U.S. House approves legislation to give government blank check on debt ceiling

Proposal does not require a balanced budget or the reduction in government spending.

By LUIS MIRANDA | THE REAL AGENDA | JANUARY 24, 2013

The House of Representatives of the U.S. Congress approved the bill exalted by the Republicans that will extend the debt ceiling and the debate about it until 19 May.

The motion, passed with 285 votes in favor – 86 democrats – and 144 against – 33 Republicans – will allow the Treasury to borrow money but states that both houses of Congress must pass a budget (the Senate did that during the first year of Barack Obama’s first term) or else their salaries will be withheld.

The Congress should meet before the end of February to agree to increase the limit on how much money the country can borrow so that the government can pay its bills and debts.

The time that Congress has given itself will allow lawmakers now devote their time and energy to battle about the size of the U.S. budget. John Boehner, chairman of the House, ‘convinced’ his fellow conservatives that his new strategy is an opportunity to achieve significant cuts in some state programs, such as Medicare, health care those related to the elderly.

Republicans and Democrats are focused on cutting funds from indispensable social programs, which in most cases are the only safety net for millions of Americans. Despite continues calls for the reduction in military spending, both parties have refused to cut expenses in that area, but do not hesitate to cut important programs such as health and medical care for Americans.

Democrats showed opposition to the Republican proposal, with Nancy Pelosi describing it as a “joke” and Steny Hoyer saying it was just a “political stunt” that would only perpetuate “uncertainty”. A small group of Democrats supported it because it avoids, at least for now, the threat of bankruptcy and divorces the issue from the debt ceiling which Republicans claim needs to be linked to a cut in expenses. The same law will have no trouble in the Senate, where its leader, Democrat Harry Reid, has already advanced that he will give the green light.

The White House also welcomed the measure approved Wednesday. In his daily briefing, the president’s spokesman, Jay Carney, said Tuesday that if it came to the Oval Office, Obama would not veto the law. The current debt ceiling is at $16.4 trillion and the Republican proposal does not specify another amount, which will allow the government to make permitted to make automatic increases to avoid bankruptcy. This means the U.S. will be able to officially spend its way into oblivion without any Congressional supervision.

The bill allows the government to borrow the money it needs to meet its obligations, including interest payments. However, this is not a blank check to the Treasury, sponsors say, which may not borrow extra funds during the period of suspension to meet the deficit of a trillion dollars in 2013. In practice, however, it does look like a blank check for the Treasury and the U.S. government to borrow indiscriminately up until 19 May. In one sense, Republicans, Democrats and the White House continue to kick the can down the road as no real solution is given to the debt and spending problems.

The House of Republicans have reiterated over the last two years that would not increase the debt ceiling unless this increase was accompanied by the same amount of spending costs. However, the law passed yesterday does not state that have the supposed balancing of the budget must occur.

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Political Corruption and Fear used to approve Patriot Act Provisions

Americans will live without civil liberties and under ‘state of emergency’ for at least four more years

Politico
May 26, 2011

Capping a week of political bickering and parliamentary delays, the House joined the Senate on Thursday to pass a four-year extension of key provisions of the Patriot Act that was set to expire at midnight.

Because President Barack Obama was traveling in Europe, he signed the bill into law using an autopen, a machine that replicates the president’s signature.

The House voted 250-153 to renew three parts of the counter-terrorism surveillance law. Thirty-one House Republicans joined most Democrats in opposing the extension, while 54 Democrats supported it.

Hours earlier, the bill cleared the Senate on a 72-23 vote, with 19 Democrats and four Republicans voting no, mostly over concerns the Patriot Act violates personal privacy and civil liberties.
The week-long fight over parliamentary procedures and amendments left a trail of bruised egos and bad feelings in the upper chamber.

Freshman Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a Patriot Act opponent who had used procedural tactics to delay a final vote on the bill for much of the week, eventually worked out a deal with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to get votes on two of his amendments – but not before Reid accused the libertarian, tea-party darling of “political grandstanding” and trying to protect terrorists.

While Paul’s amendments ultimately failed by wide margins, Republican leaders blocked Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) from even getting a vote on his bipartisan amendment that would have required greater congressional oversight of the anti-terrorism tools in the law.

Leahy briefly threatened to delay the final vote himself – a rare move for the chairman tasked with shepherding the bill through the Senate. But he later backed off, vowing to introduce his amendment as a stand-alone bill.

“I do feel this really ruins the chances to make the Patriot Act one that could have had far, far greater bipartisan support, and we have lost a wonderful chance,” Leahy said on the Senate floor, “but I understand that we have to do what the Republicans want on this bill.”

The longtime liberal from Vermont voted no and rejected assertions by Republicans that his objections would have been to blame for the Patriot Act provisions expiring, something top Obama administration officials warned could threaten national security during a time of heightened alert.

“There is no conceivable way this thing can get passed and signed by the president anyway [before the provisions expire],” Leahy told two reporters before the vote, unaware that the White House intended to attach the president’s signature via autopen. “So that was the most bogus, damn argument that’s been made in this place today.”

