Nel's New Day

February 5, 2018

Dueling Memos Accompanied by Dropping Stock Markets

Remember when Congress passed the last stall to the spending bill on January 22, 2018? That was the one they passed because they couldn’t meet the December 21, 2017 deadline when they couldn’t meet the October 1, 2017 deadline. No problem! They claimed they could get a spending bill in three weeks. Everyone knew they couldn’t. The House passed an unconstitutional anti-abortion bill that lost in the Senate, and Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) deliver the dud memo that DDT thought would save him from an investigation. It did garner Nunes’ opponent, Democrat Andrew Janz, $300,000 for his campaign in 72 hours. And Congressional members also wandered off to West Virginia for most of a working week while hitting a garbage truck on the way.

The next deadline is this Thursday, and nothing has been done to move forward on it. Republicans promised to deal with the immigration issue but only holds the DACA Dreamers hostage. The next spending bill delay piles the bill on top of a DACA immigration deadline on March 5 and the debt ceiling, a month closer to early March because the Treasury is giving handouts to the wealthy and big corporations.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is already taking extraordinary actions to pay the nation’s bills by suspending payments into federal employee retiree, health and disability funds. This time of the year is harder on the treasury because of income tax returns. Last year’s budget deficit was $666 billion, the largest since the recession recovery in 2013.

DDT claimed that he fired former FBI director James Comey because the agency was in “turmoil, but it was the firing that created chaos within the FBI. Both Comey’s and Andrew McCabe’s firings from DDT’s politicization have been responsible for the demoralized environment that has grown only worse from the smear memo from Nunes’ memo. about the surveillance warrant request for Carter Page. Even some Republicans are withdrawing from Nunes and his memo, rejecting the idea that the memo exonerates DDT.

If not outright “misrepresenting” facts, the memo omits information about the research and documents including the background going back at least three years before Page’s involvement with DDT. In August 2013, Page bragged about being an “informal advisor” to the Kremlin. In the memo, Nunes claimed that the FBI didn’t know anything about Page’s Russian connections until Christopher Steele’s dossier of summer 2016 that was paid for by Democrats after conservatives stopped paying for the investigation into DDT.

Discovering that people were not buying his take on the FISA warrant for Page, Nunes switched his focus to George Papadopoulos, asking why there was no warrant for him. Then Nunes left out information about Papadopoulos when he said he didn’t deserve a warrant, claiming that he only got drunk in London and criticized Hillary Clinton instead of the report that he told a diplomat about getting hacked emails with “dirt” on Clinton. He even claimed that DDT had never met Papadopoulos (center left), but a small meeting with the two of them in 2016 is documented in a photo from a campaign meeting.

In an effort to take attention away from his nothing-burger memo, Nunes told Sean Hannity that the real Russian collaborator is the Hillary Clinton that weaponized the FBI against DDT. Nunes claimed that the memo shows a “clear link” between Russia and the Clinton campaign, although the memo only mentions that the Clinton campaign paid for part of Steele’s dossier. Missing from the memo—and Nunes’ talking points—is that a conservative group initially commissioned the investigation on DDT because he was obviously the GOP presidential campaign.

Ellen Nakashima explained in the WaPo that another Nunes point in the memo was also wrong: the application for surveilling Page came from a political source, according to the request. Asked about this discrepancy on Fox & Friends, Nunes said the information was not good enough because it was in small print in a footnote:

“A footnote saying something may be political is a far cry from letting the American people know that the Democrats and the Hillary campaign paid for dirt that the FBI then used to get a warrant on an American citizen to spy on another campaign.”

Failing to successfully communicate his lie about the memo vindicating him, DDT grew more desperate last Monday morning with a smear tweet about the Democratic senator from California with fake stories about his leaking information, “Little Adam Schiff …. Must be stopped!” During his tweets last weekend, DDT clearly indicated he approved the memo in order to block the investigation into Russian meddling with the presidential election.

The popularity of #release the memo came from “bots,” computational propaganda capable of sending massive numbers of social media messages which led to bots claiming they weren’t bots. The “fake” news from bots is changing behavior as shown in this detailed explanation of how a bot “personalizes” with “fake” photos and disseminates fake information about progressive causes.

The House Intelligence Committee has unanimously voted to release the Democratic memo that refutes much of what Nunes wrote. Once again, the ball is in DDT’s court. He has five days to decide whether to release or block it—probably while spweeting (sputter-tweeting?) more about Schiff “leaking” information. The committee can vote to override DDT if he blocks the release, and it can be read into the House record.

DDT has called Nunes a “Great American Hero.” The committee chair said he is keeping secret his “Phase Two” of the GOP investigation to focus on the State Department’s role in the early states of Russian investigation. Almost a year ago, Nunes recused himself from any investigations related to Russia because of an ethics charge that he was giving information to the White House. Charges were dropped last December, but his behavior may call on more ethics charges. Republicans report that as many as five more memos may appear, sure to provide more cover for DDT and avoid the nasty problems of the spending bill and the debt ceiling.

