February 17th, 2012
New York Times
By: John H. Cushman Jr. and Robert Pear
With members of both parties expressing distaste at some of the particulars, Congress on Friday voted to extend payroll tax cuts and unemployment benefits and sent the legislation to President Obama, ending a contentious political and policy fight.
The vote in the House was 293 to 132 with Democrats, who are in the minority, carrying the proposal over the top with the acquiescence of almost as many Republicans. The Senate followed within minutes and approved the measure on a vote of 60 to 36.
“One hundred sixty million Americans,” said Senator Max Baucus, the Montana Democrat who, as chairman of the Finance Committee, led negotiations over the measure with the House. “That’s the number of Americans who are helped by this bill.”
President Obama has said he will sign the bill as soon as Congress passed it, with lawmakers seeking to wrap up the legislation before leaving on the Washington’s Birthday break.
A compromise allowing the extension of the tax holiday for the rest of the year came together quickly this week, as Republicans decided it was not politically viable to resist in an election year. It avoided an abrupt increase in payroll taxes that would have taken effect March 1, returning them to the level of 2010. The taxes are withheld from the paychecks of most wage earners and finance the Social Security system.
The legislation also temporarily avoids cuts in payments to doctors under federal health insurance programs.
In the negotiations, which took place during a two-month temporary extension of a popular tax break that had been in place throughout 2011, Republicans gave up on their demands that the tax cuts be paid for. But they won provisions that would pay for the other spending increases in the bill by making cuts in other federal programs involving health care and government pensions.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, the package will increase the budget deficit by $119.5 billion over the next five years, but by a bit less over the longer haul as some of the spending reductions and new revenues are fully realized.
Republicans who said they supported the deal said they had won several important concessions during the talks, like imposing new conditions and limits on unemployment compensation and making a significant cut in the preventive-health spending called for in the health care overhaul that Democrats pushed through Congress in 2010.
Representative Renee Ellmers, Republican of North Carolina, called that cut “the most dramatic blow to Obamacare yet.”
But she said the overall deal was “a very important breakthrough and shows that we can come together and compromise.”
Democrats, some of whom sharply condemned the deal, saw things differently. Even those who voted for the bill, which the White House supported and Democrats considered a major act of economic stimulus to propel the recovery forward, said many of its provisions were misguided.
Two Democratic leaders, Representatives Steny H. Hoyer and Chris Van Hollen, both of whose Maryland districts contain thousands of federal employees, denounced cuts in future pension benefits for government employees, which were used to pay for the extension of unemployment benefits. They would have preferred tax increases on the wealthy, or on corporations, or closing loopholes like the one that lets fund managers treat their income as lightly-taxed “carried interest.”
“Nobody else in this bill, not a millionaire, not a billionaire, not a carried-interest beneficiary, not an oil company, nobody in this bill other than federal employees is asked to pay,” fumed Mr. Hoyer, the Democratic whip, confident that his denunciation of the bill would not endanger its passage.
“It’s time to stop scapegoating federal employees,” Mr. Van Hollen said.
Under the bill, the government would save $15 billion over 10 years by reducing its contribution to federal employee pensions and requiring new workers to contribute more.
But ultimately, the Democrats pronounced themselves satisfied.
“On balance, I come down in favor of supporting what the president asked us to do,” said Representative Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader.
In the Senate, there is considerable support for the bill in both parties, but just enough opposition to stop its passage from being a sure thing until the last moment.
The Congressional Budget Office said the provisions of the bill, taken together, would increase the federal budget deficit by $101 billion this year and by a total of $89 billion from 2012 to 2022. One provision, continuing the payroll tax cut for the next 10 months, will cost $93 billion, the budget office said.
Representative Dave Camp, Republican of Michigan and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said the bill “prevents a tax increase for working Americans and makes the most significant reforms to federal unemployment programs since they were created in the 1930s.”
In addition, Mr. Camp said, the bill “ensures that seniors continue to have access to their doctors.”
Representative Sander M. Levin of Michigan, the senior Democrat on the committee, said the bill “will provide a boost to the economy” and create jobs.
