Pot Politics on Capitol Hill: Proponents Aim to Shift Industry's Image

David McNew/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Supporters of decriminalizing marijuana are hoping to build momentum on Capitol Hill after a historic election that saw the politics of pot take center stage in four states.

The marijuana industry's public relations campaign has so far been limited to states, especially California, where a ballot initiative to legalize weed failed in November.

But on Wednesday, the National Cannabis Industry Association, launched in December to represent the interests of legal marijuana growers and distributors, will hold the first congressional lobbying day in the nation's capital, hoping to shore up support for an industry they say could bring billions of dollars in revenue to the government.

The industry already has some notable lawmakers on its side.

Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., has in the past introduced legislation to remove federal penalties for personal use of marijuana.  Libertarian-leaning Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, is also an outspoken advocate of full marijuana legalization.

Last summer, Frank and 15 other lawmakers sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner asking his agency to set rules that provide financial services to medical marijuana dispensaries and to assure banks they won't be penalized for conducting such business.

Wednesday's lobbying efforts will focus on eliminating such restrictions and on easing the tax burden on medical marijuana clinics.

Supporters of decriminalizing marijuana say it will help the United States in the long term by boosting profits for the government.  Socially, they say it will boost resources to crack down on hard drugs and will curb teen marijuana use, which is on the rise.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Rick Santorum Blames Social Security Problems on 'Abortion Culture'

Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Legal abortion is the real reason why Social Security is going bankrupt.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who may seek the GOP nomination for president in 2012, made that charge Tuesday.

Santorum, an ardent abortion foe and one of the most socially conservative Republicans mentioned as a White House hopeful, said, "we don't have enough workers to support the retirees.  Well, a third of all the young people in America are not in America today because of abortion." 

He claimed that all the abortions performed since 1973 when the procedure was legalized by the Supreme Court, has led to not enough children being born, children he says would have grown up and gotten jobs and thereby paid taxes to support the entitlement program.

Denouncing the "abortion culture," Santorum suggested you can't blame him and his wife for the problem because, "We have seven children, so we're doing our part to fund the Social Security system."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


GOP House Terminates Dems' Foreclosure Prevention Program

Photodisc/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The House of Representatives voted late Tuesday evening to end the Obama administration’s embattled foreclosure prevention program, arguing that it is wasting tens of billions of taxpayer dollars without a significant return or benefit to the struggling economy.

The Republican-controlled House voted 252-170 to scrap the Home Affordable Modification Program, known as HAMP. The vote was largely divided down party lines, with just 18 Democrats crossing the aisle to vote to terminate the program and just two Republicans voting to keep it going.

However, Tuesday’s vote in the House appears to be as far as the GOP’s push will go.

Earlier Tuesday President Obama threatened to veto the bill if it managed to pass both houses of Congress, but even that is unlikely since Senate Democrats have shown little appetite for picking up the Republicans’ effort to stop the program.

In a statement released before Tuesday’s vote, the White House said, “This program offers eligible homeowners an opportunity to lower their mortgage payments, helping individuals avoid foreclosure and leading to the protection of home values and the preservation of homeownership.”

“The Administration is committed to helping struggling American homeowners stay in their homes, and has taken many steps over the last two years to stabilize what was a rapidly-declining housing market. As tens of thousands of responsible American homeowners struggling with their mortgages receive permanent assistance each month from HAMP, the Administration believes that continuation of HAMP is important to the Nation’s sustained economic recovery.”

The program has been blasted by GOP lawmakers and non-partisan government watchdogs almost since its inception in the spring of 2009. The administration said the program would help three to four million struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure, but to date it has only helped around 540,000 borrowers receive permanent loan modifications to enable them to stay in their homes.

By comparison, over 800,000 homeowners have dropped out of the program.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Former President Bill Clinton Praises Obama on Libya

Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Speaking at the dedication of a new building for the U.S. delegation to the United Nations, named for the late Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, former President Clinton praised President Obama’s efforts in Libya.

“He would be very proud that Barack Obama became president of the United States, and very proud, Mr. President, of what you're doing in Libya with the international community," Bill Clinton said. "He would be very proud of you for wanting to share the responsibilities and the credit.”

