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Defense gets major increase, pay raise for troops in budget plan

Published: Thursday, March 22, 2018 @ 5:42 PM
Updated: Thursday, March 22, 2018 @ 5:42 PM


            Air Force Research Laboratory headquarters at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base could benefit from budget plan that passed the U.S. House Thursday. TY GREENLEES / STAFF
Air Force Research Laboratory headquarters at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base could benefit from budget plan that passed the U.S. House Thursday. TY GREENLEES / STAFF

Congress has passed a massive spending bill which includes $700 billion for defense, spends billions more on aircraft, ships and tanks and provides a 2.4 percent pay hike for troops.

The $60 billion increase in military spending is the biggest in 15 years.

The budget plan also includes $300 million to continue cleaning the Great Lakes, $400 million for cleanup at a closed uranium enrichment plant in Piketon, and millions of dollars for Ohio to combat opioid addiction.

The $1.3 trillion measure, which was passed by the House on Thursday and the Senate on Friday, keeps the federal government open until the end of September. But Friday morning, President Donald Trump signed the bill Friday after he threatened to veto it because it did not include money for a resolution for those in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and failed to fully fund a wall across the country’s southern border.

The Air Force share of defense spending is $183.6 billion, which also aims to add 4,000 airmen by 2020, Air Force officials have said. It includes nearly $25 billion for procurement of aircraft, space vehicles, missiles, and ammunition and more than $49 billion for operations and maintenance, budget documents show.

RELATED: Top AF leader: ‘You have to say, that’s not good enough’

“For the Air Force, the higher level of spending in the budget bill offers an opportunity to fix nagging readiness problems while moving forward with long delayed plans to replace Cold War aircraft,” Loren B. Thompson, a senior defense analyst with the Virginia-based Lexington Institute and a defense industry consultant, said in an email. “It also provides seed money for a transformation in how the Air Force will assure U.S. air and space superiority in the future.”

The spending bill includes $1.08 billion to upgrade the Abrams M-1 tank. Most of that money will be spent at the JSMC plant in Lima.

Across all research, testing and technology accounts, it adds $25.6 billion, documents show.

Impact at Wright-Patterson

The influx of dollars is a particular windfall for research spending at the Air Force Research Laboratory headquarters at Wright-Patterson, observers said.

“For Wright Patterson, the impending budget increase signals a surge in research spending to unprecedented peace time levels,” Thompson said. “This could be the beginning of a golden age for the Air Force’s premier research and modernization site if Washington can find a way of keeping spending levels high in the years ahead.”

AFRL’s budget could exceed last year’s level of $4.8 billion, which was nearly split between government appropriations and sponsored research.

EXCLUSIVE: AF leader: total dominance not a ‘birthright’

This time, about $1.2 billion of that in government appropriations is headed to Wright-Patterson, according to spokespersons in U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown’s office.

A breakdown of other budgets at Wright-Patterson was not yet available, spokeswoman Marie Vanover said Thursday.

But in some research accounts, such as materials and aerospace vehicles, spending could rise as much as 20 percent, said Michael Gessel, vice president of federal programs at the Dayton Development Coalition.

The budget boost bodes well for the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, also headquartered at Wright-Patterson, with money beyond the president’s request to procure more aircraft and will jump start new contracts that had been on hold without a permanent budget, Gessel said.

“The larger, overall funding level provided by this bill, which is accompanied by additional flexibility on spending authority, will relieve many budgetary pressures as the funding makes its way from Washington to field operations, including Wright-Patterson,” Gessel said in an email.

“There are provisions which give more flexibility in personnel management of civilian defense workers. This is important to Wright-Patterson because of the large percentage of civilians who work on the base.”

RELATED: Rep. Turner: Committee report won’t dispute Putin tried to help Trump

Non-defense spending

The bill provides $3 billion to reduce opioid addiction, of which $1 billion is set aside for grants that will go directly to the states. Fifteen percent of the state grant money has been earmarked for states which have been hardest by opioids, such as Ohio.

