Obama’s returning to Ohio with a new tone

President Barack Obama to return to Shaker Heights with a different outlook on Congress

Published: Monday, January 02, 2012, 5:30 PM     Updated: Monday, January 02, 2012, 10:52 PM, Cleveland.com
Obama-at-Shaker-Hts.JPG
President Barack Obama pitches his health care plan at Shaker Heights High School in this July 2009 file photo. The Democratic incumbent will return to the school Wednesday to talk about the economy, and it’s likely he won’t bring the same congressional salesmanship he offered the last time he visited.
SHAKER HEIGHTS, Ohio — When he came to Shaker Heights High School in July 2009, full of first-year optimism and salesmanship, President Barack Obama called on Congress to work with him on an overhaul of the nation’s health care system.

When he returns Wednesday afternoon, expect a different tone.

The Cleveland-area visit, which the White House bills as remarks on the economy, is likely to present Obama in a new, election-year narrative. Where he once sought compromise, Obama now aims to distance himself from a Congress with historically low approval ratings.

“In terms of the president’s relationship with Congress in 2012 . . . the president is no longer tied to Washington, D.C.,” a deputy press secretary told reporters for the New York Times and Washington Post during a briefing in Hawaii, where Obama was vacationing last week.

Signs of the shift became apparent before Christmas when the Democratic-controlled Senate approved a two-month extension of a payroll tax cut set to expire Jan. 1. House Republicans, led by Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, balked at the deal and called for a full-year extension.

With senators already on holiday recess, Obama and fellow Democrats cast the Republicans’ unwillingness to forge a short-term deal as a willingness to raise taxes. On Dec. 22, the House GOP agreed to the two-month extension, handing a political victory to the president.

Further elevating the political stakes of Wednesday’s speech is the fact Obama will deliver it hours after the Iowa caucuses, the first Republican presidential nominating contest.

Obama is scheduled to speak at 1:15 p.m. Beginning at 6 p.m. Tuesday, free tickets will be available on a first-come, first-served basis at the school district’s administration building on Parkland Drive.

Ohio, which holds its primary March 6, remains a state key to winning in November; the Shaker Heights visit will be Obama’s 16th to the Buckeye State since taking office in January 2009. Yet Obama’s poll numbers show he has a challenge ahead. In a Quinnipiac University survey last month, 55 percent of Ohioans disapproved of the president’s job performance.

Obama won here by four points in 2008 and saw promising signs last fall after a Democratic-backed coalition led the repeal of a labor law championed by Republican Gov. John Kasich. A week after the measure went down, Obama’s re-election campaign sent Vice President Joe Biden to Euclid to celebrate with firefighters and other unionized public employees.

But Republicans were equally encouraged by last fall’s vote on Issue 3, which delivered a strong rebuke to Obama’s health care plan and passed by a greater margin than the labor law failed. On Monday, upon hearing where Obama would speak Wednesday, those Republicans were quick to recall what he discussed the last time he visited Shaker Heights High School.

A Republican National Committee spokesman emailed reporters a link to a story about the Issue 3 vote. And Ohio GOP spokesman Christopher Maloney criticized Obama for holding “political pep rallies and swing-state speeches that don’t create jobs.”

Via email, Maloney added: “The students at Shaker Heights High School and all Ohio families deserve a president who will place their needs and opportunities for a brighter future, before the focus of his own re-election.”

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Detaining citizens indefinitely is as American as apple pie!

Obama Signs Defense Bill Despite ‘Serious Reservations’

Barack Obama Defense Bill
First Posted: 12/31/11 03:25 PM ET Updated: 12/31/11 06:22 PM ET, The Huffington Post

WASHINGTON — Indefinite military detention of Americans became the law of the land Saturday, as President Barack Obama signed a defense bill that codified that authority, even as he said he would not use it.

The National Defense Authorization Act states how the military is to be funded, but also includes a number of controversial provisions on arresting and holding suspected terrorists, which at first drove Obama to threaten a veto.

