Domestic Policy

  Instead of Expansion, Bush Signs Child Health-Care Extension Into LawDecember 30, 2007 19:38 President Bush signed legislation on Saturday that extends a popular children's health insurance program after having twice beaten back attempts to expand it.

The extension of the State Children's Health Insurance Program is expected to provide states with enough money to cover those enrolled through March 2009. Bush and some Republican lawmakers say the program will serve those that it should: children from families who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but cannot afford private insurance.

"We're pleased that the program will be extended and that states can be certain of their funding," White House spokesman Tony Fratto said.

Many Democrats, with help from some Republicans, wanted to give the program a significant cash infusion and broaden coverage to an estimated 4 million more children.

They overwhelmingly supported a tobacco tax increase to pay for the expansion.

The matter came to dominate legislative debate and further sour relations between the Democratic leadership and Bush this year.

The Democratic-pushed bills would have expanded the program by $35 billion. Bush said the proposals did not put the neediest children first.
  Environment Protection Agency Justifies Blocking California From Setting Own Emission Rules | December 28, 2007 | AhnDecember 28, 2007 09:46 The Environmental Protection Agency is ready to preserve all documents including communique with the White House regarding its decision of blocking California from imposing its own limits on greenhouse emission.
On Thursday the EPA's general counsel Roger Martella Jr. served the employees a memo in that direction.

The memo directs to preserve "any records presenting options, recommendations, pros and cons, legal issues or risks, (or) political implications."

The EPA had last week rejected a request by the state of California to set its own standards for emission of green house gases especially carbon monoxide.

EPA administrator Stephen Johnson justified the decision and said,"The Bush administration is moving forward with a clear national solution - not a confusing patchwork of state rules. I believe this is a better approach than if individual states were to act alone".
  Bush Reserves Judgment On Destroyed TapesDecember 20, 2007 14:32 President Bush insisted today that he did not personally know about the existence or destruction of CIA interrogation videotapes until briefed on the matter earlier this month, and said that he would withhold judgment until after investigations are completed.

"Until these inquiries are complete, I will be rendering no opinion from the podium," Bush said.

The destruction of tapes of the 2005 interrogation of two terrorist suspects is being investigated by the Justice Department, the CIA and Congress. Critics believe the tapes contained evidence of the use of a technique called water-boarding, which international human rights organizations have described as torture.

At a year-end press conference, Bush praised Congress for funding the war in Iraq and for the landmark energy bill. But he cautioned that no effort to reduce carbon emissions or affect global climate change can be successful without a prosperous economy, saying you can't afford fixes "if you're broke."

Bush criticized states like California who have sought to independently regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
  U.S. Blocks States On EmissionsDecember 20, 2007 08:59 The Bush administration announced yesterday that it will block efforts by Maryland, California and 15 other states to cut emissions of global warming gases from cars and trucks.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen L. Johnson said improved fuel efficiency standards passed Tuesday by the House of Representatives and signed yesterday by President Bush were good enough.

Those standards - which had not been raised in more than three decades - require new vehicles to have an average of 35 miles per gallon by 2020, up from 25 miles per gallon today.

"This will produce some of the largest greenhouse gas cuts in our nation's history," Johnson said during a telephone news conference. "I believe this is a better approach than if individual states acted alone" to create "a patchwork of state rules."

Many environmentalists and Democrats praised Bush's signing of the fuel efficiency bill yesterday morning, in part because they knew that burning less gasoline would have the side effect of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from tailpipes.

But they expressed outrage yesterday evening when the Bush administration used that bill-signing to justify blocking more stringent programs by California, Maryland and other states to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles.

The Maryland General Assembly in April followed California in passing a "clean cars" law that requires auto manufacturers to reduce the amount of global-warming gases coming from their fleets of vehicles by 30 percent by 2016.

But these laws - and identical laws also adopted by New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and several other states, covering about half the U.S. population -- require an EPA waiver. That waiver was denied yesterday.

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley and California Attorney General Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown Jr., both Democrats, were among those who vowed to sue the Republican administration to overturn the denial and move ahead with their "clean cars" laws.
  Bush Signs Bill Raising Auto Fuel Efficiency StandardsDecember 19, 2007 09:28 President Bush on Wednesday signed a sweeping energy bill that he said would help the country become "stronger, cleaner and more secure."

