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“Congress is the ‘Sharknado 2’ of government.”

JON STEWART, The Daily Show

With the Republican-led filibuster of a Senate proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 on Wednesday, Democrats moved swiftly to frame the vote as an example of the gulf that exists between the two parties on matters of economic fairness and upward mobility.

The question is not just one of money, they said, but of morality. And in doing so the Democrats returned to the themes that were successful for their party and President Obama in 2012 when they convinced swing voters that Democrats were mindful of the best interests of all Americans — not just those who are powerful and wealthy.

Speaking from the White House shortly after the measure was defeated 54 to 42, with 60 votes needed to advance, Mr. Obama admonished Republicans and called on voters to punish them at the polls in November. “If there’s any good news here, it’s that Republicans in Congress don’t get the last word on this issue, or any issue,” Mr. Obama said. “You do, the American people, the voters.”

“If your member of Congress doesn’t support raising the minimum wage,” he added, “you have to let them know they’re out of step, and that if they keep putting politics ahead of working Americans, you’ll put them out of office.”

The New York Times, "Democrats Assail GOP After Filibuster of Proposal to Raise Minimum Wage"

There is a truism in Washington that was confirmed last week in Congress: Even less popular than government regulation is a regulator suspected of not doing its job.

Not for the first time, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — or N.H.T.S.A. (pronounced NITZ-ah) — was forced to answer for failing to protect consumers. In this case, the failure involved a defective General Motors ignition switch implicated in 13 deaths. While G.M.’s new chief executive, Mary T. Barra, took most of the heat in two days of House and Senate hearings last week, she shared the grill with the safety agency’s acting administrator, David J. Friedman.

Critics, and not just in Congress, have noted that it was not the N.H.T.S.A. that exposed G.M.’s safety lapse and forced the automaker’s recent recalls of nearly 2.6 million vehicles. The defect was discovered by a lawyer and engineer involved in a lawsuit filed against G.M. by the parents of a Georgia woman killed in 2010. Subsequent press reports spurred the recall. Further stoking concerns, the agency twice considered and decided against opening a formal investigation of the suspected defect.

Given that backdrop, Mr. Friedman’s testimony that his agency would have acted differently had G.M. not withheld information about the flawed part won little sympathy from Congress.

“He basically told us that if only General Motors told them there was a problem, then N.H.T.S.A. could have told G.M. there was a problem,” said Representative Tim Murphy, Republican of Pennsylvania who presided over the House hearing, in an interview. “It’s almost dismissive of their role and I’m not satisfied with that.”

“So what we want to know,” Mr. Murphy continued, “is what is all the information that N.H.T.S.A. had, and how did they handle it each step of the way?”

Yet Congress, too, faces questions. The N.H.T.S.A. budget for operations and research has fallen relative to inflation since 2002, when the G.M. saga began, though no one has suggested that more money and a larger staff might have prevented it. The agency’s unit for investigating defects gets about $10 million a year — less than Ms. Barra’s compensation, noted Joan Claybrook, a consumer advocate who led the N.H.T.S.A. in the Carter administration.

Aggressive regulation is typically not rewarded, especially in the Republican-controlled House. And the G.M. case is reviving calls for Congress to strengthen a law enacted in 2000 after the safety scandal involving defective Firestone tires on Ford Explorers. That law was supposed to give the N.H.T.S.A. greater regulatory muscle by requiring manufacturers to file quarterly early-warning reports on any potential problems or defects. But rules written during the George W. Bush administration give companies a loophole to withhold information they define as business secrets.

The law also limits fines that the N.H.T.S.A. can assess for noncompliance, and allows civil but not criminal penalties. Legislative attempts to address the loopholes and limits in 2010 were blocked by the auto lobby and allies in Congress, though Democrats are now trying again.

The New York Times, “Minding the Minders of G.M.”

It’s like you don’t know whether to SMH, LOL, or WTF.

Our approval in Congress is 12 percent. We’re down to paid staffers and blood relatives. (Then) I got a call from my mother. She’s 102.

We’re down to paid staff.

Sen. JOHN McCAIN (R - Arizona), to host David Letterman, on The Late Show

BVT News Roundup 13 January 2014.


BVT News Roundup 9 January 2014.

BVT News Roundup 7 January 2014.


(Photo of Bonnie Raines and her husband, John, who raided an FBI field office in 1971 and secreted away government documents that proved the agency spied on anti-war activists by Mark Makela / NY Times)

Evening News Wrap 17 December 2013.

The House on Thursday approved a bipartisan budget accord and a Pentagon policy bill that would strengthen protections for victims of sexual assault. But as it wrapped up its business for the year, it left unfinished a major piece of domestic policy — the farm bill — making it likely that Congress will not deal with it until January.

Republicans and Democrats hope the budget pact, which passed 332 to 94, will act as a truce in the spending battles that have paralyzed Congress for nearly three years, and leaders in both parties sought to marginalize hard-line conservatives opposed to any compromise.

The defense measure would, in addition to strengthening protections for military victims of sexual assault, leave open the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, over President Obama’s objections.

The provisions to stem the growing number of sexual assault cases in the military are the most expansive in years. They would include new rules to prevent commanding officers from overturning sexual assault verdicts.

But an agreement remained elusive on the farm bill, the subject of continuing disagreements between Republicans and Democrats over spending for food stamps and expanding crop insurance for farmers, among other issues. All the House could pass on Thursday was a simple one-month extension of the current law, which Senate Democrats oppose because they think it will distract from the completion of a new bill.

Earlier, with bipartisan support in hand, Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio declared open warfare on the outside conservative groups that tried to scuttle the budget deal. For the second day in a row, he accused groups like the Club for Growth, Heritage Action and Americans for Prosperity of reflexively opposing a reasonable plan to try to raise their profiles and improve their fund-raising.

He said the groups had devised the strategy of linking further government spending to the repeal of President Obama’s health care law, then pressing their members and House Republicans to go along, even though they knew it would shut down the government and ultimately fail.

“Are you kidding me?” the speaker shouted, denouncing opposition to the budget accord. “There comes a point where some people step over the line. When you criticize something and you have no idea what you’re criticizing, it undermines your credibility.”

The New York Times, "House Passes Budget Pact and Military Abuse Protections, But Not Farm Bill"

Evening News Wrap 12 December 2013.

(Photo: AP via The New York Post)

Evening News Wrap 5 December 2013.

(Photo: Sam Costanza / New York Daily News)

“The 113th (Congress) hasn’t passed the bills every Congress does like a highway bill, or a defense bill, or a farm bill, or a budget. But what do we need a budget for? Clearly not for highways, defense or food! Besides, Congress did pass a bill insuring that people can fish near dams on the Cumberland River, AND (House Republicans) also passed deep cuts in food stamps for the poor. Which is good solid governing, because the poor don’t need food stamps anymore now that they can fish near dams on the Cumberland River.”

STEPHEN COLBERT, on what is now officially the least productive Congress — only 55 bills passed this year, with only a week left in their session — in American history, on The Colbert Report

Of COURSE Congress would pick that day for a deadline.

Of COURSE Congress would pick that day for a deadline.

Morning News Read Monday 7 October 2013.

(Photo of Senate chaplain Barry C. Black in his office on Capitol Hill by Drew Angerer / The New York Times)