WASHINGTON -- The heroic and inspiring role played by the families of the Sandy Hook massacre's victims should not be used to create what would be a dangerously misleading narrative about how they changed the politics of guns.The importance of last Thursday's 68-31 vote in the Senate to proceed with debate on a bill to curb gun violence cannot be understated, and the testimonies from the citizens of Newtown were vital to that victory.To say this is not to deny that many fights loom ahead. This was a vote to debate, not to pass, a bill -- and the House of Representatives could prove...
"I think it's important to note, I do have ties to New Hampshire," Brown said during an appearance during a National Guard conference, according to Patch. "For me to be here is not unusual. I have nine generations of ties to New Hampshire."
Brown shied away from any definite answers on a potential senate run, echoing comments he made on April 5 that he's "not going to rule out anything right now."
"Nothing's off the table, but nothing's on the table, either," Brown said on Saturday.
Democrats are taking advantage of Brown's hints at another run, using the talk to raise money for their incumbent in New Hampshire, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.
Click here for more from Patch, including a video interview with Brown.
As the Senate gets set to show that you can fight the National Rifle Association, let’s consider what has to be the worst reason ever put forward by anyone to oppose anything in the entire history of the human race: that the actions under consideration “won’t prevent” future tragedies or “wouldn’t have prevented” such-and-such sociopath from unloading hundreds of rounds into the bodies of children. Gun nuts invoke this argument as if it’s some kind of clincher, a discussion-ender. It’s anything but. It...
Wow, there’s a lot going on in Washington! Budgets are flying all over the place. The Senate might actually start voting on a gun bill Thursday. And immigration reform has now gotten so far that the House of Representatives has a bipartisan Gang of Eight working on it.
Sen. John McCain may have apologized for calling relative Senate newcomers Rand Paul and Ted Cruz “wacko birds,” but the Arizona Republican hasn’t given up fighting their isolationist position on U.S. foreign policy.
President Obama's greatest setback to date has been the 2010 midterm elections. Gains that Republicans scored in the House and Senate still circumscribe his agenda. It is no surprise, then, that the Obama White House wants to achieve something no other president has ever done: Retake full control of Congress in a midterm.
WASHINGTON -- Just when our politics seemed destined to freeze into a brain-dead brand of partisanship, party lines started cracking up.It is common in politics to assume that whatever has been happening will keep happening. But a series of events last week suggested that human beings -- even those of a highly partisan and ideological sort -- bridle at being confined in intellectual straitjackets.Start with the progress on two of this year's central issues, gun safety and immigration.It was unfortunate that talks between Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Senate advocates of universal...
President Obama’s advisers have telegraphed their goal to win control of the House in 2014, which would give the president unfettered control to advance his favored policies. But the bigger concern for the White House should be the more realistic possibility that they could lose the Senate in 2014 – an outcome that’s only enhanced by the president’s second-term strategy focusing on rallying the base over centrist governance.It’s no coincidence that on Wednesday, in a welcome about-face, Obama belatedly engaged a charm offensive with...
In matters of foreign policy, Congress, and especially the Senate, was designed as a hedge against the abuses exhibited by overeager European monarchs who for centuries had whimsically entangled their countries in misguided adventures. America would not be such a place. The Constitution would protect our governmental process from the overreach of a single executive who might otherwise succumb to the impulsive temptation to unilaterally risk our country's blood, treasure and international prestige. Congress was given the power to declare war and appropriate funds, thus eliminating any...
While Washington was obsessing Wednesday over whether or not the oh-so-intimidating Gene Sperling had threatened Bob Woodward over his deeply misguided take on the budget sequester, another veteran Democratic number-cruncher skated by: The Senate confirmed Jack Lew to be secretary of the Treasury, by a vote of 71 to 26.
The best parody contains elements of truth. Which might explain how the military’s answer to The Onion suckered the Senate’s Republican leader.
One of the most stunning outcomes of the 2012 elections was the Democrats’ two-seat gain in the Senate. With 23 seats at risk to only ten for Republicans, Democrats were hoping simply to hold their own or keep their losses to a minimum. A gain of a single seat was almost wildly optimistic; picking up two seemingly unrealistic.But just as important as the overall gain was the nature of the new class of Democrats sworn in to the Senate last week. With the addition of Elizabeth Warren, Tammy Baldwin, Tim Kaine and Chris Murphy, and the possibility of Barney Frank joining them for a few...
