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Posts tagged ‘Chris Van Hollen’

‘Growing Crescendo’ in GOP to Hold Lerner in Contempt


There’s a “growing crescendo” to hold retired IRS official Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress for her repeated refusal to testify about the tax agency’s targeted scrutiny of tea party groups, one House Oversight Committee member said Wednesday.

In the wake of a contentious less-than-10-minute hearing where Lerner invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination — triggering an angry exchange between committee chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa and ranking Democrat Rep. Elijah Cummings — North Carolina Republican Rep. Mark Meadows said “The American people … want to hold those people accountable.. and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

“There is a growing crescendo that they should hold her in contempt of Congress and the American people get what they deserve,” Meadows told Fox News.

Among the GOP chorus calling for a contempt charge is House Speaker John Boehner.

“She has to testify or she should be held in contempt,” the Ohio Republican said after the hearing, saying he’d wait for a report from Issa.

A contempt vote could lead to a criminal prosecution — and fan the controversy that erupted last year when the agency’s extra scrutiny of tea party-backed nonprofits came to light.

Issa’s committee since then has held five hearings, issued three subpoenas for documents and interviewed IRS officials.

Democrats howled after the hearing, where Cummings had demanded he be given a right to speak before adjournment — but instead had his microphone turned off.

“I am a member of the Congress of the United States of America,” Cummings yelled as Issa dismissed the meeting and cut of microphones. “I am tired of this.

“We have members over here, each who represent 700,000 people. You cannot just have a one-sided investigation. There is absolutely something wrong with that. And, it’s absolutely un-American,” Cummings yelled.

“We had a hearing. We are adjourned. I gave you an opportunity to ask a question. You had no questions,” Issa, a Republican from California, responded.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, slammed Issa for conducting a “witch hunt.”

“What we’re seeing in the House today is a sign of larger dysfunction and partisanship on behalf of Republicans,” Van Hollen told MSNBC’s “Daily Rundown,” according to Politico.

“Darrell Issa has been conducting this political witch hunt for a long time now. He’s frustrated because he hasn’t been able to come up with any evidence of intentional political wrongdoing on the part of the Obama administration, and so he’s getting frustrated and making stuff up.”

Democratic National Committee chair, Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, called Issa’s conduct at the Wednesday hearing comparable to oppression in Ukraine and Venezuela, according to Politico, saying she was “stunned” that Issa would try to silence Cummings by cutting off his mic.

Cummings continued speaking for about 10 minutes; Lerner remained seated.

Issa said he’ll decide by next week whether his committee will seek to hold Lerner in contempt.

Lerner first appeared before the committee last May, when she also invoked the Fifth Amendment after maintaining that she was innocent of wrongdoing. The committee determined the following month that Lerner waived her right against self-incrimination by making that statement.

A Treasury inspector general’s report has since determined the IRS had used inappropriate criteria to scrutinize groups, though it found no evidence of a political motivation.

The Justice Department is involved in a criminal probe of the matter.

The IRS has since proposed new rules for handling social welfare groups engaged in political activity, though conservative groups have called them too restrictive.

Bloomberg news contributed to this report

Related Stories:

© 2014 Newsmax. All rights reserved.
By Wanda Carruthers and Cathy Burke

Democrats Plan New End Run Around GOP House on Minimum Wage.


House Democrats are determined to cast an election-year spotlight on Republican opposition to raising the minimum wage and overhauling immigration laws.

To try to accomplish that in the GOP-controlled House, Democrats are planning to rely on an infrequently used, rarely successful tactic known as a “discharge petition.”

It requires the minority party — in this case, Democrats, who are unable to dictate the House agenda — to persuade some two dozen Republicans to defy their leadership, join Democrats and force a vote on setting the federal minimum wage at $10.10 an hour.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said Democrats will push the wage issue when Congress returns from its break Feb. 24. Forcing a vote on a comprehensive overhaul of immigration laws could occur in a few months.