The building is named after Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, who died tragically in a plane crash near Dubrovnik, Croatia, on April 3, 1996.  President Obama said he did not know or work with Brown personally but drew on lessons of his life as an example of American leadership, which he related back to the situation in Libya.

Obama said, “There are times, as when President Clinton showed extraordinary leadership in the Balkans, and moments, such as now, in the situation in Libya, where our conscience and our common interests compel us to act. We believe that force should not be the first option. We understand the costs and risks involved in the use of force. So whenever possible, we turn to alternatives that might change behavior: condemnation that puts violators on notice; sanctions that increase pressure; embargoes that block arms to aggressors; and accountability for those who commit crimes.”

The president said that if those efforts “prove insufficient” they have to be “prepared to take the necessary measures to uphold international peace and security and protect innocent people."

President Obama said that Brown, the first African-American Commerce Secretary, paved the way, in part, for him to become president.

"While I didn't know Ron Brown personally, I knew his story, and I drew inspiration from that story. And so when you say he'd be proud that I'm president, I think it's fair to say that I'm president in part because of him -- because of the example he set; because of the organization that he brought to the Democratic Party; because his capacity to get Bill Clinton elected, which, in turn, I think, showed how we could govern in a way that met the realities of the late 20th century and ultimately the 21st century."

The president joked that as the final speaker -- following Ambassador Susan Rice and former President Bill Clinton, who both knew Brown personally, he was thinking, “everything has been said, and, once again, Bill Clinton has said it better than I could.”

Obama then presented an American flag and plaque to representatives of the Brown family.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


President Obama Says 'Noose Is Tightening' on Gadhafi Inner Circle

ABC News (NEW YORK) -- President Obama believes that Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi's inner circle is realizing that the "noose is tightening, that their days are numbered."

The president spoke with ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer one day after addressing the nation on his reason for joining with NATO and other allies in imposing a no-fly zone over Libya and suggested that it is pressuring Gadhafi into stepping down.

"I think what we're seeing is that the circle around Gadhafi understands that the noose is tightening, that their days are probably numbered, and they are going to have to think through what their next steps are," the president said.

The president said there are signals Gadhafi and his allies can give to indicate they are ready to go but until that point, the U.S. and its international allies will continue to apply pressure.

"They're going to have to think through what their next steps are. But as I have been clear throughout, there are certain things that are non-negotiable," he said. "He's got to pull his troops out of places like Mistrata…he's got to stand down with respect to his troops."

The president declined to rule out sending arms to the Libyan rebels, but said if his administration wanted to get them into the country, it could.

Obama said Tuesday that Libya was a "unique situation" and the world should not expect the United States to intervene in every humanitarian crisis.

Obama said his policy of intervening in Libya does not extend to Syria, where protesters have been met with violence and that he tried to make that clear in his address to the nation Monday night.

"Part of the point that I tried to make last night is that we had a moment in time where we did have this international mandate, including from Arab countries," he said. "We had a brutal dictator who had shown himself willing to kill thousands of people in the past -- and to show no mercy."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Rep. Markey Calls for Moratorium on Nuclear Reactor Licenses

Tom Brakefield/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., introduced a new bill Tuesday that would overhaul U.S. nuclear safety and impose a moratorium on all new nuclear reactor licenses or license extensions until new safety requirements are in place that reflect the lessons learned from the Fukushima reactor meltdown.

In the wake of the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan earlier this month, Markey, the top Democrat on the House Committee on Natural Resources, is also calling for new safeguards such as requiring nuclear power plants to have emergency backup plans and systems that can withstand longer electricity outages and moving spent nuclear fuel to dry cask storage facilities as soon as fuel is sufficiently cooled.

“The Nuclear Power Plant Safety Act of 2011 will help ensure that the U.S. fleet of nuclear reactors is safe,” Markey said.  “We should not wait for an American meltdown to beef up American nuclear safety measures.  We must heed the lessons to be learned from the nuclear meltdown in Japan and ensure nuclear safety here in America.”

