America is rapidly approaching the cliff cliff, the moment when Congress finally averts our growing number of cliffs. Dr. Ruth said politicians opposed to compromise are probably bad in bed, shattering our view of Chuck Grassley. And President Obama will appear on Meet the Press to discuss the fiscal cliff negotiations, though no word on whether David Gregory will be allowed to conduct the interview from his prison cell. This is HUFFPOST HILL for Friday, December 28th, 2012:
PRESIDENTIAL COUNCIL ON FISCAL FITNESS - The top four congressional leaders met with President Obama today in hopes of achieving a last-minute deal to avert the fiscal cliff and allow Washington to get on with the business of creating another manufactured crisis. Speaking to reporters in the White House Briefing Room after the meeting, President Obama called the gathering "good and constructive" and said he is "modestly optimistic" a deal will be reached. He added that Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell are working on an agreement, confirming that the ball is in the Senate's court. During the meeting, Speaker John Boehner reportedly insisted that a deal must originate in the upper chamber. If the Senate leaders cannot come to an agreement, Obama said, he would ask Reid to hold an up-or-down vote on a short term measure that would extend unemployment insurance, maintain tax rates for incomes under $250,000 and establish a framework for a longer term agreement next year. Earlier, Reid, speaking on the Senate floor, said there was "not a lot of hilarity in the meeting," meaning Nancy Pelosi likely kept her famously hilarious Aristocrats jokes to herself. He also said the Senate would reconvene Sunday at 1:00 pm, presumably to give a day or so to hammer out some kind of agreement that could be voted on.
@mpoindc: President Obama will appear exclusively on @meetthepress this Sunday, as was just announced on the @NBCNews special report.
Piping hot CW, just out of the oven: "Hill aides on both sides of the ledger said they could envision support for a scaled-down proposal that included tax rates extended for income under $400,000, no change to the estate tax, an extension of unemployment insurance, no money for infrastructure and no resolution to the impending debt ceiling standoff. What would happen with the $1 trillion or so in sequestration cuts set to kick in on Jan. 1, 2013 and take place over the course of ten years was unclear" [HuffPost's Sam Stein and Jen Bendery]
@jamespmanley: Pro tip: I love the guy, but senator reid usually looks downcast
HOT AIR UPDATE: BIG DAY FOR FILIBUSTER REFORM - Sens. John McCain and Carl Levin briefed their caucuses and reporters on their counter proposal to filibuster reform, which they're offering as a "standing order" rather than an actual rules change. A standing order only requires 60 votes rather than 67 and would expire at the end of the next Congress. It's mostly a handshake agreement, but would also eliminate the filibuster on the motion to proceed, streamline some nominations, and give Republicans what they've been asking for on amendments -- the freedom to offer Viagra-related measures on whatever they want. As they say in the newspapers, it's not clear why Reid would be willing to accept something that makes the situation, in an important way, worse for him rather than better. Emerging from a caucus meeting today, several Democrats said it seemed pretty clear that there are 51 votes for doing something more dramatic than what Reid wants. Lamar Alexander, part of the group of eight that eschews the gang label, said what we need is better behavior. "We have so many new members of the Senate, about half of the senators have never seen the Senate work properly because they've only been here five or six years," Alexander said. "So we're trying to get back to the days when the motion to proceed wasn't used to block so many bills and when the majority leader allowed senators to offer almost any amendment. Most of that has to be established by practice, by good behavior, rather than by changing the rules."
CARDIN BREAKS RANKS, JOINS FILIBUSTER OPPONENTS - Ben Cardin, whose class of '06 colleagues are among the leaders of the filibuster reform movement, spent the day huddling in Jon Kyl's office trying to kill it. We asked him why. He said it came down to judges -- he and Barbara Mikulski, he said, are at risk of losing judges who've already been nominated but are stuck in the muck of the confirmation process.
Dennis Kucinich wrote a "what a wild crazy journey it's been" email/yearbook note to the press: "Dear Members of the Press, It has been an honor and a privilege to serve our nation together in our mutual pursuit of truth and understanding. While I will not be returning to the 113th session of the House of Representatives, I will continue to be active. Beginning January 3, 2013 media inquiries should be directed to [Omitted here so we'll just say "FunGrl43@mindspring.com"]. I wish you all the best in 2013 and beyond. Sincerely, Dennis Kucinich Member of Congress."
