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Posts tagged ‘Tom Harkin’

WSJ: GOP Making Bold, Massive Bid to Take Senate.


Image: WSJ: GOP Making Bold, Massive Bid to Take SenateScott Brown, left, and Ed Gillespie

By Melissa Clyne

In its bid to gain the Senate majority in the midterm elections later this year, the GOP is crafting its strategy straight from the 2012 Democratic playbook, according to The Washington Post.

Republicans are casting a wide net to pick up the six seats needed to secure a majority, putting up viable candidates in a plethora of states where they hope to capitalize on President Barack Obama’s dismal job performance ratings as well as the national furor over Obamacare.

“The key to the Republican strategy is making the next tier of seats [and recruits] as large as possible since a few candidates will flame out, some incumbents will prove tougher to beat than they appear, and the national political environment could shift several times between now and November,” the Post notes.

Republicans need to win six new seats to flip the current Democratic majority of 55-to-45. In the current political climate, they are expected to gain between four and seven seats, according to the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report. 

States where the GOP can prevail include Alaska, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Arkansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, West Virginia, South Dakota, Virginia, and possibly Minnesota. Five of the vulnerabilities stem from retirement announcements by Democratic senators Max Baucus of Montana, Carl Levin of Michigan, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, and South Dakota’s Tim Johnson.

Midterm elections are historically unkind to the sitting president’s party. Add to that the hysteria over a botched healthcare law rollout and millions of Americans receiving notices of canceled insurance plans and it’s a recipe for an ouster.

According to the Wall Street Journal, five states Obama won in 2012 — Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, Virginia, and New Hampshire — are now considered vulnerabilities.

In Virginia, former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie should be “a very credible contender who can raise considerable money,” according to the Rothenberg Report, and former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown trails New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen by just three points and he hasn’t even announced whether he intends to run.

“I’d be more worried if I were a Democrat than if I was a Republican,” Rothenberg Report editor Stuart Rothenberg told the Journal. “The Republicans’ prospects in the existing targets are improving because of the president’s approval ratings, and they are continuing to put other races on the board.”

By offering voters strong GOP alternatives in a variety of states, even those historically blue, Republicans hope that hijacking the Democrats 2012 strategy proves to be a winner.

“One thing’s for sure,” political columnist Chris Cillizza writes in the Post. “If they make it over the top this November, Senate Republicans should send their Democratic counterparts a nice thank you gift for showing them the way.”

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© 2014 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

US Rep. Tom Latham Won’t Seek Re-election in 2014.


Image: US Rep. Tom Latham Won't Seek Re-election in 2014

U.S. Rep. Tom Latham announced Tuesday he won’t seek re-election in 2014, creating a potentially competitive race for a seat that likely would have favored the 10-term Iowa Republican.

The 65-year-old Republican from Clive will have spent 20 years in Congress and is Iowa’s senior U.S. House member. The decision creates an open seat that includes the Des Moines area in central Iowa and the vast rural tracts of southern and western Iowa.

The news, coming late Tuesday, took Iowa’s GOP senior strategists by surprise.

“It’s a bombshell politically in Iowa because he was so strong,” said Doug Gross, a longtime aide to Republican Gov. Terry Branstad and former nominee for governor. “It throws open a congressional seat in a very, very important district I think you’ll have a scrum on both sides. I think you’ll have lots of interest.”

Democrat Staci Appel, a former state senator from Ackworth, had already announced her plans to seek the seat before Latham’s decision.

Latham was heavily courted this year by Iowa Republicans, especially Branstad, and the national GOP to seek Iowa’s open Senate seat in 2014, but he turned that down in February. Five-term Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin announced in January that he would retire, and several Republicans have announced their candidacies.

Latham is a member of the Appropriations Committee and chairman of the transportation subcommittee. He’s known for his friendship with House Speaker John Boehner and his love of golf.

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

Source: Newsmax.com

GOP Launches Major Push to Capture Blue State Senate Seats.


Republicans are targeting blue states with competitive races in an effort to win back a majority in the SenatePolitico reports

The GOP currently holds 45 seats in the Senate to the Democrats‘ 55, so it needs to win only six of those elections. Seven states currently represented by Democrats were carried by Mitt Romney in 2012, but Republicans want to increase their chances, so they are also targeting other close elections in purple states, and even some blue ones.

