Business and GOP: ‘Bye, bye’ to tea party troublemakers

A slice of corporate America thinks tea partyers have overstayed their welcome in Washington and should be shown the door in next year’s congressional elections.

Right-wing Repubiican Rep.  FILE - In this Nov. 7, 2012 file photo, then-Michigan Republican House candidate Kerry Bentivolio (AP/Paul Sancya)
Right-wing Republican Rep.Kerry Bentivolio (AP/Paul Sancya)

In Michigan, longtime businessmen Brian Ellis and David Trott are challenging hardline conservative Reps. Justin Amash and Kerry Bentivolio in Republican primaries. This comes after three years of frustration over GOP insurgents roughing up the business community’s agenda. That all came to a head with the 16-day partial government shutdown and the threat of a national financial default.

The Michigan races are a turnabout after several years of widely heralded contests in which right-flank candidates have tried to unseat Republican incumbents they perceive as not being conservative enough.


Copyright  © 2013 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright  © 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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The tea party: A dangerous organization controlled by haters of America

The fire from within that threats to consume America.
The fire from within that threatens to consume America.

The dust still hasn’t settled from the debacle that kept the government closed for 16 days and drove the nation to the brink of financial default, but those responsible for the bulk of the national disgrace are promising harsh political retribution to anyone who actually came to their senses and voted to end the madness.

Various tea party-related organizations, all part of a dangerous cabal that threatens the security and future of the nation, say they will punish any and all such Republicans by putting up primary challenges in 2014.

Sen. Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican, clings to his inane belief that his actions are a “service to the people,” and vows his campaign of reckless rhetoric and nonsensical flamboyance, will continue.

Good.  The more these groups carry on like shrill harpies the more it should piss off a too-long-dormant mass majority of voters who have had it with the wackiness of the rabid right and their headlong march into anti-American madness.

It’s time to publicly declare the tea party and the fanatical freaks who follow what they are: A dangerous, fringe group who answer not to the grassroots as they falsely claim, but to a couple of self-serving, power-mad billionaire brothers who have no interest in helping the majority of the nation or serving freedom or patriotism.

Charles and David Koch are loyal only to themselves and not the nation and should be treated as anti-American fanatics.  Those who follow such madmen are no better.  FreedomWorks and other aligned organizations should head the list of subversive organizations maintained by the government.

These groups came dangerously close to destroying America in the last two weeks.  They are, in our view, enemies of the state should be treated as such.

The deal that brought the shutdown to an end and averted a financial default at the last minute came because enough Republicans told the wackos that have controlled their party for too long to go to hell and crossed over to vote with Democrats.

That brought the current crisis to an end — for now.  But it all will be repeated right after the first of the year unless Republicans — and those who vote for them — tell the lunatic fringe to go screw themselves and return to doing what they were put into office to accomplish in the first place — serve America and not the America-hating rabid right cabal that threatens the future of this country.

America is burning and the fire that threatens to consume all that this nation stands for was set from within by phonies who claim to be patriots but who are — in reality — anti-American fanatics who pose a real and present danger to the nation whey falsely claim to serve.

If this over-the-top?  Damn right it is, but when dealing with hyperbolic fanatics one must resort to the tenor of those under scrutiny.  Gives them a taste of their own medicine.

However, this is America where even haters of this nation can exist and express their opinions.  We may not care much for the tea party but they have a right to exist in a free country.  In American, fools can both survive and thrive.


Copyright  © 2013 Capitol Hill Blue

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Boehner, other GOP House leaders, will vote for deal

Speaker of the House John Boehner (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)
Speaker of the House John Boehner (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

Speaker John Boehner and other top House Republican leaders intend to vote for the bipartisan agreement worked out in the Senate to avoid a financial default and reopen the government.

Officials said Wednesday that the leaders made their intentions clear at a closed-door meeting of rank and file Republicans.

Boehner in a statement said the House, quote, “fought with everything” it had to persuade President Barack Obama to engage in bipartisan negotiations on the country’s debt and the 3-year-old health care law. He vowed that the fight will continue.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the internal deliberations.


