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Posts tagged ‘John Thune’

Reid Slammed for ‘Horror Stories’ Claims.


Image: Reid Slammed for 'Horror Stories' Claims

By Sandy Fitzgerald

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, while calling “horror stories” about Obamacare lies, “attacked the character and integrity” of Americans who are not afraid to show how Obamacare is hurting them, Americans for Prosperity President Tim Phillips says.

On Wednesday, Reid said on the Senate floor that there are “plenty of horror stories” being told about Obamacare that are untrue.

Later in the day, the Nevada Democrat amended his statement, saying he wasn’t referring to stories told by everyday Americans, but the “vast majority” of advertising financed by the conservative Americans for Prosperity, which was founded by billionaires Charles and David Koch, Fox News reported.

He also continued to criticize the Koch brothers, calling them “un-American,” after earlier in the day accusing them of “trying to buy Americans.”

Phillips, in a response posted on the Americans for Prosperity website, said some of the people sharing horror stories are “battling serious, life-threatening illnesses,” and accused Democrats like Reid of trying to divert attention from Obamacare’s failures by “declaring war on its victims.”

“Instead of admitting that the health care law is a bad deal for Americans, Senator Reid has chosen to attack the brave men and women who are sharing their personal stories about Obamacare,” Phillips said.

In particular, Reid and other critics have focused attention on one Americans for Prosperity ad featuring Julie Boonstra of Michigan, who says she has leukemia and her healthcare has become unaffordable under Obamacare.

She and the conservative group are standing behind the ad despite the criticism.

“The president’s allies are perfectly fine with brushing these horror stories under the rug — but that’s not so easy for people like Julie Boonstra in Michigan and Emilie Lamb in Tennessee, who are being forced by people like Senator Reid to live out the consequences of Obamacare every single day,” Phillips said.

The Koches also responded to Reid, chastising him for using an ad featuring a woman suffering from leukemia for his attack on Republicans.

“While Charles Koch and David Koch were not responsible for the advertisement in question, we believe it is disgraceful that Senator Reid and his fellow Democrats are attacking a cancer victim as part of their campaign against Charles Koch and David Koch,” said Koch spokesman Philip Ellender.

Republicans are also slamming Reid’s original remarks, with Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., calling them “astounding and offensive.”

South Dakota Republican Sen. John Thune is demanding an apology from Reid to all those who have felt they are harmed by Obamacare.

“The majority leader, and any Democrat who agrees with him, owes an apology to all Americans who are suffering under this disastrous law and whose personal stories he has dismissed as ‘untrue,'” Thune said.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., has read personal stories on the Senate floor several times about Obamacare’s negative impact on his state’s constituents, his spokeswoman Amber Marchand said in a press release.

“A fair question for the majority leader’s office today: Does Harry Reid believe Missourians are making this up?” Marchand said.

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© 2014 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

Cruz: Debt Ceiling ‘Trickery’ Shows Why Americans Hate Congress.


Senators and their “trickery” on last week’s vote on the debt ceiling was “a perfect illustration of everything that is wrong in Washington,” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz says.

“Republican leadership said, we want this to pass but if every senator affirmatively consents to doing it on 51 votes, then we can all cast a vote ‘no’ and we can go home to our constituents and say we opposed it,” the Republican freshman senator told CNN’s Dana Bash on Thursday.

That “show vote,” Cruz continued, is the “sort of trickery to the constituents [which] is why Congress has a 13 percent approval rating.”

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Story continues below video.

The Senate last week approved the “clean” debt-ceiling bill, but two key Republicans, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Minority Whip John Cornyn of Texas voted to end Cruz’s filibuster on the legislation.

Cruz had called for a 60-vote threshold to end debate on the measure, but after discussions among GOP senators on the floor of the chamber, McConnell and Cornyn came forward to cast “aye” votes to end debate — a move called “cloture.”

A total of 12 Republican senators voted to invoke cloture, joining with 53 Democrats and two independents who caucus with Democrats. The bill then advanced to the floor and was approved 55-43 on a straight party-line vote.

Besides McConnell and Cornyn, the other Republicans voting against Cruz were Sens. John Barrasso, Wyoming; Susan Collins, Maine; Bob Corker, Tennessee; Jeff Flake, Arizona; Orrin Hatch, Utah; Mike Johanns, Nebraska; Mark Kirk, Illinois; John McCain, Arizona; Lisa Murkowski, Alaska; and John Thune, South Dakota.

