Rep. Manchin under fire on vote for Kavanaugh

Sen. Joe Manchin, center, speaks to John Heron and Connie Hill about his recent vote in the Senate to confirm Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018, at an IHOP restaurant in Charleston, W.Va. (AP Photo/Tyler Evert)

Danielle Walker cried on Joe Manchin’s shoulder after she shared her story of sexual assault in the senator’s office. She thought he listened.

The 42-year-old Morgantown woman said she was both devastated and furious when Manchin became the only Democrat in the U.S. Senate to support President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh.

“I feel raped all over again,” Walker told The Associated Press.

A day after Manchin broke with his party on what may be the most consequential vote of the Trump era, the vulnerable Democrat is facing a political firestorm back home. While Republicans — including one of the president’s sons — are on the attack, the most passionate criticism is coming from Manchin’s very own Democratic base, a small but significant portion of the electorate he needs to turn out in force to win re-election next month. A Manchin loss would put his party’s hopes of regaining control of the Senate virtually out of reach.

Walker, a first-time Democratic candidate for the state legislature, said she may not vote at all in the state’s high-stakes Senate election. Julia Hamilton, a 30-year-old educator who serves on the executive committee of the Monongalia County Democratic Party, vowed to sit out the Senate race as well.

“At some point you have to draw a line,” Hamilton said. “I have heard from many, many people — especially women. They won’t be voting for Manchin either.”

Manchin defended his vote in a Sunday interview as being based on fact, not emotion. He praised the women who shared their stories of sexual trauma, Walker among them, but said he “could not find any type of link or connection” that Kavanaugh was a rapist.

The woman who testified to the Senate about Kavanaugh, Christine Blasey Ford, accused him of sexual assault but not rape when they were high school students more than 30 years ago. Two other women stepped forward late in the confirmation process to accuse the appeals court judge of sexual misconduct in high school or college. Their stories resonated with women who had suffered sexual trauma and fueled opposition to Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

“They weren’t going to be satisfied, or their healing process, until we convicted this person,” Manchin told The Associated Press. “I couldn’t do it. You talk about two wrongs trying to make a right. It just wasn’t in my heart and soul to do that.”

Manchin insisted over and over that his vote wasn’t based on politics.

There is little doubt, however, that his vote was in line with the wishes of many West Virginia voters, who gave Trump a victory in 2016 by 42 percentage points. There simply aren’t enough Democrats in the state to re-elect Manchin. He needs a significant chunk of Trump’s base to win.

One West Virginia Trump supporter, 74-year-old Linda Ferguson, explained the politics bluntly as she watched the parade at Saturday’s Mountain State Forest Festival in Elkins.

“If he didn’t vote for Kavanaugh he could have kissed his seat goodbye,” Ferguson said.

While he may have represented the majority of his state, Manchin’s political challenges are far from over.

The clash over Kavanaugh, who was confirmed by the Senate on Saturday, has injected new energy into each party’s political base. While that may help Democrats in their fight for the House majority, which is largely taking place in America’s suburbs, there are signs it’s hurting vulnerable Democrats in rural Republican-leaning states like North Dakota, Missouri and West Virginia. Phil Bredesen, who said he would have voted for Kavanaugh, could also face new challenges in his bid to flip Tennessee’s Senate seat to the Democratic column.

For much of the year, Manchin has held a significant lead in public and private polls over his Republican opponent, state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. Yet Republican operatives familiar with the race report a definite tightening over the last week.

In an interview, Morrisey called Democrats’ fight against Kavanaugh a “three-ring circus” that “energized a lot of people in West Virginia.”

He acknowledged that Manchin voted the right way for the state, but called the vote “irrelevant” because another swing vote, Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins, had already given Kavanaugh the final vote he needed.

“He waited until the last possible minute after Susan Collins declared for him to take a position, effectively allowing Maine to decide how West Virginia’s going to decide,” Morrisey charged. “We shouldn’t reward that kind of cowardice.”

Echoing the attack, Donald Trump Jr., mockingly called Manchin “a real profile in courage” on Twitter.

When asked about the social media jab, the West Virginia senator slapped away the insult from the younger Trump.

Donald Trump Jr. is “entitled to his opinion, he’s just not entitled to his own facts to justify what he’s saying. He doesn’t really know anything,” Manchin told the AP.