Copyright  © 2013 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright  © 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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Scott Brown looks back over first year in Senate

In this Jan. 11, 2011 photo, Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown answers a question during an Associated Press interview at his office in Boston. (AP Photo/Josh Reynolds)

Scott Brown ran for the Senate vowing to rein in government spending and cut the federal budget deficit. A year later, he is open to increasing the national debt limit so the government can both spend and borrow more.

The clash between his campaign rhetoric and voting record underscores the theme of the Republican’s first year replacing a liberal icon, the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.

To the frequent surprise of Democrats, and often the chagrin of conservatives and tea party activists, Brown has largely kept his pledge to be a bipartisan legislator. He has voted bills up or down on the merits, if not with one eye on his 2012 re-election campaign.

Last month he voted for President Barack Obama‘s tax compromise, even though its tax-cut extension and unemployment benefits will add nearly $1 trillion to the deficit. And he could vote soon to raise the debt ceiling from $14.3 trillion.

“Part of it is compromise,” Brown told The Associated Press this week as he sat in Kennedy’s former district office, perched atop the John F. Kennedy Federal Building. “You need to make sure that you move the country forward.”

Such pragmatism has won Brown the largest segment of accolades since he, his barn jacket and his green pickup truck burst into the national consciousness in January last year.

Despite being the lowest-ranking member of the state Senate’s minority party, he upset a veteran Democrat, Attorney General Martha Coakley, in a historically Democratic state. The victory gave Republicans the 41st Senate vote they needed to block Democratic initiatives — including, at the time, Obama’s health care overhaul.

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, a staunch Democrat, recently labeled Brown unbeatable for re-election. Gov. Deval Patrick, the state’s most prominent Democrat, has already ruled out a 2012 challenge, as has Vicki Kennedy, the senator’s widow.

Yet Brown’s votes also spark charges of political expediency; he ping-ponged between yes and no on major issues during the year.

“I really have a feeling that he’s voting very consciously strategically, trying to think his way through how people are going to evaluate his voting record as a document, as opposed to voting how he believes,” said John Walsh, chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party.

Potential challengers include Rep. Edward J. Markey, dean of the Massachusetts congressional delegation; Mayors Setti Warren of Newton and Kim Driscoll of Salem; former mutual fund executive Robert Pozen, and; Alan Khazei, who founded the City Year youth program and ran unsuccessfully in the Democratic primary to replace Kennedy.

A likely target is the $140,000 spike in Brown’s fundraising from the financial services sector last summer as he weighed his vote on a Wall Street regulatory bill. He voted yes after winning inclusion of a provision eliminating $19 billion in industry fees.

While Democrats are still smarting from being caught off guard by his 5-point win over Coakley, they bounced back in the midterm elections and are buoyed by the prospect of heavier party turnout in 2012 because of the presidential election.

Brown disputes Walsh’s criticism of his voting record, noting he also crossed party lines as a state lawmaker. He said he weighs bills on five criteria: tax, deficit, and state and national impact, as well as job-creation ability.

“I read the bills, I make sure that they hit those five parameters, and then try to find a way to either make it better or not to push it forward,” Brown said.

The explanation doesn’t fly with some supporters. Dan Wheeler, whose National Republican Trust political action committee spent $96,000 on ads supporting Brown last January, now wants Brown defeated after he sided with Obama last month and voted for the New START treaty with Russia.

“We didn’t expect Scott Brown to vote to stop abortion, but this is one of the few things he could have voted against to help the country, without causing him political harm back home,” Wheeler said.

Brown once famously posed nude for Cosmopolitan magazine, and he has no shortage of confidence or ego today. The 51-year-old freshman senator speaks bluntly about how he perceives his impact on the country’s political system and discourse.

“I’ve been very, very pleased with the way I’ve been able to help move Congress forward and get them working on issues affecting our economy,” Brown told the AP when asked to reflect on his first year.

