In the USA....Democrats watch in awe as McConnell filibusters himself
By Eric W. Dolan
Thursday, December 6, 2012 17:12 EST
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) introduced legislation to raise the debt ceiling on Thursday, apparently with the intent of showing that even Democrats would not support such a bill.
However, McConnell’s plan backfired after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) called for a vote on the legislation, which would have given the president the authority to raise the federal debt ceiling on his own. The top Senate Republican was forced to filibuster his own bill.
“What we have here is a case of Republicans here in the Senate once again not taking ‘yes’ for an answer,” Reid said, after McConnell announced his filibuster. “This morning the Republican leader asked consent to have a vote on this proposal, just now I told everyone we were willing to have that vote — up or down vote. Now the Republican leader objects to his own idea. So I guess we have a filibuster of his own bill, so I object.”
Apparently aware the incident would bring media attention, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) expressed astonishment at McConnell’s legislative antics.
“What just transpired deserves a word,” he remarked. “Sen. McConnell came to the floor this morning and offered a change in law that would help us avoid the kind of obstruction and the kind of show downs we’ve had in the past over the debt ceiling.”
Durbin explained “to those who don’t follow the Senate” that by calling for the legislation to be passed by a 60-vote majority, McConnell had filibustered the bill. He said this was probably the first time in history that a senator had filibuster his own proposal.
Reid and other Democrats have called for the Senate’s filibuster rules to be reformed, claiming that Republicans have abused the parliamentary procedure and obstructed lawmaking.
Click to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=dGo8E3shaIQ
***********Republicans Are Going Off the Rails and Heading Towards Irrelevance
December 6th, 2012
One of the most difficult, and often painful, experiences a human faces throughout their lifetime is the state of things as they actually exist, rather than as they may appear, are hoped for, or even imagined. A person who cannot, or will not, face reality is fooling themselves and eventually, when they can no longer elude reality, they either accept their situation and face their challenges responsibly, or go completely off the rails and bury themselves in delusion until they become irrelevant to whatever situation they refuse to face in the first place. Republicans have lived in an imaginary world over the past eleven years and avoided the reality that their economic “reality” is illusory at best and an abject failure at worst. Now, after losing an election to the President who campaigned on ending Republican gifts to the wealthiest Americans, the GOP will have to face the reality that the American people, and the country’s economic health, demands that the wealthy lose their lower tax rates. Instead of accepting their situation and acting responsibly, Republicans are going off the rails and heading toward irrelevance.
When Speaker of the House John Boehner proposed a counter offer to the President’s plan to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff, he was obviously disabused of the reality that his proposal was precisely the plan that cost Willard Romney dearly in the general election. In fact, one could say that realistically, the list of spending cuts and alleged revenue increases was hardly a counter offer and more in line with the vagaries Romney attempted to sell the voters during the campaign. Whether or not Republicans like the President’s proposal, at least there were relatively specific tax measures and reductions in Medicare spending that warrant a closer analysis. Boehner’s offer was, at best, a list of figures attached to nebulous descriptions that left one wondering what things like health savings, mandatory savings, other discretionary savings, entitlement scale downs, and tax reform without increases meant. Chances are, even Republicans are unaware of what all the so-called “savings” are; regardless, it was not a real proposal or a counter offer. However, it certainly garnered outrage and criticism from conservatives who all but said Boehner was doing the President’s bidding.
If Boehner’s proposal avoids reality, then his conservative and Republican critics exist in a fantasy land where the concept of tax increases, or closing loopholes, represent the end of humanity. The Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity said, “Boehner’s deal leaves conservatives wanting,” and the Heritage Foundation claimed Boehner is “asking Republicans to go back on their promise to never raise taxes,” and Senator Jim DeMint said, “Speaker Boehner’s $880 billion tax hike will destroy American jobs and allow politicians to spend even more while not reducing the deficit by a single penny.” It is almost like the Republican establishment exists in a world where voters did not reject Republican’s economic assaults on the poor, middle class, and the elderly to protect the wealthy’s Bush-era tax cuts. Despite voters’ rejection of Republican’s adherence to tax cuts for the rich, they are clinging to them with their political lives and pushing severe austerity that has other nations laughing and predicting Republican proposals will destroy the fragile recovery and send the economy into deep recession.
