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December 14, 2011

Cardin cites '06 race in support of voter fraud bill

Sen. Ben Cardin argued Wednesday that the nation’s election laws should be more uniform so prosecutors across the country could pursue political operatives who take part in election shenanigans such as Maryland’s recent robo-call case.

“What we’re trying to do is make this a national policy,” said Cardin, who unveiled a new iteration of his voter fraud bill Wednesday. “We want to see this uniform around the nation.”

The bill would subject those found guilty of using deceptive practices to suppress voter turnout to a fine or a possible five-year prison sentence.

The effort comes days after Paul Schurick, former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s campaign manager, was found guilty of election fraud for attempting to suppress turnout with a last-minute robo-call. The proposal was not drafted in response to that case.

In a news conference on Capitol Hill Wednesday, Cardin noted his own run-in with a last-minute electoral sneak attack: A 2006 flier distributed in black neighborhoods incorrectly suggesting that several prominent African-American leaders had endorsed his Republican opponent. 

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December 13, 2011

Brinkley brings Shank aboard for 6th District

David Brinkley, a Republican state lawmaker considering a run for Congress in Maryland’s 6th Congressional District, said Tuesday that a key Senate colleague, Chris Shank, would serve as a county campaign chair if he decides to formally enter the race.

Shank had been considered a potential candidate for the district himself. In siding with Brinkley, Shank could give a boost to a campaign that is competing in a crowded GOP field to replace incumbent Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett. Shank would serve as Brinkley’s Washington County chairman.

“A victory in this election will be determined by who wins Washington County,” Brinkley said in a statement. “Senator Shank’s effort on our behalf will play a major role in this campaign.”

The state’s primary is April 3. In addition to Brinkley and Bartlett, who says he will seek reelection, Maryland’s GOP chairman, Alex Mooney, has said he is exploring a run. Other candidates include businessman Brandon Rippeon, Robert Coblentz and Montgomery County attorney Robin Ficker.

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Cardin to introduce voter fraud bill

Sen. Ben Cardin said he will unveil legislation Wednesday to impose criminal and civil penalties for those who distribute false voting information before an election.

The effort, which Cardin is making along with New York Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer, comes days after Paul Schurick, former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s campaign manager, was found guilty of election fraud for attempting to suppress turnout with a last-minute robo-call.

The call, directed at black neighborhoods in Baltimore and Prince George’s County, told voters to “relax,” and stated before polls had closed that Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley’s reelection was assured. Schurick’s attorney, arguing that the call was protected under the First Amendment, has vowed to appeal the ruling.

The Sun's coverage of the robo-call case is available here. 

Cardin's legislation would apply to communications that occur in the last 90 of an election with federal candidates on the ballot. Literature listing the wrong date or time for an election, giving inaccurate information about voter eligibility, or promoting false endorsements of candidates would be covered under the bill, for instance.

Though the legislation would have applied to the Schurick case, it was not drafted in response to it, a Cardin aide said. The senator has been working on the issue for several years and has introduced different iterations of the bill in the past.

Maryland has a long history of last-minute election sneak attacks, including erroneous sample ballots, literature insinuating endorsements that were never made and misleading robo-calls.

Updated:Those who use deceptive practices would be subject to a fine or a five-year prison sentence under the proposal. The bill would also authorize the U.S. Attorney General to communicate directly with voters to correct false information if state and local officials did not do so.

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In Penn State's wake, Mikulski explores child abuse law

As the Penn State child sex abuse scandal began to wind its way through court on Monday, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski held a hearing on an underlying issue raised in the case: Whether federal child abuse laws are adequately protecting children from abuse.

“There have been too many examples in our recent history where children have been subjected to double abuse,” the Maryland Democrat said at a hearing of the Senate Subcommittee on Children and Families, which she chairs.

“They are victimized by the initial abuse and then are victimized a second time when the abuse is overlooked, ignored or covered up in order to protect institutions that many consider beyond reproach or ‘too big to fail.’”

The hearing came on the same day that former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was expected to face several of his accusers in court. At the last minute, however, he waived his right to the preliminary hearing. Sandusky, who has denied wrongdoing, faces multiple charges of child sex abuse in a scandal that has forced the university’s president and longtime coach, Joe Paterno, to resign.

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December 12, 2011

Cummings launches probe into for-profit schools

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, said Monday he will launch an investigation into executive compensation at for-profit colleges.

Cummings sent letters to 13 colleges Monday, including DeVry Inc. and Kaplan Inc., requesting they turnover compensation agreements for senior executives “as part of an effort to determine whether [their] salary, bonuses, and other compensation are appropriately tied to the performance of the students [they] educate, the vast majority of which pay for their education with federal tax dollars.”

Many students at the schools pay tuition with taxpayer-funded student loan programs, Cummings said. None of the schools are based in Maryland.

The Baltimore lawmaker has made executive compensation a top issue, including efforts to limit salaries and bonuses for executives at companies that benefited from federal bailouts.

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December 8, 2011

Federal worker pay targeted again on Capitol Hill

Maryland Democrats and federal employee unions attacked a new proposal floated on Capitol Hill Thursday that would pay for continuing a payroll tax cut by extending a freeze on federal workers.

Sen. Ben Cardin sent a letter to Democratic Senate leaders this week asking them to reject any proposal that would shrink federal worker compensation. In the letter – also signed by Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski and six other Democrats – the lawmakers note that employees are already operating under a two-year pay freeze that began this year.

“Federal employees are facing the same challenges as other middle-class families during this difficult economic time,” the letter reads. “Yet, this sub-group of middle class workers is in danger of being singled out to offset a tax cut for all middle class Americans.”

Cardin’s push comes as House Republicans prepared to formally unveil a bill that would extend the expiring payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits in part by continuing the pay freeze on federal workers. A similar proposal failed in the Senate Thursday, with 76 senators – including 25 Republicans – opposed.

Maryland is home to 286,810 federal workers, according to the census, and 131,350 federal employees work in the state.

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Obama, Biden to attend Army-Navy game

They’ll be led by their coaches, but when Army and Navy meet at FedEx Field on Saturday they’ll also have to contend with a commander in chief in the stands.

President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden will attend the game, the White House announced Thursday. Later in the week, Obama will travel to North Carolina to speak with troops at Ft. Bragg.

Presidents frequently attend Army-Navy games, though not always. Obama did not attend in 2009 and faced criticism for it. Presidents George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter didn’t attend any of the games during their presidencies.

Kickoff is at 2:30 p.m.

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December 7, 2011

Doctor latest Democrat to enter 6th District race

Milad Pooran, a 34-year-old doctor and Air National Guard reservist, on Wednesday became the latest candidate to enter the burgeoning race for Maryland’s 6th Congressional District.

Pooran, a Democrat, is a critical care physician and served as a combat medic in Iraq, according to an announcement from his campaign. He previously ran for school board in Beltsville, Md., but was deployed during the campaign, an aide said. He is a lieutenant colonel.

“The 6th District has been under-represented for two decades,” Pooran said, referencing the incumbent, Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett.

The other Democratic candidates in the race so far include state Sen. Robert Garagiola and former Montgomery County Council member Duchy Trachtenberg. The primary takes place April 3.

Pooran immigrated to the U.S. with his parents at the age of six from Iran. He grew up in Beltsville, attended the University of Maryland, College Park, and the UM School of Medicine in Baltimore. As an undergraduate, he was a sports broadcaster for a student radio station and provided color commentary for Terrapin home games. 

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Categories: Washington
        

Gansler, other AGs push for Cordray confirmation

Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler joined colleagues from three states at a White House news conference Wednesday to urge Senate confirmation of the Obama administration’s pick for a new consumer watchdog.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, included in last year’s sweeping and controversial Dodd-Frank Wall Street overhaul, has been operating for months without a director. The administration’s nominee, Rich Cordray, could face a Senate vote on Thursday.

Cordray, a Democrat, served as Ohio’s attorney general until early this year.

Senate Republicans say they are less concerned with Cordray as they are with new agency itself. Critics say the bureau should not be run by an individual but rather a board, like the Securities and Exchange Commission. GOP lawmakers also want greater oversight, including in how the new agency is funded.

In a news conference, Gansler speculated that blocking the agency’s work by holding up its director is the kind of political gamesmanship that has led to low congressional approval ratings.

“This is the type of thing that breeds cynicism in the general public,” he said.

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December 5, 2011

Nancy Jacobs considers 2nd District run

State Sen. Nancy Jacobs said Monday she has launched an exploratory committee to consider a run for Congress from Maryland’s 2nd Congressional District, the seat currently held by Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger.

Jacobs, who stepped down as Republican Senate leader in October, filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission late last week that will allow her to raise money for the race. The filing was not available on the agency’s website Monday. 

"Congress exists to serve the people and they are failing miserably,” Jacobs said in a statement. “It's time to shake things up in D.C.”

Jacobs, 60, became the Senate’s first female GOP leader this year but stepped down 10 months later to consider running for another office. In the Senate, she has focused on criminal justice legislation – including measures to address gang violence and higher minimum penalties for sexual offenses against children.

But Jacobs will face an uphill climb against Ruppersberger, whose district became more Democratic in the congressional redistricting this year. Ruppersberger won with 64 percent of the vote in 2010. 

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December 1, 2011

Bartlett aide, potential challenger resigns

A longtime top aide to Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett who has considered running for his boss’s seat in 2012 has resigned, a Bartlett spokeswoman confirmed Thursday, adding a new layer of intrigue to the state’s most compelling political contest.

Bud Otis, who has long served as Bartlett’s chief of staff and top campaign aide, submitted his resignation Wednesday night, Bartlett spokeswoman Lisa Wright said in a statement. The decision followed rumors that Otis was considering a run for the seat.

“Last night, Congressman Bartlett accepted Bud's resignation,” Wright said in an e-mailed statement. “He agreed with Bud that the multiple recent news reports about Bud's activities made it impossible for Bud to continue to serve him and the residents of the Sixth District of Maryland effectively.”

Rumors had floated for weeks that Otis would consider running for the seat, particularly if Bartlett decided to retire. Bartlett has said he is running for another term, but he has not raised much money. The 85-year-old would likely face the toughest race of his political career because of a new district that includes more Democratic voters.

Otis was not immediately available for comment.

Rumors of Otis’s candidacy were first reported in the Red Maryland blog, and they were cited by the state’s GOP chairman Thursday. Alex Mooney noted the reports that Otis was considering a run as he announced that he, too, will consider seeking the seat.

If everyone considering a run stays in the race, it would set up a GOP primary between a sitting congressman, his former longtime aide and his state party chair.

Posted by John Fritze at 3:02 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Washington
        

Lt. Gov. Brown endorses Garagiola

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown endorsed Democrat Rob Garagiola in the race for Maryland’s 6th Congressional District Thursday, an indication that the lawmaker will have the support of the state’s Democratic leaders against any potential primary challengers.

It is the first high-profile endorsement in the race and it comes before the Democratic field is set. Montgomery County businessman John Delaney, for instance, is still weighing whether to enter the contest for the Democratic nomination.

In a statement released by the Garagiola campaign, Brown said that his former colleague in the state Senate “brings an incredibly high level of energy, preparation and common sense to help Maryland families meet the most difficult challenges.”

The endorsement is significant for Garagiola, who has moved rapidly to secure support from local elected leaders and donors – both of which will be crucial in what is likely to be an expensive campaign.

Both parties are expecting primaries in the district, currently represented by Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, a 10-term Republican who says he is running for reelection next year. Also Thursday, state GOP party chairman Alex Mooney said he will likely enter the race on the Republican side, setting up a potential primary between the party’s leader and a sitting GOP congressman.

Posted by John Fritze at 2:07 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Washington
        

Mooney considers run for 6th District

Republican state party chairman Alex Mooney said Thursday he expects to run for Congress from Maryland’s 6th Congressional District, setting up a potentially messy GOP primary in the increasingly competitive district.

Mooney, a former state senator who represented Frederick and Washington counties from 1999 through the end of last year, said he filed paperwork Wednesday with the Federal Election Commission that will allow him to raise political cash. The filing had not yet posted on the agency’s website Thursday.

“We cannot let Congressman Bartlett's seat be taken by a tax-and-spend liberal like Rob Garagiola,” Mooney said, referring to the Democratic state senator who is formally seeking the seat. “Our economy is suffering and we need more jobs – not more government, more debt and more taxes.”

But before Mooney makes it to November’s general election, he’ll have to clear the April primary. The incumbent, Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, has said he will seek reelection but has so far not aggressively campaigned for the seat.

Bartlett’s longtime chief of staff, Bud Otis, is said to be considering a run if Bartlett decides to retire, according to item that appeared last month in the Red Maryland blog. Though Otis has not commented on the rumors, Mooney addressed it directly in his announcement.

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November 30, 2011

Md. delegation fires at proposed fed worker pay freeze

Members of Maryland’s congressional delegation and two public employee unions lashed out at a Republican Senate proposal Wednesday that would pay for an extension of President Barack Obama’s payroll tax cut by continuing a pay freeze on federal employees.

The idea, originally included in a report last year by a bipartisan deficit-reduction panel appointed by Obama, calls for a three-year pay freeze for federal workers as well as cutting the government workforce by 10 percent, or about 200,000. Federal workers are already operating under a two-year pay freeze that began this year.

“The Republicans are saying, let’s take it out on our federal workforce,” Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin said on MSNBC Wednesday.

Bipartisan legislation approved last year cut the payroll tax for employees to 4.2 percent from 6.2 percent. Obama proposed cutting the rate again to 3.1 percent in a jobs package unveiled earlier this year. The original cut will expire next month if Congress does not act.

The Senate is headed toward a vote as early as Thursday on the Democratic plan to extend the tax cut and pay for it with a 3.25 percent surtax on income over $1 million a year. But that idea has failed to gather traction with Republicans in either chamber.

“The President and Democrats in Congress are saying we ought to recoup the revenue we won’t get from one group of taxpayers by socking it to another group, a significant number of whom happen to be employers,” Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, said on the floor. ”Think about that: The Democrats’ response to the jobs crisis we’re in right now is to raise taxes on those who create jobs.”

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November 28, 2011

Report: Harris to back Gingrich

Rep. Andy Harris, the conservative Baltimore County Republican elected to Congress last year, will endorse former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, according to a report Monday in Politico.

Gingrich, a Tea Party favorite, led the pack of GOP presidential contenders in a national Quinnipiac poll this month. Twenty-six percent of respondents said they would back him, compared with 22 percent for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

With just 36 days remaining before the Iowa caucuses, the battle for the GOP nomination is getting more intense. Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry have both set up campaigns in Maryland and touted their endorsements. Gingrich’s campaign has been more hands off, though he did visit Baltimore in June for a fundraiser.

A spokesman for Harris could not be reached for comment.

Maryland's primary is April 3.

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November 17, 2011

Poll: Edwards has early lead

Rep. Donna F. Edwards, the Democratic incumbent facing a primary in Maryland’s newly redrawn 4th Distrcit, enjoys a 68 percent favorability rating among likely primary voters and would beat all of her challengers if the election were held today, according to an internal poll obtained by The Sun.

Edwards, first elected in a special election in 2008, beats former Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Glenn Ivey 52 percent to 16 percent, according to the poll, which was funded by her campaign and conducted by Democratic pollster Lake Research Partners.

Anne Arundel County Council member Jamie Benoit, who has said he is considering a run, draws 3 percent of the vote.

In Prince George’s County, the likely focal point of the April 4 Democratic primary, Edwards performs even better: Eight in 10 voters have a favorable opinion of the congresswoman there and she leads Ivey 60 percent to 21 percent.

In response to the poll, campaign spokesman Ben Gerdes said that Edwards “works and fights every single day for the residents of Maryland's 4th Congressional District, and these numbers reflect that."

Internal polls can often skew toward the candidate funding them and many voters are likely not yet paying attention to the race. Nearly five in 10 voters had a favorable view of Ivey and 41 percent had no opinion or had not heard of him.

Ivey won countywide elections in Prince George’s in 2002 and 2006 and is expected to be a forbidable challenger. He has not formally kicked off his campaign but has filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission required of any federal candidate who raises or spends more than $5,000.

Updated: Ramon Korionoff, an Ivey spokesman, said their campaign is in the field with its own poll and expects to have results soon. "Our campaign is going to continue to build on our momentum," Korionoff said. "Polls come in many forms and sizes and types and depending on the language...there can be variances." 

The Edwards poll was conducted from Nov. 10-13 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percent. 

 

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November 15, 2011

Perry fires back at Hoyer over Tea Party remark

Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry took a shot at Rep. Steny Hoyer on Tuesday, arguing that the Maryland Democrat is part of a culture in Washington that is “making a great living up there…at our expense.”

In a speech in Iowa, the Texas governor outlined a plan to slash government spending in part by reducing salaries for lawmakers. Asked about the proposal earlier in the day, Hoyer suggested that Perry was pandering to the Tea Party.

“When people like Steny Hoyer come out there and go, 'Is this guy being serious?' Yeah, you better believe it Steny. Americans are serious. They're serious about the spending that's going on,” Perry said on a conservative radio show. “It's not a surprise to me when I laid out this fundamental reform … that career politicians like Steny Hoyer don't like my plan to overhaul Washington. They're making a great living up there.”

Earlier in the day, when asked about Perry’s plan to halve lawmakers’ salaries, Hoyer gibed the candidate for a recent debate performance in which he could not remember the third federal agency he wants to eliminate.

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O’Malley signs letter on DOMA

Gov. Martin O’Malley, who has pledged to sponsor a same-sex marriage bill in Annapolis next year, is also pushing Congress to repeal a federal law that denies benefits to same-sex partners.

O’Malley, a Democrat, was one of 15 state and local leaders across the nation to sign a letter to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee to repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act.

“Tens of thousands of loving and committed gay and lesbian couples have been strengthened because our states recognize their equal right to marry,” the letter read. “These couples work hard, pay taxes and share the same values as other married couples but they are constantly hamstrung in their ability to protect themselves and their families because of the discriminatory” law.

The judiciary committee voted along party lines to approve the repeal, though the legislation faces a difficult path in the Senate where 60 votes are required to overcome filibuster threats. Of the 15 officials who signed the letter, 12 are Democrats, two are independents and one is Republican.

The Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, prevents same-sex partners from receiving many of the benefits enjoyed by other married couples, including: Social Security survivor benefits, federal employee health benefits and the guarantee of family medical leave.

The Democratic-controlled Maryland General Assembly failed to pass a same-sex marriage bill this year but O’Malley has vowed to support the measure next year. Six states -- Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont -- and the District of Columbia permit same-sex marriage.

Posted by John Fritze at 4:05 PM | | Comments (4)
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Duncan will not seek 6th District seat

Former Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan said Tuesday he will not run for the House of Representatives from Maryland’s newly crafted 6th Congressional District, noting his belief that his strength is as an executive, not a legislator.

“You want to run for an office that you fit,” Duncan, who acknowledged that he had looked into running for the 6th District, told The Sun in an interview.

Duncan, who served as county executive from 1994 to 2006 and who sought the Democratic nomination for governor in 2006, would have drawn considerable attention to a race that is already likely to be among the most competitive in the country.

The seat is currently held by 10-term Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, who has said he will seek reelection. Democrats in Annapolis redrew Bartlett’s seat as part of the once-in-a-decade redistricting process to include more Democratic voters in Montgomery County.

State Sen. Robert Garagiola has been the most aggressive campaigner so far. But Duncan said he is considering throwing his political muscle behind businessman John Delaney, a Montgomery County commercial banker who said this week he is exploring a possible run.

Duncan speculated that Bartlett will make an issue out of the redistricting – casting himself as a target of Democrats in Annapolis. He said he also expected Bartlett would try to define Garagiola as anointed by those same Democrats for the seat. Delaney, Duncan added, would come at the race without that same political baggage.

A former member of the Montgomery County Council, Duchy Trachtenberg, is also seeking the Democratic nomination. 

Updated: Garagiola's campaign is responding to Duncan's remarks by taking a swipe at Delaney.

"Rob's experience creating jobs is already gaining him support in Western Maryland," Sean Rankin, Garagiola's campaign manager said in a statement. "Now voters throughout the district will have a clear choice between a veteran with a proven track record of fighting for middle class families, or an unvetted big banker."

Updated: Katie Burnham, a spokeswoman for Delaney’s exploratory committee, said that the businessman will spend the next few weeks touring the district, listening to voters as he decides whether to jump into the race. “He is right now being encouraged to do so because of his track record of creating jobs, which would be his focus” as a candidate, Burnham said.

Posted by John Fritze at 12:36 PM | | Comments (1)
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November 14, 2011

Greens to hold national convention in Baltimore

Though it won’t be on the same scale as the huge political affairs expected in Tampa or Charlotte, Baltimore will nevertheless have a slice of the presidential convention scene next year. The city is the only candidate remaining to host the Green Party’s 2012 convention, a state party leader said Monday.

The party’s national committee is voting this week to select a city to host its presidential nominating convention, but Baltimore is the only option still in the running after Sacramento dropped its bid Friday. The event, which the party expects to draw hundreds of delegates, will take place at the University of Baltimore from July 12-15.

“We think that 2012 is going to be a big year when the Green Party can really break through,” said Brian Bittner, co-chair of the state party. “In Baltimore, we want to be the place where everyone can come from around the country.”

News of the convention comes as third party candidates, including Greens, have struggled to get on the ballot in Maryland. The state Green and Libertarian parties sued the Maryland State Board of Elections this year after officials ruled the parties failed to win enough votes in 2010 to qualify for ballot positions. The lawsuit is pending on appeal.

Asked about holding a national convention in a state where the party has had difficulty getting on the ballot, Bittner noted that third parties have faced similar problems in many states. “That’s an issue we hope to bring attention to," he said. "What we've been going through in Maryland [is] sort of emblematic” of what the party has faced elsewhere.

Republicans will host their party’s convention in Tampa Aug. 27-30 and the Democrats will head to Charlotte the following week.

The 2008 Green Party convention was held in Chicago.

Posted by John Fritze at 4:39 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Washington
        

O'Malley: Election a reaction to GOP 'overreach'

Speaking with reporters in Washington on Monday, Gov. Martin O'Malley framed last week's election as a reaction to Republican economic policies as well as what he called the GOP's "overreach" in targeting public employee unions.

"The voters are paying closer attention than perhaps many pundits gave them credit for," O'Malley said at a news conference at the National Press Club. "And they do not like overreach, they do not like ideology and they do not like mean-spiritedness."

As the chair of the Democratic National Governors association, O'Malley had some reason to crow about Tuesday's election. In addition to holding on to Democratic gubernatorial seats in Kentucky and West Virginia, the party scored a victory in Ohio, where voters turned back union restrictions that had been championed by the state's new GOP governor, John Kasich.

