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Tuesday, March 13, 2012
WASHINGTON DC INSIDER - Tuesday, March 27, 2012
HEALTH CARE'S DAY IN COURT: It’s impossible to overstate the potential for the Supreme Court to reshape the contours of this year’s presidential campaign — and how people receive medical care, as well as the reach of congressional power, for many more years — by the way it decides the health care case. That’s why dozens sat through a rainy weekend to get a seat inside today, while dozens more from both sides chanted and held placards aloft on the court’s plaza. But those looking to this morning’s argument for clarity about what the justices will do are almost certain to be disappointed.
Most obviously, that’s because the first 90 minutes — the audio tapes will be released at 1 — have only been aboutwhether the court should decide that it’s time to decide the case. (The main event, the argument about the constitutionality of the individual mandate, comes tomorrow.) But beyond that, it’s a basic tenet of oral arguments that the justices cannot be relied upon to telegraph their thinking about a case — and that people who try to derive big-time meaning from the questions do so at the risk of considerable eventual embarrassment. Almost certainly, the thinking that each of the nine has been doing about the case is very, very far along in its subtlety and refinement — if not quite its conclusion. (They have, after all, had 13 dozen briefs and four lower-court opinions to digest for months.) And so, if past patterns follow, the inquiries from many on the court — including Kennedy, the most closely watched potential swing vote, and Scalia, the most voluble at such sessions — will have pushed toward some of the more obscure merits of the case and won’t center on the basics.
THE LESSER EVIL: The GOP leadership sounds confident the Ryan budget will be adopted by the House with a minimum of fuss this week – because almost all the conservatives will vote for it as the best alternative once their own blueprint, the Republican Study Committee budget, is given a vote and rejected. The 165-member RSC will unveil its plan tomorrow; it projects a path to balance in 10 years by calling for much deeper cuts in discretionary and mandatory spending than the Ryan plan, which by the congressional scorekeeper’s estimate could take 26 years to produce a balancing act. (The chairman disputes that number vigorously, saying it doesn’t account properly for the economic growth that would come from adopting its fiscal policies. Most notably, the RSC budget calls for spending $97 billion (9 percent) less on discretionary programs than the Ryan budget. Chris Van Hollen will also put out an alternative for the Democrats by this evening.
The Republican leadership recognizes that its $3.5 trillion budget proposal is fraught with political peril — but they are sticking by their confidence that they can use “political bravery” as an antidote to the Democratic attacks about “dismantling Medicare.” And so they are already turning their attention toward the coming war over appropriations. It will begin once their budget is adopted and they begin moving bills that amount to $19 billion less than what the Senate plans to spend — which is the number in last summer’s debt deal. That discretionary number is the main concession to the so-called tea party freshmen and other conservatives who wanted something bolder out of Ryan, but are now content to take this partial victory as sufficient this election year.
CONFIDENCE GAME: Bernanke said this morning that he still views the jobs market as weak (despite three months of strong hiring) but predicted the Fed’s near-zero interest rate policies would change the situation by boosting consumer spending and business activity. While recent private sector hiring — an average 245,000 jobs in each of the previous three months — has helped increase consumer confidence and incomes, “we have not seen that in a persuasive way yet,” the central bank chairman said in response to a question at the National Association for Business Economics spring conference in Arlington, Va. “The job market remains far from normal.” He said the Fed would “remain cautious” in deciding what its next moves should be. (The plan has been to hold short-term interest rates at next to nothing through 2014; the next meeting is April 25-26.)
SIGNED AND SEALED: Two more premier congressional endorsements of Mitt Romney — by House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy today and by Senate tea party favorite Mike Lee yesterday — offer plenty of fuel for the accelerating consensus that the race to be Obama’s challenger is past its tipping point. They are the latest in a group of prominent Republicans (Jeb Bush, Pat Toomey, Jim DeMint, Haley Barbour, Lindsey Graham) to have thrown their weight behind Romney in a way that delivers the candidate the sense of resigned inevitability that has always been the best he could hope for — but has nonetheless eluded him for months.
“We’re now reaching the point where we can see prolonging this process further could undermine our ability to get a Republican candidate elected, and it could also distract from getting our Senate candidates elected,” said the freshman Utah senator, who had signaled only a couple of days earlier that he would not be taking sides. McCarthy, meanwhile, agreed to chair the Romney campaign in his home state of California (its June 5 contest awards 172 delegates) because it was time for Republicans “to unite and work together” to take back the White House.
Santorum got a moral boost on Saturday by besting Romney by 22 percentage points in the Louisiana primary (49 to 27) and carrying every parish outside New Orleans — but all that effort nonetheless netted him a mere 20 delegates, just one more than the number Romney’s likely to get just from D.C. in the next round of voting, a week from tomorrow. That Santorum has been reduced to trying to raise money and get on the air today by lambasting a New York Times reporter — Jeff Zeleny, whose offense seems to have been offering the candidate a chance to walk back a hyperbolically inarticulate statement about Romney — is a sign that maybe he, too, realizes his moment in the national spotlight is coming to an end. If he can’t pull off an upset in Wisconsin next week, then truly his only chance to stay relevant through the primaries and on to the Tampa convention will be to win his home state of Pennsylvania on April 24 — but he’ll hardly have the money to spend on that race. (Newt Gingrich, though, appears to retain no sense of embarrassment and has hunkered down for a long march of low-money, third-place finishes for the foreseeable future.)
QUOTE OF NOTE: “I would have to consider it,” Paul Ryan said on Fox yesterday when asked what he’d do if offered the GOP vice presidential nomination. “But it’s not something I’m even thinking about, because I think our job in Congress is pretty important.”
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (72) and Utah’s Jason Chaffetz (45) today. Two other House Republicans on Saturday — recent primary loser Don Manzullo of Illinois (68) and freshman Steve Stivers of Ohio (47).