The Democrat conceded that he followed Collins’ lead out of “respect” — he didn’t want to get in the way of her high-profile Friday afternoon announcement on the Senate floor.

“Nothing would have changed my vote,” Manchin declared. “Susan took the lead, Susan did the due diligence. … She’s going to give her speech and I’m not going to jump in front of 3 o’clock. I’m just not going to do it.”

That wasn’t good enough for Tammy Means, a 57-year-old florist from Charleston, who was among thousands tailgating outside West Virginia University’s football stadium in Morgantown on Saturday.

Means, a registered Democrat who voted for Trump, said she also voted for Manchin in the past.

“I’m not going to anymore. Nope,” she said with a laugh as she sipped a Smirnoff Ice. She’s glad Manchin voted for Kavanaugh, but said, “He’s just doing it so he can get elected.”

Across the parking lot, 63-year-old John Vdovjac said he was deeply disappointed by Manchin’s vote. Still, the Democrat said he’d probably vote for Manchin this fall.

“I recognize the position he’s in because the state’s heavily Republican now,” said Vdovjac, a retired educator from Wheeling, as he helped grill hotdogs and hamburgers. “But he’s lost my loyalty.

Manchin knows he needs to explain his vote to his constituents, although he didn’t have any public events scheduled this weekend. Before and after the AP interview, conducted at Charleston’s International House of Pancakes, he told everyone who would listen — including his waitress — that his Kavanaugh vote was not based on emotion.

“I made my decision based on facts,” the senator told Kevin Estep, a 57-year-old registered Democrat and Trump voter who was eating buttered pancakes with his family.

“You hang in there and vote your heart,” Estep, who lives in nearby St. Albans, told the senator.

After Manchin left the building, Estep warned that the #MeToo movement “is like a dam that’s about to break open.”

Asked whether he’d support Manchin this fall, he responded, “Always.”

_______________________________________________________

Copyright © 2018 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright © 2018 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Manchin: Obamacare may suffer ‘complete meltdown’

Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV). (REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)
Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV). (REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)

President Barack Obama’s healthcare law could have a “meltdown” and make it difficult for his Democratic Party to keep control of the U.S. Senate next year if ongoing problems with the program are not resolved, a Democratic senator said on Sunday.

Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who has urged delaying a penalty for people who do not enroll for health insurance in 2014 under the law, told CNN that a transitional year was needed for the complex healthcare program, commonly known as Obamacare, to work.

“If it’s so much more expensive than what we anticipated and if the coverage is not as good as what we had, you’ve got a complete meltdown at that time,” Manchin told CNN’s “State of the Union” program.

“It falls of its own weight, if basically the cost becomes more than we can absorb, absolutely.”

The White House has been scrambling for months to control the damage from the botched October 1 launch of the law, formally called the Affordable Care Act, which aimed at making sure that millions of Americans without health insurance are able to receive medical coverage.

There have been complaints from consumers about higher premiums than they previously had to pay for health insurance after their old plans were canceled because of new standards under the law, as well as lingering problems with the main web portal used to sign up for insurance, HealthCare.gov.

Manchin said Senate Democrats who are up for re-election next year are “feeling the weight” of the program’s woes and could have trouble keeping their majority in the chamber.

Republicans have been highlighting the healthcare law’s difficulties as they seek to gain the six seats they would need to win control of the 100-member Senate.

“It needs to turn around,” Manchin said of Obamacare. “I’m not going to say that I think we will lose it (the Senate). It’s going to be extremely challenging. We have some very good people who are truly there, I believe, for the right reason. They’re going to be challenged for the wrong reason.”

Obama acknowledged on Friday that that the bungled launch of the healthcare law was his biggest mistake of 2013. His public approval numbers have dropped to historic lows over the law’s debut.

The president said more than 1 million people have signed up so far for new coverage under Obamacare through HealthCare.gov, which services 36 states, and 14 state-run marketplaces.

A day earlier, Obama’s administration said people whose insurance plans were canceled because of the law may claim a “hardship exemption” to the requirement that all Americans must have coverage by March 31 next year or face a penalty.

Manchin, a conservative Democrat whose state of West Virginia has been increasingly trending Republican, has made no secret of his frustration over the program’s fits and starts.

Last month he introduced legislation to delay by a year the $95 penalty for failing to sign up for health insurance, saying Americans should not be penalized while Obamacare is going through its “transition period.”

