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Senators target tobacco crop insurance subsidy

Taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance for tobacco production would be eliminated under a farm-bill amendment introduced Monday by U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and John McCain.

Tobacco fieldThe senators say their amendment would save $333 million over the next decade, and direct all savings to be used to reduce the federal budget deficit. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., has indicated the amendment will get a vote.

“It’s time for the American taxpayer to get out of the business of subsidizing tobacco—once and for all,” Feinstein, D-Calif., said in a news release. “Tobacco costs our economy $200 billion in health care costs and lost productivity each year. In this challenging budget environment, we simply can’t afford to spend hundreds of millions of dollar to incentivize farmers to grow this crop.”

The Fair and Equitable Tobacco Reform Act of 2004 ended most direct taxpayer support programs for tobacco production. But despite this $10 billion buyout pact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture still offers heavily subsidized crop insurance policies to tobacco farmers. Last year, USDA offered eight separate tobacco insurance products costing $34.7 million in taxpayer subsidies; records show more than $276 million in such subsidies have been spent since 2004.

“It turns out Joe Camel’s nose has been under the tent all this time,” McCain, R-Ariz., said in the news release.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that cigarette smoking adds $96 billion to domestic healthcare expenses and costs the American economy $97 billion in lost productivity every year; secondhand smoke adds another estimated $10 billion in healthcare costs and lost productivity.

Tobacco farmers will still be able to buy policies from existing insurance providers at market rate under the Feinstein-McCain amendment, which is supported by the Environmental Working Group, Taxpayers for Common Sense and the American Cancer Society.

Posted on Tuesday, May 21st, 2013
Under: Agriculture, Dianne Feinstein, John McCain, U.S. Senate | 4 Comments »

How California’s Senators voted on Lieberman

The U.S. Senate Democratic Caucus voted 42-13 today to let U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., keep his chairmanship of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, despite his having been at odds with the caucus for years on Iraq and other matters, and despite his having repeatedly smack-talked President-elect Barack Obama while stumping for Republican presidential nominee John McCain this past year.

The liberal blogosphere is beside itself with rage — see here, here, here and here — generally calling Senate Democrats a bunch of wusses for failing to hold Lieberman to account for kicking sand in their collective face for the past few years. My favorite bit of bone-dry derision comes from Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo, offering this breaking news: “Lieberman expelled from Pilates class in Senate gym.”

But even though Obama himself reportedly supported Lieberman, it seems U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., was among those voting against him today. “The resolution did not reflect Senator Boxer’s belief that Senator Lieberman should remain in the caucus but not retain his full Committee Chairmanship, and she voted accordingly,” Natalie Ravitz, Boxer’s communications director, told me today.

Boxer was among several Senators who had stumped for Lieberman in the 2006 primary – incurring some of her constituents’ wrath, since she’s been so staunchly against the war and Lieberman thought it was a good idea – but then supported Democrat Ned Lamont in the 2006 general election as Lieberman successful ran as an independent. I guess BaBo’s truly done with ol’ Joe now.

As for U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., communications director Gil Duran noted “the vote was by secret ballot,” but pointed me to what DiFi told reporters after the vote.

“What we’re trying to do today is bring about reconciliation, not only within our caucus, but between Democrats and Republicans. We are trying to develop a more civil dialogue and hopefully get more done on behalf of the American people,” she said. “The jury’s out whether that’ll happen or not, but the resolution that was presented in the caucus did pass. Senator Lieberman will remain a member of the caucus and will retain his chairmanship. My hope is that he becomes a Democrat again.”

Make of that what you will, dear readers.

Posted on Tuesday, November 18th, 2008
Under: Barack Obama, Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, Joe Lieberman, John McCain, U.S. Senate | No Comments »

Boxer mum on what should happen to Lieberman

With Democrats having widened their U.S. Senate majority this week, the political fate of U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., is up in the air.

Lieberman, you’ll recall, lost his state’s 2006 Democratic primary to a more progressive challenger, Ned Lamont, whose victory was attributed in large part to Lieberman’s support of the Iraq war. But Lieberman ran in the 2006 general election as an independent, and kept his seat.

This put Democrats in something of a bind – they needed Lieberman, along with Vermont independent Bernie Sanders, to hold onto their 51-49 Senate majority. So Lieberman, who agreed to keep caucusing with the Democrats on most matters, was allowed to keep his chairmanship of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

But since then, Lieberman endorsed John McCain in this presidential election; spoke at the Republican National Convention; and trash-talked Barack Obama on several occasions. Now that Democrats don’t need his help to keep control of the Senate anymore, the calls for his political head are mounting – see here, here and here.

