Showing posts with label Senate. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Senate. Show all posts

Saturday, September 5, 2015

[OPINION] Booker: Why I will vote for Iran nuclear deal

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Despite its significant shortcomings, we have passed a point of no return. Accepting this deal and moving forward with vigilance and continued commitment to keeping Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon is preferable to a world in which a debilitated sanctions regime and fractured community of nations allows Iran to acquire many of the benefits of this deal without accepting its meaningful constraints.

Over the past several weeks I have studied the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action and exhaustively explored the possible ramifications of this agreement and its alternatives. I've consulted with an array of experts on both sides of the debate, sat in classified briefings, discussed it with former and current White House leadership, and benefited from the wise insights of both Republican and Democratic colleagues in the Senate. I also studied Iran and its history, its decades-long efforts to illicitly obtain a nuclear weapon and the evil nature and horrific extent of its support and sponsorship of terrorism, its destabilizing involvement in ongoing regional conflicts, and its destructive hatred and determination to destroy the United States and our ally Israel. 

I have come to recognize that on both sides of this debate there are people who want peace and share my fervent determination to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Both those who support this deal and those who oppose it have reasonable arguments as to why their chosen path is the right one or the better option for preventing a nuclear-armed Iran without the necessity for military conflict. 

After hours and hours of study, research, deliberation and consultation, I am more convinced than ever that eliminating the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran is among the most important global security challenges of our time. Allowing Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon would pose an unacceptable and grave threat to the safety of our allies, to Middle East stability, and to American security.

We began negotiations with Iran at a time when our sanctions regime was having its most significant impact on the Iranians. We were gaining maximum leverage on Iran through coordinated economic sanctions with our international partners. We joined with our partner nations at the outset of negotiations with the stated intention of preventing Iran from having the capability to get a nuclear weapon.

Unfortunately, it's clear we didn't achieve that objective and have only delayed – not blocked – Iran's potential nuclear breakout. 

But, with the JCPOA, we have now passed a point of no return that we should have never reached, leaving our nation to choose between two imperfect, dangerous and uncertain options. Left with these two choices, I nonetheless believe it is better to support a deeply flawed deal, for the alternative is worse. Thus, I will vote in support of the deal. But the United States must recognize that to make this deal work, we must be more vigilant than ever in fighting Iranian aggression.

Make no mistake, this deal, while falling short of permanently eliminating Iran's pathways to a nuclear weapon, succeeds in either delaying it or giving us the credible ability to detect significant cheating on their part and respond accordingly. It establishes historically unprecedented mechanisms to block Iran's near-term pathway to a nuclear weapon. This deal will remove 98 percent of Iran's enriched uranium stockpile—taking the amount of fissile material from 12,000kg – enough to make multiple bombs – to 300kg, which isn't close to enough material for even one. None of their enrichment will be underground at the Fordow facility. The agreement will remove and fill with concrete the core of Iran's heavy water reactor at Arak. The deal will establish the most robust monitoring and inspections regime ever negotiated, covering Iran's entire nuclear supply chain for 15 years. Some of the most intrusive monitoring, including of its uranium mines and mills and centrifuge production facilities, will last well beyond that period. The agreement will also establish strict limits on Iran's research and development for the next 10 years.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Reid to support Iran nuke deal, fight to get it past Senate

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid will endorse the Iran nuclear deal, according to a statement the Nevada Democrat released Sunday.
"I strongly support this historic agreement and will do everything in my power to ensure that it stands," Reid said in the statement.
He called stopping Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon "one of the most important national security challenges of our generation."
"This nuclear agreement is consistent with the greatest traditions of American leadership. I will do everything in my power to support this agreement and ensure that America holds up our end of the commitment we have made to our allies and the world to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.  I will vote no on the resolution of disapproval and urge my colleagues to do the same," the statement continued.
The Nevada Democrat’s decision provides much needed support as President Obama tries to win approval for the plan.
“I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure the deal stands,” Reid told the Washington Post, which first published reports of Reid's approval.
The multi-national deal would lift billions in crippling economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for the rogue country curtailing its nuclear-development program.
Congress must approve the deal before it can be completed and is scheduled to vote promptly after returning from summer recess on Sept. 8 -- near the end of the members’ 60-day review period.
The House and Senate are expected to have enough votes to initially disapprove of the plan.
However, the plan is ultimately expected to go through because Obama will almost surely veto the disapproval measure. The Senate is not expected to have the two-thirds vote to override the veto, and the House override vote is also expected to be close.
Republicans who control both chambers largely disapprove of the plan and would need support from at least 13 Senate Democrats to override the veto.
Reid’s support follows New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer recently saying that he will not support the deal. Schumer is expected to replace Reid upon his retirement.
“We don’t disagree on much, but we disagree on this,” Reid said about Schumer's decision.
And last week, New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he would vote against the deal.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

