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The Takeaway

Rep. Jan Schakowsky On Why She Voted Against the Debt Deal

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

After a day of Congressional leaders of both parties courting skeptics in their rank-and-file, the House of Representatives passed a deal to raise the debt ceiling and slash federal spending by a vote of 269-161. The legislation is scheduled to be voted on by the Senate today at noon. Among the 161 "no" votes were both Democrats and many Tea Party Republicans, united in opposition for ideologically different reasons. One of those Democrats who voted against the bill was Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, who is a member of the president's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.

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The Brian Lehrer Show

NY Reps Nadler (D) and Grimm (R) on Their Votes

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

US Representative Jerrold Nadler of NY-08 explains his no vote on the debt deal, followed by Congressman Michael Grimm of NY-13, representing Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn, to talk about his yes vote on the deal. 

→ Add Your Comments, Listen, and Read a Recap at It's A Free Country

The Takeaway

Why Default May Not Be So Bad

Monday, August 01, 2011

While the country anxiously waits to see if lawmakers can raise the debt limit before the August 2 deadline, a few economists and financiers are emphasizing the importance of a long-term financial solution to the deficit, even if that results in a temporary default. They question the lasting effects of a default in terms of investor confidence, citing the reputation and dominance of U.S. currency in financial transactions.

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The Takeaway

The Latest on the Debt Ceiling Standoff

Friday, July 29, 2011

Last night, House Speaker John Boehner was forced call off a vote on his proposal to raise the debt ceiling after failing to gain enough support among House Republicans. It is unclear if the House Republican leadership will attempt another vote today. Boehner's plan, which would allow for two modest debt increases — the second of which would come during the 2012 election season — to be coupled with spending cuts. Democrats, who control the Senate, and the White House have said all along that the plan is a non-starter. If Boehner cannot gain support from restive conservatives in his party, it could be a political gain to Democrats going into next year's elections.

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The Takeaway

Boehner Delays Vote on His Plan As Deadline Nears

Friday, July 29, 2011

Political negotiations on the debt ceiling are coming down to the wire. With just four days until the August 2 deadline, by which Congress must agree on a budget plan or default, House Speaker John Boehner delayed a vote on his debt ceiling legislation last night, after a long day of vote counting and arm-twisting failed to secure immediate support for his plan from conservative Republicans. The delay surprised the Democrats, who were expecting to kill the plan in the Senate, and move ahead with their own proposal.

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The Takeaway

How the FAA Shutdown Impacts Consumers

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Earlier this morning, Rep. John Mica (R-FL) told The Takeaway the Democrats were to blame for partial shutdown at the Federal Aviation Agency, after Congress failed to pas a funding extension last weekend. But what does this shutdown mean for consumers at the airport? Barbara Peterson, senior aviation correspondent for Conde Nast Traveler, talks about how airfare has changed since the government can no longer collect taxes on airline tickets.

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The Takeaway

Rep. John Mica on the Politics Behind the FAA Shutdown

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Partisan fighting over the debt ceiling on Capitol Hill has affected more than just the markets. Over the weekend, Congress failed to pass a funding extension for the Federal Aviation Administration, following a disagreement over cuts in subsidies. As a result, the U.S. government was forced to suspend collection of federal airline taxes, at a loss of approximately $200 million per week. The F.A.A had to furlough 4,000 employees, and airport modernization projects worth billions of dollars are now on hold.

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The Takeaway

How Will the Debt Ceiling Affect Our Personal Finances?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

We’ve been told repeatedly over the past several months that if the government fails to raise the debt ceiling by August 2, there could be dire consequences for the world economy. But many Americans are wondering: what does this have to do with us and our personal finances? If the government defaults on its debt, how will it affect our personal debt and investments?

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The Brian Lehrer Show

Homegrown Terror Hearings

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Karen Greenberg, executive director of the Center on Law and Security at NYU, discusses the hearings, being held right now by NY Rep. Peter King, which address the national security threat of homegrown terror and the radicalization of Muslim Americans. 

