By macleans.ca - Thursday, April 18, 2013 - 0 Comments
Obama joins thousands at Cathedral of the Holy Cross to mourn victims of Monday’s bombing in Boston
By The Associated Press - Saturday, March 23, 2013 at 6:28 AM - 0 Comments
Senate Democrats on track to pass budget
WASHINGTON – The Senate laboured into the wee hours Saturday as Democrats pushed their first budget in four years toward passage, calling for almost $1 trillion in tax increases over the coming decade while sheltering safety net programs targeted by House Republicans. The Democrats also would reverse automatic spending cuts that are beginning to strike both the Pentagon and domestic programs.
The nonbinding but politically symbolic measure caters to party stalwarts on the liberal edge of the spectrum just as the House GOP measure is crafted to appeal to more recent tea party arrivals.
Lawmakers plowed through a mountain of amendments, having voted on more than 60 since the chamber began debating the plan earlier this week. As the clock neared 3 a.m. EDT, senators huddled in an apparent effort to determine how many more votes would be needed until they could approve the measure, which appeared inevitable.
By Sue Allan - Tuesday, March 12, 2013 at 6:43 AM - 0 Comments
WASHINGTON – Mary Jo White, President Barack Obama’s pick to be chairman of the…
WASHINGTON – Mary Jo White, President Barack Obama’s pick to be chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, will likely face tough questions Tuesday from senators about her decade of legal work representing some of the nation’s largest banks and corporations.
But after the Senate Banking Committee hearing is over, White is ultimately expected to win confirmation from the full Senate and become the first former prosecutor to lead the top federal regulator overseeing Wall Street.
White would replace Elisse Walter, who has been interim SEC chairman since Mary Schapiro resigned in December.
The Senate panel will also question Richard Cordray, who was re-nominated by Obama to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
White, 65, would step into the job at a critical moment for the SEC.
By macleans.ca - Sunday, March 10, 2013 at 8:17 AM - 0 Comments
Is it too early to joke about sequester?
Barack Obama cracked wise in front of an audience of journalists at the Gridiron Dinner in Washington, DC last evening. Here are some highlight’s from the U.S. president’s speech, which was made available by the White House after the event:
“Before I begin, I know some of you have noticed that I’m dressed a little differently from the other gentlemen. Because of sequester, they cut my tails. My joke writers have been placed on furlough.”
On replacing Hillary Clinton:
“Let’s face it — Hillary is a tough act to follow. But John Kerry is doing great so far. He is doing everything he can to ensure continuity. Frankly, though, I think it’s time for him to stop showing up at work in pantsuits. It’s a disturbing image. It really is. I don’t know where he buys them. He is a tall guy.”
“We noticed that some folks couldn’t make it this evening. It’s been noted that Bob Woodward sends his regrets, which Gene Sperling predicted. I have to admit this whole brouhaha had me a little surprised. Who knew Gene could be so intimidating? Or let me phrase it differently — who knew anybody named Gene could be this intimidating? Now I know that some folks think we responded to Woodward too aggressively. But hey, when has — can anybody tell me when an administration has ever regretted picking a fight with Bob Woodward? What’s the worst that could happen?”
On control of the press corp:
“Now, since I don’t often speak to a room full of journalists — I thought I should address a few concerns tonight. Some of you have said that I’m ignoring the Washington press corps — that we’re too controlling. You know what, you were right. I was wrong and I want to apologize in a video you can watch exclusively at whitehouse.gov. “
“Now I’m sure that you’ve noticed that there’s somebody very special in my life who is missing tonight, somebody who has always got my back, stands with me no matter what and gives me hope no matter how dark things seem. So tonight, I want to publicly thank my rock, my foundation — thank you, Nate Silver. “
“We face major challenges. March in particular is going to be full of tough decisions. But I want to assure you, I have my top advisors working around the clock. After all, my March Madness bracket isn’t going to fill itself out. And don’t worry — there is an entire team in the situation room as we speak, planning my next golf outing, right now at this moment.”
On the difference between Star Trek and Star Wars:
“Spock is what Maureen Dowd calls me. Darth Vader is what John Boehner calls me.”
“Of course, maintaining credibility in this cynical atmosphere is harder than ever — incredibly challenging. My administration recently put out a photo of me skeet shooting and even that wasn’t enough for some people. Next week, we’re releasing a photo of me clinging to religion.”
On journalism in tough times:
“I know that there are people who get frustrated with the way journalism is practiced these days. And sometimes those people are me. But the truth is our country needs you and our democracy needs you.
“In an age when all it takes to attract attention is a Twitter handle and some followers, it’s easier than ever to get it wrong. But it’s more important than ever to get it right. And I am grateful for all the journalists who do one of the toughest jobs there is with integrity and insight and dedication — and a sense of purpose — that goes beyond a business model or a news cycle.
“This year alone, reporters have exposed corruption here at home and around the world. They’ve risked everything to bring us stories from places like Syria and Kenya, stories that need to be told. And they’ve helped people understand the ways in which we’re all connected — how something that happens or doesn’t happen halfway around the world or here in Washington can have consequences for American families.
“These are extraordinary times. The stakes are high and the tensions can sometimes be high as well. But while we’ll always have disagreements, I believe that we share the belief that a free press — a press that questions us, that holds us accountable, that sometimes gets under our skin — is absolutely an essential part of our democracy.”
By Grant Schulte, The Associated Press - Tuesday, January 22, 2013 at 1:00 PM - 0 Comments
Keystone clears a major obstacle
LINCOLN, Neb. – Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman approved a new route for the Keystone XL oil pipeline on Tuesday that avoids the state’s environmentally sensitive Sandhills region.
