Tag Archives: US Senate

Keystone Senate Yea Votes: Seven Times More Oil & Gas Money

By Center for Responsive Politics
January 30, 2015
Common Dreams


U.S. senators who voted to approve the Keystone XL on Thursday received seven times more oil and gas money, the Center for Responsive Politics found. (Photo: Steven Lyons via Credo Action/flickr/cc)


Senators who voted to push through development of the Keystone XL pipeline today have received, on average, $570,034 in contributions to their campaigns and leadership PACs from the oil and gas industry over the course of their careers. The 35 senators who voted against bill have received, on average, just $78,641 from the industry.

The Obama administration is still considering whether or not to approve the pipeline, but the Republican-led 114th Congress seized the reins almost as soon as it took office earlier this month. The House passed H.R. 3, the Keystone XL Pipeline Act, on Jan. 9 by a vote of 266-153. The Senate followed suit with its version of the Keystone bill, S.1, today, with nine Democrats joining every single Republican to pass the measure 62-36.

President Obama has threatened to veto the bill, and unless its supporters can drum up five more Senate votes, a congressional override would fail.

While some of the disparity between the amounts received by the yea versus nay voters can be explained by a longstanding partisan tilt of the oil and gas industry — since 1990, 79 percent of the industry’s campaign contributions have gone to Republicans — the nine Democrats who sided with the GOP received significantly more from the industry than their party colleagues. On average, Democrats who voted for S.1 received $140,193 from the oil and gas industry, while those who voted no, received just $82,595.

The object of the tussle is a proposed 1,179-mile pipeline that would cost an estimated $5.4 billion to construct and would transport more oil from Canada’s Alberta tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico, where it would be refined. Republicans support it because of the additional energy it will “This is about energy, jobs, economic activity, national security and building the right kind of infrastructure we need,” said Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) after the vote. Environmentalists and many Democrats oppose it because it will lead to more oil extraction from the tar sands and, they say, accelerate climate change; in addition, many of the jobs the pipeline will generate will be tied to construction, and will disappear once the infrastructure is built.

A full list of all current senators and their career totals from the oil and gas industry can be found here. The data includes only donations made after 1989.

CIA Torture Whistleblower Wants to Know: ‘Where’s the Prosecution?’

In interview given from Loretto Prison, John Kiriakou says authorization of CIA torture came from the top

By Lauren McCauley
January 21, 2015
Common Dreams, January 20, 2015


CIA whisteblower John Kiriakou as depicted in portrait artist Robert Shetterly’s “Americans Who Tell the Truth” series. (Credit: Robert Shetterly)


John Kiriakou, the former CIA agent and whistleblower who was jailed for revealing secrets about the CIA torture program, wants to know why there’s been no accountability for the brutal crimes now-documented in the Senate Intelligence Committee report.

In a phone interview from Loretto Prison in Pennsylvania, Kiriakou told The Intercept’s Andrew Jerell Jones that after the report’s release, his cousin had printed the over 500-page unclassified executive summary of the report and mailed it to him in five separate envelopes.

Kiriakou, an 18-year veteran of the CIA who in 2007 revealed to news media some of the first details about the agency’s widespread use of torture, said that the primary thing that shocked him upon reading the Senate report is that agents, some of whom acted without authorization and whose crimes are now widely documented, continue to walk free.

“We knew about the waterboarding, we knew about the cold cells, we knew about the loud music and the sleep deprivation. We knew about all the things that have been ‘approved’ by the Justice Department,” Kiriakou said. “But what we didn’t know was what individual CIA officers were doing on their own without any authorization. And I would like to know why those officers aren’t being prosecuted.”

When asked about the brutal treatment of detainees, namely Afghan prisoner Gul Rahman, who was killed in the prison, Kirakou said: “The man was murdered in cold blood, so where’s the prosecution? You come home, you murder somebody in cold blood, you get a promotion and a $2,500 bonus. That is not the message we ought to be sending.”

To date, the father of five is the only CIA agent who has gone to jail in connection with the torture program. Kiriakou was prosecuted by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act for allegedly revealing classified information to a reporter. After agreeing to a plea deal in October 2012, he was sentenced to 30 months in prison.