Democratic leaders argue that a majority of Americans favor both steps, which are priorities for President Barack Obama, and say the House GOP is the obstacle. Republicans say Democrats are embarking on an approach that they know has little chance of success in an attempt to circumvent the will of the GOP-led House.

The odds are daunting for Democrats in what clearly is political maneuvering ahead of the elections this fall.

Some questions and answers on how it works.

___

Q: What does a discharge petition do?

A: It allows the minority or opposition party to bypass the House speaker and get a vote.

First, 217 members — one more than half the House’s current membership of 432 — have to sign a petition. A motion to consider the wage issue would then be placed on the legislative calendar, but it can’t be acted on for at least seven days. Any lawmaker can then call it up but only on the second or fourth Monday of the month. The motion is debated and if the House passes it, then lawmakers would consider and vote on the bill.

Currently there are 232 Republicans, 200 Democrats and three vacancies in the House. All 200 Democrats would have to sign the petition, but Democrats would have a tough time getting 17 Republicans to join them.

Signing a discharge petition would be a breach of loyalty for Republicans, certain to draw the wrath of the caucus, and a rebuke of Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.

Republicans largely oppose any increase in the minimum wage. They say it’s an issue left to the states and that it could slow hiring in a struggling economy.

Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 House Democrat, acknowledged that Democrats are unlikely to sway Republicans. Yet he also provided a preview of one of his party’s arguments on this issue.

“I don’t think we’re ever confident that we’re going to get 18 Republicans to sign a discharge petition, but we apparently have 30 or 40 that are known over here,” Hoyer said at a news conference this past week at the party’s retreat in Cambridge, Md. “Our expectation is if they want to make sure that working people have an incentive to work, they will pay them to do so a wage that does not leave them in poverty.”

___

Q: What about immigration? A number of House Republicans back a comprehensive approach. Would they sign a discharge petition?

A: Highly unlikely. Republicans still are unwilling to break ranks with the party and Boehner, despite the distinctly different political forces on the issue.

Immigration overhaul has the support of an unusual coalition that includes some traditional backers of the GOP. They include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and business groups, religious organizations such as the U.S. Catholic Bishops, evangelicals and labor unions.

A few Republicans have expressed support for a comprehensive bill similar to the Senate-passed measure and have pleaded for the House to act this year. They worry about the political implications in their swing districts back home. Yet it would be a remarkable step for some of the more moderate lawmakers from California and Florida to abandon Boehner.

Boehner has come out with principles on immigration that call for legal status for some of the 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally and has expressed support for a piecemeal approach to the issue. Last week, however, the speaker all but ruled out the House acting on legislation this year, blaming GOP distrust of Obama to enforce any new law.

On the notion of a discharge petition, Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said, “This scheme has zero chance of success. A clear majority in the House understands that the massive Senate-passed bill is deeply flawed.”

Sen. Chuck Schumer, a major player on the bipartisan Senate measure, recently pushed the idea of a discharge petition, but the New York Democrat is unlikely to sway the nearly two dozen House Republicans necessary to sign on.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., made clear how Democrats will frame the issue for the Republicans who want immigration overhaul.

“Talk is one thing; actually doing something is another. And I’m sure they’ll have a chance between now and November to let their constituents know whether they’re serious on immigration reform, the comprehensive one, or not,” Van Hollen said.

___

Q: A discharge petition sounds like a tough sell. Has it worked recently?

The discharge petition worked in 1986, forcing a vote on a gun rights bill, and in 2002, ensuring a vote on campaign finance legislation.

The difficulty for a discharge petition in the current political climate was never more evident than last fall in the midst of the 16-day partial government shutdown. Even though several Republicans said they wanted to vote on a spending bill with no strings attached, they rejected the idea that they would join forces with the Democrats.

© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Source: Newsmax.com

1.3 Million Americans Lose Unemployment Benefits.


More than 1 million Americans are bracing for a harrowing, post-Christmas jolt as extended federal unemployment benefits come to a sudden halt this weekend, with potentially significant implications for the recovering U.S. economy. A tense political battle likely looms when Congress reconvenes in the new, midterm election year.

Nudging Congress along, a vacationing President Barack Obama called two senators proposing an extension to offer his support. From Hawaii, Obama pledged Friday to push Congress to move quickly next year to address the “urgent economic priority,” the White House said.

Editor’s Note: Ordinary Man Retires at 42. His Secret to Success . . .

For families dependent on cash assistance, the end of the federal government’s “emergency unemployment compensation” will mean some difficult belt-tightening as enrollees lose their average monthly stipend of $1,166.

Jobless rates could drop, but analysts say the economy may suffer with less money for consumers to spend on everything from clothes to cars. Having let the “emergency” program expire as part of a budget deal, it’s unclear if Congress has the appetite to start it anew.

An estimated 1.3 million people will be cut off when the federally funded unemployment payments end Saturday.

Some 214,000 Californians will lose their payments, a figure expected to rise to more than a half-million by June, the Labor Department said. In the last 12 months, Californians received $4.5 billion in federal jobless benefits, much if plowed back into the local economy.

More than 127,000 New Yorkers also will be cut off this weekend. In New Jersey, 11th among states in population, 90,000 people will immediately lose out.

Started under President George W. Bush, the benefits were designed as a cushion for the millions of U.S. citizens who lost their jobs in a recession and failed to find new ones while receiving state jobless benefits, which in most states expire after six months. Another 1.9 million people across the country are expected to exhaust their state benefits before the end of June.

But Obama has no quick fix. He hailed this month’s two-year budget agreement as a breakthrough of bipartisan cooperation while his administration works with Democratic allies in the House and Senate to revive an extension of jobless benefits for those unemployed more than six months.

The Obama administration says those payments have kept 11.4 million people out of poverty and benefited almost 17 million children. The cost of them since 2008 has totaled $225 billion.

At the depth of the recession, laid off workers could qualify for up to 99 weeks of benefits, including the initial 26 weeks provided by states. The most recent extension allowed a total of up to 73 weeks, depending on the state.

Restoring up to 47 extra weeks of benefits through 2014 would cost $19 billion, according to the Congressional Budget office.

House Democrats led by Reps. Sander Levin of Michigan and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland sought to include an extension through March by offsetting the costs with potential farm bill savings. They were rebuffed.

Senate Democrats and some Republicans plan another push in 2014. Sens. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Dean Heller, R-Nev., have introduced a bill offering a similar three-month extension, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has promised to bring it up. But as with much in Congress, an extension is no sure thing.

In phone calls on Friday, Obama told Reed and Heller he was glad they were working together to address the problem. “It defies economic sense, precedent and our values,” Obama economic adviser Gene Sperling said in a statement.

House Speaker John Boehner spoke with Obama about an extension earlier this month. Boehner and said his caucus would consider the possibility “as long as it’s paid for and as long as there are other efforts that will help get our economy moving once again.” He said White House has yet to introduce a plan that meets his standards.

For other Republicans, the bar is higher. Many of them look at signs of economic growth and an unemployment rate now down to 7 percent and expected to drop further as evidence the additional weeks of benefits are no longer necessary.

The effect of jobless benefits on the unemployment rates has been fiercely debated for decades. To qualify, people have to be seeking work. Tea partiers such as Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky argue that the payments aggravate rather than relieve unemployment.

The benefits allow some jobseekers to hold out for higher wages. Without the benefits, they might accept lower-paying jobs, reducing the unemployment rate. Others may be looking for work only to keep the benefits flowing and will drop out of the job market entirely once the checks stop. In theory, that also would push the unemployment rate lower.

The flip side is that the benefits — in addition to alleviating suffering — get spent on consumer goods, stimulating the economy and creating jobs.

