TRNS News Notes is brought to you by Victoria Jones. Victoria Jones is the Chief White House correspondent and global analyst of the Washington DC based Talk Radio News Service, where her insight and analysis are made available to over 400 news talk radio stations around the country and internationally.

In the News

  • Obama budget: “Replace mindless austerity”
  • Republican reax: LOL
  • Look inside: Defense, spies, cyber
  • Look inside: Wall St, IRS, immigration
  • Look inside: HHS, climate, parks
  • DHS: Senate Dems to play hardball
  • Chris Christie/Rand Paul: Anti-vaxxers?
  • Pentagon nominee: What he’ll say
  • Ukraine: U.S. considers “lethal aid”
  • Gas prices up: Don’t panic
Obama Budget: “Replace Mindless Austerity”

• President Obama launched the opening salvo in the debate over his $4 trillion federal budget proposal Monday by warning Republicans not to put politics ahead of the nation’s national security. “I am not going to accept a budget that locks in sequestration going forward,” he said in an appearance at the Dept of Homeland Security (WaPo, me)

• Obama’s budget allocates $561 billion to defense, about $38 billion more than is currently allowed under the law. He’s also proposed a similar increase to domestic programs, which are subject to the sequester budget caps. The military’s top brass warned last week of lasting damage to the military from the budget cuts at a time of growing overseas threats

• The president insisted that he wouldn’t shift money from domestic programs to pay for the defense hikes. “I want to work with Congress to replace mindless austerity with smart investments that strengthen America,” he said. “And we can do so in a way that is fiscally responsible.”

• Obama also went after Congress for refusing to fund DHS through the end of this year. Republicans, angry with the president over his executive order that would let as many as 5 million illegal immigrants stay in the country, have so far only funded the dept through Feb. “Don’t jeopardize our national security over this disagreement.”

• “Americans are looking for real solutions, not political stunts,” said a spox for Speaker John Boehner (R-OH). “The House has acted in strong fashion to pass a bill that funds DHS and blocks President Obama’s overreach, and now it’s the Senate’s turn.”

 

Obama Budget

• President Obama’s budget relies on large tax increases, on corporations and the wealthy, to finance efforts in education, infrastructure construction and work force development that he says have waited far too long (NYT, TRNS, me)

• The document is undergirded by large tax increases on multinational corporations and the rich and a comprehensive immigration law that could lift the economy with millions of newly legalized taxpaying workers

• The proceeds of those initiatives would pay for free community college, more generous child care subsidies and education tax credits, paid sick leave, expanded unemployment benefits, and tax credits for two-earner middle-class couples, among other offerings

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• Obama wants to spend $47 billion on transportation and infrastructure over six years, more than one-third more than the current spending rate. Roughly half that would come from the current taxes on gasoline and other fuels. An additional $238 billion would come from the one-time surge as corporations are forced to pay 14% on profits now parked abroad

• Under the plan, the federal deficit would drop from $583 billion this year – or 3.2% of the economy – to $474 billion in 2016, 2.5% of the economy. In nominal dollars, the red ink would drift upward from there, to $687 billion by 2025, adding nearly $4.7 trillion to the national debt over a decade

• Measured against the GDP, the deficit would remain stable, and the debt would drift downward, from 75% of the economy to 73.3% in 2025

 

Obama Budget: GOP Reax: LOL

• GOP lawmakers had a field day mocking President Obama’s budget. “It may be Groundhog Day, but the American people can’t afford a repeat of the same old top-down policies of the past,” Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said. “Like the president’s previous budget, this plan never balances – ever.” Rep Diane Black (R-TN) called the budget “laughable.”

• In a joint statement, Rep Tom Price (R-GA) and Sen Mike Enzi (R-WY), chairs of the budget committees, said they’ll produce a budget that balances within a decade: “A proposal that never balances is not a serious plan for America’s future.” (Politico, me)

• “After six years of trying to have it all and losing control of both the House and Senate in the process, it’s time for the President to try something new: listening to the American people,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX)

• On infrastructure improvement – a bipartisan possibility: “My colleagues and I believe we can create a new innovative financing tool and have the resources to fund a six-year highway bill at lower repatriation rates,” said Sen Roy Blunt (R-MO)

• Sen Dan Coats (R-IN) quipped: “President Obama likes to talk about his veto pen and with the release of this budget, we can only conclude that he writes with red ink.”