Republicans hope to capitalize on anti-Obamacare sentiment as the program has suffered glitches in its website and in trust in a White House that promised people they could keep their insurance and that premiums would not rise.

Even if a GOP hoped-for backlash against Obamacare doesn’t pan out, Politico notes that Democrats could be forced to pull money from bigger races to spend money on less-consequential contests.

Republicans already hold a majority in the House of Representatives.

New York Times statistician Nate Silver has been predicting a possible GOP turnover of the Senate since early this year. Silver’s predictions were made months before the disastrous rollout of Obamacare.

Among the states Politico sees as most likely GOP prospects are Michigan, Iowa, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Colorado, Oregon and Hawaii.

With Sen. Carl Levin retiring in Michigan, Republicans there have rallied behind state Sen. Terri Lynn Land. In Iowa, Sen. Tom Harkin also announced his retirement. No clear leader has emerged there.

In New Hampshire, Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen won in 2008 with only 52 percent. Former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown has now moved his primary residence to the Granite State and has been toying with challenging Shaheen.

In Minnesota, Democrat Al Franken won after a heated recount, which Republicans called a stolen election. Finance executive Mike McFadden appears to be the most likely GOP contender.

Sen. Mark Udall in Colorado has low approval numbers, with only 47 percent saying he should be re-elected. His strongest GOP opponent is Ken Buck.

In Oregon, Sen. Jeff Merkley could face Republican Monica Wehby, a neurosurgeon making her first run at public office.

Hawaii is considered a GOP longshot, but Republicans hope former Rep. Charles Djou could beat the winner of a tough Democratic primary between incumbent Brian Schatz, appointed by the governor to fill the seat of the late Sen. Daniel Inouye, and Rep. Colleeen Hanabusa, who is backed by Inouye’s widow.

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

By Greg Richter

Memorial in Protest Over Shutdown.


Image: Vets Storm Shuttered WWII Memorial in Protest Over Shutdown

U.S. veterans at the National World War II Memorial on Oct. 1.

By Andrea Billups

Several members of Congress on Tuesday morning cut police tape and removed concrete barricades set up by the U.S. National Park Service to allow 91 World War II veterans, arriving from Mississippi on Honor Flights, to visit their memorial on the Mall.

The federal memorial had been closed amid the government shutdown but lawmakers were having nothing of it, said former Michigan Rep. Pete Hoekstra, who was there along with an empowered group of passersby who chanted, “Let them in, let them in,” and applauded as the barriers were removed.

Hoekstra said to their credit, security did not intervene as many veterans in wheelchairs made what will likely be their final and only trip to see a memorial honoring their service.

New Medicare Warning: Obamacare Rule Changes Coming 

Among those members of Congress on hand to help the vets get in were Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa and Republican Reps. Bill Huizenga of Michigan, Louie Gohmert of Texas, Steve King of Iowa, and Rep. Steven Palazzo of Mississippi, who organized the intervention and had circulated a friendly memo to his colleagues asking them to come out to prevent a blockage to make sure the vets’ trip was not in vain, The Mississippi Press reports.

“I was told their leadership told them not to do it,” Hoekstra told Newsmax by phone of the effort. “It would step on their messaging. But that’s the bigger lesson for today. Just go out and do the right thing. And this was the right thing to do.”

Hoekstra praised the park officers who didn’t stop the group from entering. “They accepted this act of civil disobedience by these congressmen and didn’t try to make a scene,” he said.
Watching the vets enter was “emotional,” he said.

“This memorial took too long to build,” Hoekstra added. “But this is one of those days that makes you feel good. Heaven knows politicians get enough blame these days, but these folks had the courage to come down here, challenge the establishment and get it resolved.”

Members of Congress greeted the Honor Flight vets at the airport around 11:20 a.m. and then joined then as they made their way to the memorial. Honor Flight is a national non-profit organization that raises money to honor veterans with free trips to Washington, flying them in on commercial and charter vets for a day that offers them trips to memorials around the city.

“This morning, when I heard they were not going to let these veterans in, I was pissed. It’s kind of like we can make everything else in government that is not important keep running but when it comes to honoring these heroes, we’re going to the extra effort of barricading a memorial and having parks folks shut it down,” Hoekstra said.

