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New Issues Find Home at March on Washington Commemoration

As the nation commemorates the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on Wednesday, activists see the 2013 “Let Freedom Ring” event as an opportunity to make sure contemporary equality issues take their place alongside the great civil rights fights of the past and become a part of the dream Martin Luther King Jr. articulated.

“To be clear, the dream hasn’t been realized,” said Rev. MacArthur H. Flournoy, director of Faith Partnerships and Mobilization for the Human Rights Campaign. “From the need for a federal non-discrimination law that protects every lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender worker against bias to the hate crimes that disproportionately affect my LGBT brothers and sisters of color, there’s a long road ahead.”

“Civil rights, broadly defined, are the rights of citizens to political and social freedom and equality,” said Gregory Cendana, executive director for the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance. “That’s why we come together not as individuals, to speak on issues that specifically affect our community, because the struggles we deal with transcend race, class, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation and all identities.

Flournoy and Cendana both said the anniversary march is a big stage for issues to be presented, and the opportunity must be seized to bring about change.

“We don’t want to see a moment happen; we want to enact a movement. A movement of underrepresented communities continuing to push back on politicians that are not working in the interest of the communities they serve,” Cendana said.

Read More on Roll Call: New Issues Find Home at March on Washington Commemoration

Boehner: President Is in for ‘Whale of a Fight’ on Debt Limit

Speaker John A. Boehner said Monday that President Barack Obama is in for a “whale of a fight” over the debt limit, with the GOP leader insisting on spending cuts greater than, not just equal to, the amount the debt ceiling is raised.

The Ohio Republican, speaking at a fundraising event for Idaho Republican Mike Simpson, said he has “made it clear that we’re not going to increase the debt limit without cuts and reforms that are greater than the increase in the debt limit,” according to the Idaho Statesman.

“The president doesn’t think this is fair, thinks I’m being difficult to deal with,” Boehner said. “But I’ll say this: It may be unfair, but what I’m trying to do here is to leverage the political process to produce more change than what it would produce if left to its own devices. We’re going to have a whale of a fight.”

On Tuesday, Boehner spokesman Michael Steel told CQ Roll Call that the speaker’s comments are “consistent with his long-stated position: Any increase in the debt limit must be accompanied by cuts and reforms greater than the increase.”

Read More on Roll Call: Boehner: President Is in for ‘Whale of a Fight’ on Debt Limit

Enzi, Vitter Would Force Congress, Obama to Pay for Health Care

Republicans David Vitter of Louisiana and Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming introduced legislation Tuesday that would make members, political appointees, the president and the vice president pay out of pocket for the full cost of their health care through exchanges set up by Obamacare.

“If Obamacare is good enough for the American people, it should be good enough for Congress, the President and Vice President, and other policy makers in Washington,” Enzi said in a statement. “I’ve said from the beginning that this law wouldn’t work and we see that proof daily with the endless exemptions, delays, and subsidies being authorized by the President. There’s no excuse for trying to let certain individuals and businesses off the hook when the American people are already paying the price of bad policy.”

The bill responds to an administrative fix to the health law implemented by the Office of Personnel Management and would require all Congressional staff members — not just some — to enter an exchange. Vitter’s and Enzi’s offices said in a press release that their bill would prohibit staffers “from receiving any contribution greater than what they would receive if they were not employed by a congressional office,” which is essentially the fix OPM made for staff.

Read More on Roll Call: Enzi, Vitter Would Force Congress, Obama to Pay for Health Care

Top Five Reasons why Immigration Reform Is Likely to Pass This Year

As lawmakers prepare to return to Washington after Labor Day, a few inside-the-Beltway pundits have blithely predicted that, “immigration reform is dead.”

This, in the face of headlines that uniformly declare that the forces of reform – and Progressives of all sorts – have dominated the August town meeting circuit. And the vaunted anti-immigration reform backlash is nowhere to be found — except perhaps in the imagination of Congressman Steve King.

In fact, there are many good reasons to predict that the odds are very good the GOP House Leadership will ultimately allow a vote on an immigration reform bill containing a pathway to citizenship this year. If such a bill is called, the odds are close to one hundred percent that it will pass.

That is because, right now, there are more than enough votes on the floor of the House to pass immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship if it is given an up or down vote. The only question now is whether the House Leadership decides that it is in their political interest to call the bill.

The GOP leadership understands that if an immigration reform bill passes, the Democrats will get the credit with key immigrant constituencies and many suburban swing voters. But they are also coming to realize that if they do not call the bill, they will get the blame with those same constituencies – and that could lead to both short-term and-long term disaster for the Republican Party.

Here are the top five reasons why immigration reform is likely to pass this year:

Reason #1: In order maintain control of the House, Republicans can afford to lose a maximum of seventeen seats in the mid-term elections. There are 44 districts currently held by Republicans where significant numbers of the voters (12% or more) are either Hispanics or Asian Americans. Of that number, as many as 20 may be seriously in play in 2014.

The mid-term elections are all about turnout. If Hispanic and Asian American voters are sufficiently enraged by Republican refusal to pass immigration reform, the GOP high command fears that they will register to vote and turn out in substantial numbers. That could easily tip the balance in terms of control of the House of Representatives.

And don’t think that immigration reform is “just another issue” for Hispanics and Asian Americans. It doesn’t matter whether you yourself would be personally impacted, a politician’s position on whether they are for or against immigration reform has become symbolic for “are you on my side?” – “do you stand for or against my community?”

To get a sense of the intensity of feeling, all you need do is attend any of the literally hundreds of pro-immigration reform events and town meetings that have been held over the August break. People are fired up and ready to go.

The polling is equally clear. A poll taken of voters in key swing districts currently controlled by Republicans conducted by Public Policy Polling (PPP) in early July showed:

Republican and Independent voters want Congress to pass a solution to our country’s broken immigration system.

Many are less likely to support Republicans if the House fails to pass immigration reform this summer.

According to a press release issued the by the polling firm:

Voters in CA-10 (Jeff Denham), CA-21 (David Valadao), CA-31 (Gary Miller), CO-6 (Mike Coffman), MN-2 (John Kline), NV-3 (Joe Heck), and NY-11 (Mike Grimm) all

say they would be less likely to vote for their Congressman next year if he opposes

immigration reform. Voters in those districts also say they will be inclined to punish the Republican Party more broadly if the House GOP does not allow immigration reform to move forward.

Reason #2: The Republican Leadership will be under enormous pressure from the Republican establishment – GOP donors, 2016 Presidential aspirants and other stakeholders – not to permanently damage the GOP brand with the exploding number of Hispanic and Asian American voters.

