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What Congress has to get done

BY Domenico Montanaro, Terence Burlij and Simone Pathe  July 2, 2014 at 9:02 AM EDT

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The Morning Line

Today in the Morning Line:

  • Congress has some items it has to work on
  • The state of the VA reform bill
  • Obama mocks GOP again, says, “So sue me.”
  • Is he really the worst president since WWII?

What Congress has to get done: This past week, President Obama marked the official end to the belief that immigration reform would get done in this Congress. We all spend a lot of time talking about what can’t and won’t get done in Congress — and there’s a A LOT. But ahead of the July 4th recess, there are a few things Congress likely has to address — funding for the government, the Highway Trust Fund, and the amorphous-sounding Export-Import Bank because they all run out of funding this fall. The Ex-Im Bank is not an easy thing for most to wrap their heads around — why the bank is important or what it even does exactly. But it has become a big political fight with economic populists and tea party conservatives fighting to end it. The debate essentially boils down to — on Side A: ending funding for it would mean slowing the economy, because it helps subsidize private American companies’ overseas sales, aka international trade, versus on Side B: It’s nothing more than “corporate welfare” and government shouldn’t be in the business of artificially propping up big business when we’re dealing with all this debt. In addition to things like the debt ceiling, it’s the latest simple argument of moralistic tea party outrage. And we know how that movie ends. By the way, the debt ceiling, along with the so-called Medicare “Doc Fix,” doesn’t have to be dealt with again until April of next year, but that’s only nine months away… On the other items, leadership aides expect there will at least be one more short-term continuing resolution, or CR, to keep the lights on in September, as well as something that’s likely short term for the Highway Trust Fund as well. But there will be a debate on how to pay for the highway bill.

VA reforms fight coming down to, what else, money: The only big item that could get resolved before the November elections is reforming Veterans Affairs. Though bipartisan bills passed both chambers three weeks ago, familiar divisions emerged when conference committees met over, you guessed it, money. The Congressional Budget Office says the Senate bill would cost $35 billion over three years (and possibly up to $50 billion if implemented fully and immediately) and the House’s would be $44 billion over five. To make the comparison apples to apples, taking the lowest estimate, that’s about $11.7 billion a year for the Senate version and $8.8 billion a year for the House’s, a difference of just about $3 billion a year. Aides are confident something will get done, but not without the usual sturm and drang of Congress. And this is what the whole debate has been over from the beginning. Everyone has known for a very long time that the VA is a bureaucratic mess. Republicans cry mismanagement and wasted money. Democrats howl that Republicans have blocked additional and necessary resources for the agency to modernize.

Obama to GOP: ‘So sue me’: Speaking of what can or can’t get done in Congress, how much does President Barack Obama think the House Republicans’ lawsuit over executive action works in his favor? For the second time in less than a week, the president got outside the White House and slammed the GOP, mocking and almost taunting the lawmakers at a campaign level. “Middle-class families can’t wait for Republicans in Congress to do stuff,” Mr. Obama said. “So sue me.” Speaking of things like the Highway Trust Fund, Obama blasted Republicans for not acting on infrastructure. “The things that we’re trying to get done like just fixing bridges and roads, it really shouldn’t be controversial,” the president said. He added, to laughter, “It’s not crazy, it’s not socialism. It’s not the imperial presidency — no laws are broken. We’re just building roads and bridges like we’ve been doing for the last, I don’t know, 50, 100 years. But so far, House Republicans have refused to act on this idea. I haven’t heard a good reason why they haven’t acted — it’s not like they’ve been busy with other stuff.”

The worst since World War II?: A Quinnipiac University survey released Wednesday found that 33 percent of American voters rank President Obama as the worst president since World War II (!!!). Another 28 percent of respondents picked President George W. Bush, while Richard Nixon, who resigned from office over the WATERGATE SCANDAL, was the choice of just 13 percent of those polled. That the two most recent presidents rate as the two worst seems to suggest that evaluations by Americans are strongly influenced by what is right in front of them. Putting more weight on short-term memory over long-term historical context has big potential flaws. As presidential historian Michael Beschloss has cautioned previously, it is wise to wait a few decades before passing judgment on a president’s record. “Presidents often look different 20 or 30 years later, because when you wait that period of time you know what was important and what was not,” Beschloss said in 2003. “You know how the story turned out.” For President Obama, the more concerning findings in the poll are likely to be that 54 percent of Americans do not think his administration has been competent in running the government, and 51 percent do not believe he has strong leadership qualities. Those numbers speak more to his current political standing — and the limitations he faces as he tries to shape his legacy prior to leaving office.

LINE ITEMS

  • The Wall Street Journal crunches the numbers and tallies that the Clintons have “helped raise more than $1 billion from U.S. companies and industry donors during two decades on the national stage through campaigns, paid speeches and a network of organizations advancing their political and policy goals.”

  • The Los Angeles Times’ Mark Barabak writes that Iowa Democrats are considering changes to caucus rules that could benefit Hillary Clinton in 2016.

  • You think our American presidents are bad… former French President Nicolas Sarkozy is being held in police custody in a corruption investigation. H/T: Taegan Goddard.

  • The White House released its 2014 salary list Tuesday. A scheduler got the highest raise this year, while six employees had pay cuts.

  • The sister of the former and current presidents of Cuba, Juanita Castro Ruz, donated early this year to Ready for Hillary PAC. Castro, who now lives in Florida and revealed herself to be a CIA spy in Cuba, was a big donor to Clinton’s campaign and leadership PAC during the 2008 primaries. Clinton has recently voiced support for ending the U.S.-Cuba embargo.

  • The New York Times’ Alan Rappeport takes a closer look at “Washington’s most prominent punching bag,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, and his history of stepping in to fix troubled Washington agencies.

  • Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, released a new TV ad featuring Alaska mayors praising him for keeping jobs in the state. “Mark Begich has proven to us he has clout,” says one mayor. “Alaska can’t afford to lose that.”

  • In Colorado, Democratic Sen. Mark Udall’s campaign is pushing Rep. Cory Gardner on his continued support for a federal personhood amendment after his “calculated political maneuver” to disavow the state version.

  • WMUR reports that Scott Brown has raised more than $2 million in the first quarter since he entered the race against New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.

  • Sen. Ted Cruz is getting caught between the National Republican Senatorial Committee, for whom he serves as vice chairman of grassroots outreach, and the Senate Conservatives Fund, whose candidate in Oklahoma he had recently backed in a TV ad. The SCF is calling for the defunding of the NRSC.

  • National Journal Hotline’s Karyn Bruggeman examines the vulnerability of Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback — and the uphill battle Democratic challenger Paul Davis still has to fight for a chance to win.

  • After signing a $32.5 billion budget that reduces funding for public pension plans, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie encountered town hall protesters and teachers booing him across the state Tuesday.

  • A federal judge in Kentucky ruled Tuesday that the state’s same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional. Marriages are on hold, however, while a federal appeals court prepares to hear cases from Kentucky and other states in August.

  • Mr. Obama joined in cheering on Team USA Tuesday, but he didn’t quite get the chant down.

  • Keep an eye on the Rundown blog for breaking news throughout the day, our home page for show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.

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Questions or comments? Email Domenico Montanaro at dmontanaro-at-newshour-dot-org or Terence Burlij at tburlij-at-newshour-dot-org.

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