Cruz told Bash that he likes Cornyn and has agreed with him on many issues, but disagrees with him on the debt ceiling vote.

“What I said at the outset was that I am not going to affirmatively consent to giving [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid the authority to do this,” Cruz said. “It’s irresponsible, and it’s sending our nation’s future down the road.”

But he denies criticism that he “threw five Republicans under the bus.”

“My response is, I don’t want to throw any Republicans under the bus,” Cruz said. “I want to see all 45 Republicans stand together and actually do what we tell our constituents we are going to do.”

Overall, Cruz said, lawmakers need to be honest with their constituents.

“Last week, what it was all about was truth and transparency,” he said.

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© 2014 Newsmax. All rights reserved.
By Sandy Fitzgerald

GOP Senate Leadership Bucks Cruz’s 60-Vote Debt Ceiling Bid.


Image: GOP Senate Leadership Bucks Cruz's 60-Vote Debt Ceiling Bid

After a dramatic Senate tally in which top GOP leaders cast the crucial votes, must-pass legislation to allow the government to borrow money to pay its bills cleared Congress Wednesday for President Barack Obama’s signature.

The Senate approved the measure by a near party-line 55-43 vote. All of the “aye” votes came from Obama’s Democratic allies.

But the vote to pass the measure was anticlimactic after a dramatic 67-31 tally — held open for more than an hour — in which the measure cleared a filibuster hurdle insisted on by tea party Republican Ted Cruz of Texas. The Senate’s top two Republicans — both facing tea party challenges in their GOP primaries this year — provided crucial momentum after a knot of Republicans in the Senate well were clearly unhappy at having to walk the plank.

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After Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Minority Whip John Cornyn, voted “aye” several other Republicans switched their votes in solidarity. Twelve Republicans ultimately voted to help the measure advance but the tally appeared to be in doubt for several anxious minutes.

“A lot of people stepped up and did what they needed to do,” said Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, who voted to advance the bill, as did Mark Kirk of Illinois, who said: “Members didn’t want to” vote for it.

The 12 Republicans who voted against Cruz’s measure were: John Barrasso, Wyo.; Susan Collins, Maine; Bob Corker, Tenn.; John Cornyn, Texas; Jeff Flake, Ariz.; Orrin Hatch, Utah; Mike Johanns, Neb.; Mark Kirk, Ill.; John McCain, Ariz.; Mitch McConnell, Ky.; Lisa Murkowski, Alaska; John Thune, S.D.

Cruz’s demands irritated Republicans because it forced several of them, particularly McConnell, to cast a difficult vote. McConnell faces a May primary against tea party candidate Matt Bevin, whose supporters adamantly oppose increasing the debt limit.

“In my view, every Republican should stand together against raising the debt ceiling without meaningful structural reforms to rein in our out of control spending,” Cruz said.

After the tally, Cruz said he had no regrets, saying the “Senate has given President Obama a blank check.”

Asked about forcing a difficult vote upon McConnell, Cruz said: “That is ultimately a decision … for the voters of Kentucky.”

The legislation would permit Treasury to borrow normally for another 13 months and then reset the government’s borrowing cap, currently set at $17.2 trillion, after that.

It passed the House Tuesday after Republicans gave up efforts to use the debt ceiling measure to win concessions from Obama on GOP agenda items like winning approval of construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

The measure is required so that the government can borrow to pay bills like Social Security benefits, federal salaries, and payments to Medicare and Medicaid providers.

Quick action on the debt limit bill stands in contrast to lengthy showdowns in 2012 and last fall when Republicans sought to use the critically necessary measure as leverage to win concessions from Obama. They succeeded in 2011, winning about $2 trillion in spending cuts, but Obama has been unwilling to negotiate over the debt limit since his re-election, and Wednesday’s legislation is the third consecutive debt measure passed without White House concessions.

Republicans have been less confrontational after October’s 16-day partial government shutdown sent GOP poll numbers skidding and chastened the party’s tea party faction. Republicans have instead sought to focus voters’ attention on the implementation and effects of Obama’s health care law.

