Billionaire Warren Buffett: Bush-Era Tax Cuts for Rich Should Expire

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(OMAHA, Neb.) -- Warren Buffett says that the rich should be paying more taxes and that the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy should be left to expire at the end of December.

"If anything, taxes for the lower and middle class and maybe even the upper middle class should even probably be cut further," Buffett told ABC News. "But I think that people at the high end -- people like myself -- should be paying a lot more in taxes. We have it better than we've ever had it."

The billionaire brushed aside Republican arguments that letting tax cuts expire for the wealthy would hurt economic growth.

"The rich are always going to say that, you know, just give us more money and we'll go out and spend more and then it will all trickle down to the rest of you. But that has not worked the last 10 years, and I hope the American public is catching on," Buffett explained.

The White House announced on Wednesday that President Obama will award Buffett a Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, early next year.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


New Jersey Pol Gets 41 Months For Taking On-Camera Bribe

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Former New Jersey state legislator Daniel Van Pelt has been sentenced to 41 months in federal prison for accepting $10,000 from a developer in a bribery sting that was caught on tape.

Van Pelt, an assemblyman from Ocean County, was convicted of taking the money in return for promising a local developer that he would help him acquire permits for a large coastal development. The developer was actually an FBI informant, and the sting was captured on undercover video.

An ABC News report on the bribery case, featuring the undercover video and an exclusive interview with Van Pelt, was part of a week-long investigative series called "State House Scoundrels" produced by student reporters working with ABC’s Investigative Unit. Five graduate school journalists selected as Carnegie Fellows examined the ethics and behavior of state legislators, and found conduct that could be best described as unbecoming.

In February 2009, Van Pelt told the informant over dinner at a pricey Atlantic City steakhouse how he could help him acquire the much-coveted environmental permits. When the meal ended, the informant pulled out a white envelope stuffed with $10,000 in cash.

"I'll hold on to it," Van Pelt said, tucking the envelope into his pocket. "I don't know what I'm going to do with it."

Earlier this year, a jury viewed the tape and convicted Van Pelt of bribery and extortion. He faced up to 30 years in prison, but Judge Joel Pisano gave him 41 months and two years of supervised release. Van Pelt's star turn was among the most dramatic moments in a New Jersey public corruption investigation, Operation Bid Rig, that nabbed 44 individuals in one of the most sweeping stings in the nation's history.

In coastal New Jersey, say environmental activists, the willingness of local politicians like Van Pelt to make deals with developers, whether legally or illegally, is threatening the shoreline and coastal waterways.

"Barnegat Bay may die," said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, referring to an estuary in Van Pelt's old district. "And it's really happening because we're loving the bay to death with development."

In an exclusive interview with ABC News, Van Pelt maintained his innocence, saying he took the money as a consulting fee. He says the proposed project never made it to the permit stage, and that he was convicted not for his actions but for promises that, he claims, were ultimately meaningless.

But since New Jersey's coastal environmental permit (CAFRA) process began more than three decades ago, wealthy developers have filled the coffers of local political organizations, whose members helped craft the legislative loopholes that allowed the builders to expedite the permit process and push through projects that critics claim are environmentally unsound.

According to environmental advocates, the impact of coastal development in the past three decades has been disastrous. Advocates say that Barnegat Bay's fishing industries, including a quarter million dollar clamming trade, have almost collapsed. Poisonous jellyfish, which thrive on pollutants found in lawn fertilizer, have invaded Barnegat Bay, making long stretches unswimmable and threatening the region's $3.5 billion tourism industry.

Van Pelt, who also served ten years as mayor of Ocean Township, made his name pushing through development projects in Ocean County.

He fiercely defended his record to ABC News, explaining that the deals made as mayor and assemblymen were the best for the town --  a necessary compromise between development and environmental concerns.

"They have to protect the environment and I understood that," Van Pelt said of the Sierra Club's efforts to limit development.

"People are going to develop anyway," he added. "Whether I'm here or someone else is here. We just tried to do it the right way."

