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July 31, 2011

Senate chaplain calls on higher power for help as debt ceiling talks drag on

With the Senate and the White House bogged down in talks in an effort to keep the federal government from defaulting on its loan obligations Tuesday, Senate Chaplain Barry Black called upon a higher authority for help Sunday.

"Save us, O God, for the waters are coming in upon us," Black said in a prayer that opened the Senate's Sunday session. "We are weak from the struggle. Tempted to throw in the towel. But quitting is not an option."

"Fill our lawmakers with the spirit of your wisdom, guiding their footsteps to a desired destination," Black continued. "You are our strength and shield, and our hearts can safely trust in you. Save your people and bless their inheritance. We pray in your name. Amen."

July 30, 2011

Thoughts from senators leaving the chamber

Senators seem to be in for a long night tonight.

With the clock ticking towards Aug. 2-- the day the Treasury warns the country will run out of money to pay its bills-- the Senate is debating the latest plan that would lift the debt ceiling and cut spending by a slightly greater amount.  As the partisan debate continues over the plan, introduced by Majority Leader Harry Reid  (D-Nev.), several senators leaving the chamber for breaks shared their thoughts on the drama unfolding inside.

Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.):

Asked whether he thought a deal was in the cards: “I’m always optimistic. I used to sell real-estate for a living.”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.): 

"I'm not sure I understand what we're doing right now.  I really thought that they would be working on a bill this afternoon that they would pass, but it doesn't sound like they're talking to each other.  So maybe we need a mediator or a counselor."

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas):

Used the word “silliness” when asked to describe the earlier Reid-McConnell exchange in which both senators accused the other of dishonesty.

“I think both sides need to provide to their supporters that the Boehner bill obviously was tabled, but the Reid bill is dead, the House having voted to kill it and apparently Sen. Reid and his caucus are unwilling to accept reality. So I think that means the only way forward is to have some negotiated resolution using the Boehner bill which is still a vehicle that’s available. ” 

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.):

“At the end of the day, there are about five people that matter in this discussion right now and the rest of us are waiting until that concludes. But I think there is a lot of progress being made. A lot of progress. It doesn’t appear to me that Harry (Reid) likes that.”

“I think Mitch (McConnell) for obvious reasons (is) negotiating directly with the person who they feel they need to say grace over it at the end of the day and it appears to me that based on what I just saw on the floor, that maybe there’s some angst about that on the other side.”

Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.):
"It's disappointing as can be to have the discussion centered exclusively around the debt ceiling and not talk about what the cuts will mean...When people are poor or modest income, things are working against them-- inflation, the price of gas, and all these things.  And there are not any words of sypathy towards those people. We talk about achieving financial stability, but we also have to talk about moral stability."

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa):

Urged President Obama to consider using executive authority to issue more debt if a deal is not reached by the August 2 deadline. “There’s precedence for presidents to do things where the Constitution doesn’t give the President explicit authority but it doesn’t prohibit the president from doing it. And I believe there is a basis in the Fourteenth Amendment” to do such a thing. 

-Adam Sege and Daniel Lippman

July 29, 2011

Prez popularity drops to a new low

Is the ongoing tug of war over raising the debt ceiling denting President Barack Obama's popularity? A new Gallup daily tracking poll finds his approval rating is at a new low, averaging 40 percent in July 26-28.

Gallup says his prior low rating of 41 percent occurred several times, the last of which was in April. As recently as June 7, Obama had 50 percent job approval.

Florida Republican tweaks Barack Obama campaign Twitter

Reaching to the Twitterverse in hopes of moving votes, the president's 2012 campaign is Tweeting followers and asking them to Tweet their members of Congress in favor of the president's plan for lifting the debt ceiling.

"Kentucky voters," @BarackObama tweeted. "Tweet @SenRandPaul and ask him to compromise on a balanced deficit solution."

Florida Republican Rep. Tom Rooney, who was undecided on House Speaker John Boehner's plan, but today endorsed it, tweaked Obama back in a Tweet: "@BarackObama campaign thx for all the new followers!," Rooney Tweeted. "I've shared with them your plan: rooney.house.gov/images/stories."

The link goes to a blank page -- Republicans have accused the administration of lacking a plan to tackle the deficit. The White House calls the charge a fallacy and says Obama himself last week laid out the administration's markers.

High ranking Dem endorses Obama going it alone -- as a last resort

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer has added his voice to those suggesting that President Barack Obama invoke an obscure provision in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution to avoid plunging into a credit default.

"I think that certainly it's arguably in his power to do so under the Fourth Section of the 14th Amendment," Hoyer said on MSNBC, adding that he "would not suggest it now.

He said Obama's legal team has advised "that it would be at best questionable." But Hoyer said, "If it came down to his looking default in the eye on Tuesday or taking this action as President Clinton said -- better to take the action and find out later that perhaps he went beyond his authority but at least protected the credit worthiness of the United States of America."

