Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Washington Watch: Week 9


So much going on this week in Washington. All with major repercussions on how we live. I'll summarize here and then continue with the stories that moved me the most this week.


A recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that most Americans  (indeed nearly two/thirds!) do not understand the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare to most) or how it will affect themselves and their families.

Recognize that we are three years after the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (the ACA), and the subsequent Supreme Court Ruling on the mandate...yet there is little coverage on the major provisions which are coming in 2014.  Little coverage ..and NO EXPLANATION of what the states are, and are not, doing to prepare for implementation. So many questions, including the basics:

Will everyone be covered? What are the costs for individuals and families? Will insurance premiums increase? Will everyone have access to quality care? What are these 'exchanges' we hear about? Will Medicare and Medicaid (or MediCal in California) continue as is?

2014 is coming soon and the American public knows very little.  For the full findings of the Kaiser tracking poll click here.

This is Obama's baby and the Administration is NOT getting the information out to the masses. Congress has no reason to do so because they want to overturn the President's health reform bill, (at least the GOP-controlled House does).

DOMA and Prop 8 

The Supreme Court takes on Gay rights as they hear arguments to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act (which defines marriage for federal purposes as between a man and a woman) and California's Proposition 8 which outlawed same-sex marriages. In a stunning reversal, in just a few short years, the American public now supports same-sex marriage, as does the President and many in Congress on both sides of the aisle. All eyes are now on the Supreme Court.

Oral arguments continue, although the Administration is not defending DOMA (signed into law by Bill Clinton who now believes it should be overturned); neither is California Attorney General Kamala Harris going to argue in favor of Prop 8. Stay tuned.

The Sequester Festers

Who knows where we are with the Sequester and the Federal budget?  The media seems to be able to report only one major story a week and the budget has been off of the front page for the past couple of weeks.  Cuts are being made (last week I talked about cuts to Veteran's programs) but it only seems to matter to those being affected.  Which is why....

Americans are Unhappy With Government

Eight out of ten Americans are unhappy with government according to a CBS News poll released Tuesday. According to HuffPo:

"Eighty percent of Americans expressed some level of unhappiness with things in Washington -- 30 percent said they were "angry" and another 50 percent said they were "dissatisfied." Just 18 percent expressed positive opinions.
There have also been other signs of dissatisfaction in Washington. President Barack Obama's approval rating, which bounced after his reelection, has since fallen back below 50 percent in most polls. Congress, which has suffered low approval for years, is at a near record-low of 11 percent, according to CBS."

From the 'Other' America (AND their numbers are growing):

While Washington spins its wheels, there is real suffering going on in America. There were two stories which moved me this week. Those of us who interface with the homeless know these stories...we can put real faces on these stories...still to read them reminds us there is SO much to be done to fight hunger, homelessness and poverty in America. Remember, many of these people had jobs, homes, healthcare, and stable lives at one point. Maybe their condition is compounded by bad decisions, but there is no denying the economy's effect on these citizens. Read the stories.

The American Prospect reports (warning...this is a lengthy story), the Great Recession has turned formerly stable families into the new homeless.  

And then there's The Nation's: Old, Female, and Homeless, the title says it all.


President Obama's First Term
A Look Back at Week 9 - 2009: 
(Excerpts from my National Scene blog, March 24, 2009)

  • Obama Meets with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus
    The President held a meeting with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to discuss immigration and the US-Mexico relationship, including how the two countries can work together to stem Mexico’s drug-related violence. President Obama, who supports comprehensive immigration reform, announced that he will travel to Mexico next month to meet with President Calderon.
  • The President Visits Orange County
    President Barack Obama led a town hall meeting in an auditorium on the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa.  The purpose of the meeting was to drum up support for his economic plans while reassuring “average” Americans that he understands the economic challenges they are facing.  Attendees waited in long lines overnight to get seats to the event.
    As part of the Administration’s desire to disseminate needed information on the economic stimulus, the Treasury Department launched a website called -- The purpose of the site is to ensure that everybody who can take advantage of the President’s housing plan has access to information which explains how the plan works and who qualifies.  The site is one of several tools the Administration is using to slow down the foreclosure crisis that has gripped the nation. The site includes a calculator that allows homeowners to estimate the reduction to their monthly mortgage payment that the plan provides. Another tool for distressed homeowners is the Homeowner's HOPE Hotline (888-995-HOPE).
  • Lessons Learned in California
    While meeting representatives from the National Conference of State Legislatures, President Obama described lessons from his town halls in California, namely—on the heels of the AIG bonus scandal—the need for accountability. The President stated, “Over the last two days I've been traveling in California, talking with Americans about the challenges they're facing as a result of this economic crisis.” He stressed the importance of responsible investing by the Legislators saying, “Decisions about how Recovery Act dollars are spent will be based on the merits."


