The Hill’s Morning Report — House GOP begins uphill budget quest
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It is possible, even likely, that the pledge by House and Senate Republicans to “cut federal spending” translates into a maze of GOP rancor, Democratic taunts and Wall Street finger-pointing.
If budgeting with scalpels amid the narrow House majority was easy, it would be the go-to annual fiscal cure. The House GOP must first pass a budget resolution to increase its leverage and there are Republicans who don’t want to reduce Pentagon funding and conservatives such as Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) who say military cuts must be on the table (Politico).
There are Republicans who believe Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, nearly half of the federal budget, must shrink and change because the costs look unsustainable alongside rising federal debt. Recognizing the political implications of those programs heading toward the 2024 election year, former President Trump, Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and top GOP overseers, including House Oversight and Accountability Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.), say entitlements are off the table. So, what’s on the chopping block? Unclear.
It is almost impossible to balance the budget within a decade — a goal of many conservative lawmakers — unless entitlements are on the table.
“We can cut spending without cutting Social Security and Medicare,” Comer said on Monday at the National Press Club. “We’re sincere about trying to be the leader in Congress in coming up with proposed cuts” (Nexstar).
McCarthy will meet with President Biden on Wednesday at the White House, a meeting the Speaker sought and the president initially resisted. According to Biden, it will be a conversation, not a negotiation. McCarthy wants to discuss possible off-ramps as the country bumps up against the $34 trillion limit of how much it can borrow without congressional approval.
CNN reports that McCarthy is gathering ideas from his members but has not settled on any individual proposal and is unlikely to make a specific offer during his meeting with the president. Privately, Republicans have floated a range of ideas, including capping domestic spending at fiscal 2019 levels and bringing defense programs down to 2023 spending levels for an estimated savings of $1.7 trillion over the next decade, according to CNN sources.
Politico: Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on the debt ceiling fight: “I think we’ll win.”
Meanwhile, Comer promises to investigate Biden and his family. “Nothing that Joe Biden’s done with respect to mishandling these classified documents is normal,” the chairman told Fox News on Monday. Comer accused Biden, his son Hunter Biden and his brothers of “shady dealings with our adversaries around the world.”
The Hill: House GOP to begin investigative hearings this week to probe COVID-19 relief spending and administration policies on migration and the U.S. southern border.
▪ The Hill: Here are the GOP senators who signed a letter to Biden last week warning they will oppose a debt ceiling increase in the absence of GOP-sought spending reforms.
▪ The Washington Post: Some Democratic party activists are unsure that Vice President Harris has shown she is up to winning the top job.
▪ Bloomberg News: China urged McCarthy not to repeat former Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) visit to Taiwan.
▪ The New York Times: Burn bags and tracking numbers: How the White House handles classified files.
LEADING THE DAY
New calls for Congress to pass police reform put Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.) in the spotlight as the past Republican negotiator who worked on the issue. He’s now eyeing a run for president in 2024. The Hill’s Alexander Bolton reports that Scott is seen as key to getting any deal in the Senate, but he proved to be a tough negotiator on policing reforms during the last Congress. Theoretically, Scott could raise his national profile significantly by brokering a deal, which could boost his fundraising and media coverage.
But any proposed compromise that runs afoul of the party’s conservative base could spell an early end to his White House ambitions, or his chance of being picked as a running mate. One major question: Would McCarthy sign off?
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) says he has an idea that might jump start police reform legislation when it comes to the partisan roadblock over qualified immunity (The Hill). Such immunity, which Democrats oppose, shields law enforcement from liability in civil lawsuits unless accusers can prove that the allegations amount to a violation of constitutional rights and those rights are “clearly established.”
“I oppose civil lawsuits against individual officers,” Graham said on Twitter. “However, holding police departments accountable makes sense and they should face liability for the misconduct of their officers.”
▪ CNN: Public outrage over Tyre Nichols’s beating in Memphis, Tenn., collides with Washington bureaucracy on police reform.
▪ Forbes: Lawmakers will renew police reform push — here’s why negotiations stalled in the previous Congress.
▪ The Independent: Congressional Black Caucus pushes Biden to restart police reform talks.
Truth & Consequences? Another day, another headline about Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.).
