This afternoon, during an interview with KTVA’s Matt Felling, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) said that she would not oppose repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell “as long as as long as it is supported by the troops as long as it doesn’t hurt the performance, the morale, the recruitment”:
MURKOWSKI: I have said that I would work to make sure that as long as it is supported by the troops as long as it doesn’t hurt the performance, the morale, the recruitment, that these are all things we want to take into consideration. I think we will see this play out in this report. If in fact, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is included in the defense authorization and we get to a point where we can move that bill through, I would not oppose the Defense Authorization Bill because Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell — the repeal of it — is included within it.
Murkowski went on to say that the country was at “different point in time.” “There is clearly a level of acceptance within our communities, at all levels, of supporting and providing for that level of equality for the homosexual community and I think it’s important to recognize that,” she added.
Interestingly, hours after taping this interview (sometime before 4pm EST), Murkowski appeared on CNN’s The Situation Room (after 6pm EST) and suggested that she didn’t know how she would vote on the issue, possibly hinting that her vote would depend on an open amendment process. “I don’t know how it is going to be presented in the upcoming lame duck in terms of that defense authorization bill, and whether or not we will get to that,” she said. “It is indeterminate at this point in time.” Watch it:
I should note, as I did in the update to my original post, that Murkowski spokesperson Michael Brumas called me after the CNN interview to say that the Senator would vote for repeal “as long as it is supported by the troops and doesn’t hurt performance, morale, or recruitment and we allow for a transition that makes sense.” When I spoke to him, I had not yet discovered the inconsistency in the two interviews. I have since submitted another query and will update if he responds.
Today, the House of Representatives failed to pass a extension of unemployment benefits. The bill was brought up under suspension of the House rules, which meant it needed a 2/3rds majority to pass. 11 Democrats and 143 Republicans voted against the extension.
Even if the House had passed the extension three-month extension, which was far too short to be acceptable anyway, the Senate has not scheduled time to hold its own vote. “At this point it’s not been scheduled,” said Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI). “We’re trying to make a case that there be action but at this point I can’t point to a specific time it will come up for a vote this week.”
If allowed to expire on schedule at the end of the month, 2.5 million Americans will lose their unemployment benefits, right in the midst of the holiday season. In the past 40 years, the U.S. has not allowed extended benefits to expire with unemployment above 7.2 percent, so having them lapse at 9.6 percent would easily set a new record.
Unemployment benefits are providing a vital lifeline for millions of Americans, at a time when there are five unemployed persons for every job opening. There are so few job openings, in fact, that even if every open position in the country were filled, four out of five unemployed workers would still be out of work.
Not only that, but according to a new report by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, extended UI benefits kept the poverty rate more than a full point below where it would have been otherwise:
Without the financial support provided to families by UI benefits and under an assumption of no change in employment or other sources of income associated with the absence of that support, the poverty rate and related indicators of financial hardship would have been higher in 2009 than they actually were. For instance, in 2009 the poverty rate was 14.3 percent, whereas without UI benefits and with no behavioral responses taken into account, it would have been 15.4 percent.
It’s quite absurd that Congress is having an intense discussion over whether or not to spend $830 billion on tax cuts for the richest two percent of Americans, but can’t summon the will to extend unemployment benefits while millions of Americans cope with the lingering effects of the Great Recession. Priorities!
According to broad international agreement, a global warming increase beyond 2°C is unacceptable (1). Because of the physics of the climate system, we must ensure that global emissions of greenhouse gases peak and start to decline rapidly within a decade in order to have a reasonable chance of meeting the 2°C goal (2). Humankind has waffled and delayed for decades; further delay risks serious consequences for people and the ecosystems on which we rely.
Because the potential consequences of climate change are so high, the science community has an obligation to help people, organizations, and governments make informed decisions. Yet existing institutions are not well suited to this task. Therefore, we call for the science community to develop, implement, and sustain an independent initiative with a singular mandate: to actively and effectively share information about climate change risks and potential solutions with the public, particularly decision-makers in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors.
