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Spencer Bachus Will Not Seek Re-Election in 2014

Longtime Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Ala., announced on Monday that he will not seek re-election in 2014, according to several local news outlets and a statement from his office.

“It has been the greatest privilege imaginable to serve as the representative of the people of Alabama in the United States House of Representatives,” Bachus said in a statement. “It is an honor that I never dreamed could have been possible for me and the words ‘thank you’ are far from adequate. But as Ecclesiastes 3 says, to everything there is a season and I feel in my heart that now is the time for me to announce this decision and allow others to have the opportunity to serve.”

Read More: Spencer Bachus Will Not Seek Re-Election in 2014

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Where Has Paul Ryan Been During the Latest Shutdown Debate?

With Congress locked in near-continuous budget and debt limit battles, one influential lawmaker has been noticeably quiet this year.

Rep. Paul D. Ryan, the House Budget chairman and the GOP’s 2012 vice presidential candidate, has been a trusted, go-to source on budget and fiscal issues in the party for years. Yet the Wisconsin Republican has not, seemingly, been at the forefront of the most recent fight over a stopgap spending bill, nor has he been a loud voice on the debt limit.

And that has some Republicans scratching their heads.

“It’s a legitimate question. I have no idea,” Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah said in response to a question about why Ryan hasn’t been more vocal.

“I don’t know that I can really answer that question,” said House Agriculture Chairman Frank D. Lucas of Oklahoma. “Maybe he’s got a lot of things going on. I just don’t know.”

Republican after Republican spoke highly of the GOP star, saying Ryan remains a thought-leader in the conference.

“He is certainly someone that all of us look to for his ability as a budgetary technician,” said Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona. “His advice, I think, is always not only insightful, but has a compelling impact on most of the members of the conference.”

But even aides who note that Ryan has been vocal behind closed doors say he could be more active.

Read More on Roll Call: Where Has Paul Ryan Been During the Latest Shutdown Debate?

CR Blues: Constant Brinkmanship Brings Fatigue

If you thought this week was bad, get used to it. The dysfunction in Congress is likely to make Capitol Hill life miserable for at least the next two months — if it doesn’t consume yet another holiday season.

The most Congress seems able to manage lately is to keep the lights on for a little longer so they can keep arguing over the budget and Obamacare — and even that has been in jeopardy. And members are starting to feel fatigued by the constant brinkmanship.

“It’s not just frustrating, it’s maddening,” said Tennessee Rep. Jim Cooper, a Blue Dog Democrat who has long pushed for a grand bargain on the debt.
“I’ve started chopping wood just to relieve the frustration,” he said.

But for Cooper and other lawmakers, the dance over the debt ceiling has barely begun, with a 17-day sprint until what Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew warns would be the nation’s first default on its obligations in history if one side doesn’t blink.

Even if that hurdle is cleared, Congress will have to find a way to fund the budget for the rest of the year.

The pressure has been intense with the band of conservative Republicans demanding a defunding of the health care law clashing with party leadership’s fears of a politically disastrous shutdown to follow.

This week’s marathon speech by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, demanding the defunding of Obamacare and calling out his fellow Republicans helped generate thousands of phone calls to GOP offices — some of which, lawmakers said, were abusive, brought staffers to tears and generated behind-the-scenes confrontations inside the GOP.

Read More on Roll Call: CR Blues: Constant Brinkmanship Brings Fatigue

Hoyer Predicts Debt Limit Increase Will Last Through Election Year

House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer predicted Wednesday that House Republicans will seek a debt ceiling increase that would run past the 2014 midterm elections.

“I don’t have a dollar amount but I do think Republicans — and I agree with them on this — are looking to get this through the next election. So whatever dollar amount gets you to January of 2015,” the Maryland Democrat said.

“Frankly, [Speaker John A.] Boehner recognizes the irresponsibility of this action, doesn’t want to take his party through it a second time in an election year as he did not the last time, as you recall, in 2011,” Hoyer added, referencing the eleventh-hour August 2011 deal to raise the debt ceiling.