The legislation would also require the Department of Energy to factor in the lessons learned from the Fukushima crisis when calculating the risk of default on loan guarantees for new nuclear power plants.

Beyond Markey’s new bill, the Massachusetts Democrat is separately calling on the Obama administration to provide potassium iodide for any children living within a 20-mile radius of any of the 104 nuclear power plants in the United States. He says it needs to be distributed among state and municipalities before a catastrophe because rapid deployment would be too difficult in the event of a full nuclear disaster.

Potassium iodide is particularly effective in preventing children from contracting thyroid cancer following a nuclear meltdown and is currently being distributed to Japanese children and U.S. troops stationed in Japan.

Markey says the cost of protection is about 18 cents per unit, but he was unsure how many children actually live within a 20-mile radius of a nuclear plant, or the total the initiative would cost.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 


Prominent Democrat Says Gov't Shutdown 'Best Thing in the World' for Dems

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- For months, Democrats have been accusing Republicans of pushing Congress toward a government shutdown that could be catastrophic for the economy.

But now one prominent Democrat says a government shutdown would be "the best thing in the world" for his party.

"From a partisan point of view, I think it would be the best thing in the world to have a shutdown," Sen. Howard Dean said Tuesday at a National Journal Insider Conference's panel. That's because, Dean said, Republicans would be blamed for it.

"If I was head of DNC, I would be quietly rooting for it," Dean said. "I know who's going to get blamed. We've been down this road before."

Privately, many Democrats have been saying the same thing, but by putting it in such inelegant political terms, Dean's words make it harder for Democrats to argue that it is Republicans who are to blame if the current budget impasse leads to a government shutdown.

Funding for the government runs out on April 8. Congress must pass -- and the president must sign -- a funding bill before then to avoid a shutdown.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Rep. Joe Heck: Obama Didn’t Make 'the Case'

Bill Clark/Roll Call(WASHINGTON) -- Congressman Joe Heck, R-Nev., says he still has “many questions” after President Obama’s address Monday night on Libya.

Currently serving as colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, Rep. Heck tells ABC News he is concerned about the United States’ military role in Libya and how long it could last.

“The president used the analogy to Bosnia [Monday] night in his speech, but we're still in Bosnia some 15 years after we first went in and the same type of situation by trying to enforce a no-fly zone to alleviate the humanitarian crisis,” the congressman said. “So what is it that we're hoping to accomplish? Why are we there? And what are we hoping to gain and when are we going to get out?”

Worrying about the financial implications of U.S. forces in Libya, Rep. Heck told ABC News the recent congressional budget battles have put agencies such as the Department of Defense in a “rough spot.”

Heck voted in favor of a Republican bill to cut government spending this year that included cuts to the Department of Energy's nuclear energy safety programs. He says that even after the nuclear crisis in Japan he wouldn't change his position on those cuts.

“I would not reconsider the nuclear cuts,” Rep. Heck said.  “The appropriations committee did due process in looking at where there was the ability to cut some spending and that's what we did and now it's time to look forward to fiscal year '12.”

Pivoting to 2012 politics, the congressman told ABC News he is already throwing his support behind anticipated 2012 candidate Mitt Romney. Having backed the former Massachusetts governor since 2008, the congressman says Romney’s controversial Massachusetts health care bill is “not a concern.”

“There’s a lot more insured people in the state of Massachusetts but the important thing was it was a program designed by the state for the state not a federal program that's being rammed down the state's throat.”

The congressman was also asked if he would continue to support former Senate candidate Sharron Angle in a race for a Nevada congressional seat. He replied, “I have no idea.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 


Blame Game Underway, But Will Gov't Really Shut Down? 

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- With negotiations between a divided Congress and the White House on a long-term spending bill creeping along and less than two weeks remaining to reach an agreement on a deal, the blame game is already in full force debating whose fault it would be if the government shuts down.

But just how real is the threat of a government shutdown?

Despite all of the spin, hype and hyperbole, congressional sources admit that a shutdown is unlikely. So far, each time a doomsday deadline approaches both sides have been able to work out a deal on a short-term extension.

