Congress

Friday, May 17, 2013

Cooper Doubts The Amp Will Get Federal Funding

Posted By on Fri, May 17, 2013 at 9:06 AM

As Mayor Karl Dean prepares to throw open the doors to the Music City Center, some bad news for his proposed bus rapid transit project, The Amp. Over at The City Paper:

Nashville Congressman Jim Cooper does not believe federal funding will be available for The Amp, Dean’s proposed bus rapid transit project that would run along the West End corridor. The project has already been a source of contention, with some residents, business owners and Metro Council members taking issue with the proposed route.

Members of an emerging group of opponents say Cooper shared his doubts with them during a recent meeting about the issue. Cooper spokeswoman Katie Hill confirmed his views to The City Paper.

“I think his view is that right now with sequestration going on, and until we strike some sort of grand bargain on the deficit, there’s just not a whole lot of extra money floating around out there for projects like this,” Hill said.

The mayor's office, and their D.C. consultants/lobbyists, remain optimistic that the federal program from which the city will be seeking funds still has room in it for The Amp. But before they get there, they'll have to contend with some more opposition forming along the corridor.

Read the whole story here.

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Monday, April 15, 2013

Marsha Blackburn to Lead House Delegation to Margaret Thatcher's Funeral

Posted By on Mon, Apr 15, 2013 at 12:02 PM

Our very own Marsha Blackburn will lead a three-person delegation to London to bid the Iron Lady farewell.

The Washington Post reports that the congresswoman will be joined by Reps. Michele Bachmann and George Holding, attending the funeral of Margaret Thatcher Wednesday on behalf of the U.S. House. The former British prime minister and conservative icon died last week.

Fiscal scolds will be pleased to know that due to budgetary restrictions, the WaPo also reports, the trio will be flying commercial across the pond.

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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Alexander Votes to Cut Off Gun Filibuster, But Vows to Expand Second Amendment Rights

Posted By on Thu, Apr 11, 2013 at 1:35 PM

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Is Sen. Lamar Alexander ready to put country over party yet? Remember how he promised to do that a couple of years ago when he gave up his spot on the Senate GOP leadership team? Or is he still playing the role of crazy wingnut to prevent a tea party challenge to his reelection next year?

The answer landed today in our email box: a statement from Alexander explaining why he voted to stop the filibustering of gun control legislation. He's not even thinking about supporting universal background checks. No, he's vowing to amend the bill to expand gun rights somehow. To underscore his point on this serious topic of gun violence, our senator thought it was appropriate to make this cute little reference to the Grand Ole Opry.

I’m always ready to defend and debate the Second Amendment constitutional rights of Tennesseans. In fact, I look forward to sponsoring and voting for amendments that strengthen those rights. To be unwilling to defend and debate Second Amendment rights on the Senate floor would be like joining the Grand Ole Opry and being unwilling to sing.

Update: Lamarvelous says he'll vote against the Toomey-Manchin amendment. “I’ll examine each amendment to determine whether it strengthens or infringes upon our Second Amendment rights,” Alexander said. “The Toomey-Manchin proposal to expand background checks in my opinion doesn’t meet that test and I will vote against it.”

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Sens. Corker and Alexander Respond to Rand Paul's Marathon Filibuster on Drones (UPDATED)

Posted By on Thu, Mar 7, 2013 at 12:01 PM

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UPDATE 12:54 p.m.: In a new letter to Sen. Rand Paul, Attorney General Eric Holder responds to the question of whether the president has the authority to order a drone strike on a non-combatant U.S. citizen on American soil: "The answer to that question is no." Good to know.

Original post: What started as mid-day entertainment for C-SPAN junkies turned into national political news yesterday, as Sen. Rand Paul staged an old-school talking filibuster on the floor of the U.S. Senate. He spoke for something like 13 hours, raising questions about the U.S. drone program, and demanding that the Obama administration state clearly whether it believes it can use drones to kill non-combatant U.S. citizens on American soil (a question that, shockingly, the White House has been somewhat vague on). It all ended late last night, when Paul finally succumbed to the demands of his bladder.

But as Paul, uh, droned on (I'll let myself out), and several other senators (14 Republicans and one Democrat) appeared occasionally to help him out, Tennesseans watching and tweeting the spectacle began to wonder: Where were Tennessee Senators Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander?

Continue reading »

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Friday, February 15, 2013

Cohen Non-Scandal Reveals Valentines Surprise and a TNGOP Boner

Posted By on Fri, Feb 15, 2013 at 8:55 AM

Those creepy tweets sent by a Tennessee congressman to a 24 year-old blonde and then subsequently deleted Tuesday night? Well, it turns out the bombshell is his daughter, and, in retrospect, the tweets are actually kind of sweet.

This whole story burned out so fast that you might have missed it amongst wall-to-wall coverage of the poop cruise, or news of a murder charge for the last remaining inspirational athlete.

