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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.

___

(c)2013 McClatchy Washington Bureau

Visit the McClatchy Washington Bureau at www.mcclatchydc.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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

Gmail’s Redesign & Your Advocacy Effort

UPDATED 8/26 | So the question is, if we were looking at Gmail’s redesign with a literary eye, would an appropriate title for this article be “Much Ado About Nothing” or “That’s It, Email’s Dead.”

From a few folks in the know, see AdAge, Entrepreneur Magazine and Mailchimp as examples, as of now, we’re looking at the former. Early returns suggested that open and click-thru rates had dropped, but in the weeks following, some email marketing firms and companies are declaring their stats almost unchanged following Google’s overhaul of the widely adopted email platform. That said, that doesn’t mean that some marketers haven’t been creative in finding a way to put their message front and center in your Gmail inbox.

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Lonegan: National Republicans Support My Special Election Campaign | #NJSEN

Steve Lonegan, the New Jersey GOP’s nominee for the Senate special election, has high expectations for the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee to boost him to victory.

Lonegan faces an uphill climb in the Oct. 16 special election against the Democratic nominee, Newark Mayor Cory Booker. A Republican has not won a New Jersey Senate seat in 40 years, and President Barack Obama carried the state with 58 percent in 2012.

On Wednesday, Lonegan told WOR Radio that he is “expecting really the whole NRSC and RNC to be focusing on this race.”

“The entire Republican Party is organized behind my campaign,” Lonegan, a legally blind conservative activist, said on “The John Gamble Show.”

Read More on Roll Call: Lonegan: National Republicans Support My Special Election Campaign | #NJSEN

McCain Doesn’t Want to Get Between Gillibrand and McCaskill on Military Sexual Assault

Sen. John McCain says the debate over handling military sexual assault is likely to play out on the Senate floor but that he doesn’t to be between two female senators on the issue.

“I hope that everybody takes this in the right way: I think it’s helpful that we have like 20 women senators in the United States Senate, and I hope that doesn’t mean that I’m saying that I’m insensitive, but it’s helpful for the Senate to have that kind of input that we are getting from many of our women senator colleagues,” McCain said Tuesday. “By the way, two leading individuals — Sen. McCaskill of Missouri and Sen. Gillibrand are on opposite sides on this issue, and I— I try not to get in the middle of that one.”

The Arizona Republican was referring to the differing views of Democratic Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Claire McCaskill of Missouri, who were among the leaders ofseparate factions during the Armed Services Committee’s markup of the fiscal 2014 defense authorization bill. The two senators have been vocal advocates for their respective sides.

Gillibrand and her supporters favor removing sexual-assault cases from the military’s traditional chain-of-command structure, while McCaskill sides with Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., in supporting a continued role for the commanding officers in handling the cases.

Still, both camps want to make substantial changes to the way the uniformed services handle the cases, including ending the practice of allowing commanders to set aside convictions.

Read More in Roll Call: McCain Doesn’t Want to Get Between Gillibrand and McCaskill on Military Sexual Assault

Canadian Policies Insufficient to Mitigate Keystone’s Climate Impact, Opponents Say

By Lauren Gardner, CQ Roll Call

Current Canadian energy and climate policies are inadequate to significantly mitigate greenhouse gas pollution from an expansion of its oil sands resources, Keystone XL pipeline opponents said Wednesday.

The trajectory of Canadian climate-warming pollution indicates that those emissions can’t possibly be offset, Canadian professors and environmentalists told reporters. Oil and gas regulations reportedly under consideration by the Canadian government would have a “negligible impact” on the industry’s carbon footprint before the end of the decade, when oil sands emissions are expected to double over 2010 levels, according to a report by Environmental Defence Canada.

“Given our track record and failure to meet domestic and international commitments . . . we can’t expect that any significant changes will be forthcoming to deal with the impacts of Keystone XL,” said Gillian McEachern, campaigns director for Environmental Defence Canada.

Only one Canadian oil sands project is being developed with carbon capture and storage technology, which is funded mostly by the country’s taxpayers, McEachern said. The country would need 60 more carbon capture and storage projects to offset carbon emissions from oil sands development, she said.

“Tar sands have a greenhouse gas problem, not a technology problem,” McEachern said.

Environmentalists have seized upon President Barack Obama’s statement in his June 25 climate speech that he would not sign off on the Alberta-to-Texas pipeline if it would “significantly” exacerbate carbon pollution.

“The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward,” he said at the time. “It’s relevant.”

Obama also suggested in an interview last month with the New York Times that the extent of Canadian efforts to curb emissions from oil sands development could factor into his final decision.

Pipeline supporters in the Senate have said they may offer an amendment to energy efficiency legislation (S 1392) slated for debate next month that would require quick approval of the Keystone project.