Manchin does not face re-election next year, but some Democrats who do have also urged changes to the program, such as extending the open enrollment period beyond the March 31 deadline. One third of the Senate is re-elected every two years.
_______

Copyright  © 2013 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright  © 2013 Thomson Reuters  All Rights Reserved

Enhanced by Zemanta

Sebelius headed for tough grilling on Capitol Hill

Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (KVUE-TV)
Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (KVUE-TV)

Republicans said Sunday they intend to press Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on the Obama administration’s troubled launch of healthcare.gov, the online portal to buy insurance, and concerns about the privacy of information that applicants submit under the new system.

Meanwhile, the healthcare.gov application and enrollment system was down Sunday afternoon because the company that hosts the site had an Internet outage. HHS spokeswoman Joanne Peters wrote on Twitter that Terremark, the hosting company, was “working to fix ASAP.”

The Obama administration will face intense pressure next week to be more forthcoming about how many people have actually succeeded in enrolling for coverage in the new insurance markets. Medicare chief Marilyn Tavenner is to testify during a House hearing Tuesday, followed Wednesday by Sebelius before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The officials will also be grilled on how such crippling technical problems could have gone undetected prior to the website’s Oct. 1 launch.

“The incompetence in building this website is staggering,” said Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., the second ranking Republican on the panel and an opponent of the law.

Democrats said the new system needed time to get up and running, and it could be fixed to provide millions of people with affordable insurance. Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat, said the system was “working in Kentucky,” a state that has dealt with “some of the worst health statistics in the country. … The only way we’re going to get ourselves out of the ditch is some transformational tool,” like the new health insurance system.

Blackburn said she wanted to know much has been spent on the website, how much more it will cost to fix the problems, when everything will be ready and what people should expect to see on the site. Blackburn and Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., raised questions of whether the website could guard the privacy of applicants.

“The way the system is designed it is not secure,” said Rogers, who is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

The administration sought to reassure applicants about their personal information. HHS’ Peters said when consumers fill out their applications, “they can trust that the information they’re providing is protected by stringent security standards and that the technology underlying the application process has been tested and is secure.”

The botched rollout has led to calls on Capitol Hill for a delay of penalties for those remaining uninsured. The Obama administration has said it’s willing to extend the grace period until Mar. 31, the end of open enrollment. That’s an extra six weeks. The insurance industry says going beyond that risks undermining the new system by giving younger, healthier people a pass.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who is seeking a yearlong delay to the penalty for noncompliance, said his approach would “still induce people to get involved, but it will also give us the time to transition in. And I think we need that transition period to work out the things.” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., who has urged the Obama administration to postpone the March 31 deadline, said she was concerned applicants would not have a full six months to enroll.

The administration was under no legal requirement to launch the website Oct. 1. Sebelius, who designated her department’s Medicare agency to implement the health care law, had the discretion to set open enrollment dates. Officials could have postponed open enrollment by a month, or they could have phased in access to the website.

But all through last summer and into early fall, the administration insisted it was ready to go live in all 50 states on Oct. 1.

The online insurance markets are supposed to be the portal to coverage for people who do not have access to a health plan through their jobs. The health care law offers middle-class people a choice of private insurance plans, made more affordable through new tax credits. Low-income people will be steered to Medicaid in states that agree to expand that safety net program.

An HHS memo prepared for Sebelius in September estimated that nearly 500,000 people would enroll for coverage in the marketplaces during October, their first month of operation. The actual number is likely to be only a fraction of that. The administration has said 700,000 people have completed applications.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said the president had been poorly served by Sebelius “in the implementation of his own signature legislature. So if somebody doesn’t leave and if there isn’t a real restructuring, not just a 60-day somebody come in and try to fix it, then he’s missing the point of management 101, which is these people are to serve him well, and they haven’t.”

Blackburn spoke on “Fox News Sunday,” Beshear appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Rogers was on to CNN’s “State of the Union,” Manchin was interviewed on ABC’s “This Week,” and Shaheen and Issa made their comments on CBS “Face the Nation.”

___

Follow Ken Thomas on Twitter at http://twitter.com/AP_Ken_Thomas

___

Copyright  © 2013 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright  © 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Democrats want to move Obamacare deadlines back

Sen. Joe Manchin: Time for delays for Obamacare.
Sen. Joe Manchin: Time for delays for Obamacare.

