Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Just a day after an extension of the payroll tax cut passed the Senate by an overwhelming margin, Speaker John Boehner announced that he would not bring the bill to the House floor for a vote immediately. Instead, Boehner says Congress should pass a full-year extension of the payroll tax cut rather than the two-month extension agreed upon by the Senate. The House GOP is expected to vote the bill down Tuesday.
Monday, December 19, 2011
Partisan to the core, Congress hit a speed bump in its standoff on legislation to prevent a Social Security payroll tax increase for 160 million workers on Jan. 1. The Republican-controlled House will wait until Tuesday to reject a Senate measure providing a two-month extension of Social Security payroll tax cuts due to expire on Dec. 31.
Monday, December 19, 2011
By Frank James
Monday, December 19, 2011
The death of Kim Jong-il and the future of both North and South Korea will dominate the headlines this week. Also, Republicans and Democrats are about to have another showdown over a deal to extend payroll tax cuts. Charlie Herman, business and economics editor for The Takeaway and WNYC, and Takeaway Washington correspondent Todd Zwillich discuss the major stories for the week ahead.
Friday, December 16, 2011
The National Defense Authorization Act for next year has been met with criticism by civil liberties organizations for provisions that they say would allow American citizens suspected of terrorist activities to be detained indefinitely. As the House and Senate work on versions of the bill, President Obama has quietly withdrawn a veto threat for the legislation — something he campaigned on as a presidential candidate in 2008. A Gallup from August shows that 71 percent of Americans believe basic civil liberties should not be violated, even if doing so would prevent terrorist attacks.
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Massachusetts Democrat Barney Frank announced Monday that he will not seek re-election next year, after representing his district in Congress for more than 30 years. The announcement brings to an end the career of one of Congress's most quotable and cantankerous members. Frank leaves behind a legacy of notable achievement in economic policy, and will be remembered by history as the first member of Congress to come out as gay.
Friday, November 25, 2011
The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Spending failed to reach an agreement in time for its Thanksgiving week deadline. The so-called "Supercommittee" of six Republicans and six Democrats was created last summer to cut the deficit by more than one trillion dollars, or else automatic cuts would be triggered. Bob speaks to New York Magazine politics writer Jonathan Chait who says the Supercommittee wasn't a failure at all, it did exactly what it was designed to do.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Disappointing many, but surprising few, the so-called Congressional "super committee" tasked with finding at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reductions announced it had failed to reach an agreement on Monday. Now, a wide range of spending cuts impacting everything from domestic to military programs will be implemented, which economists say will further hinder recovery. President Obama vowed to veto any legislation that attempts to undo the cuts. Both parties are snipping over who is to blame, though one private citizen's name keeps getting mentioned — Grover Norquist.
Monday, November 21, 2011
By Frank James
Friday, November 18, 2011
As Todd reported yesterday, Congress sent $18 billion in spending for the Department of Transportation to President Obama for a signature Thursday, boosting funds overall — but zeroing out high speed rail.
In a tersely worded statement, the White House said today:
"On Friday, November 18, 2011, the President signed into law_:
H.R. 2112, the "Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2012," provides FY 2012 full-year appropriations through September 30, 2012, for the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Health and Human Services', Food and Drug Administration, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, Transportation; the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Science Foundation, and other small agencies. In addition, it provides for continuing FY 2012 appropriations through December 16, 2011, for the remaining projects and activities of the Federal Government."
From Todd's post yesterday:
"But the big loser was high-speed rail. Republicans succeeded in their mission to zero out funding for the Obama Administration favorite. Senate Democrats had tried to include a $100 million “placeholder” to keep at least a bit of cash flowing, but it was removed during House-Senate negotiations."
Was it just ten months ago that the President was promising to connect 80 percent of Americans to High Speed Rail by 2036?
Thursday, November 17, 2011
Congressional approval in the U.S. is at embarrassingly low levels. A recent New York Times/CBS News poll found Americans' approval of Congress in the single digits. And a story that aired on "60 Minutes" last weekend is not likely to improve Congress's standing with the public. Insider trading is a crime in the U.S., but the laws that apply to most Americans do not apply to their lawmakers. According to the report, powerful members of Congress and their staffs have used their knowledge of privileged information to make vast sums of money in the stock market.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Texas Governor and Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry announced a proposal Tuesday that has been circulated for years in chain emails: cut Congressional pay. It's part of what he calls his plan to "uproot and overhaul Washington." In addition, Perry wants to end lifetime tenure for federal judges. The proposal would drastically re-shape the federal government and may be unconstitutional. Takeaway Washington correspondent Todd Zwillich talks about whether this plan is likely to pass.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
(Washington, D.C) House Republicans will unveil a five-year transportation and highway bill Thursday that matches Senate Democrats in highway funding levels, according to a member of Congress familiar with the bill.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) plans to roll out the bill Thursday morning and pitch it as a major jobs initiative, countering a charge from President Obama and other Democrats that the GOP won't support direct job creation.
