Congress

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Concerns about the nation’s fiscal cliff crisis have reached the streets of Lansing.

A small band of protesters stood outside of Michigan Congressman Mike Rogers’ local office today to call for the rich to pay higher taxes.

Passing motorists responded to signs asking them to HONK for the end of the Bush tax cuts.

Not all the tax breaks that are scheduled to end at the end of the year.  Just those for the richest two percent of American income earners.

Stephen Wooden is a Michigan State University student.  He thinks it’s about balance.

I hate to sound alarmist, but if all the proposals whose backers submitted signatures make it on the ballot and are approved by the voters, the result will destroy representative democracy in Michigan. Not only that, our economy will  probably be destroyed as well, and we will enter fully into the era of  government of special interests, by special interests, and for special  interests.

Michigan’s constitution is fatally flawed in one big way.  The framers thought there should be an opportunity for citizens to occasionally place a question before the people.

Political circles across the state remain stunned by the very public self-destruction of former Congressman Thaddeus McCotter, from the white-collar Wayne County suburb of Livonia.

Yet it seems to me that while many people know the basic facts of his decline and fall, most don’t understand the true consequences of what he’s done. I’ll get to that in a moment.

But first consider this. A year ago, McCotter was a man with an essentially safe seat in Congress who had launched a long-shot campaign for President.

For weeks, former Republican Congressman Joe Schwarz seriously considered running for the job again, this time as a Democrat. He talked to me about that several times.

He was actually very close to actually getting in the race, for a congressional district that stretched along Michigan’s southern border, from Monroe in the east to Jackson. But then last week, Schwarz finally decided against it. I had been convinced he would run, and as a journalist, thought it a fascinating prospect.

The tail fins on cars were just starting to take off the first time he ran. The nation had about half as many people as it does now.

Neither of his opponents this year had yet been born. For that matter, neither had Governor Snyder or President Obama.

John F. Kennedy was a freshman senator, General Motors was the world’s most powerful corporation, and nobody had ever seen a Japanese car. We are talking 1955, when, a few days after Christmas, a few thousand voters showed up for a special election, and sent a geeky-looking 29-year-old lawyer to Congress.

U.S. Congress

Update 11:50 a.m.

Snyder's portion of the hearing has ended. The committee now moves on to Panel 2 of the hearing.

In his final statement to the committee, Governor Snyder urged members of Congress to work with the Obama administration to come up with solutions for the country.

Earlier, Snyder commented on education, Snyder said only 17 percent of students in Michigan are college ready, "that's a travesty," he said.

Snyder said most students only think of traditional career paths while they're in school - doctors, lawyers, etc. - more students, he said, need to aspire to careers that are needed in the workforce, such as computer programming.

"Cyber schooling is a huge opportunity in the state," said Snyder.

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The conservative PAC "Club for Growth" has a new television ad targeting Michigan Congressman Fred Upton's "liberal" voting record.

From a Club for Growth press release:

“Fred Upton voted to bail out Wall Street, supported billions in wasteful earmark spending and has voted to raise the debt limit by trillions while raising his own pay by thousands,” said Club for Growth President Chris Chocola. “Michigan Republicans can do better than a Congressman who has consistently voted to balloon the size of our already bloated government. After twenty-five years of Fred Upton and his liberal policies, it’s time for a change.”

Here's the ad:

Fritz Klug of the Kalamazoo Gazette reports that Upton might have a primary challenger in Jack Hoogendyk—Hoogendyk lost against Upton in a 2010 primary:

“I’ve got a lot of people asking me about it,” Hoogendyk said in an interview with the Kalamazoo Gazette. “Fred is a great guy, and I respect him, but I think a different direction is needed in Washington.” Hoogendyk, who represented Michigan's 61st House District from 2003 to 2009,   ran against Upton in the 2010 primary and lost with 43 percent of the vote. But he spent only $62,000 on the race, compared to Upton’s $2 million.

A committee of Republicans and Democrats from the U.S. House and Senate will convene to negotiate a year-long extension of unemployment benefits and the payroll tax cut.