[VIDEO] 16 states ask Obama admin to put power plant rules on hold

The campaign to stop President Barack Obama's sweeping emissions limits on power plants began taking shape Wednesday, as 16 states asked the government to put the rules on hold while a Senate panel moved to block them.
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who is leading the charge against the rules, banded together with 15 other state attorneys general in a letter to Environmental Protection Agency head Gina McCarthy requesting that the agency temporarily suspend the rules while they challenge their legality in court. The letter called for the EPA to respond by Friday.
The EPA and the White House both said they believe the limits are legal and have no plans to put them on hold. But by submitting the formal request anyway, the attorneys general are laying the groundwork to ask the courts to suspend the emissions limits instead.
"These regulations, if allowed to proceed, will do serious harm to West Virginia and the U.S. economy," Morrisey said. "That is why we are taking quick action to bring this process to a halt."
The 16 states and a handful of others are preparing to sue the Obama administration to block the rules permanently by arguing they exceed Obama's authority. Bolstered by a recent Supreme Court ruling against the administration's mercury limits, opponents argued that states shouldn't have to start preparing to comply with a rule that may eventually get thrown out by the courts.
The speedy opposition from the states came two days after Obama unveiled the final version of the rules, which mark the first time the U.S. has ever limited carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants. Obama's revised plan mandates a 32 percent cut in emissions nationwide by 2030, compared to 2005 levels — a steeper cut than in his earlier proposal.
Most of the attorneys general signing the letter Wednesday are Republicans. Yet they were joined by Jack Conway of the coal-producing state of Kentucky. Conway and Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear are both Democrats, but have joined the state's Republican leaders in denouncing Obama's power plant limits, which form the centerpiece of his plan to fight climate change.
Although the most serious threat to Obama's power plant rules is in the courts, lawmakers in Congress are also pursuing legislative means to stop them. The first vote came Wednesday in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, where a bill blocking the rules passed the GOP-controlled panel by a voice vote — but not without a bit of drama.
Over the protests of boycotting Democrats, the Senate GOP-controlled panel approved legislation designed to block the Obama administration from implementing the tough new standards.
Democrats walked out of the committee meeting in protest of a separate bill about pesticides, arguing it should have been the subject of a fact-finding hearing. Lacking the necessary quorum for a vote, Republican Chairman Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma reconvened the meeting in a lunchroom just off the Senate floor, where the aroma of a just-completed GOP lunch was still wafting in the air.
The voice vote approving the bill sends it to the full Senate, where a filibuster battle awaits. Obama has vowed to veto any such legislation, and Republicans have yet to prove they can muster the votes to override his veto.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

[VIDEO] Why Congress Could Face a Government Shutdown This Fall

The House and Senate are set to leave Washington, D.C., for a month-long summer break. But they are leaving behind unfinished business.
When lawmakers return in September, they will have little time to tackle legislative priorities like the Iran nuclear deal, transportation funding and the debt ceiling.
However, the major fight could be over Planned Parenthood’s federal funding—possibly leading to another government shutdown.
Watch the video above to learn more why these 11th-hour issues will test the ability of congressional leaders to avoid a government shutdown.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Obama nominates former MBTA head Scott to NTSB

Photo by: 