Republicans are likely to draw attention to relatively high funding levels in their bill. It will go up against a Senate alternative funding the Highway Trust Fund at $54 billion over two years. The House version, at five years, will be "longer and at least as big" in terms of highway funding, the lawmaker said.
One thing Boehner likely won't reveal Thursday is how the unexpectedly generous bill will be paid for. And this is guaranteed to be a major sticking point with Democrats. Republicans are dead set against any tax increases, for gasoline or for anything else. While Boehner has pointed to royalties for expanded domestic oil drilling as one funding source, that's unlikely to be a major component. Such royalties yield only $800 million to $1 billion over 10 years, and the Highway Trust Fund is tens of billions short if construction projects stay at anywhere near their present pace.
About $8 billion comes from a spend-down on the $22 billion currently held in the fund. Beyond that, "Boehner won't reveal the final (funding) levels until he reveals the pay-fors," the lawmaker said.
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Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Since suffering a gunshot wound to the head in January of last year, Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, have largely shunned the spotlight. But now the couple is opening up about her recovery process in the new book "Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope" and an interview with Diana Sawyer on ABC's "20/20."
Friday, November 11, 2011
There were a number of big stories out of Washington late this week. On Thursday, the Obama administration announced that it would delay making a decision on construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline until after the 2012 elections. The pipeline, which would stretch 1,700 miles from Canada to the Gulf Coast, was opposed by environmental activists who said it threatened a major source of drinking water in Nebraska. Meanwhile, in Congress, the Senate unanimously passed a bill to help veterans find jobs and the "super committee" continues to debate a debt reduction plan.
Thursday, November 10, 2011
Going back to his days as a college instructor, Metropolitan Transit Authority CEO George Greanias rolled up his sleeves and moved around the room with a wireless mic as he gave the annual "State of Metro" address. He used the occasion to tell Houston business leaders that federal funding is now on the way for new light rail lines. It's the first time Houston has received federal dollars for rail projects.
"That's a major step forward," he said. "It allows us to complete two lines, the North Line and the Southeast Line, which are essential parts of the long-range transit plans."
The $900 million for the projects was in danger under Metro's previous leadership, when the Federal Transit Administration investigated the agency for violating "Buy America" provisions. Rules state that transit vehicles for federally-funded projects have to be bought from U.S. companies. Metro was looking at buying rail cars from a Spanish firm. That issue has now been resolved, and Greanias said it appears the federal government now views Metro as being committed to solving the area's mobility issues.
"For a long time I'm not sure that was the thought up there. But I think this represents a conclusion by the federal government that Metro is serious about transit and it will be a good partner, and is somebody worth investing in."
One of the projects under that grant is the extension of the Red Line, which currently includes major stops such as Reliant Stadium, the Texas Medical Center, and the Museum District. The seven mile Red Line is Houston's only rail line now in operation. The new Purple Line will run to the southeast of downtown, taking riders to the University of Houston. The allocation hasn't been approved yet by Congress, but Greanias sounded confident that will happen.
"We'll have a contract," he said, "and what that will do will give us a strong level of assurance that the federal government will pay out the $900 million subject to Congressional appropriation. And I think, from everyone we've talked to, from the people on Capitol Hill, the appropriations for these particular grants are secure."
Greanias also said sales tax revenues earmarked for Metro are up, but the agency is taking a conservative approach in managing those funds. And he said the agency was working hard on transparency, as well as getting the public more involved in planning future transportation projects.
"That's the most important piece," he said. "I think everything we do could not be done effectively without good partnering with the community. I think that's the biggest single change we've made. We're reaching out and people are reaching back to us."
Along with the light rail line, Metro operates 1300 buses that pick people up at 1200 stops around Houston. The agency also operates park and rides for commuters and Metrolift services for the handicapped.
Thursday, November 03, 2011
Meanwhile, House GOP leaders unveiled a major counter-proposal. They’re offering fully funded highway projects in the upcoming transportation authorization with royalties from expanded oil drilling.
