TIME Congress

House Democrats Want ‘Transparency’ From NFL

Roger Goodell
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks at a press conference at the NFL's spring meeting in Atlanta on May 20, 2014. David Goldman—AP

Lawmakers say major sports leagues have a responsibility to “be at the forefront of handling" incidents of abuse

A dozen House Democrats sent a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Wednesday seeking more “transparency” surrounding its actions that followed the recent release of a video that depicted star running back Ray Rice hitting his wife.

“Given the important role the NFL and other major professional sports leagues can play in shaping public perceptions concerning domestic violence,” the 12 Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee wrote. “It would appear to be in the public interest to have the highest level of transparency associated with reviews of potential misconduct.”

In an interview with CBS that aired Tuesday, Goodell insisted the NFL had requested to see the video of the former Baltimore Ravens running back knocking his then-fiancée unconscious in a casino elevator, but those requests weren’t granted. On Monday, TMZ released the video and Rice was subsequently released from the Ravens and suspended indefinitely by the NFL.

Lawmakers said the public is ill-informed about the specifics of the request including “how relevant law enforcement responded.” The members, including House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich), also want to know whether or not Rice’s attorney, any other NFL employees or consultants, or the casino staff had requested the video.

The letter comes as Congress commemorates the 20th anniversary of the passage of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, which provides assistance and protection to victims of domestic and relationship violence. The Democrats praised the NFL for recent changes to its policy for disciplining players who commit acts of domestic violence, but said professional leagues should “be at the forefront of handling” incidents of abuse.

TIME White House

Obama to Congress: I Have the Power to Strike ISIS in Syria

Obama Meets With Congress About ISIS Threat at White House
President Barack Obama meets with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (L), Speaker of the House from Ohio John Boehner (C-L), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (C-R), and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (R) to discuss the administration's approach to the growing threat of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, Sept. 9, 2014. Jim Lo Scalzo—EPA

President Obama laid out his ISIS strategy to top congressional leaders

President Barack Obama told top congressional leaders Tuesday that he has the executive authority to attack Islamist militants in Iraq and Syria but would welcome congressional support for his strategy, ahead of a national address Wednesday night during which he’s expected to announce more details of that strategy than he has to date.

“[President Obama] reiterated his belief that the nation is stronger and our efforts more effective when the President and Congress work together to combat a national security threat like ISIL,” the White House said in a statement, using ISIL to refer to the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria, also called ISIS.

House Speaker John Boehner told the President that he would support sending over U.S. military forces in both combat and non-combat roles, including to Syria, and training and equipping the Syrian opposition, Boehner’s office said in a statement. “The Speaker stated he would support the President if he chose to deploy the military to help train and play an advisory role for the Iraqi Security Forces and assist with lethal targeting of ISIL leadership.”

While some congressmen have introduced bills to authorize the President to act against ISIS, congressional leaders have been hesitant to schedule such a significant vote in an election-year.

TIME Budget

This is How the U.S. Has Been Spending Its Money Since 1971

Federal spending on social programs has increased in the wake of the Great Recession

You’ve heard it too many times—griping and groaning about the United States’ debt, worrying about where tax dollars are going, outrage that the government is spending its money on all the wrong things—but in truth, too many Americans have no idea where the federal budget goes, which is a part of the reasons why they feel left in the dark.

Instead of pointing fingers, it’s always best to get a little perspective. Research engine FindTheBest complied federal budget data since 1971 to see how the government has been spending its money over time. The bars in the graph are divided by program.

Note that starting in 2008, around the time of the Great Recession, the government increased spending in Social Security, unemployment and labor, and it has steadily increased every year since. This was largely due to the fact that those without jobs realized that they could be eligible for Social Security disability benefits and Medicare, which would cover a big portion of their expenses.

Also, 2009 saw a significant increase in spending than the year before, especially in the “other” category—a mix of energy, agriculture, commerce and housing credit, community and regional development and other allowances. The spike was in commerce and housing credit, which increased from $27.8 billion in 2008 to $291 billion the next year as the government tried to fix the newly-burst housing bubble.

TIME Congress

Congressional Leaders Mum on ISIS Vote

As fight continues and midterm elections loom

Three of the top four congressional leaders are avoiding the question of whether or not President Barack Obama should seek congressional authorization for the fight against Islamist militants in Iraq and Syria, ahead of a Tuesday afternoon intelligence briefing with the President.