And Finally.....

This past week, in the first foreign trip of his second term, President Obama embarked on a four-day visit to Israel, the West Bank and Jordan.

In Jerusalem.....

President Obama tours the crypt containing the birthplace of Jesus. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Washington Watch: Week 8

What Sequester?

Notice how we're not hearing much about the sequester anymore, although painful cuts are being made to homeless Veteran programs and active duty personnel tuition assistance. Fox News reports: (Yes, I am quoting FOX News.)
"Under a federal housing program that helps roughly 100,000 Americans, homeless and formerly homeless veterans will lose assistance due to the sequester. The program is run by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and provides state grants to help veterans get housing.
Active duty military personnel also will feel the impact of sequestration.
The Army announced Friday that it will no longer accept applications for its Tuition Assistance program, which gives soldiers as much as $4,500 annually to take courses, at accredited schools, toward high school and college diplomas. Army officials could not give a specific amount on how much the cuts would save but said 201,000 soldiers used the program in fiscal 2012 at the cost of $373 million.
In addition, the Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard announced this week that their programs also have been suspended."

This Tent has Lots of Holes

What did make news this past week was the annual gathering of Republicans called CPAC (Conservative Political Action Committee). I encourage everyone to visit this website just to see the speaker's list! Click above or paste:

Headliners included Marco Rubio, Sarah Palin, Paul Ryan, and Rand Paul.  Other featured speakers included folks like Donald Trump, Allen West, Jeb Bush, and Mitt Romney!

Funny....the Republican with the best chance of running a decent campaign in 2016 -- New Jersey Governor Chris Christie -- wasn't invited. Guess they're still mad about the Obama hug.

In a report for the Washington Post, Aaron Blake summarized the gathering in an article titled: Conservative gathering highlights split in Republican Party, saying:

"If there was any doubt about the huge amount of discord within the Republican Party, the three-day Conservative Political Action Conference should put it to rest.
The suburban Washington gathering of the most conservative elements of the GOP this week featured speaker after speaker picking fights with other Republicans and offering criticisms — sometimes indirect and often direct — of party figures such as Mitt Romney, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Karl Rove, former president George W. Bush and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie."

Notice -- they criticized Romney and he was there! Why did he go? 

Failing Grades

Continuing their domination of the airwaves this week, the GOP announced the results of their postmortem on what went wrong in 2012. They concluded that they just might be out-of-touch with 'some' Americans. I think they are 'out-of-touch' with many Americans -- including Hispanics, African-Americans, Asians, Gays, Youth, Women, Workers, and Seniors. That's all.

They announced new outreach efforts to minority voters.

Hmmmm, didn't they try to disenfranchise them during the past election?

Looks like they will be putting up a fight for relevancy in the years to come. Maybe Christie won't look so bad after all.


President Obama's First Term
A Look Back at Week 8 - 2009: 

  • AIG Bonuses Anger Obama. Speaking to a group of small business owners, Obama contrasted their hard work with the greed and excess displayed in reports of tens of millions of dollars in bonuses being given out to employees of AIG, stating: “I've asked Secretary Geithner to use leverage and pursue every single legal avenue to block these bonuses,” President Obama made it clear that he was not happy with executive bonuses paid by the insurance conglomerate after receiving a massive bailout from the federal government.
  • The President Addresses Food Safety in America. Calling the nation's food safety system a “hazard to public health” the President created a special advisory group to coordinate food safety laws and recommend how to update them stating, “Many of these laws have not changed since they were written early in the last century.”  