After uniting against Republican efforts earlier this month to delay President Barack Obama’s health care law, a growing number Democrats in Congress now want to extend the enrollment deadline, and one senator wants to delay the penalty for not complying.

Six Senate Democrats up for re-election next year have proposed delaying the new March 31 deadline for applying for coverage while the program’s problems are ironed out. A seventh, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, is co-authoring a bill to postpone the $95 penalty for people who fail to meet the deadline for acquiring insurance.

While their proposals are short on details, all argue that it’s not fair to hold millions of Americans accountable for buying insurance when the primary instrument for enrollment — the HealthCare.gov website — has prevented many people from doing it.

Even the law’s biggest boosters are aggravated that enrollment process for the national health care law they had hoped to tout on the 2014 campaign trail has gotten off to such a bad start.

“If we want this law to work, we’ve got to make it right, we’ve got to fix it,” Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., one of the law’s leading authors, said at a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing Thursday on the sign-up problems.

Contractors for the health insurance website told the committee the government failed to thoroughly test the complex enrollment system before its Oct. 1 launch. The system crashed as soon as consumers tried to use it. A web of confusing deadlines and penalties for not obtaining health insurance persists.

As Democrats began to fret about the political consequences ahead of the 2014 midterm elections, the administration late Wednesday said it was granting what amounts to a six-week filing extension. The March 31 deadline for having insurance became the new deadline for applying for it.

But that’s not enough for a growing number of Senate Democrats.

Manchin is teaming with Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., on a bill that would waive for one year the $95 penalty for not enrolling in the program.

“It should be a transition year. For one year, there should be no fines,” Manchin said Wednesday on Fox’s “The O’Reilly Factor.”

The six Senate Democrats seeking re-election next year urged the Obama administration to postpone the March 31 deadline.

“As you continue to fix problems with the website and the enrollment process, it is critical that the administration be open to modifications that provide greater flexibility for the American people seeking to access health insurance,” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., wrote to Obama on Tuesday. Extending the open enrollment period and clarifying other parts of the law, she added, “would be a great start.”

Also supporting Shaheen’s effort are Democratic Sens. Tom Udall of New Mexico, Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Udall of Colorado, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Kay Hagan of North Carolina, aides to the lawmakers said.

“I am asking the administration to extend the open enrollment period by two months, and waive the penalty for the individual mandate for the same period of time, to make up for time that is being lost while the website for the federal exchange is not functioning,” Hagan said Thursday.

All of the Senate Democrats earlier this month joined in rejecting legislation passed by the House to delay for a year the law’s requirement that people buy health insurance as well as the tax subsidies for helping them do it, as a condition for ending the partial government shutdown.

___

Copyright  © 2013 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright  © 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Democrats divided over Syria

Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)

President Barack Obama’s pursuit of a military strike in Syria has put congressional Democrats and party leaders around the country in a tough spot.

They face loud opposition from war-weary constituents at home and are wary of being pulled into another foreign conflict. But they also are confronted with grim images from Syria of gassed children and the pleas of a president from their own political party to consider the consequences of inaction.

Breaking from Democrats’ long history of being the party typically opposed to military conflict, Obama is pushing for a limited military strike in Syria in response to President Bashar Assad‘s alleged use of chemical weapons. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have rallied behind him.

But some liberal and moderate Democrats, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan fresh in their minds, have begun joining dozens of conservative Republicans registering their opposition. And many rank-and-file Democrats are undecided on whether to support a congressional resolution for military action, questioning whether it would turn the tide in a bloody civil war, whether it’s in the U.S. national interest and whether it would prompt Assad to retaliate with more chemical weapons.

“We’ve been to this dance before and we saw what happened in Iraq,” said Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, who says he is leaning against supporting the resolution. “And I have a solemn responsibility to understand what the risks are before I vote to authorize the use of force. What’s the risk to the U.S. and the president’s standing in the world if the Congress votes against the resolution?”

Emerging from a closed-door briefing on Thursday, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, an Iraq war veteran, said she wanted answers about what would happen after a U.S. attack but her own military experience was giving her “great pause” before making a decision.

Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., was resolute in his opposition. “It’s simply not our responsibility,” he said, wearing a tie covered with 1960s peace symbols.

In the Senate, Democrats Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Tom Udall of New Mexico opposed the resolution to authorize a strike when it was up for a committee vote while recently elected Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey, who succeeded Secretary of State John Kerry, voted present. West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, one of the party’s most moderate members, said he would oppose the resolution. More than a dozen Democratic senators are supporting it.