The November 2012 election results were a shocking wake-up call for the GOP establishment. Many actually expected to win. Up until election night they lived in denial of America’s changing demographics. Now they are scrambling to “rebrand” the party with Hispanics, African Americans, Asian Americans, single women, and young people.

If the GOP refuses to call a vote on a pathway to citizenship in the House and is blamed for blocking immigration reform, that could alienate many of those constituencies – and especially Hispanics – for decades to come.

Texas is a case in point. Already Texas is a majority minority state. Even now, if Hispanics and African Americans registered and voted at the same rate as other voters, the GOP would find it difficult to count on the state’s electoral votes in Presidential elections. But Texas’ Hispanic population is growing. Even at current levels of voter participation, the GOP risks losing Texas if it becomes a permanent pariah Party among Hispanics.

Without Texas, it is almost impossible to put together a path to Republican Presidential victory at any time in the near future.

Reason #3: The more GOP leaders like Representative Steve King (R-IA-4) continue to make outrageous comments like the one about the “cantaloupe-sized calves” that immigrants get from “transporting hundreds of pounds of drugs” through the desert, the harder it is for the Republican Leadership in the House to resist pressure from the GOP establishment to call a vote on immigration reform.

The more that Congressman King – and his colleagues like Congressman Louie Gohmert (R-TX-1), or Congressman Don Young of Alaska (R-AK-AL) – who referred to Hispanics as “wetbacks” — continue to spew anti-immigrant bigotry, the worse off they are not only with Hispanics and other immigrants – but with independent suburban women and young voters.

If independent suburban women and young voters are left with the view that the GOP is being led by – and defined by — the Steve Kings of the world, many of them will desert the party in droves. They will react the same way independent voters reacted in Missouri and Indiana to the outrageous comments about women and rape by losing GOP Senate candidates Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock.

That would not only be a disaster for the GOP’s Presidential hopes in 2016 – it would make it even more likely that the GOP will lose control of the House in 2014 since it makes it even harder for them to hang onto to Republican-held suburban seats in the Northeast and Midwest.

Reason #4: Increasing portions of the GOP base actively support comprehensive immigration reform.

It’s not just the immigrant community and Progressives pressing the GOP leadership to call a vote on a pathway to citizenship. Many conservative voices have begun to actively campaign to pass immigration reform.

A large table of Evangelicals lead by national Evangelical leaders is working hard to persuade Republicans to vote yes – and call a vote in the House. They have spoken at Republican town meetings, taken out ads, and met privately with many GOP members.

Especially in the south, primary challenges are generally fueled by the Evangelical wing of the party. Evangelical support neutralizes the fears of many GOP representatives that a vote for immigration reform could subject them to a primary. That has weakened opposition to reform among Republicans who are more concerned about Primaries than General Elections.

Pro-immigration reform Evangelical activists have teamed up with leaders from the business community to support a pathway to citizenship. In GOP circles that is a powerful combination.

Business, Evangelical and law enforcement figures have done an increasingly effective job not only at making their case to the Leadership, but providing political cover to Republican House Members with few immigrants in their districts.

Reason #5: The polling shows that the biggest vulnerability for the GOP next year is the fact that persuadable voters increasingly believe that the Republicans in Congress are simply incapable of governing. Voters hate the gridlock and increasingly blame Republicans for obstruction. Increasingly, swing voters believe that the GOP is willing to sacrifice the good of the country for narrow partisan ideological reasons. In fact, voters have begun to think the GOP is just plain old incompetent.

If the Republican Leadership allows its extremist wing to block immigration reform even thought it passed the Senate on a strong bi-partisan vote, has majority support in the House, and the support of most Americans — that will become Exhibit “A” in the case for throwing them out of power.

And if they manage to shut down the government – either in a futile attempt to “defund ObamaCare” or to prevent the government from paying its creditors (the debt ceiling) – and stop immigration reform – the case will be set in stone.

For their own good, the Republican Leadership simply can’t allow that to happen.

I for one do not believe that the Republican Leadership will be so stupid – will so badly misplay its hand – that it will allow a tiny minority of extremists to fundamentally jeopardize the Party’s near-term and long-term future.

Of course, stupider things have happened. But rest assured that if they do, the growing movement for immigration reform – not to mention the Democratic Party – will make the GOP pay the price.

Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on Amazon.com. He is a partner in Democracy Partners and a Senior Strategist for Americans United for Change. Follow him on Twitter @rbcreamer.

North Carolina Legislature Called Back for Veto Session

StateTrack‘s Chery Robins reports:

Flag of North CarolinaNorth Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) issued a proclamation calling the General Assembly back into session on Sept. 3 to consider his vetoes of House bills 392 and 786.

Bill 392 would require drug testing for welfare applicants who are reasonably suspected of using illegal drugs. Bill 786 would exempt some seasonal workers from having an E-Verify background check if they are hired for nine months or fewer. The current exemption is for seasonal workers hired for 90 days or fewer.

Keep Reading…

Obama Will Consult Congress on Syria

President Barack Obama will consult Congress on Syria, according to a White House official — something Speaker John A. Boehner has sought before any military action is taken.

“We will be consulting appropriately with the Congress,” the official said in response to a question from CQ Roll Call about the president’s meeting this morning with his advisers to discuss options in response to reports of a possible massacre via chemical weapons in Syria.

“Once we ascertain the facts, the President will make an informed decision about how to respond,” a White House official said. “We have a range of options available, and we are going to act very deliberately so that we’re making decisions consistent with our national interest as well as our assessment of what can advance our objectives in Syria.”

Read More on Roll Call: Obama Will Consult Congress on Syria

Members of Congress call for Syria strike

WASHINGTON — A Republican senator and a House Democrat joined Sunday in calling for President Obama to launch air strikes against the Syrian regime in response to reports it used chemical weapons against its citizens.

“I do think we have to respond, and I do think we will take action,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said on “Fox News Sunday.” He called for the administration to attack Syria in a “surgical way,” such as by launching cruise missiles directed at military targets.

Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), appearing on the same program, agreed the administration should launch an attack on Syria.

“I think we have to respond, and we have to act rather quickly,” he said. “We can’t afford to sit back and wait for the United Nations.”

Engel said the United States could hit a series of military targets, including attacking the bases and runways used by Syria’s air force. “We can destroy the Syrian air force,” he said.

While both urged swift military action by the Obama administration, Corker said the president should seek approval from Congress before acting. He predicted there would be bipartisan support for a measure that authorizes military action against the Syrian regime.

As lawmakers, “It’s time for us to step up and take responsibility,” he said.

david.savage@latimes.com

John Lewis Speech: 1963 March On Washington Speaker Urges Crowd To Fight For Voting Rights

Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) urged the crowd at the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington Saturday to fight for the Voting Rights Act in the wake of a June Supreme Court decision gutting its core provision.

