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History > 2012 > USA > Politics > House of Representatives (I)





Senate Leaders Set to Work

on a Last-Minute Tax Agreement


December 28, 2012
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — At the urging of President Obama, the Democratic and Republican leaders of the Senate set to work Friday night to assemble a last-minute tax deal that could pass both chambers of Congress and avert large tax increases and budget cuts next year, or at least stop the worst of the economic punch from landing beginning Jan. 1.

After weeks of fruitless negotiations between the president and Speaker John A. Boehner, Mr. Obama turned to Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, and Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader — two men who have been fighting for dominance of the Senate for years — to find a solution. The speaker, once seen as the linchpin for any agreement, essentially ceded final control to the Senate and said the House would act on whatever the Senate could produce.

“The hour for immediate action is here. It is now,” Mr. Obama said in the White House briefing room after an hourlong meeting with the two Senate leaders, Mr. Boehner and Representative Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader. He added, “The American people are not going to have any patience for a politically self-inflicted wound to our economy, not right now.”

Senate Democrats want Mr. McConnell to propose an alternative to Mr. Obama’s final offer and present it to them in time for a compromise bill to reach the Senate floor on Monday and be sent to the House. Absent a bipartisan deal, Mr. Reid said Friday night that he would accede to the president’s request to put to a vote on Monday Mr. Obama’s plan to extend tax cuts for all income below $250,000 a year and to renew expiring unemployment compensation for as many as two million people, essentially daring Republicans to block it and allow taxes to rise for most Americans.

Bipartisan agreement still hinged on the Senate leaders finding an income level above which taxes will rise on Jan. 1, most likely higher than Mr. Obama’s level of $250,000. Quiet negotiations between Senate and White House officials were already drifting up toward around $400,000 before Friday’s White House meeting. The two sides were also apart on where to set taxes on inherited estates.

But senators broke from a long huddle on the Senate floor with Mr. McConnell on Friday night to say they were more optimistic that a deal was within reach. Mr. McConnell, White House aides and Mr. Reid were to continue talks on Saturday, aiming for a breakthrough as soon as Sunday.

“We’re working with the White House, and hopefully we’ll come up with something we can recommend to our respective caucuses,” said Mr. McConnell, who has played a central role in cutting similar bipartisan deals in the past.

The emerging path to a possible resolution, at least on Friday, appeared to mirror the end of the protracted stalemate over the payroll tax last year. In that conflict, House Republicans refused to go along with a short-term extension of the cut, but Mr. McConnell reached an agreement that permitted such a measure to get through the Senate, and the House speaker essentially forced members to accept it from afar, after they had left forChristmas recess.

This time, the consequences are more significant, with more than a half-trillion dollars in tax increases and across-the-board spending cuts just days from going into force, an event most economists warn would send the economy back into recession if not quickly mitigated. With the House set to return to the Capitol on Sunday night, Mr. Boehner has said he would place any Senate bill before his chamber and let the vote proceed and the chips fall. The House could also change the legislation and return it to the Senate.

If the Senate is able to produce a bill that is largely bipartisan, there is a strong belief among House Republicans that the same measure would easily pass the House, with a large number of Republicans. While Mr. Boehner was unable to muster enough votes for his alternative bill that would have protected tax cuts for income under $1 million, that was because the measure lacked Democratic support, and was roughly a few dozen votes shy of passage with Republicans alone.

“I’ve got a positive feeling now,” said Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Republican of Texas, who said a burst of deal-making talk broke out as soon as the leaders returned to the Capitol.

Despite the new optimism, it was clear that any deal in the next three days would only alleviate the worst aspects of the “fiscal cliff” while leaving big decisions on taxes and spending to the next showdown, most likely by February when Congress must raise the government’s debt limit. A Republican aide briefed on the meeting said the speaker told the other negotiators that House Republicans would not turn off $100 billion in automatic military and domestic spending cuts in 2013 without equivalent cuts elsewhere. Also likely to be left out of a deal is any agreement to raise the debt limit.

