Morning Briefing: January 17, 2012

As Congress returns to Washington for a new session, the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll finds that a new high of 84 percent of Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing. About two-thirds say they “disapprove strongly.”

Congress may be able to reach a deal on a one-year extension of the payroll tax holiday quicker than expected. Aides say Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) were on the edge of a deal before time ran out in December. “It became an issue of the president being for tax cuts and Republicans not being for tax cuts — because of that, nobody wants to revisit that debate during a political year,” Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) told Politico.

Today, Occupy Wall Street protesters are planning a demonstration against Congress just as lawmakers return from recess. The gathering on the National Mall, dubbed “Occupy Congress,” is expected to be one of the largest the movement has organized. It will include marches around the Capitol in “a day of action against a corrupt political institution.”

Occupy Wall Street “is running out of money.” After raising more than $700,000 last fall, the movement reported it had $170,000 in its bank account with “very few donations” coming in. “If we keep spending at the rate at which we have been doing, we will probably go broke in a month,” a leader said.

The Tea Party is “struggling to float viable and effective candidates, unify its base and dictate the terms of national discourse on the economy” in the 2012 election cycle. The demise has been coming for some time, but the seemingly inevitable nomination of Mitt Romney, whom most Tea Partiers dislike, is hastening the decline.

Wikipedia will go dark on Wednesday to protest an anti-piracy law before Congress, known as SOPA, that many say is so broad it will dampen free speech and innovation on the web. Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales tweeted yesterday that the online encyclopedia will shutdown its English version until midnight on Wednesday. Other websites, including Reddit, also plan to protest SOPA by blacking out or deleting content.

While Mitt Romney has tried to dismiss questions about his record at Bain, the attacks seem to be having an effect, even on GOP voters, who hold an increasingly negative view of Romney’s work at the firm. According to the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, 34 percent of Republicans have negative impressions of Romney’s private-sector work, up from 20 percent just a month ago.

Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren (D) and her opponent Sen. Scott Brown (R) jointly called for a ban on third-party, super PAC spending in their Massachusetts race. Federal law prevents campaigns from coordinating with outside groups, but Warren said Monday that the campaigns “could agree on a common response if third-party groups become active,” noting, “That’s certainly within our control.”

Federal prosecutors are ratcheting up the investigation of Standard & Poor’s financial crisis-era ratings of troubled mortgage securities, focusing on whether the firms ignored their own standards to “cater to banking clients eager to sell securities.” The DOJ is considering that S&P allowed “ratings shopping,” a practice that allows bankers to choose the credit-rating firm that offers the highest rating.

And finally: Now no longer controlled by the comedian, Stephen Colbert’s SuperPAC has endorsed Herman Cain for president. “He’s such a Washington outsider, he’s not even running for president,” an ad for the group states.

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