Obama Statement on CFPB

President Obama just released this statement on the Senate filibuster of Richard Cordray:

THE PRESIDENT:  Good morning, everybody.  A couple of days ago I said that we are in a make-or-break moment when it comes to America’s middle class.  We either have a country where everybody fends for themselves, or we create a country where everybody does their fair share, everybody has got a fair chance, and we ensure that there’s fair play out there.

    Now, to ensure fair play, one of the things that I talked about was the importance of making sure we implement financial reform, Wall Street reform that was passed last year.  And a key component of that was making sure that we have a consumer watchdog in place who can police what mortgage brokers and payday lenders and other non-bank financial entities are able to do when it comes to consumers.

    This is a big deal.  About one-in-five people use these kinds of mechanisms to finance everything from buying a house to cashing their checks.  And we passed a law last year that said we need this consumer watchdog in place to make sure that people aren’t taken advantage of.

    Now, we have nominated somebody — Richard Cordray, former attorney general and treasurer of Ohio — who everybody says is highly qualified.  The majority of attorney generals, Republican and Democrat, from across the country have said this is somebody who can do the job with integrity, who has a tradition of being a bipartisan individual who looks out for the public interest, and is ready to go.  And he actually helped set up the Consumer Finance Protection Board.

    This morning, Senate Republicans blocked his nomination, refusing to let the Senate even go forward with an up or down vote on Mr. Cordray.  This makes absolutely no sense.

    Consumers across the country understand that part of the reason we got into the financial mess that we did was because regulators were not doing their jobs.  People were not paying attention to what was happening in the housing market; people weren’t paying attention to who was being taken advantage of.  There were folks who were making a lot of money taking advantage of American consumers.

    This individual’s job is to make sure that individual consumers are protected — everybody from seniors to young people who are looking for student loans, to members of our Armed Services who are probably more vulnerable than just about anybody when it comes to unscrupulous financial practices.

    There is no reason why Mr. Cordray should not be nominated, and should not be confirmed by the Senate, and should not be doing his job right away in order to carry out his mandate and his mission.

    So I just want to send a message to the Senate:  We are not giving up on this.  We’re going to keep on going at it.  We are not going to allow politics as usual on Capitol Hill to stand in the way of American consumers being protected by unscrupulous financial operators.  And we’re going to keep on pushing on this issue.

    Now, the second thing I want to make clear about is that, with respect to the payroll tax — you guys have all seen our countdown clock behind us.  This is about doing — making sure that everybody is doing their fair share and that the middle class does not see their taxes go up by $1,000 in 23 days.

    And we’ve heard recently some intimations from the Senate Majority Leader and from the Speaker of the House — or the Senate Minority Leader and the Speaker of the House that they think we should do a payroll tax, but the question is what price will they extract from the President in order to get it done.

And I just want to make clear:  This is not about me.  They shouldn’t extend the payroll tax cut for me.  They shouldn’t extend unemployment insurance for me.  This is for 160 million people who, in 23 days, are going to see their taxes go up if Congress doesn’t act.  This is for 5 million individuals who are out there looking for a job and can’t find a job right now in a tough economy who could end up not being able to pay their bills or keep their house if Congress doesn’t act.

So rather than trying to figure out what can they extract politically from me in order to get this thing done, what they need to do is be focused on what’s good for the economy, what’s good for jobs and what’s good for the American people.

And I made very clear I do not expect Congress to go home unless the payroll tax cut is extended and unless unemployment insurance is extended.  It would be wrong for families, but it would also be wrong for the economy as a whole.

With that, I’m going to take a couple of questions.  Ben.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  It’s a very busy time.  If I may, I’d like to ask you about two other important issues in the news.  Republican candidates have taken aim at your approach to foreign policy, particularly the Middle East and Israel, and accused you of appeasement.  I wanted to get your reaction to that.  And also, I’m wondering if you personally intervened in any way in halting the sale of the “morning after” pill to those under 17, and whether you think politics trumps science in this case.

THE PRESIDENT:  Ask Osama bin Laden and the 22-out-of-30 top al Qaeda leaders who’ve been taken off the field whether I engage in appeasement.  Or whoever is left out there, ask them about that.

With respect to the Plan B, I did not get involved in the process.  This was a decision that was made by Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of HHS.

I will say this, as the father of two daughters.  I think it is important for us to make sure that we apply some common sense to various rules when it comes to over-the-counter medicine.  And as I understand it, the reason Kathleen made this decision was she could not be confident that a 10-year-old or an 11-year-old go into a drugstore, should be able — alongside bubble gum or batteries — be able to buy a medication that potentially, if not used properly, could end up having an adverse effect.  And I think most parents would probably feel the same way.

So the expectation here is — I think it’s very important to understand that, for women, for those over 17, this continues to be something that you can go in and purchase from a drugstore.  It has been deemed safe by the FDA.  Nobody is challenging that. When it comes to 12-year-olds or 13-year-olds, the question is can we have confidence that they would potentially use Plan B properly.  And her judgment was that there was not enough evidence that this potentially could be used improperly in a way that had adverse health effects on those young people.

Q    Do you fully support the decision?


Q    Mr. President, is a recess appointment for Richard Cordray on the table, number one.  And number two, the Italian Prime Minister, the new Prime Minister indicated today he may be coming to the White House next month.  Do you think he and other European leaders are stepping up in the way you’ve urged them to, to sort of clear up the debt crisis?