While the media buzz was primarily about Nunes’ memo, DDT set another record: today’s Dow Jones fall of 1,179 was the biggest ever, not even close to the 777 points lost on September 29, 2008. On the same day, the S&P lost its entire January gain, and the Nasdaq was down for the seventh of the last nine days. The Dow loss is on top of over a 1,000+ drop last week; the value equals a loss of over $1 trillion in the first five days of February. Although some people blame the upcoming increase in interest rates by the Federal Reserve, others say the reason is the rising bond market as the U.S. Treasury is borrowing more money. It has to pay for all those tax cuts to the wealthy and big corporations.

Last year, investors ignored the possibilities of a trade war with China, a nuclear war with North Korea, and other fear that might have been discouraging to the stock market. The removal of regulations, especially for Wall Street, encouraged them to buy, buy, buy—driving the Dow Jones index up 10,000 points in the ninth year of its boom. Now the cheap money from global central banks may disappear with rising interest rates.

GOP said that the tax cut would cause big corporations to invest in businesses and hire more workers. Instead, corporations are sheltering more and more of their money or buying back ownership in their companies, an action that briefly drove up stocks. Rising wages and interest rates are a sign of inflation which the Fed will try to ward off by raising the interest rates again. Janet Yellen, who kept rates low, is no longer the Federal Reserve chair, and investors don’t know what the new chair, Jerome H. Powell, will do.

Energy corporations lack high earnings, resulting in the biggest drops in stock value, and health stocks were badly hurt by three large companies creating their own health care company for their employees. Tech stocks went down, and the new Apple I 8 and X phone suffered a downturn in sales. Oil prices went down. There’s not a crash, but the market may be “correcting,” a euphemism for going down.

Kellyanne Conway celebrated her one-year anniversary after inventing the term “alternative facts” by doubling down on the appropriateness of the GOP fictional perspective. In a radio interview, she decried the practice of fact-checking by saying that “Americans are their own fact-checkers” and they “have their own facts.” She added that “the stock market is something [Americans] know about because they’re part of the investor class,” forgetting that fewer than half of those “Americans” have any involvement in the stock market and pretending that the stock market equals the economy. (Maybe her next statement could be “ignorance is knowledge”?) All these people who Conway referenced will now know that the stock market dropped eight percent in as many days.

 

January 4, 2018

What Government Shutdown? GOP Needs Democrats

Filed under: Legislation — trp2011 @ 8:04 PM
Tags: , , , ,

In Congress, last September was supposed to be a difficult time—except Republicans put off the hard decisions until December. Busy with the destructive tax bill, they moved it to January. It’s January. Without passing a long-term spending bill by January 19, the government shuts down. The GOP can’t agree on what they want to do so both congressional chambers need Democrats, especially because the Senate requires 60 votes to move the spending bill forward unless Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) kills the filibuster. The new year has brought another Democratic senator to Washington, making the GOP majority 51-49. And the world is focused on a new “tell-all” book about how the friends of Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) thinks he is a fool, an idiot, or mentally deranged–or all three.

Major problems for Congress:

Spending Caps:

The strict sequestration law to control the budget passed in 2011 and needs congressional approval for any increases. Part of congressional members wants to lift the cap to help people, and others want far more money to throw at the military. A third segment of legislators don’t want to raise the caps at all. DDT wants an extra $100 billion over the existing $549 billion for the Pentagon. To support this increase, Democrats want the equivalent sum for domestic spending such as housing programs, Pell grants, and food and job assistance. Without a decision on spending caps, Congress cannot make any decisions about the spending bill.

“Dreamers”:

Some Republicans say that they want to help the young people who were illegally brought to the United States involuntarily, but they have shown no evidence of following through, many of them afraid that constituents opposing the idea won’t re-elect them. At risk is the DACA program, eliminated by DDT last fall, that permits vetted young undocumented immigrants to get jobs and go to school. At the start of December, 34 House Republicans signed a letter to Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) calling for a vote before the end of 2017 on legislation to protect DACA recipients, but Ryan promised to take up the issue in January if they passed the tax bill. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) helped pass the horrible tax bill because he was told that he could stay in the room during any discussion of the issue.GOP Sen. Marco Rubio (FL) joined Flake (AZ) in supporting Dreamer legislation, but they both have a reputation for caving in at a crisis vote.DDT waffles about saving the Dreamers—as he does with all other policy—and now demands his wall in exchange for protecting them. Over two years ago, Paul Ryan promised he would not bring any immigration bill to the House floor that wasn’t supported by a GOP majority, but he wasn’t facing a government shutdown then.

