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BY JOHN BRESNAHAN, ANNA PALMER, JAKE SHERMAN AND HEATHER CAYGLE
WITH MAX COHEN AND CHRISTIAN HALL
Happy Thursday morning, and happy St. Patrick’s Day.
News: We’re very excited for this event: Anna and Jake will sit down in-person with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on March 31 at 9 a.m. It will be his first live event interview in more than two years. We’ll have wide-ranging conversation on everything from the politics of governing to the 2022 Senate map. RSVP
Democrats considering package aimed at lowering gas prices
The House Democratic leadership has been sounding out rank-and-file lawmakers for ideas on legislation aimed at lowering gas prices, a recognition that sky-high prices at the pump could be a massive political problem this fall.
The conversations have been informal thus far, but there are a few popular options under consideration.
→ There’s the gas-tax holiday. This has been something that the White House has weighed in recent weeks. A group of vulnerable Senate Democrats floated this proposal several weeks ago, as have their House counterparts. Several Democratic governors are also pushing for this option.
But House Democratic leaders have gotten pushback from their rank and file and GOP colleagues about starving infrastructure of its main funding source just months after Congress passed a $1 trillion public works bill.
Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, sounds like he would rather implement a “windfall profits” tax on the oil industry than a gas tax holiday. DeFazio believes oil companies would just pocket any tax rollback instead of passing it onto consumers. Here’s DeFazio:
“Do my colleagues really think the oil companies are gonna say, ‘Oh yeah, we’ll give ‘em the 18.4 cents per gallon at the pump?’ The distributors will say, ‘Oh yeah, we’ll give them 18 cents?’ And the retailers, who are always on the edge?”
→ Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) has been working on legislation that would offer Americans a rebate, offset by leveling tariffs on countries that still buy Russian oil.
→ The leadership has also heard arguments about sending Americans direct payments for gas. Some Democrats on the influential Ways and Means Committee prefer this method. And it’s under consideration in some states, including California.
“There are conflicting ideas within the caucus,” said Ways and Means Committee Chair Richie Neal (D-Mass.). “There has been some downward pressure on [oil] pricing within the last two to three weeks. The other side of it, I’d like to have some reassurance on the issue of … this is subtracted from infrastructure spending down the road. How you recapture that money is a concern.”
→ Some Democratic lawmakers on the Energy and Commerce Committee have pushed for the federal government to set up a website whereby Americans can apply for direct payments.
→ There’s also a proposal floating around Democratic leadership circles to enact legislation canceling oil companies’ federal leases unless they’re actively drilling. One Democratic source called this “use it or lose it.”
What all this points to is a party that’s desperate to find a solution to a key political liability.
Here’s Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney of New York, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair:
“We’ve got to do something about the price at the pump and the price at the grocery store. There are some good ideas on this. I’d like to see us do a comprehensive plan that would include something on the federal gas tax and the state gas tax, which I think the governors are ready to do. Something that would increase domestic supplies, which could include things like certain export controls on refined [oil] products, exempting NATO and Ukraine, if you did it right. Probably more on the production side. And you sure as hell better bring the oil companies in and make damn they’re going to pass [any savings] along to consumers. I think we should be considering something on excess profits and price gouging.”
Of course, let’s be abundantly clear: None of these proposals has been agreed to yet, except calling in oil company executives to testify before House and Senate committees, which, as we noted in yesterday’s PM edition, Democrats are already starting to do.
And we’ll also point out that it’s exceedingly unlikely any of these ideas will be able to get through the 50-50 Senate intact. Republicans will say that Democrats are trying to enact gimmicks instead of producing more American-made energy. In other words, this is an opportunity for the GOP to use as a wedge against the major factions inside the Democratic Party.
In fact, this whole debate is a huge political opening for Republicans. For months, House and Senate GOP leaders have been calling for an “all-of-the-above” approach to energy production, including setting aside President Joe Biden’s climate change agenda and easing environmental restrictions on oil and gas drilling. They’ve attacked Democratic leaders and the White House over the Green New Deal. They’ve attacked Biden for canceling the Keystone XL pipeline. And they’ll use a gas tax debate to do the same.
Of course, there’s also potential peril for Republicans in blocking a popular proposal to lower gas prices, so we’ll have to see how they handle this.
Happening this morning: We’ll interview Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.) at 9 a.m. about investing in small businesses and communities. Watch virtually or join us at The Roost by RSVPing here.
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News: KBJ gets backing of Breyer clerks
New this morning: A large group of former clerks to outgoing Justice Stephen Breyer have penned a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking member, announcing their support for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination for the Supreme Court.
Here’s a snippet:
Like Judge Jackson, we were honored to serve as law clerks to Justice Breyer. Although only a few of us overlapped with Judge Jackson during her term at the Supreme Court, we have had the opportunity and the privilege of sharing a clerk “family” with her, as well as of witnessing her stellar career over the past two decades. We have the utmost confidence in Judge Jackson’s abilities, integrity, wisdom, temperament, and dedication to public service and the rule of law. …
Like Justice Breyer, Judge Jackson is a patriot, an optimist, and a pragmatist about the law. Like him, she grew up in a family that revered public service and dedicated their professional lives to public education. Like Justice Breyer, that background and her subsequent career in public service have both reflected and deepened Judge Jackson’s fervent belief in American values and the value of the American Constitution. She believes, like our justice, that the law is meant to work for real people, and her firsthand experience on the trial court will give her important insights about how Supreme Court decisions will be implemented by trial judges nationwide. She will bring a similar pragmatism and sensitivity to ensuring that the Supreme Court’s decisions, while always firmly grounded in the rule of law, make sense in the context of the lived experiences of litigants. …
In sum, Judge Jackson both embodies the very best qualities of Justice Breyer and has already made them her own. We are proud to support President Biden’s nomination of Judge Jackson. We hope the Senate will confirm her and thereby ensure that the Supreme Court, and the nation, benefit from her extraordinary talent and dedication.
