Senate

MT Senate: Baucus nomination could help Democrats keep seat

John Walsh

The appointment of Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) to serve as the next ambassador to China has many observers scratching their heads. But beneath the surface of the peculiar nomination, there may have been political and electoral implications under consideration.

Baucus had already declared that he wouldn’t run for re-election in 2014, creating an opportunity for Republicans to gain a seat in the Senate. In fact, most political prognosticators have favored the GOP to win the open seat, which is a must-win if they expect to take control of the chamber.

But when Baucus resigns from his seat after he’s confirmed to the diplomatic post, Gov. Steve Bullock (D-MT) will be able to appoint his replacement, but it appears that he won’t appoint a placeholder.

The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that Bullock will appoint Lt. Gov. John Walsh (D-MT), who is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s favored candidate and believed to be Democrats’ best hope to keep the seat. Walsh is likely to face Rep. Steve Daines (R-MT) in the general election.

Nathan Gonzalez of The Rothenberg Political Report noted that motivation “could be an effort by Democrats to give Walsh a leg up in the primary and general elections as a sitting senator, thereby giving him an opportunity to cultivate an independent image and raise his profile.”

Ted Cruz releases dramatic video, launches money bomb for 2014

"Ring in the 2014 Liberty Bell" money bomb

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) may not be on the ballot next year, but he certainly will be involved in next year’s mid-term election.

The Ted Cruz Victory Committee, a joint fundraising arm of his campaign and PAC, have released a new video, “Carrying on the Fight in 2014,” that features a mashup of audio clips from some of his speeches along with attention-grabbing imagery and dramatic music. The release of the video coincides with Cruz’s “Ring in the 2014 Liberty Bell” money bomb.

“These are not typical times. The challenges facing this country are unlike any we have ever seen. You look at our Constitution, you look at our Bill of Rights,” says Cruz in the video, a clip from his speech at the Values Voter Summit. “This is an administration that seems bound and determined to violate every single one our Bill of Rights.”

Senate likely to push through Ryan-Murray budget deal

There were some news reports over the weekend featuring which suggested that there were not the votes in the Senate to pass the budget deal reached between Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA). But The New York Times reported yesterday that enough Republicans will vote to advance deal past a procedural hurdle, setting the stage for final passage (emphasis added):

Support for a compromise two-year budget deal grew on Monday ahead of a Tuesday vote in the Senate as Republicans concluded that a measure that achieved overwhelming bipartisan support in the House could not die in Congress’s upper chamber.

Obamacare disaster, party infighting create hurdles for Democrats

The last couple of months has been a complete public relations disaster for the White House and congressional Democrats. Poll after poll shows that President Barack Obama’s approval rating has plummeted and Democrats that are now at a disadvantage in the congressional ballot, largely as a result of the botched Obamacare rollout and furor over insurance cancellations caused by the law.

Despite this, DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) continues to insist that Democratic candidates will not just run on Obamacare but use it “as an advantage” in the 2014 mid-term election, even though the law’s numbers are at an all-time low.

Sure thing, Baghdad Bob.

Millennials, who are increasingly skeptical of President Obama, still aren’t buying into the law. According to a recent poll by National Journal, young Americans, who are desparently needed to make the math behind the law work, expect that Obamacare will be repealed.

Budget deadline approaches, some sequester cuts could be nixed

There is a lot going on surrounding the budget as Congress approaches the December 13 deadline for lead negotiators — Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), chairs of their respective budget committees — to reach an agreement, per the October deal that ended the government shutdown.

Republicans in Congress are, generally, ready to deal on the budget, one way or another, after the hit in the polls they took in October. But discussions current taking place between Ryan and Murray would undo tens of billions in sequester cuts, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal:

Lawmakers must still overcome significant obstacles, including last-minute pressure from Democrats seeking a renewal of expanded federal unemployment benefits and labor unions opposed to proposed cuts in federal employees’ pensions.

Still, officials close to the talks say that Sen. Patty Murray (D., Wash.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.), chief negotiators for their parties, are closing in on a deal that, while smaller in scope than past budget deals, would mark a rare moment of bipartisanship in a Congress that has been lurching from one fiscal crisis to the next.

LA Senate: Landrieu still backs Obamacare, Louisiana voters don’t

Louisiana voters have made themselves pretty clear on Obamacare. According to a recent poll, 59% of voters in the state oppose the law and 54% of them said that they’re less likely to vote for Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) because of her support for Obamacare.

But Landrieu, who is one of the most vulnerable Senate Democrats, isn’t listening to her constituents. She insists that she would support Obamacare again if it came up for a vote in the Senate:

“The Affordable Care Act, as I said, the bill itself has got very good concepts and yes, I would support it again,” Landrieu said. “But, that doesn’t excuse the poor roll out of what should have happened. There should have not been a glitch in the software.”

Landrieu has sponsored a bill to allow Americans to keep their old policies. Insurance companies said they couldn’t offer policies at the same prices, though.

This isn’t the first time Landrieu has said that she still supports Obamacare. At an event sponsored by the Southwest Louisiana Chamber of Commerce in August, she declared, “If I had to vote for the bill again, I would vote for it tomorrow.”