Children’s Health Insurance Program:

CHIP, the program for nine million children close to poverty, was saved until March while the tax bill was in play. For some Republicans, helping children is one of those programs that they oppose.

The Affordable Health Care Act:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) pried a vote for the tax bill from Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) by promising that people would be keeping their health care. Without the yes votes from Flake and Collins, the tax bill would have failed. Conservatives who hate domestic spending reject the Alexander-Murray Obamacare stabilization bill, which has lost some of its value after the tax bill removed the individual mandate for everyone to purchase health care. Collins wants two years of cost-sharing reduction payments and a “reinsurance” programs. Like Flake, she isn’t going to get what she was promised for her vote.

Disaster Relief:

Another postponed issue from last year is the $81 billion package to give aid for Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Florida, and Texas after a series of destructive hurricanes and the massive wildfires in California. While DDT held an opulent party at Mar-a-Lago for hundreds on New Year’s Eve, one-half the people in Puerto Rico are still without electricity.

Surveillance Reform:

Because of disagreements, Congress passed a short-term extension of electronic surveillance in Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The conservative Freedom Caucus voted for the tax bill with McConnell’s promise that they could offer amendments to a FISA reauthorization that limits the collection of communications of foreigners abroad with people from the U.S. without a warrant. The Freedom Caucus maintains that this law violates constitutional protections.

Infrastructure:

Even worse in January is the possibility that DDT may introduce infrastructure into the swampy mix. The GOP has already given $1.5 trillion that they don’t have to the wealthy and corporations, leaving nothing for infrastructure so that DDT’s “infrastructure package” relies heavily on state expenditures. States have been increasingly impovrished as the federal government lays more fiscal responsibilities on them while giving money to the military and wealthy. The reduction of deductions for taxpayers in the new tax bill benefiting the wealthy and corporations will make them more unable to pay additional taxes to states.

Debt Ceiling:

Once Republicans survive the spending bill—or shut down the government again—they need to move forward to raise the debt ceiling by March. They have just increased the debt by $1.5 trillion, but the conservative caucus will certainly balk at an increase in the debt ceiling without spending cuts. The current leadership think that not increasing the debt ceiling is not a big problem because the U.S. can refuse to pay the bills that it already incurred or offer to pay less. If Congress passes the spending bill in January but fails to deal with raising the debt ceiling, the country faces another government shutdown in March. DDT has said that a “good shutdown” can benefit the nation. Even the possibility of failing to meet the nation’s fiscal responsibilities in 2011 led to a four-percent drop in the stock markets and a first-time ever downgrading of ratings which increased the percentage of loan interest. Support for the controlling GOP decreased, and the international community criticized the “dangerously irresponsible” actions of the U.S. government. 

Cuts to Entitlement, including Those That Are Earned:

Republicans bragged that the $1.5 trillion deficit would not exist because of magnificent growth in the economy, but they plan to cover the money with cuts to Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare. That may be the big fight this year when the white people who supported DDT and other Republicans discover that their vote means less money for living and health care.

The top four GOP and Dem congressional leaders met yesterday and said that the meeting was “positive and productive,” meaning “pointless.” A major question is whether the Republicans can convince people to put off the Dreamers and other issues by promising them that they will pass legislature in this area. DDT has slowed down negotiations on the spending bill because he hasn’t issued specific demands for his wall while the DHS talks about technology and personnel instead of a 30-foot high wall for 2,000 miles. Republicans hope that the spending bill will be independent of immigration; Democrats are pushing for its inclusion. Hopefully, the Democrats understand that not including the Dreamers in the spending bill will leave them in the cold and headed toward Mexico.

Since McConnell pushed through the GOP-owned punitive tax bill for most of the people in the U.S. by keeping the Democrats away from any participation, he is asking for “a renewed spirit of comity, collegiality and bipartisanship.”

Republicans plan to spend $10 million selling the new tax plan so that they can get re-elected in 2018. The above chart comparing the tax cuts from President Obama’s first full year and DDT’s tax bill make be difficult to spin as an advantage of DDT’s bill:

Congress has two weeks before a possible government shutdown. If the GOP operates as usual, they’ll wait ten days to do anything about the spending bill and then panic while blaming the Democrats.

December 21, 2017

Disastrous Tax Bill Leads to GOP Fractures over Spending Bill

In their contempt for democracy, the Republicans, the epitome of “makers” exploiting the so-called “takers,” passed their social reform bill in the dead of night to benefit large businesses and wealthy people. The process, carried out in great haste with extreme chaos and negligence, allowed for neither hearings nor debate—not even the opportunity for congressional members to examine the 1,097 pages. If one considers democracy, the way that Republicans passed the bill may be even worse than the contents. If the tax bill were a good deal for most of the people in the U.S., Republicans wouldn’t have to lie about it. Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) summarized the GOP position when he said, “It’s always fun when you win” about his defeat of the people who voted for him. “Fun” also means that he gained billions of dollars from the tax bill.

