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December 18, 2014

Posts in "Potpourri"

December 16, 2014

Durbin and Schumer Split Up

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Schumer and Durbin are moving out. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The Senate’s longstanding D.C. roommates have gone their separate ways.

Democratic Sens. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois and Charles E. Schumer of New York had long rented space in a Capitol Hill row house owned by Rep. George Miller.

The retirement of the California Democrat left the two Senate Democratic leaders with a problem.

Full story

December 15, 2014

Ahead of Holidays, Schumer Slams High Cost of Flying (Video)

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Schumer wants to know why airlines are adding a fuel surcharge with fuel prices on the decline. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

How does a senator spend his only off-day during the end-of-session holiday rush? If you’re Charles E. Schumer, you go home to New York and hold a news conference about the high price of airline tickets.

“What adds insult to injury is a lot of the airlines, when prices were going up added a surcharge, a fuel surcharge. Well, that fuel surcharge is still on the tickets even though prices are going down,” said Schumer, the No. 3 man in Senate Democratic leadership.

Full story

December 1, 2014

Tom Harkin — From Tiger Cages to Pinochet

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Harkin, right, listens to Cau Nguyen Loi describe what it was like to be shackled and beaten inside a ‘tiger cage’ on Con Son Island, Vietnam. (POOL/AFP/Getty Images File Photo)

Sen. Tom Harkin’s human rights legacy began with exposing the tiger cages in a secret South Vietnam prison.

“Let me show you,” the retiring Iowa Democrat said as he retrieved a large, clear plastic bag that contained a July 1970 edition of Life magazine. The magazine published photos Harkin took as a congressional aide depicting abuse of political prisoners by the U.S.-supported South Vietnamese government.

His work in Vietnam led to an interest in human rights that’s remained with him throughout his career, including an effort that made protecting human rights a criterion for receiving U.S. aid, a role in the downfall of Augusto Pinochet, efforts to fight child labor and securing funding for the Bureau of International Labor Affairs.

But it all started with the tiger cages.
Full story

November 28, 2014

Tom Harkin Is Reflecting, but Trying Not to Stare

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Harkin is interviewed by CQ Roll Call in his Capitol Hill office. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

At the end of an extended interview in his Senate office, Tom Harkin realized he had neglected to show off a prized possession — his father’s Works Progress Administration card.

It’s the role of government policies like the WPA that have guided the progressive Iowa Democrat’s career.

The Depression-era WPA was one of the progressive planks of Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Harkin is very much in the mold of the generation that followed FDR. But Harkin has shown a knack, not unlike the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, for working with Republicans when he needs to get a bill across the finish line.

Some of that, of course, depends on having a willing partner across the aisle, and on that front Harkin will say he’s been fortunate.

At a recent bill signing, President Barack Obama praised Harkin and his GOP counterpart, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, for their Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee getting 21 measures to his desk this Congress.

“Well, that’s because you and Lamar are some pretty productive legislators who actually have focused on getting stuff done,” Obama said of Harkin’s recent successes.

Two deals with senior colleagues Harkin made early on set the course for his 30-year Senate career.

Harkin, who opted to retire rather than seek a sixth Senate term, agreed to join what was then the Education and Labor Committee, after the liberal lion Kennedy offered to create a disability policy subcommittee and hand Harkin wide latitude. That helped lead to the signature Americans with Disabilities Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Those laws changed not only the way the public treated individuals with disabilities, Harkin said, but also the way many viewed the world.

“The way I describe the ADA generation is that kids that were born after that — or in your time coming of age — that their expectations changed. In the old days, if you had a disability and you were a child … you just were told not to expect a heck of a lot. Barriers were there: educational barriers, work barriers, transportation barriers, attitudinal barriers, some of which still exist. But, you just had lower expectations,” Harkin told CQ Roll Call. (One of the reporters conducting this interview was among the first beneficiaries of IDEA.)

“Kids that grew up with [Individualized Education Programs] and with access and support services and things like that are now saying, ‘Wait a minute, I don’t want lowered expectations,’” Harkin said.

The bipartisan Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, one of the HELP Committee’s big success stories this Congress, aims to improve on the transition from school to work for individuals with disabilities.

“We haven’t been preparing them to do that in the past,” Harkin said. “A lot of times the kids with IEPs, they get through, and they sort of just drop off the edge. They haven’t been given summer jobs, job coaching, internships. They haven’t been taken to colleges.” Full story

November 7, 2014

Could Obama-McConnell Liquor Choice Invite Look at Bourbon Laws?