Heineman sent a letter to President Barack Obama confirming that he would allow the controversial, Canada-to-Texas pipeline to proceed through his state.
The project has faced some of its strongest resistance in Nebraska from a coalition of landowners and environmental groups who say it would contaminate the Ogallala aquifer, a massive groundwater supply.
Canadian pipeline developer TransCanada and some workers’ unions say the project is safe and will create thousands of jobs.
The original route would have run the pipeline through a region of erodible, grass-covered sand dunes. The new route skirts that area, although the pipeline’s most vocal critics remain firmly opposed to it as well.
“Governor Heineman just performed one of the biggest flip-flops that we’ve in Nebraska political history,” said Jane Kleeb, executive director of the group Bold Nebraska.
Heineman said previously that he would oppose any pipeline route through the Sandhills region. In his letter to Obama, he said the new 195-mile (320-kilometre) route through Nebraska avoids the Sandhills but would still cross part of the aquifer. Heineman said any spills would be localized, and the clean-up responsibilities would fall to TransCanada.
The governor said the project would result in $418.1 million in economic benefits for the state and $16.5 million in taxes from the pipeline construction materials.
By macleans.ca - Monday, January 21, 2013 at 12:41 PM - 0 Comments
Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness may be self-evident, but ‘they’ve never been self-executing’
Vice President Biden, Mr. Chief Justice, Members of the United States Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow citizens:
Each time we gather to inaugurate a president, we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution. We affirm the promise of our democracy. We recall that what binds this nation together is not the colors of our skin or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names. What makes us exceptional – what makes us American – is our allegiance to an idea, articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
By Mika Rekai - Monday, January 21, 2013 at 11:42 AM - 0 Comments
Mika Rekai on the allure of Joe Biden
Before being picked as Barack Obama’s running mate, Joe Biden was best known by American for commuting by train between Washington and Delaware and for his many, cringe-inducing verbal gaffes.
Despite being one of the longest serving members of the U.S. Senate, in 2008, Biden captured less than one per cent of popular support in the Democratic primary, and dropped out after the Iowa caucus.
When he joined the Obama ticket, his age and years of government service were intended to appeal to voters concerned about Obama’s lack of experience. Biden, they seemed to think, had the gravitas to balance out Obama’s youthful celebrity.
By Patricia Treble - Saturday, January 19, 2013 at 8:40 AM - 0 Comments
Photo gallery: Planners of the 57th inauguration of the President of the United States have left nothing to chance
Walking around the tourist, and government, parts of Washington is increasingly difficult these days. Roads are suddenly blocked off and incredibly tall sturdy security fencing is being erected everywhere President Barack Obama is going to be passing. When planning a huge event like the 57th inauguration of the President of the United States, nothing is left to chance. So four days before the big day, there are already hundreds of portable toilets lined up in perfect rows, waiting for their own big day in the sun.
By The Canadian Press - Thursday, January 17, 2013 at 10:46 PM - 0 Comments
WASHINGTON – John Kerry’s expected cakewalk to the U.S. State Department has delighted American…
WASHINGTON – John Kerry’s expected cakewalk to the U.S. State Department has delighted American environmentalists due to his stance on climate change, but the longtime senator owns stock in two Canadian oil companies that have pushed for approval of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline.
Federal financial disclosure records show Kerry has investments of as much as US$750,000 in Suncor, a Calgary-based energy company whose CEO has urged the U.S. to greenlight TransCanada’s controversial project.
The longtime Massachusetts senator, one of the wealthiest lawmakers on Capitol Hill with an estimated net worth of $193 million, also has as much as $31,000 invested in Cenovus Energy, another Calgary firm.
The lawmaker will likely have to divest of those holdings, or put them in blind trust if they aren’t already, following an ongoing federal ethics review that is standard procedure for would-be U.S. cabinet secretaries.
By The Associated Press - Tuesday, January 15, 2013 at 5:55 AM - 0 Comments
WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama demanded that lawmakers raise America’s $16.4 trillion federal debt…
WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama demanded that lawmakers raise America’s $16.4 trillion federal debt limit quickly, warning that benefits that the elderly and military veterans rely on will be affected if they don’t and warning Republicans against insisting on cuts to government spending in exchange for not “crashing the economy.”
Obama said he was willing to negotiate with Republican leaders about reining in deficit spending but insisted that those talks be separate from decisions to raise the federal debt ceiling and avert a possible first-ever national default.
“We are not a deadbeat nation,” he declared at a news conference Monday, less than a week away from taking the oath of office for a second term.
By The Associated Press - Thursday, January 10, 2013 at 6:00 AM - 0 Comments
WASHINGTON – White House chief of staff Jack Lew is President Barack Obama’s expected…
WASHINGTON – White House chief of staff Jack Lew is President Barack Obama’s expected pick to lead the Treasury Department once Timothy Geithner steps down this month, and a series of urgent fiscal deadlines are waiting.
White House officials would not confirm that a final decision had been made, but aides did not dispute that Lew was emerging as the consensus choice. An announcement was expected Thursday as the administration moves to fill the most critical Cabinet jobs for Obama’s second term.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney praised the expected nominee: “Over the past more than quarter of a century, Jack Lew has been an integral part of some of the most important budgetary financial and fiscal agreements, bipartisan agreements in Washington.”
