Thursday, May 23, 2013

President Obama To Join Gov. Christie At The Jersey Shore On Tuesday

CBS 2 has learned that President Barack Obama will visit the Jersey Shore on Tuesday with Gov. Chris Christie. It will be his first time on the shore since he visited right after Hurricane Sandy hit on Oct. 29.

A White House advisory said Obama would view the ongoing recovery efforts from Sandy and talk about “expanding economic opportunity for families hit by the storm.”

In the days after Sandy roared ashore, President Obama surveyed the damage with Christie. The subsequent images of the Democratic president and Republican governor and their apparent mutual respect for each other turned the political world on its ear.

“I cannot thank the president enough,” Christie said back on Oct. 31.

Then on April 29, Christie continued to praise President Obama for being “a man of his word” when it came to his swift response to the storm.

“I don’t have any regrets because anyone who’s had the job that I have knows that your first job is to get the job done for the people who elected you and not to worry about politics, whether it’s presidential politics or any other type of politics,” Christie told WCBS 880′s Steve Scott.

“Secondly, I’d give the President high marks. Everything that we asked of him to do he’s done, his administration has done. And while there were some blips in terms of the national flood insurance program that angered people, rightfully, the administration has worked on fixing that. So while I have broad areas of disagreement with the President on other issues, I cannot say anything other than the truth which is the President’s been a man of his word on this and his administration has followed through,” said Christie.

As a result of the governor’s buddy-buddy meeting with the president, Christie made the “do not invite list” for the Conservative Political Action Conference, a major event for GOP big wigs.

Many Jersey Shore business have reopened and boardwalks and beaches were expected to be open in time for Memorial Day weekend.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

No early warning for U.S. on Israeli strikes in Syria

Without confirming that Israel was behind the attacks, the intelligence official said that the United States was essentially told of the air raids "after the fact" and was notified as the bombs went off.

Israeli jets bombed Syria on Sunday for the second time in 48 hours. Israel does not confirm such missions explicitly - a policy it says is intended to avoid provoking reprisals. But an Israeli official acknowledged that the strikes were carried out by its forces.

"It would not be unusual for them to take aggressive steps when there was some chance that some sophisticated weapons system would fall into the hands of people like Hezbollah," the U.S. intelligence official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

While the air raids raised fears that America's main ally in the Middle East could be sucked into the Syrian conflict, Israel typically does not feel it has to ask for a green light from Washington for such attacks.

Officials have indicated in the past that Israel sees a need only to inform the United States once such a mission is under way.

U.S. President Barack Obama said on Saturday that Israel has the right to guard against the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah, an ally of both Syria and Iran.

Rather than an attempt to tip the scales against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Israel's action is seen more as part of its own conflict with Iran, which it fears is sending missiles to Hezbollah in Lebanon through Syria. Those missiles might hit Tel Aviv if Israel makes good on threats to attack Tehran's nuclear program.

Another Western intelligence source told Reuters the latest attack, like the previous one, was directed against stores of Fateh-110 missiles in transit from Iran to Hezbollah.

People were woken in the Syrian capital by explosions that shook the ground like an earthquake and sent pillars of flames high into the night sky. Syrian state television said bombing at a military research facility at Jamraya and two other sites caused "many civilian casualties and widespread damage," but it gave no details. The Jamraya compound was also a target for Israel on January 30.

The U.S. intelligence official said additional strikes in the future could not be ruled out.

"Any sophisticated weaponry that finds its way there (Syria)that looks to be destined to fall in the hands of bad actors, I think there is a likelihood that those could be targets as well," the second official said.


Obama has repeatedly shied away from deep U.S. involvement in the Syrian conflict, which erupted in 2011 and has killed an estimated 70,000 people and created more than 1.2 million refugees.

Hours after the Israeli attacks, several U.S. lawmakers voiced concern over the mounting uncertainty in the Middle East.

Influential Republican lawmaker John McCain said Israel's air strikes on Syria could add pressure on the Obama administration to intervene, but the U.S. government faces tough questions on how it can help without adding to the conflict.

"We need to have a game-changing action, and that is no American boots on the ground, establish a safe zone and to protect it and to supply weapons to the right people in Syria who are fighting, obviously, for the things we believe," McCain said on "Fox News Sunday."