Extended unemployment insurance “is really a lifeline to help pay the bills, put food on the table, and put gas in the tank so people can look for work,” argued Maurice Emsellem, policy co-director at the left-leaning National Employment Law Project.

Michael Feroli, an analyst at JPMorgan Chase, said ending the extended benefits will lower the unemployment rate by half a percentage point as the long-term unemployed leave the labor force. While that statistical change may look good on the surface, Feroli cautioned the drop could be accompanied by a similar decrease in consumer spending. That would also hurt clothing retailers, car dealers and other Main Street businesses.

Extending the program, on the other hand, would boost GDP growth by some 0.2 percent and increase full-time employment by 200,000 next year, the Congressional Budget Office estimated, but at the price of increasing the government’s debt.

Advocates of extended benefits say communities hardest hit by the recession will feel the sudden loss of cash in circulation the most.

They cite a set of their own troublesome figures: three jobseekers still competing for each opening; some 4 million people in the ranks of long-term unemployed; unemployment lasting on average 37 weeks, two months longer than most states provide insurance, most states provide insurance.

Editor’s Note: Ordinary Man Retires at 42. His Secret to Success . . .

___

Associated Press writer Josh Lederman in Honolulu contributed to this report.

© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Source: Newsmax.com

Tech Bugs Persist Even as White House Touts Obamacare Fixes.


The worst of the online glitches, crashes and delays may be over for the problem-plagued government health care website, the Department of Health and Human Services said Sunday.

But that doesn’t mean HealthCare.gov is ready for a clean bill of health.

Officials acknowledged more work remains on the website that included hundreds of software bugs, inadequate equipment and inefficient management for its national debut two months ago. Federal workers and private contractors have undertaken an intense reworking of the system, but the White House’s chief troubleshooter cautioned some users could still encounter trouble.

“The bottom line — HealthCare.gov on Dec. 1 is night and day from where it was on Oct. 1,” Jeff Zients told reporters.

But on CNN Sunday, reporters trying to test the site found that it still crashed.

“We’ve been trying to get into the site since October 1 on and off again,” said CNN medical reporter Matt Sloane. “I have to say it did work a lot more smoothly this morning. I got through. I picked my state. I put in all of my information and I got through the whole process in eight minutes.

“And then it said my status was in progress. So I went to refresh it and I got the error message.”

Story continues below video.

More than 50,000 people can log on to the website at one time and more than 800,000 people will be able to shop for insurance coverage each day, the government estimated in a report released Sunday. If true, it’s a dramatic improvement from the system’s first weeks, when frustrated buyers watched their computer screen freeze, the website crash and error messages multiply.

The figures — which could not be independently verified — suggest millions of Americans could turn to their laptops to shop for and buy insurance policies by the Dec. 23 deadline.

“There’s not really any way to verify from the outside that the vast majority of people who want to enroll can now do so, but we’ll find out at least anecdotally over the coming days if the system can handle the traffic and provide a smooth experience for people trying to sign up,” said Larry Levitt, a senior adviser at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

But, he added, HealthCare.gov is clearly working better than when it first went online. Its challenge now is to convince users who were frustrated during their first visit to give it another chance.

Politically, a fixed website could also offer a fresh start for President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats after a wave of bad publicity surrounding the president’s chief domestic achievement.

“This website is technology. It’s going to get better. It’s already better today,” said Rep. Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat who is a co-chairman of the liberal Congressional Progressive Caucus. “And we’re only going to be working out more kinks as we go forward.”

HealthCare.gov was envisioned as the principal place for people in 36 states to buy insurance under Obama’s health care law. But its first few weeks were an embarrassment for the administration and its allies.

Obama set Saturday as the deadline to fix several significant problems and the administration organized a conference call with reporters Sunday morning to boast that 400 technical problems had been resolved. Officials, however, declined to say how many items remain on the to-do list.