He retreated from that threat after Congress added provisions that took the ultimate authority to detain suspects from the military’s hands and gave it to the president. Congress also clarified that civilian law enforcement agencies — such as the FBI — would still have authority to investigate terrorism and added a provision that asserts nothing in the detention measures changes current law regarding U.S. citizens.

Still, the signing on New Year’s Eve as few people were paying attention angered civil liberties advocates, who argue that the law for the first time spells out certain measures that have not actually been tested all the way to the Supreme Court, including the possibility of detaining citizens in military custody without trial for as long as there is a war on terror.

“President Obama’s action today is a blight on his legacy because he will forever be known as the president who signed indefinite detention without charge or trial into law,” said Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

“The statute is particularly dangerous because it has no temporal or geographic limitations, and can be used by this and future presidents to militarily detain people captured far from any battlefield,” Romero added. “The ACLU will fight worldwide detention authority wherever we can, be it in court, in Congress or internationally.”

The administration was especially sensitive about the law and about reaction to the president signing it. In addition to enacting the measure while few people were paying attention — and many opponents still had hopes the president would veto the bill — the White House added a signing statement specifying that the Obama administration would not detain Americans without trial. The White House also sent out a notice to its online community highlighting Obama’s complaints with the law, in a tacit admission that many of the president’s more ardent supporters despise the detention provisions.

“I have signed this bill despite having serious reservations with certain provisions that regulate the detention, interrogation, and prosecution of suspected terrorists,” Obama said in the signing statement.

Presidents issue such statements when they feel a law conflicts with the executive’s constitutional powers. Obama criticized them during the Bush administration, but has found the practice useful on a handful of occasions.

In this case, Obama argued that the changes Congress made to the bill affirm only authorities that the Bush and Obama administrations have already claimed in fighting terrorism. But he noted that the codification of those powers in law was unnecessary and perhaps harmful. And he insisted he would not use the powers to detain citizens without trial.

“I want to clarify that my administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens,” Obama wrote. “Indeed, I believe that doing so would break with our most important traditions and values as a Nation. My administration will interpret section 1021 [of the bill] in a manner that ensures that any detention it authorizes complies with the Constitution, the laws of war, and all other applicable law.”

Civil liberties advocates like Romero pointed out that once the provisions are law, however, they will be available to a President Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney or any future president, who could choose to use the powers granted more aggressively.

“We are incredibly disappointed that President Obama signed this new law even though his administration had already claimed overly broad detention authority in court,” said Romero. “Any hope that the Obama administration would roll back the constitutional excesses of George Bush in the war on terror was extinguished today.”

Because of the provisions specifying that the new legislation does not change current law, the new law leaves the authority it grants open to interpretation and to the possibility — albeit in very difficult circumstances — of someone challenging a detention through the courts.

“Thankfully, we have three branches of government, and the final word belongs to the Supreme Court, which has yet to rule on the scope of detention authority,” Romero said. “But Congress and the president also have a role to play in cleaning up the mess they have created, because no American citizen or anyone else should live in fear of this or any future president misusing the NDAA’s detention authority.”

Obama also said he will not abide by the law’s requirement to detain terror suspects using the military.

“I reject any approach that would mandate military custody where law enforcement provides the best method of incapacitating a terrorist threat,” Obama said. “While section 1022 is unnecessary and has the potential to create uncertainty, I have signed the bill because I believe that this section can be interpreted and applied in a manner that avoids undue harm to our current operations.”

Finally, he rejected a number of other provisions, saying the White House is concerned they interfere with the president’s constitutional powers and ability to fight terrorism.

“My Administration will aggressively seek to mitigate those concerns through the design of implementation procedures and other authorities available to me as Chief Executive and Commander in Chief, will oppose any attempt to extend or expand them in the future, and will seek the repeal of any provisions that undermine the policies and values that have guided my Administration throughout my time in office,” Obama warned.

Payroll tax extensions…or not…we may never know!

House GOP delays vote on Senate two-month payroll tax extension

By Erik Wasson, Russell Berman and Molly K. Hooper – 12/19/11 08:33 PM ET

House GOP leaders have decided to delay a vote on the Senate payroll tax bill until midday Tuesday, abandoning tentative plans to hold votes as late as 3 a.m. Tuesday morning.

