Archive for the ‘House’ Category

Aaron AlbrightAaron Albright, Communications Director for the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, has been tapped by the Obama administration as the new spokesman for HeatlhCare.gov.

Albright has a degree in journalism from The George Washington University.

The Indiana native also has questionable taste in film.

And cuisine.

HealthCare.gov gets new spokesman – POLITICO.com.

budget

In a bid to avoid a possible government shutdown, the U.S. Senate is expected to vote today on a budget bill that leaves funding in place for the nation’s new healthcare law.

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted on a budget last week that stripped funding from the program, which establishes insurance exchanges that allow individuals to purchase group health plans without going through their employer or union. Those exchanges are set to open Tuesday, the first day of the 2014 Fiscal Year. Individuals will have until March of 2014, to get health insurance either on their own, through their employer or union, or from one of the marketplaces set up by the law — or pay a fine.

The Senate, which is dominated by Democrats, won’t pass a budget without it. And of course, President Barack Obama isn’t going to sign a bill that guts funding for his signature health care law, commonly referred to as “Obamacare.”

Congressional Republicans are bluffing. They’ve taken the economy hostage and they’re threatening to shoot it in the head unless Democrats agree to defund The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — the bulk of which is set to roll out Tuesday, at the start of the new fiscal year.

On the one hand, the Tea Party wing of the GOP wants us to believe that their opposition to “Obamacare” is so strong that they’re willing to pull the trigger — they’ll let the government shutdown for lack of a budget and they’ll wreck the economy further by not raising the debt ceiling, causing the government to default on debts Congress has already racked up. Never mind that neither one of those disastrous decisions would have the desired effect of putting a stop to the new healthcare law.

That’s their stated goal. And they know shutting down the government and defaulting on its debts won’t get them any closer to it.

This week, the futility of Tea Party resistance to Obamacare was symbolized by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) On Tuesday, Cruz took the floor for a sort of filibuster against the law.

He can’t technically claim that title for his opposition — even though it lasted more than 21-hours — because the law passed in 2010 before Cruz was even a Senator and his long-winded speech was ended at noon on Wednesday by Senate rules. But most importantly, Cruz’ diatribe on Duck Dynasty, Dr. Seuss and Darth Vader wasn’t really a filibuster because when it came down to it, he joined all 99 other Senators by voting to move ahead with debate on a bill that left funding for Obamacare intact.

Like all hostage takers, Cruz and his ilk are desperate and craven. Neither he nor his Tea Party bretheren were in Congress when the Affordable Care Act was passed, but that won’t keep them from trying to put the kibosh on it any way they can dream of.

Congress Dome

Members of Congress who would kill Obamacare won’t stop short of gumming up the budget process and causing a government shutdown if a bill doesn’t pass by Monday at midnight. And if that doesn’t do it, they’ll stand in the way of raising the debt ceiling, causing the government to stop paying its bills.

Or so they would have us believe. But like I said, they’re bluffing. And now the White House is calling that bluff. All along, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), has said nobody in his party wants the government to shut down. He’s not willing to to drive the country off the fiscal cliff, he says, but Boehner’s talk doesn’t match up with what members of his party in both houses of Congress are saying and doing. They’ll be in Washington all weekend “negotiating” a budget deal. But so far, President Obama has rejected all of their alternatives, insisting on a “clean budget bill” that leaves funding for Obamacare intact.

Boehner says the House won’t go for that. He floated the idea of a continuing resolution that would delay implementation of the Affordable Care Act and allow the government to continue operations. Obama rejected it. The President has also said that he won’t negotiate on raising the debt ceiling, which needs to be done by mid-October to ensure the government can continue to pay its bills.

Syria GlobeIt will not be easy for President Barack Obama to convince Congress to authorize U.S. missile strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in retaliation for using chemical weapons on civilians last month in that country’s escalating civil war.

Congress is not in session – the House and Senate are on their summer recess – but Obama called select members back to Washington Sunday afternoon for an intelligence briefing with the president’s national security team.

Getting Congress to go along is one colossal problem. Getting the American public behind him is another. And it’s a problem that Obama is keenly aware of, based on his comments Tuesday.