"The voters I believe in effect were saying, 'Look, enough already with the anti-union ideology,'" O'Malley said. "What does banning the unions have to do with creating jobs?"

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Delaney explores running in 6th District

A Democratic businessman who is leading a campaign to diversify Maryland's economy said Monday he is forming an exploratory committee to consider a run for the recently redrawn 6th Congressional District.

John K. Delaney, who co-founded a Chevy Chase commercial bank named CapitalSource, emphasized his business bona fides in his announcement, arguing that "if we stay focused on creating jobs, embrace ideas that put the middle class first, and involve the public and private sector to get things done, we can make a positive difference in people's lives."

If Delaney enters the race it could set up a compelling primary in a district that is already expected to be one of the most competitive in the country in next year's general election. State Sen. Robert Garagiola, a Democrat, has moved quickly to snatch up political and financial support in his bid for the seat. A former member of the Montgomery County Council, Duchy Trachtenberg, is also seeking the Democratic nomination.

On the Republican side, incumbent Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett has said he will seek reelection to the seat.

Rumors have long swirled about Delaney's political aspirations after he formed a group called Blueprint Maryland earlier this year. Its mission is to help Maryland chart a path to economic growth that doesn't rely so heavily on federal spending. Delaney has also been a behind-the-scenes political actor on state and national campaigns.

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November 12, 2011

Bongino workers' cars vandalized

Two cars belonging to campaign workers for GOP Senate candidate Dan Bongino were vandalized Friday evening as the former Secret Service agent and his volunteers attended the Maryland Republican Convention in Annapolis, the campaign said Saturday.

Tires were slashed on two vehicles belonging to the workers, a campaign spokeswoman said. The cars were not parked near each and no other vehicles at the convention had damage, she said. The campaign filed a report with Anne Arundel County Police.

In a statement, Bongino spokeswoman Hillary Pennington blamed the campaign's "opponents" for "resorting to thug tactics in an effort to suppress our message of real change." The statement did not say who, precisely, the campaign believes is behind the incident.

Bongino is seeking the Republican nomination to run against Democratic incumbent Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin in 2012.

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November 11, 2011

Kratovil passes on 1st District rematch

Frank Kratovil, the former Democratic congressman who represented the Eastern Shore, says Maryland’s newly drawn 1st District was “one of the factors” driving his decision not to seek a rematch against Republican Rep. Andy Harris in 2012.

Kratovil, a former Queen Anne’s County State’s Attorney who won election to the House in 2008 and then lost in 2010, had for months flirted with a rematch against Harris. But his decision, first reported by The Gazette, is not a surprise given that state Democrats in Annapolis targeted GOP Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett rather than Harris.

Kratovil said the new map was a factor, but “not a controlling one.”

“It was a very difficult decision,” he said. “I think what’s happening in Washington is very disillusioning.”

Kratovil, who took a job this year with the Prince George’s County State’s Attorney, could not name any other Democrats in the district he thought might run.

Posted by John Fritze at 10:27 AM | | Comments (0)
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November 9, 2011

Crofton man finalist for White House award

A Crofton man who works for NASA is one of four finalists for a White House award that recognizes federal employees who offer ideas to make government run more efficiently, the Obama administration said Wednesday.

Matthew Ritsko’s idea of creating a tool “library” to avoid duplicative purchases of pricey tools was selected by the Office Of Management and Budget from nearly 20,000 ideas. The winner will present their idea to the president.

The administration announced the finalists Wednesday as part of a broader roll out intended to promote efficiency. President Barack Obama will sign an executive order Wednesday that directs federal agencies to reduce spending on travel, communication devices and promotional materials.

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November 8, 2011

State Dept. nominee says she'll prioritize Gross case

President Barack Obama’s nominee to lead U.S. foreign policy in Latin America told lawmakers Tuesday that she would prioritize the release of a Maryland man serving a 15-year sentence in Cuba for crimes against the state.

Alan Gross, who was working as a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development when he was arrested in December 2009, has maintained his innocence. The Baltimore native, a veteran international development worker, was helping Cuba’s small Jewish community develop an intranet and improve access to the Internet.

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, raised Gross’s case during the confirmation hearing Tuesday for Roberta Jacobson to serve as assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs.

“For nearly two years, the Cuban government has held Alan Gross under horrible terms and conditions, violating his human rights and twisting the rule of law to suit their own needs,” the Maryland Democrat said. “Mr. Gross should be immediately and unconditionally released so he can return home. The health and humanitarian needs of he and his family are paramount.”

Cardin asked Jacobson to prioritize Gross’s release. She agreed.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 6:54 PM | | Comments (2)
        

Md. troops in Iraq tell O'Malley of concern for benefits

Maryland National Guard members stationed in Iraq told Gov. Martin O’Malley on Tuesday that they were concerned about veterans’ retirement benefits in the current climate of fiscal austerity.

Defense is one of several areas that has come under scrutiny as Washington looks to balance its books. President Barack Obama has directed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to cut $450 billion from the Pentagon budget. The so-called Supercommittee, the panel of lawmakers charged with developing plans to reduce the deficit, could come up with additional reductions. And a failure by its members to reach an agreement would trigger deep cuts automatically.

Members of the Maryland guard’s 29th Combat Aviation Brigade spoke with O’Malley from Taji, Iraq, via Skype. When O’Malley asked if there was anything he could do for them, Col. David W. Carey spoke of the retirement benefits.

“Some of what’s being talked about as we pare down the budget … is constantly there is an article in there about adjusting their retirement system,” said Carey, commander of the brigade, which is based at the Edgewood Area of Aberdeeen Proving Ground.

He pointed to the soldiers who joined him on the call: Master Sgt. Iris Cruz of Harford County, in the service for 21 years; Chief Warrant Officer Gregory R. Turner of Elkton, in for 12 years; and Specialist Delvan Namar Anderson of Edgewood, in for three. He said they and others signed on with an understanding of the benefits they would receive after completing their service.

“It’s my hope that as a government we don’t go down and modify that retirement system midstream,” he said.

O’Malley told Carey he shared his concern.

“My sense is in the general public that people are starting to ask deeper and better questions in the face of this sort of strange, cut, cut, cut, cut, slash-and-burn, slash-and-burn sort of approach to the things that we can only do together, like supporting our armed forces,” he said. “And so I’d like to believe that as the public is starting to ask deeper questions, so, too, will their representatives.”

O’Malley has no formal role in federal spending, but said he had met “a few times” with members of the Supercommittee.

“With other governors, we’ve tried to make very clear that doing a bad deal, with huge cuts to priorities like the one you underscored for veterans retirement benefits and our armed forces, doing a bad deal would be worse than not doing any deal at all. …

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Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 2:20 PM | | Comments (1)
        

November 4, 2011

DCCC runs radio ads in 6th District

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the campaign arm of House Democrats, is targeting Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett in the first political advertisement of the 2012
race to hit the airwaves in the newly drawn 6th District.

In a radio ad, the DCCC alleges that Bartlett is “part of the problem in Washington” because he is protecting tax breaks “for billionaires instead of Medicare for seniors and jobs for us,” according to a script released by the group. The ads will begin Monday.

Maryland’s 6th District, which became more competitive after last month’s redistricting process, is one of 25 selected as a priority by national Democrats. For now, it is considered a tossup race.

Bartlett has said he will run for reelection. State Sen. Robert Garagiola has led the pack of Democratic candidates, officially kicking off his campaign Tuesday. A former member of the Montgomery County Council, Duchy Trachtenberg, is also running for the seat.

Posted by John Fritze at 6:50 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Washington
        

November 3, 2011

Wargotz forgoes Senate run

Eric Wargotz, a Republican who ran an unsuccessful campaign against Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski last year, announced Thursday that he will not challenge Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin in 2012 -- narrowing the field of possible GOP contenders.

In a statement, Wargotz said he was "humbled to learn" that he remains popular among Maryland's Republican primary voters, but said support for Cardin, a Democrat, remains too strong for him to mount a serious challenge for the general election.

"In this political reality, we find ourselves in the position of being able to win the Republican nomination but falling short in the general election," he said.

The decision leaves former U.S. Secret Service agent Dan Bongino of Severna Park as the only Republican who appears to be aggressively campaigning for seat, though he has so far not raised enough campaign cash to compete against Cardin. Baltimore County Republican Del. Patrick McDonough has said he is considering a run.

Last year, Wargotz captured just under 36 percent of the vote. That left Mikulski with a commanding 62 percent of the vote.

Posted by John Fritze at 11:21 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Washington
        

Cardin to kick off campaign

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, one of a handful of Democrats considered a safe bet for reelection to the Senate next year, will officially kick off his campaign in Baltimore on Sunday, his campaign announced Thursday.

"The last few years have been tough times and there is still much work to be done to get people back to work and to restore our growth economy,” Cardin said in a statement. “I want to continue the fight and help rebuild the American dream."

Cardin, 68, was elected to the Senate in 2006 after serving 20 years in the House of Representatives and 20 years in the Maryland House of Delegates. He has become a leading voice in the Senate on environmental and fiscal issues.

At least one Republican candidate, former Secret Service agent Daniel Bongino, is endeavoring to mount a challenge to Cardin. Another, state Del. Patrick McDonough, has said he is considering a run.

Cardin will make the announcement at the Museum of Industry.

Posted by John Fritze at 9:41 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Washington
        

November 1, 2011

Garagiola jumps into Maryland's 6th District

Citing a "petty, partisan logjam in Washington" as part of the reason for his campaign, state Sen. Rob Garagiola announced his candidacy for Congress with a series of events Tuesday in Maryland's newly redrawn 6th District.

The Germantown lawmaker is the second high-profile Democrat to formally enter what could be among the most competitive House contests in the country next year -- and he is considered by many to be an early frontrunner in the still emerging Democratic field.

"So much of what we hear from Washington just doesn't sound right," Garagiola said in an address that was heavily critical of congressional Republicans. "Rather than focusing on our economy and jobs, this idealogical Congress has taken this country to the brink of economic disaster."

The seat is currently held by 10-term Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, who has said he will seek reelection despite a new district that was drawn to include many more Democratic voters.

Continue reading "Garagiola jumps into Maryland's 6th District" »

Posted by John Fritze at 11:18 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Washington
        

October 31, 2011

Dutch, Cardin seeking break for military families

Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin are scheduled to announce legislation Monday that would allow the families of wounded troops to receive free or reduced-rate hotel accomodations while visiting their recovering loved ones.

The legislation would expand the “Hero Miles” program created by Ruppersberger in 2003, through which military families may use miles donated by individual airline passengers for free airfare to visit troops recovering at military or Veterans Affairs medical centers.

Recovering troops who are able to travel also may use the miles.

The Fisher House Foundation, which administers Hero Miles, will announce Monday that it has issued the 25,000th ticket of the program, according to a spokeswoman for Ruppersberger, a Baltimore County Democrat.

The new legislation to be introduced in the House and Senate would establish a program through which Americans could donate hotel reward points to military families visiting wounded troops recovering around the world.

Ruppersberger and Cardin both have international responsibilities among their committee assignments: Ruppersberger is the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee. Cardin is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

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Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 5:00 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Military, Washington
        

October 27, 2011

New map faces first court challenge

It may not wind up as the leading legal challenge to the state’s new congressional map, but a Western Maryland resident who followed the redistricting process closely appears to have the prize for filing the first complaint.

Howard Gorrell, a Washington County resident who attended every redistricting hearing this year and frequently testified against “gerrymandering,” sued Gov. Martin O’Malley in U.S. District Court on Thursday, alleging that the new congressional map approved by the General Assembly last week is unconstitutional.

In a 16-page complaint, Gorrell argues in part that the plan illegally splits like communities – particularly agricultural regions of the state.

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Posted by John Fritze at 7:44 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Washington
        

Former GOP Hill staffer to run in 2nd District

While much of the political focus in Maryland has centered on House seats held by Reps. Roscoe G. Bartlett and Donna F. Edwards, another district – held by Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Baltimore County Democrat – has also drawn a burgeoning list of potential challengers. The latest in the mix: Larry Smith, a former Republican Capitol Hill staffer who will announce his candidacy early next month.

Smith, a 46-year-old Timonium resident and former thoroughbred trainer who most recently worked as a legislative aide to GOP Rep. Andy Harris, said he believes his military background will appeal to voters in the 2nd District, which includes Fort Meade and Aberdeen Proving Ground. Smith, a reservist who served for seven months in Afghanistan in 2010, will formally jump into the race Nov. 7 at an event in Cockeysville.

“I couldn’t wait any longer,” said Smith, who said he decided to run for the seat in part because of the incumbent's votes in favor of raising the nation’s debt ceiling and the health care overhaul legislation pushed by President Barack Obama. “I would call myself a No Labels Republican who was inspired by the principles the Tea Party was formed by.”

 To be sure, any Republican in the 2nd District will face an uphill battle against Ruppersberger, a former county executive who has effectively parlayed his role as the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee into national prominence. He has also courted military families, creating a national program that coordinates the donation of air miles to service members and their families, for instance. The congressman has benefited from decent fundraising and has just over $414,000 in the bank. 

Continue reading "Former GOP Hill staffer to run in 2nd District" »

Posted by John Fritze at 7:17 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Washington
        

Garagiola set to officially kick off campaign

State Sen. Robert Garagiola, who is moving rapidly in his bid to capture Maryland’s newly redrawn 6th District, will transition into formal campaign mode on Tuesday with a four-stop “kick-off” across the district, according to an e-mail sent to campaign volunteers Thursday.

The Montgomery County Democrat will hold events in Frederick, Germantown, Cumberland and Hagerstown – marking the first formal campaign rallies in a House race that is shaping up to be among the most competitive in the country.

“You know the damage that has been done to the country by the radical right that has taken over the Republican Party and the U.S. House of Representatives,” reads the announcement, which was first reported by the Maryland Juice political blog. “The Tea Party has rebuilt the House in its own image, making it into a place where Maryland values like common sense and compassion have become vices to be scorned. The results have been disastrous -- let’s do something about it.”

The district, which was redrawn during last week’s session of the General Assembly to be more competitive in the 2012 election, is currently held by Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, a 10-term Republican. Bartlett has said he intends to seek reelection, but he raised a mere $1,000 over the past three months and speculation that he may retire has swirled from Washington to Maryland’s panhandle.

A spokesman for Bartlett’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment; however, in a statement released Thursday, Bartlett said he is “proud to have enjoyed the support and votes from Democrats and independents as well as Republicans.” Without mentioning his name, Bartlett appeared to take a swipe at Garagiola – who was rumored to be a potential candidate in the 6th District even before the new congressional map was finished. Bartlett said he’s “never enjoyed the benefit of having a district drawn to pick voters for me.”

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Posted by John Fritze at 5:09 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Washington
        

October 25, 2011

National Dem. leader to attend Md. rally

Updated: A spokesman for Rep. Donna F. Edwards said the congresswoman will attend the rally. The spokesman said in an e-mail that Edwards initially planned to attend but then had a scheduling conflict. Edwards was "able to move things around so as to make it," the spokesman said.      

Previous post: Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz will headline a rally in Silver Spring on Wednesday to campaign for some of the state's Democratic officials who are up for election in 2012, state party officials announced Tuesday.

Wasserman Schultz, who took over the national party this year, will attend the rally alongside Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Rep. Chris Van Hollen and Baltimore Rep. Elijah Cummings. None are currently expected to have difficult races next year.

The rally, which will also include Gov. Martin O'Malley, comes as competitive races are developing elsewhere in the state, particularly in the 6th District, held by Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, and the 4th District, held by Democratic Rep. Donna F. Edwards.

A number of Democratic candidates are considering a challenge to Bartlett, who has said he will seek reelection. And on Tuesday, former Prince George's County State's Attorney Glenn Ivey said through a spokesman that he is considering a challenge to Ivey in the 4th District.

Edwards, whose old district covered portions of Silver Spring -- but not the specific site of the rally -- was not listed on the lineup of attendees. Edwards opposed O'Malley during last week's special session of the General Assembly, arguing that his proposed redistricting plan diluted the voting power of Montgomery County minorities.

Posted by John Fritze at 6:04 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Washington
        

Ivey eyeing new 4th District

In a move that could open another front in Maryland's increasingly contentious 2012 election cycle, former Prince George's County State's Attorney Glenn Ivey said through a spokesman Tuesday that he may run for the U.S. House from Maryland's newly redrawn 4th Congressional District.

Ivey, a Democrat, would face incumbent Rep. Donna F. Edwards in the new district, which now includes not only Prince George's County but also far more conservative sections of Anne Arundel County. The district was redrawn during last week's special session of the General Assembly, despite objections from Edwards.

With the state's primary set for April 3, time is tight.

"Glenn Ivey is moving full speed ahead," said spokesman Ramon Korionoff, who also worked with Ivey in Prince George's County. "He's laying the foundation for a congressional run and he looks forward to serving the people of the newly formed 4th District."

Ivey served as State's Attorney from 2003 until this year and is currently an attorney at the well-known law firm Venable in Washington, D.C. He graduated from Princeton in 1983 and Harvard Law School in 1986.

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Posted by John Fritze at 5:03 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Washington
        

October 24, 2011

Garagiola names early supporters

By John Fritze and Annie Linskey

State Sen. Robert Garagiola, a Montgomery County Democrat expected to run for Congress in the newly drawn 6th District, named nearly 20 state lawmakers on Monday who he said will back his effort when he jumps in.

The list of endorsements includes Del. Kumar Barve, a Montgomery County lawmaker and the state House Majority Leader, along with Sen. Ron Young, a longtime mayor of Frederick who unseated Alex Mooney last year.

Mooney, who chairs the state Republican Party, is also considered a possible candidate for the 6th District.

“I am appreciative of the early support of so many of my colleagues,” Garagiola said in a statement. “I have heard from many state and local elected leaders, as well as others, who have urged me to run for Congress.”

The seat is currently held by Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, but the district was redrawn during last week’s special session of the General Assembly – part of the once-a-decade redistricting process. Bartlett has said he will seek reelection.

The 6th is likely to be a competitive race and it is one of the few opportunities Democrats have nationally to add to their numbers. In part because of the redistricting process, candidates have a shortened time frame to get campaigns up and running. The primary will take place April 3.

It turns out that not everyone on Garagiola’s list of supporters is actually supporting his campaign. Del. Kevin Kelly, an Allegany County Democrat, said in an e-mail that he is not endorsing any candidate in the race. The mix up appears to have been a case of miscommunication. Kelly said he responded affirmatively to an e-mail from Garagiola soliciting support, but said he did not realize the e-mail was a request for endorsements.

A full list of names – minus Kelly’s – follows after the jump. All are Democrats:

Continue reading "Garagiola names early supporters" »

Posted by John Fritze at 4:04 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Washington
        

October 21, 2011

Marylanders in Congress welcome Iraq news

At least some of Maryland’s representatives in Washington welcomed the announcement by President Barack Obama on Friday that U.S. troops would be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of the year.

“President Obama kept the promises he made when he campaigned for the office,” Rep. Elijah E. Cummings said in a statement. “Osama bin Laden was hunted down in Pakistan, the drawdown in Afghanistan has begun and with the President’s latest announcement, our brave men and women in uniform will be coming home to spend the holidays with their families."

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin voted against the resolution that authorized the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, when he was a member of the House.

“We can’t change the past, but after years of calling for a new and more thoughtful approach, President Obama delivered on his pledge to withdraw our military from Iraq in a safe and stable manner,” the Maryland Democrat said. “The Iraqis can now take responsibility for the security and sustainability of their own nation.”

Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat, said he still believes Iraq “was the wrong war at the wrong time.”

“However,” he continued, “our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines and Coast Guardsmen have done our nation proud. The excellence shown by our military has proven, yet again, that they are second to none. … I welcome home our brave servicemen and women, and hope that they will never again be separated from their families by violence and war.”

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, noted that Obama's announcement was "consistent with his past statements and abides by the timeline established in the 2008 Status of Forces Agreement written by the Bush Administration and Prime Minister Maliki's government."

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Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 9:00 PM | | Comments (1)
        

October 20, 2011

Garagiola to ‘seriously consider’ a run for Congress

State Sen. Rob Garagiola, a Montgomery County Democrat, formally announced Thursday that he is considering a run for the U.S. House in the newly drawn 6th Congressional District.

Though not unexpected, Garagiola’s announcement capped a busy first day in what is shaping up to be among the nation’s most competitive House races in 2012. The district is currently held by Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, who said this week that he will seek reelection.

“What I have done in Maryland is the same kind of can-do, bi-partisan leadership we need in Washington,” Garagiola, the Senate majority leader, said in a statement. “As someone who has served our country in uniform, I fundamentally believe that we must end the partisan gridlock in Washington and put our country first.”

The announcement came on thee same day that Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, signed into a law a new congressional map for Maryland that will be in place for the next decade, including the April 3 primary election. The redistricting transforms Bartlett's once conservative stronghold by including Democratic portions of Montgomery and Frederick counties.

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Posted by John Fritze at 5:31 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Washington
        

Van Hollen notes ‘dramatic’ change in district

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a former leader of the party’s national effort to elect Democrats to the House, wrote Thursday that he “cannot take anything for granted” in the 2012 election because of the changes approved this week to his congressional district.

The Montgomery County lawmaker, who has been mostly mum during the redistricting process, made the comments in an e-mail to supporters soliciting campaign cash.

“Earlier today, the Maryland General Assembly passed a redistricting plan that will dramatically change my current congressional district — reducing the Democratic performance by 12 percentage points,” Van Hollen wrote in the e-mail. “The new district will run all the way from the D.C — Maryland line to the border with Pennsylvania, taking in some very Republican areas.

“I cannot take anything for granted.”

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Posted by John Fritze at 4:35 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Washington
        

Trachtenberg to run for Congress in 6th District

A former Democratic member of the Montgomery County Council who lost her reelection last year after battling with public employee unions said Thursday that she will run for Congress from the new Western Maryland district created this week as part of the state’s redistricting process.

Duchy Trachtenberg, an at-large member of the council from 2006 through 2010, is the first Democratic candidate to formally enter the race -- through several high-profile Democrats and Republicans are strongly considering a run.

The seat is currently held by 10-term Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, who has said he will seek reelection.

“They’re really looking for independence,” Trachtenberg said of voters when asked why she would be the best Democratic candidate to take on Bartlett next November. “It’s going to really take some direct, honest dialogue and some bold ideas and also some willingness to make hard decisions.”

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Posted by John Fritze at 3:57 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Washington
        

Marylanders in Congress urge democracy in Libya

Maryland’s representatives in Washington spoke Thursday of a new era in Libya, and urged the rebels who overthrew Moammar Gadhafi to continue working with their international supporters on the transition to democracy.

“The Libyan people now have the opportunity to build a better future for themselves and their families,” Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Baltimore County, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement. “The Transitional National Council (TNC), with support from the international community, can now focus its efforts toward promoting democracy, freedom and human rights for all Libyans with a unity government, so the will of the Libyan people can be expressed.