“Before I got there, I know they weren’t, in fact, talking and working,” the senator added. “But the fact that I got there and being the 41st senator (to uphold a GOP filibuster), it forced them to talk at times. And other times, I was the 60th senator (to block a filibuster), so we were able to stop talking and just begin voting.”

Brown also is about to release a biography, “Against All Odds: A Life From Hardship to Hope.” The story details his upbringing, including his parents’ four marriages and a beating by a stepfather, as well as other negative personal experiences Brown refused to discuss because of a nondisclosure agreement with his publisher.

The book will be promoted with a national tour and a “60 Minutes” segment rooted in three upcoming interviews.

“I actually thought it was important to get it out before somebody else wrote something,” Brown said. “I’ve heard rumblings that there are other books and other things being written, so I wanted to make sure that it was done firsthand, and with nobody taking any liberties that weren’t appropriate.”

Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press

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Census will show growth slowing, GOP gaining

Graphic shows poverty rate and median household income, by county

Republican-leaning states will gain at least a half dozen House seats thanks to the 2010 census, which found the nation’s population growing more slowly than in past decades but still shifting to the South and West.

The Census Bureau announced Tuesday that the nation’s population on April 1 was 308,745,538, up from 281.4 million a decade ago. The growth rate for the past decade was 9.7 percent, the lowest since the Great Depression. The nation’s population grew by 13.2 percent from 1990 to 2000.

Michigan was the only state to lose population during the past decade. Nevada, with a 35 percent increase, was the fastest-growing state.

The new numbers are a boon for Republicans, with Texas leading the way among GOP-leaning states that will gain House seats, mostly at the Rust Belt’s expense. Following each once-a-decade census, the nation must reapportion the House’s 435 districts to make them roughly equal in population, with each state getting at least one seat.

That triggers an often contentious and partisan process in many states, which will draw new congressional district lines that can help or hurt either party.

In all, the census figures show a shift affecting 18 states taking effect when the 113th Congress takes office in 2013.

Texas will gain four new House seats, and Florida will gain two. Gaining one each are Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina, Utah and Washington.

Ohio and New York will lose two House seats each. Losing one House seat are Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Florida will now have as many U.S. House members as New York: 27. California will still have 53 seats, and Texas will climb to 36.

In 2008, President Barack Obama lost in Texas and most of the other states that are gaining House seats. He carried most of the states that are losing House seats, including Ohio and New York.

Each House district represents an electoral vote in the presidential election process, meaning the political map for the 2012 election will tilt somewhat more Republican.

If Obama were to carry the same states he won in 2008, they would net him six fewer electoral votes under the new map. Some states Obama won, such as Florida, tilted Republican in last month’s election and the electoral votes they will gain could further help GOP candidates in 2012.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said he did not expect the census results to have a “huge practical impact” on national politics.

For the first time in its history, Democratic-leaning California will not gain a House seat after a census.

Since 1940, 79 House seats have shifted to the South and West, mainly from the Northeast and Midwest, census officials said.

Starting early next year, most state governments will use detailed, computer-generated data on voting patterns to carve neighborhoods in or out of newly drawn House districts, tilting them more to the left or right. Sometimes politicians play it safe, quietly agreeing to protect Republican and Democratic incumbents alike. But sometimes the party in control will gamble and aggressively try to reconfigure the map to dump as many opponents as possible.

Last month’s elections put Republicans in full control of numerous state governments, giving the GOP an overall edge in the redistricting process. State governments’ ability to gerrymander districts is somewhat limited, however, by court rulings that require roughly equal populations, among other things. The 1965 Voting Rights Act protects ethnic minorities in several states that are subject to U.S. Justice Department oversight.

The average population of a new U.S. House district will be 710,767. But each state must have at least one district. So Wyoming, the least populous state with 563,626 residents, will have a representative with considerably fewer constituents. Six other states will have one House member. Each state has two U.S. senators, regardless of population.

The U.S. is still growing quickly relative to other developed nations. The population in France and England each increased roughly 5 percent over the past decade, while in Japan the number is largely unchanged, and Germany’s population is declining. China grew at about 6 percent; Canada’s growth rate is roughly 10 percent.

