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Boxer helps float bill to curb debt-limit battles

The president could raise the nation’s debt ceiling unless Congress votes to nix it, under a bill introduced today by U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer and two other Senate Democrats.

Boxer, D-Calif.; Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.; and Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, say the “Pay Our Bills Act” would reduce the chances of the debt ceiling being used as a political weapon to leverage votes on unrelated issues, as just happened this month as House Republicans tried to tie raising the ceiling and ending the government shutdown they caused to defunding the nation’s health insurance law.

Barbara Boxer“We know from recent history that even the threat of not paying our bills does serious damage to our economy,” Boxer said in a news release. “It’s time for us to put in place a straightforward process to avoid a catastrophic default on our nation’s debt. The Pay Our Bills Act gives both houses of Congress and the President a say, but sends a strong message of certainty to the markets, to our families and to the world.”

Right now, Congress must vote to raise the nation’s debt ceiling – the limit beyond which the nation can no longer borrow to pay costs it already has incurred. Under this bill, the president could propose an increase and Congress would have 15 days in which to vote on a resolution of disapproval. The president could veto that resolution like any other legislation, but so too could Congress could override that veto with a two-thirds majority vote as with any other legislation.

As a practical matter in the current political landscape, such a resolution of disapproval would pass the Republican-led House easily but would be dead on arrival in the Democrat-led Senate – and without disapproval from both chambers, the president would be free to do as he sees fit. And that means this Pay Our Bills Act will be dead on arrival in the House.

The plan is based on a Republican idea – the “McConnell Rule” first proposed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in 2011.

But McConnell, speaking on the Senate floor today, said his 2011 proposal was never meant to be permanent, or unaccompanied by spending cuts like those accomplished through the ongoing budget sequestration. He called the Democrats’ bill an “outrageous… plan to permanently hand the President a credit card without spending limits, and without lifting a finger to address the national debt.”

Schumer “is not going to find any dance partners on this side of the aisle,” McConnell said. “Because handing the President a permanent blank check, increasing the size of government, and trying to overturn the most significant bipartisan accomplishment of the Obama years – well, that’s just a non-starter.”

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PAC vows to revive civility in politics. Not.

A Nevada-based conservative political action committee on Thursday apologized – well, sort of – for an early-morning fundraising email describing lawmakers who supported the deal to re-open the government and raise the debt ceiling as “a parliament of traitors and whores.”

“These 81 whores curbstomped liberty and defecated on the Constitution yet again tonight,” the Western Representation PAC’s email said, singling out Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kent., for special abuse. “Mitch McConnell received his $3 billion of silver to betray the base and the grassroots, via an amendment authored by Lamar Alexander. They’re such sluts for a good porking… It takes $2.9 billion to put Mitch McConnell on his knees before President Obama, whoring himself out and betraying his Kentucky constituents.”

Western Representation PAC logo

“They will remember this day and rue it, and we will pour forth the fires of your wrath upon their heads… We are coming, and we are never going to stop until we take down every last one of these 81 whores,” the email vowed. “Your donations are history-making ammunition to execute those who spat in your faces tonight with their vote. It’s time to take these whores and traitors out. Donate today, and know that your dollars will rain down like mortars on those who betrayed us tonight in 2014. A season of vengeance is upon us, and it is time for the establishment to reap what it has sown.”

Yowza! Sounds like someone was off their meds.

The email had gone out in the name of PAC cofounder Dustin Stockton. He sent out another email Wednesday afternoon under the subject line “We went too far.”

Dustin Stockton “After seeing some of the crony handouts in the legislative deal yesterday I instructed our team not to pull their punches and portray the rage that we are justifiably feeling over just the latest example of Washington corruption,” Stockton wrote. “Although my name was at the bottom of that email it was not written by me and some of the rhetoric I felt went over the line. I’d like to apologize for that and since it had my name on it, ultimately it is my responsibility and I apologize for some of the more brash rhetoric.”

But delving into notpology territory, Stockton also wrote “the fact is that these politicians who are granted the sacred honor of representing our interests ARE whoring themselves out to lobbyists and special interests.”

“Our team is humbled and honored for the opportunity to dedicate our lives to fighting these evil bastards,” he wrote. “We only succeed when we responsibly represent your voice in our activism and our email earlier stepped over the line. We apologize for that, but not for calling it like we see it.”

Read the entire original email, after the jump…
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House members urge recess appointment

A group of 89 House members – including all but two from the Bay Area’s delegation – wrote to President Obama today urging him to make a recess appointment of Elizabeth Warren to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

news conference 6-2-2011Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chairs Keith Ellison, D-Minn., and Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., held a news conference today on Capitol Hill to announce the letter as well as a petition with 250,000 signatures, collected by Progressive Change Campaign Committee and CREDO Action through online campaigns.

“Elizabeth Warren has proved to be an effective fighter who puts America first by working to protect the middle-class,” Ellison said. “Professor Warren knows that our future prosperity depends upon working for the economic interests of the overwhelming majority of our citizens. Elizabeth Warren needs to be confirmed without further delay.”

