Manchin Rips Obama For Failing To Lead In Spending Fight

Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WV, ripped President Obama on Tuesday for failing to lead as lawmakers in Congress fight over how to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year.

With Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid trying to set up votes on both parties' spending proposals -- the Democrats' plan to cut $6.5 billion and the GOP plan to cut about $50 billion more than that -- Manchin denounced the votes as nothing more than "political theater" and said he will oppose both measures.

The Democrats' plan, he argued on the Senate floor, "doesn’t go far enough" and "utterly ignores our fiscal reality," while the Republicans' proposal is an "even more flawed measure." Both measures are destined to fail in the chamber because neither will reach the 60-vote threshold needed to advance.

"Why are we engaging in this political theater? Why are we voting on partisan proposals that we know will fail?" Manchin asked. "Why are we doing this when the most powerful person in these negotiations -- our president -- has failed to lead this debate or offer a serious proposal for spending and cuts that he is willing to fight for?"

"The debate will be decided when the president leads these tough negotiations -- and right now that's not happening," he added.

"The bottom line is this," Manchin concluded. "The president is the leader of this great nation, and when it comes to an issue of significant national importance, the president must lead. Not the majority leader or speaker, but the president."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Obama to Visit Boston Classroom; Call for Creation of Education Agency

Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama will travel to Boston Tuesday to visit a classroom at TechBoston Academy with Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

TechBoston Academy will be used as an example of the "shared responsibility" the administration is calling for in education -- a school that is using technology in their classroom, and has partnerships with philanthropic and business leaders to provide students with education programs.

"Many sectors of the economy have utilized public-private partnership to drive innovation and growth," Domestic Policy Council Director Melody Barnes said previewing the visit, "and the education sector shouldn't be any different."

President Obama will call for the creation of an Advanced Research Projects Agency for Education with $90 million in funding for its first year during his speech.

The agency will "aggressively pursue technological breakthroughs that will transform educational technology and empower teaching and learning," Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said.  The $90 million for this agency is federal money, included in the 2012 budget sent to Congress.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Test Votes on Federal Budget Doomed to Failure

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Two important test votes on how to solve the current budget crisis are both expected to fail in the Senate Tuesday.

The two-week stopgap measure to keep the government from shutting down has just 10 days to go as Republicans and Democrats continue to bicker on the best way to cut back on spending but keep necessary programs operating.

House Republicans are talking about slashing $61 billion from the 2011 budget, while the White House is offering about $6.5 billion in spending cuts.  The chasm, at the point, is enormous.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says the House legislation is "a lemon" that the public has already soured on, while Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions contends that Democrats are doing virtually nothing to get the nation's fiscal house in order.

Once the test votes crash and burn, the two sides will get together to renew compromise negotiations.  However, the clock is ticking down with a deadline of March 18 for them to find common ground.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


State Governments Use Purchasing Power to Buy American, Create Jobs

Dynamic Graphics/Thinkstock(CHICAGO) -- State and local governments, which spend close to $2 trillion annually on goods and services, are increasingly trying to leverage their purchasing power to favor American businesses and create jobs.

Twenty-one states had "Buy American" laws through 2009, according to the National Association of State Procurement Officials, and nearly every state has implemented preference statutes for buying from in-state producers, many added since the recession began.

In Minnesota, law enforcement agencies must buy uniforms and protective gear that's made in the U.S.A., and natural resources officers can only ride all-terrain vehicles built in the state.

Illinois agencies in the market for plastic goods must favor companies that use by-products of Illinois corn.  State contracts for printing services are given out first to companies that use ink derived from Illinois-grown soybeans.

North Dakota mandates that state office buildings can only fly American flags that were sewn together on American soil.

"They all are aiming to achieve the same thing: get that economic value out of public spending," said Stacy Mitchell, a senior researcher with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

Most states provide exceptions to their rules, allowing purchasers to get their goods elsewhere if similar items aren't available in the U.S.  And there's little indication the laws are rigorously enforced.

But Mitchell said the measures can make a difference, particularly as states broaden the use of preferences for state contracts, favoring local businesses even if their prices aren't the lowest.

Critics say purchasing preference laws put taxpayers in a bind, forcing government agencies to choose from a limited selection of goods and services, some of questionable quality and many that could cost more than those found outside the state or overseas.

Legal experts question whether the laws run against international trade agreements and possibly violate the Constitution, which says only the federal government can regulate interstate commerce, though no legal challenges have occurred.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Politics of Oil: Will High Prices Spur Lawmakers to Act?

Medioimages/Photodisc/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Consumers are starting to feel the pressure at the pump as the crisis in Libya rages on, but in Washington, there's little momentum and political will to engage in the deeply polarized energy debate -- and the script is unlikely to change.

The national average price of a gallon of unleaded gasoline spiked to $3.52 on Monday, the highest price ever during the month of March, and ahead of the peak summer driving season.

But it has yet to translate into action on Capitol Hill.  The White House has discussed the option of tapping into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and has said it is looking into various options should a large scale supply disruption occur, but the action so far has been limited to rhetoric.