“I gave a little blood on that bridge in Selma, Alabama for the right to vote,” he said, referring to Bloody Sunday in 1965 when police beat him and hundreds of other peaceful protesters. “I am not going to stand by and let the Supreme Court take the right to vote away from us.”

Lewis continued, “You cannot stand by. You cannot sit down. You got to stand up. Speak up. Speak out, and get in the way. Make some noise!”

The crowd cheered.

“The vote is precious, it is almost sacred,” he said. “It is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have in a Democratic society. And we got to use it!”

He called on Congress to fix the Voting Rights Act after the Court invalidated the provision requiring Southern states with a history of racism to have their voting laws cleared by a federal court or the federal government, and also called for comprehensive immigration reform.

Lewis was the 23-year-old chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee when he spoke at the 1963 March.

“One man, one vote is the African cry. It is ours too. It must be ours,” he said during the 1963 event.

State Common Core Standards Under Attack

The Common Core State Standards Initiative, a voluntary program originally proposed by the National Governor’s Association (NGA) that would establish a single set of clear educational standards for kindergarten through 12th grade in English language arts and mathematics, is under attack in the states. The push back is surprising because the program was not particularly controversial when it was first debated and has been adopted by 45 states and D.C. Opponents now argue that the program, funded in part with $350 million from the U.S. Department of Education, has become a Washington-led effort to impose a one size fits all set of standards on the states. The department also encouraged states adopting the Common Core Standards to be awarded “Race to the Top” grants and waivers for certain requirements under the No Child Left Behind Act.

Opponents do not like the program and do not want to pay for it.
Keep Reading…

Town Hall Roundup, Week 3.5: Impeachment, NSA and Obamacare

Time for the next installment in CQ Roll Call’s coverage of the town halls of August — impeachment edition.

Since we last checked in, at least two members have raised the specter of impeaching President Barack Obama.

In speaking with constituents on Aug. 10 about Obama and lingering fears that he wasn’t born in the United States, Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, said that while, in the House, “you could probably get the votes” for impeachment, it probably wasn’t a good idea to go through with it, given it would be a non-starter in the Senate.

Then, on Tuesday, GOP freshman Rep. Kerry Bentivolio of Michigan told constituents it would be a “dream come true” to impeach Obama — but at the moment he doesn’t have the evidence.

Read More on Roll Call: Town Hall Roundup, Week 3.5: Impeachment, NSA and Obamacare

President Plans College Bus Tour, Kicking Off Higher Education Debate

As Congress prepares to debate a renewal of the Higher Education Act this fall, President Barack Obama will be taking a two-day bus tour of New York and Pennsylvania colleges Thursday and Friday to talk about the importance of reducing college costs and improving the value of higher education.

"I can tell you that the president does plan to have some new proposals that he’s going to be talking about," said Josh Earnest, White House deputy press secretary, during a briefing Monday afternoon.

On Thursday, the president is slated to deliver remarks at the University at Buffalo (the State University of New York) and Henninger High School in Syracuse, N.Y. On Friday, he is set to participate in a town hall event at Binghamton University (SUNY) and will deliver remarks at an event at Lackawanna College in Scranton, Pa.

"The president is going to be talking about his view that we need to rein in the skyrocketing costs of a college education, that never has a college education been more critical to the economic success of middle-class families in this country and if we’re going to make sure that middle-class families continue to have access to economic opportunity, that means that more students are going to need to have access to a high-quality college education," Earnest said.

The bus tour precedes a broader debate this fall aimed at overhauling the expanse of federal higher education programs that expire Jan. 1. As the education committees in both chambers turn their attention to rewriting the 1965 Higher Education Act, last reauthorized in 2008 (PL 110-315), lawmakers say they will examine the student loan program and Pell grants, consider ways to encourage colleges to cut costs, and seek to ensure that states stop gutting their higher education system budgets.

Lawmakers from both parties say Congress should act to help reverse the trajectory of higher tuition costs that has resulted in borrowers racking up more than $1 trillion in student loan debt. The mechanisms for doing so are extraordinarily intricate, and proponents acknowledge the challenge ahead.

It is unclear exactly what new proposals Obama might present during the bus tour, but the administration has tried to pressure states and colleges to be more responsible about costs. The president, in his two most recent State of the Union addresses, put them on notice, saying he would use his executive power to steer federal dollars for such programs as work-study to colleges and universities that cut costs and away from those that have not made an effort.

Those sentiments were reiterated Tuesday by Education Secretary Arne Duncan, after the National Center for Education Statistics released its annual study on student financial aid, which showed that 71 percent of all undergraduates received some type of financial aid and that 57 percent of all undergraduates received federal student aid.

"The data also shows that increasing federal student aid alone will not control the cost of college," Duncan said. "All of us share responsibility for ensuring that college is affordable. The report is a reminder that we need state policymakers and individual colleges and universities to do their part in taking action against rising college tuition."

Democrats generally like that carrot-stick approach, but Republicans are less inclined to tell schools what they can and cannot do by regulating the flow of federal dollars, highlighting just one of several policy differences lawmakers will need to tackle as part of the reauthorization.

"We need to make sure that more middle-class families can get access to that college education, and that, frankly, families that are trying to get into the middle class also have the chance to afford a college education," Earnest said.

Senate Represents The Wealthy First: Study

As economists dig into the question of how bad U.S. income inequality is, a new study analyzes how Congress is fitting in to that equation.

According to research set to be published in Political Research Quarterly next month, the 107th through 111th Congresses saw a Senate that was more responsive to the upper income bracket. Using data from the 2004 National Annenberg Election Survey and various roll call votes, the study included some findings on party lines as well, headed by Republicans being more responsive to middle-income Americans during the 109th Congress.

“The fact that lower income groups seem to be ignored by elected officials, although not a new finding, remains a troubling observation in American politics,” wrote Trinity University’s Thomas J. Hayes, the author of the study, according to Raw Story.

Earlier this week, HuffPost Business highlighted a paper showing that the U.S. has the worst income inequality in the developed world. Over the last four decades, the upper one percent has doubled its slice of the nation’s total income from 10 to 20 percent, outdoing every other developed country over that span.

Looking for the quick version of how the U.S. reached its income inequality quandary? Watch former Labor Secretary and current HuffPost blogger Robert Reich explain the problem in 150 seconds.

‘Defund Obamacare’ Letter to Be Unveiled After Heritage Push

Heritage Action for America has a message for 100 House Republicans: You want to sign freshman Rep. Mark Meadows’ letter.

The advocacy group launched a $550,000 online ad campaign Monday that targets GOP lawmakers who haven’t yet signed on to the petition being circulated by the North Carolina Republican.