Grijalva said Warren is worth fighting for, even if it has to be a recess appointment. “Whoever heads the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will be the strongest consumer watchdog in the country. That’s not a position where you can settle for second best. Elizabeth Warren is honest, you can’t question her credentials, and she’s a true advocate for families and consumers’ interests. I strongly support her and hope to see her on the job as soon as possible.”

The only Bay Area members who didn’t sign the letter are House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, and Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton.

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., explained the GOP’s opposition to confirming Warren’s appointment on “Meet the Press” this past Sunday:

Well, we’re pretty unenthusiastic about the possibility of Elizabeth Warren. We’re pretty unenthusiastic, frankly, about this new agency, and we’ve sent a letter to the president saying that some changes need to made—be made in the CFPB, the Consumer Financial Protection Board, because as it’s currently constituted, it answers to no one and, I think, could be a serious threat to our financial system.

The CFPB was created under last year’s Dodd-Frank financial reforms to ensure that consumers have the full, clear and complete information they need to choose the financial products and services — including credit cards, student loans and mortgages — that are best for them.

Read the full text of the letter, after the jump…
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Congress extends Patriot Act sections for 4 years

Congress voted yesterday to extend several controversial parts of the Patriot Act for four more years.

The Senate approved S.990 on a 72 to 23 vote, with both of California’s senators in support; the House passed it on a 250 to 153 vote, with no support from any Bay Area member. President Obama signed it into law minutes before the provisions would’ve expired.

The votes made strange bedfellows, with libertarian-leaning Republicans standing with some of Congress’ most liberal Democrats in opposition.

Extended were provisions that authorize roving wiretaps on surveillance targets; provisions that let the government access “any tangible items,” such as library records, as a part of surveillance; and a “lone wolf” provision that allows surveillance of those in the United States without citizenship, a green card or political asylum who are not connected to an identified terrorist group.

Civil liberties advocates and much of the Bay Area’s House delegation had believed — especially now that al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden is dead – this was the right time to reassess the nation’s balance of security measures and civil liberties.

But the fix was in a week ago, when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.; Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.; and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, struck a deal for an amendment-free extension until June 1, 2015.

In February, all Bay Area House members except Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, had voted against extending these provisions; McNerney had supported extending them until December, but ultimately they were extended for only 90 days and are set to expire at the end of the month. McNerney spokeswoman Sarah Hersh in February had said the congressman “has serious concerns with this legislation and believes that we must make substantial changes to the law in order to better preserve our country’s most fundamental civil liberties. However, in the meantime, allowing the policy to expire without warning and a comprehensive debate on our security policies would not be advisable.”

Earlier this month, Hersh said McNerney “continues to have major concerns about the Patriot Act. He believes there must be substantial changes made to the law in order to better preserve our civil liberties. A bill hasn’t been released yet, so Congressman McNerney wants to see the legislation before reaching a decision.”

On Thursday, McNerney joined the rest of the Bay Area delegation in opposing the extension. He issued a statement afterward reiterating his concern about freedoms and noting this extension continues the policies without reform. “That is simply not in our country’s best interest. Instead, we should pursue balanced policies that keep our country safe and protect our civil liberties.”

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, issued a statement saying the law doesn’t properly balance national security with protection of civil liberties.

“I opposed the extension of the PATRIOT Act because we cannot sacrifice fundamental freedoms, including the right to privacy, in our effort to manage the threat of terrorism. Our basic civil liberties, which include access to our library records, medical records, and personal information about private residences and businesses, are not safe from the PATRIOT Act,” she said. “I will continue to push for an end to invasive intelligence gathering tactics that come at the expense of vital civil liberties, many of which have been justified by the overly broad executive branch authorization I opposed in the wake of 9/11.”

American Civil Liberties Union legislative counsel Michelle Richardson said the extension means “Congress has missed yet another opportunity to make necessary changes to protect our privacy. It means we’re likely to see more abuse of Patriot Act powers by law enforcement. Next time it’s given the opportunity, Congress should consider prioritizing Americans’ civil liberties by passing actual Patriot Act reform.”

U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., had authored legislation to extend the provisions through the end of 2013. Her office earlier this month referred me to a February floor speech in which she said these provisions are used often and believes “that being able to have good intelligence is what prevents an attack against a New York subway or air cargo plane. It is what keeps this homeland safe, and it is what allows us to get ahead of a terrorist attack. Without them “… we put our nation in jeopardy.”

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., voted for the Patriot Act in 2001, and its reauthorizations in 2006 and in February, saying it gives law enforcement the tools it needs to keep Americans safe. She had expressed concern, however, over provisions such as seizure of library records, and wanted those areas tightened up.

Boxer had supported an amendment authored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and cosponsored by U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., which she said would’ve added some checks and balances. She was disappointed that it didn’t get a vote, but voted for the extension anyway because “any delays in providing law enforcement officials the tools they need to disrupt terrorist plots and to find those who would harm our country would be unacceptable.”

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U.S. Senate nixes GOP health care repeal effort

The U.S. Senate today nixed Republicans’ efforts to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and roll back last year’s health care reforms.

