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May 31, 2013

Acting IRS Commissioner: 2010 conference was "an unfortunate vestige from a prior era"

Acting IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel, hoping to soften the blow from another controversy involving the embattled agency, Friday said funds spent on a controversial 2010 conference were "inappropriate" and “an unfortunate vestige from a prior era.”

The 2010 conference was a lavish affair, and Republicans Friday released a video said to be IRS employees involved in a dance routine.

The Treasury Department’s Inspector General for Tax Administration has been studying IRS conferences in recent years, with special scrutiny given to the 2010 affair. The report is expected to be released Tuesday.

“While there were legitimate reasons for holding the meeting, many of the expenses associated with it were inappropriate and should not have occurred,” Werfel said. “Taxpayers should
take comfort that a conference like this would not take place today.

“Sweeping new spending restrictions have been put in place at the IRS, and travel and training expenses have dropped more than 80 percent since 2010 and similar large-scale meetings
did not take place in 2011, 2012 or 2013.”

Here’s the rest of Werfel’s statement:

Continue reading "Acting IRS Commissioner: 2010 conference was "an unfortunate vestige from a prior era"" »

White House: Asteroid poses no threat to "Planet Earth"

A giant asteroid is whizzing past Earth today -- but the White House said it's not a threat -- and it's unlikely that it prompted a presidential briefing.

"It's my understanding that scientists have concluded that the asteroid poses no threat to Planet Earth," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said from the lectern at the White House briefing room, laughing. "I never really thought I'd be standing up here saying that. But I guess I am."

Since the asteroid didn't pose a threat, Earnest said he was "not sure it necessitated a briefing to the president.'

But it did prompt the White House to host its second in a series of "We the Geeks" Google+Hangouts to talk asteroids with Bill Nye, the Science Guy, former astronaut Ed Lu, NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver, and others.

The White House says Obama's new budget calls for increased efforts by NASA to detect and "mitigate potentially hazardous asteroids" and that NASA is studying a robotic mission to capture and bring a small asteroid into a stable orbit just beyond the Moon.

Earnest told reporters Obama believes "scientific exploration and that the study of these kinds of asteroids is a worthwhile endeavor and certainly worth taking advantage of the opportunity."

White House names new drug "kingpins"

The White House has named six individuals and groups from across the globe as drug smugglers under the Kingpin Act, which freezes any assets in the U.S. the designees might have had and prevents Americans from doing business with them.

Those eligible for sanctions under the "Kingpin Act" include Mihael Karner of Slovenia, Haji Khotwal Noorzai of Afghanistan, Luis Fernando Sanchez Arellano and Los Caballeros Templarios of Mexico, Los Urabeños of Colombia and Los Cachiros of Honduras.

California fundraising to precede Obama meeting with Chinese president

President Obama will meet in California next week with Chinese President Xi Jinping -- after a pair of California fundraisers.

Obama will hold an event in San Jose on Thursday for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee; and one in Los Angeles on Friday for the Democratic National Committee. He and Xi will meet later at Sunnylands, the Walter and Leonore Annenberg estate, in Palm Springs.

Though Obama generally holds press availabilities with visiting dignitaries, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said a formal news conference was unlikely.

Earnest said the White House was "working through the logistics of the press setup" with its Chinese counterparts and that the White House was "working to try to make sure that there's an opportunity for the presidents to take a question or two."

Though Chinese presidents rarely take questions from the press, Earnest said it wasn't pressure from the Chinese that was slowing the setup, but "logistics." The event, he said, is "intended to be an informal gathering" for the two presidents.

Continue reading "California fundraising to precede Obama meeting with Chinese president" »

White House takes credit for good news on Medicare, credits health care

In a blog posting, the White House today took some credit for a Medicare Trustees report that provides what it called "good news for seniors and taxpayers."

The trustees reported that Medicare will be solvent through 2026, "nearly a decade longer than projected," when President Obama's health care bill passed, the White House said.

"Their annual report also shows that the long run actuarial deficit in the Hospital Insurance Trust Fund – a measure of its long-term fiscal health – has been cut by more than 70 percent since enactment of the health care law," the blog post says.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest called the trustees report "another piece of evidence to indicate that the strategy that the president has put forward ....is working.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's office begged to differ, sending out an email that archly suggested the White House "email must have truncated or something, because they left off some key points from the report." For example, it noted, "disability insurance (will be totally out of money within three years."