By Chris Sorensen and Jaime J. Weinman - Wednesday, January 2, 2013 at 1:39 PM - 0 Comments
1. The 11th-hour deal to limit the damage from the U.S. from driving over the “fiscal cliff” on Dec. 31 is being hailed as a success insomuch as it averts an immediate crisis (pushing the world’s largest economy into recession) and represents a rare bipartisan agreement in Washington (although a deal was inevitable given the dire consequences). Under the bill, which is expected to be made retroactive to Jan. 1, income and capital gains taxes raised on the wealthiest Americans for the first time in decades. However, a payroll tax holiday will also be allowed to expire for all American workers. What the deal didn’t address is the other half of the so-called cliff: hundreds of billions worth of planned spending cuts and the debt ceiling.
2. The fiscal cliff was a totally manufactured term referring to a self-manufactured crisis on the part of the U.S. government. It started during another self-manufactured crisis, the debt ceiling crisis of 2011, when as an attempt to kick the can down the road on that fake crisis, the Congress decreed that a “supercommittee” would have to come up with a mix of tax increases and spending cuts. If the supercommitee did nothing by Jan. 1, 2013, a mix of heavy spending cuts and tax increases totaling an estimated $600 billion would happen automatically. Inevitably, the supercommitee turned out not to be so super, and the Congress was faced with trying to pass a law to avoid the problems they could have avoided by simply raising the debt ceiling cleanly in 2011.
3. The fiscal cliff follies are simply a trial run for the next fake crisis, which will occur this year when Congress has to raise the debt ceiling again. Traditionally, the debt ceiling was simply a fait accompli, since it’s just a formality that most countries don’t even have. But during the Obama administration, the Republican House has decided to use the debt ceiling to extract concessions on taxes and spending. Their supporters argue that the U.S. has a spending crisis that needs to be dealt with before the debt ceiling is raised; their detractors accuse them of holding the full faith and credit of the U.S. hostage. But one thing is for certain: this is the new normal, at least while the Republicans control the House – and thanks to gerrymandered districts, they are expected to control the House for the next decade. The “fiscal cliff” was just a preview of things to come.
By David Newland - Tuesday, January 1, 2013 at 8:26 AM - 0 Comments
‘Going postal’ is the tip of the iceberg. The larger problem lies beneath the surface
‘Going postal’—committing mass murder in a public place—seems to have become a horrifying symptom of our times. The latest example, the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, has left Americans divided as to how to proceed. Recent data on mass shootings compiled and released by Mother Jones shed some new light on the issues.
The data refer to gun homicides in the U.S., during the past three decades, committed at a single time, away from home, and involving four or more victims. What’s fascinating in these numbers, grim as they are, is that they are often merely the tip of the iceberg: the larger truth lies beneath the surface.
Number of mass shootings in the United States since 1982: 62.
That’s a startling number, to be sure. But what’s truly startling is that despite their dramatic nature, mass shootings together account for “only” 1,007 deaths over 30 years. To put that in perspective, more than 11,000 Americans were killed by guns in 2009. In Chicago alone in 2012, 500 people have been killed in homicides. In the week after Sandy Hook, 100 Americans were killed by guns.
U.S. mass shootings since 1982 in which the shooter, or shooters were men: 61.
Is anyone surprised that the majority of mass shooters were male? Probably not. But that only one of the killers was female must surely be cause for serious consideration. Gun ownership among women in the U.S. as of 2005 was roughly 13 per cent; for men it was 47 per cent. Perhaps more important though, is how likely women are to be victims of gun crime. Harvard Injury Control Research Centre puts it this way: more guns = more female violent deaths.
U.S. mass shootings since 1982 involving semiautomatic or assault weapons: 58.
All but four of 62 shootings included one or more semiautomatic handguns, or one or more assault weapons, or both. There’s a widespread belief that the Second Ammendment to the U.S. Constitution, commonly known as ‘the right to bear arms’, gives carte blanche to gun owners.
Perhaps not: the Supreme Court in District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008 affirmed “The Second Amendment right is not a right to keep and carry any weapon in any manner and for any purpose.” Hence, a ban on semiautomatic and assault weapons might not be in violation of the Second Ammendment.
U.S. mass shootings since 1982 in which shooters used weapons obtained legally: 49.
This figure does not include the two semi-automatics Adam Lanza used in the Sandy Hook shootings. They’re considered to have been illegally obtained because Lanza apparently stole them from his mother—who obtained them legally, and taught him to use them. (An important fact not dealt with in the popular ‘I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother’ post by Liza Long.) In five of the 11 cases of illegally obtained guns in the Mother Jones data set, the weapons were stolen from family members.
Incidentally, in 2004, the makers of a Bushmaster assault rifle similar to the one Adam Lanza stole were sued for allowing their product to fall into the wrong hands after it was used in the Washington, D.C. shooting spree. Since then, the NRA lobbied for, and got Congress to pass a law that protects gun manufacturers from lawsuits seeking to hold them liable for gun crimes.
U.S. mass shootings since 1982 that ended as murder-suicides: 36.
This number may be even higher, because in seven instances, the shooters were ultimately killed by law enforcement officers in scenarios viewable as suicide by cop. For obvious reasons, a lot of attention is being paid to firearm homicides. But did you know firearm suicides are more common?
U.S. mass shootings since 1982 in which shooters had shown signs of mental illness: 40.
This should be the place where gun advocates, and gun control advocates can find common ground. Responsible gun dealers must want to eliminate those who are mentally ill and at risk for violence from their pool of potential customers. But that’s not always possible right now. A mere 12 states account for the vast majority of queries to the FBI database set up for the purpose. Nineteen states have submitted fewer than 100 records each to the FBI database.
