In the USA...United Surveillance America
White House alarmed by ‘extraordinary’ inaction by Congress on border crisis
Friday, July 25, 2014 6:48 EDT
White House officials expressed growing alarm on Thursday that Congress may not soon approve President Barack Obama’s emergency request for $3.7 billion to tackle the child migration crisis on the southern border of the United States.
The stalemate over the request comes as Obama prepares on Friday to host the presidents of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, the countries that have been the source of much of the migrant surge that has strained border resources.
Congress is locked in a largely partisan fight over the money that Obama says is needed to provide humanitarian needs of the children and speed deportations for many after they get a hearing from immigration authorities.
Republicans want Congress to amend a 2008 anti-trafficking law to accelerate deportations, but Democrats are opposed out of concern the children would face the same conditions of crime and poverty when returned home. Senate Democrats have proposed cutting Obama’s $3.7 billion request, while Republicans have said $1.5 billion is the most they would want to spend.
Congress is preparing to start a five-week break at the end of next week and there is no compromise in sight.
“The notion that Congress would go home for August recess without having addressed this question … would be pretty extraordinary,” a senior White House official told reporters.
While White House officials complain about Congress, they are making a case that the number of child migrants has begun to slow. Still, the surge of tens of thousands of children, many with their mothers, has turned into a political nightmare for Obama, who is considering a variety of steps.
One idea being weighed is a plan to screen thousands of youths in Honduras to see if they can qualify as refugees or on an emergency humanitarian basis without having to make the perilous journey to the United States.
The senior White House official said the plan was one of many under consideration but that it was “way premature” to say it was a serious proposal.
Meet with Central American leaders
Obama’s meeting with the Central American leaders gives him the opportunity to urge them to seek ways to stem the flow of people from their countries. Honduran President Juan Hernandez said on Thursday that U.S. lawmakers’ inability to reach an agreement on immigration policy was at least partly to blame for the crisis.
Obama spoke by phone on Thursday with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and “discussed the possibility of regional programs that would pool resources to improve public security and increase economic opportunities in Central America,” the White House said in a statement.
U.S. officials blame human smugglers for misinformation by telling parents their children will be given safe haven in the United States if they send them there.
A senior White House official said Obama would seek the leaders’ help in countering that message with one that the children more than likely will be sent back home.
Part of the emergency funding request, about $300 million, would be allocated toward helping the countries create more favorable conditions at home so people are not tempted to leave.
But there has been little apparent progress in Congress toward a border funding bill that Democrats and Republicans could agree upon.
“It’s time for the White House to get their act together. Do they want to change the ’08 law and address the real underlying problem here or don’t they,” House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner told reporters.
U.S. Considering Refugee Status for Hondurans
By FRANCES ROBLES and MICHAEL D. SHEAR
JULY 24, 2014
Hoping to stem the recent surge of migrants at the Southwest border, the Obama administration is considering whether to allow hundreds of minors and young adults from Honduras into the United States without making the dangerous trek through Mexico, according to a draft of the proposal.
If approved, the plan would direct the government to screen thousands of children and youths in Honduras to see if they can enter the United States as refugees or on emergency humanitarian grounds. It would be the first American refugee effort in a nation reachable by land to the United States, the White House said, putting the violence in Honduras on the level of humanitarian emergencies in Haiti and Vietnam, where such programs have been conducted in the past amid war and major crises.
Critics of the plan were quick to pounce, saying it appeared to redefine the legal definition of a refugee and would only increase the flow of migration to the United States. Administration officials said they believed the plan could be enacted through executive action, without congressional approval, as long as it did not increase the total number of refugees coming into the country.
By moving decisions on refugee claims to Honduras, the plan aims to slow the rush of minors crossing into the United States illegally from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, which has overwhelmed the border this year. More than 45,000 unaccompanied minors from those three nations have arrived since Oct. 1, straining federal resources to the point that some agencies will exhaust their budgets by next month, the secretary of Homeland Security has said.
Many of the children, particularly in Honduras, are believed to be fleeing dangerous street gangs, which forcibly recruit members and extort home and business owners. The United Nations estimates that 70,000 gang members operate in the three nations.
