House Undoes What it Did and Passes Fast Track on Pacific Trade Bill

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Ron Cogswell Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Ron Cogswell Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by

You just can’t get Congress to be Congress anymore.

A few days after the United States House of Representatives denied President Obama sweeping powers to put through the Pacific trade deal, it reversed itself and passed fast track in a separate piece of legislation.

I know this sounds cynical, but that lets the good Congresspeople claim that they voted with whoever they are talking to on this measure. If they are talking to those who favor the Pacific trade agreement, then they point to this vote. If they are talking to people who want to preserve American jobs, they can point to last week’s vote.

If an opponent in a re-election campaign attacks them for backing the Pacific trade bill (when they’re talking to We the People, they almost always have to deny supporting this thing) they can call them a liar and say they voted to stop fast track.

When they go to the corporatists with their hands out for campaign money, all they gotta do is explain that they were forced to vote against fast track in the first vote because the rubes in their district demanded it. But they made good on their real campaign promises to the money men with the second vote.

It will work. It always does.

From The Hill:

The House on Thursday took the first step toward resuscitating the White House’s trade agenda by passing legislation granting President Obama fast-track authority.

The bill now goes to the Senate, where the White House and GOP leaders are seeking to strike a deal with pro-trade Democrats.

The House vote was 218-208, with 28 Democrats voting for it.

This is the second time in a week the House has voted to approve the controversial fast-track bill. On Friday, the House voted 219-211 in favor of fast-track, which would make it easier for Obama to complete a sweeping trans-Pacific trade deal.

In last week’s vote, the House GOP paired the fast-track bill with a measure known as Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) that gives aid to workers displaced by trade. Both measures needed to be approved in separate votes for the entire package to move forward.

House Democrats have historically favored TAA, but they voted against it on Friday to kill fast-track, which is deeply opposed by unions and other liberal groups.

The White House still wants both measures to reach Obama’s desk, but is now advancing a different strategy that would see the two bills move separately.

 

 

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Mr President, Whatever Happened to the People’s Right to Know?

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons. Official White House Photo.

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons. Official White House Photo.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu gave a powerful and inspiring speech before a joint session of the United States Congress last week.

The single most compelling thing about this speech was his commitment to Israel. I would give anything if American elected officials actually cared about America the way that he so obviously cares about Israel.

Prime Minister Netanyahu came before Congress to speak on behalf of Israeli interests. He told us that Israel would stand alone if it had to, but that the days when Jews silently and obediently marched into the gas chambers were over. Jews would defend themselves. He underscored this by bringing Elie Wiesel, the well-known survivor of the Holocaust, to sit in the gallery while he spoke.

The primary concern he raised during his speech was about a possible agreement between the United States and Iran concerning nuclear development in Iran. He is opposed to this agreement on the grounds that it not only will not stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons, it actually facilitates them in doing this.

President Obama went nuts in a public way in his opposition to the invitation to Prime Minister Netanyahu. He felt — rightfully so — that the invitation was a partisan jibe at the White House by a Republican Congress. What he forgot is that he doesn’t have a vote in Congress. Congress can invite whomever they want to address them. The prez has nothing to say about it.

There was the usual tut-tutting in the press, most of it appearing to have been fed to it by the White House. Several members of the Obama Administration gave interviews trying to cast the speech as oh-so-damaging to America’s interests. Then the prez got 50 members of Congress to boycott the speech, making themselves look like party hacks in the process.

I believed at the time and I still believe that the reason the White House was so upset was that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech could very well have served the purpose of drawing the American people into the debate. I don’t think the prez cares all that much what Congress thinks, since Congress has consistently proven itself to be completely indifferent to matters of governance.

I think the president of the United States was upset because there was a possibility that the people of the United States might become informed about this potential agreement and voice opinions of their own. I also think that much of the press were his allies in trying to keep the people from hearing this speech. In other words, I don’t think his objective was Prime Minster Netanyahu talking to Congress. I think the president — and his hacks in the press and Congress — objected to the fact that the American people would hear him do it.

