Friday, December 25, 2015

A Christmas Miracle

That's what some would have you think....

"Congress reconvenes to nail down budget, but obstacles arise" by David M. Herszenhorn New York Times  December 01, 2015

WASHINGTON — Congress reconvened Monday with leaders in a rush to close out a $1.1 trillion spending plan, but Republicans and Democrats are on a collision course over dozens of policy riders that lawmakers want to attach to the must-pass spending measure.

The fight — over issues as varied as clean-water regulations, conflict-of-interest rules for financial advisers, and size limits for trucks on federal highways — raises a small, but real, risk of a government shutdown if no accord is reached by a Dec. 11 deadline.

Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said amendments would be attached to the spending measure, while the White House and Democrats denounced the riders as “poison pills.”

Related: Riding Through Congre$$

Some Democratic lawmakers said concessions were inevitable, provided that Republicans did not push items such as a repeal of President Obama’s health care law or a cutoff in financing for Planned Parenthood.

While Republican leaders appeared to be taking steps to avoid a stalemate over the most highly charged proposals, lawmakers noted that a serious breach was still possible on more mundane topics.

“It still takes a presidential signature at the end of the day,” said Representative Tom Cole, R-Okla., one of the so-called cardinals on the House Appropriations Committee. “And both sides have got to provide votes for this thing.”

With most of the Capitol shut last week for the Thanksgiving recess, negotiators worked nearly round the clock in a basement conference room to divvy up the roughly $66 billion in additional spending for 2016 that was part of a landmark bipartisan budget deal in October. The amount includes roughly $33 billion in discretionary spending on domestic programs.

That budget deal, brokered by the departing House speaker, John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, substantially limited the prospect of a government shutdown by setting top-line spending limits for 2016 and 2017, and averted a potentially disastrous default on the debt.

The seeming breakthrough nature of the deal obscured deep divisions: Most Republicans in the House and Senate voted against the accord, and Ryan, in his new role as speaker, has less to gain from forcing even a minority of his rank-and-file into a pact with Democrats. 

It's what we said back when. The whole thing was political maneuvering so all this could get passed. The political debate is all for shit-show fooled, folks.

Ryan already chalked up some early victories, including swift passage of a bill to suspend the Obama administration’s plans to admit more Syrian refugees — a measure that won over a surprising number of Democrats despite White House lobbying against it. 

Forgotten amidst the furor of division over the issue.

The refugee measure, which is likely to be blocked by a Democratic filibuster in the Senate, could be repackaged as a policy rider on the overall spending measure, which is a compendium of the 12 individual appropriations bills that Congress is supposed to adopt each year.

Among the most controversial policy riders are proposals that the Obama administration opposes but that have at least moderate bipartisan support in Congress.

They include a bid by lawmakers from farm states to block new federal clean-water rules; an effort, backed by shipping companies, to allow longer tandem trucks on federal highways in all states; and an effort, supported by the financial industry, to prevent new conflict-of-interest provisions for investment advisers who manage retirement funds.

A Senate Democratic aide said that Ryan; McConnell; the House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi of California; and the Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, had begun negotiations.

Democrats and the White House had hailed the late October budget accord as a victory because it broke through previously agreed-upon budget caps that Democrats said were causing a major drag on the economy — and because the deal provided for an equal increase in military and nonmilitary spending.


But the budget deal only set the spending limits; it did not set spending on specific programs. And in that decision-making, Republicans who control the majority in each chamber in Congress, have had far greater sway, according to lawmakers from each party.

That has meant more money for veterans’ programs, for instance, and less for rental assistance and other social-welfare benefits for the poor.

Look at them pitting veterans against poor, and thus in many cases veterans against themselves. 

Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, the senior Democrat on the Appropriations subcommittee that oversees labor programs and health and human services, said too few of the new dollars approved in the budget accord were being directed by Republicans to needy Americans.

“Labor-HHS is 32 percent of nondefense discretionary funding — that translates into $10.5 billion,” DeLauro said. “Our allocation is $5.2 billion.”

Cole, chairman of the subcommittee, said Democrats were unwilling to choose priorities and accept necessary cuts....


"Congress reaches deal on 5-year transportation bill; $281b measure increases road, transit spending" by Joan Lowy Associated Press  December 02, 2015

WASHINGTON — The House and Senate have reached agreement on a five-year, $281 billion transportation bill that would increase spending to address the nation’s aging and congested highways and transit systems — a legislative feat that lawmakers and President Obama have struggled throughout his administration to achieve.

A feat is an incredible accomplishment!

The bill, unveiled Tuesday, would also put an end to the cycle of temporary extensions and threatened shutdowns of transportation programs that have bedeviled Congress for the past seven years, making it difficult for states to plan long-term projects.

The 1,300-page measure was “a mammoth task,” said Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat and one of the bill’s key negotiators.

“I expect this bill to have a huge amount of support throughout the country from businesses and workers alike,” she said in a statement. “Although it is not perfect, I believe it is a major accomplishment for our people who expect us to fund a top-notch transportation system.”

The bill boosts highway spending by 15 percent and transit spending by 18 percent over its duration. It also authorizes an additional $10 billion over five years for Amtrak, $12 billion for mass transit, and $1 billion for vehicle safety programs. However, that money is subject to annual spending decisions by Congress rather than being paid for from the federal Highway Trust Fund.

The bill still falls far short of the $400 billion over six years that Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has said is needed to keep traffic congestion from worsening, and it puts off the difficult decision of how to sustainably pay for transportation programs.

