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Senate OKs Bill to Avert Shutdown September 27, 2011

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After a heated battle between Dems and GOP over disaster aid, the Senate votes to send a temporary spending bill to the House to avoid a government shutdown.

The vote in the Senate was 79 to 12 to fund the government through Nov. 18, giving the two sides more time to haggle over long-term spending levels. The Senate also approved an even shorter-term spending bill — funding the government into next week — by a voice vote to give the House time to reconvene and approve the followup.

The breakthrough came hours after the Federal Emergency Management Agency indicated it had enough money for disaster relief efforts through Friday. That disclosure allowed lawmakers to jettison a $1 billion replenishment that had been included in the measure — and to crack the gridlock it had caused.

The events assured there would be no interruption in assistance in areas battered by disasters such as Hurricane Irene and last summer’s tornados in Joplin, Mo., and also that the government would be able to run normally when the new budget year begins on Saturday.

The agreement also spelled the end to the latest in a string of political standoffs between Democrats and Republicans over deficits, spending and taxes that have rattled financial markets and coincided with polls showing congressional approval ratings at historically low levels.

“This compromise should satisfy Republicans…and it should satisfy Democrats,” said Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, who added that Budget Director Jacob Lew had informed him that FEMA did not need any additional funding to meet its needs for the final few days of the budget year.

“It’s a win for everyone,” Reid declared.

House Speaker John Boehner’s office argued that the GOP was never opposed to disaster aid, just the process for approving the aid.

“Senate Democrats have conceded that the spending level in the House-passed bill was the most responsible solution,” Boehner spokesman Mike Steel said in a written statement. “If it weren’t for House GOP efforts, the American taxpayers would have been on the hook for even more reckless borrowing by Washington Democrats.”

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said the latest legislation was a “reasonable way to keep the government operational.”

But not even the dispute-resolving agreement prevented Democrats from proceeding to a politically charged vote earlier in the evening that was designed to force Republicans to decide whether immediate aid to disaster victims or deficit concerns held a higher priority.

And the rhetoric was far harsher during the day on the Senate floor, when Mary Landrieu, D-La., unleashed an unusually personal attack on House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., saying the weeks-long controversy started when he said, “Before we can provide help we need to find offsets in the budget.”

She called that “the Cantor doctrine” and said the controversy “could have been avoided if Cantor had just said, `I’m sorry, but I made a mistake.’ But instead of saying that, he doubled down,” she said.

Laena Fallon, a spokeswoman for Cantor, responded that the Virginia Republican had “never said the things she alleged, he has only suggested that we ought to provide disaster aid dollars to those who need them in a responsible way — something that she’s voted to block despite the urgent need.”

In fact, House Republicans insisted that any new disaster aid for the expiring budget year be offset by cuts elsewhere in the budget, a decision that Democrats seized on in hopes of reshaping the political terrain to their advantage.

Hours earlier, FEMA spokeswoman Rachel Racusen, said the agency had $114 million left in its disaster relief fund, enough to last until Thursday or Friday, the final business day of the current budget year. She said the exact timing would depend on the number of emergency victims who apply for aid, and whether any new disasters occur.

FEMA officials had said previously the funds would run out early this week. That concern prompted the Obama administration a few weeks ago to ask Congress to approve a replenishment to tide the agency over through the Sept. 30 end to the fiscal year.

House Republicans agreed weeks ago to provide $1 billion and include the money in a bill that also provides money for most federal agencies for the first few weeks of the 2012 budget year. At the same time, they insisted on cutting spending elsewhere in the budget by $1.5 billion to prevent the deficit from rising, an amount later raised to $1.6 billion.

That, in turn, produced a quick attack from Senate Democrats, who opposed cuts.

While it was unclear precisely how long FEMA’s remaining funds would last, one official said the agency began conserving funds last month as Hurricane Irene approached the U.S. mainland, prioritizing its aid to help individual disaster victims and pay states and local governments for immediate needs such as removing debris and building sand bag barricades.

Funding of $450 million has been put on hold for longer-term needs such as reconstruction of damaged roads, the official said. In addition, the agency has been able to reclaim unused money from past disasters, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing lack of authority to discuss the matter publicly.

