Obama Touts Achievements But Says More Must Be Done

ABC News (NEW YORK) -- With a high-stakes meeting aimed at averting a government shutdown looming, President Obama continued his pre-2012 campaign-style swing through the Northeast, where he addressed a very receptive crowd at the National Action Network convention in New York.

“There are times when change can seem painfully slow," he said. "There are times when you may say, 'I don’t know what Obama is doing.' In those moments, when we start asking ourselves if change is possible, we need to remember what we’ve done over the past few years.”

President Obama focused heavily on inequality and education during his 20-minute address at the 20th anniversary of the network started by the Rev. Al Sharpton.

“When there is an achievement gap between the levels of education of people between different backgrounds, that is not a black or white problem. That is an American problem," he said. "We are all responsible for the education of our children.”

Before the president took the stage, Sharpton heaped effusive praise on him for the work he has done since taking office, and warned those in attendance not to forget how far America has come since 2008.

“He took this nation from where most of us have never been in our lifetime and put us back on a solid course,” said Sharpton.  “Some of us in the most pain are being asked to make the most sacrifices. We are not going to be used like that.”

President Obama, who applauded the work of the National Action Network, quickly followed up on that message and pointed out what he believes he has achieved since taking office. He referenced health care reform, student loan reform, and the controversial bailout of the auto industry.

“We didn’t realize until late in the game that we would be facing the worst recession in generations. Some folks have amnesia about this. Where are we two years later?," the president asked the crowd.  “Our economy is starting to grow again. People are starting to get hired back.”

It was the president's second trip to New York City in the last week. A few days ago, he raised $1.5 million for the Democratic National Committee at the Red Rooster restaurant in Harlem.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


ABC News Exclusive: Speaker Boehner on Budget Negotiations

Bill Clark/Roll Call via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Speaker of the House John Boehner said he is in lockstep with the Tea Party on budget negotiations despite claims from Democrats that there could be a deal if only he could buck the Tea Party.

“Listen, there’s no daylight between the Tea Party and me,” Boehner told ABC News in an exclusive interview. “None. What they want is they want us to cut spending. They want us to deal with this crushing debt that’s going to crush the future for our kids and grandkids. There’s no daylight there,” he said.

Democrats have accused Boehner of being pulled further back by the Tea Party and “moving the goal post” during negotiations by increasing his demand from $33 billion in cuts to $40 billion.

ABC News asked Boehner if he was willing to go as far as prominent Tea Party member Rep. Mike Pence, who said “shut it down” if Democrats don’t agree to additional cuts.

The Speaker said he has Pence’s full support.

“Well, Mike Pence stood up at our conference today and said, 'Mr. Speaker, I’m with you.'"

But in a statement released after ABC News' interview with the Speaker, Congressman Pence made it clear that his support is qualified -- just for the one-week CR, not a broader compromise:

“While I am frustrated that liberals in the Senate continue to resist our efforts to include even modest cuts in this year's budget, I will support a one-week Continuing Resolution because the troops come first. H.R. 1363 will fully fund the Department of Defense for the rest of this fiscal year and will reduce spending by $12 billion,” Pence wrote in the statement.

“We cannot put fiscal battles ahead of support for those who are fighting America’s real battles."

“We will not change the fiscal destiny of this nation without a fight. I am willing to keep fighting for one more week to ensure our men and women in uniform have the resources they need to get the job done and come home safe."

“I urge my colleagues in the Senate to enact the significant budget cuts in this resolution, fund our troops and join with us in changing the fiscal direction of the national government,” Pence concluded.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 


Government Shutdown: Which Offices Will Stay Open, Which Will Close

Antonio M. Rosario/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- As Democrats and Republicans bicker over $30 billion, thousands of government employees fret over whether they can go to work on Monday. After the current continuing budget resolution expires at 12:01 a.m. Saturday, all "nonessential" government employees will be sent home until Congress passes and the president signs a budget for the remainder of fiscal year 2011.

The problem is, no one knows exactly who is considered "essential." A senior administration official said about 800,000 federal employees would be prevented from working in the event of a shutdown. These furloughed workers would not be paid during the shutdown, zapping $1.1 billion out of the economy in unpaid wages for a week-long shutdown.

ABC News has rounded up information from as many agencies as possible to find out who stays home and who goes to work, and how it might affect you.

Postal Service: The government shutdown won't affect mail delivery or mail processing, as the Postal Service is self-funded. "We don't get any taxpayer money. So we are not part of appropriations process. We will carry on and do what we always do: Deliver the mail," said a Postal Service spokesperson.

Medicare: People will still receive Medicare benefits, paid for by an emergency trust fund. If, hypothetically, the shutdown were to last for many months, Medicare benefits would stop, but the odds of a shutdown that lengthy are slim.

Social Security: Payments will continue as usual.

