April 15, 2024

U.S. Shutdown Nears as House Votes to Delay Health Law

The votes, just past midnight, followed an often-angry debate, with members shouting one another down on the House floor. Democrats insisted that Republicans refused to accept their losses in 2012, were putting contempt for the president over the good of the country and would bear responsibility for a shutdown. Republicans said they had the public on their side and were acting to protect Americans from a harmful and unpopular law that had already proved a failure.

The House first voted 248-174 to repeal a tax on medical devices, then voted 231-192 to delay the law’s implementation by a year — just days before the uninsured begin enrolling in the law’s insurance exchanges. The delay included a provision favored by social conservatives that would allow employers and health care providers to opt out of mandatory contraception coverage.

But before the House had even voted, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, declared the House bill dead. Senate Democrats are planning to table the Republican measures when they convene on Monday, leaving the House just hours to pass a stand-alone spending bill free of any measures that undermine the health care law.

The House’s votes early Sunday all but assured that large parts of the government would be shuttered as of 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday. More than 800,000 federal workers deemed nonessential faced furloughs; millions more could be working without paychecks.

“The American people don’t want a government shutdown, and they don’t want Obamacare,” House Republican leaders said in a statement. “We will do our job and send this bill over, and then it’s up to the Senate to pass it and stop a government shutdown.”

A separate House Republican bill passed unanimously Sunday morning to ensure that military personnel continued to be paid in the event of a government shutdown, an acknowledgment that a shutdown is likely. En route to South Korea, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was unimpressed, excoriating his former Republican colleagues in Congress.

“This is an astoundingly irresponsible way to govern,” Mr. Hagel said, adding that a fully functioning military went beyond its uniformed forces to its civilian personnel. “If this continues, we will have a country that is ungovernable.”

Representative Darrell Issa, a powerful Republican committee chairman who is close to the leadership but has sided with those who want to gut the health care law, flashed anger when asked what would happen when the Senate rejected the House’s offer.

“How dare you presume a failure?” he snapped. “We continue to believe there’s an opportunity for sensible compromise, and I will not accept from anybody the assumption of failure.”

But Mr. Reid made it clear that failure was inevitable. “After weeks of futile political games from Republicans, we are still at Square 1,” he said. “We continue to be willing to debate these issues in a calm and rational atmosphere. But the American people will not be extorted by Tea Party anarchists.”

The White House was just as blunt. “Any member of the Republican Party who votes for this bill is voting for a shutdown,” the press secretary, Jay Carney, said in a written statement. The White House also said that the president would veto the House bill if approved by the Senate.

In fact, many House Republicans acknowledged that they expected the Senate to reject the House’s provisions, making a shutdown all but assured. House Republicans were warned repeatedly that Senate Democrats would not accept any changes to the health care law.

Jennifer Steinhauer contributed reporting.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/29/us/politics/budget-talks-government-shutdown.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

In Election-Night Party Planning, Flexibility Is a Must

WHEN empty, the Bristlecone ballroom at the Aria Resort and Casino here is 57,000 square feet of beige carpeting and fluorescent lights. But two years ago, it was briefly the overstuffed epicenter of American politics.

This is where Senator Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat and majority leader, held his election-night party after prevailing in a race that many had predicted he would lose. To Democrats, this was a site for triumph and relief; for Republicans, it was one for disappointment and loss.

For Frank Roskowski, it was something else entirely. “It was carnage. It was goofy,” he said, grinning as he surveyed the room last week.

Mr. Roskowski, whom everyone calls Mustache Frank, is Aria’s director of technical services, and he is reminiscing about the chaos and bustle of Nov. 2, 2010. Democrats lost a bunch of races across the country, not to mention control of the House of Representatives, and in the days before the votes were tallied it looked possible that Mr. Reid would be a casualty. Twenty-two television crews were jockeying for position in the Bristlecone, starting at 4 a.m.

“The TV trucks all were fighting because the thing is, they have to run cable to a connection point,” Mr. Roskowski recalls. “So the guy in the truck, if he gets here early, he only has to run 100 feet. If he’s late, he’s got to run 500. At 3 in the morning, they’re out there, I’m out there, my guys are out there and these TV guys are like: ‘Hey, you want doughnuts? You want beer? 50 bucks?’ I’m like: ‘Whoa. Here’s what was sent to me. You’re here, you’re here, you’re here.”

