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February 26, 2013

Obama celebrates Hagel confirmation after Republican slowdown

President Obama hailed the confirmation of his pick for Defense Secretary Tuesday, saying with Chuck Hagel "we will have the defense secretary our nation needs and the leader our troops deserve."

Obama's statement noted that the vote was bipartisan -- the final tally was 58 to 41. But it came only after a weeks-long protracted fight in the Senate with Hagel's former Republican colleagues accusing him of being insufficiently supportive of Israel.

Obama stuck with Hagel amid calls for him to withdraw the nomination and said Tuesday that "from the moment he volunteered for military service in Vietnam, Chuck has devoted his life to keeping America secure and our armed forces strong."

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Obama talks spending cuts in military-rich Virginia

President Barack Obama journeyed to Virginia to prod Congress to halt looming across-the-board federal spending cuts, warning of the potential consequences on America’s armed forces and economy. But

“These cuts are wrong,” Obama said. “They’re not smart. They’re not fair. They’re a self-inflicted wound that doesn’t have to happen.”

Obama spoke to hundreds of enthusiastic Newport News Shipbuilding employees in a cavernous building where the front sections of nuclear submarines are built. The massive tip of a submarine situated on one side of the room was adorned with an American flag.

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20 senators to Kerry: Approve Keystone XL

Approve the Keystone XL pipeline in the next month, Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., and 19 other senators are saying in a letter to the new secretary of state, their former Senate colleague John Kerry.

(Full text of the Feb. 22 letter and Hagan's news release today is here. For the names of those who signed, click on the text link.)

The pipeline would carry oil from the tarsands of Alberta, Canada, to ports on the Gulf of Mexico in Texas (latest McClatchy story on it here). Environmentalists oppose the pipeline because of the heat-trapping emissions from producing and using the oil, and because of threats of spills along the line.

The bipartisan group of senators told Kerry to approve the pipeline quickly. “Further delay will continue to hurt job creation and may damage our relationship with Canada,” they write.

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Sen. Kay Hagan says informal Group of 20 looking for ideas on deficit reduction

Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., today said Republicans and Democrats need to get together soon on what she says should be a long-term and balanced way to trim the deficit and get rid of the automatic federal spending cuts.

Hagan told reporters in a conference call that she’s been talking to fellow senators from both parties, and has met in the past as part of a group of 20 of them. That informal group of 20 _ 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans _ has been looking to see if they can find ideas in proposals by Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson (whose latest suggestions are here. Simpson and Bowles say start with $1.5 trillion in spending cuts and later go on to more cuts and tax and entitlement reforms.

“Hopefully we can work together along those lines,” Hagan said. She said Congress often goes to the brink and then acts. That might not happen before the Friday deadline, she said, but look for more negotiations after that.

“The effects will be immediate and also long-term,” because the automatic cuts will extend for another nine years after this one, Hagan said. “Hopefully if something doesn’t take shape before Friday we will not say it’s a done deal (but) we will continue negotiating and working to solve this problem much sooner rather than later.”

Hagan told reporters she thought the automatic cuts, or sequestration, would be devastating to the military and threaten North Carolina’s fragile economic recovery.

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Watchdog group calls on Obama to shut down outside political group

The government watchdog group, Common Cause, is calling on President Obama to direct associates to shut down Organizing for Action, the independent organization supporters and former campaign aides created to raise money and push his domestic and foreign policies.

"If President Obama is serious about his often-expressed desire to rein in big money in politics, he should shut down Organizing for Action and disavow any plan to schedule regular meetings with its major donors," said Common Cause president Bob Edgar. "Access to the president should never be for sale."

Edgar said that OFA, which has reportedly promised big donors quarterly meetings with Obama, "apparently intends to extend and deepen the pay-to-play Washington culture that Barack Obama came to prominence pledging to end."

He called the White House's suggestion that the group is independent "laughable." He said any group associated with Obama should refuse all donations from lobbyists, corporations and unions, provide complete and prompt disclosure of all its donors and the amounts they contribute, and impose an annual limit of $32,400 on the amount of money it will accept from any individual or political action committee."

Top congressional budget Democrats make their case

Top Democrats on Congress' budget committees made their case for an alternative to the automatic spending cuts due to take effect Friday, arguing sequestration as planned "will threaten our economic recovery."

