Congress

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

One of the criticisms frequently aimed at Congress is that "gridlock" where decisions come slowly, if at all, as both sides draw their respective lines in the sand, and there's just not much compromising.

That is not the case with state legislatures across the country where, thanks to one-party control in 37 states, we're seeing action and lots of it.

Stateline is an independent, non-partisan news service of the Pew Charitable Trusts. This week it released its annual review of state legislatures, giving us a look at the major budget and policy developments at all 50 state capitols.

Scott Greenberger, an editor for Stateline, joined us today in the studio.

Listen to the full interview above.

user Tqycolumbia / Wikimedia Commons

A piece of history is being written in the United States Congress.

Tomorrow is the day that John Dingell becomes the longest-serving member of Congress ever, surpassing the late Robert Byrd of West Virginia.

He began representing the people of southeast Michigan on December 13, 1955. And 57-and-a-half years later, he is still there.

He joined us today to talk about his experiences.

Listen to the full interview above.

He's worked with 11 presidents, taken several thousand votes, and tomorrow, Michigan Congressman John Dingell becomes the longest serving member of Congress ever. We spoke with Dingell about his 57 years in D.C.

And, Shakespeare in the Arb is starting its 13th season with “Much Ado About Nothing.” Katherine Mendeloff, a lecturer in the Drama Department of the Residential College, spoke with us about the upcoming performances.

And, this weekend, Harry Potter fans are gathering in Michigan to watch college quidditch teams compete. Former player Krystina Packard joined us in the studio.

Also, a new project launched in Ann Arbor is working to bring together high school students and senior citizens to make history come alive. We spoke with the project’s co-founder and one of the participating teachers about how this has impacted students.

First on the show, it's time for our weekly check-in with Detroit News Business Columnist Daniel Howes.

This week, it seems the topic is the fact that the proverbial "Day of Reckoning" is at hand when it comes to the City of Detroit. Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr is trying to work out settlements with the city's creditors, and the treasures at the Detroit Institute of Arts could be at risk.

He joined us in the studio today to discuss the issue.

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Members of the new 113th Congress were sworn in last week, and they went about picking their leaders.

Republicans in the House of Representatives still hold a majority, so Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) was elected to a second term as Speaker of the House.

But the votes didn't come without controversy as Politico reported:

In an unusually suspenseful roll-call vote of the new House of Representatives, Boehner garnered 220 votes, but 12 Republican lawmakers either opposed him, voted present or abstained.

That was a change from his unanimous election to the Speakership two years ago. A group of Republican representatives led an 'anti-Boehner' effort the day of the vote. Roll Call reported Michigan Rep. Justin Amash played a 'key role' in the effort against Boehner. 

Republican Reps. Justin Amash of Michigan, Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina and Raúl R. Labrador of Idaho played key roles in organizing the plot. But participants describe its origin as organic and not led by any particular member, despite the suggestion by at least one House Republican that Amash was the ringleader. 

One member who participated in the effort described it as the work of small groups of Republican lawmakers who concluded independently that new leadership was needed in the speaker’s office. After learning of their agreement on the subject through discussions on the House floor during the week or two before Thursday’s vote, they decided to band together in an attempt to assemble a group of 25 members committed to opposing Boehner.

UPI reports Boehner told the group of twelve in a privatee meeting that he doesn't hold grudges and that his door will always be open to them.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Congress passed a bill Tuesday that would prevent the U.S. from falling over the 'fiscal cliff.'

Addressing the bill’s impact on Michigan were Daniel Howes of the Detroit News and Jack Lessenberry of Michigan Radio.

“The Michigan Republicans in the delegation were clearly split on this… a lot of them didn’t like it. The Bush tax cuts the Democrats spent the last ten years railing against were essentially made permanent for 98% of the tax payers,” said Howes.

According to Howes, much of the state's workers will witness increased taxes this year.

“About 77% of people who work are going to be paying higher taxes,” said Howes.

“Everybody seems to object to paying for things they get… most of the tax increases are restoring the Social Security payroll tax to what it used to be,” said Lessenberry.

Michigan’s top budget official is praising Congress for averting the so-called “fiscal cliff.”

Budget Director John Nixon said sweeping tax increases and across-the-board spending cuts could have seriously hurt the state’s finances.

“The good news is that I think as far as the whole economy is concerned, what they did yesterday was big for the state of Michigan,” said Nixon.

Nixon said he was most worried going over “the cliff” would have led to another recession.

That could have affected the state’s ability to pay for many basic programs and projects.

State officials say they’re keeping close watch on upcoming negotiations in Washington. They could include proposed cuts to state-administered programs like Medicaid and food stamps.

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.

screen grab from YouTube video

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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