“The international community looks forward to a peaceful transition and free and fair elections in Libya.”

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Southern Maryland, the No.2 Democrat in the House, expressed hope that the death of Gadhafi signals “a return to peace in Libya.”

“I join in encouraging the National Transitional Council to continue working with the international community to build free institutions and provide for the safety and well-being of its people,” Hoyer said.

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, described the death of Gadhafi as “positive news for the people of Libya, for America, and for the international community.

“For decades, Qaddafi persecuted all opponents to his regime and controlled the Libyan people with brutality and violence,” Cardin said. “His open defiance of the will of his own people and their desire for freedom, and his rebuff of the international community, made it predictable that he would not survive this latest chapter.”

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Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 3:34 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Washington
        

October 19, 2011

Perry, Romney set up campaigns in Md.

Texas governor and GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry on Wednesday named two state lawmakers and a political consultant to his lead his campaign effort in Maryland.

The state team will be co-chaired by state Sen. Christopher Shank, a Western Maryland Republican, and Del. Justin Ready, a Carroll County lawmaker and interim executive director of the state party. The Perry campaign also named political consultant Lawrence Scott and Richard “Dick” Hug as finance co-chairs.

“I am looking forward to expanding our campaign operation into Maryland and I am proud to have the support of these key individuals,” Perry said in a statement.

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Posted by John Fritze at 7:10 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Washington
        

Bartlett says he will run for re-election

Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, the incumbent member of Congress with the most to lose under the redistricting plan approved by the General Assembly Wednesday, announced that he plans to run for re-election, despite a more competitive district and recent lackluster fundraising.

Breaking his long-held silence on the redistricting plan, the Western Maryland Republican blasted the new map that will be in place for the April 3 primary and next year’s general election. The more competitive district has drawn interest from a handful of potentially strong candidates, including Democratic state Sen. Rob Garagiola.

“With 45% of Marylanders now minorities clustered in the city of Baltimore and in the suburbs of Baltimore and Washington, D.C., it was self-evident that there should be a new third majority minority district,” Bartlett said in a statement. “Unfortunately and obviously, these were the lowest priorities for the mapmakers in Annapolis.”

Bartlett, a 10-term lawmaker, has long faced speculation that the new district would prompt him to retire. He did not help dispel those rumors with his most recent fundraising report, which shows he collected only $1,000 in the past three months -- despite the fact that his race could easily become one of the most expensive in the country.

But in the statement, Bartlett tried to put aside any doubts about his reelection. And, it’s worth noting that potential challengers will start with no money in the bank.

“I filed for re-election in June and approval of this map hasn’t changed my plans to seek re-election to represent the residents of Maryland’s 6th District in the U.S. House of Representatives,” he said.

Through a spokeswoman, Bartlett declined a request for an interview.

Posted by John Fritze at 4:51 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Washington
        

Edwards: Redistricting process has run its course

Rep. Donna F. Edwards, a Prince George's County Democrat who became a leading critic of Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposed redistricting plan, acknowledged Wednesday that she had lost her effort to change the map and said she looked forward to representing her new district.

Edwards' office released a statement shortly after the Maryland House of Delegates voted 91-46 to support O'Malley's proposal. The bill will head back to the Senate for technical corrections on Thursday, but the broader political fight is over.

The congresswoman had argued that the proposal harmed minority voters in Montgomery County because it split growing black, Asian and Hispanic populations into congressional districts that are likely to be represented by whites. Edwards' 4th District currently covers many of those communities, but will be pulled out of Montgomery County under the new map.

"The redistricting plan passed in the Maryland House today is not the best approach for minority voters or for all Marylanders," Edwards said in a statement. "Nonetheless, the legislative process in the General Assembly has run its course...Our country and the state of Maryland face pressing challenges that must be matched by thoughtful and authentic leadership from and on behalf of all communities."

Posted by John Fritze at 4:09 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Washington
        

October 16, 2011

Cummings, Issa square off on Fast and Furious

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings said Sunday that he agreed that the Republican-led investigation into the ATF operation known as Fast and Furious has become a witch hunt and argued that the controversial nature of the program had not been communicated to top Obama administration officials.

"All we want is a responsible and balanced investigation," the Baltimore lawmaker and top ranking Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee said on CBS's Face the Nation on Sunday. "Just because if you don't like some facts you don't throw them out the door and say I'm not going to look at those."

The Fast and Furious program, which began in 2009, allowed illegal "straw purchases" of firearms under the expectation that they would be tracked to higher ups in Mexican gangs. But the ATF lost track of many of the weapons, including some left at crime scenes. Two of the weapons were found at the scene of the murder of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.

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Posted by John Fritze at 11:05 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Washington
        

October 15, 2011

Bartlett, redistricting target, raises little

Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, the Western Maryland Republican who has become a target of the redistricting process in Annapolis, raised a mere $1,000 in third quarter of the year -- a number that is likely to fuel speculation about whether he will retire instead of fighting to retain his seat.

A Federal Election Commission report released Saturday showed Bartlett received only one contribution over the past three months. The donation, made Sept. 20, came from the Republican Main Street PAC, a Washington group that works to re-elect incumbents.

The congressman is a member of the group.

Bartlett has raised $73,725 since the 2010 election and has $260,727 in the bank.

The low number comes as Democrats in Annapolis are gearing up for a special session to redraw the state’s eight congressional districts. As part of that process, Democrats are drawing Bartlett’s district deep into Democrat-heavy Montgomery County, a move that will make his seat far more competitive.

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Posted by John Fritze at 5:45 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Washington
        

October 14, 2011

Cardin posts large fundraising total

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin’s 2012 reelection campaign racked up another hefty fundraising quarter over the summer, hauling in more than $700,000 over the past three months, his campaign said Friday.

The numbers reflect the Maryland Democrat’s status as heavily favored to win reelection, even as other Democratic senators up for reelection next year across the country are facing difficult races. Cardin’s campaign will also report having $2.3 million in the bank, according to an announcement from his campaign.

“I take seriously the responsibility Marylanders have given me to tackle the tough issues facing our state and the trust they have in me to do what’s right for our state and our nation,” Cardin said in a statement. “Particularly during these tough economic times, I am humbled by the level of support I’ve received.”

Former Secret Service agent Daniel Bongino is the only Republican who appears to be actively fundraising for the job. His campaign will report bringing in $52,000 over the past three months with $31,000 on hand.

Asked about the disparity between his campaign and Cardin’s, Bongino said he was starting his campaign from scratch.

Cardin has “the advantages of power and incumbency,” Bongino said. “Those aren’t exactly winning messages right now… In three months, we’ve built a network of 400 donors nationwide…We’re in a great position.”

Posted by John Fritze at 12:48 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Washington
        

October 13, 2011

O’Malley urges Congress to act on jobs

Following a meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House on Thursday, Gov. Martin O’Malley and the Democratic governors of Washington and Minnesota called on Congress to take quick action to address the nation’s stubbornly high unemployment by passing the administration’s jobs bill.

Echoing earlier statements in support of the American Jobs Act – Obama’s $447 billion proposal to kick start the economy – O’Malley argued lawmakers should pass the bill “as soon as possible” and that Democratic leaders would keep the pressure on “this do-nothing Congress to do something on jobs.”

The meeting, which included White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley, came days after the Democratic-led Senate failed to muster the 60 votes needed to bring Obama’s jobs measure to the floor for debate. Republicans, concerned about the bill’s cost, voted against it en masse. Two centrist Democrats also opposed it.

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Posted by John Fritze at 6:16 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Washington
        

October 10, 2011

Utah senator endorses Bongino

Dan Bongino, a Republican candidate for Senate in Maryland, picked up the endorsement Monday of Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah.

Lee, a Tea Party favorite, knocked off incumbent Sen. Robert Bennett in the 2010 election, an upset that was among the first examples of long-time lawmakers losing to new, conservative challengers.

"As a party and as a movement, we must believe in the right candidate, someone with an unquestionable passion and a deep conviction that will transcend any political persuasion," Lee said in a statement.

Bongino, of Severna Park, is a former U.S. Secret Service agent who announced his candidacy in May. If he wins the GOP nomination, he would face incumbent Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin in the general election.

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October 7, 2011

Group questions proposed congressional maps

A public watchdog group is raising questions about Maryland’s proposed new congressional districts, suggesting Friday that the Democratic plan released this week would dilute the power of Hispanic voters and slice through neighborhoods.

In a statement, Common Cause describes the proposed new political maps as an example of “partisan gerrymandering” and argues that the new districts serve elected officials more than voters. Common Cause has long advocated for nonpartisan commissions, rather than politically appointed panels, to redraw political boundaries.

The group notes that the proposed maps would shift about 30 percent of the state’s population into districts. It argues that Hispanic voters are too thinly spread out to influence elections and that some congressional districts, such as the one represented by Democratic Rep. Donna Edwards, are too heterogeneous.

Edwards’ district would mix a heavily African-American population in Prince George’s County with more affluent, conservative, white voters in Anne Arundel County, the group said.

“Often when such a district is devised like this, one group of constituents and their preferred concerns is simply favored over those most in need of responsive representation to pressing problems,” the group said.

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October 5, 2011

Western Md. seat rated “toss up” by political observer

Political prognosticators in Washington have been quick to note the fast evolving dynamics in Maryland’s 6th Congressional District, with one stalwart analyst moving the race to the “toss up” category because of a proposed new congressional map.

Though it’s not yet clear whether Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett will run for an 11th term in the new district -- or whether other candidates might emerge -- the editor of House races at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report predicted the proposed new map would make it “very difficult” for Bartlett to hold on.

Cook now includes the Western Maryland District among 11 Republican-held toss up seats across the country. The 1st Congressional District, which initially had been considered a possible target of the redistricting effort, was moved to the safer “likely Republican” category. The 1st District is represented by Republican Rep. Andy Harris.

Bartlett “has to introduce himself to areas that are culturally opposite,” said Cook’s David Wasserman. “If Western Maryland is fairly Cracker Barrel than Montgomery County is pretty Whole Foods.

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October 1, 2011

Mikulski inducted into women's Hall of Fame

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, along with Billie Holiday and former Health and Human Services Department Secretary Donna Shalala, were inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame on Saturday.

Mikulski was among 11 inductees, including five who were honored posthumously. The hall is located in Seneca Falls, N.Y., which hosted the 1848 women's rights convention that helped to spark the women's suffrage movement in the U.S.

“As we celebrate the story of Seneca Falls, we also celebrate the history of America. We celebrate the history of our social movements that have grown to guarantee the rights of women, African Americans, and of working people," Mikulski said during her address. "As we study our history, we realize how much these movements have in common."

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September 29, 2011

Cummings, Issa seek answers on HGH testing for NFL

Republican and Democratic leaders of the House Oversight Committee requested NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the head of the players association to appear before Congress to explain the delay in implementing testing for human growth hormone.

In a rare display of bipartisanship, the committee’s Republican chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa of California, and its top-ranking Democrat, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Baltimore, wrote that the league had hoped to begin testing by the first week of the regular 2011 season. Instead, the two sides have become bogged down in a battle over the test itself.

“We believe the league and its players remain best positioned to implement an HGH testing regime, but concerns have been raised about the status of these efforts,” according to a joint statement by Cummings and Issa.

In addition to Goodell, the committee sent letters to DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFL Players Association and Travis Tygart of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

The goal of beginning HGH testing was part of the agreement inked Aug. 4 to end this year’s lockout and was hailed at the time as a model for other sports. Since then, Goodell has leaned on the players union, suggesting that it is delaying the program’s implementation. The association has raised concerns over the accuracy of the test.

Fourteen members of Congress, including North Carolina Democrat and former NFL quarterback Heath Shuler, signed a similar letter this month. But the oversight committee’s interest gives added heft to the inquiry because of the panel’s past probes into doping. And while committee leaders have only requested Goodell, Smith and Tygart to appear, the panel could use its subpoena power if they decline.

“The purpose of this meeting is to understand the concerns of the players and the league and to strongly convey our universal interest in protecting the health of millions of younger athletes across the country,” the joint statement read.

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September 28, 2011

DCCC fires shot at Bartlett

The campaign arm of House Democrats has for months been focused almost exclusively on one person in Maryland: Rep. Andy Harris, the first-term Baltimore County Republican. But on Wednesday the group added a new target – Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett – and the timing is not likely a coincidence. 
 
In a press release Wednesday, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee tried to link the Western Maryland Republican with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, questioning whether Bartlett would support a health care plan Ryan unveiled this week.  
 
Because the group tends to send out the same release to dozens of districts -- only changing the name of the target -- the issue raised is far less important than the fact that Bartlett’s name appears at all. It is a possible indication the DCCC has started looking at the seat as competitive. And that is almost certainly the result of speculation that the district will be altered when the General Assembly takes up redistricting next month.
 
Bartlett, first elected in 1992, has won with wide margins in the past, but a new district could change the political landscape, making it harder for virtually any GOP candidate to win. Bartlett, meanwhile, has not been aggressively raising money. He pulled in $28,300 in the second quarter of this year, making his the lowest haul of any member of the state’s delegation. Some inside-the-Beltway observers, including the newspaper Roll Call and the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, have labeled him a "possible retirement" this year.  

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September 22, 2011

O’Malley to appear on 'Morning Joe'

Taking his latest turn on the national stage, Gov. Martin O’Malley will appear on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program Friday to weigh in on the national debate over job creation and to discuss Maryland’s projected 2012 budget surplus.

O’Malley, who appeared on the program in April, has stepped up his presence in Washington since taking over as chairman of the Democratic Governors Association last year. He has been an aggressive supporter of the $447 billion jobs plan that President Barack Obama unveiled earlier this month.

This week, the governor said that he may ask the General Assembly to pass a Maryland specific jobs plan during its special session next month, though few details are available. On the same day, Comptroller Peter Franchot announced that tax revenues in Maryland' exceeded projections by $195 million.

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Labor Dept. delays wage hike for foreign workers

A day after Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski advanced a proposal to delay a new rule that would increase wages for temporary foreign workers in Maryland’s crab processing plants, the U.S. Department of Labor agreed to postpone implementing the rule voluntarily.

The higher wages for the workers, which were set to go into effect Oct. 1, will be delayed 60 days, according to the Maryland Democrat. On Wednesday, Mikulski attached a one-year delay in an amendment to a spending bill that was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“Sixty days will allow the senator and her coalition to look for some sort of fix. It’ll get the crab folks through the season,” said Jack Brooks, co-owner of J.M. Clayton Seafood Co. in Cambridge. “But, we’ve still got some work to do.”

The U.S. permits 66,000 foreigners to come to the country each year under what is known as the H-2B visa program. The temporary workers are hired for seasonal jobs such as crab picking, oyster shucking or landscaping and return home once the season is over.

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Rawlings-Blake says Obama bill would fight poverty

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake responded to a Census report Thursday showing growing poverty in Baltimore with another call to support President Barack Obama’s jobs bill.

“The Great Recession has hit America’s cities particularly hard with higher unemployment rates, and the tough economy has pushed more families into poverty,” Rawlings-Blake said in a statement. “That is why Republicans in Congress must work now to pass the American Jobs Act.”

The Census reported Thursday that more than one in four Baltimoreans is living in poverty. That’s an increase of more than 20 percent in the last year.

Obama’s llegislation would cut payroll taxes for employers and employees and pump $100 billion of new infrastructure spending into the economy. It has met opposition from GOP lawmakers, who object to the payroll tax cut, the stimulus spending and Obama’s plan to fund it in part by raising taxes on the wealthy.

Rawlings-Blake joined mayors from across the country earlier this week to lobby Washington in support of the $447 billion package. They met at the White House on Tuesday with National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling and senior advisor David Plouffe.

In her statement, Rawlings Blake said the American Jobs Act would “cut payroll taxes for Baltimore families — keeping more money in their paychecks; extend unemployment benefits for Baltimoreans looking for jobs; create new tax incentives for small businesses to create jobs; build or renovate thousands of new schools in America’s poorest school districts—immediately creating new construction jobs; and fund rehabilitation and demolition of vacant buildings in struggling neighborhoods.

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September 21, 2011

Senate panel approves delay of guest worker wage hike

A new federal rule that would require crab processing plants on the Eastern Shore and elsewhere to pay a higher wage to temporary foreign workers would be delayed for a year under legislation approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee Wednesday.

Advanced by Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, the measure was attached to a larger spending bill in the Senate and appears to enjoy bipartisan support. The rule, created by the U.S. Department of Labor, will take effect Oct. 1 unless Mikulski's change is approved.

"We're for everybody earning an honest wage," the Maryland Democrat said. But, she added, "eighty percent [of the workers] come back every year. They must be satisfied."

The U.S. permits 66,000 foreigners to come to the country each year under what is known as the H-2B visa program. The temporary workers are hired for seasonal jobs such as crab picking, oyster shucking or landscaping and return home once the season is over.

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Agreement clears way for Andrews cleanup

Cleanup of a federal Superfund site at Joint Base Andrews will proceed with oversight from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – ending a years-long stalemate over contamination at the military facility that is home to Air Force One, Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin said Wednesday.

An agreement signed by the Department of Defense and the EPA lists 13 contaminated sites to be addressed at the base, formerly known as Andrews Air Force base, as well as six additional munitions sites that require investigation and cleanup, Cardin’s office said.

State and federal environmental agencies have been working on the remediation effort since the site was placed on the federal Superfund list of contaminated sites in 1999. But attempts to make the cleanup mandatory have stalled for years.

“For more than a decade, a number of Department of Defense facilities around the country refused to sign mandatory cleanup agreements with EPA, as required by the Superfund law,” the Maryland Democrat said in a statement.

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September 20, 2011

Rawlings-Blake lobbies Washington on federal jobs act

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake joined mayors from across the country Tuesday to lobby Washington in support of the $447 billion jobs plan unveiled this month by the White House – even as the proposal’s future in Congress remains uncertain.

A half dozen mayors, including Rawlings-Blake, met Tuesday at the White House with National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling and senior advisor David Plouffe to discuss the plan, which would cut payroll taxes for employees and employers and pump $100 billion of new infrastructure spending into the economy.

Rawlings-Blake focused her remarks on a section of the measure that would direct $30 billion to modernize 35,000 public schools across the country. She noted the money could have a particularly significant impact in Baltimore, which is home to some of Maryland’s oldest school buildings.

“We can turn that around,” Rawlings-Blake said. “Our kids, like kids across the country, deserve to go to school in buildings that they’re proud of, buildings that are healthy, buildings that are safe.”

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September 19, 2011

Md. Dems back Obama's debt plan

Maryland Democrats on Monday praised President Barack Obama’s plan to trim the nation’s debt by more than $3 trillion but Republican leaders just as aggressively opposed the proposal, which calls for as much as $1.5 trillion in new taxes.

Arguing that Washington cannot rely solely on cuts to address the nation’s growing budget deficit, Obama called for ending income tax cuts enacted under President George W. Bush, a new minimum tax rate on millionaires and curbing certain loopholes for those earning more than $250,000.

“It is wrong that in the United States of America, a teacher or a nurse or a construction worker who earns $50,000 should pay higher tax rates than somebody pulling in $50 million,” Obama said during a Rose Garden address Monday. “Anybody who says we can’t change the tax code to correct that, anyone who has signed some pledge to protect every single tax loophole so long as they live, they should be called out.”

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who is serving on a bipartisan panel charged with making recommendations to reduce budget deficits by $1.5 trillion, said Obama’s plan represents a “common sense” approach that deserves “serious consideration” by the committee.

“He laid out the case for putting our fiscal house in order by making difficult cuts and also asking millionaires and billionaires to pay at least the same effective tax rate as many of those who work for them,” the Maryland Democrat said in a statement.

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September 16, 2011

Mikulski presses White House on guest workers

Unable to get a response from the Department of Labor about a new, higher wage requirement for seasonal foreign workers employed in Eastern Shore seafood plants, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski said Friday that she had taken her case to the White House.

The Maryland Democrat wrote White House Chief of Staff William Daley, asking the Obama administration to intervene to delay new requirements that would raise the hourly rate of the foreign workers who come to the U.S. to pick crabs and shuck oysters. Business owners have threatened that they will have to close if the higher wages take effect.

The U.S. allows 66,000 foreigners to come to the country each year under what is known as the H-2B visa program. The temporary workers are hired for seasonal industries such as crab picking, oyster shucking or landscaping. They are required to return home once the season is over.

Labor Department officials proposed higher wages for H-2B workers in January after a federal court struck down guidelines for the program crafted by the Bush administration. Under the new rules, workers in Maryland who now make $7.25 an hour would receive $9.24, according to the industry. The new wages will take effect after Sept. 30 – in the middle of this year’s crab season.

“The wage rule was drafted without regard for or consultation with the industries it would affect,” Mikulski wrote in the letter. “I’m for everyone making an honest living and an honest wage, but I will not support the federal government changing the rules of the game in the middle of the tide for these watermen.”

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September 15, 2011

O'Malley urges Congress to pass Obama jobs bill

Sun colleague Joe Burris reports:

Gov. Martin O’Malley said Thursday that President Barack Obama’s new American Jobs Act would create about 19,000 jobs in the state’s infrastructure, schools and services sectors and could help generate future employment opportunities for 100,000 Marylanders by providing skills training.

O’Malley joined Delaware Gov. Jack Markell and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter in a conference call on Thursday to discuss the impact of the proposed jobs act.

Obama has proposed a package of tax cuts aimed at small businesses and the middle class, spending on infrastructure and an extension of employment insurance.

The White House said the American Jobs Act would provide Maryland with an immediate investment of at least $625.5 million for highway and transit modernization projects that would fund about 8,000 jobs.

The plan would include $541.7 million for about 6,000 jobs for teachers, firefighters and law enforcement officers and $315 million in school construction and upgrades. The White House sad that work would generate more than 4,000 jobs.

“We need to pass this now. A four-corners defense is not an option when so many people are without jobs in our country today,” O’Malley said.

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O’Malley praises Rick Perry for in-state tuition law

Arguing that both political parties need to create a “new narrative” as the nation heads into a polarizing 2012 presidential election, Gov. Martin O’Malley said Thursday that none of the leading GOP candidates have “offered policies that are terribly different than the ones that got us into this mess” and he predicted that President Barack Obama would be reelected despite sagging poll numbers.

Speaking to a regular breakfast gathering of political reporters in Washington, O’Malley also offered sly praise for the leading GOP presidential candidate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, for supporting a 2001 law in Texas that permits some illegal immigrants to attend college at in-state tuition rates. The law, similar to one passed in Maryland this year, has recently been used against Perry by his Republican opponents.