The State Department’s draft environmental study of the route found that the project would likely have a minimal impact on the rate of development in the oil sands because Canada will produce its carbon-heavy resource and consumers will burn it regardless of whether Keystone is built.

Activists and pipeline proponents have parsed that report’s conclusion and the president’s recent remarks to both of their advantages. There is no set timeline for the State Department to release its final environmental impact statement on the pipeline, spokeswoman Marie Harf said Monday.

Once the statement is released, the Obama administration has 90 days to determine whether building Keystone is in the national interest.

laurengardner@cqrollcall.com

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

CBS, Time Warner Cable Urged by Senators to End Dispute

By Gautham Nagesh, CQ Roll Call

Three Democratic senators are growing impatient with the standoff that has resulted in 3.2 million Time Warner Cable subscribers losing access to CBS and Showtime, among other channels.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer of California and Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts have all weighed in on the dispute, which began when CBS sought to raise the fees that Time Warner Cable pays to retransmit CBS broadcast signals. After negotiations reached an impasse, Time Warner yanked CBS stations from its lineup, affecting viewers in New York, Los Angeles, Dallas and other markets.

“It has now been 11 days since retransmission consent negotiations between your two corporations reached an impasse,” Feinstein and Boxer wrote in a letter Monday to the heads of Time Warner and CBS. “Millions of customers in the Los Angeles area and throughout the country have subscribed to receive the programming CBS networks create and Time Warner Cable distributes, but are unable to access it because of this standoff.”

“The status quo is unfair to the millions of your customers who are caught in the middle of your dispute, and we strongly encourage both sides to resolve it immediately,” the senators added.

Retransmission disputes leading to blackouts have become increasingly common in recent years. Cable operators have insisted that the existing retransmission consent system is broken, and gives broadcasters too much leverage in negotiations.

Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn suggested to reporters Friday that she may take action if the dispute continues to drag on. But Clyburn also acknowledged the commission’s authority is limited to resolve retransmission disputes. Analysts at the research firm Stifel Nicolaus argue that the FCC can do little beyond ensuring both sides are negotiating in good faith.

Markey, who helped create the retransmission consent regime as one of the House authors of the 1992 Cable Act (PL 102-382), wrote a letter last week to Clyburn urging the FCC to bring the two sides together in hopes of reaching a resolution.

CBS, the top-rated broadcast network, has programming including the PGA Championship, “Under the Dome,” and “60 Minutes.” Other CBS-owned channels such as the Smithsonian network and the premium cable channel Showtime are part of the blackouts. According to reports, viewers in the affected markets have started buying antennas to receive the over-the-air signals.

The size of those markets suggests that more political pressure to reach an agreement is coming. But the Stifel analysts said a negotiated agreement between the two companies remains the most likely outcome. They also noted that another blackout is currently underway — over carriage fees between Raycom Media and DISH Network — although that dispute is unlikely to draw similar attention.

gauthamnagesh@cqrollcall.com

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

Put Food Stamps in Final Farm Bill, Democrats Urge Boehner

A united House Democratic Caucus sent Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, a letter this week urging him to include food stamp provisions in the final language of the farm bill.

Every House Democrat — with the exception of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, who does not sign onto letters to the speaker — called on Boehner to bring a conferenced farm bill to the floor that includes funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

“Given the essential nature of this program to millions of American families, the final language of the farm bill or any other legislation related to SNAP must be crafted to ensure that we do not increase hunger in America,” read the letter, written by Connecticut Democrat Rosa DeLauro.

Pelosi issued a separate statement which charged that “the Republican record reflects a blatant disregard for the needs of the most vulnerable Americans.” She said Democrats were “united in seeking a responsible solution” to the challenges facing SNAP.

“It is our hope that the Republican response to this letter is focused on how we move forward on behalf of the best interests of hardworking Americans,” her statement said.

In 2008, the last time a farm bill was signed into law, a clerk forgot the trade title in the official version of the bill — a version which President George W. Bush vetoed. The missing title caused a brouhaha. Congress had to pass the bill again, the president vetoed it again and Congress voted to override the veto, again.

Read More on Roll Call: Put Food Stamps in Final Farm Bill, Democrats Urge Boehner

10 Most Quotable Members of Congress

Members of Congress say the darndest things.

Of course, not every member has a knack for delivering quotable material, but some just can’t help it.

Of the quotes referenced here, many were almost certainly regretted. Others became defining moments. But regardless of their impact, positive or negative, these quotes had staying power.

Some members — like Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., with her “Go Gator!” speech — are known for a single address. Others — like Texas Republican Ted Poe — deliver one lasting line, repeatedly.