→Watch and chat about the hearings at It's a Free Country.

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The Takeaway

Contingency Plans Underway As Debt Deadline Nears

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Despite plenty of drama and public rhetoric in the battle over the U.S. debt ceiling, President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner have not yet reached a compromise. The deadline is looming as is the possibility the country will have to default on its $14.3 trillion of debt. As time marches on, analysts are starting to think seriously about what would happen if no deal can be reached. A vote was expected today in the House on Boehner’s last bid to increase the debt limit and cut spending — but that all fell apart last night when Tea Party Republicans refused to vote for it.

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Transportation Nation

Senate Tees Up Transpo Fight with House Cost-Cutters

Thursday, July 21, 2011

UPDATED Senate lawmakers officially unveiled their crack at a new transportation authorization bill Wednesday, setting up a clash with the House that could see transportation legislation continue to languish.

Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and James Inhofe (R-Okla.) are trying to build support for their 2-year highway bill worth about $54.5  billion per year. That's just about what the surface transportation programs cost right now. And it's that fact that has the Senate on a collision course with cost-cutting House Republicans.

Senators are giving their bill the catchy moniker, "MAP-21", standing for "Moving Ahead with Progress for the 21st Century".  The bill, which exists only in outline-form for now, is looking for 35% more money per year for Highway Trust Fund than the competing House measure. What's more, senators want a quick 2-year extension that could be altered again in the next Congress. House Republicans, lead by Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) want a six-year extension at $35 billion per year for highway programs.

The Senate bill has a $12 billion budget gap over gas-tax revenues that would need to be filled before the $109 bill 2-year bill could be passed.

Current transportation authorization law expires September 30th, which will either force a compromise or, more likely, result in a temporary extension of current law.

At hearings Wednesday, Boxer urged lawmakers to "act now", because cuts envisioned in the House bill would cost 630,000 jobs. "If we don't step up to the plate, we will see all these hundreds of thousands of jobs lost and we will see our infrastructure continue to crumble," she said.

That's not to say the Senate and Mica are completely at odds. Both bills inject $1 billion into the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program, a favorite of city and regional officials because it fronts loans and loan guarantees for infrastructure projects. TIFIA is worth only about $120 million now, and the potential increase has hard-lobbying mayors ecstatic.

"Any reduction in funding to our nation’s transportation programs will deal a devastating blow to local projects, local jobs and the national recovery," Los Angeles Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Wednesday. "Take it from an Angeleno, congestion is a job-killer," he said.

The Senate bill's other main feature is a consolidation regime that compresses more than 85 transportation and infrastructure programs down to 30. The idea is to pare down redundancy and give states more control over the specifics, according to aides.

"These changes will ensure that Americans get the most for their gas tax dollars Inhofe said Wednesday. He said the bill has lacks livability standards Democrats wanted, though it does not go far enough to streamline federally-funded projects.

"What we do have is a bill that can pass the Senate," Inhofe said.

What they also have is a bill that's going to pick a fight with spending hawks in the House and elsewhere. In fact, not even all of the transportation funding in MAP-21 is paid for by the trust fund, meaning tax-writers in the Finance Committee will have to go about the task of finding the difference in an austerity environment.

There are still more transportation proposals to come in the Senate. Split jurisdiction give responsibility for passenger rail and transit to other committees, so stay tuned for those proposals.

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It's A Free Blog

Opinion: Swing Voters Swing - That's Good for Dems, and Bad for the GOP

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

It's a sad state of affairs for the GOP when the best thing they have going for them is that the American people don't trust the Democrats either.

-Solomon Kleinsmith, It's A Free Country blogger.

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The Takeaway

Do We Need a Debt Limit?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

We’re exactly two weeks away from the August 2 deadline for lawmakers to raise the nation’s debt ceiling.  If Congress can’t come to an agreement by then, the U.S. may default on its loans, and that could likely mean losing our Aaa bond rating. But with debt ceiling negotiations seemingly at a standstill, Moody’s Investor Service has suggested eliminating the debt ceiling altogether.