The measure is required so that the government can borrow to pay all of its bills, including Social Security benefits, federal salaries, payments to Medicare and Medicaid providers and interest on the accumulated debt. Congress has never failed to act to prevent a default on U.S. obligations, which most experts say would spook financial markets and spike interest rates.

Most Republicans say any increase in the debt ceiling should be accompanied by cuts to the spiraling costs of costly benefit programs like Medicare.

“We need some reform before we raise the debt ceiling. We need to demonstrate that we are taking steps that will reduce the accumulation of debt in the future,” said Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, top Republican on the Budget Committee. “And the president and the Democratic Senate have just flatly refused. So they’ve just said, `We’ll accept no restraint on spending’.”

Some Republicans seemed irked that Cruz wouldn’t let the bill pass without forcing it to clear a 60-vote threshold that required some Republicans to walk the plank and help it advance..

“I’m not going to talk about that,” said Orrin Hatch when asked if Republicans are annoyed with Cruz.

Passage of the debt limit measure without any extraneous issues comes after House GOP leaders tried for weeks to find a formula to pass a version of their own that included Republican agenda items like approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline and repeal of an element of the health care law. But a sizable faction of House Republicans simply refuse to vote for any increase in the government’s borrowing abilities, which forced House Speaker John Boehner to turn to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to pass the measure on the strength of Democrats.

The debt measure permits Treasury to borrow regularly through March 15, 2015, putting the issue off until after the November elections and setting it up for the new Congress to handle next year. If Republicans take over the Senate, they’re likely to insist on linking the debt ceiling to spending cuts and other GOP agenda items, but for now at least, the issue is being handled the old fashioned way, with the party of the incumbent president being responsible for supplying the votes to pass it but with the minority party not standing in the way.

“I think we will go back to the responsible way of making sure that our country does not default,” said Democratic Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray.

Senate action Wednesday would safely clear the debt issue off of Washington’s plate weeks in advance of the Feb. 27 deadline set last week by Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew. The debt limit was reset to $17.2 trillion after a four-month suspension of the prior, $16.7 trillion limit expired last Friday. Lew promptly began employing accounting maneuvers to buy time for Congress to act.

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

Source: Newsmax.com

Seniors Group Leader Vows to Kill ‘Death Tax’.


Jim Martin, founder and chairman of the 60 Plus Senior Association, vows that his 7.1 million-member group’s efforts to repeal the estate tax will play a huge role in the 2014 elections.

In an exclusive interview with Newsmax, the man who put the phrase “death tax” on the political map to describe the estate tax predicted a big Republican capture of the Senate because of what he called a “tsunami of senior power reaching gale force this November.”

Virtually every Republican competing for a Senate seat this year supports repealing the estate tax. In 2006, the repeal effort came within three votes of overcoming a Senate filibuster.

Martin also pointed out that there is a growing sentiment among Democrats in and out of Congress to repeal the tax.

“The repeal bill in 2006 passed the House by a vote of 272 to 162,” Martin said, adding that “42 Democrats were on the repeal side and [Georgia Democratic Rep.] Sanford Bishop became the first member of the Congressional Black Caucus to vote to kill the death tax. I suspect his vote had a lot to do with the number of family farms in Georgia that were hit hard by the tax that forced family members to scramble and borrow to pay it.”

Currently, the “death tax” is a 40 percent levy applied to estates over $5.34 million and is indexed for inflation.

Martin cited Frank Blethen, publisher and chief executive officer of the venerable Seattle Times, as one prominent Democrat in the “kill-the-death-tax” camp. Hailed by the left-wing Daily Kos as “the new Citizen Kane,” fourth-generation newsman Blethen runs a newspaper that has been in his family since his great-grandfather Alden bought it in 1896.

“Frank is a liberal Democrat who backed Bill Bradley for president [in the 2000 Democratic primaries] over Al Gore because Gore wasn’t liberal enough,” Martin said with a chuckle.

“I’m a conservative Republican, so we don’t get into talking politics. But the only thing we have in common is something critical: Frank is a vigorous supporter of death tax repeal,” Martin said. “I think practical experience has something to do with it. He’s just seen too many family-owned newspapers like his go under because the families couldn’t pay the tax on the estate of a deceased owner.”

Other major repeal players hailed by Martin include Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform — “who never met a tax he doesn’t want to drown in his bathtub,” Martin mused — and Alabama tax attorney Harold Apolinsky, who Martin affectionately calls “the Godfather of repeal.”