DAILY DELANEY DOWNER - Debi Ogg of Tulsa, Okla. lost her job handling collections for an electric company in May. Her state-funded unemployment insurance lasted until the beginning of December, and then Ogg switched over to federal benefits, which are supposed to last 14 weeks in Oklahoma. But when Ogg filed her weekly claim earlier this month, she was told she would not receive 14 weeks after all. "That was the first I knew of it," Ogg said. "And then about two weeks after that, we got a letter saying there would be no more benefits after Dec. 29." Now Ogg is paying close attention to Congress. She is one of more than 2 million Americans the National Employment Law Project estimates will stop receiving benefits after Saturday, when federal unemployment benefits will almost certainly go away because Congress has not reauthorized them. Ogg, 60, said lawmakers seem indifferent to the practical impact the fiscal cliff is already having on some people. "I think they could have made their decision a long time ago, but it's just a power-play type of thing," Ogg said. "I think they've lost touch with how it affects people getting up and going to the grocery store, or sitting down to pay their bills." Ogg said she bought Christmas presents this year for her grandchildren, but not for their parents or her own parents. "Everybody fully understood," she said. [HuffPost]
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WALL STREET NOT FAZED BY FISCAL CLIFF - Traders appear to less sensitive to the impending economic crisis than the women they dumped their beers on last Saturday at The Growler on Stone Street ("C'mon, Nate, our Uber is here"). Zach Carter: "Over the past month, financial investors and speculators have largely shrugged off federal lawmakers' inability to avert the so-called fiscal cliff, despite loud warnings in Beltway circles that failure to reach a deal would cause economic calamity. Although markets have seen some modest hiccups, stock prices have been roughly flat for December, preserving the steady gains of the previous 11 months of 2012. The reaction to U.S. Treasury bonds has been similarly muted. On Thursday, the interest rate on 10-year bonds was 1.74 percent, up slightly from 1.62 percent at the beginning of the month. The interest rate on Treasury bonds measures how risky investors perceive American debt to be. High rates mean investors believe the debt to be risky, and are demanding greater return for their money. Low rates mean investors think the debt is safe. So far, lawmakers' failure to reach a deal has not caused a crisis of investor confidence in the government's ability to pay its bills." [HuffPost]
Americans, however, seem to have noticed: "An online HuffPost/YouGov poll conducted Wednesday and Thursday found that 51 percent of Americans thought a fiscal cliff deal was not very or not at all likely, up from 36 percent in late November. Only 8 percent thought a deal was very likely." [HuffPost's Ariel Edwards-Levy]
In our inbox: "Tell Congressional leaders, President Barack Obama, and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner that an alcohol excise tax increase of $182.5 billion over ten years is a major step back from the edge of the fiscal cliff." Booooooo. ::burp::
SO MANY CLIFFS - Congress is starting to feel a bit like an REI commercial. NBC News: "Overlooked in the fiscal cliff debate is the looming 'dairy cliff.'...A gallon of milk now costs an average of $3.65. But that price could soar to $6 or even $8 a gallon without a new farm bill. The reason? One part of the Farm Bill controls the dairy market. Without it, pricing would go back to an outdated law put in place during the Truman era. The government would be required to buy dairy products based on 1949 production costs, when milking was done by hand. That would double today's price. Farmers would lose incentive to sell directly to producers and prices in the grocery store would skyrocket...Unlike the fiscal cliff and dairy cliff, the 'retail cliff' isn't the result of a dysfunctional Congress. More than 14,000 East Coast and Gulf Coast dockworkers are threatening to go on strike Sunday. That could cost the economy billions of dollars. Goods such as flat screen televisions, sneakers and clothing would sit idle at ports, or get rerouted -- a costly proposition for retailers who would likely pass the cost on to consumers. The 15 ports involved in the labor dispute move more than 100 million tons of goods each year, or about 40% of the nation's containerized cargo traffic." [NBC]
President Obama's reelection wasn't just brought about by scruffy, tech-savvy, home brewing hipsters and awkward, air-punching campaign managers, it was also the product of a lot of ladies, as this list points out.