When asked by reporters Tuesday what he wanted to tell the American people before heading into his first open meeting with lawmakers since announcing his plans on Saturday, Obama said that the proposed strikes on Syria are “proportional… limited, (and do) not involve boots on the ground,

“This is not Iraq, and this is not Afghanistan.”

Syria Bloody Info Graphic

After three hours behind closed doors, Sunday night, many lawmakers emerged still unconvinced Obama’s proposal to launch airstrikes against Assad would make it through the legislative branch.

“I am very concerned about taking America into another war against a country that hasn’t attacked us,” Representative Janice Hahn, a California Democrat, told Reuters after the meeting.

Patricia Zengerle and Matt Spetalnick, the Reuters reporters who covered the briefing, noted that most of those in attendance were convinced that Assad had used sarin gas on civilians.

“The searing image of babies lined up dead, that’s what I can’t get out of my mind right now,” Democratic Representative Debbie Wasserman-Schultz told reporters.

However, not everyone came away from the meeting believing strikes against Syria would solve problems there.

“I’m not convinced that the administration’s support will resolve the issues in Syria,” Representative Bennie Thompson, the top Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee, told Reuters, adding he was leaning toward a “no” vote.

When Obama announced plans Saturday to seek Congressional approval for strategic airstrikes, some Congressmen offered immediate support while others balked.

Syria Ruins

Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, criticized the White House resolution as “too broadly drafted” adding he won’t vote for “a partial blank check.” “The draft resolution presented by the administration does not currently meet that test,” Van Hollen said.”It is too broadly drafted, it’s too open ended.”

Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, also a Democrat, went on CNN’s State of the Union Sunday and offered his support for the resolution and predicted that Congress would ultimately approve the administration’s proposal “I think at the end of the day, Congress will rise to the occasion,” Rogers told CNN. “This is a national security issue. This isn’t about Barack Obama versus the Congress. This isn’t about Republicans versus Democrats.”

He’s certainly right. It’s not about Republicans versus Democrats. It’s about Democrats versus Democrats. After all, Representatives Hahn, Van Hollen and Thompson all belong to the president’s party, but they aren’t ready to line up behind his proposal – yet. Winning Democratic support in the House will be the key for the White House to get the resolution passed through Congress.

Syria Banner Comparison to Boston Bombings

Rogers is probably also right that The People’s Branch will authorize U.S. military intervention eventually. But being skeptical about the intelligence community’s claims that our enemies have or are using weapons of mass destruction was a hard-learned lesson for many members of Congress. As Jim Naureckas pointed out yesterday on the blog for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting:

“The U.S. government, of course, has a track record that will incline informed observers to approach its claims with skepticism–particularly when it’s making charges about the proscribed weapons of official enemies. Kerry said in his address that “our intelligence community” has been “more than mindful of the Iraq experience”–as should be anyone listening to Kerry’s presentation, because the Iraq experience informs us that secretaries of State can express great confidence about matters that they are completely wrong about, and that U.S. intelligence assessments can be based on distortion of evidence and deliberate suppression of contradictory facts.”

Naureckas wears his own incredulity on his sleeve. Even while acknowledging that thousands of people in Damascus were treated for sarin gas exposure, he leaves room for the possibility that it wasn’t the Assad regime who released the toxin. He also points out several “strikingly vague,” claims from Secretary of State John Kerry about the origins of the chemical weapons attack, while calling into question the overall credibility of the evidence Kerry presented this weekend:

“It gives the strong impression of being pieced together from drone surveillance and NSA intercepts, supplemented by Twitter messages and YouTube videos, rather than from on-the-ground reporting or human intelligence. Much of what is offered tries to establish that the victims in Ghouta had been exposed to chemical weapons–a question that indeed had been in some doubt, but had already largely been settled by a report by Doctors Without Borders that reported that thousands of people in the Damascus area had been treated for ‘neurotoxic symptoms.'”

And Naureckas is not the only skeptic. Brazilian investigative reporter Pepe Escobar went on Russia Today on Saturday to call the administration’s intelligence into question. According to Escobar, Secretary of State Kerry is relying heavily on information received from Israel, a neighbor to Syria, which may have its own motivations to encourage U.S. intervention:

“The evidence that they have was offered essentially by (Binyamin) Benny Gantz – the chief of the Israeli Defense Force (Israel’s army) – directly to Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It was intel, basically, by Mossad (Israel’s intelligence agency). It can be extremely compromised. On top of this, we have a triple agenda here: the Obama administration, Israel and Saudi Arabia.”