The Democrats—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi—have been cautious about putting too much pressure on Obama or about handcuffing him with any legislation. Reid said Tuesday he’s “inclined to not rush into anything,” while Pelosi has said that scheduling a vote depends on what the President intends to do.

House Speaker John Boehner has refused to enter the debate, as many House Republicans have little appetite to vote in sync with the President before the November midterm elections. On Tuesday, Boehner said he is hoping to hear from Obama a strategy that would “destroy” the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), but questioned whether or not the President’s actions would require congressional action.

“Until the President… [explains] what his strategy is to deal with this growing terrorist threat and the strategy to defeat it… all we’re doing is speculating,” Boehner said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is the only top congressional leader advocating for the President to seek congressional approval, “whatever he decides to do.” McConnell noted that ISIS had become an election issue in his reelection campaign.

“This is the first time anything outside the borders of the United States has come up this year in my campaign,” McConnell said. “People are clearly following this. They now realize this is a threat to the United States.”

TIME Regulation

Regulators Promise to Be Tough on Big Banks

Senate Banking Committee Holds Hearing On Wall Street Reform
Federal Reserve Board of Governors member Daniel Tarullo testifies during a hearing before Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committeeon Sept. 9, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Alex Wong—Getty Images

As implementation of financial reform law continues

A top Federal Reserve official said Tuesday that regulators would spend the next year holding the biggest banks’ proverbial feet to the fire, while working to exempt small, community banks from regulatory requirements designed for the goliaths of Wall Street.

At a Senate Banking Committee hearing, Fed Governor Daniel Tarullo said regulators will require the nation’s biggest, riskiest financial institutions—those deemed Too Big To Fail—to maintain generous “crash pads” to protect against potential losses in the case of the next financial crisis.

Meanwhile, he said, small, community banks would not be subject to those same requirements and, in fact, should also be exempt of other, paperwork-heavy regulations under the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, like the so-called Volcker Rule. Community banks’ “balance sheets are pretty easily investigated by us and their lending falls into discreet categories,” which makes many of the most burdensome regulations unnecessary, Tarullo said.

The biggest banks’ crash pads, known as “capital surcharges,” will exceed the minimal standards required by international regulators and may be as high as 3.5%, Tarullo said. Shares of the biggest banks, like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, which may find themselves subject to stricter requirements this year, dipped temporarily during Tarullo’s testimony, before climbing again and leveling off in the afternoon.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), the committee’s top Republican, both returned repeatedly to the need to scale back the regulatory burden on small, community banks. “Too big to fail has become too small to succeed,” Heitkamp said.

Tarullo’s tough talk on big banks comes just a month after 11 of the biggest banks in the country failed to produce workable plans, known as “living wills,” designed to help regulators shut them down should they find themselves at the brink of collapse, as they did in 2008 and 2009. Living wills are necessary, the regulators said, so that the burden of bailing them out does not fall on taxpayers. In August, the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. dismissed the 11 biggest banks’ living wills as “unrealistic” and grossly inadequate.

Tarullo was joined by Martin Gruenberg, chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation; Tom Curry, the Comptroller of the Currency; Richard Cordray, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; Mary Jo White, chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission; and Tim Massad, chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Those six top regulators are in charge of writing, implementing and enforcing the bulk of the 400 some-odd rules mandated by the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) applauded the assembled regulators for requiring the biggest banks to take seriously their living wills, but worried that, unless regulators are willing to “use the tools they have at their disposal”—like limiting banks’ growth—the biggest financial institutions will simply continue to drag their feet throughout the process. She wanted to make sure, she said, that “we’re not going to be back here a year from now having the same conversation.” Both Tarullo and Gruenberg insisted they would use their agencies’ “tools” to force banks to come up with workable living wills by next August.

What was perhaps the dramatic highlight of a rather staid three-hour hearing came in the last 20 minutes, when Warren, joined by Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), demanded to know why regulators had failed to refer bank executives to the Department of Justice for prosecution for crimes committed in the lead-up to the financial crisis. During Savings and Loan Crisis in the 1980s, 800 executives were convicted and the FBI investigated 5,500, all on referrals from banking regulators, Warren said—whereas this time around, JP Morgan chief Jamie Dimon actually received a $8.5 million raise after negotiating a successful settlement with the government.