Rumor has it Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told Lieberman yesterday the price of his remaining in the caucus would be relinquishing his committee chair. Lieberman reportedly balked, perhaps hoping to convince the Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee – which helps guide the caucus’ decision-making on committee chairmanships – that he should keep his post.

And that brings us right here to California, for U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., is a Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee member.

Boxer was among several Senators who stumped for Lieberman in the 2006 primary – incurring some of her constituents’ wrath, since she’s been so staunchly against the war and Lieberman thought it was a good idea – but then supported Lamont in the 2006 general election. Now, it seems, Boxer may once again have a role to play in Lieberman’s fate.

I asked Boxer’s spokespeople today what she believes should be done about Lieberman, and whether her office has been receiving phone calls on this issue. “Senator Boxer feels that what Sen. Lieberman did was extremely hurtful, but beyond that, we aren’t going to comment at this time,” communications director Natalie Ravitz replied.

Posted on Friday, November 7th, 2008
Under: Barack Obama, Barbara Boxer, General, Harry Reid, Joe Lieberman, John McCain, U.S. Senate | 1 Comment »

Romanowski: McCain & Palin used my supplements

I was talking with former NFL Pro-Bowl linebacker and Oakland Raider Bill Romanowski today, one of half a dozen East Bay notables I interviewed for a forthcoming story about their reactions to Obama’s win.

Romanowski said he’s inspired by Obama, but was proud to have played a role in the McCain/Palin campaign, too. What’s that, you say? Well, it seems John McCain and Sarah Palin might be satisfied customers of Romanowski’s Lafayette-based Nutrition53 nutritional supplement business.

“We had found out that Sarah Palin had been using my Lean1 product — it was said she went from a size 6… to a size 4,” Romo told me. “So, being able to eat healthy and to keep the figure that she wanted to keep, she utilized Lean1. I’m just excited that I’m able to make an impact, that my company is able to make an impact in people’s lives. My career in the National Football League for so many years was about me and my ego, and now when I think about it, I want my legacy to be, ‘This guy, yeah he was a tough football player, he won Super Bowls, but he also changed people’s lives… That really excites me, I get passionate each and every day.”

Romo said it was also rumored that John McCain was taking his Neuro1 product, which Nutrition53′s Web site says “delivers the neuronutrients you need for the best mental energy, focus and memory to perform in your daily life.”

The New York Daily News reported this about a month ago, followed by the Rocky Mountain News, and then by bloggers questioning McCain’s health and acuity. Palin’s Lean1 use was picked up by the New York Daily News last week. The campaign didn’t comment on any of those, and I’m guessing it won’t do so now.

Posted on Wednesday, November 5th, 2008
Under: Elections, John McCain, Sarah Palin | 1 Comment »

Schwarzenegger video of the week

This week, it’s Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger stumping for Republican presidential nominee John McCain this past Friday night in Columbus, Ohio.

Movie taglines and policy differences aside, isn’t it a little late for Schwarzenegger to be critiquing Obama’s physique?

Previous SVOTWs: October 28, October 21, October 14, October 7, September 30, September 23, September 16, September 9, September 2, August 26, August 19, August 12, August 5, July 29, July 22, July 8, July 1, June 24, June 17, June 10, June 3, May 27, May 20, May 13, May 6, April 29, April 22, April 15, April 8, April 1, March 25, March 18, March 11, March 4, February 26, February 19, February 12, February 5, January 29, January 22, January 15, January 8, January 1, December 25, December 18, December 11, December 4, November 27, November 20, November 13, November 6, October 30, October 23, October 16, October 9, October 2, September 25, September 18, September 11, September 4, August 28, August 21, August 7, July 31, July 24, July 17, July 10, July 3, June 26, June 19, June 12, June 5, May 29, May 22, May 15, May 8, May 1, April 24, April 17, April 10, April 3, March 27, March 20, March 13, March 6, February 27, February 20, February 13, February 6, January 30.

Posted on Tuesday, November 4th, 2008
Under: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Elections, John McCain | No Comments »

Ron Dellums to stump for Obama in Florida

We all knew Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is headed to the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, today for a campaign rally with Republican presidential nominee John McCain.

