Congress Has Done 'Zero' to Prevent Another Big Oil Spill?

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Despite calls from Washington and beyond to guarantee that another BP-style oil spill will not happen again, Congress has done “zero” on the issue in the year since the tragic events in the Gulf of Mexico, a leading House Democrat told ABC News on Wednesday.

Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., a senior member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, said there has “absolutely not” been any progress in terms of ensuring there won’t be a repeat.

“We are exactly where we were, other than the public understands more clearly how reckless and what the negligence was that got us there,” Woolsey told ABC News. “But are we preventing it? Do you have better programs in place for mitigation and cleanup? No we don't, but we could.”

Woolsey is pushing a bill that would better coordinate the federal response to an incident like the BP explosion, and explore better ways to mitigate the impact.

Asked what Congress has actually enacted in the wake of the BP spill to make sure the next accident isn’t as bad, she responded, “Zero.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


GOP Talks Deficit Reduction, But John Mica Wants $270M for Art

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Just as Republicans in Congress have been calling for an aggressive crackdown on federal spending, one powerful House leader has declared that his desire to expand the National Gallery of Art -- at an estimated cost of $270 million -- has become his singular, top priority on Capitol Hill.

Rep. John Mica, the Florida Republican who chairs the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, has spent years pushing legislation to evict the Federal Trade Commission from its stately historic building on Pennsylvania Avenue in the heart of Washington, D.C., to make space for the art gallery expansion. Even after taking the helm of a committee that helps set the nation's policy on everything from air safety to mass transit to highway construction, Mica has maintained his laser focus on winning approval for this pet project.

"I have no other priority for the balance of my tenure in Congress," Mica said at a House subcommittee meeting in March.

Mica's pursuit of the gallery expansion has baffled many Capitol Hill regulars, though few are as perplexed as the senior leaders of the Federal Trade Commission, whose agency name was carved into the building's stone entrance seven decades ago.

"I'm frankly bewildered by it," J. Thomas Rosch, a Republican member of the Federal Trade Commission, told ABC News in an interview this week.

Rosch said he couldn't understand how the expansion rose to become Mica's top priority even before he held a single hearing as committee chairman, before he identified where the FTC was going to go, before anyone had determined the fair market value of the FTC building, and before anyone had conducted an impartial evaluation of what it would cost taxpayers.

"I have no idea what's behind this," Rosch said. "But I do not understand how a Republican can make this his only priority as a committee chairman when there has been no examination of the factors that I just talked about. I fail to understand that."

Adding to the confusion was the announcement last week from the independent Congressional Budget Office, which released the first cost estimate for the proposal, saying the government may need to set aside $270 million to relocate the Federal Trade Commission.

The proposal is not without its supporters. A Washington Post columnist endorsed the idea as a rare example of a congressman willing to devote money to promote art and culture offerings in the nation's capital. And though officials at the National Gallery acknowledge they did not come up with the idea, they have come to embrace it, too.

"The Gallery has reached a decisive moment when its future public programming and space needs must be addressed and this requires a long-term solution to provide adequate space in a consolidated campus," National Gallery spokeswoman Deborah Ziska said in a statement emailed to ABC News. "When the opportunity to expand to the FTC building was first proposed by Rep. Mica, the Board of Trustees of the National Gallery of Art responded enthusiastically."

When asked how Rep. Mica came up with the plan to move the gallery into the FTC headquarters, his aides said they weren't sure. But they defended the plan, and said there are a number of solid reasons for Mica's dedication to seeing it happen.

The congressman's zeal, they said, stems from his desire to see Washington, D.C. benefit from a popular tourist attraction, and from his love of the gallery's collection and art in general. They also said that over time, they remained convinced that the proposal will save the government some $300 million, because the National Gallery would assume the cost of future building renovations using privately raised funds.

"He thinks it makes good economic sense for the taxpayers" to push the cost of renovating the 80-year-old building off to the gallery, and to eliminate the expense the gallery now pays to lease space to store the art it cannot put on display, said Justin Harclerode, Mica's spokesman. "The Gallery has art it can't display. He feels it would be wise to use that space, which is right across from the Gallery's other facilities … [and] open it up to much greater public use and benefit."

After the Congressional Budget Office released its cost estimate last week, Mica personally met with officials there to contest their findings. They argued that the estimate was based on the assumption that the government would need to build a new headquarters for the FTC. Mica's aides said that wasn't necessary.