WASHINGTON — After Senator John McCain’s failed presidential bid in 2008, he repaired to the Senate to become a thorn in President Obama’s side.
Three public figures associated with the movement to cut government spending -- marketed in this country as "deficit reduction" -- appeared in the news this week. It was like a modern-day morality play, those church-sponsored medieval performances meant to dramatize the Virtues -- and the rewards one could earn by following them.
All three characters -- the Senator, the Lobbyist, and the Economist -- have encouraged steep cuts in government spending. But only one of them is going to heaven. Which one?
The final public remarks of retiring Sen. Kent Conrad (Corporate Democrat - North Dakota) resonated with the self-righteous sanctimony that has come to characterize elected officials who put self-interest before the public interest, but who prefer to be perceived as selfless servants of the people. (See Bayh, Evan.)
Conrad expressed dismay over the Senate's failure to enact a comprehensive deficit reduction agreement. "I told my colleagues I hate this agreement," he said of last week's bill. "I hate it with every fiber of my being because this is not the grand bargain I hoped for or worked for or believed is so necessary to the future of our country."
Conrad spoke of an "unsustainable circumstance" in which ""The United States is borrowing 31 cents of every dollar that it spends." And yet, by all published reports, Conrad played a pivotal role in increasing the nation's deficits. And he continued to press for more deficit-exploding measures until his final day in the Senate.
Public Option, Private Gain
Conrad, more than any other Senator, is blamed for killing the so-called "public option" in health reform. Even a highly restricted version of that measure was projected to save $110 billion over 10 years, despite being available to only about one American in twenty. Unfortunately for the nation, even that modest proposal threatened the profit margins of the health care interests -- interests which gave Conrad more than $2 million in campaign contributions.
That's a lot of campaign money anywhere. But in tiny North Dakota, it's a fortune -- a potentially election-changing fortune.
Conrad has been a tireless laborer for the corporate and billionaire agenda of lowering taxes (for themselves) and cutting vital social programs in the name of "deficit reduction." From his roles in the Senate "Super Committee" and "Gang of Six" to his promotion of the Simpson Bowles austerity package, Conrad's economic legacy is his unambiguous support for the economy-crushing proposals of the rich and powerful.
Conrad's swan song in the Senate was his support for raising the Medicare elibility age, which would have had the recessionary effect of forcing more people to devote their discretionary income to health care. Since health care will drive the Federal deficit in the coming decades, Conrad may have played a vital role in increasing those deficits for generations to come.
That's not to say Conrad's record is without its bright spots. He was a stalwart supporter of civil liberties and an opponent of unnecessary wars. But when it comes to economics, sanctimony was his brand until the last. Now he'll undoubtedly go the place all good "centrist" Senators go if they've been very, very good: The Land of Hedge Funders and Lobbyists.
Retired Sen. Alan Simpson once again appeared on Meet the Press this weekend with his partner, former Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles. A discerning news consumer might be inclined to wonder why so much news exposure is always being given to an undistinguished ex-politician from Wyoming and a former White House functionary whose political career quickly fizzled after he left Washington.
The answer's simple: Money. Bowles and Simpson are backed by the money of billionaire anti-government conservative Pete Peterson, whose influence with the Democrats won them an appointment as co-chairs of President Obama's "Deficit Commission" -- which was the wrong project at the wrong time with the wrong people.
They're being proclaimed as "budget experts," but Simpson's a career politician and Bowles is a Wall Street millionaire. Both of them earned their power and wealth the old-fashioned way: they were born into it. Bowles and Simpson failed to get a report out of that commission, primarily because they insisted on including extreme anti-government measures in the bill -- and insisted on targeting Social Security for cuts, although it's forbidden by law from contributing to the deficit.
Why target Social Security? Because benefit cuts will reduce political pressure that could lead to higher payroll tax contributions for millionaires and billionaires.
Nevertheless, their dutiful parroting of the corporate and billionaire agenda that funds them (cuts to Social Security and Medicare, lower taxes for their wealthy and powerful sponsors) is absurdly treated as a) unbiased and b) deficit-reducing, even though it is demonstrably neither.