Obama captured the Democratic nomination in 2008 in part because of his opposition to the Iraq war, a position that he used effectively against primary opponent Hillary Rodham Clinton, who as senator voted in October 2002 to authorize the war but then stumbled among anti-war Democratic voters.

Many Democrats in the House first won their seats in the elections of 2006 and 2008, when the party was fueled by voters who blamed President George W. Bush for the enduring conflicts. It is difficult for many of those Democrats to authorize U.S. intervention in a new conflict — even as Obama and Kerry assure them that it will be narrowly focused and not include U.S. ground troops.

“Members are trying to really listen and hear and understand,” said Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., who said he was undecided after emerging from a private briefing on the issue Thursday night. “They don’t want to make the same mistake that was made before.”

The deliberations extend into households. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., who opposed the 2002 Iraq war authorization, is undecided this time but has said a failure to hold Syria accountable for the chemical weapons attack would set a “terrible precedent.”

Schakowsky’s husband, Democratic strategist Robert Creamer, wrote in a Huffington Post column last week that the U.S. needs to punish Assad for the use of chemical weapons.

The Syria vote has generated an intense lobbying effort by the left to pressure Obama to stay out of the civil war.

Liberal activists are planning candlelight vigils across the country on Monday night to urge members of Congress to oppose the resolution, and they suggest those who support military action risk political punishment in the future.

“Everyone who positions themselves as a progressive needs to think very hard about what their vote will mean down the road,” said Anna Galland, executive director of MoveOn.org.

At the same time, a large delegation of members representing the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobbying group with strong ties to congressional Democrats, plans to press lawmakers on Capitol Hill next week to approve the resolution.

The vote could carry implications beyond this year. House Democrats who represent liberal districts might face primary challenges if they support the resolution. The votes could figure prominently in several key Senate races crucial to Democrats’ effort to maintain control of the chamber during Obama’s final two years.

Incumbents in two closely watched races — Sens. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Mark Begich of Alaska — remain undecided. But Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, running for a third term, said in a statement Saturday that “at this time” he can’t support the resolution to intervene in Syria that lawmakers are expected to consider next week.

Among potential 2016 presidential candidates, Clinton said through an aide that she supported Obama’s efforts in Congress. As secretary of state she urged the administration to intervene in Syria, and a speech in Philadelphia on Tuesday could give the former first lady the opportunity to discuss a potential U.S. response. Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley told reporters last week that there was a need for a “clear understanding of what it is exactly this mission would hope to accomplish.”

Wrapping up a trip to Sweden and Russia, Obama will try to make a full-court press next week, addressing the nation on Tuesday while his administration fans out to briefings and meetings with wavering lawmakers.

___

Associated Press writers Alan Fram in Washington and Thomas Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa, contributed to this report.

___

Follow Ken Thomas on Twitter: http://twitter.com/AP_Ken_Thomas
___

Copyright  © 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Copyright  © 2013 Capitol Hill Blue

Enhanced by Zemanta

New Senate compromise on restoring lower college loan rates

The U.S. Capitol is seen in Washington, Sunday night, June 23, 2013.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
The U.S. Capitol is seen in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Senators are ready to offer students a better deal on their college loans this fall, but future classes could see higher interest rates.

The Senate could vote as early as Thursday on a bipartisan compromise that heads off a costly increase for returning students. The compromise could be a good deal for students through the 2015 academic year, but then interest rates are expected to climb above where they were when students left campus this spring.

Under the deal, all undergraduates this fall would borrow at 3.85 percent interest rates. Graduate students would have access to loans at 5.4 percent and parents would be able to borrow at 6.4 percent. Those rates would climb as the economy improves and it becomes more expensive for the government to borrow money.

The deal was described by Republican and Democratic aides who insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the ongoing negotiations by name.

Undergraduates last year borrowed at 3.4 percent or 6.8 percent, depending on their financial need. Graduate students had access to federal loans at 6.8 percent and parents borrowed at 7.9 percent.

The interest rates would be linked to the financial markets, but Democrats won a protection for students that rates would never climb higher than 8.25 percent for undergraduates. Graduate students would not pay rates higher than 9.5 percent and parents’ rates would top out at 10.5 percent.