One challenge in focusing on mental illness will be not stigmatizing mentally ill people. It’s been duly noted that most mentally ill people don’t commit violent crimes. But it’s also true, as one pundit put it, that “anyone who goes into a school with a semiautomatic and kills 20 children and six adults is, by definition, mentally ill”.
U.S. mass shootings that have occurred since 2006: 25.
Gun ownership is up, way up, in the U.S. since 1982, having outpaced population growth during the period reported by the survey. There are now nearly as many guns in the U.S. as people, which means there’s more than one for every adult American. At least 118 million of those are handguns, according to Mother Jones. And recent mass shootings have caused spikes in gun sales. As gun sales have gone up, so have mass shootings. Coincidence?
U.S. mass shootings since 1982 prevented or ended by armed bystanders: 0.
The NRA’s notion, that schools should be armed to prevent massacres like the one at Sandy Hook, is not borne out by the record. Mother Jones found that an armed bystander played a role in only one of the 62 mass shootings examined—by shooting the perpetrator after he had already fled the scene.
Politically, the issue of mass shootings is a highly visible, volatile one, for obvious reasons. No one wants another Sandy Hook, any more than anyone wanted another Aurora, another Virginia Tech, another Columbine. People keep “going postal,” and the horrifying results are plain to see.
But “going postal,” however common it appears, however visible its impact, remains relatively rare—mass shootings account for a tiny fraction of the deaths associated with guns in the United States today.
Put bluntly, mass shootings are not the problem. They are a symptom of the problem. The problem is as simple as the numbers; the solution is as complicated as the politics that surround it.
By The Associated Press - Saturday, December 29, 2012 at 8:11 PM - 0 Comments
WASHINGTON – Senate leaders groped for a last-minute compromise Saturday to avoid middle-class tax…
WASHINGTON – Senate leaders groped for a last-minute compromise Saturday to avoid middle-class tax increases and possibly prevent deep spending cuts at the dawn of the new year as President Barack Obama warned that failure could mean a “self-inflicted wound to the economy.”
Obama chastised lawmakers in his weekly radio and Internet address for waiting until the last minute to try and avoid a “fiscal cliff,” yet said there was still time for an agreement. “We cannot let Washington politics get in the way of America’s progress,” he said as the hurry-up negotiations unfolded.
For all the recent expressions of urgency, bargaining took place by phone, email and paper in a Capitol nearly empty except for tourists. Alone among top lawmakers, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell spent the day in his office.
By The Associated Press - Thursday, December 27, 2012 at 11:00 AM - 0 Comments
WASHINGTON – Progress toward avoiding the “fiscal cliff” seemed stalled Thursday, as the Senate’s…
WASHINGTON – Progress toward avoiding the “fiscal cliff” seemed stalled Thursday, as the Senate’s top Democrat accused Republican House Speaker John Boehner of acting in dictatorial ways that prevent a solution to looming tax hikes and spending cuts.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, speaking in the Senate chamber, said the nation appears headed over the cliff because of a lack of progress in negotiations as the Dec. 31 deadline nears. He blamed House Republicans, who last week opposed Boehner’s efforts to pass a narrowly crafted bill that would raise tax rates only on the very wealthiest Americans, prompting Boehner to cancel a vote on the bill.
Reid said the House is “being operated with a dictatorship of the speaker.”
“John Boehner seems to care more about keeping his speakership than about keeping the nation on sound financial footing,” Reid said.
Reid said the GOP-controlled House easily could have passed a White House-approved plan with a majority of Democratic votes and a few dozen Republican votes. But House leaders generally avoid such tactics, because they might alienate the Republican caucus and jeopardize the speaker’s job.
Also Thursday, the White House said Obama, before leaving Hawaii, called Boehner, Reid, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. The White House statement said the president got an update on the “fiscal negotiations,” but offered no detail on who, exactly, was negotiating and whether those talks were getting anywhere.
Obama was returning from vacation to the deadline showdown in the nation’s capital, with even a stopgap solution now in doubt.
The House has passed a Republican plan to avert the fiscal cliff, and the Senate has passed a Democratic version. Their deficit-reduction projections differ by hundreds of billions of dollars over 10 years. Many Washington insiders say the gap could be bridged if partisan positions were not so firmly entrenched.
Leaders of the two parties are essentially daring each other to let the year end without resolving the pending confluence of higher taxes and deep spending cuts that could rattle a recovering but still-fragile economy.
Adding to the mix of developments pushing toward a “fiscal cliff,” Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on Wednesday informed Congress that the government was on track to hit its borrowing limit on Monday and said he would take “extraordinary measures as authorized by law” to postpone a government default.
Still, he added, uncertainty about the outcome of negotiations over taxes and spending made it difficult to determine how much time those measures would buy.
In recent days, Obama’s aides have been consulting with Reid’s office. But Republicans have not been part of discussions, suggesting much still needs to be done if a deal, even a small one, is to be struck and passed through Congress by Monday.
At stake are current tax rates that expire on Dec. 31 and revert to higher rates in place during the administration of President Bill Clinton. All in all, that means $536 billion in tax increases that would touch nearly all Americans. Moreover, the military and other federal departments would have to cut $110 billion in spending.
But while economists have warned about the economic impact of tax hikes and spending cuts of that magnitude, both sides appear to be proceeding as if they have more than just four days left. Indeed, Congress could still act in January in time to retroactively counter the effects on most taxpayers and government agencies, but chances are that a large deficit reduction package would be put off.