Angela Rowlings (file)
Former MBTA General Manager Beverly Scott speaks with a well-wisher during her going away party, Wednesday, April 08, 2015. Staff photo by Angela Rowlings.
The embattled former head of the MBTA, ousted after the transit system suffered a complete collapse last winter, is up for a plum federal transportation job.
President Obama announced Tuesday that he is nominating former MBTA chief Beverly Scott as a member on the National Transportation Safety Board. Board members are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate for five-year terms, according to agency.
Board members, who pull in annual salaries of about $155,000, attend NTSB board meetings, review and approve agency reports, safety studies and safety recommendations.
Scott left the T on April 11, but announced her resignation Feb. 11 under mounting public criticism as a string of snowstorms paralyzed the transit system.
Herald reports have revealed that Scott traveled across the country at taxpayer expense nearly every month during her two-plus-year tenure — sometimes several times a month — to conferences and meetings. She spent a total of 106 days traveling out of state during her tenure, taking 30 trips in 24 months, racking up $56,753 in expenses on lodging, airplane tickets and dining tabs, including at least $1,132 on hotel laundry and dry-cleaning bills.
Scott also went on a hiring and spending spree at the cash-strapped agency over the past year, nearly doubling the number of staffers with six-figure salaries. The 1,952 MBTA employees paid at least $100,000 represented a steep spike from 985 six-figure earners in 2013 and 711 in 2012.

Friday, July 24, 2015

House, Senate heading for showdown on highway funding

Senate and House Republicans are heading to a showdown over transportation spending.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wants to pass a six-year highway deal before Thursday to give the House time to take it up before the August recess, according to a Senate GOP leadership source.
But opposition to the Senate bill is growing on the other side of the Capitol.
House Republican leaders want the Senate to instead pass a five-month highway patch and won’t say whether they would give the Senate transportation bill a vote in their chamber.
McConnell is betting that House GOP leaders will relent once they have the bill in their laps, with the Highway Trust Fund due to expire on Aug. 1.
The House adjourns for the August recess at the end of next week.
“The House will have to make a decision. The temporary bill is just another patch,” said Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn (Texas).
McConnell tried a similar gambit in May when he attempted to jam the House with a clean extension of the National Security Agency’s surveillance authority. It blew up when he failed to muster the 60 votes needed to pass it out of the Senate.
The Senate leader was still mulling his legislative options on Thursday, but senators and aides said the most likely scenario is that he will offer the six-year highway bill as a substitute amendment on the floor Friday to get the ball rolling and then fill the amendment tree to limit the debate.
Senators and aides then expect McConnell to file cloture on an amendment to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, setting up a vote on Sunday or Monday on the controversial agency. 
A Senate aide said McConnell could file cloture — the motion to end debate and proceed to a vote — on the highway bill and the underlying legislative vehicle on the same day he does so for the Ex-Im Bank amendment. That maneuver would allow the Senate to wrap up work on the highway measure and get it to the House by Wednesday.
Don Stewart, McConnell’s spokesman, said Thursday afternoon that no decisions had been made on how to proceed and cautioned there are a variety of paths under consideration.
But other Senate aides said other routes require unanimous consent, an unlikely proposition given strong conservative opposition to the Ex-Im Bank.
Lawmakers and aides said a vote on the bank may be postponed until Monday, but that could push a final vote on the highway package until Thursday unless all 100 senators agree to yield back procedural time.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said he would wait to see what legislation McConnell can push through the upper chamber.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015


Several Americans who’ve had loved ones murdered by illegal aliens are calling on the Senate to end sanctuary cities and are recounting the agonizing losses they suffered thanks to lax immigration enforcement.

Witness Susan Oliver recounted, through tears, sheriff’s deputy Danny Paul Oliver’s violent murder. Oliver served in Sacramento County, a “sanctuary city” that protected the very illegals who killed him.
“He put himself into harm’s way every time he put his uniform on. And on Friday, October 24, 2014, my husband and father of two approached a car on his beat, but this time, it was the last time,” said Oliver. “The last thing my husband attempted to do as a POP [Problem-Oriented Policing] officer was to ask the man inside the car how his day was going. But he never made it to the driver’s window.”
“At about 10:30 a.m., that man was in the country illegal and armed with numerous illegal weapons. He aimed one out of the car from the parking lot of a Motel 6 at Sacramento and opened fire, killing my husband with a shot to the forehead,” she said with difficulty. “I can honestly say that not a day goes by where this has not effected me… Many people ask if I have gotten past that terrible day, and the answer is no.”
A twice-deported illegal alien from Mexico shot and killed two Sacramento officers, both Oliver and Sheriff Michael Davis Jr., while injuring another officer and innocent civilian during an October 2014 rampage.
He gave authorities a fake name when arrested, Marcelo Marquez, but U.S. Immigration and Customs enforcement determined his real name was Luis Enrique Monroy-Bracamonte. He had been deported back to Mexico in 1997 and 2001.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