German newspapers compare the Republican proposals to “Greece’s economic problems and the resulting austerity packages it passed that plunged the country into five straight years of recession. Germany, Europe and the world are hoping that the same fate is not in store for the U.S.” The German papers are reiterating what economist Paul Krugman has been arguing that “Greece should teach us that overly rapid deficit reduction during a period of economic weakness is a disastrous idea.” Another paper claimed “balking at the President’s proposals is another way of saying Republicans are hypocrites and using the fiscal cliff to start an austerity crisis and deep recession.” In England, a financial expert editorialized that “Mr. Obama proposed a $1.6 trillion rise in tax revenues, and $400 billion in chiefly Medicare cuts as well as making increases in the sovereign debt ceiling automatic. It was a strong opening bid, and the Republicans need to think hard about their response and instead of playing chicken, Republicans should try governing.” The overwhelming consensus is that Republican intransigence is creating a crisis because of their institutional dysfunction that will damage the economy and make the American people pay the price.
Republicans are going to have to face the reality that the wealthy are going to see their tax rates increase whether they like it or not. Either they accept, and try to work with, the President’s proposal and let the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy expire and extend tax cuts for 98% of the people, or the economy goes over the fiscal cliff and all the Bush cuts expire, including the wealthy’s. Boehner may have thought his reducing tax rates and “closing loopholes” would satisfy the President, but for two years Obama has pledged he will not allow Republicans to hold the middle class hostage again over tax cuts for the wealthy. Remember, when Republicans passed the wealthy’s tax cuts, they intended for them to sunset after ten years, and instead of honoring their own legislation, they are fantasizing that Democrats and the President will cave and perpetually extend, and reduce, tax rates for the richest Americans.
The GOP’s dream of never-ending tax cuts for the rich is coming to an end and it is none too soon. The Bush-era tax cuts were never paid for, and after eleven long years they are still going on the nation’s credit card that no amount of closing loopholes or severe austerity will reduce. Boehner is going to have to face his conservative critics and remind them that President Obama won re-election on the promise of making the wealthy pay higher taxes, and that deficit reduction is not going to be on the backs of the poor, middle class, and elderly while the wealthiest 2% continue benefiting from Republican’s who will either face reality and accept responsibility for their eleven year dream, or fade into irrelevance. It is 2012, and the state of things as they actually exist is that the President, Democrats, and American people will not abide one more day of tax cuts for the rich and whether the economy falls off the fiscal cliff, or Republicans face reality and compromise with the President, America’s nightmare of giving everything to the rich at the expense of the rest of the population is finally within sight whether Republicans see it or not.
************President Obama Hits 53%, His Highest Job Approval Rating in 3 Years
By: Sarah Jones
December 6th, 2012
President at 53% Approval: Obama Gets Highest Job Approval Rating in 3 Years in New Poll
American voters approve of President Barack Obama’s job performance by 53-40 percent, his best approval rating in three years. By an even wider margin, 53 – 36 percent, “(T)hey trust the president and Democrats more than Republicans to avoid the “Fiscal Cliff,” according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.
The Quinnipiac University National Poll was conducted between November 28 – December 3 and used live interviewers to call both landlines and cells.
Obama got his job approval support from 90% of Democrats and 51% of Independents, with Republicans only giving him 8% approval. Obama also has more approval than disapproval from all income groups, including those making over $250k a year.
In June of 2009, Obama had his high of a 59% approval rating with 31% disapproval and in October of 2011, he faced his low with 41% approval rating to a 55% disapproval.
Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, explained, “Nothing like winning an election to boost your job approval. President Barack Obama hasn’t had a score this good since his 52 – 40 percent approval rating May 5, 2011, right after the death of Osama bin Laden… This is only the second time in more than three years that President Obama has broken 50 percent. And voters see Republicans as more likely to be obstructionist, and have less confidence in their ability to come up with the right solution to the nation’s financial woes.”
The poll also shows Americans want to tax the rich (65-31%) and don’t want Medicare touched in the “fiscal cliff”, with 70-25% saying they don’t want cuts to Medicare spending.
In other words, Americans reject the Republican approach to balancing budgets. Not to suggest they reject a balanced approach, as 66% of Americans agree that we need to both generate more revenue via tax increases and cut spending. The issue then is cut spending on what. Exactly.
Even Republicans agree that signing a no-tax pledge as Republicans have done is a bad idea, with 85-10 % of Americans saying it’s a bad idea, including 77-15 % of Republicans agreeing.
The President has political capital to burn going into the fiscal cliff negotiations and there’s nothing Republicans can do about it. They lost the tax revenue issue when Obama made it a central part of his campaign. It also isn’t helping Republicans that their promises of trickle down glory from gifting the rich with less and less tax burdens never actually materialized.
The elected Tea Party Republicans bought their own angry tax rhetoric and are unwilling to give the public, including their own base of the Republican Party, what they want. Crazy much or do they only hear the most extreme voices, backed by the high dollars of the Koch brothers et al? The time has come to question whether or not the elected Republicans actually represent their own base at all, even in pretense.