U.S. Representative Sander Levin's office announced that Levin will be a part of that committee.

From their press release:

U.S. Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI), the Ranking Member of the Ways and Means Committee, today was appointed to the Conference Committee tasked with negotiating a year-long extension of the payroll tax cut and federal unemployment insurance.

freefoto.com

Financial problems are mounting at the U.S. Postal Service, and that's going to have repercussions on Americans' daily lives. For one thing, you won't be able to assume - or even hope - that a stamped letter will arrive at its destination the next day.   

That's because the Postal Service is looking for ways to save money, even as it awaits possible assistance from Congress.

Congressman Gary Peters

DETROIT (AP) - U.S. Rep. Gary Peters says he's seeking election in the newly drawn 14th District.

The Democrat from Oakland County's Bloomfield Township serves the 9th District. He made the announcement on Thursday. Peters says the new district "bridges diverse communities," and he remains "committed to ... bringing our communities together."

The districts were redrawn by the state Legislature and signed into law in August by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder.

The 14th District is held by veteran Democratic Rep. John Conyers. It stretches from Detroit to Pontiac and dips below Eight Mile Road. The thoroughfare has come to symbolize the boundary between Detroit and its suburbs, black from white.

The redrawing puts Peters and U.S. Rep. Sander Levin in the same district. Levin has said he will run in the 9th District.

There was a time in Hansen Clarke’s life when the thing he wanted most in the world was to be a Congressman, back when he was twenty-five years old or so.

This year, that happened. He beat Detroit incumbent Carolyn Cheeks-Kilpatrick in the Democratic primary a year ago, and then won an easy victory in his district, centered on his native east side of Detroit. Ever since, he’s been going a mile a minute.

“You know everybody told me that I needed to get experienced Washington staffers,” he said. But then “I found out what they knew how to do was tell me why things couldn’t be done and tell me I shouldn’t try.”  Clarke’s an easygoing guy.

But he has small patience for that kind of attitude. Early on, someone told him that drafting and developing a complex piece of legislation could sometimes take up to a year. “I don’t have a year,” he told me.  “Neither does Detroit or the nation.”

But Clarke told me he had learned an important lesson. He said he was now getting things done because he didn’t know that he couldn’t do them. This happened last month with the administration’s Homeland Security budget. The budget zeroed out funds for Detroit.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Congress has until Tuesday to reach a deal on raising the debt ceiling to avoid default on some federal loans and other obligations.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder says a possible default has him concerned.

“One of the challenges is (the federal government) haven’t told us exactly what it’ll mean. So we’re prepared for a number of scenarios.”

Governor Snyder says the federal government hasn't yet explained to his administration how they will handle a possible national debt default. Snyder spoke Wednesday to WLNS-TV at the Ionia Free Fair.

"So we're on deck trying to get information from Washington as to what the order of cutbacks might be or payment-stream changes might be," Snyder said.

Mlive.com reports:

Snyder did not point fingers at either Democrats or Republicans in Washington, instead calling for compromise. "There's a lot of people that are in that process and they all need to come together," he said. "This clearly does not help matters".

Earlier today, on Morning Edition, NPR's Brian Naylor took a look at what the debt-ceiling debate would mean for communities across the U.S.:

Although almost every state must balance their budgets, they also rely on borrowing — selling bonds to investors for everything from meeting day-to-day cash-flow needs to funding major capital improvements.

"They borrow to finance long-term projects like infrastructure, road and bridge construction, as well as an upgrade of the telecommunications systems," said Kil Huh, who is with the Pew Center on the States. "These are activities that create jobs — in the long run have multiplier effects. And, essentially, If states need to postpone these in order to get more favorable terms, that's going to have an impact on those communities as well in terms of jobs and recovery."

US Congress

President Obama and Congress have yet to find a solution to the nation’s debt crisis. Last night, President Obama and Speaker Boehner separately addressed the nation. They gave their explanations of why a deal hasn’t yet been reached. 

Republican Congressman of Michigan, Bill Huizenga talks with us about debt ceiling debates in Washington and what his concerns are moving forward.