You may recall that senators called for President Joe Biden to nominate someone in Breyer’s mold – and the group of clerks is clearly making the point that they believe he’s found that person in Jackson.
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House offices get huge budget boost
House lawmakers will see a 21% boost in their office budget this year.
Lawmakers got a letter Wednesday announcing the increase in their Members’ Representational Allowance – or MRA. Lawmakers use their MRA to pay for everything from staff salaries to office supplies to flights back and forth to their district.
The price tag for taxpayers – more than $130 million.
The MRA increase has been a top priority for House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries. The two have argued that the increase in office budgets is needed to offer more competitive salaries in order to keep staffers from leaving the Hill for higher paying jobs on K Street and elsewhere in corporate America.
Hoyer has also long pushed for an increase in member salaries – which would help raise congressional aides’ salaries as well – but he put that on the backburner when it became clear the optics of bumping up lawmakers’ paychecks was holding up the staffer pay issue. Of course, lawmakers do not have to use the MRA bump to increase staff pay.
Here’s what Hoyer told us Wednesday:
“Because we froze our own salaries and we don’t have the courage to stand up and say, ‘At least we should get a cost of living [raise] so we stay even’ …if we’re not going to have the gumption to do it for ourselves, we should not – nor is it good business – to freeze our employees’ [salaries]. …I think it’s going to lift all of our employees up.
“Frankly, Republicans and some Democrats demagogue these issues. This is simply a business decision, which is a smart business decision and as you well know, a competitive business decision.”
PUNCHBOWL NEWS x SEN. DEBBIE STABENOW
Missed our conversation with Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) yesterday? Catch up on the full interview below.
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Banking panel moves on Fed noms following Raskin withdrawal
The Senate Banking Committee voted last night on several Federal Reserve nominations that had been held up for weeks during the bitter partisan dispute over Sarah Bloom Raskin. Raskin withdrew earlier this week in the face of unyielding GOP opposition.
Last night’s votes included a second term for Jay Powell as Fed chair. Powell’s nomination was approved by a 23-1 vote by the panel. Only Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) voted no.
Lael Brainard and Philip Jefferson’s nominations were also cleared with strong bipartisan margins.
But the nomination of Lisa Cook – who would be the first Black woman on the Fed’s Board of Governors – ended in a 12-12 tie inside the panel. Cook’s nomination will now have to go to the full Senate. Cook can still be approved if all 50 Democrats plus Vice President Kamala Harris back her.
The Banking Committee also approved Sandra Thompson to chair the Federal Housing Finance Agency.
You can watch the committee’s proceedings here. Note – go to the final 10 minutes of the video.
→ Bill McGinley, the former Cabinet secretary to former President Donald Trump and longtime D.C. lawyer, is throwing a St. Patrick’s Day fundraiser for Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) this morning at the Capitol Hill Club.
Buchanan is, of course, running to be the top Republican on the Ways and Means Committee next Congress, so we’re endlessly fascinated by what he does, how he spends his time and how much money he raises. Buchanan is running against Reps. Jason Smith (R-Mo.) and Adrian Smith (R-Wash.). Buchanan is a slight favorite for the role.
→ Here’s another chapter in the Dr. Oz vs. David McCormick Pennsylvania Senate battle. This Dr. Oz spot is all over the place. He starts by calling McCormick a Wall Street insider. Oz then shifts to saying he learned how to fight the “woke media” by being a heart surgeon and television host. This spot is running statewide. Thanks to AdImpact.
Dan Pfeiffer’s new book
Dan Pfeiffer, the former senior adviser to former President Barack Obama who is now a podcast mogul at Crooked Media, has a new book out. It’s called “Battling the Big Lie: How Fox, Facebook, And the Maga Media are Destroying America.”
Pfeiffer is a No. 1 New York Times best seller, which, from personal experience, we know ain’t easy. Pfeiffer is represented by CAA and the book is being published by Twelve. It will come out June 7. Order it here.
Note: Micheál Martin, the Irish Taoiseach, tested positive for Covid last night. President Joe Biden interacted with him before the positive test was announced. Furthermore, Martin was slated to have a full day in Washington, including a trip to the White House and to Capitol Hill. We’re leaving the president’s schedule out of today’s edition because we imagine it will change.
10:30 a.m.: Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) will meet with Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson in Russell 454.
10:45 a.m.: Speaker Nancy Pelosi will hold her weekly news conference.
12:05 p.m.: Pelosi will host President Joe Biden for the annual Friends of Ireland St. Patrick’s Day lunch.
2 p.m.: Jen Psaki will brief.
→ “Hunter Biden Paid Tax Bill, but Broad Federal Investigation Continues,” by Katie Benner, Ken Vogel and Mike Schmidt
→ “As Russian Troop Deaths Climb, Morale Becomes an Issue, Officials Say,” by Helene Cooper, Julian E. Barnes and Eric Schmitt
→ “Iran’s Attack Was Response to Secret Israeli Attack on Drone Site,” by Farnaz Fassihi, Ronen Bergman and Eric Schmitt
→ “Outmatched in military might, Ukraine has excelled in the information war,” by Missy Ryan, Ellen Nakashima, Michael Birnbaum and David L. Stern
→ “Biden interacted with Taoiseach before positive coronavirus test,” by Tyler Pager and John Hudson
→ “Western Companies’ Pullback From Russia Marks End of an Era,” by Stu Woo, Georgi Kantchev and Evan Gershkovich
→ “Russian attacks batter Ukraine as Putin warns of ‘traitors,’” by Andrea Rosa in Kyiv
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