Hoyer also said that Democrats aren’t wed to a number by which they want to raise the debt limit this time around.

Read More on Roll Call: Hoyer Predicts Debt Limit Increase Will Last Through Election Year

Ted Cruz Showed He Can Talk the Talk, but His Walk Is Harder to Measure

Ted Cruz undeniably secured a spot in the annals of senatorial theatrics at the stroke of noon Wednesday, when parliamentary inevitability required him to yield the floor after 21 hours and 19 minutes.

Other than applause from a modest collection of fellow Republicans, did he gain much of genuine worth for his considerable talk-a-thon troubles? The ledger of political costs and benefits looks close to impossible to push toward balance.

Not so for his likely presidential rivals, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, whose mastery of the Senate juggling act looks pretty good by comparison.

About the clearest good for Cruz was that he emphatically made good on the promise at the heart of his campaign last year for the open seat in Texas: He would not go to Washington to make friends but to shake up the capital’s outdated ways of doing business.

Read More on Roll Call: Ted Cruz Showed He Can Talk the Talk, but His Walk Is Harder to Measure

Republicans Plot CR Endgame

House Republican leaders are now in full flinging-spaghetti-at-the-wall mode as they float ideas for a spending bill that could win over enough of their rank and file to prevent a government shutdown.

Since sending the Senate a short-term continuing resolution and full defunding of the Affordable Care Act, the GOP has leaked an array of ideas, from a one-year delay of the health care law as part of an amended stopgap bill to ending health subsidies for lawmakers and staff to, most recently, as reported by the conservative National Review, a one-week stopgap measure to buy time.

But at this point, the differences between Republicans in both chambers are almost as numerous as the potential solutions being proposed and the outcomes they would achieve. Aides in both parties and chambers concede that once the Senate sends a bill to the House, the House will send something else back. The billion-dollar questions now are when that all happens and what that next House GOP product looks like.

Read More on Roll Call: Republicans Plot CR Endgame

Oregon Legislature to Reconvene to Approve Budget Compromise

CQ StateTrack’s Connor O’Brien reports that Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) has called the state’s legislature into a special session to approve a budget compromise. During the special session, which is set to convene Sept. 30, lawmakers will likely vote on a series of revenue measures that include increases in the state’s cigarette and corporate taxes as well as the elimination of a $183 personal tax exemption. The legislative package also includes cuts to the state’s Public Employees Retirement System and eliminates certain tax deductions for medical procedures for seniors, while adding funds to education services.

“This is the Oregon way,” Kitzhaber said in a statement. “I applaud my legislative colleagues on both sides of the aisle for once again coming together for the benefit of all Oregonians. This framework offers a balanced approach that will allow for a sustained reinvestment in Oregon education and other critical services, like mental health, over the long term. We’re delivering for Oregon’s children, for Oregon’s economy, for Oregon’s future.”

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DOJ to Back Off Enforcement in Pro-Pot States; New Legalization Battles Expected in 2014

Flag of North CarolinaU.S. Deputy Attorney General James Cole has signaled that the Justice Department will not enforce federal laws banning marijuana in states that have legalized its use. Cole’s August 29 memo simply urges the states and local governments where marijuana is now legal to conduct and implement enforcement systems that address any potential threats to public safety.

The announcement is expected to embolden states to pass legislation or initiatives similar to the voter-endorsed laws that have already taken effect in Colorado and Washington. Only a few legislatures remain in session this fall and no state is poised to pass legalization legislation in 2013. But lawmakers are already readying bills for 2014 and ballot measures are being considered in several states.

Navy Yard Shooting Hasn’t Broken Logjam on Gun Control in Congress

The mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard — which took place a mile from the Capitol — has advocates once again talking about gun legislation, but still without the votes to pass it.

During his weekly news conference, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said a background check bill, first drafted in response to the elementary-school shooting in Newtown, Conn., isn’t yet achievable.

“We don’t have the votes,” Reid said. “I hope we get them, but we don’t have them now.”

The Nevada Democrat said he might be willing to move a mental-illness gun bill without a background check expansion, but that comment was quickly walked back by an aide who sent around guidance that Reid does not, in fact, intend to pass a mental-illness gun bill without expanded background checks.