“One thing I do like about Perry -- I do like the fact that he recognizes that fair is fair and if a family’s paying in-state taxes, they should pay in-state tuition,” the Maryland Democrat said at the breakfast, hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. “I think he’s right in making that assertion… Just because Congress can’t get things done and just because we can’t overcome our current affliction of xenophobia and have a rational immigration policy again, is no reason to condemn hardworking kids.”

In the Republican presidential debate on Monday, Perry defended the Texas law against former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who vetoed a similar proposal in 2004. “I’m proud that we are having those individuals be contributing members of our society, rather than telling them, ‘you go be on the government dole,'” Perry said during the debate.

Maryland’s law, which O’Malley signed in May, was suspended this summer after opponents gathered enough signatures to put it on the ballot for referendum next year.

It was O’Malley’s first time addressing the breakfast, a longstanding Washington gathering. The first Maryland governor to attend one of the sessions was Spiro T. Agnew in 1968.

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September 14, 2011

Cardin, Harris meet with Tubman advocates

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin and Rep. Andy Harris spoke Wednesday with advocates who are hoping to build support in Congress for a national park system in Maryland and New York that would honor Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman.

Cardin is the lead sponsor of a bill that would create a park in Caroline, Dorchester and Talbot counties – along with a separate park in Auburn, N.Y. – to remember the Eastern Shore woman who was born into slavery but ultimately lead dozens of slaves to freedom.

“Harriet Tubman is one of our heroes in America,” the Maryland Democrat told the advocates, who gathered on Capitol Hill. “Her story is an incredible story. We are fortunate in Maryland that the landscape still exists.”

“Now is the time,” Harris, a Baltimore County Republican who represents the Eastern Shore, told the group.

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September 12, 2011

Jobs bill would direct millions to Md. schools, White House says

Maryland schools would receive $315.8 million in federal construction money and $114.2 million would be directed to Baltimore City Schools under the $447 billion jobs bill President Barack Obama sent to Congress this week, according to estimates released Tuesday by the White House.

The money is part of a $25 billion program the Obama administration says would be used to modernize 35,000 public school across the country. Of that money, $10 billion would be directed toward the 100 largest high-need public school districts, including Baltimore, Prince George's County and Montgomery County schools, according to a list released by the Obama administration.

New estimates on the impact of the jobs plan come as the administration tries to sell the legislation directly to the public. Obama travels to Ohio Tuesday to visit a high school in Columbus as part of that effort. The president unveiled the jobs plan in a speech to Congress last week and has aggressively pushed for its passage. The measure has faced resistance from some Republicans who are concerned about its cost and whether it would create enough jobs to have an impact on the economy.

The projections are only estimates and they are being crafted by the same administration that is pressuring Congress to pass the bill. Predicting the economic impact of economic policies is notoriously difficult as the Obama administration learned during the debate over the 2009 economic stimulus.

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Cummings proposes short-term fix for USPS

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings is among a group of Democrats introducing a bill Monday that would let the U.S. Postal Service delay a $5.5 billion payment for retiree health benefits as the beleaguered mail agency struggles to avoid a default.

The Postal Service, which is losing money as e-mail continues to supplant traditional paper mail, expects to default on that payment, which is due at the end of the month, officials have said. The three-month delay included in the bill would give the White House and Congress more time to find a long-term solution.

“The Postal Service is one of our nation’s most trusted and reliable institutions,” the Baltimore Democrat said in a statement. “This short-term measure would give Congress an additional three months to consider ways to ensure that the Postal Service is profitable and competitive in the 21st Century economy.”

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Cummings presses for 9/11 probe of News Corp.

On the day after the 10-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings joined seven other Democrats in renewing their call for an investigation into whether Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. tried to hack telephones of those killed in New York and Washington.

More than a dozen people have been arrested as part of a scandal involving News Corp. reporters in London hacking into voicemail messages of politicians and crime victims. Department of Justice officials have said they are looking into claims that the journalists also offered to buy telephone records of Sept. 11 victims from New York police officers.

“As you know, we have just observed the tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks on our nation and these victims deserve to know whether they were targeted in this offensive and potentially illegal manner,” according to a letter signed by the Baltimore Democrat and his colleagues.

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September 9, 2011

Perry edges Romney in Md. GOP poll; Palin fifth

Texas Gov. Rick Perry edged former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination in a straw poll held at the Maryland State Fair, the state GOP announced Friday.

Perry, who also leads national polls among Republicans, scored 25.8 percent of the nearly 900 votes cast, according to the state party. Romney picked up 21.2 percent.

Republican former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the party's 2008 vice presidential nominee, came in fifth, despite not having indicated a campaign for 2012. That put her ahead of Georgia businessman Herman Cain, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, all of whom have declared their candidacies.

Rep. Ron Paul of Texas came in third with 16.8 percent of the votes. Rep. Michele Bachman of Minnesota finished fourth with 12.5 percent.

"From the attendees, we heard a strong desire to turn our nation and state around and a commitment to make Maryland a two-party state," state GOP Chairman Alex Mooney said. "The Maryland Republican Party is committed to giving individuals, families, and businesses a stronger voice in Annapolis and Washington, D.C."

The complete results, as released by the state party, after the jump.

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September 8, 2011

Mikulski calls for ‘urgent’ measures on unemployment

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski said Thursday that she expects voters would support additional government spending to help tackle the nation’s stubborn jobless rate as long as the money is used for specific programs that have an immediate impact on unemployment.

“We have to have a greater sense of urgency about what we can do now,” the Maryland Democrat said in an interview hours before President Barack Obama was set to roll out a jobs creation plan before a joint session of Congress Thursday. “I've got the fierce urgency of now.”

Mikulski said Congress has a number of proposals queued up that would have an immediate impact, including a long-stalled highway bill that pays for transportation projects. The legislation must be passed by the end of the month or Maryland and other states could lose federal funding.

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Romney announces Md. endorsements

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney announced Thursday that his campaign has received endorsements from more than a dozen GOP officials in Maryland -- including 10 members of the General Assembly and several former state party officials.

Included on the list are GOP Sens. Richard Colburn, who represents the Eastern Shore, and Joe Getty of Western Maryland. Also endorsing Romney: Howard County Republican Party Chairman Loretta Shields and Mary Kane, a former secretary of state who was Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s 2010 running mate.

The announcement comes a day after Romney and other GOP presidential candidates squared off at a nationally televised debate. In 2008, Romney carried 7 percent of the vote in Maryland's Feb. 12 Republican primary. Arizona Sen. John McCain, who ultimately won the nomination, won the state with 55 percent of the vote.

“It is an honor to have the support of so many in Maryland,” Romney said in a statement. “They share my goals in this campaign to reverse President Obama’s failed policies and get our economy moving again. I look forward to working with them as I bring this message to Maryland and the American people.”

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Van Hollen: Debt panel can rely on earlier ideas

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, one of a dozen members of Congress serving on a high-profile panel charged with reducing the nation’s debt, used the committee’s first meeting Thursday to argue that the ideas created by past deficit reduction groups should serve as the “scaffolding and the framework for a serious deficit reduction plan.”

“We have just 77 days left to complete our work. The clock is ticking. There are already plenty of ideas for reducing the deficit that have been thoroughly debated, and we have a menu of options,” the Montgomery County Democrat said during his opening statement Thursday. “If this committee fails, it won’t be for lack of ideas. It will be for lack of political will.”

The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, which is also often referred to as the “super
committee,” was created as part of the agreement this summer to raise the nation’s debt ceiling. The group has until the end of November to find a way to cut U.S. budget deficits by $1.5 trillion or automatic cuts will triggered.

Van Hollen, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, has been at the center of the deficit debate all year. He was also part of the debt negotiations earlier this year led by Vice President Joe Biden.

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Baltimore couple to attend Obama's jobs address

A Baltimore city student teacher and her husband will be among the White House guests attending President Barack Obama’s address to Congress Thursday as the administration rolls out its plan to kick start the economy and spur job growth.

Sabrina Mangrum, a student teacher at John Eager Howard Elementary School, and her husband Dannie Mangrum, a Maryland correctional officer, will sit with first lady Michelle Obama on Thursday after the White House connected with them through a Washington, D.C.-based foster agency. The family has three foster children.

The White House frequently invites non-political guests to attend major addresses as a way to call attention to struggles faced by families outside of Washington, D.C. Sabrina Mangrum said she was told the administration was seeking families who earn less than $100,000 a year. Though details of Obama's jobs plan have not been released, the administration has signaled it will target tax relief to middle- and low-income families.

The economy “has really affected us,” said Mangrum, 41. “We have a different mindset: You save when you can and spend only when necessary...I would like to hear the president say he’s for the people – that even a small person does count.”

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September 1, 2011

Cummings glad of progress in probe of killing

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings said Thursday he is grateful the Norfolk Police Department appears to be making progress in its investigation into the killing of his nephew three months after the 20-year-old was shot to death in his off-campus apartment near Old Dominion University.

In a statement, the Baltimore Democrat said police are questioning a person of interest about the June 10 murder of Christopher Cummings. A Norfolk police spokeswoman did not confirm any recent developments in the case.

“Our family has constantly stated that we will not rest until the persons who viciously murdered Christopher are brought to justice,” Cummings said. “Our society simply cannot afford to allow people who commit such awful crimes to remain free.”

Cummings, a longtime critic of the witness intimidation campaign known as "Stop Snitching,” implored anyone with information about the murder to come forward. Christopher Cummings, a rising senior at Old Dominion, was remembered at a funeral at the Victory Prayer Chapel in Baltimore on June 18.

There have been no arrests in the case.

"Investigators continue to research and follow all leads and tips surrounding the Cummings homicide, to include search warrants and follow-up questions," the spokeswoman, Karen Parker-Chesson, wrote in an e-mail.

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August 31, 2011

Md. firm part of White House push on highways

As President Barack Obama Wednesday called on Congress to pass a transportation funding bill next month, he also named two employees of a Sparks-based engineering firm whose jobs could be affected by the legislative effort.

Adam Vencill and Chris Negley, both senior inspectors for KCI Technologies, stood on stage with Obama during the Rose Garden event as examples of transportation workers who could be furloughed if lawmakers fail to advance a highway bill by Sept. 30.

Weeks after Congress left Washington without extending funding for the Federal Aviation Administration – a move that put thousands of government employees and contractors out of work – Obama pressed lawmakers to find a compromise on highway funding to avoid a similar showdown.

“If we don’t extend this bill by the end of September, all of them will be out of a job -- just because of politics in Washington,” Obama said, citing Vencill and Negley by name. “And that's just not acceptable… It's inexcusable to put more jobs at risk in an industry that’s already been one of the hardest hit over the last decade. “

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August 26, 2011

Kratovil hired in Prince George’s Co.

Reporting by Annie Linskey and John Fritze
Updated with comments from Kratovil.

Frank Kratovil, the Democrat who represented Maryland’s 1st Congressional District from 2009 through 2010, has taken a job with the Prince George’s County State’s Attorney, a spokesman for the office has confirmed.

Kratovil, a former Queen Anne’s County State’s Attorney who recently has been working for a private law firm, will oversee homicide and major crimes and will try some cases, said the spokesman, Ramon Korionoff.

He will be sworn in Aug. 31.

In recent weeks, Kratovil has flirted with making another run for Congress in 2012. It’s unclear whether his decision to take the new job in Prince George’s County -- which is outside of the 1st District -- is an indication of that possibility looking less likely.

For his part, Kratovil warned against reading anything into the new position. He noted that he had previously worked for the office as an assistant state's attorney in the mid-1990s.

"I wouldn't read anything into that," he told The Sun. "The bottom line is I'm going back to one of the things I love to do...I still haven't made a final decision" on whether to run.

The 1st District is currently held by Rep. Andy Harris, a Republican who beat Kratovil 54 percent to 42 percent last year.

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August 24, 2011

Baltimore man freed in Libya

Matthew VanDyke, the Baltimore freelance journalist who went missing in Libya in March, has escaped from an infamous prison there one day after rebel forces stormed Moammar Gadhafi’s compound in Tripoli, his family said Wednesday.

The 32-year-old VanDyke, who traveled to the war-torn country to witness the revolution for a book he is working on about the region, called his mother, Sharon VanDyke, and told her that he escaped from the Abu Salim prison where he was held for six months in solitary confinement.

"He sounded fine and said, 'Hi, mom,' saying what I wanted to hear all along," said Sharon VanDyke, the South Baltimore resident who has been a tireless advocate for her son since she lost contact with him earlier this year. "He sounded fine other than he said he thought maybe he lost his voice because he didn't have anybody to talk to for six months."

VanDyke's family, who said he is wearing prisoner's clothing as he wanders a lawless Tripoli, said he borrowed someone's phone to call home at around 2 p.m. He then called again around 2:30 p.m.

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August 23, 2011

In D.C., quake forces evacuations, snarls commute

Office workers in Washington poured out onto sidewalks and faced snarled evening commutes as the federal government closed buildings and private companies sent employees home early after Tuesday's earthquake.

Though there appeared to be minimal physical damage to buildings, many federal and private offices were closed for hours Tuesday, including the U.S. Capitol and the Smithsonian museums. A spire at the National Cathedral -- the highest point in Washington -- sustained significant damage, according to cathedral officials.

But the biggest impact from the earthquake on Washington appeared to be on the afternoon commute. There were delays on Metro trains, which were running at reduced speeds, as well as MARC service to Baltimore, New York and other destinations. At Union Station, announcers pleaded for patience as commuters waited in unusually long lines to board.

Traffic also jammed on city streets as traffic lights failed at key intersections. Lines for city buses, meanwhile, were especially long throughout most of downtown.

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August 22, 2011

Lawmakers eschew town hall meetings

Sixty percent of House lawmakers across the county – and all but one in Maryland – are forgoing town hall-style meetings with constituents during the August recess period, according to a review released Monday by the nonpartisan group No Labels.

The group, founded by Democratic and Republican centrists, surveyed individual offices on Capitol Hill. The only member of Maryland’s delegation actively holding town hall meetings is Rep. Andy Harris. The Baltimore County Republican announced another meeting in Fruitland, Md., for Tuesday.

“Washington must hear from all Americans, not a handpicked few who (pass) a partisan litmus test or can afford to donate,” said William Galston, a co-founder of the group and a former advisor to President Bill Clinton. “Our concern is that elected officials are only hearing from their respective partisan bases and will not expose themselves to criticism.”

The number of town hall meetings scheduled by lawmakers dropped precipitously after the summer of 2009, when voters who were upset about health care legislation turned out in droves. The response forced the then-Democratic majority in the House to alter the legislation and was considered a significant victory for the Tea Party movement.

The No Labels survey found that 68 percent of Democrats and 51 percent of Republicans are ditching the meetings. Congress will return to Washington after Labor Day.

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August 21, 2011

O'Malley and McDonnell discuss economy

Squaring off for the first time with the new leader of the Republican Governors Association, Gov. Martin O’Malley said Sunday that the economic stimulus approved by Congress in 2009 didn’t go far enough and he called for new investments in infrastructure and education to spur job growth.

O’Malley, who heads the Democratic Governors Association, appeared on CNN’s State of the Union opposite Gov. Bob McDonnell, the Virginia Republican who took over the GOP governors group when its former chairman, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, entered the presidential race.

“What I hope the Congress will come back to do is to pass bills that actually make those investments in infrastructure, in research and development, in innovation, and, yes, in the important work of educating the next generation for the jobs that are available,” O’Malley said.

McDonnell focused on spending cuts and eliminating federal mandates on states. Asked about a new stimulus, McDonnell said he is skeptical.

“We've tried that. We've tried stimulus spending. We put very little into infrastructure. We put it into a lot of other spending that didn't create jobs. And now we've gone from 7.8 to 9.1 percent unemployment,” he said.

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August 19, 2011

Cardin weighs in on NIH bias study

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin called on the Bethesda-based National Institutes of Health to re-evaluate its grant-making process in light of a report this week that found black scientists are significantly less likely to win medical research grants than their white counterparts.

The NIH-commissioned study, which was published in the journal “Science,” found that black scientists had a 10 percentage point lower chance of winning a grant than white researchers.

The study “raises concerns about the NIH grant review process,” the Maryland Democrat said in a statement Friday. “NIH, which receives $30 billion annually in federal taxpayer dollars, has a responsibility to ensure that its grant review process is transparent and equitable, and that its research workforce is diverse.”

In response to the study, NIH officials have said they intend to review their grant process for bias and look for ways to confront it, such as removing identifying information from applications. The NIH is the nation’s largest source of medical research funding.

"The results of this study are disturbing and disheartening, and we are committed to taking action," NIH director Francis Collins said in a statement. "The strength of the U.S. scientific enterprise depends upon our ability to recruit and retain the brightest minds, regardless of race or ethnicity. This study shows that we still have a long way to go.”

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August 18, 2011

Union chief blasts budget cuts

The head of a leading federal employees union said Thursday that budget cuts called for by the White House for federal agencies will have a devastating effect on the economy and could also reduce public services.

John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said in a statement that the Office of Management and Budget guidance unveiled this week would translate into lost jobs in a down economy. The administration instructed agencies to plan for their 2013 budget to fall between 5 percent and 10 percent below this year's spending levels.

“Cuts of this magnitude will inevitably mean fewer staff to take care of injured veterans in our VA hospitals, fewer officers patrolling the borders, fewer inspectors to enforce our laws on clean air and water, and fewer scientists to conduct medical research and make sure that Americans are sold medications that are safe and effective," Gage said. "All of America suffers when government lacks the resources to carry out the promise of effective and efficient public service."

The federal workforce, which is heavily represented in Maryland, has been a target of recent attempts to cut federal spending, including during the debate last month over raising the nation's debt ceiling. It is not clear what cuts may be in store for federal employees in the next several months as a 12-member committee of lawmakers tries to identify $1.5 trillion in additional cuts by Thanksgiving.

Posted by John Fritze at 4:36 PM | | Comments (3)
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August 5, 2011

Cardin vows to stand with federal workers

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin told a large crowd of federal employees in Suitland on Friday that Maryland's congressional delegation will stand with them as Washington begins the process of looking for deep spending cuts under the new debt ceiling law.

"We're going to stand up and defend what you do every day," Cardin told employees at the U.S. Census Bureau headquarters. "We know the sacrifices that you've made. We know the abuse that you take."

Federal employees have been a central target in the debates over budget cuts in recent months, with lawmakers of both parties suggesting the workforce might have to accept trims to their retirement and other benefits. Maryland is home to 286,810 federal workers, census data show.

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August 4, 2011

Slow clapping from Baltimore

As computer programmer Chris Ashworth watched the debate over raising the nation’s debt ceiling unfold this past weekend, the germ of a snarky idea entered his head: Why not ask people to make videos of themselves “slowly and sarcastically” applauding members of Congress?

“It seemed like a funny joke,” said Ashworth, who posted the idea on the social networking site Twitter.

Within hours, as his comment began bouncing around the Internet, the Charles Village resident realized he was on to something. He registered a domain name — slowclapforcongress.com — and posted a video of himself, somber-faced, clapping slowly.

Soon others were posting videos, too.

The website, which had grown by Thursday evening to include about 50 videos of people clapping, sighing and shaking their heads, has been noted by CNN, MSNBC, The Washington Post and several blogs.

A staff member for Rep. Hank Johnson, a Georgia Democrat, noted on Twitter that the site is “making the rounds” on Capitol Hill.

“It clearly has struck a chord, and I think it's great that it's an outlet for people's frustrations,” said Ashworth, who runs a Baltimore company called Figure 53.

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FAA shutdown puts Md. airport money in limbo

Nearly $1 million in grant money intended for Maryland airport construction is being held by the federal government because of the 12-day-old partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration, U.S. Transportation Department officials said Thursday.

The money is part of roughly $2.5 billion in grants the FAA has set aside for construction projects across the country this year that cannot be distributed because the agency shuttered its grant payment system when Congress failed to pass a short-term funding extension this week.

In addition to the grant money, the shutdown has forced several Maryland contractors to consider furloughing employees.

Administration officials distributed state-by-state grant numbers at a briefing Thursday with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who has been ramping up pressure on lawmakers to return to Washington and end the stalemate. LaHood, a former Republican member of the House from Illinois, has noted that an estimated 74,000 workers nationwide have been furloughed during the impasse.

"We're asking Congress to come back from vacation, pass the bill, and put 70,000-plus people to work," LaHood said. "Whenever they want to pass something, they can do it very quickly. They know how to fix this."

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August 3, 2011

Recess turns into fight over FAA

Updated with statement from Cardin

A day after Congress settled the longstanding debate over the nation’s debt ceiling, Maryland lawmakers are reacting to the next crisis caused by partisan gridlock: The partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration, which has caused thousands of employees to be furloughed.

In a testy press conference on Capitol Hill Wednesday, Rep. Steny Hoyer blasted House Republicans for the impasse, arguing that both the House and Senate could approve legislation to temporarily extend FAA funding, even though most lawmakers have left Washington for the summer recess.

“It will cost more than $200 million per week. It has already cost us $360 million. This is from the party that is worried about fiscal responsibility,” said the Southern Maryland lawmaker, who is the second-highest ranking Democrat in the House. “We need to get this done and we should get it done today.”

In a statement, Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin called the impasse "yet another attack on public-sector workers."

"Hardworking FAA employees are going without a paycheck and are at risk of losing their health care coverage. Some FAA inspectors are still on the job, but are putting official travel costs on their personal credit card," he said. "This is unacceptable."

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August 2, 2011

Cardin, Mikulski, vote yes on debt ceiling deal

With John Fritze reporting from Washington:

Sens. Benjamin L. Cardin and Barbara A. Mikulski, both Maryland Democrats, joined a majority of their Senate colleagues Tuesday in voting to approve the bipartisan deal to raise the debt ceiling.

The legislation now goes to the White House, where President Barack Obama is expected to sign it.

The 74-26 vote came less than 12 hours before the government ran out of money and faced a default on its financial obligations, according to officials.

Cardin, who is running for reelection next year, said he was "conflicted" over the deal.

"There's a lot of things in it I don't like," Cardin said. "The main reason I voted for it is we cannot allow the debt ceiling to be breached and there were no other alternatives."

Mikulski called the vote difficult.

"I found it wrenching because of the continual draconian cuts to entitlements," she said. "I was pleased that I helped stop the stampede to raid entitlements."

The deal brokered over the weekend by Obama and Senate Republicans would cut federal spending by at least $2.1 trillion over the next decade and allow the government to continue to borrow money through the end of next year.

The legislation would slash about $900 billion in spending over 10 years and create a bipartisan panel of lawmakers to seek out additional cuts by December. If that panel fails to reach a deal, or Congress declines to approve its recommendations, the bill calls for automatic, across-the-board cuts of $1.2 trillion - including to defense spending and Medicare.

The House voted 269-161 to pass the measure Monday.