As a feat of event planning, there is nothing quite like an election-night party. At most festivities that call for banquet halls and cocktails, there is little doubt about the basic contours of the main event. If it’s a wedding, two people are married and the union is celebrated. Organize a conference, and a crowd will mingle and drink. But an election-night party could be an evening of triumph or fiasco, a celebration or a wake. It’s like a trip to the hospital that might culminate with a fatal diagnosis or a healthy baby.

Both tragedy and triumph must be accommodated. It’s fine for politicians to say, “When I’m elected” or “When I’m re-elected,” but the election-night party planner toils in the realm of the possible, not the fondly wished for. If you anticipate an enormous, victory-hailing crowd and you lose, you are looking at not just a defeated candidate but also a tableau that accentuates all the empty space where supporters were supposed to revel. So, what to do? Order a few thousand balloons but don’t fill them until the polls close? Hide the confetti until the victory is certified?

What is far more essential, it turns out, is a room that can be shrunk or enlarged, quickly. Which is why Las Vegas is arguably the greatest election-night city in the country. Expandable banquet rooms are a specialty here, and turning a space that fits 100 into a space that fits 2,000 — and vice versa — is a feat that can be pulled off in places like the Bristlecone ballroom in a matter of minutes. The trick is air walls, huge movable slabs that slide back and forth like pocket doors.

Ultimately, on election night in 2010 here, the space in front of all the television cameras fit a mere 150 people. That was a tiny fraction of the entire room, and it left a tundra of emptiness out of view of all those cameras. But priority No. 1 was making the room look packed.

“When you tuned in at home,” Mr. Roskowski says, “it looked body-to-body tight.”

THE worlds of electioneering and catering will again intersect on Tuesday, as candidates await the public’s verdicts in settings of their choosing. For catering, it is often an evening of modest profit — a typical event with a couple of hundred people will cost $50,000, depending on the quality and quantity of food and drink. For the campaigns, devising these get-togethers can seem both fraught and irrelevant at the same time. Yes, all the stagecraft and planning matter. But what is the point of worrying about the finish line when the race is in the last sprint? Many campaigns contacted for this article would not discuss their plans, or they kept the discussion to a bare minimum.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/04/business/in-election-night-party-planning-flexibility-is-a-must.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

The Caucus: Bill Extending Payroll Tax Cut Heads to Obama’s Desk

In under an hour on Friday, the House and Senate dispensed with weeks of partisan bickering, passing a bill to ensure a two-month extension of a payroll tax holiday and unemployment benefits for millions of Americans.

The fight over how and whether to pass an extension was settled Thursday afternoon, when House Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio agreedagainst the will of many of the chamber’s most conservative members — to a Senate bill to extend the benefits for two months while a longer deal was hammered out.

The legislative day began at 9:30 on Friday, when Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, addressed the presiding officer, Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, who was decked out in his Christmas tie. Mr. Reid asked for unanimous consent to extend the payroll tax, unemployment benefits and to maintain the fee levels for doctors who accept Medicare. The bill also called for Democrats to appoint conferees to a bicameral committee to come up with a longer-term measure, a request from the House Republicans.

Without objection, it was so ordered, and, a minute after Mr. Reid began speaking, the gavel was down and the Senate — void of the other 98 Senators — recessed for the day. The Senate will still be in pro forma sessions through Jan. 23, when it resumes regular business.

The action next moved to the House, where Mr. Boehner, in a rare pro forma appearance in the chair, presided over the passage of the bill in his chamber, after a prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance, a roughly five-minute process.

For Mr. Reid, addressing his empty chamber was a bit of a victory lap, one he completed moments later in a news conference.

“I hope this Congress has had a very good learning experience,” Mr. Reid said. “Especially for those members who are newer to this body.”

For Mr. Boehner, who has suffered through weeks of trying to get his conference on board with a compromise, presiding over his chamber was almost the opposite exercise. He played the role of calling for objections — there were none, even though a Republican or two dotted the chamber — on a bill many of his members dislike but did not fly back from their states to protest, sparing a junior member of the task.

As beaming Democrats like Representatives Chris Van Hollen and Steny H. Hoyer, both of Maryland, looked on from behind a microphone stand on the Democratic side of the House and Republicans staffers glowered from the chairs in the chamber, Mr. Boehner recessed the chamber for the day.