Even with the repairs in place, the site still won’t be able to do everything the administration wants, and companion sites for small businesses and Spanish speakers have been delayed. Questions remain about the stability of the site and the quality of the data it delivers to insurers.

“The security of this site and the private information does not meet even the minimal standards of the private sector, and that concerns me,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, the Michigan Republican who leads the House intelligence panel. “I don’t care if you’re for it or against it, Republican or Democrat, we should not tolerate the sheer level of incompetence securing this site.”

Obama promised a few weeks ago that HealthCare.gov “will work much better on Nov. 30, Dec. 1, than it worked certainly on Oct. 1.” But, in trying to lower expectations, he said he could not guarantee that “100 percent of the people 100 percent of the time going on this website will have a perfectly seamless, smooth experience.”

Obama rightly predicted errors would remain. The department reported the website was up and running 95 percent of the time last week — meaning a 1-in-20 chance remains of encountering a broken website. The government also estimated that pages crashed at a rate less than once every 100 clicks.

“Yes, there are problems,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee. “There’s no denying that. Let’s work to fix them.”

The nation’s largest health insurer trade group said significant problems remain and could be a barrier for consumers signing up for coverage effective Jan. 1.

“HealthCare.gov and the overall enrollment process continue to improve, but there are significant issues that still need to be addressed,” said Karen Ignagni, president and CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans.

Republicans, betting frustration about the health care law is their best bet to make gains in 2014’s congressional and gubernatorial elections, continued their criticism of the system.

“I don’t know how you fix it, I’ll be honest,” said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. “I don’t know how you fix a program that was put together in this manner with only one side of the aisle, and taking the shortcuts we’re taking to put it in place.”

Democrats, sensing their potential vulnerability, sought to blame Republicans for not offering ideas on how to improve the website.

“Yes, we have to fix it. We should be working together to fix it,” said Van Hollen, a former chairman of the committee tasked to elect more Democrats to the U.S. House.

The first big test of the repaired website probably won’t come for a few more weeks, when an enrollment surge is expected as consumers rush to meet a Dec. 23 deadline so their coverage can kick in on the first of the year.

Avoiding a break in coverage is particularly important for millions of people whose current individual policies were canceled because they don’t meet the standards of the health care law, as well as for a group of about 100,000 in an expiring federal program for high-risk patients.

Ellison spoke to ABC’s “This Week.” Rogers and Van Hollen were interviewed on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Corker joined CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

 

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.
By Newsmax Wires

Rep. Van Hollen Says GOP Trying to Thwart Obamacare.


Image: Rep. Van Hollen Says GOP Trying to Thwart Obamacare

By Greg Richter

Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland joined the White House‘s attack on Republicans Sunday, saying the GOP still is trying to thwart the success of Obamacare. Van Hollen admitted on “Meet the Press” that the Healthcare.gov website and other parts of the Affordable Care Act are having trouble. But Republicans, he said “are not trying to work with us to address these issues.” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., issued a “playbook” against Obamacare, Van Hollen said. Host David Gregory pointed out that Republicans had opposed the ACA from the beginning. “But you’re not saying it’s the Republicans’ job to execute, right?” Gregory asked Van Hollen. “Because these were the federal government’s ideas, the president’s ideas, and it’s his responsibility to execute.” Van Hollen countered that conservatives are running ads telling young people not to sign up for Obamacare and are behind efforts to interfere with “navigators,” who are assigned to help people through the process of signing up for health insurance through the new system. Van Hollen argued that when Republicans passed the Medicare Part D prescription drug bill in 2003, Democrats didn’t think it was perfect, “But Democrats worked with Republicans to get the job done.” Gregory wasn’t sold. “I did the research,” he told Van Hollen. “You did not encourage people to sign up.” Related Stories:

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

Albert R. Hunt: Shutdown or No Shutdown, Ted Cruz Wins.


Whether or not the government shuts down tonight, there will be one big political winner: Ted Cruz.