Speaking of which, tea partyish-conservative media outlets are even waging war against Speaker John Boeher in hopes of getting everything done their way once again.
************Obama warns of human cost of fiscal cliff
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, December 6, 2012 19:07 EST
President Barack Obama traveled to the suburban apartment of a high school teacher Thursday, to warn of the human cost of failing to solve the US “fiscal cliff” tax and austerity crisis.
Obama sat at the kitchen table of Tiffany Santana in Virginia to issue a new warning that he would not agree to any deal with Republicans that did not raise the top tax rate on the richest Americans.
The president said that Tiffany and Richard Santana and their family, including their son six-year-old Noah, had “dreams and ambitions” and were working hard to meet their responsibilities.
“For them to be burdened unnecessarily because Democrats and Republicans aren’t coming together to solve those problems gives you a sense of the costs on personal terms,” Obama said.
If there is no deal to avert the so-called “fiscal cliff,” a mix of automatic tax rises and massive spending cuts, taxes on all Americans will go up on January 1.
Obama wants to extend George W. Bush-era tax cuts for almost all Americans, but let the rates on the two percent of richest earners go up from 35 to 39.6 percent to finance cuts to the bloated deficit.
“The message we all want to send to Congress is this is a solvable problem,” Obama said, in the tidy apartment in the Virginia suburbs of Washington.
“(It’s) important we get this done now, we don’t wait. The closer it gets to the brink, the more stressed we’re going to be.”
“Everyone is going to have to share in some sacrifice. But it starts with folks who are in the best position to sacrifice.”
Tiffany Santana said that she can ill afford to pay higher taxes, saying the money she would lose next year would be the equivalent of two months’ rent.
Obama spoke to House of Representatives speaker John Boehner on Wednesday, but there are no clear signs that the two sides are any closer to narrowing their positions as they search for a compromise.
In what they bill as a concession, Republicans say they are willing to bring more revenue into the government, but insist it can only be done by closing tax loopholes and capping deductions.
Obama says such a method would not raise sufficient funds to significantly reduce the deficit and is insisting on rate hikes.
The president presented an initial offer last week, while Boehner presented a counter-bid. Both have been rejected outright by the other side.
The Republicans’ proposal would raise $800 billion in new revenue by closing tax loopholes and ending some deductions as part of the broader $2.2 trillion Republican package, including $1.2 trillion sliced from federal spending, with half of that coming directly from Medicare, the federal health program for the elderly.
Boehner insisted that Obama’s plan, including $1.6 trillion in new taxes and $600 billion in spending cuts, “couldn’t pass either house of the Congress.”
Originally published Thursday, December 6, 2012 at 10:15 AMObama seeks to put personal touch on cliff talks
By DAVID ESPO and KEN THOMAS
FALLS CHURCH, Va. —
President Barack Obama, trying to put a personal touch on "fiscal cliff" negotiations, visited a northern Virginia family's basement apartment Thursday to press his hard line on tax rate increases for the wealthy.
"We're in the midst of the Christmas season," Obama said, sitting at a table in the Santana family's Falls Church home. "I think the American people are counting on this getting solved. The closer it gets to the brink, the more stress there is going to be."
Obama and lawmakers have until the end of the year to avert across-the-board spending cuts and tax increases. The president reiterated the firm stance he has taken in recent days, warning that he's willing to let that economy-rattling double whammy take effect if Republicans don't drop their opposition to higher tax rates for the wealthy.
"Just to be clear, I'm not going to sign any package that somehow prevents the top rate from going up for the folks in the top 2 percent," Obama said. "But I do remain optimistic that we can get something done that is good for families like this one and is good for the American economy."
The president's quick trip - just a 15 minute drive from the White House - was part of an effort to rally public support for his tax proposals. The family whose home he visited is one of many that shared their stories online, at the White House's urging, of how they would be hurt if their taxes went up at the end of the year. The president will also travel to Detroit on Monday.
Obama and House Speaker John Boehner spoke on the phone Wednesday, their first known conversation in nearly a week. Neither side provided details of the call, but the White House said the lines of communication with Capitol Hill Republicans were open and there had been multiple conversations between staff.
Unless the president and Republicans reach a deal, George W. Bush-era tax rates will expire on all income earners on Jan. 1. Obama wants to continue them for 98 percent of Americans, while letting them expire on the upper income earners.
If Republicans try to block that effort, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said, the administration will "absolutely" let the country go over the fiscal cliff.
The size of the problem is so large it can't be solved without rates going up," he told CNBC on Wednesday.
Geithner drew a fierce response from Republicans. Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah called his statement "stunning and irresponsible." He added, "Going over the fiscal cliff will put our economy, jobs, people's paychecks and retirement at risk, but that is what the White House wants, according to Secretary Geithner, if they don't get their way."