But Mr. Boehner appeared to recognize that he was no longer dictating terms. According to the aide, the speaker said repeatedly, “Let us know what you come up with, and we’ll consider it — accept it or amend it.”

Even before the meeting, Senator Max Baucus of Montana, chairman of the Finance Committee, said “things are starting to gel” around a deal. According to aides familiar with the talks, the plan, in its early stages, centered on a deal that would extend all the expiring Bush income tax cuts up to $400,000 in income.

Some spending cuts would pay for a provision putting off a sudden reduction in payments to medical providers treating Medicare patients. The deal would also prevent an expansion of the alternative minimum tax to keep it from hitting more of the middle class. It would extend a raft of already expired business tax cuts, like the research and development credit, and would renew tax cuts for the working poor and the middle class included in the 2009 stimulus law.

Democrats from high-tax, high-wealth states have pressed the White House and their leaders to accept a threshold higher than the president’s $250,000, but they appear ready to accept anything that can pass.

“I have a very practical standard to apply: whatever threshold we need to avoid the fiscal cliff,” said Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, a Democrat turned independent from Connecticut.

After the meeting, Mr. Obama and officials at the White House appeared visibly optimistic. The president was cheerful with his aides before he walked into the Brady Press Briefing Room to deliver his remarks before assembled reporters. A person briefed on the meeting described a “give and take” atmosphere.

“They could have just sat there,” said the person, who was not authorized to discuss the negotiations publicly. “But they didn’t; they were going back and forth, which is a pretty good sign.”

In an effort to keep the pressure on, Mr. Obama, for the second time in his presidency, has agreed to appear on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, giving him a forum to push for a deal and to provide his view of the state of the negotiations.

Hoping to stave off the expiration of dozens of farm programs and the carrying out of a 1949 farm law that could double the price of milk, Senate and House leaders were also working on legislation to extend the current farm bill. The most recent farm bill, passed in 2008, expired on Sept. 30. If a new farm bill is not passed or the current one extended, farm programs would lose billions in financing and revert to the 1949 law.

The old law would reintroduce higher government price supports for milk, corn, rice, wheat and other crops and could lead to higher consumer prices and federal spending.


Helene Cooper and Ron Nixon contributed reporting.

    Senate Leaders Set to Work on a Last-Minute Tax Agreement, NYT, 28.12.2012,






Events Recall a More Bipartisan Era,

and Highlight Gridlock of Today


December 21, 2012
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — If Friday’s memorial service for one of this country’s long-serving senators was a somber recollection of a bipartisan era that once was, the rest of the day was a frenetic reminder of the political gridlock that now grips the capital.

At the National Cathedral, the nation’s political leaders eulogized Senator Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii, who died this week at 88 after more than 50 years in Congress. President Obama said he learned from Mr. Inouye “how our democracy is supposed to work.”

Across town, democracy was, at best, showing its gritty side as it ground along angrily, noisily and slowly: A weary Speaker John A. Boehner admitted failure in his efforts to avert a fiscal crisis with a bill to increase taxes on millionaires but asserted that his job was not at risk; a top National Rifle Association official bluntly challenged Congress to embrace guns at schools, not control them; and Mr. Obama bowed to the reality that Republicans had blocked his first choice to be the next secretary of state.

Though it has been 45 days since voters emphatically reaffirmed their faith in Mr. Obama, the time since then has shown the president’s power to be severely constrained by a Republican opposition that is bitter about its losses, unmoved by Mr. Obama’s victory and unwilling to compromise on social policy, economics or foreign affairs.

“The stars are all aligning the wrong way in terms of working together,” said Peter Wehner, a former top White House aide to President George W. Bush. “Right now, the political system is not up to the moment and the challenges that we face.”

House Republicans argue that voters handed their members a mandate as well, granting the party control of the House for another two years and with it the right to stick to their own views, even when they clash strongly with the president’s.