The party whip, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), attributed the delay in the vote to the Republican pledge to not pass legislation in the middle of the night, as they had criticized House Democrats for doing. The votes on Tuesday, he said, will occur “in the light of day.”

In a rare move, the GOP leaders sought to align themselves with President Obama, saying their push for a yearlong extension was “exactly what the president asked us to do.”

House leaders also appear to be looking to avoid a separate, up-or-down vote on the Senate payroll tax bill.

House freshman are adamant in their opposition to the Senate bill and favor a year-long extension of the payroll tax holiday, but centrist Republicans  in the conference would not come out against the short term bill when asked about it after a GOP conference meeting on Monday night.

The Senate approved the measure in an overwhelming bipartisan 89-10 vote, and several Senate Republicans on Monday urged the House to approve the measure.

With Democrats planning to support the measure, Republicans cannot afford many defections on an upcoming vote.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) insisted the House would defeat the bill, however, and Republicans at the Monday meeting said few in any of their colleagues spoke out in favor of the two-month extension at the meeting.

One exception was Rep. Charlie Bass (R-N.H.), who told The Hill, “I’m thinking about it, I really am.” Rep. Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.) earlier on Monday said he would support the Senate bill.

Another possible question-mark, centrist New York Republican Rep. Peter King told The Hill that he would support the leadership’s course of action on the extenders package.

A vote just on a motion to convene a conference committee could give politically vulnerable members the wiggle room to support Boehner without entirely voting against a two-month extension of the payroll tax.

“I think we have to vote down what the Senate sent back but there is a way to do it where we are voting yes,” said Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas).

House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) said he could not say if his committee would consider a rule for that up-or-down vote.

House Republican leaders emerged from the closed-door meeting determined to force the Senate into a conference committee. “Our members do not want to just punt and do a two-month, short-term fix where we have to come back and do this again,” Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters. “We’re here. We’re willing to work.”

Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said House Republicans “outright reject the attempt by the Senate to kick the can down the road for 60 days. It’s an unworkable solution.”

Boehner was pressed on why he did not warn Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) that the compromise he struck with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) would not fly with the House GOP.

“I made it clear to Senator Reid and Senator McConnell that the House was not going to enter into negotiations until such time as the Senate did its job,” Boehner said. “It was time for the Senate to produce something. We disagreed with what the Senate produced.”

He did not answer directly when asked if McConnell had struck “a bad deal.”

“They did their job. They produced a bill. The House disagrees with it,” the Speaker said.

Obama to Put Forth Plan for US Economy

15 August 2011 Last updated at 23:48 ET, BBC News

Obama promises ‘very specific’ plan for US economy

US President Barack Obama has promised a “very specific” plan next month to improve the flagging US economy.

In Iowa on day one of a rural Midwest bus tour, he said he would put forward the blueprint when Congress returned in September.

As President Obama spoke, his would-be 2012 Republican challengers blamed him for the flagging American economy.

With US unemployment jammed at just above 9%, jobs could well remain a major issue for voters in 2012.

Responding to a question in a town hall in Decorah, Iowa, on Monday evening, Mr Obama said: “I’ll be putting forward when they [lawmakers] come back in September a very specific plan to boost the economy, to create jobs and to control our deficit.

“And my attitude is – get it done.”

‘Lowering the rhetoric’

Mr Obama set off on Monday morning on a three-day swing through Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois.

The tour – in an imposing Secret Service armoured bus – is officially a White House event, although Republicans called it a campaign trip.

The BBC’s Marcus George in Washington says Mr Obama is trying to reassert his leadership and, indirectly, shore up support in states that could make or break his campaign for a second term.

During Mr Obama’s stop in Decorah, he clashed with a local leader of the conservative Tea Party, Ryan Rhodes.

Mr Rhodes referred to reports that Vice-President Joe Biden had likened Tea Party members during recent debt-ceiling negotiations to terrorists.