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Mitch McConnell: 'It's Time Congress Got Its Priorities Straight'

Photo Courtesy - The Office of Sen. Mitch McConnell(WASHINGTON) -- Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky questioned the priorities of Democratic lawmakers when giving this week's GOP address.

McConnell focused on the hardships of many Americans still trying to find work, pointing to an unemployment rate that has "remained stubbornly close to 10 percent" over the last year, and blamed Democrats for not paying enough attention to the issue.

McConnell's main example of Democratic leaders' negligence was the stimulus, which he said was "supposed to create millions of jobs and keep unemployment from rising above eight percent."  Yet, he added, "more than three million people have lost jobs and the economy barely has a pulse."

The current Senate Republican leader said the best remedy for the nation's economic struggles is to prevent the tax increase set to happen at the end of the year.  But Democrats, he said, would rather focus on "everything except preventing this tax hike."  He then cited issues such as immigration, the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and a reorganization of the FDA saying that the priorities of Democrats need to be changed, with more emphasis directed toward job creation.

"It's time Congress got its priorities straight," he said.  "It's time Congress focused on job creation -- and that means preventing tax hikes.  It's time to set aside the political votes and government spending that the administration and Democratic leaders have put above all other priorities for two years."

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Leaders Opposed to START 'Want to Trust but Not Verify,' Obama Says

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama stressed the importance of ratifying the new START treaty, calling the issue "fundamental" to America's national security. 

Noting that the United States and Russia are the two countries with over 90 percent of the world's nuclear weapons, the president said that the treaty would "ensure that our national security is protected" while allowing the U.S. to track and verify Russia's nuclear arsenal.  The new START would also cut the number of nuclear weapons that both the U.S. and Russia can deploy, the president said.

Obama called for Senators to act quickly on the matter saying that failure to ratify the treaty would mean the U.S. would lose its nuclear inspectors in Russia, putting American troops at further risk.

Finally, President Obama asked that leaders of both parties stop bickering and unite in the name of our national security.

"The choice is clear:  a failure to ratify new START would be a dangerous gamble with America's national security, setting back our understanding of Russia's nuclear weapons, as well as our leadership in the world.  That is not what the American people sent us to Washington to do."

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Mike Pence: President Should Regard Constitution Like ‘An Obsessed Lover’

Photo Courtesy - ABC News (WASHINGTON) -- Indiana Republican Rep. Mike Pence, who has been mentioned as a potential presidential candidate in 2012, delivered a sharp-tongued critique of the American presidency on Friday, saying that the office had become “symbolic of overreaching.”

In a speech in Washington, D.C. at the annual conference of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal organization, Pence used the remarks of two top Obama administration officials to suggest that the president’s team had been complicit in that overreach.

He cited Obama confidante Valerie Jarrett’s November 2008 statement that “It’s important that President-Elect Obama is prepared to really take power and begin to rule day one” and the more recent comments by Consumer Financial Protection Bureau adviser Elizabeth Warren, who said: “President Obama understands the importance of leveling the playing field.”

“Take power, rule, leveling,” Pence said. “Though these are the terms of the day, this has never been and should never again be the model of the presidency or the character of the American president.”

He added, “No one can say this too strongly, and no one can say it enough until it is remedied. We are not subjects. We are citizens.”

Jarrett used the word “rule” in passing in an appearance on NBC’s “Meet The Press,” shortly after Obama was elected president and Warren’s full quote in a Sept. 17 White House blog post notes that the president wanted to “level the playing field again for families" and create consumer "protections that work not just for the wealthy or connected, but for every American.”

Pence’s speech amounted to a series of presidential guidiance rooted strongly in the Constitution.

“The president should regard the Constitution and the Declaration like an obsessed lover,” Pence said. “They should be on his mind all the time.”

The Indiana Republican fit in several more jabs at Obama, including a reference to an incident in November 2009 when the president bowed to Japanese Emperor Akihito during a visit to Tokyo.

