Washington (CNN) - The Department of Homeland Security has more contractors working for it than full-time employees, a situation two members of Congress said Tuesday was "unacceptable, untenable and unsustainable."
Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and ranking Republican Susan Collins said they were "astounded" to learn there are more than 200,000 contractor employees at the department.
The civilian work force of Homeland Security numbers 188,000, according to an estimate provided to the senators by Homeland Security.
In a letter sent Tuesday to the agency's Secretary Janet Napolitano, Lieberman and Collins said the figure "raises the question of whether DHS itself is in charge of its programs and policies, or whether it inappropriately has ceded core decisions to contractors."
In her roughly five-minute address, Maine Sen. Susan Collins takes issue with how the Obama administration has chosen to treat Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab, the 23-year-old Nigerian accused to trying to blow-up an American airliner on Christmas Day 2009.
“Less than one hour. That’s right, less than one hour,” Collins says in this week’s Republican address. “In fact, just fifty minutes. That’s the amount of time that the FBI spent questioning AbdulMutallab, the foreign terrorist who tried to blow up a plane on Christmas Day. Then, he was given a Miranda warning and a lawyer, and, not surprisingly, he stopped talking. How did we get to this point? How did the Obama administration decide to treat a foreign terrorist, who had tried to murder hundreds of people, as if he were a common criminal?”
After noting a number of acknowledged failures on the part of the intelligence community relating to AbdulMutallab, Collins turns her attention to what she views as another misstep.
“But, today, I want to discuss another failure – a failure that occurred after AbdulMutallab had already been detained by authorities in Detroit – an error that undoubtedly prevented the collection of valuable intelligence about future terrorist threats to our country,” Collins says.
“Once afforded the protection our Constitution guarantees American citizens, this foreign terrorist ‘lawyered up’ and stopped talking,” says Collins. “When the Obama administration decided to treat AbdulMutallab as an ordinary criminal, it did so without the input of our nation’s top intelligence officials.”
(CNN) - More and more, a possible compromise on how to overhaul the nation's ailing health-care system is taking shape.
Senators from both parties provided further clues Sunday to the potential form of a final agreement on the partisan issue that has sparked a heated nationwide debate, including last week's unprecedented heckling of President Barack Obama in Congress.
Two prominent senators said Sunday that a House health-care bill drafted by Democrats and vehemently opposed by Republicans and conservatives is dead. The senators - Democrat Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina - said on Fox News Sunday that any chance for a health-care overhaul focuses now on a compromise bill being negotiated by members of the Senate Finance Committee.
Another senior Demoratic lawmaker on Sunday promised that the Senate's health-care bill would include a public option that would have support from "some" Republicans.
"The bill - mark my word, I'm the chairman - is going to have a strong public option," said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who recently fill the late Sen. Ted Kennedy's seat as chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Harkin was speaking to a supportive crowd at his annual steak fry fundraiser for Iowa Democrats.
Meanwhile, a moderate Republican senator considered one of the few who might cross the aisle to support health-care legislation being pushed by Democrats said she rejects a possible compromise provision - a trigger mechanism that would bring in a government-funded public health insurance option in the future if initial reforms fail to achieve specific thresholds.
“My view is that the mission has to be very clear,” Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union.
“I believe it is not now,” Feinstein also said, “I don’t believe we can build a democratic state in Afghanistan. I believe it will remain a tribal entity.”
The California Democrat also said the White House should have a clear sense of how much longer troops would be in the country.
“I believe the mission should be time-limited, that there should be no, ‘Well, we’ll let you know in a year-and-a-half depending on how we do.’ I think the Congress is entitled to know, after Iraq, exactly how long are we going to be in Afghanistan.”
The mission for U.S. troops entails, in Feinstein’s view, clearing the Taliban and al Qaeda out of the country and training Afghan military and police forces.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, largely agreed with Feinstein. In addition to waiting for the release of a report about likely increases in troop levels from the top U.S. military commander on the ground, Shaheen said Congress should also wait on information relating to the benchmarks it has “mandated” from the White House for determining success of the mission in Afghanistan.
Compared to the two Democrats, Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins sounded a more pessimistic tone.
Asked on CNN’s State of the Union if the use of the trigger would make inclusion of the public option more acceptable, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, unequivocally replied “no.”
“The problem with trigger is it just delays the public option,” Collins told CNN Chief National Correspondent John King, “because the people who are going to be making the determination about whether the market is competitive enough, want the public option.”
New Hampshire Democrat Sen. Jeanne Shaheen refused to answer directly when asked whether Collins’ position indicated that President Obama should either not fight for inclusion of the public option in the final bill or, alternatively, pursue a legislative strategy that relied solely on Democratic votes for health care reform.
