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McConnell’s Real Legacy Now Hangs in Supreme Court’s Balance

The first high-profile oral argument of the new Supreme Court term comes Tuesday morning in a campaign finance case officially called McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. Across the street, the dispute may come to be known instead as McConnell v. Donation Limits.

Mitch McConnell is guaranteed to make the news almost every day as the Senate minority leader. That’s even been true this fall, when the complexities of his squeezed-on-both-sides campaign for re-election in Kentucky have distracted him from (or prompted him to cede) his customary role as the indispensable dealmaker.

McConnell has been garnering headlines all fall as the leader who isn’t there, on issues starting with Syria and now most prominently on the government shutdown impasse, the future of Obamacare and next week’s prospective debt ceiling collision.

Read More on Roll Call: McConnell’s Real Legacy Now Hangs in Supreme Court’s Balance

Boehner Works Behind the Scenes on ‘Grand Bargain’

House Republicans continued with the piecemeal government funding approach Thursday, even as chatter turned to whether Speaker John A. Boehner could finally pull off a “grand bargain” on government spending and the debt limit.

On Wednesday, the Ohio Republican met with groups of GOP lawmakers who want to pass a clean CR to reopen the government. Boehner and the lawmakers discussed the possibility of a “grand bargain” — a new one that would raise the debt ceiling, fund the government, address the sequester and extract concessions on Obamacare.

But later Wednesday night, the speaker met with President Barack Obama, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell at the White House. And the negotiations — or lack thereof — seemed to have left a sour taste in the mouth of Republicans.

Read More on Roll Call: Boehner Works Behind the Scenes on ‘Grand Bargain’

Merging Spending and Debt Debates Means Shutdown Likely to Last 2 Weeks

Signs grew clearer today that the debates about reopening the government, raising the debt limit and setting spending levels for the next year are being rolled into one. And one unspoken consequence is that the partial shutdown, now in its third day, looks increasingly likely to stay in effect for the next two weeks – until the Treasury’s deadline for either gaining more borrowing authority or defaulting.

Senior congressional Republicans and Democrats are conceding it makes little policy or political sense to put much more effort into finding votes for a continuing resolution lasting only a few weeks, when the even more consequential debt ceiling must be confronted almost immediately after.

GOP conservatives still believe they can win concessions from President Barack Obama — on both entitlement curbs and curtailing Obamacare — as part of a double-barrel bargain on both spending and borrowing. The president forcefully rebutted that expectation this morning.

“Let me be clear: There will be no more negotiating,” he told a friendly crowd assembled at construction company in suburban Rockville, Md., echoing the message he delivered last night to the four top congressional leaders during a meeting in the Oval Office that seemed only to harden the standoff in all corners. His message to the GOP, the president said: “You don’t get a reward for keeping the government running, and you don’t get a reward for keeping the economy running.”

Read More on Roll Call: Merging Spending and Debt Debates Means Shutdown Likely to Last 2 Weeks

Capitol Police: Protecting and Serving Without Pay

When gunshots rang out Thursday, hundreds of Capitol Police officers sprang into action. Yet their paycheck for the work done on the traumatic day isn’t guaranteed, thanks to the government shutdown.

Gunshots reported on Capitol Hill sent Capitol Police into swift action around 2:25 p.m. on Thursday, immediately implementing a lockdown of the complex and putting into motion hundreds of law enforcement officers to protect the Capitol.

Patrol officers joined Secret Service units and other law enforcement agencies in pursuit of a black car that appeared headed for the Capitol after attempting to breach White House security.

Read More on Roll Call: Capitol Police: Protecting and Serving Without Pay

Immigration Policy and the Inalienable Rights of ‘Non-Citizens’

California is about to embrace one of the most progressive state immigration policies in the nation. A bill expected to be signed by Democratic Governor Jerry Brown and legislation enacted earlier this year will expand the rights of non-citizens in ways considered unimaginable a few years ago.

These historic measures will permit certain non-citizens in California to sit on juries, monitor the polls during elections in which they may not vote and even be licensed to practice law. These sweeping changes are among many passed across the nation this year as states have begun to seriously reexamine their immigration policies in the wake of a 2012 landmark Supreme Court decision.
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Democrats Mull Divulging Emails With Boehner Staff as Shutdown Fight Gets Personal

Senate Democrats are considering leaking a series of emails between the chiefs of staff of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Speaker John A. Boehner regarding employer contributions to congressional staff health care plans, multiple top-level sources said late Monday.

Senate Democratic chiefs of staff discussed the emails between Reid chief David Krone and Boehner chief Mike Sommers at a recent meeting, according to a source with direct knowledge of the meeting.

Leaking the emails would be unusual, given the taboo over disclosing personal communications between top staffers. But the missives also would reveal Boehner’s position on employer subsidies for congressional staff. Democrats believe the Ohio Republican’s decision to attach an amendment to revoke those contributions to the most recent House continuing resolutionwas a direct shot at vulnerable Senate Democrats up in 2014.

Read More on Roll Call: Democrats Mull Divulging Emails With Boehner Staff as Shutdown Fight Gets Personal

Last-Ditch CR Effort by House Faces Certain Senate Rejection

Updated 1:35 a.m. | Now locked in a budget standoff during a government shutdown, House Republicans passed a face-saving measure early Tuesday morning that would request a conference with the Senate on the continuing resolution to fund the government.

Speaker John A. Boehner told reporters early Tuesday morning that Republicans want to keep the government open but want “basic fairness” for the American people under Obamacare.

The House agreed to the motion to conference in a 228-199 vote with seven Democrats joining most Republicans in support of the tactic. Nine Republicans rejected the resolution.

The motion to conference would ask the Senate to agree to the House’s last offer — which included a one-year delay of Obamacare’s individual mandate and a provision eliminating health benefits for members of Congress and their staff — and attempt to move the House and Senate to negotiate sizable differences on the CR.

But the proposal is going nowhere, according to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Read More on Roll Call: Last-Ditch CR Effort by House Faces Certain Senate Rejection

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