“This is good news for Ohio and good news for the millions of Americans who continue to struggle with addiction,” said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio. “I’m particularly pleased that the bill includes $60 million for states to develop an infant plan of safe care to help newborns exposed to opioids and their families.”

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said “while we know there is more work to be done,” the money in the bill “is a meaningful step forward for Ohio.”

The money for the Great Lakes was inserted into the bill after the White House did not include any money for the program, known as the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The program has strong bipartisan backing from lawmakers from both parties, such as Portman and Brown.

Both Brown and Portman pushed for more money to continue the cleanup at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon, about 65 miles south of Columbus. The $400 million, Brown said, should guarantee no additional layoffs at the facility.

RELATED: Memphis Belle towed into Air Force museum for first time

How Ohio lawmakers voted

The House passed the measure by a vote of 256-to-167 with local Republicans Mike Turner of Dayton and Steve Chabot of Cincinnati voting yes.

Republicans Jim Jordan of Urbana and Warren Davidson of Troy voted no.

In an interview on Fox News, Jordan complained that the 2,200-page bill “grows the government at a $1.3 trillion price tag which will lead to a trillion dollar deficit,” adding “this may be the worst bill I have seen in my time in Congress.”

By contrast, Columbus-area Congressman Steve Stivers said the measure “provides critical funding for our military and veterans, resources for opioid addiction prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation, and resources for our schools to keep our kids safe.”

The Senate must approve the bill because lawmakers from both parties were unable to agree on a budget for the 2018 spending year which began on October 1 and ends on September 30. By passing the bill, the Senate guarantees the government will remain open for next seven months.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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Back at White House, Trump week set to focus on foreign policy

Published: Sunday, April 22, 2018 @ 8:52 PM

After a two-day meeting last week with the Japanese Prime Minister in Florida, more diplomacy is in the future for President Donald Trump this week, as he receives two major European leaders at the White House, with the French President and German Chancellor coming to Washington, D.C. for meetings with Mr. Trump.

One of the main topics is expected to be the Iran nuclear deal, which the President has repeatedly threatened to abandon; that threat will draw the attention of both the French and German leaders.

“Would it be a mistake for the President to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal?” Macron was asked on Fox News Sunday.

“I don’t have any plan B for nuclear against Iran,” French President Emmanuel Macron said.

Here are some of the issues likely to come up this week as Macron, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel hold separate talks with Mr. Trump:

1. Iran nuclear deal squarely in Trump’s focus. Since way back on the 2016 campaign, President Trump has made clear that he wants to tear up the Iran nuclear deal, but aides so far have steered him clear of that move, arguing the agreement includes not only the U.S., but Europe as well. Mr. Trump’s latest deadline for action is May 12, when another waiver of economic sanctions against Iran is due for action by the President. It’s not clear what type of deal the U.S. and Europe could develop which would be accepted by Iran. And it’s an issue that certainly has the attention of much of Europe.

2. Trump continues to ruffle feathers over trade. Whether it is with American farmers or foreign governments, the President’s push to levy new tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, as well as possibly billions of dollars in products from China, the President has roiled world markets and relations with other world leaders, as many in his own party warn against starting a trade war with Beijing. In order to get his message directly to Mr. Trump, the French leader went on Fox News Sunday to say that the idea of tariffs on friends is not a good strategy for dealing with allies like France. It’s still not clear if Europe will get an exemption from the new steel and aluminum tariffs.

3. Nailing down the details of a Kim Jong Un summit. As Macron and Merkel arrive, the President and the White House seem certain to be pressed this week on what’s next with scheduling a meeting between Mr. Trump and the North Korean leader. Some reports have indicated that such a summit would take place in Europe – Sweden and Switzerland have been mentioned as possible sites – but so far, nothing has been hammered out. On Sunday, Mr. Trump mocked those who have raised questions over what might be achieved with a U.S.-North Korean summit. “Funny how all of the Pundits that couldn’t come close to making a deal on North Korea are now all over the place telling me how to make a deal!” the President tweeted.