Nassau County District Attorney Anne Donnelly’s vow to investigate the lawmaker launched her from relative obscurity into national headlines. Her prosecutorial experience, the desire of fellow Republicans to rid themselves of Santos and the unique powers of the district attorney’s office put her in a prime position to pounce on the fact-challenged Santos.
“This fell into her lap. It’s in her backyard. I think she is more than capable of handling it, and she has the will of the people to do something,” Vito Palmieri, a Long Island attorney who worked in the Nassau County DA’s office in the 1990s told Politico. “That the party wants him gone and she is a Republican doing her job — let’s put it this way — I don’t think that hurts her at all.”
And despite Democrats’ strong protests against the Long Island Republican, perhaps no one wants Santos out of office more than his own constituents, the Republicans of Nassau County.
Santos, meanwhile, has opened a local office in Queens, but it has largely attracted gawkers and news media rather than constituents (The New York Times).
The long-simmering tension between former Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is reaching a boiling point amid signs that DeSantis and his team are actively moving toward a 2024 presidential run, writes The Hill’s Max Greenwood. DeSantis’s national ambitions have long irked Trump, who sees himself as the Florida governor’s political benefactor and the GOP’s presumptive 2024 nominee, but his frustration became more apparent when he called out DeSantis during his first major campaign swing.
▪ Politico: Meet DeSantis’s inner circle. These are the people advising the Florida Republican as he weighs whether to run for president.
▪ The New York Times: Manhattan prosecutor begins to present Trump case to grand jury.
🛤 It’s infrastructure week. The president today will be in New York City to herald $292 million in federal investments in the long-delayed Hudson River Tunnel project. “The new Gateway rail tunnel is vital to New York, New Jersey, and the entire northeast. It has been a passion of mine for a decade,” Schumer told The New York Post recently.
On Monday, Biden traveled to Baltimore to tout a planned overhaul of a major rail tunnel he remembers as a go-slow bottleneck during his decades commuting from Delaware to the U.S. Capitol (The Hill). “I know how much it matters to the entire Northeast corridor, from here to Boston,” Biden said. “It matters a great deal. For years, people talked about fixing this tunnel.”
New York and Maryland are among beneficiaries of the recently enacted $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure law. Baltimore plans to replace the decrepit 150-year-old Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel by providing up to $4.7 billion of the project’s estimated $6 billion price tag (The Washington Post).
⚕️The administration wants to make it easier for people to access contraceptive services under the Affordable Care Act. On Monday, the departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and Treasury unveiled a proposed new rule that would remove an exemption to the mandate that allows employers to opt out of providing such care because of moral convictions. It would also create an independent pathway for individuals enrolled in plans offered by employers with religious exemptions to access contraceptive services through a willing provider without charge (CNN). The public can comment on the proposed regulation for the next few months, which means the rule could be “many months” away from going into effect.
Reuters: The U.S. has stopped granting export licenses for Chinese firm Huawei Technologies Co., whose U.S. suppliers include Intel Corp. and Qualcomm Inc.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
Russia said on Monday that continuing supplies of weapons from the West to Ukraine would lead to further escalation of the war. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov added members of the Western NATO alliance were becoming more involved in the conflict but that their provision of arms to Ukraine would not change the course of events.
“It’s a dead-end situation: it leads to significant escalation, it leads to NATO countries more and more becoming directly involved in the conflict — but it doesn’t have the potential to change the course of events and will not do so,” he said (Reuters).
Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, meanwhile, said Russian President Vladimir Putin once threatened him with a missile strike, but Peskov called Johnson’s anecdote a “lie,” an “awkward” understanding of what Putin actually said (Yahoo News).
▪ Reuters: Pro-Kremlin activists in Germany gave money for Russian army gear.
▪ MarketWatch: Biden says U.S. won’t send F-16s to Ukraine.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in a turbulent Jerusalem on Monday as the Biden administration tries to contain a new surge of Israeli-Palestinian violence and navigate relations with Israel’s new right-wing government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Blinken’s visit comes at a potentially explosive moment in the conflict, after several bloody episodes over the past week that have officials in Washington concerned about a potential major escalation.
Blinken on Monday condemned the violence and offered sympathy for the victims of shootings last week in Jerusalem, saying an attack outside a synagogue was “especially shocking” for having occurred by a place of worship (The New York Times).
