By RICK KLEIN (@rickklein)
If there’s a chance – if we can break the fever, end the cycle, or just do enough to come up with any new metaphor for Washington dysfunction – this is the week it all has to come together.
This is the last week the House and Senate will be in session together, closing out one of the worst years for actual legislative accomplishments that anyone can recall.
Why the signs of thaw, in icy Washington? Blame the distraction the Obamacare rollout has been, for providing negotiating space … or Nelson Mandela’s spirit, for clarifying the stakes … or just the fact that everyone is plain tired of fighting about relatively little and producing even less.
And so the lost year might manage to find something before it comes to a weary end.
But save the good tidings: This is a ceasefire, not a peace treaty.
A budget deal would mean compromise, and no more shutdowns over at least the next year. It would hardly, though, mark the kind of breakthrough that’s replicable or even relevant for Washington’s other big problems. That includes the fiscal and budget disagreements, which this deal doesn’t really even address.
As the president heads to South Africa, and as the world prepares for a funeral with no clear model in modern history, lawmakers back home will be grinding toward a sweeter-than-normal ending to the year – though not by much.
- ‘I’M HOPEFUL.’ Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said he is “hopeful” a short-term budget deal will be reached to avoid the threat of a potential government shutdown in January. “I’m hopeful that even by the end of this week we’ll be able to come together and achieve that,” Portman told ABC’s GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS on “THIS WEEK” Sunday. “The key is that we not have another government shutdown, that we do keep the spending caps in place, that we don’t raise taxes at a time when the economy is still weak,” added Portman, who is a member of the joint committee negotiating the deal. “And I think we can accomplish that over the next couple of days.” http://abcn.ws/1bqaOwB
- ‘RIGHT DIRECTION.’ “Negotiations are making progress, moving in the right direction,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. But Durbin said he hopes members of Congress negotiating a budget will heed the words of President Obama’s address on income inequality Wednesday. “We’ve got to protect and preserve the safety net in America and give these working families a fighting chance,” Durbin said. http://abcn.ws/1bqaOwB
- LAST CHANCES. “In the final week of 2013 that the Senate and House are scheduled to be in Washington at the same time, lawmakers and aides are optimistic that negotiators can reach a budget accord and continue to make progress on a farm bill and other measures,” THE WALL STREET JOURNAL’s KRISTINA PETERSON and MICHAEL R. CRITTENDEN write. “Late last week, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray (D., Wash.) and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) appeared to be closing in on a modest budget deal expected to allow spending of roughly $1 trillion in each of the next two years, potentially averting the threat of a shutdown with weeks to spare before current government funding runs out Jan. 15.” http://on.wsj.com/18OvMrv
- LOW STAKES. “The deal expected to be sealed this week on Capitol Hill would not significantly reduce the debt, now $17.3 trillion and rising. It would not close corporate tax loopholes or reform expensive health-care and retirement programs. It would not even fully replace sharp spending cuts known as the sequester, the negotiators’ primary target,” LORI MONTGOMERY writes for THE WASHINGTON POST. “After more than two years of constant crisis, the emerging agreement amounts to little more than a cease-fire. Republicans and Democrats are abandoning their debt-reduction goals, laying down arms and, for the moment, trying to avoid another economy-damaging standoff.” http://wapo.st/1bRpl7f
- ROBERT BIXBY, of the Concord Coalition: “That this can be declared a victory is an indicator of how low the process has sunk. … There’s no budgetary or fiscal strategy in the choices they’ve used, except the strategy of avoiding any hard choices.”