“Harold and I have testified before Congress on the harmful effects of this anti-family, anti-small business tax,” Martin said.

The next repeal measure — which is sponsored by South Dakota Sen. John Thune and Texas Rep. Kevin Brady, both Republicans — will have more Democratic support than ever, Martin predicted. But he also noted that nearly all the Democrats running for Senate seats this year oppose repeal.

“That will give Republicans — nearly all of whom are on the repeal side — control of the Senate,” said Martin, who in August of 2009 became one of the first conservatives to forecast the wave in 2010 that gave the GOP its largest majority in the House since 1938.

Martin, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, spelled out the “battlefields” where he and 60 Plus national spokesman and legendary singer Pat Boone plan to energize their members into action.

Three states where Democratic senators are retiring are what Martin called “lead-pipe cinches” for pickup by Republicans candidates. He also said Republican challengers are better than even money to defeat Democratic senators and repeal opponents in Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, and North Carolina.

“Mark my words: [Louisiana Sen.] Mary Landrieu is finished,” Martin vowed. “She has won three terms by very tight margins. This year, we’re going all-out to show Louisiana’s senior citizens how she has consistently opposed death tax repeal — and that will make the difference for her opponent.”

The 60 Plus chief went even further than many Republican-leaning pundits and forecast a Republican pickup of the seat of retiring Michigan Democratic Sen. Carl Levin and defeats for Democratic Sens. Mark Udall of Colorado, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, and Al Franken of Minnesota.

“The senior vote went heavily Republican in 2010 and went for Mitt Romney by 20 percentage points nationwide in 2012,” said Martin. “If other voters who favored Romney turned out for him in the numbers seniors did, we’d be discussing ‘President Romney’ and how he was eager to sign death tax repeal.”

Since he picked up what he calls “my megaphone” and started building 60 Plus nearly two decades ago, Martin has been credited with popularizing the phrase “death tax” to describe the estate tax. In his book “Wealth and Our Commonwealth: Why America Should Tax Accumulated Fortunes,” Bill Gates Sr., father of Microsoft’s co-founder, cites Martin for reviving the phrase.

“Truth be told, President Reagan coined the term many years ago,” Martin told Newsmax. “But I take pride in having hammered it home. A tax ought to have a socially redeeming value. The estate tax has none. Instead it tears away at family businesses and stymies wealth creation and jobs. If Bill Gates Sr., George Soros, and Warren Buffet want to keep the death tax, fine. Make it voluntary and let them pay. But don’t preach to others about how they should be happy to pay. The estate tax needs to die.”

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.

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© 2014 Newsmax. All rights reserved.
By John Gizzi

Senate Republicans Make New Jobless Benefits Offer.


Prospects of 1.4 million unemployed Americans getting their federal jobless benefits back soon brightened on Monday when U.S. Senate Republican negotiators offered a new plan to extend the emergency relief for three months.

Senate Democrats and Republicans planned to meet privately on Tuesday to evaluate the proposal. A vote on it could occur within days.

Long-term unemployment benefits expired on Dec. 28, and President Barack Obama and his Democrats in Congress have since pressed for an unpaid extension of up to one year.

Republicans have insisted on a shorter extension while also demanding that the $6.5 billion cost of extending benefits for three months be covered by government savings elsewhere.

According to a senior aides, the Republican offer would pay for the jobless benefits by extending across-the-board spending cuts, known as “sequestration,” for another year – into 2024.

The measure also would clamp down on some unemployment benefits to people who also collect federal disability payments.

“We continue to negotiate in good faith, and we are all encouraged that we are making progress on a package that could pass with bipartisan support,” said eight Republican senators who have taken the lead in trying to reach a deal.

The senators said in a statement the proposal included repeal of the recent cuts in the military retiree cost-of-living adjustment included in December’s budget agreement and offsets to pay for the unemployment extension and restoring military retiree benefits within the budget window.

If the Democratic-led Senate approves the proposal, it would have to be passed by the Republican-led House of Representatives before it could go to Obama to sign into law.

Since the Senate began wrangling over a possible extension last week, the number of long-term jobless, generally defined as those who have been out of work for at least six months, has grown to 1.4 million from 1.3 million.

“I can’t automatically agree to it,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, declared in announcing that Republican negotiators had offered a three-month deal.