“Fun” for DDT also means destroying Puerto Rico. The tax bill requires the federal government to treat the territory in the same way that it treats foreign countries in bringing operations and jobs to the U.S. from overseas. Forty-seven percent of PR’s GDP comes from manufacturing, primarily pharmaceuticals and medical devices generating revenue from patented drugs and technologies. The 12.5 percent tax levied against profits in PR for “intangible assets” of U.S. companies abroad plus a minimum of ten percent tax on their profits abroad, as in foreign countries, means that businesses will pay more to operate in PR than on the U.S. mainland. It will cost U.S. citizens their jobs and destroy PR’s economy after DDT went to the island to complain about the cost of recovery from Hurricane Maria, something he did not do at any of the summer’s disasters on the mainland.

DDT may not have his “fun” of signing the bill until January 3 because he is afraid to let the 2010 “pay-as-you-go” law automatically cut Medicare and other programs. These would take effect in 2018 if he signed it in 2017. To avoid bad press, he is hoping that Congress will waive these cuts by 2019. Spending caps went into effect under a GOP-created law in 2011 and have received two two-year waivers–also from the GOP. The most recent one expired on October 1, 2017, and Republicans didn’t get around to lifting it again.

To pass the waiver, the GOP needs Democrats who are raw from the GOP pushing through the tax bill and plan to negotiate for restoration of the health-insurance mandate, due to expire in 2019. The schedule is not set, but Congress will most likely not pass this bill by the end of this week while they struggle with other expiring laws, like the spending bill that keeps the government from shutting down.

One vote to transfer the Great Society into Ayn Rand’s idea of plutocracy came from Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) who earlier gained the support of her constituents when she refused to vote for an earlier bill because it would drive at least 13 million people off health insurance. The new bill does the same thing, but she claimed that her vote was okay because Congress would shore health insurance markets and undo Medicare cuts guaranteed by the tax bill that she supported with her vote. Even after House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said that the House wouldn’t support the deal, she voted for the tax bill. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who made the promise to Collins, is not known for truthfulness. Collins decried media coverage as “unbelievably sexist” because it describes her as being “duped.” She may have to eat her words after discovering that’s exactly what happened.

After the beautiful togetherness and self-backslapping of GOP leaders following the tax bill’s passage, Republicans are back to fighting over the spending bill that must be passed in two days to avoid a government shutdown. Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC) described the altercation following the joint communion for the tax bill:

“It’s kind of like leaving the hospital, just finding out you’re cancer free, and getting run over by a Mack truck.”

Ryan already refused to allow Collins’ funding for the Affordable Care Act in this year’s spending package. Gone—at least temporarily—is the agreement for legislation to reduce health care premiums for nine million people without government subsidies. House Republicans refuse to address Collins’ proposal to continue the health care subsidies without attaching Hyde Amendment language prohibiting the use of federal funds for abortion. Democrats oppose this demand because it expands the existing amendment by discouraging private insurers from covering abortions. Insurers must keep funds for insurer subsidies separate from abortion services, but Republicans want more. Many Republicans are totally against the ACA, and abortion makes a good excuse to block Collins’ proposal. Collins and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) have withdrawn their bill for these subsidies until next year’s full spending bill.

The stopgap also fails to address funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) reauthorization and funding for Community Health Centers. Without CHIP, nine million children lose their health insurance, even those in the middle of such serious problems as cancer treatment.

In the Senate, at least eight Democrats or independents must support all Republicans for a stopgap measure to overcome a filibuster. Without a stopgap measure, the federal government shuts down at midnight Friday. GOP leaders want a bill that expires on January 19, 2018 to stop the shutdown. They call is the “CRomnibus” proposal, but House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has other names for it:

“Some people are calling it the ‘punt’-ibus, just punt this down the road. I call it the ‘none’-tibus because it’s not going anywhere.”

The GOP House leadership had trouble with its representatives from large blue states because the tax bill penalized their residents disproportionately by reducing deductions for state property and income taxes. Now GOP representatives from Texas and Florida are opposing a bill without the $81 billion disaster bill. Lawmakers in states badly hit by hurricanes vow to stay in Washington until they get their disaster funding. Conservatives object because the disaster relief isn’t paid for by cuts in other parts of the budget, a scenario that takes everyone back to the fight over funding after Superstorm Sandy in the Northeast. Democrats in the Senate oppose the disaster bill because, according to the Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) “still does not treat Puerto Rico, California and the U.S. Virgin Islands as well as Florida and Texas.”

In another contentious issue, the GOP had planned to take a separate vote tomorrow to reauthorize Section 702 spying powers under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act for three weeks. After opposition from the Freedom Caucus today, that plan was dropped. Schumer agreed, saying that they need a clean spending bill:

“We cannot do a short-term funding bill that picks and chooses what problems to solve. We have to do them all together, instead of in a piecemeal fashion. It has to be a truly global deal. We can’t leave any of those issues behind.”