And many Republicans remember well when the tables were turned. After Mr. Bush’s re-election in 2004, Democrats eagerly thwarted his push for privatization of Social Security, hobbling Mr. Bush’s domestic agenda in the first year of his second term.

New polls suggest that Mr. Obama’s popularity has surged to its highest point since he announced the killing of Osama bin Laden. In the latest CBS News survey, the president’s job approval rating was at 57 percent.

But taken together, events suggest that even that improvement in the polls has done little to deliver the president the kind of clear authority to enact his policies that voters seemed to say they wanted during the election.

Even some of the president’s closest advisers said they were surprised by the ferocity of the Republican opposition.

“It’s kind of a stunning thing to watch the way this has unfolded, at least to date,” said David Axelrod, one of Mr. Obama’s longtime advisers. “The question is, how do you break free from these strident voices?”

Friday’s wrangling crystalized the challenges that Mr. Obama faces as he prepares to begin a second term next month.

In Mr. Boehner, the president has a potential deal-making partner who is unable to rally House Republicans behind his own plans, much less any agreement he might cut with Mr. Obama. In a news conference on Friday morning, Mr. Boehner essentially admitted he was running out of ideas to avert big tax increases and spending cuts early next year.

“How we get there,” Mr. Boehner told reporters, “God only knows.”

Just minutes later, officials with the National Rifle Association made clear what House Republicans had been whispering all week: The president’s call for gun control in the wake of the Connecticut shooting is likely to run into tremendous opposition.

Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president of the firearm group, made clear the N.R.A. would not support the president’s call for gun control, recommending instead a “school shield” program of armed security guards at the nation’s schools as well as a national database that could track the mentally ill.

At the same time, Mr. Obama officially named Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts as his choice to lead the State Department — a decision the president was forced to make after Republicans effectively blocked his preferred choice, Susan E. Rice, the ambassador to the United Nations.

Ms. Rice, a longtime confidante of Mr. Obama’s, was never formally nominated, but it was no secret inside the White House that the president would have liked her to succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton early next year. But even on the heels of his electoral victory, Mr. Obama was unable to overcome Republican opposition — led by Senator John McCain, the man he defeated for the presidency in 2008 — to her nomination.

There are still 10 days left in which Mr. Obama might reach some sort of arrangement with Congress on averting a fiscal crisis that some predict could plunge the nation back into recession.

In an evening news briefing, Mr. Obama proposed a scaled-back deal that might avert fiscal crisis while putting off the major philosophical arguments for another day. He said he hoped lawmakers could cool off, "drink some eggnog, have some Christmas cookies and sing some Christmas carols" before coming back to Washington.

"Now is not the time for more self-inflicted wounds," Mr. Obama pleaded as he left town for a Hawaii holiday vacation. "Certainly not those coming from Washington."

In another 31 days, Mr. Obama will deliver his second Inaugural Address, providing him the opportunity to make his case to the American public on the direction he wants to take them in a second term. A few weeks after that, he will give his State of the Union address, which he has already promised to use in part as a call for new gun control laws.

Tom Daschle, a former Democratic majority leader in the Senate, said he feared Washington would remain paralyzed on taxes and other issues until the country truly faces a crisis.

“I worry that it’s going to take that kind of a condition to bring people to the reality that they can’t mess around here anymore,” Mr. Daschle said.

On Friday, Mr. Obama was more hopeful.

“This is something within our capacity to solve,” he insisted, even as he left Washington without even the outlines of a deal in place.

    Events Recall a More Bipartisan Era, and Highlight Gridlock of Today, NYT, 21.12.2012,






With Gap Wide and Time Short, Obama and Boehner Meet


December 13, 2012
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — With time running short to work out a deal to avert a year-end fiscal crisis, President Obama called Speaker John A. Boehner to the White House on Thursday evening to try to move talks forward even as pessimism mounted that a broad deal could be struck that bridges the substantial gap between the parties on taxes and entitlements like Medicare.

