Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Florida Senate releases larger budget plan than House

From Brandon Larrabee of The News Service of Florida on March 28:
Senate budget-writers unveiled a spending plan late Monday that was $3.3 billion higher than its House counterpart, giving the clearest indicator yet of how far apart the chambers stand as the midpoint of the session nears.

The Senate plan weighs in at just shy of $69.8 billion and almost 125,200 full-time positions. That's larger than the $66.5 billion, 121,400-position blueprint unveiled by the House last week. Both plans would trim at least several hundred jobs from the state payroll, though it's not clear how many of those positions are filled. The current year's budget had more than 126,700 full-time positions.

House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, brushed off questions last week about government cutting jobs as the economy emerges from the worst downturn since the Great Depression.

"Its primary purpose is not as an employer," Cannon said of government. "Its primary purpose is to create a framework where employers in the private sector can grow and create new jobs."

In general terms, the Senate places more funding in education, criminal justice and the broad category including natural resources, environment, growth management and transportation than does the House. The House plan includes more for human services and general government.

The largest difference is in the environment and transportation segment of the budget, in which the Senate included $12.3 billion to the House's $9.0 billion. Senate budget-writers included just shy of $21 billion in total funding for education, compared to about $19.8 billion in the House plan. The chambers are about $800 million apart on human services -- the Senate spends $28.4 billion to the House's $29.2 billion.

GOP memo: Wall Street reform to cost
agencies $1 billion in first year

From Peter Schroeder of The Hill on March 28:
House Republicans say implementing the Dodd-Frank financial reform law will cost agencies nearly $1 billion this year.

The bill will also require the federal government to hire thousands of new workers, according to a memo being circulated among House Republicans that was obtained by The Hill.

First-year costs for the 11 agencies charged with implementing the Wall Street overhaul will reach about $974 million, the memo states. The memo comes two days before the House Financial Services Committee's oversight subcommittee will explore Dodd-Frank costs.

In addition to new costs, more than 2,800 full-time employees will need to be hired to handle new responsibilities, according to the memo.

On its own, the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which has been hotly contested by Republicans, would require up to 1,225 hires to get up and running.

However, not all of those costs will have to be paid by taxpayers. Six of the 11 agencies affected by Dodd-Frank have budgets that are fully or partially funded by fees and other assessments on companies monitored by the agencies. Another is financed by offsetting costs, and another is fully funded by funds from another agency. Just three are funded via appropriations.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Health care, global warming impede budget deal

From Andy Sullivan of Reuters on March 25:
Healthcare, global warming, birth control and other hot-button political issues are threatening to derail a compromise over U.S. spending cuts, lawmakers and aides said on Friday.

The dispute again raises the possibility of a government shutdown that would force thousands of layoffs and rattle financial markets, even as Republican and Democratic negotiators began to bridge a $50 billion gap between their rival spending plans.

Aides said the closed-door talks were initially productive. But leaders from both parties later issued sharply worded statements that any shutdown would be the fault of the other.

"The status quo is unacceptable, and right now that is all Washington Democrats are offering," said House Speaker John Boehner.

"The House Republican leadership is back to agonizing over whether to give in to right-wing demands that they abandon any compromise on their extreme cuts," Democratic Senator Charles Schumer said.

The White House budget office said the House plan raised "extreme social policy issues that have nothing at all to do with reducing spending or reducing the deficit" while cutting research and education spending needed for economic growth.

"The President said he would veto the bill if it got to him in this form, and we need to work together to find a reasonable compromise," said Meg Reilly, a spokeswoman for the Office of Management and Budget.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Immigration bills rile farmers

From Cameron McWhirter and Jennifer Levitz of The Wall Street Journal on March 25:
ROBERTA, Ga.—Arizona-style immigration bills are under attack in several states, with some of the strongest opposition to the proposals coming from agricultural interests like the cotton and peach farmers here in central Georgia.

Farmers in states from Florida to Indiana are pressuring — and in some cases persuading — state politicians to rethink proposed legislation that would authorize crackdowns on illegal immigration. They argue that the legislation will drive Mexican workers out of their states, and that there aren't enough American workers willing to pick crops. They want legislation at the federal level, which wouldn't favor one state over another.

At least 25 states are weighing proposals to crack down on illegal immigration and employers who hire them, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Arizona law allows police to check the immigration status of people they stop, and establishes stiff penalties for businesses or individuals who hire illegal immigrants.

"Nobody wants illegal immigrants, but when you get down to the reality of the situation, farmers have to have workers to do the job," said Al Pearson, a peach and pecan farmer in Roberta. He said he hires only federally approved guest laborers to work his 3,600-acre farm, paying them $9.11 an hour plus benefits.