“I think we’re going to have a bill that has significant bipartisan input regardless of how the votes come out,” Shaheen told King.
The Democrat, who supports the public option, also said Sunday that it was important to stay focused on the big picture when it comes to health care reform. “We want to get competition in the health insurance market. We want to make sure that people who can afford health insurance are going to have an affordable option that they can use. We want to improve health outcomes for people. And we want to, long term, lower the cost of health care,” Shaheen said.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins has joined her fellow GOP Sens. Olympia Snowe, Mel Martinez and Richard Lugar in announcing her intent to support Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.
The judge "has impressive legal experience, has excelled throughout her life, and is a tremendously accomplished person," Collins said in a statement released Tuesday.
Collins said she knows that she will not agree with every decision Sotomayor will make as a member of the nation's highest court, but adds that she has "concluded that Judge Sotomayor understands the proper rule of a judge and is committed to applying the law impartially without bias or favoritism."
In a nod to the controversy surrounding Sotomayor's "wise Latina" comment, Collins said Tuesday that her "expectation is that Justice Sotomayor will adhere to Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's admonition that "a wise old woman and a wise old man would eventually reach the same conclusion in a case.'"
The Senate Judiciary Committee also decided Tuesday to delay the vote on Sotomayor's nomination for a week.
WASHINGTON (CNN) – Six key senators – three Democrats, one independent and two moderate Republicans – sent a letter to Senate leaders calling for a slowdown in the push for a health care overhaul, in light of the Congressional Budget Office's assessment that the Democratic plan currently being considered would not cut medical costs
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"We believe taking additional time to achieve a bipartisan result is critical for legislation that affects 17 percent of our economy and every individual in the U.S.," read the letter, signed by Democrats Ben Nelson, Mary Landrieu and Ron Wyden. independent Joe Lieberman and Republicans Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, who also said they were "firmly committed to enactment of comprehensive reform this year."
The letter echoes concerns raised by many conservative Democrats on the House side.
Full text of the letter after the jump.
WASHINGTON (CNN) – The Club for Growth has bestowed the three moderate senators who supported President Obama’s stimulus plan with their monthly “Comrade of the Month” award.
The small government advocacy group announced Tuesday that 86 percent of its members chose to give the February award to Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, who broke with their party last month to give the White House the 60 votes needed to pass the stimulus package.
“As future generations of American taxpayers struggle to pay off the country’s mountain of debt, they will have these three Republican Senators to thank,” said Club for Growth Executive Director David Keating in a press release.
According to the group, the dubious honor “is awarded at the end every month to the public official or figure who best lives up to the policies of big government and favors restrictions on economic freedom.”
The jab at Specter is particularly eyebrow-raising because it comes one day after the Club’s president, Pat Toomey, said he is considering challenging the Pennsylvania senator in next year’s Republican primary. If Toomey runs, it would set-up a re-match of the bruising 2004 GOP primary battle that Specter ultimately won.
(CNN) – An influential conservative political action committee is pledging to support primary challengers to any Republican senator who supports President Obama's stimulus package - the latest public show of dissatisfaction from the right over the massive measure before Congress.
"The American people don’t want this trillion dollar political payoff that will just line the pockets of non-governmental organizations who supported [President] Obama in the election,” said Scott Wheeler, the executive director of The National Republican Trust PAC, an organization that calls for less government spending and lower taxes.
“Republican senators are on notice," Wheeler said. "If they support the stimulus package, we will make sure every voter in their state knows how they tried to further bankrupt voters in an already bad economy.”
In a Senate vote Tuesday, only three Republicans backed the $838 billion measure - Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, and Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter.
All three senators were involved in cutting spending proposals from the plan, and have said they may not vote for the final version bill if more spending projects are added to it.
WASHINGTON (CNN) – A conservative group is robo-calling voters in Pennsylvania and Maine, urging them to call their Republican senators and demand they stop supporting President Obama’s stimulus package.
In a last-minute effort to force Republican senators Arlen Specter, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins into voting against the bill, Delaware-based ‘Let Freedom Ring’ began running 100,000 robocalls Tuesday in Pennsylvania and 50,000 more calls in Maine, according to Colin Hanna, the group’s president.
The Senate vote could come as early as this afternoon, and the measure is expected to pass with the support of the three Republican senators who helped craft the legislation.
“Would you be willing to contact your senator Arlen Specter today and tell him to vote no on the Obama tax and spend plan?” the Pennsylvania call asks, before providing a phone call for Specter’s Washington office.