Think about that for a moment. The press is allied with the government to keep the people uninformed, because the President doesn’t want the American people meddling in their own government. That’s what I’m saying.

I’m going to stop this analysis at this point and take it up again tomorrow. I think the comments I’ve made about the run-up to the speech itself and the situation in Washington are enough for us to chew on today. They strike to the heart of the American malaise.

What are you feelings about this?

1. Has Congress abdicated its responsibility and allowed the president to govern as an elected dictator?

2. Do you wish that American elected officials cared as passionately about America as Prime Minister Netanyahu cares about Israel?

3. Was the president angry about the speech because he didn’t want the American people to hear a viewpoint that opposes his plans for this agreement with Iran?

4. Is the press colluding with the White House in keeping the American people in the dark about the agreement?

Those are serious questions. I want you to think them over before we move to the questions raised by the speech itself. We’ll talk about what Prime Minister Netanyahu said tomorrow.

 

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The Bad, Bad Law, IRS, Congress and Stealing from Grandma

Photosource: Flickr Creative Commons by Tax Credits https://www.flickr.com/photos/76657755@N04/

Photosource: Flickr Creative Commons by Tax Credits https://www.flickr.com/photos/76657755@N04/

If you give the IRS the legal power to seize money without cause, they’re going to take that legal power and use it to abuse everyday folks.

It’s kind of like one of Newton’s Laws of Motion. It just works that way.

It seems that back when Congress was in one of its rare bill-passing moods, this time in a holy zeal to wage “war on drugs,” it turned diarrheic and passed any stupid law that came into its collective head. Among these was a law that gives the IRS the power to seize monies of private citizens without preamble or proof of wrongdoing, without, in fact, suspicion of wrong-doing.

Here’s how it works. Suppose, say, you sold 3 prime acres of the old family homestead. Suppose you got the not-so-princely sum of fifty thousand dollars for the land.

Rather than deposit all of the money in one savings account, suppose you opened a second savings account and deposited 7 thousand you were setting aside to pay taxes on the sale. Then, you put another 5 thousand in an account set up to pay for the funeral of an elderly relative when the time comes. The rest of the money you put in your main savings account.

By doing this innocent, and even intelligent, bit of allocating of your own money, you would have committed a federal crime called “structuring.” Because you had “structured” your money to suit your needs, the IRS could seize it without warning.

The IRS does not have to prove that you had criminal intent for the money. It does not even have to believe that you had criminal intent for it. Your money could be seized and you could be prosecuted without having done anything wrong at all, simply for allocating your money to suit yourself like, say, a free American.

The law that allows this was passed with the supposed purpose of catching bad guys, specifically bad guys who are funding terrorists and laundering drug money and such. As will all bad laws, I would imagine that anyone who questioned its utterly stupid verbiage was accused of being “soft” on crime. This kind of emotional and political blackmail, writ as it is across the internet and in cable news talk-a-thons, can scare lawmakers into voting for bad laws.

When the force pushing for the law is none other than the IRS with their vast terror-tactic powers and the president of the United States, who is off on a legacy-building crusade, voting against even a law as obviously horrid as this one gets dicey. Political demagoguery and political cowardice are how grandma loses her life-savings to government forfeiture and ends up defending herself in federal court against charges that she has violated this nebulous and entirely unjust law.

The IRS has been seizing private monies with this law for a long time. According to Yahoo News, they seized $242 million in 2500 cases between 2005 and 2012. Fully one third of these seizures “were nothing more than cash transactions under $10,000.” Half of these were returned after owners challenged the IRS action.

That’s sounds sorta good. It means that half of these people were able to defend themselves. But think for a moment what defending yourself against the IRS entails.

Think of the anguish, the fear, the expense, the protracted and ugly battles and accusatory conversations, the search for an attorney who specializes in this stuff, the legal fees. Think about that and tell me that even the people who got their money back didn’t suffer a kind of legal purgatory because of this bad, bad law.