But the current federal system, involving approvals from multiple agencies, is slow and can't process enough legal workers for the state's large agricultural industry, he said. A bureaucratic glitch held up approvals for 100 Mexican workers for two weeks in February, setting back his tree pruning and other preparations for peach-picking season. "It frightened me because I didn't have a plan B. I don't have domestic workers," he said.

"There is no farm in this county that could continue without Mexican labor," said Robert Ray, a Crawford County farmer who for years led the agriculture committee in the Georgia House.

Tea Party movement grows weary
of GOP budget plan

From Stephen Clark of FoxNews.com on March 24:
As U.S. lawmakers seek a compromise on how much federal spending to cut in order to avoid a government shutdown, Tea Party activists who helped propel Republicans back into power are growing impatient with the debate.

When Republicans captured the House in November, vowing to slash $100 billion in federal spending from the budget year ending in September, 76 percent of Tea Party activists supported their deficit-reduction plan, according to a new Pew Research poll released last week.

But after House Republicans approved a plan last month to cut federal spending by $61 billion, that Tea Party support fell to 52 percent.

Now Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips, arguably the most vocal critic of GOP leaders, is pushing for a primary opponent against House Speaker John Boehner in 2012 for breaking his campaign pledge to cut $100 billion and for what he sees as hints that he's willing to cut less than $61 billion in a compromise with Senate Democrats.

"Charlie Sheen is now making more sense than John Boehner," Phillips wrote in his blog earlier this month.

In an interview with FoxNews.com Thursday, Phillips said he stands by his comments and goal of seeking a primary challenger to Boehner.

"Charlie Sheen still makes more sense than John Boehner because at least Charlie Sheen is winning," he said.

Solution to the problem in Libya

This was forwarded to me:
Solution to the problem in Libya:

They want a new Muslim leader,
I say, give them ours.

Solves two problems.

Boehner faces Tea Party pressure

From Janet Hook of The Wall Street Journal on March 25:
Home-state tea-party activists have access to House Speaker John Boehner that any lobbyist would envy. They meet twice a month with a top aide to the Ohio Republican, and their emails are answered quickly.

But that doesn't seem to be enough to turn them into loyalists.

Ohio conservatives say they are preparing to call 1,000 of Mr. Boehner's donors to complain that he isn't doing enough to block a debt-limit increase. On a new Facebook page, "Tea Partiers Against Boehner,'' they air complaints. The national group Tea Party Patriots, saying that Republicans are "timidly passing mediocre spending reforms,'' has called for a rally at the Capitol.

The calls to make big spending cuts come as Mr. Boehner works under deadline pressure with Democratic lawmakers and the White House on a plan to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year to avoid a potential government shutdown after April 8.

Such negotiations tend to push lawmakers toward compromise. The tea-party activists want Mr. Boehner to stick to his guns on $61 billion in budget cuts that the House approved earlier this year. "You said you were going to cut X amount, and that's what we want to see happen,'' said Chris Littleton, co-founder of the Ohio Liberty Council, a coalition of tea-party groups. "Just take a stand. That's pretty cut and dried.''

Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said the House speaker "believes an increase in the debt ceiling cannot and should not pass without spending cuts and reforms so that we can keep cutting spending."Mr. Steel said that Republicans will have to keep reminding their allies that the GOP's power in Washington remains limited. "Washington, D.C., is still controlled by Democrats, and congressional Republicans are the only thing standing between the American people and more 'stimulus' spending, more bailouts, and more big government takeovers," Mr. Steel said.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

RPOF announces 2011 Presidency 5
debate and straw poll

Tallahassee –- Republican Party of Florida Chairman Dave Bitner announced March 7 that the RPOF will host the Presidency 5 Straw Poll from Sept. 22-24 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando. The Presidency 5 Straw Poll is a critical test of grassroots support for Republican presidential candidates.

Additionally, RPOF is expanding the Presidency 5 Straw Poll to include a Republican presidential debate Sept. 22. The party will once again partner with FOX News to host the debate, which will give presidential candidates an opportunity to speak directly to Floridians as well as the nation.

“I am proud to announce the details of this important event,” Bitner said. “Presidency 5 will give the candidates an opportunity to bring their message directly to the people of Florida while allowing voters to participate in a poll that has historically predicted the eventual Republican nominee for President. We are also very excited to partner again with Fox News on another critical debate that will kick off the 2012 election season.”

Florida is the fourth largest state in the nation and has been the most important swing state in the last three election cycles. Florida recently picked up two additional electoral votes, bringing its total to 29 and increasing the state’s importance in determining the next U.S. president. The Florida Presidency Straw Poll has consistently predicted the eventual Republican Presidential nominee since its inception in 1979.