The bill -- approved overwhelmingly Tuesday by the House of Representatives -- raises automotive fuel economy standards for the first time in more than three decades, requiring a corporate average of 35 miles per gallon by 2020.

It also boosts federal support for alternative fuel research and energy conservation efforts.

A Republican filibuster in the Senate removed provisions that Bush objected to that would have eliminated tax breaks for oil companies and a requirement that electric utilities produce a portion of their power from alternative sources.

The current fuel-economy standards of 27.5 miles per gallon for passenger cars and 22.2 for light trucks were established in 1975. The new bill sets a single average standard for manufacturers.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said Tuesday's bill was "a great, wonderful first step for an energy revolution that starts in America and ripples throughout the world."

But Reid said Democrats would continue pushing to shift federal tax breaks away from fossil-fuel producers and into renewable energy research -- one of the party's top priorities when it took control of Congress in January.

  Colo. Bans Most Electronic Voting Machines, Security Risks, Inaccuracy Cited; Federal Certification Process Called "Inadequate"December 18, 2007 17:27 Colorado's top election official decertified electronic voting machines used in many of the state's largest counties Monday, calling into question equipment used in past elections in a move he said could have national implications.

Electronic voting machines used in Denver, Arapahoe, Pueblo, Mesa and Elbert counties cannot be used in the next election because of problems with accuracy or security, Secretary of State Mike Coffman said.

A number of electronic scanners used to count ballots were also decertified, including a type used by Boulder County as well as more than three dozen small to mid-size counties around the state.

His decision affects six of Colorado's 10 most populous counties and three of the four equipment manufacturers allowed in the state.

The manufacturers have 30 days to appeal.

Following a 2006 lawsuit that said electronic voting equipment was vulnerable to tampering and should be banned, Coffman announced in March that he had adopted new rules for testing electronic voting machines.
  Demolition Of Public Housing In N.O. Draws ProtestDecember 13, 2007 21:28 Federal officials began demolishing a local housing project Thursday despite protesters who angrily decried the destruction, saying the hurricane-ravaged city needs to preserve its affordable housing.
About 30 protesters had stood Wednesday in the path of a two-story excavator, temporarily blocking the demolition crew's path into the B.W. Cooper housing development in central New Orleans.

Thursday's gathering was less confrontational and crews began demolishing one section of the development. Another part of the complex will remain open.

About 50 protesters marched from the housing project to City Hall and the New Orleans office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

"There is a terrible housing crisis in our city and the country needs to know about it," said Elizabeth Cook, a member of the Coalition to Stop Demolition, which organized the protests. Just behind her, the large excavator chewed into one of the four-story buildings.
  Gore: U.S., China Must Lead Fight Against 'Planetary Emergency'December 10, 2007 12:03 Al Gore praised Japan and Europe -- but chided the U.S. and China -- for their efforts to combat climate change, "a planetary emergency" at which the former U.S. vice president took aim Monday as he accepted the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

Gore shared the honor -- and the $1.6 million in award money -- with the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was represented by scientist Rajendra Pachauri. Gore said he intends to donate his prize money to an organization that strives to persuade people to cut emissions and reduce global warming.

In his acceptance speech Monday before Norway's royalty and other invited guests, Gore said the world is at a "fateful fork" and must find ways to counteract the shifting global temperatures.

"We, the human species, are confronting a planetary emergency, a threat to the survival of our civilization that is gathering ominous and destructive potential even as we gather here," Gore said.

Gore struck a more optimistic tone in saying it isn't too late to reverse the crisis and avoid some -- but not all of the consequences -- "if we act boldly, decisively and quickly."
  Supreme Court Gives Judges More Leeway In Crack-Cocaine SentencingDecember 10, 2007 11:23 Federal judges have discretion to sentence individuals to prison terms that substantially depart from the punishment range established in the federal sentencing guidelines.

In a pair of 7-to-2 decisions announced Monday, the US Supreme Court offered important guidance to federal judges who have been struggling to mete out sentences after the high court's 2005 ruling that said the sentencing guidelines established by Congress are no longer mandatory, but are now only advisory.

How much sentencing flexibility does the Supreme Court say such advisory guidelines permit?

