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Dems want climate change, tax hikes in infrastructure deal


Reported

The top two Democratic leaders on Monday told President Trump that any bipartisan infrastructure package needs to take into consideration climate change and include “substantial, new and real revenue” — a preview of the coming fight over tax hikes.

Trump will host Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) at the White House on Tuesday for discussions on a major infrastructure bill, one of the few policy areas that could see action amid divided government and as the 2020 race heats up.

Democrats want the measure for roads, bridges, waterways and other projects to be paid for with tax increases, and with a final price tag of at least $1 trillion over 10 years. Trump’s fiscal 2020 budget calls for $200 billion in federal spending on infrastructure, which White House officials say will leverage an additional $800 billion in investment through public-private partnerships over the next decade.

“America’s unmet infrastructure needs are massive, and a bipartisan infrastructure package must meet those needs with substantial, new and real revenue,” Pelosi and Schumer wrote in a letter to Trump on Monday. “We look forward to hearing your ideas on how to pay for this package to ensure that it is big and bold enough to meet our country’s needs.”

The leaders laid out other Democratic priorities: Any deal must extend beyond traditional infrastructure projects, take into account climate change, include “Buy America” provisions and provide jobs for a broad swath of workers.

“A big and bold infrastructure package must be comprehensive and include clean energy and resiliency priorities,” Pelosi and Schumer wrote. “To truly be a gamechanger for the American people, we should go beyond transportation and into broadband, water, energy, schools, housing and other initiatives. We must also invest in resiliency and risk mitigation of our current infrastructure to deal with climate change.”

“A big and bold infrastructure plan must have strong Buy America, labor, and women, veteran and minority-owned business protections in any package,” they added. “This bill can and should be a major jobs and ownership boost for the American people – manufacturers, labor contractors, and women, veteran and minority-owned businesses.”

Pelosi told reporters earlier this month that an infrastructure package “has to be at least $1 trillion. I’d like it to be closer to $2 trillion.”

Trump last year reportedly told lawmakers and senior White House officials that he was in favor of a 25-cent gas tax hike to help pay for an infrastructure overhaul. The gas tax, which supports the Highway Trust Fund and pays for road projects, has not been raised in more than two decades. But on Monday, a source familiar with Schumer’s thinking said the senator would not entertain any gas-tax proposal unless Trump also rolled back some tax cuts from his 2017 landmark tax law.

“Unless President Trump considers undoing some of the 2017 tax cuts for the wealthy, Schumer won’t even consider a proposal from the president to raise the gas tax, of which the poor and working people would bear the brunt,” the Democratic source said.

Tuesday’s gathering marks the first meeting between Trump and the top Democratic leaders since the report from special counsel Robert Mueller was made public. It comes as multiple Democratic-led committees in the House have launched investigations into Trump, his administration, his business dealings and whether he obstructed justice.

A handful of other House Democrats will be attending Tuesday’s meeting: Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.), Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (S.C.), Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Luján (N.M.), Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (Mass.) and Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (Ore.).

On the Senate side, Democratic attendees will include Minority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.), Assistant Democratic Leader Patty Murray (Wash.), Democratic Policy Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), and Sens. Ron Wyden (Ore.) and Tom Carper (Del.), the ranking members of the Finance and Environment and Public Works committees, respectively.

Pelosi: ‘Hundreds Of Thousands’ Will Die If GOP Health Care Bill Passes


Reported 

URL of the original posting site: http://www.westernjournalism.com/pelosi-hundreds-of-thousands-will-die-if-gop-health-care-bill-passes/

The California congresswoman went on to contend that Republicans should join with Democrats to fix Obamacare, not scrap it, and she argued that Republicans are currently sabotaging the law. According to Pelosi, the GOP House and Senate bills are “systemically, structurally, they are very, very harmful to the American people. They will raise costs, with fewer benefits. …They will undermine Medicare.” The minority leader likely meant to refer to “Medicaid,” because neither GOP bill seeks to change Medicare.

As reported by Western Journalism, Obamacare has failed to live up to many of the promises made by former President Barack Obama and the Democrats.

Perhaps the most infamous promise broken was Obama’s claim, both before and after the bill’s passage, that “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it.”

Politifact named this promise the “Lie of the Year” in 2013, as over four million cancellation letters went out to policy holders that year, and such letters continued in the years thereafter.

