"Struggling with the bad publicity and loss of federal funds, ACORN dissolved in early 2010. Just to be sure, however, Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas) included this language in a government funding bill introduced on May 28 of this year: "None of the funds made available in this Act may be distributed to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) or its subsidiaries or successors." Section 545 of a bill put forward the next day by Rep. John Carter (R-Texas) delves still deeper into faux certainty, extending the funding ban to "any prior appropriations Act." In fact, ACORN has no subsidiaries, because it has not existed for three years. Neither bill defines "successors," but the broad language of the original 2009 funding ban left little room for leeway, extending to "Any State chapter of ACORN registered with the Secretary of State's office in that State," "any organization that shares directors, employees, or independent contractors with ACORN," and any organization that "employs" someone "indicted" for violations that ACORN was initially charged with."
Section 545 of a bill put forward the next day by Rep. John Carter (R-Texas) delves still deeper into faux certainty, extending the funding ban to "any prior appropriations Act."
The inquiry led by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee into the slaying of four Americans at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, last year has been attention-grabbing, but some senior GOP aides are worried that the partisan overtones are diverting Congress from identifying and addressing the real lessons learned from the attack.
In particular, these aides say key staffers have been overly consumed with chasing down or addressing inaccurate or unfounded accusations emerging from the inquiry.
“We have got to get past that and figure out what are we going to do going forward,” a GOP aide stressed. “Some of the accusations, I mean you wouldn’t believe some of this stuff. It’s just — I mean, you’ve got to be on Mars to come up with some of this stuff.”
Senior GOP aides pointed out that many of the accusations involving security and military forces turned out to be unfounded. One recent example involved a supposed whistle-blower who reported that an armed Predator drone was operating in the area, but was not called upon to respond to the Benghazi attack, an assertion labeled erroneous by Pentagon officials and Hill staffers.
“There are some real issues there and then there is just some crazy stuff,” the senior House GOP aide said. “The crazy stuff is, you know, the airman in Ramstein [Air Base, Germany,] that knew that the Predator [drone] was armed. There are no armed Predators in the region there. The [status of forces agreement] does not allow us to fly them armed, and everybody knows it.”
GOP aides described another criticism aired at a recent House Oversight Committee hearing that there were four security officers at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli who were ordered to remain in the capital for several hours after the first reports of an attack, rather than being scrambled to assist the consulate in Benghazi.
“The stand-down order was for four guys,” the GOP aide said. “When you step back and say how were the people killed at the annex, they were killed by an indirect fire mortar round. Four more M-4s [rifles] inside the annex doesn’t change that outcome. In fact, they might have just created more casualties. We have got to get down to what really happened on the DoD side and for us the DoD side was not properly postured, why?”
Twelve down, 38 to go. Minnesota’s Senate voted 37–30 to allow same-sex couples to wed on Monday. It will become the 12th state to do so once Gov. Mark Dayton signs the bill, which he’s expected to do on Tuesday. “God made gays. And God made gays capable of loving other people of the same gender. Who are we to quibble with God’s intentions?” Judiciary Committee Chair Ron Latz said to the opposition.
"The state’s sole out gay senator, Sen. Scott Dibble, spoke in support of the bill he had backed.
Of the legislature’s prior decision to push forward the vote on a constitutional amendment banning gay couples from marriage, “I felt excluded,” he says of that decision. He added, though, “In an odd way, I’m kind of grateful, because we had an amazing conversations, Minnesotans,” that he said led to Monday’s vote for marriage equality.
“Today, we have the power, the awesome, humbling power, to make dreams come true, he said. “We will be removing barriers to the full joy life has to offer.” Of himself and his husband, Richard, whom he married in California in 2008, he says, “I’ve met the person I can’t live without.”
Referencing past leaders on the issue, including the late out gay Sen. Allan Spear, Dibble said, “We have an awesome responsibility, and it’s humbling to be in this chamber right now.”
The lead Republican supporter of the bill, Sen. Branden Petersen, spoke during the closing arguments about his reasons for working with Dibble on the bill.
“I stand here, quite honestly, more uncertain of my future in this place than I ever have, but when I walk out of this chamber today … I will be on the side of liberty,” Petersen said."
The bill was passed by the House last week and will go into effect on August 1.
The House Republican bill H.R. 1406 is the latest in a string of GOP attacks on workers' rights. The bill would force an unnecessary choice between overtime pay that workers rely on and time off that they may never be able to take advantage of. H.R. 1406 -- the "Working Families Flexibility Act" -- would give employers the ability to offer compensatory time off in exchange for any overtime wages the worker has earned.