  • Obama Gives Marching Orders for Federal Money. At the White House Conference on American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Implementation, he stressed that accountability will never fall by the wayside.The White House Recovery and Reinvestment Act Implementation Conference, led by Vice President Joe Biden, is part of a large effort to ensure that dollars invested and spent as part of the Recovery Act are effective, transparent, and efficient.

  • St. Patrick’s Day Meeting With Irish Prime Minister.President Obama met with Brian Cowen the Prime Minister of Ireland. The meeting was followed by the appointment of NFL Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney as United States Ambassador to Ireland.

  • First Presidential Visit to California. The popularity of the new President remains high as thousands of Southern Californians camp out for tickets to his town hall meeting in Costa Mesa and anxiously await his first official visit to California as President.


And, Finally....

Who says they can't get along? Guess it takes the 'luck of the Irish.'

President Barack Obama, Taoiseach Enda Kenny of Ireland, and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, talk together during a St. Patrick’s Day lunch at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., March 19, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Washington Watch: Week 7

An Olive Branch or a Hammer?

Much is being made of the President's gestures toward House Republicans...he's had them over at the White House for a meal and took a trip to the Capitol to meet on their turf. (Presidents don't usually do this.) 

Democrats are worried that the President may 'give' too much to get a budget compromise - especially when it comes to Social Security and Medicare. Others suggest he may be wasting his time because Republicans will never compromise with him.

So is it just a photo opportunity?  Maybe...but Obama doesn't have to run for office anymore. We know what that means as far as the GOP is concerned....but what about Democrats? Does he have to be as beholding to his party as he was the first term? 

Maybe he's just trying to get something done! He will need support from both parties to get this budget deal and the American people want to see this.

Still, Progressive Democrats don't want to see the poor and the needy abandoned when it comes to America's signature entitlements (unsustainable as they currently are) ...Social Security and Medicare.

The Huffington Post describes a meeting between the President and Senate Progressive Democrats who expressed concerns over what his 'entitlement reform' might look like.
"A top administration official noted that increasing Medicare's eligibility age, which the president was willing to do in 2011, has been repeatedly ruled out of current negotiations. But Obama is scheduled to meet with House Republicans on Wednesday, and Senate Republicans on Thursday. The GOP members are expected to push Obama to broach the subject again.
Heading into those discussions, some Democrats said they lack a clear picture of exactly what Obama will and won't negotiate."

Sequester, or no Sequester, (notice we didn't hear the word as much this week?), the GOP continues its strategy of no cooperation with the White House. Not only that, there is movement (and probably a plan) to roll back Obama's most significant achievement -- health care reform, or 'Obamacare' as they call it.

Lisa Miscaro of the LATimes reported this week:
"Republicans in Congress are renewing their political assault on the nation’s new healthcare law, trying to repeal President Obama's signature domestic achievement as part of the next battle over the federal budget."

The President had lunch Thursday with Paul Ryan, the Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee -- not sure it helped.  The Washington Post reports Ryan's playing the same tune (the one that didn't help him win the national election or his home state.)  
On Tuesday, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) rolled out a 10-year spending plan that would revive the most controversial prescriptions from last year’s GOP budget, including a partial privatization of Medicare and a repeal of the health-care law that is Obama’s signature policy achievement.

Dinner with Bill and Hillary...or is it Hillary and Bill?

President Obama had a private dinner with the Clintons this past week.  Yeah..I know, who wouldn't want to be a fly on the wall for that meeting.  And, not just because of the political talk of a possible Hillary 2016 run --no, I think most of us recognize that these are three extremely bright people who have fascinating opinions on our country and where it's headed.  So many topics they could cover -- climate change, hunger in America, the Arab Spring, immigration, education reform...three of our nation's greatest minds...leading the country, leading the world. I think there is much mutual respect among these three.

Who's on the Export Council?