"Every day that goes by, Hezbollah increases their influence and the radical jihadists flow into Syria and the situation becomes more and more tenuous," he said.

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said last week that Washington was rethinking its opposition to arming the Syrian rebels. He cautioned that giving weapons to the forces fighting Assad was only one option, which carried the risk of arms finding their way into the hands of anti-American extremists among the insurgents.

The United States has said it has "varying degrees of confidence" that chemical weapons have been used in Syria on a limited scale, but is seeking more evidence to determine who used them, how they were used and when.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Obama and Bush, distinct men with policy overlaps

Despite vast differences with President George W. Bush on ideology, style and temperament, President Barack Obama has stuck with Bush policies or aspirations on a number of fronts, from counterterrorism to immigration, from war strategy to the global fight against AIDS.

Even on tax policy, where Bush advocated lower tax rates for all and Obama pushed for higher rates on the rich, Bush's tax cuts for the middle class not only have survived under Obama, they have become permanent.

Obama inherited from his predecessor two military conflicts, a war on terror and a financial crisis. He also inherited, and in time embraced, the means with which to confront them.

On Thursday, Obama will attend the dedication of Bush's presidential library in Texas, a tableau that will draw attention to two distinct men—a Republican and a Democrat from different ends of the political spectrum, political foils with polarized constituencies.

Indeed, Obama ran for president in 2008 as the anti-Bush, critical of the war against Iraq and of the economic policies of the preceding eight years.

But in his more than four years of governing, Obama has also adopted or let stand a series of Bush initiatives, illustrating how the policies of one administration can take hold and how the realities of governing often limit solutions.

Bush's signature education plan, No Child Left Behind, remains the law of the land, though the Obama administration has granted states waivers to give them flexibility in meeting performance targets. A Bush Medicare prescription drug plan, criticized for its cost, is now popular with beneficiaries, and Obama has sought to improve it by providing relief for seniors with high bills. Obama continued the unpopular bank bailouts and expanded the auto industry rescue that Bush initiated in 2008.

Bush authorized a military surge in Iraq in an effort to tame the conflict there. Obama completed the withdrawal of troops from Iraq but also authorized a military surge in Afghanistan before beginning a drawdown of troops that is expected to be completed at the end of 2014.

"The responsibilities of office drive presidents toward pragmatism," said Joshua Bolten, a former Bush chief of staff. Where those policies are effective, he added, "the successor has good reason to adopt them."

Obama, like Bush during his presidency, is seeking an overhaul of immigration laws that give 11 million immigrants in the U.S. illegally a chance to get on a path toward citizenship. Bush came up short in 2007, but Bolten believes that six years later the nation and its politicians are in a different place.

"President Bush was just ahead of his time and his party in recognizing both the importance of reaching some sort of bipartisan accommodation and on what the elements of that might reasonably be," he said.

Bruce Buchanan, a government professor at the University of Texas at Austin who specializes on the presidency, says it's not uncommon for presidents to hand off their agendas to another. Even measures or issues that were unpopular under one president can appear different with the passage of time and under the direction of a new occupant in the White House.

"While the names of the problems are the same, the stage of development is usually very different and the public stance of the president dealing with them is often very different," he said. "You have to be sensitive to those things lest you create the false impression that they are mirror images of one another, which I don't think would be accurate."

On no front are the similarities more striking than on counterterrorism. Obama did vow to end the harsh interrogation techniques such as waterboarding that had been employed during the Bush administration, and he issued an executive order upon becoming president declaring that the United States would not engage in torture.

But other practices continued and, in some case, expanded under Obama.

"The basic similarity is these are the only two presidents that have governed in a post-9/11 era, where the principal threat to the United States comes from terrorism," said Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser. "President Obama believes that we're at war with al-Qaida and its affiliated groups, has continued to take direct action against al-Qaida networks overseas and has continued to pursue very aggressive intelligence, law enforcement and homeland security measures that have been developed since 9/11."

Jack Goldsmith, who was an assistant attorney general in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel during Bush's first term, says Obama's use of warrantless surveillance, military detentions without trial and increased drone strikes has received less pushback than it would under a Republican president.

Goldsmith, now a law professor at Harvard Law School, argued in a blog post after Obama's election that the public "generally trust the former constitutional law professor and civil liberties champion more than a Republican president to carry out these policies."