Mr. Obama and Mr. Boehner met for less than an hour, not an encouraging sign, with Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner joining the talks. Afterward, as they did following a Sunday meeting, White House and Congressional aides issued near-identical statements saying only that “the lines of communication remain open.”

Before the meeting, a senior administration official struck a downbeat note, saying, “we are in the same place — Boehner has not given on revenue and has not identified any cuts that he wants in exchange for rates.”

“They have only moved backwards since the beginning,” the official said of the Republicans.

According to another administration official, the White House hastily set up the meeting Thursday afternoon, hoping to prompt some progress before Mr. Boehner returned home to Ohio for the weekend. Earlier in the day, Mr. Boehner dug in on demands that Mr. Obama lay out more concrete cuts to Medicare and other entitlements as the price for tax increases on the rich.

The speaker’s tone — and the hostile White House response — raised the level of pessimism that a wide-ranging agreement could be reached quickly to head off hundreds of billions of dollars in automatic tax increases and spending cuts beginning next month. Adding to the sense that the two sides might not come together, rank-and-file Republicans said the leadership had not begun laying the groundwork for a major concession on taxes.

But Mr. Boehner pointedly did not rule out a vote before the end of the year on legislation to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for the middle class — and in so doing allow tax cuts on incomes over $250,000 to expire.

“The law of the land today is that everyone’s income taxes are going to go up Jan. 1,” Mr. Boehner said. “I’ve made it clear that I think that’s unacceptable, but until we get this issue resolved, that risk remains.”

Little more than two weeks are left before the nation goes over the so-called fiscal cliff, and neither Mr. Boehner nor Mr. Obama has budged from core demands.

The president continues to insist on an immediate increase in the top two income-tax rates as a condition for further negotiations on spending and entitlement changes. If Mr. Boehner insists on further spending cuts, White House officials say, he must lay out his specific demands, something he has so far declined to do.

Mr. Boehner has offered to raise his opening bid of $800 billion in increased tax revenue over 10 years, but only if the president makes a significant commitment to overhaul entitlements and slow their growth. The White House’s opening bid committed to pressing for changes next year to federal health care programs that would save $400 billion over 10 years. Mr. Boehner wants a far larger pledge and a firm commitment that Mr. Obama will put his political weight behind substantive changes to Medicare and the tax code.

The president, Mr. Boehner said, appears intent on squandering “a golden opportunity to make 2013 the year that we enact fundamental tax reform and entitlement reform to begin to solve our country’s debt problem and, frankly, revenue problem.”

But Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said the president was “willing to make tough choices on the spending side — to reduce our spending as part of a broad package that includes cuts in discretionary spending, savings from our entitlement programs and increased revenues that are borne by those in this country who can most afford it.”

Even as Mr. Boehner pressed Mr. Obama to specify reductions in spending for Medicare and other entitlement benefit programs, the Republicans continued to be mute on what reductions they favor.

Republicans are not proposing the sort of program overhauls — making Medicare a voucherlike system, and turning Medicaid into a lower-cost block grant to the states — that have been part of their House budgets for the past two years, sponsored by Representative Paul D. Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman and Mitt Romney’s running mate in the presidential race. In any case, the Ryan budgets delayed the changes so they would not save much in the next 10 years. And as many Democrats recall, Republicans attacked Mr. Obama and Congressional Democrats in the campaign for having approved Medicare reductions of $716 billion over a decade as part of the 2010 health care law.

Washington now faces three potential outcomes to the fiscal impasse, lawmakers from both parties say. A broad deal could be reached in which some taxes go up immediately and some cuts are secured to stop the broader tax increases and halt the across-the-board tax cuts — and to lock in targets for entitlement savings and revenue produced by changes in tax policy revenue to be worked out next year.

