Capitol Hill Buzz: If only the Doc Fix could cure the POO

AP News
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Posted: Mar 24, 2015 5:55 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — POO happens. Even in the U.S. Capitol.

Well, especially in the U.S. Capitol, where weird acronyms and inscrutable budget-speak are reaching new heights. Or lows.

"The Senate Republican budget explicitly states that a POO can be raised against any defense spending over the capped levels," an earnest Democratic aide wrote to reporters Tuesday. Lest Republicans think they can escape deep poo, his e-mail warned, "the POO can only be waived with 60 votes, but Democrats will not provide the votes."

As the aide noted, POO means "point of order," a parliamentary objection sometimes used to derail legislation. Senate Democrats are threatening to raise POO over the Republicans' budget proposal, an annual exercise that indulges in especially arcane jargon, indecipherable to most outsiders (aka "normal people").

You don't know OCO? Alternately pronounced "oh-see-oh" or "oh-ko," it's Overseas Contingency Operations, a military spending category supposedly used only for wars. It's under hot debate this week because pro-military lawmakers want to use it for other Pentagon needs, without offsetting spending cuts elsewhere.

Meanwhile in Congress, don't confuse "Queen of the Hill" with "King of the Hill."

House Republicans, struggling to pass their own budget plan amid resistance from GOP conservatives and most Democrats, are employing an unusual tactic: letting the full House choose among a half-dozen options. Under the Rules Committee's directions, the bill that gets the most votes will survive as "Queen of the Hill." (House leaders sometime play "King of the Hill," in which the last amendment voted on is the winner).

Unamused by Congress' nomenclature is Scott Lilly, a former top staffer for decades. His Huffington Post article asks, "What the Hell is NDD?"

"While all but a tiny fraction of the population would look with a blank stare at anyone who used the term, it is at the core of what most of the fighting in Washington these days is all about," writes Lilly, now at the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress.

NDD stands for "non-defense discretionary" spending. It's basically all spending that doesn't go to the military or to automatic "entitlement" programs like Social Security and Medicare, which keep growing without congressional action. Lilly says NDD spending "is targeted for dramatic cuts" under the Republicans.

Also getting lots of congressional attention this week are the SGR and the "Doc Fix." Oddly, they have nothing to do with student government, medical procedures or physicians feeding addictions.

"Doc Fix" is legislative lingo for Congress' annual, highly politicized appropriation that keeps Medicare providers from seeing big drops in federal reimbursements. The "fix" overrides the "Sustainable Growth Rate," a formula meant to control Medicare spending.

Don't feel bad if all this argot makes you want to turn to anything — anything! — other than lawmakers' Orwellian obfuscations. Even the Senate's top Democrat, Harry Reid of Nevada, seemed eager Tuesday to focus on something else.

"The SGR is still a work in progress," Reid told reporters who sought his stand on the matter. He said he will wait for House action "before we start speculating on what we need to do with it."

Oh poo, the journalists might have said.

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President Barack Obama's nominee for deputy attorney general, Sally Quillian Yates, avoided giving Republicans the same ammunition against her that they've used against Loretta Lynch, Obama's nominee for attorney general.

In her nomination hearing Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Yates sidestepped questions on the legality of Obama's executive actions that deferred deportations and extended work permits to millions of immigrants living illegally in the United States.

Yates told GOP Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Jeff Sessions of Alabama that because the matter is in litigation, and she is currently the acting deputy attorney general, "it's really not appropriate for me to give you my personal opinion about this matter or any other matter that the Department of Justice is litigating."

The Justice Department is defending the executive actions in court, and Yates said, "I stand by those pleadings."

When Lynch appeared before the same committee in January, she backed the legality of Obama's actions. A number of Republican senators have cited that stance in announcing their opposition to Lynch, whose nomination has been delayed because of a dispute over an unrelated human trafficking bill that Republicans wanted to finish first.

Lynch still has enough Republican support to be confirmed when the Senate returns from a two-week recess in April, but she may squeak by with the bare minimum of votes.

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Associated Press writer Erica Werner contributed to this report.