The widely-expected result Tuesday came after Senate Democrats failed to break a GOP-led filibuster, blocking the bill from reaching the Senate floor. It also added fuel to President Obama’s election-year claim that Republicans are too bent on partisan politics to cooperate with the White House on job creation.
The bill proposed $50 billion in new spending on transportation infrastructure projects, including highways, transit, Amtrak, high-speed rail, and other categories on Democrats’ wish list. It also included $10 billion in start-up money for a federal infrastructure bank. That proposal has bipartisan support in the Senate but lacks GOP backing in the House.
The bill was paid for with a 0.7% surtax on income over $1 million.
Democrats pushed the bill as a way to pressure Republicans after the defeat of the $447 billion American Jobs Act. Some polls put support for infrastructure spending above 70%.
But Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), the Speaker of the House, accused Democrats of using infrastructure spending to box Republicans in politically. “The Senate this week is voting on another bill that is designed to fail,” he said.
A few hours later Boehner’s office announced it would introduce a new highway funding proposal “in the coming weeks." The bill, expected to be part of a proposed 6-year transportation reauthorization, would make up for expected shortfalls in the Highway Trust Fund with royalties from increased oil drilling.
The move could set up a difficult choice for Democrats: whether to accept expanded fossil fuel drilling, which many oppose, in order to reap the employment benefits of a robustly funded highway bill.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, appeared to reject the idea several weeks ago. “If they're talking about controversial new offshore oil drilling, which is what I think they're doing, that just sets up a huge fight. And that's the last thing you want,” she said.
Also Tuesday, Democrats blocked a Republican-backed alternative bill that funded transportation projects with cuts in other government spending.
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Tuesday, November 01, 2011
The Democratic-controlled Senate backed $108 billion in Fiscal 2012 federal transportation spending 69-30, flatlining budgets as Washington operates in a climate of spending cuts.
The bill passed after a long-delayed flourish of votes Tuesday.
It funds most transportation, transit and highway programs at or near levels for the Fiscal year that ended Sept 30. But when factored for inflation, it amounts to cuts to many programs. That’s largely because of new spending caps in place after Republicans and Democrats agreed to cuts during the federal debt limit fight last summer.
It also sets up a confrontation with the House Republicans, who have yet to approve a companion bill but are contemplating funding transportation at substantially lower levels. A House bill in the works now cuts $16 billion from transportation programs.
One big loser: High speed rail. The Senate bill has a mere $100 million for President Obama’s high speed rail initiative. While $10 billion has already gone to the program through stimulus and other spending, Congress is getting set to essentially zero it out for 2012. House Republicans have shown no appetite to fund high-speed rail further.
The Senate’s bill contains $55.3 billion in budget authority for the Department of Transportation. The rest is roughly $64 billion expected to be siphoned to federal highway programs through the Highway Trust Fund.
It leaves out a separate proposal from the White House that would create a $10 billion infrastructure bank to help capitalize infrastructure projects. That plan is tied up in election-year wrangling between Republicans and Democrats but may get a Senate vote in the coming weeks. Republicans have declared it dead in the House, however.
Here are a few of the funding levels contained in the bill:
$800 million in vehicle an driver safety programs
$550 million for “TIGER” infrastructure projects
$90 million for the "Sustainable Communities Initiative" at HUD
$41 billion in federal highway projects outside of the Highway Trust Fund
$25 million in transit energy efficiency grants
$8 million for new safety inspectors at the FAA
Meanwhile, the Senate turned away an amendment that would have limited how states can use “transportation enhancement” funds that normally go to aesthetic projects, sidewalks, bikelanes and other goodies. It killed another that would have pared back subsidies for some rural airports.
And, heartening planning groups, the Senate continued funding for the Obama administration's "sustainable communities" initiative, which is meant to encourage development that prioritizes transit and denser housing construction.
"We applaud the Senate for including continued funding for these programs in its proposed bill," said Geoff Anderson, President and CEO of Smart Growth America."This means more efficient federal policies and a better use of taxpayer dollars. "
But that cheer may be short-lived: Even though the bill passed the Senate with solid bipartisan support, the fun is far from over. Thanks to partisan clashes over spending, the government is currently operating under a stopgap measure that expires November 18. If there’s no agreement on spending by then, Democrats and Republicans will either have to agree on another extension, or reach a grand bargain on spending for Fiscal 2012.
Transportation money could wriggle out from under the spending mess if the House passes its bill AND the House and Senate agree to a compromise by November 18. If not, it’s more negotiation not just over transpo dollars, but tied in with the rest of the government’s funding as well.
Bill summary is here.
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