If no deal is reached, Republicans are increasingly talking about a more hostile outcome in which the House passes legislation that extends tax cuts for the middle class, sets relatively low tax rates on dividends, capital gains and inherited estates, and cancels the across-the-board defense cuts, but leaves in place across-the-board domestic cuts. Then House Republicans would engage in what Mr. Boehner, in a private meeting last week, called “trench warfare,” a running battle with the president on spending, first as the government approaches its statutory borrowing limit early next year, then in late March, when a stopgap government spending bill runs out. But such legislation might not be able to pass the Senate, leaving the country no closer to a resolution.

Finally, many Republicans say it is now possible that the government will plunge into the fiscal unknown. Representative Patrick T. McHenry, Republican of North Carolina, said Mr. Boehner had given Republicans no indication “that he’s going to budge.”

“He’s not going to raise rates in any way, shape or form,” he said. “That has not changed.”

Republicans who have advocated giving in on rate increases now say the party appears to be preparing for the worst. Representative Charles Bass, a New Hampshire Republican who lost his re-election bid last month, said the pain for Republicans would not be immediate because the tax increases would not be apparent to most Americans that fast.

But “by the third or fourth week of January, their life will be so miserable,” he said, “their life will be so unbearable, they’ll just want to get done with it.”

    With Gap Wide and Time Short, Obama and Boehner Meet, NYT, 13.12.2012,






Republicans Stand Firm in Keeping Control of House


November 7, 2012
The New York Times


Deep disapproval of Congress and dissatisfaction with partisan division appeared no match for Congressional incumbency on Tuesday, as Republicans seemed to have retained a firm hold on the House of Representatives, assuring the continuation of divided government for at least another two years.

Democrats began the year with deep pockets and a plan to focus on scores of Republican freshmen, particularly those with a Tea Party imprimatur, in an effort to retake the House after losing it in 2010. But in the first Congressional election since decennial redistricting, Republicans — thanks to their control of many state legislatures — managed to shore up many incumbents by fashioning districts that Democrats had little chance of capturing.

Retirements by a large number of Democratic members, and a message on Medicare that more or less fizzled, were additional impediments. Blue Dog Democrats, a group of moderates whose numbers have been dwindling, were particularly endangered as they struggled to defend districts they had long held.

In the end, the bravado of Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the minority leader, who earlier this year suggested that fights over Medicare and other issues would help deliver the House back to her party, was misplaced.

Republicans placed their greatest hopes on North Carolina, where their redistricting efforts targeted vulnerable Democrats more than just about anywhere else. In a seat left open by the retirement of one prominent Blue Dog, Representative Brad Miller, a former federal prosecutor, George Holding, easily defeated his Democratic opponent, Charles Malone. Another Democratic incumbent, Representative Larry Kissell, long used to fending off Republicans, lost to Richard Hudson, a former Republican staffer.

In Kentucky, Republicans got their wish and finally tossed Representative Ben Chandler, one of the last remaining Blue Dogs, from his seat. Andy Barr, who lost to Mr. Chandler by 647 votes in 2010, finally took out the incumbent, who had served since 2004.

There were some bright spots for Democrats. Alan Grayson, who lost his Florida seat in 2010 to Representative Daniel Webster, got a return ticket to Washington when he defeated the Republican Todd Long in the new Ninth District. Lois Frankel, another Democrat, prevailed in an open seat in that state, and the Democrat Joe Garcia beat Representative David Rivera, who was under federal investigation.

Illinois, where Democrats focused much of their effort, was a strong point for the party. Tammy Duckworth, a veteran who lost her legs in the Iraq war, easily defeated Representative Joe Walsh, a freshman and Tea Party favorite, and will become the first combat-injured woman to serve in Congress. Representative Bobby Schilling, a pizza parlor owner with no previous elected experience, joined a sea of one-termers when he was defeated by Cheri Bustos, and a long-serving Republican, Judy Biggert, fell to Bill Foster.

In New Hampshire, Ann Kuster defeated Representative Charles Bass, and in Georgia, where Republicans thought they would pick off the last white Democrat in the deep South, Representative John Barrow prevailed.