After Five Years, Dodd-Frank Is a Failure

by VERONIQUE DE RUGY July 20, 2015 2:13 PM 

When the Dodd-Frank Act took effect on July 21, 2010, critics were fast to predict that the 2,300 page-long legislation, which passed the House without a single Republican vote and received only three GOP votes in the Senate would fail. Tomorrow will mark the five-year anniversary of Dodd-Frank and its unfortunate distorting effects. Just as when it was passed, the legislation remains unable to address the problems it was intended to. 

  The legislation has overwhelmed the regulatory system, stifled the financial industry, impaired economic growth, and done nothing to correct the pernicious effects of “too big to fail.” But that’s only the beginning: Many more of its regulations still need to be written, some several years down the road, all of which injects massive uncertainty into the financial industry. Here is a round-up of interesting articles to read before this sad anniversary. First, we have a great piece by Chairman Hensarling in the Wall Street Journal (“After Five Years, Dodd-Frank is a Failure.”). Thankfully for us, the chairman is as committed to getting rid of Dodd-Frank as he was to getting rid of the Ex-Im Bank. I wish him the same success and more. The whole thing is worth a read, but here are a few paragraphs: Dodd-Frank was supposedly aimed at Wall Street, but it hit Main Street hard. 

Community financial institutions, which make the bulk of small business loans, are overwhelmed by the law’s complexity. Government figures indicate that the country is losing on average one community bank or credit union a day. Before Dodd-Frank, 75% of banks offered free checking. Two years after it passed, only 39% did so—a trend various scholars have attributed to Dodd-Frank’s “Durbin amendment,” which imposed price controls on the fee paid by retailers when consumers use a debit card. Bank fees have also increased due to Dodd-Frank, leading to a rise of the unbanked and underbanked among low- and moderate-income Americans. Has Dodd-Frank nevertheless made the financial system more secure? Many of the threats to financial stability identified in thelatest report of Dodd-Frank’s Financial Stability Oversight Council are primarily the result of the law itself, along with other government policies. There’s also a new report by John Berlau at CEI that shows how Dodd-Frank has stifled competition among the banks even more so than before the financial crisis.

 A failure to approve new banks, for instance, means that those “too big to fail” banks are now more entrenched than ever. In the last five years, regulators have approved only one new bank, as opposed to an average of 170 new banks per year before 2010. As Berlau notes: “This lack of new bank competitors is one important reason why a large bank failure could severely curtail the supply of credit and availability of financial services. That in turn sets the stage for a continuing cycle of bailouts.”  The New York Times has an interesting piece (“Fannie and Freddie are Back, Bigger and Badder Than Ever“) by Bethany McLean. It’s must read recap of the promises of what Freddie and Fannie would achieve vs. actually happened, along with the failure to reform two agencies in the aftermath of the financial crisis.    The proposed solutions for this mess? Among other things,

 Senator Warren believes it’s time to bring back the Glass-Steagall Act, a law that would require big banks to divide commercial and investment banking. Most economists and Federal Reserve policymakers disagree that the repeal of Glass-Steagall had anything to do with the financial crisis but, Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders Martin O’Malley support the idea nonetheless. Hillary Clinton hasn’t said yet what she thinks of the proposal. However, according to Kevin Cirilli at The Hill, the White House is distancing itself from this push: The White House wants to keep its distance from a liberal push to re-implement legislation that would break up big banks… “At this point, we believe that the kind of implementation of Wall Street reform is the most effective way to protect our economy and middle-class taxpayers,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters at a press briefing Friday when asked whether President Obama supports it. … Earnest said the administration is still focused on implementing the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform law.   “Wall Street reform has been incredibly effective at reforming our financial system in a way that looks our for the interests of middle-class families and taxpayers,” Earnest said.