The South had the fastest growth since 2000, at 14.3 percent, the Census Bureau said. The West was close behind at 13.8 percent. The Northeast had 3.2 percent growth while the Midwest had 3.9 percent.

The declining U.S. growth rate since 2000 is due partly to the economic meltdown in 2008, which brought U.S. births and illegal immigration to a near standstill compared with previous years. The 2010 count represents the number of people — citizens as well as legal and illegal immigrants — who called the U.S. their home on April 1.

States losing political clout may have little recourse to challenge the census numbers. Still, census officials were bracing for the possibility of lawsuits seeking to revise the 2010 findings.

North Carolina just missed picking up the last House seat, falling short by roughly 15,000 people.

The release of state apportionment numbers is the first set of numbers from the 2010 census. Beginning in February, the Census Bureau will release population and race breakdowns down to the neighborhood level for states to redraw congressional boundaries.

Louisiana, Virginia, New Jersey and Mississippi will be among the first states to receive their redistricting data in February.

The 2010 census results also are used to distribute more than $400 billion in annual federal aid and will change each state’s Electoral College votes beginning in the 2012 presidential election.



Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press

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The fix is in and headed to Obama for signature

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., heads into a Democratic Caucus on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 16, 2010. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass. is at left, Rep. Bob Etheridge, D-N.C. is at center. (AP Photo/Harry Hamburg)

A massive bipartisan tax package preventing a big New Year’s Day tax hike for millions of Americans is on its way to President Barack Obama for his signature Friday.

The measure would extend tax cuts for families at every income level, renew jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed and enact a new one-year cut in Social Security taxes that would benefit nearly every worker who earns a wage.

The president is expected to sign the bill Friday afternoon.

In a remarkable show of bipartisanship, the House gave final approval to the measure just before midnight Thursday, overcoming an attempt by rebellious Democrats who wanted to impose a higher estate tax than the one Obama agreed to. The vote was 277-148, with each party contributing an almost identical number of votes in favor (the Democrats, 139 and the Republicans, 138).

In a rare reach across party lines, Obama negotiated the $858 billion package with Senate Republicans. The White House then spent the past 10 days persuading congressional Democrats to go along, providing a possible blueprint for the next two years, when Republicans will control the House and hold more seats in the Senate.

“There probably is nobody on this floor who likes this bill,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md. “The judgment is, is it better than doing nothing? Some of the business groups believe it will help. I hope they’re right.”

Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., said that with unemployment hovering just under 10 percent and the deadline for avoiding a big tax hike fast approaching, lawmakers had little choice but to support the bill.

“This is just no time to be playing games with our economy,” said Camp, who will become chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee in January. “The failure to block these tax increases would be a direct hit to families and small businesses.”

Sweeping tax cuts enacted when George W. Bush was president are scheduled to expire Jan. 1 — a little more than two weeks away. The bill extends them for two years, placing the issue squarely in the middle of the next presidential election, in 2012.

The extended tax cuts include lower rates for the rich, the middle class and the working poor, a $1,000-per-child tax credit, tax breaks for college students and lower taxes on capital gains and dividends. The bill also extends through 2011, a series of business tax breaks designed to encourage investment that expired at the end of 2009.

Workers’ Social Security taxes would be cut by nearly a third, going from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent, for 2011. A worker making $50,000 in wages would save $1,000; one making $100,000 would save $2,000.

“This legislation is good for growth, good for jobs, good for working and middle class families, and good for businesses looking to invest and expand their work force,” said Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

Some Democrats complained that the package is too generous to the wealthy; Republicans complained that it doesn’t make all the tax cuts permanent.

Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Fla., called it “a bipartisan moment of clarity.”

The bill’s cost, $858 billion, would be added to the deficit, a sore spot among budget hawks in both parties.

“I know that we are going to borrow every nickel in this bill,” Hoyer lamented.