Mr. Big Stuff
Today was no exception. Simpson, the well-to-do son of a former Governor and Senator, brought his patented faux-folksy patter -- ane his usual corporate sales pitch -- to this Sunday's Meet the Press.
"What the hell?" Simpson said of last week's budget deal. Who's kidding who?"
Like Fix the Debt's Maya MacGuineas and other fellow anti-government lobbyists, Simpson and Bowles expressed regret that last week's phony "fiscal cliff" crisis didn't lead to deeper spending cuts. They were particularly sorry that those cuts didn't include "entitlement programs" -- Social Security and Medicare -- even though they've refused to endorse genuinely cost-cutting health care measures.
When it comes to cost-cutting, Simpson complained bitterly, this agreement didn't cut "the big stuff." European countries like Greece, however, have cut "the big stuff."
How's that working out for them?
That brings us to the third character in our morality play: The Economist. This week Olivier Blanchard, chief economist for the International Monetary Fund (IMF), released a paper which reviewed the assumptions it used in order to push for those "big stuff" spending cuts -- and concluded that they were wrong.
That's not exactly news -- at least not to anyone who's been paying attention. Those cuts plunged Europe into another full-scale recession and caused unemployment to skyrocket. They caused deficit spending and government debt to increase, rather than decrease. As the IMF noted in a paper last October, austerity cuts like those pushed by Simpson, Bowles and Conrad increased government debt in Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Ireland.
What makes this paper newsworthy, then, is not its admission that the IMF's assumptions were wrong. What makes it newsworthy is that a deficit-driven economist admitted that he and his team were wrong.
The paper's technical argument centers on something called "fiscal multipliers," which is the technical term for the amount of growth that government spending can generate in the overall economy. Blanchard now acknowledges that they underestimated the enormous economic return a country receives for each dollar it spends on government services, especially in economic times like these. And they underestimated the influence that current personal income and business profits have on spending and investment.
Where the Power Players Dine in Luxury
They were wrong, and they admitted it. People like Simpson, Bowles, Conrad and MacGuineas haven't -- and they're not likely to, facts or no facts. Clearly, then, deficit reduction isn't their primary concern.
But then, we already knew that, since their "debt reduction plans" include tax cuts for millionaires, billionaires, and corporations. No rational deficit plan would do that.
If this were a medieval morality play, we would know that Olivier Blanchard is headed for Paradise -- and that our other players were headed for a warmer climate. We'll make a prediction, however, based on the long-standing ways and means of Washington lobbyists: Olivier Blanchard may get into heaven. But if someone needs a last-minute table at Tosca or Minibar next fall, my money's on Kent Conrad.
And that, not economic reality, is why we're discussing spending cuts in January of 2013.
DES MOINES, Iowa -- Republicans in Congress who took the politically risky step of voting this week to raise taxes now find themselves trying to fend off potential primary challenges next year from angry conservatives.
These lawmakers wasted little time in attempting to deliver an explanation that would be acceptable to the tea party and the GOP's right flank, and, perhaps, insulate themselves from a re-election battle against a fellow Republican. They've started defending the vote as one that preserves tax cuts for most Americans, while promising to fight for spending cuts in upcoming legislative debates over raising the nation's borrowing limit.
"In the end, he ensured that over 99 percent of Kentuckians will not pay higher income taxes," Mitch McConnell's campaign wrote in an email message to Kentucky voters the day after the Senate Republican leader supported the measure.
It was the first time in two decades that a significant number of Republicans voted for a tax increase; 33 Senate Republicans did so and 85 House members who broke with their GOP majority to support the bill that avoided the nation going over the so-called fiscal cliff but that also raises taxes on upper incomes.
"The ones that voted for it, I think they will rue the day," Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby proclaimed after opposing the bill. And Amy Kremer, chairman of the Tea Party Express, put it this way: "It's not too early to be looking at 2014. I think there are going to be a lot of primary challenges. People are fed up."
Most if not all of these Republicans who voted to raise taxes are likely mindful of their party's recent history of nasty primary battles that have pitted incumbents against tea party-backed insurgents. And none of them is likely to be immune to the scrutiny – rising stars, powerful committee chairmen and Republicans in reliably Republican seats – expected to confront them when they return to their districts to stand for re-election in November 2014.
