Harry Reid: Koch brothers are ‘un-American’

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev. pauses during a news conference. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev. pauses during a news conference.
(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

The Senate’s top Democrat criticized a pair of billionaire brothers in unusually harsh terms Wednesday, accusing the conservative duo of being “un-American,” spreading lies about President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul and lacking a conscience.

In a pair of appearances on the Senate floor, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., became the latest Democrat this election year to denunciate Charles and David Koch — pronounced “Coke.”

The brothers’ representatives said Reid’s attack was “disgraceful” and accused him of attacking people hurt by the 2010 health care law.

Reid’s focus was on television ads that are being used against Democratic congressional candidates, commercials that he said misleadingly criticize the health care law.

“When you make billions of dollars a year you can be as immoral and dishonest as your money will allow you to be,” Reid said. “It’s too bad that they’re trying to buy America, and it’s time that the American people spoke out against this terrible dishonesty of these two brothers who are about as un-American as anyone that I can imagine.”

Hours earlier, Reid said the ads were misleadingly lambasting the health care law. “It’s easy to do if you have no conscience and are willing to lie,” he said.

Reid’s comments come at a time when Republicans believe the glitch-plagued startup of the health care law gives them a winning issue in this fall’s congressional campaigns. Democrats have launched a counteroffensive in recent days, focusing on how the law has helped millions of Americans.

The Koch brothers are financial backers of the conservative Americans for Prosperity, one piece of the brothers’ sophisticated political and advocacy network. It has spent at least $27 million already on television ads criticizing Democrats, well outpacing Democratic spending.

Reid cited ads that he said misleadingly say the health care law made one patient’s treatment unaffordable, and that use paid actors posing as residents of Louisiana and reading made-up letters from insurance companies. He described news media reports that debunked some of the ads.

In a written statement, Philip Ellender, an official with a Koch-owned company, said the brothers were not responsible for an Americans for Prosperity ad that Reid seemed to cite showing a Michigan leukemia patient.

“It is disgraceful that Senator Reid and his fellow Democrats are attacking a cancer victim as part of their campaign against Charles Koch and David Koch,” said Ellender, president of government affairs for Koch Companies Public Sector LLC. He said the brothers have “devoted their lives to advancing tolerance and freedom in America” and want a country where people “are free to make decisions about their lives.”

In a written statement, Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, said, “Sen. Harry Reid stood on the Senate floor today and attacked the character and integrity of every American who had the courage to share how they’re being hurt by the president’s health care law — some of whom are battling serious, life-threatening illnesses.”

Philips said Democrats were trying to distract attention on the health care law’s problems “by declaring war on its victims.”

In frequent messages to reporters and supporters, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has made a point of mentioning the Koch brothers. The party seems to be trying to turn them into boogeymen of this campaign and their wealth into a rallying point for the liberal base.

Koch Industries of Wichita, Kan., is one of the largest privately controlled companies in the world. The two brothers are among the wealthiest men in America.

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Associated Press writer Philip Elliott contributed to this report.

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Copyright  © 2014 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright  © 2014 The Associated Press  All Rights Reserved.

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Senate plans quick vote on debt limit hike

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev. pauses during a news conference. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev. pauses during a news conference.
(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

The Senate could approve a one-year extension of the U.S. debt limit by mid-afternoon on Wednesday after Republicans and Democrats agreed to shorten debate time ahead of an approaching snowstorm, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said.

The Democratic-controlled Senate at 1:45 p.m. ET will take a procedural vote on the “clean” debt ceiling hike passed on Tuesday by the House of Representatives, where Republicans hold the majority.

Should the legislation receive the required 60 votes to advance, the Senate will move immediately to a final vote on the measure, said Reid, a Democrat. The vote would likely occur between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m.

Senate passage this week would buy financial markets considerable breathing room before February 27, when the U.S. Treasury expects to exhaust existing borrowing capacity, putting federal payments at risk.

Without an increase in the statutory debt limit, the U.S. government would soon default on some of its obligations and have to shut down some programs, a historic move that would likely cause market turmoil.

President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats have demanded that the debt ceiling be raised without any conditions.

But Republican Senator Ted Cruz, whose influence helped push Congress into a government shutdown last October, said late on Tuesday that he would object to a simple-majority vote on the debt limit because he wanted to attach “meaningful conditions” that would help reduce deficits.

