As the Senate Judiciary Committee reviews Comcast’s acquisition of Time Warner Cable for potential violations of antitrust laws, a new report has surfaced suggesting that every member of the Senate panel has received campaign donations from the company in question.
According to Ars Technica, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., received $35,000 from Comcast’s PAC between 2009 and 2014, while Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., received $32,500 and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, received $30,000.
Even the most vocal anti-Comcast committee member, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., has received a donation from the corporation in the past. According to the Los Angeles Times, a Comcast PAC donated $5,000 to Franken’s recount fund during his contested election a few years ago. Still, the senator and former Saturday Night Live member was a vocal critic of the Comcast-NBC deal that was going on around that time.
Because of his brother’s involvement with drafting the acquisition deal, Schumer, the individual who has received the most donations from Comcast-related PACs, recently recused himself from the judiciary review.
Opponents of the merger are wary of what will happen to prices once a dominating company controls the majority of cable and telecommunications services. Comcast continues to argue its side of the case, one that's likely supported by the $18.8 million it reportedly spent on lobbying last year.
Michigan has passed a string of laws targeting the state's welfare recipients throughout the past few months. In December, for instance, Gov. Rick Snyder signed a bill into law that prohibits welfare recipients from withdrawing cash from ATMs in liquor stores, horse tracks, and strip clubs. The latest and most high-profile piece of legislation targeting the specific segment of the population is the bill that would allow for suspicion-based drug testing of welfare recipients.
The latest version of the bill, which has been under consideration and revision for several months, would require the Department of Human Services to set up a pilot version of the program in three counties.
According to the Battle Creek Enquirer, the Senate advanced the bill on a 25-11 straight party line vote, with Republicans supporting the testing and Democrats voting against it.
The bill is significant because it allows the state government to administer a drug test to any individual whom it suspects of using illicit substances. If those individuals test positively or refuse to undergo the test, they risk losing their benefits. The law only affects adults, and children of drug-abusing parents continue to receive welfare benefits even if their families are cut off.
Michigan attempted to pass a similar bill allowing for random drug testing of welfare recipients in 1999, but that law was ruled unconstitutional after it was challenged by the ACLU.
The Obama administration has a lot of work to do in order to make good on its promise to be the most transparent presidency in history. Last year was the worst year yet for the administration’s censoring of government documents or outright denial of access to them under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) according to the Associated Press.
The recent analysis of data from the administration shows that the current occupants of the White House cited more legal exceptions to withhold material and refused a record number of times to quickly turn over files. Furthermore, the government’s own figures from 99 federal agencies show that little effort has been made to improve the way they release requested records.
Sunday was the start of Sunshine Week, when news organizations, throughout the country, promote open government and freedom of information. A recent Washington Post blog, marking the start of Sunshine Week, cited a report from the National Security Archives that found that 54 percent of all agencies have ignored directives from the president and Attorney General Eric Holder calling for a “presumption of disclosure” with FOIA requests. Those directives were issued in 2009.
According to the AP story, the Obama administration cited national security a record 8,496 times last year — a 57 percent increase over the previous year — in refusing to hand over documents amid increased public interest of the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs.
Citizens and journalists are not the only people having a hard time getting information from the White House. Last week McClatchy Newspapers reported that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is locked in a bitter dispute with the Obama administration over access to more than 9,000 top-secret documents. Those documents come from the George W. Bush administration and are considered key to the Senate’s ongoing investigation of the CIA’s cancelled detention and interrogation programs.
Regarding the government’s poor response to FOIA requests, Melanie Pustay, director of the Justice Department’s Office of Information Policy, told the Senate Judiciary Committee last week that the current requests “are more complex than they were before.”
"The public is frustrated and unhappy with the pace of responses and the amount of information provided,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said at the same hearing. "There's a common reaction for anybody who has any experience with it that it doesn't function well.”
Eight Senate Democrats helped seal the fate for President Barack Obama’s controversial nominee to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. The Senate voted Wednesday not to appoint Debo Adegbile with a final tally of 47-52, reports the Washington Post.
Opposition was expected from Republicans based on Adegbile’s participation in an appeal on behalf of Mumia Abu-Jamal in 2009. Abu-Jamal became internationally known after his conviction for the murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981. Adegbile’s work with the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund helped overturn the subsequent death sentence handed down in that case.
The polarizing nature of that case seems to have given some Democrats cold feet in moving ahead with Adegbile’s confirmation. The Obama administration, sensing the vote was going to be close, made sure that Vice President Biden was on hand to cast a tie-breaking vote had it been needed. With eight senators leaving the president’s side, though, it was not. The move infuriated Obama, who issued an angry statement following the vote.
"The Senate’s failure to confirm Debo Adegbile to lead the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice is a travesty based on wildly unfair character attacks against a good and qualified public servant,” the president wrote.
While Obama may have thought that Adegbile was a qualified candidate for the job, many Democrats felt the nomination was tone-deaf going into hotly contested midterm elections later in the year. A senior aide, speaking on condition of anonymity to the Washington Post, said several senators’ offices were “very angry” that the White House chose to move ahead with the potentially divisive nomination.