THE PRESIDENT:  I will not take any options off the table when it comes to getting Richard Cordray in as director of the Consumer Finance Protection Board.  And I want to repeat what I said earlier:  This is a law that was passed by Congress that I signed into law that is designed solely to protect American consumers.

I don’t think there’s any consumer out there — I don’t think there’s any American out there — who thinks that the reason we got into the big financial mess that we did was because of too much regulation of Wall Street or the financial services industry.  I take it back.  I’m sure there are some folks in the financial service industry who make that argument, although I’m not sure that they make it with a straight face.

So let’s just take a very specific example:  All the families out there who have now lost their home, after having paid their mortgage over and over again, because they were told that they could afford this home; they didn’t understand all the documentation that was involved — this was peddled deliberately to them, even though a mortgage broker might have known that there was no way that they could keep up with these payments — and now they’re out on the street because nobody was making sure that there’s fair play and fair dealing in the mortgage industry on it.  Now, why wouldn’t we want to have somebody just to make sure that people are being treated fairly?  Especially when not only is that family affected, but our whole economy is affected.

This is part of what I was talking about a couple of days ago.  We have a Congress right now, Republicans in Congress right now, who seem to have entirely forgotten how we got into this mess.  And part of the reason was because we did not empower our regulators to make sure that they were ensuring fair play.  That’s what the Consumer Finance Protection Board is designed to do.

    We had Holly Petraeus, wife of General Petraeus, who’s been working to make sure that our Armed Services personnel aren’t taken advantage of.  They get transferred to a base, and next thing they know they’re taking out loans that they think are a good deal, but it turns out that they’re paying 100-150-200 percent interest rates.  Why wouldn’t we want somebody in place to make sure that doesn’t happen?  It doesn’t make any sense.

    So the bottom line is — you asked about the recess appointment — we’re going to look at all our options.  My hope and expectation is, is that the Republicans who blocked this nomination come to their senses.  And I know that some of them have made an argument, well, we just want to sort of make some modifications in the law.  Well, they’re free to introduce a bill and get that passed.

    But part of what’s happened over on Capitol Hill — not just on this issue, but on every issue — is they will hold up nominations, well-qualified judges aren’t getting a vote — I’ve got assistant secretaries to the Treasury who get held up for no reason, just because they’re trying to see if they can use that to reverse some sort of law that’s already been passed.  And that’s part of what gets the American people so frustrated — because they don’t feel like this thing is on the level.

    Q    The European crisis, do you have any sense —

    THE PRESIDENT:  Oh, on the European debt crisis — I am obviously very concerned about what’s happening in Europe.  I’ve expressed those concerns repeatedly to President Sarkozy, Chancellor Merkel, all the key leaders involved.  I think they now recognize the urgency of doing something serious and bold.  The question is whether they can muster the political will to get it done.

    Look, Europe is wealthy enough that there’s no reason why they can’t solve this problem.  It’s not as if we’re talking about some impoverished country that doesn’t have any resources, and is being buffeted by the world markets, and they need to come hat in hand and get help.  This is Europe, with some of the wealthiest countries on Earth; collectively one of the largest markets on Earth, if not the largest.  And so if they muster the political will, they have the capacity to settle markets down, make sure that they are acting responsibly, and that governments like Italy are able to finance their debt.

And I think that Chancellor Merkel has made some progress with other European leaders in trying to move towards a fiscal compact where everybody is playing by the same rules and nobody is acting irresponsibly.  I think that’s all for the good, but there’s a short-term crisis that has to be resolved to make sure that markets have confidence that Europe stands behind the euro.

And we’re going to do everything we can to push them in a good direction on this, because it has a huge impact on what happens here in the United States.  They are our largest trading partner, and we’re seeing some positive signs in our economy, but if we see Europe tank, that obviously could have a big impact on our ability to generate the jobs that we need here in the United States.

    I’m going to answer one last question.  Kristen — Kristen Welker.

    Q    Mr. President, thank you.  You just called on Congress not to leave until they resolve this issue over the payroll tax cuts and unemployment insurance benefits.  Can you say definitively that you will postpone your own vacation until these two matters are resolved?

And also, on Iran, we’ve heard some sharper language from members of your administration about Iran recently.  Are you intentionally trying to ramp up the pressure on Iran?  And given that you stated that no options are off the table, should we take that to mean that you are considering some other options?

    THE PRESIDENT:  No options off the table means I’m considering all options.

    Q    Can you tell us specifically what those options might be?

    THE PRESIDENT:  No.  But what I can say with respect to Iran, I think it’s very important to remember, particularly given some of the political noise out there, that this administration has systematically imposed the toughest sanctions on Iraq — on Iran ever.

When we came into office, the world was divided, Iran was unified and moving aggressively on its own agenda.  Today, Iran is isolated, and the world is unified in applying the toughest sanctions that Iran has ever experienced.  And it’s having an impact inside of Iran.  And that’s as a consequence of the extraordinary work that’s been done by our national security team.

    Now, Iran understands that they have a choice:  They can break that isolation by acting responsibly and foreswearing the development of nuclear weapons, which would still allow them to pursue peaceful nuclear power, like every other country that’s a member of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, or they can continue to operate in a fashion that isolates them from the entire world.  And if they are pursuing nuclear weapons, then I have said very clearly, that is contrary to the national security interests of the United States; it’s contrary to the national security interests of our allies, including Israel; and we are going to work with the world community to prevent that.