Consider also that not every innocent person whose money was flat-out stolen from them under this law was able to get it back. It takes determination and cash to fight these things. It takes willpower and nerves of steel. It takes a lot more fight than, say, an elderly person who had been depositing their spouse’s life insurance in separate accounts, divided up for the kids, would be able to muster.

The IRS has run into a bit of criticism because of the fact that it’s using the legal power that Congress gave it in the way the law clearly says that it can. As a result, the IRS is saying that it will stop being such a bad boy agency in this regard. They promise that they are going to stop seizing money that comes from legal sources. And we’re supposed to believe them and trust them and call it square.

What’s missing in this is the responsibility of our elected lawmakers in Congress to either repeal or amend this law. I know, it sounds like science fiction to expect our lawmakers to stop positioning themselves to either (1) take back the power if they are the Ds or (2) add the White House to the power they’ve got if they are the Rs, and do their jobs.

I know that’s not going to happen. Running for the next election is all they do in Congress. Governing this great country and representing the interests of We the People is not what they are about.

They aren’t going to change that just because the government is abusing the people they are supposed to represent due to a bad law that they passed themselves. That would be responsible. It’s the kind of thing that an actual public servant might do.

This is the United States Congress we’re talking about. They don’t do nothin’ but run for the next election and serve the special interests who pay for their campaigns.

This bad law won’t change so long as We the People continue to be bamboozled into thinking that either of the two political parties is the answer to our woes. So long as they can engage us in their ridiculous pie-throwing contests and keep us mesmerized with blind party loyalty, they’re going to continue with their bad governance and dereliction of duty.

So what we have is an agency saying that it’s going to change how it enforces a bad, bad law in order to stop a bit of bad, bad publicity. Meanwhile the people we’ve elected to write the laws are ignoring the problem and behaving as if lawmaking, actual lawmaking and law-fixing, has nothing whatsoever to do with them.

What’s wrong with this picture?

From Yahoo News:

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — An Iowa widow is charged with a crime and had nearly $19,000 seized from her bank after depositing her late husband’s legally earned money in a way that evaded federal reporting requirements.

Janet Malone, 68, of Dubuque, is facing civil and criminal proceedings under a law intended to help investigators track large sums of cash tied to criminal activity such as drug trafficking and terrorism. But some members of Congress and libertarian groups have complained that the IRS and federal prosecutors are unfairly using it against ordinary people who deposit lawfully obtained money in increments below $10,000.

At issue is a law requiring banks to report deposits of more than $10,000 cash to the federal government. Anyone who breaks deposits into increments below that level to avoid the requirement is committing a crime known as “structuring” — whether their money is legal or not.

The IRS has increasingly used civil forfeiture proceedings to seize money from individuals and small businesses suspected of structuring violations, according to a review by the Institute for Justice, a libertarian group. The agency seized $242 million in 2,500 cases from 2005 to 2012 — a third of which arose from nothing more than cash transactions under $10,000. Nearly half was returned after owners challenged the action, often a year later.

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The CIA Lied to Congress Repeatedly About the Use of Torture

 

The CIA lied to Congress and the American people about the brutal interrogation methods it used during the Bush administration.

The agency lied about the severity of the torture it inflicted on detainees, as well as the quality of information that these methods garnered.

Why?

Why would the CIA want to torture people, even if it wasn’t effective? The answer to that probably goes back decades and is intertwined with areas of activity that our government has engaged in that the American people know very little about.

Something as monstrous as the government-sanctioned use of torture doesn’t spring fully grown from the head of the government Zeus. It grows through long years of mortal compromises, piled one on top the other. One of the many disturbing things about all this is that only the lowest level people involved have ever, or will probably ever, be brought to anything resembling justice.

From The Washington Post:

A report by the Senate Intelligence Committee concludes that the CIA misled the government and the public about aspects of its brutal interrogation program for years — concealing details about the severity of its methods, overstating the significance of plots and prisoners, and taking credit for critical pieces of intelligence that detainees had in fact surrendered before they were subjected to harsh techniques.