IRS: Working, but with limited services. The tax deadline, April 18, will not change, but the IRS will not process any paper tax returns, which account for 30 percent of the total returns filed. Tax audits will be suspended, and trademark and patent applications could also be delayed. The IRS will, however, continue to collect tax money.

Military: Military personnel will continue to work but will not be paid during a shutdown. They should earn backpay once Congress passes an appropriations bill. A bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill Wednesday to make sure members of the military would get paid even if the government shut down.

Airports: Air traffic controllers and Transportation Security Administration agents are considered "essential" employees.

Congress: Every member of Congress decides who on their staff is "essential" personnel. Many have said they will not furlough any of their staff members. Any staff members who are furloughed will not only be banned from the halls of Congress during the shutdown period, they will also have to turn off their office-issued BlackBerry cellphones.

Department of Homeland Security: Working, but with limited services. Over 80 percent of the DHS workforce has been deemed to be "essential" personnel for agencies such as TSA, Customs and Border Protection, Secret Service, Coast Guard, FEMA and Immigration Customs Enforcement. The host of employees from intelligence analysts to cyber security officials are also considered "essential" and will continue working.

Law Enforcement: At such agencies as the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, Marshals, and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. it will, for the most part, be business as usual.

Department of Justice: Working, but with limited services. The Criminal Division and the National Security Division, which conducts counterterrorism/counterespionage operations and wiretaps, would continue working, but large bureaucratic agencies, such as the Office of Justice Programs and Bureau of Justice Statistics, are not likely to be viewed as essential.

Federal Prisons: The prison system will be virtually unaffected by a government shutdown.

Passport Processing: Passport processing employees will be sent home during the shutdown, causing delays in the 200,000 passport applications currently pending. Visa processing will also be delayed or halted.

Federal Housing Administration: In the event of a shutdown, the FHA, which guarantees 30 percent of all mortgages, would not be able to guarantee housing loans. That "would have significant impact on the housing market," according to a senior administration official.

National Transportation Safety Board: Working, but with limited services. The chairman and the managing director may authorize very specific investigative activity, such as new investigations on major accidents involving significant casualties; accidents in which investigation is deemed necessary to transportation safety; and extremely limited support for ongoing investigative activity in which delay could pose a risk to public safety. All other activities will cease.

Small Business Administration: SBA approval of business loan guarantees and direct loans to people would stop, which would have an "impact on economic momentum," according to a senior administration official.

State Department: Working, but with limited services. The department will continue working domestically, issuing travel advisories and working with American citizens. It refused to comment on all foreign services.Other consular functions, like helping Americans in distress abroad, are likely to continue and other functions of the State Department and parts of its embassies that are deemed essential for national security reasons will continue.

Environmental Protection Agency: Working, but with limited services. The EPA will continue to do work that "affects safety and life" including monitoring radiation from Japan. Environmental claims processing would cease, along with toxic waste clean-up at EPA Superfund sites .The EPA will cease issuing permits, and delay work on environmental impact statements. And urgent new initiatives, including efforts to address mercury in the air and unregulated contaminants in drinking water, would be set back.

Department of Energy: The Energy Department will not furlough any employees and it will be basically business as usual because of a "no-year fund" that would pay for expenses in the event of a lapse in federal funding, according to a department official.

National Park Service: All national parks, such as Yosemite, Mount Rushmore, the Grand Canyon and monuments, would be closed. A Department of the Interior spokesperson said, "The National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management will close and secure park, refuge and visitor facilities on public lands. Limited personnel needed to protect life and property on public lands, such as law enforcement, emergency services and firefighting personnel, will be exempted from furlough." During the 1995 shutdown, the National Park Service turned away roughly seven million visitors and two million visitors were lock out of national monuments and museums. The gates to major parks were closed and locked up, and wire fences and chains were strung up around national monuments. This also means D.C's Cherry Blossom Festival events that take place on federal park property, most notably Saturday's parade, will be canceled.

Department of Defense: Working, but with limited services. A "significant number" of civilian employees will be furloughed.

Smithsonian Institute: All Smithsonian museums will be closed.

National Institutes of Health: Working but limited. NIH will not take any new patients or start new trials, but the clinical trials in progress will continue. There are seven new procedures that are scheduled to begin next week. There are 640 current clinical trials, none of which will be able to accept new patients during a shutdown.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


What Can the State Supreme Court Race in Wis. Tell Us About 2012?

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(MADISON, Wis.) -- Assistant state attorney general JoAnne Kloppenburg -- backed by liberals -- holds a paper-thin lead of fewer than 300 votes over state Supreme Court Justice David Prosser, a conservative, in the non-partisan race.  The margin is so narrow that a recount is inevitable.  Judicial elections are normally dull affairs, but Wisconsin voters turned out Tuesday in record numbers -- fueled by the state’s raging argument over Gov. Walker and his move to strip state employees of their bargaining. If Prosser loses he would be only the second incumbent justice in over 40 years to lose a race for the high court seat.