    With respect to my vacation, I would not ask anybody to do something I’m not willing to do myself.  So I know some of you might have been looking forward to a little sun and sand — (laughter) — but the bottom line is, is that we are going to stay here as long as it takes to make sure that the American people’s taxes don’t go up on January 1st, and to make sure that folks who desperately need unemployment insurance get that help. And there’s absolutely no excuse for us not getting it done.

    Keep in mind, on the payroll tax cut, this is something that Democrats and Republicans agreed to last year with little fanfare, and it was good for the economy.  And independent economists estimate that for us to not extend it right now — to not extend payroll tax cut, not extend unemployment insurance — would have a significant, adverse impact on our economy, right at a time when we’re supposed to be growing the economy.

    So when I hear the Speaker or the Senate Republican leader wanting to dicker, wanting to see what can they extract from us in order to get this done, my response to them is, just do the right thing:  Focus on the American people, focus on the economy right now.

I know the suggestion right now is, is that somehow, well, this Keystone issue will create jobs.  That’s being determined by the State Department right now, and there is a process.  But here’s what I know:  However many jobs might be generated by a Keystone pipeline, they’re going to be a lot fewer than the jobs that are created by extending the payroll tax cut and extending unemployment insurance.

Get it done.  And if not, maybe we’ll have a white Christmas here in Washington.   And I look forward to spending a lot of time with you guys — (laughter) — between now and the New Year.

    All right.  Thank you, guys.

Social Security: Get On The Phone Tuesday And Wednesday And Help Fight Cuts

So it’s been about three weeks since we last had this conversation, but once again we have to take action to try to keep Social Security from being the victim of “deficit fever”.

I know that doesn’t make a lot of sense, considering the disconnect between Social Security and the deficit-but once again it’s “Continuing Resolution” time on Capitol Hill, where some use the threat of an impending shutdown of the Federal Government to extract concessions from the other side…and some on the other side try to make points with the voters by out-conceding their opponents.

So Tuesday and Wednesday of next week, there’s a national push on to get voters to call their Senators and remind them to vote for an Amendment that is a big ol’ “I’m not willing to cut Social Security just because other people philosophically want to cut Government any way they can” kind of reassurance to the voters, and I’m here to encourage you, once again, to make a couple phone calls and do some pushing of your own.

I’ve also been storing up a couple somewhat facetious random thoughts which will be the “garnish” for today’s dish; you’ll see them pop up as we go along.

First, the I’m A Bit Confused Dept.: There’s an ad currently running on TV for a drug called Intuniv.  The drug is for children who are suffering from ADHD, and the visual image features a mother coming out the doors of the school with her “now-perfectly-behaved” 11- or 12-year-old child.

What comes next is the warning that the drug might-well, I’ll just quote the Intuniv website…

“Patients should not drive or operate heavy equipment until understanding how INTUNIV affects them”

…and every time I see the ad I think that if my 11-year-old could drive and operate heavy machinery I might suggest giving the other kids ADHD so they, too, could grow up and have a valuable skill of their own one day.

As we discussed “above the fold”, the Strengthen Social Security folks are doing a nationwide Senate call-in Tuesday and Wednesday to drum up support for passage of S.AMDT.207, the Sanders-Reid Social Security Protection Amendment, and they’ve created a process to painlessly put you directly in touch with both of your Senators, even if you have no idea who they might be.

I tried it out myself, just to see what would happen, and here’s how it works:

You call the phone number (1-866-251-4044) and the friendly automated phone voice automatically determines your location and then informs you that you “are represented by Senators [insert names here]”-and all of this without your having to navigate a menu or push a button.

The friendly phone voice then tells you to choose a Senator (“…push one or two…”), and you’re then directly connected to that office. Before you go, you’re encouraged to call back and leave a message with your other Senator as well…and you’re also offered “the commercial”: a fairly precise (roughly) 10-second script for a message that you might choose to leave, suggesting that your Senator vote for that Sanders-Reid Amendment.

I have a plan to make nuclear reactors in this country safer, and to do it fast: every Member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, everyone who votes on granting or renewing plant licenses, every nuclear power plant inspector, and the top executives of any nuclear licensee…should all be required to move into on-site housing at the nuclear power plants they’re in charge of within one year.

(This idea might also be adapted to improve the lives of nursing home residents, and it’s the same kind of “enforced safety” thinking that led to the old rule that Army paratroopers had to pack their own parachutes.)

We’ve made other calls like this recently, and just like before, the goal here is to keep the pressure on, and to remind all 100 Senators that they all have voters who absolutely do not want cuts in Social Security, and that this is not the time to be trying to sneak something in under cover of “Continuing Resolution” darkness.

So there you go: on Tuesday and Wednesday call the handy number (1-866-251-4044), let the automated voice guide you to your Senators, tell them you want them to vote for the Sanders-Reid Amendment…and while you have them on the phone, don’t be afraid to suggest that nuclear power plant on-site housing idea either.

Fighting for want you want is a process, not something that happens all in one day, and you should expect more messages like this one as we go along, asking you to make your voice heard-but you should also keep in mind that we’ve been doing pretty well so far, and when we speak, we’re being heard.

So make those calls, apply that pressure…and let’s win this thing.

FULL DISCLOSURE: This post was written with the support of the CAF State Blogger’s Network Project.