Republicans Prepare for Next Phase of ‘Obamacare’ Battle August 10, 2011

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House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, left, and House
Majority Leader Eric Cantor, center, and others walk to a news
conference on Capitol Hill in Washington

Just because Congress spent the last several months locking horns over the debt ceiling doesn’t mean Republicans have forgotten how much they hate the health care overhaul.

They haven’t.

And when lawmakers return from break after Labor Day, conservatives are planning a renewed effort to chip away at the law.

A new report Tuesday claiming budget analysts understated the cost of the law by up to $50 billion a year likely will only fuel concerns about the bill in a climate of austerity. Add that to GOP charges that the bill’s individual mandate is unconstitutional, that its tax hikes will hurt the economy and that its subsidies represent another burden on a strained budget.

Though a full-fledged bill to repeal the law died in the Senate early this year following its symbolic passage in the House, Republicans are not giving up.

House Speaker John Boehner reminded Democrats last week, following another bleak unemployment report, that Republicans want to “repeal the job-crushing health care law with all of its mandates and tax hikes.”

A spokeswoman for House Republican Leader Eric Cantor told FoxNews.com that Republicans will “continue our focus on undoing the flawed ObamaCare law” when Congress returns.

Specifically, the party is looking at a new proposal aimed at preventing workers from losing their current health plans.

“The president claimed that under ObamaCare if you liked your health care you could keep it, but his new law included a regulation that will actually prevent that from happening,” Cantor spokeswoman Laena Fallon said. “We plan to take up legislation this fall to eliminate this harmful regulation to ensure that if people like their health care, they actually are able to keep it.”

The legislation would pertain to regulations governing whether certain plans that existed before the health care bill was signed last March can be exempt from some requirements of the law.

Since the law was signed, the administration said even “grandfathered” plans must adhere to certain requirements, like no lifetime coverage caps. And the administration said the exempted plans would “lose their grandfather status” if they “significantly cut benefits or increase out-of-pocket spending for consumers.”

Republicans worry the regulations could force small businesses to change their health plans.

Aside from new proposals, Congress is still sitting on a host of bills dealing with provisions in the health care law.

A House bill still in committee has nearly 200 co-sponsors and would repeal the so-called Independent Payment Advisory Board. That board is tasked with reining in Medicare growth.

Other proposals include a repeal of the 10 percent tanning tax; a repeal of certain requirements on state Medicaid plans; and a repeal of the so-called CLASS Act, which establishes a new long-term care insurance program.

In addition, Republicans may use the budget process to target funding for the bill. And while they try to undermine the bill in Congress, both parties are watching anxiously as the federal courts deal with a string of cases regarding the bill’s individual mandate — a constitutional question that may ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court.

So far, the GOP was able to notch one modest success — with the help of President Obama — by passing a repeal in April of the widely unpopular provision requiring businesses to report purchases of $600 or more. Because Democrats hold the majority in the Senate, Republicans would likely have to once again summon some bipartisan support to replicate that success.

Adding to the discontent is a new study that examined possible rising costs in the bill.

Researchers at the National Bureau of Economic Research reportedly found that Washington did not factor in the cost of insuring employees’ families when designing the law — in turn creating a scenario where subsidies could be denied because individuals would not be able to meet the minimum out-of-pocket requirements because they can’t count family coverage toward that amount. But according to the Daily Caller, the researchers found employees could intentionally seek costlier insurance plans in order to pay more out of pocket and in turn qualify for subsidies.

“Clearly the result is lots more money being spent,” said John Fund, a senior editor at The American Spectator.

Pete Sepp, executive vice president of the National Taxpayers Union, said the glitch “can’t help” when it comes to preserving the law as is.

The White House, though, disputed the story. Spokesman Nick Papas said in a statement that the story was “not accurate” and that the law “will extend coverage to millions of Americans and bring down the cost of health care for all of us.”

The law could continue to come under fire in the new joint congressional committee established under the recently signed deal to raise the debt ceiling. That committee is tasked with finding up to $1.5 trillion in deficit savings.

The health care law provisions could also be targeted if the committee fails to act. Under the terms of the committee, an automatic $1.2 trillion in cuts will be triggered if the committee falls short. Much of that is cuts to defense, but health care is also targeted and provisions of the federal overhaul could be vulnerable.