"It's a vote you didn't have to take. It's a 30-second ad that writes itself,” the aide said, speculating as to how the vote could be used against senators in upcoming races.
Most senators who cast the votes against Adegbile have not issued comments on their decision, but Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., did.
"There is no question that Mr. Adegbile has had a significant and broad career as a leading civil rights advocate, and would be an asset to the Justice Department, but at a time when the Civil Rights Division urgently needs better relations with the law enforcement community, I was troubled by the idea of voting for an Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights who would face such visceral opposition from law enforcement on his first day on the job,” he said in a Business Insider story.
Coons said it was the hardest vote he has had to cast since joining the Senate.
On Tuesday, the Senate approved a farm bill that is projected to save $23 billion over the next ten years by reauthorizing hundreds of programs for agriculture, nutrition, dairy production, conservation, and international food aid.
The plan proposes a spending scheme of $16.6 billion less than current levels. In total, it calls for spending $956.4 billion over the course of the next decade.
In addition to the changes the bill will play in the lives of thousands of American citizens, it also notably marks collaboration between parties. As Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat said, “This really was an effort in good faith between the House and the Senate and Republicans and Democrats.”
Obama has endorsed the bill in a statement, noting that, while not perfect, it “improved farm and nutrition policy through compromise.”
Amongst the biggest changes proposed by the bill are cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or, as it is more commonly known, food stamps. Over the next ten years, the food stamp program is projected to be reduced by more than $8 billion.
This means that about 1.7 million people will have their benefits reduced by approximately $90 a month. As proponents of the bill explained, the new bill has “closed a loophole exploited by 16 states that helped food stamp recipients get more in benefits than they should have.”
While the bill also adds $205 million to food banks, opponents of the bill have criticized the bill as creating “devastating” effects, in that it will increase the amount of people who will be in need of food.
Another notable change is that farmers will no longer be paid directly. In past years, direct payments have been paid to farmers regardless of whether they grew crops; these payments have totaled about $5 billion a year.
Some of the money saved by elimination direct payments will be added to the crop insurance program, which is set to be expanded by $7 billion.
Prominent critiques of the crop insurance program, which dates back to the Dust Bowl years, have spoken out against the program’s development over past years, noting that it “had morphed from a safeguard against natural disaster into income support for farmers.”
Proponents of the bill have addressed these concerns, stating that the program should provide “a better safety net for farmers”, while also ensuring that farmers “get help only in cases when they need it, such as a natural disaster.”
Sources: NY Times, www.bloomberg.com
Photo Source: sandiegofreepress.org
United States Senator Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, has begun a push to end the non-profit status of the National Football League and other professional sports organizations.
Coburn originally offered an amendment to the Marketplace Fairness Act in early 2013. The amendment would have closed the tax loophole that allows the NFL to register as a non-profit organization. That bill passed the Senate but Coburn’s amendment never got a vote. In September he sponsored a standalone bill. That bill, called the Properly Reducing Overexemptions for Sports Act (PRO Sports Act) originally struggled to find a co-sponsor, but Maine Independent Senator Angus King has now joined the fight.
King and Coburn recently appeared on CNN’s “New Day” to make their case.
“This is a directed tax cut that [went] to the league office which means every other American pays a little bit more every year because we give the NFL league office a tax break and call them a non-profit,” Coburn said on the show.
Internal Revenue Service section 501(c)(6) grants the tax break to those "business leagues, chambers of commerce, real estate boards, boards of trade, or professional football leagues.” The language for football leagues was added to the tax code in 1966 as part of an antitrust exemption that allowed the merger of AFL and NFL.
Under Coburn’s bill the National Hockey League would also lose its non-profit status. Coburn estimates that the change to the status of the NHL and the NFL alone would “generate at least $91 million of federal revenue every year.” The Joint Committee on Taxation reported the number would be more in the range of $109 million over 10 years. Major League Baseball dropped its non-profit status in 2008 and reported that the change was tax-neutral.
But some, like Steve Stanek of the Heartland Institute, believes the loophole should be closed as a matter of principal even if it does not bring in more federal money.
"Tax exemptions like this one are corporate welfare and government cronyism," he said in his organization’s “Budget and Tax News” publication. "Good tax policy would end them.”
Stanek added, “It was granted to give the NFL a boost. Now we have the absurdity of a pro sports league, owned by multimillionaires and multibillionaires, most of whose workers are paid hundreds of thousands and millions of dollars a year, bringing in billions of dollars and calling itself a nonprofit."
A Tennessee state senator has proposed legislation that would make enforcement of federal gun control measures in the state illegal.
The bill, entitled S.B. 1607, was introduced by State Sen. Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet), the woman who previously filed the Health Care Freedom and Affordable Care Act Noncompliance Act in an effort to make Obamacare laws illegal to enforce in her home state.
The new bill simply states that federal laws regarding gun-control would not be followed in the state of Tennessee.