“Banks have admitted to breaking the law and have settled with the U.S. for $35 billion dollars, but despite the misconduct at these banks, not a single senior executive… has been criminally prosecuted,” Warren said. “The message to every Wall Street banker is loud and clear: if you break the law, you will not go to jail, but you might end up with a much bigger pay check.”

Shelby, who had clearly been enjoying watching Warren berate the regulators, piped up. “People… whoever they are, shouldn’t be able to buy their way out of culpability, especially when it’s so strong it defies rationality,” he said, gesturing at Warren. “I agree with her on that.”

TIME Congress

House Republicans Promise No Government Shutdown Drama This Fall

Lawmakers are expected to vote on a bill to keep the government afloat on Thursday

House Republicans are looking to avert another government shutdown this fall, as an end-of-month deadline to pass a spending bill approaches with memories of last year’s shutdown—and the political damage it did—still fresh.

Fresh off a five-week recess, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) told reporters Tuesday that the chamber will introduce a short-term bill to keep the government funded, setting up a vote on the floor for Thursday. The measure is expected to run through the November midterm elections and into mid-December.

Republicans are still ironing out a few things, including how to reauthorize the Export-Import bank—which provides loans, loan guarantees and credit insurance to help foreigners purchase U.S. goods—before its charter expires Sept. 30. Some conservative lawmakers loathe the bank as government intervention in the market. But House Speaker John Boehner indicated Tuesday that reauthorizing Ex-Im will not pose a problem, and said that House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, a fierce opponent of the bank, understands that “a temporary extension of the Export-Import bank is in order.”

“Ex-Im is not the biggest issue this nation faces today,” said Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas). “It is an agency, which in principle I do not support, but it is not worth having a big fight today. The American people don’t want us to imperil the stability of the federal government today over Ex-Im.”

TIME 2014 elections

Scott Brown Threatens Lawsuit Over Being Called a ‘Washington Lobbyist’

Former Republican U.S. Sen. of Mass. Scott Brown waits before a televised debate on Sept. 4, 2014 at WMUR in Manchester, N.H.
Former Republican U.S. Sen. of Mass. Scott Brown waits before a televised debate on Sept. 4, 2014 at WMUR in Manchester, N.H. Jim Cole—AP

At issue is the federal government’s definition of the word “lobbyist”. The Republican Senate candidate for New Hampshire currently trails his opponent by 6 points

The campaign for New Hampshire Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown threatened to sue Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig Sunday over a mailer calling Brown a “former Washington lobbyist.” Lessig’s Super PAC to end Super PACs, Mayday PAC, wrote the mailer in support of one of Brown’s Republican rivals, former state Sen. Jim Rubens, and to decry special interests’ influence in Washington.

“Scott Brown is not nor has he ever been a lobbyist,” wrote Colin Reed, Brown’s campaign manager, in a blistering letter to Lessig. “Ever… If you fail to immediately cease the mailer in question, we are leaving all our legal options on the table.”

Reed also said that Lessig’s actions violated Harvard’s honor code.

At issue is the federal government’s definition of the word “lobbyist” versus the popular one, i.e. “one who influences government official’s decisions.” The federal government considers only individuals who lobby 20 percent or more of his or her professional time serving a client as a “lobbyist.” In 2013, Nixon Peabody law firm hired Brown to advise in business and governmental affairs matters, focusing on the financial services and commercial real estate industries.

Lessig responded to the letter quoting the words of Clint Eastwood’s character “Dirty Harry” Callahan — “Go ahead; Make my day” — and offered to openly debate whether Brown was a “lobbyist.” Lessig also asked Brown if it was better to call Brown a former Massachusetts senator “who sold his influence to a DC lobbying firm.” Former Republican New Hampshire senator Gordon Humphrey, who cut an ad for Rubens on behalf of Mayday, released a statement calling Brown a former “lobbyist.”

Brown has narrowed the gap between himself and the incumbent, Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, from 10 to 6 percentage points, according to a recent New York Times/CBS News/ YouGov survey.

TIME Congress

John Dingell, Longest-Serving U.S. Representative, Is Hospitalized

John Dingell
Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington on May 7, 2014 Lauren Victoria Burke—AP

The 88-year-old Congressman expects to be back in Washington next week

Congressman John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) was admitted Monday to Detroit’s Henry Ford Hospital with abdominal pain, his office announced.