Attempts by ABC News to confirm whether there is adequate federal office space for the FTC available were unsuccessful. The agency that tracks federal office space, the General Services Administration, declined to answer questions on the topic. Mica's committee has authority over the GSA's projects and leases.

Mica's office said the congressman would be fine-tuning the language in the bill in coming weeks to make clear they have not authorized the government to build a new headquarters for the FTC employees that would be displaced by the museum -- a move they expect will dramatically reduce the current, $270 million price tag, if not eliminate it altogether. Harclerode said Mica has no plans to stop pushing.

"He's very much a fan of art in the museum and just the arts in general," he said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Speaker Boehner Meets with Karzai, Petraeus in Afghanistan

ABC News (file)(KABUL, Afghanistan) -- Speaker John Boehner and the congressional delegation (CODEL) visited Afghanistan on Tuesday and Wednesday, continuing the tour that began in Iraq on Saturday. The delegation met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and General David Petraeus, among other military leaders, officials and diplomats.

The office of the speaker says the delegation’s visit “comes as the Obama Administration has stated it will begin drawing down troops in July despite concerns about whether sufficient progress has been made in turning around the security environment, training Afghanistan’s security forces, and working with the Afghan government to improve its delivery of security and services to the Afghan people.”

“We must remain steadfast in our commitment to the counterinsurgency strategy our commanders on the ground have put in place and to ensuring its success, rather than focusing on meeting arbitrary deadlines for withdrawal,” Boehner said in a statement Wednesday. “Any drawdown of U.S. troops must be based on the conditions on the ground, not on political calculations.  If the Obama Administration insists on beginning to draw down troops in July, it must explain how the pace and scope of such a move will not undermine the tenuous progress we’ve made thus far.  To date, it has not done so.”

During the two-day visit to Afghanistan, the six-member delegation received updates from Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. and international military forces; U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry; Lt. General David Rodriguez, the commander of NATO-International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Joint Command; Lt. General Bill Caldwell, the commander of NATO Training Mission -- Afghanistan; U.S. Embassy – Kabul senior diplomats; the commanders and senior civilian representatives in Regional Command – East, Regional Command – South, and Regional Command – Southwest; and U.S. troops from the Members’ home states.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Federal Deficit: New Presidential Commission Joins Budget Battle

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A battle between two rival gangs in Washington has broken out -- a new fiscal commission to control the federal deficit is competing with a separate group of lawmakers.

The newcomer in the fight is the "Gang of Seven" -- a group comprised of Vice President Biden and representatives from all four Congressional caucuses and conferences.

On Tuesday, House Speaker John Boehner rounded out the group by appointing House Majority Leader Eric Cantor to participate in the talks, while Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell appointed his deputy, Sen. Jon Kyl.  The new bipartisan, bicameral commission is the brainchild of President Obama.

The group -- Biden, Reps. Chris Van Hollen, James Clyburn, Cantor, Sens. Max Baucus, Daniel Inouye and Kyl -- will now undertake the same mission that the so-called Gang of Six in the Senate has been working on for months: trying to reach a deficit reduction deal that can gain traction on Capitol Hill from both parties in both chambers of Congress.

The president's decision to form a new group has caused some unrest on Capitol Hill with lawmakers who felt the decision undermines the work of the Gang of Six.  The president announced the new group in his fiscal policy speech last Wednesday, stating that he wanted the panel to start working on a legislative framework for comprehensive deficit reduction.  The White House invited the House and Senate leadership to each appoint up to four members to the panel.

Initially, Boehner balked at the idea of another deficit commission.  But after House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced their representatives to the panel, the Republican leaders were essentially compelled to go along with the new commission or face being left out of the talks altogether.

The first meeting for the Gang of Seven is scheduled May 5 at Blair House.

Meanwhile the Gang of Six has been meeting for months now and is close to releasing its own plan.

The Gang of Six includes Democrats Dick Durbin of Illinois, Kent Conrad of North Dakota, and Mark Warner of Virginia and Republicans Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, and Mike Crapo of Idaho.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Tea Party Congressmen: John Boehner Doing an 'Awesome' Job

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The reports of Speaker of the House John Boehner's demise at the hands of rebellious tea partiers have been greatly exaggerated.