Keith Hennessey, former National Economic Council director, wrote on his blog that the possibility “injects ObamaCare spending squarely into” the committee’s negotiations.

Some Republicans, though, aren’t necessarily banking on the supercommittee to deal with the health care law. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan told “Fox News Sunday” that he doesn’t want to overemphasize the committee’s work “because Democrats have never wanted to put their health care bill on the table.”

Sepp said the fact that Medicaid funds are exempted from the trigger shows the committee is not necessarily designed to tackle the health care overhaul — as Medicaid is the vehicle for covering a large portion of the health care law’s new beneficiaries.

Democrats have vowed to fight for the health care law’s provisions, and fight hard.

Obama, in an April address, challenged Republicans to come at him again with repeal bills.

“If they want to have a fight, I welcome that fight, because I don’t believe the American people are going to put the insurance industry back in the driver’s seat,” he said, accusing Republicans of wanting to “deregulate” the insurance industry.

“We’ve already been there,” Obama said.

The ghost of Obama future June 17, 2011

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Air Force One has landed in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the first time it has done so in an official capacity since JFK’s island visit 50 years ago.  While in Puerto Rico, President Obama is scheduled to deliver remarks on the island’s status (the hottest of local hot-button topics), tout a Stimulus-funded project (time permitting), and (of course!) host a pair of fundraising events.

The local press has hailed the visit as an opportunity for the locals to cast aside their ideological differences, embrace the spirit of the Post-Partisan Lightworker, hold hands, and chant “Sí, Se Puede”.  I suspect (and Politico confirms) that this trip is less about Puerto Ricans who live on the island than about those who have moved stateside…that this is but a distant leg on Obama’s re-elect tour, the easternmost leg of the “Thank Me For Justice Sotomayor” road trip.  Over 4 million Puerto Ricans live stateside,  847,000 in Florida alone.  Of these, 300,000 live along the all-important I-4 corridor. It is no wonder, then, that some have framed this visit in terms of   “building security”.

If I championed the very policies that have forced 250,000 (equivalent to two Mariel boatlifts) persons to leave home in the last decade alone, I’d be insecure, too.

50+ years of unfettered progressivism have placed Puerto Rico in a situation where there is an abundance of government (and corruption), and no real solutions to its deep structural problems.  The inhabitants of this small(ish) island are governed by one governor,  53 representatives, 31 senators, 78 mayors (with their respective city councils), and a government that constitutes over a third of its total workforce.  When we combine this workforce with recipients of transfer payments, over 60% of the island’s population depends on the government for income, whether partially or totally.  The local government not only subsidizes power and water for local residents of public housing, but also subsidizes cell phone usage.  Recently, the state university shut down due to violent student tuition protests.  The resulting decay has spread throughout the fabric of society, leaving many no choice but to abandon their beloved island, never to return.

There are those who suggest that the island’s political status needs to change in advance of any structural changes.  I reject that argument, and submit that these policies have been enacted by both Popular Democrats and New Progressives, who have identified as Democrats and Republicans.  Even now, Governor Fortuño was once touted as a VP hopeful because of his early dismissal of over 20,000 government employees.  Since then, he has embraced ObamaCare, yet is still facing a brutal re-elect.  The current Commonwealth status can prosper if run conservatively.  Conversely, Statehood can only aggravate the island’s problems, if they are left unaddressed.

To look at Puerto Rico’s embrace of unchecked progressivism and the resulting decay of her institutions  is to gaze upon the Ghost of Obama Future.  We now know how this is going to end.  We can confirm that the light at the end of that tunnel is indeed an oncoming train.

Conservatives everywhere should mark the occasion of Obama’s visit to Puerto Rico by asking her children this very question:  Why would you want to support the same economic policies that forced you to leave home?

Governor Scott Walker’s plan holds down property taxes, delivers lowest structural deficit in 15 year April 19, 2011

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by Barry Carr


The unions went all in against Scott Walker and the Republicans in Wisconsin in the past two months.  First they paralyzed state government while Democrats fled the Senate, and when that failed to derail public-employee union reform, they spent a fortune trying to unseat a conservative justice on the Supreme Court in what normally would have been a sleepy election.  That effort failed as well, and the unions are about out of plays for the next eighteen months.

