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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

Hillary Clinton Warns New Iran Sanctions Could Upend Talks.


Image: Hillary Clinton Warns New Iran Sanctions Could Upend Talks

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is warning Congress that new unilateral sanctions against Iran could upend sensitive international negotiations over its nuclear development, imploring lawmakers to work with the Obama administration in presenting a unified front to Tehran.

Echoing President Barack Obama’s deep concerns about another round of tough economic penalties, Clinton said any congressional action could undercut U.S. work with its allies as well as American influence with Russia and China in forcing Tehran to negotiate after years of inconclusive talks.

“Now that serious negotiations are finally under way, we should do everything we can to test whether they can advance a permanent solution,” Clinton said. “As President Obama has said, we must give diplomacy a chance to succeed, while keeping all options on the table.”

Clinton offered her assessment in a three-page letter to Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the chairman of the Armed Services Committee. Levin’s office released the letter, dated Jan. 26, on Sunday.

Levin and several other committee chairmen have expressed a willingness to hold off on sanctions to give diplomatic efforts a chance. However, 59 Republicans and Democrats back legislation to impose a new round of penalties on Iran, maintaining that crippling economic sanctions forced Tehran to make concessions.

The legislation, sponsored by Sens. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., would blacklist several Iranian industrial sectors and threaten banks and companies around the world with being banned from the U.S. market if they help Iran export any more oil. The provisions would only take effect if Tehran violates the six-month interim deal or lets it expire without a comprehensive nuclear agreement.

Iran agreed in November to slow its uranium enrichment program to a level that is far below what would be necessary to make a nuclear bomb. It also agreed to increased international inspections to give world leaders confidence that it is not trying to build weapons in secret.

In exchange, the U.S. and five other nations — Britain, Germany, France, Russia and China — agreed to ease an estimated $7 billion worth of international sanctions against Iran’s crippled economy for a six-month period while negotiators try to broker a final settlement.

Iran has long maintained that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

Clinton said the intelligence community has said new sanctions could undercut the chances for a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran.

“I share that view. It could rob us of the diplomatic high ground we worked so hard to reach, break the united international front we constructed and in the long run, weaken the pressure on Iran by opening the door for other countries to chart a different course,” said the former New York senator and possible 2016 presidential candidate.

In his State of the Union address this past week, Obama repeated his threat to veto any new Iran sanctions if Congress passes legislation.

Clinton, who said she repeatedly backed Iran sanctions during her eight years as senator, cautioned lawmakers.

“If the world judges — rightly or wrongly — that negotiations have collapsed because of actions in the United States Congress, even some of our closest partners abroad — to say nothing of countries like Russia and China — may well falter in their commitment. And without help from our partners in enforcing them, any new measures we put in place will not achieve maximum impact,” Clinton said.

Levin, who had written to Clinton Jan. 16 seeking her views, said her letter “is another strong signal to Congress that we should not take any legislative action at this time that would damage international unity or play into the hands of hard-liners in Iran who oppose negotiations.”

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

 

Menendez Iran Sanctions Bill Stirs Democratic Unrest.


Image: Menendez Iran Sanctions Bill Stirs Democratic Unrest

By Melissa Clyne

A fight is brewing among Democrats and the White House over a bill proposed by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez that would impose additional sanctions against Iran if the country fails to make good on its promises regarding its nuclear program.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the New Jersey Democrat’s bill has drawn criticism from the White House, which fears that saber rattling over more sanctions could upset efforts to reach a final agreement with Tehran aimed at effectively ending its nuclear program. In December, a large group of Democratic Senate chairman also raised the same concern about threatening new sanctions before talks have even gotten well underway.

The U.S., along with Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia, struck a deal with Tehran to limit uranium enrichment in exchange for the easing of international sanctions for six months. Menendez and other liberal Democratic heavyweights, including New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, have voiced skepticism over the interim deal, arguing that it has no “end game” and is not stringent enough.

Two dozen senators – 12 Democrats and 12 Republicans – are cosponsoring the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act, introduced by Menendez and Illinois Republican Sen. Mark Kirk. Writing in an op-ed piece in The Washington Post last Thursday, Menendez argued that the U.S. needs to operate from a trust and verify stance with Iran, a historically untrustworthy nation.