Normally, this type of objection would stretch the process out for a couple of days, but senators agreed to waive the required debate time.

Many lawmakers want to leave Washington for a holiday recess before a snowstorm hits the region on Wednesday evening. The National Weather Service has forecast four to eight inches of snow for the area by late Thursday afternoon.
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Copyright  © 2014 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright  © 2014 Thomson Reuters  All Rights Reserved

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Can Obama hold Democrats together in election year?

President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama

Seeking to preserve party unity in an election year, President Barack Obama is trying to tamp down internal Democratic divisions on issues like trade and energy, even as friendly lawmakers show little restraint in publicly breaking with the White House.

The president will hold separate meetings this week with House and Senate Democrats, where he’s likely to face more pushback on the Keystone XL pipeline and health care, particularly from lawmakers who will face voters in November. Obama also met Monday with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who has sharply opposed the president’s proposal for letting Congress vote quickly to approve international trade pacts, though officials said the issue did not come up during the meeting.

White House officials have tried to dismiss the intraparty divisions, saying they’re aware of the election-year pressures driving some Democrats to oppose Obama on high-profile issues.

“All of these folks got elected in the first place by being really strong advocates for their states,” said Dan Pfeiffer, Obama’s longtime adviser. “And sometimes the interests of their individual state may be at odds with the administration, but that’s OK. They have a job to do.”

After a rough last year that sparked questions about the limits of his influence in Washington, Obama could risk the appearance of being a hindrance to his own party each time Democrats push back against him. But the friendly fire might prove to be well worth it for Obama if it helps Democrats hold the Senate.

Keeping control of the chamber was the central focus of the president’s discussion Monday with Reid, who was joined at the White House meeting by Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and Guy Cecil, the committee’s executive director. A White House official said the meeting had been scheduled before the Nevada lawmaker made his comments on trade.

Obama’s advisers are hoping to offset Democratic disputes on issues like trade and energy with party cohesion on the economic agenda the president outlined in last week’s State of the Union address. The president’s meetings this week with House and Senate Democrats will focus in part on mapping out a legislative strategy for raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $10.10 — a proposal the party sees as both a political and policy winner. The White House is planning an aggressive push on the minimum wage in the coming months, including trips by the president to states that are taking action on their own to increase the hourly pay rate.

Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., introduced legislation last week to raise the federal minimum wage in steps to $10.10 hourly over four years. Obama has embraced a Senate Democratic bill gradually boosting the minimum wage to that same level by 2016.

While Democrats are largely united on economic matters, other politically volatile issues keep bubbling to the surface, exposing long-standing divisions that inevitably take on greater importance in an election year.

One day after Obama used his State of the Union to press lawmakers for a speedy vote on two major trade agreements, Reid swatted down the idea, saying “everyone would be well-advised to not push this right now.” And on Friday, Democratic senators like Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Kay Hagan of North Carolina — both facing tough re-election fights — ratcheted up pressure on the president to approve the Keystone XL pipeline after a State Department review raised no significant environmental objections to the project.

Some Democratic lawmakers have also split with the White House in recent months on Iran sanctions and National Security Agency spying. And the failed launch of Obama’s signature health care law spurred deep anxiety among Democrats facing re-election next year, causing some to break with the White House on elements of the legislation, though they still continued to stand by the overall measure.

The divisions have become frequent fodder for Republicans, who have sought to expose any cracks in the relationship between the president and his party. That’s particularly true on the Keystone XL pipeline, which Republicans support, and on trade, where the GOP finds itself in rare alignment with the president.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., took on both issues Monday, saying “The president’s own party is now standing in the way of getting anything done.”

White House officials say they’re largely concerned with not getting caught off guard when Democratic lawmakers don’t align with the president. An official said Obama had spoken with Reid previously about his position on trade and was not surprised by the Senate leader’s comments last week.

As he returned to Capitol Hill Monday afternoon, a reporter asked Reid if he was in “the doghouse” because of his comments on trade. Reid simply said, “No.”

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Associated Press writers Donna Cassata and Alan Fram contributed to this report.

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Follow Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC

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Copyright  © 2013 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright  © 2013 The Associated Press  All Rights Reserved.

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