The full text of the letter and final list of co-signers won’t be made public until Thursday, Meadows’ office told CQ Roll Call. But when it is sent to House Republican leaders, it will demand that they “take the steps necessary to defund Obamacare in its entirety, including on a year-end funding bill like a continuing resolution.”

Spokesman Dan Holler wouldn’t confirm whether the 133 members not included on Heritage Action’s target list are ones who have already signed Meadows’ letter, saying only that “a bunch of these folks come from conservative districts, and they have conservative constituents who aren’t having their views represented in Washington.”

Meadows’ congressional office also demurred but did tell CQ Roll Call on Tuesday morning that, since Monday, “between four and eight” lawmakers had committed to attaching their names to the effort.

Read More on Roll Call: ‘Defund Obamacare’ Letter to Be Unveiled After Heritage Push

Van Hollen Slams ‘Boehner Rule,’ ‘Hastert Rule’ and Eyes Sequester Deal

Two rules that have guided Speaker John A. Boehner’s leadership of the House could go by the wayside this fall when Congress takes up a debt ceiling increase, Rep. Chris Van Hollenpredicted Monday.

In a sit-down interview with CQ Roll Call on Monday, the Maryland Democrat and ranking member on the House Budget Committee slammed the “Boehner rule” — which mandates dollar-for-dollar spending cuts for every dollar raised in the debt ceiling — as “unworkable, policy-wise and politically.”

“It gave birth to the sequester,” he added.

And the “Hastert rule,” calling for majority of the majority support for legislation, could be broken as well.

Van Hollen signaled that it had to be “selectively applied,” and he suggested that he didn’t see a scenario wherein Republicans would be able to pass a legitimate debt ceiling increase bill without significant Democratic support.

“What I see happening is that Republicans in the House will unilaterally put together a debt ceiling proposal and attach to it lots of outrageous conditions that will be absolutely unacceptable, and they know it, but that’s the only thing they’ll get the votes for in their caucus,” such as defunding the 2010 health law, Van Hollen said. “And ultimately what that means is, in order to get through this period, you’re going to need support from House Democrats to get something done.”

Neither “rule” is actually a rule, of course. Each is more of a general guideline that Boehner himself has violated from time to time, including a deal earlier this year to punt on the debt ceiling and several bills that required mostly Democratic votes to pass.

Van Hollen did signal that Democrats might accept, as a compromise with the GOP, a “McConnell-like mechanism” that would require the president to propose debt ceiling increases that Congress would then have an opportunity to vote against. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., came up with the concept that was included in the 2011 Budget Control Act.

Read More on Roll Call: Van Hollen Slams ‘Boehner Rule,’ ‘Hastert Rule’ and Eyes Sequester Deal

GOP Congresswoman Endorses in Michigan Senate Race | #MISEN

Rep. Candice S. Miller, R-Mich., endorsed former Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land’s bid for Senate on Tuesday, calling the GOP hopeful “the type of woman we need to put forward more often in the Republican Party.”

Land is the lone Republican running for retiring Democratic Sen. Carl Levin’s seat in Michigan. GOP Rep. Dave Camp considered a bid but decided against running last week. Republican Rep. Justin Amash continues to mull a campaign for Senate.

“Terri Lynn Land is a dedicated and accomplished public servant who has delivered for the people of Michigan,” Miller, the only woman to lead a House committee, said in a release. “I strongly endorse her candidacy and urge Republicans across the state to unite behind her.”

Read More on Roll Call: GOP Congresswoman Endorses in Michigan Senate Race | #MISEN

Crossroads Boosts Indiana Congressman With Online Ads | #IN08

Crossroads GPS has purchased $20,000 worth of online advertising in support of Rep. Larry Bucshon, R-Ind., according to a forthcoming news release shared first with CQ Roll Call.

The GOP super PAC’s buy is likely meant to bolster Bucshon’s re-election; some Republicans speculate that the two-term incumbent could face a primary challenge in 2014.

The advertisement will appear on Facebook, as a pre-roll ad on YouTube and on other online sharing sites. The issue spot thanks Bucshon for supporting the Save American Workers Act, which would restore the “40-hour workweek.”

Watch the Video on Roll Call: Crossroads Boosts Indiana Congressman With Online Ads | #IN08

Rundown on the 2016 presidential prep checklist

WASHINGTON (AP) — The 2016 presidential election only seems far away if you’re not planning to run in it. For those who are thinking about seeking their party’s presidential nomination, there’s so very much to do, starting yesterday.

This is a time to get to know donors, to get the public to know you on TV and social media, to visit big primary states, network with the activists and ideologues, produce a vanity book, polish a record, deal with personal baggage, take a stand, develop a world view and scout for advisers and political organizations that can power up a campaign team. All while sounding coy about running. And in some cases, not even being sure you will.

The main players: For the Democrats, Vice President Joe Biden, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley; and for the Republicans, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal; Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

NON-DENIAL DENIAL: Cagey words that cloak presidential ambitions, and none too convincingly.

Democrats

Biden: "I can die a happy man never having been president of the United States of America. But it doesn’t mean I won’t run."

Clinton: "I have absolutely no plans to run. … I don’t know everything I’ll be doing. I’ll be working on behalf of women and girls, and hopefully be writing and speaking. Those are the things that I am planning to do right now. … I’m looking forward to this next chapter in my life, whatever it is."

Cuomo: "To the extent that I’m focusing on politics, it’s my (governor’s) race next year."

O’Malley: "By the end of this year, we’re on course to have a body of work that lays the framework of the candidacy for 2016."

Republicans

Bush: "My thinking is not to think about it for a year."

Christie: "I’m nowhere near making that decision yet, at all. I mean, I think anybody who tries to plan in politics that far in advance is crazy. … I love being governor and I want to stay as governor."

Jindal: "The reality is anybody who’s thinking about 2016 needs to have their head examined. It’s way too early."

Paul: "We’re thinking about growing the party. What comes after that, we’ll see."

Rubio: "I told people I haven’t even thought about that. That’s a decision far in the future."

Ryan: "I will give it serious consideration, but I’m going to do that later on."

Walker: "That’s not anything I’ve really spent a whole lot of time thinking about."

WRITE A BOOK: The perfect stage-setter, just ask Barack Obama ("Dreams from My Father," 2004; "The Audacity of Hope," 2006.)

Democrats

Biden: Not since "Promises to Keep" from `07.

Cuomo: Yes, coming in 2014.

Clinton: Yes, coming in 2014.

O’Malley: No.

Republicans

Bush: Yes, on immigration.

Christie: No.

Jindal: Yes, but in 2010.

Paul: "Government Bullies: How Everyday Americans Are Being Harassed, Abused, and Imprisoned by the Feds," in 2012; "The Tea Party Goes to Washington," 2011.

