Entries in Senate (12)


Secret Service Director to Testify on Prostitution Scandal

Brendan Hoffman/Bloomberg via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Secret Service director Mark Sullivan will appear before a Senate committee on Wednesday to give his first public testimony on the agency's investigation of the prostitution scandal in Columbia.

A dozen agents have been accused of drinking heavily and cavorting with prostitutes in Cartagena last month ahead of President Obama's arrival for the Summit of the Americas.  Eight have since been fired and three more face disciplinary action.

Sullivan is expected to tell senators that there were no security breaches as the Secret Service agents prepared for Obama’s arrival in visit.

In prepared testimony, he will say the agents involved did not have sensitive documents, radios or weapons in their hotel rooms.  Sullivan will also testify that they had not received specific information that would have put the president's security in jeopardy.

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Senate Passes Bill to Modernize FAA, Extend Its Funding

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- By a vote of 75-20, the Senate Monday night passed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization conference report.

Most notably, the FAA Modernization Reform Act will extend the funding for the FAA through 2015, investing more than $20 billion in airports and runways in the country and on modern air traffic control equipment.

This marks the first long-term reauthorization of the FAA in almost five years -- the agency has worked under 23 short-term extensions since 2007.  The past extensions have just been in two- or three-month increments, time after time.

“It will finally give the FAA the ability it needs to be a world-class travel system,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Monday. “The aviation jobs bill will also create thousands of jobs, about 300,000," Reid said without elaborating. "It will protect airline workers and approve safety for travelers. This legislation will create badly-needed jobs and will give the FAA the ability to finally upgrade the country's air traffic control system.”

The House of Representatives passed the bill last Friday, so it now heads to President Obama’s desk for his signature.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Senators Propose Changes to Help Rescue the USPS

PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Stressing that the United States Postal Service will run out of money to deliver mail by next summer, a bipartisan group of senators unveiled a proposal to help rescue the postal service.

“We are not crying wolf here,” Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said Wednesday. “The postal service literally will not survive unless comprehensive, legislative and administrative reforms are undertaken.”

Along with Collins, Sens. Tom Carper, D-Del., Scott Brown, R-Mass., and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., revealed their plan -- actually a melding of two plans -- Wednesday at a news conference. It calls for a fundamental restructuring of the postal service, including cost-saving changes that will affect individual and business mailers and USPS employees.

“Too many people rely on the federal postal service for us to sit back and allow it to collapse,” Lieberman said.

He said many Americans still use the service despite a 22-percent drop in volume since 2007 blamed on electronic communication and the economic downturn that has “swept our postal service into a financial death spiral.”

The postal service would receive a repayment of nearly $7 billion from the Office of Personnel Management because of overpayments that the postal service has made to the federal employees retirement system.

The senators call for a reduction of the number of people who work for the post offices -- by offering a “compassionate buyout program” for potential retirees that could reduce the number of employees by 100,000 workers, saving $8 billion a year.

The proposal also calls for reducing the number of postal facilities in the country, including post offices and distribution centers, and alters the delivery schedules.

The proposal would prohibit the implementation of a reduction to five-day delivery for the next two years. At that point, five-day delivery could only be implemented if the Postal Regulatory Commission verifies GAO assessment that the postal service has implemented cost-cutting reforms and savings are still not sufficient.

“What we want to do is ensure that slashing or eliminating Saturday service is truly the last resort, not the first option,” Collins said.

The bill also calls for workers compensation and health care savings reforms.

“Without taking controversial steps like these, the postal service simply is not going to make it,” Lieberman said, noting the proposal is sure to generate controversy. “We must act quickly to avoid a postal service collapse.”

The legislation was introduced Wednesday and the full Homeland Security and Government Affairs committee will mark it up next Wednesday.

The House of Representatives has consistently opposed the proposed approach, likening it to a bailout. Members are working on their own bill.

“It’s not a bailout. It is the result of a legal analysis that everyone agrees with, that this was, in fact, an overpayment by the postal service and it is entitled to receive that money back,” Lieberman said in defense of the Senate proposal. “This is money they are owed. It is not a bailout.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Marine Lost Limbs; Wife Tells Lawmakers of Long-Term Cost of War

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Crystal Nicely, the wife of one of three surviving quadruple amputees in the Marine Corps, put a face to the long term costs of war by sharing her experiences navigating the system as a non-medical attendant for her husband.

“For me, I'm not only my husband's caregiver, non-medical attendant, appointment scheduler, cook, driver and groomer, but I'm also his loving wife faced with my own stresses and frustrations,” Nicely said Wednesday at a hearing before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  “To be clear this is not an issue of being overwhelmed with caring for my husband, but what is upsetting is the lack of support, compassion and benefits for these individuals.  It needs to be just a little bit easier.”

