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House unanimously approves back pay for 800,000 furloughed federal workers
Oct-05-2013 428 0


The House on Saturday unanimously approved legislation to provide retroactive pay for furloughed federal workers after the government shutdown ends. The vote was 407-0.

The White House said Friday that it “strongly supports” the legislation and urged its “swift” passage, even while warning that the single bill alone “will not address the serious consequences of the funding lapse.”

The Senate is still deciding how to proceed with the legislation, a Democratic leadership aide said, adding that it is unlikely the Senate will act on it today.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on the Senate floor that it is "cruel" to promise pay in the future but not allow federal workers to go back to work while the shutdown continues.

"It's really cruel to tell workers they'll receive back pay once the government opens and then refuse to open the government," he said. "Let's open the government."

Reid said the message being sent to federal workers is: "Stay home. Watch TV. Play chess. Whatever you want to do, because we won't let you work."

Approximately 800,000 government employees are furloughed during the shutdown.

Workers deemed essential and who are currently on the job will be paid for their work during the shutdown, although their paychecks could be delayed. But furloughed employees need congressional approval to receive back pay.

After past shutdowns, Congress passed similar measures, but federal employee unions had warned early in this impasse that there was no guarantee that Congress would act..

During the budget stalemate, the GOP-led House has passed a series of bills to fund some of the most popular programs impacted by the funding lapse - like national parks and care for veterans. But the Senate has declined to take up those piecemeal measures, saying that the government should instead be fully reopened.

"I'm glad to see at the very least that the Senate has plans to take up this bill," Rep. Hal Rogers R-Ky., said of the Senate's likely action on the back pay legislation. "Stop the presses! The Senate's going to take up a bill!"

The back pay measure was introduced by Democrat Jim Moran of Northern Virginia, which has one of the country’s highest populations of federal workers.

"The issue is fairness," Moran said on the House floor. "It's just wrong for hundreds of thousands of federal employees not to know whether they're going to be able to make their mortgage payment, not to know whether they're going to be able to provide for their families."

In a statement, House Speaker John Boehner lauded the passage of the measure and called for a resolution to the shutdown that includes measures to modify the Obama-backed health care reform legislation.

“It’s encouraging to see both parties come together to provide fairness for the 800,000 federal workers hurt by this shutdown," he said. "Now we should do something about the 800,000 jobs being destroyed by the president’s health care law."

Democrats continued to say they want GOP leaders to allow a vote on a government funding bill without add-ons that would make major changes to Obamacare.

Saying that ensuring retroactive pay was "the right thing to do," Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said the fact that furloughed workers remain unable to go to work "highlights the sheer folly" of the ongoing government shutdown.

The House's move comes as the shutdown stretches into its fifth day. In an interview with The Associated Press, President Barack Obama again called on House leaders to put the "clean" funding bill up for a vote.

"We know that there are enough members in the House of Representatives -- Democrats and Republicans -- who are prepared to vote to reopen the government today," he said. "The only thing that is keeping that from happening is Speaker Boehner has made a decision that he is going to hold out to see if he can get additional concessions from us."


NBC's Kasie Hunt grills Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, on whether or not he supports giving back pay to furloughed government workers during this government shutdown.

If the Senate does take up the bill, a fast-track process could allow the bill to be passed as early as Saturday, although that move would require every senator to agree.

In an interview with NBC News, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas -- whose lengthy argument against Obamacare last month galvanized the GOP opposition to the short-term budget bill that led to the ongoing shutdown -- would not say whether or not he will object to the agreement.

“I support the House working cooperatively to resolve this, to fund the government, and at the same time, to prevent the enormous harms Obamacare is inflicting on millions of Americans,” he said.

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Jul-25-2014 75 0
Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price was arrested Friday morning by the FBI.

A sealed indictment filed Wednesday lists the following charges against Price:

Our sources confirmed Price's arrest, but other reports also said Dapheny Fain, Price’s longtime executive assistant, and political consultant Kathy Nealy also were arrested. Nancy Kennedy, Fain's attorney, told The Dallas Morning News that Fain has been charged but does not know yet what the charges are and has not been arrested.

"We're going to turn Dapheny in," Kennedy said.

Attorney Billy Ravkind, who said he learned of the arrest from media reports, said a pretrial bond hearing is scheduled for this afternoon.

"Next time we want to know something, we'll call the press," he said. "I guess I haven't been around long enough. I've never had this happen before. You win or lose cases in the courtroom. What the government does is irrelevant."

Ravkind said he has spoken to the prosecutor but not Price, who he said may be released pending an afternoon bond hearing.

