Mitch McConnell

Republicans talking tough about debt ceiling

In the midst of a complete surrender over the hard-fought spending cuts in the bipartisan Budget Control Act of 2011, congressional Republicans are talking out loud about making demands to raise the debt ceiling in the spring.

For example, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), who brokered the budget deal with Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), noted over the weekend that House Republicans “don’t want ‘nothing’ out of the debt limit” and would “decide what it is we can accomplish out of this debt limit fight.” He later indicated that one potential trade off could be approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) doubted that Congress would approve a clean debt ceiling hike. “I think the debt ceiling legislation is a time that brings us all together and gets the president’s attention, which with this president, particularly when it comes to reducing spending, has been a bit of a challenge,” said McConnell this week, according to Politico.

The deal reached during the government shutdown funded the government until January 15 and raised the debt ceiling to February 7. With the budget issue almost certainly out of the way, assuming the Senate passes it, the focus in Congress will be on the debt ceiling.

Kentucky Republicans file brief at Supreme Court, seek to end Obama’s war on coal

Republican members of Kentucky’s congressional delegation have filed an amicus brief in a pending case at the Supreme Court which could have big implications on the Commonwealth’s coal industry and, by extension, its economy.

The case, Utility Air Regulatory Group v. Environmental Protection Agency, deals with regulations enacted by the Obama Administration in 2010 that would impose stricter limits on emissions from “stationary sources,” such as coal-fired plants. The EPA claims this authority through a 2007 Supreme Court decision, Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, which allowed the agency to regulate vehicle emissions.

The problem is that the EPA essentially re-wrote provisions of the Clean Air Act to raise the emissions threshold to 75,000 tons per year from 100 tons, which, as the Wall Street Journal recently noted, “would require some six million buildings to get environmental permits, including such grand polluters as churches and farms.”

“Recognizing that such a rule would create ‘absurd results’ like shuttering the entire economy, the EPA rewrote Congress’s numbers and adjusted the threshold to 75,000 tons from 100 tons,” the Journal explained. “EPA’s clear political purpose was to escape a large political backlash to its new rules by unilaterally limiting their reach.”

Kentucky Republicans argue that the EPA has overstepped its bounds by trying to re-write the law, thus usurping power from the legislative branch, and promulgate new rules that would hurt the coal industry.

Senate Conservatives Fund slams GOP leaders for “war on conservatives”

John Boehner and Mitch McConnell

Conservative groups criticized by House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) last week aren’t backing down from their opposition to the budget deal. One of the groups has fired back at Republican congressional leaders for what it calls a “war on conservatives.”

The Senate Conservatives Fund sent out a fundraising email blast to supporters on Monday blasting Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) for comments the two have made that are hostile to conservative activists.

“House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) joined Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) last week in declaring war on conservatives,” said Matt Hoskins, executive director of the Senate Conservatives Fund, a PAC founded in 2008 by then-Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC).

“John Boehner called conservatives ‘ridiculous’ for opposing the budget agreement that increases spending, raises taxes, and funds Obamacare while Mitch McConnell previously called us stupid ‘traitors’ who should be locked in a bar and ‘punched in the nose,’” he said, adding that Republican leaders don’t want to be held accountable for their actions.

Harry Reid goes “nuclear” on the filibuster

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and most members of the Democratic conference voted today to eliminate the 60-vote threshold for executive nominations, excluding Supreme Court appointments, after Republicans blocked three appointments to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Executive nominees now need only 51 votes to win confirmation from the Senate. The change was approved by the Senate by a vote of 52 to 48. Three Democrats — Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Mark Pryor (D-AR) — joined every Senate Republican to vote against the rule change.

Reid complained that Republicans had forced him to call for the change in Senate rules because of, what he called, “unprecedented obstruction” and claimed that the it’s “something both sides should be willing to live with to make Washington work again.”

“The American people are fed up with this kind of obstruction and gridlock. The American people – Democrats, Republicans and Independents – are fed up with this kind of obstruction and gridlock,” said Reid from the Senate floor. “The American people want Washington to work for American families once again.”

The rule change is an attempt to change the narrative. President Obama and Democrats have talked up “gridlock” in government to get attention off of the problems with Obamacare. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) made that point to colleagues this morning.

Administration launched despite “limitless” security risks

The security problems on the federal Obamacare exchange website,, have already received a lot of attention. These issues were one of many focal points during recent congressional hearings over the site, after instances of privacy breaches, including one user who logged in and was given personal information for other applicants.

Members grilled HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on this particular point, and she couldn’t guarantee that the site was secure. Now we know why. CBS News reports that memos from those working on the site found that the security risks are “limitless,” apparently keeping the project manager in the dark (emphasis added):

CBS News has learned that the project manager in charge of building the federal health care website was apparently kept in the dark about serious failures in the website’s security. Those failures could lead to identity theft among buying insurance. The project manager testified to congressional investigators behind closed doors, but CBS News has obtained the first look at a partial transcript of his testimony.