Her husband, Marine Cpl. Todd Nicely, lost both arms and both legs when he was hit by an IED during a foot patrol in Helmand province in Afghanistan in 2010.  Since his injury, he has spent a year recovering at Walter Reed and has received prosthetics, which enable him to be a little more independent, even recently restoring his ability to drive.

“It has been a long journey since that day in the early 2010, and you would think that it would be easy for someone to lose hope and motivation after such a catastrophic injury, but my husband has been a fighter since day one.  In recovery, he displayed the same irresistible warrior spirit for which the Marines are so beloved,” Crystal Nicely said.

But the Nicelys have confronted red tape throughout their time at Walter Reed, as they’ve struggled with mounting medical expenses, delayed paperwork, and slowly-trained unit personnel. Cpl. Nicely waited 70 days for a doctor to complete a medical summary for his disability review, which delayed his release from Walter Reed and retirement from the military.  

The CBO estimates the medical costs associated with the Veterans Health Administration’s treatment of veterans from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq could total between $40 billion and $55 billion over the next ten years.

As Congress and the president debate over the debt ceiling, service members and veterans are worried about the economic impact they will face if the nation defaults.

“Right now, our nation teeters on the edge of default and service members and veterans are left concerned and a bit scared,” Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America said. “They don't know what's going to happen August 1st. They don't know what's going to happen September 1st. They don't know if disability checks are coming.  They don't know if paychecks are coming. They don't know if GI checks are coming and they're extremely concerned.  They're scared.”

Rieckhoff said members from the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America met with officials at the White House yesterday, but did not receive guidance on how veterans and service members would be directly affected. Rieckhoff called on Congress to look for ways to prevent a default from occurring.

“Incredible frustration, just devastating disappointment, and it's become demoralizing, not even from folks just here stateside, but overseas.  There's a guy at a checkpoint in Afghanistan right now who doesn't know for certain what's going to happen to him and his family in thirty days.  That is ridiculous, and it is outrageous, and our members are beyond upset.”

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said veterans’ benefits should be non-negotiable in the budget negotiations.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Senate Adjourns Without Passing FAA Bill; Agency to Partially Shutdown

FAA(WASHINGTON) -- The Senate has officially adjourned for the weekend without passing the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill -- meaning that at midnight Friday there will be a partial shutdown of the aviation agency.

The FAA’s current funding will expire Friday night at midnight -- without Congress approving new funding legislation. Approximately 4,000 FAA employees will be furloughed, including employees who collect taxes from airlines and construction workers assigned to airport projects. The shutdown does not impact air traffic controllers.

Legislators have been at an impasse for months over two provisions in legislation that would extend the agency’s funding, the labor provision in the bill, which would make it harder for transportation workers to unionize and the elimination of $16 million in government subsidies for 13 small rural airports.

The Senate would not approve the House-passed FAA extension.  Late Friday afternoon the Senate “hotlined” a clean extension substitute amendment.

“I just want to say in all fairness and all honesty, for goodness sakes, to both sides, we believe you save that battle to another day,” Senator Durbin, D-Ill., said on the Senate floor when introducing the amendment. “What I’m offering is neutrality, political neutrality, a clean extension, but what I’m afraid I’m going to get back is an insistence if you don't take the House Republican proposal, we'll shut it down.”

Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said that the Republicans want to make clear that  a long-term FAA reauthorization is a priority -- and noted that with the House of Representatives already adjourned for the weekend there’d be no way to pass Durbin’s amendment.

Hatch said then the only way to prevent a disruption of the FAA funding is to pass the bill already passed in the House this week. Democrats are opposed to that bill.

“The House Republicans have gone home, they're gone,” Durbin exclaimed. “They sent this over and said, take it or leave it or close it down. That’s not a very sound choice for our country. I’m sorry that the senator from Utah objected to a clean extension of this so that we could keep up these operations. I object to this because I don't believe it's a fair approach.”

So the Senate adjourned themselves without any action on this.

Senator Durbin said that to give people “peace of mind,” this shutdown will not have an impact on air traffic control and the safety of the nation’s airlines.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Hackers Break into Website

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Hackers broke into the website over the weekend and were able to access files placed on the server, the Senate Sergeant at Arms confirmed Tuesday, but the breach did not compromise the security of the network.

"The intruder did not gain access into the Senate computer network and was only able to read and determine the directory structure of the files placed on," the office of the Sergeant at Arms, which monitors cyber security, said in a statement. "That server is for public access on the public side of the Senate's network firewall, and any files that individual Senate offices place there are intended for public consumption."

The vulnerability in the system was traced back to an individual senator's office, though the Sergeant at Arms did not name the senator. It will also conduct a review into the breach.