- BEFORE WE SIGN ANYTHING… THE NEW YORK TIMES’ PAUL KRUGMAN, making the case for the long-term unemployed: “Republicans have a theory about why this is happening. Their theory is, as it happens, completely wrong. But they’re sticking to it — and as a result, 1.3 million American workers, many of them in desperate financial straits, are set to lose unemployment benefits at the end of December. Merry Christmas… So the odds, I’m sorry to say, are that the long-term unemployed will be cut off, thanks to a perfect marriage of callousness — a complete lack of empathy for the unfortunate — with bad economics. But then, hasn’t that been the story of just about everything lately?” http://nyti.ms/IAE7Tz
- IN THE OTHER CORNER: “I do support unemployment benefits for the 26 weeks that they’re paid for. If you extend it beyond that, you do a disservice to these workers,” SEN. RAND PAUL, R-Ky., said on “Fox News Sunday.” http://nydn.us/19bAFc9
- SIGNALS. “No news is, well, news, as Congress nears pressing deadlines to reach a budget deal and pass a farm bill — and there doesn’t appear to be an agreement for either one, at least before Monday,” reports ROLL CALL’s EMMA DUMAIN. “House GOP aides familiar with the status of both negotiations say conferees will continue to talk in the days ahead, but there are no formal scheduled meetings at the moment.” http://bit.ly/18i6gdA
- DISPATCH FROM THE WATER’S EDGE. The headline is “London launchpad for Republican,” looking at Sen. Marco Rubio’s trip abroad, including an interview with THE SUNDAY TIMES’ TOBY HARNDEN. “In an interview with The Sunday Times last week, Rubio drew pointed contrasts with his potential foes. ‘Having served as Speaker of the house [in Florida], I’m aware of the value of having state experience,’ he said when asked about [New Jersey Gov. Chris] Christie. “I also think there’s some value in having some federal experience, particularly on issues like foreign policy, which will always matter.’ On Paul, he argued: ‘It’s foolish to ignore that the global crisis has had an impact on us domestically from our national security to immigration and everything in between … many times, foreign policy is domestic policy, especially in a global economy.’ ” http://thetim.es/1jDqr8B
WHAT WE’RE WATCHING
LET’S CLICK TWO: Baseball legend Ernie Banks tells ABC’S JONATHAN KARL about the time he ran for office in Chicago – and the advice he got from Jackie Robinson. Despite his personal history of breaking barriers and setting records, Banks admits that there was a time when he was skeptical that then-Sen. Obama could win the presidential election in 2008. “I was going to tell him … well, not [that he] shouldn’t run for president,” Banks said, “but it’s, you know, [an] amazing challenge, because I ran for alderman in Chicago, and I saw that.” Banks also told “Politics Confidential,” shortly after being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom,” about what Robinson told him when he reached the majors: “He shook my hand and said, ‘Glad to have you here Ernie. Listen and you’ll learn.’ Listen,” Banks recalled. “And that’s all I did. I didn’t talk. I just listened to people, the coaches, the batters, the players.” http://yhoo.it/1d4I6Rj
Don’t miss the “THIS WEEK” SUNDAY SPOTLIGHT, from the ABC News archives with Ted Koppel’s historic interview with Nelson Mandela, conducted just four days after his release from prison.http://abcn.ws/18vNxcG
REMEMBERING MANDELA. BILL KELLER, on “This Week”: “One of the things that Mandela had was the joy in the robust give and take of politics… The schmoozing, the deal-making, stage-craft, the theater. … In the course of his life, he was a communist for a while, he was a capitalist, he was an advocate of non-violence, he was an advocate of armed struggle,” Keller added. “He was whatever it took, but he never lost sight of the man goal, which was a South Africa that was run by South Africans… He knew the difference between strategy and tactics.” http://abcn.ws/1kqnCoN
STAN GREENBERG, who was Mandela’s pollster in his presidential run: “He had clear goals. And one of the things that ran through was the desire to make sure there was racially inclusive politics,” said Greenberg. “And he wanted to use the election to send a message about this was going to be inclusive country.” http://abcn.ws/1kqnCoN
BARACK OBAMA YES, DALAI LAMA NO. “The Dalai Lama will not attend memorial services for fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate Nelson Mandela in South Africa, where the Buddhist spiritual leader has twice been unable to obtain a visa, a spokesman said Monday,” per the ASSOCIATED PRESS. “Tenzin Takhla gave no specific reason for the Dalai Lama missing the memorial service in Johannesburg and funeral in Mandela’s hometown, saying only that ‘logistically it’s impossible at this time.’” http://abcn.ws/J6cqT8
CLUB MEETING. “Tuesday’s memorial service will also serve as a rare reunion of nearly all the living American presidents. George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, will accompany Obama and first lady Michelle Obama on Air Force One, while former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter will travel separately to South Africa,” the AP’s JULIE PACE reports. “George H.W. Bush is the only living president who will not attend. His spokesman said the 89-year-old is no longer able to travel long distances.” http://abcn.ws/1hHUoVB
BEYOND THE WEBSITE. “The federal health care exchange is incorrectly determining that some people are eligible for Medicaid when they clearly are not, leaving them with little chance to get the subsidized insurance they are entitled to as the Dec. 23 deadline for enrollment approaches,” USA TODAY’s JAYNE O’DONNELL reports. http://usat.ly/18w3NHe
GUN NEWS TODAY. Per the AP: “The Senate is ready to renew an expiring ban on plastic firearms, the kind that can pass through metal detectors and X-ray machines unnoticed. But Monday’s vote will be bittersweet for supporters of gun control. It comes days before the anniversary of the deadly mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where 20 children and six educators were killed Dec. 14. Congress has approved no new federal curbs on firearms since then — although President Barack Obama made it one of his top domestic priorities.”