The U.S. Attorney's Office has scheduled a press conference at 11 a.m. at the Earle Cabell Federal Building in downtown Dallas. The indictment will be revealed at that time, and federal officials will issue a statement at that time.

Price was arrested about 8 a.m.

We will update this story as more details become available.

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Jul-22-2014 85 0
It was a tale of two rulings -- the best of times and the worst of times for Obamacare in the federal appeals courts.

First, two Republicans on a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit court of appeals ruled against a key component of the law -- the federal subsidies for millions of people who signed up for health coverage.

The 2-1 decision on Tuesday created a legal path for a possible Supreme Court case that could essentially gut the 2010 Affordable Care Act, which passed with zero Republican votes.

A few hours later, all three judges on a 4th Circuit panel in Virginia decided the opposite by declaring the subsidies legal and proper.

Opposing rulings

The opposing rulings increased the chances for the issue to reach the nation's highest court, and demonstrated the deep political divisions over the law despised by conservatives intent on undermining it.

Republicans immediately publicized the D.C. panel's ruling against the subsidies as evidence of what they called fatal flaws in the health care law.

"This is yet more evidence that Obamacare is not working -- and cannot work -- for the American people," said GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who faces a conservative primary challenger questioning his right-wing credentials.

At the White House, spokesman Josh Earnest expressed confidence in the administration's legal position, saying Congress clearly intended for all Americans to have access to tax credits if needed so they could afford health insurance.

The issue: subsidies

The legal argument involves a provision in the health care law that says people who obtained coverage through state-run exchanges can get federal subsidies such as tax credits. It doesn't specifically say that those signing up on the federal exchange also are eligible.

Opponents of the law contend that lack of specificity renders illegal the subsidies for anyone who enrolled through the federal exchange.

Only 14 states and the District of Columbia set up their own exchanges, meaning that the 4.7 million who signed up for subsidized health coverage through HealthCare.gov could be affected.

"It will kill Obamacare," Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah said of an eventual Supreme Court ruling against the subsidies. "It would make it very difficult for Obamacare to continue because the cost of health care is going to go sky high for those who are not in the state exchange."

For now, the law remains unchanged and the subsidized policies are unaffected until the legal case plays out, Earnest told reporters. The Justice Department said the government would appeal the D.C. panel's decision.

Partisan divide

The easiest fix -- changing the law to specify that it allows subsidies for coverage purchased through the federal government as well as state exchanges -- would mean reopening the debate in Congress.

Unlike last time, when Democrats held majorities in both the House and Senate, Republicans now control the House and are expected to make gains in the November election, perhaps taking over the Senate too.

That means Obama and Democrats have no chance of getting Congress to approve any remedial change in the law.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, one of the leading crusaders against the health care act, argued Tuesday that the federal subsidies amounted to assuming funding powers the Constitution granted Congress.

Earnest, however, said Congress intended "to ensure that every eligible American who applied for tax credits to make their health insurance more affordable would have access to those tax credits, whether or not the marketplace was operated by federal officials or state officials."

Ambiguity

The opposing rulings Tuesday pivoted over the meaning of the word "ambiguous."

In Richmond, the 4th Circuit judges labeled the Affordable Care Act ambiguous on whether subsidies should be allowed for consumers getting insurance on federal exchanges.

When a law is ambiguous, courts give deference to a federal agency's interpretation of the law, which in this case is the Internal Revenue Service rule allowing the subsidies.

The D.C. Circuit decision concluded that Obamacare was unambiguous in restricting subsidies to insurance purchased on exchanges "established by the state," rather than the federal exchange.

In his dissent, though, appellate Judge Harry Edwards argued that labeling the phrase "established by the state" as unambiguous "strains fruitlessly to show plain meaning when there is none to be found."

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dana ford Jul-14-2014 159 0
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is worried about wholes that are greater than the sum of their parts.

Take, for instance, the current mix of bomb-makers from Yemen with foreign fighters in Syria.

Holder, GOP dismiss impeachment

"That's a deadly combination, where you have people who have the technical know-how along with the people who have this kind of fervor to give their lives in support of a cause that is directed at the United States and directed at its allies. And it's something that gives us really extreme, extreme concern," he told ABC's "This Week."

He estimated there are about 7,000 foreign fighters in Syria, coming from places like Europe and the United States.

"In some ways, it's more frightening than anything I think I've seen as attorney general," he said. "This is a situation that we can see developing and the potential that I see coming up, the negative potential I see coming out of the facts in Syria and Iraq now, are quite concerning," he said.

Since it started in 2011, the conflict in Syria has left more than 150,00 dead and some 680,000 injured.

