POLITICS
12/17/2013 05:40 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

HUFFPOST HILL - Obama Hires Microsoft Honcho To Ctrl-Alt-Delete Healthcare.gov

Congress cut support for disabled veterans, because in the austerity era, even amputees should lift themselves up by their bootstraps. Earl Blumenauer is just a totally normal guy who has made more than 300 fruitcakes since Thanksgiving. And a former Microsoft executive will lead Healthcare.gov, because if built-in Minesweeper and a "My Briefcase" function that no one knows how to use can't right that ship, nothing can. This is HUFFPOST HILL for Tuesday, December 17th, 2013:

NRCC Chair Greg Walden's mood has been downgraded from "bullish" to a slightly less-sanguine "hopeful": "Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa) announced Tuesday that he won't seek reelection in 2014, becoming the third member of the House in one day to announce his retirement...Latham's seat is competitive and should be a key open-seat contest." [WaPo]

CLASS WARFARE FOR WARRIORS - Meredith Shiner: "Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., announced Tuesday that she will be introducing legislation to roll back provisions in the pending budget deal that would cut military retirement benefits by reducing cost-of-living adjustments. Shaheen, who is up for re-election in 2014, said that the plan would be paid for by closing 'select corporate tax loopholes,' even though Republicans resisted doing so in the budget agreement that has yet to pass the Senate…. 'The plan I am going to introduce will undo changes to future cost of living adjustments for military retirees and will instead achieve savings by closing corporate tax loopholes. It’s a smart, pragmatic fix and I hope it will generate bipartisan support.'" [Roll Call]

RT @mmcauliff: Patty Murray is defending herself on mil pension cuts in budget, says there are things in there she wouldn't do herself. cc Paul Ryan.

EARL BLUMENAUER IS OBSESSED WITH FRUITCAKE - The Oregon Democrat makes hundreds of them every holiday season. "There is an amazing sense of satisfaction as I complete each batch. Like each mile or vista on the trail, each dozen cakes gives me the same sense of accomplishment." [Earl Blumenauer's The Zen of Fruitcake]

GIRD YOUR LOINS FOR THE NEXT DEBT DEFAULT DRAMA - The Senate's top Republican picks up where Paul Ryan left off on Sunday. Mike McAuliff: "Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday that the nation's debt limit won't be raised unless Republicans can extract concessions from Democrats and President Barack Obama. The borrowing limit, which was suspended until Feb. 7, 2014, as part of the deal to end the government shutdown in the fall, stands at about $17.2 trillion. The Treasury Department estimates that without a hike, it can keep paying the nation's bills only until sometime in March. The budget agreement that passed the House overwhelmingly last week and is set for passage in the Senate -- likely on Wednesday -- would also require a boost in the debt ceiling in order to carry out the spending that it mandates. But McConnell said Republicans would not allow that. 'I doubt if the House or, for that matter, the Senate is willing to give the president a clean debt ceiling increase,' McConnell told reporters on Capitol Hill. 'Every time the president asks us to raise the debt ceiling is a good time to try to achieve something important for the country.'" [HuffPost]

@johnboehner: Happy birthday, @Pontifex! Here’s your birthday song: bit.ly/1bMFhlw

THAT TIME THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES ACTUALLY HAD A VOTE ABOUT THE WAR ON CHRISTMAS - In 2005 the House of Representatives struck a mighty blow against those insidious secular busybodies when lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to affirm the right of Americans to enjoy the trappings of Christmas. A resolution by Rep. Jo Ann Davis (R-Va.) stated that the House "strongly disapproves of attempts to ban references to Christmas" and supports Christmas symbols and traditions. "Christmas has been declared politically incorrect," Davis lamented that December on the House floor, pointing to retailers with "Season's Greetings" signs instead of Christmas ones. "America's favorite holiday is being twisted being recognition. The push towards a neutered 'holiday' season is stronger than ever so that no one can be even the slightest bit offended." Betcha can't guess how that turned out. [With HuffPost's Sam Stein]

The National Republican Campaign Committee would like to remind you, via $25 coffee mug, that "Happy Holidays" is what liberals say.

DAILY DELANEY DOWNER - Glenda Harris: "To the editor — I would like to ask all senior citizens, did you get a raise from Social Security and was it as big as mine? (As low as it can be.) I got $17 more. But the welfare cut my food stamps two times on me. I got $52 in food stamps for one month and then gave me $41 a month. But in December, again they cut me a second time, so I will be getting $33 a month starting on Jan. 1, 2014. The welfare will take $19 out of the food stamps. So you tell me can you live off $33 a month? Because I know I can not. I will have to use the $17 from Social Security for food. So hell with bills. I just get so mad. The lady at the welfare office said they can cut anyone’s food stamps as much as they see fit. But cutting me two times in one month in December. But they are the welfare. Are other seniors are being cut as much as I am? This is not cool for them to do something like this to the elderly. Can we do something about it?" [Yakima Herlad]