Syria Child Free

But leaving aside the question of whether it was Bashar al-Assad’s army that used the chemical weapons or rebel groups hoping that the international community would believe it was Assad – thus triggering outside intervention – there are a number of factors that are not in question.

First and foremost, the Assad regime is exceedingly brutal to Syria’s people. Monstrous is not too strong a word. More than 100,000 people have died since the fighting began in 2011, many of them killed by the government – most of them are civilians, including women and children. It is notable here that the rebellion Assad is trying to put down is led by civilians, not soldiers, which means civilians are targets. Their deaths are not collateral damage caused by conventional warfare in an urban setting – the government wants them dead.

And from a certain perspective, the dead are the lucky ones. Other victims of the regime are kidnapped, tortured, raped and otherwise terrorized. Take for example the testimony of Navanethem Pillay, the High Commissioner for Human Rights at the United Nations, who testified before the U.N. Security Council in December 2011:

“Credible information gathered by my staff demonstrates patterns of systematic and widespread use of torture in interrogation and detention by Security forces. The pervasive readiness to resort to torture to instill fear indicates that State officials have condoned it. Information received from defectors indicates that they received orders to torture. Extensive reports of sexual violence in places of detention, primarily against men and boys, are particularly disturbing. These include reports of rape.” “Children have not been spared. State forces have disregarded children’s rights when acting to quell dissent. Killing of children by beating or shooting during demonstrations, as well as their torture and ill treatment has been widespread. According to reliable sources more than 300 children have been killed by State forces, including 56 in November. Schools have been used as detention facilities, demonstrating utter disregard for children’s rights to education and personal safety.”

Syrian troops controlled by Assad have been known to roll up on peaceful demonstrations against the regime and open up with machine gun fire. Spraying indiscriminately into crowds, Assad’s troops then cut off escape routes and pick off the survivors.

Bashar al Assad

They send explosives into residential neighborhoods, wait rescue workers to arrive, then bomb the area again. This has been happening in Syria for more than two years.

The United Nations says that one-third of Syria’s population have been forced from their homes to escape the fighting. Out of a total population of 22.5 million, that’s 7.5 million who have fled the violence, and 1 million of those are children. The 7.5 million figure includes more than 2 million who have left the country altogether, and most of those are living in tents near Syria’s borders with Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey according to the U.S. High Council on Refugees. That makes the civil war there a full-blown, international, humanitarian crisis.

So why hasn’t the Obama administration taken a stronger stance against Assad before now? Part of it is because Syria’s civil war doesn’t affect American interests directly.

Part of it is because every time Americans go to war in the Middle East, the consequences are disastrous. And up to this point, there has been some hope that the situation may sort itself out without direct American intervention. After the chemical weapons attack, it’s obvious it will not sort itself out.

A year ago, Obama said if Syria’s government used chemical weapons on its own people, that would mean Assad had crossed “a red line,” provoking an American response. If the Syrian government could get away with that, the president said, it would send dangerous signals to other hostile governments – such as Iran and North Korea –they could use weapons of mass destruction and America would sit on its hands. He reiterated that point in the Rose Garden Saturday.

Syria Injured Child“Here’s my question for every member of Congress and every member of the global community,” Obama said. “What message will we send if a dictator can gas hundreds of children to death in plain sight and pay no price?”

If Congress doesn’t get on board with his plan, the president has indicated a willingness to use his executive authority to carry out the airstrikes anyway. But he’s made it clear that he doesn’t want to take that route.

“While I believe I have the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorization, I know that the country will be stronger if we take this course, and our actions will be even more effective,” Obama said.

He may not have a choice. Especially since the administration is facing challenges on Syria on the international front as well.

Great Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron made a similar plea to parliament last week and they turned him down. And although he has the authority to commit military resources without approval from his government’s legislative body, he has said he won’t. So if America does strike Syria, it will be without the help of our strongest ally.

