Entries from April 2011

GOP Alternative Budget Goes Down

April 15th, 2011 at 12:27 pm 13 Comments

The Hill reports:

House lawmakers defeated a proposal by conservative Republicans to make deeper cuts to spending and tax rates than those proposed in the Republican budget, but only after last-minute maneuvering by Democrats on the House floor.

In a chaotic scene characterized by shouting more typical of the British parliament, the Republican Study Committee’s (RSC) alternative to Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) 2012 budget went down in a 119-136 vote.

It was gaveled shut only after Democratic leaders started pushing members to switch their “no” votes to “present,” in order to force a face-off between conservatives and the Republican leadership. A total of 176 lawmakers voted “present.”

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said on Twitter:

Dems voting present on RSC budget to highlight GOP divisions, plans to end Medicare – which bdgt does GOP support? Ryan or Ryan on steroids?

Hoyer and Ryan could both be observed shouting on the House floor. Hoyer shouted to his members to vote present, while Ryan shouted for the vote to be gaveled closed.

SCOTUS May Fast-Track Health Bill Review

April 15th, 2011 at 12:18 pm Comments Off

The Hill reports:

The Supreme Court could decide as early as Friday whether to expedite a review of challenges to Democrats’ healthcare reform law, though legal experts expect the high court will decline to get involved for now.

Two federal judges have ruled the law’s individual mandate is unconstitutional while several others have upheld it. The Obama administration has argued that appeals courts should have their say first — arguments have been scheduled in no fewer than four appeals courts over the next five months — while critics say the differing opinions to date are creating legal uncertainty and should be resolved as quickly as possible.

The petition for expedited review was brought by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who filed a legal challenge the very day the law was enacted.

“Given the importance of the issues at stake to the States and to the economy as a whole, this Court should grant certiorari to resolve a matter of imperative public importance,” Cuccinelli argued in his Feb. 8 motion to skip the appeals process.

Islamists Murder Gaza Activist

April 15th, 2011 at 12:00 pm 1 Comment

BBC reports:

An Italian pro-Palestinian activist has been found dead in the Hamas-governed Gaza Strip hours after being abducted.

Vittorio Arrigoni, decease 36, buy was seized on Thursday by a radical group that has been in conflict with Hamas and is seeking the release of its leader.

Police said he was found hanged in a Gaza City house after receiving a tip-off. Two people have been arrested.

Italy denounced the “barbaric murder”, calling it an “act of vile and senseless violence”.

Mr Arrigoni was the first foreigner kidnapped in Gaza since BBC journalist Alan Johnston was abducted in 2007.

Friends of the activist gathered outside the hospital where his body had been taken on Friday morning.

“He came from across the world, left his country and family and his entire life and came here to break the siege, and we kill him? Why?” asked one of his friends.

Italian diplomats have been in touch with Israel regarding the transfer of the body from the Gaza Strip, possibly on Sunday, an Israeli official has told the BBC.

Vittorio Arrigoni was seized by Salafist radicals, an Islamist movement itself that considers Hamas as too moderate, BBC Gaza correspondent Jon Donnison says.

The Salafists had threatened to execute Mr Arrigoni by 1400 GMT on Friday unless several prisoners, including their leader, Sheikh Abu Walid al-Maqdasi, were released. Sheikh Maqdasi was arrested by Hamas police last month in Gaza City.

In a video posted on YouTube, Mr Arrigoni appeared to have been beaten and his eyes were covered with thick black tape.

A caption on the video read: “The Italian hostage entered our land only to spread corruption.” The video called Italy “the infidel state”.

It is not clear why Mr Arrigoni was killed before the given deadline, but the Hamas interior ministry said he had died soon after being abducted.

Ministry spokesman Ehab al-Ghussein said he was killed “in an awful way”.

Coburn, Norquist Spar Over No-Tax Hike Pledge

April 15th, 2011 at 11:53 am 17 Comments

Washington Post reports:

Republicans are feuding over whether to abandon the party’s long-held opposition to higher taxes in pursuit of a deficit-cutting deal with Democrats.

The rift in the Republican ranks has surfaced in a bitter back-and-forth between two heroes of the conservative movement: Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, doctor who has been working with a bipartisan group of senators on a compromise to reduce government borrowing, and Grover Norquist, author of the no-tax-increase pledge that has become a rite of passage for GOP candidates.