DEFENDING THE IRAN DEAL. “Well, we don’t know yet. We don’t know yet,” President Obama said over the weekend at the Brookings Institute’s Saban Forum, per ABC’s MATTHEW LAROTONDA. “I think it’s important for everybody to understand: This is hard, because the technology of the nuclear cycle you can get off the Internet. The knowledge of creating a nuclear weapon is already out there.” http://abcn.ws/1bRr9gF
2013 CAN’T END UNTIL. “A three-judge recount court is scheduled to convene for the first time in the nearly deadlocked race for Virginia attorney general,” per THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT. “The court is set to meet in Richmond on Monday to act on motions filed by Democrat Mark Herring and Republican Mark Obenshain, who trails in the race by 165 votes. The judges are also expected to establish the ground rules for the recount.” http://bit.ly/1bqAdTt
WHAT WE’RE READING
“Ideas abound for breaking logjam, but D.C. isn’t listening,” by THE BOSTON GLOBE’s MICHAEL KRANISH. “What became striking in this review was not how little can be done, but how many intriguing options exist. Amid the diversity of ideas there is, however, one common thread: almost complete indifference in Washington, the world’s capital of gridlock, even when alternative, perhaps better, ways are already at work, some in plain sight.” http://b.globe.com/1cklDhB
“State of Deception: Why won’t the President rein in the intelligence community?” by THE NEW YORKER’s RYAN LIZZA. http://nyr.kr/1bmwkT8
“Was Hillary Clinton a good secretary of state?” by SUSAN B. GLASSER in POLITICO MAGAZINE. http://politi.co/19vx5Gi
“Three Senators Try to Hold off GOP in South,” by THE NEW YORK TIMES’ CAMPBELL ROBERTSON and JEREMY W. PETERS. “All three are up for re-election next year. And the outcome of their races could determine whether the Southern Democrat, once a formidable species in the Senate, is headed for extinction.” http://nyti.ms/1bRoXpr
IN THE NOTE’S INBOX
AMERICAN BRIDGE PROJECT, out with a 30-page report: “GOP Budget Blues: How Conservative Policies Increase Inequality.” Bridge Project Vice President Eddie Vale: “As we get down to crunch time in the budget negotiations on the Hill, this report makes it clear that Americans need any deal to include economic policies that help the middle class, rather than the extreme Tea Party proposals to slash the budget at the expense of working families.” http://bit.ly/1brJaPQ
PUBLIC NOTICE, out with a new poll on voters’ spending and budget priorities. Gretchen Hamel, Public Notice’s executive director: “Washington has lost credibility when it comes to being responsible stewards of our tax dollars and Americans have had enough. Every several months lawmakers bring us to the brink of crisis and the only answer always seems to be more money for more spending. Americans are paying attention, they understand the risk and they are prepared to hold Washington accountable.” http://bit.ly/1gS3s7n
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
WHAT HE’S HAVING. President Obama, welcoming the Kennedy Center honorees: “Before Carlos Santana took the stage at Woodstock few people outside his hometown of San Francisco knew who he was, and the feeling was mutual: Carlos was in such a, shall we say, ‘altered state of mind,’ that he remembers almost nothing about the performance.” http://abcn.ws/1iP4zcj