4. Mar-a-Lago no refuge from Russia probe; neither is DC. While the President was at his Florida retreat for six days last week, the Russia probe continued to rage around Mr. Trump – and Mr. Trump seems certain to hear more about this week, whether it’s the fallout from the release of memos by former FBI Director James Comey, or other items. At a news conference with the Japanese Prime Minister in Florida, the President told reporters, ‘there was no collusion with Russia.’ Over the weekend, Mr. Trump continued his Twitter jabs at Comey, labeling him a “proven liar and leaker.” The President even seemed to take a shot at his Attorney General as well over investigating Comey and Hillary Clinton.

5. The President’s personal lawyer remains in legal limbo. After challenging the legality of an April 9 FBI raid, Michael Cohen will evidently not be getting any quick action on his effort to suppress any evidence uncovered by the feds. A special FBI team will be able to continue to evaluate evidence seized, as the judge in the case set a status hearing on the matter for May 24 – almost five weeks from now. Federal Judge Kimba Wood has said she might let the FBI “taint team” review the evidence, or appoint a ‘special master’ to oversee any questions about attorney-client privilege involving Cohen and the President. That is not good news for Cohen, and not good news for the White House, as this story may not be going anywhere before Memorial Day.

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Fire Mueller? Don’t do it, Ohio Republicans say

Published: Sunday, April 22, 2018 @ 2:52 PM
Updated: Sunday, April 22, 2018 @ 2:52 PM


            Robert Mueller on Feb. 16, 2011, as he testifies before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in Washington, D.C. (James Berglie/Zuma Press/TNS)
            James Berglie
Robert Mueller on Feb. 16, 2011, as he testifies before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in Washington, D.C. (James Berglie/Zuma Press/TNS)(James Berglie)

Most Ohio lawmakers on Capitol Hill — including Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton — say it would be a mistake for President Donald Trump to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller, though taking action to block the president from doing so has more opposition among local Republicans.

“We need to let Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation go forward,” said Turner, R-Dayton. “He is looking at important questions: what was the activity that was undertaken by Russia, how do we stop it in the future, and what actions may have been undertaken by Russia with the presidential campaigns?”

RELATED: White House says there are no plans to fire Mueller, Rosenstein

Emily Benavides, a Portman spokeswoman, said U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein “has already stated that only he can fire the special counsel and he believes there is no cause to do so. Rob has said numerous times that it would be a big mistake to head down this path.”

Portman, however, is not certain a bill to protect Mueller is constitutional. In an interview last week on CNN, Portman said “the president has the constitutional right to be able to hire and fire people who work for him. As my lawyers have looked at the legislation … they believe it is not consistent with that constitutional right.”

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, said Trump “has the right” to fire Mueller but added the president has “been very clear he’s not going to do it. I don’t know how many times he has to say it.”

Calls by some conservatives to fire Mueller intensified after an April raid on the home and offices of Trump attorney Michael Cohen. Although the raid was conducted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, and not Mueller’s office, some see it as an example of the special counsel expanding the probe beyond its original purpose.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said Trump is to blame for how long the investigation is taking. “I just wish the president would put everything on the table, would quit stonewalling, tell us everything and get this investigation done with,” Brown said. “It’s gone and on and on because the president continues to call people names and continues to tweet that there’s nothing there and then things are found.”

Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Troy, has expressed concerns about the Mueller probe, but agreed it would not be “advisable” to fire him. But Davidson said he would probably vote against a bill protecting Mueller from firing, preferring instead a measure questioning the amount of money the Justice Department is spending on the probe.

“We’re OK with you launching an investigation. We support letting Justice have its blindfold on and restoring credibility to the Department of Justice. But we are concerned the actions of the special investigator are working at odds with that,” he said.

Mueller, a former director of the FBI, was named special counsel last spring after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from investigating potential contacts between Russian intelligence officials and Trump aides.