KY Senate: Conservative group backs Mitch McConnell’s primary challenger

Matt Bevin (photo courtesy of Matt Bevin for Kentucky

Following a heated and divisive fight over ObamaCare and a deal brokered between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), a prominent conservative organization has announced its endorsement of the Republican leader’s primary challenger.

The Senate Conservatives Fund, founded by former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), announced on Friday that they would back Matt Bevin, a conservative candidate challenging McConnell for the Republican nomination in Kentucky.

“Matt Bevin is a true conservative who will fight to stop the massive spending, bailouts, and debt that are destroying our country. He is not afraid to stand up to the establishment and he will do what it takes to stop Obamacare,” said Matt Hoskins, executive director of the Senate Conservatives Fund, in a press statement.

“We know that winning this primary won’t be easy. Mitch McConnell has the support of the entire Washington establishment and he will do anything to hold on to power. But if people in Kentucky and all across the country rise up and demand something better, we’re confident Matt Bevin can win this race,” he added.

The Senate Conservatives Fund is framing the race between Bevin, who they call a “constitutional conservative,” and McConnell, labeled as a “Washington insider” who has “a liberal record and refuses to fight for conservative principles.”

House GOP leaders unable to gain support for funding, debt ceiling measure

House Republican leadership was dealt an embarrassing blow yesterday when they had to pull their own spending plan and debt ceiling package off the floor because they didn’t have enough votes to pass it.

The day began with House leaders talking about their own bill, despite progress between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY). The House package would have funded the federal government until January 15 and extended the debt ceiling until February 7, roughly the same dates as the Reid-McConnell deal.

But there were a couple of aspects to the package drew opposition from the White House and Senate Democrats, including the two-year delay of the medical device tax and the ending the special subsidies for members of Congress. The House plan would have also required President Barack Obama to purchase coverage through the ObamaCare exchange.

The House proposal caused Reid and McConnell to postpone their talks, prompting some senators to question House leaders for getting involved when a deal in the Senate was close. Reid blasted Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) from the Senate floor, accusing him and other House leaders of trying to “torpedo bipartisan progress with a bill that can’t pass the Senate and won’t pass.”

“I’m disappointed with John Boehner, who’d, once again, try to preserve his role at the expense of the country,” added Reid.

Reid, McConnell deal progresses, conservatives express skepticism

It appears that there is a deal in the works between Senate leaders that would temporarily raise the debt ceiling and fund the federal government while yet another “super-committee.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have been working behind the scenes since a bipartisan compromise offered by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) fell apart over the weekend. The two leaders are cautious because whatever they agree to has to pass the House of Representatives.

“We have had an opportunity over the last couple of days to have some very constructive exchanges of views about how to move forward,” said McConnell from the Senate floor on Monday. “Those discussions continue, and I share [the] optimism that we’re going to get a result that will be acceptable to both sides.”

The basis of the deal, according to various media reports, is a Continuing Resolution that funds the federal government until January 15 and extending the debt ceiling until February 7, though some outlets are reporting February 15. The sticking point for Senate Republicans is maintaining the sequester cuts and the $988 billion funding level for FY 2014.

There are also some minor changes to ObamaCare that are being considered, but Politico notes that negotiations on those provisions could fail, which would take the controversial law off the table.

Sequester spending cuts may be in jeopardy as shutdown enters another week

Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell

Modifying or changing ObamaCare doesn’t even seem to be a part of the conversation anymore as at least some congressional Republicans are now trying to ensure that the spending cuts passed in the Budget Control Act of 2011, which created the sequester, remain the law.

The weekend started with some promise as the White House signaled that President Barack Obama would sign a short-term debt limiting increase while House and Senate negotiators hammered out a larger budget deal. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) nixed the idea.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) was willing to undo the sequester for a budget deal that enacted entitlement reforms, which are the real drivers of federal spending. That, like other House-backed proposals, was shot down by the White House and the Senate. The devil will be in the details on this, of course, as President Obama and Democrats will likely want tax hikes to supplement changes to entitlement programs, making the path to a deal very rocky.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) had put together a potential deal, working with a handful of Senate Democrats, to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling. But the deal was rejected after Reid balked at the spending levels.

Movement on debt ceiling negotiations between Obama, Republicans

It appears that there may be some movement on negotiations between House Republicans and President Barack Obama on the budget and debt ceiling, nine days after the government shutdown began.

A group of House Republican leaders went to the White House last night, where President Obama insisted that he wouldn’t negotiate “with a gun at [his] head.” He apparently told Republicans that he was open to short-term a spending agreement and debt ceiling hike, which would pave the way for talks.

For their part, Republicans are at least considering the short-term debt ceiling hike, which would be considerably less than the $1 trillion request made by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). Robert Costa of the National Review called this a “half-way” approach, meaning that President Obama would have to meet them on funding the government.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is also talking to his caucus about possibly making a deal with the White House to end the government shutdown. Politico notes that the Kentucky Republican would support “temporarily raise the debt ceiling and reopen the government in return for a handful of policy proposals.”

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