Cardin had said before the House vote that he was undecided on the legislation. He said he was investigating details of the cuts that would be triggered if the bipartisan committee deadlocked or Congress failed to approve its recommendations.

Much of the concern from Maryland officials has appeared to center on the automatic cuts triggered by congressional inaction, which would likely have a disproportionate effect on the state.

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August 1, 2011

Md. GOP lawmakers hold out on debt deal

Maryland’s two Republican members of Congress were once again hedging their bets Monday over the latest deal to raise the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt ceiling, with Rep. Andy Harris saying he’s “leaning against” the proposal and Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett noting that he’s “technically undecided.”

The proposal, which would cut $917 billion in spending over a decade to extend the debt ceiling through the end of the year, could come up for a vote in the House on Monday – a day before the deadline to raise the debt ceiling or risk default. Democrats say a Senate vote will take place after the House acts.

Harris, of Baltimore County, was one of the first conservatives to tie his support for raising the debt ceiling to a proposed constitutional amendment that would require Washington to balance the federal budget. On Monday, Harris said he was concerned that “the linkage to the balanced budget amendment isn’t strong enough” in the deal worked out between the White House and congressional leaders over the weekend. “There’s not enough reason for someone to vote for” the amendment, he said.

Harris, who represents the Eastern Shore, nevertheless predicted the measure would pass.
Bartlett, meanwhile, said there are “a lot of good things in this bill,” but said that spreading out the initial budget cuts over 10 years is a problem for him. “That’ll never balance your budget at home, and it’s not going to balance your budget here, either.”

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July 29, 2011

Md. GOP lawmakers to support debt plan

Updated with roll call and reaction.

Maryland’s two Republican lawmakers backed a plan in the House of Representatives on Friday to raise the nation’s debt ceiling as the state's Democrats voted unanimously against it.

Western Maryland Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett and Baltimore County Rep. Andy Harris were among the last holdouts on the proposal put forward by Speaker John Boehner. Specifically, the two came on board after Republican leaders agreed to include a proposed constitutional amendment that would require Congress to balance the budget.

“I didn’t come to Washington to put off making the tough decisions necessary to deal with our crippling debt and deficits,” Harris said. “I came to Washington to end budget tricks, accounting gimmicks and empty promises. A balanced budget amendment will provide the permanent accountability that America needs in Washington.”

The House voted 218-210 to support the Boehner plan, which would raise the debt ceiling through the end of the year while cutting more than $900 billion in federal spending. Hours later, the Democratic-controlled Senate moved to table the measure on 59-41 vote.

House Democrats had already vowed to vote against the plan en masse, so it was conservative Republicans who held the most leverage over the past several days. On Thursday night, both Bartlett and Harris were still undecided, and Republican leaders announced at the last minute that they would delay a vote on their plan.

"Americans can’t afford to wait until after the next election to reduce the federal government’s exploding debt," Bartlett said. The proposal, he said, would "prevent default, cut government spending more than it increases our debt ceiling without tax increases and compels this Congress and this president to reduce the federal government’s exploding debt and vote on a balanced budget amendment.”

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Cardin less confident on Aug. 2 deadline

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin said Friday that he is less confident than he was a day ago that Congress can agree on a deal to raise the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt ceiling by Aug. 2 and he warned that whatever agreement ultimately emerges will likely have a disproportionate effect on Maryland.

“Every day, until we have a deal, I get less confident. We’ve cut this too close. We’ve already caused damage to this country. Our reputation has been affected. Our credit has been affected,” the Maryland Democrat told The Sun. “I’m less confident today than I was yesterday. I still believe we’ll get it done but I think there is a significant risk that we won’t. And that is very troublesome to me.”

After delaying action Thursday night, the House of Representatives is moving toward a vote Friday on a proposal championed by Republican Speaker John Boehner. The Democratic-led Senate is poised to table that measure as soon as the House votes and bring up its own proposal. Cardin said he is reaching out to Republican colleagues in the Senate in the hunt for middle ground.

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July 28, 2011

McDonough: Possibly in for Senate

Del. Patrick McDonough, the conservative Baltimore County Republican who helped to lead the petition drive opposing the Maryland Dream Act, may be “taking a serious look” at a run for U.S. Senate in Maryland in an effort to unseat Democratic Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin next year.

Then again, maybe not.

In an unusually timed statement released Wednesday night, McDonough said he would either run for Senate or for the House of Representatives from the 2nd Congressional District, which is currently represented by Democratic Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger.

The determining factor: The state’s redistricting process.

“As you may know, I have been testing the waters for a possible campaign against Dutch Ruppersberger for a seat in the 2nd Congressional District,” the statement began. “Of course, the re-districting and the new district will not be revealed until October. At that time, if the 2nd Congressional District transforms from ‘uphill to impossible,’ my personal decision will become clear.

“I have decided that if the 2nd Congressional District is gerrymandered rendering it impossible to win, I will take a serious look at seeking the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat in Maryland.”

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July 26, 2011

Harris threatens ‘no’ vote on GOP debt proposal

Rep. Andy Harris, who as a first-term Republican is part of a block of lawmakers who may ultimately decide the fate of the debt ceiling debate, reiterated Tuesday that he will not support raising the limit unless a constitutional amendment to require a balanced budget is included.

And as it stands now, the proposal put forward by Republican House Speaker John Boehner does not include a balanced budget amendment.

"By an overwhelming amount, Maryland families and businesses have contacted me to demand that the federal government get its fiscal house in order, stop spending more than it takes in, and balance the budget,” Harris, a Baltimore County Republican, said in a statement. “I disagree with the president -- we need a balanced budget amendment, and I won't vote to raise the debt ceiling unless a balanced budget amendment is part of the deal."

Western Maryland Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, the state's other GOP member of Congress, is undecided on the legislation.

Freshmen GOP lawmakers such as Harris could make or break the proposal put forward this week by Boehner, an Ohio Republican, that would cut budget deficits by roughly $1.2 trillion over 10 years and raise the debt ceiling for about six months. The current proposal, headed toward a vote as early as Wednesday, only calls for a vote on a balanced budget amendment.

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Categories: Washington
        

State senators briefed on implications of federal action

(or inaction)

The Maryland Senate's Budget and Taxation Committee received a bleak update this morning about how the state's top bond rating is tied to what their counterparts in Washington might do -- or not do -- in the coming days as they debate raising the federal debt ceiling.

Last week, Moody's Investors Service included Maryland among five states it views as most vulnerable to changes in the U.S. government's bond rating, which would be affected by failure to increase the debt ceiling. But as noted at this morning's briefing, Maryland is likely to be impacted not only by that catastrophic possibility, but also by any deal struck to raise the ceiling.

Warren G. Deschenaux, director of the Department of Legislative Services, kept his message simple: "The bottom line is states are likely to lose under almost any scenario." 

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July 22, 2011

Maryland leaders react to Obama town hall

Includes reporting by John Fritze and Rebekah Brown

President Barack Obama's town hall drew many state elected Democratic officials to College Park on Friday while others watched on television. Here is some reaction to the hour long question-and-answer session. Some comments are from interviews conducted at the University of Maryland and others are from prepared statements.

Gov. Martin O'Malley: “As the president said, Americans ‘didn’t choose a dysfunctional government.’ As a nation, we must pay our bills on time, and we must find a fiscally responsible way forward that balances revenues and cuts, so that we can continue to create jobs and compete to win in the new global economy."

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin: "The Republicans can maintain their values, Democrats can retain their values and we can reach a compromise that raises the debt ceiling and brings about a balanced approach to deal with the deficit...(but) you cannot enact a comprehensive, $4 trillion deal by Aug. 2 or by Aug. 15, so it can't be done in this time frame. The best we can do would be raise the debt ceiling, provide a down payment on the spending side and a mechanism that could get us to a more comprehensive approach."

Maryland Republican Party Interim Executive Director, Del. Justin Ready: "The fundamental issue is the idea that it's fair to raise taxes -- that that's going to be the fair way to deal with what is essentially a problem with the government over spending and spending beyond its means... Increased taxes are going to hurt the economy. We've got to get our spending under control."

Maryland state Comptroller Peter Franchot: "I would urge him to be strong. The state of Maryland is going to suffer, frankly, whatever happens. If they don't reach an agreement, we lose our AAA bond rating. If they do reach an agreement, we have huge cuts that are headed toward our state. I think he needs to show a lot more muscle and get this debt issue resolved."

Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski: “Stuck in their Washington bubble, Team Obama believes the economy has improved under his watch despite losing 2.5 million jobs and adding 3.7 trillion to the debt. It’s become painfully clear that President Obama and his advisors are vastly out of touch with reality. Just today Obama called Governor O’Malley one of the best governors in the country – yes, the leader of the state that is dead last in job creation.”

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Obama continues push for large deal on debt limit

Includes reporting from John Fritze and Childs Walker.

President Barack Obama, speaking to students at the University of Maryland on Friday, reiterated his desire for a broad agreement to raise the nation's $14.3 trillion debt limit, even as the latest attempt at a "grand plan" took fire from all sides and the clock began to run out.

In an hour long town hall on the College Park campus, Obama repeated calls for a "balanced approach," arguing that the only fair path forward is for wealthy Americans to pay more in taxes if cuts are made to safety net programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. Lawmakers have until Aug. 2 to raise the debt ceiling or risk a default of U.S. obligations.

"This isn't about punishing wealth," the president told the crowd at Ritchie Coliseum. "This is about asking the people who have benefited the most during the past decade to share in the sacrifices. We can pass a balanced plan like this. It's not going to make everyone happy."

Obama, who has been meeting for weeks with congressional leaders at the White House, said he is still working to convince House Republicans of that vision. As he spoke, the Democratic-led Senate, as expected, failed to advance a conservative GOP plan that would have made raising the debt ceiling contingent on passing a constitutional amendment to require Congress to balance future budgets.

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July 21, 2011

O’Malley blames GOP for gridlock

Gov. Martin O’Malley, who has ratcheted up his rhetoric in recent days over the ongoing talks on raising the nation’s debt ceiling, told Democrats in Congress Thursday that not reaching an agreement would have a significant impact on Maryland and other states.

Calling the debate a “defining moment in our country’s history,” O’Malley blamed “extreme members of the Republican Party” for the gridlock on raising the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling. Naming names, O’Malley reiterated a line he has used in recent days, pointing at House Majority Leader “Eric Cantor and the dinosaur wing of the Republican Party.”

But O'Malley, who chairs the Democratic Governors Association, also said he believes some GOP moderates are negotiating in good faith.

“I believe that a majority of public servants in the proud party of Lincoln want what’s best for our country and would like to see our country move forward,” O'Malley said during a news conference that followed the closed-door meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill. “That’s really the resonant space that we need to find.”


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July 20, 2011

Feds to close more than 20 data centers in Md.

Washington correspondent John Fritze reports:

The federal government plans to close more than 20 data centers in Maryland by the end of 2012, part of a nationwide effort to reduce redundancy and save money on electricity-hungry computer servers, the White House said Wednesday.

Officials expect to close 373 centers nationwide by the end of next year and 800 by 2025, an effort the Office of Management and Budget estimates will save taxpayers more than $3 billion.

The centers, which typically house computer equipment, can be as large as a building or as small as a closet.

In one example cited by the White House, the Treasury Department will close a roughly 13,000-square-foot facility in Lanham.

According to OMB, that data center hosts 250 servers and costs taxpayers more than $400,000 a year in leasing and electricity costs. In addition to the cost of powering the servers themselves, the equipment usually requires round-the-clock air conditioning and heating.

“With data centers that run as large as three and a half football fields, shutting down excess datacenters will save taxpayers billions of dollars by cutting costs for infrastructure, real estate and energy,” U.S. Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra said in a statement.

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Kopp: Maryland will delay bond sale

Maryland will delay borrowing more than $700 million to give investors time to digest the debate over raising the federal debt ceiling, state Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp said Wednesday.

The move, which will push back the first day of the state bond sale from Friday to Monday, comes a day after Moody’s Investors Service said it would review “for possible downgrade” the credit ratings of Maryland and four other states.

Kopp stressed that the decision to delay the sale did not come in response to concern from the bond market or changes in interest rates based on the Moody's report.

“It seemed to be a good idea to give it the weekend to clear things out,” Kopp said, suggesting that the extra time would give potential buyers a chance to review the state’s AAA credit score and also read the report from Moody’s. “In the end, we don’t think it should make much difference.”

The bonds are to be used for school construction and refinancing old debt.

If the rating agencies ultimately downgrade the state’s credit score, it could have a significant impact on the cost of borrowing. But Moody’s has said only that it would review Maryland’s creditworthiness. The influential service has said that it would not change the rating unless it first downgraded the federal government’s score.

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Posted by John Fritze at 4:20 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Washington
        

Bongino to attend Beck rally in Israel

Daniel Bongino, the former U.S. Secret Service agent who is running for Senate, will travel to Israel next month to attend a rally being organized by the outgoing Fox commentator and conservative icon Glenn Beck, his campaign said.

Beck, who told a Christians United for Israel summit this week that defending Israel may be "the cause of our lifetime," is planning the rally for Aug. 24. Beck invited Bongino, a Republican running against Democratic Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, to attend the event.

"Israel is one of our staunchest allies in an increasingly volatile world," Bongino said in a statement. "From Israel's inception it has promoted freedom and democracy for all of its citizens and stands as a beacon of freedom in a region of the world that cries out for such.”

Conservative Republicans have been particularly vocal on Israel since President Barack Obama suggested during a speech in May that the boundaries in place before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war should serve as a starting point for peace negotiations – a position that angered Israeli leaders.

But it’s not clear whether Bongino can distinguish himself from Cardin on the issue. Cardin is a long-established defender of Israel who has enjoyed support from groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

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July 19, 2011

Md. lawmakers split vote on GOP plan

Maryland lawmakers in the House of Representatives split their vote along party lines Tuesday on a Republican proposal to lift the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt ceiling in exchange for deep budget cuts and a constitutional amendment that would require Congress to balance the budget.

The measure, which has no chance of passing in the Democratic-led Senate, cleared the House on a 234-190 vote. Five Democrats joined all but nine Republicans to support the measure. Maryland’s two Republicans – Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett of Western Maryland and Rep. Andy Harris of Baltimore County – both supported the bill while the state’s six Democrats did not.

“This bill will force the government to do what hard working Maryland families and businesses do every single day: balance their budget,” Harris, an early supporter of the "cut, cap and balance" proposal, said in a statement following the vote.

The proposal would require $111 billion in budget cuts next year and would cap federal spending at under 20 percent of gross domestic product, compared with the current 24 percent. It would also require a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate to approve tax increases.

House Democrats balked at the GOP proposal, arguing that it threatens safety net programs such as Medicare.

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Bartlett's fundraising prompts retirement speculation

Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett’s relatively low fundraising take in the second quarter of this year landed him in a story in a Capitol Hill newspaper Tuesday focused on potential House retirees.

The story, which appeared in Roll Call, listed about a dozen House members across the country, including some in competitive districts, who raised less than $50,000 from April through the end of the June. Bartlett was the third example in the story.

The 10-term Republican, whose Western Maryland district is a potential target of the state’s redistricting process, raised $28,300 in the second quarter of this year, making his the lowest haul of any member of the state’s delegation, The Sun reported Tuesday.

It’s worth noting, though, that Bartlett has never been a particularly prolific fundraiser but has nevertheless won elections with wide margins. At this same point in the 2008 election cycle, for instance, Bartlett raised $20,676 -- less than this year. He went on to win the election with 58 percent of the vote in a wave year for Democrats.

At that time, Bartlett reported having $217,134 in the bank. So far this year, he has slightly more: $262,765.

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Moody’s threatens state’s credit rating

A national rating agency threatened Tuesday to take a second look at Maryland’s gold-plated credit status because of the protracted debate in Washington over raising the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt ceiling.

Moody’s Investors Service said it would review “for possible downgrade” the credit ratings of five states: Maryland, New Mexico, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. The announcement comes days before Maryland is expected to begin selling $718 million in bonds.

Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s have both threatened to downgrade the nation’s credit rating in recent weeks – a move that, if carried out, would have a dramatic impact on interest rates. But so far the threats appear to be aimed more at the political process than the bond market.

Under the subject line “a very real threat,” Gov. Martin O’Malley’s political campaign sent an e-mail arguing that over the past few weeks the country has “seen divisiveness and political gamesmanship like we've never seen before.” The Democratic governor blamed conservative Republicans, suggesting their real mission is to defeat President Barack Obama in the 2012 election “even if it means killing the jobs recovery and risking our country's financial stability.”

With an Aug. 2 deadline fast approaching, lawmakers in both parties are wrestling over how to increase the debt limit without facing political fallout. House Republicans are poised to approve a measure that would raise the limit in tandem with significant budget cuts and a constitutional amendment that would require a balanced budget.

Obama has threatened to veto that measure, which would cut spending to levels not seen since 1966.

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Obama to visit College Park

With the Aug. 2 deadline to raise the nation's $14.3 trillion debt ceiling fast approaching, President Barack Obama will visit Maryland on Friday to deliver his message to college students at the University of Maryland, College Park.

The White House announced Tuesday that Obama will hold a town hall meeting at Ritchie Coliseum on the campus. It marks the first time the president has visited Maryland since April.

Though White House officials did not say what the focus of the town hall will be, the visit will come as Congress heads into what is expected to be a weekend of work on raising the debt ceiling -- an issue that has dominated Washington for weeks.

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July 14, 2011

Cardin raises $1 million

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin will report raising more than $1 million in the second quarter of this year for his 2012 reelection effort, a roughly 32 percent uptick in fundraising from the first quarter, his campaign said Thursday.

More than 1,300 individuals gave to the campaign, according to the announcement, and the Maryland Democrat received the majority of his donations from state residents. Cardin will report having $1.8 million in the bank.

Cardin, who is considered a safe bet for reelection by nonpartisan political observers such as the Cook Political Report, had $1 million on hand at the end of April. The latest figures suggest he spent around $200,000 in the second quarter.

“Helping to create and protect quality jobs, keeping our bay healthy and our drinking water clean, and protecting seniors from efforts to slash Medicare and Social Security are at the top of my daily agenda,” Cardin said in a statement. “It’s humbling to receive such an outpouring of support as I prepare for the 2012 campaign.”


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Roger Clemens case folds on Cummings video

Without ever stepping into the courtroom, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, it turns out, was inadvertently at the center of U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton’s decision to declare a mistrial Thursday in Roger Clemens' perjury trial. Or, at least, it was the use by prosecutors of a 2008 video of Cummings that was to blame.

During the baseball star's trial prosecutors played a video of the Baltimore Democrat in a congressional hearing in which he quotes from an affidavit provided by Laura Pettitte. Pettitte, the wife of Clemens’ teammate Andy Pettitte, testified that her husband told her that Clemens admitted to using a human growth hormone.

The problem is Walton had prohibited Laura Pettitte’s testimony from being used in the trial.

“There are rules that we play by and those rules are designed to make sure both sides receive a fair trial,” Walton told the jury, according to the Associated Press. Because prosecutors broke those rules, the ability for Clemens to get a fair trial “with this jury would be very difficult if not impossible.”

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July 8, 2011

Hoyer: Don't cut Goddard telescope

Rep. Steny Hoyer, the second-highest ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, sent a letter Friday to members of the House Appropriations Committee asking them to reconsider the decision to strip funding for the James Webb Space Telescope at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt.

A House appropriations subcommittee with oversight of NASA and other agencies approved a spending bill Thursday that would cut funding for the project, which is the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. The program is more than $1.5 billion over budget and its launch has been delayed to 2018 at the earliest. Maryland lawmakers have been pushing back on the cuts.

“The telescope is in fabrication with the mirror finished and other components nearly complete,” the Southern Maryland lawmaker, whose district includes Goddard, wrote in the letter. “It would be devastating to lose the project at this juncture.”

The full letter, addressed to Rep. Hal Rogers, the Kentucky Republican who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, is available after the jump:

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July 7, 2011

Lawmakers resist telescope cuts

Maryland lawmakers are pushing back on a proposal advanced Thursday in the Republican-led House of Representatives to cut funding for the James Webb Space Telescope, which supports hundreds of jobs at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt.

A House appropriations subcommittee with oversight of NASA and other federal agencies approved by voice vote a spending bill that would strip funding for the project, which is the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. The program is more than $1.5 billion over budget and its launch has been delayed to 2018 at the earliest.

The spending legislation demonstrates "our commitment to restoring austerity, restraint and thoughtfulness to the" spending process, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, a Kentucky Republican, said in a statement. Without mentioning the telescope directly, Rogers said the legislation eliminates "extraneous, duplicative and unnecessary programs."

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July 5, 2011

GOP proposes drawing Harris out of district

Rep. Andy Harris, the Republican lawmaker who captured Maryland’s 1st Congressional District in last year’s midterm election, would have his primary residence drawn out of his district under congressional boundaries proposed Tuesday by his own state party.

The redistricting proposal released by Maryland Republicans would limit the 1st District to the Eastern Shore, Harford County and a small portion of Anne Arundel County. The congressman's Cockeysville home would wind up inside a district represented by Democratic Rep. C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger.

Ryan Nawrocki, a spokesman for Harris, said that scenario – even if it was approved by the General Assembly -- wouldn’t necessarily force Ruppersberger and Harris to face off against each other in the 2012 election. Harris owns a home in Cambridge where he spends about half his time, Nawrocki said.

“The party was attempting to draw a map that is compact and doesn’t really take partisanship into consideration,” Nawrocki said. “The congressman does have a place in Cambridge. He’s had a home there for a long time.”

The GOP map is one of the first redistricting proposals to emerge publicly even as lawmakers are working on maps behind the scenes. GOP leaders, who will have little to no influence on the redistricting process, touted their proposal as more fair than the current meandering boundaries drawn by then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat.

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June 30, 2011

Cummings: ATF probe should consider gun laws

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, in the latest battle with his Republican counterpart on the House Oversight Committee, said Thursday that an investigation into a troubled federal gun trafficking operation should also consider the role U.S. gun laws play in violence on the Mexican border.

In a report released by the Baltimore Democrat on Thursday, in advance of a Capitol Hill forum he scheduled on the issue, Cummings argues that federal agents working to combat international drug cartels would benefit from tougher criminal penalties on straw purchases and trafficking.

Cummings, who is the top-ranking Democrat on the oversight committee, said the committee’s chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican, has tried to “wall off any discussion of the nation’s gun laws” as part of the ongoing investigation.

“Trafficking firearms to Mexico is illegal. Anyone who buys an assault rifle on behalf of a Mexican cartel is a criminal,” the Baltimore lawmaker said. “Placing common-sense restrictions on criminals who supply guns to drug cartels does not infringe on the rights of law abiding citizens.”