Economists inside and outside the government warn that failing to reach agreement on taxes and spending could land the economy back in recession.
Beyond his insistence that taxes increase on the wealthy, Obama has also warned Republicans not to inject the threat of a government default into negotiations over the fiscal cliff as a way of extracting concessions on spending cuts.
"It's not a game I will play," he said Wednesday, recalling the brinkmanship of last year in which a budget standoff pushed the Treasury to the edge of a first-ever default.
The White House reaffirmed Thursday that it did not believe the president had the authority through the 14th Amendment to raise the debt ceiling by executive order. Democrats have previously suggested Obama could take that step.
Both sides say they want a compromise, although the administration's hand in bargaining is strengthened by polls showing public support for Obama's position on taxes, as well as by his re-election last month. The president is also working to rally the public to his side and has a trip scheduled to Detroit next week.
In a concession, Republican leaders have agreed to back increased tax revenue. Yet despite defections from within the rank and file, they have so far balked at Obama's demand that rates go up on income over $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for couples. They have also called for spending cuts and measures to slow the growth of government benefit programs. Earlier this week, they called for curbing the growth in Social Security cost-of-living increases, as well as delaying Medicare eligibility from 65 to 67, beginning in a decade.
Obama has said he will back spending cuts, including savings in Medicare, as part of a deal that includes the tax proposal that was a key part of his re-election bid.
Once Republicans yield on taxes, he told the Business Roundtable, "We can probably solve this in about a week; it's not that tough."
Republicans argue that they can raise about $800 billion in additional government revenue over a decade by closing loopholes and narrowing tax deductions on the wealthy, rather than raising income tax rates. They argue the rate increase would impose a particularly harmful impact on the economy and job creation at a time when the country is still struggling to recover fully from the deepest recession in decades.
December 6, 2012In Talks on a Budget Deal, Boehner and Obama Stand Alone
By JONATHAN WEISMAN and PETER BAKER
WASHINGTON — At House Speaker John A. Boehner’s request, Senate leaders and Representative Nancy Pelosi have been excluded from talks to avert a fiscal crisis, leaving it to Mr. Boehner and President Obama alone to find a deal, Congressional aides say.
All sides, even the parties excluded, say clearing the negotiating room improves the chance of success. It adds complexity as the two negotiators consult separately with the leaders not in the room. But it also minimizes the number of people who need to say yes to an initial agreement.
“This is now the speaker and the president working this through,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat.
White House aides and the speaker’s staff, by mutual agreement, have largely shut down public communication about the talks to avert hundreds of billions of dollars in automatic tax increases and spending cuts set to begin in January if no deal can be reached. Both sides said on Thursday that lines of communication remained open.
For public consumption, Democrats and Republicans are engaging in an increasingly elaborate show of political theater. Mr. Obama on Thursday went to the home of a middle-income family in the Virginia suburbs of Washington to press for an extension of expiring tax cuts for the middle class — and for the expiration of Bush-era tax cuts on incomes over $250,000.
“Just to be clear, I’m not going to sign any package that somehow prevents the top rate from going up for folks at the top 2 percent,” Mr. Obama said. “But I do remain optimistic that we can get something done.”
On Capitol Hill, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, moved Thursday to vote on Mr. Obama’s proposal, in his broader deficit package, to permanently diminish Congress’s control over the federal government’s statutory borrowing limit, assuming that Democrats would break ranks and embarrass the president. Instead, Democratic leaders did a count, found they had 51 solid votes, and took Mr. McConnell up on what Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Senate majority leader, called “a positive development.”
Mr. McConnell then filibustered his own bill, objecting to a simple-majority vote and saying a change of such magnitude requires the assent of 60 senators.
“I do believe we made history on the Senate floor today,” Mr. Durbin said.
The government is expected to hit its borrowing limit in late January or early February, and it is an added complication in the deficit talks because some House Republicans say they will demand further spending cuts before they lift the debt ceiling. Mr. Obama has said that any deal on taxes and spending must ensure that there will not be another crisis over the debt ceiling early next year.
But the White House on Thursday gave Republicans assurances the president would not employ a potent weapon to get what he wants. Some Democrats, including former President Bill Clinton, have theorized that the Constitution gives the president the authority to raise the debt ceiling unilaterally, citing a clause in the 14th Amendment guaranteeing that the nation’s debts “shall not be questioned.”
Mr. Obama renounced such an assertion of authority on Thursday through his spokesman. “I can say that this administration does not believe that the 14th Amendment gives the president the power to ignore the debt ceiling,” Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, told reporters, reading from language that had been prepared for him.