But since that event, the Obama Administration poorly executed the rollout of the federal Obamacare exchange website, Healthcare.gov, and millions of Americans have seen their health plans canceled because of the law’s regulations.

Senate may weigh more sanctions against Iran, despite nuclear deal

The deal brokered between six major countries, including the United States, and Iran to slow the country’s nuclear program in exchange for loosened sanctions has been met with a cool reception in Washington from members of both parties.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) acknowledged on Monday that stronger sanctions against Iran may be considered when the chamber reconvenes early next month, though, they could be vetoed by President Obama:

Reid called the pact negotiated between six world powers and Iran an “important first step,” but expressed uncertainty whether it would be good enough.

“When we come back, we’ll take a look at this to see if we need stronger sanctions,” he said in an interview on “The Diane Rehm Show.”
[…]
“If we need to do stronger sanctions, I’m sure we will do that,” he said. “We’ll move forward appropriately.”

Reid acknowledged President Obama could veto stronger sanctions passed by Congress if he believed they ran counter to his foreign policy agenda.

Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), the third-ranking Senate Democratic leader, criticized the deal at a press conference in New York Sunday.

“It was strong sanctions, not the goodness of the hearts of the Iranian leaders, that brought Iran to the table. And any reduction relieves the pressure of sanction and gives them the hope that they will be able to obtain a nuclear weapon,” he said.

Schumer said the “disproportionality” of the agreement would increase the likelihood of Congress passing additional sanctions in December.

Filibuster change revives Obamacare’s “death panel”

Death Panel

Not only did Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) give Democrats a convenient political distraction from the Obamacare meltdown, the “nuclear option” was also very obvious power grab that gives President Barack Obama virtually unchecked power to whomever he wants to his cabinet or to federal courts.

But the executive appointments that can now be made without any real check in the Senate are not just innocuous posts. Sam Baker of National Journal noted last week that the elimination of the filibuster gives President Obama the ability to make appointments to the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), otherwise known as “death panels.”

“The IPAB is technically supposed to submit its first proposed cuts in January, but Obama hasn’t even nominated anyone to the board yet. Nominees have to be confirmed by the Senate, which until today required 60 votes—and Republicans were highly unlikely to help confirm anyone to the board,” wrote Baker on Thursday.

“But now that the Senate has moved to a 51-vote threshold for executive appointments, Obama will likely be able to fill the board and move ahead with one of the most significant cost-control measures in his signature health care law—if he wants to,” he noted, adding that Senate aide confirmed that the filibuster change applies to IPAB.

House passes Keep Your Health Plan Act, Obama threatens veto

Keep Your Health Plan Act

In a 261-257 vote, the House of Representatives passed the Keep Your Health Plan Act, which would allow insurers to extend the policies that had been canceled because they didn’t comply with the mandates and provisions of Obamacare.

The Keep Your Health Plan Act, sponsored by Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), would permit insurers to let consumers keep health plans in effect before January 1, 2013 through 2014. It wouldn’t force insurers to offer the plans, but it would give these plans “grandfathered status,” meaning that they wouldn’t have to compliant with Obamacare’s minimum mandates.

“The president broke his word, had a chance to fix the problem, and only did more damage to his credibility,” said Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) after the passage of the measure. “Today, the House made a big, bipartisan statement about the need to make things right.”

“The Keep Your Health Plan Act represents an important step toward providing relief to those who have lost their plans and face much higher premiums, but the real solution is to scrap the president’s fundamentally-flawed health care law and focus on effective, patient-centered reforms that will protect all Americans from this train wreck,” he added.

The measure would also allow insurers to extend coverage under these plans to new customers, which Democrats complained would undercut the Obamacare.

Thirty-nine House Democrats broke with President Obama and party leaders and supported the measure. Four Republicans voted against it, one of whom was Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA), who explained his vote on his Facebook page.

Cruz backs Paul on Audit the Fed vote

Ted Cruz and Rand Paul

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) announced on Wednesday that he is backing Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) as he tries to leverage his hold on the nomination of Janet Yellen to serve as the next chair of the Federal Reserve for a vote on legislation that would require an audit of the nation’s central bank.

“I agree with Rand Paul: before the Senate votes on whether to confirm Janet Yellen, we should at the very least allow a vote on the Audit the Fed bill,” said Cruz in a statement from his office. “The Federal Reserve has expanded our money supply by trillions, benefitting Wall Street but making life harder for millions of Americans struggling to make ends meet.”

“Never-ending quantitative easing threatens to undermine the dollar and to drive up prices on everyday goods from food to gasoline to the basic necessities of life. We need to bring transparency to the Fed, so the American people can understand the scope and consequences of its policies,” he added.

Paul announced his intention last month to place a hold on Yellen’s confirmation until Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) allowed the Federal Reserve Transparency Act to come to the floor for a vote.

“I will object to any unanimous consent agreement or the waiver of any rule with respect to the nomination of Dr. Yellen without a vote on S. 209,” Paul told Reid in a letter. “I know you have been a support of similar legislation in the past, and I hope that we can work together to pass this important legislation.”


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