The freshman Texas senator has become the face and voice of the Republicans in their showdown with Democrats and the White House over funding the government.

In recent memory, no newcomer to the Senate with less than 10 months in office has exercised as much influence.

Cruz, vilified by establishment Republicans, many pundits and the inside-the-Beltway cognoscenti, is the darling of his party’s right-wing base after his 21-hour faux filibuster last week in which he asked for curbs to President Barack Obama’s health-care law as the price of keeping the government open.

The effort was futile in legislative terms and could potentially do long-term damage to the Republican brand. But the pressure applied by Cruz emboldened House Republicans to stay the course and force a standoff. He encouraged rank-and-file right-wing U.S. representatives to keep the pressure on House Speaker John Boehner.

Yesterday, the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, called Cruz the de facto Republican leader of the House. Others say he has the same role in the Senate.

There seems to be an inverse relationship between disapproval in Washington and adulation among grass-root conservatives. Cruz is the darling of much of right-wing talk radio, Republican primary contestants are lining up to identify with him and phone calls from constituents to Republican lawmakers tilt in his favor.

The 42-year-old may have put himself in a win-win situation: If Democrats cave and concede anything on Obamacare, Cruz will be hailed by party activists as the man who made it happen. If Republicans ultimately capitulate, the take-no- prisoners Texan can be expected to lead a chorus of criticism of his own party.

© Copyright 2013 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.

Source: NEWSmax.com

Robert Reich: GOP Hardliners Using ‘Blackmail’ to Defund Obamacare.


Republican hardliners are using “blackmail” to try to get Obamacare defunded, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich said Sunday.

“I think the issue is whether one party in Congress is going to be allowed to use the entire system of government as basically blackmail to get its way,” said Reich, who was part of a panel discussion on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”

Obamacare has already “passed both house of Congress, has already been put into law by the president,” said Reich. “The constitutionality of that particular law has been undeniably affirmed by the Supreme Court. What’s next? Social Security, Medicare, the Fair Labor Standards Act?”

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, appearing on the same show, had harsh words for the president.

President Barack Obama “goes three times this week for partisan attack speeches, and basically says ‘I’m not going to negotiate,'” said Gingrich. “This isn’t a dictatorship. Under our Constitution, there should be a period of tension and a compromise on both sides. The president says nobody gets 100 percent, but what is he going to give up? Under our constitutional system you’re not allow to risk the entire system of government to get your way.”

Georgia Republican Rep. Tom Graves, who earlier this month put forth a plan for a spending measure to defund and delay Obamacare until 2015, said Sunday his idea will keep the government open and operating for an entire year.

Graves said the main goal is to keep the government operating, so “we’re going to do everything we can to protect our constituents.”

Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland noted that even Republican senators like John McCain are saying that a federal government shutdown is “insane.”

“They’re going to shut down the government if they can’t deny healthcare to millions of Americans, including millions of kids who are right now benefiting,” said Van Hollen.

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

By Sandy Fitzgerald

Rep. McCaul: Don’t Do ‘Victory Lap’ Over Syrian Deal.


The White House should “exercise humility” and “not do a victory lap” over the potential diplomatic deal to avoid a military strike on Syria, says Republican Rep. Mike McCaul of Texas.

Appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” McCaul said it will be “extremely difficult” to disarm the government of Bashar Assad of chemical weapons. Asked whether American troops should be used in the disarming effort, McCaul said he would prefer to see Russian troops be used instead.

Russia proposed the deal to have Syria hand over its chemical weapons to international officials after Secretary of State John Kerry suggested just such an idea in an off-hand answer to a reporter’s question on Monday.

McCaul didn’t think Russian President Vladimir Putin felt pressured by President Barack Obama’s threat to use force. Instead, he likely looked at how the Muslim Brotherhood took over in Egypt and is present in Libya after both experienced the Arab Spring of 2012 and feared the same thing happening “in his own backyard,” he said.

Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland disagreed with an assertion by Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina a day earlier that Putin had boxed Obama in.

If outfoxing means giving the president everything he asked for, Van Hollen said, “maybe that’s the kind of outfoxing we need.”

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

By Greg Richter

Former Justice Officials: Regulation of Political Speech Goes Too Far.


The Internal Revenue Service targeting scandal highlights the problem of excessive restrictions on political free speech, according to former Justice Department officials David Rivkin and Lee Casey.

“The federal regulation of political speech has already gone further than can be justified by existing law, let alone the Constitution,” the two, who are now Baker & Hostetler partners, wrote Thursday in op-ed piece for The Wall Street Journal.

They said the political speech debate now centers on the IRS controversy over political or social-welfare organizations seeking exemptions federal income taxes under section 501(c)(4) of the tax Code.

On Wednesday, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., filed a lawsuit to make the IRS tighten eligibility rules for politically active groups seeking 501(c)(4) status.

Rivkin and Casey called that a bad idea because, they said, “‘Social welfare‘ is a capacious term that includes many policy and political goals—from preserving historic battlefields to repealing laws for or against same-sex marriage.”

The IRS has long allowed these groups to operate wholly as lobbyists they pointed out, noting, “In other words, they are permitted to engage in political speech directed at government officials.”

“At the same time, however, the IRS says that political campaign activities cannot account for more than half of a 501(c)(4)’s expenditures,” the two continued. “But the statute itself contains no such limitation. In short, the IRS effectively robs social-welfare organizations of one half of their potential political speech.This distinction between lobbying and election advocacy is entirely arbitrary.”

Electing the right candidate may be a group’s only means to achieve its social-welfare purpose, the lawyers observed.

“Yet the IRS rules here are consistent with the federal government’s overall approach to regulating elections since at least the 1970s,” they wrote.

“Bizarre as it may be in the world’s leading democracy, federal election laws treat the most effective form of political speech as the most disfavored. Stricter regulations like those sought by Rep. Van Hollen and others would only worsen the problem.”

Rivkin and Casey argued that in the 2010 Citizens United case, the Supreme Court moved closer to the First Amendment, removing restrictions on independent political campaign expenditures by corporations, associations and labor unions.

“Since Citizens United, the use of 501(c)(4) organizations to engage in political speech has burgeoned — largely because such groups need not disclose their donors as purely political organizations still must,” they noted.

“Calls for the IRS to close this supposed ‘loophole’ also have multiplied.That is a bad idea, not supported by the statutory language, and it is unconstitutional to boot.”

Even though the Supreme Court has ruled the government has no duty to subsidize political speech through tax exemptions, the lawyers argued that “there is no plausible basis on which the IRS (or Congress) can limit tax-exempt status to groups that eschew independent campaign spending while permitting other forms of political speech, such as lobbying.”

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

By Dan Weil

Republicans Say It’s Not About Money in Debt Showdown With Obama.


For House Republicans in this year’s budget fight, it’s not all about the money.

Republican leaders are poring over a list of potential sweeteners, such as approving the Keystone XL pipeline, to gather enough votes to present a united front when they face off with President Obama next month.

Their wish list doesn’t resemble old-fashioned horse- trading such as money for a roads or bridges in return for a vote. Rather, the demands today are aimed at keeping together the Republican caucus that has splintered on major legislation this year.

They include clearing the way for TransCanada Corp.’s proposed Keystone project, delaying or defunding the Affordable Care Act and curbing spending on entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare. Republicans have begun developing a strategy on their price for raising the debt limit.

“They are in great shape right now if they simply could pull together,” Steve Bell, a senior director at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, said in an interview. “They could extract what they want.”

Republican leaders say they are determined to avoid a federal government shutdown or a downgrade of the U.S. credit rating, and their emerging strategy is meant to reflect that.

House leaders must craft legislation that would gain 217 Republican votes needed for passage in the absence of Democratic support, so that they can avoid blame. Their caucus is divided: right now, as few as 17 Republican lawmakers can make or break their strategy.