But, look out — Oakland’s getting into the swing-state blitz, too. Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums departs Saturday morning for Tampa, Fla., where he’s to do some early-voting and get-out-the-vote appearances Sunday on behalf of Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama.

Dellums, you’ll recall, had endorsed Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary; she named him chairman of her campaign’s urban policy committee. It’s not surprising he’s giving his all to make sure any Democrat wins the White House, though some might find it surprising that he’s jetting out of Oakland for the weekend before city residents vote on Measure NN — a parcel tax to pay for hiring more police officers — which he helped put on the ballot…

Posted on Friday, October 31st, 2008
Under: Barack Obama, Elections, Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Oakland, Ron Dellums | No Comments »

The Barbara Boxer Building Blitz, Day 2

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., followed up her news conference Wednesday in San Francisco with a luncheon address to the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce today, hammering home a theme that America should build its way out of this recession.

“We can and we will move this great city forward,” she told the crowd of local politicos and businesspeople, noting she has an apartment just a few blocks away and comes to them “not only as your Senator but as your neighbor.”

She blasted President Bush for forcing Congress to strip out earmarks which included $300,000 for the city’s green-jobs initiative; $300,000 for the city’s “Grow Our Own” police recruiting initiative; $500,000 for the city’s police equipment and technology; $20 million to continue the Port of Oakland’s dredging project.

“There’s nothing in there that’s nefarious. They’re all legislative priorities that I’m very proud of,” she said, later adding “it isn’t pork when you’ve got a ship coming into Oakland’s port and it gets stuck — that’s beef.”

But as Democrats feel more and more optimistic about taking not only the White House but also a filibuster-proof 60-seat majority in the Senate, she said, “we could be on the verge of some changes here.”

Meanwhile, as the economy continues to trudge through recession, government should be looking to highway, water and other badly needed infrastructure projects to create jobs, she said, as well as to clean-energy “green jobs.”

“We worry about jobs going overseas, but you can’t put a solar panel on that house down the street from India — unless you have very long arms,” she quipped.

Chairing the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which has dominion over these sorts of projects, “is everything I’ve always dreamed about… and I can’t blow this opportunity,” she said, praising local leaders such as Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums, Rep. Barbara Lee and Green for All founder/president Van Jones for being “committed to fighting economic hardship and global warming at the same time.”

Boxer once again defended her vote in favor of the $700 billion bailout of the financial markets, but once again said she would have preferred it if the government used its shareholder status with the bailed-out banks to take an active role in their lending policy. Any small business owners who are still having trouble regaining their lines of credit should call her office or Lee’s immediately, she invited.

Though she had referred to the presidential campaign somewhat obliquely during her remarks, she spoke more directly about it while taking questions from the audience. Asked what can be done to help the 37 million Americans living below the federal poverty line, Boxer told the audience to look at the candidates’ tax-break plans: with John McCain “it’s more of the same, we know that,” she said, while Barack Obama “says he’s going to give it to people who work.”

Also, she noted, “it took us 10 years — the biggest disgrace — to raise the minimum wage;” McCain has voted against such increases 19 times. “If he had his way, it would still be $3 – he has voted against it since then.”

She wrapped up the session by offering some rather fawning anecdotes about Obama, including how she herself hadn’t believed Dick Durbin — the senior U.S. Senator from Illinois — when he’d raved to her years ago what a marvelous Senator Obama would make. After seeing Obama in action in the Senate, she said, she was forced to admit to him that she’d initially doubted how good he would be, confessing “I was wrong — you’re better.”

And now, my confession. In my article yesterday, I wrote:

The crisis is all too real, Boxer noted: Almost 190,000 Californians lost their homes to foreclosure in the first nine months of the year, atop about 85,000 in 2007. “We’re talking about probably the number of people who live in Delaware. We are talking about a massive displacement in our communities.”

Delaware’s estimated 2007 population was 863,904. But the problem is still massive, and she said it will only get worse if California’s unemployment rate, now at 7.7 percent, keeps rising.

Boxer had indeed said almost 275,000 California homes have been lost to foreclosure from January 2007 through last month, but I’d missed the part where she said she was assuming several residents per home in making her Delaware analogy. Mea culpa, and thanks to the Senator for being kind when we discussed it today.

Posted on Thursday, October 30th, 2008
Under: Barack Obama, Barbara Boxer, Barbara Lee, John McCain, Oakland, Ron Dellums, U.S. Senate | No Comments »

Disagree, but don’t be hatin’

Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin spoke last week in North Carolina about how small towns are the “pro-America areas of this great nation.” She later tried to walk it back.