This past week the President met with his export council to discuss trade and export-related issues. Here's a video of the excerpts:

Wonder who's on the council?  Look below (from the International Trade Administration website)

Private Sector Members (Appointed by the President)

  • W. James McNerney, Jr., PEC Chair, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer, The Boeing Company
  • Ursula M. Burns, PEC Vice Chair, Chief Executive Officer, Xerox Corporation
  • Mary Andringa, President and Chief Executive Officer, Vermeer Corporation
  • Stephanie A. Burns, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer, Dow Corning
  • Scott Davis, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, UPS
  • Richard L. Friedman, President and Chief Executive Officer, Carpenter & Company, Inc.
  • Gene Hale, Founder and President, G&C Equipment Corporation
  • William Hite, General President, United Association
  • Robert A. Iger, President and Chief Executive Officer, The Walt Disney Company
  • Charles R. Kaye, Co-President, Warburg Pincus
  • Andrew N. Liveris, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer, The Dow Chemical Company
  • Gary W. Loveman, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer, Caesars Entertainment Corporation
  • Denise Morrison, President and Chief Executive Officer of Campbell Soup Company
  • Alan Mulally, President and Chief Executive Officer, Ford Motor Company
  • Raul Pedraza, Founder and President, Magno International L.P.
  • Ivan Seidenberg, Former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Verizon
  • Glenn Tilton, Non-Executive Chairman, United Continental Holdings, Inc. and Chairman of the Midwest, JPMorgan Chase
  • James S. Turley, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Ernst & Young
  • Patricia A. Woertz, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer, Archer Daniels Midland Company


President Obama's First Term
A Look Back at Week 7 - 2009: 
  • As Barack Obama completes his first 50 days in office—and while critics are suggesting his agenda is too ambitious—the President continues to tackle the major issues of our time.  Introducing new proposals for health care reform, stem cell research, and an overhaul of the education system, Obama stressed the need for government leaders to multitask. Acknowledging a change from business-as-usual in Washington, Obama insists all of these issues, as well as the economic crisis, need to be addressed simultaneously to move America forward. 
  • Happy Birthday to Ted Kennedy. In a surprise appearance, President Obama led a chorus of “Happy Birthday” for Senator Ted Kennedy at the Kennedy Center, celebrating the senator's 77th birthday this past February.  The event featured dignitaries from the world of politics and entertainment, including Bill Cosby, Lauren Bacall, and members of Senator Kennedy’s family.  Kennedy was presented the  Profile in Courage Award.
  • Ban on Stem Cell Research Reversed.
    Fulfilling a campaign promise, President Barack Obama removed restrictions on the federal funding of embryonic stem cell research put in place by the Bush administration. 
  • First Lady Honors Courageous Women.
    First Lady Michelle Obama joined Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in honoring women from around the world who lead the fight for women’s rights. Eight women were presented with the State Department’s International Women of Courage Award. Mrs. Obama saluted the women saying, “The women we honor today teach us three very important lessons. One, that as women, we must stand up for ourselves. The second, as women, we must stand up for each other. And finally, as women, we must stand up for justice for all.”


And, Finally....

'Tweet This'
The First Lady takes to Twitter to answer questions about her "Let's Move" program.

Follow @FLOTUS and@LetsMove on Twitter for updates and news about the Let’s Move! initiative and how you can get involved.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Washington Watch: Week 6

The Sequester Comes and Americans Yawn the sky did fall and the sequester is here. What happens next? Well... the Administration has decided to no longer host White House tours to save money (a minuscule amount and a HORRIBLE PR decision by someone -- Republicans pounced).

From the New York Times (3-5-13):
White House Tours Halted Over Cuts; Congress Says, ‘We’re Open’
Republican Congresswoman Louie Gohmert, from Texas (where else?) wants to stop the President from using federal funds for transportation to golf outings until he resumes the White House tours. Others took to Twitter to let the public know they can still tour the Capitol.

(And, while at the Capitol take a look at the new Rosa Parks statue...see below)

In all seriousness...budget cuts will be implemented, although as expected the GOP in Congress is putting together a bill to restore military cuts. It will be hard for the President not to sign it.  (Did they not foresee this?)

Now we hear there is a new budget crisis on the horizon on March 27th.  Another threat of a government shut-down...although there seems to be a bi-partisan effort to avert it by ....kicking it down the road to September.