The federal 18.4-cents-a-gallon gas tax, the main source of Trust Fund revenues, hasn’t been increased since 1993 and no longer covers annual spending on transportation.

The House and Senate must still vote on the final bill. Passage is expected by Friday, when government authority to process aid payments to states expires.

The bill is paid for through a series of revenue-raising provisions, some of which have been criticized as gimmicks and budgetary sleight of hand.

Some feat. Please don't let that spoil the narrative.

One of the bill’s losers is the banking industry.

Yeah, right. Coming from this Congre$$?

It cuts the dividend the Federal Reserve pays to large banks from 6 percent to 1.5 percent and transfers about $49 billion over 10 years from a Federal Reserve capital account to the general treasury, counting the money as new revenue. Some lawmakers and a past Federal Reserve chairman say it is just a paper transfer that actually raises no new money.

“Banks shouldn’t be used like an E-Z Pass to pay for highways,” said Rob Nichols, president of the American Bankers Association.

Safety advocates lost several fights but won some others:



"With lawmakers returning to the Capitol for the first time since Friday’s killing of three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, the Senate’s top Democrat called on House Republicans to abandon their investigation of the group, which he called politically motivated. Without naming Republicans, Senate minority leader Harry Reid seemed to insinuate that the GOP has helped create a dangerous brew of issues. ‘‘Whipping people into a frenzy of hate and anger while providing them with easy access to firearms has proven disastrous to our country,’’ said Reid.

Unless it's in service of a war. Then it's okay.

McCarthy stood by the Republican-created House panel investigating how fetal parts are made available for research by Planned Parenthood and other organizations. He said that committee is ‘‘where all pieces of information can come forward. We’ll see how that plays out.’’ Democrats have said they are participating in that panel to be able to defend Planned Parenthood." 

Defending the indefensible and the purpose of that crisis drill or whatever staged and scripted fiction that was.

"House strongly backs plan to overhaul education policy; Would transfer move oversight to states, districts" by Emmarie Huetteman and Motoko Rich New York Times  December 03, 2015

WASHINGTON — The contentious No Child Left Behind law had strong bipartisan backing when it passed in 2001, the signature education initiative of George W. Bush.

Over time, the law became anathema to both the right and the left, and it became clear that the sanctions as well as the goal of proficiency by 2014 were unworkable.

The overhaul passed by the House on Wednesday, 359-64, jettisons No Child’s prescribed goals and punishments and allows states and school districts to set their own goals and to decide how to rate schools and what to do with those that underperform.

After months of compromise and negotiation, the bill earned nearly unanimous approval from a conference committee of House and Senate members two weeks ago, and is expected to be passed by the Senate next week. A White House official said Wednesday that President Obama plans to sign it when it reaches his desk.

All nine members of the Massachusetts House delegation supported the bill.

Representative John Kline, Republican of Minnesota and chairman of the House Education Committee, said the existing law had left the federal government “micromanaging” the education system.

For the last three years, the Obama administration has given waivers from the law’s most onerous conditions. In its waivers, the administration added conditions that states tie performance ratings of teachers to student test scores and that states adopt rigorous academic standards. Many states, including Massachusetts, responded by adopting the Common Core....


Looks like Jeb won't be able to fudge Florida in 2016, either.

"US transportation bill studded with little-noticed items" by Ron Nixon and Danielle Ivory New York Times  December 04, 2015

WASHINGTON — Some interstate highways now free to travelers could soon become toll roads. Amtrak’s long-distance train routes could face private-sector competition. And auto employees who come forward with information about safety violations at their companies soon may collect a percentage of the penalties imposed by the government.

Buried in more than 1,300 pages of a new transportation bill are dozens of policy changes that could affect drivers, riders, and anyone else who uses, builds, or renovates the nation’s roads, bridges, rails, and transit systems.

The bill was approved, 359 to 65, in the House on Thursday, with Senate approval expected later in the day.

The five-year bill will provide $300 billion in spending on traditional transportation projects.

The price tag and longevity of the bill have made headlines, but the legislation also contains new consumer protections, policy changes and other provisions that have garnered little attention. The maximum fine that federal regulators can impose on auto manufacturers that fail to quickly report safety defects would rise to $105 million per incident from $35 million. The bill commissions a study into setting an impairment standard for drivers caught operating a vehicle under the influence of marijuana. Another provision would ban rental car companies from keeping cars in operation that are subject to recalls until the necessary fixes are made.

Auto safety advocates applauded some of the new safety standards but said the bill had setbacks as well, such as a measure that keeps secret federal safety scores for trucking companies.


Also see:

"Both parties point to limited bipartisan victories, including a law strengthening science, technology, engineering, and math education and adding computer science to those efforts and a commercial space bill extending some regulations and providing limited property rights for resources extracted from asteroids, but it’s the basics of scientific inquiry that have upset the relationship between Democrats and Republicans."

Yes, "even in an era of extreme partisanship on Capitol Hill, the name-calling stands out. Democrats claim they find out about bills the majority is introducing at the last minute," and there was some mention of the EPA toxic waste spill in Colorado that has long since washed down the ma$$ media memory hole (after about three days worth of increasingly declining coverage. Screw the poisons in the soil and water; we got phantom terrorists and false flag fictions to fear).

"Climate deal faces wrath of GOP senators" by Kevin Freking Associated Press  December 14, 2015

WASHINGTON — President Obama said the agreement ‘‘offers the best chance we have to save the one planet we have. In short, this agreement will mean less of the carbon pollution that threatens our planet and more of the jobs and economic growth driven by low-carbon investments.’’