An opponent of the legislation, Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., said Obama and lawmakers will face enormous election-year pressure in 2012 to extend the cuts again or make them permanent. Weiner said the Republicans turned out to be “better poker players” than Obama.

At the insistence of Republicans, the plan includes an estate tax that would allow the first $10 million of a couple’s estate to pass to heirs without taxation. The balance would be subject to a 35 percent tax rate.

Many House Democrats wanted a higher estate tax, one that would allow couples to pass only $7 million tax-free, taxing anything above that amount at a 45 percent rate. They argued that the higher estate tax would affect only 6,600 of the wealthiest estates in 2011 and would save $23 billion over two years.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called the estate tax the “most egregious provision” in the bill and held a vote that would have imposed the higher estate tax. It failed, 194-233.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said he thought the White House could have gotten a better deal.

“When I talk to the Republicans they are giddy about this bill,” he said.

Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press

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Doug Thompson: Taking America back

Just waiting to take back America

It’s a familiar refrain heard often during the midterm election and uttered several times during most campaign speeches.

“It’s time,” the refrain goes, “for us to take back America.:

Stirring words to be sure. It has a suggestion of revolution sprinkled with just enough populism to ensure sound bites on the evening news.

But the refrain, for all its curb appeal, ignores a few tempering realities:

  • Did we, as Americans, ever really have a country to “take back,’ or;
  • Assuming we can take it back, what will we have when he take possession?

    Consider the realities of the myths of American creation.

    We base our rampant patriotism on the stated belief that “all men are created equal.”

    At the time, the Founder Fathers (and note that there was not a single “Founding Mother”) considered free men to be white, land-owning men of means.

    Women had no place in the newly-produced America. They couldn’t vote or attend anything more than a finishing school  to they could at least act like demure lady while laying flat on their back while “servicing” them.

    Which lead Oscar Wilde to once describe the perfect wife as a “lady in public, a slave at home and a whore in bed.”

    Of course we evolved over the years. Women got the vote, went to school, got out of the kitchen and even became governor of Alaska. Blacks won their freedom – through one of the bloodiest wars in history — also won the right to vote, took over the NBA and NFL and even became President.

    We’ve come so far and now we’re ready to “take back our government.”

    But who is it out there standing at the gates, ready to seize the reins and ride the horse called America into the future?

    Is it the GOP, with its homophobic, 18th-century agenda and stereotyped view that all black women are baby making machines who want only to produce more recipients of welfare checks?

    Or it is the Democrats who see government as the grand caretaker of us all — protectors from cradle to the grave — no matter what the cost?

    Or maybe it’s the faux patriotism-spouting Tea Party nation, talking about fencing in the nation, night sticking the colored folk and practicing their Second Amendment Rights on anyone who doesn’t look or talk like them just as soon as they can locate that legally-concealed weapon buried beneath all that beer belly fat?

    Yep. They’re all out there waiting to take America back.

    God help America…and us all.

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    Pelosi’s mission: Sabotage Obama deals with GOP

    House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: No longer a friend of her President (AP)

    Hers was the face on the grainy negative TV ads that helped defeat scores of Democrats. His agenda, re-election chances and legacy are on the line. Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, chosen after a messy family feud among Democrats to remain as their leader in the new Congress, and President Barack Obama share a keen interest in repairing their injured party after this month’s staggering losses.

    But Pelosi’s mandate is diverging from the president’s at a critical time, with potentially damaging consequences for Obama’s ability to cut deals with Republicans in the new Congress.

    Their partnership is strained after an election in which Pelosi and many Democrats feel the White House failed them by muddling the party’s message and being too slow to provide cover for incumbents who cast tough votes for Obama’s marquee initiatives.

    Pelosi will lead Democrats “in pulling on the president’s shirttails to make sure that he doesn’t move from center-right to far-right,” said Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., a co-chair of the liberal Progressive Caucus in the House. “We think if he’d done less compromising in the last two years, there’s a good chance we’d have had a jobs bill that would have created real jobs, and then we wouldn’t even be worrying about having lost elections.”