The report, built around detailed chronologies of dozens of CIA detainees, documents a long-standing pattern of unsubstantiated claims as agency officials sought permission to use — and later tried to defend — excruciating interrogation methods that yielded little, if any, significant intelligence, according to U.S. officials who have reviewed the document.

A report by the Senate Intelligence Committee concludes that the CIA misled the government and the public about aspects of its brutal interrogation program for years — concealing details about the severity of its methods, overstating the significance of plots and prisoners, and taking credit for critical pieces of intelligence that detainees had in fact surrendered before they were subjected to harsh techniques.

The report, built around detailed chronologies of dozens of CIA detainees, documents a long-standing pattern of unsubstantiated claims as agency officials sought permission to use — and later tried to defend — excruciating interrogation methods that yielded little, if any, significant intelligence, according to U.S. officials who have reviewed the document.

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State of the Union 2014: Stop the Hate-Off

My mother was sick last night, so I didn’t give a lot of thought and attention to President Obama’s State of the Union Address.

I watched part of it by picking up a live stream on my laptop. But other things took my attention after that and I didn’t see the rest.

The major take-away I got from what I saw is that our president is a fine orator. President Obama’s speech — at least what I saw — was witty, charming and upbeat. He delivered it flawlessly.

As for the substance of it, I’ve heard the good news about America’s growing oil independence before. I think this is wonderful. It’s key to our economic stability and foreign policy freedom of action.

I’m not so impressed with the figures on the economy, for the simple reason that I think that we need to do a lot more to get this country back on track economically. I’ve said in other posts that I believe we must work to re-industrialize America.

A country that does not make its own goods is in a weak position in the world. The president’s ideas about re-building the infrastructure might help do that; if we can pry the contracts out of the hands of the usual pork-barrel recipients and actually work to advance a true free market ethic that gives everybody a chance at the gold.

I could go through the issues he raised, in fact I probably will go through them at other times, in more detail. But basically, it was the same stuff we’ve been talking about for months. I agree with President Obama about some things, and disagree with him emphatically about others.

My primary concern after watching what I saw of the speech is two-fold.

One, I’m tired of seeing the Speaker of the House sit behind the President with a look of obvious hatred on his face. It’s fine to disagree with people on issues, but this business of making everything into a the-other-side-is-the-devil hate-off is harming our country, not to mention doing mental and emotional damage to the politicians indulging in it.

Second, I wonder if Congress going to just keep on yammering at itself and allow the President to make Congress irrelevant in governing this country?

It seems to me that these two concerns are intimately related. Congress is like a bunch of drunks in a bar fight who won’t let themselves be interrupted in their slug-fest, even though the building is on fire.

The Speaker of the House needs to grow up and get over himself. So does everyone else in Congress. Nothing they do is about them and their mulish and picayune little grudges. Their job is about this country.

Congress needs to assert itself as a legislative body and take its place in the system of checks and balances that make this country free. That requires a lot more intelligence and forethought, not to mention higher aspirations, than I saw on the Speaker’s face last night.

This is a video of the President’s entire State of the Union Address 2014.

YouTube Preview Image

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House Stenographer Cracks During Debt Limit Vote

I don’t think I’m going to drink the water the next time I go to the Capitol building in Washington.

I also might need to make myself a nice little aluminum foil hat.

Just when I thought things couldn’t get any crazier, a member of the United States House of Representatives staff, identified in press reports as a stenographer, jumped to the podium during the debt limit vote and began shouting.

She had to be removed from the room. Reporters heard her shouting something about “He can not be mocked,” and the nation having been founded by freemasons.

Someone turned on a recorder during this last part. If you want to hear it, you can find it on CNN. The Daily Beast identified her as Dianne Ready, but it sounds like the people who were trying to calm her down were calling her Molly.

Jokes aside, I’m guessing that the tension and hatred in the Capitol building right now are so thick you could build a bridge with them. I can sympathize. I’ve never been in a legislative situation as messed up as this one, but I’ve done enough to know that these people need to get away from one another for a while. Nothing good is going to come from any of them until they get past this and settle down.

