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Today’s Congressional odds and ends

pelosi.jpgPelosi goes to Israel: Sure to drive many Bay Area pro-Palestinian activists absolutely wild, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, will address Israel’s Knesset — its national legislature — this Sunday, April 1; it’ll be at 6 p.m. Israeli local time, which is 8 a.m. PDT. She’ll be the highest ranking American woman ever to speak at the Knesset, and this will be her first speech to a foreign government. She intends to discuss America’s commitment to Israel and the challenges facing the two nations in the Middle East. Pelosi and a bipartisan congressional delegation — including House Foreign Affairs Chairman Tom Lantos, D-San Mateo, a staunch Israel supporter — arrived today in Israel, where they will meet with the Prime Minster, Deputy Prime Minister, and Foreign Minister in the next few days. Pelosi always has been a strong supporter of Israel, and is tight with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), although some more hawkish members of this powerful pro-Israel lobby have taken issue with Pelosi’s criticism of the war in Iraq.

lee3.jpgReport supports Lee’s bill: The federal Institute of Medicine issued a report today on the implementation of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), in which it recommends removing the requirement that 33 percent of all prevention funds be earmarked for abstinence-until-marriage programs. The earmark, it says, “has greatly limited the ability of the Country Teams to develop and implement comprehensive prevention programs that are well integrated with each other and with counseling and testing, care and treatment programs and that target those populations at greatest risk.” Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, on Tuesday re-introduced a bill to remove the earmark, and today said HIV prevention policies “should be based in science, not ideology. We need a comprehensive and balanced prevention approach that achieves results, and this report shows that the insistence on abstinence funding is disrupting the development of country specific prevention plans and keeping us from achieving the results we are looking for.”

miller.jpgMiller probes student-loan payola: House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, D-Martinez, sent letters yesterday to the nation’s top five college student-loan providers requesting information regarding their relationships with colleges financial aid offices. Miller noted recent news reports have revealed some private lenders offer gifts or other questionable incentives to colleges that agree to encourage students to take out their education loans with those specific lenders. Miller and other Democrats on his committee recently introduced the Student Loan Sunshine Act, which would require lenders and institutions to provide full disclosure of the terms of their relationships. The letters went out to the chairmen of the Sallie Mae Corporation; Citibank/The Student Loan Corporation; Bank of America; Wells Fargo & Company; and JP Morgan Chase & Co. To see a list of the documents Miller is demanding, click here.

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Tasty tidbits from near and far…

Things about which y’all might want to read…

mcnerneyportrait.jpgPanel Asks Rove for Information on ’08 Election Presentation — by Scott Higham and Robert O’Harrow Jr., Washington Post The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee sought more information yesterday about a presentation by a White House aide given to political appointees at the General Services Administration that discussed targeting 20 Democratic congressional candidates in the next election. In a letter to White House political affairs director Karl Rove, the committee chairman, Rep. Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., asked about the Jan. 26 videoconference by Rove deputy J. Scott Jennings, which was directed to the chief of the GSA and as many as 40 agency officials stationed around the country. (Blogger’s note: Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, is among the targeted Democrats.)

feinstein.jpgFeinstein Resigns: Senator exits MILCON following Metro exposé, vet-care scandal — by Peter Byrne, MetroActive
Sen. Dianne Feinstein has resigned from the Military Construction Appropriations subcommittee. As previously and extensively reviewed in these pages, Feinstein was chairperson and ranking member of MILCON for six years, during which time she had a conflict of interest due to her husband Richard C. Blum’s ownership of two major defense contractors, who were awarded billions of dollars for military construction projects approved by Feinstein.

mccain.jpgDemocrats say McCain nearly abandoned GOP — by Bob Cusack, The Hill
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was close to leaving the Republican Party in 2001, weeks before then-Sen. Jim Jeffords (Vt.) famously announced his decision to become an Independent, according to former Democratic lawmakers who say they were involved in the discussions. In interviews with The Hill this month, former Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and ex-Rep. Tom Downey, D-N.Y., said there were nearly two months of talks with the maverick lawmaker following an approach by John Weaver, McCain’s chief political strategist.

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House Democrats pass $2.9 trillion budget plan

The House today approved a $2.9 trillion federal budget plan for the coming fiscal year on a 216-210 vote, with all of the Bay Area’s members voting in favor except for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, who exercised the Speaker’s traditional prerogative not to vote. Twelve Democrats voted against it; no Republicans voted for it.

Democrats say it’ll go a long way toward funding the domestic priorites that the Bush Administration has neglected for the last six years, while also balancing the budget within the next five. Republicans say that by letting President Bush’s tax cuts expire in 2010, Democrats are foisting a huge tax increase upon Americans.

It’s worth noting that Republicans, while in the majority, never held votes to make the tax cuts permanent, despite Bush’s annual calls to do so. And Republicans’ alternative budget plan depended in part on cutting $279 billion from federal benefit programs such as Medicare and Medicaid over the next five years — more than Bush proposed in February — while the Democrats’ plan doesn’t.