Most congressmen face a big struggle to first get elected, and then stay in their jobs for a considerable period of time. John Dingell, for example, holds the all-time record. He’ll have served fifty-six years before this year is over.

John Conyers has been there forty-six years.

Dale Kildee and Carl Levin have been in Washington more than thirty years. But on the other hand, the seventh district, which spans southeast Michigan’s border with Ohio, has been about the most volatile congressional district in the nation over the last decade.

Starting in two thousand and two, the seventh district has elected a different congressman in every election. Tim Walberg, who holds the job now, won in two thousand six; lost in two thousand eight, and won his old seat back in two thousand and ten.

Odds were that he would have faced another stiff challenge next year, possibly from one, or both, his two main rivals in the recent past. Fellow Republican Joe Schwarz beat Walberg in a primary in two thousand four, and then lost to him two years later.

Democrat Mark Schauer ousted Walberg from Congress in two thousand eight, and was ousted by him last year.

But this year is a redistricting year. Republicans control every branch of government, and one of their top priorities was to draw the lines so as to make re-election safer for their side’s incumbents.

In the case of the Seventh, they replaced Calhoun County, at the west end of the district, with Monroe County, at the eastern end. The counties are almost the same size, and both usually, but not always, vote slightly more Democratic than Republican.

Growing numbers of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are balking both at the length of the war in Afghanistan and its cost.

Late last month, a few weeks after U.S. forces killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, the Republican-run House voted on a bipartisan amendment aimed at hastening an end to the war in Afghanistan. To the surprise of many, it fell just six votes shy of passing.

Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ) was one of 26 members of his party who joined nearly every Democrat in voting for the measure.

West Michigan had the most population growth in the last ten years, while the east side of the state saw the biggest regional population declines in the state. That’s according to state demographer Ken Darga. He testified before a state House panel on redrawing Michigan’s legislative and congressional districts.

Detroit is expected to lose a few seats in the Legislature after Michigan’s political maps are redrawn. The city saw a 25 percent decline in population since 2000. State demographer Ken Darga says it’s unclear right now how political clout will shift around the state:

“We’ll have to see how the numbers—how the districts are drawn. It certainly does though, it does increase the political clout of areas that are growing, and decrease the political clout of areas that are declining in population.”

The state’s political maps need to be redrawn before this fall. But some Democrats fear Republicans will force the redistricting process through this spring. They say they hope the process is open and fair, and they say the only way to do that is to take time to draw the new lines.

As both sides sort out who won and who lost in the deal to keep the government running, the next phase of budget wrangling ensues.

The current-year budget deal struck Friday night still needs full congressional approval this week.

President Obama will deliver a speech Wednesday on the budget and the long-range deficits.

And sometime during the week, the House is expected to approve a new budget plan for next year that includes big changes in Medicare and Medicaid.

And none of that is to mention the looming battle about raising the federal debt ceiling.

Reports of the death of compromise in Washington are greatly exaggerated.

That's one important message from the 11th-hour agreement that averted a partial shutdown of the federal government Friday night.

"No compromise" has been the rallying cry of the Tea Party movement. Some Republican lawmakers have echoed that.

But the agreement reached Friday was the epitome of compromise. Republicans had come into the negotiations demanding $61 billion in spending cuts from the remainder of fiscal year 2011 which ends in September.

Congressional leaders and President Obama reached a budget agreement a little more than an hour before a midnight deadline for avoiding a partial shutdown of the federal government. The agreement, which would slash about $38 billion in spending this year, was announced separately by the president, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).

Less than 24 hours remain for President Obama and Congressional leaders to avert a government shutdown. A deal to fund the federal government through September must be reached by midnight tonight to keep the government fully operating. President Obama and legislative leaders met again last night to narrow their differences over how much to cut the federal budget but no agreement was made.

[We asked NPR's Linton Weeks to think about some things that might benefit from a federal government shutdown. Here's what he reported back.]

We have all heard dire predictions surrounding the possible closing down of the federal government.

President Obama says another round of talks with congressional leaders has helped, but there is no deal yet to avert a government shutdown.