So begins an important letter in Science (subs. req’d) by Thomas E. Bowman, Edward Maibach, Michael E. Mann, Richard C. J. Somerville, Barry J. Seltser, Baruch Fischhoff, Stephen M. Gardiner, Robert J. Gould, Anthony Leiserowitz and Gary Yohe.
Just how weak is the case of the anti-science disinformers? In his written testimony for the recent House hearing on climate science, leading science denier Patrick Michaels of the pro-pollution Cato Institute, devoted two pages to the most unscientific ‘evidence’ possible — an online poll.
Michaels, who recently said Big Oil funds some 40% of his work, based a key part of his testimony on the ‘results’ of an online poll by Scientific American that was gamed by the deniers themselves, as SciAm has documented.
Part of the problem for the GOP is that the vast majority of Republican Senators don’t actually oppose the treaty. They are just trying to stall and as a result they allude to vague “concerns.” But since they aren’t opposing the actual treaty, just opposing having a vote on the treaty (which has only been sitting in front of the Senate for eight months), they come across incredibly incoherent.
Case in point was Senator Orrin Hatch’s (R-UT) appearance on Fox News today. This was the second time in two days where Senator Hatch appeared on TV to talk about START. Yet Hatch’s comments have been shockingly incoherent. While it is one thing for a Senator to be asked a question out of the blue that he is unprepared for, in this case the fundamental purpose of the interview was to talk about the START treaty.
Hatch was asked simple straightforward questions, such as “will the treaty make us safer.” And in response — after stammering about the treaty impacting “certain defense approaches” and preventing us from “defense mechanisms” (what in the world does that mean?) — he actually felt the need to admit that he didn’t know what he was talking about.
FOX ANCHOR: What is your take on this treaty overall?
HATCH: Well, I’m still studying it. I haven’t made up my mind on it yet. I am concerned about a number of things about not being able to fully check up on and verify matters with regards to their particular lines of weapons. Some of the telemetry problems bother me quite a bit. There are other aspects about it that i’m just very concerned about. I do hope that we can find a treaty that we can do between the two countries because it would be a good thing but i’m worried about this treaty. For instance there’s a real question whether we can do defense of the United States approaches — certain defense approaches under this treaty. I’m going to have to have those types of things resolved before i can vote for it.
FOX ANCHOR: …Is it your believe that this treaty will make us more safe or more vulnerable as a country?
HATCH: Some think it’s going to make us more vulnerable because it doesn’t cover very important aspects. At least one aspect of it prevents us being able to have defense mechanisms. It’s just a matter of real concern. I’ve got to really study it more to be able to be up on it as well as i should, but i’m concerned about some of the verification provisions, some of the telemetry provisions. I come it from the point of wanting to support a good relationship between Russia and the United States.
While this could be dismissed as just one Senator getting lost, the fact is that Republicans have been incredibly incoherent when talking about the START treaty. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), who referred to the threat from the Soviet Union twice yesterday, also provided a vague nonsensical justification for opposition, as was pointed out by Andrea Mitchell.
Senator Hatch, I have an idea. Instead of going on television to talk about a treaty that you haven’t yet taken the time to “study,” why don’t you study the treaty a bit and get some answers to his concerns? Better yet just read the rest of this post Senator and you will have your stated concerns answered. Read more
Last week, the co-chairs of President Obama’s deficit reduction commission released a report outlining their recommendations to reduce the budget deficit. Since then, a raucousdebate has erupted over the proper measures that should be taken to rein in the U.S. debt.
Yesterday morning, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) appeared on CSPAN’s Washington Journal to discuss his thoughts on the commission and the proper steps to reduce the deficit in general. At one point, the senator explained that even though he “has said we don’t need increased taxes, I’ll take increased taxes if we cut spending. We have to look down the road and solve problems for everybody, no matter what their label is”:
HOST: The debt commission, the deficit commission rather. What is your take on their recommendations, and how realistic is it?
COBURN: Well, let’s set the stage for it. We have to do something. [...] Even though I’ve said we don’t need increased taxes, I’ll take increased taxes if we cut spending. We have to look down the road and solve the problems for everybody, no matter what their label is.