But these 10 members are among those who consistently make news with their potent language. Here are the top 10 most quotable members of the House:

1. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas

Gohmert can’t help but make news. Every week, as one of the last matters of House business, the Texas Republican has “Gohmert hour” — a 60-minute floor speech that is a goldmine for bizarre quotes. On July 25, for example, Gohmert hour included a story about the possible identification of marijuana dealers through stolen potato chips and an assertion that ”the Muslim Brotherhood has profound influence in this country, and in this administration and in this government.”

In 2010, Gohmert had a heated exchange with CNN host Anderson Cooper over ”terror babies” — a theoretical plot where terrorist networks send pregnant women to the United States so the child can freely enter and exit the country and later use their citizenship to return and attack the United States.

Read More on Roll Call: 10 Most Quotable Members of Congress

Expect Campaign Advertisements Earlier Than Ever

Congressional campaign ad wars in the summer? It could happen in 2014.

Without a presidential race dominating the airwaves, House and Senate races will be on the receiving end of an unprecedented deluge of political spending this midterm cycle. And with only a few dozen competitive House districts to focus their spend, many political operatives predict the television ad wars will start earlier than ever.

Until recently, the parties and most candidates did not air major television advertisement campaigns until around Labor Day — when television networks returned to prime-time programs. Last cycle, party committees aired some five-figure and small six-figure buys during the August before the elections, but the serious seven-figure spending came after Labor Day.

This cycle, political operatives predicted parties, candidates and groups would move up the television ad calendar a few more weeks to early or mid-August — as in one year from now.

“The tactics and strategies are certainly going to have to evolve because there’s only so much money you can spend between Oct. 1 and Election Day,” said Dan Conston, a spokesman for the Congressional Leadership Fund, a Republican House super PAC. “And it’s only so effective when there are five competing messages at the same time.”

Last cycle shattered political spending records, thanks to a presidential campaign and super PACs. Few operatives predict 2014 will break that advertisement spending record because of the absence of a national contest.

Read More on Roll Call: Expect Campaign Advertisements Earlier Than Ever

Congress of Quitters: Early Exits Promise Better Prospects, Less Bile

After a decade in the House, Rodney Alexander never made as much news as he did as a freshman, when he secured a hold on his northeastern Louisiana seat by quitting the Democratic Party just in time to run for re-election as a Republican.

But twice in as many days last week, Alexander made announcements that will ring with even louder echoes in the halls of Congress.

The first chime last week got the most attention because it fit so readily into a couple of the defining narratives of the current Congress.

The second may have more significance. It heralds the acceleration of a disquieting trend at the Capitol: members who just can’t take it anymore and are looking better (and higher paying) things to do.

Alexander initially declared, on Aug. 6, that he would be retiring at the end of his sixth termbecause he had no reason to believe the 114th Congress would be a more productive or enjoyable place of business.  “Rather than producing tangible solutions to better this nation, partisan posturing has created a legislative standstill,” he said. “Unfortunately, I do not foresee this environment to change anytime soon.”

That such a broadside would be delivered by a senior Republican was more evidence that dysfunction and low productivity have become just as dispiriting for those nominally in control of Congress as they have for the rest of the country.

Read More on Roll Call: Congress of Quitters: Early Exits Promise Better Prospects, Less Bile

Industry wrote provision that undercuts credit-rating overhaul

WASHINGTON _ Moments before the Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill to overhaul the credit ratings industry seven years ago, Republican and Democratic sponsors took turns touting its promise for ending an entrenched oligopoly.

The bill, they said, should break the viselike dominance of three agencies _ Standard Poor’s Ratings Services, Moody’s Investors Service and the smaller Fitch Ratings _ in an industry that serves as a crucial watchdog over the nation’s financial system.

What’s escaped public scrutiny until now, however, is that the law’s tough criteria defining when a newcomer could join the industry weren’t written by Congress. They were crafted by a yet-to-be-identified official of one of the big three ratings agencies, a former aide to the Senate Banking Committee has told McClatchy.

Experts and the heads of unregistered ratings firms worry that congressional staffers, in seeking help to ensure that fly-by-night companies couldn’t win federal approval, inadvertently let the fox into the coop.

The industry-written criteria, they say, weakened a law meant to spur competition in the estimation of the default risks of bonds and other securities. Those ratings, ranging from AAA to C, often guide investments by pension funds, foundations, insurers and other institutions.

While a handful of new firms have registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission as “nationally recognized” ratings agencies, competition has increased only modestly since the 2006 law was enacted.

The criteria have prevented at least one potential competitor from winning approval and have dissuaded others from even applying, the critics say.

Despite a barrage of criticism over their behavior, the three firms issued 97 percent of all ratings in the 12 months that ended in June 2011, according to the SEC’s most recent publicly available data.

Perhaps most important, little competition has emerged in rating the kinds of complex home-mortgage securities whose implosion led to the 2007 financial crisis. The market for those securities has shrunk, but it’s expected to rebound.