The Republicans claim that they can’t shut down the government because it would ruin their win with the tax bill. They have 48 hours pass a bill in the House, send it to the Senate who might make changes if they pass it and then send it back to the House who will then have to agree. That’s before the bill gets sent to the president for signing. The 2880 minutes are ticking away.

December 22, 2014

GOP Members Break Pledge, Vote for Spending Bill

Filed under: Legislation — trp2011 @ 9:19 PM
Tags: , ,

In 2010, the House leadership made its “Pledge to America” that the GOP would not fill the must-pass government budget legislation with provisions having nothing to do with government funding. The pledge stated:

“We will end the practice of packaging unpopular bills with ‘must-pass’ legislation to circumvent the will of the American people. Instead, we will advance major legislation one issue at a time.”

The 1,600-page, $1.014 trillion spending bill violates that pledge in many ways. Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX) said he know that the current bill violates the promise, but they have to do it “to fix bad policy.” So much for promises made by conservatives.

Hidden inside the spending bill are riders that bar federal funding for most abortions, federal and local funding for abortions in Washington, D.C., and fund for federal prisoners. The good news is that there are no new restrictions. Congress typically attaches abortion funding bans to appropriations measures since the first one, the Hyde Amendment, was passed in 1976. Abortion is legal; paying for it isn’t.

Another piece of good news is that the GOP failed to put the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act into the budget. The “non-discrimination” means that doctors, health insurance companies, and hospitals could discriminate against abortion services, going so far as allowing them to refuse information to women about abortion options. Conservatives also failed to stop tax benefits for small businesses that buy health plans covering abortion. The Title X Family Planning Program, helping low-income women avoid unwanted pregnancies, got the same $300 million as last year; the budget provides $101 million to the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program and $600 million for international family planning programs.

The best news about saving a few of women’s reproductive rights in the spending bill is that Peace Corps members have access to abortion coverage in cases of rape or incest, or to save the pregnant woman’s life, the same coverage that most female federal employees have. Of 433 Peace Corps volunteers surveyed, 8.8 percent said they had been raped or sexually assaulted during their service.

Another plus for women was the bipartisan commission charged with laying out a plan to bring a women’s history museum “on or near” the National Mall. For almost two decades, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) has pushed for the creation of a National Women’s History Museum there.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) was another winner because of the spending bill. She lost her push to deny the change to the Dodd-Frank bill that could leave U.S. taxpayers on the hook for a $303 billion bailout to the banks, but her campaign against it fortified progressive groups.

Her information about the provision being written by Citigroup lobbyists also got into the general media. Thanks to the banks, unstable financial entities, called custom swaps, will now be insured by the FDIC. Only the taxpayers will be on the hook when these fail. Citigroup is one of four banks (the others being Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, and JPMorgan Chase) that control more than 90 percent of the banking industry’s swaps market. These four banks gave an average of 2.6 to 3.1 times to House members and senators who voted in favor of the banks’ plan.

Federal employees, including the military, got a one-percent pay raise; cuts for military civilian personnel budget may result in layoffs. The Affordable Care Act kept its funding at 2014 levels. The moratorium on state and local online sales taxes on Internet access as continued for just one year.

Republicans can take pride in attaching a rider banning the closure of the prison at Guantanamo Bay and stops President Obama from transferring any of the detainees to the United States. It’s a rather hollow victory because the prison now holds only 132 detainees and 64 of them have already been approved for transfers. Recently four detainees were transferred to Afghanistan, the first time that any prisoners have gone to that country since 2009. President Obama has excellent reasons for closing out the prison:

“It is something that continues to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world, the fact that these folks are being held. It is contrary to our values, and it is wildly expensive. We’re spending millions for each individual there.”

One of the best news from the spending bill is that, other than funding Homeland Security only through February, it keeps the government open for another nine months to the end of September 2015. Lawmakers also failed to “defund” the president’s immigration orders, and immigration services won’t stop even if the GOP decides to shut down the government again.

On the minus side, “a House priority,” according to one GOP aide was the provision in the spending bill to stop the EPA from regulating the lead content of fishing tackle and firearms ammunition. The NRA fought to get it included which may make it a “constitutional” right to bear fishing tackle.

The spending bill also protects school children from consuming less salt and all the whole grains that were in the new standards. It does not, however, exempt schools from regulations if they lose money.

Last fall, conservatives, including Blue Dog Dems, fought changing the term “navigable waterways” to “water” to cut down on pollution. A provision in the bill stops the Army Corps of Engineers from regulating farm ponds and irrigation ditches under the Clean Water Act. The $740,000 in the budget bill for the USDA’s Biotechnology Regulatory Services gives the government more money to process applications for GMOs but not to study them. The government also cannot ask farmers to report emissions from their cattle or the manure lagoons. Although “the agriculture sector is the primary source” of methane emissions, the bill keeps ranchers from needing greenhouse gas permits for “methane emissions” produced by bovine flatulence or belching.

