The Elevator Speech Overview

The House and Senate were both in session this week. The White House reported Tuesday that 7.1 million people signed up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, meeting their original target for enrollment before the website’s disastrous rollout. The Senate passed a one-year ‘doc fix’ bill Monday–which passed the House in a controversial voice vote last week–preventing a 24% cut to the Medicare reimbursement paid to physicians from kicking in Tuesday. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI-1) unveiled the Republican budget plan to cut $5.1 trillion in spending over 10 years. Serving as a party policy blueprint heading into the midterm elections, the budget will come to the House floor for a vote next week. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) released his proposal to extend 45 of the 55 expired tax provisions for two years, sparking a flurry of activity from fellow lawmakers and groups concerned with particular provisions. Wyden then proceeded to quickly and amicably pass the previously stalled legislation on a voice vote through the Senate Finance Committee Thursday. In McCutcheon v. FEC, the Supreme Court issued a 5-4 ruling overturning the overall limit on political contributions in a decision that is expected to allow more money to flow to political party committees. The Senate Intelligence Committee voted Thursday to have their controversial report on CIA interrogation tactics in the wake of 9-11 declassified, beginning a process that could take months.

The Week's Top 5

Here’s a look at some of the top political stories of the week:

  • Supreme Court Ends Overall Limit on Political Donations—“The Supreme Court struck down some caps on political contributions Wednesday, the latest in a string of decisions rolling back campaign-finance regulations that have fundamentally altered how elections are fought. By a 5-4 vote, the court threw out the limit, currently $123,200, on what any individual can give to all federal candidates and political committees over a two-year election cycle. The plurality opinion, by Chief Justice John Roberts, said those caps infringe on First Amendment free-speech rights and aren’t justified by the public interest in fighting political corruption. The court left intact limits on how much an individual can give to specific candidates and political committees, including $2,600 per candidate for each primary or general election... Political parties, which have seen their influence wane as outside groups that could collect unlimited sums have played an increasingly larger role in campaigns, could be one of the prime beneficiaries of Wednesday’s ruling...” (Politico) Read the plurality, concurring, and dissenting opinions here.
  • More than 7 million have enrolled under Affordable Care Act, White House says—“President Obama announced Tuesday that 7.1 million Americans have signed up for health plans under the Affordable Care Act, the most ambitious federal effort in nearly half a century to widen access to coverage. The tally, which signified a sharp runaround from the troubled beginnings of enrollment last fall, was driven upward by a late rush of consumers seeking coverage in the days and hours before the deadline of Monday to select health plans for 2014... People who have started to enroll on the federal exchange, as well as on some state exchanges, have a grace period to finish their applications... uncertainly lingers about how many people who have signed up have actually begun to pay for their new health plans, how many will continue to pay for them, and how many of the enrollees had no insurance before... Senior administration officials said the fact that a large number of Americans signed up by the deadline will make it easier to defend the law on the campaign trail this year...” (WaPo)
  • Ryan Sees Budget Balancing—“House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan released an election-year budget blueprint Tuesday designed to unify Republicans behind an effort to balance the federal budget in 10 years, exposing the party to Democratic attacks over its proposed cuts to Medicare and other safety-net programs. The plan marks the seventh and likely final budget from Mr. Ryan (R., Wis.)... Crafted to appeal to the party’s base, the plan would overhaul safety-net programs, cut spending by $5.1 trillion over 10 years and repeal the Affordable Care Act, the president’s 2010 health-care overhaul. Mr. Ryan for the first time counted on a projected economic boost he says would be generated by reducing the deficit, which he says would lower interest rates and spur growth... Senate Democrats don’t plan to advance their own budget plan, relying instead on the December two-year deal. That leaves budgets from President Barack Obama and Mr. Ryan the principal markers of party policy heading into the November elections...” (WSJ) Ryan budget available here.
  • Senate Tax-Extenders Bill Triggers Flood of Amendments—“Senate tax writers face a political-messaging and amendment blitz from colleagues and special interests as they head into a Thursday meeting to consider renewals for dozens of tax breaks, credits, and write-offs that lapsed on Dec. 31. New Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden this week proposed to extend for another two years 45 of the 55 expired provisions in the tax code for businesses and individuals, and his panel plans to hold a markup on the measure Thursday morning. But on Wednesday afternoon, the committee announced that it had received 92 requests for amendments from members seeking to revise the bill... These “temporary” provisions have over the years been almost routinely renewed, often on a retroactive basis. But they also are seen by some as a failing of Congress to address tough choices as part of a permanent tax-code reform... Wyden is declaring on his side of the Capitol that this will be the last such extender package to be enacted under his watch as chairman...” (NJ)
  • Senate panel votes to release CIA interrogation report—“The Senate Intelligence Committee voted Thursday to make public a long-awaited report that concludes that the CIA’s use of brutal interrogation measures failed to produce valuable intelligence and that the agency repeatedly misled government officials about the severity and success of the program. The decision, opposed by three Republicans on the panel, means that the findings will now be delivered to the White House and the CIA, putting the agency in the awkward position of having to declassify a document that delivers a scathing verdict on one of the most controversial periods in its history... U.S. officials said it could still be months before the executive summary of the committee’s investigation is released to the public. But Thursday’s vote marked the formal close of a four-year Senate investigation of the CIA’s use of waterboarding and other harsh tactics against terrorism suspects in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks... The report was assembled entirely by Democrats. Republicans abandoned the investigation shortly after its 2010 launch, citing concern that it would be shaped by political considerations...”(WaPo)