It's still too early to gauge the political impact, experts say, but both Republicans and Democrats need to take cautious steps in tackling this issue that is deeply divided along ideological lines.

According to one school of thought, the Libya crisis shows that the United States needs to boost its own offshore production for energy security; according to the other, the answer is to develop clean energy technology because of worries about the environmental costs of fossil fuel production and consumption.

There is little consensus on how to tackle the issue of energy security. From President Reagan to President Obama, most U.S. presidents have stated they want to see a more independent future for the United States when it comes to oil, but imports from foreign countries have only grown in recent decades.

Multiple efforts to enact comprehensive energy legislation that would boost clean energy and technological investment have collapsed, most recently last year when senators failed to find common ground.

Proponents of energy independence are hopeful that lawmakers will slip in some incentives, such as tax credits for hybrid cars, into bigger legislation, like they did in 2008, the last time oil prices had a sudden spike.

But with talk of economy and budget -- specifically cost-cutting measures -- dominating Capitol Hill, there's little impetus to revisit that subject, unless the pain is sustained.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Potential GOP Presidential Candidates Kick Off Iowa Caucus Season

Comstock Images/Thinkstock(DES MOINES, Iowa) -- At an event billed by Iowa’s Republican Gov. Terry Branstad as the “first significant event of the caucus season,” five 2012 GOP presidential hopefuls offered sweeping criticism of President Obama and delivered pitches for their own candidacies.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who began the exploratory phase of his campaign for the Republican nomination last week, wasted no time painting a picture of his first day in office. Among his top priorities if elected, Gingrich said he would “abolish every single czar in the White House and their offices” and reinstate President Ronald Reagan’s Mexico City policy to ensure, as Gingrich put it, that “no American tax money will go to abortions anywhere outside the U.S., period.”

More broadly, Gingrich complained that Republicans did not do enough to limit the power of the political left when they controlled the White House and that the country was in need of “deep” and “profound” political change. He accused President Obama of sharing the views of the “secular socialist left” and called on Republicans to unite in their efforts to defeat him in 2012.

“There should be no distinction, between economic, national security and social conservatives,” Gingrich said.

At the gathering outside Des Moines, organized by the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition, another potential candidate, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, focused on religious values and social issues.

“We need to be a country that turns toward God, not a country that turns away from God,” Pawlenty said. “The constitution was designed to protect people of faith from government, not to protect government from people of faith.”

Pawlenty called the national debt “immoral,” said the unborn should have a “right to life” and defended traditional marriage. He also touted his record as governor of Minnesota where he said he fought back against entrenched Democratic interests to usher in conservative policies.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum told the audience of several hundred Iowans who gathered Monday night at the Point of Grace Church in Waukee, Iowa that he had been “out fighting the war” on moral issues as an elected official and in the years since he left Washington. Santorum said he fought so hard that his children used to think his first name was “ultra” -- as in “ultra conservative” -- as a result of the reputation he gained in the press.

“Once you stick your head out on the social issues, once you fight for the moral fabric of our country” he said, “you’re labeled.”

Former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer, who started a presidential exploratory committee last week, called himself  “a seasoned warrior against special interest money,” touting his promise not take money from political action committees and cap all donations at $100.

“I’ve always been a church-going Methodist boy from a cotton field in north Louisiana,” Roemer said. “I’m a pro-life, traditional values man. I’m the only person thinking of running for president who was elected as a congressman and as a governor.”

Herman Cain, a Georgia businessman and the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, said he decided to launch a presidential exploratory committee because he was “compelled into a position of leadership.” If elected, Cain said, he would focus on changing the nation “from an entitlement society to an empowerment society,” adding that only businesses not government could create jobs.

“Let me ask you a rhetorical question: When was the last time anything was micromanaged from Washington, D.C. and it worked?” Cain asked. “Time’s up.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 


Obama to Nominate Commerce Secretary Locke as US Ambassador to China

Ethan Miller/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- ABC News has learned that President Obama intends to nominate Commerce Secretary Gary Locke as the next U.S. ambassador to China.

Locke is the first Chinese-American to be Secretary of Commerce. The former two-term governor of Washington State, Locke’s father and maternal grandfather emigrated from China to Seattle.  As a partner in the Seattle office of the international law firm, Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, Locke co-chaired the firm's China practice.

“The president asked him to take this job because Locke had the experience and relationships necessary to take on this key post,” a senior administration official tells ABC News. “With more than two decades of experience dealing with China, Gary Locke has forged important relationships with China’s top political leadership. There is simply no one better positioned to advocate for American interests there and build on a bilateral relationship critical for the 21st century.”

The official says that “as a Pacific Rim governor and Commerce Secretary he helped lead an historic increase in trade with China. As Commerce Secretary, Locke has delivered on the president’s goal of doubling U.S. exports in the next five years (up 17 percent in 2010), led the push for patent and export control reforms and presided over a Census count that came in 25 percent under budget -- returning more than $2 billion to the Treasury.”

President Obama has had some interesting moments with his outgoing ambassador to China, to say the least.