The House rejected the “Peace and Security” budget put forth by the 72-member Congressional Progressive Caucus, led by Reps. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, and Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma. Their $2.8 trillion proposal also would have balanced the budget by 2010, but boosted investments in social programs such as children’s health care and education. It got 81 votes, and after that, Lee and Woolsey encouraged their caucus members to support House Democratic leaders’ plan.

After the jump, see what some of our locals had to say about the budget. Continue Reading

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Stark pitches universal health care plan

pete-stark.jpgAmericans would have universal health care coverage built upon a framework of Medicare and employer-based coverage under the AmeriCare Health Care Act introduced today by Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont.

“After more than a decade on the back burner, America’s 45 million uninsured are finally receiving the attention they deserve,” Stark, chairman of the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, said in a news release. “Employers, unions, consumer groups and presidential candidates are all debating not whether our health care system needs reform, but how it should be improved. I suggest AmeriCare, a simple proposal that would guarantee quality health care for all, reduce costs and improve quality for people who already have coverage.”

Under this bill, people would either be covered through their employer or through AmeriCare, a new program modeled on Medicare and using Medicare’s existing administrative infrastructure but improving upon its benefits to provide a comprehensive prescription drug benefit, mental health parity, pediatric care and family planning and pregnancy-related services. Financed through contributions from employers, individuals and states, AmeriCare would limit out-of-pocket costs for all and subsidize costs for people with incomes of less than 300 percent of the poverty level.

The Commonwealth Fund, a health care research foundation, last week released an evaluation of existing proposals to expand health insurance coverage. According to the study, only AmeriCare would provide universal coverage and lower national health care spending.

In 2007, the study suggests Stark’s legislation would cost the federal government $154.5 billion — less than the price of the Bush tax breaks for the top 20 percent of wage earners. But AmeriCare would save households $142.6 billion, state and local governments $57.4 billion and private employers $15.2 billion. As a result, its net impact on health care costs would be a $60.7 billion reduction in overall spending.

Stark said AmeriCare has been endorsed by groups including the American Academy of Pediatrics; AFL-CIO; Center for Medicare Advocacy; SEIU; NETWORK: A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby; United Auto Workers; National Association of Community Health Centers; Families USA; National Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems; AFSCME; Consumers Union; American Federation of Teachers; and the Communication Workers of America.

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Lofgren to hold immigration hearing on Ellis Island

zoe-lofgren.jpgThe House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law, chaired by Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, will hold a hearing tomorrow morning on New York City’s Ellis Island entitled “Past, Present, and Future: A Historic and Personal Reflection on American Immigration,” featuring testimony on the historical trends and personal experiences of American immigration.

Among witnesses scheduled to testify:

  • David V. Aguilar, chief, Office of Border Patrol, Department of Homeland Security
  • Igor V. Timofeyev, director of immigration policy and special adviser for Refugee and Asylum Affairs Policy Directorate, U.S. Department of Homeland Security
  • Dowell Myers, professor of Urban Planning and Demography and director of the Population Dynamics Research Group, University of Southern California
  • Dan Siciliano, executive director of Program in Law, Economics, and Business, Stanford Law School
  • Daniel J. Tichenor, associate professor, Department of Political Science, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
  • Michael W. Cutler, former senior special agent of the INS, fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies
  • Jack Martin, special projects director, Federation for American Immigration Reform
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    Podesta: White House must be accountable

    podesta.jpgJohn Podesta — former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, and now both the head of the progressive think tank Center for American Progress and a Georgetown University Law professor — testified this morning before House Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law (of which the Bay Area’s Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, is a member) regarding White House accountability. His complete remarks as prepared are here, but if you want an excerpt:

    As a former senior White House adviser, I believe deeply in the independence of the executive branch and the need for presidents to receive candid, unvarnished advice from their advisors. These are important constitutional considerations that should be thoroughly weighed and seriously guarded. Yet they must also be balanced against the legitimate needs of Congress to oversee and, where necessary, investigate the actions of the White House. Congress should be cautious in its assertions a need for the testimony of presidential advisors, limiting such assertion to circumstances in which disclosure would clearly serve the national interest. This seems to me to be clearly one of those times.

    This is not just a case about shifting explanations of underlying conduct that was legitimate; it is a case where the legitimacy of the conduct itself is seriously in doubt, and where the inconsistency of the explanations and the invocation of the 5th Amendment privilege by a senior Justice Department aide have deepened that doubt. Nor is this merely a political fishing expedition. There is more than enough evidence here to raise profound concerns — the smoke is rising and it needs to be investigated.

    The underlying issue at stake — whether the executive branch illegitimately ordered the removal of independent U.S. attorneys to advance outside interests or partisan political needs — is a serious matter related to a core element of our constitutional system — the administration of justice.

    Cooperation and honesty by the White House could allay many doubts and start to restore some credibility for the executive branch. As I have previously noted, from Presidents Clinton, Reagan, Carter, and Ford, going all the way back to President Washington presidents have permitted senior aides to testify in Congressional investigations. It is time for President Bush to show some of the same kind of healthy flexibility.

    If the White House will not adhere to these standards, then the Congress should intervene to ensure that justice is being served in a fair and impartial manner. The American public must be confident that its courts and prosecutors are independent and unbiased in the administration of justice.