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Could bourbon laws get another look after an Obama-McConnell summit? (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

There was no sign of brown liquor President Barack Obama’s Friday lunch meeting with bipartisan political leaders, but the bourbon industry is using renewed attention to press its own lobbying interests.

At the top of that list is the issue of the tax treatment of the whiskey that’s aging in barrels in warehouses.

By law, bourbon must age for at least two years, and distillers tend to age the brown spirit far longer than that. But the way inventory rules work in the tax code, costs can’t be deducted along the way. Legislation already introduced by Mitch McConnell and his fellow Kentucky Republican, Rep. Andy Barr, proposes a change so the aging process would not be considered part of the production period. Every single Kentucky lawmaker, including Sen. Rand Paul, is on board.

With tax reform a possible area of compromise in the coming months, Obama’s suggestion he ”would enjoy having some Kentucky bourbon with Mitch McConnell” might be well-timed for bourbon moneymakers.

Full story

October 22, 2014

Coburn’s ‘Wastebook’ Targets Include Mountain Lions, Sheep, Beer (Video)

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Coburn, pictured here unveiling the 2013 Wastebook. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Tom Coburn and his investigators have been busy in their most recent effort to unveil what they view as government waste and abuse.

The 2014 edition of the Oklahoma Republican’s annual “Wastebook” runs almost 250 pages and features more than 1,100 footnotes. It’s presumably the last such report Coburn will issue from his Senate perch, as he’s resigning his seat early at the end of the current Congress.

As in previous editions, the report highlights billions of dollars of projects that Coburn views as wasteful government spending.

“This report, the fifth annual Wastebook, gives a snapshot of just a fraction of the countless frivolous projects the government funded in the past twelve months with borrowed money and your tax dollars,” Coburn wrote in the report’s introduction. “Every year taxpayers, regardless of their personal political leanings, raise their eyebrows and shake their heads in disbelief at how billions of dollars that could be been better spent — or not spent at all — were squandered.” Full story

October 14, 2014

Senate Odd Couple Seeks Common Ground on Climate Change

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Manchin, left, and Whitehouse measure fish as part of a Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management survey. (Niels Lesniewski/CQ Roll Call)

POINT JUDITH, R.I. — A visit to the Ocean State’s eroding shoreline didn’t prompt West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin III to change his mind about Environmental Protection Agency regulation of carbon emissions, but his host wasn’t expecting that sort of evolution.

RollCall On the Road Logo300x300 Senate Odd Couple Seeks Common Ground on Climate Change“I didn’t invite Sen. Manchin here thinking that he was suddenly going to have an epiphany and turn into a ‘greenie’ and come to the next climate march with me,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse told reporters after the two Democrats took a daylong tour of coastal Rhode Island on Oct. 10.

“What I do think though is that he is a smart and reasonable voice from the prototype coal state who has very, very good relations with a lot of our most conservative members of the Senate, some of whom believe that the whole climate change problem is a conspiracy designed as a foil to allow people to expand the role of government and take away freedom,” the Rhode Islander continued.

You would be hard-pressed to find two Democratic senators who more clearly demonstrate the party’s divide on energy and environmental issues, so it was notable when they announced plans to visit each others’ states to discuss energy and climate policy.

Manchin followed through on the first half of the bargain last week, joining with Whitehouse in meeting with oceanography experts, fishermen, environmental officials and residents and business owners at risk of seeing their properties washed away by rising tides.

Full story

October 9, 2014

Goodell Responds to Boxer, Says NFL Will Not Tolerate Domestic Violence

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(Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The National Football League has responded to one of its foremost critics in the Senate, and this time she’s optimistic about what Commissioner Roger Goodell had to say.

Sen. Barbara Boxer on Thursday released two separate letters dated this month from Goodell and Cynthia Hogan, the new NFL senior vice president for public policy and government affairs, praising each. Boxer had initially led a letter to Goodell from a group of a total of female 16 senators seeking the league to enact a policy of zero tolerance for incidents of domestic violence. She followed up directly with Hogan in subsequent correspondence.

Goodell’s letter, which Boxer’s office has posted here, says the NFL will not tolerate domestic violence and outlines the steps the league is already taking to change the way it handles domestic abuse cases following incidents involving Ray Rice and other professional football players. Full story

October 2, 2014

Toomey Blasts College for Inviting Mumia Abu-Jamal to Speak

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(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Patrick J. Toomey blasted a Vermont college for choosing Mumia Abu-Jamal to give the commencement address and urged the invitation be rescinded.