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TOLD-YA-SO DEMS SPIKE FOOTBALL ON NSA RULING - Matt Sledge and Mike McAuliff: "U.S. senators who support ending the NSA's phone-records surveillance cheered a federal ruling this week that found the program unconstitutional, while Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who could ultimately decide the program's fate, took a wait-and-see approach on Tuesday. 'This ought to be a wake-up call to those who are supporting the status quo. The status quo puts at risk the liberties of the people and is damaging our economy,' said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a longtime NSA critic who is cosponsoring a bill to end the program. 'I think our side is on the march.' But the wake-up call, if it is being heard at all, is resounding slowly. Reid struck a more reticent tone on U.S. District Judge Richard Leon's Monday ruling. 'We know that senators, both Democrats and Republicans, would like to change the laws that relate to some of the collection activities. I think that's good. I think we need a good public debate on this,' Reid said." [HuffPost]

OBAMA TAPS MICROSOFT EXECUTIVE TO LEAD HEALTHCARE.GOV - However Kurt DelBene's demand that he bring in his number-two, a talking paperclip, was not met. Times: "President Obama has chosen a former Microsoft executive, Kurt DelBene, to replace Jeffrey D. Zients as head of the effort to finish repairs on the government’s health insurance website, administration officials said on Tuesday. Mr. DelBene, who will start on Wednesday and stay at least through the first half of 2014, was president of Microsoft’s Office division for nearly three years until a corporate reorganization in July. At the time, corporate representatives said that Mr. DelBene, a two-decade veteran of the technology giant, had chosen to retire and was not forced out. Mr. DelBene’s wife, Suzan DelBene, who also was a Microsoft executive, was elected to Congress as a Democrat in 2012, representing the Washington State district where Microsoft has its headquarters...[HHS Secretary Kathleen] Sebelius said Mr. DelBene would work with her, as well as with the White House and the teams of administration officials now in place, 'to see this project through its next important phase.' She added, 'Because of the site’s progress, his responsibilities, while similar to Jeff’s, will reflect an evolution of focus' as officials seek to build capacity as well as reliability in the system, and allay privacy concerns." [NYT]

BUDGET AGREEMENT CLEARS SENATE HURDLE, WILL LIKELY PASS Sabrina Siddiqui: "The United States Senate advanced a budget compromise Tuesday that provides modest relief to across-the-board spending cuts and prevents another shutdown of the federal government in January. The upper chamber voted 67-33 on cloture, thus meeting the 60-vote threshold to begin debate on the measure. The agreement, which passed the House of Representatives overwhelmingly last week, offers a partial break to the federal budget cuts known as sequestration, by raising spending levels slightly from $967 billion to $1.014 trillion over the next two years. It also produces savings and non-tax revenue totaling $85 billion, $20 billion to $23 billion of which would be devoted to deficit reduction. The budget deal is expected to clear final passage, although some Republicans have raised concerns about reductions in cost of living benefits for military retirees...Conservative groups like Heritage Action and Club for Growth also slammed the measure and urged Republicans to vote against it, claiming the deal did not include meaningful deficit reduction. Twelve Senate Republicans nonetheless voted in favor of advancing the deal: Sens. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Roy Blunt (Mo.), Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), Susan Collins (Maine), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Orrin Hatch (Utah), John Hoeven (N.D.), Johnny Isakson (Ga.), Ron Johnson (Wis.), John McCain (Ariz.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), and Rob Portman (Ohio). All Senate Democrats voted in favor of the measure." [HuffPost]

GINSBURG WON'T RETIRE PREMATURELY - Associate Justice Nader, amirite? AP: "Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg says Supreme Court justices should work as long as they can and shouldn't manipulate their retirement so a like-minded president can appoint their successor. Some liberals have recently called on the 80-year-old Ginsburg to retire so that President Barack Obama can choose her replacement. If she stays beyond his term, it would leave open the possibility that a Republican would name the liberal justice's successor. But Ginsburg, the oldest justice on the court, cited Justices William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall on Tuesday as two men appointed by Democratic presidents who left their replacement to Republican successor presidents. Ginsburg said she supposed many people wanted both men to leave when a Democrat was president, but she noted that neither did." [AP]

BLUE DOG MATHESON WON'T RUN FOR REELECTION - Someone needs to rent a space where Blue Dog Democrats and Rockefeller Republicans can drink, swap stories and talk about low corporate taxes and environmentalism. The Hill: "Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) won't run for reelection, he announced Tuesday afternoon, giving Republicans a huge pickup opportunity in a heavily conservative House district. Matheson, one of the last surviving members of the once-powerful centrist Blue Dog Democratic Coalition, had been gearing up for reelection, and the retirement comes as a surprise...Matheson represents the most Republican district of any Democrat in Congress — Mitt Romney won it with 67 percent of the vote — and Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love (R), who nearly beat Matheson in 2012, has been pulling in big fundraising totals for a rematch...The former head of the Blue Dogs' decision to retire is the latest blow to the group, which has shrunk from 54 members before the 2010 election, to 15 currently in Congress. While Love is the GOP front-runner, the field could grow now that Matheson has retired. If she wins the seat, she'd become the only Republican African American woman in Congress." [The Hill]

