WASHINGTON -- Senate Democrats rejected a Republican effort to force defense contractors to send out notices of possible job layoffs four days before the election, calling the move politically driven and purely speculative based on looming spending cuts.
The Senate Appropriations Committee voted 17-13 against an amendment by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. The provision would have overturned Labor Department guidance this week to federal contractors that they do not have to warn their employees about potential layoffs from the automatic, across-the-board cuts that kick in Jan. 2.
A 1980s law, known as the WARN Act, says those notices would have to go out 60 days in advance of the cuts, which would put them in workers' mailboxes four days before the Nov. 6 election.
The guidance letter said it would be "inappropriate" for employers to send such warnings because it remains speculative if and where the $110 billion in automatic cuts might occur. About half the cuts would be in defense.
"This is bad policy, not necessary and appears to serve a political agenda," Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, told Graham and the panel.
Graham insisted the cuts aren't speculative but rather the law. He quoted from then-Sen. Barack Obama, who in 2007 pushed legislation calling for 90-day notices for employees of potential layoffs.
"Contractors are not the problem. We're the problem. We created this mess," Graham said, arguing that the notices would force Congress to come up with an alternative to avert the automatic cuts.
President Obama and congressional Republicans agreed last summer to a deficit-cutting bill that includes a mechanism that would trigger across-the-board cuts to defense and domestic programs totaling $1.2 trillion over 10 years.
Ratcheting up the political pressure, presidential candidate Mitt Romney and fellow Republicans have accused Obama of shirking his duty as commander in chief by failing to negotiate with Congress on a way to avoid the cuts. Democrats counter that Republicans, who voted for the cuts, must consider higher taxes on the wealthy as part of an alternative to the reductions.
Graham suggested that Obama call Sen. John McCain, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee and the 2008 presidential nominee, to work out a compromise.
Questioned about that idea, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama "believes that if Republican leaders were to tell him that they were ready to support the basic principles that we need to address our fiscal challenges in a balanced way, then we could move forward with a plan for deficit reduction that doesn't just cut spending, doesn't just reform entitlements, but also asks everyone to pay their fair share."
"We could get this done very quickly," Carney said.
Adding to the political recriminations is the possibility that major defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. would notify its 120,000 employees of possible cuts the Friday before the election, effectively giving it a say in the outcome of the presidential race and congressional contests.
The White House fears this could hurt Obama's re-election chances in states with heavy concentrations of defense workers, such as Virginia.
Graham and two other Republican senators – McCain and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire – spent two days this week in the battleground states of Florida, North Carolina, Virginia and New Hampshire, warning voters of job losses from the automatic cuts.
In fact, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told Congress on Wednesday that the cuts wouldn't affect money already in the pipeline for defense contractors.
Inouye suggested it was far-fetched that Lockheed Martin would fire all its employees.
Lockheed Martin is the builder of the F-35 stealth fighter, the costliest aircraft ever. The next-generation fighter jet has been troubled by schedule delays and cost overruns. Ten years in, the total F-35 program cost has jumped from $233 billion to an estimated $385 billion. And, recent estimates say, the entire program could exceed $1 trillion over 50 years.
The committee vote came as the panel approved a $604 billion defense spending bill that reverses proposed Pentagon cuts in Air Force personnel and equipment. The vote was 30-0.
The measure would provide $511 billion for the base budget and $93.3 billion for the war in Afghanistan in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 as the committee moves money to war funding to meet the budget caps.
The bill is nearly $29 billion less than current spending.
The legislation provides $800 million to halt the Air Force's planned cuts. In its budget proposal, the Pentagon called for a cut of 5,100 troops from the Air National Guard, 3,900 from active duty and 900 reservists as well as 134 aircraft. That proposal met stiff resistance from the nation's governors and members of Congress.
Associated Press writer Jim Kuhnhenn contributed to this report.
Nuts Bring Buckets of Same
Just in case anyone forgot that the House Judiciary Committee ACORN hearing was a House Judiciary Committee hearing about ACORN, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/12/02/acorn-hearing-a-barrel-of_n_376882.html">Representative Steve King (R-Iowa) helpfully brought a bucket of acorns</a> to the House Judiciary Committee. Also that day, colleague Lamar Smith praising the "turnout so early in the day" at 2:30pm, and Louie Gohmert offering up the malaprop: “From one acorn, many nuts can grow.” Like, say, Peter King.
Hello Kitty, Hello Revolving Debt
Credit cards. Were it not for them, we would have to save up money in order to buy things. But do some credit cards take it too far, marketing to the youths? Byron Dorgan thought so when he saw the Hello Kitty Platinum VISA. "Does it seem to you like they’re targeting that 10-year-old, the 14-year-old." Ha! He should see the <a href="http://www.shopinprivate.com/hello-kitty-pink-guilty.html">Hello Kitty vibrator</a>.