    Behind Democrats’ decision to keep Pelosi as their leader after historic losses lies intense concern among liberals who dominate the party’s ranks on Capitol Hill: They fear Obama will go too far in accommodating the GOP in the new era of divided government, and they see Pelosi as a counterweight.

    She’s played that role before. When Democrats panicked after losing their Senate supermajority last winter, Pelosi rebuffed feelers by then-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and others to settle for a smaller health care bill. She derided the approach as “kiddie care” and pushed forward with the sweeping overhaul she painstakingly steered through the House by a razor-thin margin.

    A more recent example is Pelosi’s stated refusal to consider extending Bush-era income tax cuts for the highest brackets past their January expiration. Obama’s aides recently signaled he might be open to doing so temporarily if that were the only way of preserving the tax cuts for the middle class — a bargain the president had steadfastly resisted before the election.

    Such a deal wouldn’t be acceptable to her or House Democrats, Pelosi told the president last week.

    Pelosi “can provide that balance with the White House,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md. House Democrats “want to make sure that they’ve got somebody at the table with the president, looking him eye-to-eye and saying basically, ‘You’ve got some people who have been very, very loyal to you — not just progressives but moderates, too — and they truly believe that that’s not the right thing to do.’ ”

    The White House says Obama and Pelosi have uniform goals and a proven track record of working together, and insists they’re on the same page on important issues, particularly preserving the health care and financial regulation laws enacted this year against Republicans’ promised attempts to roll them back.

    “The president and Speaker Pelosi have enjoyed a remarkably productive working relationship over the last two years, and he looks forward to continuing to work with her on an agenda to strengthen the economy, create jobs and move America forward,” said Josh Earnest, a White House spokesman.

    The president isn’t going to be in a position during the next two years to work exclusively with either Democrats or Republicans, his aides argue. His challenge will be determining — with input from Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, among others — what concessions he needs from the GOP to forge a good compromise, the aides say.

    People close to Pelosi say she trusts the president — perhaps moreso than some of her allies in Congress do — to defend core Democratic principles in his dealings with the GOP.

    Some Democrats argue that Pelosi’s liberal streak might help the president in that context — a bad cop to Obama’s good cop.

    “In his negotiations with the Republicans, (Obama) needs to be able to say, ‘Look, you say you’re not going to compromise, but I’ve got Nancy Pelosi over here who is very passionate about these issues, and I have to listen to what she’s saying,'” Cummings said.

    It’s not likely to be a tidy process.

    A band of centrist Democrats who last week failed to oust Pelosi in favor of a fresh, more moderate face for the party is ready to side with Republicans on key issues next year. They say they’re eager to work with Obama and the GOP on middle-of-the-road initiatives that are unlikely to be embraced by Pelosi or her liberal allies.

    “I’d like to think there’s an opportunity to do that,” said Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, a leader of the conservative “Blue Dog” Democrats.

    The coalition, comprised mostly of Southerners who were once known as “Yellow Dog” Democrats, was born after the Republican takeover of 1994, when it was said they felt “choked blue” by their colleagues on the left.

    In those days, Matheson noted, they worked with then-President Bill Clinton on welfare reform and balancing the budget — things that enraged liberals and led to angry accusations that the president was betraying his own party. Welfare is “an example of being honest brokers, working together to get things done, and that’s what Blue Dogs want to do.”

    It’s not what Pelosi or many other Democrats have in mind.

    Rep. Brian Higgins, D-N.Y., said Democrats learned from the last two years and their shellacking at the polls that “we need to be more aggressive with the White House. They were looking for what was acceptable and then moving toward that, instead of what was important, and moving toward that,” Higgins said. “We need to be true to our principles.”

    Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press

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    Jon Kyl, others ignored Senate ban on earmarks

    Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl: Ban? I don't need no stinkin' ban (AP)

    Senate Republicans’ ban on earmarks — money included in a bill by a lawmaker to benefit a home-state project or interest — was short-lived.

    Only three days after GOP senators and senators-elect renounced earmarks, Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl, the No. 2 Senate Republican, got himself a whopping $200 million to settle an Arizona Indian tribe’s water rights claim against the government.