He added that "many on the left (in Congress and the NGO community, and perhaps the press) who might otherwise be uncomfortable with these policies will give President Obama a freer hand than they would a Republican president."

Still, Rhodes sees significant differences in Obama's national security approach.

Bush, Rhodes said, had defined the broad conflict as a war on terrorism and included Iraq as part of that war.

"We redefined the war as something more narrow, which was a war against al-Qaida and its affiliates, not against other states, not against nonaffiliated terrorist groups," Rhodes said.

Republican Sen. John McCain has a unique perch to assess both presidents. He ran against both—in 2000 against Bush for the Republican nomination and in 2008 against Obama. He allied himself with both men on immigration and called on them to increase troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan. An early opponent of waterboarding, he has applauded Obama's continued use of other counterterrorism measures.

"I think they both had an appreciation for the threat that we face," he said of the two presidents.

But he faults Obama for not leaving a residual force in Iraq and for creating uncertainty about what the U.S. presence will be in Afghanistan after 2014.

And he distinguishes between the presidents. Under Bush, he said the United States became a nation "that was ready to pursue our enemies."

"Obviously, President Obama viewed this as a time to withdraw and not to make military commitments overseas."

Rhodes makes a similar point, though differently.

"The trajectory under the previous administration was an increased military presence overseas," he said. "President Obama would like his legacy to be the reduction of military presence overseas and having, ideally, zero troops in harm's way." 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Obama outlines private-public project to study the brain

Making good on a promise first hinted at during his State of the Union speech in February, President Obama on Tuesday unveiled the broad outlines of a scientific initiative aimed at mapping the human brain. The project's ambitious goals include understanding how the brain forms memories and controls human behavior; how it becomes damaged by conditions such as Parkinson's disease and autism; and how it can be repaired when afflicted by Alzheimer's disease, post-traumatic stress disorder and other illnesses.

The BRAIN initiative — short for Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies — is modeled after the Human Genome Project, in which the federal government partnered with philanthropies and scientific entrepreneurs to identify and characterize the nearly 25,000 genes that make up human DNA.

"A human brain contains almost 100 billion neurons making trillions of connections," Obama said Tuesday as he outlined the initiative in the East Room of the White House. In the absence of a detailed map of the brain's complex circuitry and operating instructions that could help troubleshoot when the brain's wiring goes awry, scientists often grope in the dark for therapies that can treat Alzheimer's or autism or to reverse the effects of a stroke, Obama said. "So there is this enormous mystery waiting to be unlocked."

The funding available beyond this year for the BRAIN initiative remains unclear. Calling the "three pounds of matter that sits between our ears" a mystery to be unraveled, Obama said his proposed budget of $110 million for fiscal year 2014 would "help get this project off the ground." Private sector partners the Allen Institute for Brain Science, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Kavli Foundation have committed $158 million to the project.

Over five years of the Human Genome Project, the federal government invested $3.8 billion in the effort. But federal spending in the initiative's first year was modest: $27.9 million.

In a bid to fend off opposition from budget-cutters on Capitol Hill and cast the initiative as an investment in the U.S. economy, the White House said that every federal dollar expended on the Human Genome Project went on to generate $141 in economic output.

"Ideas are what power our economy," Obama said. "When we invest in the best ideas before anybody else does, our businesses and our workers can make the best products and deliver the best services before anybody else."

If Obama's proposed budget for the project is approved by Congress this year, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the small office within the Pentagon known as DARPA, will disburse about $50 million in grants under the BRAIN initiative next year. The National Institutes of Health will contribute $40 million, and the National Science Foundation $20 million.

Funding in future years will be negotiated yearly.

"Out of this is going to come a foundation of understanding the brain that we have dreamed of all through human history," said Dr. Francis Collins, who was in charge of the government's role in the Human Genome Project and is now director of the National Institutes of Health.

DARPA Director Arati Prabhakar said her agency would focus on the brain trauma research it has pioneered in recent years. That work was spurred by the brain injuries and PTSD that have afflicted thousands of U.S. veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The resulting insights and treatments will also benefit civilians whose brains have been injured by strokes, illness, car crashes and falls, she said.