Administration officials stressed that no decision had been made to move forward, saying the idea was one of many being discussed by officials at the White House and the Departments of State, Homeland Security, Justice, and Health and Human Services.
Among the factors surrounding the decision are how many people in Honduras would be eligible to apply for the program, and how many would probably be approved.
The proposal, prepared by several federal agencies, says the pilot program under consideration would cost up to $47 million over two years, assuming 5,000 applied and about 1,750 people were accepted. If successful, it would be adopted in Guatemala and El Salvador as well.
It is unclear how the administration determined those estimates, given that since Oct. 1 more than 16,500 unaccompanied children traveled to the United States from Honduras alone.
Children would be interviewed by American immigration employees trained to deal with minors, and a resettlement center would be set up in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, with assistance from international organizations like the International Organization for Migration.
The plan would be similar to a recent bill introduced by Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona, who proposed increasing the number of refugee visas to the three Central American countries by 5,000 each.
According to the draft, the administration is considering opening the program to people under 21. It also suggested offering entry on emergency humanitarian grounds — known as humanitarian parole — to some of the applicants who did not qualify for refugee status.
That would most likely cause an outcry among critics who believe President Obama has been too soft on immigration. But officials called it “highly unlikely” that people who were denied refugee status would be considered for parole, which is generally offered in isolated emergencies.
Mark Krikorian, the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which supports tighter controls on immigration, said that the proposal would increase, not stem, the flood of migrants from Central America trying to get into the United States.
“It’s clearly a bad idea,” Mr. Krikorian said. “Orders of magnitude more people will apply for refugee status if they can just do it from their home countries.”
He added that the proposal would allow people to claim to be refugees from their countries with “nothing more than a bus ride to the consulate. We’re talking about, down the road, an enormous additional flow of people from those countries.”
The preliminary plan could create a thorny challenge for the administration because the definition of a refugee is legally specific, and children fleeing street gangs could have a hard time qualifying.
Under American law, refugees are people fleeing their country of origin based on fears of persecution by reason of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.
The only category that would seem to apply is “social group,” experts said, but there is disagreement on what that means. Some contend that children could count as a group, but others say the refugee requirements are stricter, and would not apply to people fleeing general crime and violence.
“What is a social group?” said Muzaffar Chishti, director of migration policies for the Migration Policy Institute’s New York office. “This is going to create a huge deal of debate. You will see a lot of law developing on it.”
Still, the draft of the plan noted that 64.7 percent of the unaccompanied minors who applied for asylum this year got it, which suggests that immigration officials have found their claims of imminent danger credible.
With that in mind, the draft proposal suggested that 35 percent to 50 percent of the applicants in Honduras could be considered for relief, a figure the White House said was inflated. The early draft, the White House said, was the most generous and least likely of the options the administration is considering. How many people are accepted is critical, because refugees qualify for public assistance upon arrival in the United States.
One of the issues under debate is whether the program should be limited to children who have at least one relative in the United States, so that the government would not be saddled with custodial issues. Whether that relative would have to have legal residency is another issue that was addressed but not resolved.
Under Senator McCain’s proposal, refugee applicants would be processed at home, and child migrants arriving in the United States illegally could be deported quickly.
Kevin Appleby, director of Migration and Refugee Services at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the plan would be welcome, as long as it did not substitute for protections Central American children currently receive under American law.
“This program would certainly be a formal acknowledgment by the administration that these children are refugees,” Mr. Appleby said. “That’s huge, because they have yet to utter that word.”
When a similar plan was adopted in Haiti, as a way to keep people from taking to the high seas, he said, it was ultimately criticized because Haitians already in the United States did not receive help. “It ended up being counterproductive to the goal,” Mr. Appleby said.
Stacie Blake, the director of government relations for the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, an advocacy group, said the processing of potential refugees in Central America could be handled by the United States or by the United Nations, which makes refugee determinations in many other countries. She said some of the people designated as refugees in Honduras could end up in countries other than the United States.