Ann Rutledge and Sylvain Raynes, a husband-and-wife financial team who’ve crusaded for transparency on Wall Street, say they’ve devised a computer program that enables them to take on the big three in rating those complex “structured securities.” However, they said, their application to form a nationally recognized ratings agency has been hamstrung for nearly two years because of the industry-conceived registration requirements.

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Gene Phillips, a director at New York-based PF2 Securities Evaluations Inc., said his company had decided against seeking registration because “there didn’t seem to be a clear path to achieving the criteria required, even if we did our job very well in the niche area of our expertise.”

The law set “odd barriers that are very favorable to the incumbents,” he said.

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The criteria make it “exceptionally difficult for a younger player to qualify,” said James Gellert, the CEO of New York-based Rapid Ratings, a 22-year-old company that specializes in assessing firms’ financial health and hasn’t sought registration, also known as certification.

Further, the requirement of three years of experience “absolutely slammed the door on any new competition” in structured products _ “the most lucrative part of the ratings business” _ just as the financial crisis peaked, Gellert said.

None of the three major credit-ratings agencies, in emails from their spokesmen, acknowledged any role in drafting the Senate criteria.

The disclosure that one of the big three had helped shape a law that appears to partially insulate them from competition comes at a time when the SEC, under new Chairwoman Mary Jo White, has been wrestling with how to address the potential conflicts of interest that occur when a bank pays an agency to rate its securities. On May 14, the agency hosted a daylong round table on the subject with bankers, regulators and other stakeholders.

S, Moody’s and to a lesser extent Fitch have been under fire much of the last decade, accused of inflating their ratings on the securities issued by banks that paid them billions of dollars in fees. In the lead-up to the financial crisis, government investigative panels found, the big three compromised their roles as independent checks on Wall Street.

In February, the Justice Department filed a $5 billion damage suit that accused S of knowingly overrating junk home-mortgage securities. Sixteen states and the District of Columbia also are suing S

The 2006 overhaul push stemmed largely from the discovery that S’s and Moody’s had failed to lower investment-grade ratings on debt issued by the energy trading giant Enron Corp. until four days before its 2001 bankruptcy filing and by telecom colossus WorldCom Inc. until weeks before its 2002 collapse. Investors in those firms lost billions of dollars.

As the Senate drafted its version of the bill, an industry official was “very helpful” in writing standards to guard against unqualified applicants winning registration, said the former Banking Committee aide, who insisted on anonymity in order to avoid harming relationships. The former aide also declined to divulge the identify of the industry official.

The industry-written criteria require an applicant to produce 10 confidential, notarized letters from “qualified institutional buyers” who’ve relied on the company’s ratings for three years, including two such letters for each category in which the firm sought approval.

Committee staffers were unfamiliar with the term qualified institutional buyers, a formal distinction that the SEC gives sophisticated investors that handle more than $100 million for clients, before the industry official proposed the requirement, the former Senate aide said.

Michael Greenberger, a University of Maryland law professor who’s a former senior staffer at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, said the requirement was exclusionary.

“If it’s true that the existing credit rating agencies wrote the provision, they clearly wrote it in a way that made it very hard for anybody to become properly certified,” he said.

Rutledge and Raynes, former Moody’s employees, said in phone interviews that it would be “nearly impossible” for them to obtain 10 letters that fit the requirements.

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Their clients, one of whom took a year to deliver a letter, fear that word of their support will leak out and lead to reprisals, Raynes said.

Greenberger said institutional clients “don’t want to anger the other prominent credit-rating agencies.”

Rutledge and Raynes’ New York firm, R Consulting, built a sophisticated computer program that can accurately assess the resale value of structured securities such as the home mortgage securities that contributed to the financial crisis, they said. If they’d been able to rate securities issued before the U.S. housing bubble burst, Rutledge said, “the markets would have frozen in a week.”

The resulting panic would have subsided quickly as investors saw a way to trace securities’ true values, Raynes said, unlike after the 2007 meltdown, when fear and uncertainty gripped a wildly gyrating market for months.

But their application was hurt because R provides “valuations” of securities, not letter-grade ratings as the major ratings agencies dispense, Rutledge and Raynes said, even though their valuations could easily be used to derive ratings. The SEC rejected all but one of the seven or eight investor letters they submitted because they referred to valuations rather than ratings, they said.

Greenberger said that “there are other ways to demonstrate competency” besides demanding client reference letters.

Moody’s spokesman, Michael Adler, said his firm “did not draft the act,” but he declined to say whether it had proposed the registration criteria.

S spokesman David Wargin declined to comment.

Fitch spokesman Dan Noonan said the firm had provided written comments about registration criteria for an earlier House of Representatives version of the bill “and suggested that the criteria ought to be objective and based on investor use of ratings.”

He said Fitch executives thought that “the law must promote rather than impede competition.”