At stake is a pillar of Republican orthodoxy that has for decades united every wing of the party in a quest to shrink government’s reach.

As the battle over the federal deficit escalates in Washington, the two men are sparring over Coburn’s seemingly narrow proposal to eliminate a $5 billion annual tax break awarded to companies that blend ethanol into gasoline. But both sides say this cuts to the core of a quandary for the GOP: Will the cause of trimming deficits run aground on the conservative principle that the government must not increase the amount of money it takes in through taxes?

Coburn has been the most visible Republican to challenge Norquist, perhaps the country’s most influential anti-tax advocate, but other Republicans have been willing to discuss a budget deal that would include raising more money through taxes, along with making deep spending cuts, to help reduce the deficit.

These include stalwart conservatives such as Sens. Saxby Cham­bliss (R-Ga.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho). And on the ethanol issue, Coburn has drawn support from such conservative-movement fixtures as the Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal editorial board.

And even some House leaders, including Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.), have left the door open to negotiation.

For anti-tax purists, including many in the Republican Party, eliminating the ethanol break is unacceptable — measures that roll back corporate subsidies, individual deductions or loopholes of any sort without comparable tax cuts elsewhere are considered tax increases.

The tensions between Nor­quist’s Americans for Tax Reform and Coburn’s office have intensified, with each side sending the other terse, accusatory letters claiming to be the true conservatives. Coburn charges that the tax pledge, as interpreted by Norquist, is inflexible, and Coburn’s spokesman now labels Norquist the “chief cleric of sharia tax law.”

“If we don’t do something, what we’ve done is put the country at risk,” Coburn said in an interview. “I agree we ought to cut spending, but will we ever get the spending cut to the level that we need to without some type of compromise?”

Trump Defends Donations to Dems

April 15th, 2011 at 11:43 am 7 Comments

The Hill reports:

On Fox last night, Donald Trump defended his history of substantial donations to prominent Democrats.

I’ve lived in New York. This building, this great tower, and many other great towers are here in New York. Everyone’s Democratic.

So what am I going to do — contribute to Republicans?

One thing: I’m not stupid.

Am I going to contribute to Republicans for my whole life when they get heat when they run against some Democrat and the most they can get is 1% of the vote?”

Open Secrets notes that Trump has given more to Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) since the 1990 election cycle than he has any other politician.

And in the most recent cycle, over half of his contributions were to Democrats.

Insurers Worried About Ryan Medicare Plan

April 15th, 2011 at 11:34 am 7 Comments

Benjy Sarlin writes at TalkingPointsMemo:

At first glance, Paul Ryan’s plan to send millions of seniors into the free market with dwindling vouchers in hand might seem a boon to the private insurance industry. But would companies even want to participate?

Unlike the Affordable Care Act, which mandated that millions of young and healthy Americans purchase insurance with government subsidies, the Paul Ryan plan would instead bring the oldest, sickest, and least profitable demographic to the table. And with the CBO projecting that the average senior would be on the hook for over two-thirds of their health care costs within just 10 years of the plan’s adoption — a proportion that is projected to worsen in the long run — the government subsidies backing them up may not bring in enough profitable customers to make things worthwhile.

“If reimbursement rates are too low to provide basic benefits, they’ll tell the government, ‘You do it,’” one insurance lobbyist told TPM. “I don’t think they can require they lose money, they’d just pull out.”

Dan Boston, a veteran lobbyist for health care providers and co-owner of Health Policy Source, said in an interview with TPM that he was taking a “wait and see” approach on the GOP budget before judging its value. (The American Hospital Association opposes the plan). But he cautioned that a major concern would be whether hospitals and private insurers would be left on the hook for low-income seniors eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid, who could run up significant costs with little hope of ever paying them off.

“I think everyone is going to be looking at the viability of the funding,” he said.

Insurers have successfully demanded funding hikes to other programs even as their clients faced far less dire circumstances than projected under Ryan’s plan, raising the question of whether Ryan’s savings would ever come to pass. Take Medicare+Choice, a private exchange for seniors created in 1997 by the GOP Congress. Under the program, the government paid the equivalent it would use to fund Medicare coverage to reimburse private HMOs instead under the theory that the free market would operate more efficiently and produce better results. Instead, insurers found they were unable to sustain a profit and began pulling out en masse. In 2000, more than 900,000 patients were dropped as HMOs deserted the program, citing inadequate federal backing and a lack of a prescription drug benefit.