Issa’s investigation has centered on a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives sting operation called “Fast and Furious,” in which agents allowed weapons to be sold to straw purchasers for Mexican drug cartels to discover how those guns were brought across the border. But the ATF lost track of many of those weapons, including two that were found at the scene of the murder of an ATF agent last year.

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June 29, 2011

Hoyer, Sarbanes discuss manufacturing in Baltimore

With congressional Democrats and President Barack Obama emphasizing American manufacturing as key to the nation's economic recovery, two Maryland lawmakers met with Baltimore business leaders Tuesday to discuss what role Washington should take to help the industry.

During a wide-ranging talk at the Baltimore Museum of Industry, Democratic Reps. Steny Hoyer and John Sarbanes addressed trade agreements with Korea, Columbia and Panama that are pending in Congress as well as government regulations and taxes that business leaders told the lawmakers are stifling growth.

"Too many Americans are not confident that America is going to make it in the decade and century ahead," said Hoyer, the Southern Maryland lawmaker who is the second-highest ranking Democrat in the House and who has been pushing a manufacturing agenda for months. "We have a decision to make: Are we going to compete?"

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Ruppersberger joins AT&T merger letter

Jumping into the fray on one of the most controversial issues facing federal anti-trust regulators this year, Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger joined 75 other congressional Democrats in a high profile letter touting the proposed merger of AT&T and T-Mobile.
 
The letter, which lawmakers sent to the Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission late last week, does not specifically endorse the $39 billion deal, but instead urges regulators to consider AT&T’s promise to build a wireless broadband network that would cover much of the nation.

"Such a commitment will require billions of dollars in private investment capital and create thousands of jobs, including many good paying union jobs with solid benefits, which will greatly contribute to our continuing economic recovery," the letter reads.

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June 28, 2011

Senate candidates solicit funds for 2012

With an important fundraising deadline for congressional candidates approaching at the end of this week, a handful of campaigns in Maryland were out seeking last-minute donations Tuesday – and the pleas for cash are likely to grow louder over the next few days.

First in line was Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, who is one of 17 incumbent Democrats across the country up for reelection in 2012. Gov. Martin O’Malley’s campaign shop sent an e-mail to supporters Tuesday, urging Democrats to “help Ben get a head start on what’s sure to be a tough race.” The e-mail says that Cardin’s campaign is “about to go into full swing, so he needs to build up his resources now.”

As is often the case with these requests, the e-mail sprinkles in plenty of criticism of the other side for core voters. In this case, O’Malley’s e-mail argues that the Republican Party stands for tearing “down our safety nets, our programs and our rights rather than rebuilding and moving our nation forward.”

The e-mail came on the same day that Cardin’s campaign distributed a request from the senator’s wife, Myrna Cardin, who pointed out that the two met when they were in elementary school. Her request notes what is really driving the spate of fundraising e-mails -- the second-quarter period for campaign finance reporting ends June 30 -- and says that “a contribution of $5 or more” will “give him the strength he needs for the campaign ahead.”

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June 27, 2011

Cardin: Obama should seek authority on Libya

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin said Monday he believes President Barack Obama erred in not requesting authority from Congress for the ongoing military effort in Libya despite the administration's stance that it does not need that approval.

"First, I disagree with President Obama," the Maryland Democrat, who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in an address to the Baltimore Council on Foreign Affairs. "I believe the war powers have been triggered. I think President Obama should come to Congress for authorization."

The comments, which reflect growing bipartisan concern over the Libya effort, came on the eve of a hearing by the Foreign Relations Committee on legislation that would authorize the U.S. to continue limited operations in the country for one year. Cardin was one of 10 original sponsors of that resolution.

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June 24, 2011

Sarbanes seeks funding for electronics recycling

Citing the growing number of consumer electronics products that wind up in landfills, Rep. John Sarbanes on Friday proposed giving federal agencies $60 million over the next three years to promote recycling of computers and other gadgets.

Used electronics represent a relatively small share of solid waste — about 2 percent, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — but it’s a segment that’s growing quickly. Companies and households tossed between 1.9 million and 2.2 million tons of electronics in 2005. Of that, about 350,000 tons were recycled.

Discarded electronic components create environmental hazards, particularly if chemicals leach into groundwater supplies. But many of those components can be reused, Sarbanes said, potentially reducing the rare-element imports needed to manufacture new electronics.

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Maryland lawmakers split on Libya

Maryland’s congressional delegation split along party lines Friday over a resolution in the House of Representatives that would have authorized President Barack Obama to continue U.S. military involvement in Libya for one year, with the state’s six Democrats in support and two Republicans opposed.

The measure, similar to one pending in the Senate that is backed by Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, failed on a vote of 123-295. Seventy Democrats joined all but eight Republicans in opposition.

Lawmakers in both parties have grown increasingly restive about the administration’s approach to Libya, which began with a series of airstrikes in March to weaken forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi. Obama has maintained he does not need authorization from Congress to continue the effort because the military is not engaged in full-blown hostilities.

"A sudden withdrawal of American support for the mission would strengthen Gadhafi’s hand and increase his confidence that he can wait out the rebellion against his rule," said Rep. Steny Hoyer, the Southern Maryland lawmaker and second-ranking Democrat in the House.

Democratic Reps. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, Elijah E. Cummings, John Sarbanes, Donna F. Edwards, Chris Van Hollen and Hoyer voted in favor of the resolution. Republican Reps. Andy Harris and Roscoe G. Bartlett voted against it.

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June 23, 2011

Wargotz will decide on 2012 in fall

Eric Wargotz, the former Queen Anne's County commissioner who ran an unsuccessful campaign for Senate against incumbent Barbara A. Mikulski last year, will decide this fall whether to give a statewide run another shot in 2012, this time against Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin.

Visitors of his campaign website could have easily been left with the impression that the Republican physician was already in the race. The site includes a list of what Wargotz would stand for “as your senator” (he would oppose earmarks, for instance, and fight to repeal the health care law). Last week, the campaign released a video of Wargotz wearing a white lab coat in which he describes himself as “a candidate for U.S. Senate.”

But while he acknowledges being “interested” in running next year -- and also maintaining a volunteer campaign staff -- he said he has not made up his mind. The video, he said, is a re-release from his 2010 campaign. He notes that a summary accompanying the video points out he is “considering a run against [a] career politician.”

“The campaign has stuck together. I meet with the team once in a while. We’re looking at it. We learned a lot in the race in 2010 – we learned by leaps and bounds,” Wargotz said Thursday. “I’m not officially in the race. My name shows up here and there. I go where I'm invited to speak.”

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June 22, 2011

Md. lawmakers offer tepid reaction to Obama on Afghanistan

Maryland lawmakers offered a decidedly mixed reaction Wednesday to President Barack Obama's decision to pull tens of thousands of U.S. troops out of Afghanistan in the coming months.

Obama announced in a nationally televised address that the U.S. will withdraw 33,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of next summer. That process will begin next month, he said, when the administration will begin removing the first 10,000 troops.

The reduction, which comes amid growing bipartisan concern over the war and just weeks after special forces killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, will cancel out the 30,000-troop Afghanistan "surge" Obama announced in 2009. Some 68,000 military personnel would remain in the country after September 2012.

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, argued that the White House should pursue a faster timetable.

“U.S. forces have served admirably in Afghanistan for nearly a decade, but they should not be expected to secure and police every Afghan town and village," the Maryland Democrat said in a statement. "The shift in U.S. policy and troop withdrawal should be sped up, saving American lives and treasure."

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski echoed that sentiment in a statement Thursday.

"It’s an important first step, but it can’t be the only step," she said. "I respectfully urge the president to examine every opportunity to accelerate bringing our troops home."

Rep. Steny Hoyer, the second-ranking Democrat in the House, offered a measured statement.

"Our struggle against terrorists who would do Americans harm is certainly not over," said Hoyer, who represents Southern Maryland. "But now is a time to consider how the threats against Americans have changed, and how we can most effectively defeat the terrorists behind those threats."

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Bartlett’s net worth appears to grow in 2010

Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, who is generally among the most wealthy members of Maryland’s delegation to Congress, appears to have boosted his net worth and expanded his real estate holdings in 2010, according to a recently filed financial disclosure report.

Disclosure reports for most members of Congress were made public last week but Bartlett received a one-month extension and his financial information was recently posted on the clerk’s website.

The Western Maryland Republican reports purchasing eight lots on seven sites in 2010 valued at between $580,007 and $1.3 million. The properties were located in Frederick, Annapolis, and Knoxville, Md. Overall, Bartlett put the value of his assets at between $2.4 million and $8.2 million, up from the $1.8 million to $6.8 million he reported for 2009.

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FDA project secures $44M from feds

The General Services Administration will allocate more than half of its $82 million construction budget this year for the Food and Drug Administration’s consolidation project in White Oak, despite deep cuts the agency took to help reduce the nation’s budget deficit, Maryland lawmakers said Wednesday.

The agency, which serves as the federal government’s landlord, will spend $44 million on the project this year. When completed, the 12-year-old project will provide 1 million square feet of space for the Food and Drug Administration and house 9,000 employees, many of whom are now scattered around the Washington region.

General Services – and the FDA project by extension -- was cut as part of the short-term budget deal approved this year to avoid a government shutdown. Those cuts are still in effect, but the agency will now use a significant portion of its discretionary construction fund to keep the FDA project moving.

“The FDA is our premier agency for safeguarding the nation’s public health regarding food products, drugs, medical devices and other products that Americans use every day,” Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin said in a statement. “The allocation of more than half of GSA’s construction budget for this project confirms its importance.”

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June 21, 2011

Cardin supports Libya resolution

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin is one of 10 senators who signed on to a bipartisan resolution introduced Tuesday that would authorize the U.S. to continue military operations in Libya for one year – even as the Obama administration has maintained it does not need that authorization.

"President Obama made the right decision when he engaged U.S. forces in the international effort to protect innocent civilians from being slaughtered by Qaddafi's forces,” the Maryland Democrat said in a statement. “But the mission cannot go on indefinitely.”

The proposal, which was introduced by Republican Sen. John McCain and Democratic Sen. John Kerry, is the latest effort by restive lawmakers who are concerned about President Barack Obama’s decision to not seek congressional approval for the Libya operation. Republican leaders in the House of Representatives are considering a resolution that would end funding for the effort.

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June 20, 2011

Cummings to discuss security at Old Dominion

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings will travel to Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., Monday to meet with college officials there and discuss security efforts a week after his 20-year-old nephew was shot and killed near the campus.

Cummings, who spoke at his nephew's funeral in Baltimore on Saturday, had earlier described the students living in the neighborhood surrounding the campus as "sitting ducks" because of a recent spike in crime there.

Cummings’ nephew, Christopher Cummings, was killed on June 10. He was a junior at Old Dominion. Christopher Cummings' father, James Cummings, will also speak at the event as will Rep. Robert Scott, a Democrat who represents portions of Norfolk.

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June 16, 2011

O’Malley, Biden talk broadband

Gov. Martin O’Malley joined Vice President Joe Biden and Attorney General Eric Holder in Washington on Thursday to call for a national wireless broadband network for public safety officials that he said would address the communications breakdowns that took place during the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Speaking to public safety officials in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House, O’Malley noted the state’s recent effort at developing interoperable radio networks that are accessible to officers and firefighters from different cities and counties.

“In a background where we see some really damaging cuts to homeland security grants, this day is a bright contrast, a real solid movement forward,” the Maryland Democrat said. “There’s absolutely no reason why teenagers should be more advanced in their technology in doing video games than our first responders are in protecting lives.”

President Barack Obama has pushed for better communications system for first responders, which was one of the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. Legislation sponsored by West
Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a Democrat, would raise money for a nationwide network by allowing entities that control a segment of radio spectrum to voluntarily give up those frequencies in exchange for a portion of the proceeds from their sale.

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June 15, 2011

Harris, Cardin wealthiest in delegation, reports show

The newest member of Maryland’s congressional delegation, it turns out, might also be its most wealthy.

Rep. Andy Harris, the Baltimore County Republican elected last year to represent the Eastern Shore along with several Baltimore suburbs, holds assets valued between $1.5 million and $4 million, according to annual financial disclosure statements by members of Congress that were made available to the public Wednesday.

Harris, an anesthesiologist, appears to have surpassed Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, who is worth between $1.4 million and $3.5 million and has frequently turned up as one of the state’s most well-off elected officials. Because lawmakers report the value of assets in broad ranges, it’s impossible to assess actual net worth.

Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, meanwhile, who also typically reports significant financial holdings, received a one-month extension to file his report.

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Bartlett joins lawsuit against Obama over Libya

Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett joined a bipartisan group of lawmakers Wednesday in filing a lawsuit against President Barack Obama over U.S. involvement in Libya, alleging that the White House overstepped its constitutional authority when it launched the military effort in March.

The 36-page complaint, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Washington, argues that Obama’s decision to initiate strikes against the government of Moammar Gadhafi violated the constitution and the War Powers Resolution. Bartlett, a Western Maryland Republican, has consistently been among the most vocal critics of the way the action was initiated.

“This is not the king’s army,” Bartlett said in an interview Wednesday. “This is a terribly dangerous precedent…Clearly what he did was a violation of the constitution.”

The other House members included in the lawsuit are Reps. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, Walter Jones, R-N.C., John Conyers, D-Mich., Michael Capuano, D-Mass., Dan Burton, R-Ind., Howard Coble, R-N.C., John Duncan, R-Tenn., Timothy Johnson, R-Ill., and Ron Paul, R-Texas.

The lawsuit comes amid growing concern by members of both parties in Congress over how the military action was started. On June 2, the House passed a resolution requiring the White House to inform Congress on the scope and cost of the Libyan mission, which is currently being led by NATO. That measure passed on a 268-145 vote, with both Maryland Republicans, Bartlett and Baltimore County Rep. Andy Harris, in support.

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June 14, 2011

Mikulski, Cardin oppose ethanol proposal

The state's two Democratic senators joined with a majority of their party on Tuesday to block a symbolic effort to end federal ethanol tax subsidies, even though both lawmakers said they ultimately support doing away with the controversial tax credits.

Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin said they opposed the measure on procedural grounds Tuesday but expressed support for the underlying policy. Democratic leaders were upset by the way the proposal, offered by Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, was brought to the floor.

The measure failed on a 40-59 vote, falling far short of the 60 votes needed to advance.

But although the Coburn version of the legislation did not pass, the debate Tuesday suggested that there is bipartisan support in the Senate for limiting the ethanol breaks. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the Senate will take up another version of the measure in a matter of days.

“At a time when high gas and corn prices are hurting many people and businesses in Delaware and Maryland, particularly within our agriculture communities, and America is facing a massive federal deficit and debt, ending the subsidy for corn-based ethanol is long overdue," read a joint statement by Mikulski, Cardin and Delaware's Democratic senators, Tom Carper and Chris Coons.

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June 13, 2011

Cardin calls on SSA to keep sending statements

For many who have not yet retired, the annual earnings statements mailed out by the Social Security Administration are the only regular contact they have with the agency.

On Monday, U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin requested that Social Security officials continue to send those statements despite budget cuts the Woodlawn-based federal agency is facing. Social Security recently stopped sending some of the statements, which cost $70 million a year to mail, as a cost-cutting measure.

"Since 1999, the Social Security annual earnings statement has given Americans an indispensable retirement tool to ensure that every worker has an in-depth knowledge of where their hard-earned money is being saved," Cardin said in a letter Monday to Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue.

The agency mails out approximately 152 million statements to workers over age 25 every year, according to Cardin's office. The four-page mailings list a worker’s earnings record, including an estimate of their expected Social Security payout.

"We agree the information in the statement is important," Social Security spokesman Mark Hinkle said in a statement. "We are exploring how to deliver a better version to the American people and save the federal government $1 billion over 10 years by making it available online."


Posted by John Fritze at 2:00 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Washington
        

Mikulski concerned about fed. worker pensions

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski wants U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner to “protect federal employee pensions” as the government endeavors to keep paying its bills despite exceeding its debt limit nearly a month ago.

Geithner has said the Treasury Department is taking “extraordinary steps” to keep the government afloat as Congress and the White House look for a compromise that will lead to raising the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt limit. As part of that effort, the government is reducing its holdings in retirement funds for federal workers.

Geithner, who says the effort will buy the government until Aug. 2 before it will default on its obligations, has said that retirees will not be affected by the moves. But Mikulski wrote earlier this month to say she nevertheless is concerned about the changes.

“Federal employee pension funds are being used to prevent a fiscal disaster, and federal worker’s pensions are being targeted for cuts to balance the budget,” the Maryland Democrat wrote in the letter. “Congress has tested the faith of our federal workers repeatedly.”

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June 11, 2011

Van Hollen calls for Weiner's resignation

Rep. Chris Van Hollen joined a growing chorus of congressional Democrats Saturday who are calling on fellow Democrat Rep. Anthony Weiner to resign after the New York lawmaker acknowledged sending racy pictures of himself over the social networking site Twitter.

“Anthony Weiner’s repeated violation of the public trust is unacceptable," the Montgomery County lawmaker said in a statement. "He can best advance the issues he fought for by resigning immediately.”

Van Hollen, the first Maryland Democrat to call for Weiner's ouster, issued his statement on the same day that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz also called for him to step down.

The outrage followed the latest revelation in the case: Police have interviewed a 17-year-old girl in Delaware about online contact she had with Weiner. The congressman has said those communications were "neither explicit nor indecent."

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June 6, 2011

Supreme Court tosses challenge to Calif. tuition law

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected a challenge to a California law that allows illegal immigrants to pay in-state college tuition rates, a decision that gave a boost to supporters of a similar law approved this year in Maryland.

California’s 2001 law, which grants in-state college rates to students who attended a California high school for three years and graduate, was challenged by a conservative immigration group that argued the provision conflicted with federal law. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case and did not comment on that decision.

A California court had previously upheld the law.

The law is similar to one signed in May by Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. Opponents of Maryland’s law are attempting to gather 56,000 signatures to suspend its provisions and put it on the ballot so that voters can decide its fate next year. Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin have comparable tuition laws.

Opponents said last week they had cleared an early hurdle in the petition drive, securing more than the 18,500 signatures initially needed to keep the effort alive. Del. Patrick L. McDonough, has said he expects opponents will also file a lawsuit to stop the law. McDonough, a Baltimore County Republican, was not immediately available for comment.

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Categories: Washington
        

Cardin calls on Biden to drop GOP Medicare plan

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin was one of five Senate Democrats -- all of whom are up for reelection next year -- to sign a letter to Vice President Joe Biden asking that the Republican plan to overhaul Medicare be taken off the table as part of the ongoing White House deficit talks.

The Medicare proposal, crafted by House Republican Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan and passed by the House in April, would provide seniors federal subsidies to purchase private health insurance -- a change that would save money by requiring seniors to pay a higher share of their healthcare costs.

Democrats have attacked the idea for weeks and have already used the issue once successfully as a campaign theme to win a special election in New York last month. At the same time, Democrats -- including President Barack Obama -- have acknowledged that entitlement reform of some kind will be necessary to address the nation’s debt.

“This proposal would never pass Congress on its own, and it does not belong in a larger deal either,” Cardin and the other Democrats wrote Biden. “It would be devastating for America’s seniors, who would see their out-of-pocket costs for health care double and the benefits they currently enjoy jeopardized.”

Biden is leading a series of closed-door negotiations with a bipartisan group of lawmakers intended to find a compromise on federal spending that can clear the way for Congress to raise the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt limit by August. It’s not clear that the GOP Medicare proposal has been a part of those discussions.

The other Democratic senators who signed the letter include Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Jon Tester of Montana and Bill Nelson of Florida.

The full letter follows:

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June 3, 2011

Delegation splits on Libya votes

Maryland’s delegation split along party lines over two votes in the House of Representatives Friday that addressed U.S. involvement in the Libyan conflict – and, in an unusual twist, the state’s two Republicans supported a measure drafted by one of the most liberal Democrats in Congress.

One measure, authored by Ohio Democrat Dennis Kucinich, would have required President Barack Obama to halt U.S. operations in Libya within 15 days. Eighty-seven Republicans – including Maryland Reps. Roscoe G. Bartlett and Andy Harris – sided with 61 Democrats to support that measure. The proposal ultimately failed, 148-265.

“The only truly constitutional option available today was the resolution introduced by Congressman Kucinich,” said Bartlett, who had previously called Obama’s decision to deploy U.S. forces in Libya without congressional authorization “an affront” to the Constitution. “I am opposed to how
the United States military was ordered into war with Libya.”

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June 2, 2011

Bartlett calls for more alternative-fuel cars

As gas prices in Maryland hover just under $4 a gallon, Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett joined a bipartisan group of lawmakers on Capitol Hill Thursday to press for legislation that would require auto manufacturers to produce more alternative-fuel vehicles.

The bill, known as the Open Fuel Standard Act, would require that 50 percent of new automobiles manufactured in 2014 be able to run on non-petroleum fuels in addition to regular gasoline. By 2017, the measure would require 97 percent of new vehicles to run on alternative fuels.

“It is a certainty that we’re going to have to be burning different fuels in the future in addition to the oil we burn now,” said the Western Maryland Republican, who has long warned of the nation’s reliance on oil.

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May 31, 2011

Debt limit vote splits Md. Democrats

A proposal to raise the nation's $14.3 trillion debt limit without making significant cuts in federal spending failed in the House of Representatives Tuesday and split the Democratic members of Maryland's congressional delegation.

Reps. John Sarbanes, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and Donna Edwards supported the proposal, while Reps. Elijah E. Cummings, Chris Van Hollen and Steny Hoyer opposed it. All are Democrats. The state's two Republicans, Reps. Andy Harris and Roscoe G. Bartlett, both voted against the bill.

The bill, which failed 97-318, was brought to the House floor by Republicans who acknowledged early in the debate that they would not support it. The measure was intended to put Democrats in a political bind by forcing them to vote on a "clean" debt limit measure without spending cuts -- an idea they initially favored.

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Categories: Washington
        

Former Secret Service agent to run for Senate

A former U.S. Secret Service agent from Severna Park who has served on President Barack Obama’s protective detail announced Tuesday he will seek the Republican nomination for Senate in Maryland.

Daniel Bongino, 36, who spent four years with the New York City Police Department before joining the Secret Service, said he felt compelled to leave his career in law enforcement because he feels the current political leadership in Washington is putting the country on the wrong path.

If he wins the GOP nomination, Bongino would likely face incumbent Democratic Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin in November.

“We’re doing the same things over and over again and expecting a different result,” Bongino said in an interview, adding that he would make education and the economy the focus of his campaign. “I hate labels, but I do tend to take the conservative position on economic issues because that’s what works.”

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May 30, 2011

Palin turns up in Baltimore

A day after embarking on a bus tour that one associate suggested was a way to see if her family is up to the rigors of a presidential campaign, Sarah Palin made a surprise visit Monday to Fort McHenry -- and rebuked President Barack Obama for a comment about the U.S. military.