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On How To Honor The Brave, Or, Why We Hate Republicans

( – promoted by John Morgan)

We are coming down to the end of the 111th Congress, and we are all surprised that a number of things actually got done: a nuclear arms reduction treaty appears to be on the verge of approval, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed; we have new health care and financial reforms (admittedly, they’re imperfect solutions, but…), food safety reform, a better way to do student loans, and a credit card reform act that’s forcing issuers to spend thousands of labor hours to develop new and better ways to work over consumers.

And yet there is one important bit of legislation that is still being blocked by Republicans, and, amazingly enough, it’s a bill that would provide health care and compensation for those people who ran down to the World Trade Center site on September 11th, and for months thereafter, in the effort to rescue and recover victims, and to restore normal operations in the city after the attack.

Yes, folks, you heard me correctly: the Party of waving flags and “Second Amendment solutions” and tri-cornered hats and Rudy (“noun, verb, 9/11”) Giuliani is now engaged in a desperate battle to screw over the very 9/11 first responders that you would think they would be…well, putting up on a stage somewhere next to Rudy Giuliani.

“…no! You hear me? You go to Hell! You go to Hell and you die!”

–“Mr. Garrison”, as “Mr. Hat”, talking to “Kyle”, from the television show South Park

It’s HR 847, also known as the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, that we’re talking about here, and it’s intended to provide health care coverage and compensation for the police, firefighters, trade workers (lots of carpenters, electricians, plumbers, operating engineers, steelworkers, and others worked on the site after the planes hit), and nearby residents who have been experiencing a litany of cancers, heart disease, respiratory, and neurological problems over the past several years.

Who, you might ask, is James Zadroga, that they should name an Act after him?

He carried NYPD badge number 6663, and Detective Zadroga was one of those who was part of the initial World Trade Center response that morning; they were able to get about 25,000 people out of the buildings alive and basically unhurt.

He was actually inside 7 World Trade Center as it began to collapse, but he got out of there that day; according to the Officer Down Memorial Page website he spent another 470 hours sifting through the debris.

Here’s something else the website says about the man:

“Shortly after finishing his rescue and recovery work at the World Trade Center, Detective Zadroga developed a chronic cough, shortness of breath, acid reflux, and was plagued by headaches. Within months he required oxygen tanks to breathe as well as other medicines to slow the deterioration of his health. His condition continued to worsen and Detective Zadroga was granted a 75% pay disability pension on November 1, 2004.

Detective Zadroga died on January 6, 2006, as a result of respiratory disease, black lung disease, and mercury on the brain. His death was directly linked to his work at Ground Zero.”

So why is a New York City cop’s biography an issue?

Well, for a variety of reasons, Zadroga, and others in similar situations, aren’t getting their health care paid for; this is often because their health insurers claim that this is an industrial insurance problem. (The industrial insurance folks, by the way, are fighting 40% of those claims.)

Beyond that, lots of the victims are losing the ability to work altogether, which means they’re getting by on either unemployment or disability payments, which means they’re in danger of losing their homes and cars and the ability to continue their former lives.

And, of course, some of these folks have died, and there are claims that have been made by survivors.

The Zadroga Bill would compensate these folks for what happened to them-and you wouldn’t think helping out the cops and firefighters and volunteers who helped dig out the World Trade Center site would be that big a deal…especially since all those Republicans are so big on supporting the troops and waving the flag and landing on aircraft carriers and accomplishing missions and all that kind of stuff.

As it turns out, that’s not the case.

Instead, every single Senate Republican, with the exception of Illinois’ Mark Kirk, has chosen not to support the bill.

And to really show just how ironic they could be, Republicans chose Senator (and Doctor) Tom Coburn of Oklahoma to announce that he would personally block the bill to provide “healthcare for heroes”:

“…this is a bill that’s been drawn up and forced through Congress at the end of the year on a basis to solve a problem that we didn’t have time to solve and we didn’t get done.”

(We are obligated to note that Coburn’s “end of the year” comment is a giant load of hooey: In June, the Senate Health Committee held a hearing on the bill; Coburn is a member of that Committee but he did not show up for the hearing.)

So with everything else getting done in the lame-duck session, what’s the problem with helping cops and firefighters and volunteer cleanup workers?

At first, of course, Republicans demanded that rich people had to get their tax cuts first, then they said they couldn’t support closing tax loopholes to pay for the bill. After that, Fox News tried to get roughly 20 Republican Senators to come on and explain their objections.

Every one refused, a fact Shepard Smith brought to the attention of the Fox Nation by naming them all on the air. In fact, things are so bad that Smith and Chris Wallace had this exchange of opinions one night:

Smith: “Who’s going to hold these people’s feet to the fire? We’re able to put a 52-story building so far down there at Ground Zero, we’re able to pay for tax cuts for billionaires who don’t need them and it’s not going to stimulate the economy. But we can’t give health care to Ground Zero first responders who ran right into the fire? You know how do they how do they sleep at night after this vote on uh ground zero first responders from 9/11? Are they going to get that done or are we going to leave these American heroes out there to twist in the wind?”

Wallace: “Well, it’s a good question and it’s a national shame. The idea that, you know, the people who were there were the first responders after 9/11 and have had health problems as a result — you would think if you are going to take care of all of these other things – and they were gonna pass these earmarks and name buildings and post offices after people – that they would take care of some authentic American heroes. But, that I don’t know what the deal is and whether they will get to that or not.”