Though outraged by the impunity of the rogue CIA actors, Kiriakou confirmed to Jones that approval of the torture program came all the way from the top.

He said: “I remember sitting at a meeting with one of the top three officials at the CIA when the program was approved. And throughout the conversation, he kept on saying, ‘I can’t believe the president signed off on that program. I can’t believe it.’ He kept saying it. Because it was so radical and violent that even internally we didn’t think there would be permission forthcoming. And there was. And it got out of hand, and it was a slippery slope and the ball kept rolling down the hill. And the next thing you know, we’re killing people.”

The complete interview is available to read at The Intercept.

GOP Rule Change in Congress Signals New Dawn for ‘Voodoo Economics’

‘Few economic theories have been as thoroughly tested in the real world as supply-side economics, and so notoriously failed.’

By Jon Queally
January 7, 2015
Common Dreams


Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner wields the gavel for the first time after being re-elected as the Speaker of the House of Representatives at the start of the 114th Congress on Jan. 6, 2015. Among the GOP's first act was imposing a new rule on non-partisan agencies to institute new prediction models that will be more favorable to trickle-down economic policies. (Photo: Jim Bourg /Reuters)

Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner wields the gavel for the first time after being re-elected as the Speaker of the House of Representatives at the start of the 114th Congress on Jan. 6, 2015. Among the GOP’s first act was imposing a new rule on non-partisan agencies to institute new prediction models that will be more favorable to trickle-down economic policies. (Photo: Jim Bourg /Reuters)


A seemingly arcane rule change passed by the House of Representatives on Tuesday night signals that a new wave of tax cuts for the wealthy and what has long been criticized as “voodoo economics” will again be in vogue as the new Republican-controlled Congress sets the agenda in the new session.

Along with a host of other rules changes that will govern procedural issues in the House over the next two years, at issue here is a rule that will force both the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Congressional Joint Committe on Taxation (JCT), the two nonpartisan groups tasked with scoring the economic impacts of proposed legislation, to use projection models that include what is called “dynamic scoring.”

According to current lawmakers opposed to the change, the impact could be devastating. That view is also shared by outside economists and progressives who say that demanding the CBO to make expansive and unsupported predictions about the possible macroeconomic implications of new laws is akin to “cooking the books” and a proven failure when it comes to obtaining accurate, unbiased analysis on behalf of the American people.

Voicing objection ahead of the rule change on Tuesday, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) and Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) wrote an op-ed in Politico in which they argued that recent decades have clearly shown that the GOP’s “trickle down” economic policies have failed. “But instead of changing their approach to budgeting,” the pair wrote, “Republicans want to change the evidence.” They continued:

It may be tempting to dismiss this change as just an accounting issue. But they are rigging the rules in favor of windfall tax breaks to the very wealthy and big corporations who can hire high-priced, well-funded lobbyists—once again choosing to leave behind working families. Their plan would further distort the nation’s fiscal outlook by applying this scoring model only to tax cuts—not the economic impact of investments in education, healthcare, infrastructure, and other areas. That means that the value of tax cuts to the economy would be exaggerated, and the value of investments in the middle class would be undercut.

Though the Senate has yet to vote on new rules for its new session, expectations are that it will impose matching rules on the CBO and the tax committee. In a statement released just ahead of the rule change in the House, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) called the move a dangerous “gimmick” and vowed to fight the effort in the Senate.

“They call it ‘dynamic scoring.’ In fact, it’s a gimmick to help justify more tax cuts for the wealthy and profitable corporations. It’s what the first President Bush called voodoo economics—and he was right,” Sanders said. “The purpose of dynamic scoring is to conceal—not reveal—how Republican policies will affect the economy.”

As former Secretary of Labor and professor of public policy at UC Berkeley Robert Reich explained recently:

Dynamic scoring is the magical-mystery math Republicans have been pushing since they came up with supply-side “trickle-down” economics.

It’s based on the belief that cutting taxes unleashes economic growth and thereby produces additional government revenue. Supposedly the added revenue more than makes up for what’s lost when Congress hands out the tax cuts.

Dynamic scoring would make it easier to enact tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, because the tax cuts wouldn’t look as if they increased the budget deficit. […]

Few economic theories have been as thoroughly tested in the real world as supply-side economics, and so notoriously failed.

