Tales from the Trail

Meet John Boehner – powerful politician, ‘simple guy’

The most powerful Republican in America mows his own lawn, had youthful aspirations of becoming a salesman and quietly convinced two know-it-all lawmakers to vote “yes.”

House Speaker John Boehner revealed these and other aspects about himself during a question-and-answer session after a high-profile speech Thursday to the Economic Club of Washington.

Drawing laughter from the crowd, Boehner also made it clear he has no interest in running for vice president, a job that requires attending plenty of foreign funerals.

“I have enough trouble  going to funerals of people I know,” said Boehner, known for easily breaking into tears. “I’m a pretty simple guy,” said Boehner, who’s led his party’s charge to shrink the U.S. government since taking the gavel in January as House speaker.

“People ask me if I’m having fun? Hell no, I’m not having fun. But I’m glad I’m here,” Boehner said.  “I rely on being straight up with people.”

U.S. House ends historic page program

They have been a ubiquitous presence in the U.S. Capitol since the early 1800′s. Some have even gone on to become members of Congress. But as of September 1, there will be no more young, earnest-looking young men and women in blue uniforms delivering messages and documents to members of the House of Representives.

House Speaker John Boehner and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi announced on Monday that the House page program will end on August 31. They’ve been replaced by the BlackBerry, the Internet and other electronic delivery and instant messaging services.

“Dozens of pages were once needed on the House floor to deliver a steady stream of phone messages to members – but today are severely underutilized, as members are typically contacted directly via BlackBerries and similar devices,” they wrote.

from Environment Forum:

As if 2007 never happened?

If four years is a lifetime in politics, it's an eternity in climate change politics. Events in Washington this week might make climate policy watchers wonder if 2007 really happened.

At issue is the decision by American Electric Power to put its plans for carbon capture and storage on hold, due to the weak economy and the lack of a U.S. plan to limit emissions of climate-warming carbon dioxide. Read the Reuters story about it here.

Carbon capture and storage, or CCS for short, has been promoted as a way to make electricity from domestic coal without unduly raising the level of carbon in the atmosphere. Instead of sending the carbon dioxide that results from burning coal up a smokestack and into the air, the plan was to bury it underground. But that costs money and requires regulatory guarantees, and neither are imminent in the United States. Legislation to curb greenhouse gas emissions bogged down on Capitol Hill a year ago and has not been re-introduced.

U.S. religious leaders urge moral solution to debt talks

Don’t balance the U.S. budget on the backs of the poor and sick, religious leaders said, suggesting that their churches’ charity work is already overstretched and social havoc could result if the government’s social safety net is abandoned.

Representatives from Protestant, Jewish, Muslim and interfaith groups and churches expressed their collective disappointment with the tone of blame in the debt debate between President Obama and congressional negotiators.

The faith groups have organized a vigil alongside the U.S. Capitol and released a letter appealing to the president and Congress to consider the poor and vulnerable in their negotiations.

Washington Extra – Beware of frank

When officials in Washington describe talks as “frank,” the usual translation is: “didn’t go my way.”

President Barack Obama emerged from a meeting with congressional leaders on the deficit and proclaimed: “People were frank.”

Uh-oh. Doesn’t sound like the president’s persuasive personality prevailed.

Washington Extra – Waiting for fireworks

Will we see fireworks in the debt talks next week?

So far the White House and lawmakers have been cranky about the state of negotiations, but no one has actually drawn a firm line in the sand – still hoping for a compromise.

Senators and staff can’t be happy about having their Fourth of July recess cancelled next week over debt talks, setting up a perfect environment for tempers to flare.

And no matter how much critics try to pooh-pooh the deadline for avoiding default, Treasury is sticking with Aug. 2 as the drop-debt date.

Obama draws query by signing Patriot Act extension with auto-pen

What’s a president to do when Congress passes a bill just hours before key anti-terrorism surveillance measures are about to expire and he’s 4,000 miles away?  Auto-pen of course.

For the uninitiated, lawmakers and yes, even the president of the United States, have a  machine that has a real pen which goes over a copy of the person’s actual signature. It is typically used for signing proforma letters or souvenir pictures to send constituents or fans.

Well, President Barack Obama has been in Europe for the annual G-8 summit and Congress was racing to pass legislation extending the authorization of key surveillance methods used to try to thwart attacks on the United States, which were due to expire Thursday night at midnight. Congress came through just hours before midnight but Obama was in France.

Republicans seek more “skin” to tax

When it comes to reaching a deal to reduce the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt, Republicans say they won’t go along with raising taxes — except maybe for the 50 percent of Americans who they say pay no federal income taxes.

Two senior Republicans said this week that those folks on the lower end of the income scale need to have “skin in the game” and should pay their fair share of federal income taxes.

“I would not impose a significant tax on the lower half or certainly not the lower 10 percent,” explained Senator Jon Kyl in a Senate speech. “But I think it’s important for all Americans to know that we all have a stake in this and that more than half of the people can’t just expect the so-called wealthy to bear all of the burdens of government.”

from Environment Forum:

John Kerry has had it up to HERE with “The Flat Earth Caucus”

ISRAEL/You remember John Kerry, right? Tall, silver-haired, urbane enough to be accused of being French. But there's a feisty side to the senior senator from Massachusetts, and it was on display at a forum on energy and economic growth, where Kerry teed off on congressional Republicans and others who doubt the seriousness of the challenge of climate change.

"After a while you get exasperated and jaded and frustrated about it all," Kerry told The New Republic forum at the National Press Club. "I've had it just about up to here with America's indifference to the realities of this crisis ... the United States is like an ostrich putting its head in the sand."

How do you feel about the U.S. political establishment, Senator Kerry? "I don't know what's happened to us in the body politic of this country where facts and science seem to be so easily shunted aside and disposed of in favor of simple sloganeering, pure ideology and little bromides of politics that are offered up, that offer no solution to anything but might get you through an election."