"We're starting to learn more about how memory is encoded in the brain and starting to see how we might restore memory loss after injury," Prabhakar said. "There are broader applications," as researchers extend that research to address disorders of memory, such as Alzheimer's disease, and DARPA would probably invest in such projects, she said.

DARPA, whose early research helped spawn the Internet, will also look to fund brain research that would make prosthetic devices more responsive to human thought, as well as other cognitive research that might inspire new information-processing and computing techniques, Prabhakar said. Both subjects are of keen interest to the military.

The White House will also assign the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues the task of exploring the ethical, legal and societal problems certain to arise as brain science advances.

That panel has already weighed in on the social and ethical implications of drugs and technologies that promise to enhance the cognitive performance of healthy people. As future work unlocks the workings of the brain when a patient appears to be in a vegetative state, those experts will probably wrestle with new definitions of life and death. And as the field of neuroprosthetics makes human thought increasingly discernible to computers, age-old fears about the use of mind-reading technologies are likely to spark investigation.

Despite uncertainty about future funding, the initiative drew jubilant praise from scientists engaged in brain research.

"Where you put a major investment in understanding the most complicated thing we know — the human brain — there could be benefits to every aspect of society," said Dr. John C. Mazziotta, a leading neuroscientist who is executive vice dean of UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine. Scientists could make new discoveries about aging, education, creativity, psychiatric disorders and social problems such as homelessness, he said.

But such lofty goals will not come cheap, cautioned Larry Swanson, president of the Society for Neuroscience. The initiative will fall short of expectations if federal funds dedicated to the project are the object of yearly political haggling.

Obama on Tuesday offered a nod to such concerns.

"Of course, none of this will be easy," he said. "If it was, we would already know everything there was about how the brain works, and presumably my life would be simpler here. It could explain all kinds of things that go on in Washington."

Monday, March 18, 2013

Obama to Nominate Justice Aide for Labor Post

President Obama plans to announce Monday that he will nominate Thomas E. Perez, who heads the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department, to be the next secretary of labor, a choice that promises to provoke a debate with Republicans about voting rights and discrimination.

 Mr. Perez would replace Hilda L. Solis, who stepped down in January after four years running the Labor Department. Word of his possible selection has been circulating in Washington for days, and a White House official informed reporters that the president would make it official on Monday.

The announcement comes just days after a Justice Department inspector general’s report found that the voting rights section has been torn by “deep ideological polarization” with liberal and conservative factions in sharp conflict. The divisions date back to the George W. Bush administration, and most occurred before Mr. Perez was confirmed in October 2009. He portrayed the report as largely clearing the section on his watch.

But the report also raised questions about testimony he gave, and Republicans made clear that they would take issue with his handling of some cases over the last three and a half years. His critics question, for example, whether he acted inappropriately in persuading the City of St. Paul to drop a lawsuit seeking to limit fair housing claims when there is no intentional bias.

Liberals and labor leaders have hailed Mr. Perez, calling him a strong champion for workers and those who have faced discrimination. While at the Justice Department, he has pursued a record number of discrimination or brutality claims against local police and sheriff’s departments, including that of Joe Arpaio, the outspoken sheriff in Maricopa County, Ariz., who was accused of “a pattern of unlawful discrimination” against Latinos.

Mr. Perez also challenged voter identification requirements imposed by South Carolina and Texas, and his division reached the three largest residential fair lending settlements in the history of the Fair Housing Act. Under him, the voting section participated in the most new litigation in the last fiscal year than in any previous year.

Mr. Perez, 51, who would be the only Hispanic in the cabinet if confirmed, is the son of immigrants from the Dominican Republic. His father died when he was 12, but his family pressed the value of education so much that all four of his siblings became doctors. Mr. Perez graduated from Brown University and Harvard Law School.

He has spent a career fighting discrimination cases as a federal prosecutor, then, under President Bill Clinton, as deputy chief of the civil rights division that he now heads, and finally as head of civil rights enforcement at the Health and Human Services Department. He also served as an elected council member in Montgomery County, Md., and as the state’s secretary of labor, licensing and regulation.

The timing of the inspector general’s report on the voting section seems to ensure that it will come up during Mr. Perez’s confirmation hearings. The report found a toxic environment in which conservatives and liberals fought and maligned one another through the Bush administration and into the Obama administration.

