Tales from the Trail

Washington Extra – Waiting for fireworks

Will we see fireworks in the debt talks next week?

So far the White House and lawmakers have been cranky about the state of negotiations, but no one has actually drawn a firm line in the sand – still hoping for a compromise.

Senators and staff can’t be happy about having their Fourth of July recess cancelled next week over debt talks, setting up a perfect environment for tempers to flare.

And no matter how much critics try to pooh-pooh the deadline for avoiding default, Treasury is sticking with Aug. 2 as the drop-debt date.

White House economic officials are expected to attend meetings on Capitol Hill next week. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have been invited but it’s unclear whether they will venture over to that end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

They may have to tread carefully to avoid tantrums after Obama likened Congress to children earlier this week.

Rare agreement on Capitol Hill over confirmation process

Stop the presses!

A man-bite-dog moment at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday.

The normally grid-locked U.S. Senate — Democrats, Republicans, independents — came together and overwhelmingly passed a bill to reduce its workload, curb its power and perhaps even decrease partisan fighting.

Drafted by the chamber’s party leaders, the measure, which now goes to the House of Representatives for anticipated final congressional approval, would slash the number of presidential appointees who need Senate confirmation.

More specifically, it would eliminate the confirmation requirement for about 200 of the 1,200 posts in the executive branch as well as for more than 2,800 members of the U.S. Public Health Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Officer Corps.

Standing room only at Social Security rally

Social Security rock stars? Senate Democrats held a rally that turned into almost a religious revival-type event on Capitol Hill where they were treated like rock stars by a standing-room only audience.

USA/The crowd, which included the old and disabled, embraced the  lawmakers with a prolonged ovation, cries of approval and shouts of “back off Social Security.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in a battle with Republican House Speaker John Boehner over how to keep the government running when temporary funding ends April 8, gave fiery defense of the popular retirement program.

from Summit Notebook:

Ag committee chair says new faces mean new dynamic on Capitol Hill

They are new, enthusiastic and changing the environment on Capitol Hill.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas says "do not underestimate the effect" of the large number of freshmen lawmakers on his committee, which will sit down to overhaul U.S. farm subsidies next year. USA/

"This session of Congress is a little different from the ones I've participated in previously. A huge number of new members," Lucas said at a Reuters Global Food and Agriculture Summit. "I've got a very enthusiastic bunch of new faces."

It turns out that half of the House Agriculture Committee is new -- 16 of 26 Republicans and 7 of 20 Democrats.

Obama’s Senate savvy is showing

Looks like President Barack Obama hasn’t forgotten his political roots in the Senate.

Presidents over the years have found one sure way to annoy members of Congress: act like you don’t care about them.

OBAMA/So when Obama took the rare step of going to their turf  to meet with just the Senate Republicans — the party that has pretty much stood in his way since he got elected — it showed some political savvy.

Pelosi cracks whip for healthcare votes

USA-HEALTHCARE/PELOSI“I never stop whipping,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Tuesday.

She was, of course, talking about the virtually non-stop quest for healthcare votes.  (Sorry were you thinking something else?)

“There’s no beginning, there’s no middle and there’s no end. My life is a constant whip operation,” she said to laughter at yet another event to promote healthcare reform on Capitol Hill.

People not familiar with the process for getting votes on Capitol Hill often think of arm-twisting, when in formality it is a whip operation with someone who actually gets the title “Whip.”

Talking healthcare: How close is “close”?

The talk on Capitol Hill is that a deal is close on healthcare legislation, President Barack Obama’s signature issue.

But trying to define what close means is not that easy. How far away is close can basically be anything since the definition of the word close does not have an actual time attached to it. USA HEALTHCARE

“I would certainly hope that within the next 24, 48, 72 hours, that we have a general agreement between the Senate and the House.” House Democratic leader Steny Hoyer told CNBC on Friday.

What trumps a car bomb, a blizzard and a trip to Kabul?

GOLF-PGA/If you watched U.S. morning television or went online early today, you already know the answer to this media riddle. Top stories — a deadly car-bombing in Baghdad, a massive winter storm rolling across the United States and an unannounced flight to Afghanistan by Defense Secretary Robert Gates – took a back seat to a new development in the tabloid tale of Tiger Woods.

The latest turn in the super-golfer’s travails occurred overnight, when a Florida television station reported an unidentified woman was taken by ambulance from Woods’ home to a nearby hospital.

WESH-TV showed footage of a blond woman on a stretcher.

UPDATE: The woman wheeled out of  Woods’ home was identified as his mother-in-law, who was suffering from stomach pains.