The French government has indicated a willingness to get involved, but only if America goes first. “France cannot go in alone,” French Interior Minister Manuel Valls said in a radio interview this weekend. “A coalition is necessary.”

“We are entering a new phase,” Valls said against the backdrop of growing pressure on President Francois Hollande, because of the chemical weapons attacks. “We now have time and with this time, we must put it to good use so that things move.”

JONATHAN TURLEY

220px-John_lewis_official_biopic228px-Picture_of_Edward_SnowdenThe degree of pressure on reporters and politicians from the White House and Democratic leadership in the Snowden controversy was in full and embarrassing view yesterday when Rep. John Lewis walked back from an interview that he gave to the Guardian praising Snowden. He appears not to have gotten the memo: Snowden is not to be praised in the media or by members of Congress. Various reporters and new organizations have held the line in mocking Snowden or refusing to call him a “whistleblower” rather than a “leaker.”  After all, the fear seems to be that Snowden has to be a traitor or Obama would look like a tyrant.

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LibertyTrail

“These recent maneuverings inside the beltway are precisely why the American people rightly despise Congress.” 

So says Senator David Vitter (R-LA) about the most recent Obamacare exemption bestowed upon another select group.  Members of Congress and their staff will have 75% of their Obamacare premiums paid by the taxpayers (you and me.)  The law says they are required to obtain their insurance through the exchanges just like the rest of us.  But they claim they won’t be able to afford such high premiums.  Boo hoo.

So they are getting a pass.

Employees at the IRS, represented by their union, don’t want Obamacare either.  Acting IRS chief Danny Werfel told Congress, “I would prefer to stay with the current policy that I’m pleased with rather than go through a change if I don’t need to go through that change.”

I feel your pain, Mr. Werfel.  We all do.

Thousands of Obamacare…

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Michael Volkmanns Blog

Official portrait of United States House Speak...

Reader Stephen Herbits sent me a striking Robert’s quote — not by Chief Justice John Roberts but Henry Robert, who produced one of the most consequential books of the 19th century, Robert’s Rules of Order, which has shaped how countless organizations, not to mention every meaningful legislature, have set up and organized themselves to operate rationally, reasonably, and fairly. In his original tome from the mid-1800s, Robert wrote:
Where there is radical difference of opinion in an organization, one side must yield. The great lesson for democracies to learn is for the majority to give the minority a full, free opportunity to present their side of the case, and then for the minority, having failed to win a majority, gracefully to submit and to recognize the action as that of the entire organization, and cheerfully to assist in carrying it out, until they can secure its repeal.[Read the full…

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mykeystrokes.com

Remember how the IRS “scandal” first started? The inspector general for the IRS issued a report pointing to special scrutiny applied to Tea Party groups, but ignoring comparable scrutiny of progressive organizations. Why didn’t IG J. Russell George provide a more accurate report highlighting trouble for groups on both sides? According to the IG himself, congressional Republicans told him to paint an incomplete picture on purpose.

The result was something of a fiasco: a controversy erupted to great fanfare, but then collapsed when we realized Tea Partiers hadn’t been singled out for unfair treatment, and liberal and non-political groups faced similar IRS scrutiny. The whole “scandal” was a mirage that quickly faded.

But Republicans don’t want to let go, especially after all the fun they had in May. So what happens now? As Dave Weigel reported, House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and his allies now want another “narrowly-focused”…

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Talk & Politics

Paul has been running around for a long time… about time there were some pushback from the defense industry’s representatives in Congress…

And this might be an early preview of rightwing primaries in 2016… with a clownbus of one-note fringe folks, a couple of "moderate" conservatives and a libertarian winga lot stronger than in 2012..
Every week that Rand stands unopposed is building support for his line of thinking…

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http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/313919-rep-peter-king-rand-paul-destroying-gop-reputation-on-national-security-

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) said Sunday that the libertarian wing of the Republican party is damaging the GOP’s reputation on national security.

King criticized Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a potential 2016 presidential candidate, for supporting Edward Snowden, who leaked information about the National Security Agency’s extensive domestic surveillance programs.

"When you have Rand Paul actually comparing Snowden to Martin Luther King or Henry David Thoreau, this is madness," King said.

"This is the anti-war, left-wing Democrats of the 1960s…

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