Former Gov. Jon Huntsman, R-Utah, who lived in China as a young Mormon missionary, was appointed amidst much fanfare about bipartisanship and politics ending at the water’s edge, but he will be leaving that post in April and return to the U.S. to explore a run for president against his current boss.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Michael Steele: ‘Nothing Wrong with a Government Shutdown’

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- With Washington consumed by a fight over spending, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee said Monday that his party shouldn’t be afraid of a government shutdown, arguing that such a standoff would send a powerful signal to the public about the GOP’s commitment to cutting the budget.

“I personally think there's nothing wrong with a government shutdown,” Michael Steele told ABC News Monday.

“I've been an advocate for it over six, seven months now for the simple reason it is the shocker. It is the reality check that the spenders need to have, that those who are trying to chart a different course need to have, whether they are Republicans or Democrats in the Congress.”

He continued: “Republicans right now have an opportunity to put down some bright-line markers here on spending. I hope they do. I haven't seen it yet. I'm hoping that we will see it in the next week.”

Democrats and Republicans last week reached a short-term agreement to keep the government running through the end of next week. But without further action by Congress, a partial government shutdown would start next Friday -- a situation few in either party on Capitol Hill are eager to see develop.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 


House to Examine Radicalization of American Muslims Thursday

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The threat of a homegrown terror attack has been the growing fear of law enforcement and intelligence officials and the aspiration of international terrorists since 9/11.

There are a number of recent high-profile examples of the danger posed by citizen-terrorists. Maj. Nidal Hassan is accused of killing 13 people and wounding 29 more at Fort Hood, Texas on Nov. 5, 2009. Explosives placed by Faisal Shahzad in an SUV in Times Square last May could have killed an estimated hundreds of tourists on that crowded Friday evening if the weapon of mass destruction had ignited. Five young Muslim men from Alexandria, Va. are sitting in a Pakistani prison after being convicted in Pakistan of plotting to join forces with the Taliban to fight American soldiers in Afghanistan.

The men involved in each plot were American citizens, and all had alleged ties to al Qaeda recruiter Anwar al-Awlaki, a dual citizen of Yemen and the United States.

On Thursday, the House Committee on Homeland Security is set to convene the first in a series of controversial hearings targeting radicalization in the American Muslim community.

New York Republican Peter King, the chairman of the committee, wants to examine what he calls a “significant change in al Qaeda tactics and strategy” and its efforts to “radicalize and recruit from within our country.”

But opponents, such as Rep. Bennie Thompson, the ranking member of the Homeland Security committee, have criticized King as a modern-day Sen. Joe McCarthy for targeting a single religious community when there are other domestic threats such as neo-Nazis, violent opponents of abortion, animal testing, and environmental extremists that demand inspection as well.

King’s hearing has drawn intense scrutiny since he announced his intentions last December, but calls to expand the scope of the hearing intensified after the January shooting in Tucson, Ariz., that wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and killed six of her constituents. The attack was allegedly carried out by Jared Lee Loughner, who is not Muslim.

“While I share your concern about the threat posed to our nation from violence borne of ideologically driven extremism, I believe that this Committee’s exploration of the current and emerging threat environment should be a broad-based examination of domestic extremist groups, regardless of their respective ideological underpinnings,” Thompson, D-Mississippi, wrote in a February letter urging King to broaden the scope of the hearing. “The ideology of a bomb maker matters less than the lethal effects of his creation.”

Days before the first session, King, R-NY, went to the airwaves to defend the narrow scope of the hearings.

“We're talking about the affiliates of al Qaeda who have been radicalizing, and there's been self-radicalization going on within the Muslim community, within a very small minority, but it's there.  And that's where the threat is coming from at this time,” King, R-New York, told CNN’s Candy Crowley on Sunday. “This is al Qaeda internationally; it's attempting to recruit within the United States.  People in this country are being self-radicalized, whether it's Major Hasan or whether it's Shahzad or whether it was [Najibullah Zazi’s plot to bomb the subway system] in New York.  These were all people who were identifying, in one way or another, with al Qaeda or al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Democratic Florida Congressman Denies Sexual Harassment Charges

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A Democratic congressman is denying accusations that he repeatedly sexually harassed an employee over the course of two years, calling the allegations “ludicrous” and a “lie. He vowed he will be vindicated and will win a lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Rep. Alcee Hastings issued a statement declaring his innocence Monday afternoon after Judicial Watch, a public interest group that investigates government corruption, filed a lawsuit on behalf of Winsome Packer, a female employee who says she was repeatedly subjected to “unwelcome sexual advances,” “unwelcome touching” and retaliation.

“I have never sexually harassed anyone,” Hastings, a 10-term Democrat from Florida, said in a statement Monday afternoon.  “In fact, I am insulted that these ludicrous allegations are being made against me. When all the facts are known in this case, the prevailing sentiment will be, ‘How bizarre!’”

The alleged harassment and retaliation began in 2008, according to Judicial Watch, when Hastings was chairman of the United States Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission.  The commission is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit, as is its former staff director, Fred Turner.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 

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