In a recent op-ed for the New York Times voicing his opposition to dynamic scoring, Edward D. Kleinbard, a law professor at the University of Southern California and a former chief of staff of the JCT, said the Republican Party’s interest in the controversial model “is not the result of a million-economist march on Washington,” but rather, “comes from political factions convinced that tax cuts are the panacea for all economic ills.” The GOP, he continued, will “use dynamic scoring to justify a tax cut that, under conventional score-keeping, loses revenue.”

Sen. Sanders, however, says you don’t need a new measuring stick to show what happens when you cut taxes for the wealthy and powerful. “What history shows,” Sanders said, “is that when you give tax breaks to the rich and large corporations, the rich get richer, corporate profits climb and the federal deficit soars. In these difficult times, we need realistic economic projections, not discredited theories, not voodoo economics.”

Funding Bill Passes; Wall Street Wins; “Kind of Compromise” Obama Loves

‘This bill allows too-big-to-fail banks to make the same risky bets on derivatives that led to the largest taxpayer bailout in history and nearly destroyed the economy,’ argued Bernie Sanders

By Deirdre Fulton
December 12, 2014
Common Dreams, December 11, 2014


Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) speaking to reporters on Thursday December 11, 2014. (Image: C-SPAN)


Update (9:53 PM EST):

The Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives passed a controversial spending bill late on Thursday night with a final vote of 219 to 206.

139 Democrats opposed the bill because, as the Huffington Post reports, they “were bitterly opposed to two attached riders that would whittle away at campaign finance rules and roll back provisions in the Dodd Frank Wall Street reform act designed to curb the risky trading at the heart of the 2008 financial crisis.”

The additional ‘Nay’ votes came from 67 Republicans whose opposition centered around their objection to funding contained in the bill that would go towards immigration reform measures recently put forth by the Obama administration.

In a statement opposing the bill ahead of the final vote, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, condemned the contents of the rider that will lift the regulations on derivatives trading, saying “This is ransom, this is blackmail. We don’t get a bill unless Wall Street gets its taxpayer-funded coverage.”

Pelosi said the amendment in question, which was literally written by lobbyists with Citigroup (see below), brings back financial services regulation “back to the same old Republican formula: privatize the gain, nationalize the risk.  You succeed, it’s in your pocket.  You fail, the taxpayer pays the bill.  It’s just not right.”

As the Washington Post reported just ahead of the final vote, “The provision was so important to the profits at [the nation’s biggest banks] that J.P.Morgan’s chief executive Jamie Dimon himself telephoned individual lawmakers to urge them to vote for it, according to a person familiar with the effort.”

Though progressive lawmakers, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, put forth spirited arguments against the nefarious provisions in the bill which they described as “giveaways” to Wall Street financiers and the wealthiest Americans, White House spokesperson John Earnest appeared on MSNBC and championed passage of the bill, saying the funding legislation was “the kind of compromise that [President Obama has] been seeking from Republicans for years now.”

According to Agence France-Presse, the bill’s passage came after a “bruising day of arm-twisting by the White House” directed at Democrats who opposed the bill.

Negative reactions from progressives on Twitter ensued:

Find the complete roll call here.


Despite enthusiastic backing from the White House, the $1.1 trillion government spending bill that opponents have described as “a Wall Street giveaway” is on thin ice on Thursday, facing strong opposition from progressive lawmakers and watchdog groups.

According to The Hill, the bill’s prospects “appeared to be teetering Thursday after House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) announced her opposition and the package narrowly survived a procedural vote.”

The House went into recess shortly after 2 p.m. after the debate on the bill had concluded, “something that could signal GOP leaders aren’t sure they have the votes necessary to pass the bill,” The Hill reported. “During a debate on a border measure last summer, Republicans also went into recess and then pulled the bill from consideration. But GOP aides insisted on Thursday the spending bill would go forward.”

At the center of the dispute is a provision, inserted at the last minute by Congressional Republicans, that would relax the regulation of investments known as derivatives. Democrats have demanded that the provision be removed, arguing that would weaken protections that keep the U.S. economy safe, allow big banks gamble with depositors’ federally insured money, and increase the likelihood that floundering banks would get another taxpayer bailout.