“Calls for vengeance against more innocent victims are not the answer,” he added. “And acts of retaliatory violence against civilians are never justified.”
▪ Vox: Why violence in Israel and Palestine has spiked.
▪ CNN: Blinken visit reaches new urgency as Israeli, Palestinian tensions boil.
▪ BBC: Jerusalem shooting: Israel to speed up gun applications after attacks.
▪ CNN: Israel was behind drone attacks at a military plant in Iran, U.S. media report.
The United States Embassy in Turkey issued a new, updated security warning, alerting U.S. citizens of “possible imminent retaliatory attacks by terrorists” that could take place in the locations frequented by Westerners, particularly Istanbul‘s Beyoglu, Galata, Taksim, and Istiklal districts. Turkish authorities have been informed about possible attack dangers and are investigating the matter, the embassy added. Turkey, in turn, warned its citizens over the weekend about “possible Islamophobic, xenophobic and racist attacks” in the United States and Europe (eTurboNews).
Bloomberg News: Pakistan’s worst suicide bombing in years kills 92 at mosque.
■ Is Israel’s democracy America’s problem? by James Traub, columnist, Foreign Policy. https://bit.ly/3jhkC9G
■ The cracks in the GOP are growing into gaping holes, by Douglas E. Schoen and Carly Cooperman, opinion contributors, The Hill. https://bit.ly/3jiULya
WHERE AND WHEN
📲 Ask The Hill: Share a news query tied to an expert journalist’s insights: The Hill launched something new and (we hope) engaging via text with Editor-in-Chief Bob Cusack. Learn more and sign up HERE.
The House will convene at 10 a.m. toconsider a measure that would end the U.S. COVID-19 public health emergency and another that would end the federal COVID-19 vaccination requirement for staff members working at health care facilities that participate in Medicare and Medicaid.
The Senate meets at 10 a.m.
The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9 a.m. Biden will travel to New York City to the West Side Yard to speak at 12:30 p.m. about the importance to East Coast transit and commerce of federal investments in the Hudson River Tunnel project. The president at 3:30 p.m. will headline a Democratic National Committee event for donors. Biden will return to the White House this evening.
The vice president will ceremonially swear-in Jessica Davis Ba as U.S. ambassador to Côte d’Ivoire at 1:55 p.m. Harris will award the Congressional Space Medal of Honor at 4:25 p.m. to two recipients during a ceremony in the Indian Treaty Room of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
The secretary of State began his day in Jerusalem and headed to the West Bank. He met this morning with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, with opposition leader Yair Lapid and separately with Israeli “emerging leaders.” In the afternoon, he held a press conference. As the secretary concludes his Middle East trip this week, he travels to Ramallah today in the West Bank and meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and senior officials (The New York Times).
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen this afternoon will meet with the Treasury Borrowing Advisory Committee as part of the quarterly refunding process.
Second gentleman Doug Emhoff, who is in Europe as part of U.S. efforts to fight antisemitism (Jewish Insider published an interview with him on Sunday),is in Berlin, where he will participate in a roundtable with Jewish, Muslim and Christian faith leaders. He will visit Oranienburger Strasse Synagogue and meet with Ukrainian refugees there. Emhoff will visit sites honoring history’s persecuted, including the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, also known as the Holocaust Memorial, where he is scheduled to meet with some survivors. He will return to Washington.
➤ PANDEMIC & HEALTH
🦠 The administration will end the COVID-19 national and public health emergencies on May 11, the White House said Monday. The announcement will mark a major signal that the crisis era of the pandemic is over. The declaration would restructure the federal government’s coronavirus response and unwind a sprawling set of flexibilities put in place nearly three years ago that paved the way for free COVID-19 treatments and tests. As Politico reports, the White House disclosed its plan in response to two House Republican measures aimed at immediately ending the emergencies, calling those proposals “a grave disservice to the American people.”
“This wind-down would align with the Administration’s previous commitments to give at least 60 days’ notice prior to termination of the PHE,” the White House said in its statement.
The World Health Organization also is weighing an eventual change in its posture with the coronavirus.