“Year after year, the reimbursement rates were cut for these plans, making it increasingly unattractive for private providers to offer plans,” one Republican congressman recalled in 2009, adding that for seniors who lost coverage “the consequences were painful and the vocal anger was justified.”

That congressman was none other than Paul Ryan. …

Click here to read the rest.

Obama to GOP: ‘You Think We’re Stupid?’

April 15th, 2011 at 10:59 am 12 Comments

CBS News reports:

In what he thought was a private chat with campaign donors Thursday evening, President Obama offered the most revealing behind-the-scenes account to date of his budget negotiations with GOP leaders last week.

CBS Radio News White House correspondent Mark Knoller listened in to an audio feed of Mr. Obama’s conversation with donors after other reporters traveling with the president had left the room.

In the candid remarks, Mr. Obama complains of Republican attempts to attach measures to the budget bill which would have effectively killed parts of his hard-won health care reform program.

“I said, ‘You want to repeal health care? Go at it. We’ll have that debate. You’re not going to be able to do that by nickel-and-diming me in the budget. You think we’re stupid?’” recalled the president of his closed-door negotiations on the bill to fund the federal government until September. (listen to the remarks in the video at left)

Mr. Obama said he told House Speaker John Boehner and members of his staff that he’d spent a year and a half getting the sweeping health care legislation passed — paying “significant political costs” along the way — and wouldn’t let them undo it in a six-month spending bill.

GOP Freshmen Revolt Picks Up Steam

April 15th, 2011 at 10:30 am 11 Comments

Over the course of the budget battles of the last few months, healing a growing group of freshmen have begun to lead a revolt against Republican leadership.

While non-freshmen Representatives bucked leadership in similar proportions in the first three continuing resolutions of the 112th Congress, freshmen Republicans have led the backlash against leadership in the last two votes.

In the first continuing resolution that House Republicans considered, H.R. 1, not a single freshman dissented. Only one, Rep. Justin Amash (MI-3) dissented on a two-week C.R. which came before the House on March 1st.

The real rumblings of dissent in the Republican conference erupted on March 15, when 54 Republicans voted ‘nay’ on a continuing resolution that would fund the government for three weeks.

59 Republicans voted against the continuing resolution vote held yesterday, but it’s interesting to see how the makeup of ‘nay’ Republican votes has changed over the last month. Over the month, non-freshmen lost one dissenter, while freshmen gained six.

So it appears that more and more freshmen revolted against leadership as the budget battle drew on. Given this, it can be expected that an even rougher battle over the coming debt ceiling increase is soon to come – with perhaps even more freshmen defections.

Nuke Plant to Pay Evacuees

April 15th, 2011 at 9:41 am Comments Off

Yahoo! News reports:

TOKYO – The crisis at Japan’s tsunami-crippled nuclear plant forced Kazuko Suzuki to flee her home without packing, ended her job at a welfare office and cost her 18-year-old son an offer for work of his own.

The plant operator’s announcement Friday that it would pay $12,000 in initial compensation to each evacuated household struck her as far too little to repay her family for the economic turmoil it has already suffered.

“I’m not satisfied,” said the 49-year-old single mother from Futaba, who has lived for the past month with her two teenage sons at a shelter in a high school north of Tokyo. “I feel like this is just a way to take care of this quickly.”

Suzuki is among tens of thousands forced to leave their homes because of radiation leaking from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, unsure of when, if ever, they will be able to return. The complex’s cooling systems were disabled by the March 11 tsunami, which was spawned by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake.

Some have traveled hundreds of miles (kilometers) to Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s headquarters in the capital to press their demands for compensation. Pressed by the government as well, TEPCO announced it would begin distributing money April 28.

“We have decided to pay provisional compensation to provide a little help for the people (who were affected),” TEPCO President Masataka Shimizu told a news conference.

FrumForum Launches FroshBlog

David Frum April 15th, 2011 at 8:22 am 9 Comments

Today marks the 100th day since the new Congress took the oath of office. On this occasion, for sale we at FrumForum are rolling out a new feature: FroshBlog, a regular writeup of the doings of the 87 newly elected House Republicans as they encounter the fixed ways of Washington DC. Led by reporter Tim Mak and correspondents Nicole Glass and Shawn Summers, our team offers unique insight and detail – indispensable reading by some of the best young writers on the right-hand side of the blogosphere.