SEC spokesman John Nester said the agency’s staff had reviewed a draft of the legislation but had had no role in writing the criteria.

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Since the Credit Rating Agency Reform Act of 2006 took effect, the SEC has registered six new firms, bringing the total to 11. But three of the newly registered companies were small U.S. agencies that had operated for years. No U.S. firm has registered as a nationally recognized statistical rating organization over the last five years, and one Japanese firm relinquished its certification.

Two new U.S. players have emerged, Kroll Bond Ratings and Morningstar Inc., but only because they bought two of the three newly licensed U.S. agencies.

The 2006 bill seemed to have been dead as the congressional session neared its end, when Alabama Republican Sen. Richard Shelby, who was then the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, suddenly introduced it on Sept. 6. It flew through both chambers and was signed into law, all within 23 days.

Shelby “didn’t support the provision” laying out rigid registration criteria, but he agreed to it in a compromise with other panel members, said his spokesman, Jonathan Graffeo. He apparently referred to Democrats led by then-Sen. Paul Sarbanes of Maryland.

Shelby’s political action committee received at least $28,750 from lobbyists for S, Moody’s and Fitch and their wives in 2005 and 2006, including a $5,000 donation from Lea Berman, the wife of Fitch lobbyist Wayne Berman, on the day that Shelby introduced the bill, Federal Election Commission records show. Fitch’s lobbyists also hosted or co-hosted a fundraiser for Shelby in the spring of 2005, the data indicate.

Graffeo said there was “absolutely zero” connection between the legislation and the donations. Fitch spokesman Noonan said the firm had “no knowledge of or influence over” campaign donations by its lobbyists.

Sarbanes, who retired from the Senate three months after the bill was enacted, didn’t receive any donations from the agencies or their lobbyists, according to election commission records.

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(c)2013 McClatchy Washington Bureau

Visit the McClatchy Washington Bureau at www.mcclatchydc.com

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Congress Debates Alternative Ways to Fund Inland Waterway Repairs

Senate appropriators want to overhaul how the government collects fees that cover the cost of maintaining the nation’s network of inland waterways by scrapping the existing diesel fuel tax that is now levied on tugboat operators.

About 300 barge operators pay about 20 cents for each gallon of diesel fuel they burn. The fees bring in an estimated $170 million a year, and the money is used to pay the industry’s share of lock, dam and dredging costs.

But many of the nation’s locks and dams are now more than 50 years old, and this has created a significant backlog of waterway infrastructure in need of upgrades, repair and replacement. In its quadrennial report card in March, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave inland waterway infrastructure a D-minus, citing excessive delays for barges at antiquated locks and other bottlenecks.

In a committee report accompanying the Senate version of the fiscal 2014 Energy-Water funding bill (S 1245), appropriators proposed an alternative to the diesel tax funding mechanism to cover the costs of the needed repairs and upgrades on inland waterways.

The alternative would be modeled after the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, which levies fees on barge operators based on the value of the cargo being transported, not on diesel fuel used. Under that system, cargo operators have to pay $1.25 for each $1,000 worth of cargo they transport. The fund collects about $1.6 billion annually, but only $900 million is used for dredging and other maintenance.

The proposal is being pushed as the best way to expand funding in the Inland Waterways Trust Fund. But it is at odds with an industry-generated proposal that calls for increasing fuel taxes for barge operators and changing existing federal cost-sharing rules.

Industry groups such as the Waterways Council Inc. have been lobbying Congress for three years to support their recommendation in hopes of its inclusion in a reauthorization of water resources projects that congressional leaders have vowed to enact this fall.

Central to the industry’s plan, which was enshrined in a bill (S 407) introduced earlier this year by Democrat Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, is a 9-cents-per-gallon increase in the current diesel tax of 20 cents per gallon.

Combined with changes in cost-sharing formulas for new and existing lock, dam and dredging projects performed by the Army Corps of Engineers, the industry proposal was being successfully sold to lawmakers as a user-requested fee increase to ensure it would not run afoul of Republican promises to stave off tax increases.

The industry’s broader plan includes changes in the way the corps reviews, constructs and delivers projects, pieces of which were included in the water resources bill (S 601) the Senate passed with bipartisan support in May.

The tax provision, though, was left out of the measure at the request of Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who was wary of violating the constitutional requirement that tax bills originate in the House.

Industry lobbyists have since been pushing allies in Congress to prod House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., and Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., to include the tax change in the industry’s proposal in any broader tax overhaul deal.

Though a tax overhaul appears unlikely to advance this year, pressure from barge operators and the businesses that depend on them has been building in advance of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s expected work on its own water resources bill in September.

Pennsylvania Republican Bill Shuster, the committee’s chairman, has warned proponents of the potential pitfalls of proposing increases in user fees that could easily be labeled a tax increase, even if the proposal was made part of a comprehensive tax overhaul.