House Republican leaders on Wednesday said they remain ready to negotiate but urged the Senate to consider or amend a House-passed bill that extends all existing tax rates. In a statement, the leaders said the House would consider whatever the Senate passed. “But the Senate first must act,” they said.
Aides said any decision to bring House members back to Washington would be driven by what the Senate does.
Reid’s office responded shortly thereafter, insisting the House act on Senate legislation passed in July that would raise tax rates only on incomes above $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for couples. Obama has been pushing for a variant of that Senate bill that would include an extension of jobless aid and some surgical spending reductions to prevent the steeper and broader spending cuts from kicking in.
For the Senate to act would require a commitment from McConnell not to demand a 60-vote margin to consider the legislation on the Senate floor. McConnell’s office says it’s too early to make such an assessment because Obama’s plan is unclear on whether extended benefits for the unemployed would be paid for with cuts in other programs or on how it would deal with an expiring estate tax, among other issues.
What’s more, Boehner would have to let the bill get to the House floor for a vote. Given the calendar, chances of accomplishing that by Monday were becoming a long shot.
Follow Jim Kuhnhenn on Twitter: http://twitter.com/jkuhnhenn
By The Associated Press - Sunday, December 16, 2012 at 7:57 AM - 0 Comments
WASHINGTON – It’s beginning to look like it’s time for Plan B on the…
WASHINGTON – It’s beginning to look like it’s time for Plan B on the “fiscal cliff.”
With talks between President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner apparently stalled, the leading emerging scenario is some variation on the following: Republicans would tactically retreat and agree to raise rates on wealthier earners while leaving a host of complicated issues for another negotiation next year.
The idea is that House GOP leaders would ultimately throw up their hands, pass a Senate measure extending tax rates on household income exceeding $250,000, and then duke it out next year over vexing issues like increasing the debt ceiling and switching off sweeping spending cuts that are punishment for prior failures to address the country’s deficit crisis.
It’s easier said than done.
For starters, that scenario has a lot more currency with Senate Republicans, who wouldn’t have to vote for the idea after it comes back to the Democratic-controlled Senate, than with leaders of the Republican-controlled House, who would have to orchestrate it and who still insist they’re not abandoning talks with the White House and that they’re standing firm against raising tax rates.
“I think it’s time to end the debate on rates,” said Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C. “It’s exactly what both parties are for. We’re for extending the middle-class rates. We can debate the upper-end rates and what they are when we get into tax reform.”
“I think we end up with something like this Plan B,” said GOP lobbyist Hazen Marshall, a longtime former Senate aide. “They probably figure out something on the rates by the end of the year but on everything else negotiations just continue.”
House Republicans have yet to embrace the idea.
“There are literally dozens and dozens and dozens of members out there who have various ideas for how they could endgame this, or Plan B type scenarios, but none of that is under active discussion or consideration by the leadership,” said Boehner spokesman Kevin Smith.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama was still pursuing a broader deal with Boehner that didn’t simply address the expiring tax rates, but also more revenue and spending reductions with a goal of reducing deficits. But he said that was out of reach if House Republicans refused to let the top rates rise for wealthy earners.
“It is still their position, as they tell you when you ask them, that they want extension of the high-end Bush tax cuts. That is not going to happen,” Carney said. “The president will not sign such legislation.”
Don’t underestimate the explosion that giving in to Obama could create in GOP ranks, however. Republicans have been adamantly opposed to raising marginal tax rates, even as they now say they’re willing to raise $800 billion or more in new tax revenues by closing loopholes and deductions. For months, the GOP mantra has been that raising tax rates will cost jobs, especially among businesses that would be affected. Some 94 per cent of America’s businesses are structured so that profits go directly to partners or shareholders who report the income on their individual tax returns.
Moving to Plan B would also mean that one side in the Obama-Boehner talks would have to throw up their hands and leave the bargaining table.
“Listen, we have never changed our posture. We remain willing, desirous of talking with the White House, of being specific with the president about how we address the spending problem,” said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.
The counter view is that even tea party Republicans like Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., are resigned to the fact that Obama simply won’t yield on rates and that a tactical retreat would allow Republicans to rejoin the battle when it comes time to pass must-do legislation to increase the government’s borrowing cap early next year.
That approach requires House Republicans to retreat in a fashion similar to the way majority Democrats relied on Republican votes when finessing must-pass bills to fund military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan under President George W. Bush. That would mean structuring floor debate to allow the Obama-backed tax hike to pass mostly with Democratic votes.
But the need for Democratic votes means Republicans might have to resist the temptation to add GOP sweeteners to the measure like a more generous extension of the estate tax than Obama likes or to keep tax rates on investment income from rising from 15 per cent to 20 per cent as the Senate bill would do. Democrats would probably take their lead from Obama if Republicans sought to power such proposals past them — and if they resisted, Plan B could implode.
Democrats say they’d likely go along if the House simply passed the tax bill the Senate passed in July and left other fiscal cliff items on the table.
By David Espo, The Associated Press - Thursday, November 29, 2012 at 8:03 PM - 0 Comments
WASHINGTON – The White House is seeking $1.6 trillion in higher taxes over a…
WASHINGTON – The White House is seeking $1.6 trillion in higher taxes over a decade and an immediate infusion of funds to aid the jobless, help hard-pressed homeowners and perhaps extend the expiring payroll tax cut, officials said Thursday as talks aimed at averting an economy-rattling “‘fiscal cliff” turned testy.
In exchange, the officials said, President Barack Obama will support an unspecified amount of spending cuts this year, to be followed by legislation in 2013 producing savings of as much as $400 billion from Medicare and other benefit programs over a decade.