“It’s a way to help folks avoid life-threatening escapes and journeys,” Ms. Blake said. “It’s a good idea. It’s a tested idea.”
The Honduran Foreign Ministry referred requests for comment to its embassy in Washington, which said that, due to the president’s visit to Washington, its ambassador was not immediately available for comment.
On Friday, Mr. Obama is scheduled to meet with the presidents of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador at the White House in an effort to urge the Central American leaders to do more to help stem the flow of children fleeing their countries for the United States.
House Republican Hearing On The Harmful Impact of Obamacare Completely Backfires
By: Jason Easley
Thursday, July, 24th, 2014, 7:03 pm
A House Republican hearing on the harmful impact of Obamacare on Medicare Advantage completely backfired when the expert witnesses that Republicans invited disagreed with them.
Subcommittee on Health Chairman Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) set the stage for gloom and doom, “The future for Medicare Advantage may look grim. The questionable $8.3 billion quality bonus payment demonstration program used to mask the ACA cuts is coming to an end…This leaves the looming threat that Medicare Advantage plan rates could again include the broken physician reimbursement formula, unless we finally and permanently fix the way Medicare pays physicians. Instead of improving the situation, CMS’s regulatory actions are threatening plans through potential termination and limiting their ability to innovate.”
The Republicans quickly crashed and burned when their own witnesses disagreed with them.
Chris Wing of SCAN Health Plan said, “The MA program continues to grow in popularity. It gives seniors and other eligible individuals what they want: choice, coordination of care, affordability. It has begun to put the incentives in place for constant quality improvement by rewarding collaboration between providers and plans. Congress should have a strong interest in seeing the continued advancement of Medicare Advantage.”
Joe Baker of the Medicare Rights Center testified, “Many predicted that ACA changes to MA payment methods would lead to widespread disruption of the MA market. However, there is little evidence that this has occurred. In fact, it is important to note that MA enrollment is at an all-time high, with nearly 16 million beneficiaries now enrolled in an MA plan, representing a steadily growing percentage of beneficiaries. In addition, premium costs, benefit levels, and the availability of MA plans remain relatively stable across the country.”
Robert Book of Health Systems Innovation Network told the committee, “Since its inception, Medicare Advantage has proved to be one of the most popular and successful components of Medicare, with enrollment steadily increasing over time.”
The expert testimony of the witnesses that the Republicans invited was that Medicare Advantage enrollment is at an all time high. The myth that the ACA is going to kill Medicare is one of the favorite standards used by Republicans to scare seniors out of supporting Obamacare.
Republicans repeatedly called Obamacare a raid on Medicare despite the fact that their own experts, who were sitting right in front of them, disagreed. The scene was surreal. Republicans kept discussing how Obamacare is destroying Medicare while ignoring the facts that were being presented to them at their own hearing.
The hearing itself was another waste of time and money as House Republicans continue to try to convince the American people that affordable access to healthcare is a bad thing.
Republicans may have lost the battle and the war, but they are never going to stop lying about Obamacare.
House Republicans Behave Like Criminals While Advancing Obama Lawsuit
By: Jason Easley
Thursday, July, 24th, 2014, 3:36 pm
Republicans on the House Rules Committee behaved like common criminals as they advanced the lawsuit against President Obama while voting down every amendment related to disclosing the cost of the lawsuit.
By a party line vote of 7-4, the House Rules Committee voted to move forward with John Boehner’s lawsuit against President Obama, but the committee voted down 11 Democratic amendments that would have required them to be transparent about the lawsuit.
Here is a list of all of the Democratic amendments that were voted down by the Republicans on the Rules Committee:
1. Every week, require the House’s General Counsel to disclose how much has been spent on the lawsuit.
2a. Prohibit the hiring of any law firms or consultants who lobby Congress, because if they lobby Congress for a living, Congress should not also be paying them.
2b. Prohibit the hiring of any law firm or consultants who lobby on Affordable Care Act implementation or who have any financial stake in implementation of the Affordable Care Act, because it would be a conflict of interest.
3. Require disclosure of all contracts with lawyers and consultants 10 days before they are approved.
4. Require disclosure of where the taxpayer money paying for the lawsuit is coming from, and which programs and offices’ budgets are being reduced to pay for it. .
