Benghazi Is a Tragedy, Not a Grand Conspiracy
USNews & World Report – Thomas Jefferson Street Blog
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Benghazi was a tragedy, a terrible tragedy and because of it a light should be shone on what more can be done to protect those who serve America overseas. What our country does not deserve is a political show trial designed to vilify Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama. What we don’t need is a crass partisan effort to influence the 2016 presidential campaign.
Unlike the 1980s Iran-Contra scandal, there are no questions of illegal acts, no secret funds, no shredding of documents and no efforts to directly circumvent a law passed by Congress. People may forget that 14 administration officials were indicted and 11 convicted as a result of the arms-for-hostages scandal.
Instead, what we have after eight months of investigation, 11 congressional hearings before five committees, 20 staff briefings and 25,000 pages of documents is exactly what we started with: a tragic situation with lessons to be learned, but not a grand conspiracy. It is sad that Rep. Darrell Issa has decided not to conduct a series of hearings to help solve the problems that out diplomats face every day but rather to engage in a partisan, political witch hunt for a conspiracy and cover-up that doesn’t exist.
If he were truly interested in solutions he would have Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Admiral Mike Mullen – the chairman and vice chairman respectively of the State Department’s Accountability Review Board which investigated the incident – before the committee to discuss the 29 recommendations that they proposed. He would seek more ideas on boosting security, not cutting funds for the State Department that many in his party have so enthusiastically embraced.
As for Issa’s political motives, take it from Iran-Contra, when many Democrats thought it would influence the presidential campaign of 1988. It didn’t. I can speak from experience. Our ads linking George H.W. Bush to the scandal really fell on deaf ears. Voters were done with it; it was in their rear view mirror.
Republicans who think that Benghazi will be an issue in 2016 should think again.
Playing Obamacare Politics
By PETER FENN
USNews & World Report Thomas Jefferson Street Blog
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Rumors abound that Congress is looking for a way to exempt staff and/or members from the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). Here is how the story goes from some Republicans: Members of Congress don’t like the legislation when it applies to them, therefore they want to exempt themselves.
But any notion that Congress wants special treatment in the current political climate is tantamount to taking a cyanide pill. Don’t even go there. I still have nightmares about the so-called “House Bank” from twenty years ago, when members of the House had accounts where their paychecks were automatically deposited. The kicker was that many were writing checks, knowing that the deposit was on the way, but also knowing that they did not have enough in the account to cover the check. But the checks were covered.
All hell broke loose – “bounced checks” that were not bounced; special privileges to members; a bank for “members only.” The bottom line was that a lot of my incumbent House candidates lost their seats because of the perception of special treatment. It was impossible to explain that “the bank was not a bank.” It didn’t matter.
So Congress has to tread carefully. Any idea that it will pass some legislation that exempts it from the Obamacare law should be ludicrous.
The real facts are explained well by Ezra Klein in the Washington Post today. His point is that Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, inserted language about Congress to try to embarrass Obama and the Democrats. Democrats accepted it.
Now, the question is can Congress and the government, as employers, pick up some of the insurance costs of the exchanges in Obamacare. (Just as they do now with health plans, and a practice that private employers engage in as well.)
For thirty years at my firm, we have paid the entire bill for health insurance for our employees. Obviously, you can not suddenly tell a congressional staffer (or any staffer) making $30,000 that she has to pick up the tab for an entire $7,000 health insurance premium. You would lose good, qualified staffers in droves.
But this is an easy issue to demagogue, hence the response today on Twitter. Our government should work to fix the problem, not play to cheap-shot political instincts.
FOX5 WTTG Washington DC 4/24/2013
Spirit of Patriots’ Day Lives on After Boston Bombings
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I grew up in Lexington, Massachusetts, a town we proudly called the “birthplace of American liberty.” Every year we celebrated the ride of Paul Revere. Every year, as young children, we watched the parade, waving American flags, and took in the reenactment on the Lexington Battle Green.
Every Patriots’ Day was our holiday, not celebrated as much around the country. And every Patriots’ Day there was the Boston marathon, growing in popularity, as I grew up. Over a half million spectators and nearly 30,000 runners, now, it is the world’s oldest marathon, established in 1897. It is all a celebration routed in the history of our country and the pride of a region. It is a happy time, a holiday all of us growing up there could not wait for every year.
Now, we mourn and we pray and we cry. We are shaken and we see fear and we feel pain for those who suffered so brutally.