“Unemployment insurance — people spend it,” Mr. Levin said. “That’s good for their subsistence. It’s good for the economy.”
For The Full Report Go To New York Times
October 21, 2011
By Jonathan Benson
If an American talks about using marijuana or other drugs in countries where such activity is perfectly legal, or even just discusses the hypothetical idea of such an activity with a friend or family member, he or she will be committing a felony crime under a heinous new bill recently passed by the US House Judiciary Committee.
Sponsored by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the Drug Trafficking Safe Harbor Elimination Act of 2011 essentially applies US policies in the “War on Drugs” on the entire world, and makes it a crime for Americans to engage in, or even just talk about, activities that are legal abroad, but illegal back at home.
“Under this bill, if a young couple plans a wedding in Amsterdam, and as part of the wedding they plan to buy the bridal party some marijuana, they would be subject to prosecution,” said Bill Piper, director of the national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, a group advocating for reform of US drug laws.
“The strange thing is that the purchase of and smoking the marijuana while you’re there wouldn’t be illegal. But this law would make planning the wedding from the US a federal crime.”
The wording of the bill is so broad and all-inclusive that it even includes US doctors that work internationally with therapies that may be illegal back in the States. In places like Portugal, for instance, where all drugs have been decriminalized, US doctors could face severe prosecution for contributing to, or being involved with, medical projects going on there.
Non-Americans that conduct activities which are legal in their native countries, but illegal in the US, are also considered in violation of the law if they step foot on American soil, even during an airport layover. And Americans living overseas and producing natural medicine that is prohibited in the US, for instance, can also be targeted under the new law (this technically already happened to herbalist Greg Caton because of his anti-cancer salves: http://www.naturalnews.com/033573_F…)
“Just when you think you can’t get any more cynical, a bill like this comes along,” attorney and author Harvey Silvergate is quoted as saying by Huffington Post. “There’s no intuitive reason for an American to think that planning an activity that’s perfectly legal in another country would have any effect on America. This is just an act of shameless cultural and legal imperialism. It’s just outrageous.”
July 26, 2010
By Karen Mracek and Thomas Beaumont, Des Moines Register
Goldman Sachs sent $4.3 billion in federal tax money to 32 entities, including many overseas banks, hedge funds and pensions, according to information made public Friday night.
Goldman Sachs disclosed the list of companies to the Senate Finance Committee after a threat of subpoena from Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Ia.
Asked the significance of the list, Grassley said, “I hope it’s as simple as taxpayers deserve to know what happened to their money.”
He added, “We thought originally we were bailing out AIG. Then later on … we learned that the money flowed through AIG to a few big banks, and now we know that the money went from these few big banks to dozens of financial institutions all around the world.”
Grassley said he was reserving judgment on the appropriateness of U.S. taxpayer money ending up overseas until he learns more about the 32 entities.
Goldman Sachs (GS) received $5.55 billion from the government in fall of 2008 as payment for then-worthless securities it held in AIG. Goldman had already hedged its risk that the securities would go bad. It had entered into agreements to spread the risk with the 32 entities named in Friday’s report.
Overall, Goldman Sachs received a $12.9 billion payout from the government’s bailout of AIG, which was at one time the world’s largest insurance company.
Goldman Sachs also revealed to the Senate Finance Committee that it would have received $2.3 billion if AIG had gone under. Other large financial institutions, such as Citibank, JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley, sold Goldman Sachs protection in the case of AIG’s collapse. Those institutions did not have to pay Goldman Sachs after the government stepped in with tax money.
Shouldn’t Goldman Sachs be expected to collect from those institutions “before they collect the taxpayers’ dollars?” Grassley asked. “It’s a little bit like a farmer, if you got crop insurance, you shouldn’t be getting disaster aid.”
Goldman had not disclosed the names of the counterparties it paid in late 2008 until Friday, despite repeated requests from Elizabeth Warren, chairwoman of the Congressional Oversight Panel.
“I think we didn’t get the information because they consider it very embarrassing,” Grassley said, “and they ought to consider it very embarrassing.”