5. Require that the House’s lawyers explain to Members of the House the likelihood of success in this lawsuit, and how they think they will overcome the legal obstacles presented by Supreme Court precedent that says these sorts of cases can’t even be considered.
6. Ensure that this lawsuit does not seek to prevent implementation of the Affordable Care Act’s provisions relating to: (1) young adult coverage; (2) benefits for women; (3) protections for pre-existing conditions; (4) small business tax credits; or (5) prescription discounts for seniors that close the “donut hole” in Medicare.
7. Ensure that this lawsuit does not target people in the military, veterans, or civil servants, any one of whom would experience significant burdens and likely rack up large legal bills defending themselves in court.
9. Require the Speaker to pay for this lawsuit using money from the budget of the Benghazi Select Committee.
11. Require the House to bring up, debate, and vote on bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform.
12. Delete the language allowing the suit to be about “any other provision of law” related to the Affordable Care Act, which was added at the last minute and makes the lawsuit authority much broader.
Ranking Member of the Rules Committee, Rep. Louise Slaughter said, “We’re trying to stop this political stunt. There is nothing to be gained here. Money will be spent. All we are trying to do – we know that you have the votes to pass this, and you’re going to go on with the dance – but what we’re trying to do is at least amend it so that we can give some modicum of belief to the people of the United States that we’re trying to protect their interests, that we are not up here playing a game.”
House Democratic Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi said in a statement, “It is clear that Republicans will do anything to distract attention from their special-interest agenda of obstruction and dysfunction. While Democrats work to jumpstart the middle class, Republicans are wasting time and taxpayer dollars on another hypocritical, partisan and preposterous lawsuit against the President. This lawsuit is only the latest proof of House Republicans’ contempt and disregard for the priorities of the American people – an effort to pander to the most extreme, rightwing voters at taxpayer expense, the same as when they spent $2.3 million defending the unconstitutional and discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act in the courts.”
DCCC Chairman Rep. Steve Israel said, “Today couldn’t provide a more vivid contrast of priorities. While House Republicans are focused on suing the President in a partisan stunt to strengthen their base, House Democrats are fighting for solutions to strengthen the middle class. Instead of focusing on taxpayer-funded witch-hunts and lawsuits we should be passing the Middle Class Jumpstart agenda.”
The question is why are Republicans not being honest with taxpayers? Why are they hiding the cost of this lawsuit from the people who will be paying for it? House Republicans are acting like common criminals on the transparency issue as it relates to this lawsuit, because they are afraid of the political backlash that will come after taxpayers find out that millions of dollars are being wasted on this lawsuit.
This is the House Republican way. They voted to move forward with a lawsuit against President Obama while rejecting any attempt to keep taxpayers informed about the cost. The Boehner lawsuit is already turning into an anchor around the necks of House Republicans. What began as a cheap gimmick to get out the Republican vote has turned into a Democratic agenda setting multi-million dollar boondoggle for taxpayers.
House Republicans continue to set themselves up for major problems down the road. This lawsuit isn’t going to be forgotten by Democrats, and Republicans can expect the questions about how much all of this is costing to dog them through the fall. The best way to stop the pseudo criminal behavior of House Republicans is to vote them out this November.
John Boehner Feuds With Reality During a Dishonest Press Conference Blaming Obama
By: Sarah Jones
Thursday, July, 24th, 2014, 1:47 pm
Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) opened his presser asking “Where are the jobs?” as if he expected an alternate Speaker John Boehner to appear and explain himself. No such apparition did appear.
After House Republicans killed the VA bill Thursday morning because they refused to provide the VA with more funding, even though their party is the one that created the extra veterans with the two wars and continues to push for new armed conflicts, the Speaker blamed President Obama. The Speaker thinks it’s Obama’s fault that Boehner can’t pass legislation dealing with the border and the VA in the House before they go on yet another break, as if somehow a ghost of the President had taken residence in the House and was forcibly stopping Boehner from bringing legislation to the floor.