 

Budget Look Inside: Defense

• President Obama is asking for a base budget for the Pentagon of $534 billion in 2016, exceeding sequestration by $35 billion. Separately Obama’s asking for an additional $51 billion to fund the conflicts in Iraq and Syria, as well as the continued American military presence in Afghanistan (Hill, NYT, TRNS, me)

• The “black budget” request for the nation’s 17 different intelligence agencies is $53.9 billion, an increase from $50.5 billion last year. Details remain secret, but docs from Edward Snowden showed that in 2013 the CIA received the largest slice, followed by the NSA and the National Reconnaissance Office, which builds and operates spy satellites

• The admin’s proposal earmarks $14 billion to support governmentwide efforts to defend the country against cyberattacks, an increase of nearly $1 billion over last year

• The Pentagon’s budget request calls for another round of military base closures to begin in 2017. The proposal is expected to meet tough opposition in Congress, as lawmakers have rejected such calls for years over concerns facilities in their districts could be targeted

• The defense budget request of $178.9 billion for military pay and benefits is an increase, but it’s down 2% overall from 2015, and includes cuts of $1.7 billion to pay raises, healthcare benefits, housing allowances and subsidies to military grocery stores
Budget Look Inside: Wall St, IRS, Immigration

• President Obama’s budget request includes his highest-ever funding requests for a pair of financial govt agencies that regulate Wall Street. He wants to help cover those costs and others in his budget by imposing a new fee on the nation’s largest financial institutions that’s also aimed at curbing risky activity (Hill, me)

• The budget calls for $1.7 billion to fund the Securities and Exchange Commission, and $322 million for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. The CFTC was handed broad new powers as part of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, charged with overseeing the multi-trillion dollar derivatives marketplace

• Obama’s new budget calls for giving the IRS $12.9 billion in fiscal 2016 – roughly an 18% increase over this year. Taxpayers, IRS officials say, now face long wait times on the phone and no better than a 50-50 shot of getting their calls answered. IRS Commissioner John Koskinen testifies about the budget on the Hill today (popcorn, deckchair)

• Obama wants to spend $1 billion to help curb illegal immigration from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Last year, more than 51,000 children from those countries were caught crossing the border alone. The situation strained resources within govt agencies

• The money would be spent on helping improve border security and economic and social development and make improvements to law enforcement and judicial systems in those countries, among other things. Some money would be used to support repatriation facilities to help process immigrants deported by the U.S.

 

Budget Look Inside: HHS, Climate, National Parks

• Obama is seeking $83.8 billion for the Dept of Health and Human Services. The request would add resources for the CDC, at the forefront of fighting Ebola. The budget includes a 9% increase over 2015 for the FDA, amounting to $4.9 billion

• Obama has marked $7.4 billion in his budget to invest in clean-energy technology. The president also proposes giving states more money to incentivize them to take action against carbon emissions (more details in the budget) (Hill, TRNS, me)

• Obama is asking for $500 million to help poor countries fight global warming and adapt to the expected consequences of climate change. The $500 million for a contribution to the UN’s Global Climate Fund is the main part of $1.29 billion Obama wants for various international climate efforts

• Obama is calling for $50 million to restore national park sites associated with the civil rights movement to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. This includes those along the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail
• The WH will announce new rules today on data collection, including requiring intel analysts to delete private info they may incidentally collect about Americans that has no intel purpose, and to delete similar info about foreigners within five years (NYT)

 

DHS: Senate Dems Play Hardball Today

• One of the GOP’s favorite chess moves from its time in the minority is expected to return this afternoon. Democrats are planning to block proceeding to a House-passed Homeland Security appropriations bill that would also negate President Obama’s executive action on immigration (Politico, Hill, Roll Call, TRNS, me)

• It’s a turnabout from a few months ago, when Democrats were in charge and railed against Republicans whenever they voted to block debate. “The Republicans are more frightened by DREAMers than they are by ISIS,” Sen Dick Durbin (D-MI) said on a 30 Jan conference call. “They are not concerned about whether or not the Dept of Homeland Security is funded.”