“I cannot fathom how anyone could think it appropriate to honor a cold-blooded murderer — one who ambushed a police officer, shot that officer in the back, and while that officer lay wounded and defenseless on the ground, lowered a gun to the officer’s face and took his life. Abu-Jamal has never apologized or expressed any regret for his heinous crime,” the Pennsylvania Republican said in a letter to Robert Kenny, Goddard College’s interim president.

Abu-Jamal, a Goddard alumnus, is a black nationalist who was convicted and sentenced to death in 1982 for the murder of white Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner. After a lengthy appeals process, prosecutors decided not to seek the death penalty, but Abu-Jamal remains in prison without the possibility of parole. Full story

By Humberto Sanchez Posted at 1:22 p.m.
Potpourri

September 30, 2014

Senators Laud FCC Rollback of Sports Blackout Rule

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Booker, who played football in college, applauded the FCC’s rule change vote. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senators on Tuesday lauded the Federal Communications Commission’s move to do away with the rule that, in effect, keeps National Football League games that don’t sell out off the air in hometown markets.

Sen. Cory Booker, who played tight end in college at Stanford University, was among the lawmakers thanking the FCC for taking the action on a unanimous vote.

Full story

September 22, 2014

Barbara Boxer Blasts NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s News Conference in New Letter (Video)

boxer001 092513 445x282 Barbara Boxer Blasts NFL Commissioner Roger Goodells News Conference in New Letter (Video)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Barbara Boxer is making a personal appeal to the new National Football League executive in charge of government affairs, calling for more action to address domestic violence.

In the letter, the California Democrat notes past work by Cynthia Hogan, the NFL’s new senior vice president of public policy and government affairs and previous senior aide to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., but it’s sharply critical of Hogan’s new boss, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Full story

September 16, 2014

Constitution Day: A Byrd Legacy (Video)

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In an undated photo, Byrd holds up a copy of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution during a MoveOn rally against the ‘nuclear option.’ (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

A decade ago, during an earlier debate about military intervention in the Middle East, Sen. Robert C. Byrd led the establishment of Constitution Day, celebrated annually on Sept. 17.

There’s never a shortage of complaints about including policy provisions and funding limitations in spending bills, but back in 2004, one such provision was cause for celebration. Actually, it mandated celebration — about the Constitution.

Full story

September 11, 2014

Female Senators Write Letter to Goodell, Want NFL to Adopt ‘Zero-Tolerance’ Policy

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(Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

A group of 16 female senators, including Maryland Democrat Barbara A. Mikulski, have written a scathing letter to Roger Goodell about the National Football League’s handling of violence against women.

The letter comes after reporting by The Associated Press that the NFL was sent graphic elevator video of now-former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice knocking out his then-fiancée Janay Rice.

“It is long past time for the NFL to institute a real zero-tolerance policy and send a strong message that the league will not tolerate violence against women by its players, who are role models for children across America,” the 16 senators wrote. “We hope the NFL will seize this opportunity to lead by example and demonstrate its commitment to the safety of women and families.”

Full story

By Niels Lesniewski Posted at 12:31 p.m.
Policy, Potpourri

September 10, 2014

15 Senators Among 50 Richest Members of Congress

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Rockefeller is the wealthiest senator, with a minimum net worth of at least $108 million. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senators comprised 30 percent of Roll Call’s 50 Richest Members of Congress list this year.

Although House members outnumbered senators by a 2-to-1 margin, the 15 senators who made the list have considerable wealth. They are evenly divided between the two parties, with seven Democrats and eight Republicans in the top 50. The combined net worth of the 15 lawmakers totaled $458.86 million.

The wealthiest senator was retiring Democrat Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, whose minimum net worth amounted to more than $108 million and ranked him at No. 4.

Full story

September 8, 2014

Blumenthal Pushes Goodell to Revisit Ray Rice Punishment

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Rice received a two-game ban from the NFL. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., is joining the calls for the National Football League to impose stiffer punishment on Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice.

“The video released today emphasizes how egregiously weak and wrong the initial penalty against Ray Rice was — as the Commissioner has acknowledged — and it constitutes new, powerful evidence that requires the Commissioner to reconsider and reach a stronger punishment,” Blumenthal said.

Full story

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