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One Morning With 18 Congressmen

Over four hours on Wednesday, 18 Congressmen presented their hopes, dreams and fears (a combination of TPA, transportation, the ExIm Bank and tax reform) to a packed crowd at the Hyatt Recency Capitol Hill at the 26th Annual Legislative Seminar.

BakerHostetler, the Federal Policy Group and the Yale Club co-host this annual event. We snapped Ohio Sen. Rob Portman bookended by AIAC director Rob Colorina and BakerHostetler partner Susan Feigin Harris. It's not all dysfunction in Congress, Portman said. This year the Senate's already voted on more than 100 amendments, compared to last year's votes on 15. A former OMB director and USTR, he touted tax reform as a way to spur economic growth.

Word went around that the vote on TPA (Trade Promotion Authority), or fast track, had just been scheduled for Friday. (Ways and Means chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) and member Pat Tiberi (R-OH) were called away by news of the upcoming vote.) Sen. Roy Blunt said he's convinced that the House will pass TPA this week or next. (Though the Senate Republican Conference vice chairman and Rules Committee chairman said his preference would have been for TPA to be done long before a big trade deal was in sight.) Also an Intelligence Committee member, Blunt said that if Iran moves toward enrichment, every state in the region that can afford it will also go nuclear, or under the protection of someone who is, and they may not turn to the US.

Other senators included Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Patty Murray (D-WA). Murray, who's been in office since 1993 and is the fourth-ranking Democrat in the Senate, avoided a government shutdown in 2013 with the bipartisan Murray-Ryan budget deal. This time around, she said, the Republicans have a choice: to work with Democrats early on like in '13, or to wait until we hit a crisis and then work together. 

Heitkamp, the first female senator from North Dakota and former ND AG, said her top goal is to open up the export ban on crude oil. In May, she paired up with Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski to introduce a bipartisan bill to lift the ban. (We don't stop anybody from exporting apples because people are hungry in the world, she said, then got laughs joking that DC is a "fact-deficient" place.) She says the US is the No. 1 exporter of refined product in the world.

Rep. Jim Clyburn was elected to the House in 1992 (his leadership ability presaged by his election as NAACP youth counsel president at age 12). We snapped him with BakerHostetler government policy practice head Tom McDonald, the former US Ambassador to Zimbabwe. As President Obama has said of Clyburn, "One of a handful of people who, when they speak, the entire Congress listens." The congressman told the crowd that afternoon he'd be sitting with the president, trying to get to "a pathway to yes on the trade bill."

Sen. Ben Cardin, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had served in the House since '87 before joining the Senate eight years ago. The importance of tax reform was discussed by both parties. Cardin said that the income tax is too high, and he proposes a progressive consumption tax. He doesn't see the chemistry for tax reform in this Congress, but it could be part of a transportation bill, especially with repatriation. (That's Congress-speak for lowering the tax on companies' foreign earnings to encourage them to repatriate money held abroad back to the US. Now go win your bar trivia night!)

Six-term Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) flew in early that morning. We snapped him with Heather Podesta + Partners' Patrice Willoughby, a former GSA deputy associate administrator and executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus. The necessity of a long-term extension for the Highway Trust Fund was another big bipartisan talking point, along with renewing the Export-Import bank, one of around 70 export credit agencies in the world. While Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH) was in support of ExIm, saying that 150,000 jobs are at risk if it expires because the US will end up importing some goods it's exporting today, he added that ExIm needs mandatory reforms such as a full-time audit committee. He says it could either happen on the highway bill or in the appropriations process.