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House approves GOP stopgap budget, as Senate leaders near overall spending deal

Published: Tuesday, February 06, 2018 @ 1:58 PM

Facing the threat of a government shutdown on Thursday night, the House voted along party lines Tuesday evening to approve a six week extension of funding for most federal agencies, while Senate leaders worked behind closed doors to come up with a broader deal to increase spending for the military and non-defense programs.

The GOP plan included full funding for the Pentagon, along with dozens of health care provisions that had backing in both parties.

“I find it so curious that there would be opposition to funding our military,” said Rep. Marsha Blackwell (R-TN), as the two parties duked it out over spending yet again on the floor of the House.

“Here we are again, left with this ludicrous approach of funding the U.S. Government month to month,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL).

“This is our fifth short term spending bill since September,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT). “This is pure incompetence.”

The vote was 245 to 182 for the plan. The bill now goes to the Senate.

While the two parties slugged it out in the House, top Senators in both parties were more optimistic that a deal was near on overall spending limits, which would funnel billions more into military and non-defense spending in 2018 and beyond.

“I think we’re on the way to getting an agreement and getting it very soon,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“We’re making real progress on a spending deal,” Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer told reporters.

That type of deal seemed likely to boost overall spending – maybe by as much as $143 billion this year, as Democrats have said if the Pentagon gets more, then non-defense programs should as well.

Unlike the last shutdown battle, there was little talk of any deal on immigration, involving the future of 1.8 million illegal immigrant “Dreamers” – instead, the Senate seemed to be on the verge of starting a wide open immigration debate next week on the Senate floor.

“Whoever gets to 60 wins,” Sen. McConnell said, as Senators were struggling to put together a compromise immigration bill that could be accepted by both parties, the President, and overcome any filibuster in the Senate.

Meanwhile at the White House, President Trump threw a curve ball at Congress, when he threatened to force a government shutdown if Democrats did not agree to his proposals on a DACA/immigration deal.

Not long after that, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said a shutdown was not the President’s goal – though it’s clear that Mr. Trump won’t accept just anything from Congress related to DACA.

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Senate approves new reforms on Capitol Hill harassment

Published: Thursday, May 24, 2018 @ 10:29 PM

Under growing pressure from the House to change how lawmakers deal with workplace harassment claims and damage awards, the Senate on Thursday approved a package of reforms that would not allow members to use taxpayer funds to pay any legal settlements, and change the process for Congressional employees to bring complaints against lawmakers.

“This is an incredibly important moment,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), who joined with Senators in both parties to forge a compromise that was approved on a voice vote.

“We are completely overhauling the sexual harassment policies of the Congress,” Klobuchar said on the Senate floor.

“These reforms are commonsense,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), who had been more and more vocal in recent days about the lack of action on a similar measure passed by the House.

Along with streamlining the process for employees to bring a complaint – and then have it evaluated by Congressional officials – the plan would force members to personally pay for any legal settlement, and not have taxpayers foot the bill.

“Hardworking taxpayers should not foot the bill for a Member’s misconduct, and victims should not have to navigate a system that stands in the way of accountability,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO).

The extra protections for employees would also be extended to unpaid staffers on Capitol Hill, including interns, legislative fellows, and detailees from other executive branch offices.

As the Senate approved the plan, the leaders of the House Ethics Committee confirmed that ex-Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-PA) had reimbursed taxpayers for a $39,000 settlement involving a former female staffer in his office.

“We understand he sent that reimbursement payment to the Treasury. We welcome that action,” said ethics chair Rep. Susan Brooks (R-IN), and the top Democrat on the panel, Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL), in a joint statement.

“There is overwhelming bipartisan consensus in the House that Members should be personally accountable for settlements paid with public funds to resolve claims against them alleging sexual harassment,” Brooks and Deutch wrote in a statement.

But what about when lawmakers leave the Congress? The ethics leaders said even then – they should still have to pay up.

Brooks and Deutch also noted that ex-Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) – who had resigned without following through on a promise to pay off an $84,000 settlement – was a perfect example of why the system needs to be changed.

“Farenthold publicly promised to reimburse the U.S. Treasury for $84,000 in funds paid to settle the lawsuit brought against him for claims of sexual harassment, gender discrimination and retaliation,” they wrote.

“Last week, he announced that he would not do so,” the two added.

The House and Senate must still hammer out a compromise measure between the bills passed by each chamber – but the Senate vote gives a new shot of energy to the effort, though there are House members who feel the Senate plan is not strong enough, especially in dealing with lawmakers.

“I’m optimistic that we can finish the job and get this bill signed into law,” Gillibrand added.

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House OKs $182M Wright-Patt expansion, military pay raise

Published: Thursday, May 24, 2018 @ 11:37 AM
Updated: Thursday, May 24, 2018 @ 11:37 AM

House OKs $182M Wright-Patt expansion, military pay raise
House OKs $182M Wright-Patt expansion, military pay raise

The House has passed a $717 billion defense policy bill that would give the military a 2.6 percent pay hike, the largest in nine years and allow for a major expansion at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

The bill OKs a massive $182 million expansion of the National Air and Space Intelligence Center at the base, one of the largest expansions in history.