• Democrats may leave themselves open to attack. “Sen McConnell is saying you can have your relevant amendments, and if you don’t like the language the House put in that says the money can only go to lawful activities, you can offer an amendment to take it out, but if you don’t have the votes, you lose,” said Sen Jeff Sessions (R-AL)

• As written, the underlying bill doesn’t have the votes to break a filibuster. And opponents of the bill got new ammunition on 29 Jan with the Congressional Budget Office reporting that the bill’s immigration provisions would increase the deficit

• Obama on Monday hammered Republicans: “…until they pass a funding bill, it us the end of a paycheck for tens of thousands of front-line workers who will continue to … have to work without getting paid.”
• They’ve changed their minds. Yippee. The U.S.-led force in Afghanistan is to make recently classified data on the Afghan security forces available to the public after a U.S. govt watchdog complained about undue secrecy surrounding reconstruction efforts – called it “inexplicable.” (Reuters, me)

 

Chris Christie: Anti-Vaxxer?

• The office of Gov Chris Christie (R-NJ) went into damage control mode Monday after he stumbled into the measles vaccine debate when, from the UK, he questioned whether measles vaccinations should be mandatory, calling for “some measure of choice,” something he’s done as far back as 2009 (WaPo, AP, Hill Reuters, CNN, Fox, TRNS, me)

• After saying that his own children had been vaccinated, Christie said “there has to be a balance.” “I also understand that parents need to have some measure of choice in things as well, so that’s the balance that the govt has to decide.” The backlash on social media was fierce and instantaneous

• Shortly afterwards, Christie’s office put out a sort of clarification, saying the governor believes “with a disease like measles there is no question kids should be vaccinated.” “At the same time different states require different degrees of vaccination, which is why he was calling for a balance in which ones govt should mandate.” – so still saying it’s a choice, really

• However, in 2009, Christie told Don Imus in an interview: “I think in NJ, we need to take a whole look at that. It’s a real tough choice between protecting public health with vaccinations, but I have sat with a lot of these parents of children with autism who absolutely, firmly believe that it was vaccinations that caused these problems in their children.”

• Sen Rand Paul (R-KY) will never, ever be president. Not now that he shushed a CNBC interviewer with his finger and told her to calm down a bit. It’s his equivalent of the Howard Dean scream. He comes off as a pompous, chauvinistic, rather silly man. Added to his anti-vaxxer statements which will haunt him (me, Free Beacon, WaPo, CNBC)

Eye to Early Voting States?

• Christie may be an anti-vaxxer, but he may also have an eye to early voting states like Iowa, where Christian home-school advocates constitute an influential bloc of voters who take part in the GOP presidential caucuses

• President Obama said Sunday that “the science is, you know, pretty indisputable” on the necessity of vaccinations for children and said parents should vaccinate their children against measles, but back in 2008 he said “the science right now is inconclusive, but we have to research it.”

• The link between vaccinations and autism was alleged in a small 1998 study that has since been discredited and retracted. The author lost his medical license. Among other things, he paid children at his son’s 10th birthday party to donate blood to the study

• Meanwhile, Sen Rand Paul (R-KY), an ophthalmologist, waded into the debate Monday, in two separate interviews (see above LOL). He said most vaccines should be voluntary, citing “many tragic cases of walking, talking, normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines.” He also said, “parents own the children.” (really?)