Kansas congressman defines GOP faction tugging hard from right

WASHINGTON _ When Republican leadership in the House of Representatives yanked Tim Huelskamp off the Budget and Agriculture committees last year, some predicted a slow slide into irrelevancy.

Losing the agriculture seat was a particularly harsh blow: A member from Kansas had served on the committee for nearly 100 years, and farming is big business in Huelskamp’s largely rural district.

But the 44-year-old congressman from western Kansas was stripped of the coveted spot for refusing to toe his party’s line.

Far from suffering a premature political demise, however, the tea party-backed Huelskamp used the episode to bolster his credentials as an uncompromising Washington outsider. Others like him have hit on a way to boost their own clout by bucking the party establishment from the right.”When Washington has a 9 percent approval rating,” Huelskamp said in an interview this month, “I’ll be happy to stick on the side of the 91 percent.”

In fact, the congressman said being targeted by Washington “insiders” has made him more prominent, not less.

In the months since his removal from the two committees, Huelskamp has emerged as a leader of a rebellious faction of fellow far-right conservatives who are unafraid, even eager, to defy their party’s positions on everything from the farm bill to the budget.

A small but vocal group, they’ve frustrated House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, by withholding key votes and publicly voicing dissent in monthly news conferences, on cable news shows and over social media.

“You can’t assume traditional political strategizing,” said Chapman Rackaway, a political science professor at Fort Hays State University in Kansas. “These folks are true believers that it’s time for a fundamental re-evaluation of how politicking is done, particularly how lawmaking is done. So they believe they are doing the Lord’s work in gumming up the works.

“They truly do believe that the government that works best works least.”

In January, Huelskamp and a group of colleagues even orchestrated a coup attempt against Boehner, falling just a few votes short of thwarting his re-election as speaker.

“As I told the speaker, ‘I don’t work for you, Mr. John Boehner,’ ” Huelskamp said. “I work for 700,000 Kansans.”

He’s marketed that renegade approach in fundraising pitches.

“If you are tired of Republicans who campaign as conservatives _ but vote like Democrats _ stand with me and make your contribution of $35 here,” he said in an email sent out by TheTeaParty.net.

A beleaguered Boehner has said his strategy is to let the House “work its will” on immigration and other issues without resorting to strong-arm tactics to bring breakaway legislators such as Huelskamp into line.

That position may be more necessity than strategy. Republican leaders find it harder than ever to corral troublesome representatives such as Huelskamp by pulling them from plum committee assignments, stifling their bills or holding the threat of primary challengers over their heads.

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“What can Boehner offer Huelskamp? Virtually nothing,” said Burdett Loomis, a professor of political science at the University of Kansas. “Boehner has a terrific problem that there are about 70 folks in the caucus (who) really aren’t interested in what he has to offer.”

The staunchly conservative makeup of Huelskamp’s district in western Kansas gives him room to maneuver without worrying too much about facing a challenge at the ballot box. Republicans hold a nearly 2-1 advantage over Democrats in the “Big First,” as it’s known, which sprawls from parts of eastern Kansas to the Colorado border.

Huelskamp has long had a reputation as a maverick. When he was a state senator in Kansas in 2003, fellow Republicans booted him from the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee for refusing to work with the leadership.

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In 2010, Huelskamp won a six-way primary race for Congress by campaigning to the right. He assured voters that he was “not one of those weak-kneed Republicans.”

Since arriving in Washington, he’s dedicated himself to living up to that billing.

He cast votes against raising the debt ceiling and the GOP budget proposal by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. They didn’t slashing spending fast enough.

Time and again he voted against the farm bill, legislations worth millions upon millions to his district. Mainly, he wanted deeper cuts to food stamps. But he also opposes enhancing crop insurance subsidies, which go to farmers.

Huelskamp ran unopposed for re-election in 2012.

“My people at home, they said, ‘We sent you up there with some principles,’ ” Huelskamp said. “What they get tired of is folks who said they believe in something but they don’t follow through.”

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To Huelskamp, staying true to those principles sometimes means championing seemingly hopeless causes, such as a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, an always unlikely proposition that’s now running counter to a dramatic shift in public opinion. He also wants to defund the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, even if it means triggering a government shutdown.

Huelskamp says he doesn’t need to serve on a committee or curry favor with leadership to shift the debate in Congress.

In July, he and five other members sent a letter to the chairman of the House Rules Committee, Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, threatening to join Democrats in opposing a procedural vote to allow a defense appropriations bill to come to the floor. Their chief cause: pressing for a vote on an amendment proposed by Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., that would have severely limited the amount of data that the National Security Agency could collect from American citizens.

GOP leaders had removed Amash from the House Budget Committee at the same time as Huelskamp, and they didn’t seem inclined to give his amendment a floor vote.