Administration officials had long discounted the possibility that the president would claim such power, but Thursday’s statement seemed more definitive than any in the past.
The exclusion of Senators Reid and McConnell and Ms. Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, is a departure from last year’s search for a major deficit deal. Then, Obama-Boehner deficit talks coincided with side talks between Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House majority leader, which were followed by broader talks by a special bipartisan Congressional committee. All failed.
This time, while Mr. Boehner has made himself the sole focal point, aides say he has made sure a broad leadership team is behind him. He meets every morning while the House is in session with the full slate of Republican leaders, as well as the committee chairmen who would most likely implement a deal: Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, who heads the Budget Committee; Representative Dave Camp of Michigan, who leads the Ways and Means Committee; and Representative Fred Upton of Michigan, who heads the Energy and Commerce Committee.
White House officials have begun daily conference calls with the communications staffs of Mr. Reid and Ms. Pelosi. The White House communications director, Dan Pfeiffer, met with the Senate Democratic Caucus last week, and the director of the National Economic Council, Gene Sperling, spoke with the House Democrats late last month.
The arrangement has led to bipartisan grumbling. Senator Bernard Sanders of Vermont, an independent and perhaps the Senate’s most liberal member, said on Thursday that Senate Democrats needed to find a way to make themselves more relevant to the search for a resolution to the fiscal standoff.
Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, has gone to the Senate floor repeatedly to denounce “secret” deficit talks.
“Shouldn’t the president lay out his plan?” Mr. Sessions asked. “He’s the president of the United States and the only one who represents everybody. Or will that remain a secret? Will it just be revealed to us on the eve of Christmas or on the eve of the new calendar year and we will be asked to vote for it like lemmings?”
*************Rep. Cole breaks with GOP: Middle-class tax cuts ‘a victory for common sense’
By Eric W. Dolan
Thursday, December 6, 2012 18:01 EST
Breaking with his party, Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) said Thursday that he supports a bill that extends tax cuts for the middle class.
“As long as we have the right to continue to discuss and debate and fight on other issues, lets do that,” he told Tom Ferraro of Reuters. “Lets take these people out of harm’s way and not worry about it. Lets also send the markets and the rest of the country a sign that, ‘Hey, there are somethings they can work together on, they can put people ahead of political posturing.’ I think it would actually help us in resolving the other issues.”
The Democrat-led Senate has already passed the tax break extension. But House Republicans, led by House Speaker John Boehner (OH), have said they will not pass any extension of the tax cuts that does not include the wealthiest Americans. Boehner has argued that raising taxes on top earners would hurt job growth.
Cole floated the idea of passing the middle-class tax cut extension weeks ago, but refused to say whether he expected Boehner to back the move. He said he supported the House Speaker regardless.
“I think it strengthens our position,” he added. “But more importantly, I think it is just the right thing to do. I think that it would actually astonish the country. We know we are never going to agree on everything, and the American people have voted for divided government, they ratified that decision in November, they’re the bosses around here, and so I think they basically told us to work together.”
“There are going to be some tough negotiations, but when we have something that we both essentially agree on, that taxes shouldn’t go up for this huge portion, we don’t disagree with that,” Cole continued. “Well then, why don’t we just in good faith embrace that. I don’t see this as a quote, ‘victory for the President.’ I see this as a victory for common sense and honestly I think it would make both sides look better.”
***************Boxer Takes Aim at GOP Election Games: Introduces a Bill to Prevent a Waiting Time of More Than One Hour
By: Sarah Jones
December 6th, 2012
President Obama promised to address election standards in his acceptance speech, and Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) is stepping up by introducing a bill called the LINE Act (Lines Interfere with National Elections Act). The LINE Act is election reform legislation to address national standards for waiting times at the polls. “The bill explicitly states that the goal of minimum standards is to prevent a waiting time of more than one hour at any polling place.”
I’m sure the voters in Florida, Ohio, Michigan and Virginia would appreciate not having to camp out in order to exercise their franchise.
In a statement, Ms. Boxer said, “It is unacceptable that many Americans had to wait in line for five, six or seven hours to cast their ballots. The LINE Act will help ensure that every American has an equal chance to vote without enduring hours-long delays at their polling places.”
According to Senator Boxer’s statement, the bill would “require the Attorney General, in consultation with the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC), to issue new national standards by January 1, 2014 regarding the minimum number of voting machines, election workers, and other election resources that are necessary to conduct Federal elections on Election Day and during early voting periods. The bill explicitly states that the goal of minimum standards is to prevent a waiting time of more than one hour at any polling place.”
One hour. That’s almost sane. But it gets better. Those states where a “substantial number of voters” had to wait longer than 90 minutes to vote in the 2012 election would be required to comply with a “remedial plan” to ensure it wouldn’t happen again.