It’s been three years since Jan. 30, 2020, when WHO declared a new virus spreading worldwide from China a global health emergency and eventually labeled its spread as a pandemic. “Over the past few weeks, we have witnessed the emergence of a previously unknown pathogen, which has escalated into an unprecedented outbreak,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters at the time.
Scientists named the virus SARS-CoV-2, or COVID-19, noting the year, 2019, when it infected humans. It has killed nearly 7 million people. NPR has rounded up some early COVID-19 coverage from its beginning to now.
🚽Airplane bathrooms — those tiny, sticky, often odd-smelling lavatories in the sky — might turn out to be a data gold mine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Protection. This month, the agency has been speaking with Concentric, the public health and biosecurity arm of the biotech company Ginkgo Bioworks, about screening airplane wastewater for COVID-19 at airports around the country. Airplane-wastewater testing is poised to revolutionize how we track the coronavirus’s continued mutations around the world, along with other common viruses — and public health threats that scientists don’t even know about yet (The Atlantic).
Information about the availability of COVID-19 vaccine and booster shots can be found at Vaccines.gov.
Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported as of this morning, according to Johns Hopkins University (trackers all vary slightly): 1,107,855. Current U.S. COVID-19 deaths are 3,756 for the week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (The CDC shifted its tally of available data from daily to weekly, now reported on Fridays.)
▪ Forbes: Healthcare paradox: How the industry designed to keep us well is also making our planet — and our bodies — sick.
▪ The Hill: U.S. fertility went up for the first time since 2014.
▪ Politico EU: Europe is running out of medicines. Common medications including antibiotics and children’s painkillers are in short supply across the bloc. Here’s what’s being done about it.
▪ The Washington Post: TIAs, or transient ischemic attacks, are emergencies, not just “mini-strokes,” a group says.
➤ STATE WATCH
The major storms that hit California earlier this winter dumped more than 32 trillion gallons of water on the state, helped boost some of the region’s reservoirs and increased snowpack in key mountains throughout the West, The Hill’s Gianna Melillo reports. But despite this temporary reprieve, weather variability due to climate change and persistent drought in several western states underscores the ongoing need for continued water conservation and reduced demand throughout the region.
California has been getting drenched. So why can’t it save water for the drought? (NPR).
Leaders in state legislatures across the country have turned to cross-party alliances and power-sharing agreements as they seek to avoid the political deadlock that has hindered lawmakers in Congress, writes The Hill’s Amee LaTour. Legislatures in Alaska, Ohio and Pennsylvania started off their sessions this year by blurring partisan divides. In Alaska, both chambers’ majority caucuses include members of the minority party. In both Ohio and Pennsylvania, members of the opposing parties banded together to elect a Speaker. Yet tensions are already bubbling to the surface in some statehouses, underscoring the fact that while these coalitions may enable lawmakers to avoid political paralysis at least temporarily, they aren’t a cure-all for the hyperpartisanship plaguing the country as a whole.
“The political dynamics aren’t gone just because states were able to have some bipartisan action here,” said Daniel Mallinson, assistant professor of public policy and administration at Pennsylvania State University, regarding the elections in the Keystone State and Ohio of state Speakers.
▪ The New York Times: “Granny flats” are popping up in backyards across the country, affording Americans a new housing option. Some communities are not happy about it.
▪ The Wall Street Journal: The U.S. consumer is starting to freak out as flush savings accounts and cheap credit dry up.
And finally … 🐻 If you need tips on selfies in the wild, look no further than … a Colorado black bear with impressive camera instincts. Last week, the Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks department posted four of the nearly 400 selfies made possible in November by a curious local bear. As The Washington Post reports, the bear’s work is a master class in vacation photos, featuring chin tilts, smoldering eyes and a coy look over the shoulder. Marvel at the selfies HERE.
“She definitely knows her angles,” Los Angeles fashion photographer Amanda Sophia Rose told the Post. “She’s really catching you, bringing you in, having direct eye contact to the camera … like she’s done it before.”
The parks department in Colorado set up nine motion-detecting cameras in its 46,000-acre land system to study the local wildlife population. When an animal is in a camera’s path, it triggers a still photo and shoots 10- to 30-second videos. The cameras have recorded images of bobcats, coyotes, eagles, mountain lions and prairie dogs.
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