Honor Flight’s Chairman of the Board Jim McLaughlin told Newsmax early Tuesday morning that he had some concerns about the shutdown’s impact on his cause. About 3,500 veterans are slated to visit memorials in the month of October with about 900 coming to visit this week.

“It’s devastating,” McLaughlin said of the shutdown halting visits. “These World War II veterans have been waiting 65 years to see this memorial and for them not to have the opportunity to see it…. I can’t imagine how these veterans might feel going home tonight and not getting their chance.

“For most of them, this is their only chance,” he added. “The average age is now around 87-88 and many are in their early 90s. They are never going to get another.”

Some in Washington, lauding the veterans’ determination as “the greatest generation,” say they doubt a little government power-tripping will stop these brave heroes, many of whom served on the front lines.

Wrote Cheri Jacobus on The Hill’s Pundit Blog: “They fought on the beaches of Normandy. Do we really think a little government shutdown is going to stop these guys?”

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

Biden Visits Anti-War Democrats as Syria Looms.


Vice President Joe Biden is heading into the belly of Democrats’ anti-war opposition, venturing into a politically influential heartland state for the first time since President Barack Obama publicly endorsed a possible military strike on Syria.

Biden is scheduled to headline a fundraiser in Iowa Sunday for Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin, an annual steak picnic for the senator who is popular with anti-war Democrats.

Even if Biden sidesteps talk of Syria, the issue will be as much a part of the backdrop as the bales of hay and smoke from the grilling steaks, and in a place where he will have to plant his flag should he seek the presidency in 2016.

“That’s going to be a little sensitive,” said eastern Iowa Democrat Richard Machacek, an Obama delegate in 2008, referring to possible military action against Syria. “It flies in the face of what the president campaigned on here.”

President Barack Obama rode an anti-war wave to victory in Iowa’s 2008 presidential caucuses. He had proposed limited air strikes in Syria in response to a chemical weapons attack last month against more than 1,400 people in a Damascus suburb. The administration says Syrian President Bashar al-Assad‘s government was behind the attack.

On Saturday Secretary of State John Kerry announced that he and Russia’s foreign minister had reached an agreement to rid Syria of its chemical stockpile. Obama said in a statement the agreement was welcome news, but added that “if diplomacy fails, the United States remains prepared to act.”

His own party remains cool at best to a military strike. Obama has struggled to win support from members of Congress, including Democrats, whose constituents have endured more than a decade of war.

An Associated Press poll taken Sept. 6-8 showed 34 percent of Democrats said they wanted Congress to back military action. And more than three-fourths of Democrats said they thought any military action in Syria was at least somewhat likely to turn into a long-term commitment of forces, including 44 percent who said it was extremely likely.
The poll was taken before Obama pledged not to deploy ground troops in Syria.

Cedar Falls Democrat David Kabel, an early and devout Obama supporter, is skeptical, even after Obama’s speech. “I just don’t know that you can reel it in once you get started,” he said.

The reaction to anything Biden says about Syria will be closely watched and noted. He is weighing another run for the White House in 2016, and the crowd he mingles with Sunday — many of them familiar with the two-time presidential candidate — will have the opening say during the caucuses.

Including Harkin.

Harkin has said that he was leaning against supporting a military strike, though a vote has been postponed to allow the diplomatic option to develop.

“Harkin has always been the anti-war candidate,” said longtime Iowa Democratic activist Paulee Lipsman. “His strongest supporters agree with that position.”

While Harkin supported limited strikes in Kosovo in 1997 and Libya in 2012 under Democratic presidents, Harkin has largely opposed recent wars under Republican presidents, endearing him to his party’s left.

He voted against the 1991 Gulf War resolution under President George H. W. Bush. And while he voted for the resolution ahead of the 2003 Iraq war under President George W. Bush, he later called the vote a mistake and endorsed anti-war candidate Howard Dean in Iowa’s 2004 presidential caucuses.

Obama made a special appeal during Tuesday’s speech to “my friends on the left,” asking them to consider the images of the hundreds of children who died in the August 21 gas attack. “Sometimes resolutions and statements of condemnation are simply not enough.

He may as well have been speaking directly to those Iowa Democrats who were drawn to his vocal opposition to the war in Iraq, a position that set him apart from chief rival Hillary Clinton and on the path to winning the White House.

Harkin aides and supporters play down any possible outward hostility toward Biden, as he strolls the Warren County fairgrounds south of Des Moines, flips a few steaks for the cameras and speaks Sunday afternoon.