“You do not bow to kings. Outside our shores, the President of the United States of America bows to no man,” Pence said. “When in foreign lands, you do not criticize your own country. You do not argue the case against the United States, but the case for it. You do not apologize to the enemies of the United States.”

Pence told ABC News on Thursday that he would make up his mind about his next political move “sometime early next year.”

“Our decision is going to be wholly dependent on taking the time to prayerfully consider where we can make the most difference on the conservative values that brought us to Washington to begin with,” he said.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Rep. Maxine Waters House Ethics Case Delayed

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The House Ethics Committee Friday cancelled the upcoming public trial set for Nov. 29 of California Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters, saying the discovery of "new materials" in the case means further investigation is required.

Waters, a senior member of the House Financial Services Committee, stands accused of improperly using her influence in 2008 to help secure $12 million in TARP funds for a struggling bank with financial ties to her husband. She has denied any wrongdoing.

It's unclear what new information the committee will consider and how it could affect the charges or the need for a public trial. However, it's likely that resolution of the Waters case will not occur before the next Congress is seated in January.

The committee's announcement comes one day after the panel of five Democrats and five Republicans concluded its public trial for veteran New York Rep. Charles Rangel. The members recommended Rangel be censured by the full House after what chairwoman Rep. Zoe Lofgren called "wrenching" deliberations.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Republicans Target NPR Funding 

NPR fired news analyst Juan Williams after he said he gets "nervous" seeing "people who are in Muslim garb" on airplanes. Photo Courtesy - ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- House Republicans' attempt to cut federal funding for National Public Radio fell flat on Thursday, but the war of words against the publicly-funded radio network continues to fester. On Thursday, Democrats defeated a proposal by House GOP members to terminate NPR's federal funding, a move prompted in part by the recent firing of Juan Williams for comments he made about Muslims.

"While the network has the right to present whatever point of view its executives wish, taxpayers should not be forced to subsidize it," Republican Study Committee chairman Tom Price of Georgia said in a statement. "Without taxpayer funding, NPR will simply compete for listeners on a level playing field, just like any other media organization."

Under the Republican proposal, NPR would not be allowed to apply for grants issued by federally funded agencies like the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and National Endowment for the Arts, which, in the last fiscal year totaled $2.5 million or 1.5 percent of the network's operating budget. Moreover, local public radio stations would not be able to use money they receive from CPB to buy programming from NPR. That funding constitutes, on average, about 10 percent of a station's budget.

Conservative ire toward NPR isn't a new phenomenon. In fact, Republican lawmakers for decades have attempted to yank public funding away from both NPR and Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), citing liberal bias. But the recent war of words has escalated to a level unseen in recent history. Fox News' chairman Roger Ailes went as far as to liken NPR executives to Nazis. Ailes later apologized for the use of the word.

NPR became the subject of Republican backlash when it fired news analyst Juan Williams in October, after the conservative commentator said he gets "worried" and "nervous" seeing "people who are in Muslim garb" on airplanes.

Only about two percent of NPR's funding comes from federally funded organizations. Forty percent of the revenue is generated through station programming fees while 26 percent comes from sponsorships.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Sarah Palin Book Tour: Warm Up Lap For A Presidential Campaign?

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Sarah Palin will launch a 16-stop, cross-country trip to promote her new book next week that will take her through several states that could be key to her presidential ambitions -- if she decides to jump into the 2012 race, that is.

The tour for Palin's book, "America by Heart: Reflections on Family, Faith, and Flag," begins in Phoenix, Ariz. on Monday and continues after Thanksgiving with stops in Iowa, South Carolina and Ohio, among others. Notably, Palin will not be traveling to the early primary state of New Hampshire where she spent little time campaigning as Sen. John McCain's vice presidential nominee in 2008.

Palin will make two separate stops in Iowa -- the first on Nov. 27 in West Des Moines and the second on Dec. 2 in Spirit Lake. She will wrap up the tour on Dec. 3, traveling to Columbia, S.C. and Cincinnati, Ohio on the same day.