Smith: “[T]hese people ran to ground zero to save people’s lives and we are not even going to give ’em medicine for the illness that they got down there? It’s disgusting – it’s a national disgrace – it’s a shame – and everybody who voted against it should have to stand up for and account for himself or herself. Is anybody going to hold them accountable?”

To his credit, Rudy Giuliani has been out there this past week, working the media, calling for the bill to pass:

“This should not be seen as a Democratic or Republican issue. It shouldn’t even been seen as a fiscal issue. This is a matter of morality, it’s a matter of obligation…”

So what can you do about all this?

It appears there may be a vote today; the more pressure we exert, the more shameful it becomes to be Tom Coburn, John Kyl, and Mitch McConnell-and if you want to give a Christmas gift to a bunch of real, live, genuine heroes, here’s your chance to do it.

Tom Coburn’s Washington DC Senate office phone number is 202-224-5754, and I’m sure the staff would love nothing better than to spend the entire day hearing what y’all have to say about this situation. When you’re done, Jon Kyl’s Washington number is 202-224-4521-and for those who wish to make a statement with art, he accepts faxes as well, at 202-224-2207.

It’s hard to imagine how Republicans can top screwing over rescue workers at Christmas-but with a bit of effort and imagination, I’m sure it won’t be long before Dana Perino is on “Fox and Friends” defending something even more heinous in the name of Truth, Justice, and the American Way.

These are indeed interesting times, and I just can’t wait to see what’s next.

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Stop the Senate from Gutting the Clean Air Act!

Just when you thought the U.S. Senate couldn't do any less for clean energy and the environment than it's (not) done so far, we now face the real possibility of what would amount to a “stop-work order” on the 40-year-old, wildly successful (e.g., studies finding benefits outweighing costs at a 40:1 ratio), Clean Air Act.

That's right: believe it or not, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) is moving ahead with a sequel to Sen. Lisa Murkowski's nefarious attempt, earlier this summer, to gut the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)'s power to protect the public health from dangerous pollutants, including harmful greenhouse gases.  Just as bad, Rockefeller's proposal would keep America addicted to oil and other old, polluting energy technologies, while delaying or derailing our switch to a clean, prosperous energy economy.  

Essentially, what Rockefeller is proposing would tell the EPA – at least for two years, although we know that justice delayed is often justice denied! – that it has to be asleep at the switch, that it must not hold polluters accountable, that it must look the other way whole Big Oil and Big Coal trash the environment. Is that the lesson the Senate learned from the Gulf of Mexico disaster?  Really?

Fortunately, not everyone is so clueless as the U.S. Senate appears to be right now.  For instance, in yesterday's Politico, two energy investors – one Democrat, one Republican – explained what's at stake in clear, compelling language.

We are not experts in vote counting or horse trading. But we do know how investors and markets will respond if Congress ultimately fails to put a market-based price on carbon. The response from capital will be brutal: Money will flow to places like China, Europe and India — and U.S. jobs will go with it.

The path to creating more U.S. jobs is simple: Pass legislation that eliminates uncertainty and levels the playing field, and investors will fund projects that create good jobs here at home. Rules bring certainty, certainty spurs investment, and investment creates jobs.


Take it from investors: Removing the uncertainty, and taking a more thoughtful approach to energy policy by putting a market price on carbon, can bring home new investments and jobs — and ensure that America leads the clean energy economy.

Instead, it now looks like the Senate not only won't be moving us forwards, but instead will be trying to move us significantly – and disastrously – backwards. What's truly stunning about this possibility is that, right now, the science of climate change is clearer and more disturbing than ever.  Heat waves are getting worse, the ice caps are shrinking faster than ever, and scientists are telling us that the world is setting new temperature records almost every month, every year, and every decade.   In addition, the results of our insatiable thirst for fossil fuels were demonstrated starkly and tragically, both in a West Virginia coal mine as well as in the Gulf of Mexico, on TV screens all across America in recent months.  As if all this isn't bad enough, we also could run out of water.

The American people know this situation can't go on. In fact, recent polls show large majorities supporting an energy bill that would “[l]imit pollution, invest in domestic energy sources and encourage companies to use and develop clean energy…by charging energy companies for carbon pollution in electricity or fuels like gas.” In other words, this is a case where good policy – limiting greenhouse gas emissions, enhancing our national security, safeguarding public health, jumpstarting a clean energy revolution – and good politics – strong poll results for doing just that – appear to align.  Yet, the U.S. Senate appears ready to ignore both good policy and good politics, and actually move to make matters worse by gutting the EPA and letting polluters like BP off the hook.

Don’t let them do it.  Call your Senators right now and tell them “hell no” to the “Let Polluters Pollute with Impunity Act.”  Also, while you’re at it, call the White House and tell President Obama that, if such a measure reaches his desk, he will veto it – no ifs, ands, or buts.

Take action today for a cleaner, stronger, and more sustainable future. Join NRDC Action Fund on Facebook and Twitter and stay up-to-date on the latest environmental issues and actions you can take to help protect our planet.

My Kids Are Losers: Commentary on the Climate Debate

The climate bill blame game has begun. When I first started writing this post about the so-called death of the climate bill, I literally pointed the finger at just about everyone, including myself. The anger poured out, and I was frank in my assessment as well as unforgiving in the motives behind this latest setback.

After I was done with my self-loathing tantrum, the kids ran in the door from camp and I was swept up in the lovely reality of my family's banter. It is summer, so the pace in our home is a bit more relaxed in the evening. We aren't quite as quick to rush through dinner, toss the kids in a bath, and then march them off to bed. Ice cream and extra cuddles are relished, and I am reminded each year at this time why I do this job.