And, oh yes, craziness aside, they did manage to pull this country back from the brink of default … for a while. This deal expires after the first of the year.

From The Daily Beast:

A stenographer climbed the dais of the House of Representatives and started shouting in the last minutes of a House vote to end the government shutdown.

The House stenographer, who has been identified by other outlets as Dianne Reidy, “had kind of a crazed look” in her eyes according to Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) when she ascended the dais—just below Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) who was presiding over the House at the time—as the minutes ticked down in the crucial vote. The microphones in the chamber were off so that what she was saying was unintelligible on the floor and to viewers on C-SPAN.

After Reidy was escorted out of the House chamber by several staffers from the House Sergeant at Arms office, she shouted  “He will not be mocked” referring, presumably to God. She went on to proclaim that the United States “was not one nation under God, had it been, the Constitution would not have been written by Freemasons. They go against God. You cannot serve two masters. Praise be to God. Lord Jesus Christ.” Her outburst visibly disturbed a number of members and staffers, including House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), both of whom ran out of the chamber after her. Reidy was eventually hustled into an elevator by staffers. 

Once the vote concluded, both reporters and congressmen seemed more eager to talk about this incident than the final tally.

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House Balks. Senate Restarts Talks. Debt Default Looms.


I am out of words for this stupidity.

It appears that the hermetically sealed brains in Congress really do think that this crisis they’ve manufactured is all about them.

I’ve got news for them.

The causes are all about them. But the consequences are about everybody but them.

This reminds me of one of those movies where the bad guy takes a hostage, usually the hero’s best girl or his child, and holds a gun to the screaming, terrified victim’s head while shouting “put down your gun, or I’ll kill ‘em!”

The difference here is that the bad guy is the Congress of the United States, the hostage is the American people, what they’re threatening is great harm to our country, and there is no hero.

You can find your member of Congress here.

From The New York Times:

WASHINGTON — With the federal government on the brink of a default, a House Republican effort to end the shutdown and extend the Treasury’s borrowing authority collapsed Tuesday night as a major credit agency warned that the United States was on the verge of a costly ratings downgrade.

After the failure of the House Republican leadership to find enough support for its latest proposal to end the fiscal crisis, the Senate’s Democratic and Republican leaders immediately restarted negotiations to find a bipartisan path forward. A spokesman for Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, said Mr. Reid was “optimistic that an agreement is within reach” with Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader.

With so little time left, chances rose that a resolution would not be approved by Congress and sent to President Obama before Thursday, when the government is left with only its cash on hand to pay the nation’s bills.

“It’s very, very serious,” warned Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona. “Republicans have to understand we have lost this battle, as I predicted weeks ago, that we would not be able to win because we were demanding something that was not achievable.”

House speaker, John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, and his leadership team failed in repeated, daylong attempts to bring their troops behind any bill that would reopen the government and extend the Treasury’s debt limit on terms significantly reduced from their original push against funding for the health care law. The House’s hard-core conservatives and some more pragmatic Republicans were nearing open revolt, and the leadership was forced twice to back away from proposals it had floated, the second time sending lawmakers home for the night to await a decision on how to proceed Wednesday.

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Poll Results: Hemorrhoids, Toenail Fungus and IRS More Popular Than Congress

86% of the American people disapprove of the job our Congress is doing. Public Policy Polling tested Congress head to head with various entities. According to the results, all these things are more popular than Congress. Hemorrhoids 52 Congress 31 IRS 42 Congress 33 Mothers-in-Law 64 Congress 20 Dog Poop 44 Congress 41 Toenail Fungus 44 Congress 42 Department of Motor Vehicles 58 Congress 24
Congress did beat out one contender (drum roll): Charles Manson 18 Congress 56

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Eight Members of Congress Arrested in Demonstration

Eight members of Congress were arrested yesterday in an act of civil disobedience.

The arrests occurred at a rally in favor of immigration reform near the Capitol building.

I would imagine that most of the other protestors had to come from a distance — probably some of them a great distance — to participate in this rally. But Reps John Lewis (D-GA), Luis Guiterrez (D-Ill), Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz), Keith Ellison (D-Mn), Joseph Crowley and Charles Rangel (both D-NY) were able to walk over from their offices.