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The Takeaway

Rep. Chris Van Hollen on 'Cap, Cut and Balance'

Monday, July 18, 2011

With just over two weeks left until the August 2 deadline to raise the debt ceiling, Congress is expected to vote on the Republican "cap, cut and balance" plan, which would cut spending and raise the debt ceiling, while amending the Constitution to require a balanced budget. And while the measure may pass in the House, few expect it to get through the Senate. 

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Transportation Nation

Congress Wants Answers in Montana ExxonMobil Pipeline Spill

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Yellowstone River (photo: Splinter Group/Flickr)

(Billings, MT - Yellowstone Public Radio) --An oil pipeline break earlier this month  that sent 1,000 barrels of oil into the Yellowstone River has soiled river banks and vegetation, and may have impacted the areas fisheries and wildlife.   Continued high, fast-flowing water is hampering assessment efforts -- but a Congressional committee wants answers.

The director of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality sent a letter this week to ExxonMobil's CEO demanding an explanation from the Houston-based company about how much oil spilled into the river. Some estimates put the amount of oil at 42,000 gallons.

At the time of the break water in the Yellowstone River near Billings was running high and fast at or near flood stage. As of yesterday, U-S Environmental Protection Agency officials overseeing the cleanup said between 1-5% of the spilled oil has been recovered.

The Silvertip Pipeliine is a 12-inch diameter pipeline that transports crude from Elk Basin, Wyoming to the ExxonMobile refinery in Billings, Montana. The pipe broke late Friday night near Laurel, Montana, a community about 15 miles west of Billings in south-central Montana.

At this time the cause of the spill has not been determined.

The U-S Transportation Department's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is the primary federal agency that oversees the safety of energy pipelines.

On Thursday, the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials is scheduled to hold a hearing on Silvertip Pipeline break. Witnesses called:  PHMSA Administrator Cynthia Quarterman, ExxonMobil President Gary Pruessing, and National Wildlife scientist Douglas Inkley.

In the meantime, cleanup continues.  Falling river levels finally allowed cleanup teams on Monday to launch boats in flooded areas where the river has jumped its banks. Oil has been sighted as far downstream as 90 miles downstream, although the fast moving river and the vast distances is making it difficult for officials to verify landowner sightings.

The response time lag and ExxonMobil's response to landowner concerns prompted the State of Montana to pull staff out of the unified command team directing the cleanup. (http://www.epa.gov/yellowstoneriverspill/) Instead, Governor Brian Schweitzer opened the state's own office. (http://yellowstoneriveroilspill.mt.gov/).

A public meeting is scheduled at 6:30 pm in Laurel, Montana to give area residents an update on the cleanup. Claims officials are also expected to be on site.

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The Takeaway

The Debt Limit Debate Continues

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Another shot has been fired in the ongoing negotiations between President Obama and Republican Congressional leaders to raise the nation's debt limit before the August 2 deadline. Obama challenged Republicans in a press conference on Monday, saying that it was time for the GOP to back up rhetoric about tackling the country's long-term debt problems. Republicans leaders have said they will seek a smaller deal with more cuts to social program and no tax increases on the wealthy. Lawmakers will return to the White House for more negotiations this afternoon.

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Transportation Nation

GOP Floats 6-year, $230 Billion Transportation Bill, Dems Balk

Thursday, July 07, 2011

John Mica, center, chairing a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee meeting at Grand Central Station (Kate Hinds)

(Washington, DC -- Todd Zwillich) House Republicans formally floated an outline of their 6-year transportation bill Thursday, promising to try for large cuts in highway funding and to send more influence over projects to the states.

GOP lawmakers presented the $230 billion bill as a way to fund critical transportation projects in lean economic times. Democrats promptly attacked it as inadequate and said it would not reach President Obama for a signature.

