Archive | Government Transparency

Over the Limit

CBSNews.com reports that, at least by some measures, the U.S. has exceeded the legally authorized debt limit, but this doesn’t mean the government is about to shut down or stop spending money — at least not yet.

The ceiling was set at $12.104 trillion dollars. The latest posting by Treasury shows the National Debt at nearly $12.135 trillion.

A senior Treasury official told CBS News that the department has some “extraordinary accounting tools” it can use to give the government breathing room in the range of $150-billion when the Debt exceeds the Debt Ceiling.

Were it not for those “tools,” the U.S. Government would not have the statutory authority to borrow any more money. It might block issuance of Social Security checks and require a shutdown of some parts of the federal government.

Congress is expected to increase the debt limit by $290 billion, if not more, in coming weeks.

UPDATE: The end of the story has a qualification I omitted: “Technically, not all of the National Debt is subject to the Debt Limit – a small percentage is exempt.”  The number cited in the story is the National Debt, not the Public Debt Subject to Limit, so as a legal matter we may not be “over the limit.”  However, as this graph shows, only a very small percentage of the National Debt is excluded. […]

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Baucus Scandal

N.Y. Times:

A spokesman for Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana, said early Saturday that the senator nominated his girlfriend, a lawyer who worked for him at the time, for a United States attorney position last March.

The girlfriend, Melodee Hanes, worked for Mr. Baucus as his state office director and as a field director between 2003 and 2009.

Baucus eventually withdrew Hanes’ name from consideration.  Because he thought better of his obvious ethical lapse? Hardly.

Mr. Baucus and Ms. Hanes then decided that she should withdraw her name from consideration because the couple wanted to live together in Washington, Mr. Matsdorf said.

Matsdorf, it should be noted, is Baucus’s spokesman, and that’s the best he could do!

In his statement, Mr. Matsdorf said Ms. Hanes was recommended for the United States attorney position solely on the basis of her credentials.

“With an extensive background as a prosecutor and extensive legal experience, Ms. Hanes submitted her name for consideration for the U.S. Attorney position from Montana,” he said. “Her name was one of six that was submitted for review by Senator Baucus to an independent, highly respected Montana attorney who reviewed the applications. After an

extensive evaluation of all the applicants’ qualifications, Ms. Hanes was one of three applicants the third-party reviewer recommended for consideration.”

I don’t know anything about Hanes’s background, nor do I know how “independent” the third-party reviewer was. But spending the last six years working as a Senator’s field office and state office director (i.e., not even working as a lawyer) hardly seems like the kind of credentials one expects from a U.S. attorney candidate, and certainly not one purportedly recommended “solely on the basis of her credentials.”

And even if Hanes was the single most qualified individual in Montana for the position, it’s obvious […]

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Is the Honduran Political Crisis Over?

The United States has agreed to recognize the results of this month’s election.  Ousted President Zelaya will be allowed to return to Honduras, and the legislature will vote on whether to allow him to serve out the remaining three months of his term, albeit without control over the military.

Meanwhile, it seems some members of the U.S. Senate objected to a Law Library of Congress report that largely supported the legality of Zelaya’s ouster.  According to this report, Senator John Kerry (D-MA) and Representative Howard Berman (D-CA) asked the Library of Congress to retract the report because it “”contains factual errors and is based on a flawed legal analysis that has been refuted by experts from the United States, the Organization of American States and Honduras” and “has contributed to the political crisis” in Honduras.  The Library of Congress stands by the report, however, and is preparing a response to Senator Kerry and Representative Berman.

If the two lawmakers belive the Law Library of Congress report is flawed, there are better responses than seeking a retraction.  For one, they could demonstrate the report’s failings, perhaps by pointing to alternative analyses that are more persuasive.  Perhaps, they could even encourage the State Department to release the memorandum written by Harold Koh supporting the U.S. government’s position that the removal of President Zelaya constituted an illegal coup. […]

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Release the Koh Memorandum on Honduras

James Kirchik, writing in a recent issue of The New Republic, ponders the Administration continued insistence that there was a “coup” in Honduras.  He concludes:

In the immediate wake of Honduras’s constitutional crisis, it was understandable that the administration, caught by surprise, might jump the gun in its denunciation of the military action as a “coup.” Now, three months later and with legal repudiation from within its own government, U.S. policy has become a mistake in search of a rationale.

Among other things, Kirchik notes the Law Library of Congress analysis (noted here):

according to a recently released and widely overlooked report drafted by the Library of Congress, the actions the Honduran government took in removing Zelaya were consistent with that country’s constitutional procedures. Although the constitution does not contain specific information as to how a president can be impeached, the report did find that the Honduran Congress “used several other constitutional powers to remove President Zelaya from office.” Furthermore, the report also found that the country’s “Supreme Court, based on its constitutional powers, heard the case against Zelaya and applied the appropriate procedure mandated by the Code of Criminal Procedure.” In conclusion, the report, which was prepared by the Congressional Research Service’s Senior Foreign Law Specialist, determines “that the judicial and legislative branches applied constitutional and statutory law in the case against President Zelaya in a manner that was judged by the Honduran authorities from both branches of the government to be in accordance with the Honduran legal system.”

In other words, far from fitting the administration’s description as a “coup d’état,” the report paints Zelaya’s removal as remarkably orderly and legalistic, especially in a region where the rule of law is so tenuous. The Obama administration’s position, predicated on its hasty conclusion that Zelaya’s removal was

[…]

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Scoring a Bill that Does Not Exist

The papers are filled with stories (like this one) about the Congressional Budget Office’s conclusion that the Baucus health care reform bill will cost some $829 billion but not increase the federal deficit over the next ten years due to a combination of taxes, fees, and medicare cuts. Only there’s a catch. As the CBO analysis notes on the first page: “CBO and JCT’s analysis is preliminary in large part because the Chairman’s mark, as amended, has not yet been embodied in legislative language.” And again, on pages 8-9 for those who missed it the first time, the analysis notes:

The Chairman’s mark, as amended, has not yet been converted into legislative language. The review of such language could lead to significant changes in the estimates of the proposal’s effects on the federal budget and insurance coverage.

The CBO further notes that some provisions are not included in the analysis costs to be funded by future appropriations, including some implementation costs, are not included, and these could cost several billion dollars. There is also little discussion of the bill’s likely effect on state budgets, which could be quite significant.

The key point here is not the particulars of CBO’s scoring or the merits of the proposed reforms, but the fact that the Senate Finance Committee is poised to consider — and likely vote on — a bill that does not exist.  William Jacobson screams this point from the rooftops: “There is no Baucus Bill!”   I repeat, there is no bill, and yet the Washington Post reports there could be a committee vote on it as early as tomorrow.

Set aside my naive belief that legislators should actually read legislation before they vote on it and that reading is necessary (if not always sufficient) for understanding. Here Senators are preparing […]

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