Huelskamp described the threat tactic as “a cardinal sin for Republicans,” but he said it had made a difference: Amash’s amendment did get a vote, although it failed 205-217.

“Justin and I get kicked off committees and at the end of the day we forced them to come to a vote, forced the president to come in and lobby against it, Pelosi to lobby against it, Boehner to lobby against it,” Huelskamp said, speaking of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. “And we still almost passed it.”

(END OPTIONAL TRIM)

Huelskamp is home in the Sunflower State now, preparing to meet with constituents at a series of town halls during a monthlong congressional recess. He said many had expressed outrage over his removal from the Agriculture Committee but most didn’t blame him _ they blamed the powers that be in Washington.

He told McClatchy that during last month’s farm bill debate, he’d turned down an offer to restore his seat on the Agriculture Committee in return for his vote.

That “might be the way the game’s played up here,” Huelskamp said, “but that outrages people at home.”

His refusal to compromise exposes a widening rift between moderate and ultraconservative Republicans in Kansas, said Dena Sattler, the editor and publisher of the Garden City Telegram, a newspaper published in Huelskamp’s district.

“Some really respect the fact that he’s standing his ground and he’s standing for what he thinks is right,” Sattler said. “On the other hand, you have those who really don’t understand why he can’t sit down with folks he doesn’t agree with to get things done.”

___

THE OUTSPOKEN REP. HUELSKAMP:

On Planned Parenthood: “An entity that was created for the sole purpose of killing children that look like mine. A racist organization, and it continues specifically to target minorities for abortion destruction.” _ Speaking at Values Voter Summit, 2012. He has four adopted children of African-American, Hispanic and Native American descent.

On border security: “Trusting Obama w/ border security is like trusting Bill Clinton w/ your daughter” _ July 10 tweet.

On same-sex marriage: “Earth to the GOP: traditional marriage referendums always outperform our party’s presidential nominee at the ballot box.” _ Statement after U.S. Supreme Court rulings in June.

___

(c)2013 McClatchy Washington Bureau

Visit the McClatchy Washington Bureau at www.mcclatchydc.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

_____

PHOTOS (from MCT Photo Service, 202-383-6099):

Internal Email Names 17 House GOP Targets for Recess

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee plans to target 17 House Republicans with a grass-roots push over the August recess, according to an internal party email obtained by CQ Roll Call.

On Monday, a DCCC aide sent a message to an email list sponsored by Americans United for Change, a liberal organization, describing the committee’s plans for the month-long break and including the warning, “please do not share this list with press.”

“In the majority of these districts we have field staffers on the ground, coordinated through the respective state parties, to define and hold accountable vulnerable Republican incumbents, through earned media tactics, messaging amplification, and community outreach,” wrote Ryan Daniels, the deputy national press secretary and African-American media adviser.

The DCCC’s list includes some of this cycle’s most-often mentioned vulnerable Republicans, but there are some lesser-known targets as well:

#AR01: Rep. Rick Crawford
#AR02: Rep. Tim Griffin
#CA10: Rep. Jeff Denham
#CA21: Rep. David Valadao
#CO06: Rep. Mike Coffman
#IA03: Rep. Tom Latham
#IL13: Rep. Rodney Davis
#MN02: Rep. John Kline

See the rest and read more on Roll Call: Internal Email Names 17 House GOP Targets for Recess

Vilsack Says Farm Bill Stalemate Might Worsen Trade Problems with Brazil

By Philip Brasher, CQ Roll Call

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is turning up the pressure on lawmakers to finish a farm bill this year, suggesting that a continued stalemate over the legislation could lead Brazil to retaliate against U.S. exports.

The United States has been paying Brazil $147 million a year to temporarily settle a trade challenge the Brazilians won against U.S. cotton subsidies. The payments are supposed to continue until Congress replaces the subsidies, but Vilsack told key officials in Brazil this week that the monthly installment in September would be cut in half due to the budget sequester and that he had no authority to make further payments after the federal fiscal year ends Sept. 30.

“They expressed some concern that without a payment and an adequate payment in September and no farm bill, we leave them very little wiggle room or option in terms of how to deal with this situation,” Vilsack said in a telephone interview as he prepared to return to Washington.

The Brazilians in turn “very pointedly” reminded two senators who accompanied him, Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Roy Blunt, R-Mo., of the retaliatory measures authorized by the World Trade Organization case won by Brazil, Vilsack said.

Both the Senate-passed farm bill (S 954) and the House version (HR 2642) would create a new insurance program for cotton to replace the existing subsidies. Brazilian officials recently wrote lawmakers outlining some concerns with the legislation, including a provision in the House bill that would continue direct payments to cotton farmers for two years, Vilsack said. The continued payments are intended as a bridge while the insurance program is being established.

The U.S. delegation met separately Monday with Brazilian Agriculture Minister Antonio Andrade and Foreign Minister Eduardo dos Santos.