But Republicans began to count their wins Tuesday night as well. Representative Tom Latham of Iowa defeated Representative Leonard Boswell in a battle of incumbents, even though President Obama won the state. Also in Iowa, Representative Steve King handily beat back Christie Vilsack, the wife of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a former Iowa governor. Republicans also picked up a seat in Pennsylvania,where Keith Rothfus picked off Mark Critz, a Democrat with a strong labor union following.

Democrats had a far better day over all in the Senate, maintaining their control there and ensuring that the two chambers would continue their contentious relationship through 2014.

Most immediately, with no undisputed mandate on either side of the aisle to manage fiscal policy, Congress will move to confront the so-called fiscal cliff, and simultaneous expiration of myriad tax provisions and drastic budget cuts.

It remains to be seen whether the tone and content of the bruising fight over the debt ceiling and other fiscal matters in the 112th Congress will continue into the next session, or if both parties will conclude that the only mandate lawmakers have is to finally work together and bridge the gap on those difficult issues.

“For two years, our majority in the House has been the primary line of defense for the American people against a government that spends too much, taxes too much, and borrows too much when left unchecked,” House Speaker John A. Boehner said Tuesday. “In the face of a staggering national debt that threatens our children’s future, our majority passed a budget that begins to solve the problem.”

He added “With this vote, the American people have also made clear that there is no mandate for raising tax rates.”

Many Democrats started the cycle off in strong position, particularly after high-profile fights in Congress over issues like the payroll tax extension and student loan rates. But the environment changed significantly as time went on, with voters divided over the disparate policy prescriptions offered by the two parties on the economy, entitlements and taxes.

As the leaves began to change and the temperatures dropped, what once seemed like a Democratic surge evaporated. There appeared to be no single issue that Democrats could turn to their advantage, like the health care debate that so dominated the 2010 Congressional elections and propelled Republicans back into the majority. President Obama’s coattails had little effect in many states he easily won.

The poor showing is likely to result in new questions about whether Ms. Pelosi will remain her party’s leader in the House.

    Republicans Stand Firm in Keeping Control of House, NYT, 7.11.2012,






Representative Charlie Rose,

Tobacco’s Friend in the House,

Dies at 73


September 4, 2012
The New York Times


Charlie Rose, a former United States representative from rural North Carolina who fought to protect the tobacco industry and its farmers when political and regulatory pressure on the industry were on the rise and smoking in steady decline, died on Monday in Albertville, Ala. He was 73.

The cause was complications of Parkinson’s disease, said his wife, Stacye Hefner.

Mr. Rose, a Democrat some called Mr. Tobacco, was first elected to the House in 1972. His southeastern North Carolina district was covered with tobacco farms, but the crop’s economic and geographic footprint shrank over the next two decades of his tenure.

Mr. Rose (no relation to the television interviewer of the same name) worked to ease the transition and successfully fought to preserve government price supports for tobacco even as the government was warning of its potentially lethal health effects.

“There’s no way you could represent that district and not be in support of tobacco farmers,” said Merle Black, a professor of politics at Emory University.

In the 1990s, the Clinton administration considered a significant increase in the federal tobacco tax to help pay for the ambitious health care overhaul proposed by the first lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton. Mr. Rose, the chairman of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Peanuts and Tobacco, led the opposition.

“In the past, the Reagan and Bush administrations were pretty reasonable about taxing tobacco,” Mr. Rose said in an interview in 1995. “But I think all of us who represent tobacco states knew that the growing concern about smoking and health was going to someday lead to this type of attitude and reaction in the White House. This talk of $2 a pack is scaring us to death, and that’s putting it mildly.”

The health care plan did not pass, and the federal tobacco tax has yet to reach $2 per pack — it is now $1.01 — but Mr. Rose was correct that change was coming. He retired from Congress in 1996, two years after Republicans took control.