So what does this all mean for 2012? The Badger State will be at the center of the political universe next fall.

To be sure, it’s always dangerous to read too much into one election. But, this wasn’t a typical down ballot election either. According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University Law School estimates interest groups on both sides spent more than $3.5 million on TV ads in this race.

Even so, despite the strong showing of Republicans in the state in 2010, and Democrats’ success here in 2006 and 2008, this nail-biter of an election shows that Wisconsin isn’t red or blue -- but deep purple. Moreover, it indicates that this normally sleepy Midwestern state is going to be one of the most hotly contested battleground states in 2012.

University of Wisconsin professor Ken Goldstein says that the results of this race show that Wisconsin is “not a blow out state -- we are an evenly divided state. Remember, the 2000 and 2004 presidential where Gore (.4 percent) and Kerry (.2) percent won by razor-thin margins in Wisconsin.”

In fact, notes Goldstein, Kloppenburg carried heavily Democratic Dane County (Madison), by a 73 to 27 percent margin, while Prosser won heavily Republican Waukesha County “by the EXACT same margin.”

One other reason why this election is significant: the new court may ultimately rule on the legality of the controversial law backed by Walker that repeals most collective bargaining by public employees.  The Appeals Court has punted on taking up the case and it’s not clear yet whether the current court (5-4 conservative) or the next one will take up the question of whether Republican legislators violated -- as two Dane County officials have alleged in separate lawsuits -- Wisconsin’s Open Meetings Law.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


John Boehner Cries Amid Government Shutdown Standoff

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- John Boehner was driven to tears again Wednesday.  This time it happened at a closed-door meeting of House Republicans.

According to sources inside the meeting, it happened while Boehner was speaking to the group about the latest on his negotiations with Democrats over government funding.  Boehner talked about his meeting on Tuesday with President Obama and then, in a rousing conclusion, he thanked the House Republicans for standing by him and supporting him through these tense negotiations.

The Republican conference responded with a standing ovation for their speaker.

As you could imagine, that prompted the Speaker to cry.

“Yes,” said one person at the meeting. “He cried, but only briefly.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 


Senators Introduce Bill to Ensure Military Gets Paid in Event of Shutdown

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A bipartisan group of senators is now introducing a bill to make sure that members of the military still get paid even if the government shuts down.

The senators leading the effort are Republicans Kay Bailey Hutchison and Jim Inhofe and Democrat Bob Casey. Also signing on are Republicans Olympia Snowe, Lisa Murkowski, John Hoeven, Susan Collins & Kelly Ayotte. According to the senators, the Ensuring Pay for our Military Act of 2011 would “make available the necessary funds to prevent an interruption in pay for members of the military if there is a funding gap resulting from a government shutdown” and it would “give the Secretary of Defense the discretion to allow those who serve as DOD civilians or contractors in support of our men and women in uniform to continue to be paid as well.”

In a paper statement, Hutchison said, "I am not willing to place the well-being of our military personnel and their families in the balance as we await a budget agreement. Our troops are serving our country, and our country must continue to serve them."

Said Casey, “Military men and women put their lives on the line and sacrifice every day to ensure our security. They should not have to worry about getting paid on time.”

"The last concern our service men and women need to have while serving in harm's way is whether or not they can pay their bills - rent, car payments, and food for their families,” said Inhofe. “This country and this Congress has an obligation to care for our military and their families, just as they care for and protect this nation every day.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


FBI Director Says Gov. Shutdown Impacting Morale at Bureau

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- At the House appropriations committee Wednesday morning, FBI Director Robert Mueller said talk of the looming government shutdown is already having a negative impact on morale at the FBI.

"Its adversely affecting morale in the Bureau because a number of persons don't know if they are going to be here on Monday, they don't know if they are going to get's tremendously disruptive to somebody who has given their service to a place like the Bureau. "

"I do expect our investigations will continue unhindered...but we have to evaluate every's difficult."  Mueller said.

Director Mueller said matters such as training and new initiatives could be impacted.

While most FBI agents, especially in national security positions will not stop working during the shutdown it is unclear what will happen to many FBI analysts and linguists who work with agents at FBI Headquarters and in the FBI's field offices.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Sen. Schumer: New 'Glimmer' of Hope to Avoid Shutdown

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- New York Senator Chuck Schumer told Good Morning America Wednesday there is new hope to avoid a shutdown, after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker John Boehner completed their latest round of budget talks Tuesday night. But Schumer kept up the pressure on Boehner, trying to drive a wedge between the Speaker and his rank and file.

“The Tea Party just continues to pull Speaker Boehner further back and back and back. They are the people who say they don’t want compromise. They are the people who say they relish a shutdown. And the bottom line is if he can resist them, not give them their way on everything I think we can have an agreement and that is why there is a glimmer of hope," he said.

Following a meeting with Boehner, Reid sounded more optimistic when he took to the Senate floor last night and said “there’s still air in the tire” and “the government is not going to be shutdown – yet.”

And Schumer did seem to suggest that Speaker Boehner’s new demand for $40 billion in cuts might fly if Democrats could determine where the savings come from, and Republicans give up most of the policy “riders” (like defunding Planned Parenthood and Obama’s health care plan) that they’ve been demanding.

So what are the chances of a shutdown this weekend?

“Oh I hope it can be avoided. We are doing everything we can to avoid it. But the Tea Party has to compromise a little bit and Speaker Boehner has to tell them that,” Schumer said.

One more glimmer of good news -- President Obama hasn’t called the negotiators back to the White House, yet.

“[It] shows that there is a view that these talks are making some progress, but I’d still be worried particularly because they keep moving the goal post back,” Schumer said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Lawmakers' Budget Talks with Obama Go Nowhere

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama said Tuesday he'll keep meeting with congressional leaders until a budget deal for 2011 is agreed upon following discussions at the White House that apparently produced little in the way of a compromise.

Obama held talks with House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other lawmakers in hopes of finding common ground to avoid a looming government shutdown this Friday.  However, the president and Democrats complained that Boehner, who is under pressure by the Tea Party and conservatives to make massive cuts, keeps "moving the goal posts" in terms of what figure would make everyone happy.

Currently, it seems to be a $40 billion package of cuts, down from the $61 billion proposed by the GOP-controlled House but certainly far higher than the initial White House offering of $6 billion several weeks ago.

Reid complained that Republicans "are not trying to arrive at the finish line.  It appears that they’re going to do everything they can to satisfy the Tea Party."

Be that as it may, Boehner and Reid met privately after their chat with the president in hopes of getting the talks on track so that a government shutdown isn't necessary.

Frustrated by the lack of movement, Obama said that he wants to see both congressional leaders at the White House Wednesday if they're still far apart.

The administration is fearful that a shutdown could damage the still fragile economic recovery following the worst downturn in 80 years.

The president sounded frustrated when speaking to reporters, saying, "This is not a way to run a government....We don’t have time for games.  We are now closer than we have ever been to getting an agreement.  There is no reason why we should not get an agreement."

Complicating matters is the GOP's insistence on including riders to the budget bill that would defund Planned Parenthood and NPR and calls for the repeal of the healthcare law.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Who Is New Jersey Governor Chris Christie?

ABC News(TRENTON, N.J.) -- Less than two years ago, Chris Christie was an unknown on the national political stage. Today, the governor of New Jersey is one of the brightest stars in the Republican Party, courted by likely presidential candidates and wildly popular with the party's conservative base.

Christie's rapid rise has come in large part thanks to his brash style, confronting New Jersey's major budget woes with an austerity program. His take-no-prisoners approach with teachers' unions and other public officials has rallied supporters and drawn plenty of controversy.

The New York Times has described Christie as "slick as sandpaper," but his bold personality is also popular.

Peggy Noonan, writing in the Wall Street Journal, said that Christie's "big, rumpled, garrulous, Jersey-blunt" style "has captured the imagination of the political class, and also normal people. They look at him and think, 'I know that guy. I like that guy.'"

Christie was elected New Jersey's governor in November 2009, defeating incumbent Democrat Jon Corzine.

Neither a Tea Party Republican nor part of the Beltway establishment, Christie came to power as states across the country confronted vast budget shortfalls.

In his own state, Christie helped reduce the state's multi-billion dollar budget deficit through fiscal reforms, layoffs and tough cuts to education and other state services. Last year, the governor signed a state budget that was the smallest in five years.

As the governor of one of the bluest of blue states, Christie's national popularity and reputation are based more on those fiscal positions and far less on his positions on social issues like abortion, which he opposes, and civil unions, which he supports.

Perhaps none of Christie's actions as governor have drawn more attention than his ongoing battle with New Jersey's powerful teachers' unions. The unions have become a principal target, with the governor criticizing both teachers' pay and performance.

Christie has cut pension benefits for teachers and called on them to pay for more of their health care. Under a proposal Christie introduced in January, New Jersey public school teachers would be stripped of tenure and paid based in part on their students' performance.

"Teaching can no longer be the only profession where you have no rewards for excellence and no consequences for failure to perform," Christie said during his first State of the State address in January.

But his administration has also taken heat for a $400 million mistake, after a flawed application for federal "Race to the Top" education fund was rejected. Finger-pointing ensued between the governor, federal officials and Christie's own state officials, but the missing data meant that New Jersey missed out on a major source of funds.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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