The Speaker was asked if Republicans could pass a border bill by next week, and instead of saying yes, as the Majority party, I’m operating under the made up Hastert Rule in order to limit the power of the minority party and so of course I can, he demurred that Republicans were “continuing to talk to our colleagues.”
This is also known as “It’s Obama’s Fault”.
Boehner explained that in the World According to Lawsuit Over Nothing John Boehner, Obama had changed his mind and “flip-flopped” Romney style on the border. “Now the president and his team have apparently flip-flopped. Now they want billions in new spending with no commitment to actually solving the problem.”
This explains perfectly why the House can’t pass any legislation or make any changes to any existing laws, because you see… Obama exists.
Also, Senate Democrats are mean.
Somehow Senate Democrats have also taken up residence in the House, and forcibly stopped the Speaker from doing his job, speaking of jobs.
If Boehner has learned any one specific skill since the Tea Party took over his chamber, it’s how to toss a hot ball at Obama and run away while pointing blame at the President for catching the ball, “But understand, it’s time for the White House to get their act together. Do they want to change the 2008 law and address the real underlying problem here or don’t they?”
Boehner insists that he is doing the bidding of the American people, who apparently hate decent paying jobs, don’t want healthcare, and want veterans to suffer along with the poor children the House is starving. Thus, in the name of the American people, Boehner denounced the “blank check” Obama requested for the Veterans’ Administration. “I want to be clear, there’s going to be no blank check for the President and his allies.”
Yes, Boehner is very clear that $13.5 billion for the VA is a “blank check” and that’s a no-go. By definition, of course, this is the opposite of a blank check but in House Republican land, a check with numbers on it is blank if it is requested by Obama. Thus, they can deny it because they don’t give out blank checks. And around we go.
(I warned Democrats that Republicans would be able to pull this crap once a sacrificial lamb was offered up to the media, and here we are, with no one caring about Republicans refusing to fund the VA as needed because it’s no longer a potential “scandal” for the White House.)
According to Politico Congressional reporter Seung Min Kim, Leader Nancy Pelosi (D_CA) called out John Boehner for his claim that it’s Obama’s fault he can’t pass his bill, “I haven’t seen what they’ve said they think they can pass.”
Pelosi, with a subtle dig at House Republican border-crisis plan: “I haven’t seen what they’ve said they think they can pass.”
— Seung Min Kim (@seungminkim) July 24, 2014
Leader Pelosi can’t help but snicker, after all, she is the only reason that Boehner has been able to pass anything remotely reasonable. He needs her to get House Democrats on his side in order to pass his border idea.Pelosi has insisted that Republicans give Democrats enough money to do what they need to do, as well as ensuring due process for the children. Since Boehner won’t even give the President half of what he asked for in order to deal with this emergency, Pelosi knows Boehner is on his own. Stuck with his own party.
Where is this bill he can pass without her help? As if.
There is no bill that Boehner can pass without House Democrats, because House Republicans refuse to spend any money on anything except Obama witch hunts.
That’s a “No!” for a blank check for that border crisis, even though Obama didn’t ask for a blank check ($3.7 billion is an actual number, not anything like a “blank check” and it doesn’t give birth to itself or die from illegitimate rape). Not only are House Republicans denying President Obama what he asks for, but also things he never asked for, just in case he gets any ideas about being President.
Also, where are the jobs? Someone needs to get the poor Speaker a mirror.
New NRA Plan: Bullet Subsidies and Forcing Kids to Shoot Their Way to Graduation
By: Adalia Woodbury
Thursday, July, 24th, 2014, 9:54 am
NRA Required Gun Zone
Mandatory gun zones and making marksmanship a mandatory requirement to advance in school are just a couple of the NRA’s newest gimmicks to maintain our lead as the country with the most guns, albeit in a fewer hands.
In a video released on Monday, NRA commentator Billy Johnson began his pitch for a gun in every hand by inferring that laws that keep guns out of the hands of people with dangerous histories is akin to limiting access to public education.