Obama to visit Charlotte area next week

President Barack Obama is visiting the Charlotte area next week as part of his “Middle Class Jobs & Opportunity Tour,” a White House official said.

The tour is part of goals outlined in his State of the Union address to “reignite” America’s middle class, which he called the true engine of America’s economic growth.

The president kicked off the tour in Austin earlier in May, visiting a high school and meeting with leaders of the high-tech industry. He's also visited Baltimore as part of the tour.

White House officials said Obama seeks to focus on three areas: jobs, skills and the opportunity needed to create good-paying, stable jobs that can support a middle-class family.

Details of the visit have not been disclosed, including whether it will be a closed event or whether there will be an opportunity for the general public to attend.

This will be the president’s first visit to Charlotte since last year’s Democratic National Convention.

First Democratic senate ad runs away from Obama agenda

Mark Pryor of Arkansas on Friday became the first Democratic senator to air a TV ad in advance of next year's elections. 

And that first ad is decidely anti-Barack Obama and his agenda.

In the statewide ad, Pryor defends his decision to vote against an amendment pushed by the president to expand background checks for firearm sales.

“Nothing in the Obama plan would have prevented tragedies like Newtown, Aurora, Tuscon or even Johanesboro," he says looking into the camera. "I’m Mark Pryor. And I approve this message because no one from New York or Washington tells me what to do. I listen to Arkansas.” 

The four Democrats that opposed the legislation have been targeted by gun control groups and even left-leaning groups who supported the amendment. 

Mayors Against Illegal Guns, founded by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, went on the air Thursday on radio and TV against Pryor. The group plans to send victims to his "Sportsmen Town Hall" in Little Rock Saturday to ask Senator Pryor to reconsider his vote on background checks.

"Mark Pryor had no problem listening to New Yorkers when he scooped up over a quarter of a million dollars for his campaigns from New York donors," said John Feinblatt, Mayors chairman and Bloomberg's chief policy advisor. "It's time for Senator Pryor to stop the hypocrisy and explain why he voted against a background check bill that 84 percent of Arkansans support."

Check out the ads below:

Continue reading "First Democratic senate ad runs away from Obama agenda" »

Hillary Clinton's favorability drops, but she remains "queen of the 2016 hill"

Is Hillary Clinton fading already?

A new Quinnipiac national poll found her favorability numbersm while still ove 50 percent, have dropped. "Her score is down ubstantially from her all-time high score in February," said assistant poll director Peter Brown. "The drop in her favorability is substantial among men, Republicans and independent voters."

One reason for the drop, he said, "may be that 48 percent of voters blame her either a little or a lot for the death of the American ambassador in Benghazi,” Brown added.

Clinton still does well. The former Secretary of State leads Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky 49 – 41 percent and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush 48 – 40 percent in trial matchups for the 2016 presidential race.

And she's still ahead of Vice President Joseph Biden, who trails Bush 44 – 38 percent and Paul 43 – 39 percent.

Continue reading "Hillary Clinton's favorability drops, but she remains "queen of the 2016 hill"" »

May 30, 2013

White House: Justice decided terms of the off-the-record meeting with media

One by one, major news organizations have pulled out of a meeting this week with Attorney General Eric Holder.

The reason? Holder wants the meeting to be off the record, meaning what is said would be secret.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Thursday that the Department of Justice decided on the ground rules for the meeting into various leak investigations, even though Obama directed Holder to hold the event.

Continue reading "White House: Justice decided terms of the off-the-record meeting with media" »

Obama returns -- briefly -- to gun control

We haven't heard much from Barack Obama about gun control since the Senate in April defeated a series of proposals the president had pushed.

But Wednesday night, Obama returned to the issue when speaking to supporters at a pair of fundraisers for House Democrats in Chicago.

"There are still kids just a few miles from here who are threatened by gun violence; who aren’t in a school that is giving them what they need to compete in this 21st century; and whose prospects are dim, if we’re honest -- not because they don’t have the innate capacity but because we as a society have decided that’s not our priority," he said at the first event. 

Continue reading "Obama returns -- briefly -- to gun control" »


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

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