Robin Abcarian of sister newspaper The Los Angeles Times describes the scene:

"Palin and her family followed Ranger Jim Bailey, dressed in the sweltering heat as an 1814 Army artillery officer, who gave them a tour of the battlefield in Baltimore and let Palin pick up a 36-pound cannonball.

"On their way out, Sarah and Todd Palin peered through glass at the original 1814 score for Francis Scott Key's 'The Star-Spangled Banner.'

"She stoked the mystery of whether she will run for president at each stop, saying several times that she is still "contemplating" a run. One associate, who was not authorized to speak for Palin, said he thinks that the trip is a way for the Palins to see whether they are up for the rigors of the campaign trail. (Her youngest child, Trig, 3, was not seen, nor did Tripp, the 2 ½-year-old son of her eldest daughter, Bristol, appear to be on the bus.)

"Later at the fort, asked about the GOP field, she mentioned Texas Gov. Rick Perry, saying she thought he would make 'a fine candidate' and that 'we have a lot in common.'

"'Competition breeds success,' she said. 'I would hope there is gonna be vigorous debate and a lot of aggressive competition even in our primary so that our voters have a good choice.'

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May 26, 2011

House votes to block contractor disclosure proposal

A proposal to prohibit the government from requiring federal contractors to disclose campaign contributions was approved by the Republican-led House of Representatives Thursday as part of a massive bill that sets funding priorities for the military.

The legislation, which was included as an amendment to the $690 billion defense bill, was a response to a draft executive order from the White House that proposed requiring federal contractors to disclose their political donations as they bid for projects.

The White House and some Democrats have said the proposal would avoid a repeat of the 2010 midterm election, in which millions of dollars of undisclosed campaign money was used to attack candidates across the country. Business groups and some Republicans have countered that the requirement would bring politics into the procurement process.

“Government agencies should award contracts based on merit and value to taxpayers – not politics,” said Rep. Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican who authored the amendment.

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Categories: Washington
        

May 25, 2011

Cummings seeks bank subpoenas on foreclosure crisis

Baltimore Rep. Elijah E. Cummings on Wednesday requested that the House Oversight Committee issue subpoenas to six banks he said have refused to voluntarily provide documents detailing their role in the mortgage foreclosure meltdown. 

Cummings, the top-ranking Democrat on the committee who has made the foreclosure issue a top priority, said the documents are needed to help the committee determine how the foreclosure crisis unfolded. He said it is his first request for subpoenas since starting in the position in January. 

“The foreclosure crisis has had devastating consequences for communities across the country and continues to threaten our nation’s economic recovery," Cummings said in a statement Wednesday. “The banks have admitted wrongdoing, and yet they are now refusing to provide Congress with documents that are critical to our investigation.”

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May 24, 2011

Mikulski casts budget fight as women’s issue

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski led a group of female senators Tuesday in opposing a Republican budget plan approved by the House of Representatives, arguing that the measure’s proposed overhaul of Medicare would adversely affect women.

“We feel that we’re under attack,” the Maryland Democrat, who was joined by five other female -- and two male – Democratic senators, said during a Capitol Hill news conference. “We can look at every aspect of this bill and we can see that when it comes to the health of American women, [it] is the wrong prescription.”

The effort by Mikulski and other Democratic female lawmakers in Washington follows a similar push earlier this year against a GOP plan to strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding. Though that debate largely turned on abortion, Mikulski cast the proposal as one that would deprive women of preventative health care. The provision was ultimately dropped from the spending bill Congress approved last month.

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Categories: Washington
        

Murphy to chair Senate campaign, not run, in 2012

Brian Murphy, the conservative Republican who ran against Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in last year’s GOP gubernatorial primary, has a candidate in mind to run against Democratic Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin in 2012. The one thing he can confirm: It isn’t him.

“This Thursday, May 26, I’ll be making an announcement regarding the 2012 US Senate race,” Murphy wrote on his Facebook page this week, prompting supporters to reply that they were prepared to campaign for him or make a political contribution if he got into the race.

But in an interview Tuesday, Murphy said he isn’t particularly interested in the seat for himself. He will, however, serve as the chairman of a GOP campaign he hopes can win. Who is the mystery candidate?

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May 23, 2011

Ruppersberger focuses on man missing in Libya

The family of a 31-year-old Baltimore man who has been missing in Libya since March enlisted the help of Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger on Monday to raise awareness about his plight. 

Matthew VanDyke travelled to the country, which is in the middle of a civil war, in early March to "witness history," according to Sharon VanDyke, his mother. She said she last heard from her son March 12.

"This is a major priority when you have an American being held captive, especially based on the situation occurring in Libya," said the Baltimore County Democrat, adding that he has contacted the White House and the U.S. State Department about the case. "The No. 1 priority is to bring him home safely." 

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Categories: Washington
        

Pelosi, Huffington coming for mayors' meeting

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Gov. Martin O’Malley, new media magnate Arianna Huffington and U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue will be coming to Baltimore next month for the annual meeting of the the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the Washington-based organization announced Monday.

Hundreds of mayors are expected to attend the meeting from June 17 to 20 at the Hilton Baltimore, which is to focus on jobs and the economy, homeland security, transportation, energy and immigration. The mayors use the annual meeting to debate and vote on policy positions to forward to Congress and the White House.

On the last day of the meeting, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is scheduled to be inaugurated president of the conference for 2011-12. He takes over from Eilzabeth Kautz, mayor of Burnsville, Minn.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors represents the 1,210 U.S. cities with populations of 30,000 or more.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 11:16 AM | | Comments (12)
        

May 18, 2011

Harris opposes doubling Bay Bridge toll

Sun Washington correspondent John Fritze reports:

With the Bay Bridge as a backdrop, Rep. Andy Harris said Wednesday that Maryland officials have unfairly targeted rural areas of the state for toll increases, and suggested Congress should consider withholding federal transportation money from states unless they demonstrate they will spend it equitably.

The Baltimore County Republican, whose competitive district includes the Eastern Shore, suggested that a state proposal to double the $2.50 eastbound toll on the bridge this year is evidence of a larger preference by some state governments, to direct a greater share of transportation money to urban areas.

“I don't think we're going to stand by and watch systematically the rural areas of the country getting shortchanged,” said Harris, who sits on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Asked if the Republican majority in the House would consider making federal transportation funding to states contingent on the issue, Harris said: “If you accept the federal dollars I think you're going to have to show that your state is not preferentially spending its transportation dollars in one area at the expense of the rural areas.”

The Maryland Transportation Authority has proposed a four-year, $210 million package of toll increases on several facilities, including the Fort McHenry and Harbor tunnels and the Bay and Key bridges.

State transportation officials say the revenues are used to maintain toll facilities and is kept separate from federal transportation dollars. Maryland Department of Transportation spokesman Jack Cahalan said many of the state's toll facilities cost more to maintain than they did to build.

“To keep these facilities safe and operational you have to reinvest in them in major ways,” said Cahalan. He said the bridge toll has not increased since 1975, when Gerald Ford was president.

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May 17, 2011

Cummings lobbies for more federal IGs

Baltimore Rep. Elijah E. Cummings wants President Barack Obama to fill nine vacant inspector general slots in the federal government, including at the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice, according to a letter he signed Tuesday.

Cummings, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, joined two other Democrats, an independent and four Republicans on the letter. Included in that list is California Rep. Darrell Issa, Cummings’ Republican counterpart on the oversight committee.

“We have serious concerns that the lack of permanent inspector generals at so many federal agencies is impeding the federal government’s efforts to increase efficiencies and detect and prevent waste, fraud and abuse,” the letter read.

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Categories: Washington
        

Ruppersberger proposes paying for R&R travel

The military would cover travel expenses for about 440 Maryland National Guard soldiers stationed in Egypt when they return home on leave under a proposal Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger plans to unveil Wednesday.

Under current law, Egypt is not included in the military’s leave program that pays for R&R travel expenses because it is not a combat zone. That means service members pay their own way home, the Baltimore County Democrat said.

National Guard troops have been on the Sinai Peninsula since 2002. The Maryland soldiers deployed in March as part of a peacekeeping missing.

“For their families, it’s hard to keep the home fires burning – there are empty seats at the dinner table, missed mortgage payments and unopened birthday gifts,” Ruppersberger said in a statement. “We must work harder to provide these families with the resources they need to survive their tours of duty here at home and overseas.”

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May 16, 2011

Cardin looks to eliminate oil tax breaks

As Senate Democrats prepare to hold a vote this week on whether to end taxpayer subsidies for the nation’s largest oil companies, Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin carried the party’s message to a Shell station on Russell Street in Baltimore on Monday.

“At a time of soaring gas prices and record budget deficits, we need to end $4 billion a year in subsidies for the big-five oil companies,” said the Maryland Democrat, a member of the Senate Finance Committee. “Americans should not be footing the bill for big oil, which has made nearly $1 trillion in profits over the last decade.”

Democrats across the country have been pounding on the perennial issue in an attempt to corner Republicans who have argued against any tax increases to close the nation’s burgeoning budget deficit. The Senate is expected to vote on the proposal later this week.

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May 12, 2011

Hoyer urges schools to teach health care benefits

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer is asking colleges and universities in his district to add a new item to their curricula: Information about the benefits of the Democrats' health care overhaul.

Polls show Americans remain divided over the controversial law approved by congressional Democrats and signed last year by President Barack Obama. Republicans rode opposition to the overhaul to the House majority in November, and surveys this year have shown a plurality of voters favor its repeal.

Supporters of the law say it will grow more popular as more of its provisions take effect.

“Before health reform became law, more than one-third of all young adults — including those with insurance — were having trouble paying their medical bills, and one-fourth were paying off medical debt,” Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, said Thursday in a statement.

“The Affordable Care Act has a number of features that will help those young Americans and provide them with the health and security they deserve. It is important that young people understand and have access to the health coverage they need, so I encourage our colleges and universities to help ensure that they are aware of the new options and resources available to them.”

In a letter Thursday, Hoyer suggested the colleges and universities of the Fifth Congressional District consider placing links on their homepages, distributing flyers along with graduation materials and hosting information sessions about the law.

The letter, which Hoyer's office said was sent to the University of Maryland, Bowie State University, St. Mary's College of Maryland and other schools, follows after the jump.

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Hoyer honors Schaefer on House floor

Southern Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer credited William Donald Schaefer with transforming Baltimore and called him “one of the great American mayors” in a speech on the floor of the House of Representatives Thursday to honor the longtime political leader.

“Few mayors can ever say that they transformed a city as thoroughly as he did,” Hoyer said of Schaefer, who died April 18. “But over his 16-year tenure as mayor of Baltimore, he led a dramatic and historic turnaround.

“Just as importantly, Mayor Schaefer’s legacy came in thousands of gestures that showed just how deeply he cared about the people he represented, and how seriously he took his work.”

Complete text of the speech follows, after the jump.

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Categories: Washington
        

Ruppersberger views bin Laden pictures

Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, one of a handful of lawmakers in Congress with oversight on intelligence issues, traveled to the Central Intelligence Agency’s headquarters in Virginia Thursday to view about a half dozen photographs of Osama bin Laden’s body, the Baltimore County lawmaker said.

“My first thought was, this was Osama bin Laden,” said Ruppersberger, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Select Committee on Intelligence. “It wasn't really gruesome… There was some blood but his face was not distorted to the point where you couldn’t really determine who he was.”

Ruppersberger viewed the pictures in a fourth-floor conference room at CIA headquarters for about 30 minutes, he said. Analysts presented several pictures of bin Laden alive alongside the photographs of his body and highlighted matching facial features with arrows.

One of the pictures shows bin Laden wrapped in a white robe before he was buried at sea, Ruppersberger said. No one else is in the picture and the sea can be seen in the background, he said. Other pictures show bin Laden’s face and body.

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Categories: Washington
        

Cummings, Issa battle over federal contractors proposal

Hours before a congressional hearing was set to begin Thursday on a White House proposal that would require federal contractors to disclose political donations Republicans and Democrats were heatedly arguing over the witness lineup.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the top-ranking Democrat on the committee, had invited Fred Wertheimer of the Washington-based watchdog group Democracy 21 to testify in support of the draft proposal, but said Thursday that Rep. Darrell Issa, the committee’s GOP chairman, denied the request.

Five of the seven remaining witnesses expected to testify oppose the measure.

“It is deeply troubling that Chairman Issa refused to allow testimony from this coalition of independent experts,” the Baltimore lawmaker said in a statement. “Denying their testimony is a disservice to members of Congress and the public, and it tarnishes the integrity of the committee.”

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May 11, 2011

Cardin asks oil companies to give up tax breaks

On the day before the heads of the country’s five largest oil companies are due for a Senate Finance Committee grilling on tax subsidies, Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin is asking them to admit that they no longer need the breaks.

The Maryland Democrat is a co-sponsor of the Close Big Oil Tax Loopholes Act, which supporters say will save the federal government $4 billion annually. The so-called Big Five – Exxon Mobil, Conoco Phillips, Chevron, Shell and BP America – have reported a total $36 billion in profits for the first quarter of 2011.

“At a time of soaring gas prices and record deficits, the five most profitable oil companies do not need, or deserve, a handout from the American taxpayer,” Cardin said in a statement.
He has joined fellow Finance Committee Democrats Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Bill Nelson of Florida, Chuck Schumer of New York and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan in a letter to the oil executives.

“We are sure you will agree that our nation’s mounting debt is a serious threat to our recovering economy,” they wrote. “But if we are truly serious about cutting our deficit, it is imperative that we start by getting rid of wasteful and ineffective corporate subsidies that have outlived their usefulness. … The former President of Shell Oil, John Hofmeister, had the courage to say, in no uncertain terms, that your companies no longer need these giveaways. We urge you, in your testimony tomorrow before the Senate Finance Committee, to acknowledge the same.”

Complete text of the letter follows, after the jump.

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Balto. Co. police to receive award at White House

Three Baltimore County police officers will meet with President Barack Obama at the White House on Thursday after winning an annual law enforcement award, Rep. John Sarbanes said Wednesday.

Michael B. Forish, Michael Gerard Lynch and Zachary J. Small, were among 30 officers, deputies and agents from nine states who won an award from the National Association of Police Organizations this year. The three pulled a disabled man out of a burning building in Pikesville just before it collapsed, according to Sarbanes.

In a statement, the Baltimore County Democrat said when the three officers arrived at the fire they found the disabled man stuck in his wheelchair on the staircase. He called the three “heroes who risked their lives to save another.” The incident took place on Halloween.

The TOP COPS Awards are based on an independent review of hundreds of nominations and are intended to pay tribute to law enforcement officers "for actions above and beyond the call of duty during the preceding year."

Posted by John Fritze at 12:53 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Washington
        

Ruppersberger will view bin Laden photos

Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a member of a small group of lawmakers that oversees intelligence issues in Congress, will view the photographs of Osama bin Laden’s body that were taken after the raid on his compound, a spokeswoman said.

The Baltimore County lawmaker, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Select Committee on Intelligence, has been invited to see the pictures and plans to do so, said spokeswoman Heather Molino. The timing is uncertain but he may see them as early as today, she said.

President Barack Obama announced in an interview with 60 Minutes on Sunday that he would not release photos to prove that bin Laden had been killed. “We don't trot out this stuff as trophies," Obama said during that interview. "The fact of the matter is, this is somebody who was deserving of the justice that he received."

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May 10, 2011

Hoyer opposes disclosure rule for federal contractors

Rep. Steny Hoyer, the second-highest ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, said Tuesday he opposes a White House plan that would require federal contractors to disclose their political contributions as a condition for winning government business.

The revelation puts the Southern Maryland lawmaker at odds with a White House proposal drafted last month that would require contractors to disclose third-party political contributions exceeding $5,000 a year. The proposal has not been formally released, but it has already faced harsh criticism from the business lobby and some Republican lawmakers.

“I don’t think it ought to be a requirement,” Hoyer said.

"You know, I think the issue on contracting ought to be on the merits of the contractor's application and bid and capabilities," he said. "I think the other aspects are, frankly -- I think there is some serious questions as to what implications there are if somehow we consider political contributions in the context of awarding contracts."

Millions of dollars of corporate money flowed into the 2010 election – much of it never disclosed – after a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year struck down a prohibition on corporations and unions funding certain types of political advertising. Some Democrats are calling for more disclosure of those contributions as next year's presidential election nears.

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Former Rep. Tom McMillen named to fitness foundation

Tom McMillen, the former Maryland basketball star who served three terms in the House of Representatives, will chair a new congressionally chartered foundation focused on fitness and nutrition, Obama administration officials said Tuesday.

McMillen, a star for the Terrapins who went on to play professionally from 1975 to 1986, will lead the National Foundation on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition at a time when the White House – and particularly first lady Michelle Obama – have tried to raise awareness about childhood obesity.

The Crofton Democrat, who is 58, represented Anne Arundel County and parts of Prince George’s County in Congress from 1987 through 1992. The foundation, which was created by legislation authored by Rep. John Sarbanes, will seek private funding for the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition.

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May 5, 2011

Cardin proposes capturing highway runoff

Rain water that rolls off new or newly renovated federally funded highways would be collected and treated for pollution before it reaches nearby waterways under a bill introduced this week by Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin.

Heavy rains wash tailpipe emissions, brake dust, oil and other pollutants off highways and ultimately into drinking water supplies, Cardin’s office said Thursday. The bill, similar to legislation the Maryland Democrat introduced last year, would require the U.S. Department of Transportation to develop design standards for how to address the problem.

There are more than 985,000 miles of highway in the United States. During a hearing last year, Cardin said that every inch of rain that falls on a mile of two-lane highway produces 52,000 gallons of polluted runoff.

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May 4, 2011

Statuary Hall gets a new member -- from MI, not MD

President Gerald R. Ford took his place this week in the National Statuary Hall Collection, shortly after former Detroit Mayor Zachariah Chandler was ushered out a side door of the U.S. Capitol.

Each state is allowed to contribute only two statues to the prestigious collection -- a rule Maryland lawmakers confronted this year as some sought to oust founding father John Hanson to make room for Underground Railroad hero Harriet Tubman. (Declaration signer Charles Carroll joins Hanson.) 

Uncomfortable with the idea of trading one historical figure for another, Maryland senators -- who include some of Hanson's descendants -- suggested asking Congress if the Free State could please be allowed a third statue.

But the House of Delegates didn't approve that plan, and some lawmakers have vowed to fight for Tubman again next year.

A recent visit to the Capitol revealed that Hanson (pictured far right) is in a hallway not accessible to the public. However, he has a commanding view of the Mall.

Chandler, whose marble likeness had graced the nation's capitol since 1913, was moved Sunday to Lansing's Constitution Hall.  U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, heralded the arrival of the bronze Ford statue.

"He looked down on no one and trusted the good sense of the American people," Boehner said at a ceremony Tuesday, according to prepared remarks. "Now the gentleman from Michigan has come home."

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May 3, 2011

Despite cuts, lawmakers seek funding for FDA complex

Maryland lawmakers are pressing the General Services Administration to maintain federal funding for the construction of a government complex in White Oak despite a more than 80 percent cut the agency took in the current-year spending plan approved by Congress in April.

When completed, the 12-year-old project will provide 1 million square feet of space for the Food and Drug Administration and house 9,000 employees, many of whom are now scattered around the region. Without the funding, the FDA will struggle to finish a laboratory slated to develop vaccines to bio-terrorism threats, the lawmakers said.

In a letter to the GSA, the agency charged with overseeing government buildings, five members of the state’s congressional delegation said that 500 construction jobs are also at stake if the complex has to be redesigned or put on hold. Sens. Benjamin L. Cardin and Barbara A. Mikulski, along with Reps. Steny Hoyer, Chris Van Hollen and Donna Edwards signed the letter.

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May 2, 2011

Maryland leaders react to bin Laden's death

Maryland leaders praised the U.S. raid in Pakistan that led to the death of Osama bin Laden, but members of the state's congressional delegation and other local officials on Monday tempered their optimism by cautioning that the war on terror is not over.

President Barack Obama announced late Sunday that a team of U.S. had killed bin Laden in a firefight Sunday. Gov. Martin O'Malley commended the military for the action.

“This closes a sad and tragic chapter in our country and our world’s history," O'Malley said in a statement released Monday. "This should be a day of reflection and prayer for a more peaceful future.”

While expressing hope that bin Laden's death would bring closure to the families of those killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, officials also said the threat of terrorism remains real and cautioned the public, in the words of Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, to remain vigilant to "confront the national security threats we face."

"That terrible day has been seared into our memory," the Southern Maryland Democrat, who serves as the House minority whip, said in a statement. "While the enormity of this moment cannot be overstated, we all recognize that the threat of terrorism still exists and we must remain vigilant."

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April 28, 2011

Harris talks Medicare with Elkton seniors

Rep. Andy Harris told a room full of seniors in Elkton on Thursday that current federal spending has put the nation on an unsustainable path and that part of the solution must come from a program that is especially dear to many people over 65: Medicare.

The Baltimore County Republican who represents the Eastern Shore and portions of Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Harford counties, said at town hall-style meeting with constituents that, “there’s simply no way we can afford to deliver it the way we do now.”

“This is really about the future of our country,” Harris told about 60 people at the Elkton Senior Center. “You can’t solve this problem by taxing your way out of it.”

Other Republican lawmakers have come under fire at town hall meetings across the country for a plan, passed by the House of Representatives on April 15, that would trim Medicare costs by giving seniors a subsidy they could use to purchase private insurance. Conservative Florida Rep. Allen West, for instance, was heckled this week at a meeting with constituents.

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April 26, 2011

Ruppersberger decries proposed federal health cuts

Speaking at a community health center in Cherry Hill on Tuesday, Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger said that federal budget cuts proposed for low-income health clinics could cost Maryland as much as $2 billion over the next five years.

The Baltimore County Democrat said the centers, which were already the target of cuts in a spending measure passed by Congress earlier this month, save the national health care system as much as $17.6 billion a year by helping low-income patients avoid emergency rooms when they get sick.

“As our country examines ways to reduce our federal deficit, I agree that everything must be on the table,” Ruppersberger said in a statement. “However, health care cuts at this level will force our already cash-strapped state to reduce funding to a wide range of health care providers such as community health centers and will severely hurt our seniors. Health care providers may have to lay off doctors and nurses -- or worse, shut their doors -- and our entire health care system will suffer.”

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April 25, 2011

Cardin plans hearing on federal courthouse

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, a member of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, has scheduled a hearing this week in Baltimore’s Garmatz Federal Courthouse to draw attention to longstanding safety and architectural concerns in federal court buildings.

The Garmatz courthouse, which opened in 1976, has been criticized for years for flimsy construction, small rooms and, according to a 1996 story in The Sun, poorly ventilated bathrooms. Baltimore had been slated for a new courthouse – which officials anticipated would be completed in 2010 – but the project was ultimately put off.