And while all of this plays out in Washington...the rich get richer, and the poor (which includes the people formerly known as the middle class...well, they get nowhere.)  Take a look at this eye-opening video:

Delay in Processing Obama's Judicial Nominees
Republicans in the Senate are causing significant delays to the confirmation process for the President's judicial nominees. According to the President, "A minority of Senators has systematically and irresponsibly used procedural maneuvers to block or delay confirmation votes on judicial nominees."

Sometimes you just have to let the figures speak for themselves: (from data released by the White House)

  • 78 % of President Obama’s circuit court judges have waited more than 100 days for a vote, (Compared to 15 % of President Bush’s nominees.)
  • 42 % of President Obama's district court judges have waited more than 100 days for a vote, (Compared to 8 % of President Bush’s nominees.)
  • The average wait time for President Obama's judicial nominees to get a vote on the floor of the Senate – both for the circuit court and the district court – is 3-4 times as long as those of President Bush.
  • Judicial vacancies are growing, from 55 in 2009 (during President Obama's first term) to 89 now. (President Bush only had 40 when he began his second term).
  • 1 out of every 10 Federal Judgeships is vacant causing significant delays in federal court cases for both businesses and individuals.  
  • Of the 33 judicial nominees currently awaiting Senate confirmation - 15 are women; 6 are Hispanic; 6 are African-American; 3 are Asian-American; and 4 are openly gay. (Obviously some of the women are minority)
From the Washington Post: (3/3/13)
Obama pushing to diversify federal judiciary amid GOP delays
"“Diversity in and of itself is a thing that is strengthening the judicial system,” White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler said. “It enhances the bench and the performance of the bench and the quality of the discussion . . . to have different perspectives, different life experiences, different professional experiences, coming from a different station in life, if you will.”"

President Obama's First Term -- A Look Back at Week Six - 2009:   (Excerpts from my National Scene blog, March 5, 2009)
  • Bringing Everyone to the Table to Address Healthcare: In the East Room of the White House, President Obama addressed an assembled group consisting of medical personnel, members of Congress, health care lobbyists, business owners, insurers, and everyday Americans - all with a stake in the health reform effort. After joking, “This was the hottest ticket in town,” the President made the agenda clear to the invited guests, stressing, “Our goal will be to enact comprehensive health reform by the end of this year.” After the President’s remarks the attendees met in break-out sessions to plot their course.
  • Reforming Government Spending: The President signed a memorandum that will reform government contracting, particularly by the Defense Department, by strengthening oversight and management of taxpayer dollars, stating “The American people's money must be spent to advance their priorities -- not to line the pockets of contractors or to maintain projects that don't work.” He was joined by a bipartisan group of legislators including Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Carl Levin (D-MI), and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo), and Representatives Edolphus Towns (D-NY) and Peter Welch.(D-VT).
  • Entertaining at “The People’s House”: The President and First Lady continued their ‘hospitality initiative’ by hosting another gathering in what they call “The People’s House.”  This dinner was for Congressional leaders from both parties and the President welcomed them explaining, “Given how hard so many of you are working on both sides of the aisle, day in, day out, we thought it was important for us to be able to step back for a moment, remind ourselves that we have things in common—family, friends, laughter—and hopefully, we'll have a chance to appreciate each other a little bit, take a timeout before we dive back into the game,” he said. “So we hope you have a wonderful evening—not to mention the fact that this is a pretty big house, so we get lonely.”


And Finally...  

Rosa Takes Her Seat
On February 27, 2013, Rosa Parks became the first African-American woman to have her likeness in the United States Capitol, National Statuary Hall. The 2,700-pound Rosa Parks statue, sculpted by California artist Rob Firmin, was commissioned by Congress -- the first since 1873, and at nine feet tall, the first full-sized statue of an African-American in the Capitol complex

The Rosa Parks Statue: "Strength from Stillness"

President Barack Obama touches the Rosa Parks statue after the unveiling during a ceremony in Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Feb. 27, 2013. Helping with the unveiling, were, from left: Sheila Keys, niece of Rosa Parks; Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.; House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio; House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.; Assistant Democratic Leader Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C.; and Elaine Eason Keys. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)