Obama said he hoped to be able to announce a deal on Friday but "there's no certainty yet." He said he told House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that he wants an answer in the morning.

He said there were "a few issues that are outstanding.

In Washington, D.C., and at federal agencies across the country, the big question employees are asking on the eve of a possible government shutdown is: Am I essential or not? Workers and agencies that are deemed essential will be kept on the job if a shutdown occurs.

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With the detailed U.S. Census numbers in, Republicans in the state legislature can begin the process of redrawing the state's political boundaries for Congress and for the State Senate and the State House of Representatives.

Some ground rules first.

  • Because the state lost population, Michigan will now have 14 Congressional districts (down from 15). When these districts are drawn, they must hold an equal number of people in them. That's why you see districts that cover large areas in the state's northern districts (places where there's less population) and smaller districts in the southeast (places where population is more concentrated).
  • For Michigan's state legislature, districts must hold close to an equal number of people (they can deviate within 95% to 105% of each other), and "existing municipal and county boundaries should be respected as much as possible."
US Congress

The bill to "defund NPR" passed the House mostly along party lines. Most republicans voted "aye" and all Democrats voted "nay" (seven Democrats are listed as "not voting" on the bill).

Seven Republicans voted "nay" and one voted "present."

Michigan Republican Justin Amash was the lone member who voted "present" on the bill.

He explains why on his Facebook page:

C-SPAN

The Committee on Homeland Security is holding a hearing entitled “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community's Response.”

ABC News reports:

Today’s House hearing on “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and That Community’s Response” has created a firestorm of criticism by civil rights groups and Democrats who say that Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., is intentionally isolating Muslims.

Democrats and rights groups say he’s guilty of “modern-day McCarthyism,” and is using religion to divide Americans.

You can watch the hearing now on C-SPAN.

Here's King responding to critics of the hearing on a CBS affiliate:

stabenow.senate.gov

Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow says she's cosponsoring legislation that will stop member of Congress and the President from getting paid if there's a government shutdown.

The legislation was originally introduced last week by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and Seantor Bob Casey (D-PA).

In a statement, the Senator said that under current law the salaries for members of Congress and the President are "held harmless" if a shutdown occurs - meaning they would continue to be paid.

Stabenow says the bill she's cosponsoring would put Congress and the President on "equal footing" with the Americans who would be affected by a shutdown:

"A shutdown could disrupt Social Security checks, veterans' benefits, hold up exports and cost private sector jobs, and will stop paychecks for hundreds of thousands of people.  It's only fair that Members of Congress' paychecks be stopped too."

The statement said the last time the government in 1995, "more than 400,000 veterans saw their disability benefits and pension claims delayed," Social Security and Medicare requests were delayed, passports remained unprocessed, unemployment insurance funding ran out in some states, and "$3 billion in U.S. exports were delayed because export licenses could not be issued, negatively impacting economic growth."

The deadline for a deal is this Friday night. If a deal can't be reached, the government would be forced to shut down.

ABC News reports that Congress might postpone the deadline by "passing a two-week spending measure that would fund the government through March 18th."

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Dale Kildee won his first term in the United States Congress in 1976. Next year, he plans to run again. The Associated Press reports Kildee's spokesman says the octogenarian politician has always planned to run for another term. 

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

President Obama released his 2012 budget yesterday.

In it, he calls for major cuts to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

The goal of this multi-year program is to restore habitat... clean up pollution... and keep new invasive species out of the Lakes.

Initially, President Obama requested $475 million for the first year of the program. He got that under a democratic Congress.

Congress is wrestling with how much money to allocate for the second year (this current fiscal year).

President Obama's budget deals with the third year of GLRI funding.  Obama wants to cut $125 million out of next year’s budget for the program.

I talked with Jeff Skelding, the campaign director of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, to find out what this might mean. He says:

"The state of Michigan has a huge stake in this. They need their share of that funding to insure that restoration activities proceed forward under severely challenging economic times."

Skelding calls the GLRI "probably the most historic restoration program ever enacted by Congress for the Great Lakes." He says there is strong bi-partisan support for the program from the Great Lakes Congressional delegation, which makes him hopeful.

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