The courthouse was named for a former congressman, Democrat Edward A. Garmatz, who was indicted on bribery charges but later cleared. Construction began in 1973, a time of high inflation that forced contractors to scale back the design and rely on cheaper building materials.

Witnesses at the hearing, which will take place at the courthouse at 2 p.m. Thursday, will include Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz, among others.

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Schaefer, former rival found 'closure' on Colts

The well-documented acrimony between William Donald Schaefer and then-Indianapolis Mayor William H. Hudnut lasted years after the Colts skipped out of Baltimore in 1984 -- and it continued long after both men had left their respective offices. But the anger, apparently, didn’t last forever, Hudnut said in a recent interview.

Hudnut – who is credited with orchestrating the team’s move to Indianapolis – said he spoke with Schaefer a few years back and that the two managed to move beyond bitter feelings that at one time ran so deep that Schaefer refused to shake Hudnut’s hand a White House event. The phone call was mentioned in a story in The Sun this past weekend, but not the details.

In Hudnut’s words: “About two years ago, I was giving a speech in Towson. After the speech was done, some guy came up and he stuck his cell phone in front of me and said someone wants to speak with you. I said ‘hello,’ and on the other end of the line was William Donald Schaefer. We had a very cordial conversation…I told him how much I admired his work. It made me feel good.”


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April 21, 2011

Van Hollen sues FEC over campaign disclosure

Rep. Chris Van Hollen sued the Federal Election Commission Thursday in an effort to strengthen disclosure requirements for groups that buy television advertisements in the final days of an election.

Known as “electioneering communications,” the ads became a central issue in the 2010 midterm election as millions of dollars of largely untraceable money flowed into close congressional races across the country. The spending, which benefited Republicans more than Democrats, became more widespread after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a ban on corporations engaging in the practice.

But Van Hollen noted that the Supreme Court case did not address disclosure requirements. In the lawsuit, he argues that the FEC has crafted its rules so that groups that pay for the ads can avoid disclosing donors. The lawsuit was filed Thursday in federal court.

“We have found that the requirements in existing law have been significantly loosened by the FEC’s interpretation,” the Montgomery County Democrat said in a statement. “The lawsuit I am filing today seeks to restore the statutory requirement that provides greater disclosure of the donors who provide funding for electioneering communications. If this standard had been adhered to, much of the more than $135 million in secret contributions that funded expenditures in the 2010 congressional races would have been disclosed to the public.”

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April 19, 2011

Congressional delegation remembers Schaefer

Memories of William Donald Schaefer continue to pour in from Maryland’s congressional delegation a day after the former governor and mayor of Baltimore died.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a Montgomery County Democrat, called Schaefer a mentor, citing his “can-do spirit and never-give-up attitude.” Van Hollen recalled a time when Schaefer turned down an invitation to a White House dinner while in Washington. He took his staff out to dinner instead.

“He was not one to stand on formality,” Van Hollen said.

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, who has known Schaefer for years and who famously clashed with him as she fought a proposed highway that would have cut through East Baltimore, said that he “came out of machine politics…but he had the heart and soul of a reformer…He did incredible things in reforming housing and zoning to get rid of slums and blight, to give us a new economy, but also to give us new self confidence."

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April 18, 2011

Study: Md. immigrants pay $275M in taxes

Illegal immigrants in Maryland will pay $275 million in state and local taxes this year, according to a study released Monday by a Washington group that advocates for immigrants. The report ranks Maryland as the 11th-highest state in the nation in collecting tax receipts from unauthorized immigrants.

Maryland comes in after California, Florida and New York but ahead of Nevada and New Mexico. The state will collect $76 million in state income taxes, $22 million in property taxes and $177 million in sales taxes in the 2010 tax year, according to the Immigration Policy Center study.

The report’s authors acknowledge that “it is difficult to know precisely how much these families pay in taxes, because the spending and income behavior of these families is not as well documented as is the case for U.S. citizens.” The study’s release was timed to coincide with Monday’s deadline to file state and federal income taxes.

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April 15, 2011

Md. lawmakers split vote on GOP 2012 budget

Maryland’s congressional delegation split along party lines Friday over a controversial Republican budget plan for 2012 that would make deep spending cuts while overhauling Medicare and Medicaid.

Democrats vowed to use the vote – and the proposed changes to entitlement programs -- as an issue in the 2012 election, but Republicans cheered the budget as a first step toward putting the nation’s fiscal house in order.

“We face a mountain of debt, even looking just at the part that is most visible,” said Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, a Western Maryland Republican. “Just like an iceberg, most of our unfunded liabilities as baby boomers continue to retire isn’t even visible.”

The proposed budget – which in Congress is more like a guideline – would trim $6.2 trillion from budget deficits over the next decade. Part of the savings come from changes to Medicare. The plan would provide direct subsidies to seniors on Medicare that they could use to purchase private coverage. The proposal would not apply to seniors who are currently over 55.

The state’s six Democratic members of the House of Representatives voted against the plan. The two Republicans voted for it. The vote was 235-193. It now goes to the Democratic-controlled Senate, which will likely make significant changes.

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Fundraising race begins for 2012

Though it’s nearly 19 months off, members of Maryland’s congressional delegation are already raising money for the 2012 election – some at a faster clip than others – to prepare for the ever-more-expensive campaign season to come, according to campaign disclosure statements due to the Federal Election Commission today.

Rep. John Sarbanes had one of the more active fundraising quarters, pulling down $233,000 from Jan. 1 through the end of March. The Baltimore County Democrat had $554,272 on hand.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, raised only $60,650, but the Baltimore Democrat has a sizeable $769,908 in his campaign's bank account. Baltimore County Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, also a Democrat, raised $67,020 and had $336,857 on hand.

It’s early – the last three months marked the first quarter of the 2012 federal campaign cycle -- and the real stories in these reports are usually found in the back pages by analyzing who gave to whom. But early top line numbers can carry political significance: A lot of money in the bank for an incumbent can intimidate potential rivals; a low number can be interpreted as a vulnerability.

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April 13, 2011

Effort to block drilling near Chesapeake Bay fails

A proposal moving through the House of Representatives that would speed up permitting for offshore oil drilling will not include an exemption for rigs near the Chesapeake Bay after an amendment offered by Rep. John Sarbanes to carve the area out of the legislation failed.

The amendment, which died on a 28-14 vote in the House Natural Resources Committee Wednesday, would have eliminated a provision permitting lease sales for oil and natural gas drilling off the coast of the Delmarva Peninsula.

“We ought not jeopardize the health of the Bay in pursuit of an extremist ‘drill everywhere’ agenda,” Sarbanes, a Democrat, said in a statement.

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Van Hollen leads Democratic budget effort

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the top-ranking Democrat on budget issues in the House of Representatives, unveiled the Democratic proposal to fund the government in 2012 on Wednesday, offering the latest in a series of budget proposals lawmakers will consider as they shift attention to deficit reduction.

Though the plan has little chance of passage, it gives Democrats an opportunity to offer an alternative vision to the one proposed by GOP Rep. Paul Ryan, which is scheduled for a vote in the House on Thursday. The Montgomery County Democrat said the proposal would cut budget deficits $1.2 trillion over 10 years beyond the cuts called for in President Barack Obama’s budget.

“Like every American family, we must tighten our belts,” Van Hollen, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said in a statement. “But it is clear that the Republican budget amounts to a yellow-brick road for the already prosperous and a dead end for the rest of the country.”

The 2012 fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

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April 12, 2011

Official calls for federal oversight of 'fracking'

Robert M. Summers, Maryland's acting environment secretary, told lawmakers on Capitol Hill Tuesday that the federal government must step in to help protect the environment from the possibility of contamination caused by hydraulic fracturing drilling for natural gas.

“We need the federal government to take a more active role,” Summers told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, adding that the state has applications pending from two companies that want use the process, known as “fracking,” to drill for natural gas in Marcellus shale deposits in Western Maryland.

“While we believe states should retain the responsibility and should be able to enact more stringent requirements," he said, "a federal regulatory ‘floor’ would ensure at least basic protection of the environment and public health.”

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April 10, 2011

Van Hollen reserves judgment on spending deal

Noting that it's not yet clear which programs would be cut, Rep. Chris Van Hollen said he is reserving judgment on the 11th-hour spending plan negotiated Friday between the White House and Republicans in Congress.

Uncertainty over the specifics of the proposal, which broadly calls for $38 billion in cuts, could make for another messy showdown when the measure comes up for a vote this week. Congress passed a stop-gap spending plan Saturday to give lawmakers until April 15 to work out the details of the bill.

Montgomery County's Van Hollen, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said Sunday that lawmakers are still "sifting through" the specifics of the proposal. "We don't know yet what the cuts are," he said.

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April 9, 2011

Most Md. lawmakers cheer budget deal

Most members of Maryland’s congressional delegation backed a last-minute agreement reached late Friday night that will avert a government shutdown and cut nearly $40 billion in spending from the federal budget.

After days of behind-the-scenes negotiations and bitter public exchanges between the White House and the Republican-led House of Representatives, President Barack Obama, with the National Mall visible behind him, said he was “pleased to announce that the Washington Monument, as well as the entire federal government, will be open for business.”

The deal, which is headed to a vote next week, would fund the government through the end of the fiscal year, which runs through September. Overnight, Congress passed a separate, short-term funding bill to keep the government running through April 15 in order to give both sides more time to finalize the agreement.

Without an agreement, the government would have shut down today. Experts and elected officials predicted that would have had a more widespread impact in Maryland than most other states because of its high concentration of federal employees and contractors.

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April 8, 2011

Md. lawmakers to donate salary during shutdown

With the federal government hours away from shutting down, Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and a growing number of other Maryland lawmakers vowed Friday to donate salary to charity if Congress fails to meet tonight's deadline to pass a spending plan.

The Baltimore County Democrat is one of a number of lawmakers across the country, both Republican and Democrat, making similar pledges to forgo pay during a possible shutdown as the government prepares to furlough roughly 800,000 federal employees and delay pay for members of the military, including those in combat overseas.

“With all of the political maneuvering going on between Republican and Democrats in Congress, I want to be clear. If the government shuts down, I will forego my taxpayer-funded paycheck. If federal employees are not paid, I will not be paid. If our troops are not paid, I will not be paid,” Ruppersberger said in a statement. “It is shameful that those elected to office cannot reach a compromise to keep our government up and running and Congress should not be rewarded for its inability to work together.”

Ruppersberger, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, earns $174,000 a year, the base pay for most rank-and-file members of Congress. He said he would donate the money to the Army Emergency Relief Fund, which helps military families with emergency food, utilities and medical expenses.

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Mikulski fights Planned Parenthood budget provision

Vowing to “punch back” against attempts to block federal funding for Planned Parenthood, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski accused the GOP of playing politics by attaching the controversial provision to a stop-gap budget measure needed to avoid a government shutdown this weekend.

Lawmakers in Washington appeared to be making progress toward an agreement that would keep the government afloat while cutting federal spending by $38 billion, but Democrats accused Republicans of jeopardizing the momentum with a handful of “policy riders” that dredged up longstanding debates over abortion and environmental protection regulations.

“We’re talking about the ‘a’ word,” the Maryland Democrat said, referring to “abortion” but, she added, “I want to talk about the ‘j’ word,” she said, meaning “jobs.” Speaking at a press conference on Capitol Hill with other Democratic female senators, Mikulski accused Republicans of changing “the topic from jobs, since they didn’t know how to do it.”

Mikulski is the Senate’s most senior female member.

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April 5, 2011

Federal workers union sues over possible shutdown

A leading federal employees union that represents 14,615 government workers who live in Maryland sued President Barack Obama’s administration over what it calls a lack of information about how a government shutdown would be implemented if Congress fails to pass a spending plan by Friday, the union’s president said Tuesday.

John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said workers don't yet know whether they would be out of a job during the shutdown or deemed “essential” and required to work through it. The union also wants to know if essential employees would be paid. Gage said federal agencies have repeatedly failed to answer those questions.

"It's not something that should be cavalierly handled. If a shutdown goes on, there will be federal employees who are going to be hurt financially," Gage, of Baltimore, said at an event at the National Press Club in Washington Tuesday. "They should know before the eve of a shutdown what is happening and it should be done orderly and not in a last-minute rush.”

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April 1, 2011

Obama comes to Md. to tout clean cars

Flanked by a half-dozen electric-powered trucks owned by companies with some of the largest vehicle fleets on the road, President Barack Obama urged businesses Friday to help the nation reduce its reliance on fossil fuels by replacing gas-guzzling vehicles with more fuel-efficient models.

Obama’s appearance at a UPS distribution facility in Landover was part of a broader effort by the White House in recent days to refocus attention on the nation’s energy challenges as turmoil in the Middle East sends gasoline prices skyward. Earlier this week, Obama called for reducing U.S. oil imports by one-third by 2025.

“I know a lot of folks have been feeling the pinch of higher gas prices lately — whether you’re filling up your tank or running a business like UPS,” Obama said Friday inside the cavernous distribution facility, which serves Washington and its Maryland suburbs. “We can’t keep going from shock to trance, rushing to propose action when gas prices rise, then hitting the snooze button when they fall.”

The White House is encouraging companies to buy vehicles that run on electricity or other alternative fuels. In exchange, the Department of Energy is offering technical assistance, access to research and opportunities to pool purchasing power to limit upfront costs.

UPS, AT&T, FedEx, PepsiCo and Verizon have signed on to the voluntary program, which the administration is calling the National Clean Fleets Partnership. With more than 275,000 vehicles between them, the firms manage five of the 10 largest fleets in the U.S., according to the White House. The effort is expected to put 20,000 new electric or hybrid vehicles on the road.

Ultimately, the president said, an increase in demand for fuel-efficient vehicles by the private sector could help lower costs of the technology for everyone.

“If we’re serious about making the transition from gas-guzzlers to hybrids, we need to show automakers that there’s a real market for these vehicles,” Obama said. “We need to show them that if they manufacture fuel-efficient cars and trucks, people will actually buy them.”

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March 31, 2011

Bartlett presses Sec. Gates on Libya costs

Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, who has become an outspoken critic of the U.S. involvement in Libya, pressed Defense Secretary Robert Gates at a hearing Thursday to offer clarity on who is leading the rebel forces fighting Moammar Gadhafi and also how much the effort, which began March 19, will cost American taxpayers.

“Are we now aiding and abetting the same organizations that we are fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq?” asked Bartlett, a Western Maryland Republican who chairs the House Armed Services subcommittee on tactical air and land forces.

“To be honest, other than a relative handful of leaders, we don’t have vision into those who have risen against” Gadhafi, Gates said. “In a way, speaking of the quote-unquote opposition is a misnomer. It is very disparate. It is very scattered and probably each element has its own agenda.”

Bartlett, who has criticized Obama for not seeking congressional approval for launching the attacks in Libya – and who previously called the effort “an affront to the Constitution” – also pressed Gates on the cost of the Libyan effort. Bartlett introduced legislation, the “Protect America from U.S. Military Expenses in Libya Act,” that would require the administration to recommend budget cuts to offset the cost of the U.S. involvement in Libya.

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March 29, 2011

Van Hollen asks Carter to help Md. man held in Cuba

Rep. Chris Van Hollen wants former President Jimmy Carter to use a trip to Cuba this week to help free a Potomac contractor held by the Castro government for more than a year. But Carter suggested Tuesday the man’s release is not the main focus of his trip.

Alan P. Gross, a contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development, was arrested in Havana in 2009 and accused of espionage. He was in Cuba trying to improve intra-faith communication among Cuban Jews, according to Van Hollen.

“Mr. President, your reputation for fairness and your strong advocacy for justice around the world have made you a credible and respected voice on the issue of human rights,” Van Hollen, a Montgomery County Democrat, wrote Carter. “Your support of Mr. Gross could go a long way toward persuading the Cuban government to grant his release.”

The former Democratic president, who is 86, announced Friday he would lead a three-day trip to Cuba, raising hopes among government officials and the Gross family that he would secure the contractor’s release. But Carter told the Associated Press Tuesday that, “I am not here to take him out of the country."

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March 28, 2011

Memories of a vice presidential pool reporter

From Sun colleague Justin Fenton:

There's a fuss being made over at the Drudge Report about a pool reporter from the Orlando Sentinel being confined in a closet by the staff of Vice President Joe Biden during his appearance at a Florida fundraiser, with stories also written about the incident in the UK's Daily Mail and the New York Daily News. And now, the reporter is receiving apologies from Biden's staff and the fundraiser host.

Where's my apology?

A year ago, the same thing happened to me when I was a pool reporter at a Biden appearance at the home of developer David Cordish. Though I'm kidding about wanting an apology and I was not particularly aggravated by the situation, I nevertheless did mention it in my pool report:

Your pool reporter awaited the beginning of the event by sitting in a 5-by-8 foot, Asian-themed room with mirrors on the walls and family photos in small frames. Cordish three times brought guests, including VPOTUS, into the room to show off a collection of books about opera singer Rosa Ponselle.

In addition to Biden, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was also among the guests brought into my cage, er, waiting area, where I stared at a mirror and tried not to stare at a picture of a young Cordish sunning himself on a rock. I wasn't keen on the circumstances, but this was also a private residence and a private event, and I was willing to go with the flow to hear the vice president's remarks. Here's my full pool report, which the Chicago Sun Times and several other newspaper web sites ran in full.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 5:00 AM | | Comments (2)
        

March 21, 2011

Bartlett: Libya action 'an affront to the Constitution'

Updated, with comment from Bartlett staff qualifying his support for the Iraq war.

Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, who supported the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is calling the decision of President Barack Obama to deploy force again Libya without first seeking congressional authorization “an affront to the Constitution.”

Bartlett, a Western Maryland Republican, chairs the House Armed Services subcommittee on tactical air and land forces. In a statement Monday, he said “The United States does not have a King's army.”

“President Obama's administration has repeated the mistakes of the Clinton administration concerning bombing in Kosovo and the George W. Bush administration concerning invading Iraq by failing to request and obtain from the U.S. Congress unambiguous prior authorization to use military force against a country that has not attacked U.S. territory, the U.S. military or U.S. citizens,” he said. “This is particularly ironic considering then-Senator Obama campaigned for the Democratic nomination based upon his opposition to President George W. Bush's decision to invade Iraq."

While Moammar Gadhafi “ is a tyrant despised throughout the Middle East and North Africa,” Bartlett said, and “his brutal and merciless attacks against his own citizens are horrific,” it is “self-evident” that the situation in Libya “is not an emergency.”

“The Obama administration sought and obtained support from both the Arab League and the United Nations Security Council to authorize military force against Qadhafi,” Bartlett said. “The Obama administration also had time to organize a 22-nation coalition to implement a no-fly zone with military attacks led by U.S. Armed Forces against Qadhafi’s forces.

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March 11, 2011

HBO to film Sarah Palin movie in Maryland

HBO announced plans Friday to film an account of the 2008 presidential campaign of John McCain in Maryland.

Game Change, based on the bestselling book of the same name by journalists John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, focuses on the campaign from McCain’s selection of then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to their general election defeat to Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

Palin will be played by Julianne Moore, the Academy Award-nominated actress who has starred in such films as The End of the Affair, The Hours, Far From Heaven and, most recently, The Kids Are Alright.

Palin, who was memorably skewered by Tina Fey on Saturday Night Live, was asked this week about HBO's casting choice.

"Well, I'm all about job creation," she told Fox News' Sean Hannity. "And I guess I could provide some of these gals who pretend like they are me some job security. I would ask, though, if they're of the mind of spreading the wealth around, that perhaps they want to spring for one of my kids' sets of braces or something as they capitalize on pretending to be me."

Hannity had a few ideas of his own for the role.

"She doesn't really look -- I mean, she's a good actress. I thought Courtney Cox, Demi Moore, might be a little bit more -- a little closer look, no?"

"Well, I'm absolutely flattered that you would say that," Palin responded. "But, no, I don't know. I think I'll just grit my teeth and bear whatever comes what may with that movie."

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Categories: For fun, Washington
        

March 8, 2011

Concerns delay state action on $2.3b drug contract

Annie Linskey reports:

A day before they were supposed to choose a company to manage Maryland's prescription drug benefit program, officials on Tuesday halted consideration of the $2.3 billion contract, amid concerns about the low bidder’s past legal problems and reservations about spending the money out of state.

Express Scripts Inc., which has underbid the Rockville firm that now manages the program, paid $9.3 million to Maryland and 28 other states in 2008 to settle complaints raised after it encouraged doctors to switch patients' cholesterol drug brands. The St. Louis-based firm joined another company in a $27 million payout to New York in 2004 after it was accused of keeping roughly $100 million in drug rebates that should have gone to that state.

Express Scripts has offered to take over the Maryland contract from Rockville-based Catalyst Rx, for $50 million less over five years.

That savings appeals to the administration of Gov. Martin O’Malley, which has been wrestling with a $1.6 billion budget gap. Going with Express Scripts could save the state $15.7 million next year, enough to fund 300 state jobs, or to restore a proposed budget cut to Baltimore city schools.

But the company’s legal history — and the prospect of booting a local company from a lucrative contract — appear to have raised concerns in the minds of the two other officials who sit on the state Board of Public Works.

A spokesman for state Treasurer Nancy Kopp said the contract has prompted “really close examination” by her office.

Spokesman Howard Freedlander said Kopp is troubled that the state is preparing to award the new contract even though Catalyst Rx has lodged a protest. The spending board typically waits for protests to be resolved before acting on a contract, but administration officials say the possibility of saving millions of dollars argues for moving more quickly.

Comptroller Peter Franchot, the third member of the spending panel, declined to comment because the matter has not been taken up by the spending panel. But an official familiar with his thinking said Franchot has “serious doubts” about the award given the company’s legal trouble.

Franchot views the Rockville firm as having an “outstanding” record, said the official, who was not authorized to speak publically about the comptroller’s views.

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Mikulski named to National Women's Hall of Fame

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski is joining fellow Baltimorean Billie Holiday, Coretta Scott King, and eight others in the 2011 class of inductees to the National Women’s Hall of Fame, the organization announced on Tuesday.

The Maryland Democrat, the longest-serving woman in the history of the Senate, said she was honored.

“My fellow inductees inspire women around the world with their strength, courage and commitment to service,” Mikulski said in a statement. “I’m proud to be named among them. It seems especially fitting that the Hall of Fame is located in Seneca Falls, NY, where America’s women’s rights movement got started. Today, on International Women’s Day, we should take time to honor all those women who fought to make a difference in the lives of others.”

The class also includes former Health Secretary Donna Shalala, equal pay activist Lilly Ledbetter and St. Katharine Drexel. The members are to be inducted on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 in Seneca Falls, site of the 1848 convention credited with launching the women's rights movement in the United States.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid congratulated Mikulski.

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