“People will be polite,” Lipsman said.

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

Senators Reach Deal on Student Loans.


Senators have reached a bipartisan deal to restore lower interest rates on student borrowers.

The breakthrough came Wednesday, one day after lawmakers huddled with President Barack Obama at the White House. Lawmakers are expected to vote as early as Thursday on the deal that would lower rates before students return to campus.

The deal would offer students lower interest rates through the 2015 academic year but then rates were expected to soar. Undergraduates could face rates as high as 8.25 percent, while graduate students would see rates as high as 9.5 percent and parents’ rates would top out at 10.5 percent.

The deal is described by Republican and Democratic aides who insist on anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the ongoing negotiations by name.

The bipartisan proposal is the latest to emerge from near constant work to undo a rate hike that took hold for subsidized Stafford loans on July 1. Rates for new subsidized Stafford loans doubled from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent, adding roughly $2,600 to students’ education costs.

Lawmakers and their top aides have been tinkering with various proposals — nudging here, trimming there — trying to find a deal that avoids added red ink for students and the government alike.

The rate hike did not affect interest rates on existing student loans for undergraduate students, graduate students or parents.

Lawmakers from both parties have tried to restore subsidized Stafford loan interest rates without adding to the deficit. To accomplish that, they have been tinkering with rates on all federal direct lending programs. In most cases, they have linked rates to the financial markets; the result has been lower rates in the short-term but larger bills for future classes.

Undergraduates last year borrowed at 3.4 percent or 6.8 percent, depending on their financial need. Graduate students had access to federal loans at 6.8 percent and parents borrowed at 7.9 percent.

Under the deal being considered, all undergraduates this fall would borrow at 3.85 percent interest rates. Graduate students would have access to loans at 5.4 percent and parents would be able to borrow at 6.4 percent.

But if the economy improves as congressional economists predict, rates would climb in coming years.

The details were still subject to change and aides on Wednesday said previous agreements on student loans have fallen apart after the Congressional Budget Office has returned estimates on how much the system would cost over the next decade.

Lawmakers from both parties met with Obama and Vice President Joe Biden a day earlier at the White House. An outline of an agreement seemed to be taking shape Tuesday, with Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois and Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee guiding the talks.

Sen. Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat who chairs the Senate’s education panel, said the caps on interest rates were still too high. That seemed to again derail the talks.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, were also part of the negotiations on Thursday.

Senators returned to talks on Thursday in Durbin’s office although Harkin continued to object to the high rate on caps.

The House has already passed student loan legislation that also links interest rates to the 10-year Treasury note. If the Senate can reach a deal, the differences between its version and the House version could be resolved before students return to campus this fall.

So far, few students have borrowed for fall classes. Students typically do not take out loans until just before they return to campus and Congress still has time to restore the lower rates.

 

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

GOP-led House Seeks 24 Cut in IRS Budget: $3 Billion.


The GOP-controlled House unveiled slashing cuts to the budget of the Internal Revenue Service on Tuesday, punishing the beleaguered agency after it targeted tea party groups and other nonprofits seeking tax-exempt status.

The agency’s 2014 budget would be cut by $3 billion, or 24 percent below levels approved in March. Also, 10 percent of its budget for tax enforcement would be fenced off until the IRS implements recommendations by an agency watchdog designed to prevent further abuses.

The IRS cuts come after a wave of bad publicity for the agency including questionable spending on conferences like a lavish $4.1 million event in 2010 that included a “Star Trek” video parody and a $17,000 payment to a motivational speaker who was a painter.

President Barack Obama had requested a $1 billion increase for the IRS.

“Right now I can’t think of a federal agency in a worse position to ask for more money,” said Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas.

The Appropriations Committee also revealed cuts to NASA, White House salaries, and the Securities and Exchange Commission. The full House took up a $30.4 billion measure funding the Energy Department and water projects that is about $3 billion below levels enacted earlier this year. Democrats protested cuts to clean and renewable energy programs.

Democrats controlling a Senate panel, meanwhile, went in a wholly opposite direction in giving a $1.3 billion increase to the IRS, the agency chiefly responsible to implement Obama’s signature health care law.