Later, after progeny were tucked in, I went back to my draft blog post to spruce it up. I reread my rage, disappointment, and irrational ramblings and was embarrassed. And I asked myself “What good is all this blame going to do?”

At the end of the day, it is my kids – and your kids – who lose when we implode. If you think kids have a lot to say about their parents now on Dr. Phil, can you imagine what our children will say in 50 years should we fail to get our act together?

The country should be ready for this. The facts are on our side. As we witness the worst industry-caused environmental catastrophe in our history, the worst coal mining disaster in 40 years, and sweat through the hottest first 6 months of any year on record, it is clear that there's never been a more urgent time to move forward with a smart clean energy and climate plan.

Unfortunately, the politicians just aren't there. At every juncture during this debate, a minority, led by the Republican leadership and supported by a few impressionable (I might say pathetic) Democrats, has obstructed the opportunity to solve America's energy problems, preferring to leave the worst polluters and the big petro-dictators in control of our energy policy, while tax-payers are forced to pay for their messes.

Oopsy… there goes that blame again. Let's focus on what we can do next.

Hope is not lost. Of course, the closer we get to the midterm elections, the more challenging passing a bill becomes. Still, it's not impossible. In fact, the Senate has passed almost every single bedrock environmental law in the fall of an election year or in the “lame duck” session following an election. Here are just a few examples:

o Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) – 1996 Amendments: 8/6/96

o Food Quality Protection Act: 8/3/96

o Energy Policy Act of 1992: 10/24/92

o Clean Air Act of 1990: 11/15/90

o SDWA – 1986 Amendments: 6/19/86

o CERCLA (Superfund): House 9/23/80, Senate 11/24/80, POTUS 12/11/80

o Resource Conservation & Recovery Act (RCRA): 10/21/76

o Toxic Substances & Control Act (TSCA): 10/11/76

o SDWA: 12/16/74

o Clean Water Act: 10/18/72

o Establishment of the EPA: first proposed 7/9/70, established 12/2/70

o National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA): 1/1/70

o The Wilderness Act: 9/3/64

As this list demonstrates, the Senate and the environmental movement are no strangers to passing major legislation right before – or just after – an election.

I don't want to overpromise success. This is an uphill battle. But if you and I show up to every town hall, rally, spaghetti dinner, and other rituals of election year and fight for our kids… fight for our country… fight for our America… we can turn the tide. Without that kind of passion, we will all lose. That's an outcome we must try hard to avoid, on behalf of people, communities, large and small businesses – oh, and our kids, sleeping peacefully or playing happily around the country.

In the meantime, we must also protect what we already have, like a plethora of state laws and the federal Clean Air Act. I recommend reading David Doniger's blog on Switchboard today that really outlines how we can make progress with the tools we have right now.

In coming weeks and months, we must continue to push forward for a strong, clean energy and climate bill, just like we have done countless times in the past. I am done with blame. History is on our side. Are you?

Take action today for a cleaner, stronger, and more sustainable future. Join NRDC Action Fund on Facebook and Twitter and stay up-to-date on the latest environmental issues and actions you can take to help protect our planet.

The Republican Problem With the Paycheck Fairness Act

Crossposted from Hillbilly Report.

It is no big secret that in the last several decades millions of women have been forced to enter the workforce. For the most part in working America due to stagnant wages and decreased opportunity households are forced to subsist on two incomes. Essentially gone are the days when the father worked to support the family and the mother stayed home to raise the children and tend the house. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with women wanting to work, what is really wrong is the fact that when they do work they have consistently been paid less than men on average.  

Over four and a half decades after legislation was first introduced to combat the pay gap between men and women, there is still a long way to go in achieving fairness:

Forty-seven years after President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act, women still are not being paid the same as men for equivalent work. On average, women earn about 78 cents for every dollar earned by men. For women of color, African American women and Latinas, the gap is even wider. According to the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median wages of full-time, year-round workers in 2008 stood at $35,745 for women and $46,367 for men. That’s $10,622 less per year for women and their families in a difficult economy.


With that in mind the current President, Barack Obama is urging Congress to act on the Paycheck Fairness Act, to give businesses and employees the resources they need to close that gap. Despite the common sense that women should not be working and making less than men, Republicans always have some garbage to spew at anything that helps real working people:

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama  is calling on Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which he calls a common sense bill to ensure that women get paid as well as men for equal work.

The legislation would make it easier for women to sue employers who pay them less than men. The House passed the bill in 2009, but it failed to clear the Senate. Some Republican lawmakers have argued that the bill could aid trial lawyers more than it would help women.


Which is extremely insulting to women and to the American way. Republicans now seem to want to forget that American freedoms are protected by the right to file grievances in court. While they preach the Constitution to everyone, they actually work to tear it apart and rob anyone who is not wealthy or incorporated of the justice that can come from redresses in the court system. What does it matter if it gives some trial lawyers business, at least it is not allowing Corporate fatcats to rob women!!  

But hidden within the next paragraph is the true hangup for the modern Republican Party:

The administration’s Equal Pay Enforcement Task Force also recommended Tuesday that the federal government collect better data from businesses so it can more effectively track wage discrimination in the workplace.