Assistant Senate Republican Leader John Cornyn declined to make a prediction, saying, “At this point, we don’t even know if Democrats will back it. … I’m not optimistic.”

Senator Orrin Hatch, senior Republican on the Finance Committee, which oversees jobless benefits, said he would support a bill if it is “done on a bipartisan basis.”

Senator John Thune, a member of Republican leadership, told Reuters that he expected the measure, if put to a vote, would garner enough votes to pass, even if most Republicans oppose it.

“I don’t know if there will be the votes for it … probably not mine,” Republican Senator Jeff Flake told Reuters, saying that paying for the program 10 years from now was “a gimmick.”

© 2014 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.
Source: Newsmax.comOrrin Hatch

Thune: Obamacare Costs will be Factor in Debt Debate.


Sen. John Thune said Thursday the upcoming debate in Congress over the debt ceiling would tie into Obamacare because the healthcare law is “dramatically expanding the size of government.”

“I think that the debt limit, in some respects, sort of ties into [the debt ceiling], because I think it reminds people . . . we are dramatically expanding the size of government, and taking over, literally, one-sixth of the American economy with healthcare. And, adding significantly to the debt,” the South Dakota Republican said on MSNBC‘s “Morning Joe.”

Debt limit talks are set to resume in February, following a short-term agreement this fall that ended the government shutdown. Thune indicated extraordinary measures by Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew could push the talks to May or June.

Thune listed Obamacare, government spending, and the debt as the primary issues on which Republicans should be focused headed into next year’s elections. He said the healthcare law is one thing that “unites Republicans of all stripes.”

Thune also predicted a “fairly spirited debate” about unemployment benefits next year in Congress. The benefits, set to expire Dec. 28, were not extended in the budget plan the Senate passed this week, but Democratic leaders have said they plan to address the issue after the holiday recess.

Republicans should also be focused on policies to create jobs and get people back to work, Thune said. He called that “the best solution to the high unemployment rate.”

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© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.
By Wanda Carruthers

Top Three Senate Republicans All Oppose Budget Deal.


Image: Top Three Senate Republicans All Oppose Budget Deal

From left, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune and Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn.

By Courtney Coren

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn and Sen. John Thune, chairman of the Senate Republican conference, have all come out in opposition to the Ryan-Murray budget deal.

While all three senate GOP leaders have expressed their skepticism to the Budget Control Act, only McConnell has said for certain that he will vote against it.

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According to The Wall Street Journal, the Kentucky senator met with House Republicans in November and told them not to compromise on across the board spending cuts that began under the budget sequester earlier this year.

Cornyn and Thune have both said they are skeptical of the budget proposal that has been put together by House Budget Committee chairman Rep. Paul Ryan and Senate Budget Committee chairwoman Sen. Patty Murray, also saying that they want the budget caps that were part of the sequester retained, while offering some “flexibility” to the Pentagon,Breitbart reported.

“I am concerned about the budget proposal because it breaks the spending caps that were a part of the Budget Control Act, which is one of the main reasons why federal spending has actually gone down this year and last year as opposed to having a straight upward trajectory,” said Cornyn during a conference call with reporters Wednesday.

“All along, there was some discussion about providing flexibility to the Department of Defense to allow them to spend the money more efficiently and effectively,” the Texas senator explained. “But the tradeoff was going to be to deal with entitlement reform and to shore up Medicare and Social Security. So I’m wondering where the beef is.”

Cornyn added that the deal increases airplane fees and that raises revenues, “but it’s for more spending” which is “heading in the wrong direction.”

“I think one of the things, the most important things, to do here in Washington is to rein in wasteful spending and to reform important safety net programs like Medicare and Social Security and this does none of that,” the Texas Republican said.

“As you can tell I’m skeptical,” he concluded.

Thune had similar thoughts on the budget deal in a statement sent to Breitbart.

“I have serious concerns about any agreement that breaks the budget caps set by the Budget Control Act without making meaningful spending reforms that address our debt and deficit,” the South Dakota senator said. “Irresponsible Washington spending and kicking the can down the road got us into this mess in the first place and have a responsibility to address the crisis.”

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© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

White House: No Subsidies for Union Health Plans.


Low-income workers on union health plans are not eligible for the same federal subsidies available to those who buy insurance in the new state healthcare marketplaces, the White House said Friday.