Then there's the humanitarian crisis for the survivors, with the United Nations estimating that more than 9.3 million need help and that at least 6.5 million have been forced from their homes into other parts of Syria. Another 2.5 million are now refugees in neighboring countries.

And threats from that part of the world aren't the only ones Holder has to worry about. He also fears potential attacks on planes.

This month, the Transportation Security Administration said that security screeners at overseas airports may ask U.S.-bound passengers to turn on their electronic devices to prove they work and aren't explosive devices.

They won't allow devices without power on board planes. The traveler may then undergo additional screening.

It's part of an update to security measures aimed at combating potential new threats from terrorists in the Middle East and Europe.

"This is not a test ... We're doing something in reaction to things that we have detected," Holder told ABC about the upgrades.

"We are at a dangerous time," he said.

U.S. attorney general urges new laws to prevent terror from returning fighters

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Kirthana Ramisetti Jul-05-2014 233 0
The comedian called President Obama gay and the First Lady a "tranny" during an on-the-street interview filmed earlier this week.

The 81-year-old was asked about officiating an impromptu gay wedding at her New York City book signing Monday, followed by a question about whether she thinks the U.S. will first see a gay president or woman president.

"We already have it with Obama, so let's just calm down," the TV host responded.

Before walking away from the reporter, Rivers said "You know Michelle is a tranny." When asked to confirm her eyebrow-raising statement, she said, "A transgender. We all know. It's okay."

The octogenarian has a history of making controversial remarks, including slamming stars ranging from Adele to Miley Cyrus to Lindsay Lohan. Rivers recently claimed that she was being sued by "Twilight" actress Kristen Stewart for comments she made in her book, "Diary of a Mad Diva," about Stewart's affair with a married man.

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ap Jul-02-2014 177 0
Louisiana and 23 other states that have opted not to accept federal funding to expand Medicaid will deprive 5.7 million people of health coverage in 2016, according to a report being released Wednesday by the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

The report said if Louisiana reverses course and accepts the Medicaid expansion, 265,000 residents could gain health coverage in 2016.

The federal government is picking up 100 percent of the cost for the expansion through 2017, and, after that, no less than 90 percent, as part of the 2010 health care law, known as the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare.

For the 26 states that are expanding Medicaid, adults with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level would qualify for health coverage, or $16,105 for a single adult and $27,000 for a family of three. In Louisiana, adults in a family of three are not eligible for Medicaid if they earn over $4,685 a year.

The White House report estimates that if all 24 states that opted out of the expansion decided to participate it would result in 15.4 million more physician office visits and 255,000 fewer people facing catastrophic out-of-picket medical costs in a year. Most of the non-participating states have Republican governors.

The report projects that 214,000 women aged 50-64 would get mammograms and 345,000 women would receive pap smears annually , likely resulting in significant health cost savings through early diagnosis of cancers.

And the report argues that an expansion would be good for state economies.

"If the 24 states that have not yet expanded Medicaid had done so as of January 1 they would have boosted employment by 85,000 jobs in 2014, 184,000 jobs in 2015 and a total of 379,000 job-years through 2017," the report said.

The report is clearly an attempt to counter continued Republican attacks on the president's signature health law, which has made some Democratic members of Congress running for re-election this fall vulnerable.

Gov. Bobby Jindal has consistently opposed Louisiana's participation in the Medicaid expansion, recently rejecting the approach advanced by Indiana's Republican Gov. Mike Pence to use the federal expansion dollars, not for traditional Medicaid, but to expand health savings accounts for the poor -- a policy long favored by the GOP.

Sen. David Vitter, R-La., who is running for governor in 2015, has said he would consider the expansion, though he, too, would want to overhaul the way Medicaid works before enrolling the state.

Jindal's spokesman Sarah Haley said in May that the governor is not willing to consider the Pence approach, though it could bring health coverage to 265,000 Louisiana residents who currently don't have it.

"Medicaid expansion simply is the wrong choice for Louisiana citizens," Haley said. "It would cost Louisiana taxpayers up to $1.7 billion over 10 years and could force up to 248,000 individuals off of private insurance and into what we believe is one of the nation's most expensive and inefficient programs. We are glad the Supreme Court gave states the option to choose so this program is not a one-size-fits-all federal program. We are doing what is best for Louisiana."

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who is facing a tough re-election bid, in part because of her vote for the Affordable Care Act, has said Jindal's rejection of the Medicaid expansion means that state taxpayers are paying for health care for residents of other states. Landrieu said the law has helped people with pre-existing conditions get affordable coverage. She vows to support legislation to help fix problems with the law, but rejects GOP calls to repeal the law.

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Dana Davidsen Jul-02-2014 233 0
President Barack Obama dared Republicans to follow through on their threats to bring a lawsuit against his administration over his use of executive action.