The examples it cited generally preceded Mr. Perez, and he wrote the inspector general that he had made a point of correcting the situation. “Since 2009, the Civil Rights Division and the Voting Section have undertaken a number of steps to improve the professionalism of our workplace and to ensure that we enforce the civil rights laws in an independent, evenhanded fashion,” Mr. Perez wrote.

The inspector general, however, raised questions regarding Mr. Perez’s testimony about a case that preceded his time. Mr. Perez told the Civil Rights Commission in 2010 that no senior department officials were involved in a 2009 decision not to pursue further a case of voter intimidation involving the New Black Panthers. But the report noted that in fact senior officials did participate in discussions about the case, although the final decision was made by career lawyers as Mr. Perez had testified.

Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said the report showed that Mr. Perez was “woefully unprepared to answer questions” about a matter that he expected to be asked about. “This is troubling as it suggests a failure to also prepare for hearings before Congress, including the Senate Judiciary Committee, when questioned on this same topic,” he said in a statement.

Moreover, Mr. Grassley said the report made clear that Mr. Perez had not done as much as he had said to end harassment of conservatives in the voting rights section. “The reports shows that despite claims that it’s a new era in the Civil Rights Division, they are sadly mistaken, and it’s business as usual,” Mr. Grassley said.

While conservatives have called him a radical, Mr. Perez has not backed off his aggressive approach, even as his name was up for consideration for the Labor Department job. Just last Thursday, he announced an investigation into excessive force complaints against the Cleveland Police Department. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Obama to pitch new spending in State of the Union, says it won't add to deficit

President Obama is planning to pitch new spending proposals in his State of the Union address Tuesday night, saying in prepared remarks that he wants to invest in “broad-based growth” and fuel a “rising, thriving middle class."

Even before the address, Obama’s plan to call for “investments” was panned by House Speaker John Boehner. "If government spending were the tonic for all our ills, this would have been solved a long time ago,” Boehner told reporters.

But Obama stressed that his proposals would not add to the deficit.

“Tonight, I’ll lay out additional proposals that are fully paid for and fully consistent with the budget framework both parties agreed to just 18 months ago,” Obama said in prepared remarks. “Let me repeat -- nothing I’m proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime. It’s not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth.”

At the beginning of his second term, Obama is pushing anew to make economic growth a priority. In his remarks, he says it is this generation’s task “to reignite the true engine of America’s economic growth -- a rising, thriving middle class.”

Regardless of whether Obama’s proposals add to the deficit, he is sure to face a mixed reception in putting the emphasis on new government programs when many -- particularly House Republicans -- are more interested in paring back the spending out of Washington. Some argue this could even help the economy by sending a signal that the federal government is at last tackling the budget deficit.

The president is expected to speak at 9 p.m. ET.

While Obama's aides say Tuesday night is all about the economy, he is expected to hit several other themes during the hour-long speech. First lady Michelle Obama’s guest list, announced Tuesday afternoon, provided a glimpse into what those agenda items might be -- gun control, immigration, education, science and technology funding, and more.

In each guest's biography is reflected a theme, almost certain to make its way into the president's speech.
Among those in Michelle Obama's guest box are Alan Aleman, a so-called "DREAM student" -- someone who arrived in the U.S. as a young illegal immigrant, but has been given a reprieve to pursue an education by the administration. Aleman's presence will be symbolic as the president pushes for immigration reform which, if he gets his way, will include some permanent provision dealing illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.

Also in the guest box is Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton, mother of Hadiya Pendleton who was killed in Chicago in late January. The first lady attended Hadiya's memorial service over the weekend. Cowley-Pendleton, together with other victims of gun violence in the crowd Tuesday night, represents the president's push for new gun control measures.

Several other guests speak to Obama's stance on the budget. Highlighting the president's push for science funding, the flight director for the Mars Curiosity Rover will be in the crowd. And highlighting the president's push for tax cuts on the middle class (and hikes on top earners), the guest box will include Lisa Richards, a single mom who voiced concern to the White House about taxes rising on the middle class.

The president will have several other weighty issues to address Tuesday night, not the least of which is North Korea's latest nuclear test. The president also plans to announce 34,000 U.S. troops will be brought home from Afghanistan within a year.

