Tales from the Trail

Who to blame for a U.S. government shutdown?

USA-POLITICS/REPUBLICANSNever mind that it hasn’t happened yet. Lawmakers want to make sure everyone knows who is responsible if  it does.

If  the  U.S. Congress deadlocks over spending for the rest of this fiscal year and forces a shutdown of government services when the money runs out on March 4, who will be to blame?

Democrats and Republicans may not agree on much, but they do agree on one thing – if the government shuts down it will be the other party’s fault.

The two sides have been going back and forth on the possibility of a government shut down for weeks. House Speaker John Boehner opened up a fresh round of the blame game on Thursday.

“We have some Democrats here on Capitol Hill threatening to shut down the government rather than to cut spending and to follow the will of the American people,” Boehner said at a news conference.

from Summit Notebook:

Senator Lamar Alexander tickles the ivories

SUMMIT-WASHINGTON/ALEXANDERIn the run up to the Nov. 2 mid-term election, senior Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander has more to worry about than just the results of the vote.

Just three days before the election, Alexander has a date on center stage to play the piano with the Jackson Symphony in Jackson, Tennessee.

"I try to keep a balanced life," the chairman of the Senate Republican Conference told the Reuters Washington Summit. "I even get to play the piano some, though not as much as I'd like to."

“Heroism fatigue”: another hurdle for U.S. climate change action?

GERMANY/Could “heroism fatigue” be yet another bump in the road for any U.S. law to curb climate change? And what is “heroism fatigue” anyway?

To Paul Bledsoe of the bipartisan National Commission on Energy Policy, heroism fatigue is what happens when the Congress has spent most of the year doing something heroic, like trying to hammer out an agreement on healthcare reform, when what lawmakers might rather be doing is naming a new post office. Following one big, gnarly piece of legislation with another — like a bill to limit climate-warming carbon dioxide — can seem daunting.

“Especially Democrats want to get  back to some meat-and-potatoes job-creation stuff,” Bledsoe says. “They’re going to need a little time after healthcare.”

The First Draft: Can he make a deal?

President Barack Obama hits the road again today to stump for healthcare reform.

In a throwback to the presidential campaign, he will hold town-hall style meetings at a high school in Raleigh, North Carolina and at a supermarket in Bristol, Virginia.USA/

Obama will try to explain and drum up support for his top legislative priority — an overhaul of the healthcare system. He wants to end discrimination and close coverage gaps that currently exist in the current health insurance system.

The president had originally wanted to see a deal before lawmakers left for their month-long August recess but that is appearing unlikely. Members of the Senate Finance Committee, who are working on the financial details of a proposed deal, have made some progress and are hopeful of reaching agreement soon.

What is the cost of staving off climate change?

Republicans in the U.S. Congress say they know how much it is going to cost to save the world from the predicted ravages of climate change. But others say their math is way off.
 
“It would cost every family as much as $3,100 a year in additional energy costs and will drive millions of good-paying American jobs overseas,” warned House of Representatives Republican leader John Boehner in response to House Democrats unveiling their climate-change bill on Tuesday.
 
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell offered the same figure. “According to some estimates, this tax could cost every American household up to $3,100 a year just for doing the same things people have always done, like turning on the lights and doing laundry.”
 
There’s a problem, though. 
 USA/
The Republicans cite a Massachusetts Institute of Technology study as the basis for their cost estimate. But a lead author of that study complained in a letter to Boehner on Wednesday that the calculation is way off.
 
John Reilly, an economist at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, said the average annual cost to U.S. families for controlling emissions of carbon and other harmful greenhouse gases is actually $340.
 
In a telephone interview with Reuters, Reilly said updates to his 2007 study that take into account some higher costs could nudge the figure up to around $440 per household per year.
 
Republicans say they simply took a $366 billion revenue estimate from a climate change bill that sputtered in Congress last year and divided by the number of U.S. households to come up with $3,100. The thinking is that the revenues would be collected in pollution permits to industries, a cost that likely could be passed on to consumers.
 
“Taking that number and saying that is the cost is just wrong,” Reilly said, adding that many other calculations, including government rebates to consumers, have to be factored in.
 
Don Stewart, a spokesman for McConnell, said there are no assurances yet that consumers would get rebates, which the MIT study assumed, and thus the $3,100 figure is accurate and possibly even higher.
 
“If they (Democrats) change their bill to give money back to consumers, the numbers on cost would change (downward),” Stewart said.
 
Eben Burnham-Snyder, a spokesman for Representative Edward Markey, one of Congress’ leading advocates of climate control legislation, saw other possibilities.
    
If a range of energy initiatives in coming legislation is factored in — electric vehicles, improved transmission and other alternative energy steps — he said that would “significantly cut down the costs and some say would save people money on energy bills.”

For more Reuters political news, click here

Photo credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque (Demonstrators for clean energy hold a rally on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 2) 

Obama wins bipartisan support in often divided U.S. House

WASHINGTON – Democratic President Barack Obama finally won broad bipartisan support on Wednesday in the often bitterly divided U.S. House of Representatives. All it took was a call for Americans to help each other — and the memory of Sept. 11.
 
On a 321-105 vote, the House passed and sent on to the Senate an Obama-backed bill that seeks to expand volunteerism.
 
