Obama and Congress Facing New Challenges, While the Auto Industry is Dealt Another Blow

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Officials on Tuesday said the Obama administration is trying to find ways to sidestep Congress in order to prevent American companies from reincorporating overseas to avoid paying U.S. taxes, Josh Lederman reports, Obama Seeks Executive Ways To Limit Tax Inversions. President Barack Obama has condemned so called tax inversions as unpatriotic and urged Congress to stop them, but Republicans and Democrats disagree about the best solution making congressional action unlikely. Messing with inversions without Congressional approval would further open up Obama to charges he’s unilaterally rewriting tax codes as House Republicans are already suing Obama for exceeding his authorities. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, last month, stated that the administration had examined the tax code and without new laws its option were limited. However, on Tuesday, the Treasury Department said in a statement: “Treasury is reviewing a broad range of authorities for possible administrative actions that could limit the ability of companies to engage in inversions, as well as approaches that could meaningfully reduce the tax benefits after inversions take place.” As Lederman explains it, “In an inversion, a U.S. business merges with or is acquired by a foreign company in a country with a lower tax rate, allowing the company to lower its tax bill. Frequently the companies maintain their U.S. headquarters and operations, and the U.S. entity often maintains control of the company. Obama argues that amounts to companies attempting to choose which tax laws they want to follow — a luxury not granted to individual taxpayers.” Both parties generally agree that inversions are a problem, but do not agree on the causes and the solutions. While Democrats want to make it harder for U.S. firms to reincorporate overseas, Republicans argue that Congress needs to lower the corporate tax rate to keep businesses in the U.S. The united States has the highest corporate tax rate at 35 percent in the industrialized world and taxes income that’s earned overseas and brought back to the U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., one of the three Senator Democrats who wrote to Obama Tuesday urging him to take immediate executive action on inversions, stated, “It would be an important first step toward treating companies that renounce America the same way we treat people who renounce America — as freeloaders who get cut off from other benefits.” A House Speaker John Boehner spokesman said Tuesday that Obama should work with Congress on adding inversions rather than action on his own, while the U.S. Chamber of Commerce warned that actions taken by Obama could make the situation worse. The Congressional Research Service confirmed that 50 U.S. based companies have merged with or acquired foreign businesses over the past decade in inversions.

Meanwhile, Congress according to a Washington Post/ ABC News poll released Tuesday, found that 51 percent of Americans disapprove of their own congressional representative, Ariel Edwards Levy reports, A Record Number Of Americans Don’t Like Their Own Member Of Congress. This is the first time in a quarter century that the poll has had a disapproval rating higher than 50 percent and even higher than the 47 percent disapproval rating of last year’s government shutdown. Terrible ratings are nothing new since Congress has an average approval rating of under 12 percent, however, in the past, Americans approved more of their district’s representative than the legislative branch as a whole, but that number took a dive as well. In June before Republicans took back the House in 2010, 40 percent of Americans told Gallup their represented didn’t deserve to be re-elected, yet 85 percent of members seeking re-election held their seat. The poll also found among the 1,029 adults from both parties surveyed via phone between July 30 and Aug. 3 disapproved of their representative equally at 46 Democrats and 44 percent Republicans. This also differs from the past two midterms as polls found higher anti-incumbent sentiments among the party that would go on to win the House.

An even bigger threat to Congress and the White House, according to what U.S. officials told CNN, is a new leaker that exposed national security documents in the aftermath of surveillance disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, Evan Perez reports, New leaker disclosing U.S. secrets, government concludes. The Intercept, a news site launched by Glenn Greenwald who also published Snowden’s leaks, published Tuesday a news story based on national security documents shows proof of the newest leak. The article focuses on the growth in the U.S. government databases of known or suspected terrorist names during the Obama administration citing documents prepared by the National Counterterrorism Center dated August 2013 which was after Snowden left the U.S. to avoid criminal charges. Government officials are trying to find out the identity of the person, while Greenwald, in a February interview with CNN’s Reliable Sources, said: “I definitely think it’s fair to say that there are people who have been inspired by Edward Snowden’s courage and by the great good and virtue that it has achieved. I have no doubt there will be other sources inside the government who see extreme wrongdoing who are inspired by Edward Snowden.” It is not clear how many documents the new leakers shared or how much damage it caused as the documents shard are labeled “Secret” and “NOFORN” which means it was not shared with foreign government. That’s a lower classification than most of the documents leaked by Snowden. Government officials said he stole 1.7 million classified documents many of which were labeled “Top Secret” a higher classification for most important government secrets.