Coburn’s words are admirable at a time when literally hundreds of conservative legislators across the country have signed pledges to not raise taxes under any possible circumstances, whatsoever. The senator has been bold enough in the past to call for cutting the Pentagon’s “sacred cows” and has taken aim at defense spending. Given the upcoming battle over tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, it’s particularly important that Coburn is demonstrating a willingness to raise taxes.
But because Coburn is insisting that these tax increases be tied to spending cuts, ThinkProgress would like to present him with a list of cuts that would reduce government waste and favors to special interests without hurting job growth:
- Defense Spending: As previously noted, Coburn is already an advocate for defense cuts, saying that “taking defense spending off the table” for waste-cutting is “indefensible.” The senator can look to the Sustainable Defense Task (SDTF) report released earlier this year. The SDTF — which was assembled by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) was composed of some of the nation’s leading defense and budget experts — identified nearly $1 trillion in waste that can be cut from the defense budget over the next ten years simply by eliminating outdated Cold War-era programs. He can also reference a recent report by Center for American Progress (CAP) experts Lawrence Korb and Laura Conley that lays out $108 billion in defense cuts in the current 2015 budget forecast.
- Ending Giveaways To Big Oil: The government has currently set up a network of tax expenditures and other subsidies to Big Oil that cost the American taxpayer billions of dollars every year. Ending these subsidies would save an estimated $45 billion over ten years.
- Reducing Or Eliminating Wasteful Tax Expenditures: The CAP paper “Cracking the Code: A Closer Look at Tax Expenditure Spending” notes that “special credits, deductions, exclusions, exemptions, and preferential tax rates provide more than $1 trillion in subsidies intended to support public objectives,” yet are ineffective and should be reduced or eliminated. Eliminating this tax expenditure could save $100 billion, for example.
- Reducing or Eliminating Subsidies To Big Agribusiness: The federal government “paid out a quarter of a trillion dollars in federal farm subsidies between 1995 and 2009.” “Just ten percent of America’s largest and richest farms collect almost three-fourths” of these subsidies. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) has proposed — as a part of her progressive deficit reduction plan — a fifty percent cut in federal direct support for agriculture, which would save $7.5 billion in 2015.
It’s refreshing for a Republican senator to admit that there may be a need to raise taxes in order to deal with the deficit. Now it’s up to Coburn to examine smart cuts like the ones outlined above to couple with any revenue-increasing measures.
Yesterday, responding to Rep.-elect Andy Harris’ (R-MD) hypocritical demand for government-sponsored benefits, Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY) began circulating a letter among his Democratic colleagues calling on Harris and other members of Congress who want to repeal the new health care law to forego their own government health care plans. In a letter to House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Crowley writes, “If your conference wants to deny millions of Americans affordable health care, your members should should walk that walk.”
This morning, a caller to C-SPAN’s Washington Journal asked Rep.-elect Mike Kelly (R-PA) — who also opposes the health care law — if he would be willing to give up his government-sponsored health insurance. Kelly said that he would:
KELLY: There is no reason for anybody to get anything different than anybody else. I personally have always paid for my own health care… why should my pension as a public official be any different from anyone else’s pension? Why should my health care, as a public official, be any different than anybody else’s? No, level across the board. [...]
Q: So will you have a Congressional plan?
KELLY: No, I do not need. I got my own plan, I don’t need a congressional plan. I’ve taken care of myself for a long time.
The Congressional health care system — the Federal Employees’ Health Plan (FEHBP) — is very similar to the Exchanges established in the Affordable Care Act. Like federal employees, beginning in 2014, many Americans will be able to choose coverage from a series of private options competing for their business within a new health care market place — the state-based exchange.
Kelly, however, will not have that choice of enrolling in an FEHBP plan by 2014 and could have coverage that is “the same as everyone else’s.” Under a Republican amendment to the Affordable Care Act, “the only health plans that the Federal Government may make available” to Members of Congress and congressional staff” are “health plans that are I) created under this Act (or an amendment made by this Act); or (II) offered through an Exchange established under this Act.”