At issue are the annual spending bills funding the day-to-day operations of federal agencies. The GOP-controlled House and Democratic-led Senate are acting as if on different planets, with the Senate ignoring deep automatic spending cuts and the House promising even more punishing cuts to domestic programs while restoring cuts to the Pentagon.

The House is drafting spending bills in line with a $967 billion “cap” required by automatic cuts that took effect in March after Washington failed to agree on an alternative mix of tax increases and cuts elsewhere in the $3.5 trillion federal budget. The Senate is writing bills to a $1.058 trillion cap, almost a full 10 percent higher. But the House GOP cuts to domestic programs are greatly magnified by a $41 billion shift from nondefense programs like NASA, education and research on renewable energy to the Pentagon.

The result are night-and-day differences between the House and Senate spending bills illustrated most dramatically by a $164 billion Senate measure unveiled Tuesday by liberal Democrat Tom Harkin of Iowa. The measure, which funds education, health and labor programs, is a full 26 percent more generous to such programs than an as-yet-unreleased House version.

So even as advocates for the poor worry about budget cuts forcing poor preschoolers from Head Start, the Senate measure promises to increase the program by $1.6 billion or about 20 percent. Health research would win a small increase, as would Title I grants to help educate disadvantaged school children.

Republicans say the Senate bills are filled with empty promises. Even if they were enacted over GOP opposition, they would be subject to across-the-board cuts known as sequestration that would bring them down to the $967 billion level embraced by Republicans. Sequestration is required because Congress and Obama have failed to follow up a 2011 budget pact with deficit cuts other than a bitterly fought tax increase on upper-bracket earners.

Democrats say that Republicans are offering empty promises as well — to defense hawks upset by sequestration. The House GOP increases to the Pentagon would be automatically rolled back through sequestration, as would Senate Democrats‘ efforts to increase domestic programs.

By contrast, the House measures revealed Tuesday are laced with painful cuts. While the FBI is exempted, NASA would absorb an almost $1 billion cut below 2013 levels. Spending on federal buildings would be cut $2.4 billion below Obama’s request and the U.S. Marshals Service, the federal prison system and the Drug Enforcement Administration would also have to absorb cuts.

“At some point, there is no ‘doing more with less,'” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla. “There is only less.”

Absent a broader agreement on the budget, the rival chambers of Congress are on a collision course facing a potential government shutdown when current-year funding runs out on Sept. 30. A shutdown is unlikely, but avoiding one would require a stopgap funding measure to keep the government running after that date.

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

Education Bill Rewrite Would Protect Gay Students.


Buried in the proposed rewrite of the nation’s massive education law are protections for gay and lesbian students that its supporters liken to the landmark 1972 protections for the rights of female athletes in high school and college.

Senate Democrats on Tuesday released a 1,150-page revision of the law governing the nation’s elementary and secondary schools, formally known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act but more commonly called No Child Left Behind.

In it, they include student nondiscrimination language that, if passed, would threaten schools’ funding if gay and lesbian students are bullied or harassed.

The supporters praised the language as similar to Title IX, the federal law chiefly known for mandating gender equity in high school and collegiate sports.

The legislation’s text on gays and lesbians begins on Page 694 of the massive school bill.

“This is a significant moment for our nation’s education system and one that addresses the vital needs of all students in K-12 schools,” said Eliza Byard, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. “We are thrilled that the Senate is moving to address the long overdue issue of school bullying and harassment. This bill includes critical components to ensure safer learning environments.”

The bill bans discrimination against students who are gay — or who are perceived as gay — in any program that receives federal education dollars. Schools that do not provide sufficient protection to gays and lesbians could find their dollars cut.

“No child should dread going to school because they don’t feel safe,” said Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn. “Our nation’s civil rights laws protect our children from bullying due to race, sex, religion, disability and national origin. My proposal extends these protections to our gay and lesbian students who shouldn’t ever feel afraid of going to school.”

Two years ago, Franken offered a similar provision to the same education bill and likened it to Title IX expansion of athletic opportunities for girls and women.

At the time, Sen. Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, wanted the rewrite to have bipartisan support coming out of his committee. Franken withdrew the provision.

The full Senate did not vote on the 2011 bill.

This time, Harkin, D-Iowa, applauded the protections “because every child deserves a safe and healthy place to learn.”

“These provisions will help to ensure that all students, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation, are treated fairly and afforded equal opportunities to succeed in the classroom,” Harkin said.