The vote was a dilemma for Republicans, who have pledged for decades not to raise taxes, but faced being blamed with raising taxes on all Americans, had Congress and the White House not reached a deal on legislative to avert the scheduled increases on most Americans. The party got some cover from Grover Norquist, a leading anti-tax figure who described the bill, which preserved a series of tax cuts for most incomes, as "clearly a tax cut."
Even so, the tea party wasn't on board. Neither were many of the party's most conservative lawmakers in Washington.
"It's a really tough vote. And it's a really tough vote to explain to Republicans," Michigan Republican consultant Stu Sandler said.
Lawmakers who could be vulnerable to a challenge include Michigan Rep. Dan Benishek and South Dakota Rep. Kristi Noem, who bucked her tea party base and backed the bill, calling it "damage control."
"This makes her vulnerable and there will be discussion that she should have a primary challenge," former South Dakota Republican chairman Joel Rosenthal said. "Whether it materializes depends on votes down the road."
Some Democrats who opposed the deal also might be called to account by their own liberal bases for voting for spurning President Barack Obama and refusing to go along with his election-year pledge to raise taxes on America's top earners.
Among those who voted "nay," were liberals like Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin. He sharply criticized the bill as overly generous to wealthy Americans, and had supported Obama's original proposal to raise taxes on people earning at least $250,000 a year.
Harkin has not ruled out seeking a sixth term in 2014. And while his vote would likely prevent a primary challenge, it could be tricky for him in a general election.
Republicans – and specifically in the House, where tea party fervor is strong – seem more vulnerable.
While House Republican delegations, such as New York's and Pennsylvania's voted for the bill, they did so likely with impunity because the GOP bases in their states aren't nearly as ideologically conservative as those in other parts of the country.
Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee, also voted for the measure. It won't likely be an obstacle to his re-election in his swing-voting district, but it could cause him trouble with conservative primary voters, should he run for president in 2016.
Rep. Steve Womack, in just his second term representing heavily conservative northwest Arkansas, could be forced to answer to tea party concerns over his yes vote if he seeks a third term. And he will almost certainly face questions about it should he run for U.S. Senate or governor, the subject of GOP speculation on which Womack has been silent.
Michigan Rep. Fred Upton's backing of the measure might rile up conservatives enough in his right-leaning district in the western part of the state that he could face a challenger. But his stature may be enough to prevent a serious one: he has easily fought off recent primary opponents and, as chairman of the Energy and Commerce commission, would likely have the fundraising edge.
Upton's Michigan colleague, Benishek, also voted for the bill and could have a bigger concern. He eked out re-election to a second term in November, carrying less than 50 percent of the vote in his northern district, and spurning tea party activists there could invite a threat from an opponent.
Among Senate Republicans, Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia backed the measure and may have further agitated conservatives who were already cranky with him over his participation last year in the so-called "Gang of Six," a bipartisan group that discussed fiscal plans including tax increases and changes to entitlement programs.
After the vote, Chambliss pointed quickly to the next phase of the fiscal fight as the place for redemption for what he called a flawed but necessary measure.
Chambliss and others say they will press for tying dramatically lower spending to support for raising the nation's debt limit.
"This is just the first step in a major, major fight," Chambliss' senior adviser Tom Perdue said.
The swift defense from those who backed the increases is a response to GOP primary challenges from conservatives last year that proved costly to Republican members seen as dealmakers. Six-term Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar lost his primary to tea party favorite Richard Mourdock, and House Republicans Jeanne Schmidt of Ohio and John Sullivan of Oklahoma lost in primaries last year, attacked in part for voting to raise the debt ceiling.
Associated Press writers Bill Barrow in Atlanta and Alan Fram in Washington contributed to this report.
Howard Barbanel: None So Blind as Those Who Will Not See: GOP in Denial Over Legislative Victory in Fiscal Cliff
Some Republicans don't know a victory when they see one. All you hear out of presidential hopeful Marco Rubio and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is doom and gloom but this is a case of not seeing the forest for the trees.