Despite the insurance mandates contained in Obamacare, the former president promised that premiums would go down an average of $2,500 a year per family of four, thereby living up to the name “Affordable Care Act.” However, the opposite proved to be true, and Politifact listed Obama’s assurance as a “Promise Broken.”

The average nationwide premium cost has increased by 99 percent for individuals and 140 percent for families from 2013 through February 2017, according to an eHealth report.

Moreover, the Heritage Foundation determined that 70 percent of U.S. counties have only one or two insurers offering coverage through the Obamacare exchange. Some areas of the country could face having no insurers on the exchange at all in 2018, according to Bloomberg.

Despite the law’s major failings, Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., joined with Pelosi in arguing that the only solution is to fix Obamacare.

Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Durbin pointed to the Republican plan to provide Medicaid funds to the states in block grants as something he could not support. He added that the Republican plan would result in 23 million less people obtaining health insurance, which is what the Congressional Budget Office projected would be the result over 10 years.

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., responded, “The amount of dollars going into Medicaid continues to go up year after year. So if Senator Durbin refers to a cut, only in Washington is giving more each year, something you can conceive as a cut, if it doesn’t go up as fast as he would like it to go up.”

Under Obamacare, the Medicaid rolls grew by approximately 12 million people, thanks to new eligibility guidelines. Over 70 million are now enrolled in the program, or about one in every five Americans.

Michael Cannon, director of health policy studies with the Cato Institute, told Western Journalism that even the so-called cuts designed to slow the growth of Medicaid should be viewed with skepticism.

Cannon explained that proposed legislation does not call for true block grants, but rather matching grants based on the number of Medicaid enrollees in each state. States can increase the grant cap simply by increasing the number of enrollees.

Further, Cannon noted, in both the Senate and the House plans, the restraints in the increase in Medicaid spending are not due to take effect until the 2020s, after multiple intervening federal elections. Therefore, he believes the chances of them being repealed is high, particularly since many Republican governors support Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion.

“This is a Medicaid expansion repeal that was designed never to take effect,” he said.

Senate goes ‘nuclear’ to advance Trump Supreme Court pick


The Senate voted Thursday to move forward with Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court nomination after Republicans took a historic step that lowers the vote threshold for high court nominees to a simple majority.  Senators voted 55-45 to end debate on Gorsuch’s nomination, setting up a final confirmation vote for Friday. Thanks to a procedural move that changed Senate rules earlier Thursday, a simple majority was needed to move forward.

Democrats had successfully blocked Gorsuch’s nomination from getting 60 votes earlier, prompting Republicans to employ the “nuclear option,” which effectively ends filibusters for all Supreme Court nominees. Democrats tried to delay the rule change vote by offering motions to postpone a vote and to adjourn the chamber, but both fell short as Republicans stayed unified.

Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) and Joe Donnelly (Ind.) voted with Republicans to allow President Trump’s pick to move forward.

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Republicans defended the party-line vote on the nuclear option, saying Democrats were to blame for blocking Gorsuch, who they believe is eminently qualified to sit on the Supreme Court.Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) argued that Democrats should “come to their senses.” 

“The truth of the matter is that throughout this process, the minority led by their leader has been desperately searching for a justification for their preplanned filibuster,” he said ahead of Thursday’s votes.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) added that the current stalemate was part of a decades-long Democratic effort to “politicize the courts and the confirmation process.” 

“The opposition to this particular nominee is more about the man that nominated him and the party he represents than the nominee himself,” he said. 

Republicans hinted for weeks that Trump’s nominee would be confirmed one way or another. McConnell confirmed during a leadership press conference that he had the votes to go nuclear if needed. Republicans appeared resigned to the tactics, arguing if Democrats won’t support Gorsuch — who received the American Bar Association’s highest rating — they won’t allow any GOP nominee to join the Supreme Court.

But Democrats made a last-minute pledge for Republicans to back down and change the nominee, an argument that never gained traction with GOP senators.

“It doesn’t have to be this way,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said. “When a nominee doesn’t get enough votes for confirmation the answer is not to change the rules, it’s to change the nominee.”

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) during an eleventh-hour press conference blasted the GOP tactics, saying it “is just wrong to pack the court through this stolen seat.” 