The immediate reaction of leading Republican critics was a stark reminder of the conflict that lies ahead.

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Obama is ‘‘making promises he can’t keep’’ and should remember that the agreement ‘‘is subject to being shredded in 13 months,’’ referring to the upcoming presidential election.

And Republican Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma said that Americans can expect the administration to cite the agreement as an excuse for establishing emission targets for every sector of the US economy.

Secretary of State John Kerry said from Paris: ‘‘I have news for Senator Inhofe. The United States of America has already reduced its emissions more than any other country in the world.

“This has to happen,’’ Kerry said of the agreement, predicting that voters would reject any candidate that doesn’t believe that. “I don’t think they’re going to accept as a genuine leader someone who doesn’t understand the science of climate change and isn’t willing to do something about it.”

Through careful legal wording, the Paris agreement will not be considered to be a separate treaty under US law but rather as an extension of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which the Senate ratified in 1992.

OMG! They knew it wouldn't pass so they decided not to submit it! Same as with the endless wars! This is government by dictat and fiat!

In an interview taped for CBS’s ‘‘Face the Nation,’’ Kerry called the climate pact ‘‘a breakaway agreement’’ that will change how countries make decisions and ‘‘spur massive investment.’’

He then hopped on a plane to spew more greenhouse gases.

He acknowledged that a Republican president could undo the agreement but said there is already plenty of evidence that climate change is having a damaging and expensive impact with more intense storms, wildfires, and melting glaciers.

So he says! Never mind the war machine and it's damaging and expensive impact!

Several Democratic lawmakers applauded Obama’s efforts. Leaders at the global talks in Paris agreed that while legislation and regulation are essential to set the ground rules for the marketplace, the ultimate goal of replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy will require accelerated research, investment, and technological breakthroughs.

They said the same thing 35 years ago. This is a smokescreen to maintain the $tatu$ quo while foisting a carbon tax upon you.

Kerry said the US government had helped catalyze the agreement by toughening fuel-efficiency standards for cars and light trucks, cracking down on emissions from coal-fired power plants, and reaching a deal with China, the only country that emits even more greenhouse gases.

Obama has endorsed the idea of a price on carbon — in the form of a tax, or a cap-and-trade system like California’s — and leaders of Canada, Chile, Ethiopia, France, Germany, and Mexico endorsed the idea at the Paris conference, but there was not nearly enough support to incorporate it into the agreement.

See: Banks Will Save the World From Global Warming

Although the pact was adopted “by consensus,” no nation has signed it. Countries will be invited to do so in a ceremony at the UN headquarters in New York on April 22. World leaders warned that momentum for the historic accord must not dissipate. With nearly every nation having now pledged to gradually reduce emissions, much of the burden for maintaining the momentum shifts back to the countries to deliver on their pledges.

The task may prove to be most challenging for India. China, meanwhile, is investing so heavily in clean energy that some observers think its carbon emissions might have hit a peak.... 

The slowing economy helps reduce emissions, too.


And once the storm passes?

"GOP seeks environmental concessions in budget bill" Associated Press  December 07, 2015

WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans are pressing for an end to the four-decade ban on exporting crude oil and further curbs on President Obama’s environmental agenda as part of a sweeping $1.1 trillion spending bill.

Days from a Friday midnight deadline, progress has proven elusive for negotiators who also are trying to hammer out a separate measure to renew expired tax breaks. The two bills are the major item of unfinished business for this session of Congress.

While the GOP is seeking concessions from the Obama administration and Democrats on the environment, Republicans have dropped demands to cut off federal funds for Planned Parenthood and for implementing Obama’s marquee health care law.

The spending bill would fill out the details of the October budget deal and fund the day-to-day operating budgets of every Cabinet agency, averting a partial government shutdown.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said Monday that Congress may miss the deadline to complete the bill and renew a growing package of tax breaks for businesses and individuals.

‘‘It might take us more than just this week to get these issues put together correctly,’’ Ryan told a radio station in Janesville, Wis., after negotiations over the weekend failed to close out numerous unresolved items.

The bills’ fates have become intertwined as part of a negotiation among leaders like Ryan, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, and Democrats Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi.

The tax measure would renew dozens of tax breaks that typically are renewed a year or two at a time. This year, both sides are working to make some of them permanent, which is proving tricky to do. Democrats hope to use repeal of the oil export ban as a bargaining chip. 

Yes, they are all deciding which of their friends will be getting tax loot.

Most of the spending items in the so-called omnibus appropriations bills have been worked out, but numerous difficult policy provisions remain, including a GOP bid to block new emissions rules for power plants and an effort to restrict Obama’s ability to declare national monuments in his final year in office.


RelatedEPA faulted for online blitz on water rule

Better check that water:

"Rural neighbors of the World War II-era mine that has leaked toxic chemicals for decades won a $19.5 million settlement in 2013 from companies they accused of covering up the contamination to drinking water wells near Yerington, about 65 miles southeast of Reno. The EPA sent a letter to Gov. Brian Sandoval this week announcing its intention to place the mine on the list of the nation’s most polluted sites. Aides to Sandoval had no immediate comment. Nevada has opposed past EPA proposals to list the site, fearing an effect on property values and any precedent that could be set by federal intervention in the mining-friendly state, the world’s sixth-biggest producer of gold."