The decision is a disappointment for labor unions, coming shortly after top union officials met for more than an hour with President Barack Obama to press their case that subsidies could be extended to union-sponsored plans.

Labor leaders have complained for months that without the subsidies, the Affordable Care Act would drive up the cost of some union plans, leading employers to drop coverage and jeopardizing health coverage for millions of union members.

The White House cited a Treasury Department letter saying there is no legal way for union members in multiemployer group health plans to receive subsidies. In a statement, the White House said it would work with unions and encourage them to offer their multiemployer plans “through the marketplace, on an equal footing, to create new, high-quality, affordable options for all Americans.”

That alternative is not ideal for unions. They would have to turn their private plans into public, competitive plans that are open to all workers, not just union members. And they would have to meet a host of complex new requirements under federal and state laws. It would take months to work out the details, and the plans would have to be approved by federal and state regulators before being deemed qualified health plans that could offer health insurance to the public.

The AFL-CIO declined to comment on the White House decision.

Earlier Friday, shortly after meeting with Obama, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told reporters outside the White House that he hoped the administration would act soon to address labor’s concerns over the new healthcare law. He called the meeting a “problem-solving session.”

“We’ll try to get it done in the next week,” Trumka said. “It may take a little longer to enact everything.”

Congressional Republicans were working to stop the administration from giving organized labor preferential treatment on Obamacare, while the House House tries to quell widespread opposition to the healthcare law from its early supporters.

“Despite championing Obamacare’s passage in 2010, union leaders are now waking up to the ugly reality of Obamacare that most Americans have predicted all along, including higher healthcare costs,” said Sen. John Thune of South Carolina, the chairman of the Senate Republican Conference.

On Tuesday, Thune introduced the Union Bailout Prevention Act, which would stop the White House from granting subsidies to offset premium costs for the multiemployer plans held by many union members.

In addition, the House of Representatives voted on Thursday to stop all subsidies until the administration launched a system to verify recipients are eligible.

“Now that the full consequences of the Democrats’ law are nearing, these same union leaders are seeking a special backroom deal from the White House,” Thune said in a statement. “Rather than take hard-earned money from taxpayers to subsidize union healthcare plans, the Obama administration should give all Americans a break by permanently delaying this train wreck.”

Unions were among the most ardent supporters of the health law when it passed in 2010. Union officials say they still support the law’s goal of reducing health costs and providing coverage to millions of uninsured Americans.

But some union leaders have complained for months that it is not being implemented fairly. Those concerns spilled out this week at the AFL-CIO convention in Los Angeles as the labor federation passed a resolution calling the impact of the law “highly disruptive” to union healthcare plans.

Unions claim the new law will increase costs for health plans that are jointly administered by unions and smaller employers in the construction, retail, and transportation industries.

That could encourage employers to hire fewer union workers or abandon the health plans altogether, forcing union members to seek lower-quality coverage on the new health exchanges.

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

By Newsmax Wires

Senate Passes Bill to Ease FAA Furloughs.


With flight delays mounting, the Senate approved hurry-up legislation Thursday night to end air traffic controller furloughs blamed for inconveniencing large numbers of travelers.

A House vote on the measure was expected as early as Friday, with lawmakers eager to embark on a weeklong vacation.

Under the legislation, which the Senate passed without even a roll call vote, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) would gain authority to transfer up to $253 million from accounts that are flush into other programs, to “prevent reduced operations and staffing” through the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year.

In addition to restoring full staffing by controllers, Senate officials said the available funds should be ample enough to prevent the closure of small airport towers around the country.

The FAA has said it will shut the facilities as it makes its share of $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts — known as the sequester — that took effect last month at numerous government agencies.

The Senate acted as the FAA said there had been at least 863 flights delayed on Wednesday “attributable to staffing reductions resulting from the furlough.”

Administration officials participated in the negotiations that led to the deal and evidently registered no objections.

After the vote, White House press secretary Jay Carney said, “It will be good news for America’s traveling public if Congress spares them these unnecessary delays. But ultimately, this is no more than a temporary Band-Aid that fails to address the overarching threat to our economy posed by the sequester’s mindless, across-the-board cuts.”

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a key participant in the talks, said the legislation would “prevent what otherwise would have been intolerable delays in the air travel system, inconveniencing travelers and hurting the economy.”

