After Testy Election Season, President Obama to Address US Chamber of Commerce

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Does the new year mean there is a new and improved phase in the chilly relationship between President Obama and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce?

The Chamber confirmed Wednesday that Mr. Obama accepted its invitation to address its members on Feb. 7.

“We look forward to hosting the President next month to discuss jobs and the economy,” said Tom Collamore, Senior Vice President of Communications at the Chamber. “This remains the top priority of the Chamber and the business community, and we’re committed to working together to put Americans back to work.”

Obama and the Chamber butted heads throughout the fall campaign season over the use of foreign money in American elections, and Chamber President Tom Donohue did not shy away from attacking the White House over the health care law and financial reform.

This will be the first time the President has addressed the members of the Chamber of Commerce.

In October, before the midterm election, President Obama, his top officials and many Democrats pounced on a report by the liberal group ThinkProgress that pointed out that the Chamber had some foreign funding sources. It is illegal to use foreign money for political activity and those Democrats used the report to try to force the Chamber to reveal its donor list.

The Chamber pushed back, saying they segregate the foreign money from the domestic political activity.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Filibuster Reform Fight Unfolds in Senate

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- With the Democrats’ majority in the Senate Wednesday dwindling from 58 seats to 53 as the 112th Congress kicked off, they wasted no time in embarking on an effort to change Senate rules to make it harder for the minority party to filibuster legislation.

“The United States Senate must solve problems, not create them,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in a speech on the chamber’s floor.

“No one can deny that the filibuster has been used for purely political reasons, reasons far beyond those for which this protection was invented and intended.”

Reid, noting that the last session of Congress saw nearly as many filibusters as the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, and half the 1970s combined, said the filibuster has been “used and abused gratuitously.”

“Many of these recent filibusters were terribly unproductive,” said Reid, citing that many bills that broke through the Senate’s 60-vote threshold ultimately passed overwhelmingly and sometimes unanimously.

Leading the push for filibuster reform is Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. Harkin wants to amend Senate rules to allow a decreasing majority of senators to end debate on a bill.

As it stands now, Rule XXII requires that three-fifths of the chamber -- in other words, 60 members -- must back a bill in order to end debate and move to a final vote, so a group of minority senators can effectively stop a bill by voting against it and preventing it from passing the 60-vote hurdle, a move known as a modern-day filibuster.

Under Harkin’s proposal, if a bill does not get 60 votes to end debate, another vote could take place two days later, requiring 57 votes. If the bill still failed to get past that vote, then a third vote needing 54 votes could take place after two more days. Finally, a fourth vote, with only 51 votes needed, would take place after another two-day wait.

“275 filibusters in four years is not just a cold statistic. It represents the minority blocking measures sometimes -- not all the time -- but sometimes that enjoy broad support among the American people. In the last Congress, the filibuster was used to kill many bills that enjoyed majority and often bipartisan support,” Harkin said.

“This should not be a partisan issue,” Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said. “We know both sides have abused the rules. Now is the time to work together to fix them.”

But GOP leaders show no signs of going along with the Democrats’ efforts. The Senate’s top Republican Mitch McConnell Wednesday denounced the filibuster reform plans as “a bad idea.”

The Senate’s fight over filibuster reform is not set to take center stage until later this month, since lawmakers are set to recess later this week until Jan. 24. At that time, Reid may have figured out a way to work out a deal on reform that is palatable to Republicans -- or he may have decided to try to pass the reforms with a simple majority vote using the so-called “Constitutional option.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Rep. Cuellar: GOP Can Find ‘Common Ground’ with Dems to ‘Modify’ Health Care Law

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Republicans took control of the House Wednesday with a vow to take down President Obama’s health care law, with an initial vote moving toward repeal to take place on Friday.

But once that effort fails -- and it will almost certainly never get taken up by the Senate to even force the president to wield his veto pen -- GOP leaders may find some allies in moderate Democrats who are willing to re-craft major portions of the law.

In an ABC News interview Wednesday, Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas, a moderate Blue Dog Democrat who is a member of his party’s leadership in the House, said many Democrats are open to an attempt to “fine-tune the legislation,” and to tackle health care lawsuit abuse among other issues.

“I’ll be the first one to say we ought to modify the bill, the legislation,” Cuellar said. “But just to repeal and then think about what we’re going to come up with -- I don’t think that’s the right approach that the majority is taking.”

He added, “To modify the legislation I think you find a lot of common ground, without a doubt. For example, remember, keep in mind -- what passed was the Senate bill, not the House bill. There was no conference committee. I had some things for example that I had in the House Bill—tort reform, some of the language, duplicative programs—it passed the House, but never got to the Senate, it never got over here.”

“There are areas that we can find common ground. But just to repeal and then start all over again -- if you talk about creating uncertainty, that will create uncertainty.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Outgoing Congress Scores Near Record Low in Latest Approval Poll

Photo Courtesy - ABC News Radio (PRINCETON, N.J.) -- The 111th Congress was given a 25-percent approval rating from Americans from 2009 to 2010, while 69 percent disapproved, according to the most recent Gallup Poll. That marks the second lowest grade for a two-year period in congressional history, dating back to when the poll was consistently taken beginning in the 1991-1992 session.

Approval numbers have been dropping on a consistent basis since the 107th Congress which had a 55-percent approval rating in the 2001-2002 session. However, this Congress had an approval rating two points higher than in 2007-2008. The two lowest approval ratings in the last 20 years have come with the last two sessions of Congress presided over by Nancy Pelosi. She also presided over a Congress that recorded a record-low 13-percent approval rating in December 2010.

The approval ratings over the last 20 years have also tended to trend with the United States gross domestic product. As the GDP rose, so did the Congressional approval numbers, and vice versa. The notable exception to that flow was following the attacks of September 11th, 2001 when the 107th Congress recorded a 55-percent approval rating.

While this most recent Congress did preside over legislation including healthcare and Wall Street reform, as well as an economic stimulus package, it also increased government spending and regulation of the economy.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Holly Petraeus to Take on Predatory Lending

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Holly Petraeus, the wife of the top American general in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, will soon hold a newly created position in the Obama administration, helping to protect military families from the scourge of predatory lenders.

Though not well known to the American public, the low-key wife of one of America's most popular figures has long worked to raise awareness about the issue. Holly Petraeus will be named to a position at the newly created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau by Obama appointee Elizabeth Warren.

Warren told ABC News that the new agency will be taking responsibility for enforcing predatory lending laws.

"The message has now been delivered that we can't continue with business as usual, we can't continue with products people don't understand," Warren said.

Petraeus will specialize in protecting military families from predatory lenders who have been a constant headache for the military for many years.

Predatory lending is not a new problem in military communities. It is a frequent sight to see pawn shops, check-cashing stores and auto loan offices located just beyond the entrances to America's military bases.

The businesses offer cash advances to military members and their families, who may be unprepared for the extremely high interest rates the lenders will charge them.

While she has generally shunned the public spotlight that has made her husband a household name, Petraeus' new position in the administration will undoubtedly raise her public profile and raise awareness about an issue she has worked on for years. In addition to being an outspoken critic of predatory lending, for the past six years she has headed the Better Business Bureau's Military Line, which educates military personnel about scams and provides them with guidance for better financial planning.

Petraeus became involved with taking on predatory lending when her husband was in command of the 101st Airborne Division based at Fort Campbell, Ky.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


How Will New Speaker John Boehner Run the House?

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Republicans took control of the House and their leader, John A. Boehner, took the Speaker's gavel Wednesday, promising conservatives they would stay true to their roots, cut spending and attempt to shrink the size of government. For Boehner, that means he will try to be the same man with the same goals, but with a brand new title.

Fighting through his emotions and visibly crying as he made his way through the House chamber, Boehner raised his hand and took the oath of office, sworn in by Michigan Democrat John Dingell, the longest-serving member of Congress.

It was a peaceful transfer of power. The nation's top Republican is now second in the presidential line of succession behind the Democratic president and vice president.

Boehner took the Speaker's gavel from Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who becomes Minority leader, following a ceremonial vote. The tally was 241-173. Every Republican supported Boehner, but 19 Democrats voted either against Pelosi or did not vote at all.

"We gather here today at a time of great challenges," Boehner said, pointing to rising health costs despite the passage of a health reform law, the size of the national debt, and the scale of government spending.

"Hard work and tough decisions will be required of the 112th Congress," Boehner said. "No longer can we fall short. No longer can we kick the can down the road. The people voted to end business as usual, and today we begin carrying out their instructions."

Boehner said he is aware of the will of voters, which had put Democrats in charge of the House for the past four years.

"The American people have humbled us," he said. "They have refreshed our memories as to just how temporary the privilege to serve is. They have reminded us that everything here is on loan from them," he said, referring to himself as "caretaker" of the gavel.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


John Edwards Grand Jury Investigation Reconvenes

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(RALEIGH, N.C.) – One month after the death of his wife, the federal grand jury investigation into John Edwards has reconvened.

Lisa Blue Baron, the widow of former Edwards finance chairman Fred Baron, was seen entering a courthouse in Raleigh Wednesday for her testimony.

Baron’s appearance is a continuation of the probe that was expanded dramatically in October after a review of the case by Department of Justice prosecutors in Washington prompted around 20 new subpoenas to former Edwards campaign staffers and associates.    

Last month, former spokesperson Jennifer Palmieri, former deputy campaign manager Jonathan Prince and four relatives of the billionaire heiress Rachel “Bunny” Mellon made appearances before the grand jury.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Biden Swears In 16 New Senators

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) – Vice President Joe Biden was on Capitol Hill Wednesday, the first day of the 112th Congress, to swear in a new group of senators.

The group includes 16 new faces, three of whom were elected and sworn in last November:

Kelly Ayotte, R-NH
Roy Blunt, R-MO
Richard Blumenthal, D-CT
John Boozman, R-AR
Dan Coats, R-IN
Chris Coons, D-DE
John Hoeven, R-ND
Ron Johnson, R-WI
Mark Kirk, R-IL
Mike Lee, R-UT
Joe Manchin, D-WV
Jerry Moran, R-KS
Rand Paul, R-KY
Rob Portman, R-OH
Marco Rubio, R-FL
Pat Toomey, R-PA

The breakdown in the Senate now sits at 51 Democrats, 47 Republicans, and two independents who caucus with Democrats.

No sooner had senators returned to the Hill than they decided to put off any serious legislative work until later this month, with Senate Democrats planning to effectively recess until Monday, January 24.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Bill Daley Is in the (White) House

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Bill Daley, the former Clinton Commerce Secretary and possible Obama White House chief of staff, is at the White House meeting with President Obama and other officials about the possibility of his assuming the reins from interim chief of staff Pete Rouse. No final decision has been made as of yet, but top Democrats expect that Daley will become the new chief of staff, with Rouse returning to his former position as a senior adviser.

This Friday, President Obama is expected to name Treasury Department official Gene Sperling to be his director of the National Economic Council.  Sperling previously served in that role from 1997 to 2001.

President Obama will also name some other economic staffers at the Friday event, including Ron Bloom, who worked on the auto bailouts and restructuring and will now assume a broader portfolio focusing on manufacturing in general.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Alabama Ethics Reform '75 Percent' Improved

Photo Courtesy - Governor.Alabama.Gov(MONTGOMERY, Ala.) – After the indictment of four Alabama state legislators and three gaming lobbyists last fall, a new package of reforms represent a significant improvement on the state’s old lobbying laws, say observers.

When Alabama Governor Bob Riley called a special session of the state legislature after the October indictments, it was to enact what he hoped would be the toughest ethics laws in the nation.

The resulting package of reforms were passed in December and became law this week. There were enough exceptions added to the package by lawmakers, however, and enough loopholes in the language that the state legislature will have to revisit the issue when it reconvenes in March.

Ellen Miller of the Washington, D.C.-based good government group The Sunlight Foundation said, "You have to start someplace.” "[Alabama] is not leading the way or blazing new paths," Miller added, "but it is a first step."

Hugh Evans, general counsel for the Alabama Ethics Commission, a state regulatory agency with newly expanded powers, said that Alabama is now "at 75 percent of where we want to be."

"When you have so many different entities and influences on a particular bill, I don't think you ever get to 100 percent of where you want to," said Evans. "Everyone offered an amendment and so it was an amalgamation."

Under Alabama's old rules, lobbyists could spend up to $250 a day on an individual legislator without disclosure, or more than $90,000 a year. The lax restrictions led to cozy relationships between lawmakers and lobbyists.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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