But after funding the federal government incrementally once again, congressional leaders from both sides of the aisle -- and even President Obama -- have said that another short-term extension would be “irresponsible,” “inefficient” and “demoralizing.”

With the last short-term spending bill signed into law and the government currently scheduled to run out of money on April 9, Boehner and Reid have been seemingly cautious not to buck their respective political bases, leaving the negotiations at an impasse.

So will Boehner and Reid actually sit on their hands through the final buzzer and watch idly as the government shuts down?

Congressional sources say a deal to keep the doors open could emerge as soon as Friday in order to meet the House’s requirement that bills are on the floor at least 72 hours before a vote and then give the Senate enough time to pass it.

The Constitution stipulates that spending bills must originate from the House of Representatives, but the Senate could take up H.R. 1 again (which, depending on how you look at it, cut $61 billion from FY2011 spending levels or $100 billion compared to the president’s FY2011 budget request) and amend it to whatever House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid agree to (with the administration’s blessing, of course). Otherwise the deal could emerge in a new bill from the House Appropriations Committee, like the past two short-term extensions.

Although negotiators have meet as recently as Friday and Monday, the Senate’s No. 3 Democrat, Charles Schumer, insinuated that by holding out, Boehner is “agonizing over whether to give in to right-wing demands that they abandon any compromise on their extreme cuts.”

On Tuesday, a spokesman for Boehner shot back at Schumer.

“Sen. Schumer is not part of the CR negotiations, and he is making up fairy tales trying to derail serious discussions on funding the government and cutting spending, because he believes his party would benefit from a government shutdown,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said. “At this point, the House has passed a bill to fund the government through the end of the year while cutting spending.  The Senate has not – and Sen. Schumer’s inaccurate rants won’t change that.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Dictator Tour or U.S. Diplomacy? Carter's Trip to Cuba Raises Eyebrows

Gary Miller/FilmMagic(HAVANA, Cuba) -- Jimmy Carter, who is in Cuba for a three-day private visit, will travel to North Korea soon in a move that has some questioning the former president's agenda.

Such trips are not unusual for Carter, 86, who in the three decades since he left office has often mediated, on an unofficial level, with pariah states.

In 2002, he became the first U.S. president to visit Cuba since its 1959 revolution. He's traveled to a number of other world hot spots, including Gaza in 2009, where he met with the then-leader of the U.S. designated terrorist group Hamas.

"Carter has been brave and courageous in being unorthodox in his approach. What was once unorthodox has become the Carter orthodox, so going to Cuba right now is not surprising," said author and history professor Douglas Brinkley, who traveled with Carter to Haiti in the early 1990s. "His bully pulpit is the globe, not the White House. He's erased what they think about his track to diplomacy."

It's "Jimmy Carter going by the beat of his own drum," he added. "There are times that he raises eyebrows and it's all part and parcel of Carter's post-presidency. You can't really cherry pick them."

Though Carter has been mum on the issue of jailed U.S. government contractor Alan Gross, his release is likely to be a central topic of discussion in the former president's meeting with President Raul Castro, who invited Carter to Cuba.

Carter, a prominent figure on the international stage known for his diplomacy, traveled to Pyongyang in August 2010 to retrieve an American citizen, Aijalon Mahli Gomes, who had been sentenced to eight years in prison for entering North Korea illegally from China that January.

While his efforts may not be as visible as those of former President Bill Clinton, those who follow his work say Carter has been more successful in this arena than any of his peers.

It could be days before Gross is on his way back home because of Carter's trip, Brinkley says.

"Carter has an extraordinary record, as ex-president of getting political prisoners released," Brinkley said. "I would expect that Gross will be out because of Carter's trip. You're just seeing the warm-up act. He's just arrived. When he's done there, Gross will be released because Carter's bringing the prestige towards the Cuban government that they're looking for out of an American figure of his stature."

Carter rarely travels as an official envoy, or with an official delegation, of the U.S. government, unlike Clinton. Of his upcoming North Korea trip, the State Department said they had not had any contact with Carter about it except to be informed of the trip.

His unorthodox style and rogue trips have often resulted in a clash with U.S. administrations. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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