The taxpayers will save money, however, because the bill continues a ban on spending money for portraits of Cabinet secretaries, Congress members, and other important people.

The IRS took a budget cut but was ordered to improve its 800 helpline services. It is also specifically prohibited from making any videos “unless the Service-Wide Video Editorial Board determines in advance that making the video is appropriate” and limited in its conference spending. The bill also cautions the IRS not to use any funds to target U.S. citizens for their First Amendment rights or “ideological beliefs.” Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) is pursuing the agency right down to the end of his term as committee chair.

The spending bill gave other agencies their congressional marching orders. The Department of Treasury cannot use any funds to redesign the one-dollar bill, nor can it build or operate a museum without permission. (But just the one-dollar bill.) The Department of Agriculture can’t use their funds to pay salaries and expenses for those who provide “nonrecourse marketing assistance loans for mohair” or to “procure processed poultry products imported into the United States from the People’s Republic of China for use in the school lunch program.”

The spending bill got bipartisan opposition: of the 40 senators who voted against the measure, 18 were Republicans and 21 were Democrats. One Independent voted against the measure. Three Republicans and one Democrat abstained. Four senators abstained.

House members pledged to not put non-budget items—like the ones above—into the must-pass appropriations bill. This is how they voted:

house vote

December 12, 2014

Holidays Take Privacy, Pensions

The torture report and then the fight over letting banks destroy the country again became the media focus during the past few days. At the same time, the week brought even scarier events than Halloween:

Congress passed a 47-page intelligence bill that increases the government’s warrantless surveillance powers. Despite protests from Rep. Justin Amash (R-WI) to stop the bill, it passed over the objections of 55 Democrats and 45 Republicans. Amash claims that the provision “grants the executive branch virtually unlimited access to the communications of every American.” The Senate unanimously passed the measure which gives statutory authority for surveillance of private communications previously existing only under Ronald Reagan’s Executive Order 12333.

The intent of this executive order, just as the intent of the PATRIOT Act allowing for mass collections of domestic phone metadata, is foreign surveillance, but an unknown amount of U.S. data is “incidentally” tracked. There is nothing, however, to keep the NSA from collecting and storing all communication if it occurs outside the United States. Former State Department official John Napier Tye wrote:

“No warrant or court approval is required, and such collection never need be reported to Congress. None of the reforms that Obama announced earlier this year will affect such collection.”

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) said that the language is “the exact opposite of what the House passed this summer,” requiring the NSA to obtain a warrant before reading Americans’ private messages that were collected through a program intended to target foreigners. Backers praise the measure because it limits communications data storage to five years with some exceptions, but that is typically the length of time these communications are kept at intelligence agencies.

President Obama had promised to reform the massive domestic spying, but a bill to begin a control of the government surveillance died in the Senate because of 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster.

While Congress increased surveillance, the House failed to pass a bill unanimously accepted by the usually rancorous Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The FOIA Oversight and Implementation Act would have made Freedom of Information requests easier with potentially faster response times. It called on all agencies to have a “presumption of disclosure” to all FOIA decisions and set up a central online method for FOIA requests under the Office of Management and Budget. The bill would also require agencies to release information publicly once it is released to individual journalists.

The Senate unanimously approved its version last Monday. If the House had endorsed the Senate version, the bill would have gone off to the president for a signature. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) did not explain why he wouldn’t bring the bill up for a vote, but it’s probably because the result would be increased transparency. It would reform Exemption 5, used—and abused—to protect inter- or intra-agency communications. Another change would be that government records withheld using this exemption can be de-classified after 25 years. The bill also includes a provision that says agencies must prove that actual harm will occur before they use many exemptions.

The failure demonstrates that Boehner will not allow any bill that Democrats support. Or maybe he wants everyone in the country under surveillance except for Congress.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) is almost gone, but she had a parting shot—bombing Iran. At the White House holiday part for congressional members, she told President Obama that he should bomb nuclear facilities in Iran. When he didn’t immediately agree with her, she spread the word that he didn’t treat her well:

“And he got his condescending smile on his face and laughed at me and said, ‘Well, Michele, it’s just not that easy.’ And I said to him, ‘No, Mr. President, you’re the president, [Iran’s nuclear weapon] will happen on your watch, and you’ll have to answer to the world for this.’ And that was it and then I left. Merry Christmas.”

Secretary of State John Kerry reported that negotiations between Iran and six countries—China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—may have an agreement by February or March. Conservatives want more sanctions on Iran which the president has said will destroy the talks.  Bachmann is also upset about military budget cuts, Guantanamo Bay prisoners releases, and the end of the CIA torture program.