The initial $85 billion to bail out AIG was supplemented by an additional $49.1 billion from the Troubled Asset Relief Program, known as TARP, as well as additional funds from the Federal Reserve. AIG’s debt to U.S. taxpayers totals $133.3 billion outstanding.
“The only thing I can tell you is that people have the right to know, and the Fed and the public’s business ought to be more public,” Grassley said.
The list of companies receiving money includes a few familiar foreign banks, such as the Royal Bank of Scotland and Barclays.
DZ AG Deutsche Zantrake Genossenschaftz Bank, a German cooperative banking group, received $1.2 billion, more than a quarter of the money Goldman paid out.
Warren, in testimony Wednesday, said that the rescue of AIG “distorted the marketplace by turning AIG’s risky bets into fully guaranteed transactions. Instead of forcing AIG and its counterparties to bear the costs of the company’s failure, the government shifted those costs in full onto taxpayers.”
Grassley stressed the importance of transparency in the marketplace, as well as in the government’s actions.
“Just like the government, markets need more transparency, and consequently this is some of that transparency because we’ve got to rebuild confidence to make the markets work properly,” Grassley said.
AIG received the bailout of $85 billion at the discretion of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which was led at the time by Timothy Geithner. He now is U.S. treasury secretary.
“I think it proves that he knew a lot more at the time than he told,” Grassley said. “And he surely knew where this money was going to go. If he didn’t, he should have known before they let the money out of their bank up there.”
An attempt to reach Geithner Friday night through the White House public information office was unsuccessful.
Grassley has for years pushed to give the Government Accountability Office more oversight of the Federal Reserve.
U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley, a Waterloo Democrat, said he would propose that the House subcommittee on oversight and investigations convene hearings on the need for more Federal Reserve oversight. Braley is a member of the subcommittee.
Braley said of Geithner, “I would assume he would be someone we would want to hear from because he would have firsthand knowledge.”
He said he was confident that the financial regulatory reform bill signed by President Obama this week would help provide better oversight than the AIG bailout included.
“There was no regulatory framework in place,” Braley said. “We had to put something in place to begin reining them in. I’m confident they will begin to be able to do that.
July 1, 2010
By John Fritze
The federal debt will represent 62% of the nation’s economy by the end of this year, the highest percentage since just after World War II, according to a long-term budget outlook released today by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.
Republicans, who have been talking a lot about the debt in recent months, pounced on the report. “The driver of this debt is spending,” said New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg, the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee. “Our existing debt will be worsened by the president’s new health care entitlement programs…as well as an explosion in existing health care and retirement entitlement spending as the Baby Boomers retire.”
June 15, 2010
By Karen DeYoung and Greg Jaffe
A series of political and military setbacks in Afghanistan has fed anxiety over the war effort in the past few weeks, shaking supporters of President Obama’s counterinsurgency strategy and confirming the pessimism of those who had doubts about it from the start. The concerns, fed largely by unease over military operations in southern Afghanistan that are progressing slower than anticipated, spurred lawmakers to schedule last-minute hearings this week to assess progress on the battlefield and within the Afghan government.
Gen. David H. Petraeus, head of the Central Command, and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Mich?le A. Flournoy are to appear Tuesday in the Senate and Wednesday in the House to answer questions about the offensives in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, and about what many see as the continuing erratic behavior of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
“I think we are all concerned,” said Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee who visited Afghanistan last month.
June 10, 2010
The New York Times
By Sewell Chan
Mr. Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, warned on Wednesday that “the federal budget appears to be on an unsustainable path,” but also recognized that an “exceptional increase” in the deficit had been necessary to ease the pain of recession.
In nearly two hours of questioning by the House Budget Committee, however, Mr. Bernanke gave potential succor to members of both parties, while refusing to side with either of them.
To Republicans, he offered warnings about the fiscal perils of an aging population and the potential threat of soaring long-term interest rates. To Democrats, he made it clear that persistently high unemployment was a drag on growth and said that additional short-term stimulus spending might be needed.
All the while, Mr. Bernanke refused to endorse any particular spending cuts or tax increases, or even specify the balance between the two. And he was not subtle about his strategy.
“I’m trying to avoid taking sides on this because it’s really up to Congress to make those decisions,” he told Representative Michael K. Simpson, Republican of Idaho.