When asked if Reid, his party’s leader, had poorly managed the amendment process, Leahy replied: “I can’t even answer that with a straight face.”

But one Republican member of the Senate Armed Services Committee said Reid had waited until the last minute to limit amendments and force people to get on board the Patriot Act.

“We should never have gotten into the situation where leadership feels they could achieve a result by pushing this right up to the deadline and then hoping people cave. It’s not the way it should work,” the senator said. “This is Harry Reid’s style to basically avoid votes and make agreements that don’t always stick in an effort to save his members from tough votes.”

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Pentagon does not account for Billions; Congress sends more Cash

by Robert Burns

The House prepared Tuesday to send President Barack Obama $33 billion to pay for his troop surge in Afghanistan, unmoved by the leaking of tens of thousands of classified military documents that portray a war effort beset by Afghan shortcomings.

War Pigs continue financing Genocide in the Middle East

From Obama on down, the disclosure of the documents was condemned anew by administration officials and military leaders, but the material failed to stir new anti-war sentiment. The bad news for the White House: A pervasive weariness with the war was still there — and possibly growing.

At a Senate hearing on prospects for a political settlement of the Afghan conflict, there was scant mention of the leaked material, posted on the website of the whistleblower group WikiLeaks, but there were repeated expressions of frustration over the direction of the fighting.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who has questioned the realism of U.S. goals in Afghanistan though he supports the war, pointedly asked why the Taliban, with fewer resources and smaller numbers, can field fighters who are more committed to winning than are Afghan soldiers.

“What’s going on here?” Kerry asked with exasperation.

Still, the House seemed ready to vote final approval for more than $33.5 billion for the additional 30,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan and to pay for other Pentagon operational expenses. Other non-war provisions brought the total bill to nearly $59 billion.

Republicans were strongly behind the major war spending, with opposition coming mostly from members of Obama’s own Democratic Party who argued that the money could be better spent at home. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., said the leaked documents revealed corruption and incompetence in the Afghanistan government.

“We’re told we can’t extend unemployment or pay to keep cops on the beat or teachers in the classroom but we’re asked to borrow another $33 billion for nation-building in Afghanistan,” McGovern said.

At the separate Senate hearing, meanwhile, Sen. Edward Kaufman, D-Del., questioned whether the U.S.-led war effort is capable of pushing the Afghan government to provide the kind of leadership that wins the confidence of the population.

“Can we carry this off?” Kaufman asked.

In his first public comments on the weekend leak of tens of thousands of documents, Obama said it could “potentially jeopardize individuals or operations” in Afghanistan. But he also said the papers did not reveal any concerns that were not already part of the war debate.

Obama said the shortcomings in Afghanistan as reflected in the leaked documents explain why, last year, he undertook an in-depth review of the war and developed a new strategy.

“We’ve substantially increased our commitment there, insisted upon greater accountability from our partners in Afghanistan and Pakistan, developed a new strategy that can work and put in place a team, including one of our finest generals, to execute that plan,” Obama said. “Now we have to see that strategy through.”

The leaked documents are battlefield reports compiled by various military units in Afghanistan that provide an unflinching view of combat operations between 2004 and 2009, including U.S. displeasure over reports that Pakistan secretly aided insurgents fighting American and Afghan forces.

Even as the administration dismissed the leaked documents as outdated, U.S. military and intelligence analysts were caught up in a struggle to limit the damage contained in the once-secret files now scattered across the Internet.

In Baghdad, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters he was “appalled” by the leak, which he said had the potential of putting troops’ lives at added risk.

Officials also are concerned about the impact the disclosures could have on the military’s human intelligence network built up over the past eight years inside Afghanistan and Pakistan. The people in that network range from Afghan village elders who have worked behind the scenes with U.S. troops to militants working as double agents.

Beyond expressions of disgust at the document dump, the political fallout in Washington appeared limited.

Advocates of pulling U.S. troops out of Afghanistan said the leaks reinforced their argument for disengaging. War supporters said they illustrated why Obama was right to decide last December to send an additional 30,000 troops and step up pressure on the Afghan government to reform, while pressing Pakistan to go after insurgents on its side of the border.

At the State Department, spokesman P.J. Crowley said efforts to explain to Afghanistan and other allies that the U.S. government played no role in leaking the documents seemed to have paid off.

“We’re very gratified that the response thus far internationally has been moderate, sober,” Crowley said.

In his only reference to the leak, Kerry called the new material “over-hyped,” said that it was released in violation of the law and that it largely involved raw intelligence reports from the field.

The House, meanwhile, prepared to approve legislation to pay for the extra 30,000 troops.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., said he was torn between his obligation to bring the bill to the floor and his “profound skepticism” that the money would lead to a successful conclusion of the war.

Even if there were greater confidence, he said, “it would likely take so long it will obliterate our ability to make the kinds of long-term investments in our own country that are so desperately needed.”