Then McCain adviser Nancy Pfotenhauer tried to explain on CNN why the growing Democratic stronghold of northern Virginia is different from “real Virginia.”

And Rep. Michelle Bachmann, R-Minn., last week suggested on MSNBC’s Hardball said she’s concerned Barack Obama might have “anti-American views” and the media should do “a penetrating expose” of whether other members of Congress are “anti-America.”

These kinds of statements are a cancer on American politics, a tumor nurtured and metastized by years of partisan hyperbole spewing from fringe radio talk-show hosts, bloggers and the like. If there’s one thing I can think of that’s truly “anti-American,” it’s believing that anyone who disagrees with you hates America. It’s nothing more than a crutch for the weak-minded who can’t adequately explain and support their own positions. It should be beneath us all.

What ever happened to civil discourse, the free marketplace of ideas, the loyal opposition? Why does patriotism have to include blind, unquestioning adherence to a particular party platform?

Get a grip, folks. Argue the issues, but don’t stoop to this phony, fanatical nationalistic chauvinism. Disagree on the policies, by all means, but don’t be hatin’ lest you become what you describe. Just ask Joe McCarthy.

UPDATE @ 1:20 P.M.: Here’s an example of the insane “agree-with-me-or-you’re-evil” rhetoric of which I spoke: James Pinkerton, a contributing columnist and writer for “The American Conservative” and a Fox News political contributor, had this column yesterday in which he notes that activist/organizer Saul Alinsky — who died in 1972 — once wrote that Lucifer (aka the devil, Satan, Beelzebub, whatever) deserved “an over the shoulder acknowledgement of the very first radical, from all our legends, mythology, and history … the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom.”

Why should we care? Well, Pinkerton goes on to note that The Washington Post in 2007 noted “Obama embraced many of Alinsky’s tactics.” And from there he goes on to talk about “the Obama-Alinsky-Lucifer connection.”

Seriously? Somebody paid this guy to write this drivel, to take our political discourse to this level? What an idiot.

Posted on Friday, October 24th, 2008
Under: Barack Obama, Elections, John McCain, Sarah Palin | No Comments »

Does this sound familiar?

This clip has been making the liberal blogosphere rounds; regardless of where you stand, it seems pretty funny in light of the turn our presidential election has taken in recent weeks…

Posted on Friday, October 17th, 2008
Under: Barack Obama, Elections, General, John McCain | No Comments »

McCain health-care plan bad for California?

Republican presidential nominee John McCain’s health-care plan could be rough on Californians, a pair of liberal policy think tanks say in reports released today.

Anthony Wright, executive director of the nonpartisan statewide consumer advocacy coalition Health Access California, heralded the reports on a conference call with reporters this morning, highlighting the “stark difference” between McCain’s plan and that of his Democratic rival, Barack Obama.

In brief, McCain’s plan relies on market forces and promotion of individually purchased insurance. He proposes eliminating the current tax exclusion for health insurance premiums and instead offering refundable tax credits for Americans buying private insurance — $2,500 for individuals and $5,000 for families, sent directly to the insurance provider. Uninsured people could use their credits to help buy insurance coverage on the individual market, and workers with employer-sponsored insurance could use theirs to offset the cost of paying taxes on their employers’ premium contributions or to purchase coverage on their own.

Obama’s plan relies on new pubic and private insurance programs, employer mandates and insurance market regulation. He proposes a new national health plan letting all Americans, including the self-employed and small businesses, buy affordable, comprehensive health coverage similar to that available to members of Congress. Nobody could be turned away from any insurance plan because of illness or pre-existing conditions, and those who don’t still don’t qualify for expanded Medicaid or SCHIP yet still need financial aid would get an income-related federal subsidy to buy into the new public plan or to buy a private health care plan.

Wright said Obama’s plan bears some resemblance to one put forth by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and then-Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, involving expansion of government programs while requiring and incentivizing employer contributions; his office today sent out a chart comparing the Obama, Schwarzenegger/Nunez and McCain plans.

But Peter Harbage, a co-author of the new Center for American Progress report, said McCain is taking a “conservative, laissez-faire approach to health care,” essentially raising taxes on health care to achieve “this radical vision.”

See why, after the jump… Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Friday, October 10th, 2008
Under: Barack Obama, Elections, General, John McCain | No Comments »