Walker has played long ball, however, and his economic policies got a major boost yesterday from the state’s budget office.  His new budget will keep property taxes from rising more than 1% each of the next two years, and his proposal has all but eliminated the state’s deficit:

The property tax bill on the typical Wisconsin home would rise by less than 1% annually over the next two years under Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed budget, the Legislature’s nonpartisan budget office reported Friday.

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau also said Walker’s plan would put the state’s finances in the best shape they’ve been in for more than 15 years.

It found the so-called structural deficit – the imbalance between spending and tax revenue as laid out in state law – for the 2013-’15 budget would be $31 million. That assumes Walker’s budget passes the Legislature without new spending increases or tax cuts that would add to the deficit.

Under its existing form, Walker’s budget leaves the state with a fraction of the structural deficits seen in the past eight budget cycles. The next lowest structural deficit in recent years was $1.5 billion, or 48 times as much as what Walker’s proposing.

Wisconsin voters sent Republicans to Madison to fix the state’s finances.  Democrats controlled state politics for decades and left a legacy of overspending and debt, and Republicans were given an opportunity to fix it. It looks as though they’ve succeeded, and that’s very bad news indeed for unions and their Democratic allies.

The unions stoked hysteria over the supposed extermination of public employees by ending the closed shop, mandatory dues payments, and limiting collective bargaining to pay only.  Any result that falls short of that rhetoric damages their credibility.  Having Walker succeed in delivering fiscal restraint and balance over their screaming voices and attempts to blockade the legislature makes that problem infinitely worse.  Walker’s success will prove that the adults have returned to Madison, and that voters made the right choice in kicking the Democrats and their union allies out of power in 2010.  And after the childish displays of the fleebaggers and the hyperbolic demagogues in Madison, it may be a very long time before voters trust them with power ever again.

House passes Paul Ryan’s 2012 budget, 235-193 April 15, 2011

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by Barry Carr


It wasn’t quite party-line — four Republicans (Ron Paul among them) joined the Democrats in opposition — but it was awfully close, an amazing achievement for the House GOP given the potential toxicity of this vote. DCCC chief Steve Israel is already chortling that today’s roll will return Democrats to the majority, a distinct possibility once The One hones his Mediscaring technique on the stump. But that’s beside the point: This debate has to happen and there’s no other way to force it. Obama’s perfectly content to let the country’s finances continue to melt down as long as he gets reelected, something even his pal Alan Simpson now seems to recognize, so unless the “Gang of Six” pulls a rabbit out of its hat, this is it. If doing nothing to reduce the country’s catastrophic debt except lying about the rich’s capacity to pay it down turns out to be a big political winner for Democrats, then good luck to them. I’m sure they’ll do a fine job implementing America’s emergency austerity plan a few years from now.

Philip Klein gives credit where it’s due:

Traditionally, the obstacle to getting either party to embrace entitlement reform was that there was a risk to going on record as wanting to change these popular programs , while doing nothing was safe. However, at least for Republicans, that dynamic has shifted, and doing nothing is politically risky. And the credit for that development goes to the Tea Parties for putting pressure on Republicans to get serious about spending.

The Ryan budget will not become law in its current state as long as Obama is president. While the prevailing wisdom is that this vote could make Republicans more vulnerable in 2012, the flip side is that if Democrats pull out all the stops to demagogue the issue, and House Republicans hang on and the GOP even gains Senate seats, it will end the third-rail status of these entitlement programs that, if unchanged, will rob future generations of the American Dream.

There will be a lot of opportunities to criticize GOP leaders going forward, but today, they deserve a pat on the back.

I’d kill to know what serious centrist Democrats like Hoyer and Shuler and Mark Warner really think of Ryan’s plan. No doubt they have earnest concerns about parts of it — so do conservatives, frankly — but they also know the fiscal stakes and surely realize that the Lightbringer will have to be dragged kicking and screaming to the table to get him to act. Even the Gang of Six can’t believe that his response to the failure of the Deficit Commission is to … appoint another commission. But that’s what we elected. And given the tidal wave of demagoguery to come, he’s probably the guy we’ll elect again. Good luck, America.

Here’s Ryan’s floor speech today. The Democrats had some fun with him on an earlier vote by almost letting the Republican Study Committee’s even more conservative budget pass instead.