    Kyl slipped the measure into a larger bill sought by President Barack Obama and passed by the Senate on Friday to settle claims by black farmers and American Indians against the federal government. Kyl’s office insists the measure is not an earmark, and the House didn’t deem it one when it considered a version earlier this year.

    But it meets the know-it-when-you-see-it test, critics say. Under Senate rules, an earmark is a spending item inserted “primarily at the request of a senator” that goes “to an entity, or (is) targeted to a specific state.”

    Earmarking allows lawmakers to steer federal spending to pet projects in their states and districts. Earmarks take many forms, including road projects, improvements to home district military bases, sewer projects, economic development projects. A key trait is that they are projects that haven’t been sought by the administration in power.

    The money for the 15,000-member White Mountain Apache Tribe was one of four tribal water rights claims totaling almost $570 million that was added to the $5 billion-plus bill. Black farmers will get about $1.2 billion to settle claims that the Agriculture Department’s local offices discriminated against them in awarding loans and other aid. Another $3.4 billion goes to American Indians who say the Interior Department swindled them out of oil, gas and other royalties.

    The House still has to act on the total package, and likely will after Congress reconvenes Nov. 29 for the continuation of a postelection, lame duck session.

    Sens. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., also got in on the bargain, adding measures benefiting their states to the black farmers-tribal royalty settlements. The two senators obtained almost $370 million for projects in their states to implement water settlements.

    Baucus and Bingaman make no bones about their support for earmarks, but Kyl is a recent convert to the anti-earmark crusade of home state GOP colleague Sen. John McCain, who’s railed against them for years. The Interior Department sought only $56 million for Indian land and water claims in Obama’s proposed budget for this year and no money for Kyl’s project, or those wanted by Baucus and Bingaman.

    The $200 million in Kyl’s measure would be used to construct and maintain a drinking water project on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation, including a dam, reservoir, treatment plant and delivery pipelines.

    The water system is settlement compensation for numerous abuses by the federal government, which included clearing trees and other vegetation from thousands of acres of tribal lands in order to increase runoff into the Salt River, a source of water for the cities of Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tempe, Mesa and other communities. The tribe also would waive a half-dozen other claims against the government.

    A top Democrat scornfully pointed out that the project is going to a state whose GOP lawmakers claim to oppose earmarks.

    “I do know an earmark when I see it. And this, my friends, is an earmark,” Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said in a prepared floor statement. He said Kyl’s project would help the White Mountain Apaches “make snow at their ski resort, improve water flow to their casino and build fish hatcheries to improve local fish production.”

    Those projects don’t appear to be directly funded by the bill, though the measure’s wording is confusing.

    There’s no question, however, that the measure is vitally important to Arizona, where water is a scarce and precious resource.

    “It addresses a fundamental need on the White Mountain Apache Reservation and provides certainty to the tribe, to Phoenix and to other water users” in the area, Michael Conner, commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, said in an interview.

    Conner is a former top aide to Bingaman, who obtained $148 million to implement water rights claims of the Taos Pueblo, along with those of several other New Mexico tribes.

    Kyl’s office declined a request for an interview with the senator.

    The costs of the water claims settlements will be offset by cuts to other government programs, including $562 million in overbudgeted 2010 funding for the federal nutrition program for women, infants and children. Either way, the government is on the hook to settle the water claims or risk larger losses in court.

    “You have to do these water settlements or allow the courts to simply award damages,” said Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., perhaps the most anti-earmark member of Congress. “An earmark is something when an individual gets a goodie for their district outside of the regular legislative process.”

    Typically, Congress “authorizes” big water projects in policy-setting bills that promise funding in future legislation. Kyl’s measure started out that way but it morphed behind closed doors into a bill that actually provides the money.

    The bill, passed unanimously on a voice vote Friday after most senators had left Washington for the week, vaults his, Baucus’ and Bingaman’s projects to the front of the line instead of having to compete with other projects for limited Interior Department funds.

    Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press

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