Washington Daybook: First Nail

Photograph by Jim Lo Scalzo/Bloomberg

Construction continues on the platform being built on the west front of the U.S. Capitol in preparation for the inauguration ceremony of incoming President Barack Obama on Dec. 4, 2008.

From the Jefferson Bible to the candy desk to the bean soup served in the cafeteria, Congress loves its traditions. Today, leaders from both the House and Senate take part in an especially appropriate one with less than seven weeks to go before election day: The First Nail Ceremony.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Rules and Administration Chairman Chuck Schumer, Senator Lamar Alexander, House Speaker John Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi will join together to symbolically hammer in a nail, signifying the start of construction of the 2013 Inaugural Platform on the West Front Lower Terrace of the U.S. Capitol at 10:45 a.m.

Of course, who will be standing on the platform on January 20 remains to be decided. President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney both make appearances in Florida today. Voters in Florida and 11 other key swing states that could decide the election are now significantly more enthusiastic about voting this fall. Six in 10 are either “extremely” or “very” enthusiastic, up from 46 percent in June, according to USA Today and Gallup polls out today.

Voters are getting excited in Virginia too, with Virginia Democratic candidate for Senate and former Governor Tim Kaine facing off against Republican candidate and former Governor George Allen in a debate in McLean today, sponsored by the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce and NBC4 at noon.

There’s no debate about the mounting concern over automatic budget cuts set to take effect in January. The House Armed Services and House Small Business committees will hold hearings today on impact of the cuts, known as sequestration. Mayors of Philadelphia, Sacramento, Atlanta, Salt Lake City and Minneapolis hold news conference in D.C. to express their opposition to cuts.

The House also considers a resolution of disapproval of an Obama administration policy on welfare work requirements, an issue that Romney has hit on the campaign trail. The Chamber also takes up a measure that would reallocate as many as 55,000 green cards annually to foreign graduates who studied in the U.S. in selected field. Meanwhile, the Senate has scheduled a procedural vote on continuing resolution to keep the government funded.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper hold closed briefings with House members and senators on recent events in the Middle East, and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee holds a hearing on Operation Fast and Furious, one day after the U.S. Justice Department’s inspector general found management failures and flawed strategy in the federal law enforcement operation designed to track guns illegally flowing to Mexican drug cartels.

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