But we know, deep down, what this holiday Patriots’ Day means – it is a testimony to our strength of character and our resolve, to stand together, to stand as tall as we can, to celebrate a unity of purpose and a kindness of spirit. The agony of an unspeakable act is far overshadowed by the courage and compassion of all those who rose up to help and to comfort and go into harm’s way.
This was a testament to the goodness and the great humanity of people. Not unlike, really, what that band of patriots and Paul Revere exhibited on that April day in 1775, immortalized in the poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:
So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,–
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo for evermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need.
The people will waken and listen and hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.
The message is one of freedom and forbearance, liberty and light, kindness and compassion. That is Patriots’ Day; that is the world’s oldest marathon. Through it all, we should remember that.
Boehner and the squeeze play
The pundits have, as usual, been stating the obvious: The pressure on Speaker Boehner mounts as the likelihood of the Senate passing legislation on immigration, guns, and even budgets, increases.
In response to questions about whether he would invoke the so-called “Hastert Rule” — that you need a majority of your caucus before you even bring up legislation — he shot back, “it was never a rule to begin with.” Then, he used the qualifier that it was important to pass bills with “strong Republican support.”
Speaker Boehner gets it.
He has renegades in his caucus, a lot of them, who don’t want to see any of these pieces of legislation passed. But the country is going the other way and so are the Senate and the president. They are actually compromising, actually working across the aisle to get something done. Who would have thought?Speaker Boehner knows that if he bottles up bipartisan legislation that comes over from the Senate, or inserts poison pills, or plays games, the public will be furious with the Republican House. His Speakership could be in jeopardy with a loss of 17 House seats, much more than with a revolt from the right-wingers.
Let’s look a little closer at the Hastert Rule. As most know, Speaker Boehner brought up relief for Hurricane Sandy, the fiscal-cliff deal and the Violence Against Women Act all without a majority of his own caucus’s support. That got a lot of play.
But just this week the Speaker brought up a relatively minor bill to protect historic battlefields that a majority of his caucus did not support. The reason they didn’t support it? It cost about $50 million and the hard core was, as usual, going ballistic. There were 122 “no” votes from Republicans.
The Speaker has watched as between 120 and about 160 of his members vote in ideological lock step on such legislation.
But here is the kicker on the Hastert Rule: Over the last 20 years it has been deemed not “a rule” on 36 occasions. This includes not only when Hastert was Speaker but also Gingrich and Pelosi.
In other words, Speaker Boehner is right, and he must make the call on the upcoming legislation not on the basis of a precedent that doesn’t even exist but on what is best for the country and his party.
The consequence of taking a little heat from his right flank versus bottling up compromise legislation that the public wants is a no-brainer.
My guess is that the Speaker gets that and his message on Thursday was designed to make that clear to his caucus: Yes, I will listen to you but I’m not going off the high diving board into an empty pool.
The NRA Would Rather Stand by Their Guns Than Their Word
It is time for the National Rifle Association to admit that universal background checks should include gun shows … kind of like they did in 1999 after Columbine.
In 1999, Wayne LaPierre told Fox News, when asked if he was protecting gun shows, “That’s ridiculous … the fact is that we’re supporting the bill in the Senate that provides a check on every sale at every gun show, no loopholes at all.” The NRA took out ads in papers across the country in a campaign entitled “Be Reasonable” and wrote: “We believe it’s reasonable to provided for instant background checks at gun shows, just like gun shops and pawn shops.”
Why won’t the NRA stick by their statements? Because they would rather stick by their guns.
One simple reason: They were being cute back then and they are being cute now. They rail against fees, or records, or private citizens getting hurt. It is all baloney.
They will not admit that according to a New York Times-CBS News poll over 90 percent of Americans want more background checks; they won’t admit that criminals are kept from buying guns; they won’t admit that 20 to 40 percent of gun buyers escape the scrutiny because they don’t go to gun shops.
They deny reality every day.
They can take away their “A ratings” of Sens. Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey. They can rail against those 16 Republicans who refused to go along with a filibuster to prevent the Senate from acting. They can claim they are worried about a “slippery slope” on gun control.
But it all rings hollow to those families from Columbine, from Newtown, from Aurora. It all rings hollow to those innocent bystanders who have been gunned down in street violence, or who have died when families are torn apart, or those returning veterans with easy access to a gun who have committed suicide at the rate of three a day.
It is long past time for the NRA to do what is right for America’s families – “be reasonable” should be the cry Wayne LaPierre hears every day.