Senate approval followed several hours of pressure-filled, closed-door negotiations, and came after most senators had departed the Capitol on the assumption that the talks had fallen short.

Officials said a small group of senators insisted on a last-ditch effort at an agreement before Congress adjourned for a vacation that could have become politically problematic if the flight delays continued.

“I want to do it right now. There are other senators you’d have to ask what the hang-up is,” Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., said at a point when it appeared no compromise would emerge.

For the White House and Senate Democrats, the discussions on legislation relating to one relatively small slice of the $85 billion in spending cuts marked a shift in position in a long-running struggle with Republicans over budget issues.

Similarly, the turn of events marked at least modest vindication of a decision by the House GOP last winter to finesse some budget struggles in order to focus public attention on the across-the-board cuts in hopes they would gain leverage over President Barack Obama.

The Professional Aviation Safety Specialists, a union that represents FAA employees, reported a number of incidents it said were due to the furloughs.

In one case, it said several flights headed for Long Island MacArthur Airport in New York were diverted on Wednesday when a piece of equipment failed. “While the policy for this equipment is immediate restoral, due to sequestration and furloughs it was changed to next-day restoral,” the union said.

It added it was “learning of additional impacts nationwide, including open watches, increased restoration times, delays resulting from insufficient funding for parts and equipment, modernization delays, missed or deferred preventative maintenance, and reduced redundancy.”

The airlines, too, were pressing Congress to restore the FAA to full staffing.

In an interview Wednesday, Robert Isom, chief operations officer of US Airways, likened the furloughs to a “wildcat regulatory action.”

He added, “In the airline business, you try to eliminate uncertainty. Some factors you can’t control, like weather. It [the FAA issue] is worse than the weather.”

In a shift, first the White House and then senior Democratic lawmakers have signaled a willingness in the past two days to support legislation that alleviates the budget crunch at the FAA, while leaving the balance of the $85 billion to remain in effect.

Obama favors a comprehensive agreement that replaces the entire $85 billion in across-the-board cuts as part of a broader deficit-reduction deal that includes higher taxes and spending cuts.

One Senate Democrat, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, noted that without the type of comprehensive deficit deal that Obama favors, a bill that eases the spending crunch at the FAA would inevitably be followed by other single-issue measures.

She listed funding at the National Institutes of Health as one example, and cuts that cause furloughs of civilians who work at military hospitals as a second.

At the same time, Democratic aides said resolve had crumbled under the weight of widespread delays for the traveling public and pressure from the airlines.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., involved in the discussions, said the issue was big enough so “most people want to find a solution as long as it doesn’t spend any more money.”

Officials estimate it would cost slightly more than $200 million to restore air traffic controllers to full staffing, and another $50 million to keep open smaller air traffic towers around the country that the FAA has proposed closing.

Across the Capitol, the chairman of the House Transportation Committee, Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., said, “We’re willing to look at what the Senate’s going to propose.”

He said he believes the FAA has the authority it needs under existing law to shift funds and end the furloughs of air traffic controllers, and any legislation should be “very, very limited” and direct the agency to use the flexibility it already has.

In a reflection of the political undercurrents, another House Republican, Rep. James Lankford of Oklahoma, said FAA employees “are being used as pawns by this (Obama) administration to be able to implement the maximum amount of pain on the American people when it does not have to be this way.”

The White House and congressional Democrats vociferously dispute such claims.

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

Source: NEWSmax.com

Senate GOP tells Obama to tone down the attacks.


Republicans: For deficit deal, Obama must tone down attacks and push Dems to support changes.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Polite yet firm, Senate Republicans told President Barack Obama on Thursday to tone down his political attacks and prod Democratic allies to support controversial changes in Medicare if he wants a compromise reducing deficits and providing stability to federal benefit programs.

Participants at a 90-minute closed-door meeting said Obama acknowledged the point without yielding ground — and noted that Republicans criticize him freely. “To quote an old Chicago politician, ‘Politics ain’t beanbag,'” the president said.

The discussion came as Obama wrapped up a highly publicized round of meetings with rank-and-file lawmakers in both parties and both houses of Congress in hopes of building support for a second-term agenda of deficit reduction, immigration overhaul and gun control.