“Any federal enactment or federal enforcement action relating to firearms, firearm accessories or ammunition, is void in this state. Any federal enactment or federal enforcement action impacting or infringing upon the rights of individuals or entities relative to firearms, firearm accessories or ammunition, is void in this state,” read portions of the bill, according to Guns.com.
A similar bill was introduced in January of last year in Tennessee’s House of Representatives, as State Rep. Joe Carr (R-Lascassas) filed legislation that would arrest and prosecute any federal employee for enforcing federal gun control laws in Tennessee. According to WSMV, the bill failed to clear the House Civil Justice Committee.
The fate of S.B. 1607 remains to be determined, although it’s unlikely that the U.S. federal government would comply with a state that enacted such a law. However, the recent marijuana legalization laws passed in Colorado and Washington signify a direct contradiction to longstanding federal criminal laws, and federal agents have thus far refrained from taking actions against the state. For gun owners in Tennessee wishing to avoid federal prosecution, Sen. Beavers' bill signifies a possible, yet unlikely sense of hope.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) slammed Republicans today for blocking an unemployment benefits extension bill in the Senate.
Senate Republicans staged a filibuster earlier this week to block the 11-month extension, which got 52 votes, but not the 60 needed to move the bill forward for an actual vote.
TalkingPointsMemo.com reports that a 3-month extension was also stopped by a GOP filibuster, leaving millions of Americans without income.
Republicans insisted that unemployment benefits be paid for by cutting another part of government.
According to Mediaite.com, Sen. Warren called out Republicans for obstructing the unemployment benefits extension bill (video below).
“This is the moment when we really have to start fighting back and showing the Republicans it’s not going to work just to continue obstruct, obstruct, obstruct,” Sen. Warren told MSNBC host Alex Wagner.
"This issue on unemployment benefits is really not hard," added Sen. Warren. "We need to extend unemployment insurance. We have done this many times in the past. We did it during the Bush administration. We do it for those who need it most."
Sen. Warren said the Democrats came up with enough cuts to pay for the extended benefits, but then Republicans wanted to change the bill.
"We have people out there who are suffering," stated Sen. Warren. "...And all of a sudden the Republicans are saying, 'Just cut them off.'"
“You’re willing to do this over politics?” Sen. Warren asked Republicans. “You’re really willing to cut these people off, to leave them with no money to put food on the table, to put a roof over their heads, to take care of their children?”
“The Republicans are so caught up in playing political games at every single turn,” Sen. Warren continued. “This is about America saying to the Republican Party, 'You can’t keep blocking everything that moves this country forward. This has to stop.'”
Republican Liz Cheney dropped out of the Wyoming Senate race early Monday morning, citing a serious family health issue as the cause.
"My children and their futures were the motivation for our campaign and they will always be my overriding priority," Cheney said.
Though Cheney mentioned only that her family had been struck by serious health issues, Republicans close to the family say that one daughter had been diagnosed with diabetes.
Cheney made her initial decision to drop out of the race before the holidays, but waited until recently to inform her top campaign officials.
Cheney and her family moved from Virginia to Wyoming to run for the seat, in what was expected to be a high profile campaign.
During her campaign, Cheney failed to attract major backers like the State Conservatives Fund and Club for Growth. Polls showed her trailing behind competitor and three-term Sen. Mike Enzi, despite her monumental funding.
"I've always believed in putting family first and have tremendous respect for Liz's decision," Enzi said. "Her family is in our thoughts and prayers."
Despite dropping out, Cheney is expected to return to politics.
A new bill has been introduced in the Ohio Senate that would allow social workers to veto parents and guardians’ decisions to homeschool their children. Proponents of home schooling claim the bill is the most comprehensive threat to the freedom of teaching children at home that has ever been introduced to legislation. Supporters of the bill claim that it is aimed at ensuring the safety of children throughout the country.
The bill, Senate Bill 248, was created as a reaction to the murder of 14-year-old home school student Teddy Foltz. According to WMFJ, Teddy was tortured, beaten and killed by his mother’s boyfriend Zaryl Bush, and his mother Shain Widdersheim had allowed the abuse to continue. Both Bush and Widdersheim are serving time in prison for their actions, with Bush serving 33 years for the murder and Widdersheim serving 15 years, according to PJ Media.
Because of the incident involving Foltz, the law is more commonly referred to as “Teddy’s Law.” Supporters believe that Teddy may have been pulled out of public school because those schools are required to report any suspicion of abuse to the authorities.
Ohio State Senator Capri Cafaro, a major supporter of the bill, claimed that it aims to link the public agencies that lookout for the welfare of children with those families that choose the home school option.
“The bill creates protocols for those applying to educate a child at home by creating a link between the local public service children agency, and the education system. These policies are meant to be a check and balance to ensure that a child’s best interests are,” Cafaro said.
According to HSLDA, a prominent homeschooling advocacy group, Teddy’s Law is the “worst-ever homeschool law,” as it infringes upon the privacy of the innocent individuals that choose to homeschool their children.