On his way out after announcing his retirement, House Speaker John Boehner worked out a compromise budget deal that raised the so-called "sequester" budget caps, and lifted the debt ceiling — moves that put off potential government shutdown and default threats until at least 2017.
It's also lifted the sense of dread that has Capitol Hill the past few years. Congressional and Senate staffers in the New England delegations tell me — perhaps naively — that there is a renewed hope for items involving price tags to actually move forward, without getting caught up in those big, cliff's-edge budget wars.
That includes small items, such as funding for opioid treatment, as well as big packages, notably the highway-funding bill. After passing in the Senate, the bill was stalled in the House. But last week that body OKed a six-year, $325 billion plan. A conference committee will now try to reconcile the two versions, in hopes of getting a final bill to President Barack Obama before Thanksgiving and prevent a lapse in funding when the current funding runs out.
The budget deal also quickly led Obama, and other Democrats, to pull an abrupt about-face on the National Defense Authorization (NDAA).
As I wrote last week, Obama had vetoed NDAA, and most Democrats were ready to back him up against an override attempt.
The President cited a number of objections to the bill, but chief among them was the back-door funding mechanism used to put extra funds, above sequester limits, into defense spending. Rep. Niki Tsongas, the Massachusetts congresswoman who worked closely on the NDAA, called it a "slush fund."
Republicans suggested that these Democrats were just playing politics, refusing to allow extra defense spending unless Republicans agreed to more domestic spending too.
It seems that the GOP was onto something. As soon as the Boehner budget deal was done, raising defense and domestic spending equally, Obama, Tsongas, and almost every other Democrat on the Hill suddenly dropped their opposition to NDAA.
The NDAA, in only slightly altered form, whisked through the House last week on a 370-58 vote. Tsongas was one of many who voted yes after previously voting no — and then touting passage as a victory on several policy fronts.
And on Tuesday, the Senate approved the same version 97-3. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire was one of several Democrats quickly taking credit for aspects of the now-palatable NDAA. Her press release touted in particular the bill's funding for a tanker, and related infrastructure, at her home state's Pease Air National Guard Base.
Warren Drives The Agenda
When Sen. Elizabeth Warren chose not to run for president, some thought she had given up her best chance to drive the national agenda toward her policy priorities. Once again last week, she demonstrate that she can do that just fine from her Senate office,
On Thursday Warren introduced the SAVE Benefits Act, along with a posse of 19 Senate Democrats happy to add their names as co-sponsors. The bill, while unlikely to become law, garnered national media attention and will likely serve as liberal wedge during the upcoming campaign season.
It seeks to give a one-time extra payout to Social Security recipients, equal to 3.9 percent of their annual benefit — an average of nearly $600 per retiree.
Free money for retirees is pretty good politics in itself. And in particular, this is an argument for increasing Social Security benefits, at a time when Republican presidential candidates are calling for their reduction.
But Warren has even more in mind.
The reason for the payout, she argues, is that the administration has calculated no cost-of-living increase in benefits for 2016. Considering the low interest and inflation rates, that's not a huge surprise. But, Warren says, CEOs of large companies took an average raise last year of 3.9 percent. Ordinary retirees, Warren is explicitly saying, deserve the same raise that the country's fat cats and Wall Street greedheads are giving each other.
And to top it off, Warren's bill would pay for the entire extra payout by closing what Warren calls a "tax loophole" by which corporations write off performance pay — or in Warren's terminology, "obscene executive bonuses."
In other words, Warren has re-cast some 70 million Social Security recipients on the side of Democrats, against the 1 percenters. You can expect to hear more about that in months to come.
Social Media Picture Of The Week
Shaheen toured the New Hampshire state police forensic lab last week, to be briefed about a backlog of about 3,800 drug cases needing tests, including those involving heroin and fentanyl. She tweeted this picture, and retweeted one of cabinets filled with backlogged files.