“Dingell is doing well, is receiving an IV treatment of antibiotics, and remains in good spirits,” wrote Christopher Schuler, Dingell’s communications director, in a public statement. “Doctors expect him to be released in a few days, and Dingell expects to be in Washington for Congressional session next week.”

Dingell, 88, has served in Congress since 1955, making him the longest serving representative in congressional history. His wife Deborah is running to succeed him in office after he retires this year.

TIME Congress

Cruz Floats Bill to Revoke Citizenship of Americans Who Fight for ISIS

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, pauses as he addresses attendees at the 2014 Red State Gathering on Aug. 8, 2014, in Fort Worth, Texas.v
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, pauses as he addresses attendees at the 2014 Red State Gathering on Aug. 8, 2014, in Fort Worth, Texas. Tony Gutierrez—AP

As westerners traveling to fight with the group raise alarm

Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) will introduce legislation Monday designed to strip U.S. citizenship from Americans who join Islamist militants in Syria and Iraq.

The new legislation, titled the Expatriate Terrorists Act, would change the conditions for stripping U.S. citizenship to include becoming a member of, fighting for, or providing “material assistance” to a “designated foreign terrorist organization” that the citizen has reason to believe will terrorize the United States. The militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) has captured broad swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria, has publicly beheaded Western journalists and has also attracted some western fighters to its side.

“Americans who choose to go to Syria or Iraq to fight with vicious ISIS terrorists are party to a terrorist organization committing horrific acts of violence, including beheading innocent American journalists who they have captured,” Cruz said in a statement. “There can be no clearer renunciation of their citizenship in the United States, and we need to do everything we can to preempt any attempt on their part to re-enter our country and carry out further attacks on American civilians.”

President Barack Obama has intensified U.S. airstrikes against the group’s fighters in Iraq and indicated Sunday that he thinks he has the executive authority to increase American military efforts against the group in Syria.

Obama will meet with top congressional leaders on Tuesday to discuss his options to counter ISIS, and will outline his plans to the public on Wednesday.

TIME Government

Even Ralph Nader and Grover Norquist Agree D.C. Needs More Compromise

“There’s nothing else to do in this town,” Norquist said

Grover Norquist and Ralph Nader spoke at a National Press Club luncheon in Washington on Thursday in a bid to promote cross-aisle government cooperation.

Nader, a left-wing consumer advocate and five-time presidential candidate, is a champion of regulation and Norquist, who founded the conservative advocacy group Americans for Tax Reform, famously wants government to be small enough to “drown it in the bathtub.” But the odd couple argued there is a broader area of agreement between liberals and conservatives than people are led to believe.

“This is not something that might happen. This is not an interesting theory. This has already happened,” Norquist said. Areas where both sides can — and have — worked together, he said, include lowering mandatory sentencing minimums, defending civil liberties and strengthening national defense while reducing cost.

Nader produced a similar list. “You don’t engage in wars of aggression. You don’t interfere with international law and constitutional law and federal law and go all over the world building up empires. You don’t allow the Pentagon to automatically get huge budgets through Congress,” he said, also mentioning cooperation on prison reform. “That’s a very important area. And that’s where there’s a very, very solid basis here.”

Both men recognized the difficulties of reaching across the aisle in the current political climate and promoted establishing civic groups whose sole purpose would be “left-right alliance advocacy,” Nader said. “We need this kind of singular focus.”

Norquist, who once referred to bipartisanship as “date rape,” was quick to distance this cooperation from political negotiation. “Right-left coalitions are areas of principled agreement on perhaps procedure, or even goals,” he said, “not a compromise where someone walks in and gives up part of his soul in order to get something.”

So why do these two men — at opposite ideological poles, one a stalwart believer in government and the other a perennial skeptic — want to promote their similarities rather than differences?

“There’s nothing else to do in this town,” Norquist said. “As long as Obama is president and there’s a Republican House… on the mega issues… nothing moves. It’s like two sumo wrestlers for the next two years that are absolutely equally matched,” he added. “Nobody is getting knocked out of the ring… for the next two years, the next 20 years, [left-right coalitions are] an area where we can make real progress.”

“We can win on things we agree on,” Nader admitted. “It’s very simple.” But he did acknowledge an obstacle to this rosy future of cooperation: Personal distaste, which he called the “yuck factor.”

And money, that is. “I’m looking for some very rich person to start funding a number of these nonprofit civic advocacy groups,” Nader said.

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