Since we have several Florida Republicans saying on the record that the long lines were intended to prohibit Democrats from voting, it’s fair to say that if the lines are cut and more people vote, it wouldn’t be good for the Republican Party. Not that we needed Republicans to admit this in order to realize the purpose of their largely imaginary “voter fraud” justification for laws that make it harder to vote, but having evidence of intent is different than surmising intent.
No matter- many things are not good for the Republican Party, precisely because they are good for the citizens of this country. In other words, just because the GOP doesn’t like it when more people vote is no reason to continue to tolerate their election games. Everyone qualified to vote should have the ability to vote, and they shouldn’t have to wait in seven hour lines or face caging or intimidation in order to do it.
Any guesses as to how the Republican Party will vote on a bill to make voting easier for Americans? Right. But you can’t get anywhere unless you take the first step, and getting them on record as being against making voting sane is a worthwhile venture for future attempts to address the issue.
Then again, Reid reiterated his promise to change the filibuster rules yesterday, saying, “We’re going to change the rules. We cannot continue in this way.” He would most likely do that on the first day of the new legislative session in January (on which day the Standing Rules of the Senate can be changed with a simple majority vote), so it’s possible that we might see some real action out of this Senate after historic high levels of filibusters by Republicans (not to mention the secret holds and refusal to confirm appointees).
*************Michigan police pepper-spray, arrest protesters opposing ‘right to work’ law
By David Edwards
Dec 6, 2012
Michigan State Police say they were forced to use pepper spray and arrest at least four protesters who were opposing right to work legislation at the Michigan Capitol on Thursday.
Michigan State Police Inspector Gene Adamczyk told the Detroit Free Press that a number of protesters tried to rush the state Senate floor.
“When several of the individuals rushed the troopers, they used chemical munitions to disperse the crowd,” Adamczyk said. “It would be a lot worse if someone gets hurt and I failed to act.”
WILX reported that the Capitol building had been locked and at least four protesters were arrested during the incident. WILX reporter Brian Johnson estimated that there were around 500 protesters in the building.
Video posted by Michigan Senate Democrats showed Republican state Senator Tonya Schuitmaker angrily gaveling the Senate session into recess as the crowd became rowdy.
“Additionally, Republicans have called in countless State Police officers again today to guard their offices and question the public as they enter the Capitol to protest the Republican agenda,” the Democrats wrote. “Frankly, if you have to bring in a massive police presence in order to conduct business at the State Capitol, it might be time for Republicans to rethink what they’re doing.”
After initially calling the union-busting right to work legislation “too decisive,” Republican Gov. Rick Snyder on Thursday said that he would sign the bill if it came to his desk. The measure is expect to pass because Republicans control both the state Senate and state House.
“The goal isn’t to divide Michigan,” he said at a press conference. “It is to bring Michigan together.”
Snyder said that he now supported the legislation because it was about the “freedom to choose” and “fairness and equity in the workplace.”
Democratic lawmakers and unions, however, claimed that the bill would lower wages and reduce benefits for workers.
“Gov. Snyder campaigned on a promise of unity, but instead he’s ushering in an era of divisiveness across Michigan by launching an attack against working families,” U.S. Representative Gary Peters said in a statement on Thursday. “By trying to jam this through a lame duck session, Gov. Snyder is trying to prevent voters from seeing how he is dividing Michigan instead of working to ensure the future of our state during this fragile recovery.”
************Michigan lawmaker slams Republicans in emotional labor rights speech
By Eric W. Dolan
Thursday, December 6, 2012 18:40 EST
Michigan Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday blasted Republicans for pushing “right to work” legislation through the state legislature.
The bill would prohibit unionized workplaces from requiring workers to contribute money to the union. The Michigan AFL-CIO has dubbed the legislation the “Freedom to Freeload bill” because it allows workers to benefit from collective bargaining agreements without being paying members of the union.
“You must be kind of embarrassed right now,” Whitmer said on the Senate floor. “Your floor leader doesn’t know the rules and your leader doesn’t even want his name on this bill. Well I have a simple question: Why are we here today?”
She noted the progress the labor movement had achieved over the last century, providing American workers with maternity benefits and other working conditions that most people now took for granted.
“Lets be clear, this legislation is petty and vindictive politics at its most disgusting,” Whitmer continued. “You began this two year session by attacking workers and their families with your emergency managers legislation that raised the ire of people around the state and brought thousands of protesters here to Lansing. And now for one of your final pieces of business in this legislative calendar, you want to pass ‘right to work’ legislation that hurts workers and our economy by lowering employee wages, benefits, and workplace protection. Another bow to big business and wealthy special interests at the cost of our people.”