"Senate approves bill giving EPA more clout on safety of chemicals" by Chelsea Harvey Washington Post  December 19, 2015

WASHINGTON — ‘‘This law is about 40 years old, and it simply hasn’t kept up with the new science that is showing how chemicals can affect our health,’’ said Richard Denison, lead senior scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund.

A major problem with the existing law, according to Denison, is that it requires the EPA to demonstrate such a high burden of proof that a chemical is dangerous to human health as to make it nearly impossible to restrict a substance’s use.

‘‘Most people assume that the chemicals in the products and materials they encounter every day have been thoroughly tested and shown to be safe,’’ Denison said. ‘‘In fact, only a handful of chemicals have ever been reviewed for safety.’’

The new bill would grant greater authority to the EPA to study the effects of chemicals and regulate their use and has received wide support from both Democrats and Republicans. The bipartisan support is a reflection of the amount of time senators have spent negotiating the bill, a process that has required ‘‘careful balancing of the interests on both sides in this debate,’’ Denison said.

While the bill grants much greater regulatory authority to the EPA, which supporters hope will lead to more uniform, national health-based standards, it also includes some protections for the industry from state regulations.

Food industry pushing halt to labeling of genetically modified items

The bill has also received support from members of the chemical industry.

The president of the National Association of Chemical Distributors, Eric Byer, said, ‘‘Today’s vote puts us on the doorstep of finally reforming an outdated law in a way that will build confidence in the US chemical regulatory system, protect human health and the environment from significant risks, and meet the commercial and competitive interests of the US chemical industry and the national economy.’’


I guess concessions had to be made, huh?

"Congress revives the Export-Import Bank; establishment win" by Erica Werner Associated Press  December 05, 2015

WASHINGTON — In a victory for the business establishment over tea party conservatives, President Obama signed legislation Friday reviving the federal Export-Import Bank five months after Congress allowed it to expire.

More corporate welfare on the way!

The bank is a small federal agency that makes and guarantees loans to help foreign customers buy US goods. A measure extending it through 2019 was included in a massive transportation bill that cleared the House and Senate late Thursday and signed Friday by Obama.

The development was cheered by business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which say the bank is necessary for US competitiveness since most overseas competitors rely on similar government help. But conservatives pushed by the billionaire GOP Koch Brothers decried the development, arguing that the bank amounts to government interference in the free market and many of its beneficiaries are large corporations that don’t really need the help. 

In this case the conservatives are correct; however, you see how hard it can be to eliminate tax subsidies from government when it comes to corporations.

‘‘The Export-Import Bank’s revival in this bill is especially offensive to taxpayers who want to end corporate welfare handouts and let the free market finance overseas investments by American companies,’’ said Senator Marco Rubio, Republican from Florida.

Rubio is among the GOP presidential candidates and other leading Republicans who’ve lined up against the bank, a once-obscure entity that’s become a cause celebre for conservatives led by the Koch Brothers in recent years. For decades it was renewed by bipartisan agreement, with little or no debate and often not even a roll-call vote. But after the Koch Brothers and other conservative groups began to seize on the opportunity to kill off a federal agency, leading Republicans such as House majority leader Kevin McCarthy who once supported the bank, turned against it.

Of course, the Koch's get their share of corporate loot, too.

Amid that pressure and with tea party lawmakers on the ascent on Capitol Hill, Congress failed to act when the bank’s charter was up for renewal June 30, allowing it to expire for the first time in its 81-year history.

All along, though, a majority of lawmakers in the House and Senate, including Republicans and Democrats with major manufacturers such as General Electric, Caterpillar, or Boeing in their districts, supported the bank. The end result was that the measure ended up on the highway bill and five months after expiring, the Ex-Im Bank is getting back in business.

Like I said, it is corporate welfare.

‘‘We brought the Export-Import Bank back to life, so American manufacturers and workers can compete against our foreign competitors on a level playing field,’’ said GOP Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois, who is facing a tough re-election fight and took the opportunity to issue a joint statement with leading chief executives.

The bank says that last year it authorized $20 billion worth of transactions which supported $27.5 billion of US exports and 164,000 US jobs.


"White House, lawmakers hail year-end deal on spending, taxes" by Erica Werner and Andrew Taylor Associated Press  December 17, 2015

My printed headline called it tepid backing.

WASHINGTON — The White House and lawmakers of both parties grudgingly embraced a government-wide budget deal Wednesday combining more than a trillion dollars in annual spending with hundreds of billions in tax cuts for businesses, families, and special interests of every kind. Leaders planned to push it to final passage by week’s end and quickly adjourn for the holidays, ending a tumultuous year on Capitol Hill.

Had it with the mixed messages and narrative yet?

The sprawling package will keep federal agencies funded through Sept. 30 of next year.

‘‘In divided government, you don’t get everything you want,’’ House Speaker Paul Ryan said of the 2,200-page melange of wins and losses for both parties. ‘‘I think everybody can point to something that gives them a reason to be in favor of both of these bills.’’

At the White House, press secretary Josh Earnest sounded a similar note, saying President Obama would sign the package despite elements opposed by the administration. ‘‘The president is pleased with the final product,’’ Earnest said.

Few ringing endorsements could be heard from either side for the sprawling package.

Despite pledges by Ryan to run a different kind of House after his predecessor, John Boehner, was ousted by conservatives angered over last-minute, dead-of-night compromises with Democrats, the new GOP speaker found himself asking lawmakers to endorse a huge, eleventh-hour deal of his own. It’s stuffed with special interest goodies, presents for powerful lawmakers and provisions of obscure origin benefiting such special interests as race car owners. 