Having failed to become president herself and no longer running for Congress, Bachmann plans to give speeches across the country and write op-eds before the 2016 election. Unlike Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney, opponents for the 2012 presidency, Bachmann hasn’t declared her own candidacy—yet.

In another failure of privacy within the United States, two million cars, one-fourth of those on sub-prime loans, have GPS-based kill switches allowing the vehicles to be remotely shut off at any time. One woman was on a three-lane freeway when her car stopped; another woman who had left her abusive husband to go to a shelter was tracked down by a subprime lender.

Financial analysts estimate about a quarter of all automotive loans are subprime with that number climbing as consumer debt continues to rise. These loans can be highly lucrative for lenders, with interest rates that can be well over 20% sweetened by the late fees. Nearly 4% of all subprime auto loans are more than 60 days late, up by 3% from 2013. Wisconsin is the only state that presently bans these starter-interrupt devices.

Technology may play a part in apartment renters behind on payments. Electronic lock systems can remotely or automatically lock out the renters.

Conservatives are vying to see how petty they can be. Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) suggested defunding Air Force One. Rep. Paul C. Broun (R-GA), who is gone from Congress in 19 days, asked Boehner to not call for the president’s traditional State of the Union speech. Rich Lowry, editor of National Review, encouraged this action:

“If I were John Boehner, I’d say to the president: ‘Send us your State of the Union in writing. You’re not welcome in our chamber.’”

When ousted House Speaker Newt Gingrich and other Congressional Republicans tried to block President Clinton from delivering his State of the Union address in 1999, his approval rating shot up to 69 percent. Boehner won’t take this action, however, because he’ll want to be seen sitting next to future Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

Another scary move GOP congressional members have threatened is keeping funds from Homeland Security, the source of Secret Service salaries. Many far-right federal legislators have threatened this because it also funds immigration services.

The cruelty of the GOP representatives is perhaps best illustrated by the provision in the House version of the $1.1 trillion spending bill to cut pension benefits for over one million retired and current truck drivers, construction workers, and other union workers. Multi-employer pension plans covering over 10 million people have struggled with major investment losses, putting a strain on the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation which insures pension plans.

According to the House spending bill, plans projected to run out of money in the next 10 to 20 years can cut benefits to those under 80 years old. About 10 percent of the 1,400 multi-employer pension plans, covering over 1 million workers and retirees, meet this criterion. Current law prevents cutting benefits from those already retired, but troubled plans can reduce benefits that employees earn going forward and raise employee and employer contributions despite the fact that retirees have paid for their pensions through years of contributions. The bill requires participant and government approval for cuts, but plans could still make cuts if retirees vote against it.

Welcome to the lump of coal in your Christmas stocking, your reward for a Republican congress.

December 10, 2014

GOP Offers Sample of Next Two Years in Spending Bill

Filed under: Legislation — trp2011 @ 8:34 PM
Tags: , , ,

Without a renewal of government spending, the lights go off around the country in federal agencies in fewer than two days. Conservatives have been flexing their blackmail muscles by threatening to shut down the government again if they aren’t allowed to punish the president and get everything that they want. Today, the House tackled the “cromnibus,” a spending bill that encompasses 11 appropriations bills covering most of the government for the rest of fiscal 2015 and one continuing resolution that would fund the Department of Homeland Security through February.

One fight leading up to the bill was an argument over the renewal of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act that supports businesses in case of an attack. Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) were on the verge of an agreement, but Hensarling insisted on the repeal of a Dodd-Frank rule that ensures banks don’t engage in risky derivatives trading. If the provision becomes law, banks can then gamble with money insured by the FDIC leading to another taxpayer-funded bailout of big banks like the 2008 collapse. Wall Street institutions spent over $435.9 million this year to buy people in Congress, hoping that their investment pays off.

The $1.1 trillion dollar spending package has a number of problematic issues:

Campaign donations: One great benefit for Republicans is found on Page 1,599, four pages before the end of the 1,603-page bill. Sen. Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) provision would increases the maximum amount lawmakers can solicit from individual donors for their party committees each election from $259,200 to $1,555,200, a 500-percent increase. Who needs the increases from the Supreme Court when you have Page 1,599. To sweeten this pot, the bill also blocks the president from requiring federal contractors to disclose their political donations. Each corporation is already making $760 for every donated $1; the bill would make this profit skyrocket.

Native American land giveaway: Last week, the House voted to transfer 2,400 of Apache ancestral and ceremonial lands in the Tonto National Forest to Resolution Copper of Rio Tinto, owned by an Australian-English mining company. This location is used for coming-of-age ceremonies for girls and sunrise dancers. The Native Americans would be sealed off from acorn grounds, medicinal plants, and prayer areas. When Apache leaders attended the White House Tribal National conference, they learned that the provision will be part of the spending bill.