Because of Mueller’s investigation, federal grand juries have indicted 13 Russian nationals for trying to interfere with the 2016 campaign. In addition, Paul Manafort, who for a time managed Trump’s 2016 campaign, and Rick Gates, Trump’s deputy campaign manager, were indicted on charges of money laundering in connection with the Ukraine government

Gates, former White House National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, and former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos have pleaded guilty to making false statements and are cooperating with Mueller’s investigators. But no information has been made public about whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia to tip the election toward Trump.

Presidents have the power to fire people in the executive branch. In October of 1973, U.S. Solicitor General Robert Bork carried out President Richard Nixon’s order to dismiss Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox who was investigating the Watergate break-in.

Bork obeyed Nixon’s order after U.S. Attorney General Elliot Richardson resigned rather than fire Cox and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus was fired when he refused to dismiss Cox.

Known as the Saturday Night Massacre, Cox’s dismissal intensified calls for Nixon’s impeachment and directly led to his resignation as president in August of 1974.

Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Niles, predicted a similar outcome if Trump fired Mueller.

“Let me be perfectly clear — firing Robert Mueller or appointing a new deputy attorney general with the express purpose of stonewalling this investigation would be an egregious abuse of power, and an impeachable offense,” Ryan said.

Rep. Stive Stivers, R-Upper Arlington, said Mueller should “follow the facts wherever they may lead. I look forward to seeing the results of his investigation, and hope it reaches a conclusion soon.”

Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Cincinnati, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said he would “like to see this investigation carried out fairly, thoroughly, and expeditiously.

“I look forward to the conclusion and findings of the investigation so that we can move forward with the work the American people sent us to Washington to do,” he said.

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Welfare reform caught up in passage of farm bill in Congress

Published: Sunday, April 22, 2018 @ 2:47 PM
Updated: Sunday, April 22, 2018 @ 2:47 PM


            Welfare reform caught up in passage of farm bill in Congress
Welfare reform caught up in passage of farm bill in Congress

Republicans’ next big push for welfare reform has come courtesy of a bill designed to pay for the nation’s farm programs.

The federal farm bill, which expires Oct. 1, is aimed at providing federal support to farmers who may need it during tough times. But roughly 80 percent of the bill goes to federal food assistance, also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, making the bill’s passage traditionally a bipartisan affair, with urban and rural lawmakers joining forces to both help feed the poor and to keep farmers facing rough times from being driven out of business entirely.

RELATED: House panel moves to curb food stamps

But this year’s bill has been different. Instead, to Democrats’ fury, House Republicans see the farm bill as an opportunity to take a crack at welfare reform.

A bill passed on party lines by the House Agriculture Committee last week would significantly beef up current SNAP work requirements. Republicans say the program should shrink – the economy has improved and the program was designed to be a hand up, not a hand out. Democrats, meanwhile, say it’s cruel.

Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Troy, compares it to the unemployed good friend who moves in with you. “You’d be like, ‘hey, man, I’m glad to help you out for awhile, but are you going to go to any job interviews?’” he said. “We would do that! And somehow when the government does it it’s mean. And we have to be willing to do what we would do even for our friends or we’re not going to get this spending under control.”

Counters Melissa Boteach, the senior vice president of the Poverty to Prosperity program at the left-leaning Center for American Progress: “Taking away someone’s food isn’t going to help them find a job any faster.”

Here’s how the bill would change work requirements: Current law requires able-bodied adults between 18 and 49 with no dependents to work at least 20 hours a week or receive an equivalent amount of job training in order to receive the benefits.

They’re allowed to be unemployed for three months during a three-year period, but beyond that, face the risk of losing their benefits. And states have the flexibility to loosen that requirement or beef it up, depending on their preference. The disabled, seniors, and those taking care of children are exempt from the work requirement.