The Week Ahead

The Senate and House will both be in session next week.

  • Presidential elections will be held in Afghanistan on Saturday. All candidates in the race have said they would sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the United States, but it could be delayed if a runoff election is necessary.
  • A final vote on the bipartisan unemployment extension deal will be held Monday evening, when it is expected to pass the Senate.
  • The Republican’s fiscal year 2015 budget will come to the House Floor for a vote next week, after advancing through the House Budget Committee Thursday.
  • On Wednesday, April 9, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the proposed Comcast-Time Warner merger at 10 AM in Dirksen.
  • Weekly schedules:
    • Although not yet released at the time of publication, the weekly legislative schedule for the House will be posted here.
    • The Senate schedule for the week is available here.
    • Although not yet released at the time of publication, the President’s weekly schedule will be posted here.

Elections: 2014

With the 2014 mid-term campaign season already underway, here’s a look at some developments in the electoral landscape.

  • Key Developments
    • The Republican Governor’s Association (RGA), led by NJ Gov. Chris Christie, raised $23.5 million during the first quarter of 2014, finishing with $59.6 million cash on hand. A new first quarter record for the RGA, the large haul demonstrates Christie’s fundraising prowess despite the “Bridgegate” scandal that broke in January.
    • In a surprising coup, the GOP Colorado Senate candidate Rep. Cory Gardner (CO-4), managed to convince the three other Republican candidates in the race to drop out – including the tea-party favorite Ken Buck – thus avoiding a tough primary before facing off against Democratic incumbent Senator Mark Udall in the general election.
    • Washington, D.C. Primary
      • DC Council Member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) defeated incumbent mayor Vincent Gray in the mayoral Democratic primary Tuesday. In an election with historically low turnout, Bowser won the crowded primary with support from the western half of the city while Gray won majorities in the eastern half of the city.
  • Retirements
    • Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI-8), Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, announced his plans to retire Friday and surprised many with his plans to join Cumulus media as a nationally syndicated radio host after leaving office. His district has shifted from a rating of Safe Republican to Lean Republican.
    • On Monday, Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI-4), outgoing Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, announced his plans to retire after finishing his 12th term in office. The 23rd lawmaker to retire, Camp’s announcement brings the total number of retiring chairmen to four House Republican committee chairmen and five Senate Democratic committee chairmen.

Public Opinion

Affordable Care Act: According to Gallup’s aggregated polling data from August 2013-March 2014:

  • Party affiliation of those who approve of the healthcare law:
    • 10% - Republican/Lean Republican
    • 78% - Democratic/Lean Democratic
    • 9% - Independent/Don’t Know/Refused
  • Party affiliation of those who disapprove of the healthcare law:
    • 67% - Republican/Lean Republican
    • 17% - Democratic/Lean Democratic
    • 14% - Independent/Don’t Know/Refused