So much for the worry regarding global warming.

He pledged to do better next year. And most Republican lawmakers appeared happy to give him the benefit of the doubt and say goodbye to a roller coaster of a year that included a near-shutdown of the Homeland Security Department and Boehner’s chaotic ouster.

Senate minority leader Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, called the package ‘‘a good compromise.’’ But House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California was among those expressing outright opposition, arguing that the package of tax breaks estimated to cost $680 billion over the next decade was too weighted toward corporations and ‘‘practically an immorality.’’

Keep that in mind.

Yet House Democrats’ opposition to the tax package was expected. Republican leaders expressed confidence Pelosi would deliver the majority of votes needed to pass the $1.15 trillion spending bill, leaving it to GOP lawmakers to provide the bulk of votes on the tax bill under a widely accepted calculus allowing certain numbers of lawmakers to defect on each piece in the House without threatening the overall package.


After years of trying, Republicans claimed wins by making permanent business tax breaks for research and development and for buying new equipment. Democrats got permanent extensions of tax credits for college costs, children, and lower-income families.

The Democrats got chump change credits in return for giveaways to profitable corporations.

Omitted were two major GOP goals: Language dismantling Obama’s health care law and blocking federal money for Planned Parenthood, which would be certain to draw vetoes. Conservatives were also distressed at the omission of language clamping down on Syrian and Iraqi refugees, and despite Pelosi’s complaints Democrats mostly carried the day in keeping the spending bill largely free of controversial policy provisions known as ‘‘riders.’’


Look who else got taken for a ride:

"Federal employees on tap for pay raise after Congress takes no action" by Eric Yoder Washington Post   December 17, 2015

WASHINGTON — For federal employees, silence in the budget will prove to be golden.

By taking no position regarding a federal employee raise for 2016, the budget agreement announced Tuesday evening will allow an average 1.3 percent raise for federal employees to take effect by default. That represents the third straight year that Congress has followed such a strategy of action by inaction on the raise.

The increase, to be effective with the first full pay period of the new year — starting Jan. 10 for most workers — will be divided into two parts: A 1 percent increase will be paid across the board, and the money for the additional 0.3 percentage will be allotted in varying amounts according to locality.

In the Washington-Baltimore locality, a sprawling zone that includes the District of Columbia, much of Northern Virginia and Maryland, and parts of eastern West Virginia and south-central Pennsylvania, that will mean a raise of about 1.5 percent.

That is one of 21 metro area zones set to expand by pulling in some outlying counties; in addition 13 new such zones are being created. The result will be additional pay boosts for nearly 110,000 federal workers who are being moved out of the lowest-paid locality, the catchall ‘‘rest of the US’’ zone for places outside what will now be 44 city areas.

An executive order to finalize the increases is still ahead.

Although the raise specifically applies only to General Schedule employees — white-collar employees below the executive level — raises for blue-collar employees under the so-called wage-grade system once again will match those paid to GS employees in an area.

The raise will not be paid to political appointees, however, nor to members of Congress. Further, career employees at the senior executive and senior professional levels do not receive raises in tandem with the GS. They are paid within ranges based on performance and other factors.


And that is how government buys off the bureaucracy.

"House passes tax break portion of budget package" by Alan Fram Associated Press  December 18, 2015

WASHINGTON — Republicans overwhelmed divided Democrats to whisk tax breaks for businesses, families, and special interests through the House on Thursday as Congress sped toward final votes on a year-crowning budget accord that will also bankroll the government in 2016.

The tax measure, approved 318-109, includes political coups for both parties.

That is what has happened in this country, a coup by corporations.

More than 50 expiring tax cuts will be extended with more than 20 becoming permanent, including credits for companies’ expenditures for research and equipment purchases and reductions for lower-earning families and households with children and college students.

SeeSmall businesses get a permanent tax break on buying equipment

The tax break doesn't mean much when business is declining.

‘‘Finally with this tax bill, families and businesses are going to have the long-term certainty that they need instead of scrambling year after year to find out what’s next,’’ declared House Speaker Paul Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin.

Ryan, who just six weeks ago succeeded John Boehner as speaker, all but claimed the bill’s passage as a personal triumph, citing it as an example of his drive ‘‘to get our House back on track.’’ The Senate aimed to approve the tax bill Friday.

Both chambers also planned Friday votes on the second leg of the budget compromise, a $1.1 trillion measure financing government. After that, Congress was expected to adjourn until January.

Overall, the budget pact was modest, with many on each side describing it as the best deal they could get under divided government. It was arguably most noteworthy for what it didn’t include.

While Republicans voted nearly in lockstep for the tax measure, it split Democrats, who opposed it by 106-77.

Of the all-Democrat Massachusetts delegation, only Representative Niki Tsongas of Lowell voted against the measure. Representative Joseph Kennedy III of Brookline did not vote.

He was busy with other things.

While some Democrats said it was an opportunity to make family tax breaks permanent, others complained it was too skewed toward business. They also said its price tag — exceeding $600 billion over a decade — would swell federal deficits and make money scarcer for domestic programs the party treasures.

‘‘It’s a Trojan horse and we should not be fooled,’’ said House minority leader Nancy Pelosi of California.

That attitude was not shared by Senate minority leader Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, who was backing the measure. The White House said President Obama would sign both the tax and spending bills.


Pelosi added a bit of drama to the buildup to debate on the spending bill, saying she wasn’t certain there would be enough Democratic votes for it to pass. She cited opposition to that measure’s lifting of the 40-year old ban on exporting American crude oil and the bill’s lack of language letting Puerto Rico restructure its debt.