"Although this intrusion is inconvenient, it does not compromise the security of the Senate's network, its members or staff," the statement added. "Specifically, there is no individual user account information on the server supporting that could have been compromised."

"Lulz Security," which claims to have hacked into, posted the directory names on its web site and on the surface it did not seem to contain any proprietary information.

"We don't like the US government very much. Their boats are weak, their lulz are low, and their sites aren't very secure," the group wrote on its Web site. "In an attempt to help them fix their issues, we've decided to donate additional lulz in the form of owning them some more! This is a small, just-for-kicks release of some internal data from - is this an act of war, gentlemen? Problem?"

This isn't the group's first foray into hacking a government website. In March, Lulz Security also claims to have breached the Web site of the Atlanta chapter of InfraGard, a grassroots group that works with the FBI to counter cyber crime threats. Hackers stole nearly 180 passwords and posted them on the Internet. Lulz Security at the time said the breach was in response to the Pentagon considering whether some cyber attacks should be designated as acts of war. "Lulz" is a hacker/gamer term roughly meaning "just for laughs."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Senate Honors Military, Intel on Osama Bin Laden Mission

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Senate – with all senators sitting at their desks in the chamber, a rare sight – passed a resolution Tuesday honoring the members of the military and intelligence communities who carried out the mission that killed Osama bin Laden.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the Senate was voting on the resolution “not as two parties, not even as 100 senators, but as one body, representing one grateful country.”

The vote was 97-0.

“Those who remember the horror of 9/11 take a certain satisfaction knowing that the last thing Osama bin Laden saw in this world was the small team of Americans who shot him dead,” said the Senate’s top Republican, Mitch McConnell.

“Justice has been done and the world has become a better place now that bin Laden is no longer in it,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. “This is a time for national unity and celebration. It is a time to finally close a painful chapter in the history of our nation, even as our larger fight continues. And most of all, it is a time to give thanks and recognition to a distinguished group of our fellow citizens who will forever occupy an honored place in our history.

“I am truly in awe of what these young men have accomplished,” he said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Senate Votes to Make Misuse of TSA Body Scans a Federal Crime

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- In the wake of last year’s uproar over leaked airport body scan images, the Senate voted unanimously Tuesday to make it a federal crime to misuse the images.

The amendment to the $35 billion FAA reauthorization bill would ban the distribution of body scan images taken in airports or other federal buildings. Under the proposal, anyone who records or distributes the images would face up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine.

“This law sends a loud and clear message to the flying public, not only will we do everything we can to protect your safety, we will also do everything we can to protect your privacy,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a paper statement. “As we put in place new technologies to detect and capture those who wish to do us harm, we need to do everything we can to protect the privacy rights of the air travelers.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Monday night that he hopes to bring the complete FAA bill to a full Senate vote later this week.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Pointing Lasers at Aircraft May Soon Be Illegal

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Senate has passed an amendment that could make pointing lasers at aircraft a federal crime.

Lawmakers on Thursday voted 96-1 to pass the amendment introduced by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI, aimed at cracking down on individuals who engage in such activity. A growing number of pilots have reported lasers directed at their cockpits during takeoff and landing. They fear the lasers could temporarily blind them and pose harm to those on board.

“Shining lasers at airplanes is not a game and places passengers and crew at risk,” Whitehouse said. “With the increasing occurrence of these types of incidents, prosecutors must have strong tools to punish and deter this dangerous conduct.”

Should the amendment make it into law, it will be a crime to knowingly point a laser at an aircraft, punishable by up to five years in prison. The bill exempts those using lasers for legitimate aviation purposes.

The Federal Aviation Administration says over 2,800 reports were filed about lasers being pointed at aircraft in 2010, almost double the amount of reports received the previous year. In 2010, Los Angeles International Airport had a national high 102 laser incidents, while Theodore Francis Green Airport in Warwick, R.I., had the least amount of reports with 12.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


'Christmas Miracle' for 9/11 Responders?

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The first responders still suffering health effects more than nine years after the Sept. 11 terror attacks could get a "Christmas miracle" this year, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said Saturday.

Senate Republicans last week derailed a bill that would provide $7.4 billion in health care and compensation to 9/11 responders and survivors, but Gillibrand this weekend voiced confidence that the Senate will pass the bill in the next week, now that lawmakers have agreed on how to pay for the measure.

"We have the votes we need," Gillibrand said Saturday at a press conference on Capitol Hill. "We've had indications from several Republicans that they very much want to vote for this bill.

"They would like to vote for a stand-alone bill," she said. "There is general agreement on a new pay-for that we're going to offer, so the hope is to get to the bill as soon as the START bill is completed."

The bill was put to a test vote on Dec. 9, but supporters found themselves three votes short of the 60 needed to proceed to debate and a final vote. The measure failed 57-42.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

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