Via: National Review

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Thursday, July 16, 2015


The Senate voted to end debate on the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA) Wednesday, 86-12, allowing for a final vote on Thursday on the measure that is that chamber’s version of the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind law.

An amendment to the bill, introduced by 
Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT)
, that would have allowed parents to opt their children out of standardized tests, was rejected by the Senate Tuesday by a vote of 32-64.

Lee’s amendment would have allowed parents to opt their children out of standardized tests in writing, without causing any penalty to the parent, the child, any school leader or employee, or the school itself.
In addition, the amendment would have also allowed states to implement their own opt-out criteria for additional state and/or local assessments.
“Parents, not politicians or bureaucrats, will have the final say over whether individual children take tests,” Lee said, according to the Washington Post, regarding his amendment.
The ECAA was introduced by 
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
, chairman of the Senate committee that oversees education, who worked closely with ranking committee member and co-sponsor 
Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA)

Alexander himself voted to reject Lee’s amendment allowing parents the opt-out right, asserting that the amendment would remove the right of states to decide whether parents should be allowed to opt their children out of tests.
“I say to my Republican friends, do we only agree with local control when we agree with the local policy?” Alexander asked.
Writing at Townhall, Jane Robbins and Heidi Huber observed recently that, despite Alexander’s claim that his legislation would provide more parental and local control of education, it “doesn’t ignore the ‘opt out’ movement – in fact, it adds language that effectively encourages the states to lower the boom on noncompliant students and parents.”

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Democrats Pursue a No-Veto Strategy on Spending Bills

President Barack Obama has issued just four vetoes so far in his presidency, and it appears he won't be taking out the veto pen for a host of contentious fiscal 2016 spending bills, either — despite threats he's already lodged on seven of them.
Democrats instead are stonewalling the appropriations measures by keeping them from coming up for debate in the Senate, even though they could instead allow Obama to take the heat by issuing vetoes. That would let Democrats escape tough-to-defend votes on defense spending, veterans' benefits and more. But Democrats are having none of it, saying that the "regular order" process that would lead to a veto is a time-waster and they want negotiations on a budget deal launched now — a strategy that may or may not work.
“I have heard senators on the other side urge us to follow the process, which means spending weeks on the floor and more weeks in conference, only to send the president a bill he would veto,” says Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the full Appropriations Committee.
In her view, it’s up to Congress, not the president, to change the law and lift the spending caps that Democrats say are too constraining.  “We need a new budget deal that ends sequester for defense and non-defense," says Mikulski. "On our side, we are saying let’s not waste the rest of June, July and August, only to come to a crisis point in September. Instead, let’s come to the table now and not when we are threatened with shutdowns and showdowns.”
'Draw the Line'
Allowing Obama to issue vetoes would seem to make sense. The president is a lame duck with an approval rating that hit 50 percent in a CNN poll for the first time in more than two years as he enjoys one of the best periods of his presidency, so he's got some political capital to spend. At just four vetoes, his record doesn't come close to that of other recent presidents, though of course there's many months left in his tenure.
But, most importantly, a veto from Obama would blunt Republicans' exploitation of defense votes.
Witness the Senate's $576 billion Defense appropriations bill (HR 2685), which Democrats blocked from consideration in June. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made it clear just how the GOP will characterize Democrats’ action on it: “Our Democratic friends have curiously just last week voted for the troops by approving the defense authorization bill,” the Kentucky Republican said, “and then turned around and voted against the troops on the bill that would actually fund their pay raises and the other things that these volunteers depend on.”
And yet, Democrats seem unconcerned with this line of attack. Particularly instructive is the case of Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., a moderate in a purple state with a re-election in 2018.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Black Chamber of Commerce: EPA Plan Will Increase Black Poverty 23%, Strip 7M Black Jobs

( - A study commissioned by the National Black Chamber of Commerce found that the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan would increase black poverty by 23 percent and cause the loss of 7 million jobs for black Americans by 2035.
The study also found that the EPA' plan would increase Hispanic poverty by 26 percent and cause the loss of 12 million jobs for Hispanic Americans by 2035.
The EPA proposed the Clean Power Plan on June 2, 2014 to cut carbon emissions from power plants. The National Black Chamber of Commerce commissioned the study to evaluate the potential economic and employment impacts of the plan on minority groups.