And most Republicans were expected to oppose the spending measure, which many GOP lawmakers who complain of excessive federal spending often do. Even so, GOP leaders exhibited little nervousness about the fate of that wide-ranging bill, which included everything from language prodding companies to give cyberthreat information to the government to restricting visa-free entry to the United States.

What was that? More spying power to the government was inserted?

Presidential politics provided a bit of background music in the Senate.

More like it has drowned out the looting of the U.S. Treasury.

Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida and a presidential candidate, complained Thursday that the spending bill wouldn’t do enough to keep Syrian refugees from the United States and suggested he would use procedural delays and slow the measure to call attention to the issue. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, scheduled the votes for Friday anyway.


Look what else was hidden in the must-pass bill none of them read:

"Panel may lose covert action power" by Ellen Nakashima Washington Post  December 18, 2015

WASHINGTON — A measure to strip a government watchdog’s ability to conduct oversight of US covert action programs is expected to pass Congress as early as this week as part of a larger must-pass budget bill.

Yeah, why not take Congre$$ completely out of the loop and go further down the road of dictatorship?

The measure is a jab at the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, an independent executive branch agency whose job is to ensure that the government’s counterterrorism programs respect Americans’ privacy and civil liberties.

The board’s chairman, David Medine, upset the committee’s GOP members with an essay he coauthored in April that suggested that an independent review panel was needed to assess whether the government’s decisions to target US citizens in drone strikes are appropriate. The essay also said that the board would be a good candidate to serve as the review board.

The committee majority saw that suggestion along with other reviews the board was undertaking, as ‘‘mission creep,’’ one aide said at the time. Committee chairman Devin Nunes, Republican from California, said then that the provision was to ensure that the privacy board members ‘‘stay in their lane.’’

But Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat from Oregon, a member of the Senate intelligence committee, said the measure is ‘‘clearly unwise.’’ Though the board’s oversight activities to date have not focused on covert action, he said, ‘‘it is reasonably easy to envision a covert action program that could have a significant impact on Americans’ privacy and civil liberties — for example, if it included a significant surveillance component.’’

He said that an even larger concern is that the CIA ‘‘could attempt to take advantage of this language . . . and refuse to cooperate with investigations of its surveillance activities by arguing that those activities were somehow connected to a covert action program.’’

He added: ‘‘In my 15 years on the intelligence committee I have repeatedly seen senior CIA officials go to striking lengths to resist external oversight of their activities. . . . Congress should be making it harder, not easier, for intelligence officials to stymie independent oversight.’’

The American Civil Liberties Union legislative counsel Neema Singh Guliani also knocked the measure.

The measure passed the House earlier this year as part of the 2016 intelligence authorization, but the Senate did not include it in its version, and so the measure died. It was revived and attached to the budget bill this week.


Who worries about what they don't know?

"With rare unity, Congress clears tax, spending bills" by Erica Werner Associated Press   December 19, 2015

WASHINGTON — Congress ended its chaotic year on a surprising note of bipartisan unity and productivity Friday, overwhelmingly approving a massive 2016 tax and spending package and sending it to President Obama, who promptly signed it.


Obama welcomed the massive legislation, a rare compromise product of the divided government. It includes something for nearly everyone, from parents and teachers to Big Oil and small business, from 9/11 first responders to cybersecurity hawks and more. 

Then why did it have to be negotiated behind closed doors and covered so vaguely?

‘‘There’s some things in there that I don’t like, but that’s the nature of legislation and compromise, and I think the system worked,’’ the president said at his year-end news conference at the White House before traveling with his family on their annual vacation to Hawaii. ‘‘It was a good win.’’

The legislation pairs two enormous bills: a $1.14 trillion governmentwide spending measure to fund every Cabinet agency through next September, and a $680 billion tax package extending dozens of breaks touching all sectors of the economy, making several of them permanent, and tossing the entire cost onto the deficit.

They are borrowing more to shower money on corporations. No wonder the news coverage has been San Bernardino and Trump. TPTB didn't want you to $ee all this!

Republicans and Democrats joined to approve the spending bill on a resounding 316-to-113 vote in the House, a day after passing the tax bill. The unexpectedly large margin was a victory for new Speaker Paul Ryan, who saw a majority of his GOP lawmakers back the legislation despite complaints by frustrated conservatives whose priorities were ignored.

Not long after, the Senate voted, 65 to 33, to send the entire package to Obama, and lawmakers began rushing out the Capitol’s exits to catch flights back home, with Congress adjourning until January.

On Capitol Hill, it was a harmonious conclusion to a wild 2015 that was driven largely by Tea Party lawmakers pushing for showdowns with Obama on immigration, Planned Parenthood, and the president’s health care law.


"The question of delaying important provisions of the Affordable Care Act provided a surprising area of common ground."

As were all the goodies for corporations and who was forcefully backing the bill with frequent lobbying of Congre$$.

Also seeGOP says it’s reached budget agreement with White House

That was the AP piece that the web version substituted.

They never achieved their principal goals even with the Senate under GOP control, but they forced out Ryan’s predecessor, John Boehner, and nearly shut down the Homeland Security Department.

The Boehner decision was a calculated and planned thing so that this could pass.

On Friday several hard-liners expressed disappointment over a year that ended with passage of a spending bill funding many of Obama’s priorities while excluding their own, including curbs on Syrian refugee resettlement.

The show fooled of politics is over.