Navy Yard Shooting Hasn’t Broken Logjam on Gun Control in Congress

Day of Indecision Doesn’t Bode Well for Decisions to Come

As Capitol Hill returned to its usual levels of edginess and partisanship Tuesday, there was general thankfulness that the boots on the ground — the men and women of the Capitol Police — had provided the requisite competence and comprehensive calm during the mayhem down the street at the Navy Yard.

Everybody else who sought to put the congressional community at ease? Not so much.

The rhetorical questions with the sharpest edge that took hold most quickly on Monday afternoon were still being bandied about more than 24 hours later:

  • If the people in charge in the House and Senate can’t even agree how to handle the fading possibility of a gunman on the loose in the neighborhood, why should we expect they’ll speak with one voice when there’s an obvious and imminent threat?
  • And if the law enforcement professionals can’t cut a quick, bicameral deal on a straightforward matter of security, is there any hope Republican and Democratic politicians will ever find agreement on a matter of policy consequence — on, say, flaws in the security clearance system and how to limit gun violence?

Read More on Roll Call: Day of Indecision Doesn’t Bode Well for Decisions to Come

Vitter’s Push to Nix Benefits Roils Senate

Sen. David Vitter’s push to eliminate health care benefits for lawmakers and staff may finally get a vote this week, but few on either side of the aisle seem happy about it.

The Louisiana Republican’s lonely push to prohibit lawmakers and staff from keeping their health benefits in the new Obamacare exchanges held up the Senate for nearly a week. The stakes are high for Capitol Hill, and senior aides on both sides of the aisle fear a brain drain if staffers lose their benefits. The vote also could hold political peril given that senators would have to vote to save their own benefits as well if they vote down Vitter’s amendment.

Disgusted Democrats, who believe Vitter is grandstanding on an issue that stems from a drafting problem with the health care law, retaliated last week by floating the idea of restricting access to premium contributions for those with a record of engaging in prostitution or other unbecoming behavior.

That was an all-too-clear reference to Vitter’s alleged indiscretions as a client of Deborah Jeane Palfrey, the woman better known as the D.C. Madam. The personal attack demonstrated the particular level of disdain for Vitter, a Democratic aide explained Tuesday, which existed long before his recent procedural maneuvering.

Read More on Roll Call: Vitter’s Push to Nix Benefits Roils Senate

Feinstein: ‘When Will Enough Be Enough’ for Congress to Act on Guns?

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., responded to Monday’s tragedy at the Washington Navy Yardwith another plea for Congress to take action against gun violence.

“This is one more event to add to the litany of massacres that occur when a deranged person or grievance killer is able to obtain multiple weapons — including a military-style assault rifle — and kill many people in a short amount of time. When will enough be enough?” asked Feinstein. “Congress must stop shirking its responsibility and resume a thoughtful debate on gun violence in this country. We must do more to stop this endless loss of life.”
The California Democrat is one of the Senate’s leading advocates for further gun control measures at the federal level, including an assault weapons ban.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller also issued a statement alluding to the broader firearms debate.

Read More on Roll Call: Feinstein: ‘When Will Enough Be Enough’ for Congress to Act on Guns?

Summers Fight Signals Fractured Trust Between Obama, Senate Democrats

If the failed candidacy of Larry H. Summers to head the Federal Reserve is any indication, the White House’s relationship with Senate Democrats needs a great deal of work at a crucial time for looming fiscal fights.

Operatives on both sides of the aisle say the small but successful rebellion from a group of Senate Democrats to the potential Summers nomination revealed broader distrust on policy issues between Democrats in Congress and the White House.

The unusually public battle over Summers, which ended when the former Treasury secretary and top economic adviser to President Barack Obama withdrew from consideration, came as the president prepares to confront Republicans over a possible government shutdown and the need to raise the federal debt ceiling. Clearly, however, the White House will need to step up its outreach to members of Obama’s own party.