The provision was not highlighted in the news release announcing the bill, which would rewrite parts of the 2001 law to give states greater flexibility in improving schools.

Harkin’s committee planned to start work on the bill on June 11, but Democratic aides said the bill had not yet been scheduled for consideration by the full Senate. Aides suggested it could be autumn before it reached all senators.

The gay protections are a minor part of the sweeping bill that governs all schools that receive federal dollars for poor, minority and disabled students and those whose primary language is not English.

Twenty-nine percent of students ages 12 to 18 reported being bullied at school or online, according to the Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics. Its definition of bullying included name-calling, rumors, physical harm or exclusion from activities.

The statistics do not indicate a cause for such bullying.

The most well-known parts of the education law up for debate are its one-size-fits-all national requirements. Under Harkin’s rewrite, states would develop those standards for themselves but they would require Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s approval.

The state-by-state approach to education standards is already largely in place in the 37 states that received waivers to the requirements in exchange for customized school improvement plans. Some of those states already operating under waivers would have to tinker with their improvement plans to comply with the proposal. Other states would be forced to develop their own reform efforts.

The overhaul faces an uphill path and its gay provisions weren’t expected to win it support from Republicans.

A politically polarized Congress has failed to renew the law since it expired in 2007. Harkin’s Republican counterpart, Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, has supported updating No Child Left Behind, but his approach has not always melded with Harkin’s.

Lawmakers in the Republican-led House, meanwhile, were reluctant to take steps that could be seen as telling local schools how to best teach their students and enrage tea party activists. Many GOP lawmakers also have been critical of Duncan’s tenure as secretary and are unlikely to rush to give him more authority.

A separate legislative wrangle over student loans is certain to get higher priority. Interest rates on new subsidized Stafford loans are set to double on July 1 without congressional action. Competing versions of legislation to avoid that increase on students are making their way through the House and Senate.

 

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

Senate Democrats Raise Concerns Over Implementation of Obamacare.


Democratic lawmakers are worried about political fallout if the final implementation of Obamacare next year fails to hold down premium costs and only ends up confusing more Americans about what their options are.

According to The New York Times, the Democrats raised concerns directly with administration officials at a recent luncheon meeting with Denis McDonough, the White House chief of staff.

Their message? They are beginning to hear from constituents who are confused and worried about how the law will affect them and some lawmakers voiced concerns about programs within Obamacare that aren’t being run as planned.

New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, told the Times she is “hearing from a lot of small businesses in New Hampshire that do now know how to comply with the law.” She said many are still “trying to figure out whether it would be in their interest to reduce employees’ hours” to avoid the law’s requirement that they cover health insurance premiums for full-time workers.

Shaheen, who is up for re-election next year, said the White House “acknowledged that these are real concerns, and that we’ve got to do more to address them.”

Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on healthcare, also voiced his concerns, telling the Times: “I am greatly disappointed —and beyond upset — that the administration chose to help pay for the Affordable Care Act in fiscal year 2013 by raiding the Public Health and Prevention Fund.”

Harkin was referring to the White House’s acknowledgement that it had transferred $322 million from the prevention fund to pay for promotion of the new insurance exchanges.

At Congressional hearings this week, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius reportedly said the administration needed to tap the fund because Congress had refused to provide money for outreach activities.

In addition, Maryland Sen. Benjamin Cardin told the Times he is worried about big rate increases being sought by the largest health insurer in his state, CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield. He said the company is seeking increases of roughly 25 percent for individual policies that will be sold in the state health insurance exchange, and a 15 percent increase for small businesses. The company reportedly said the higher premiums reflect the costs of complying with the new law.

Meanwhile, Congressional leaders in both parties are concerned about the potential cost of healthcare for lawmakers and their staffs if the federal government does not continue to provide subsidies to them for insurance premiums they will be required to purchase from state exchanges.

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.
By Lisa Barron

AP NewsBreak: Harkin Won’t Seek 6th Senate Term.


U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin said Saturday he will not seek a sixth term in 2014, a decision that frees a new generation of Iowa Democrats to seek higher office and eases some of the burden Republicans face in retaking the Senate.

Harkin, chairman of an influential Senate committee, announced his decision during an interview with The Associated Press, and said the move could surprise some.

But the 73-year-old cited his age — he would be 81 at the end of a sixth term — as a factor in the decision, saying it was time to pass the torch he has held for nearly 30 years.