While White House press secretary Josh Earnest called the bill “a compromise” that “does fulfill some of the many of the top line priorities that the president himself has long identified,” opponents claim the bill was “literally written by Citigroup lobbyists,” as Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) wrote on her website.

On the Senate floor on Wednesday, Warren chided her fellow lawmakers: “Who do you work for, Wall Street or the American people?” she asked. “Nobody sent us here to stand up for Citigroup. It is time for all of us to stand up and fight.”

In remarks he shared with The Hill, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) echoed Warren’s rallying cry.

“Instead of cracking down on Wall Street CEOs who plunged the country into a terrible recession, this bill allows too-big-to-fail banks to make the same risky bets on derivatives that led to the largest taxpayer bailout in history and nearly destroyed the economy,” he said.

It’s no wonder Warren referred to the bill as a giveaway “for the rich and powerful,” declared Mary Bottari, director of the Center for Media and Democracy.

Bottari wrote:

The measure is backed not just by Citi, but by all the too-big-to-fail banks who want to continue business as usual, including JP Morgan Chase, which lost a whopping $7 billion recently in risky derivatives trades. FDIC’s Vice Chair Thomas Heonig, a Republican, explains the real reason the banks want the deal: “Most of these firms have broker-dealer affiliates where they can place these activities, but these affiliates are not as richly subsidized.” In other words, the banks could make a lot more money if they can use taxpayer-backed funds to make risky bets in the derivatives markets.

Marcus Stanley, policy director for nonprofit consumer watchdog group Americans for Financial Reform, puts it more simply: “The bill restores the public subsidy to exotic Wall Street activities.”

This progressive roadblock—the Washington Post described it a “liberal Democrats’ rebellion”—could prove problematic for the GOP, which needs a handful of Democratic votes to make up for members of its own party who oppose the spending package because it does not do more to curtail President Obama’s executive actions on immigration.

The Senate is waiting for the House to take action on a funding measure before determining its own next steps, though it is expected to take up the bill on Friday.

A procedural vote earlier Thursday to advance debate on the spending package was narrowly approved in a 214-212 vote—another sign the bill is on shaky ground.

Buried Within Omnibus Bill, a ‘Long-Term Blank Check for War Spending’

Analysts warn that “emergency” war spending fund, which was supposed to be temporary, has become permanent fixture that inflates Pentagon’s budget

by Sarah Lazare
December 12, 21014
Common Dreams



A U.S. Army helicopter taking off from Forward Operating Base Shindand, Afghanistan, Oct. 3, 2012. (Photo: DoD/public domain)


The government funding bill that narrowly passed the House of Representatives on Thursday has been widely criticized, including from within Congress, as a give-away to Wall Street. However, its 1,600 pages raise numerous other red flags for activists and analysts, including a bloated military budget and what journalist Julia Harte calls “a long-term blank check for ‘war’ spending.”

The bill approves $554 billion overall in Pentagon spending—in keeping with the trajectory of a country that spends more on the military than the next 11 countries combined. As Dave Gilson points out in Mother Jones, this sum means that total Pentagon funding during 2015 is “close to what it got during the height of the Iraq War” and “close to its highest level since World War II.”

When this sum is broken down, its sources raise further concerns, say analysts.

Buried within the budget is $64 billion in military funding from what is called the Overseas Contingency Operations. Established in 2001 under a different title, the OCO was supposed to be for “temporary” emergencies relating to the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, it has become a permanent, and seemingly bottomless, source of funding for war. Even President Obama noticed this in 2008, when he issued the campaign promise to reign in abuse of emergency war spending.

As Harte writes for the Center for Public Integrity, “The OCO budget isn’t subject to spending limits that cap the rest of the defense budget for the next seven years; it’s often omitted altogether from tallies of how much the military spends each year; and as an ’emergency’ fund, it’s subject to much less scrutiny than other military spending requests.”

Furthermore, Lindsay Koshgarian points out for National Priorities Project, included within the bill is a “spending spree for defense contractors,” which includes $479 million for F-35s and war ships. In addition, the bill green-lights $5 billion for the expanding U.S.-led war in Iraq and Syria, despite the fact that that military operation still has not been approved—or even subject to real debate—in Congress.