FRANK WOLF TO RETIRE - Somewhere Steve Israel just hit a giant red button, prompting a squadron of B-52 bombers to dump thousands of dollar bills on Northern Virginia. Mollie Reilly: "Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) won't seek reelection in 2014, the congressman announced Tuesday. Wolf, who has represented Virginia's 10th District for 17 terms, said in a statement that he would retire to focus on humanitarian work...The Republican's retirement leaves the seat open for a potential Democratic pick-up in the Northern Virginia district. President Barack Obama carried the district in 2008, while Republican candidate Mitt Romney narrowly won the district in 2012. Fairfax County Supervisor John Foust, a Democrat, has already announced plans to enter the 2014 race. As the Washington Post notes, a number of local Republicans had also expressed interest in challenging Wolf prior to his retirement announcement." [HuffPost]

U.S. NOT MAXIMIZING REVENUE FROM OIL DRILLED ON PUBLIC LANDS - Sorry your Pell Grant didn't go through, but BP really made the most of that extra money (have you seen those Gulf Coast promotional ads? Super tasteful.) Besides, there are a lot of lessons to be learned in an Amazon distribution center! Kate Sheppard: "The federal government isn't doing enough to ensure it collects a 'fair return' for the oil and gas that companies produce from public lands, in part due to policies on revenues for onshore drilling that are nearly a century old, according to a critical report on the Department of the Interior released Tuesday. The Government Accountability Office...dinged the Interior Department for a continued lack of clear, updated procedures on the collection of royalties on oil and gas that come from public lands. Tuesday's report comes after previous GAO research found that the U.S. government has one of the lowest return rates for federal leases, and that Interior had not updated its assessment of the policy in 25 years. The latest report notes that Interior has updated its terms for offshore leasing since its last report and has considered -- but not made -- changes to its onshore terms. But the department still does not have a system in place for making sure such updates happen on a regular basis. It has 'discontinued its efforts to pursue revised regulations' for onshore drilling, arguing that it 'does not have enough information to determine how to adjust onshore royalty rates.'" [HuffPost]

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR - Here are some cats trying to catch snowflakes.

TOM MENINO FACING NEW CHALLENGE - We can't wait for the former Boston mayor to appear in a snow-laden YouTube video titled "OMG PARALELL PARKING #FAIL." NBC News: "Tom Menino is returning to life as a regular Bostonian after 20 years as Boston's mayor. And that means needing to drive on his own again. Think about that - Menino, who is 71, has spent the last two decades being driven almost everywhere by someone else. A lot has changed in 20 years - tape cassette players, radio dials, roll-down windows. It's all new for Menino, who is looking to maybe buy a Lexus SUV. “There was a button to turn on the engine!” he told the Boston Globe. 'A button to call somebody...For the record, they did have automatic cars in 1992. Menino, who was known for bickering about the best route to take with his driver as mayor, isn't a complete stranger to modern driving. He owns a Ford sedan and had been driving himself to church on Sundays. But now he has to venture out of his neighborhood to deal with rush-hour traffic on his own to get to his new job at Boston University, where he's helping set up the Institute on Cities." [NBC News]

COMFORT FOOD

- "Please Help Me Beyonce" finds you the right Beyonce song for your current mood. [http://bit.ly/1ebH633]

- It takes 28 minutes to document every kill Arnold Schwarzenegger has inflicted in his TV and movie roles. [http://bit.ly/1kSlrum]

- Highway traffic footage edited to have cars grouped by color. [http://bit.ly/19a7nwL]

- Santa Claus incorporated into classic works of art (Old St. Nick really didn't want Socrates to drink that hemlock). [http://bit.ly/1dDDXEB]

- Why Americans use the MM-DD-YYYY format/ [http://bit.ly/JtMOPM]

- Short -- and gloriously retro -- segment on the origins of Indo-European languages. [http://bit.ly/1c9xvZ0]

- "The Simpsons" turns 24 today. Here are some of its best chalkboard gags. [http://huff.to/1hhoqwt]

- One man spent a month dressing up like local realtors and pasting his image on their bench billboards. [http://bzfd.it/1ka7eeR]

TWITTERAMA

@ChrisMurphyCT: @SenJohnMcCain, just call me Peter Pan. @KateNocera: McCain said @ChrisMurphyCT was nice but too liberal, "he'll grow up"

@jamieson: I bet some of the greatest interviews ever have been lost to history due to reporters using the EAR jack instead of the MIC jack

@RosLehtinen: Yeah, I'm in the mood 4 stone crabs. That's all.MT @RollCallAbby: Any other members of Congress want 2 get anything off their chest my vacay

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