On Tuesday, Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri has proposed a new bill called the Motor Vehicle and Highway Safety Enhancement Act aimed to improve automotive safety following the high profile recalls of General Motors and Toyota, Autoblog reports, Senator Pushes For Up To Life Sentence For Auto Execs Found To Delay Recalls. The plan includes doubling the budget for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration over the next six years, removing the $35-million limit for fining automakers, and most importantly a provision to punish auto executives who knowingly delay recalls with a life sentence. McCaskill’s office told the Detroit News: “(The bill) gives federal prosecutors greater discretion to bring criminal prosecutions for auto safety violations and increases the possible penalties, including up to life in prison for violations that result in death.” If a delayed recall ends in serous injuries, execs could face a 15 year stint behind bars. By removing the limit on per-vehicle fines, the fine structure can be increased from $5,000 to $25,000 e.g. GM could have been hooked for $55 billion in fines for its ignition switch recall rather than just $35 million. According to The News, McCaskill said: “With millions of Americans behind the wheel every day, and more than 33,000 killed on our roads each year, we’ve got to do more to keep our cars and the roads we drive them on safe. Painful recent examples at Toyota and GM have shown us we also must make it easier to hold accountable those who jeopardize consumers’ safety. For too long, auto safety resources have remained virtually stagnant while cars and the safety challenges they present have become more complex.”

Relief for the VA, Paul Ryan Rants, Saving Chicago, DC Gun Laws and Fast Food Worker’s Rights

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After six weeks of negotiations, House and Senate negotiators have agreed to a compromise to fix a veterans health program scandalized by long patient wait times and falsified records covering up delays and deaths. Matthew Daly reports, After 6 weeks, finally a deal on VA health care, the chairman of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs committees will hold a news conference on Monday afternoon to unveil a plan to authorize billions in emergency spending to lease 27 new clinics, hire more doctors and nurses and make it easier for veterans who can’t get prompt appointments with VA doctors to get outside care. An agreement Sunday by Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), chairman of the House panel, and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the Senate veterans panel chair, was reached after many private meetings, no shows and public spats with only days left until Congress goes on a five week recess. A partisan impasse loomed which both sides hoped to avoid what Miller called the “sort of bickering and name-calling for which Washington has become infamous.” Three days later, via telephone from Florida and Vermont, Miller and Sanders were on the same page. The tentative deal requires a vote by a conference committee of House and Senate negotiators and a full vote in the House and Senate. The plan announced Monday, according to Miller and Sanders, is intended to “make VA more accountable and to help the department recruit more doctors, nurses and other health care professionals.” Luis Celli, legislative director for the American Legion, the nation’s largest veterans group, said on Sunday: “There is an emergency need to get veterans off the waiting lists. That’s what this is all about.” Tom Tarantino, chief policy officer of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said: “It’s about time they’re doing their jobs. You don’t get a medal for doing your job.” An updated audit by the VA this month shows 10 percent of veterans seeking medical care at VA hospitals and clinics still wait 30 days for an appointment with 46,000 veterans waiting at least three months for an initial appointment and an additional 7,00 veterans who asked for appointments over the past decade that never got them. The Senate and House are set to adjourn at the end of the week until September and lawmakers from both parties see the VA bill as a top priority. Meanwhile, the Senate is also expected to vote this week to confirm former Procter Gamble CEO Robert McDonald as the new VA secretary, replacing Gibson.

While one problem may potentially be resolved this week, on Sunday, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) condemned the federal government’s approach to poverty reduction claiming the Obama administration is responsible for the system that “perpetuates poverty” in America, according to Ashley Alman’s article Paul Ryan Accuses Obama Administration Of System That ‘Perpetuates Poverty.’ On NBC’s “Meet the Press” Ryan came to discuss his new poverty proposal involving consolidating 11 federal anti-poverty programs including food stamps and housing vouchers into one program coordinated by each state. Host David Gregory commented that Ryan sounded like he had little “sympathy” for impoverished Americans. Ryan responded by saying: “We don’t want to have a poverty management system that simply perpetuates poverty. The federal government’s approach has ended up maintaining poverty, managing poverty, in many ways it has disincentivized people from going to work. Able-bodied people should go to work, and we should have a system that helps them do that so that they can realize their potential.” Ryan announced his poverty proposal Thursday saying it is an opportunity for reform that would be “budget neutral.” However, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) disagrees: “The core idea of the Ryan proposal is not a new idea at all: it’s nothing more than a block grant gussied up with some bells and whistles. If you look at the block grant proposal in the context of the Ryan-Republican budget, it would dramatically slash the resources available to help struggling families.”