Mr. Reid later announced his appointees to the conference committee: Senator Max Baucus of Montana, who is chairman of the Senate finance committee; Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island; Senator Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland and Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania.

Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the minority leader, also named her appointees: Representative Sander M. Levin of Michigan; Mr. Van Hollen; Representative Xavier Becerra and Representative Henry A. Waxman both of California and Allyson Y. Schwartz of Pennsylvania.

The conferees are expected to begin meeting during the winter break.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=abf852be41178c2fbfe9c03f1c64fa84

Congress Passes Trade Deals, Ending 5-Year Standoff

The approval of the deals with South Korea, Colombia and Panama is a victory for President Obama and proponents of the view that foreign trade can drive America’s economic growth in the face of rising protectionist sentiment in both political parties. They are the first trade agreements to pass Congress since Democrats broke a decade of Republican control in 2007.

All three agreements cleared both chambers with overwhelming Republican support just one day after Senate Republicans prevented action on Mr. Obama’s jobs bill.

The passage of the trade deals is important primarily as a political achievement, and for its foreign policy value in solidifying relationships with strategic allies. The economic benefits are projected to be small. A federal agency estimated in 2007 that the impact on employment would be “negligible” and that the deals would increase gross domestic product by about $14.4 billion, or roughly 0.1 percent.

The House voted to pass the Colombia measure, the most controversial of the three deals because of concerns about the treatment of unions in that country, 262 to 167; the Panama measure passed 300 to 129, and the agreement concerning South Korea passed 278 to 151. The votes reflected a clear partisan divide, with many Democrats voting against the president. In the Senate, the Colombia measure passed 66 to 33, the Panama bill succeeded 77 to 22 and the South Korea measure passed 83 to 15. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, voted against all three measures.

The House also passed a measure to expand a benefits program for workers who lose jobs to foreign competition by a vote of 307 to 122. The benefits program, a must-have for labor unions, passed with strong Democratic support. The Senate previously approved the measure.

Proponents of the trade deals, including Mr. Obama, Republican leaders and centrist Democrats, predict that they will reduce prices for American consumers and increase foreign sales of American goods and services, providing a much-needed jolt to the sluggish economy.

“At long last, we are going to do something important for the country on a bipartisan basis,” said Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader.

However, Mr. Obama’s support for the measures has angered important parts of his political base, including trade unions, which fear job losses to foreign competition. Many Democrats took to the House floor Wednesday to speak in opposition to the deals.

“What I am seeing firsthand is devastation that these free trade agreements can do to our communities,” said Representative Mike Michaud, a Maine Democrat who once worked in a paper mill.

Both chambers raced to approve the deals before a joint Congressional session Thursday with the South Korean president, Lee Myung-bak.

The revival of support for the deals, originally negotiated by the Bush administration five years ago, comes at a paradoxical political moment, when both conservative Republicans and the Occupy Wall Street protesters have taken antitrade positions, albeit for different reasons. In a debate among Republican presidential candidates Tuesday night, Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, accused China of manipulating the value of its currency to flood the United states with cheap goods, while populist sentiment on the left opposes the trade agreements because of the potential for American job losses.

Mr. Obama cited similar concerns in criticizing the agreements during the 2008 presidential campaign, but he later embraced the deals as a key part of his agenda to revive the economy. To win Democratic support, the White House reopened negotiations with the three countries to make changes demanded by industry groups and unions, and insisted that the expansion of benefits for displaced workers be tied to passage of the trade agreements.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=9a796c9971d3b55ba119c3f7ebf6d6bb

Fed Should Resist New Stimulus, Republicans Say

WASHINGTON (AP) — In an unusual move, Republican leaders of the House and Senate are urging Federal Reserve policymakers against taking further steps to lower interest rates.

On the eve of the Fed’s two-day policy meeting, the leaders sent a letter to Chairman Ben Bernanke warning that the Fed’s policies could harm an already weak U.S. economy.

The letter, sent Monday, was signed by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Senate Republican Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia.

The letter followed criticism from several Republican presidential candidates that the Fed’s efforts to boost growth have already raised the risk of high inflation.

“The American people have reason to be skeptical of the Federal Reserve vastly increasing its role in the economy,” the lawmakers wrote.

It is rare for lawmakers to try to sway policy at the Fed, which operates independently of Congress and the White House. But the letter was sent at a time when Bernanke, a Republican, has faced growing criticism from members of his own party.

