WASHINGTON (CNN) – A controversial new tax on employer-provided medical benefits is gaining traction among Senate health care negotiators as a way to help pay for a $1 trillion reform package moving through Congress, two key senators said Wednesday.
Bipartisan Senate negotiators are "starting to coalesce" around the idea, according to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Montana.
Any tax is controversial - but this proposal is especially politically charged, since President Barack Obama opposed the idea when he ran for president. White House officials from the president on down have sent mixed messages in public in recent weeks about whether he'd accept such a tax.
Baucus says the president has told him he is "flexible" on the proposal.
WASHINGTON (CNN) – Supporters of Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor Wednesday circulated a speech she made in 1994 that include similar remarks to her 2001 "wise Latina" comments, which have drawn fire from conservatives as racially insensitive.
In highlighting the earlier speech, Democrats are making the point that her GOP critics never complained before about the sentiment that judges with different backgrounds can reach different conclusions from the bench.
While her earlier speech did not include the racial and ethnic references that appeared in her 2001 speech, it did include references to gender and the idea that a female judge would reach a "better" conclusion than a male because of her life experience.
The March 17, 1994, speech to the Conference on Law Reviews was submitted to the Senate in 1997 when Sotomayor was nominated – and ultimately confirmed with Republican support - to be on the U.S. Court of Appeals. In it, she discussed the role of gender and referenced a quote attributed to Justice Sandra Day O'Connor that "a wise old man and a wise old woman reach the same conclusion."
"I would hope that a wise woman with the richness of her experience would, more often than not, reach a better conclusion," she said in the 1994 speech. "What is better? I….hope that better will mean a more compassionate, and caring conclusion."
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, is giving up his chairmanship of the Crime and Drugs Subcommittee and giving it to Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pennsylvania, Durbin spokesman Joe Shoemaker said Thursday.
Durbin, the second ranking Democrat in the Senate, agreed to do give up the post after a day of intense negotiations and public feuding between Specter and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid over Democrats stripping Specter of his seniority on key committees.
The subcommittee is a relatively powerful position in that it apparently oversees about 60 percent of the Department of Justice, according to Shoemaker.
A Democratic leadership source, who did not want to speak on the record about internal Democratic dynamics, also told CNN that Democrats decided to do this for Specter for two main reasons.
First, they want Specter to win re-election, and this gives him a powerful legislative perch from which to run. Second, the Senate Judiciary Committee is about to deal with a new Supreme Court nomination.
"The last thing we want is a disgruntled Democrat at the end of the dais," this Democratic source told CNN.
The full Senate voted Tuesday to strip Specter of his seniority, dropping him to the bottom of the pile on every committee he sits on. The action came on a resolution - passed on a unanimous voice vote– that set out committee assignments for the entire Senate. Specter suggested other Democratic senators
had objected to him moving ahead of them in the all-important seniority ranks.
Specter said Reid had told him "I would maintain my committee assignments and that my seniority would be established as if I'd been elected in 1980 as a Democrat."
After the vote, Specter said, "The caucus has some concerns, some people who would be passed over, and we're going to work it out," he said. "... I'm confident that Sen. Reid's assurances on my seniority will be fulfilled."
Washington (CNN) – Democratic leaders scrambling to strip AIG executives of bonuses are having a hard time answering a key question – why didn't Congress act to prevent the bonuses in the first place?
"There's always more we can do, and hindsight is 20/20," was all Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would say Tuesday.
But the reality is that when lawmakers did move to prevent bonuses in the stimulus bill last month, they actually made an exception for pre-existing contracts, effectively exempting AIG.
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd, D-Connecticut, who originally proposed the executive compensation provision, did not include the exemption clause, which said new rules "shall not be construed to prohibit any bonus payment required to be paid pursuant to a written employment contract executed on or before Feb. 11, 2009."
