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A1: The stories you need to read before your first conference call.
-- The House on Thursday will vote on Rep. Paul Ryan's budget proposal, a plan aimed more at firing up Republican voters than actually making it through the Senate. House GOP leaders are confident Ryan's budget will pass, though they can afford to lose no more than 17 members; at least 12 Republicans have indicated they will or are likely to vote no. (Associated Press, The Hill)
-- The Senate on Wednesday fell six votes short of advancing an equal pay bill aimed at cutting the gender gap. All 55 Democrats voted for the bill, before Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid switched his vote for procedural purposes. (Washington Post) Fact Check: Democrats claimed women make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. Turns out, that claim lacks some key context, and the pay gap is smaller when measuring weekly and hourly wages. Check out the Truth Teller for more.
-- Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) have reached an agreement to extend the federal backup for terrorism insurance for seven years, increasing losses insurers would bear in the event of an attack in exchange for the long-term extension. The measure faces uncertain prospects in the House, where Financial Services Committee chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) is more open to a short-term reauthorization. (Wall Street Journal) Reauthorizing TRIA before it expires on December 31 is one of the last things on Congress's must-pass list this year.
-- Negotiations between Ukranian officials and pro-Russian demonstrators in Donetsk have some optimistic that a deal to end the unrest could be reached as early as today, after protestors took over government buildings in the region. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Secretary of State John Kerry that Moscow is willing to sit down with U.S., E.U. and Ukranian officials to continue discussing the crisis. (Washington Post)
-- Medicare billing information released Wednesday by the Obama administration shows hundreds of doctors received millions of dollars for treating elderly and disabled patients in 2012, and the single largest recipient is Salomon Melgen, a close friend of Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.). The West Palm Beach ophthalmologist received $20.8 million for treating 894 patients in 2012, the data show. FBI agents raided Melgen's office last year; Menendez contacted federal agents about an audit of Melgen's books in 2009. (Newark Star-Ledger, New York Times, background from Washington Post)
-- Front Pages: WaPo starts with dangerous explosives left behind in Afghanistan by U.S. troops. NYT leads with new FBI rules on racial profiling and political ties among big Medicare recipients. WSJ fronts recalls by Toyota and other car manufacturers. USA Today is the only one to lead with the knife attack that wounded 21 in Murrysville, Pa. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Johnstown Tribune-Democrat dedicate most of their fronts to the attack.
National Roundup: What's happening outside the Beltway.
-- Louisiana: Rep. Vance McAllister (R) will not ask for an FBI investigation into a leaked video tape showing him making out with a staffer, his office said Wednesday, reversing an earlier announcement that the freshman wanted the FBI involved. Top Republicans wonder if McAllister, in office less than five months, can survive the scandal: The chairman of the state GOP has called him twice, without getting through, asking him to resign. (Politico) David Hawkins has a history lesson: Members can survive sex scandals, unless the other person involved is a staffer. The four other members of Congress caught canoodling with staffers in the last eight years were all given the boot in a matter of weeks. (Roll Call)
-- New Hampshire: Former Senator Scott Brown (R) kicks off his comeback bid in a speech today in Portsmouth, where he'll name-check some of the stops he made during a listening tour over the last month, including the Mount Cube Sugar Farm in Orford, the Red Arrow Diner in Manchester and the Moose Muck Coffee House in Colebrook. Brown's speech is heavy on ObamaCare, according to a sneak peek from his campaign, which he'll make a centerpiece of his campaign against Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D).
-- California: Gov. Jerry Brown (D) leads the all-party primary with 57 percent of the vote, compared with 17 percent for Assemblyman Tim Donnelly ®, 3 percent for Laguna Hills Mayor Andrew Blunt (R) and 2 percent for former TARP administrator Neel Kashkari (R), according to a new Field Poll. The poll shows Brown's approval rating at 59 percent, the highest it's ever registered. (Field Poll, pdf). Kashkari told reporters he will use his financial advantage to begin limited TV advertising and mailing to voters in advance of the June 3 primary. (Fresno Bee)
-- Minnesota: The state Senate on Wednesday passed a measure that would boost the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by 2016. The state House is expected to pass the same bill as early as today, and Gov. Mark Dayton (D) has said he'll sign it. (Fargo Forum) Quirk of history: Minnesota's minimum wage has long been below the federal level. Virtually every other upper Midwestern state has a rate equal to or higher than the federal level.