The bipartisan 351-66 vote sends the measure to the Senate, where a key panel completed a companion measure in a closed-door session on Wednesday.

RELATED: Defense gets major increase pay raise for troops in budget plan

The new building would be funded at one time instead of broken into two stages. The Air Force had initially asked for $116 million with another $66 million to be requested in future years.

The annual measure sets policies and a budget outline for the Pentagon that are funded by a subsequent appropriations bill that typically follows its parameters fairly closely.

“To put it in perspective, this building would receive more military construction funding than Wright-Patterson received in military construction funding in the last nine years,” Michael Gessel, Dayton Development Coalition vice president of federal programs, said earlier this month.

Congressman Mike Turner, R-Dayton, chair of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces pushed for multiple provisions included in the legislation including the NASIC expansion and expediting hiring of civilians into high-tech fields.

“All of the provisions I included in the National Defense Authorization Act remained in the bill and overwhelmingly passed the House today, bringing our community one step closer to getting $182 million for a new building at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base,” Turner said in a statement. “I fought for key provisions in this bill to bolster our community, ensure the safety of our men and women in uniform, and keep our country secure.”

RELATED: Top Air Force leader to grads at Wright-Patt: ‘Our nation needs you desperately

The military got a major budget increase under the terms of a bipartisan pact passed earlier this year that the Pentagon's many allies in Washington promise will address shortfalls in military readiness such as pilot training, maintenance of equipment, and procurement of new weapons systems.

Readiness issues contributed to a situation in which almost four times as many military service members died in training accidents as opposed to combat. Just this spring, aviation accidents have claimed 25 lives.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, said that the measure puts a particular focus on pilot training and retention.

"The key focus of this bill is restoring readiness to ensure that when our men and women in uniform go out on mission, they have the best equipment, the best training and the best support our nation can provide," Thornberry said.

The measure would block the use of operational military units or military equipment if President Donald Trump carries out plans for a massive military parade in Washington, D.C., if it would hamper military readiness.

Staff writer Barrie Barber and The Associated Press contributed to this report

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“Situation normal” as Trump cancels summit with Kim Jong Un

Published: Thursday, May 24, 2018 @ 2:58 PM

After days of increasingly bellicose statements from Pyongyang, President Donald Trump on Thursday pulled the plug on a scheduled June 12 summit meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, but left the door open to future negotiations over efforts to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.

“If and when Kim Jong Un chooses to engage in constructive dialogue and actions, I am waiting,” the President said at the White House.

Mr. Trump’s remarks came several hours after he sent a letter to Kim Jong Un, calling off their summit, as U.S. officials laid the blame directly on the North Koreans.

“While many things can happen and a great opportunity lies ahead, potentially, I believe that this is a tremendous setback for North Korea and, indeed, a setback for the world,” the President said.

Both in his letter to Kim, and in his public remarks, the President edged back toward some of the tougher rhetoric that had characterized the Kim-Trump relationship of last year, when the two men lobbed threats of possible military action.

“Hopefully, positive things will be taking place with respect to the future of North Korea. But if they don’t, we are more ready than we have ever been before,” Mr. Trump said.

His letter was even more direct.

“You talk about your nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used,” Mr. Trump wrote, labeling the cancelled summit a ‘missed opportunity.’

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers asked the Secretary of State – who happened to be at a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – what would happen next, as Secretary Mike Pompeo said the U.S. would continue with the “maximum pressure” campaign of economic sanctions against Pyongyang, and wait for the response of Kim Jong Un.

“I am hopeful that we can continue to have conversations so that we can put his back on track,” Pompeo said, though he admitted it was not clear why the North Koreans suddenly went from being willing partners to not answering phone calls.

“I don’t really know I want to speculate why they took those actions, because I don’t think we know,” Pompeo added.

“In some ways, it’s situation normal,” Pompeo said to one question. “The pressure campaign continues.”

Pompeo sparred with several Senate Democrats during the hearing, as he rejected assertions that the U.S. had rushed into a summit with Kim, and wasn’t really prepared to deal with a North Korean leader who is known for sudden course changes.

“Unfortunately, it seems that our chief diplomat is negotiating war,” said Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) of Pompeo.

“From the beginning, when Trump impulsively decided that he would meet with Kim Jong Un, it has been clear that the summit involved very little preparation,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

“We cannot return to the name-calling and saber-rattling of the last year,” said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA).

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President Trump scraps summit meeting with Kim Jong Un

Published: Thursday, May 24, 2018 @ 9:58 AM

After days of uncertainty about a planned June 12 summit meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, President Donald Trump on Thursday told Kim in a letter that because of hostile statements from the Pyongyang regime in recent days, the summit in Singapore would not take place.

“Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it is in appropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting,” the President wrote in his letter to Kim.

The decision came as North Korean officials seemed to back away from public assurances that they would give up on their nuclear weapons program, which had been Mr. Trump’s demand from the start – as the President delivered a clear warning to Kim about a possible conflict.

“You talk about your nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used,” Mr. Trump wrote.

Here is the President’s letter to Kim Jong Un.

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