"Middle-class families can’t wait for Republicans in Congress to do stuff. So sue me," Obama said Tuesday at an event in Washington.

"As long as they’re doing nothing, I’m not going to apologize for trying to do something."

Obama’s defiant attitude comes as House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, plans to propose legislation that could bring a lawsuit against him for implementing executive actions that the GOP contends amounts to a breach of his constitutional power by side-stepping the legislative process.

Recently, Obama has ramped up his use of executive authority as a way to bypass a deeply divided Congress, avoiding inaction on issues the White House has made hallmarks of the President's second term agenda.

On Monday, Obama said he would start "a new effort to fix as much of our immigration system as I can on my own, without Congress."

At Tuesday's event, Obama continued to harp on congressional Republicans to pass legislation - this time pushing them to invest in transportation.

Standing in front of Key Bridge, which connects the city's Georgetown-area to Virginia, Obama continued his stepped-up rhetoric hammering Republican for obstructing action in Washington.

Obama proposed a long-term highway construction bill earlier this year that he says would spur job growth.

"It’s not crazy, it’s not socialism," Obama said of his transportation proposal. "It’s not the imperial presidency - no laws are broken. We’re just building roads and bridges like we’ve been doing for the last, I don’t know, 50, 100 years. But so far, House Republicans have refused to act on this idea."

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Jun-26-2014 121 0
The Supreme Court sided with Congress on Thursday in the high-stakes power struggle over presidential recess appointments, in which officials are placed in top government jobs temporarily without Senate approval.

The justices' unanimous ruling on the narrowest of grounds against the Obama administration could invalidate hundreds of decisions by the National Labor Relations Board, the federal agency at the center of this legal fight.

At issue is whether three people named by President Barack Obama to the board were ineligible to serve because their appointments were made while the Senate was technically in a "pro forma" session during the 2011-12 winter holiday break. That meant the mostly empty chamber was convening every three days without any business conducted, and with the sessions lasting only minutes at most.

The court majority concluded recess appointments would be valid if those breaks lasted 10 days or more.

The Constitution allows a president to fill temporary appointments during a recess, without congressional approval. But more recently, lawmakers have sought to thwart certain appointments by never technically shutting down the Senate.

The closely watched constitutional and political confrontation over the practice has accelerated because of partisan gridlock in Congress.

Presidential spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters on Air Force One that the White House was "deeply disappointed" in the decision and said the administration is "still reviewing it."

The court's opinion will not have an immediate effect, since Democrats controlling the Senate imposed rules making it harder for Republicans to block Obama's nominees. But a change in Senate control after November's midterm elections could renew the disagreements.

"We conclude that the Recess Appointment Clause does not give the President the constitutional authority to make the appointments here at issue," Justice Stephen Breyer said. "We hold that the Senate is in session, and not in recess, when the Senate says that it is in session."

But the court said the executive could use his power to make recess appointments even when the vacancy occurred before the Senate goes on break.

To achieve unanimity, the court took a limited approach, avoiding a decision that could have applied to greater set of recess scenarios, thereby further blunting the executive's power. Four conservative justices wanted their colleagues to go farther, and complained the majority "bends over backwards" to preserve some of the President's options.

That gives both branches some room to claim even a partial victory.

Senate officials weigh in

"I welcome the Supreme Court's important decision today," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said just after the ruling. "This administration has a tendency to abide by laws that it likes and to disregard those it doesn't."

His Democratic counterpart blamed the GOP for the current fights. "Since President Obama took office, Senate Republicans have done everything possible to deny qualified nominees from receiving a fair up-or-down vote," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada. "President Obama did the right thing when he made these appointments on behalf of American workers."

While agreeing with the outcome of the narrow question presented, four more conservative justices worried that the ruling would allow the President to retain a good deal of the "powerful weapon" of making recess appointments.

"The only remaining practical use for the recess-appointment power is the ignoble one of enabling Presidents to circumvent the Senate's role in the appointment process, which is precisely what happened here," Justice Antonin Scalia said from the bench.

Other Presidents' recess appointments

Among recent presidents, Ronald Reagan made 240 recess appointments, George H. W. Bush made 77, Bill Clinton made 139, George W. Bush made 171, and Obama has made 32 so far.

Gen. (later President) Dwight Eisenhower, Judge (later Justice) Thurgood Marshall, Chief Justice Earl Warren and Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan were all recess appointments.

Some GOP lawmakers also accused the President of flip-flopping on the issue. When he was a senator, Obama criticized then-President Bush's recess appointment of John Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

The court's ruling could also put in jeopardy some decisions made by Richard Cordray, who was appointed to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a move also being challenged in a separate lawsuit.