You see, the modern Republican Party speaks of “freedoms” and how they are being “robbed”. What they are really talking about is that the elites are afraid that they are losing their freedom to do whatever the hell they want. Republicans do not care about freedom, just the freedom for Corporate America to continue to prey on everyone else and for the unwashed masses to have no recourse. To them, if women are making more wages, that means one less yacht for some arrogant snob to sail around in.

And these are not just faceless Americans who are being treated this way. These are our mothers, grandmothers, sisters, nieces, daughters and granddaughters all of whom must not only work but work for less. The really hypocritical part is that Republicans would force single mothers to work for less, then bemoan the fact that they need government assistance. We should all be fighting for the women that we love on this!!

The sad part is that this is all just another small battle in the war on the American worker which has been waged quite successfully by Republicans and just enough “Democrats” to decimate our middle-class. The principle has gone from a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work to you just take whatever the hell we decide to give you and be thankful for it. All while ownership and management connive behind closed doors how to pay even less than they do.

We should demand this Paycheck Fairness Act and should embark on other reforms as soon as possible to even the playing field for all working Americans. At the very least I am just hoping that America is tired of Corporate America insulting their mom.

President Obama, Please Call Their Bluff!

Yesterday, President Obama met with Senators at the White House and pushed them to pass comprehensive, clean energy and climate legislation. Still, the skeptics are spinning a monotonous web of negativity regarding what is achievable on this front.  And, not surprisingly, the “mainstream media” once again has been asleep at the wheel in setting the record straight.  Fortunately, we know that when this President rolls up his sleeves, he gets stuff done and delivers on his promises. One thing’s for sure; President Obama is anything but an underachiever!

Along these lines, President Obama held a press conference following the G-20 summit in Toronto.  In response to a reporter’s question regarding how he would achieve his deficit reduction goals, the president responded:

For some reason people keep being surprised when I do what I said I was going to do. So, I say I’m going to reform our [health care system], and people say well gosh that’s not smart politics maybe we should hold off. Or I say we’re going to move forward on [Don’t Ask Don’t Tell] and somehow people say well why are you doing that, I’m not sure that’s good politics. I’m doing it because I said I was going to do it, and I think it’s the right thing to do. And people should learn that lesson about me, because next year when I start presenting some very difficult choices to the country I hope some of these folks who are hollering about deficit and debt step up cause I’m calling their bluff.

To that list of accomplishments, we could also add:

  • Almost single-handedly saving the Copenhagen Climate Summit from failure.
  • Preventing Great Depression Part II. 
  • Creating or saving 2.2-2.8 million jobs, well on the way to Obama’s February 2009 pledge that he would “create or save 3-and-a-half million jobs over the next two years.” 
  • Reforming Wall Street (likely to pass Congress any day now)
  • Overhauling the student loan market 
  • Reaching a nuclear arms treaty with Russia

We could go on and on, but you get the point: anyone who continues, at this point, to be “surprised” when President Obama gets things done when he puts his mind to it is deep in denial. Or, as a previous president might have put it, they are wildly “misunderestimating” our 44th president.

Clearly, as we’ve seen over the past two years, underachieving is not a problem Barack Obama suffers from.  Of course, even a superachiever like Barack Obama has an awful lot on his plate to deal with. And right now, one of the most important things on Obama’s plate is figuring out how to push comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation through the U.S. Senate.   Along those lines, yesterday, Obama met with a group of Senators on this issue, reportedly holding firm in his call for putting a price on carbon emissions.

The question at this point is, will President Obama roll up his sleeves and deliver on another of his major campaign promise (as well as a major challenge facing our nation)?  Given the long list of accomplishments mentioned above, it certainly wouldn’t be smart to bet against him.  The fact is, Barack Obama usually succeeds in whatever he puts his mind to.

Given the nation’s increased focus on energy and climate issues – and the increased support by the American people for taking strong action as a result of the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster – now is clearly the time for boldness and for bluff calling by our nation’s leaders.  Today, President Obama has the opportunity to demonstrate once more that, when he rolls up his sleeves, he accomplishes what he says he’s going to do.  In sum, today is clearly the moment for President Obama to prove the doubters and naysayers wrong – to call their bluff – yet again!

Support Joe Sestak Before the Fundraising Quarter Ends THIS WEDNESDAY!

{First, a cheap plug for my blog Senate Guru.}

The pivotal first fundraising quarter of 2010 comes to a close this Wednesday, just three days away!

While Arlen Specter continues to backtrack on decades of Republican water-carrying, Democratic Congressman Joe Sestak has made great strides toward ensuring that a real Democrat wins the Democratic primary and Pennsylvania’s Senate seat in 2010.

You can help further Congressman Sestak’s effort with a contribution today via the Expand the Map! ActBlue page.  Every dollar he’s able to report before the end of the fundraising quarter will demonstrate his campaign’s strength against his recently-Republican opposition in the Democratic primary (Specter) and his Republican opposition in the general (Toomey).  It makes a big difference and a real impact.

On the Expand the Map! ActBlue page, Congressman Sestak is just 3 contributions away from the 50-mark and $155 away from the $1,500-mark!  You can help him cross these thresholds with a contribution today.

Please hop on over to the Expand the Map! ActBlue page and support Joe Sestak (and our other Democratic candidates for Senate) before the quarter ends!