Tuesday the House passed the Senate's bill avoiding the so-called fiscal cliff -- the first time the house had a vote on New Year's Day since the Korean War. We know that the Senate passed this on an overwhelmingly bi-partisan basis with only eight "no" votes but in the House the vote was much more fractious at 257-151 with only 85 Republicans joining 172 Democrats.
What the 151 GOP "no" voters don't want to see is that they essentially scored a major victory for themselves and the American people, but blind ideology, churlish demagoguery and primary-election posturing has kept these Members of Congress from realizing it.
In a Washington world where the White House and the Senate are firmly in Democratic hands, the Democrats actually contorted themselves to please the Republicans by making the Bush-era tax rates permanent for nearly all Americans. The Democrats and the President changed their definition of "the rich" from $250,000 a year to $450,000 a year for families. And these families won't pay the higher marginal tax rate of 39.6 percent on income below $450,000, only above it and income after exemptions and deductions. In a place like New York $200,000 isn't rich but I think it's safe to say that those earning a half million anywhere in the nation have graduated out of the middle class.
The Democrats caved mightily on inheritance taxes. Estates of $5 million or below will be excluded from taxation. This is an increase of the exemption ceiling from the current $3.5 million. Family farms and certain family businesses get a $10 million exemption. Yes, above the $5 million threshold the tax rate rises to 40 percent from 35 -- but $1.5 million more is now exempt, or $525,000 in taxes that will no longer have to be paid on that $1.5 million. If you inherited $5.5 million your estate taxes will be $200,000 instead of $700,000 at the old rate. How is this a bad thing for Republican philosophy? Democrats should be upset!
Also the bill permanently, automatically increases the Alternative Minimum Tax bar which removes the annual taxation Sword of Damocles from tens of millions of upper middle class Americans. How is this a Democratic victory? Lastly, dividend income will no longer be taxed at the same marginal tax rates as earned income, it will be taxed at a flat 20 percent (more like capital gains). Is this not a victory for Wall Street and corporate America?
But if you listen to all the braying and whining particularly from Tea-Party affiliated Republicans in the House you'd think the world has come to an end and the GOP has surrendered whole cloth to President Obama.
What really happened is that finally at the eleventh hour senators acted senatorial and most representatives in the House came to their senses on behalf of the American people and our economy.
The GOP has got to find some things to offer the American people beyond draconian plans to cut the life out of everything. Let's see some ideas to bring prosperity and the good life to the Average Jane or Joe. What about Republicans advocating for three weeks paid vacation for everyone in the interests of increasing worker satisfaction and productivity?
Speaker John Boehner and Rep. Paul Ryan deserve a lot of credit for bringing the Senate bill to a vote in the House and for voting in favor of the legislation themselves. We need folks in Congress who are going to get things done not pretend to be Moe from The Three Stooges. Let's see what the new Congress can do, hopefully the fiscal cliff vote can set a positive momentum in motion for Congress and the country.
The House of Representatives passed $9.7 billion in aid for Hurricane Sandy victims by a 354-67 vote on Friday. All no votes came from Republicans. The Senate is expected to pass the measure later Friday and send it to President Barack Obama.
WASHINGTON -- You wouldn't know it by watching Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) on the Senate floor Thursday, but history was being made and she was a big part of the reason why.
Murray was one of 20 female senators sworn in for the 113th Congress -- a record high. As chairwoman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, she had specifically recruited women to run and, as it turned out, four of her five candidates won: newly elected Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.).
"I opened the door," Murray told HuffPost. "Others would have left it closed."
But as senators in both parties buzzed around the Senate chamber on Thursday, embracing each other and welcoming new faces, Murray sat quietly in the back and just watched.
"I was looking out at what was in front of me. And it was just great," she said. "I mean, when I first came here, there were six of us. And today I was just looking out at this roomful of us."
The Washington Democrat said seeing the new wave of female senators reminded her of how different the chamber was when she first stepped onto the floor in 1993, when she was left speechless after the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) walked up and introduced himself. Even visually, she said, the Senate has shifted.
"To look at it today and see how it's changed, the colors, the bright colors," Murray said of the diverse attire of female senators, compared to male senators' typically bland mix of dark suits. "It looks more like America now."