-- Pennsylvania: Bill Clinton will be in Philadelphia today headlining two fundraisers for former Rep. Marjorie Margolies (D), the Democrat who lost her seat in 1994 after casting a deciding vote for his budget (and the mother of Clinton's son-in-law, Mark). Margolies is running in a four-way primary to replace Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D), who's trying to win a tough gubernatorial primary. (Philadelphia Inquirer)
DC Digest: What's on tap today in DC.
-- President Obama wakes up in Houston today after headlining fundraisers last night for the DCCC and DSCC. He departs for Austin, where he will attend a summit commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The White House said Obama will travel to New York tomorrow to address the National Action Network Convention. Vice President Biden is in meetings at the White House all day.
-- The House finishes its consideration of Rep. Paul Ryan's budget today, with votes on substitutes offered by the Republican Study Committee and by Budget Committee ranking member Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). Last votes are expected by 12:15 p.m., after which everyone will scream "SPRING BREAK!" and run to the airport.
-- The Senate will debate two nominations today: Michelle Friedland, a nominee for a Ninth Circuit court seat, and David Weil, nominated to head the Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division. Both nominees are generating opposition from conservatives.
-- No joy in Mudville: The Capitals were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs last night after Detroit earned enough points to secure the final slot. (Washington Post)
The Buried Lede: The nuggets that deserve the spotlight.
-- One more for Republicans? Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) said Wednesday he will make a decision after Election Day on which party he'll caucus with in the 114th Congress. He did not rule out flipping to the GOP. King said in 2012, before he decided to caucus with Democrats, that being in the majority was important to him. (The Hill)
B1: Business, politics and the business of politics
-- Missouri's Senate Appropriations Committee has allocated $5 million to help cover expenses if Kansas City is chosen to host the 2016 Republican National Convention. (Associated Press) Remember, President Obama signed a law last week that reallocated federal money dedicated to political conventions, putting an even bigger onus on host committees that already have to raise tens of millions of dollars.
-- Last week, McDonald's became the second international company to pull out of Crimea, citing outside factors. But never fear, Crimeans, your ultra-fattening American food needs will be met! Burger King's Russia CEO told Itar-Tass the chain would open outlets in the disputed territory. (Washington Post)
-- Dow, S&P and Nasdaq futures are down slightly after big gains Wednesday on Wall Street. Most international markets are up slightly. (CNN)
C1: The long reads you'll need to check out before tonight's cocktail party.
-- Erik Wemple highlights the evolution that coverage of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's remarks on Tuesday went through after McConnell's office claimed he was misinterpreted. A number of outlets, beginning with Talking Points Memo, corrected initial reports suggesting McConnell dismissed an equal pay bill; McConnell's office said he was referring to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's attack on the Koch brothers. (Washington Post) What's worse, that a bunch of outlets misread McConnell's quotes, or the fact that they all apparently took TPM's word for it rather than reading McConnell's actual remarks themselves?
C4: The comics page, fun things to read when you're bored at work
-- The House Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday voted to rename a mountain in Southern Nevada after Ronald Reagan, a pet cause of some Republican activists in the Silver State. It would be the 87th landmark or federal facility named for the 40th president. Democrats offered a counterproposal: Instead of renaming Frenchman Mountain, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) suggested they rename Yucca Mountain in Reagan's honor. Reagan signed the bill designating Yucca as the country's long-term nuclear waste dump in 1987. The Democratic alternative didn't quite make it out of committee. (Las Vegas Sun, Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Attn Matt Drudge: Things conservatives will get outraged by today.
-- The House Oversight Committee on Wednesday voted to refer Lois Lerner, the former IRS official in charge of overseeing tax exempt groups, to the Justice Department for prosecution, though they did not specify what crimes they believe she committed. The party-line vote came after emails showed Lerner talked about taking a job with Organizing for America, the political offshoot of President Obama's campaign. (Townhall, Daily Caller)
Attn HuffPo: Things liberals will be outraged by today.
-- In a speech to Iowa Republicans last night, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee discussed the difference between men and women: Men like to hunt and fish with other men, and "women like to go to the restroom with other women," Huckabee said, according to Des Moines Register political reporter Kathie Obradovich. Obradovich confirmed to TPM that Huckabee uttered the line. (Twitter, Talking Points Memo)