Several of the GOP presidential candidates in the Senate were among those opposing the legislation, though Senator Marco Rubio of Florida didn’t show up to vote. Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky voted ‘‘no.’’

Yet few conservatives were complaining about Ryan himself, and many lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats alike, proudly touted the accomplishments achieved since the new speaker was sworn in, including bipartisan bills on highways and education, and a two-year budget and debt deal that paved the way for Friday’s spending and tax legislation.

The Democratic leaders, Nancy Pelosi of California in the House and Harry Reid of Nevada in the Senate, complained about a provision lifting the four-decade-old ban on exporting crude oil and the legislation’s failure to address Puerto Rico’s fiscal woes.

But they stressed that they used their leverage, veto threats from Obama, and the GOP’s craving for the oil export ban to extract numerous concessions from Republicans, including five-year extensions of solar and wind tax credits.

RelatedUS poised to lift ban on exporting oil

Never mind the surging inventories in the face of plunging oil prices that have caused US firms to shut down shale drilling.


"President Obama accomplishes much in 2015, but to little fanfare" by Michael D. Shear and Julie Hirschfeld Davis New York Times  December 19, 2015

WASHINGTON — Determined to defy the stereotype of a weakened short-timer, President Obama is ending 2015 with a series of accomplishments, most notably a nuclear agreement with Iran, an international climate accord, a 12-nation Pacific trade pact, and long-stalled deals on the budget, education, and transportation.

Yes, this failed presidency has been such a success of late.

But as he begins his final year in office, those achievements have been overshadowed by Americans’ anxiety over terror attacks and the expanding battle with the Islamic State, along with a public perception that Obama is unable or unwilling to channel the nation’s fears.

Obama has the lowest rating of his presidency for terrorism, with 37 percent approving of the way he has handled the issue, according to a national survey by the Pew Research Center. Fifty-seven percent disapprove, even as terrorism has catapulted to the top of the public’s list of concerns.

Yeah, all of a sudden the rotten economy and roaring wealth inequality is on the back burner while advancing the war agenda and pushing its narrative is at the top!

In a news conference at the White House on Friday before leaving for a two-week vacation, Obama tried for a fourth time in 14 days to reassure a nervous nation. He urged people to stay vigilant and to refuse to be terrorized by remaining united “as one American family.”

Also see: The New York Times Just Memory-Holed This Devastating Obama Admission

“Squeezing ISIL’s heart at its core in Syria and Iraq will make it harder for them to pump their terror and propaganda to the rest of the world,” Obama said, using an alternative acronym for the Islamic State. He added that “our counterterrorism, intelligence, homeland security, and law enforcement communities are working 24/7 to protect our homeland.”

I'm trying to quit reading and blogging about the Bo$ton Globe, yeah.

In private meetings a year ago, Obama vowed to wring every ounce of progress out of his remaining tenure and admonished his staff not to be discouraged by Republican congressional victories. His success in the past 12 months, both overseas and at home, defied expectations that gridlock in Washington and the presidential campaign would derail his plans.

But few seem to have noticed. The president’s overall job rating has hardly budged in the last year, the Pew survey found. The president’s job approval is at 46 percent even as Obama has claimed progress on economic and domestic issues, which the public now rates as less important.

“They didn’t resonate out there in any way,” William M. Daley, a former chief of staff for Obama, said of the president’s accomplishments this year.

Because the American people are tired of his act.

Daley said most Americans viewed negotiating a budget deal or a transportation funding bill as a basic responsibility of government. “Yeah, we don’t have a shutdown,” he said, “but that’s like asking for credit for just doing a job.”

Government gives out praise for that all the time. Let's us all know how great they are!

The president and his aides have long been frustrated by a political and media environment that they view as too focused on trivial, short-term matters. But White House officials said the president remained focused on chipping away at his priority list.

Daley said Obama had “a hard time emoting” about the terror threat because he tried to avoid the kind of bellicose rhetoric coming from the Republican presidential candidates.

I really don't want to hear any whining from him.

But Senator Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia, said there was a downside to that. He said that while Obama was traveling in Asia immediately after the Paris attacks, the president and his staff missed a chance to connect with Americans on their fears about terrorism, and instead criticized lawmakers and others for focusing blame on Syrian refugees.

He added that the president was right to rebuke those who want to keep Syrian refugees out the country, but “there was a moment where they should have said, ‘OK, people are afraid, we understand that.’ ” 

I'm not afraid. I'm all feared out by the paper, and knowing all the terrorists are U.S. government entities means that card won't play.

Carroll J. Doherty, the director of political research at Pew, said Obama’s accomplishments had failed to translate into better approval ratings largely because they were either too obscure to grab public notice or so controversial — the Iran deal, for example — that they sparked a polarized reaction.

At the same time, he said, Obama has been unable to shake the perception that his response to national security threats has been weak. The share of Americans who believe the government is doing a good job reducing the threat of terrorism has fallen sharply this year, from 72 percent to 46 percent, the lowest point since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

That's the price he pays for all the false flags and war propaganda needed for the narrative.

At the White House, advisers say they are pleased that Obama has at least avoided lame duck status.

“He focuses on enacting policy, and he doesn’t worry about polls and the news cycle,” said Phil Schiliro, who served as the president’s chief legislative aide early in his first term. The president’s view, he added, is “that politics will sort itself out.”

Obama has also managed to forge some unlikely alliances with Republicans on the domestic front.

Kaine said that in the last year, Obama and his aides had become better at working with adversaries to get things done on Capitol Hill.