The bill passed last week by the House Agriculture Committee changes that age range to the ages of 18 to 59. It also imposed the work requirements on those with children over age six. And it imposed a set of progressively tougher sanctions for those who can’t prove they’re working or receiving job training, starting with the loss of benefits for a year.

Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Food Banks, said the new requirements include “some of the most punitive provisions I’ve ever seen in doing 30 years of doing this work.”

“I’ve never seen anything as cruel as this piece of legislation,” she said.

But its defenders say the bill will help refocus the program into one that helps those who cannot help themselves.

“The economy’s in great shape,” said Robert Doar of the conservative American Enterprise Institute. “There are opportunities out there. The labor force participation is still below what it was at the beginning of the Great Recession. There are still people who are eligible to work who are remaining on the sidelines.”

He said more than nine million Americans to receive the benefits “could work.”

“I think most Americans believe the purpose of programs like the food stamp benefit is to help people move out of poverty through earnings, not to keep them more comfortable or less uncomfortable in poverty,” he said.

SNAP helps to feed some 40 million low income Americans. In Ohio, Hamler-Fugitt said, some 1.4 million people participate. Of that group, more than 700,000 are children. Some 200,000 are seniors. And 360,000 are people with disabilities.

The bill also federal dollars to help states create job training programs for those who must meet the work requirement.

Democrats, however, argue that money isn’t nearly enough.

Rep. Marcia Fudge, a Cleveland Democrat who serves on the House Agriculture Committee, said states will have to develop training programs to comply with the bill. And there’s no requirement, she said, that training leads to work. “We are, in fact, creating a bureaucracy at the state and local level,” she said, saying that the bill doesn’t include enough money to actually pay for that bureaucracy.

But Doar disputes the notion that the bill underfunded the job training programs, saying states and localities also have job training resources. “I think they could make substantial, significant progress to helping people move out of poverty with the resources being offered here,” said Doar, a former commissioner of social services for the state of New York.

Rep. Jim Jordan, an Urbana Republican who has long championed welfare reform, said the move is overdue.

He said reforming welfare would “help everyone – help the economy, help the budget, help employers and most importantly, help people stuck in the dependency welfare lifestyle.”

“Every single day when I’m out an about in the district, I’m talking to employers who are finding it difficult to find people to work,” he said. “There are employment needs out there.”

Still, he’s not sure if he’ll back the bill when it comes to the floor of the House, he said in an interview this week. He’s concerned about the money devoted to workforce development. “I’m nervous about another government program,” he said. And he knows it will be a hard sell in the Senate, where the majority is far more narrow. He said if Congress can’t reform welfare as part of its agriculture bill, it should consider a short-term extension until it can do so.

“I want to make sure it’s the right tough love approach that is going to help people get a better position in life and recognizes the fact that the taxpayers are paying for this,” he said.

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BY THE NUMBERS

80 percent of the farm bill goes to federal food assistance

SNAP helps to feed some 40 million low income Americans.

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Family, friends provide loving tributes to Barbara Bush at funeral service

Published: Saturday, April 21, 2018 @ 10:20 AM
Updated: Saturday, April 21, 2018 @ 4:01 PM

VIDEO: Barbara Bush’s Funeral

Approximately 1,500 guests attended former first lady Barbara Bush's private funeral ceremony in Houston Saturday.

Barbara Bush, the wife of the nation’s 41st president and mother of the nation’s 43rd, died Tuesday at her Houston home. She was 92.

About 2,500 mourners paid their respect at a public viewing held Friday in Houston, The Associated Press reported.

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The service took place at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston. Jeb Bush delivered a eulogy for his mother. Longtime friend Susan Baker and historian Jon Meacham also gave remarks during the 90-minute service. Multiple musical selections were performed.

A procession followed, with burial at the Bush Library at Texas A&M University in College Station. Barbara Bush will be buried next to her daughter, Robin, who was 3 years old when she died of leukemia in 1953, The AP reported.

Notable guests included first lady Melania Trump, former President Bill Clinton, former first lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama, The AP reported.

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