HuffPost spent part of the day with Murray, shadowing her as she made stops around Capitol Hill at more than half a dozen receptions for newly elected Democratic senators. She met privately with reelected Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and her family for a few minutes, stopped by to say hello to Baldwin at her gathering, and when Warren wasn't around at her own reception, just worked the room for a while.
Two things were clear after spending hours with Murray: She walks incredibly fast -- HuffPost lost her a couple of times -- and some people view her as a rock star of sorts. Random individuals in the hallways of Senate buildings said "congratulations" as she passed. Strangers asked for photos or hugs, and others volunteered their plans to help prepare Democratic candidates for the next election cycle.
Some of those eager to see Murray weren't strangers. Jim Messina, President Barack Obama's 2012 campaign manager, greeted her warmly at a reception for newly elected Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who also sought out Murray when she arrived and thanked her for helping with his campaign.
Minutes later, Murray was speed walking down another hallway to another event.
For all the celebrating throughout the day, there was perhaps one moment that stood out the most for Murray. During the swearing-in ceremony on the Senate floor, Murray herself put on a lei and escorted Hirono to the front of the chamber to be sworn in by Vice President Joe Biden. She told HuffPost later that an ailing Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) had specifically requested that Murray escort Hirono down the aisle on his behalf, in the event that he wasn't there to do it. Inouye wrote his request in a note to his wife just before he died last month, Murray said.
"That was really special," she said. Asked why she thought Inouye had wanted her to take his place, Murray paused for a few seconds before responding.
"I think Danny just respected the work that women do," she said.
WASHINGTON -- Former Sen. Bob Bennett plans to register as a corporate lobbyist on Thursday, marking the end -- to the day -- of the two-year period during which the Utah Republican was banned from lobbying Congress by federal law. He's one of 15 former senators, eight Republicans and seven Democrats, who retired or lost their reelection bids in 2010 and will be eligible Thursday to begin lobbying Capitol Hill.
Although Bennett is the only one who has expressly stated that he will register to lobby this week, a number of his fellow recently retired senators have already taken on almost-but-not-quite-lobbying positions. None of them is officially listed as a lobbyist -- at least not yet.
This group includes former Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who heads the Motion Picture Association of America; former Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), who chairs an arm of the typically right-leaning National Federation of Independent Business; former Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), who joined the D.C. law firm and lobbying powerhouse Arent Fox; former Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), who advises clients on government affairs as a partner at the law firm McGuireWoods; and former Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.), who started a government relations firm a few months after leaving the Senate.
As Bennett last month prepared to register, he had harsh words for the congressional lobbying ban, telling the Salt Lake Tribune that it infringed upon his constitutional right to free speech.
"Lobbying is a constitutionally sanctioned activity, right in the First Amendment next to the freedom of the press," Bennett told his hometown paper. "I don't see any reason why I shouldn't exercise my constitutional rights."
Americans have a right to petition the government under the First Amendment, which is broadly interpreted as both a right to sue the government and a right to lobby its officials.
The short-term lobbying ban on former members of Congress is designed to prevent recently retired lawmakers from leveraging their personal and professional relationships with current lawmakers to serve clients immediately after leaving office. The ban is also intended to prevent the promise of future lobbying work from influencing how current members vote.
In 2007, Bennett co-sponsored the] extension of the ban from one year to two for former senators, but he changed his tune after he was defeated in the 2010 Utah GOP primary by Tea Party-backed candidates.
That same week, Bennett formed the Bennett Consulting Group with a handful of his former Senate staffers. According to the firm's website, Bennett and his colleagues offer clients "substantive and experienced federal representation to help your company navigate the waters of legislation, regulation, procurement, advocacy, and everything in between."
The two-year ban on Bennett himself did not prevent his firm from registering to lobby on behalf of big banks, whose goal was to weaken the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, mere months after Bennett, a longtime member of the Senate Banking Committee, left the Senate.
In early 2011, Bennett's firm registered to lobby for the Financial Services Forum, a coalition of CEOs of the nation's 20 largest financial institutions. Bennett Consulting Group also lobbied on behalf of JP Morgan Chase, according to Senate disclosure forms. The ban on Bennett himself is reflected in the fact that only his colleagues' names appear on the disclosure forms.