For more information, click here.

Justice Department sues on behalf
of Muslim teacher, triggering debate

From Jerry Markon of The Washington Post on March 22:
BERKELEY, Ill. — Safoorah Khan had taught middle school math for only nine months in this tiny Chicago suburb when she made an unusual request. She wanted three weeks off for a pilgrimage to Mecca.

The school district, faced with losing its only math lab instructor during the critical end-of-semester marking period, said no. Khan, a devout Muslim, resigned and made the trip anyway.

Justice Department lawyers examined the same set of facts and reached a different conclusion: that the school district’s decision amounted to outright discrimination against Khan. They filed an unusual lawsuit, accusing the district of violating her civil rights by forcing her to choose between her job and her faith.

As the case moves forward in federal court in Chicago, it has triggered debate over whether the Justice Department was following a purely legal path or whether suing on Khan’s behalf was part of a broader Obama administration campaign to reach out to Muslims.

The decision to take on a small-town school board has drawn criticism from conservatives and Berkeley officials, who say the government should not be standing behind a teacher who wanted to leave her students.

The lawsuit, filed in December, may well test the boundaries of how far employers must go to accommodate workers’ religious practices — a key issue as the nation grows more multicultural and the Muslim population increases. But it is also raising legal questions. Experts say the government might have difficulty prevailing because the 19-day leave Khan requested goes beyond what courts have considered.

Action Alert: beach clean-up with Allen West

What: Help pick up trash and keep our beach barefoot-friendly with Rep. Allen West, R-Fla.

Trash bags and gloves are provided, and c

ommunity service hours are available for high school students.

Afterwards, relax or picnic by the beach, or scuba dive.

When: March 26 at 10 a.m.

Where: Pompano Beach, on the north side of the Pompano Pier.

For more information: Call (877) 806-2010. To register for the dive, contact the Force-E Dive Center at (866) 943-3489. Dive space is limited.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Sessions ‘flabbergasted’ by increase
in Obama transportation budget

From Erik Wasson of The Hill on March 3:
Senate Budget Committee ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) took Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to task Thursday for the Obama administration’s call for a massive increase in transportation spending.

Given the record deficit this year, Sessions said he was surprised to see Obama’s 2012 budget call for an 11 percent spending increase and a 9.5 percent increase for the Education and Energy departments, respectively.

But, he said, “I was flabbergasted to see Transportation wants 62 percent increase in spending.”

Sessions noted, ahead of LaHood’s testimony on the request, that the Obama budget calls for an unspecified new tax to raise $435 billion to pay for the new six-year, $556-billion infrastructure build-out.

“I just have to say that is unrealistic,” Sessions said. “If you can’t tell us what kind of tax this is, I think there is zero chance of us passing such a tax as this.

“This is another huge gimmick in the budget,” Sessions said later. “This kind of Washington logic has put us in the financial crisis we are in. We cannot continue it. We cannot continue to authorize spending based on a tax that is not going to be collected, probably.”

Sessions asked for suggestions for the tax, and LaHood did not offer any.

Florida Supreme Court to rule
on high-speed rail suit Friday

From Janet Zink and Philip Morgan of the St. Petersburg Times on March 3:
TALLAHASSEE — With two state senators charging that Gov. Rick Scott overstepped his executive authority by killing Florida's high-speed rail line without consulting the Legislature, Scott's attorney took a strong stance Thursday in oral arguments before the Florida Supreme Court.

"The governor is not in violation of any law," Charles Trippe said as he opened his remarks.

Sens. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, and Thad Altman, R-Melbourne, filed suit Tuesday after Scott last month rejected a $2.4 billion federal award to build the Tampa-Orlando line. Lawmakers in December 2009 voted to build the line, and appropriated $130 million in federal money to make it happen.

They say Scott is ignoring a state law and, in effect, issued a veto he is not entitled to.

Attorneys on both sides have asked for a ruling Friday. That's the deadline set by U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to resolve the issue. After that, he has said, he will give the money to other states. Scott's schedule says the governor will speak to LaHood by phone at 9 a.m.

Trippe's assertion that Scott has done no wrong prompted peppering from justices Peggy Quince and James Perry.

"Isn't the governor mandated by the Constitution to carry out the statutes and laws of the Legislature?" Perry asked. "The Legislature said, 'Let this be.' The governor said, 'No.' Isn't that in fact a veto?"

After additional questioning about whether Scott inappropriately took over the legislative task of appropriations, Trippe said that $110 million has already been spent on the project, and the governor had no intention of using the remainder for anything else.
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