So let's start at the beginning, for posterity's sake.

Continue reading »

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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

WTF? Lamar Says Video Games Bigger Problem Than Guns

Posted By on Wed, Jan 30, 2013 at 2:23 PM

Monday, January 28, 2013

Marsha Blackburn Tells Morning Joe Haslam Won't Take Federal Funds to Expand Medicaid

Posted By on Mon, Jan 28, 2013 at 3:37 PM


A new study found that if you turn on your television right now, there's an 86 percent chance Marsha Blackburn will be on it.

Congresswoman* Marsha Blackburn seems to have gotten out ahead of Gov. Bill Haslam when it comes to whether Tennessee will accept federal funds to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Just after the four-minute mark of her Monday morning appearance on MSNBC's Morning Joe, she was asked by former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell whether Haslam would accept the federal money offered to states who decide to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act — a question to which Blackburn gave a matter-of-fact "No."

Continue reading »

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Study: Lamar! Revealed as South's Most Heretical GOP Senator

Posted By on Mon, Jan 28, 2013 at 11:18 AM

Our friends at Gannett report today on an independent voting analysis showing that Tennessee's own U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander sided with President Barack Obama on Senate bills in 2012 more than any other Republican Senator in the South.

At a political moment when GOP congressional leaders even rejected an invitation to screen Lincoln, with the president and the stars of the movie, Alexander's apostasy stands out. Gannett reports that Alexander voted with the president — that is, he voted for bills that Obama had publicly supported — 62 percent of the time in 2012, after doing so 63 percent of the time in 2011.

He even spoke at the president's inauguration last week. ("Quick, Bates! My fainting couch.")

By comparison, GOP Reps. Marsha Blackburn and Diane Black sided with the president 11 and 13 percent of the time respectively. They each had "party unity" scores — voting the party line — of 99 percent. Alexander's party loyalty came in at 83 percent, compared to Sen. Bob Corker's 86 percent.

Does this really matter? It almost certainly does not. Every important Republican in the state, with the exception of Rep. Scott DesJarlais (but I repeat myself), has lined up to support Alexander's 2014 re-election campaign. And for Tennessee Democrats, Ashley Judd is not walking through that door.

Note (11:54 a.m.): I should also have pointed out a larger reason you can pass this study by. From deep within the Gannett article:

Because the Congressional Quarterly study focuses only on votes where the president has a clearly defined position, it covers a minority of Senate roll calls.

In 2012, for instance, the Senate took 251 roll call votes but Congressional Quarterly only found 79 where the president had a clearly stated position. And 40 of those were judicial nominations.

Alexander has a long-stated position that a president of either party should have his appointments barred only in extreme circumstances.

So, Alexander sided with the president on 62 percent of 79 votes, half of which were judicial nominations. This news is broken.

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Monday, January 21, 2013

No Budget No Pay: Cooper v. Constitution

Posted By on Mon, Jan 21, 2013 at 8:35 AM

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When U.S. House Republicans used their Williamsburg retreat last week to retreat from an economic hostage-taking strategy and allow a three-month rise in the debt limit, they adopted a version of Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper's "no budget no pay" scheme as an element of their new strategy. Republicans plan to include in the debt ceiling bill a provision that withholds pay from members if their chamber of the Congress fails to pass a budget by April 15.

Cooper first introduced no-budget-no-pay in late 2011 as a bill that would dock members' pay for each day past Sept. 30 (the end of the fiscal year) that they fail to pass budget and spending bills. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker have co-sponsored a similar measure in the Senate. But Cooper isn't so thrilled (outwardly, anyway) to see his idea co-opted in this very public way by House Republicans. "I am sorry that it is being used now as a political weapon," he said late last week, adding that a rise in the debt limit "should be longer than 3 months and unconditional."

The idea may be, as Cooper has suggested, a novel and potentially effective way for Congress to take responsibility for its own bad behavior. But is it a constitutional one? With no-budget-no-pay suddenly elevated from quixotic notion to serious negotiating gambit, questions are being raised about whether it runs afoul of the 27th Amendment, which reads (in its entirety):

No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.

Simply put, a Congress (that is, the sitting body for a given Congressional session) cannot alter its own pay. Does withholding pay amount to "varying the compensation" of members of Congress? Talking Points Memo put this question to UCLA constitutional law professor Adam Winkler (no slouch), who believes it does indeed:

The answer is unclear because the 27th Amendment has never been authoritatively interpreted by the Supreme Court. Yet it seems almost certainly unconstitutional. Withholding pay effectively "var[ies] the compensation" of lawmakers. The amendment doesn’t say only raises in pay are invalid. It refers to "varying the compensation." Just as a "bonus" would vary lawmakers’ compensation, so does withholding money. This logic applies even if the pay is ultimately delivered to lawmakers. By outlawing "varying the compensation," the 27th Amendment prohibits laws that change when lawmakers receive pay, not just the amount they receive.