The former senator acknowledged to the Tribune that the ban amounted to little more than a paper-thin wall between him and his firm's lobbying clients. Is it really a problem, he asked, "if a former member calls one of his colleagues and says, 'Will you please take a meeting from one of my clients … as opposed to having [my] client call and say, 'I'm here because Senator Bennett recommended that you were the person I should talk to about this?'"
According to good-government groups and transparency watchdogs, there are plenty of problems with former lawmakers lobbying.
"To have a former member lobbying on your behalf is like hitting a home run -- but they're paid top dollar for their work and hiring one is expensive," said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, on the center's Open Secrets blog last month. "So while [former members of Congress] make effective advocates, the question is: are we getting policy based on the merits or the money?"
Bennett denied to the Tribune that he has outsized influence among his former colleagues. "The whole notion that there is somehow inappropriate influence is a myth," he said.
Whether or not the influence is inappropriate, it's certainly lucrative. Bennett Consulting Group has been paid more than $400,000 in lobbying fees since 2011, according to disclosure forms.
Bennett isn't the only former senator with lobbying news this week. On Wednesday, Kansas City, Mo., Mayor Sly James announced that Kit Bond Associates had been awarded a contract to lobby Congress on behalf of Kansas City. Bond, the mayor said, "has long been a friend of Kansas City and will be a powerful voice in Washington to assist in accomplishing our goals."
The timing of the announcement was notable, coming a day before Bond could officially register to lobby Congress on behalf of any client. But the Kansas City Star quoted a mayoral spokesman who said that Bond, a former three-term senator and two-term governor of Missouri, will leverage his ties to congressional Republicans in order to secure transportation funding for the state.
BY MATTHEW DALY, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
HONOLULU (AP) — President Barack Obama has signed a bill that boosts taxes on the wealthiest Americans, while preserving tax cuts for most American households.
The bill, which averts a looming fiscal cliff that had threatened to plunge the nation back into recession, also extends expiring jobless benefits, prevents cuts in Medicare reimbursements to doctors and delays for two months billions of dollars in across-the-board spending cuts in defense and domestic programs.
The GOP-run House approved the measure by a 257-167 vote late Tuesday, nearly 24 hours after the Democratic-led Senate passed it 89-8.
Obama, who is vacationing in Hawaii, signed the bill using an autopen, a mechanical device that copies his signature.
WASHINGTON -- To prevent a spike in milk prices, the "fiscal cliff" budget deal awaiting President Barack Obama's signature includes an unexpected cut of more than $100 million from food stamps.
The legislation reduces funding for efforts to promote healthy eating under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) from $395 million to $285 million in fiscal 2013. The one-year cut offsets the cost of preserving a U.S. Department of Agriculture program that protects dairy farmers from price fluctuations. Had the latter program lapsed on schedule, the resulting "dairy cliff" would have boosted the cost of milk to as much as $7 a gallon.
The food stamps cut doesn't affect nutrition assistance benefits, and it's a small amount of money considering the Congressional Budget Office estimates the government will spend more than $80 billion on the program this year. Still, nutrition assistance advocates are not exactly thrilled.
"This funding cut to the program undermines and weakens a critical component of our nationwide efforts to promote healthy eating and prevent chronic disease just as investments to prevent obesity and promote healthy eating are beginning to show results," Matthew Marsom, an executive with the Public Health Institute, said of the Nutrition Education and Obesity Prevention Grant Program.
The goal of the program, informally known as SNAP-Ed, is to promote healthy eating habits and lifestyles among people who receive nutrition assistance. States receive grants to encourage SNAP recipients to eat more fruits and vegetables and to get more exercise, according to a USDA overview.
Marsom lamented that the Senate had earlier passed an agriculture reform bill that did not include the cut, which was a product of the last-minute fiscal cliff deal between Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Vice President Joe Biden. A spokesman for McConnell's office confirmed that the SNAP-Ed decrease pays for continuation of the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program.
Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wis.), a member of the House Agriculture Committee, said in a statement that he had led House and Senate lawmakers in pushing for an extension of the milk program. He told a farm industry publication that MILC is an important safety net for dairy farmers in the event that milk prices fall and feed costs rise.
Without congressional action to preserve the program, Ribble said, consumer prices for milk would "skyrocket."