In an interview with CNN, Dodd denied inserting that exemption at the 11th hour, and insisted he doesn't know how it got there.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Senate Democrats want to tax the controversial bonuses doled out to AIG employees who work for the division that led to the company's downfall.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced on the Senate floor Tuesday that the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee will pursue a legislative fix in such a way that the "recipients of those bonuses will not be able to keep all their money - and that's an understatement."
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Montana, will propose a special tax within the next 24 hours, Reid said.
"I don't think those bonuses should be paid," Baucus said Tuesday.
WASHINGTON (CNN) – CNN has learned that one day after securing an agreement on a giant economic stimulus bill that is expected to pass narrowly with the votes of three moderate Republicans, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is calling other Republican centrists trying to persuade more of them to vote for the measure.
He’s looking for additional votes out of an abundance of caution, an aide explained, after learning that ailing Sen. Ted Kennedy, who returned to Capitol Hill for votes earlier this week, has now gone back to Florida to continue his recovery from brain cancer and won’t be here for a final vote on the stimulus bill in the coming days.
With Kennedy here, the Senate version of the bill passed 61-37 – just one vote more than needed.
Reid is concerned that if a Democratic senator gets sick, or has some other unforeseen obligation, he could have trouble getting the bill passed.
(CNN) – Republican senators have unveiled a $713 billion alternative stimulus measure put together by GOP Sen. Mel Martinez.
The measure, obtained by CNN, narrows government spending to infrastructure programs and helping unemployed Americans, addresses the housing crisis, and relies mostly on tax cuts.
Read the measure [PDF]
It remains unclear how many Republican senators have signed onto the measure, but it is a broader approach than the GOP leadership has called for. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated he wants to limit the stimulus to tax cuts and addressing the housing crisis
But the measure is narrower in scope than the Democratic plan because it eliminates spending on many of the government programs that many Republicans, and some Democrats, believe should not be in the stimulus package.
The broad breakdown:
$430 billion dollars on tax cuts.
$114 billion for infrastructure projects.
$138 billion for extending unemployment insurance, food stamps and other provisions to help “Americans in need.”
$31 billion to address the housing crisis ($11 billion for a loan modification program, $20.4 billion in tax incentives for home purchases, $50 million to temporarily increase loan limits for Freddie, Fannie and FHA)
(CNN) – John McCain on Wednesday used his first Senate floor speech since the end of the presidential campaign to urge his colleagues to quickly confirm fellow Sen. Hillary Clinton as secretary of state.
"I think the message that the American people are sending us now is they want us to work together and get to work," McCain said. "I think we ought to let Senator Clinton, who is obviously qualified and obviously will serve, get to work immediately."
The Senate is expected to easily confirm Clinton Wednesday afternoon, and McCain's particular support of the New York senator isn't surprising.
McCain confidantes tell CNN the Arizona senator developed a genuinely deep admiration for Clinton during the drawn-out Democratic primary process. Both senators also sit on the Armed Services Committee and had become close on several congressional delegation trips abroad.
WASHINGTON (CNN) – Top Obama aides Larry Summers and David Axelrod heard a barrage of criticism late Thursday about the stimulus plan at a closed-door meeting for all Democratic senators, according to several participants who spoke afterwards.
Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa said he was “concerned about the way Mr. Summers and others are going on this.” In particular, he dismissed the tax breaks for individuals as a return to “trickle down” economics that won’t work.
Harkin said the Obama aides were “non-committal” about whether they would change their plan.
(CNN) - Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Florida, announced Tuesday will not seek reelection in 2010.
In a Florida press conference, Martinez said his decision was not based on the likelihood he would face a tough reelection fight.
"I've faced much tougher obstacles in my life," he said. "My decision is not based on re-election prospects, but on what on what I want to do with the next eight years of my life."
The first term senator and onetime National Republican Committee chairman narrowly won his first Senate race in 2004. Martinez also served as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development during President Bush's term.
One congressional source cited Martinez's age, 62, and said "he is ready for the next chapter in his life."
It currently appears 19 GOP seats will be up for grabs in 2010.