Read More on Roll Call: Summers Fight Signals Fractured Trust Between Obama, Senate Democrats

Is the 2014 Senate Race Recruitment Season Over?

West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant’s anticipated entrance into an open-seat Senate race on Tuesday will bring the recruitment phase of next year’s competitive Senate landscape closer to its conclusion.

Senate Democrats, who can afford a loss of no more than five seats in the 2014 midterms to retain a majority, are on the brink of filling the remaining few gaps on the party’s roster of candidates. With Tennant in and Lt. Gov. John Walsh potentially running in Montana, the party has just one vulnerable seat left where it is still searching for a candidate: South Dakota.

Republicans are playing offense in all but two of the top races next year and therefore had far more recruiting to do, but they have also landed candidates in nearly all of their highly targeted races. While the search is ongoing in some second-tier states, most of the party’s biggest midterm question marks stem from the rampant competitive primaries that will play out next summer.

There is still plenty of time before filing deadlines and primaries kick off, but most top Senate candidates tend to be identified with about a year to go. As a result, Senate race recruitment season appears to be winding to an end.

Read More on Roll Call: Is the 2014 Senate Race Recruitment Season Over?

Leaders Look to Bank Leverage for Fall Fiscal Fights

As House GOP leadership tries to tamp down a revolt over funding Obamacare, a quieter battle is being waged with Democrats and within the GOP: 967, 986 or 1,058. As in billion.

That’s the difference between next year’s sequester level, the funding level in leadership’s bill and next year’s pre-sequester level, respectively, and which number makes it into the short-term continuing resolution keeping the government open past Sept. 30 will set the table for the fall fiscal fights to follow.

No matter which number makes it into a short-term bill, the 2011 Budget Control Act would still cut spending to $967 billion starting in January, so to some degree the fight over the numbers is about maximizing each side’s leverage heading into the next round, rather than shooting with real budget bullets.

Republicans say they are trying to preserve the spending cuts from the sequester. ”If the CR comes from the Senate, you’re going to lose it,” a senior GOP aide said.

Another point leadership is making to the rank and file is that they will have more leverage in the next round — when the debt ceiling hits.

“Obama has all the leverage in a CR; he has no leverage in the debt limit,” the aide said.

Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., are still trying to salvage their CR strategy, one aimed at getting Democrats to acquiesce to the $986 billion level while simultaneously providing cover for GOP lawmakers who want to go on record having voted to defund Obamacare but don’t actually want to risk a government shutdown over the issue.

As in 2011, the plan would have the side benefit of getting Senate Democrats to vote one more time to keep Obamacare in place, which Republicans are convinced will help them defeat vulnerable senators in 2014.

But so far, leadership doesn’t have the votes. And on Thursday, Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., introduced his own spending package that would defund Obamacare while cutting spending more than House Republican leaders have proposed.

With 233 Republicans in the House, and about 50 Republicans supporting the Graves bill, that leaves about 180 Republicans not on board. The Graves spending measure includes many names that might be possible for leadership to get, including Jeb Hensarling of Texas, Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, Richard Hudson of North Carolina and Trent Franks of Arizona.

But getting the final 20 to 30 Republicans to support the bill is where leaders may have issues.

“We don’t see where the votes are for the gimmick plan,” Heritage Action for America Communications Director Dan Holler told CQ Roll Call on Friday.

Heritage Action is closely keeping track of the votes, and the group is one of many voices that thinks there are too many Republicans holding the line on Obamacare for leadership’s gambit to work.

If they can’t get the votes, Boehner and company will have a choice — reach out to Democrats or rewrite their bill to appeal to the right.

And that’s where the $967 billion or $986 billion (or something closer to $1.058 trillion, the pre-sequester number set in the 2011 budget law) comes in.

In addition to Obamacare defunding, some Republicans may subscribe to Sen. Tom Coburn’s demand for a sequester at $967 billion. The Oklahoma Republican wrote a letter to Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Thursday that said adding any spending over $967 billion would make a “mockery” of the Budget Control Act.

For what it’s worth, Coburn opposes the defund-Obamacare-through-the-CR strategy, saying it’s “not achievable.”