Chris Gallegos, a spokesman for Republican Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said the situation with Brazil demonstrates why another farm bill needs to be passed as soon as possible. “Cotton growers in the United States and Brazil have worked to address problems identified by the World Trade Organization and the cotton program in the Senate’s farm bill deals with those concerns,” said Gallegos.

House Republican leaders have delayed starting negotiations with the Senate on a final farm bill until the House takes up a separate measure that would slash spending on food stamps by $40 billion over 10 years, 10 times as much as the nutrition cut contained in the Senate farm bill.

The House Agriculture Committee’s ranking Democrat, Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota, has warned that a $40 billion cut could make it impossible to reach a compromise with the Senate, dooming the farm bill for this year. Vilsack would not go that far.

“I’m not going to say that I’m pessimistic about this,” he said. “What I’m focused on here is that there are real consequences of not getting this done.”

Congress is likely to pass a continuing resolution to keep the government operating after Oct. 1, but Vilsack said it would be difficult for Congress to use that measure to authorize continuing the payments to Brazil because they would require a spending offset.

A congressional aide disputed Vilsack’s claim that he lacked authority to continue the payments in 2014. Vilsack said the payments are made out of his agency’s Commodity Credit Corp. and that it would need to be repaid.

philipbrasher@cqrollcall.com

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

Can GOP ‘Replace’ Obamacare? The RSC Has a Plan

House Republicans have held 40 votes to repeal Obamacare, but their promise to come up with legislation to replace it with something else has been far more elusive. That may be about to change.

The 173-member strong Republican Study Committee is on track to roll out legislation this fall that would replace the 2010 Affordable Care Act with a comprehensive alternative, Chairman Steve Scalise told CQ Roll Call on Thursday.

Though it wouldn’t be the first Obamacare repeal-and-replace proposal floated by individual GOP lawmakers in either chamber of Congress, the RSC bill is one that could at least gain traction on the House floor, given the conservative group’s size and influence.

It would, however, have to pass muster with House Republican leaders, who have not yet been formally acquainted with the legislative text, according to Scalise. It would also likely need the blessing of outside advocacy groups such as Heritage Action for America and the Club for Growth, which could make or break the bill’s chances of passage.

The Louisiana Republican said the plan would include protections for people with pre-existing conditions — one of the main benefits of Obamacare.

“We address that to make sure that people with pre-existing conditions cannot be discriminated against,” he said. But, he promised the bill would not “put in place mandates that increase the costs of health care and push people out of the insurance that they like,” Scalise said.

“We want to make sure that, when it’s rolled out, that people who have an interest in health care, from families to small and large business groups, all understand just what the difference is between our bill and the president’s health care law,” Scalise said, demurring on whether the RSC would need outside stakeholders’ approval in order to move forward with the bill’s introduction. “There are very dramatic differences, not just in the policy but in the cost.”

Can GOP ‘Replace’ Obamacare? The RSC Has a Plan

Congressional Prayer Under Threat?

This article appeared in Roll Call on Aug 5, 2013

By Niels Lesniewski, CQ Roll Call

An upcoming Supreme Court case has caught the attention of lawmakers concerned with curbs on public prayer, including their own.

The case, originating out of the Rochester, N.Y., suburb of Greece, asks if opening sessions of the town board with a prayer violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

In filing an amicus brief, 34 senators (33 of them Republicans) ponder the question of whether such a prohibition would apply broadly to legislative bodies including their own.

“The work of the Senate is often divisive. But for a few moments each morning, politics and party are set aside. Instead of debate, senators reflect on their duty to represent every constituent, mindful of the Nation’s core values and their need for divine assistance in carrying out their responsibilities,” the senators wrote in the court filing.

A group of senators, led by Rubio, criticized the decision out of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, that struck down the legality of prayers at town board meetings in Greece, N.Y. (Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The group of senators, led by Florida Republican Marco Rubio and including the chamber’s GOP leaders, as well as Democratic Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, criticize the decision out of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which struck down the legality of the prayers in the town of Greece, saying that it effectively constituted an endorsement of Christianity over other religions, even though other faith groups offered prayers.

“In practice, Christian clergy members have delivered nearly all of the prayers relevant to this litigation, and have done so at the town’s invitation,” the appeals court said. “We ascribe no religious animus to the town or its leaders. The town’s desire to mark the solemnity of its proceedings with a prayer is understandable; Americans have done just that for more than two hundred years. But when one creed dominates others — regardless of a town’s intentions — constitutional concerns come to the fore.”

Rubio and the other senators detail the history of the chaplaincy and the daily prayer, expressing particular concern that the 2nd Circuit decision could put the constitutionality of many legislative prayers in doubt because it says that single circumstance may appear to suggest an affiliation.

Read More on Roll Call: Congressional Prayer Under Threat?