TheBlaze - The Furnace Blog

Pete Kasperowicz turns up the heat in Washington, providing an inside look into Congress

  • Senate passes GOP budget plan that would calls for Obamacare repeal
    Posted May 5, 2015 at 6:00 pm by Pete Kasperowicz

    The Senate voted Tuesday evening to pass the Republican budget plan for 2016, finishing up a process that Republicans hope is the first step toward a balanced budget after ten years.

    The Senate passed the budget plan in a 51-48 vote, about a week after the House passed it 226-197.

    Screen Shot 2015-05-05 at 5.58.07 PM

    Image: Senate Budget Committee

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  • Cruz, Paul, Rubio split three ways in Senate budget vote
    Posted May 5, 2015 at 3:22 pm by Pete Kasperowicz

    The three GOP senators who have declared a run for the White House in 2016 on Tuesday split three ways in a procedural vote on the budget.

    The Senate held a vote to proceed to the Republican budget resolution, which would cut $5 trillion from projected spending levels over the next decade, even as it would continue to allow slower growth in overall spending.

    Republican presidential hopeful Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., speaks at the Republican Leadership Summit Saturday, April 18, 2015, in Nashua, N.H. (Image source: AP/Jim Cole)

    Republican presidential hopeful Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) voted against a Republican budget plan on Tuesday, splitting off from the two other GOP senators who are running for the White House. Image: AP/Jim Cole

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  • Loretta Lynch tells Baltimore she’s there to ‘hold your hands’
    Posted May 5, 2015 at 2:07 pm by Pete Kasperowicz

    Attorney General Loretta Lynch traveled to Baltimore Tuesday to tell civic leaders that her department will be available to help the city in any way possible to deal with the fallout from the death of Freddie Gray at the hands of police.

    In brief remarks to reporters, she said Baltimore has already done a good job helping kids to resist the idea of joining a gang, and said the Justice Department would help support that mission.

    Screen Shot 2015-05-05 at 2.03.06 PM

    Attorney General Loretta Lynch comforted civic leaders in Baltimore on Tuesday, a week after riots occurred in reaction to the death of Freddie Gray. Image: AP

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  • IRS watchdog finds $5.6 billion in possible waste due to ‘potentially erroneous’ education tax credits
    Posted May 5, 2015 at 12:08 pm by Pete Kasperowicz

    The IRS may have approved up to $5.6 billion worth of education tax credits that should never have been allowed, according to a new report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.

    TIGTA’s report, released Tuesday, noted that a law passed in 1997 created two education tax credits, while the 2009 stimulus bill replaced one of these with the new American Opportunity Tax Credit, which will remain in effect at least through 2017.

    Photo Credit: AP

    A new report says the IRS may have improperly allowed billions of dollars in education tax credits in 2012. Photo Credit: AP

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  • Watch: Federal government blows $44,700 to promote pumpkin doughnuts
    Posted May 5, 2015 at 9:12 am by Pete Kasperowicz

    Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) this week called out the federal government for spending tens of thousands of dollars to help a farmer promote his pumpkin doughnuts.

    Coats spoke on the Senate floor about a federal agricultural promotion program that has handed out more than $290 million over the last decade, and called it a waste of federal funding to help a select few farmers promote their goods.

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  • Hillary Clinton Refuses Benghazi Committee Request to Testify Twice
    Posted May 4, 2015 at 4:30 pm by Pete Kasperowicz
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  • Harry Reid: GOP trying to ‘destroy’ Iran nuke deal to hurt Dems, Obama
    Posted May 4, 2015 at 4:05 pm by Pete Kasperowicz

    Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Monday accused Republicans of opposing the emerging Iran nuclear agreement not for policy reasons, but because they simply want to hurt Democrats, and President Barack Obama in particular.

    “Before this compromise even came to the floor, certain Senate Republicans were determined to destroy it,” Reid said on the Senate floor. “A number of Senate Republicans are prioritizing presidential politics over national security. Others are simply trying to undermine President Obama.”

    Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 4.01.47 PM

    Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Monday that Republicans are only opposing the Iran nuclear deal to hurt Obama and other Democrats. Image: AP

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  • Watch: State Dept. refuses to admit Clinton charity violated a deal to report donors
    Posted May 4, 2015 at 2:17 pm by Pete Kasperowicz

    The State Department on Monday refused to admit that the Clinton Health Access Initiative failed to live up to an agreement to disclose all information about foreign donors while Hillary Clinton was secretary of State, even though the foundation has admitted to this already in the press.

    It became clear last week that the group didn’t submit any information to the State Department on the foreign donations it received when Clinton was secretary of State, from 2009 to 2013.