The most glaring top-line from Republicans’ bill is a major curb in federal highways spending. The bill caps spending from the Highway Trust Fund to what it takes in in taxes. That’s projected at right around $35 billion per year over six-year life of the bill. That would comprise a major cut in highway spending, which has been borrowing money from the rest of the government for years to fund new projects and upkeep. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, otherwise known as the stimulus, alone has spent about $63 billion on highway projects since 2009.

“We believe we can do a lot more with less,” said Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) at the committee’s roll-out event on Capitol Hill.

The “more” part, Mica said, comes from streamlining how highway projects go from blueprint to blacktop. The bill pares back environmental review requirements and other clearances for new projects. It also overhauls or eliminates up to 70 programs that now funnel money into highway projects and instead focuses on sending money to states in the form of loans and infrastructure bank installments.

A GOP handout promoting the bill states that the average highway project would get completed in six years under the bill, compared with 15 years now.

All of this together, Mica said, would mean more, not less, money reaching projects.

“I think we can more than double the $35 billion we have in the Trust Fund,” he said.

Still the funding level is way below a $55 billion-per-year, two-year proposal put forward by Senate Democrats Wednesday. That points up a deep divide that many lawmakers think will be impossible to bridge in order to get a final bill. The transportation sector is now operating under Congress’s 8th temporary extension.

Republicans are also proposing to up the direct federal loans under the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) to $1 billion and to give more control over the funds to state and local authorities. That’s good news for mayors like Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa, who chimed in by phone to offer his support.

Republicans are also gunning for changes in high-speed rail funding, including the very definition of “high-speed”. Trains funded under the bill would have to go at least 125 mph to qualify as high-speed, not the 110 mph used now.

 

View House Republicans 17-page bill outline here (http://republicans.transportation.house.gov/Media/file/112th/Highways/Reauthorization_document.pdf)

 

Actual text of the Republicans’ bill could be out in time for a scheduled hearing next Tuesday. But Democrats took little time to trash the GOP proposal.

 

Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), called Mica’s bill a “road to ruin.". "It takes our nation in the wrong direction, backwards instead of forwards. Instead of putting America on a pathway to prosperity, this bill provides the necessary funds for transportation to half the country and tells the other half to wait around for the next time," said Rahall, the ranking Democrat on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Given the $20 billion-per-year gap between House Republicans’ 6-year bill and Senate Democrats’ 2-year bill, prospects of the GOP proposal surviving in its current form seem dim.

John Mica, center, chairing a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee meeting at Grand Central Station (Kate Hinds)

“I don’t think it goes anywhere,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), a member of the committee, said in an interview.  “I don’t think six years of stability is worth setting bar so low that it’ll take us years to crawl back. I think what’s most likely is we’ll get probably a 2-year extension.

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The Takeaway

Obama, Dems, GOP Draw Lines on Debt Ceiling Debate

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Republican and Democratic Congressional leaders will meet at the White House today in an attempt to reach a deal over deficit reduction and raising the debt ceiling. President Obama says that any agreement must close tax loopholes, while the vast majority of Republicans say that new taxes cannot be a part of the deal. Obama has also signaled he's open to cutting spending on "entitlement programs," something that makes many members of his party nervous. Todd Zwillich, The Takeaway's Washington correspondent, previews the meeting and tells us what each side is bringing to the table.

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The Takeaway

The Debt Ceiling v. the Fourteenth Amendment

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

For months, the words "debt ceiling" have been hanging over Americans' heads, along with apocalyptic predictions of what might happen if President Obama and Congress don’t raise the ceiling or rearrange the budget before August.

But back in April, Garrett Epps proposed something completely novel, that’s just now starting to get a lot of attention: what if the president simply asserted that under the Fourteenth Amendment the debt ceiling is unconstitutional?

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The Takeaway

In Debt Reduction Battle, Where Are the Sacred Cows?

Thursday, June 30, 2011

President Obama spoke to the press on Wednesday in his first press conference in three months. He said that Democrats were willing to make compromises on spending, and pushed Republicans to "take on their sacred cows" and agree to tax increases for higher income earners and corporations. But the real sacred cow might be in his veiled threat to ask Congress to stay in session through their August summer holidays, if need be.

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