 

Pentagon Nominee: What He’ll Say

• In written comments to the Senate Armed Services Committee, obtained by AP, President Obama’s Pentagon nominee to be the next defense chief says he would consider changing the current plans for withdrawing all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of next year if security conditions worsen (AP, me)

• The committee is scheduled to hold a hearing Wednesday to consider Ashton Carter’s nomination. While he’s expected to face some pointed questioning, the former Pentagon insider is expected to get easily confirmed. He said competition between ISIS and al Qaeda for jihadi dominance could increase the threat to U.S. soil and western interests

• He reiterated persistent complaints from military and defense leaders about the potential effects of more budget cuts on the armed services. Any additional budget cuts would require more reductions in the size of the military, he said

• Asked about Iraq, Carter said he would encourage efforts to arm and integrate Sunni tribal forces into the Iraqi military to help fight ISIS militants who have taken control of large sections of the country

• Asked whether women should be subject to a military draft if one was ever implemented, Carter said since “most military career fields are now open to women, a review of the military selective service act would be prudent.” He added, “this is not solely a defense issue, but rather part of a much broader national discussion.”
• China warned the U.S. Monday that it was opposed to any country meeting the Dalai Lama “in any manner” after the WH said President Obama would attend an event with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader – they’re both due to be at the 5 February prayer breakfast in Washington DC. Obama will give remarks (Reuters, me)

Ukraine: U.S. Considers “Lethal Aid”

• The admin is considering whether to send arms to help the Ukraine govt against pro-Russian rebels in the east, NYT reported, including anti-armor missiles and reconnaissance drones as well as other lethal aid (BBC, NYT, Reuters, CNN, AP, me)

• No decision has been made, but WH spox Josh Earnest said Monday, “The president’s view continues to be that this admin needs to be continually assessing what our strategy should be.” Pressure to provide more support to Kiev has intensified after peace talks collapsed over the weekend in Minsk

• The U.S. provides only non-lethal military equipment to Ukraine such as gas masks and radar technology. The failure of such aid and of economic sanctions to stop Russia from helping the rebels is pushing the idea of defensive weapons back into discussion

• SecState John Kerry will travel to Kiev for talks with Ukraine’s govt later this week. Will he go to Russia? Moscow denies Western accusations that it’s supplying weapons and personnel to the rebels. President Obama will meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel next Monday at the WH, where the leaders are expected to discuss next steps in Ukraine

• In a sign of the escalating violence, Pro-Russian separatist leader Alexander Zakharchenk has said that the rebels will aim to boost their forces to 100,000 men. Ukraine’s govt has announced a major mobilization, with plans to bring the numbers in its armed forces to 200,000 in 2015. At least five civilians have been killed in artillery fire in Donetsk today

 

Gas Prices Up: Don’t Panic

• The average price of gasoline has increased seven days in a row and is expected to continue on its upward trend, according to AAA. The auto group said on Monday that the national average is now at $2.06 per gallon, after dropping to a low of $2.03 per gallon. Gas prices declined a record 123 days before increasing last week

• The $2.06 per gallon price tag is still $1.22 per gallon less than a year ago, AAA said. Costly refinery issues and more stable crude oil costs have started to push gas prices back up. The trend is expected to continue into February, AAA noted, due to maintenance on refineries and a drop in production (Hill, Bloomberg, me)

• “It’s a good bet that most drivers will pay more for gasoline in March than today,” said AAA spox Avery Ash. “Yet even if gas prices increase as expected, drivers should continue paying at least a dollar less on gasoline than what they spent in recent years during the spring.”

• Still, the auto group said gas prices should remain low compared to recent years due to the drop in crude oil costs, meaning the national average price of gas shouldn’t rise about $3 per gallon in 2015

• Consumers expect gas prices to climb 20 cents in 2015 and by nearly $1 in the next five years, the biggest increase they’ve predicted since Jan 2009, according to the University of Michigan’s monthly survey of expectations released last Friday

 

• Raw: Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow on Monday – of course he did – so we’ve got six more weeks of this dreadful weather. Thanks, Punx. Meanwhile, Jimmy the groundhog bit the ear of the mayor of Sun Prairie WI Monday morning. Jimmy looked pretty ticked off at being woken up (AP, me)

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Victoria Jones – Editor

TRNS’ William McDonald, James Cullum, Mary Jarvis and Washington Desk contributed to this report

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