Rubio: Yes, "An American Son: A Memoir," 2012.

Ryan: Among various authors of "The Path to Prosperity: A Blueprint for American Renewal," with the snoozy sub-sub-title: "Fiscal Year 2013 Budget Resolution."

Walker: Yes, "Unintimidated: A Governor’s Story and a Nation’s Challenge," is coming in the fall with former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen as ghost-writer.

GO TO IOWA: Its caucuses are the opening act of the nomination contest.

Democrats

Biden: Yes, in 2012 campaign.

Clinton: No.

Cuomo: No.

O’Malley: Yes, headlined Sen. Tom Harkin’s annual steak fry in the fall.

Republicans

Bush: Yes, in 2012.

Christie: Yes, in 2012.

Jindal: Yes, summer visit, then flew with Iowa governor to governors association meeting in Milwaukee. In Iowa seven times in 2012.

Paul: Yes, Lincoln Day Dinner in May, meeting with pastors in July.

Rubio: Yes, in 2012 just days after the election.

Ryan: Yes, multiple times as 2012 veep candidate. Keynote speaker at governor’s annual birthday fundraiser coming in November.

Walker: Yes, May fund-raiser.

GO TO NEW HAMPSHIRE: Nation’s first primary comes after Iowa and is just as important.

Democrats

Biden: Yes, in 2012 campaign, and 2013 fundraiser planned in Maine for New Hampshire governor.

Clinton: No.

Cuomo: No.

O’Malley: Yes, once in 2012.

Republicans:

Bush: No.

Christie: Yes, three times in 2012.

Jindal: Yes, headlined state GOP fundraiser in May, visited twice in 2012.

Paul: Yes, headlined state GOP fundraiser in May.

Rubio: Yes, multiple times in 2012.

Ryan: Yes, multiple times as veep candidate in 2012.

Walker: Yes, keynote speaker at 2012 state GOP convention.

GO ABROAD: Helps to give neophytes foreign policy cred, and Israel is a touchstone for U.S. politicians.

Democrats

Biden: Yes, tons.

Clinton: Yes, nearly 1 million miles as secretary of state. Canadian speech since leaving State Department.

Cuomo: Yes, but not much lately. Israel twice in 2002.

O’Malley: Yes. Israel this year for a second time. Also Denmark, Ireland, France in 2013. Asia in 2011, Iraq in 2010.

Republicans

Bush: Yes, several overseas trips a year. Three times to Israel since 1980s.

Christie: Yes, Israel and Jordan in 2012.

Jindal: No, not as governor.

Paul: Yes, Israel and Jordan in January.

Rubio: Yes, Israel and Jordan in February, also Israel after 2010 Senate election.

Ryan: Yes, Middle East during congressional career; visited troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Walker: Yes, China in April. Not been to Israel.

DON’T FORGET SOUTH CAROLINA: First Southern primary and big in its own right.

Democrats

Biden: Yes, headlined annual fundraising dinner in May for state party, appeared at Rep. James Clyburn’s annual fish-fry, Easter weekend vacation on Kiawah Island.

Clinton: No.

Cuomo: No.

O’Malley: Yes, April speech to party activists.

Republicans

Bush: Yes, 2012 speech.

Christie: Yes, helped Mitt Romney raise money in 2012.

Jindal: Yes, attending August fund-raiser for governor.

Paul: Yes, headlined two fundraisers.

Rubio: Yes, headlined 2012 Silver Elephant dinner.

Ryan: Yes, in 2012 campaign.

Walker: Yes, attending August fund-raiser for governor.

MEET THE MONEY: To know donors now is to tap them later.

Democrats

Biden: Yes, schmoozes party contributors at private receptions.

Clinton: No, but supporters are raising big money to encourage her to run.

Cuomo: Flush coffers for 2014 governor’s race.

O’Malley: Yes, as finance chairman for Democratic Governors Association in 2014 mid-term campaign.

Republicans

Bush: Yes, party this summer for his book at home of Woody Johnson, owner of New York Jets and leading Republican bundler.

Christie: Yes, aggressive 2013 national fundraising tour for his governor’s race, attended Romney’s Utah retreat with major party donors in June.

Jindal: Yes, met leading GOP donors in New York City.

Paul: Yes, attended Romney’s Utah retreat with major party donors, met GOP donors in New York City.

Rubio: Yes, met major GOP donors in New York City, attended Washington meeting with Romney bundlers.

Ryan: Yes, attended Romney’s Utah retreat with major party donors, has 2012 campaign money connections.

Walker: Yes, headlined 2013 fundraisers in New York and Connecticut.

NETWORK LIKE MAD: Taking their case to ideologues, activists and party heavyweights who hold great sway in nomination race.

Democrats

Biden: Yes, vigorously with Dems and activists.

Clinton: Limited, getting started with speeches.

Cuomo: Very little on the radar. Skipped national governors meeting in August.

O’Malley: Yes, vigorously, and big splash at national governors meeting.

Republicans:

Bush: Yes, with conservative activists, education leaders.

Christie: Yes, keynote speaker at 2012 GOP convention; will be 2014 chairman of GOP governors association.

Jindal: Yes, headlined winter meeting of Republican National Committee; lots of conservative outreach.

Paul: Yes, plenty. Conservative activists, tech leaders, Reagan Presidential Library speech.

Rubio: Yes, conservative and party activists.

Ryan: Yes, prime networker as 2012 veep candidate. Helping fellow House members raise money.

Walker: Belle of the ball as host of the National Governors Association meeting in August.

HOG THE TV: Achieving national recognition by sermonizing on the Sunday talk shows, or going for soft questions and easy laughs on late-night TV.

Democrats

Biden: No, not lately.

Clinton: No. But stay tuned for "Hillary" miniseries.

Cuomo: No.

O’Malley: Frequently on Sunday talk shows in 2012 campaign, once since.

Republicans

Bush: Six Sunday talk show appearances since 2012 election, including all five shows on March 10 to plug book on immigration.

Christie: Yes, late-night TV circuit, playing for laughs.

Jindal: Two Sunday talk shows since 2012 election.

Paul: Eight Sunday talk shows since election, leads the chattering pack.

Rubio: Six Sunday talk shows since election, including all five on April 13.

Ryan: Five Sunday talks shows since election.

Walker: Four Sunday talk shows since election.

ACTUALLY DO SOMETHING: For voters who want to support doers, not just talkers.

Democrats:

Biden: Point man on gun control, which failed. Lots on foreign policy. Negotiated fiscal cliff deal.

Clinton: Record as secretary of state, senator and first lady.

Cuomo: Pushed New York’s legalization of gay marriage, first gun-control law after Newtown, Conn., school massacre. Minimum wage boost, on-time budgets, teacher standards.