House Democratic leaders are coalescing around the talking point that they won’t accept a continuing resolution that funds the government at sequester levels.

But in private conservations, House and Senate Democratic aides say they are likely to swallow a CR around $988 billion as long as it didn’t touch Obamacare, though they aren’t necessarily happy with a bill that goes all the way to Dec. 15.

The White House hasn’t put up much of a fight so far.

“We would consider a clean CR that prevents a shutdown,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters Thursday. That would provide time to consider a broader spending deal, he said.

But while Coburn is holding the line on spending, the major issue still seems to be Obamacare.

Holler said defunding Obamacare in the CR is “crucially important” to winning Heritage Action’s support. “And once they’re committed to that, we can figure out the rest of it.”

Holler also said these sorts of “legislative ploys,” where a member votes to defund Obamacare through a plan that would fund it in the end, don’t fool voters anymore because of groups such as Heritage and technology like Twitter.

“Constituents aren’t falling for Washington procedure anymore,” Holler said. “They don’t fall for the gimmicks. They see through it all.”

If voters do “see through it all,” Republicans could be in trouble.

Boehner needs his conference to pass his plan. If members refuse, he will, at some point, be forced to go to Democrats.

Either he goes to them right away or he passes a measure, such as the Graves bill, that defunds Obamacare and spends at a lower level, knowing it’s dead on arrival in the Senate. The Senate will roundly reject that bill, send back its own, Democrat-approved measure, and Boehner will face a “Hastert rule” dilemma.

Emma Dumain contributed to this report.

Source: CQ News
Round-the-clock coverage of news from Capitol Hill.
© 2013 CQ Roll Call All Rights Reserved.

Bachmann’s Cautionary Tale: Sweat the Small Stuff, or Pay the Price

Few members of Congress sustain higher name identification than Michele Bachmann, even though her shooting-star prominence has had almost nothing to do with her work as the representative from the Twin Cities suburbs.

But now, in the self-imposed twilight of her time in the House, she looks to be shaping the end of her career in a way she never intended — a way that could not have been predicted when she burst so bombastically onto the scene six years ago — as the latest cautionary tale about the danger of deciding there’s no need to sweat the details of political life.

Once Bachmann announced in May that she wouldn’t make an assuredly difficult run for a fifth term, the Beltway fact-checkers decided not to put much effort into refuting her conspiratorial histrionics or conservative flights of fancy. House Republican leadership began shifting its view of her from a major management challenge to a tangential irritant. The tea party colleagues she once purported to direct scattered in search of different leadership.

But the watchdogs of congressional behavior, campaign finance regulations and federal criminal law haven’t dropped the Minnesotan from their sights. And, in the past two weeks, they’ve signaled they have found someone who was, at best, inappropriately ignorant about improper activity by the people who ran her boom-to-bust-in-five-months quest for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination.

Read More on Roll Call: Bachmann’s Cautionary Tale: Sweat the Small Stuff, or Pay the Price

50 Richest Members of Congress: The Wealth Keeps Growing

A surprisingly strong year in the financial markets made the richest members of Congress even wealthier in 2012, with the median net worth of the 50 richest rising more than 17 percent, CQ Roll Call’s annual survey of congressional wealth shows.

Lawmakers’ portfolios shrugged off pre-election jitters, concerns about the European debt crisis and suspense surrounding the fiscal cliff. It took a minimum reported net worth of $6.67 million just to crack the exclusive 50 Richest club.

Financial disclosures also revealed a widening gap between members’ wealth and that of their constituents. The median net worth of the 112th Congress stood at $442,007 in 2012. Nineteen percent of lawmakers reported no debts at all, while 15 percent had trusts.

Read More on Roll Call: 50 Richest Members of Congress: The Wealth Keeps Growing

House Bill Would Expand FDA Role in Pharmacy Oversight

By Emily Ethridge, CQ Roll Call

Three House lawmakers Thursday introduced their version of bipartisan legislation to clarify the Food and Drug Administration’s oversight of compounding pharmacies.