The Republican-led House of Representatives passed the bill on Wednesday that they say gives workers more time off - rejecting criticism from the White House, unions, women's groups and others that the measure is a sham that would force more work for less pay.
Backed by business (There's a shocker.), the bill is part of an effort by budget-slashing Republicans to project a "kinder and gentler image," particularly with women and working families.
On a nearly party-line vote of 223-204, the House approved the measure and sent it to the Senate where President Barack Obama's majority Democrats appear certain to kill it.
The bill would permit workers in the private sector, like those now in the public sector, to swap overtime pay for compensatory time off. They would get 1-1/2 hours time off for each hour of overtime, based on a standard 40-hour work week.
An angry and desperate-sounding Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) on Tuesday told members of the Senate to “get off their ass” and pass a bill to replace the $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts that will kick in on March 1, also known as the sequester.
“We have moved a bill in the House twice. We should not have to move a third bill before the Senate gets off their ass and begins to do something,” Boehner told reporters in a press conference, repeating a message he had just delivered in a closed-door meeting of the House Republican conference.
The House in 2012 did approve measures twice to replace the cuts known as sequestration, but because a new Congress began in January, those bills are now inoperative. For some reason, Boehner is insisting that it's up to the Senate to come up with a new bill.
Senate Democrats have unveiled a package that would replace the sequester with a mix of spending cuts and tax increases. The Senate could act on a bill later this week, though it is unlikely to pass because Republicans oppose the tax hikes.
As Roll Callreported, “The White House proposal still on the table from December would add roughly $600 billion in new revenue and $900 billion in spending cuts, or nearly a 60-40 ratio. The numbers are meaningless however, as long as the GOP continues to stick to its demand for an "all-cuts" alternative.
In his weekly address, the president urged Congress to strike a compromise deal to avert $85 billion in automatic cuts.
What we've accomplished thus far:
"Over the last few years, Democrats and Republicans have come together and cut our deficit by more than $2.5 trillion through a balanced mix of spending cuts and higher tax rates for the wealthiest Americans. That’s more than halfway towards the $4 trillion in deficit reduction that economists and elected officials from both parties say we need to stabilize our debt."
"I believe we can finish the job the same way we’ve started it – with a balanced mix of more spending cuts and more tax reform. And the overwhelming majority of the American people agree – both Democrats and Republicans."
What's at risk if the House and the Senate fail to act on a budget that offers a balanced path going forward:
"But the budget process takes time. And right now, if Congress doesn’t act by March 1st, a series of harmful, automatic cuts to job-creating investments and defense spending – also known as the sequester – are scheduled to take effect. And the result could be a huge blow to middle-class families and our economy as a whole."
"If the sequester is allowed to go forward, thousands of Americans who work in fields like national security, education or clean energy are likely to be laid off. Firefighters and food inspectors could also find themselves out of work – leaving our communities vulnerable. Programs like Head Start would be cut, and lifesaving research into diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s could be scaled back. Small businesses could be prevented from getting the resources and support they need to keep their doors open. People with disabilities who are waiting for their benefits could be forced to wait even longer. All our economic progress could be put at risk."
"And then there’s the impact on our military readiness. Already, the threat of deep cuts has forced the Navy to delay an aircraft carrier that was supposed to deploy to the Persian Gulf. As our military leaders have made clear, changes like this affect our ability to respond to threats in an unstable part of the world. And we will be forced to make even more tough decisions in the weeks ahead if Congress fails to act."
Is there an option besides the sequester? Of course!
But before we move on, it's worth pausing to note the partisan split on Sandy relief -- in the Senate, 36 Senate Republicans, including members representing coastal states like Florida, Texas, Alabama, and the Carolinas, voted against the federal aid. Or put another way, 80% of Senate Republicans opposed post-Sandy relief.
What we're seeing, in other words, is a fundamental shift in how GOP policymakers respond to communities struggling after a natural disaster.
For generations, these votes were not politicized or considered particularly controversial -- Americans could count on their elected representatives to step up if a natural disaster struck. It wasn't partisan and it wasn't ideological; this is just what the country did. It was a reflection of who we are.
Indeed, those days are over. The majority of Republicans now approach natural disasters as political fodder, another opportunity to push for massive cuts to other domestic spending. Tax cuts to the wealthy? Why, those pay for themselves. Rebuilding destroyed communities populated by millions of Americans? Only if you cut other government programs.
And the worst of these Republicans who voted no for Sandy relief, is Missouri Senator Roy Blunt. Flashback to May 2011:
Missouri Senator Roy Blunt says he’s asking the federal government to reimburse 100 percent of the cost to local governments dealing with the Joplin tornado aftermath.