The Death of Majority Rule

Once upon a time there was a concept known as “majority rule” in America.  While the Judiciary and constitution protected minority rights laws were passed by majorities of Congress and signed by the President.  The only time super majorities were necessary were when the President vetoed legislation.  Today super majorities are needed on every Senate vote.  Even innocuous procedural votes require two fifths of the members, or 60 votes.  The ideological purity which made the Republican Party a significant minority also has formed a Party which votes (and marches) in lockstep.

The death of majority rule means nothing of any significance can be passed in Washington.  The GOP obstructs every bit of work and this has forced Democrats to weaken every bill tot he extent they aren’t worth passing.  Last night’s cloture vote on health insurance reform is a classic example.  In order to get 60 votes a good bill achieving significant progress was gutted and shredded to the point it is no longer worth passing.  A good bill is now a bad bill.  Forcing every American to buy insurance coverage from criminal enterprises known as corporations with no public option is criminal itself.  While forced to buy insurance these companies can charge whatever they please and public subsidies, your tax dollars, will be funneled to their shareholders as profits.  To make matters even more insulting the GOP reduced the tax rates on these incomes.

Democrats don’t have any balls.  Republicans voted, in lockstep again, against legislation last week funding our troops and providing jobs for some of the 10% of Americans out of work.  When any Democrat voted to cut off funding for the wars they were immediately lambasted in the press and called traitors by the likes of Rush, Hannity, O’Reilly and Coulter.   Now they turn around and do the same thing, vote against the same thing they labeled as treason a few short years ago.  Of course they knew they could because they knew the DNC wouldn’t hold them accountable for their hypocrisy.  No wonder majority rule died in America.

House Democrats Get Serious on Healthcare

I have been as critical of Democrats in the process of pounding out reform for our failed healthcare system in the last few months as anyone. In the “House of Lords” that has become the U.S. Senate the discussion is so very frustrating that one forgets that many good Democrats in the House deserve much credit. They have moved the discussion towards where it needs to be.

However, in the House on two tough calls that will be tough votes, House Democrats are forging ahead with serious and realistic goals in actually achieving universal coverage. They are showing guts in calling for sacrifice:

WASHINGTON – An income tax surcharge on highly paid Americans emerged as the leading option Wednesday night as House Democrats sought ways to pay for health care legislation that President Barack Obama favors, several officials said.

As discussed in the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, the surtax would apply to individuals with adjusted gross income of more than $200,000 and couples over $250,000, they added.


While tax increases are always understandably risky, President Obama did campaign on raising taxes for those making over $200,000 and won an overwhelming victory. While the part of me that is moderate does say that any tax increase on anyone should be reasonable and fair I understand that anyone who pays it will think it is unfair. All I can say if when I make it there I will gladly pay the tax.

Another idea campaigned upon and floated around is also seeing the light of day:

In addition, key lawmakers are expected to call for a tax or fee equal to a percentage of a worker’s salary on employers who do not offer health benefits.

This idea is particularly appealing. In the last

few decades a whole lot of “employers” have been shipping our middle-class jobs overseas to exploit oppressed and virtual slave labor. They have transformed our job market to “service-type” to pay Americans peanuts while doing away with middle-class jobs and wages and warring on the unions in this country.

The result is not only are a huge number of Americans working jobs with no benefits including health insurance, but their wages are so low that they cannot go out on their own and afford coverage for themselves and their families. Businesses simply cannot be left out of any reform. While not all businesses and businessmen and women are corrupt, as a whole they have been one of the major contributors to the crisis. They simply cannot have it both ways again for reform to work.

Rep. Shelly Berkley spoke but cautioned that no decisions are final:

Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., a member of the panel, said the proposed surtax on high-income taxpayers appealed to her and others as a way to avoid a “nickel-and-dime” approach involving numerous smaller tax increases. She added that other earlier options had fallen away, including an increase in the payroll tax.


The fate of any reform though unfortunately has to pass through the “House of Lords” in the United States Senate:

Across the Capitol, it seemed clear the drive to enact health care legislation was entering a new phase in the Senate, where attention has largely been focused for months on efforts by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., to forge a bipartisan agreement within the Finance Committee he chairs.

On Tuesday, the Senate Democratic leadership made it clear it viewed a proposed tax on certain health care benefits as unacceptable, at the same time it relayed word that it favors allowing the government to sell insurance to consumers.

Both those positions appeared to undercut much of the work Baucus has been doing. He has said for weeks that any legislation would call for a tax on certain health care benefits, and Republicans are strongly opposed to the idea of government intervention in the private insurance industry.

Baucus told reporters during the day he was “very sensitive to the various concerns that senators have” on taxing benefits, yet added that “by far a better approach is a bipartisan approach.”

First, I have a real problem with this “bi-partisanship” that reaches out and pulls back a bloody nub. Nobody worried a singe bit about “bi-partisanship” when they were ramming these policies that destoyed our economy and got us bogged down in Iraq, and destroyed our standing in the world. How can we now be “bi-partisan” in repairing the damage?? The Republicans are never going to go along with any real reform without it being shoved down their throats. Its our turn.

It is time for our Senate to realize that they are way behind the American people. In case they have not noticed a lot of them have been shed from that body in the last few years. Maybe the safer approach is to catch up with the urgency millions of Americans feel in the problems that have beset our country- problems the folks we would reach out to created.

I guess all of us and the rest of the 70%+ of the American people that want change in the healthcare system need to stay focused on demanding real change. If we cannot get it we need to mobilize as a force in ousting those who would not give it to us in primaries or general elections with the resources available to us, the American people. Our money, effort and vote.

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