The bill (HR 3089), from Virginia Republican Morgan Griffith and Democrats Gene Green of Texas and Diana DeGette of Colorado, is similar to legislation (S 959) the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee approved by voice vote in May.

Both would create a new category for pharmacies that compound sterile medications and ship them across state lines, which the FDA would oversee. Under both bills, state boards of pharmacy would continue to have primary oversight over traditional compounding pharmacies.

The legislation brings Congress one step closer to passing legislation in response to last year’s fatal fungal meningitis outbreak caused by a contaminated injectable steroid.

“These discussions have been productive and are ongoing, and by dropping this bill we are keeping the pressure on House leadership and maintaining the momentum we have built,” said Green in a statement.

In the House bill, the FDA would oversee “outsourcing facilities” — pharmacies that ship sterile compounded drugs across state lines and that have those drugs account for more than 5 percent of the products they produce.

Those facilities would have to register annually with the FDA, report and list the drugs they compound, report adverse events to the FDA, and label their products. They also would be subject to inspections on a risk-based schedule and pay an annual establishment fee and fees for reinspections, starting at $15,000.

Griffith’s office said the bill would replace a section of law that has been the subject of conflicting court decisions, which FDA officials say has resulted in an ambiguous regulatory situation.

The legislation also would require implementation of a notification system between the FDA and state boards of pharmacy to improve communication.

And it would allow the FDA to create lists of drug ingredients that cannot be compounded due to safety or efficacy concerns, and of drugs are demonstrably difficult to compound. It would ban the compounding of products that are essentially copies of marketed and approved drugs.


Source: CQ News
Round-the-clock coverage of news from Capitol Hill.
© 2013 CQ Roll Call All Rights Reserved.

This Cycle’s Top 8 Most Fascinating Recruits (So Far)

A beekeeper, a Gitmo commander and a Bosnian war refugee all want the same thing. It’s not a riddle; it’s the 2014 election cycle.

Congressional candidates often boast a résumé that includes time in local office, terms in the legislature or experience running a business. It’s a formula that instantly boosts name identification with voters.

But the cast of congressional candidates usually offers some upstarts — people with an unusual background, a unique curriculum vitae or an unconventional motivation that gives them a shot at Congress.

Of course, a special résumé does not translate to victory. Several of last cycle’s most-hyped candidates — including Ret. Air Force Col. Martha E. McSally, an Arizona Republican, and former astronaut Jose M. Hernandez, a California Democrat — lost their House races, to Ron Barber and Jeff Denham, respectively. (McSally is running again in 2014).

But an out-of-the-box background can help a candidate break through a tough field. Just ask the former world champion USA Volleyball team member, the double-amputee war hero or the reindeer farmer who won House races last cycle.

In no special order, here are several of this election’s most fascinating candidates for Congress:

Read More on Roll Call: This Cycle’s Top 8 Most Fascinating Recruits (So Far)

43 GOP Lawmakers Float Alternative CR That Defunds Obamacare

Forty-three House Republicans have introduced their own continuing resolution that they think would achieve the goal of both cutting spending and defunding Obamacare better than the plan GOP leaders put forth Tuesday.

Rather than fund the government for a month and a half at the post-sequester top line of $988 billion, it would run through all of fiscal 2014 at the lower, $967 billion levels many Republicans favor.

And, instead of relying on a legislative maneuver to force the Senate to vote on defunding Obamacare without risking a shutdown at the end of the month, it contains language that would actually zero out funding for the president’s signature health care law.

It could spell trouble for the Ohio Republican and other members of the leadership team as they try to come up with a strategy that won’t alienate their base but has an actual chance of passing the Senate.

“Our plan will achieve fairness for every American by fully delaying and defunding Obamacare until 2015,” Rep. Tom Graves of Georgia said in a statement. “This approach builds upon the Obama Administration’s policy of delaying portions of Obamacare and relieves taxpayers of the burden of funding a program that is not being implemented.”

Heritage Action for America likes the sound of this.

Read More on Roll Call: 43 GOP Lawmakers Float Alternative CR That Defunds Obamacare