: 4M have signed up for ObamaCare – “Approximately 4 million people have purchased insurance through the ObamaCare exchanges President Obama told volunteers at an Organizing for Action (OFA) summit in Washington on Tuesday… The announcement, which came with just five weeks left in the early enrollment period, means some 700,000 have enrolled in ObamaCare so far in February… But the number of people who have actually purchased coverage is likely significantly lower. Analysts estimate that as many as 20 percent of enrollees haven’t paid their first month’s premium, meaning roughly 800,000 of that 4 million do not actually have insurance coverage.” (The Hill)

The Week Ahead
The Senate and House are both in session again next week.

  • The first installment of President Obama’s FY 2015 budget proposal will be released Tuesday. The second installment of the budget proposal is scheduled for release on March 11.

  • Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel will testify on the budget to the House and Senate Armed Services Committees.

  • Also on Tuesday, the Senate Banking Committee will hold a 10 AM hearing to question three of President Obama’s nominees for the Federal Reserve: Lael Brainard, Jerome Powell, and vice chairman nominee Stanley Fischer.

  • The Senate is set to consider a bipartisan measure next week to reauthorize the Child Care and Development Block Grant, which expired in 1996. The program that gives federal money to the states to pay for child care for low-income families is expected to have a good chance of passage on the Senate floor.

  • Weekly schedules:

    • Although no yet released at the time of publication, the weekly legislative schedule for the House will be posted here.

    • The Senate schedule for the week of March 3 is available here.

    • Although no yet released at the time of publication, the President’s weekly schedule will be posted here.

Elections: 2014

With the 2014 mid-term campaign season already underway, here’s a look at some developments in the electoral landscape.

  • Retirements Continue

    • Rep. John Dingell (D-MI-12), the longest serving member of Congress in history, announced Monday he will not seek reelection. Having served in the House for 58 years by the time he tires, he called the current House atmosphere "obnoxious." His wife, Democrat Debbie Dingell, plans to run to replace him in the safe Democratic district.

    • Rep. Ed Pastor (D-AZ-7) announced Thursday his plans to retire at the end of the 113th Congress. Located in a safely Democratic district, the seat is not likely to switch parties.

  • Key Developments

    • Rep. Cory Gardner (R-4-CO) jumped into the Colorado Senate race against Democratic incumbent Mark Udall on Wednesday. A top-tier Republican recruit, his entry has caused the race to be viewed more competitively, although Democrat Udall is still favored.

    • Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democratic challenger to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) in the Kentucky Senate race, was joined by  former President Bill Clinton at a fundraiser on Tuesday. A self-professed “Clinton Democrat,” Grimes sought to distance herself from Obama.

    • Planned Parenthood is planning to spend big in the midterm elections, with the total cost of their campaign expected to pass $18 million (including 2013 spending in the Virginia race), a record amount for the organization.

    • Billionaire Tom Steyer, who recently pledged to spend over $100 million dollars to pressure candidates on climate change, was followed into politics by his older brother Jim Steyer, who announced the launch of a political advocacy group – and perhaps a super PAC to follow. Jim Steyer, a children’s advocate with ties to Hillary Clinton, said of he and his brother’s efforts “We’re fearless.” Asked if they are trying to become the liberal answer to the Koch brothers, Jim replied “I take that as a compliment… We’re trying to change the world.”

  • In the States

    • National Journal ranks the 15 governorships most likely to flip in 2014. At the top of the list is Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (R), followed by Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) and Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R).

    1. If the 2014 election for U.S. House of Representatives were being held today, would you vote for the Republican candidate or the Democratic candidate in your district??

      1. 42% - Republican (Among Independents: 43% - Republican)

      1. 39% - Democrat (Among independents: 29% - Democrat)

    2. In general, is your opinion of the Republican party…

      1. 33% - Favorable

      2. 61% - Unfavorable

    3. In general, is your opinion of the Democratic party…

      1. 42% - Favorable

      2. 53% - Unfavorable

Public Opinion

Ohio 2016 Presidential Field: According to a Quinnipiac poll of Ohio voters conducted February 12-17:

    • Hillary Clinton (D) over Jeb Bush (R) = +15

    • Hillary Clinton (D) over Marco Rubio (R) = +14

    • Hillary Clinton (D) over Rand Paul (R) = +13

    • Hillary Clinton (D) over Chris Christie (R) = +13

    • Hillary Clinton (D) over Paul Ryan (R) = +9

    • Hillary Clinton (D) over Ted Cruz (R) = +17

    • Hillary Clinton (D) over John Kasich (R) = +12

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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