That SO FLIES in the face of the PARTI$AN NARRATIVE! 


Kaine compared it to whitewater rafting. “You can fight the current all you want, but you aren’t going to make any headway,” he said. “The best white-water kayakers go with the current. I think the White House has finally figured that out.”

Yeah, go with the flow!


"Speaker Ryan defends spending package" by Nicholas Fandos New York Times   December 21, 2015

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Paul D. Ryan said Sunday that, through compromise, Republicans have advanced key priorities since he took office just a month and a half ago and readied themselves to reopen contentious fights over the Affordable Care Act and funding for Planned Parenthood when Congress returns early next year.

Voicing optimism after the passage of a $1.8 trillion spending and tax cut package Friday, Ryan acknowledged that divided government means that Republicans were not in a position to achieve all their goals but they had succeeded in bringing relief to US taxpayers and business owners.

“We fought for as much as we could get,” Ryan said in an interview on the NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “We advanced our priorities and principles. Not every single one of them, but many of them. And then we’re going to pick up next year and pick up where we left off and keep going for more.”

President Obama quickly signed the spending and tax measure into law before both houses of Congress departed Washington for the year-end holiday recess.

They don't ever have to come back, you know.

Ryan praised several measures in the omnibus spending package, including the end to a 40-year ban on crude oil exports, funding cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, and billions in tax breaks.

I was told EPA received more power.

He also praised his colleagues for passing a multiyear highway funding bill and another to replace No Child Left Behind, a 2002 law that had given the federal government a greater role in K-12 education.

That was a miracle!

While congressional Democrats and the White House claimed victory last week for stalling Republican legislative efforts to cut funding for Planned Parenthood and dismantle the Affordable Care Act, Ryan said those issues will be atop the Republican Party’s agenda when the House returns from recess.

The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, in his own television appearance Sunday lauded what he called an “extraordinarily accomplished first year for the new Senate majority” even amid the realities of divided government. 

I'm glad I no longer watch those shows.

Increased domestic spending advocated by Democrats and included in the package was necessary given Republicans’ desire to increase spending on defense, McConnell said, deflecting criticism from deficit-conscious conservatives.

House minority leader Nancy Pelosi last week credited a “desperate thirst'' among Republicans to lift the ban on exporting oil for big Democratic victories in the budget bill, including the blocking of efforts to defund Planned Parenthood and winning a five-year extension of tax credits for renewable energy.

Describing her first negotiations with Ryan, Pelosi said Republicans wanted the ban lifted so badly that “they gave away the store.’’

Then why was she complaining about it?

The oil export ban was imposed in 1976 after the Arab Oil Embargo inflicted a price shock on the US economy. Pelosi and others in her caucus opposed lifting the ban, warning that it would send middle-class jobs overseas because oil producers would ship crude abroad and bypass domestic refineries.

But Pelosi calculated that Democrats had more to gain in the legislation than they lost, and ultimately persuaded her members to go along.

Pelosi sold the bill by arguing that Democrats would be able to fend off hundreds of GOP riders, such as efforts to undo financial reforms enacted after the 2008 financial crisis.

I'm about to get off the horse.


RelatedPresident Obama, Paul Ryan still after own agendas; No policy thaw with new speaker

It guess it was the photograph that fooled me. 

It's a miracle that you were gifted with this post, readers. Took me all day to get it ready.

Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!


"Americans held in Iran during 1979 hostage crisis to get compensation" by David M. Herszenhorn New York Times  December 24, 2015

It was buried in the huge spending bill.

WASHINGTON — The law now stands to bring closure to a saga that riveted the nation, but this year, vindication came. Congress was motivated by many members’ anger over the Iran nuclear accord, which was hailed this year as a herald of warmer relations with the Islamic republic.

Some of the hostages were physically and psychologically tortured during their ordeal, and many regarded the thaw as frustrating and premature.

America has lost all standing when it comes to that regard.

The hostages main lawyer, V. Thomas Lankford, said, “As valuable as stopping the spread of nuclear arms is, it’s equally important to establish the precedent that in one way, shape, form or another, a state sponsor of terrorism will not be permitted to walk away.”

Unless it is western intelligence agencies and their assets. Then it's unremarked upon. That would indict the two main sponsors of state terrorism in the world today, the United States government and the government of Israel.

Now comes the fine print.

It is not clear, however, whether all the former hostages or their families will receive full payments. In large measure that is because the $4.4 million total authorized by Congress depends on the outcome of efforts to collect on judgments won in earlier court rulings involving victims of terrorist attacks, as well as on the number of victims who file claims.

Of the $9 billion penalty paid by BNP Paribas, about $1 billion will be put into a compensation fund for victims of terrorism, with more money and assets potentially added as a result of continuing litigation. An additional $2.8 billion will aid victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and their families.

Initial payments are to be disbursed within one year, according to a formula that will be overseen by a special master appointed by the Justice Department and that imposes limits on payments to victims who have won judgments in excess of $20 million. The initial payments are expected to fall well short of the maximum. 

I wonder if Feinberg will get the call again. So what is it now, 9/11 hu$h-up, Marathon muting, BP bribes, GM's $tall, and VW spew(??).

Several of the surviving hostages and their families said that reparations were long overdue and would serve as an important symbol.

Many said they felt their ordeal had been long forgotten by the general public until the 2012 movie “Argo,” directed by Ben Affleck, which focused on six people who managed to escape from the embassy.



Also see: Medical device makers say health tax is affecting business decisions

Thus it was repealed.