The offer produced a withering response from House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, after a closed-door meeting in the Capitol with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. “Unfortunately, many Democrats continue to rule out sensible spending cuts that must be part of any significant agreement that will reduce our deficit,” he declared.
Boehner added, “No substantive progress has been made between the White House and the House” in the two weeks since Obama welcomed congressional leaders at the White House.
Democrats swiftly countered that any holdup was the fault of Republicans who refuse to accept Obama’s campaign-long call to raise tax rates on upper incomes.
At the White House, presidential press secretary Jay Carney said, “There can be no deal without rates on top earners going up.” Taking a confrontational, at times sarcastic tone, he said, “This should not be news to anyone on Capitol Hill. It is certainly not news to anyone in America who was not in a coma during the campaign season.”
With barely a month remaining until a year-end deadline, the hardening of positions seemed more likely to mark a transition into hard bargaining rather than signal an end to efforts to achieve a compromise on the first postelection challenge of divided government.
Boehner suggested as much when one reporter asked if his comments meant he was breaking off talks with the White House and congressional Democrats.
“No, no, no. Stop,” he quickly answered.
“I’ve got to tell you, I’m disappointed in where we are, and disappointed in what’s happened over the last couple weeks. But going over the fiscal cliff is serious business.”
Republican aides provided the first description of the White House’s offer, although Democratic officials readily confirmed the outlines.
Under the proposal, the White House is seeking passage by year’s end of tax increases totalling $1.6 trillion over a decade, including the rate hikes sought by Obama.
Obama also asked for year-end approval for an unspecified amount of new spending to renew expiring jobless benefits, help homeowners hit by the real estate collapse and prevent a looming Jan. 1 cut in fees for doctors who treat Medicare patients.
The White House also wants a new stimulus package to aid the economy, with a price tag for the first year of $50 billion, as well as an extension of the Social Security payroll tax cut that is due to expire on Dec. 31, or some way to offset it.
In political terms, the White House proposal is a near mirror image of what officials have said Republicans earlier laid down as their first offer — a permanent extension of income tax cuts at all levels, an increase in the age of Medicare eligibility and steps to curtail future growth in Social Security cost-of-living increases.
In exchange, the GOP has offered to support unspecified increases in revenue as part of tax reform legislation to be written in 2013.
The GOP said the White House was offering unspecified spending cuts this year. Those would be followed next year by legislation producing savings from Medicare and other benefit programs of up to $400 billion over a decade, a companion to an overhaul of the tax code.
For the first time since the Nov., 6 elections, partisan bickering seems to trump productive bargaining as the two sides manoeuvred for position.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters, “We’re still waiting for a serious offer from Republicans,” the Nevada Democrat said at a news conference.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., was more emphatic.
Referring to a meeting at the White House more than a week ago, he said both sides agreed to a two-part framework that would include a significant down payment in 2012, along with a plan to expand on the savings in 2013.
“Each side said they’d submit a down payment. We have. Our preference is revenue. What is theirs?” he said, speaking of the Republicans.
The White House also circulated a memo that said closing loopholes and limiting tax deductions — a preferred Republican alternative to Obama’s call to raise high-end tax rates — would be likely to depress charitable donations and wind up leading to a middle class tax increase in the near future.
At issue is a bipartisan desire to prevent the wholesale expiration of Bush-era tax cuts and the simultaneous implementation of across-the-board spending cuts. The potential spending reductions, to be divided between military and domestic programs, were locked into place more than a year ago in hopes the threat would have forced a compromise on a deficit reduction deal before now.
Economists in and out of government warn that sending the economy over the “cliff” would trigger a recession.
To avoid the danger, Obama and Congress are hoping to devise a plan that can reduce future deficits by as much as $4 trillion in a decade, cancel the tax increases and automatic spending cuts and expand the government’s ability to borrow beyond the current limit of $16.4 trillion.
In the first few days after the elections, Boehner said he was willing to accept a deal that included new revenues, a long-time Democratic demand, and Obama has said he will sign on to savings from Medicare, Medicaid and other benefit programs that Democrats have long defended from proposed Republican cuts.
At the same time, both sides have worked to tilt the bargaining table to their advantage. As part of that effort, Obama travels to Pennsylvania on Friday to campaign for his tax proposal.
Boehner, who will begin a second term as House speaker early next month, has appealed to his rank and file to remain united. At a closed-door meeting this week, he displayed polling data that showed the public would rather see loopholes closed than rates raised as a means of raising revenue for the government.
At the same time, there are tremors within the GOP ranks, with a small number of Republicans saying they are willing to let tax rates rise at upper incomes in view of the election returns, and others predicting legislation to that effect would pass the House if put to a vote.
Associated Press writers Jim Kuhnhenn, Julie Pace, Alan Fram, Stephen Ohlemacher and Andrew Taylor contributed to this story.
By Jana Juginovic - Monday, November 19, 2012 at 8:51 PM - 0 Comments
‘I’m never going to be the president,’ says a man some think will be president
America’s newest political rock star dismissed “what ifs” during a visit to the London School of Economics on Monday.
“I’m never going to be the president or the vice-president,” Julian Castro told a largely fawning audience.
Few in the crowd seemed inclined to believe him. To judge by his delivery, he does not believe it himself.
The San Antonio mayor spoke about U.S. leadership in the 21st century — a prophetic subject for someone who has been touted as next Texas governor, U.S. Senator or the first Latino democratic presidential candidate.