That will bring the force size to roughly half what it is now, in the run-up to the withdrawal deadline of the end of 2014.

The centerpiece of the address, though, is still expected to be the economy. The president is expected to revive his calls Tuesday for government "investments" in infrastructure and education -- meaning spending. While the recurring push, for Republicans, brings back bad memories of the stimulus law they opposed, White House economic adviser Gene Sperling told Fox News on Tuesday that closing the deficit "doesn't mean you pull back on everything."

"I don't think that laying the foundation for future growth (with research and highway spending) is anything to discount in any way," Sperling said. "What you need to do is be smart."

Boehner, though, dismissed the push. "If government spending were the tonic for all our ills, this would have been solved a long time ago," he said Tuesday. Boehner said the president added "$5 trillion in new debt over the last four years. How much further is he going to run us into the sewer?"

Boehner also claimed the president doesn't have the "guts" to tackle the budget deficit.

Obama and Congress are scrambling to find a way to avoid automatic spending cuts poised to hit March 1 unless a deal is reached to replace them.

Obama, to the chagrin of Republicans, wants to replace those cuts with a blend of tax hikes and separate cuts. Republicans, citing the tax-hike concessions they gave during the fiscal crisis talks, are averse to more tax increases -- even if this time, those increases do not come in the form of rate hikes.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Obama Fiscal 2014 Budget Said to Be Delayed Until March

President Barack Obama probably will delay sending his fiscal 2014 budget to Congress until sometime in March, according to a defense official with knowledge of the budget process.

The spending blueprint was supposed to be delivered to lawmakers yesterday, prompting Republicans and the administration to trade criticism.

“For the fourth time in five years this White House has proven it does not take trillion-dollar deficits seriously enough to submit a budget on time,” House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said in a statement.

White House press secretary Jay Carney, while declining to say when the budget would be ready, accused House Republicans of putting forward “highly partisan” spending plans that have “no support among the American public.”

The defense official asked for anonymity because the administration hasn’t officially announced when the budget would be ready.

The administration has been signaling that the annual spending blueprint wouldn’t meet the deadline because of the protracted debate in Washington over taxes, spending and the deficit, especially the dispute at year’s end that focused on over tax rates. Congress ultimately approved a measure averting income-tax increases for most Americans while allowing rates to rise on taxable income of individuals up to $400,000 and of married couples of up to $450,000.
‘Forced to Delay’

Acting White House budget director Jeffrey Zients wrote in a letter last month to Representative Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican who is chairman of the House Budget Committee, that because the tax deal wasn’t reached until Jan. 1, the administration was “forced to delay some of its FY2014 budget preparations, which in turn will delay the budget’s submission to Congress.”

Obama is also negotiating with Congress a way to avoid the $1.2 trillion in automatic federal spending cuts scheduled to take effect March 1.

Congress created the automatic cuts in August 2011 as part of an agreement to raise the U.S. debt ceiling. In the legislation passed Jan. 1, Congress delayed the spending cuts for two months.
Stock Market

Stocks have rallied since the start of the year, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the Standard & Poor’s 500 Stock Index (SPX) hitting five-year highs on Feb. 1. The S&P dropped 1.2 percent to 1,495.71 at 4 p.m. yesterday in New York, and the Dow retreated 129.71 points to 13,880.08 after climbing above 14,000 last week for the first time since 2007. Ten-year U.S. Treasury yields lost six basis points to 1.96 percent.

Even if the budget is late by a month or more, it’s unlikely to change the political debate over fiscal issues. Obama has said he’s planning to again seek funding for many of the proposals contained in last year’s $3.8 trillion budget, which was never fully adopted by Congress.

“It’ll look a lot like the old one,” Michael Linden, director of tax and budget policy at the Center for American Progress, said yesterday at a conference in Washington focused on fiscal issues. Any spending cuts or revenue increases, he said, will be “basically the same” as last year’s budget blueprint.
Carried Interest

Obama reinforced that during an interview with CBS News broadcast on Feb. 3. He said he wants to seek additional revenue by trimming tax breaks for top earners and the treatment of profits in buyout deals, known as carried interest. Those profits are often taxed as capital gains, which receive preferential rates under the tax code compared with levies on wages; Obama has advocated treating the profits as ordinary income for tax purposes.