“That’s why it’s so important that we still in the few hours that we have left hopefully stop this really crime against the Constitution,” he said. 

Progressives groups also stepped up their attacks heading into Thursday’s vote, warning that Republicans will be to blame for going “nuclear.”  The People’s Defense — a coalition of roughly a dozen progressive groups led by NARAL Pro-Choice America — released a digital ad campaign targeting Republicans in Arizona, Alaska, Maine, Nevada and South Carolina, warning them that “history is watching.”

Sens. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) and Dean Heller (Nev.), among those being targeted by outside groups, are Republicans’ two most vulnerable incumbents. Schumer echoed that from the Senate floor on Thursday, saying that Republicans “had other choices. They’ve chosen this one.” 

“The responsibility for changing the rules will fall on Republicans and Leader McConnell’s shoulders,” he said. 

Democrats remain deeply bitter of Republicans treatment of Merrick Garland, whom former President Barack Obama’s nominated to fill the vacancy created by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February 2016. GOP leaders refused to give Garland a hearing or a vote. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) argued that the current stalemate over the Supreme Court dates back Scalia’s death and “what we’re facing today is the fallout.” 

But the hardball tactics drew skepticism from both Republican and Democratic senators, who held around-the-clock negotiations to try to prevent the rule change but ultimately failed.

Told that by a reporter that some people think the Senate will function better without the filibuster, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) fired back: “Whoever said that is a stupid idiot.” 

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) also warned that without the need for 60 votes to break a filibuster, Trump might easily appoint Attorney General Jeff Sessions or EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to the Supreme Court in the future.

“Partisanship should give way to patriotism,” said Bennet, who backed ending debate on Gorsuch’s nomination earlier Thursday but voted against it in the second vote. “If we go down this road we will undermine the minorities ability to check this administration and all those who follow.”

Senate confirms Carson to lead HUD


waving flag disclaimerAuthored

The Senate on Thursday confirmed Ben Carson to be President Trump’s secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The final vote was 58-41. Carson needed a simple majority to be approved.

Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Mark Warner (Va.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Jon Tester (Mont.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.) and Independent Sen. Angus King (Maine) joined all Republicans in backing Carson. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) did not vote.
The former neurosurgeon wasn’t a top target for Senate Democrats. But Carson’s nomination and lack of government experience has divided the caucus.
Top Democrats — including Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.) — voted against Carson’s nomination earlier this week.

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But red-state Democrats, including Manchin, Donnelly and Heitkamp, voted with Republicans to support him.

Republicans have rallied around Carson’s nomination. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) predicted ahead of the vote that he would be confirmed with bipartisan support. “[He] can begin bringing much needed reforms to the Department of Housing and Urban Development,” he said from the Senate floor.
Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) also urged his colleagues to support Carson. “Once Dr. Carson is confirmed we can begin working on several important issues under HUD’s jurisdiction,” he said.
Carson easily cleared the Senate Banking Committee in late January, picking up the support of liberal senators elizabeth-lieawatha-warrenincluding Brown and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Warren defended her committee vote amid backlash from progressive outside groups, writing on a Facebook post: “Yes, he is not the nominee I wanted. But ‘the nominee I wanted’ is not the test.” Warren didn’t vote for Carson during the Senate’s procedural vote on Wednesday, and she voted against him again Thursday.
Carson’s nomination has been largely free of controversy. Senators only questioned Carson for 2 1/2 hours during his confirmation hearing, in contrast to more controversial picks — including Attorney General Jeff Sessions — who faced hours of intense grilling. Democrats have voiced public skepticism about Carson’s qualifications, noting that the onetime presidential candidate also previously questioned whether he was fit to run a federal agency.
“Having me as a federal bureaucrat would be like a fish out of water,” he said in November, on the heels of rumors that he would be considered for Trump’s Cabinet.
Carson, a conservative Christian, also received some criticism for suggesting that LGBT Americans don’t deserve “extra rights.” picture2
But neither impeded his nomination. Crapo thanked Brown from the Senate floor for being willing to work with him to get Carson to the Senate floor for a vote.  It is unclear how Carson will shape the agency. He told lawmakers in his confirmation hearing that he wants to have “listening sessions” with housing officials around the country. He was also noncommittal about upholding an Obama-era rule that beefed up a fair housing law.

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