In the two cases decided Monday, the justices overturned appeals courts that had invalidated sentences substantially below the range of sentences suggested under the guidelines.

In one, the federal judge had rejected the disparity between crack-cocaine sentences and powder-cocaine sentences. The federal appeals court said the judge lacked the discretion to do so and overturned the sentence.

In the other case, the judge issued a more lenient sentence in recognition that the defendant had turned his life around, took responsibility for his crime, and was leading a productive life. The appeals court reversed the lower sentence, saying the judge failed to offer the necessary extraordinary circumstances to justify a sentence so far below the guidelines.

The two decisions together establish a new, higher standard for appeals courts to overturn a judge's sentence. An appeals court must find that a particular sentence is unreasonable and that the sentencing judge abused his or her discretion in weighing the various factors that led to the sentence.

The touchstone of this test is that federal judges impose sentences sufficient, but not greater than necessary to accomplish the sentencing goals set by Congress.

Writing for the majority in the crack-cocaine case, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted the extensive debate – including within the Sentencing Commission itself – over the disparity between crack-cocaine sentences and powder-cocaine sentences. "Given all this," she writes, "it would not be an abuse of discretion for a district court to conclude when sentencing a particular defendant that the crack/powder disparity yields a sentence greater than necessary."

The crack-cocaine disparity has long been a source of controversy.

The sentencing guidelines boost the amount of punishment based on the quantity of drugs seized. Although crack cocaine and powder cocaine are the same drug (but in different forms), the sentencing guidelines award sentences three to six times longer for crack offenses than for powder-cocaine offenses.
  House Oks Energy Bill, New Fuel StandardsDecember 07, 2007 22:29 The showdown over an energy bill that raises vehicle fuel mileage standards and hikes oil company taxes is headed for the Senate, after the House easily approved a Democratic-written package today.

But with the White House threatening a veto and Republican lawmakers vowing to slice off parts of the bill, the fight over the nation's energy strategy isn't over.

House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the bill in its present form ``clearly has no chance of becoming law.''

But passage of a major - if perhaps pared down - energy bill still is possible before Christmas.

The House, by a vote of 235 to 181, approved the Energy Independence and Security Act, the Democrats' effort to steer the nation's energy policy toward greater conservation and increased use of renewable energy sources such as ethanol.

The Senate could take up the bill as early as Friday. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called the 1,055-page bill ``a shot heard `round the world for energy independence for our country.''

Local Reps. Gene Green of Houston and Nick Lampson of Stafford were among only seven Democrats to vote against the bill. Green said he was worried that it could lead to higher electricity rates in Houston. Other Texas Democrats voted for the bill, and the state's Republican representatives all voted ``no.''

The centerpiece of the $21 billion bill is a requirement for the nation's vehicle fleet to achieve an average of 35 miles per gallon by 2020. That would be an increase of about 10 miles per gallon from what the cars, trucks and SUVs on the road now attain, and would be the first time Congress has forced higher fuel mileage standards in more than three decades.

  All Eyes On The Uninvited At Climate Change TalksDecember 03, 2007 22:27 This week, representatives of more than 180 nations will meet on the Indonesian island of Bali to begin discussing a climate change agreement intended to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. But the delegation that will be the most closely watched will not even have an official seat at the table.

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators and their top aides plan to meet with attendees and affirm their commitment to participating in the next round of global efforts to cap carbon emissions.

The message will be sharply at odds with that of the official U.S. delegation, which consists of Bush administration officials who remain opposed to mandatory emissions curbs. It also will deviate from positions taken by past U.S. Congresses that deemed the 1995 Kyoto agreement onerous and unworkable.

But assurances from the congressional group — which will be led by Democratic Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Barbara Boxer of California, chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee — will pack symbolic punch, coming little more than a year before President Bush leaves office and with Democrats firmly in control of Congress and hopeful they can regain the presidency.

The Democrats have made climate change a top-tier issue since they gained control of Congress, and they are promoting a bipartisan Senate plan that would mandate reducing greenhouse gas emissions 65 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. Businesses that do not meet the limits could purchase pollution credits from other companies.

The plan closely resembles a cap already in place in European Union countries and is in line with what many other nations say they would like to see in the next global climate change treaty.