Former Fed official Joseph Gagnon, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, called the letter “outrageous. It’s incredible.”

Gagnon said it’s been several decades since such high-level politicians tried so directly to influence the Fed.

“The fact that it’s in print and signed by the leaders of the House and minority leaders of the Senate raises it up a notch,” Gagnon said.

David Jones, head of consulting firm DMJ Advisors and the author of books on the Federal Reserve, said he can’t recall another instance when members of Congress had made such a direct approach to the Fed in the week that the central bank was meeting.

“It is inappropriate for politicians to try to exert this kind of influence,” Jones said.

He suggested it would make the Fed’s job of managing interest rates harder because financial markets will grow concerned about whether the central bank could be unduly influenced by political pressure.

The lawmakers were responding to expectations that the Fed will announce a new step Wednesday to further lower interest rates. Republicans have been critical of the Fed’s previous efforts to lower rates through the purchase of U.S. Treasurys.

The letter expressed “serious concerns” that the Fed’s actions could weaken the foreign exchange value of the dollar or encourage excess borrowing by consumers who are already carrying too much debt.

Bernanke has rebuffed his critics. He has argued that rates must remain at record lows to encourage lending and invigorate the economy, which has struggled to grow more than two years after the recession officially ended.

He has acknowledged that inflation has ticked up in recent months. But Bernanke says that is mostly because of temporary factors. He expects inflation to subside in the coming months.

The comments from GOP leaders also come after Bernanke suggested that Republicans in Congress should support efforts to stimulate hiring and growth, rather than focus solely on deficit cutting.

___

AP Economics Writer Paul Wiseman in Washington contributed to this report.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=819be3dbb291b16339606be40efffbbd

Senate and House Still Far Apart on Debt in 2 New Plans

Trying to break the impasse, President Obama planned to address the nation Monday night in televised remarks from the Oval Office of the White House.

The president’s decision to intervene comes after House Republican leaders pushed for a vote Wednesday on a two-step plan that would allow the federal debt limit to immediately be raised by about $1 trillion and tie a second increase next year to the ability of a new joint Congressional committee to produce more deficit reduction.

But top Senate Democrats called the proposal a “non-starter” and said they would advance their own plan to reduce the deficit by $2.7 trillion and raise the debt ceiling until after next year’s elections, saying it met the conditions that Republicans had laid down during the ongoing debt fight.

“We’re about to go over a cliff here,” Senator Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat who serves as majority leader, said Monday afternoon as he outlined his proposal.

He said that Republicans were essentially attempting to embarass President Obama in the middle of the 2012 election year by forcing another debt limit showdown and that Democrats would not go along with any plan that does not guarantee a debt limit increase through next year.

The plan assembled by Mr. Reid quickly received the president’s endorsement. Over the next ten years, it would cut $1.2 trillion from federal agency budgets and wring some savings from recurring programs such agriculture subsidies. The proposal also counts about $1 trillion in savings from winding down combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan – a point likely to encounter resistance from Republicans who brand such savings as gimmicks.

Hoping to beat the Senate to the punch, the House Republican leadership was trying to sell its plan to the party membership in the hopes of forcing it through the House by Wednesday.

The proposal would cut current spending and put legal limits on future spending, saving what Republicans estimate to be about $1.2 trillion over 10 years. That approach would allow a debt limit increase that would extend into early next year.

At the same time, a new 12-member committee evenly divided among Democrats and Republicans would be assigned the job of finding another $1.8 trillion in savings. The panel would have special privileges to bring legislation before the House and Senate and its proposal would not be subjected to amendment or Senate filibuster. If the plan passed, the president could seek another $1.6 trillion increase in the debt limit based on the new committee’s proposal.

The prospect of a potential second Congressional fight over a debt limit increase if the committee fails to deliver is likely to be a major sticking point with Congressional Democrats and the White House, who want a guaranteed debt limit increase through 2012.

House Republicans hope to win approval of their plan as early as Wednesday, putting pressure on the Senate, where Democrats will have to round up 60 votes to make any progress on their own plan. Senate Democrats were scheduled to formally issue their plan later Monday.

Under the House Republican plan, members of the Senate and House would also be required to vote on a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution after October 1 but before the end of the year.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=6dbd5e2d6202944b5769459738b40982