Charles Grandison Rose III was born Aug. 10, 1939, in Fayetteville, N.C. He graduated from Davidson College and received his law degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He worked as a chief district court prosecutor before he was elected to the House.

Ms. Hefner, whom he married in 1995, is the daughter of former Representative Bill Hefner of North Carolina. The couple moved to Albertville several years ago to be close to Ms. Hefner’s family.

Besides Ms. Hefner, Mr. Rose is survived by a sister, Irene Owen; a brother, Fred Rose; four children, Charles, Louise, Kelly and Parker; and a stepson, Joseph Hawk. Two previous marriages ended in divorce.

Mr. Rose was more liberal than many other Southern Democrats of his era, on issues including civil rights, and he was well regarded by other members of Congress for helping modernize the House by installing computers in offices and television cameras in the House chamber.

But he also faced ethics charges. In 1988, the House ethics committee issued him a “letter of reproof” for failing to disclose that he had converted campaign money for his personal use. In 1994, Mr. Rose agreed to pay $12,500 to settle a civil action brought by the Justice Department related to the same issue.

Mr. Rose and Ms. Hefner started a lobbying firm after he left office and represented a range of clients, including oncologists and R. J. Reynolds, the tobacco company, with which the firm still has a contract.


This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: September 4, 2012

A previous version of this obituary misstated a school from which Mr. Rose graduated.

It was Davidson College, not Davidson University.

    Representative Charlie Rose, Tobacco’s Friend in the House, Dies at 73, NYT, 4.9.2012,






A Budget Crisis Averted, for Now


August 1, 2012
The New York Times


Members of Congress used to be embarrassed when they could not perform their basic job of passing spending bills and instead had to finance the government with a series of short-term resolutions. But such patchwork has now become commonplace, and it is a sign of Washington’s profound dysfunction that the short-term agreement reached on Tuesday came as a relief to both sides.

House and Senate leaders settled on a deal to keep the government running through March, preventing it from shutting down when the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30. With Congress polarized and paralyzed by the coming election, no regular appropriations bills have been enacted, and none will be before the deadline.

The prospect of a shutdown was a real one because House Republicans broke an agreement that they had reached with the Senate last year on the size of the federal budget for the 2013 fiscal year. In settling the debt-ceiling crisis last year, the two chambers passed a measure setting discretionary spending at $1.047 trillion for 2013. But to make one of its periodic points about excessive spending, the House recklessly chopped $20 billion off that amount in March, much of which would have come out of Head Start, Pell grants and state aid.

At the time, many House conservatives said that they relished a confrontation with the Senate, hoping the threat of a shutdown would give them the cuts they wanted. After all, it worked the year before when Republicans cynically used the deadline to wring nearly $40 billion in cuts from the 2012 budget. The withdrawal of that much spending helped neutralize the stimulative effects of the previous year’s payroll tax cut, keeping the economy stagnant.

The difference this year is the November election. Wiser Republican leaders knew that a shutdown crisis in September would leave a bad taste with voters, many of whom (correctly) tend to blame these kinds of things on their party. So the lawmakers agreed on a continuing resolution that will keep the spending limit at $1.047 trillion — far lower than it should be when the economy needs a boost, but at least it’s not making things worse. The White House signed on, and the resolution is supposed to be passed after the August recess.

Both parties are hoping the outcome of the election will give them an advantage when the agreement has to be renegotiated next year. But stalemate is still the most likely outcome as long as voters keep electing Republican lawmakers who are unwilling to compromise on spending and taxes. Representative Steven LaTourette of Ohio, one of the few moderate Republicans left in the House, made that clear on Tuesday when he said he couldn’t take it anymore and would not seek re-election after nine terms.

“There are people on the right and the left who think that if you compromise you’re a coward, you’re a facilitator, you’re an appeaser,” he said, adding that “people are more interested in fighting with each other than they are in getting the no-brainers done and governing.”

That kind of common sense will be missed.

    A Budget Crisis Averted, for Now, NYT, 1.8.2012,




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