Police officers pepper-sprayed pro-union protesters earlier in the day after Republican Speaker Jase Bolger and Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville closed the state Capitol.
Watch video, uploaded to YouTube by Michigan Democrats, below:http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=WqE7uy4g-Po
December 6, 2012Tea Party Hero Is Leaving the Senate for a New Pulpit
By JENNIFER STEINHAUER
WASHINGTON — With a disappointing election in his rear view mirror and a budget compromise he could never swallow on the horizon, Senator Jim DeMint, the conservative Republican from South Carolina who helped ignite the Tea Party movement, is leaving the Senate to become president of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research group.
Just two years into his second term, Mr. DeMint, 61, whom many in his own party partly blame for Republicans failing to win Senate control two elections in a row, announced on Thursday that he has opted for a platform and a payday that the United States Senate could never provide him.
His resignation also comes as Tea Party followers in Congress face new pressure to pull back from their uncompromising views in the election’s aftermath. He will depart with the start of the new Congress in January.
Come January, the occasional kingmaker, conservative hero and filibuster lover — he once forced the Senate to stay in town for a Saturday vote that he then chose to skip — will find himself with a space to continue his efforts to push the Republican Party to the right from the outside rather than the inside.
His imminent departure to head a well-financed organization with significant heft in conservative circles will allow him to oppose even more loudly a big budget deal that includes higher tax revenues sought by President Obama. Mr. DeMint has been a loud Republican critic of a deal proffered by House Speaker John A. Boehner to address the impending fiscal crisis by generating at least $800 billion in new tax revenue.
“I’m leaving the Senate now, but I’m not leaving the fight,” Mr. DeMint said in a statement. “I’ve decided to join the Heritage Foundation at a time when the conservative movement needs strong leadership in the battle of ideas.”
In a parting shot — or perhaps warning flare — Mr. DeMint on Thursday suggested to Rush Limbaugh that Mr. Boehner might need to watch his back. When asked if Mr. Boehner was forcing him out, Mr. DeMint replied, “It might work a little bit the other way, Rush.”
The job switch should have substantial financial benefits for Mr. DeMint, whose 2010 net worth, $65,000, was among the lowest in the Senate. Edwin J. Feulner, the current head of the foundation, in 2010 earned $1,098,612 in total compensation.
A hero to many Republicans for his campaign fund-raising abilities, Mr. DeMint frustrated Senate colleagues by eagerly backing Republican candidates like Sharron Angle of Nevada, Ken Buck of Colorado and Christine O’Donnell of Delaware in 2010, and Richard Mourdock of Indiana and Todd Akin of Missouri this year, contenders who proved too conservative to be elected statewide. Those losses set back Mr. DeMint’s effort to bring the fiery conservatism of the House to the Senate, though he did have a hand in electing Senators Mike Lee of Utah, Marco Rubio of Florida, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas, who takes office next month.
“The truth is that Jim DeMint’s philosophy on everything from Medicare to women’s reproductive rights, as embodied by his handpicked candidates for Congress, has been rejected by voters,” said Senator Patty Murray of Washington, who headed the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee this year. Privately, so as not to inflame him, several Republicans also said Mr. DeMint’s departure would produce few tears among them.
Mr. DeMint’s leadership PAC, the Senate Conservatives Fund, spent $5.48 million in the 2010 and 2012 elections, and out of 27 races that it stepped into, his preferred candidate won either the primary or general election 8 times.
The costly Senate defeats, as well as Mr. DeMint’s proclivity for gumming up legislation on the floor, and his virtually nonexistent legislative productivity, stunted his chances for leadership in the Senate.
Gov. Nikki R. Haley of South Carolina, a Republican, will now be compelled to appoint a successor who would then run to maintain the seat in a special election in 2014, when Senator Lindsey Graham, the senior senator from the state and a fellow Republican, will also be up for re-election. Aides said that Ms. Haley was surprised by Mr. DeMint’s announcement.
South Carolina is a small state, politically speaking, and almost every Republican member of the House delegation, many of them close to Mr. DeMint politically and personally, are possible fill-ins.
Representative Tim Scott is a popular freshman from Charleston who is well known around the state from having served on Charleston County Council for 13 years and in the State House of Representatives for two years. The first black Republican to serve his state in Congress since Reconstruction, Mr. Scott could give Republicans a high-profile black member of the Senate, which has no black members from either party. Mr. Scott, who shares a political consultant with Ms. Haley, is believed to have other ambitions, including a possible run for governor.