“The American public supports diplomacy. So do I.” Menendez wrote. “The American public doesn’t trust the Iranian regime. Neither do I.”

The same day, the White House struck back with a statement from National Security Council Spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan, who accused Menendez and other critics of the deal of being stealth war hawks.

“If certain members of Congress want the United States to take military action [against Iran’s nuclear development efforts], they should be up front with the American public and say so,” she said. “Otherwise, it’s not clear why any member of Congress would support a bill that possibly closes the door on diplomacy and makes it more likely that the United States will have to choose between military options or allowing Iran’s nuclear program to proceed.”

Meehan argued that the Menendez-Kirk bill would be counter-productive and “divide the international community . . . and possibly end negotiations.”

Also lining up against Menendez and his camp are 10 Senate committee chairmen, whopenned a Dec. 18 letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid urging him to reject additional sanctions unless Iran violates the current agreement.

“We believe that new sanctions would play into the hands of those in Iran who are most eager to see the negotiations fail,” the letter stated.

But Menendez wrote in his op-ed piece that Iran has already laid the groundwork for breaching terms of the deal reached in Geneva by doing things like firing a rocket into space and improving their ability to develop a long-range ballistic missile. Tehran has also proposed enriching uranium up to 60 percent, well beyond any potential use for peaceful purposes, according to Menendez.

His bill, he argues, “supports continued negotiations, gives the administration a year of flexibility to secure a comprehensive agreement, respects the sanctions relief Iran is set to receive and prevents any new sanctions from taking effect while good-faith negotiations are underway.”

He called measure a “diplomatic insurance policy” and “an act of reasonable pragmatism.”

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© 2014 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

 

Unemployment Insurance Has Little GOP Support.


With a Senate vote on extending unemployment insurance to more than 1 million Americans scheduled for Monday evening, it is not clear there will be enough Republican support for the bipartisan plan to pass.

proposal by Republican Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada and Democratic Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island  would provide benefits to about 1.3 million eligible workers for three months, costing roughly $6.5 billion.

While it has the support of Heller and 55 members of the Senate Democratic caucus, many GOP senators have said they won’t back the program because it does not include a way to pay for the benefits, reports The Washington Post.

Spokespeople for Republican Sens. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, Johnny Isakson of Georgia, Rob Portman of Ohio, and Roger Wicker of Mississippi, all states with high unemployment rates, told the newspaper that the legislators will vote against the Reed-Heller proposal.

Aides to Bob Corker of Tennessee and Mark Kirk of Illinois, also states with high levels of unemployment, told the Post they didn’t know how the senators would vote.

Meanwhile, Organizing for Action, the Obama administration’s lobbying arm, has planned events in 30 cities for Tuesday to pressure Republicans to support the plan, reports Politico.

Labor groups are also organizing phone calls to the Capitol and holding a Wednesday rally featuring unemployed workers and Democratic members of Congress who support the proposal, according to the publication.

But a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, reaffirmed on Sunday that he would not consider any unemployment benefit extension unless it is paid for.

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© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.
By Lisa Barron

Sens. Kirk, Menendez Proposing New Iran Sanctions.


By Melissa Clyne

President Barack Obama’s victory in getting Congress to hold off on imposing newsanctions on Iran’s nuclear program may be fleeting.

Senators Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Republican Mark Kirk of Illinois, are considering proposing legislation to impose new sanctions on IranThe Wall Street Journal reports.

Those sanctions would fall outside the interim, six-month window for negotiations set in the agreement struck in Geneva last month between Iran and the P5+1 powers— Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States  — that negotiated it.

“I have been a proponent of pursuing additional sanctions prospectively … but I’m beginning to think based upon on all of this that maybe what the Senate needs to do is to define the end game, or at least what it finds as acceptable as the final status,” Menendez said. “Because I’m getting nervous about what I perceive will be acceptable to [the administration] as a final status … versus what the Congress might view as acceptable.”

The administration has been treading lightly since the announcement of the interim deal, arguing that taking more immediate action could be counterproductive and kill chances for future negotiations. Under the agreement, Tehran agreed to limit uranium enrichment in exchange for the easing of international sanctions for six months.