TPM quotes a House GOP leadership aide defending its constitutionality with an appeal to semantics: “The legislation does not change members’ pay. It does not reduce it.” The truth of that assertion may depend on how the thing is written. In Cooper's original no-budget-no-pay measure (HR 3643 introduced December 2011), Congressional pay withheld could not be recouped retroactively.

So with House Republicans desperate for a way to put some fiscal heat on Senate Democrats, no-budget-no-pay may finally be poised to have its day in the sun. Alas, it may first need to have its day in court.

A version of this post also appears at BruceBarry.net.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Cooper on Sandy Vote: 'I Hate Voting With the Republicans, But Congress Has to Do the Right Thing for the Country'

Posted By on Wed, Jan 16, 2013 at 9:59 AM

Congressman Jim Cooper raised eyebrows, and calls for a primary challenge, when he voted last night against $50 billion in emergency funding for recovery efforts in the wake of Hurricane Sandy last year. He was the only Democrat to do so.

Cooper voted to approve legislation earlier this month that provided $9.7 billion for federal flood insurance, and had supported a bill earlier on Tuesday that approved $17 billion in spending for disaster relief. But when the full $50 billion came to a vote, 179 Republicans and Cooper voted to oppose it.

The Blue Dog Democrat stepped out of a meeting this morning to take some questions from Pith on his vote, and why this time is different than when Nashville was under water in 2010.

Pith: Why did you vote against the bill?

Cooper: The bill wasn’t paid for. In fact, it wasn’t even partially paid for. Congress really made no effort to pay for even a fracture of it, so it added $50 billion to the deficit. I did support last week $9 billion, free and clear, I did support in this legislation $20-plus billion free and clear, but the extra $30 billion really should have been at least partly paid for. This is consistent with my past votes on deficits and on disaster relief. You should read the Washington Post editorial today. It’s excellent, pointing out how Congress regularly fails to handle our emergency responsibilities.

Another thing is, this isn’t any regular period in American history here. This is a period of budget crisis, literally. Because America’s been officially out of money since the first of the year. So we added to the deficit without even lifting a finger to offset the spending is pretty irresponsible at a time like this. You know, I love New England. My friends up there, if they need help, I voted for tens of billions of help, but to have the full package not even partially offset, it’s a new level of congressional spending.

I have a quote here — well, it’s not actually a quote, that’s why I want to ask you about it. It’s a report that says just after the fiscal cliff when the decision was made not to vote on Sandy relief that you said that was an example of how the House was broken. Did you say that? Why was that different?

Well, Congress should be able to consider legislation on a timely basis. But we also should try to pay for what we pass, and not just send the bill to our grandchildren. It was fine for me to vote on Sandy weeks ago, but in the bill we should make an effort to try to pay for things. All past disaster legislation that I’ve supported, we’ve made an effort and this time Congress didn’t even make an effort.

So, again, check out the Washington Post editorial today, it’s excellent. If you understand the congressional history of dealing with disasters, we always say with each disaster, ‘Oh yeah, we’re gonna fix it next time.’ And we never do. And it’s really, Congress has to get it’s act together because Congress is broken. Congress is broken in many ways. And the public realizes this, that’s why our approval rating is about 9 percent, with cockroaches and colonoscopies. [laughs]

I just tried to do the right thing for the country. Pay our bills, pay our bills on time, not load our children and grandchildren with debt. I love New England, and I voted for tens of billions free and clear for them, but you know, $50, $60 billion without even lifting a finger to pay for any of this? When America is officially out of money as of Jan. 1? It’s like woah, we’re really tempting fate here.

You mentioned past disaster relief. Obviously Tennessee was at the receiving end of some federal help after the flood a couple of years ago...

Exactly, and those bills were at least partially paid for. Congress made an effort. This is a new level of congressional irresponsibility here. You know, I hate voting with the Republicans, but Congress has to do the right thing for the country.

(Note: I'd love to link you to that WaPo editorial the congressmen so enjoyed, but it's behind a paywall.)

UPDATE: Cooper has released a statement on his vote:

“I have great compassion for the victims of the Sandy disaster, which is why I voted ‘yes’ on the first $9.7 billion bill that passed earlier this month.

“Congress should make at least some effort to pay for a portion of disaster relief. I voted for federal aid for Nashville flood recovery in 2010, and that bill was partially paid for. So were the Hurricane Katrina bills I supported. And Hurricane Rita, and Hurricane Wilma, and Hurricane Ivan, and Hurricane Isabel. Why can’t we find even partial offsets for Sandy?"

“Yesterday’s votes came during a national budget crisis while America is officially out of money.”

The release also included a link to that WaPo editorial.

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