Rep.-elect Bobby Schilling (R-IL) has also opted out of the FEHBP, telling ABC’s Top Line that he’s bringing his own health care plan to Washington D.C.:
Last night during an appearance on MSNBC, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) refused to say if she would vote for a National Defense Authorization Act that included a repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, but this afternoon, during an interview with KTV’s Matt Felling in Alaska, Murkowski said that she would “not vote against a bill that had that repeal in it.”
Felling appeared on CNN this afternoon to preview the interview:
FELLING: And then I pursued the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell vote because that’s something that she’s been very reluctant to talk about because she wanted to hear from the troops and kick the can down the road. And then today she said, listen there have been leaks out of this poll inside the Pentagon, saying the troops are fine with it being repealed and you know, we are a different sort of warfare there aren’t trenches there aren’t fox holes anymore, I would not vote against a bill that had that repeal in it. And that’s honestly the first time she came swinging on that topic too.
Earlier today at a press conference with 13 other Democratic Senators, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) — the sponsor of DADT repeal in the Senate — predicted that the measure would garner more than 60 votes. “I am confident that we have more than 60 votes prepared to take up the Defense authorization with the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ if only there will be a guarantee of a fair and open amendment process, in other words, whether we’ll take enough time to do it,’ Lieberman said, naming GOP Sens. Susan Collins and Richard Lugar as ‘Yes’ votes. “Time is an inexcusable reason not to get this done.”
Felling’s interview with Murkowski airs tonight on KTVA. Requests for comment from Murkowski’s office were not returned.
The Washington Blade’s Chris Johnson is also reporting that Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) “wants to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and intends to vote in favor of moving forward with defense budget legislation containing a provision that would end the law, according to the Stonewall Democratic Club of Southern Nevada.”
,Murkowski spokesperson Michael Brumas adds some nuance, saying that the Senator would vote for repeal “as long as it is supported by the troops and doesn’t hurt performance, morale, or recruitment and we allow for a transition that makes sense.”
In September, Landrieu, D-La., blocked the nomination of Jacob Lew to head the Office of Management and Budget to protest the administration’s six-month moratorium on deepwater oil and gas drilling in the Gulf. Even though the moratorium was lifted Oct. 12, Landrieu said she remained displeased with new rules for drilling operations.
The new drilling rules are meant to prevent another catastrophic blowout like the April 20 explosion at a BP oil well off the Louisiana coast that led to the release of more than 200 million gallons of crude. . . .
But Landrieu said she would continue to block Lew’s nomination until the Interior Department fixes “the regulatory nightmare” hindering deepwater drilling. She said companies were struggling to interpret what the new rules required.
“I’m not asking to be easy on the oil and gas companies, I’m not asking to give blanket permits, I’m asking for clarity of the new regulatory regime,” Landrieu said during a teleconference with reporters upon her return from a trip to the Netherlands, where she looked for lessons to take home to Louisiana from the Dutch model of living below sea level.
Sadly, this kind of hostage taking happens all the time in the United States Senate — earlier this year, for example, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) placed a hold on over 70 nominees in an attempt to force the federal government to award a $35 billion defense contract to Northrop Grumman. But it’s unclear what Landrieu thinks she going to accomplish by playing Calvinball with her demands. Why should the Obama Administration deliver her a suitcase full of small, unmarked bills when she is simply going to turn around and demand a helicopter and free passage to a non-extradition country?
Moreover, as John Griffith explains over at the Wonk Room, Landrieu is playing a particularly dangerous game by targeting the official in charge of drafting the annual federal budget. OMB must present its initial draft of the next year’s budget at the end of November each year, and Lew could have contributed a great deal of expertise to this draft. Lew headed OMB from 1999 until the end of the Clinton administration in 2001, leaving office with a $200 billion federal budget surplus.
In other words, America needs Lew’s fiscal guidance a whole lot more than it needs Mary Landrieu looking out for big oil.
Landrieu relented this evening, stating that “notable progress has been made” in her talks with the Interior Department and that some new drilling permits have been issued. The Senate promptly confirmed Lew.