“There is no doubt we need additional revenue, coupled with smart spending reductions, in order to bring down our deficit,” the president said.

Taxing private equity managers’ carried interest as ordinary income would raise about $16.8 billion, according to the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation.

Obama has proposed limits on the value of deductions, capped at 28 percent for households earning more than $250,000, and has proposed ending tax breaks for oil and natural gas companies, which would collect $41 billion over 10 years, according to last year’s budget estimate.

The government is currently operating under a stopgap budget that expires March 27. If spending authority isn’t extended, government agencies face a shutdown.

Panelists at the conference on budget issues said any proposals on taxes in Obama’s fiscal 2014 budget would take at least a year or more to get through Congress.

Stan Collender, a former congressional budget analyst, said that while “they may be talking about it” this year, he tells his financial clients at Qorvis Communications LLC that nothing serious will happen on tax changes until the end of 2014 or into 2015.

“The president’s budget is just a proposal,” he said. “It has no meaning other than a political statement at the time it’s made.” 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Obama says he has fired guns

President Obama says the rights of hunters have to be respected in the gun-control debate, and he himself has done some skeet shooting.

Some gun rights supporters may be surprised, but President Obama says he has fired guns.

"In fact, up at Camp David, we do skeet shooting all the time," Obama told The New Republic.

The White House did not provide a photo.

Obama told the magazine the rights of hunters and other gun owners have to be respected as he and his allies pursue a legislative package that includes new gun-control measures.

"I have a profound respect for the traditions of hunting that trace back in this country for generations," Obama said. "And I think those who dismiss that out of hand make a big mistake."

The National Rifle Association and other gun rights groups have vowed to block Obama proposals that include a revamped assault weapons ban, universal background checks and restrictions on the size of ammunition magazines. The administration developed the plan after the deaths of 20 children during a shooting Dec. 14 at an elementary school in Connecticut.

Responding to Obama's comments, NRA chief lobbyist Chris Cox said in a statement, "The Second Amendment is not about shooting skeet, and it's not a tradition. It is a fundamental right upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court."

As the congressional debate moves forward, Obama told The New Republic that gun-control backers need to understand the different ways in which urban areas and rural areas view guns.

"If you grew up and your dad gave you a hunting rifle when you were 10, and you went out and spent the day with him and your uncles, and that became part of your family's traditions, you can see why you'd be pretty protective of that," Obama said.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Obama: Senate deal 'the right thing to do for our country' on deficit

President Obama hailed the Senate’s ‘fiscal cliff’ legislation Tuesday as a model of bipartisan compromise ¬– and urged the House to pass the bill “without delay.”

In a statement after the Senate’s early morning vote, Obama said the bill would help “grow the economy and shrink our deficits in a balanced way.”

The deal “protects 98 percent of Americans and 97 percent of small business owners from a middle class tax hike,” Obama said.

The legislation, negotiated by Vice President Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky), was approved in an 89-8 vote just after 2 a.m.

The deal would extend the Bush-era income tax rates on individuals to $400,000 and family income up to $450,000. It permanently sets the estate tax rate at 40 percent, up from 35 percent, and exempts inheritances below $5 million. 

It would also postpone the automatic spending cuts known as the sequester for two months.

“While neither Democrats nor Republicans got everything they wanted, this agreement is the right thing to do for our country and the House should pass it without delay,” Obama said.

The president had campaigned for reelection on a pledge to raise income tax rates for all households earning above $250,000. But the bill’s $450,000 threshold marked a significant step in efforts to get "the wealthy to pay a little more," Obama said.

“Last year, I worked with Democrats and Republicans to cut spending by more than $1 trillion.  [The fiscal cliff bill] does even more by asking millionaires and billionaires to begin to pay their fair share for the first time in twenty years,” Obama said. “As promised, that increase will be immediate, and it will be permanent.”

Obama had angered Republicans on Monday with a campaign-style event at the White House in which he drew cheers for his criticism of Congress’s failure to pass a broader ‘grand bargain’ on the deficit.

“There’s more work to do to reduce our deficits, and I’m willing to do it,” Obama said in his statement Tuesday morning. “But [this bill] ensures that, going forward, we will continue to reduce the deficit through a combination of new spending cuts and new revenues from the wealthiest.”