O’Malley: : Toughened gun laws, repealed death penalty, saw voters approve gay marriage after he got behind legislation to approve it, set up a framework to develop offshore wind power.

Republicans:

Bush: As Florida governor, revamped state educational system, cut taxes, managed state through hurricanes.

Christie: Led state’s response to Superstorm Sandy. Agreed to expand state’s Medicaid program under Obamacare while some other Republican governors have refused. Vetoed bill that would have legalized gay marriage, signed law increasing pension and health costs for public workers.

Jindal: Privatized much of Louisiana’s Medicaid program, shrank public hospital system, signed statewide voucher program that covers private school tuition for certain students. Signed abortion restrictions, fought liberalization of adoption law, making it impossible for gay couples to adopt jointly. Hurricane and Gulf oil spill disaster response.

Paul: One-man, nearly 13-hour Senate filibuster to protest drone policy put him at forefront of civil liberties debate.

Rubio: Broker of Senate immigration overhaul, though he’s gone quiet on the issue. Working with anti-abortion groups on Senate version of bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks.

Ryan: Budget-hawk record to be judged on. Emerging as influential moderate on immigration.

Walker: Curbs on public service unions became national flashpoint, but he won the effort – and the recall election that followed.

TAKE A NATIONAL STAND: Effective state governance is nice but leaders must build national stature on issues of the day.

Democrats

Biden: Eclectic. Guns, violence against women, gay rights, veterans.

Clinton: Eclectic. Recent speeches have focused on the economy, housing, opportunities for women, voting rights.

Cuomo: Environmentalists nationally and the energy industry are closely watching his pending decision whether to allow fracking in upstate New York counties near the Pennsylvania line.

O’Malley: The liberal checklist: more spending on education, infrastructure, transportation; supports same-sex marriage, immigration reform, repealing death penalty, pushes environmental protections.

Republicans

Bush: Education, immigration, economy.

Christie: Moderate on the reach and functions of government. Yet took on labor unions, opposes gay marriage and opposes abortion rights except in case of rape, incest or to save the life of the woman.

Jindal: A record of privatization to show he means government should be downsized, happy to carry a social conservative banner.

Paul: Tea party plus. Fiscal conservative, criticizes surveillance state. Praised Supreme Court gay marriage ruling as one that avoids "culture war."

Rubio: Economy, abortion, tea party fiscal conservatism; immigration liberalization if he decides to get back to it.

Ryan: Cutting spending, taking on entitlements.

Walker: Fiscal stewardship, from a GOP point of view. Tough guy against the unions and liberal defenders of the status quo.

BAGGAGE TO CHECK: It’s never too early to deal with skeletons in the closet; rivals will be rattling them soon enough.

Democrats

Biden: Flubs, fibs, age. Deflection: "I am who I am."

Clinton: Benghazi, polarizing when political, age. GOP wants to pin blame on her for vulnerability of U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya that came under deadly attack.

Cuomo: New York economy is dragging, his poll numbers have sunk, went through public and bitter divorce with Kerry Kennedy, daughter of late Sen. Robert Kennedy, in 2005.

O’Malley: A record of raising taxes that could be challenged by less liberal Democrats, never mind Republicans.

Republicans

Bush: The Bush factor. Does the country want a Bush dynasty after presidents George H. W. and George W.?

Christie: The fat factor and man dates with President Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.

Jindal: Ambitious plan to replace state’s personal and corporate taxes with higher sales taxes flopped, delivered dud of a speech when given juicy platform of responding to Obama’s first presidential address to Congress in 2009. Deflection: Poking fun at himself. Jindal administration’s award of a $200 million Medicaid contract is under investigation by state and federal grand juries.

Paul: Dear old dad: Must move beyond Ron Paul’s fringe reputation. Bridge-burning in Congress endears him to tea party, could bite him otherwise. Deflection: GOP outreach to minorities.

Rubio: Rift with tea party constituency on immigration, "a real trial for me." Deflection: Go aggressive on a matter of common ground, which he did in vowing to take apart Obamacare. And stop talking about immigration. Response to Obama’s 2013 State of the Union speech was remembered only for his clumsy reach for water. Deflection: Make fun of himself.

Ryan: Budget axe cuts both ways – catnip to conservatives but people want their Medicare. Carries stigma of 2012 election loss as running mate.

Walker: Some things that give him huge appeal with GOP conservatives – taking on unions, most notably – would whip up Democratic critics in general election. Wisconsin near bottom in job creation.

RUN SHADOW CAMPAIGN: One way to run without running is to have a political action committee to promote ideas or other candidates for office, or to hire advisers who can switch to a campaign when the time comes.

Democrats

Biden: Limited, given his current position, but maintains close contact with political advisers past and present.

Clinton: Ready for Hillary super PAC set up by supporters is laying groundwork.

Cuomo: Overshadowed by Clinton’s shadow campaign. Considered a likely contender if Clinton ends up not running.

O’Malley: Set up a PAC called O’Say Can You See and hired two people for fundraising and communications.

Republicans

Bush: He’s a Bush – he’s got connections. Statehouse lobbyist Sally Bradshaw, chief of staff when he was governor, is his go-to political person.

Christie: Building broad coalition of donors through his national fundraising tour this spring. There were also "draft Christie" movements in Iowa and South Carolina in 2011, where activists continue to support him. Hired senior Romney media mind Russ Schriefer in late spring.

Jindal: His media consulting shop is OnMessage, based in Alexandria, Va., where campaign strategist Curt Anderson has had long relationship with him. Timmy Teepell, former campaign chief of staff for Jindal, has been made partner.

Paul: Has leadership PAC called Rand PAC, maintains ties to father’s political network in early primary states.

Rubio: Reclaim America PAC led by former deputy chief of staff, Terry Sullivan, veteran of South Carolina politics, expected to be active behind GOP candidates across country in 2014 midterms.

Ryan: His Prosperity Action PAC.

Walker: Consults with top Republican governor strategists such as Phil Musser and Nick Ayers.

GET WITH IT ON SOCIAL MEDIA: A must for spreading ideas, poking competitors, raising money, organizing events and showing a personal side, though often a very canned version.

Democrats

Biden: Not active on Facebook, occasional contributor to his office’s Twitter account.

Clinton: Legions of followers, few tweets, since starting with Twitter in June. Not active on Facebook.

Cuomo: Few if any personal tweets; Facebook also generated primarily by staff.

O’Malley: On Twitter, standard governor’s fare but promotes rare appearances by his Celtic rock band, O’Malley’s March, for which he sings and plays guitar and tin whistle. On Facebook, his PAC-generated page is more active than official governor’s account.