The bipartisan agreement is expected to be the final in a string of efforts that have emerged from near constant work to undo a rate hike that took hold for subsidized Stafford loans on July 1. Rates for new subsidized Stafford loans doubled from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent, adding roughly $2,600 to students’ education costs.

Lawmakers from both parties called the increase senseless but differed on how to restore the lower rates. Republicans have pushed for a link between interest rates and the financial markets. Obama included that link in his budget proposal, as did House Republicans. Democrats balked, saying it could produce government profits on the backs of borrowers if rates continued to climb.

Leaders from both parties, however, recognized the potential to be blamed for the added costs in the 2014 elections if nothing were done.

Senate aides said a vote on the agreement could come as early as Thursday, although it could be pushed back to the middle of next week.

The House has already passed student loan legislation that also links interest rates to the 10-year Treasury note. The differences between the Senate and House versions are expected to be resolved before students return to campus this fall, and Obama is expected to sign the bill.

Few students had borrowed for fall classes. Students typically do not take out loans until just before they return to campus, and lawmakers have until the August recess to restore the lower rates. The students who had borrowed for summer programs since July 1 would have their rates retroactively reduced.

The deal was estimated to reduce the deficit by $715 million over the next decade.

Lawmakers and their top aides have been tinkering with various proposals — nudging here, trimming there — trying to find a deal that avoids added red ink for students and the government alike.

Democrats and Republicans met with Obama and Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday at the White House. An outline of an agreement seemed to be taking shape Tuesday, with follow-up meetings Wednesday in Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin‘s office yielding a final agreement.

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina were the main negotiators, with Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Durbin filling the role of mediators.

___

Follow Philip Elliott on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/philip_elliott
___

Copyright  © 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Copyright  © 2013 Capitol Hill Blue

Enhanced by Zemanta

Industries unhappy with, critical of Obama’s climate change ideas

President Barack Obama’s push to fight global warming has triggered condemnation from the coal industry across the industrial Midwest, where state and local economies depend on the health of an energy sector facing strict new pollution limits.

But such concerns stretch even to New England, an environmentally focused region that long has felt the effects of drifting emissions from Rust Belt states.

Just ask Gary Long, the president of the Public Service Co. of New Hampshire, the state’s largest electric company.

Long says the president’s plan to impose limits on carbon dioxide emissions suddenly raises questions about the fate of the state’s two coal-fired power plants, electricity rates for millions of customers and the ability to find new energy sources. And he also notes that New England has already invested billions of dollars in cleaner energy, agreed to cap its own carbon pollution and crafted plans to import Canadian hydroelectric power.

“New Hampshire’s always been ahead of the curve,” he says. “Does no good deed go unpunished?”

Long raised those concerns in the days after Obama launched a major second-term drive to combat climate change, bypassing Congress by putting limits for the first time on carbon pollution from new and existing power plants. At the core of his plan are controls on power plants that emit carbon dioxide — heat-trapping gases blamed for global warming.

Obama said the changes would reduce domestic carbon dioxide emissions by 17 percent between 2005 and 2020 and “put an end to the limitless dumping of carbon pollution.” The program also is to boost renewable energy production on federal lands, increase efficiency standards and prepare communities to deal with higher temperatures.

While the specific impact of Obama’s plans varies from region to region, energy industry officials across the nation warn of likely plant closures and electricity rate spikes, illustrating the practical and political challenges Obama faces while balancing the nation’s tepid economic recovery with an issue he says has dire implications for the planet’s future. Republican leaders, many still skeptical of the existence of man-made climate change, have seized on the potential short-term economic impact of what some call the president’s “war on coal” to criticize him and fellow Democrats.

The coal industry has been the most vocal opponent of the plan aside from Republican leaders and coal-state Democrats. Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, described the president’s policies last week as a “war on America.”

But Obama’s move was considered long overdue by environmentalists, a vocal segment of the Democratic Party base frustrated by Obama’s lack of progress on climate change.

“In New Hampshire, we’ve been waiting for this,” said Catherine Corkery, chapter director for the New Hampshire Sierra Club.

She described the industry concerns over plant closures and rates increases as “shortsighted,” predicting that thousands of new jobs focused on green energy development would replace those lost if fossil fuel plants are forced to close.

“Gary Long and those other industry types — and the coal types — might not be psyched about this carbon standard, but everybody else is excited,” Corkery said.