National Black Charmber of Commerce President Harry Alford explained the results of the report, “Potential Impact of Proposed EPA Regulations on Low Income Groups and Minorities” at the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on Tuesday.
“The study finds that the Clean Power Plan will inflict severe and disproportionate economic burdens on poor families, especially minorities,” said Alford in his prepared statement. “The EPA’s proposed regulation for GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions from existing power plants is a slap in the face to poor and minority families.
“These communities already suffer from higher unemployment and poverty rates compared to the rest of the country, yet the EPA’s regressive energy tax threatens to push minorities and low-income Americans even further into poverty,” Alford added.
"According to a recent study commissioned by the National Black Chamber of Commerce," Alford said, "the Clean Power Plan would: increase Black poverty by 23 percent and Hispanic povety by 26 percent; result in cumulative job losses of 7 million for Blacks and nearly 12 million for Hispanics in 2035; and decrease Black and Hispanic median household income by $455 and $515 respectively, in 2035."
Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) rebutted this view, saying that states who have taken action on climate change have seen their economies grow.
“Many states, such as New York and Delaware, have already taken action to reduce the largest emitter of carbon pollution - power plant emissions,” Carper said. “As we will hear today, the economies of these states continue to grow at a faster rate than the states that have yet to put climate regulations in place. However, we need all states to do their fair share to protect the air we breathe and stem the tide of climate change. The EPA’s Clean Power Plan attempts to do just that.”

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

[VIDEO] Democrats Plan to Shut Down the Federal Government

“We’re headed for another shutdown.”

Those words from Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) confirm what Democrats have been planning behind closed doors for weeks: they are getting ready to shut down the federal government.  
But why? Why would they do this?
It's because they are demanding "more money" for things like the IRS and the EPA.  And unless they get what they want, they are willing to block funding for everything else - including a pay raise for our troops. 

Senator Reid even said it was a "waste of time" to support our troops.  He's wrong.  Democrats should save the politics for another day and instead, support a pay raise for our military and their families.


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[BREAKING] Obama's trade agenda moves past key Senate hurdle

Washington (CNN)The President's trade agenda scored a major victory Tuesday when the Senate voted to advance a bill to allow "fast-track" approval of large international trade bills.
The outcome of this key procedural vote had been in doubt as a group of 14 pro-trade Democrats weighed whether to continue their support of the bill out of concern that a related workers' assistance package might not pass both chambers.
But after repeated assurances by GOP congressional leaders that workers' assistance measure will be adopted, 13 out of 14 backed the bill.
The vote was 60 to 37, passing by the slimmest margin needed to pass.
A final Senate vote on fast-track could come as soon as later Tuesday, and it will then head to President Barack Obama's desk for his signature.
This time around, one fewer Republican voted as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who penned op-ed in opposition to the legislation that published Tuesday morning.
    "... TPA in this Congress has become enmeshed in corrupt Washington backroom deal-making, along with serious concerns that it would open up the potential for sweeping changes in our laws that trade agreements typically do not include," Cruz wrote on Breitbart.
    Republican Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming, who was absent during the first version of the bill, voted in favor making up for the loss.
    The 14 pro-trade Democrats who supported the first version of the fast-track bill, known as Trade Promotion Authority, when it was packaged with a bill that provides retraining and other assistance to workers who lose their jobs because of large international trade agreements. That bill is called Trade Adjustment Authority.
    Passage of the fast-track authority and the workers' assistance bill allows the President to complete a giant Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which would tie the economies of the U.S., Canada and Mexico with several Asian and Pacific nations. Such a deal would also give the U.S. increased influence in the region -- a top priority for the White House.
    All the way up until the final vote, it was uncertain whether those Democrats would support the fast-track bill separately from the workers' assistance piece -- as the new legislative strategy calls for -- out of fear stand-alone workers' assistance measure won't get through the GOP-controlled Congress on its own. Trade Adjustment Authority is generally supported by Democrats -- and unions -- and opposed by Republicans. But in a recent legislative tactical move, House Democrats skeptical of fast-track authority recently blocked the trade adjustment portion in hopes of scuttling the fast-track bill.
    McConnell went to great lengths Monday to assure reluctant Democrats both bills would get to the President's desk.