Transcript Courtesy of Media Matters:
JOHNSON: As a country we have an education policy. Imagine if that policy was about limiting who has access to public education. I mean, let’s be honest, the danger in educating people to think is that they might actually start to think for themselves. Perhaps we should think seriously about who we give access to knowledge. They could use it to do a lot of damage.
As a country we have a far reaching public parks program. Imagine if that program was designed to limit who has access to those parks. You littered once in high school, sorry no park access for you.
As a country we have labor policies designed to ensure that people are given access to jobs regardless of gender, race, or creed. Imagine if that policy withheld certain types of jobs as only the purview of the government elite.
The point is that as a country we often write policy to protect access to something; education, parks, jobs. But one for one of the most important protections, a constitutional right, we write policy designed to limit access. Among Second Amendment supporters it’s common to talk about U.S. gun policy. We worry that policies will encroach on our rights; we share our concerns about overreaching gun policy that fails to make any of us safer.
But we don’t spend nearly enough time asking what is the purpose of policy and what should the purpose of gun policy be? We don’t have a U.S. gun policy. We have a U.S. anti-gun policy. Our gun policies are designed around the assumption that we need to protect people from guns, that guns are bad or dangerous. But what would happen if we designed gun policy from the assumption that people need guns — that guns make people’s lives better. Let’s consider that for a minute.
Gun policy driven by people’s need for guns would seek to encourage people to keep and bear arms at all times. Maybe it would even reward those who do so. What if instead of gun free-zones we had gun-required zones?
Gun policy driven by our need for guns would insist that we introduce young people to guns early and that we’d give them the skills to use firearms safely. Just like we teach them reading and writing, necessary skills. We would teach shooting and firearm competency. It wouldn’t matter if a child’s parents weren’t good at it. We’d find them a mentor. It wouldn’t matter if they didn’t want to learn. We would make it necessary to advance to the next grade.
Gun policy driven by the assumption we need guns would probably mean our government would subsidize it. I mean, perhaps we would have government ranges where you could shoot for free or a yearly allotment of free ammunition. Sound crazy? Think about it. Education, healthcare, food, retirement, we subsidize things we value. Gun policy, driven by our need for guns would protect equal access to guns, just like we protect equal access to voting, and due process, and free speech. Our Founding Fathers believed that we did need guns. That’s why they codified our access to guns into the Constitution. But the idea of a gun policy that does justice to their intentions sounds ridiculous. What does that say about us? Even as Second Amendment advocates we can’t fathom a world where we would treat guns as a need.
Wow, where do we begin?
According to Johnson laws to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, people with a criminal history and people with illnesses that make them a danger to themselves and others are way too restrictive because guns are a necessity, like food, water, clothing, and shelter. Keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people is like limiting access to knowledge (which Republicans do) or banning someone from a park.
It’s obvious that Johnson also doesn’t recognize that the NRA’s best friend in Congress and State legislatures has policies that do the very things he condemns in his pitch and doesn’t believe in the things he claims we should be doing.
One need only look at the climate change deniers, religion based Charter Schools and the Koch Brothers efforts to brainwash kids with their political philosophy to see that the Republican Party is doing all it can to eliminate access to knowledge. The last thing Republican lawmakers want is for people to think for themselves. We see it in their attack on Common Core, their efforts to replace science with religion and reinvent history. We see it in the Hobby Lobby ruling that forces employees to conform to their boss’s religious beliefs.
Republicans across the country are using every trick in the book to deny poor people access to healthcare – with some states even rationing access to emergency rooms.
Johnson wants to force kids to shoot their way to graduation, give them gun mentors and get the government to subsidies bullets. Sure, when America is already lagging behind other advanced countries in math and science, the obvious solution is courses in shooting and gun competency.
Then there’s the fact that the NRA friendly Republicans don’t believe in equal access to the vote as reflected in Voter and Registration ID laws, laws that restrict voting hours and days and laws that make it physically difficult if not impossible to have anything resembling equal access to the vote.
This is just crazy enough for the Tea Party controlled Republicans to get behind because subsidizing healthcare, school lunches or education is just silly when you can subsidize bullets and public shooting galleries. Besides, the best way to compete in a technology and scientifically advancing world is to force kids to learn how to shoot.