Republicans:

Bush: Tweets many Wall Street Journal stories. On Facebook, promotes immigration book, education reform.

Christie: More engaged in Twitter ("It was great to be able to visit with the owners of Rossi’s Rent-A-Rama in Ortley today.") than Facebook.

Jindal: Active on Twitter and on Facebook, where he lists among favorite books, "John Henry Newman: A Biography," about recently canonized British cardinal and sage. Also favors James Bond movies.

Paul: Aggressive. Bragged on Twitter in June that he’d attracted more than 1 million likes for his Facebook page, where he lists his own books as his favorites.

Rubio: Aggressive. King of Twitter in GOP field, second only to Clinton in followers. On Facebook, lists "Pulp Fiction" movie and "The Tudors" historical fiction TV series among favorites.

Ryan: King of Facebook among potential rivals in both parties, with nearly 4.9 million likes. Seeks $10 donations for "Team Ryan" bumper stickers for his PAC and kisses a fish. Posts photo of Obama with his feet up on Oval Office desk. Commanding presence on Twitter, too, via an account associated with his PAC and another as congressman.

Walker: Posts every little thing on Facebook. "Glad USDA is keeping cranberries on school menus. I drink several bottles of cranberry juice each day!" Also active on Twitter, where he spread word about beer doughnuts at state fair.

Associated Press writers Ken Thomas, Josh Lederman and Nancy Benac in Washington; Brian Witte in Annapolis, Md.; Bill Barrow in Atlanta; Tom Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa; and Steve Peoples in Boston contributed to this report.

©2012 The Associated Press

Heritage Action CEO Lays Into House GOP

Heritage Action for America CEO Michael Needham on Thursday cast House Republicans as gutless for backing down on Obamacare and the farm bill.

“Washington loves to play this game of saying something can’t be done,” he said. “Politicians like to set expectations as low as possible so they can’t help but trip over them.”

During a C-SPAN “Newsmakers” interview with CQ Roll Call’s Niels Lesniewski and The Hill’s Bob Cusack, which will air Sunday, Needham said Republicans don’t know what is possible because there are still seven weeks until Sept. 30, when the government will need new spending legislation to avoid a shutdown.

Lawmakers have been asking what Heritage Action’s strategy would be if the government shut down, and they say Heritage doesn’t have an answer.

But Needham shrugged off that concern.

“See where we stand at the end of September,” he implored. “Normally, when you go into a negotiation you try to preserve option value, you don’t take it off the table. And so I think that rather than trying to figure out where we’re going to be, we should actually fight for something.

“Passing a CR is a concession from Republicans,” Needham said of the likelihood that Congress will pass a stopgap continuing resolution to keep the government funded.

Needham also had harsh words for Republicans on the farm bill.

Read More on Roll Call: Heritage Action CEO Lays Into House GOP

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in the Student Loan Deal

Over the past several weeks, the Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act has made its way through the Senate, the House, and on to the president’s desk for his signature. The new law is a 10-year plan that was billed as making student loans affordable.

But it is impossible to reduce the student-debt burden without answering two key questions: What is the cost of running a student-loan program? And which interest rate is the best for running a student-loan program? Unfortunately, the most recent loan-reform debate left both of these questions unanswered. Fortunately, the new law calls for a study to find answers. Only once that has happened will congressional and administration leaders be able to hold an informed debate to reach a fair plan.

Student loan debt has topped credit card debt as the top form of consumer debt across the nation, at $1.2 trillion and growing. Potentially adding to that debt, on July 1 student borrowers of new subsidized federal Stafford loans saw their rate double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent.

In what was sold to the public as a reversal of that rate hike, the new student loan deal will indeed cut interest rates in the near term. But within two years, rates are expected to rise higher than the rates borrowers pay under current policy. While the new law contains a few concessions to struggling borrowers, on the whole it is harmful.

Let’s take a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly in the new law.

The Good

The deal looks really good in the short term for borrowers. Ultimately, the need to deliver on low interest rates right now, especially for undergraduate borrowers, was what drove policy makers. Rates will be set at 3.86 percent for this year for undergraduate Stafford loan borrowers. Graduate Stafford borrowers will see a rate of 5.41 this year, and PLUS (parent and graduate student) borrowers will see 6.41 percent.

Rates for new loans will be tied to Treasury bond rates, which worried consumer and student groups that did not want to expose borrowers to limitless interest rates. In response to this concern, the deal sets rate caps at 8.25 percent for subsidized and unsubsidized undergraduate Stafford loans, 9.5 percent for graduate Stafford loans, and 10.5 percent for PLUS loans. These caps are high enough to still expose students to dangerously steep interest, but nonetheless, the caps are there.

Many student groups have agreed that a market-based rate is reasonable, but that it must be tied to the government’s cost of lending and it must have a meaningful cap to protect students from high interest rates. Yet we still don’t know which index is the best proxy for the government’s cost of providing student loans. We can improve student loan policy in the future once the study is complete.

The Bad

The deal is designed to be “revenue neutral” over the next 10 years. That means that the low interest rates given to students now must be balanced by higher rates down the road. In essence, the law forces today’s 13-year-olds to take on extra debt when they go to college, all in order to pay for the cheap loans being offered for borrowers over the next several years.

Under the new law, five years from now an undergraduate who takes out the maximum in subsidized and unsubsidized Stafford loans will most likely pay $4,700 more over the life of the loan than she would have last year–and $900 more than if Congress had done nothing and the 6.8 percent rate had simply stayed in place, according to an analysis by the Institute for College Access and Success.

It’s bad enough that future undergraduates will end up with more debt under the new law, but they make out much better than graduate students and PLUS loan borrowers (who are mostly parents taking on loans to help their kids). The Institute for College Access and Success predicts that a graduate borrower who takes out unsubsidized loans over the next two years will save $3,600; however, a grad student taking out the same loans five years from now will assume $7,700 more debt than if Congress had left the fixed rates in place. Similarly, a parent borrower right now will save $2,100 on a typical loan of $17,000, but a parent taking out the same loan five years from now will pay $2,750 more than under the fixed rate.

The Ugly

Despite efforts by Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Jack Reed to move the debate in a direction that would actually lower student loan debt, Washington’s political establishment largely ignored the deeper problems with the student loan system. According to Senator Warren, the entire student loan system is expected to make more than $184 billion in profits for the federal government over the next 10 years.

The government should not be profiting by sending students deeper into debt. Yet, incredibly, with passage of this new law, the federal government will extract an additional $715 million from borrowers on top of that $184 billion. These funds will be diverted toward deficit reduction, effectively trading more student loan debt for government debt.

For decades, student and consumer groups fought the huge subsidies that banks received from the federal government for their participation in student lending, delivered in the form of special allowance payments, borrower fees, and interest that amounted to staggeringly high profit margins for the banks. Banks were finally removed from the student loan program with passage of the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act in 2009.