“I just think it’s time for me to step aside,” Harkin told the AP.

Harkin, first elected in 1984, ranks 7th in seniority, and 4th among majority Democrats. He is chairman of the health, education, labor and pensions committee, and chairman of the largest appropriations subcommittee.

Harkin has long aligned with the Senate’s more liberal members, and his signature legislative accomplishment is the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. He also served as a key salesman of President Barack Obama’s 2010 health care bill to the wary left.

“I’m not saying that giving this up and walking away is easy. It’s very tough,” Harkin said at his rural Iowa home south of Des Moines. “But I’m not quitting today. I’m not passing the torch sitting down.”

Harkin Iowa.JPEG
AP
In this Monday, Oct. 25, 2010 photo, U.S…. View Full Caption

Harkin’s news defied outward signals. Besides being beloved in his party, Harkin has $2.7 million in his campaign war chest, second most among members nearing the end of their terms, and was planning a gala fundraiser in Washington, D.C., next month featuring pop star Lady Gaga.

Although members of his family have been diagnosed with cancer, Harkin said his health is good — and reported a recent positive colonoscopy. But he said “you never know,” and that he wanted to travel and spend his retirement with his wife Ruth “before it’s too late.”

He also nodded to his political longevity: “The effect of that cascades down and it opens a lot of doors of opportunity” for future candidates, he said.

Indeed, the news creates a rare open Senate seat Iowa. Harkin, Iowa’s junior senator, is outranked by Sen. Charles Grassley, who has held the state’s other seat since 1980.

Attention will turn immediately to U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley, a fourth-term Democrat from Waterloo, long mentioned as a possible Harkin successor. Braley, who was traveling in Iowa on Saturday, did not immediately return requests by the AP for comments beyond an emailed news statement calling Harkin a “mentor” and “progressive force” who leaves “a legacy few will ever match.”

Harkin held open the possibility of endorsing a Democrat before the party’s primary if the candidate fit the profile of “someone who is progressive, who is a pragmatic progressive.”

Although no Republicans have stepped forward, Harkin’s news gives the GOP‘s private huddles new life.

“There are lots of conversations, but it’s very early still,” said Nick Ryan, an Iowa Republican campaign fundraiser.

U.S. Rep. Tom Latham of Clive is a seasoned Republican congressman, a veteran appropriations committee member and a robust fundraiser who has survived challenges to win 10 consecutive terms. Aides to Latham declined to comment beyond issuing a statement saying the congressman “respects Sen. Harkin’s decision (and) looks forward to continuing to work with him.”

But with opening a door in Iowa, Harkin has created a potential headache for his party nationally.

Democrats likely would have had the edge in 2014 with the seat, considering Harkin’s fundraising prowess and healthy approval. A poll by the Des Moines Register taken last fall showed a majority of Iowans approved of his job performance.

Democrats hold a 55-45 advantage in the Senate, requiring Republicans to gain six seats to win back the chamber. But Democrats have more seats to defend in 2014—20 compared to only 13 for Republicans.

And the president’s party historically loses seats in the midterm elections after his re-election.

Seats in other states will be tough for Democrats to hold onto. In GOP-leaning West Virginia, five-term Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller recently announced he would not seek re-election.

Democratic incumbents also face tough re-election races in Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina and Alaska — all states carried by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in November’s presidential election.

Since then, Harkin has stepped up his role as one of the Senate’s leading liberal populists.

He was a vocal opponent late last year of President Barack Obama’s concession to lift the income threshold for higher taxes to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff. Harkin instead supported raising taxes on all earners making more than $250,000 a year.

He also endorsed Obama’s call for banning assault rifles and larger ammunition magazines in the wake of the Connecticut school shooting last month

Despite Harkin’s strong political position, he has faced questions about his and his wife Ruth’s role in developing a namesake policy institute at Iowa State University, Harkin’s alma mater. The Harkins and their supporters have been pushing for the institute to house papers highlighting his signature achievements, including the ADA and shaping farm policy as the former chairman of the agriculture committee.

Harkin has avoided questions about fundraising for the institute after disclosure reports showed some of its largest donors are firms that have benefited from his policies.

Harkin dismissed that those questions had any bearing on his decision.

Source: YAHOO NEWS.

By THOMAS BEAUMONT Associated Press

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