‘The CIA Is Lying’: On Senate Floor, Udall Blasts Continued Torture Cover-Up

Outgoing Colorado senator calls on President Obama to “purge his administration of high-level officials who were instrumental to the development and running of this program”

By Deirdre Fulton
December 11, 2014
Common Dreams


U.S. Senator Mark Udall, of Colorado. (Photo: Mark Udall/flickr/cc)


In an impassioned speech on the U.S. Senate floor on Wednesday morning, outgoing Senator Mark Udall (D-Colo.) reiterated his call for the resignation of CIA Director John Brennan and blasted the CIA and the White House for dodging not just accountability, but also the truth.

While he acknowledged that the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on Tuesday was a “significant, essential step” toward addressing American complicity in torture, Udall said the official response has been both incomplete and disingenuous.

“Director Brennan and the CIA today are continuing to willfully provide inaccurate information and misrepresent the efficacy of torture,” Udall said. “In other words, the CIA is lying.”

What’s more, he said, “the deeper, more endemic problem lies in a CIA, assisted by a White House, that continues to try to cover up the truth. It’s this deeper problem that illustrates the problem we face today: reforming an agency that refuses to even acknowledge what it has done.”

Warning of the danger of “not reckoning with the past,” Udall said “the CIA cannot be its best until it faces the serious and grievous mistakes of the Detention and Interrogation Program. And for President Obama, that means taking real action to live up to the pledges he made early in his presidency.”

The speech—a swan song for the senator from Colorado, who lost his bid for re-election to Republican Cory Gardner in November—drew comparisons between the so-called ‘Panetta Review,’ a secret and controversial historical examination of CIA torture by ex-CIA director Leon Panetta that Udall exposed last year, and the report released Tuesday.

“In my view, the Panetta Review is a smoking gun,” Udall charged. “It raises fundamental questions about why a review the CIA conducted internally years ago and never provided to the committee is so different from the official Brennan response and so different from the public statements of former CIA officials.”

For example, he offered, “the Panetta Review found that the CIA repeatedly provided inaccurate information to the Congress, the president, and the public on the efficacy of its coercive techniques.”

While the CIA claims that such methods yielded intelligence, Panetta’s analysis revealed “how detainees provided intelligence prior to the use of torture against them,” Udall said, and that the agency “tortured detainees before trying any other approach.”

“The Panetta review further identifies cases in which the CIA used coercive techniques when it had no basis for determining whether a detainee had critical intelligence at all,” the senator added, publicizing classified information not known until now. “In other words, CIA tortured detainees to confirm they didn’t have intelligence, not because they thought they did.”

Udall expressed disappointment in President Barack Obama for failing to follow through on his pledge to end torture. He also called on the president to “purge his administration of high-level officials who were instrumental to the development and running of this program,” declassify the Panetta review as well as the entire CIA torture report, and propose legislation that codifies his executive order prohibiting torture.

“There has been no accountability for the CIA’s actions or for Director Brennan’s failure of leadership,” Udall said. “Despite the facts presented, the President has expressed full confidence in Director Brennan and demonstrated that trust by making no effort at all to reign it in.”

Senate blocks any limit to NSA spying on phone calls

By Patrick Martin
20 November 2014


The US Senate blocked action Tuesday on a bill that would have imposed only minor limitations on a National Security Agency program that collects records of the phone calls of every American. The vote was 58 to 42 to take up the measure for consideration, with supporters falling two votes short of the 60 required to force action.

The vote was nearly by party lines in the outgoing lame duck Senate, with 52 Democrats, two independents who generally vote with the Democrats and four Republicans supporting consideration of the bill. The 41 Republican opponents were joined by one Democrat, Bill Nelson of Florida.

The effect of the vote is to delay consideration of any legislation on NSA spying until the next session of Congress, when Republicans will be in the majority and will control key committees like Intelligence and Judiciary, which originate and write legislation.

The defeated measure, drafted by the outgoing chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, would have placed very slight restrictions on the NSA program that collects metadata on virtually ever phone call placed in or through US telecommunications companies or the Internet.

Read more…