Castro spoke candidly about potential Latino Republican rivals. “Of course it will help (Republicans) to have Marco Rubio: he relates well to the Latino experience and he has a bright future and I wish him well.” But Castro stressed it will take more than a face to win the Latino vote. “If Marco Rubio were running against Jeb Bush, Jeb Bush would win.”
If Castro ends up throwing his hat in the Texas governor or senator’s race, he could face Jeb Bush’s son, George P. Bush, (grandson of George Bush Sr., nephew of George W). The younger Bush, whose mother is Mexican, recently filed papers with the Texas Ethics Commission, a stepping stone to seeking state office.
The Latino vote represents 12 per cent of the U.S. electorate. (President Obama won an overwhelming 71 per cent of that vote.) After losses in the last presidential, senatorial and house elections, Castro says Republicans must change their tone on immigration, healthcare and other issues sensitive to Latino voters. He says he’s convinced the growth of the Hispanic community will eventually turn Texas, one of the reddest of the red states, into a Democrat state.
Castro earned a starring role at this year’s Democratic convention by harnessing the power of that voting block. He recently secured a book deal to tell his family’s success story. It’s an inspiring narrative: his grandmother was a maid and cook, and his single mother put he and his twin brother through Stanford and Harvard. It’s a story similar to another racial ceiling breaker, President Barak Obama.
Castro passed his first test on the international stage, avoiding the Olympic pitfall Mitt Romney fell into when he criticized the security preparations for the London Games. In fact, the ever-smiling politician gave a nod to Romney’s visit as he opened with a bow to the organizers of the London Games for “doing a great job.”
By Anne Kingston - Thursday, November 15, 2012 at 7:53 PM - 0 Comments
A backless dress, a shirtless FBI and all the latest on the scandal
The Benghazi hearing began, and a day before David Petraeus is set to testify he started to get his side of the story out through sympathetic media channels. It offered a telling glimpse of the former top four-star general’s talent annexing the press corps.
- Day 6: Things are getting stranger
- It’s like Mean Girls for people with jobs
- Petraeus and the Shlock Doctrine
First, National Journal reported Petraeus told his former spokesman, retired Army Col. Steven Boylan, that Broadwell is the only mistress he ever had and that began in November 2011 — two months after he became CIA chief.
By Jaime Weinman - Thursday, November 15, 2012 at 10:26 AM - 0 Comments
Buried in Mitt Romney’s post-election analysis of why he lost – he blames it…
Buried in Mitt Romney’s post-election analysis of why he lost – he blames it on “gifts” to minorities, young people and single women – is an interesting admission about the impact of Obama’s health-care reform on the election.
“Obamacare” didn’t come up a whole lot in the election, because Obama didn’t want to talk a lot about it (polls show it is still unpopular overall) and Romney, while pledging to repeal it, was not in a position to make it a centrepiece of his campaign (having famously passed the same plan in Massachusetts, every explanation of why he wanted to repeal it had to be prefaced by an explanation of why state laws are different from federal ones). But the health-care reform was a big factor in the Democratic mid-term disaster of 2010, and though it became less of an albatross for the party once it squeaked by the Supreme Court, it was still expected to be more of a liability than an asset for Democrats this year.
But according to Romney, Obamacare worked to mobilize voters. He thinks this is a bad thing, a case of the government doling out favours to special interest groups; but liberals and Democrats might feel that Romney is making a stronger case for the effectiveness of Obamacare than Obama ever did:
“Free contraceptives were very big with young, college-aged women. And then, finally, Obamacare also made a difference for them, because as you know, anybody now 26 years of age and younger was now going to be part of their parents’ plan, and that was a big gift to young people. They turned out in large numbers, a larger share in this election even than in 2008.”
The president’s health care plan, he said, was also a useful tool in mobilizing black and Hispanic voters. Though Mr. Romney won the white vote with 59 percent, according to exit polls, minorities coalesced around the president in overwhelming numbers: 93 percent of blacks and 71 percent of Hispanics.
“You can imagine for somebody making $25,000 or $30,000 or $35,000 a year, being told you’re now going to get free health care, particularly if you don’t have it, getting free health care worth, what, $10,000 per family, in perpetuity — I mean, this is huge,” Mr. Romney said. “Likewise with Hispanic voters, free health care was a big plus.”
A lot of liberals are already making fun of Romney, or expressing horror at this point of view: that when people feel the government is making their lives better, it’s some kind of “gift” or bribe, rather than the government doing its job. That’s part of the worldview that Romney expressed in the 47% remarks, and which underlay a lot of the philosophical differences in the campaign. But what’s really odd is to hear the Republican candidate tell people that Obamacare was an asset for the Democrats, after telling us for years that it was going to be their Waterloo.
How could Obamacare be such a liability for the Democrats in 2010, and then, according to their own opponent, a major asset in 2012? This speaks to the big problem the Democrats still have to deal with: while they’ve built a workable majority of voters in the past two Presidential elections, many of their voters are not likely to show up during mid-term elections, which have much lower turnout, and a much older electorate. The Democrats did extremely well in the 2006 election because older voters were frustrated with the Iraq war and took their frustration out on the Republicans. But in 2010, the Democrats were in charge, and the natural disadvantage of the party in power was compounded by the Medicare cuts that Obama’s health-care reform incorporated. The older electorate of 2010 voted against the Democrats because they saw Obamacare as hurting rather than helping them. But in 2012, more people were voting who had trouble affording medical insurance, and they broke for Obamacare, not against it.