They’re also trying to time the votes carefully.

Government Funding

When they return to Washington on Sept. 9 after a five-week recess, lawmakers will negotiate a 60-to-90-day stopgap measure to fund the government in the first few months of the fiscal year starting Oct. 1. The legislation is expected to include no special riders and continue this year’s funding level of $988 billion — a move that would gain enough Republican and Democratic votes to pass both the House and Senate.

Agreement between the parties may stop there.

By endorsing a temporary spending measure, Republicans will time their demands to three fiscal deadlines coming by the end of the year: to raise the nation’s debt limit; fund the government for the rest of fiscal 2014; and replace about $1 trillion in across-the-board spending cuts, known as sequestration.

‘Difficult Vote’

“There’s hope that in the window there will be a serious discussion that will tie the end of the fiscal year with the sequester and debt ceiling,” Representative Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican, said in an interview. “One difficult vote is better than three difficult votes.”

The Bipartisan Policy Center, a nonprofit research group based in Washington, projects that the U.S. will hit its $16.7 trillion borrowing limit some time between mid-October and mid- November, unless Congress acts to increase it.

In August 2011, when lawmakers agreed to raise the debt ceiling on the day the government’s ability to borrow was set to run out, unemployment was 9 percent. Last month it was 7.4 percent, the lowest since December 2008.

Consumer confidence, sinking back to recession levels in 2011, is now close to a five-year high. The budget deficit, $1.3 trillion in 2011, is projected by the Congressional Budget Office to improve to $642 billion this year.

Still, the need to raise the nation’s borrowing limit and the prospect of deeper automatic cuts of $109.3 billion for 2014 will force deficit-reduction negotiations with Democrats, Cole said. Republicans won’t budge from two stances: no more tax increases and no debt ceiling increase until Congress “does something about the debt,” he said.

Automatic Cuts

Also, Cole said Republicans will agree to continue the automatic cuts even with the defense reductions they don’t like.

“The sequester I really think of as something that Democrats want to end more than Republicans,” he said.

Democrats, for their part, are pushing for a debt-limit increase with no strings attached and want to avoid any deficit reduction tied to the need to raise the borrowing limit.

“We’re happy to negotiate on budget issues,” Representative Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat, said in an interview. “Democrats aren’t going to agree to these radical demands in order for Republicans to do the right thing and pay the country’s bills.”

Democrats say that the Republican strategy on the debt ceiling is risky, as the party will need to work across the aisle to gain votes.

Republicans ’Divided’

“Republicans have been divided and as a result have consistently needed Democratic votes to pass significant legislation through the House,” Maryland Representative Steny Hoyer, the chief Democratic vote-counter in the House, said in a statement.

While the Democratic-led Senate will negotiate and advance a debt-ceiling increase as well, House Republicans have a significant role in determining the outcome of the debate.

Depending on the list of spending reductions and economic growth policies, Republican leaders want a debt-limit increase that would last until after the 2014 congressional election.

“We’ve got to put together a policy package that will garner the support of a majority, hopefully the unanimity” of House Republicans, said Representative Tom Price, a Georgia Republican who serves as vice chairman of the Budget Committee.

As a starting point, Republicans may include on their menu some of the deficit-reduction proposals made by Obama, Price said in an interview.

Medicare Costs

They include the chained Consumer Price Index, an alternative inflation yardstick, as a benchmark for Social Security cost-of-living increases; requiring higher-income Medicare beneficiaries to pay more and slowing Medicare growth by cutting payments to drug companies and health-care providers.

In addition to building the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline, Republicans are looking at more leases for oil exploration. They also want to reduce government regulations. Republicans also have to decide whether to delay Obama’s health- care law or cut its funding, Price said.

“Defunding it is still being discussed and appropriately so,” he said.

© Copyright 2013 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.
Source: NEWSmax.com

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