“But we need your expertise on it,” Mr. Simpson pressed.
“Well, no,” Mr. Bernanke replied. “Plenty of people have that kind of expertise, including the Congressional Budget Office and others.”
June 4, 2010
In a letter to Sen. Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee Republican, Robert Bauer, counsel to Obama, implied the president may use executive privilege to hide some memos Elena Kagan wrote when she served in the Clinton White House.
“President Obama does not intend to assert executive privilege over any of the documents requested by the Committee,” Bauer writes.
May 27, 2010
By Bridget Johnson
An e-mail from Rep. Darrell Issa’s (R-Calif.) campaign suggested Wednesday that the controversy over Rep. Joe Sestak’s (D-Pa.) alleged administration job offer could be President Barack Obama’s Watergate scandal.
In an e-mail with the subject line “The Sestak Affair – Obama’s Watergate?”, the ranking member on the Oversight and Government Reform committee focused on “long-standing questions” about the offer Sestak says was made to him to urge him to drop out of the Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary.
The campaign e-mail says the allegations would amount to three felony charges of bribery and corruption.
“Congressman Sestak has continued to repeat his story whenever asked without varying from the original version. The White House however has arrogantly and wrongly assumed that they can sweep this matter under the rug,” Issa, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, says in the e-mail.
April 27, 2010
By Rick Klein
As President Obama considers his options for a Supreme Court vacancy, Senate Republicans are preparing to use the upcoming hearings to explore what they say is the expanded role of government under the Obama presidency, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee told ABC News.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said in an interview that Republicans are planning a sharp focus on the president’s approach to governance — regardless of who the president nominates — to ensure that the newest member of the high court won’t be a “rubber-stamp” for the Obama agenda.
“It’s pretty clear to me that President Obama sees judges as allies in an effort to promote an agenda he thinks is best for the country,” Sessions said. “And a lot of people see it that way — he’s just part of that movement.
“And that’s not law. That’s not law — that’s politics. And it’s a poison in our legal system, and the American people are not happy about it. They see it for what it is, and they don’t think that courts ought to be there to rubber-stamp President Obama’s or anybody’s agenda.”
Sessions said Republicans on the Judiciary Committee will bring a particular scrutiny to the nominee’s stance on such issues as the new health care law’s requirement that individuals purchase insurance; government bailouts of private businesses; property rights issues; gun rights; and the president’s criticism of the Citizens United ruling that opened the door to corporate campaign contributions.
“What I’m hearing from my constituents is a cry that Washington is losing all recognition that it is a government of limited, delegated powers, and that it is assuming roles that go far beyond anything the governed ever thought that they would be doing,” Sessions said.
“You have the fundamental question: Is this what the framers [of the Constitution] had in mind when they created a limited government, and created a Commerce Clause?” he added.
While the specific response from Republicans will of course depend on the nominee and his or her record and writings, Sessions said he’s not optimistic about what he presumes will be the nominee’s approach on the most pressing issues of the day, given what the president has said publicly about his policies, plus the role of the courts.
“The nominee’s entitled to be fairly treated, to be judged on their own record — not on the president’s speech or somebody else in Congress who may have said this or that,” he said. “But some of these issues are pretty fundamental.”
December 2, 2009
By Ben Geman
A House hearing Wednesday will likely provide a forum for debating what widely-circulated emails among climate scientists do or don’t reveal about the state of global warming research.
The Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming hearing on climate science will feature two top administration officials: White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren, and Jane Lubchenco, who heads the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Look for Chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who co-sponsored the sweeping House climate bill that passed in June, to solicit testimony about the strength of research showing dangerous warming trends.
The committee will “explore with climate scientists from the Obama administration the urgent, consensus view on our planetary problem: that global warming is real, and the science indicates that it is getting worse,” the hearing notice this afternoon states.
But also look for Republicans to ask about emails among climate scientists that were hacked from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in the U.K.
Climate change skeptics say the messages show an effort to squelch findings that undercut the case that global warming is occurring. The scientists and their supporters, however, say they have been intentionally taken out of context.