In an op ed in the Huffington Post, Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, explained how planned cuts "will slash critical investments in national priorities like education, law enforcement, and defense."

They complained that "Some of our colleagues think sequestration is inevitable. Others actually think it's a good idea. We disagree. We've been working to replace sequestration in a balanced and bipartisan way for the past year, and the only reason we haven't gotten a deal is because Republicans have insisted on protecting tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. We believe there is still a path to agreement -- but it is going to require true compromise from both sides."

They repeated familiar arguments--"Democrats believe that deficit reduction, and sequestration in particular, should be handled in a way that is balanced, fair for the middle class, and good for the economy. We certainly believe that we need to cut spending responsibly -- and are willing to make tough compromises to do so. But we also think that while families continue to struggle in this tough economy, the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations ought to be a part of the solution. To us, that's just common sense," they said.

To read more:

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Obama travels to Virginia to warn of spending cuts

President Obama will travel to Newport News, Va. Tuesday afternoon to talk about the potential effects of spending cuts on the defense industry.

Obama will be joined by Reps. Bobby Scott, D, and Scott Rigell, R, at Newport News Shipbuilding, a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries, the largest manufacturing employer in Virginia. U.S. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus will also be in attendance. HII’s supply base consists of 5,000 companies located in all 50 states, many of them small businesses, according to a White House official.

"That region, as everyone knows, will be particularly hard hit if the sequestration is allowed to take effect," White House spokesman Jay Carney said. "And the president, as he has in the past, hopes with this event to highlight the impact of sequester; and by doing so, hopes that attention will be brought to bear on that problem and the need for Congress to act responsibly to avoid it."

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Biden continues talks on gun control proposals

Vice President Joe Biden will meet Tuesday with retired military officials at the White House to discuss the administration’s proposals to reduce gun violence.

President Obama introduced a package of proposals, including banning assault weapons, limiting the capacity of ammunition magazines, requiring background checks on all gun purchases and spending millions more dollars on training, research and counseling. Much of the sweeping package needs approval from a divided, unenthusiastic Congress. 

On Wednesday, Biden will deliver remarks on the same topic at a meeting of the National Association of Attorneys General in Washington.

February 25, 2013

White House says access to Obama isn't for sale

Press Secretary Jay Carney insisted Monday that access to the White House isn't for sale -- though he didn't rule out that Obama would meet with big pocket donors to an outside political group that was created to push his agenda.

The remarks came as Carney was pressed about a New York Times story that said the group -- Organizing for Action -- will grant donors special access to the president. Carney gave reporters a flat "no" to a question of whether "access to the president is being sold."

Carney said OFA is an independent organization that will engage in "advocacy and grassroots mobilization activities around public policy issues" and won't be engaged in "political campaign related activities."

The Times reported that "giving or raising $500,000 or more puts donors on a national advisory board for Mr. Obama's group and the privilege of attending quarterly meetings with the president, along with other meetings at the White House."

Asked about whether that rose to the level of selling access to Obama, Carney said: "There are a variety of rules governing interaction between administration officials and outside groups, and administration officials follow those rules, White House and administration officials will not be raising money for Organizing for Action, and while they may appear at appropriate OFA events, in their official capacities they will not be raising money."

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Republican governors make their case to Obama, and get nowhere

Republican governors Monday were critical of both parties for the sequester crisis, and blasted President Barack Obama for not wanting more power to move money around.

They routinely make tough choices about spending, the governors argued, so why can't Washington?

The Republicans spoke to the media after chief executives from around the country, from both parties, met with Obama at the White House. The governors are in Washington for the National Governos Association winter meeting.

The Republicans said they asked Obama about flexibility and other spending reduction initiatives, but "the answers to everything we got was no," said South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.

"I cannot be more frustrated than I am right now," she said after the meeting. "My kids could find $83 billion out of a $4 trillion budget."

Obama, said Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, is not doing his job. "It is the president's job as chief executive to instruct his Cabinet to find ways to make these cuts."

Obama, he said "didn't want that," referring to flexibility to move money around. "As a leader," Jindal said, "he should want as much flexibility as he can get from Congress."

The automatic spending cuts that take effect Friday, he said, "is not a surprise. When did he ever go to his cabinet secretaries, his agency heads and say, 'What would be the least painful…way' We've all done that."

"The president doesn't want to have this debate," said Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.



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

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