Mr Obama replied: “In fairness, since I have been called a socialist who wasn’t born in this country, who is destroying America and taking away its freedoms because I passed a health care bill, I am all for lowering the rhetoric.”

Mr Obama’s approval rating dipped below 40% for the first time in a Gallup daily tracking poll on Sunday, although recent polls have shown far lower voter satisfaction with Congress.

‘Magical Misery bus tour’

Analysts say Mr Obama’s challenge is to convince voters that his policies – including a $787bn (£482bn) economic stimulus package and health care reforms – have helped the economy, not hindered it.

Presumptive Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney labelled Mr Obama’s trip the “Magical Misery bus tour”.

The former Massachusetts governor said in a statement the president was “more interested in campaigning in swing states than working to solve the economic crisis crushing the middle class”.

Texas Governor Rick Perry meanwhile completed his first full day of campaigning, telling the Associated Press news agency: “I respect all the other candidates in the field but there is no one that can stand toe-to-toe with us.”

In an interview with an Iowa newspaper, Mr Perry also challenged Mr Obama, to “get rid of the regulations stifling jobs in America”.

Mr Perry received an unexpected compliment in New York on Monday from Democratic former President Bill Clinton.

Mr Clinton said the Texan was a “good-looking rascal,” but indicated he was not so impressed by Mr Perry’s policies.

Republican congresswoman Michele Bachmann will begin a bus tour on Tuesday in South Carolina, buoyed by her win in Saturday’s non-binding “straw poll” in Iowa.

Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty dropped out of the race after finishing a distant third in that poll. Mr Romney did not compete.

Mr Romney, Ms Bachmann and Mr Perry are each vying to become the Republican nominee and challenge Mr Obama for the White House in 2012’s elections.

With the first real voting not scheduled to take place until February, correspondents say plenty of time remains for more upheaval in the Republican race.

This could include a late entrance from Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor, 2008 vice-presidential nominee and conservative Tea Party hero.

Next on the Chopping Block — Gas Tax

Gas tax may be next Tea Party target

By Steve Hargreaves @CNNMoney August 8, 2011: 4:48 PM ET
Lawmakers may scrap the 18.4-cent-a-gallon federal levy when it expires next month. Can our roads really afford that?

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — You may want to consider investing in some good shock absorbers for your car this fall.

Fresh from blocking any new tax increases during the debt ceiling debacle, some lawmakers in Congress may now oppose renewing the federal tax on gasoline and diesel fuel, which is used to maintain our nation’s highways.

The federal gas tax of 18.4 cents a gallon expires at the end of September. In order to keep the gas tax, lawmakers would need to vote to extend the highway funding bill, which is what the gas tax is tied to.

There are no official efforts to scrap the tax yet but as first noted in the journal Politco, momentum appears to be moving in that direction.

A bill was recently introduced by Senate Republicans that would allow states to opt out of the federal highway program. The highway program uses $32 billion each year collected by the gas tax, plus a handful of smaller fees and some borrowing to distribute some $50 billion a year to the states for road construction, maintenance and mass transit projects.

That represents about 28% of all road and transit spending nationwide, with the rest coming from states or towns in the form of tolls, registration and user fees, state gas taxes or their general funds.

Spendthrift motorists shouldn’t get too excited by the prospect of eliminating the federal gas tax, which costs the average driver around $100 a year. The states would presumably make up for the loss of federal funds by increasing their own gas tax or other driving-related fees.

But for those who support ending the federal levy, the thinking is that the states could do a better job of building and maintaining the nation’s infrastructure.

First there’s the bureaucracy. Why collect the money at the state level, send it to Washington, only to have it return to the states?

Then there’s the question of federal oversight. Federal money often requires the use of union labor or comes with other stipulations.

“The Davis-Bacon law increases the cost of new roads, bridges etc. by 25% to 33%,” Grover Norquist, head of the advocacy group Americans for Tax Reform, said referring to the law that stipulates how much workers on federal projects need to be paid. “Much money is siphoned off to pay union workers in subway systems or to build bike paths….not roads.”