Despite Corkery’s enthusiasm, and beyond the political posturing for 2014 congressional campaigns, there is real concern in small towns from New Hampshire to West Virginia that depend on fossil-fuel production for their economic well-being.

Indeed, 650 miles from New Hampshire’s largest coal plant, employees at the Longview Power Plant in Maidsville, W.Va., fear the president is simply trying to shut down their operation.

“Our jobs are really on the line,” said Joseph Douglass, the environmental manager at the plant. It employs 95 people and has strong ties to local mines, quarries and trucking industries that employ as many as 500 more.

The facility is one of the nation’s newest and cleanest coal-fired power plants, with more than $500 million of its $2 billion price tag dedicated to environmental and air-quality controls.

Douglass said it does appear the administration is waging the “war on coal” that the industry has complained about for several years.

“Everybody wants to live in a clean and healthy environment. Everybody wants industry to do their best,” Douglass said. “We share, I think, more than we disagree about the need for a clean environment. But, you know, we have questions about some of the conclusions that have been reached and the direction that those conclusions are leading us in. Is this really the right thing to do? We’re not sure.”

While West Virginia has more than 20 coal-fired plants, New Hampshire has just two.

With roughly 100 employees, New Hampshire’s biggest coal-fired plant, Merrimack Station, is “in a rough place,” according to Tim Sink, president of the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s just seems like they’re being forced into a place where they may close the plant,” he said.

Asked whether his company may close Merrimack Station, Long said, “That’s an open question.”

“We don’t know the detail yet,” Long continued, wondering aloud whether the state’s natural gas and oil facilities would be affected. “We know that it’s going to lead to a lot of litigation and uncertainty.”

Energy officials may be the most vocal critics of the president’s push to crack down on global warming, but strong majorities of Americans polled say global warming is a problem.

An AP-GfK poll conducted last November found that 78 percent of Americans — including 70 percent of Republicans — believe the world’s temperature has been rising over the last 100 years. If nothing is done to reduce global warming in the future, it will become a serious problem for the United States, said 80 percent of Americans — and 61 percent of Republicans.

About 97 percent of climate scientists around the world who study and publish on the issue agree the world is warming, it is caused by the burning of fossil fuels, and it is a major environmental problem.

But there is substantial disagreement among Americans over whether government should take action to combat global warming. Just 33 percent of Republicans said the government should do quite a bit or a great deal about global warming, compared with 58 percent of independents and 75 percent of Democrats. And 41 percent of Republicans say that if the U.S. took action to reduce global warming, it would hurt the economy, compared with 29 percent of independents and 12 percent of Democrats.

Inside Robie’s Country Store, a few miles away from New Hampshire’s Merrimack Station, local teacher and carpenter David Erikson said the environmental threat presented by global warming should supersede short-term economic concerns.

“We’re going to have to do something,” said Erikson, 59, of nearby Weare, N.H., “or we’re doomed.”

___

Associated Press writer Vicki Smith in West Virginia and AP Science Writer Seth Borenstein and Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta in Washington contributed to this report.

___

Copyright  © 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Copyright  © 2013 Capitol Hill Blue

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

Gun control advocates struggle to keep focus on issue

Senate Armed Services Committee member Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., speaks at a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. Gun control forces are targeting Sens. Ayotte, Max Baucus and others as they struggle to persuade five senators to switch their votes and revive the rejected effort to expand background checks to more firearms buyers. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
Senate Armed Services Committee member Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., speaks at a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. Gun control forces are targeting Sens. Ayotte, Max Baucus and others as they struggle to persuade five senators to switch their votes and revive the rejected effort to expand background checks to more firearms buyers. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Gun control forces are targeting Sens. Kelly Ayotte, Max Baucus and others as they struggle to persuade five senators to switch their votes and revive the rejected effort to expand background checks to more firearms buyers.

With Congress back from a weeklong recess, the bottom line remains familiar: Advocates of broadened checks lack the new votes they need and Congress has moved onto other issues. A few lawmakers who opposed expanding the checks when the Senate defeated the measure last month say they’d consider changes the sponsors might offer but haven’t committed to backing anything, while others show no signs of switching.

“I stand by my vote,” one prime target, Ayotte, R-N.H., said Monday.

A new vote seems unlikely until at least early summer.