"I'll See Your Baby, And Raise You Two Tweens"
Last time out, we made mention of Representative John Shadegg's (R-Ariz.) attempt to wield a baby in order to make a point about how terrible health care reform was. We neglected to mention that Representative Pete Stark (D-Calif.) took it a step further, and attempted to bring two young children to make his own points about health care (5:25 in video), at which point the House was officially barred from trafficking in human props any further.
John Thune's Stackin' Dollars
How much is too much stimulus? When it allows representatives to make junior high math analogies based on topography and astronomy, maybe. Here, Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) makes some stupid pictures of dollar stacks that extend into the sky, to the celestial firmament itself. “If you took 100 dollar bills, Mr. President," Thune said, "and stacked them on top of each other you would have a stack that goes 689 miles high.” He added, "In other words, if you took the 100 dollar bills and not stacked them on top of each other, but wrapped them side-by-side all around the earth… If you could believe this, it’d go around the earth almost 39 times." So, we cannot stimulate the economy, because of science! (1:15 in clip)
Gettin' High On Your Own Supply (Of A Substance That Does Not Get You High)
Representative Steve Buyer (R-Ind.) wasn't having any of that whole "regulating tobacco" stuff. Why? Because it's "not the nicotine that kills, it's the smoke!" So, he argued, why don't we regulate lettuce, to keep people from smoking lettuce? Wouldn't that prevent a "pandemic" of cancers? This would have been a good point, were it not for the non-existence of either a massive industry geared toward curing lettuce and rolling it into cigarettes, or a target market of consumers who were even remotely interested in smoking lettuce. BUT YEAH OTHER THAT ALL THAT STUFF (and the fact that nicotine is addictive) STEVE BUYER IS A GENIUS.
And Now, A Poem From Ted Poe
From Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas): <i>It came on two pages, It has withstood the ages. / The word "shall,'' is only 10 times mentioned, But enough to get one's attention. / No taxes did this law raise, To this day it continues to create much praise; / Two great religions does it claim, The "Law of the Ten Commandments'' is its name. / A current writing, 1,990 pages long, Has a socialist philosophy that is all wrong; / Difficult for the people to understand, And troubling what big government doth demand. / Over 3,445 "shalls'' it does loudly shout, New massive taxes does it proudly tout; / Written in secret by the bureaucrats, For exclusive use of the taxacrats. / The Congressional bill called "Health Care Reform," Is illusionary, the authors are still ill-informed; / Government ought not take over America's health biz. / And that's just the way it is."</i> And so, America, this is why you should have to die of easily treated medical conditions.
And Now, An Even Dumber Poem, From Roland Burris
From the junior senator from Illinois: <i>"It was the night before Christmas, and all through the Senate / The right held up our health care bill, no matter what was in it / The people had voted a mandated reform / But Republicans blew off the gathering storm / We'll clog up the Senate, they cried with a grin / And in the midterm elections, we'll get voted in / They knew regular folks needed help right this second / But fundraisers, lobbyists and politics beckoned / So try as they might, Democrats could not win / Because the majority was simply too thin / Then across every state there rose such a clatter / The whole senate rushed out to see what was the matter / All sprang up from their desk and ran from the floor / Straight through the cloakroom and right out the door."</i> <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/12/22/burris-backs-reform-with_n_400456.html">There's more</a>, but you will probably want to shoot yourself in the face after you read it.
Chuck Grassley Goes All Aggro On The Speaker Box
For some reason, in the course of discussing fuel efficiency standards, Senator Chuck Grassley decided he should drive his point home by shouting out Ashton Kutcher and his movie, "Dude, Where's My Car." Prior to this, Grassley went on an <a href="http://rawstory.com/news/2008/Speech_by_GOP_Senator_references_stoner_0924.html">extended monologue</a> about Pink Floyd's <i>Dark Side of the Moon</i> album and the shards of a broken prism and the "multishades" of light. Just straight up tripping balls, in the well of the Senate. Anyway, as you now know, this TOTALLY fixed fuel efficiency standards!
Sam Brownback Will Save Your Inanimate Genetic Material
Who's looking out for your precious bodily fluids? Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, that's who. And he's enlisted the help of a young girl, named Hannah, who has the power of talking to human embryos! "<a href="http://thinkprogress.org/2006/07/18/brownback-embryo/">Are you going to kill me?</a>" the embryos asked Hannah, who immediately scrawled a picture of this conversation on a giant piece of posterboard, so that Sam Brownback could stop people from killing the stem cells. And then Sam Brownback went on to support a bunch of wars in the Middle East!
The Most Important Prop Of All
James Inhofe (R-Batshit) hates him some gay marriage, and the gays in general. And to make his point, he carries around with him The Most Important Prop in America: a picture of his family. "As you see here, and I think this is maybe the most important prop we’ll have during the entire debate, my wife and I have been married 47 years. We have 20 kids and grandkids. I’m really proud to say that in the recorded history of our family, we’ve never had a divorce or any kind of homosexual relationship." Ha! THAT HE KNOWS OF!