In fact, Boehner's support among freshman Republicans tied to the Tea Party movement is stronger than it has ever been, they say.  Boehner himself has said there's "no daylight" between him and the Tea Party movement.  That may just be right.

ABC News brought together four freshman Republicans for a roundtable discussion on the Speaker's leadership during the first 100 days of the new Republican majority in the House.  They come from four different parts of the country, each elected on a wave of Tea Party support.  None was thrilled with the compromise Boehner brokered to avert a government shutdown, but all give him high marks for fighting hard.

"I think he did a tremendous job," said Rep. Renee Ellmers, R-N.C.  "In fact, it hurts my feelings sometimes when I hear people criticize him because we know him to be completely committed, completely conservative, and a very hardworking gentleman."

Ellmers came to Washington as the quintessential Tea Party candidate.  A nurse who only got into politics because she was outraged by the Obama health care law, she was endorsed by Sarah Palin.

Her praise of Boehner is echoed by fellow tea partier Rep. Bobby Schilling (R-Ill.), a pizzeria owner who had never been involved in politics before running for Congress last year.

"I think for being our leader, I think he's an awesome guy to have there doing the negotiations," said Schilling.

Boehner has won over the freshman Republicans -- at least for now -- by bringing them into his decision-making.

"The thing I see him doing is listening a lot," said Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), who owned a dental practice before running for Congress last year.  "It's listening.  It's not telling us.  It's listening."

When asked to grade Boehner's leadership, three of them gave him an A (Rep. Frank Guinta,R-N.H., Ellmers and Gosar).  Schilling gave him an A-minus.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Joe Biden Ready to Take on Donald Trump in Deficit Debate

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(CLEVELAND) -- Bring on the Donald!

Those fighting words were uttered by none other than Vice President Joe Biden, who was speaking at a fundraising event in Cleveland Tuesday for Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown.

In lockstep with President Obama, Biden suggested that the Republican way of dealing with the runaway budget deficit is not in synch with the White House, or what's good for the American people.

Biden, who promised to keep his remarks under ten minutes but spoke for more than 25, said Republicans "are laying out for the first time what they are for and how they think they are going to deal with the problem.  That’s a debate I can hardly wait for -- hopefully with Donald Trump."

The real estate mogul and reality TV host has lately become the face of the GOP as he mulls a run for the GOP presidential nomination.

Meanwhile, Biden, in a tongue-in-cheek moment, said he hoped Americans at the top of the earning scale were enjoying Bush-era tax cuts because "those tax cuts for the next 10 years, every year, are going to cost us."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Like Trump, Many Iowa Republicans Doubt Obama's US Citizenship

ABC/Ida Mae Astute(RALEIGH, N.C.) -- The "birther" issue possible presidential hopeful Donald Trump keeps harping on is resonating more with Republican voters in Iowa than the candidate himself, at least according to a new poll.

Nearly half of Iowa Republicans go along with Trump's theory, made popular during the 2008 national election, that President Obama was born outside the U.S. and is therefore not eligible to hold the highest public office in the land.

Along with the 48 percent who are convinced that the president is lying when he says he was born in Hawaii in 1961, the survey by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling finds another 26 percent of Iowa Republicans aren't entirely sure if his birth certificate is the real deal.

Meanwhile, Trump, who has been ascending in most polls of likely GOP voters, places third in Iowa at 14 percent, with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee leading with 27 percent and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney second, with 16 percent.

What might really hurt Romney's chances in Iowa is that almost two-thirds of Republicans say mandated state healthcare, similar to what Romney promoted as Massachusetts governor, is a deal breaker with them.  Romney has since worked to distance himself as far from that issue as possible.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Americans Reject Medicare Cuts, Support Higher Taxes on Wealthy

Creatas Images/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Americans strongly reject Medicare cuts and broadly support higher taxes on the wealthy, underscoring the political risks in Republican debt-reduction plans.  And on one key factor in the debate -- protecting the middle class -- President Obama retains the upper hand.

Those and other results from the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll underscore the hazards of the federal spending debate for Republicans as well as for Obama.  As poorly as the president is rated for handling the deficit -- just 39 percent approve -- the Republican leaders in Congress do a bit worse, with just 33 percent approval on the same issue.