As families to continue to struggle to keep their heads above water, cities are not only struggling to keep people working, but keep gun violence to a minimum. Glenn Minnis reports, Can Noah’s Arc save streets of Chicago?, Joakim Noah, an NBA All Star Center, on Friday spoke to a room full of teens and adolescents at a Major Adams Community Center room about gun and gang violence culture so out of control it has brought his hometown of Chicago to its knees. Noah spoke of his motivation to start his “Stand up Chicago” campaign: “It’s very important that we understand that this is not just a problem that’s going on on the South Side, the violence is not a problem that’s going on on the West Side. This is a Chicago problem.” Noah also enlisted the help of teammate and Chi-town native Derrick Rose who appeared on a 60 second PSA for his initiative. Join by rapper and Chicago native Common, he states in the PSA: “I stand for my city.” In a statement on his Noah’s Arc Foundation site, Noah and his mom, Cecilia Rodhe, called on all Chicagoans to “take a stand against violence and become ambassadors for peace and positivity.” Over the first seven months of the year, 207 homicides have taken place in Chicago with the most recent incident on July 4 weekend where the L.A. Times reported at least 16 people killed and 82 injured over three and half days. In response, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms has added seven more ATF agents to its former roster of 45 in hopes of somehow of corralling all the madness, according to Minnis. Noah summed up the goal of his organization by saying: “As somebody who plays for the Bulls, I feel like I’m somebody who represents the city, and I think that helping our youth is important. The summer months bring a lot of violence, and we felt it was urgent to get a public service announcement out now in order to bring some hope, change and support to the community. We have to find a way together, whether you’re rich, poor, black, white, whatever you are, to come together and solve this together. To me personally, this is just as important as winning a championship.”

Meanwhile, gun advocates in Washington, D.C. this weekend celebrate following a federal judge ruling that struck down the city’s ban on handguns in public, the AOL article, D.C.’s gun laws take another hit in handgun carry ruling, explains. District Judge Frederick Scullin reached the conclusion many other district courts reached in similar cases: “The Second Amendment secures an individual right … to carry a common weapon outside the home for self-defense.” The ruling prevents D.C. officials from enforcing public gun bans until licensing regulations are put in place. In 2008 a Supreme Court decision, District of Columbia v. Heller, overturned the city’s total ban on handguns ruling the Second Amendment guarantees the right to own weapons for self-defense, AOL reports. The latest decision comes from an Aug. 2009 lawsuit that, according to SCOTUSblog notes, got tangled up in the D.C. district’s legal red tape for five years frustrating the plaintiffs. “The challengers to the D.C. law tried repeatedly to get a ruling, even asking a federal appeals court to step in to command that the case be decided.” In addition, Congress is challenging gun control in D.C. House Republicans approved an amendment to the district’s funding bill that would prevent D.C. from enforcing their gun laws. However, it will still be illegal to bring to a gun into a federal building. D.C. officials have yet to announce plans to appeal the ruling, but a spokesman told reporters the city is looking into options.

As the gun fight rages on, on Saturday, fast food workers across the nation voted to escalate efforts for $15 an hour pay and union membership using nonviolent civil disobedience. More than 1,300 workers came together at a convention center in Chicago to discuss the future of a campaign to spread to dozens of cities in less than two years, Tammy Webber reports, Fast Food Workers Vow Civil Disobedience. The Service Employee International Union provides financial and organizational support to fast food protests. They began in 2012 in New York City including daylong strikes and peaceful demonstrations outside this year’s McDonald’s Corp. shareholder meeting where 130 protestors were arrested for stepping onto company property. Saturday’s convention in Villa Park, Illinois, included session on civil disobedience and leadership training. Rev.William Barber II, head of the North Carolina NAACP, said: “People should not work and be willing to work and then be denied living wages and be denied health care because of greed. This movement is saying that America is less than she promises to be, morally and constitutionally, by denying living wages. If you raise wages for workers, you buoy the whole economy.” The movement comes as President Barack Obama and many other Democrats try to make a campaign issue out of their call to increase the federal and state minimum wage which stands at $7.25 an hour for federal wages or about $15,000 per year for40 hours a week. Obama and others want to increase it to $10.10. The restaurant industry argues that a $15 hourly wage would lead to business closing and job cuts. According to Webber: “The National Restaurant Association said last week that increasing wages to $15 will not solve income inequality and that the campaign was an attempt by unions to boost dwindling membership.” Scott DeFife, the association;s executive vice president of policy and government affairs, said protesters are “demonizing” an industry that employs all ages, backgrounds and skill levels instead of focusing on policies to increase education and job training. Unfortunately, many workers say that people stay in these jobs for years because they are the only ones available. Barber believes that “this movement is intensifying and it is going to shake the moral consciousness of this country.”