The challenge for the Democrats in 2014, when they will once again be the party in power, will be to find a way to minimize their expected losses by figuring out a way to get their base to show up for mid-term elections in greater numbers. If they can ever do that, Republicans will be in real trouble for a while. (On the other hand, if the Democrats find some way to make young voters feel betrayed – like for example cutting the benefits they can expect to receive if and when they retire – then their voting coalition could evaporate.) Meanwhile, Republicans’ challenge in 2014 will be to find a way to avoid blowing their third consecutive chance to take back the Senate, meaning that we can expect them to apply a lot of pressure to keep people like Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock out of future Senate races. Whether any of this works, I don’t know; this is one thing that not even the polls can predict – yet.
By Anne Kingston - Wednesday, November 14, 2012 at 6:44 PM - 0 Comments
Petraeus will testify and Jill Kelley is ‘an honorary consul of the Republic of Korea’
Petraeus will testify before Congress about Sept. 11 attacks on U.S. installments in Benghazi that killed a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans. Timing has not been decided.
At today’s White House press conference, President Obama said he has “no evidence” that national security was compromised by the scandal. The president said he accepted Petraeus’s resignation Friday because “he did not meet the standards that he felt were necessary” to be CIA director. When Obama was asked if he should have been informed before last Thursday that the FBI knew of Petraeus’s extramarital affair, he said the FBI and Justice Department have protocols about disclosing ongoing investigations: “We’re not supposed to meddle in criminal investigations.” Obama said he was “withholding judgment” on how the FBI handled the case, as he delivered a oblique jab with the word “generally,” saying:”I have a lot of confidence, generally, in the FBI.”
The Shirtless FBI Agent has been revealed: pics were “a joke,” says Frederick W. Humphries II.
By Nick Taylor-Vaisey - Friday, November 9, 2012 at 11:50 AM - 0 Comments
I was really hoping Larry Summers could help me understand the fiscal cliff.
I’m no economist. I never studied economics in any serious way, so it’s not second nature. Complicated economic situations that are often described in 30 words at the top of news stories aren’t my cup of tea. It’s not a fear of numbers (arithmophobia, it turns out, is actually a thing), but simply a lack of expertise.
I suspect I’m not alone. The daily media’s crash course in financials can’t possibly do much to spread economic literacy. That’s not an admission of ignorance. We hope that someone, somewhere, will spell it all out. I bet there are more than a few reporters, none specialists in economics, but many of whom are required to write about it, who feel the same way.
With all that in mind, I sat down Thursday night—beside an economist friend, of course—to watch Larry Summers speak to an audience at Ottawa’s Chateau Laurier about the U.S. election and the fiscal cliff we’re hearing so much about these days. With any luck, I’d learn something.
Summers, of course, is Bill Clinton’s Treasury Secretary and a former Obama economic adviser. You can make certain assumptions about a man of his stature. A guy who’s lived such an intensely public life will probably be a convincing public speaker. He’ll speak with substance.
As it happened, he was all of that. He spoke deliberately, confidently, and without notes. His pacing was vaguely reminiscent of Barack Obama’s—slowly, surely, he built his case—though his presence and delivery, not to mention his rhetoric, weren’t nearly as soaring. Summers held the audience, helped by a fawning introduction by TD Canada Trust CEO Tim Hockey and an audience primed to listen to him so soon after Obama’s re-election.
Summers came to speak about how his countrymen could, and should, avoid an economic catastrophe that would harm GDP growth, job creation, and just about anything else happy in America. He announced his prescription as if it were the obvious remedy; basically the only real choice among very few bad choices. In short, he said, politicians should:
- Broaden the tax base, which would raise more revenue;
- Contain the growth rate of healthcare costs, which would limit expenditures.
Summers said he’s seen indications from both Republicans and Democrats in Congress that both of those outcomes are achievable: House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner says he’s open to raising more revenue so long as tax rates don’t rise, a trick pulled off by closing tax loopholes. Summers says if Obamacare is implemented correctly, it could reduce costs and, importantly, create jobs.
It wasn’t exactly inspiring, and it didn’t herald a new kind of politics that Obama’s re-election would ignite. But, during a question-and-answer period following his address, Summers did comment on the significance of a second Obama term. Canada2020 chair Don Newman wondered whether the election really changed anything in America. After all, the Democrats retained control of the White House and Senate, while the Republicans maintained control of the House. Summers’ nuanced response suggested Newman’s calculation missed the point. “Something happened in 2008,” when Obama won, he said. “This election would either confirm or reverse that. And it was confirmed.”
That “something,” of course, included the monumental election of a black man whose ideas appealed not only to a wide cross-section of American voters, but very powerfully to young voters, women, Hispanic and Black Americans. Those constituencies turned out again, and proved Obama’s election, and everything he delivered over four years, was no accident.
That last bit, the political stuff, I soaked in. The economic analysis, well, it came easier than I would have guessed. A guy like Larry Summers, who’s somewhat removed from the thrust and parry of partisan swashbuckling, is able to deliver that. But as I walked out of the hotel and down the street, chatting with my economist friend who did his best not to confuse me, I wondered how many people on the street really understood this metaphorical cliff everyone keeps talking about—even among those who do politics for a living.
How many people could walk into a room, listen to Summers, and come out with a reasonable assessment of his expertise?
I don’t know for sure, but based on conversations about economics with friends and family over the years, I’d guess the number is pretty low, or at least not very high. It had me thinking a lot about a broader definition of literacy. If economic literacy were part of that broader definition, I don’t know how many people could reasonably call themselves literate.
Given that we’re all standing on the edge of a fiscal cliff, it’s scary how little we know about what’s going on around us.