The proposed GIVE Act — Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education — would also urge Americans to recognize Sept. 11 as a national day of service as well as remembrance.obama-speech
 
“Establishing 9/11 as a national day of service would ensure that the lives of those lost are forever remembered,” said David Paine of MyGoodDeed.org, a nonprofit created by family members of 9/11 victims.
 
House Republicans have opposed a number of the president’s initiatives including his $787 billion stimulus package, but many rallied in support of this one.
 
The measure comes in response to Obama’s call to Congress last month to pass a bill that will provide Americans with more chances to serve their communities.
 
The House-passed bill would create volunteer opportunities for Americans ranging from school children and retirees to military veterans.
 
“President Obama has renewed the spirit of a practice in our country that is as old as the union itself — the call to public service,” said Democratic Representative Carolyn McCarthy, sponsor of the bill.

Click here for more Reuters political coverage.

- Photo credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst (Obama gives his primetime address to a joint session of the Senate and House of Representatives in February)

Thinking about the U.S. economy? It helps to be a stool maker

WASHINGTON – Trying to figure out where the Obama team is going on the economy? It probably helps to be a stool maker.
 
The $825 billion stimulus bill moving through Congress “is just one leg in a multi-legged stool,” the president said during a visit to Congress this week.
 USA/
Reporters have been trying ever since to figure out exactly how many legs are on the economic recovery stool.
 
“Is it a three-legged or a four-legged stool?” one reporter asked White House spokesman Robert Gibbs during a briefing Thursday. And, “What are those legs specifically?”
 
“I think roughly you have, whether you’re talking about stools or pillars or what have you, three main areas,” Gibbs said. “You have a Recovery and Reinvestment Plan, which is moving through Congress. You have a financial stability package. And you have financial re-regulation.”
 
“I don’t know that it’s tremendously pertinent to get caught up in whether there are three stools, three legs on this stool or four, or rungs, or what have you,” he said.
 
“I think the American people understand that we have to deal with … each of these in order to move the economy forward.”
 
Then Gibbs added a complication: ”I’m not sure … which leg housing is.”
 
But he sought to reassure the American people.
 
“You may not understand which leg of the stool you’re on, but you understand it’s a problem that has to be dealt with.”
 
What about the “international leg of the stool that was discussed by the G20 here … people say that it’s not moving anywhere,” asked a reporter, referring to a group of industrialized and major developing nations.
 
Gibbs said more detail on the international leg would be forthcoming as the G20 meeting in London in April draws near.
 
Reporters were not entirely satisfied with the level of detail coming from the White House spokesman.
 
“I’m wondering,” said one, “when you’re going to show us a little more leg.”
 
For more Reuters political news, please click here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Jim Young (Gibbs at a briefing Tuesday)

It’s official – Obama is the next U.S. president

It’s official. Barack Obama will be the next president of the United States.

USA/The Senate and House of Representatives just concluded a joint session in which the electoral college vote results of the Nov. 4 election were counted and certified with great fanfare.

Vice President Dick Cheney, who serves as president of the Senate, presided over the meeting and read the official results – Obama of Illinois received 365 of the 538 electoral votes for president and Sen. John McCain of Arizona received 173.  Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware received 365 electoral votes for the office of vice president while Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska received 173 votes, Cheney said. USA/

The First Draft: Tuesday, Jan. 6

MALAYSIA

On a dark and drippy Washington morning, President-elect Barack Obama meets with his economic advisers to discuss the 2010 budget.

At the White House, President George W. Bush will create the biggest protected marine area on the planet, a trio of national monuments in the Pacific.

The new U.S. Congress convenes today, with clouds hanging over two Democrats: Roland Burris of Illinois and Al Franken of Minnesota.

Pelosi to colleagues: Happy New Year. Now get ready to work

WASHINGTON – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent a “Happy New Year” message to colleagues: be ready for action when the new U.S. Congress convenes next week.
 
“The 111th Congress will hit the ground running … with an ambitious schedule that corresponds with USA/the opportunities and challenges that we face as a country,” Pelosi wrote Wednesday in an open letter to her “Democratic colleagues.”
 
“The opening days of the Congress will be intense,” Pelosi added. “I know that we will be ready.”
 
The House and Senate will convene on Tuesday, Jan. 6 — 14 days before Barack Obama is sworn in as the 44th U.S. president. It will mark the first time in 14 years that Democrats have controlled both Congress and the White House.
 
In the November elections, Democrats expanded their majorities in the House and Senate with a stack of campaign promises.
 
They included ones to: withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq and redeploy many of them to Afghanistan; expand health care coverage; move the U.S. toward energy independence; curb global warming and bolster regulation of the troubled financial industry.
 
Among the first measures to be considered will likely be one that could total $775 billion or more in spending and tax cuts to stimulate the economy and stem a deepening recession.
 
In her letter, Pelosi wrote that the Democratic Steering Committee, which helps set party policy, will hold a hearing Wednesday on the need for an economic recovery plan.
 
Pelosi added that by the time Obama takes office in two weeks, she expects the House to consider a number of bills, including one to pump new life into the economy.
 
She ended her “Happy New Year!” letter with a holiday note: “Best wishes to you and your family.”

For more Reuters political coverage, please click here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Yuri Gripas (Pelosi at a news conference Dec. 2)