CNN explains how the vote actually worked:

The specific motion the Senate will vote on Wednesday involves a Democratic challenge to the Republican repeal amendment on the grounds that it would increase the federal deficit. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has said the health care reform law will lower the deficit by $230 billion over 10 years, so Democrats argue that repealing it would increase the deficit.

By filing a budget point of order against the repeal amendment, Democrats will force Republicans to hold a vote on waiving the point of order to consider the amendment. That will require 60 votes in the 100-seat Senate to pass, a threshold out of reach of the Republicans, who hold 47 seats.

The repeal amendment died on a 47-51, party-line vote.

But the Senate did agree, on a bipartisan 81-17 vote, to approve a Democratic amendment repealing part of the Affordable Care Act that requires companies to file a 1099 tax form for all goods and services valued at more than $600; it affects nearly 40 million self-employed workers, companies and charities, according to the IRS.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said:

“I am pleased that efforts to repeal the health reform law failed. This law may not be perfect, but overturning it would mean once again refusing insurance to anyone with a pre-existing condition, higher drug prices for seniors, and increasing the millions of Americans without health coverage.

“I pledge to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to improve this bill. Both sides agree that the onerous 1099 IRS reporting provision must go. I firmly believe we need a strong rate review authority to prevent unfair health insurance rate increases, which is why I have already introduced the Health Insurance Rate Review Act of 2011, to grant regulatory authority to reject unfair insurance premium hikes.

“The best solution is to repair, not repeal.”

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said:

“If Republicans had succeeded in repealing health care reform, nearly 450,000 California seniors would pay thousands of dollars more for their prescription drugs; small businesses nationwide would lose out on $40 billion in tax credits; children could be denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition; and taxpayers would see the deficit increase by $230 billion over the next ten years and $1.3 trillion over the next two decades.

“Instead of fighting the old political battles of the past, Republicans should join us in improving health care reform – as we did today by reforming the 1099 reporting requirement. We should not go back to the days where 62 percent of all bankruptcies were linked to a health care crisis and 45,000 people a year died because they could not get access to health insurance.”

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said:

“The Senate Republicans promised the American people we would vote to repeal Obamacare, and we have done that. But this fight isn’t over. We intend to continue the fight to repeal and replace Obamacare with sensible reforms that would lower the cost of American health care, like medical malpractice, like selling insurance across state lines. This fight isn’t over, so I hope you’ll stay in the fight with us.”

U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the Finance Committee’s ranking chairman, put it more forcefully:

“This budget-busting, unconstitutional $2.6 trillion health law must be repealed – it destroys jobs, increases health costs, raises taxes, and threatens liberty all in the name of one of the greatest expansions of federal power in our nation’s history. It’s not too late to fix this – we can and should start over on real reform that actually reduces health costs without the heavy hand of government.

“For two years, the American people and the people of my state of Utah were clear that they did not want this government takeover of health care. And once the White House and its Capitol Hill allies jammed it through using every budget gimmick and parliamentary trick in the book, the American people called on Congress to repeal it. The House heard that call and acted; and Senate Republicans have as well. Unfortunately, the majority in the Senate hasn’t gotten the message. This fight does not end today – we will use every tool available to tear down a law that is a threat to liberty itself.”

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What they’re saying about Robert Byrd

U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., Congress’ longest-serving member ever, died early this morning at age 92.

From U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif:

Barbara Boxer“The Senate has lost a giant and America has lost a real fighter for our working families.

“Robert Byrd’s eloquence during his amazing tenure in the Senate will forever be a testament to his deep reverence for the Constitution and the importance of preserving the American dream, which he lived.

“I will always be grateful for Senator Byrd’s strong support for California – especially when our state was suffering through natural disasters – as well as his deep conviction to bring our troops home from Iraq.”

From U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.:

“This is a very sad day. Robert C. Byrd was one of the true legends of United States political history and his passing is an enormous loss. I offer my heartfelt condolences to his two daughters, Mona Fatemi and Marjorie Moore; to his grandchildren and great-grandchildren; and to the people of West Virginia.

“Senator Byrd represented the State of West Virginia in the United States Senate for 51 years, and also served six years in the House of Representatives. He very much loved the Senate, and was its longest serving member. His scholarly insights on the Senate’s history, customs and sometimes intricate rules were second to none. And he was a staunch defender of the prerogatives of the three equal branches of government. Senator Byrd, like the nation he represented, changed and evolved over the nine decades of his lifetime.

“Senator Byrd was well-known for his booming, fiery speeches on the floor of the Senate, but he was also a sensitive man who cherished his friends and colleagues, especially the late Ted Kennedy. He was also fond of classical history and poetry, and frequently interspersed his remarks with passages of ancient political philosophers or poetic verse.

“I shall perhaps remember Senator Byrd best for his ardent devotion to and consummate knowledge of the Constitution of the United States. I also had the privilege of serving with him on the Senate Appropriations Committee for many years.

“This nation owes Senator Byrd a great debt of gratitude for his tremendous service. I know that I will very much miss his indomitable spirit, insightful guidance, and intense commitment to the Senate.”

More, after the jump…
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