July 28, 2011

Florida Rep. Dennis Ross among the GOP freshman to tell John Boehner "no"

U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla, took the bold step today of saying "no" to House Speaker John Boehner.

Ross was among the freshman Republicans who told Boehner, R-Ohio, that he wouldn't be voting for the speaker's debt-ceiling proposal. Republicans struggled Thursday to find enough votes within their own ranks to pass a GOP plan to cut future deficits and raise the nation's debt limit — even though their party leaders were solidly behind the plan. And even though recalcitrant Republicans marched in and out of Boehner's office Thursday for arm-twisting sessions.

Ross had this to say on Facebook about his decision: "Let me just say, that it makes me sadly chuckle on the inside when I hear folks who were here in DC when pres. Bush didn't pay for the wars, raised discretionary spending by more than most Democrat Presidents, and generally approved budgets that led us down this path, tell me that "I don't get it." -- and I mean folks in MY party."

Boehner postponed an early evening vote on the debt ceiling to continue to twist arms. Instead, he and other leaders worked furiously to persuade 217 Republicans to vote for passage.

Jackson says Obama victim of Southside Chicago bias on debt vote

Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., D-Ill., took to the House floor Thursday and offered his own theory on why President Barack Obama is having a hard time getting Congress to raise the federal debt ceiling: bias.

"And there is something else more fundamental, Mr. Speaker, going on here," Jackson said. "This president is being treated more differently than other presidents."

Pointing out that no other president has had this much trouble getting the debt ceiling raised, Jackson added: "No other president has been stook-up, shook-down, or held hostage as president of the United States over this debt vote. This is fundamentally unfair, Mr. Speaker, to change the rules in the middle of the game."

When asked by McClatchy Newspapers what he meant, Jackson said he believes that Obama  the victim of "institutional bias"  - because he comes from the south side of Chicago. In the written version of his floor statement Jackson said "President Obama should be treated like all other presidents; Republicans didn't like President Bill Clinton either - because of his political ideology - but they never hijacked the economy over passing a clean debt bill."

"Treating President Obama differently than all past presidents reflects an 'institutional bias' against the Southside of Chicago," Jackson's wrote in his statement. "Rep. Joe Wilson reflected the same institutional bias when, in an unprecedented manner, he called President Obama 'a liar' in the middle of his State of the Union address. Speaker John Boehner reflected a similar insitutional bias when he said he and the president had the same responsibility - equating his job as Speaker of the House (a legislative function) with the job of President of the United States (an executive function)."

Jackson added: "Doubting the birthplace of Barack Obama, doubting his Christian faith and experience, calling him a Muslim and a  socialist reflects this same institutional bias."





Voters continue to swamp Congress' websites, phones

Clearly the debt ceiling debate has hit a nerve. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.'s office said they received more than 55,700 responses to an e-mail he sent out Tuesday night to constituents asking them for their thoughts on the debt plans.

In the 24 hours afterward, Nelson's office was swamped by the more than 55,700 personal responses from the 125,000 folks who got his e-mail, his office said. That was on top of the 8,000 unsolicited e-mails the office received from people who responded to President Barack Obama's request Monday night to reach out to Congress to make their voices heard on the debt ceiling debate.

Thousands of callers with opinions on how to solve the debt crisis flooded the Capitol switchboard Tuesday, and email traffic swamped congressional servers on both sides of the aisle.

The House of Representatives is set to vote this evening on its plan, but Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is having trouble pulling together enough votes for passage. Questions about the congressional impasse have led some to ask whether the president could act without Congress.

National Science Foundation mourns death of Arctic ambassador

The head of the National Science Foundatoin's Office of Polar Programs today issued a statement expressing the sadness of the Arctic science community over the death of Caleb Pungowiyi of northwest Alaska earlier this week (Anchorage Daily News blog item here).

Pungowiyi, 69, held a number of official positions as a Native American voice on Arctic science commissions.

In the statement NSF's Karl A. Erb said that one of his contributions was voicing the concerns of Northern people about climate change:

Addressing a 2003 scientific meeting in Seattle, he said:

"We know this word anomaly that you scientists often use and we know how to live with it, when things go strange, when something is unusual. It happens all the time. But we always expect things go back to "normal" next year or a year after. This time things are not coming back to normal year after year after year. We are waiting and waiting, and it's still not 'normal'; that scares us."

Dems to keep pushing for Obama to go it alone

Some Democrats have suggested that President Barack Obama can make an end run around a bickering Congress and use the U.S. Constitution to raise the nation's debt ceiling himself to stave off default.

The White House says it's researched -- and discounted -- the idea of invoking the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, but that's not stopping Dems from bringing it up. New York Dem. Eliot Engel is the latest, he's got a press conference on the measure scheduled for today: at the corner of 14th Street and Constitution Avenue.

"It's a last resort, but it's better than no resort," Engel said on MSNBC.


"Planet Washington" covers politics and government. It is written by journalists in McClatchy's Washington Bureau.

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