KERRY TELLS PRIMARY TO GO JUMP IN A LAKE, ENDORSES MARKEY FOR SENATE - Along with a growing list of establishment endorsements, Ed Markey has a lot more money than his would-be primary challengers, so unless Nomar Garciaparra mates with a Dunkin' Donuts breakfast sandwich, and that delicious child runs for the vacant seat as a Democrat, the nomination is probably Markey's. Luke Johnson: "Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) endorsed Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) on Friday to replace him in the Senate. The endorsement came one day after Markey had announced his candidacy, making him the prohibitive frontrunner in a Democratic primary race to succeed Kerry following his likely Senate confirmation as secretary of state. 'While I began last week to formally step out of politics and it's very important that I respect the apolitical nature of the post I hope to soon occupy, as Massachusetts' senior senator today and as a colleague of Ed Markey's for 28 years, I'm excited to learn of and support his decision to run for the United States Senate,' said Kerry in a statement." [HuffPost]
@JillDLawrence: John Kerry, Vicki Kennedy, DSCC chair Michael Bennet back Markey. Who's left? @barackobama? @elizabethforma? Dominoes falling fast #MASEN
CONGRESS SUCKS, YO - Amanda Terkel: "According to a Huffington Post review of all the bills that hit President Barack Obama's desk this session, Obama has signed 219 bills passed by the 112th Congress into law. With less than a week to go in the year, there are currently another 20 bills pending presidential action. In comparison, the last Congress passed 383 bills, while the one before it passed 460. The 104th Congress (1995-1996) currently holds the ignominious distinction of being the least productive session of Congress, according to the U.S. House Clerk's Office, which has records going back to 1947. Just 333 bills became law during that two-year period, meaning the 112th Congress needs to send nearly 100 more bills to Obama's desk in the next few days if it wants to avoid going down in history -- an unlikely prospect, considering that both chambers are squarely focused on averting the "fiscal cliff" before the new year. The 112th Congress has done far less than the 80th Congress (1947-1948), which President Harry Truman infamously dubbed the 'Do-Nothing Congress.' Those lawmakers passed 906 bills that became law." [HuffPost]
Christmas the week when you're supposed to go home and catch up with your high school friends: "The House and Senate have held numerous pro forma sessions during the week between Christmas and New Year over the years, and in 1995 during a major budget battle. But the last time they held roll call votes that week, before Thursday, was during the second session of the 91st Congress, in 1970, amid a large spending fight and a filibuster over financing for a supersonic transport plane." [NYT]
HOUSE DEMOCRATS TO INTRODUCE HIGH-CAPACITY MAGAZINE BAN - Which aims to reduce the slaughter of innocent children, so naturally the GOP will block it and/or add an amendment that requires people in wheelchairs and/or women's healthcare service providers to be pushed off of the NRA headquarters' roof. Sam Stein: "House Democrats will introduce legislation to ban the production of high-capacity magazines on the first day of the next congressional session, the office of Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), one of the lawmakers sponsoring the bill, told The Huffington Postbackers are hopeful, noting that a ban on high-capacity magazines... would be a smaller concession for gun-rights advocates than a broader assault weapons ban." [HuffPost]
HOUSE AMENDS TRAVEL RULES - So just be a little bit more careful next time that AIPAC lobbyist ferries you to an urgent meeting in Tel Aviv in El Al first class. Roll Call: "The House Ethics Committee announced on Thursday that it has adopted new regulations for accepting privately financed congressional travel, including heightened disclosure requirements and earlier approval deadlines...The deadline for submitting pre-travel authorization forms to the committee will now be 30 days prior to departure instead of two weeks. New certification forms will require additional information about trip sponsors for increased transparency. Sponsors will be responsible for filling out the post-travel disclosure forms that will be filed by traveling members and staffers. There are also more explicit definitions of travel-related terms in the new guidance issued by the committee." [Roll Call]
We're all snowflakes, political edition: "As the incoming class of congressmen prepare to take the oath office, one Republican newcomer has already come out against the National Rifle Association's proposal to place armed guards at every school and signaled his openness to discussing a set of gun control measures. Rep.-elect Chris Stewart (R-Utah), an end times novelist supported by pundit Glenn Beck, cruised to victory in November in his deeply red district, after receiving high marks and a small donation from the NRA. In an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune this week, however, Stewart said that the gun control discussion was one that he was willing to have in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre." [HuffPost's Nick Wing]
BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR - Peter the Pheasant is the most stubborn pheasant that ever was.
- This 24/7 live stream of pointer puppies is why we're glad the Mayans were wrong. [http://bit.ly/V74fFQ]
- Transforming a Henri Rousseau painting into a 3D world for a commercial. [http://bit.ly/VE2e2c]
- Who knew you could skip a golf ball across water like a flat rock? [http://chzb.gr/WKkKc8]
- Remember "Prison Break"? Neither do we. But these two cats sure do. [http://huff.to/V9cdhY]
@AskDrRuth: Members of Congress who can't compromise probably aren't good lovers. Sex requires give and take.
@ElaheIzadi: Modestly Optimistic is the title of my forthcoming memoir.
@stefanjbecket: So now the nation turns to the Senate, the world's quickest and most efficient legislative body.
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