About 15% of federal funds go toward mass transit and other things not road related, according to the Transportation Department.

Norquist didn’t say if he’ll use his considerable influence among Republicans to attempt to kill the gas tax next month, but did say “we should move now, or soon, to allow all states to raise and keep their own gas taxes to build and fix roads.”

Supporters of the tax argue federal involvement allows roads to be built and maintained to uniform standards that ensure the smooth and safe flow of travel and commerce.

Having a patchwork of roads with different weight limits, lane widths, or curvature would be a headache for truckers and possibly dangerous for everyone, said Ken Orski, publisher of the infrastructure industry publication Innovation NewsBriefs and a former transportation official in the Nixon and Ford administrations.

Even if states had to build the roads to a federal standard, Washington still acts as as a kind of equalizer when it comes to highway funding. Under the federal system, states on the coasts with large populations often end up sending money to states in the middle of the country that have thousand of miles of open roads but fewer taxpayers to help fund them.

That makes sense, said Orski, as the roads in the middle of the country take a beating by heavy trucks shipping commerce from one coast to the other.

“We are one nation, and we need a national highway system,” he said.

That helps explain why some big business groups not only want to keep the federal gas tax, but want it raised.

Both the Chamber of Commerce and General Motors (GMFortune 500) have recently come out in favor of a higher gas tax — the latter arguing for a dollar-a-gallon increase.

They note that the 18.4 cent-a-gallon tax hasn’t been raised since 1993, and now has the inflation-adjusted buying power of just 11 cents. Plus, fuel efficiency has been rising steadily each year along with miles driven, meaning Americans are putting more miles on roads while paying less to maintain them.

First Published: August 4, 2011: 12:29 PM ET

FAA Partial Shutdown

FAA faces partial shutdown after Congress fails to approve funding

Associated Press
In Print: Saturday, July 23, 2011

WASHINGTON — Efforts to avert a partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration failed Friday amid partisan acrimony, ensuring that at midnight nearly 4,000 people would be temporarily out of work and federal airline ticket taxes would be suspended.

Those workers and tens of thousands of airport construction workers under FAA contract faced immediate furlough. The nation’s air travel system will not be affected, with air traffic controllers remaining on the job and airline operations continuing.

Lawmakers were unable to resolve a dispute over an extension of the agency’s operating authority, which expired at midnight Friday.

House Republicans sought to cut $16.5 million in subsidies for air service to 13 rural communities. The subsidy cut was included by Republicans in a bill extending operating authority for the FAA, which has a $16 billion budget. Senate Democrats refused to accept the House bill with the cuts, and Republican senators refused to accept a Democratic bill without it. Lawmakers then adjourned for the weekend.

But underlying the dispute on rural air service subsidies was a standoff between the Republican-controlled House and the Democratic-controlled Senate over a provision in long-term funding legislation for the FAA that would make it more difficult for airline and railroad workers to unionize.

The labor provision in the House bill would overturn a National Mediation Board rule approved last year that allows airline and railroad employees to form a union by a simple majority of those voting. Under the old rule, workers who didn’t vote were treated as “no” votes.

Airlines will lose the authority to collect about $200 million a week in ticket taxes that go into a trust fund that pays for FAA programs. FAA employees whose jobs are paid for with trust fund money will be furloughed, including nearly 1,000 workers at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, 647 workers at FAA’s technology and research center in Atlantic City, N.J., and 124 workers at the agency’s training center in Oklahoma City.

“I’m very disappointed that Congress adjourned today without passing a clean extension of the FAA bill,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Friday. “Because of their inaction, states and airports won’t be able to work on their construction projects, and too many people will have to go without a paycheck. This is no way to run the best aviation system in the world.”

Petraeus on Troop Withdrawal

President Obama announced his plan for troop withdrawal from Afghanistan last night.  It includes 10,000 troops leaving by the end of 2011, and another 23,000 to leave by fall of 2012.  68,000 will remain in the country following the total 33,000 draw dawn.

Here is General Petraeus’s reaction to the address at a Congressional hearing today: