Dems Confident on 9/11 Responder Bill

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Senate could vote Tuesday on a bill that will guarantee medical care to rescue workers who became sick after 9/11, pushing forward legislation once rejected by Republicans and which proponents say was long ignored by the White House.

New York lawmakers have made a strong push in recent days to get the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act passed this week, giving the law its last best hope of success in the waning days of the lame-duck session of Congress.

A previous version of the bill passed the House but failed to get a vote in the Senate earlier this month. The new bill is expected to be voted on Tuesday or Wednesday. Supporters say it is likely to pass.

The bill aims to provide medical care to the emergency workers who first responded to the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City. Many of the workers were exposed to toxins following the towers' collapse.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


With Sen. Scott Brown on Board, Momentum Building for START Treaty Passage

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Supporters of the START nuclear pact with Russia Monday sounded confident that the treaty will receive the two-thirds majority needed for Senate passage when it comes up for a final vote this week.

“I believe we have the votes to pass this treaty,” said Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry at a brief press conference on Capitol Hill. Kerry and the panel’s ranking Republican, Dick Lugar, made similar comments Sunday to ABC News.

That confidence appeared warranted Monday as momentum seemed to be building for the treaty. After a closed Senate session to discuss classified information relating to the pact, Republican Scott Brown of Massachusetts told reporters that he would back the treaty.

“I believe it’s something that’s important for our country and it’s a good move forward to deal with our national security issues,” Brown said.

A procedural vote on ending debate on the treaty is set for Tuesday morning. The treaty will need 60 votes to make it past the procedural hurdle, but that appears to be a mere formality at this point. A final vote could then come later Tuesday or sometime on Wednesday.

A spokesman for Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon, who underwent prostate cancer surgery on Monday, said the senator would do whatever possible to cast his vote on Capitol Hill if his vote is needed. If all 100 senators vote, the treaty would need 67 votes for ratification. If 99 senators vote, it would need 66.

Republican leaders Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Jon Kyl of Arizona have both announced their opposition to the pact.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio 


Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour Under Fire for Calling Civil Rights-Era Tensions Not ‘That Bad’

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(JACKSON, Miss.) -- Critics pounced on Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour on Monday for comments he made in an interview with the Weekly Standard in which he appeared to downplay the tension of the civil rights movement in his home state.

 “I just don’t remember it as being that bad,” Barbour told the Weekly Standard’s Andrew Ferguson, who penned a 7,400-word profile of the potential 2012 GOP presidential candidate for the magazine.

In the piece, Barbour seems to have a foggy memory of an event he attended with the civil rights icon, Martin Luther King Jr., in the early 1960s and credits a pro-segregation group with helping to integrate the public schools of his hometown, Yazoo City, Miss. without violence.

“You heard of the Citizens Councils? Up north they think it was like the KKK. Where I come from it was an organization of town leaders,” Barbour said in the interview. “In Yazoo City they passed a resolution that said anybody who started a chapter of the Klan would get their ass run out of town. If you had a job, you’d lose it. If you had a store, they’d see nobody shopped there. We didn’t have a problem with the Klan in Yazoo City.”

The statements made Barbour an instant target of progressive bloggers, the president of the Mississippi chapter of the NAACP as well as a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee.

“He’s not ready for prime time or not ready for the 21st century,” DNC spokesman Hari Sevugan tweeted on Monday. “Either way, it’s disqualifying.”

A spokesman for the governor declined to comment, but insisted that the governor is not a racist, according to the Web site Talking Points Memo.

But the quotes foreshadow serious challenges ahead for Barbour should he decide to run in 2012 against the country’s first African-American president. They seem to be part of a pattern of remarks that critics have characterized as racially insensitive.

Barbour, for example, defended Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell when he declared April as “Confederate History Month” in the state without acknowledging the role of slavery.

“To me, it's a sort of feeling that it's a nit, that it is not significant,” Barbour said in a CNN interview, “It’s trying to make a big deal out of something doesn't amount to diddly.”

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio 


ABC News Exclusive: Retiring Members Talk ‘Dysfunctional’ Partisanship, ‘Strangling’ Special Interest Money and Greatest Disappointments

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- In an ABC News exclusive interview, four retiring representatives sat down with Senior Political Correspondent Jonathan Karl for a candid look back on their time serving in Congress.   The two Democrats and two Republicans, all defeated in their bids for re-election, found common ground on the need for bipartisanship, the negative impact of special interest money and their disappointment about what they call "the dysfunction" in Congress.

 Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., who lost his GOP Gubernatorial primary bid, had some strong last words about the state of Congress as he sees it.

 “Congress is more dysfunctional today than when I got here 16 years ago and probably more dysfunctional than any time in the 53 years I’ve been alive,” he told Jonathan Karl.

Wamp added his greatest disappointment has been watching the erosion of the unity formed in the aftermath of 9/11.

Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Texas, who lost to Republican Bill Flores, echoed Wamp’s concern over the increasing divide among Republicans and Democrats.

“I think that there’s more partisanship today than I’ve seen in the 20 years I’ve been in Congress,” Edwards said. “I think the partisanship might get uglier before American people finally blame one party or the other. And express their views at the ballot box.”

Edwards added he there was still bipartisanship happening, albeit behind the scenes, but the more cooperative interaction among members doesn’t hit the radar as much as the conflicts.

Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H., defeated by Republican Frank Guinta, said the media’s focus on negativity paints an unfair picture.

“I have listened to people on television say things like, ‘Well, everybody’s on the take in Washington,’ as if that’s a given fact.  And I think it just makes people more cynical about the whole process,”  Shea-Porter said.  “That’s not true.  That’s not true at all.”

Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del., was taken out in his primary by Tea Party favorite Christine O’Donnell.  Castle said that the more alarming division he sees is amongst members of his own party.

“It was one thing when you were dealing with Democrats and Republicans.  Now you’re dealing with divisions within your own party,” he said.

Castle, a known centrist, also commented that working with the other party has come to be viewed as  a sin.

“I mean, I know I suffered in my primary defeat on the basis that I had supported some Democratic legislation, supported the president from time to time.  And that was treated as a great sin,” Castle told ABC News.

The four retiring members also expressed concern over special interest money. Congresswoman Shea-Porter said watching its growing influence has been her biggest disappointment.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


State Dept.: Dems Have Votes to Ratify START, GOP Concerns Are Purely Political Now

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The State Department Monday urged the Senate to vote on New START nuclear agreement this week, saying it believed the treaty would pass ratification.
"We're closely monitoring this. You know, we're doing our own whip count here, but we believe the votes are there to ratify the treaty," spokesman PJ Crowley told reporters.
Asked about the persistent Republican concerns about the treaty, Crowley said those appear to be motivated only by politics rather than substance.
"We believe that we've answered all the questions that have been raised," Crowley said. "Any objections at this point are more about politics than substance. And that's regrettable because it's contrary to the history of strong bipartisan support, you know, for arms control treaties going back decades," he added.

Critics disagree, saying the agreement will slash America's military and nuclear weapons capabilities at a time when Russia, China, and North Korea are ramping up their military preparedness.
Secretary of State Clinton has made several calls to Senators in recent days urging them to vote for the deal and did so from her office again Monday. We're told she is holding off on going out of town for the holidays until New START is resolved.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Sarah Palin Zings Michelle Obama over Dessert in Reality Show

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- When does reality end and campaigning begin? That's one question that comes to mind for some regular viewers of Sarah Palin’s Alaska on TLC.  Sunday night, in between whitewater rafting, dog sledding, and expositions on antler piles, the former Alaska governor managed to slip in a political zinger directed at Michelle Obama.

While preparing for a family cookout, Palin searched for the different products that make up the "s'more," that much beloved great American treat. She mutters, "Where are the s'mores ingredients? This is in honor of Michelle Obama, who said the other day we should not have dessert."

In her political and paid speeches, Palin has been highly critical of Michelle Obama's campaign to combat childhood obesity. She brought cookies to a Pennsylvania high school to argue that what kids eat should be a parent's choice, not the government's.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Most Wasteful Government Programs of 2010

Photo Courtesy - Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A Republican senator has drafted what he calls a "wastebook" -- a guide to what he considers to be the top 100 examples of wasteful government spending in 2010.

Highlights include the $700,000 awarded by the Department of Agriculture to the University of New Hampshire to investigate methane gas emissions from dairy cows. The National Science Foundation spent $216,000 to study the use of "ambiguous" statements by politicians.

"I would tell you that there's hundreds of billions of dollars every year, that if the American tax payer could go down through it, they'd say "wipe this off, this off, this off...we don't think any of this is important," said Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK.), the author of the report, who acknowledges his examples represent a tiny fraction of government spending.

The combined cost of studies of cow burps and political statements was less than a million dollars, but some of the other items in Coburn's report are far more costly.

The government spends $28 million a year just to print The Congressional Record, a daily chronicle of every word uttered in Congress and countless more words submitted "for the record." The Congressional Record is available online which is the way most people who want to read it find it.

Coburn says the blame for most of this lies not with the White House, but with Congress. What's needed, he says, is for the president to fight Congress to stop these programs.

"We've never had a president, that I know of in my lifetime, that's willing to take on Congress," Coburn said. "None of them.”

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Senator Schumer: We Have Votes to Pass Bill for 9/11 First Responders

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- New York Democrat Charles Schumer told ABC News Monday morning that they have the votes to pass the 9/11 first responders bill in the lame duck session.

“We now have the votes, we’ve made some modifications that some of our Republican colleagues requested and if no one does undue delay, just stands up and delays and delays and delays, we will get this done,” the senator said.

Schumer said he has spoken to Speaker Pelosi about keeping the House in session to push through the bill that would provide healthcare to the Ground Zero workers and he pleaded to his colleague to not delay.

“Let it come to a vote and we will win.  The people who rushed to the towers after 9/11, they are our heroes just like veterans, they volunteered and risked their lives for us in a time of war,” he said.  “American tradition is we don’t turn our backs on them no matter what state you’re from and no matter what party you’re from.  And I see in these last moments the Congress coming together along those lines.”

So what took so long?

“First of all, the first several years we didn’t realize the kinds of terrible illnesses people were getting.  And then of course to figure out how to do this exactly right took a while.  The House passed it in September, we’re working on it now,” Schumer said.  “It’s not too late but it will be if we don’t do anything because thousands will die if they didn’t get adequate care.”

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Senate Sets START, Government Funding Procedural Votes

Photo Courtesy - Reid [dot] Senate [dot] gov(WASHINGTON) -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced Sunday night that the START nuclear treaty with Russia will come up for a procedural vote Tuesday morning.

The treaty will need 60 votes to make it past the procedural hurdle.  If the Senate votes Tuesday to end debate on the treaty, a final vote on the pact would come before Thursday, with 67 votes needed for ratification.

“We’ve made some real progress on this and I do hope this matter can pass,” Reid said on the Senate floor Sunday.  “We’re going to work on it as long as it takes.”

Also on Tuesday, the Senate will hold a procedural vote on a continuing resolution to fund the government through March 4.  The measure would fund the government essentially at 2010 levels, with only a $1 billion increase.  Government funding is currently set to run out at the end of Tuesday, so Congress will have to pass the new continuing resolution by the end of the day to avert a federal shutdown. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have called a shutdown unlikely.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Will the Republican Leadership Face a Tea Party Rebellion?

Photo Courtesy - Spencer Platt/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The new Congress hasn't been seated yet, but signs of a rift are already beginning to emerge between Republican leaders and Tea Party groups who were a driving force propelling many unknown candidates to victory last month.

From the tax cuts extension bill to the food safety legislation to Republican selections for key House committee leadership posts, Tea Party leaders have expressed outrage at what they perceive is a continuation of the same old Washington-style politics.

The Tea Party dissent on tax cuts was clear in the House, where the movement's supporters like Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota -- founder of the Tea Party caucus -- voted against the bill.  Sen.-elect Rand Paul of Kentucky said he would lean against voting for it if he were in office, while Tea Party darling Sarah Palin called it a "lousy deal."

The Tea Party's discontent, however, hasn't gone unnoticed.  As they were assailed on the tax cuts front, the GOP leadership quickly distanced themselves from the 1,924-page, $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill filled with $8.3 billion worth of earmarks.  Many Republicans initially supported the bill and were in fact responsible themselves for many of the earmarks, including the top two pork projects.

With the new Congress yet to be seated, it remains unclear how closely the Republican leadership can align their interests with that of the Tea Party movement.  But it is clear that the GOP leadership may have to shrug off some of its traditional ways of doing business.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

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