The immigration reform bill in question is in the House of Representatives’ intensive care unit, awaiting its final dispatch. The Republican leadership of the House has refused to allow the bill to come to a vote. I have no idea if it would pass if it was voted on. I do know that Hispanics voted pretty much as a block for President Obama in 2012, and by doing so swung some major electoral states to his column.

Based informally on the many Hispanic voters I know in my district, I can say that the reason for this — at least among the people I know — was the hostility toward them exhibited by the Republican party. I am speaking of Oklahoma when I say that.

Anti-Hispanic demagoguery masquerading as a concern for immigration reform was a basis of the GOP electoral campaigning here in Oklahoma for much of the first decade of this century. This has pushed Hispanic people to the Democrats. The irony is, that, as small business owners and traditional Christians with a strong family orientation, they have a lot in common with the populist wing of the Republican Party.

However, when people attack you directly, as the Rs have attacked Hispanics here in Oklahoma, it tends to focus your attention.

Based on the 2012 election results, I would say that this Oklahoma situation has a national echo. If that’s true, then it explains the House leadership reasoning for not allowing this bill to come to a vote. Any vote at all will put Republican House members on record on what is a difficult issue for them. If they vote for the bill, they will alienate the voters who have supported them because of their prior positions. If they vote against it, they risk entrenching the feeling among a large and growing segment of the electorate that thinks they hate them.

So … the smart political move is to deep-six the bill. That way, the leadership takes the heat and the membership is shielded.

I believe that is what has happened to this bill.

As for the Congressmen who were arrested yesterday, I can’t look into their hearts to say whether they were making a political statement, a moral statement, or both. It is a statement — and a strong one — either way.

What is interesting is the situation we are in where the government is shut down and members of Congress — who should have the power to speak out in other ways — take to the streets over legislation. Is the minority that hamstrung in the House of Representatives? If the leadership has pushed things to the point that minority members feel called to do something like this to make their point, then there is something rotten in the House. I would say that no matter which party was in control. It’s a matter of democracy.

Were they just demagoguing, or is the House that over-controlled and partisan?

I hope you discuss this question, but please, no name-calling or ugliness. Let’s leave the partisan hatred that is scarring and damaging our country in DC.

From the Journal Star:

At least eight Democratic members of the House were among about 200 people arrested Tuesday after they blocked a main street near the Capitol during a massive rally seeking to push Republicans to hold a vote on a stalled immigration reform bill.

Police would not identify those arrested. Representatives of the social policy organization Center for Community Change and The Associated Press witnessed the arrests of Reps. John Lewis, D-Ga.; Luis Gutiérrez, D-Ill.; Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz.; Keith Ellison, D-Minn.; Joseph Crowley and Charles Rangel, both D-N.Y.; Al Green, D-Texas; and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill.,

Representatives of other groups whose members attended the rally, such as United Farm Workers and Farmworker Justice, confirmed that several of their members were arrested as well.

Those arrested will be charged with “crowding, obstructing and incommoding” under the local laws of the District of Columbia, the Capitol Police said. The arrests began about 4 p.m. EDT and had ended two hours later, police said in a statement.

Before being arrested, Gutiérrez said he planned the act of civil disobedience “so the speaker of the House can free Congress and finally pass immigration reform.”

 

 

Read more: http://www.pjstar.com/free/x1868848977/Police-arrest-8-House-members-at-immigration-rally#ixzz2hEXMiGAX

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Shutdown News


A few tidbits of news on the shutdown. Caveat: These lists are almost certainly incomplete since the situation is constantly changing.

Which Lawmakers are Giving up Their Pay During the Shutdown

What’s Affected by the Shutdown? 

While We’re Living with This Shutdown, the Big Brains in Congress are Already Planning the Next One

The Real Reason for the Shutdown: They Hate Each Other

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Republicans Blaming the Democrats

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President Obama Blaming the Republicans

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