Obama met separately with Senate Republicans and House Democrats as legislation to lock in $85 billion in spending cuts and avert a government shutdown on March 27 made plodding progress. Separately the two parties advanced rival longer-term budgets in both houses.

No breakthroughs had been anticipated and none was reported in the closed-door sessions, although Obama told reporters before returning to the White House, “We’re making progress.”

In the Senate, several Republicans told the president his rhetoric was not conducive to compromise.

Sen. John Thune of South Dakota referred to a recent interview in which Obama said some Republicans want to eviscerate Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. “Nobody here believes those programs ought to be gutted,” Thune told Obama, the senator later recalled.

“It’s better if the president is here fully engaged with us than traveling around the country saying Congress isn’t doing its job,” Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming later told reporters, summarizing comments he and others had made. “The president needs to be here working side by side withCongress.”

Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee said the message to Obama had been: “Step one is to work with us, not just heckle and taunt us on the campaign trail, and step two is to lead.” The Tennessee lawmaker said Obama must also “go against the grain in his own party,” much as Lyndon Johnson did in winning civil rights legislation from Congress in the 1960s or Richard Nixon did in forging an opening with China in the 1970s.

Obama has repeatedly told Republicans in recent days he supports curtailing the growth of cost-of-living benefits for Social Security and other benefit programs as part of a compromise, as well as raising costs for wealthier Medicare beneficiaries.

He has also told them they must agree to raise revenue — although not tax rates — as part of any deal.

So far, at least, Republicans have noted that proposals to overhaul Medicare include higher premiums or copays on wealthier seniors. Some also have said they could accept higher revenues as part of tax reform that stimulates economic growth.

Neither approach is likely to guarantee enough revenue to satisfy Obama or congressional Democrats. The president said as much later in the day. According to one lawmaker, he told House Democrats in a separate meeting they need not worry about slowing the rise in cost of living benefits because Republicans so far show no willingness to raise revenues.

If nothing else, the reviews of Obama’s meeting with Senate Republicans were uniformly positive.

“We’ll see where we go from here, but it was a great meeting,” said GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who normally is one of the president’s sharpest critics in Congress.

Senators emerging from meetings with Obama said the discussions had ranged over the fate of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, regulatory concerns, fracking, deficit reduction and more.

The president declined to be pinned down on the fate of the Keystone Pipeline, which supporters hope to build to ship Canadian oil to the United States. Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota said Obama pledged only to make a decision before the end of the year on the project, which is opposed by environmentalists but supported by some labor unions.

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., mentioned the Navajo Generating Station, a power plant in Page, Ariz., where the Environmental Protection Agency is requiring the facility’s owner to spend $1.1 billion to upgrade emissions controls. Flake recently wrote that a separate federal agency recently said that even with the change, it couldn’t guarantee there would be “any perceptible improvement in visibility at the Grand Canyon and other national parks and wilderness areas.”

While Obama completed his closed-door round of meetings, the Senate slowly worked its way through a bill that locks in $85 billion in spending cuts through the end of the budget year while guaranteeing there won’t be a government shutdown.

In a show of bipartisanship, leading senators in both parties agreed to provide flexibility for the departments of Commerce, State, Justice and Homeland Security in apportioning the spending cuts, just as the House did with the Pentagon in its version of the bill.

But there were limits to cooperation — most evidently as Republicans attacked a budget by Senate Democrats that relies on $1 trillion in higher taxes over a decade, makes relatively modest changes to Medicare and envisions deficits indefinitely into the future.

Because Democrats want to restore $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts over the same period — cuts imposed by Washington’s failure to strike a broader budget pact — the blueprint authored by Sen. Patty Murray of Washington increases spending slightly when compared with current policies.

McConnell labeled the plan a “left-wing manifesto masquerading as a budget.”

Democrats on Thursday evening pushed Murray’s budget through the Budget Committee on a 12-10 party-line vote, setting up a clash on the Senate floor next week.

A rival plan is expected to come to the Republican-controlled House next week after its approval in committee Wednesday evening. Democrats were as harsh in criticizing it as Republicans were in condemning theirs. The GOP plan cuts $4.6 trillion and eliminates deficits over a decade without any tax increase.

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Associated Press writers Donna Cassata, Andrew Taylor, Henry C. Jackson and Jim Abrams contributed to this report.

Source: YAHOO NEWS.

By David Espo, AP Special Correspondent | Associated Press

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