Palin's promotional trip focuses heavily on Midwestern and Southern states, mostly leaving out the coasts. No stops are scheduled for New York, Washington, DC or California. She will appear at a mix of large book store chains, including Borders and Barnes and Noble, as well as big box stores such as Wal-Mart and Costco.

The publisher of Palin's book, Harper Collins, said it would include "selections from classic and contemporary readings that have moved" the former Alaska governor, as well as "portraits of some of the extraordinary men and women she admires and who embody her deep love of country, her strong rootedness in faith, and her profound love and appreciation of family."

But in limited excerpts of "America By Heart" that have been leaked on the Internet over the last week, Palin seems more interested in rekindling family feuds, settling scores, and igniting her base.

According to the leaked pages, Palin mentions her daughter Bristol's ex-boyfriend, Levi Johnston, in less than flattering terms: "We all had to bite our tongues -- more than once -- as Tripp's father went on a media tour through Hollywood and New York, spreading untruths and exaggerated rhetoric. It was disgusting to watch," she writes.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Critics Slam Obama Admin. for 'Hiding' Massive Saudi Arms Deal

Photo Courtesy - JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Obama administration has quietly forged ahead with its proposal to sell $60 billion worth of fighter jets and attack helicopters to Saudi Arabia without the usual amount of Congressional oversight, despite questions raised in legislative inquiries and in an internal congressional report about the wisdom of the deal.

The massive arms deal would be the single largest sale of weapons to a foreign nation in the history of the U.S., outfitting Saudi Arabia with a fully modernized, potent new air force.

But some critics are questioning the arrangement, and the seemingly backdoor efforts by the Obama administration to avoid a more probing congressional review. Congress was only notified about the deal last month, just as members were headed home for the November elections, leaving members of Congress just 30 days to review the sale and raise objections. The shortened review period concludes Saturday. With most members leaving Washington on Friday, any significant effort to block the deal appears dead for now, officials said.

The Obama administration has touted the deal as a boon for American jobs, and as a move to solidify the alliance between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia at a time when American intelligence is dependent on the Islamic nation for help in the war on terror. Earlier this month, it was a tip from Saudi intelligence that helped foil an al Qaeda plot to hide a bomb in a desktop printer aboard a UPS cargo plane.

The arrangement would ship 84 F-15 fighter jets and more than 175 attack helicopters to the Saudis over the next 15 years. The choppers in particular, would "bolster Saudi Arabia's counterterrorism capabilities," Gates and Clinton wrote in their letter this week to congressional leaders.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Miss Independent: Murkowski Steps Outside Party Lines

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(ANCHORAGE, Alaska) -- In the run-up to the Midterm Elections, Republican leaders in Washington had no choice but to back Joe Miller, the failed Alaska Republican Senate candidate.  But it's a decision that could lead to a lot of headaches now that victorious write-in candidate Sen. Lisa Murkowski is retaking her seat as an Independent Republican.

No longer beholden to the party, her first act of the new Senate term was to reject the Republican Party line.

Republicans in Washington had been touting a self-imposed moratorium on "earmarks" -- pet spending projects -- as a way to distinguish themselves from Democrats.  Republicans regained the majority in the House of Representatives and gained Senate seats on November 2nd due to the party's message of limited spending and smaller government striking a chord with voters. As a result, even longtime earmarkers like the Republican Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell changed course to support the earmark ban.

But Murkowski issued a blistering statement Tuesday night making clear she would not be on board.  Banning earmarks, she argued, is akin to giving the reins of government to bureaucrats.

"The notion that Congress would abdicate its constitutional duty and turn federal spending over to government bureaucrats is wrong and goes against the Constitution's mandate that says the power of the purse lies with the legislative branch of government," she said.

"We recognize that we need to stop out-of-control spending, but let's make sure that the action we take actually translates into spending and deficit reduction rather than just messaging," said Murkowski.  She said she'll fight for Alaska's "fair share" of its appropriations dollars and called the moratorium a "shell game that moves the money and the decision-making responsibility from Congress to the bureaucracy."

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

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