As time passes since the December slayings of 20 first-graders and six educators at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school, supporters of firearms restrictions say they won’t let public and congressional fervor fade, as it has after previous mass shootings. They’re launching fresh activities, such as a “Mother’s Day Week of Action” by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and other groups, aimed at convincing lawmakers that continued opposition would be politically perilous.

“We have all the time in the world, except that 33 more Americans are being murdered every day,” said Mark Glaze, director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, citing the approximate average of daily gun homicides. Led by wealthy New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the gun control group unveiled a new TV ad Monday aimed at Ayotte, and Glaze said the group will hold events in targeted states “every time senators are home on vacation.”

Others say the passage of time is no help to supporters of firearms restrictions.

“If they don’t get something now, when are they going to win?” said Harry Wilson, a political science professor at Roanoke College in Salem, Va., who has written a book on gun control politics. “The further away you get from the event, every day your chances diminish a little.”

Lawmakers who voted “no” but whom gun control advocates hope to change include Ayotte and Baucus, D-Mont., plus Sens. Mark Begich, D-Alaska; Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.; Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D.; Dean Heller, R-Nev.; Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska; and Mark Pryor, D-Ark.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told the Las Vegas Review-Journal last week that a chief sponsor of the background check expansion, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., “thinks he has a couple more votes.”

Manchin said Monday that “nothing’s changed,” though he said he has had “some real good discussions.” The other chief author, Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., said he talked to other senators during the recess but added, “I can’t say that I did” win over any of them.

No. 2 Senate Democratic leader Richard Durbin of Illinois said Sunday on CNN that it would be “quite a task” to find five votes, but said, “We can do this.”

Gun control supporters must persuade at least five senators who’ve already voted no to vote yes — never an easy task. That could require building a public outcry that convinces senators their constituents think they voted the wrong way, then revamping the bill so senators can say they forced changes they can now support.

Tactics being used include:

— TV ads last week by the liberal Progressive Change Campaign Committee targeting Baucus, in which a Montana grandmother and home invasion victim says, “We’re less safe with guns in the wrong hands.”

— Gun victims’ relatives invited senators to dinner in their homes to see the empty seat once occupied by the slain family member. Sandy Phillips, 63, of San Antonio, whose daughter was killed in the 2012 mass shooting in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater, said she met in a restaurant with conservative Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, but failed to persuade him to support expanded checks.

— The Brady campaign and other groups were using the approach of Mother’s Day this Sunday to urge mothers and others to contact lawmakers using social media, letters to the editor and phone calls to legislators’ offices.

— Vice President Joe Biden was meeting with members of religious organizations that favor gun control, following a strategy session last week with law enforcement groups.

The National Rifle Association used its annual convention in Houston this weekend to urge supporters to “regain the political high ground” by focusing on next year’s congressional elections. New NRA President James Porter told the gathering, “We do that and (President Barack) Obama can be stopped.”

Pryor said Monday that if sponsors change the bill he’ll “look at whatever,” but said he’s received “lots of positive feedback” from voters and said a Republican alternative he supported that stressed stronger enforcement of current laws was better.

In an interview last week, Flake said the rejected bill’s definition of commercial sales was too broad, saying it could cover someone who uses email to sell firearms to a friend.

Asked whether he could support a measure with a narrower definition of commercial sales, he said he wanted to strengthen the law’s mental health restrictions. “I’ll look at it, I’ll work with the sponsors to try to get something where we can strengthen background checks without infringing on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens,” Flake said.

Gun control groups have targeted Flake because fellow Arizona GOP Sen. John McCain backed the legislation and because Arizona is the home state of wounded former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, now an active gun control advocate.

Ayotte, whose “no” vote dashed gun control forces’ hopes, has been a focal point of their pressure. The mayors’ group planned to air a TV ad this week accusing her of having “gone Washington” by opposing the background check expansion, despite the proposal’s backing by huge majorities in public opinion polls.

She gained national attention when she was confronted at a town hall meeting last week and asked to explain her vote against the background check measure by Erica Lafferty, daughter of Dawn Hochsprung, the slain principal of Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School.

The defeated legislation would require background checks for advertised sales, including at gun shows and on the Internet. Non-commercial transactions like those between people who know each other would be exempt.

Background checks, designed to keep criminals and the mentally ill from getting firearms, currently apply only to sales through licensed gun dealers.

___

Associated Press writer Andrew Miga contributed to this report.
___

Copyright  © 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Copyright  © 2013 Capitol Hill Blue

Enhanced by Zemanta