“I’m asking for 100 percent federal reimbursement to local governments,” Blunt said, “They’ve agreed to 75. I think they have to come to a better number than that, and the right number, I think, would be 100 percent.”
Now look at that close. See any offsets in those demands?
Why won't Republicans help force a vote on the House floor on extending middle class tax breaks? Watch Rep. John Duncan (R-TN) explain.
Duncan is for keeping the tax break for the middle class, he "voted for that." But he won't sign a discharge petition on the bill that will actually make it happen because "I'm not going to give control of the floor to Democrats."
President Barack Obama said in his weekly address on Saturday urged House Republicans to extend the middle class income tax cuts for 98% of Americans and 97% of small businesses without delay, and made clear that a balanced approach to deficit reduction means that they -- and we all know this means John Boehner -- must agree to ask the wealthiest Americans to pay higher tax rates.
The Democratic-controlled Senate has approved the measure, but Obama said House Republicans have "put forward an unbalanced plan that actually lowers rates for the wealthiest Americans." Obama supports a plan to raise taxes on families earning more than $250,000.
"Now, Congress can avoid all this by passing a law that prevents a tax hike on the first $250,000 of everybody’s income. That means 98 percent of Americans and 97 percent of small businesses wouldn’t see their income taxes go up by a single dime. Even the wealthiest Americans would get a tax cut on the first $250,000 of their income. And families everywhere would enjoy some peace of mind."
"The Senate has already done their part. Now we’re just waiting for Republicans in the House to do the same thing. But so far, they’ve put forward an unbalanced plan that actually lowers rates for the wealthiest Americans. If we want to protect the middle class, then the math just doesn’t work."
While Mr. Speaker mulls this all over, he might want to keep in mind that a new poll released Friday revealed that 48 percent of Americans trust Obama to come up with solutions to current economic problems, compared to just 32 percent who trust congressional Republicans to do the same. So come January, if that majority of Americans see their taxes raised, they certainly won't forget it the next time they head to the polls.
"We can and should do more than just extend middle class tax cuts. I stand ready to work with Republicans on a plan that spurs economic growth, creates jobs and reduces our deficit – a plan that gives both sides some of what they want. I’m willing to find ways to bring down the cost of health care without hurting seniors and other Americans who depend on it. And I’m willing to make more entitlement spending cuts on top of the $1 trillion dollars in cuts I signed into law last year."
Mr. President, I really wish you would stop giving away benefits for the people who need them the most. The Republican congress would just as soon hit you over the head with the silver tray that you're trying to hand over those entitlement cuts on.
"But if we’re serious about reducing our deficit while still investing in things like education and research that are important to growing our economy – and if we’re serious about protecting middle-class families – then we’re also going to have to ask the wealthiest Americans to pay higher tax rates. That’s one principle I won’t compromise on."
Here's the problem, the GOP does not care about anyone but America's wealthy few, -- we all know this -- isn't it time everyone let John Boehner know what they think of his obstruction? If you haven't contacted him yet, light up his phones on Monday morning.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) acknowledged on Wednesday that House Republicans had consciously voted to reduce the funds allocated to the State Department for embassy security since winning the majority in 2010.
On Wednesday morning, CNN anchor Soledad O'Brien asked the Utah Republican if he had "voted to cut the funding for embassy security."
"Absolutely," Chaffetz said. "Look we have to make priorities and choices in this country. We have…15,000 contractors in Iraq. We have more than 6,000 contractors, a private army there, for President Obama, in Baghdad. And we’re talking about can we get two dozen or so people into Libya to help protect our forces. When you’re in tough economic times, you have to make difficult choices. You have to prioritize things.”
During the past two years, House Republicans have continued to deprioritize the security forces protecting State Department personnel around the world. In fiscal year 2011, lawmakers cut $128 million off of the administration's request for embassy security funding. House Republicans drained off even more funds in fiscal year 2012, cutting back on the department's request by $331 million.
Consulate personnel stationed in Benghazi had allegedly expressed concerns over their safety in the months leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. Chaffetz and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, have alleged that those concerns were ignored.
A Yemeni man was shot and killed by gunman on his way to work at the U.S. embassy in Sanaa early Thursday morning. The car carrying Qassem Aqlan, who headed an embassy security team, was shot at by masked attackers on a motorcycle. “This (assassination) operation has the fingerprints of al Qaeda which carried out similar operations before,” a source told Reuters. Assassination attempts have been frequent since Yemen’s army cleared Islamist fighters out of many towns earlier this year, while the U.S. has been high alert for its embassy staff overseas since the ambassador to Libya was killed with three others on Sept. 11 in Benghazi.