Cordray was named the same day as the three National Labor Relations Board appointments, which gave the board a full panel for the first time in a year.

The lawsuit leading the to the Supreme Court case was brought by Noel Canning, a family-owned Yakima, Washington, bottling company, which complained the board improperly ruled in favor of Teamsters Local 760 during contract negotiations. Company executives said the board lacked a binding quorum because the recess appointments made by Obama were not legal.

How they've kept the Senate in session

Since May 2011, Republicans have been relying on a little-known procedure to keep the Senate in session, even when it was not really conducting any business, in order to stop the President from making those recess appointments.

The legal basis comes from a 1993 Department of Justice brief saying the president should act only if the Senate is in official recess more than three days.

So, party leaders have arranged for a single Republican lawmaker to show up every three days and gavel the Senate to order, wait around for about 30 seconds, gavel it to a close, then leave.

Legal experts have disagreed on both the tactical and timing procedures by the Senate, and whether the president has unilateral authority to override those legislative tactics.

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AP Jun-25-2014 255 0
Rep. Charles Rangel, the Lion of Harlem, roared one last time Tuesday night, beating back a fierce challenge from state Sen. Adriano Espaillat to claim a 23rd and final term in Congress.

With 100% of the precincts reporting, Rangel had 47.4% of the vote to 43.6% for Espaillat, a margin of about 1,800 ballots in the 13th District Democratic Primary, unofficial returns showed.

The victory allows Rangel, 84, the face of Harlem politics for nearly a half century and at one time the most powerful elected black official in the country, to end his political career on his own terms.

He declared victory on his own terms as well.


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AP Jun-24-2014 160 0
President Barack Obama said Monday that the United States should join the rest of the industrialized world and offer paid leave for mothers of newborns.

"Many women can't even get a paid day off to give birth — now that's a pretty low bar," Obama said at the White House Summit on Working Families. "That, we should be able to take care of."

The president is touting paid maternity in the midst of a midterm election campaign focused on women voters, without describing the details of how he would fund such a system. "If France can figure this out, we can figure this out," Obama said.

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, responded to Obama by announcing he will would outline his vision Wednesday for "how modern conservative reforms can help bring the American Dream within reach for millions of single mothers, young Americans and working families."

"Telling federal agencies to do what they're already supposed to do and endorsing partisan legislation that will never pass is not the sort of bold, innovative leadership we need," Rubio said in a statement.

While some companies offer paid family leave to attract workers, the 1993 Family Medical Leave Act only requires that employers provide unpaid leave for medical and family reasons.

Obama praised California, Rhode Island and New Jersey for creating a state benefit. But he has not endorsed legislation that would create a similar national system funded by a payroll tax, and he pledged in his 2008 presidential campaign not to raise taxes on families making under $250,000 a year.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., has introduced legislation that would provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave through a fund in the Social Security Administration, paid for by contributions from employees and employers of 0.2 percent of wages. She said she has personally encouraged the president to back it, despite his tax pledge.

"We're talking about 2 cents of every $10," she said in an interview at the summit. She said without such a fund, eight out of 10 workers can't take advantage of their right for family leave because they can't afford it.

Obama instituted six weeks of paid leave for White House staff when they have a child, get sick or injured or need to care for an ailing family member, using his authority to set his staff's compensation under the personnel code. He does not have the power to award paid leave to other federal workers without congressional action since they are covered under a different section of law. The White House has supported the goal of legislation introduced by lawmakers to change that, but it has stalled in Congress.

"There is only one developed country in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave, and that is us," Obama said. "And that is not the list you want to be on — on your lonesome. It's time to change that."

He also directed federal agencies to expand flexible work arrangements where possible, and Obama chief of staff Dennis McDonough said in a staff memo that includes the White House — a hard-charging environment where long hours are the norm. "I know how hard each of you works to support the president and the nation. Please know that we'll be looking for ways to better support you as well," McDonough wrote.

Obama took four working parents out to lunch at Chipotle before his speech and after met with business leaders with family-friendly policies. He urged Congress to pass legislation requiring employers to accommodate pregnant employees so they can continue to perform their jobs.

The summit included a surprise appearance by a celebrity to echo Obama's criticism of "Mad Men" policies in today's workplace. Christina Hendricks, who plays single mom Joan on the AMC dramatization of a 1960s ad firm, said, "In the 21st century the only place for a story like Joan's should be on TV."

Mrs. Obama closed the summit by encouraging young women not to short-change themselves in career negotiations. And she said she hopes to see a woman in the country's top job as president soon.

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