While a fellow Republican freshman, Mick Mulvaney, might also like the job, he does not have a close relationship to Ms. Haley in a job and state where such ties matter, and the delegation is expected to coalesce around Mr. Scott. What’s more, there are many Republicans in the state who would love to have a run at Mr. Scott’s seat.
Ms. Haley, who said that she would not appoint herself, is most likely to frame her choice around her own re-election efforts. She is a ripe target for a conservative primary challenge.
“Our state’s loss is the Heritage Foundation’s gain,” Ms. Haley said in a statement. “I wish Jim and Heritage all the best in continuing our shared commitment to America’s greatness.”
The distraction of a new seat may well benefit Mr. Graham, who has taken some positions on immigration and climate change that have drawn fire in his very conservative state. On the Senate floor Thursday, Mr. Graham said that his state was losing “a great strong conservative voice,” and that “on a personal level I’ve lost a colleague and friend.” Their relationship, he said, at times was “playing the good cop, the bad cop, but we were always trying to work together.”
December 6, 2012Season Has Changed, but the Drought Endures
By JOHN ELIGON
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Even as the summer swelter has given way to frost, nearly two-thirds of the country remains in a drought, with forest fires still burning, winter crops choking in parched soil and barges nearly scraping the mucky bottoms of sunken rivers.
More than 62 percent of the continental United States is experiencing moderate to exceptional drought, according to the weekly Drought Monitor report released on Thursday, compared with just over 29 percent at this time last year.
Save for patches of California, Montana and Wyoming, the drought is expected to persist in most of the dry regions west of the Mississippi River over the next three months, according to the Seasonal Drought Outlook released Thursday by the National Weather Service.
“It’s not looking very promising right now,” said David Miskus, a meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s climate prediction center.
This is typically the driest time of the year, Mr. Miskus said, so precipitation will have to be far above normal levels to put a dent in regions that have been rain starved since the spring.
With the Great Plains — from southern South Dakota to the Texas Panhandle — enduring the most desiccated conditions, the agricultural sector is bracing for the hardest blow. Most of the Plains and the Mississippi River Valley had less than a quarter-inch of rain over the past week, according to the Drought Monitor.
The drought expanded across parts of Southeast Texas through central Louisiana in areas that had precipitation shortfalls of 8 to 14 inches over the past three months, the report said.
Just over a quarter of the nation’s wheat crop, planted mostly in September and October, was in poor or very poor condition, according to a report released last week by the United States Department of Agriculture. Those are the worst conditions since the department began keeping records in 1986, said Brad Rippey, a meteorologist with the department.
In Nebraska, where most of the state has been in an exceptional drought, farmers have reported planting their wheat in dry soil with the hope that rain or snow will eventually come and germinate the seeds and allow them to sprout, said Caroline Brauer, a spokeswoman for the Nebraska Wheat Board.
But for now, in some dehydrated fields, thin, green whiskers resembling grassy patches poke from the dusty ground, rather than the thick, wavy plants that typically sprout from a healthy wheat field.
The wheat harvest is not until next summer, so there is still time for it to bounce back. But a dry winter would make adequate precipitation in March and April that much more essential for the crop. And snow is also important to help insulate the wheat from extreme cold and wind during the winter.
Corn and soybean farmers are eager for precipitation to prepare the soil for their plantings in April.
“We know we got time ahead of us,” said Dennis McNinch, a corn and wheat farmer in west-central Kansas. But, he added: “Every day is a day closer to needing more moisture. That time will come that we’re going to have to get the tractors rolling and putting seed in the ground. We’ll just keep praying that next storm’s on its way.”
Perhaps the most unusual sign of the nagging drought is the 3,700-acre wildfire raging in the Rocky Mountains in northern Colorado.
The fire in Estes Park, which started in October from an illegal campfire, is burning at altitudes of 8,000 to 10,000 feet, on peaks that should be covered in snow right now.
The fire more than doubled in size on Saturday morning after 70 mile-per-hour winds swept through the area, forcing the evacuation of about 600 residences nearby, said Don Ferguson, a spokesman for the National Park Service.
The lack of moisture is also taxing water systems throughout the country, most notably the Mississippi River.
“If we continue to get or stay below normal for rainfall, and if the level continues to drop, we could even get close to or surpass the record low level on the river,” said Jim Kramper, a warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service.
This could spell trouble for barges that transport billions of dollars in agricultural products, chemicals, coal and petroleum products. The industry estimates that water levels could bring navigation closings between St. Louis and Cairo, Ill., before the end of December.
Debra Colbert, a spokeswoman for the Waterways Council, a group that lobbies on behalf of inland carriers, operators and ports, said, “We are headed for our own fiscal waterfall here.”
Steven Yaccino contributed reporting from Chicago and John Schwartz from New York.