Now, with passage of this new law, Americans have lost a major opportunity to roll back the staggeringly high profits that the student loan system generates for the federal government. Ideally we can re-engage on this key policy question once the results of the study are public. Education is an investment in the social and economic health of the country, so lawmakers should be making student loans as affordable as possible.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has repeatedly said that college affordability is a priority for this administration. Now it’s up to Secretary Duncan and Congress to act before this new plan’s high interest rates kick in, and to pass real reform that keeps college within reach for students and families.

This piece originally appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Here’s where Senate’s pivotal 2014 races are taking shape

WASHINGTON _ The battle for Congress won’t fully engage until next year, but it sure looks like election season now as political activity explodes this summer at America’s county fairs, town halls and campaign fundraisers.

From Alaska to West Virginia, what’s happening around the country as lawmakers spend a month back home might shape the 2014 political map.

Wyoming, for instance, where quiet workhorse Sen. Michael Enzi was expected to coast to a fourth term, was way off the political radar until Liz Cheney, daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, decided to challenge him for the Republican nomination.

Nor was Kentucky a particularly hot spot, despite Democrats’ eagerness to deny Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell another term. Today, though, the state is a political caldron, after Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes jumped in the race and suddenly was even with the five-term incumbent in one poll.

(EDITORS: BEGIN OPTIONAL TRIM)

Other races faced similar upheavals.

Former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer was a Democratic star in the making until he decided last month not to seek the seat of retiring Democratic Sen. Max Baucus. In Arkansas, Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor knew he’d have a tough time, but the entry of Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., into the race might make his uphill climb even steeper. In Georgia, Michelle Nunn’s Senate candidacy has given the Democrats a rare chance in the Deep South.

(END OPTIONAL TRIM)

The most closely watched contests involve Senate seats. Republicans are expected to need a net gain of six to win control in the next Congress. At this point, West Virginia, South Dakota and Montana are all seen as good bets to go from blue to red. The GOP would need to win just three more and hold on to seats in Kentucky and Georgia.

The three could come from Alaska, North Carolina, Louisiana, Arkansas and possibly Iowa. Republicans are buoyant.

“The Democratic majority is in serious trouble,” Rob Collins, the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s executive director, wrote in a memo last month.

The House of Representatives, where Republicans have a 234 to 200 majority (there’s one vacancy), appears unlikely to flip to the Democrats, especially in the sixth year of the Obama administration. Sixth years often mean trouble for the presidential incumbent’s party.

“This doesn’t look like a wave election,” said Burdett Loomis, a congressional expert at the University of Kansas. “You need a huge issue, like health care, to make it a wave election, and I don’t see that so far.”

(EDITORS: BEGIN OPTIONAL TRIM)

Outrage over the 2010 health care law helped Republicans elect 87 freshmen to the House that year and win control of the chamber. If there’s any issue that could spark a new Republican resurgence, it might be that same law.

By the fall of 2014, the law’s key provision _ requiring most Americans to obtain insurance coverage or pay a penalty _ will have been in effect nearly a year. If people are confused, think their own health care is suffering or think they’re paying more, Democrats might pay a price.

In close races, “health care implementation will be important,” said Jennifer Duffy, Senate analyst for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

So might immigration. The Senate passed sweeping legislation last month that would toughen border security while creating a 13-year path to citizenship for the nation’s estimated 11 million immigrants who already are here illegally.

The issue is likely to reverberate this month, with both sides of the debate eager to make their views known as lawmakers meet voters in their districts and around their states. But Congress is expected to deal with the issue well before the election, and unlike health care, it doesn’t directly affect the daily lives of most constituents.

That leaves Senate and House races with two potential themes that might emerge: a referendum on President Barack Obama, and a test of who best understands and can remedy local concerns.

(END OPTIONAL TRIM)

Here’s a look at the most closely watched Senate races:

Kentucky

McConnell is used to tight races; he’s won with more than 55 percent of the vote only once. The wild card is how good a candidate Grimes proves to be. She’ll have strong backing from the Democratic Party, which has made McConnell its top Senate target.

“Mitch McConnell is the reason for Washington’s partisan political dysfunction,” said Justin Barasky, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Running against Obama in a state where the president got under 40 percent of the vote last year might help McConnell.

“Will people really believe Grimes is not going to be a surrogate for Obama” or Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.? asked Louisville-based Republican consultant Ted Jackson.

Arkansas

Pryor is arguably the nation’s most vulnerable incumbent. Obama got 36.9 percent of the vote in Arkansas last year, and the state has been trending Republican for years. Cotton is considered an especially attractive candidate. The freshman congressman is an Army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he gets high marks from conservatives.

Montana

Schweitzer’s decision was a stunner, and since then at least four prominent Democrats also have bowed out of the race. In a sparsely populated state, a candidate’s personal touch with voters tends to make a difference.

Alaska

Democratic Sen. Mark Begich won his first term in 2008 with 48 percent of the vote in a three-way race and he’s been a Republican target for years. Duffy of The Cook Political Report said, “One of Begich’s advantages is that he’s very Alaska-first.”

The Republican field is still in flux, making the race hard to handicap. Former Gov. Sarah Palin, the GOP’s 2008 vice presidential nominee, has been mentioned as a possible contender.

Louisiana

Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu has never had an easy time winning election and is likely to get a close race again.

“It’s a Republican state,” said Nathan Gonzales, the deputy editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report. “The president even in his brightest days has not been popular there.”

North Carolina

The Tar Heel State is a bigger question mark for Republicans. Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan will be running for re-election on ground that Obama narrowly won in 2008 and narrowly lost last year. “It’s a real swing state,” Duffy said.

West Virginia and South Dakota

Veteran Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, daughter of a former governor, is vying for the seat now held by Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller, who’s retiring after three decades on Capitol Hill. In South Dakota, former Gov. Mike Rounds, a Republican, is seeking the seat of retiring Sen. Tim Johnson, a Democrat. Obama lost the state last year by nearly 20 percentage points.

As in Montana, Democrats are having trouble recruiting candidates in both states.

Georgia

While a long shot for the Democrats _ Obama won 45.4 percent of the vote there last year _ Nunn, daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn, a popular Democrat, entered the race last month and is about even with major Republican challengers.

Gonzales saw three factors affecting the race: whether Nunn is an effective candidate, who the Republican candidate will be and whether Democrats can produce a huge turnout.

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(c)2013 McClatchy Washington Bureau

Visit the McClatchy Washington Bureau at www.mcclatchydc.com

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GRAPHIC, INTERACTIVE GRAPHIC (from MCT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20130814 CONGRESS Senate