Iran Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi has stated any new sanctions would be interpreted as the end of the interim agreement.

The White House is lauding itself after the Senate Banking Committee agreed to “a pause” to let the administration pursue a comprehensive deal with Iran and the House called off a vote on a non-binding resolution for new sanctions.

Banking Committee Chairman Sen. Tim Johnson, a South Dakota Democrat, conceded that taking action during “delicate negotiations” with Iran could eliminate the possibility of a long-term deal and “shatter Western unity on this issue.” The Senate Banking Committee oversees sanctions legislation in the Senate.

“We should make sure that if the talks fail, it was Iran that caused their failure,” he said,Reuters reports. “We should not give Iran, the P5+1 countries or other nations a pretext to lay responsibility for their collapse on us.”

To appease critics who accuse the Obama administration of being too soft on the notoriously nefarious Iran, the White House has blacklisted companies and individuals from Singapore to Ukraine for allegedly helping Tehran evade international sanctions on its oil trade, according to the Journal.

The Iranian foreign minister says that by doing so, the United States has acted “against the spirit of the Geneva deal,” The Jerusalem Post reports.

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© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

Both Democrats and Republicans Skeptical of Iran Deal.


Both sides of the political aisle expressed strong skepticism over the deal announced in Geneva early Sunday that dropped many sanctions against Iran in exchange for concessions in its nuclear program.

Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer and Rep. Eliot Engel both of New York joined numerous Republicans in criticizing the deal on Sunday.

Engel expressed doubt on Sunday the plan will succeed without continued sanctions.

“I don’t think you make them bargain in good faith by going squishy,” Engel, the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Relations Committee told CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“I think we could have played good cop, bad cop, and Congress really believes sanctions should happen,” Engel said. “That’s what brought Iran to the table in the first place.”

Schumer said in a statement that he was disappointed in the interim deal reached in Geneva regarding Iran’s nuclear program, saying “it does not seem proportional” because “Iran simply freezes its nuclear capabilities while we reduce the sanctions.”

Many Republicans were even harsher in their opposition.

The six-month deal not only will enable Iran to continue to move ahead with its nuclear-development program, it also will leave the United States with less leverage because of the easing of economic sanctions, Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss said on ABC’s “This Week.”

“Nothing in this deal requires the destruction of any centrifuges,” said Chambliss, vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. “They’re going to be able to replace centrifuges that become inoperable. I just don’t see this movement in the direction of preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon at all.”

The deal regarding the sanctions lets Iran “out of the trap,” he said.

“Right now, the sanctions are working,” Chambliss said. “The economy of Iran is heading south. Unemployment is skyrocketing. Instead of easing them, now is the time to tighten those sanctions, and let’s get a long-term deal. We’ve got all the leverage in the negotiations, and we’ve let them out of the trap.”

Republican Rep. Ed Royce of California, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the deal meant Tehran would be able to keep key elements of its nuclear weapons-making capability while the U.S. would begin dismantling sanctions built up over years.

Saying that Iran is “spiking the football” over an interim deal to ease sanctions over its nuclear enrichment program, Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee said he is crafting legislation to hold administration’s and international community’s feet the fire over next six months to ensure interim deal is not the norm.

The Obama administration is “long on announcements, but very short on follow-through,” Corker said on “Fox News Sunday.” But he said that while he’d like to a diplomatic solution, Congress must weigh in.

“America has not learned its lesson from 1994 when North Korea fooled the world. I am skeptical that this agreement will end differently,” said California Republican Howard “Buck” McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill, called Iran’s concessions under the deal “cosmetic” partly because Tehran could continue to test long-range ballistic missiles.

“I will continue working with my colleagues to craft bipartisan legislation that will impose tough new economic sanctions if Iran undermines this interim accord or if the dismantlement of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure is not underway by the end of this six-month period,” Kirk said.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said that by “allowing the Iranian regime to retain a sizable nuclear infrastructure, this agreement makes a nuclear Iran more likely. There is now an even more urgent need for Congress to increase sanctions until Iran completely abandons its enrichment and reprocessing capabilities.”

Eliot Jager and Greg Richter contributed to this report.

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

By By Audrey Hudson and Amy Woods

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