Similarly, while just 42 percent approve of Obama's handling of the economy overall, fewer still -- 34 percent -- approve of how the Republicans in Congress are dealing with it.  And the public by a 12-point margin trusts Obama over the GOP to protect middle-class Americans, a theme he's likely to sound loudly and often as the 2012 election campaign warms up.

The poll, conducted for ABC News by Langer Research Associates, finds that 65 percent of Americans oppose changing Medicare to a system in which the government would give seniors vouchers with which to buy private insurance.  Opposition was essentially the same in a Kaiser Family Foundation/Harvard School of Public Health survey when the idea came up 15 years ago.

The Republican budget plan includes what's been widely described in news reports as a voucher or voucher-like system, though its author, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, has maintained that it's not a voucher system because subsidies would go directly to insurance companies, from which seniors could choose coverage from a menu of plans.

The language may matter, in that even most Republicans, 56 percent, oppose Medicare vouchers, as do more than seven in 10 Democrats.  And opposition soars to 84 percent of all Americans, including nearly three-quarters of Republicans, if government payments failed to meet the full cost of seniors' insurance coverage.

Most Americans also differ with Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, the House speaker, who ruled out tax increases to cut the deficit last week, saying, "Washington does not have a revenue problem.  Washington has a spending problem."

In the ABC News/Washington Post poll, 59 percent favor a mix of spending cuts and tax increases -- or, for three percent, higher taxes alone -- to address the deficit.  Fewer, at 36 percent, back spending cuts alone, though that's up five points from last month, chiefly among wealthier and very conservative Americans, two comparatively tax-adverse groups. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Obama Calls Immigration Meeting to 'Keep the Debate About This Issue Alive'

The White House(WASHINGTON) -- Tuesday afternoon at the White House, President Obama met with approximately 70 leaders from the business, labor, faith and political communities to discuss immigration reform in order to “keep the debate about this issue alive,” according to one person in the room.
“The president asked the group to commit to moving forward to keep the debate about this issue alive, to keep it alive in the sense that it can get before Congress where the ultimate resolution of it will have to be obtained,”  Bill Bratton, former police chief, City of Los Angeles and City of New York, said following the meeting.
Eric Garcetti, Los Angeles City Council president, said it was a ”very vigorous” discussion.
“The president I think made a very compelling case that he will not let this issue go away. He has no plans to let the last vote on the DREAM Act be the final words on immigration.”
Al Sharpton, president of National Action Network, noted that the ways to approach the issue were varied, even in the meeting Tuesday, although they all agree that something must be done.
He called it a very “healthy beginning” started by the president.

Charles Ramsey, chief of police for the City of Philadelphia, said it was incredibly important that local police chiefs were in the room for this kind of discussion.
“Often times the issue of immigration has driven a wedge between us and the communities that we serve,” Chief Ramsey noted. “We have to have an approach that is reasonable.”
Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio Radio 


Three Cups Of Tea Party For Mitt Romney

James Devaney/WireImage(WASHINGTON) -- One of the big questions for 2012: which Republican will win the affection of Tea Party voters? While ex-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Rep. Michele Bachmann are the most closely identified with the Tea Party cause, the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll finds that it's ex-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney who does best among voters who identify as Tea Party supporters. 

In a head-to-head matchup against President Barack Obama, 70 percent of those who say they are Tea Party supporters say they'll vote for Romney, compared to 61 percent for Palin and 60 percent for Bachmann. Ex-Gov. Mike Huckabee narrowly trails Romney, taking 69 percent of the Tea Party vote. 

According to the poll, 37 percent of these Tea Party supporters say they are Republicans, 11 percent identify themselves as Democrats and 47 percent identify themselves as independents. But, when independents are asked to pick which party they lean toward, the Tea Party universe looks a whole lot more Republican. With leaners, 68 percent of these self-identified Tea Party supporters say they are Republicans, 21 percent are Democrats and 11 percent are independents.

Among those who identify as “strongly supportive” of the Tea Party movement, Trump is the most popular, but Romney is also well liked. Of this group, 79 percent said they’d support Trump over President Obama compared to 78 percent for Palin, 77 percent for Huckabee and 76 percent for Romney.

Romney also runs strongest among those who identify themselves as Republican, taking 85 percent of the GOP vote against President Obama.  The candidate who does the worst among Republicans? “The Donald,” who takes just 68 percent of the Republican vote.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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