    McConnell asks senators to cast pro-trade vote once more

    Opponents meanwhile are mounting an equally emotional push to keep Obama from obtaining "fast track" authority to negotiate trade agreements with Pacific Rim countries and others.WASHINGTON (AP) — Backers of President Barack Obama's trade agenda are imploring key senators to stand by their previous votes when they revisit the issue in a showdown set for Tuesday.
    At least 60 of the Senate's 100 members must back the measure for it to clear a procedural hurdle Tuesday and complete a near-miraculous resurrection of the White House priority. In a May 21 vote, 62 senators backed fast track, but they didn't expect it to return to their chamber.
    The House revived the fast track legislation last week after Democrats initially derailed it in a complicated legislative package. Republican leaders — who support Obama on trade while most of his fellow Democrats oppose him — restructured the package and then passed the key elements, with only 28 House Democrats.
    Obama's allies now are counting on the 14 Senate Democrats and 48 Republicans who supported fast track in May to do so again. Lawmakers generally dislike voting both yes and no on a contentious issue, figuring it's better to draw the enmity of only one side.
    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., urged senators to stick with their May positions.
    "We shouldn't let this opportunity for a significant bipartisan achievement slip past us," McConnell said Monday. "If we simply vote the same way we just did a couple weeks ago, we won't."
    Anti-free-trade groups are employing ads, phone banks and other tools to defeat Obama's trade agenda. An AFL-CIO ad warns that the legislation includes "no training for displaced workers" who lose their jobs to international trade.
    Such aid, known as trade adjustment assistance, was linked to fast track in the original packaging. After House Democrats, at the AFL-CIO's urging, derailed the whole package by killing the training component, Obama's allies agreed to separate the two issues and try again.
    The proponents on Tuesday can afford to lose only two or three senators from the May tally. A chief worry is that a few Democrats might switch from yes to no because they're frustrated that the Republican-led Congress hasn't cleared the way to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank.
    It's a priority, for instance, for Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. Her office said Monday she was keeping her options open on fast track.
    "I know Maria is very upset, and I don't blame her," Sen. Bill Nelson, a pro-trade Florida Democrat, told reporters.
    Previous presidents have enjoyed fast track authority, which lets them negotiate trade deals that Congress can ratify or reject, but not change. If Obama obtains the authority, he's expected to ask Congress to approve the Trans-Pacific Partnership with Japan, Mexico, Canada and several other countries.
    Unions strongly oppose the deal, saying it will cost U.S. jobs.

    Monday, June 22, 2015

    Sick of Political Pork, Two Former Hill Staffers Launched $10 Million BBQ Business

    The Pork Barrel BBQ product line. (Photo: Courtesy Pork Barrel BBQ)

    Back in early 2006, a Senate budget debate raged into the night. Around 1 a.m., Hill staffers Heath Hall and Brett Thompson found themselves facing a serious challenge: They could not stomach another night of delivery pizza.
    What was worse, they grumbled, they couldn’t think of a single spot offering decent barbecue in the entire Washington, D.C. area.
    For Kansas City native Heath, and barbecue convert Brett—the son of a man who was literally allergic to charcoal and made up for it by grilling his way through some 300 recipes in “Weber’s Big Book of Grilling” as an adult—enough was enough.
    “The Senate was debating pork barrel spending projects and earmarks, and we were debating dinner,” Hall says. “We were talking about how we wished we had some barbecue. So we’re thinking pork barrel spending, barbecue, and that’s where the name came from.”
    Fast-forward nearly 10 years and Pork Barrel BBQ products are in over 8,000 stores in the US, Canada, Asia and Europe; there’s a Pork Barrel restaurant in Alexandria, Va.; and, including that staff, they employ around 50 people. The brand is synonymous with first place finishes in barbecue competitions nationwide.
    Hall, who speaks slowly and thoughtfully, a slight drawl hinting at his Southern-Midwest roots, contemplates this boom with the laid-back approach of someone deciding what to order off a lunch menu: “When we started putting together our first product, we thought ‘Oh, this will be small and fun and for our friends maybe.’”
    He laughs, at both their naiveté and the whirlwind success they never could have expected, adding, “It’s been crazy.”

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