Closed internet: While the Federal Communications Commission is gearing up to announce historic open Internet rules in early 2015 (hopefully), this bill would freeze their funding at $340 million. If passed, big telecoms, who gave millions to members of Congress this election, get their money back plus a lot more.

Loss of birth control: The “conscience clause” allows all employers to opt out of the requirement to provide birth control in its insurance policies—sort of a forerunner to GOP plans to pass restrictive anti-abortion legislation in the coming year.

Defunding ACORN: Another ludicrous, continued fight from the far right is against the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), an anti-poverty nonprofit staffed by low-income people. A bill this past week would deny ACORN any funds. ACORN folded four and a half years ago with no hint of resurrection. With the Congressional majority next year, the GOP can successfully pass this bill, and the president will probably sign it—because THERE IS NO ACORN!

Big government control of Washington, D.C.: Residents of Washington, D.C pay federal taxes but have no control over their laws because Congress controls the city’s policies. After declaring that the city cannot have the gun-sense laws that they want, GOP congressional members have decided to stop Washington’s legalization of up to two ounces of marijuana for adult recreational use. Democrats don’t care about the city’s new law, and Republicans believe in small federal government with local control—unless they don’t like how the locals control themselves. The bill doesn’t overturn the marijuana law, but it prevents Washington from spending any time or resources to get permission from Congress.

Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) spearheaded the bill because of possible health risks. The question here might be whether a GOP Congress will try to overturn the new laws in Alaska, Colorado, and Oregon, and Washington state that legalized recreationalized marijuana. Or the 23 other states that have legalized medical and/or decriminatized marijuana use, including Harris’ home state of Maryland. [Green – recreational/medical; dark blue – medical/decriminalized; light blue – medical; teal – decriminalized]

Map-of-US-state-cannabis-laws.svg

Decreased truck safety: A proposed rider would remove truck drivers’ safety requirements which mandate the time periods of truckers’ rest periods. Taking away these requirements would extend the maximum time per week from 70 to 82 hours. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has been vocal about an increase in the hours because the American Trucking Associations’ lobby has convinced her that fewer hours means more trucks on the road during daylight hours. Last summer, a Walmart tractor trailer crash put comedian Tracy Morgan into a coma, killed his friend, and left two other passengers of the struck limousine with serious injuries. Kevin Roper, the truck driver, had gone 24 hours without sleeping.

Cuts to IRS: In revenge against a misguided believe that the IRS attacked conservative PACs, the GOP has cut enforcement funding in the bill’s provisions to under $4.9 billion, the second significant cut in two years. The cuts would benefit the fat cats that the GOP represents because reduced funding means decreased investigation into income tax fraud.

Benefits to the wealthy: Another cut would also benefit the wealthy if the budget for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) loses $30 million from last year, down to $250 million. It also requires 20 percent of the budget to be used for information technology which decreases money for staff to regulate the financial industry. The CFTC is already unstaffed.

Increasing homelessness: The homeless and low-income families would suffer from the loss of $300 million for permanent supportive housing programs for the homeless and funding for low-income housing would be kept flat.

Cuts to student loan: The $303 million cut from Pell Grants for low-income college students would be given to student loan debt collectors. At this time, the Pell program is operating at a surplus, but last year’s money-shuffling created a shortfall in payments to the companies.

Environment: The GOP has taken whacks at the environment, including a $60 million-cut for the EPA staff in cleaning up Superfund sites and enforcing basic public health protections to 1989 levels. Other provisions would block prohibition of funds to regulate lead in ammunition and fishing, to help developing nations deal with climate change through the Green Climate Fund, and to “implement or enforce” standards for light bulb efficiency.

There is good news for the Pentagon and Israel.  The Pentagon can buy 38 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, nine more than last year; and Israel gets $619.8, including $175 million for the Iron Dome missile-defense system to add to the $225 million that the U.S. gave the Iron Dome just four months ago. The F-35 weapons system flies only in good weather, and computers lack software necessary for combat. Last summer, one of the $100-million-dollar behemoths caught fire and was destroyed. Luckily for Lockheed Martin, the U.S. keeps pouring money into its mistakes.

Moving to the absurd, the cromnibus bill requires the Secretary of Defense to report to congressional defense committees the progress in carrying out revised grooming standards. The issue emerged when black female service members stated that descriptions of certain hair styles were “offensive and discriminatory.” Obviously this is as important as keeping the homeless without shelter.

All seems to be quiet tonight before a possible vote tomorrow. Passing the bill may be difficult if Democrats oppose it because the conservatives think that the bill doesn’t provide sufficient punishment for the president. The Tea Party strategy may be to pass a Continuing Resolution that funds the government for one month before the GOP strips the country of the resources that it gives to the wealthy.

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