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  • Hillary Clinton and your mother might have plans this Mother’s Day
    Posted May 4, 2015 at 11:18 am by Pete Kasperowicz

    If you don’t feel like talking to your mother on Mother’s Day this Sunday, Hillary Clinton is offering to do it for you.

    Clinton has started a contest on her campaign website that lets people enter to win the big prize: a call from Clinton to their mother on Sunday.

    Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 10.59.06 AM

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  • Solar-powered products escape new federal regulation aimed at making your holiday lights safe
    Posted May 4, 2015 at 9:34 am by Pete Kasperowicz

    The Consumer Product Safety Commission released a final rule Monday that will require Christmas and other holiday lighting to meet new safety standards starting in June, although the rule does exempt some products from those standards, including solar-powered lights.

    The agency’s final rule said that starting on June 3, holiday lighting will have to meet at least one performance standard to be considered as safe, in light of the risk of electrical shock or fire that these products pose.

    Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 9.28.06 AM

    The Consumer Product Safety Commission released a final rule Monday requiring all holiday lights to fit into a new safety standard, but it exempts solar-powered lights and some other products. Image: Shutterstock

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  • Republican spending bill blocks congressional pay hike in 2016
    Posted May 1, 2015 at 4:27 pm by Pete Kasperowicz

    House Republicans this week finished committee work on a bill to fund the legislative branch of Congress, and included language that would prohibit any pay hike for members of Congress in 2016.

    The House Appropriations Committee released its legislative branch spending bill for fiscal year 2016, and it continues the GOP’s effort to avoid excessive spending. The bill would spend $3.3 billion on House and joint House-Senate operations; funding for the Senate will be determined by the Senate.

    President Obama Delivers State Of The Union Address

    House Republicans are hoping to block a pay raise for members of Congress. The last raise members of the House received was in 2009.

    The $3.3 billion bill is the same level as current spending, and Republicans note that the total House budget is down 14 percent since the GOP took over in 2011.

    The bill has the foresight to prevent any pay hike for members of the House in 2016. “[N]o adjustment shall be made … relating to cost of living adjustments for members of Congress … during fiscal year 2016,” the bill said.

    Under the Constitution, the current Congress is not permitted to give itself a raise, and any decision to boost salaries can only take effect once the new Congress shows up, after an election. As a result, any attempt in 2016 to raise the pay of members could only take effect in 2017, when the new Congress is seated.

    The salary for a rank-and-file House member is $174,000, and the pay goes up for members in leadership positions. That’s more than three times the median U.S. household income, which was nearly $52,000 in 2014.

    Still, there has been some grousing about congressional pay. Just before he retired, former Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) tried to make the case that members need a pay raise, especially if they’re expected to live in and around Washington, D.C. Moran said members of Congress essentially run the country, and need to be paid accordingly for that service.

    “I think the American people should know that the members of Congress are underpaid,” Moran told Roll Call. “I understand that it’s widely felt that they underperform, but the fact is that this is the board of directors for the largest economic entity in the world.”

    Congressional pay hasn’t been raised since 2009.

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  • GOP gets ready to try again on bill banning abortion after 20 weeks
    Posted May 1, 2015 at 3:02 pm by Pete Kasperowicz

    Legislation banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy will soon be up again on the House floor, according to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

    McCarthy sent a memo to his Republican colleagues outlining the agenda for May, and indicated it’s possible the House will vote on that legislation in the coming weeks, after GOP leaders yanked it from the floor in January.

    Supports of an abortion bill cheer during an anti-abortion rally at the Texas Capitol, Monday, July 8, 2013, in Austin, Texas. The fight over access to abortion in Texas resumed Monday with thousands expected to attend a marathon Senate hearing and a nighttime anti-abortion rally at the Capitol. Credit: AP

    House Republican leaders are looking to call up legislation that would ban abortions after 20 weeks. A similar effort failed in January, but the GOP has said for months that bill would come back again. Credit: AP

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  • Dems want a $12 per hour minimum wage by 2020
    Posted May 1, 2015 at 12:49 pm by Pete Kasperowicz

    Democrats in the House and Senate introduced legislation Thursday that would increase the federal minimum wage to $12 per hour by 2020, a $4.75 increase from the current $7.25 minimum wage.

    “No one who works hard in a full-time job should have to live in poverty,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said of her bill. “We owe it to workers across the country to make sure our minimum wage is set to a level that works for them and their families.”

    FILE - This March 14, 2013 file photo shows House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif., and House Democratic leaders speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. The House Republicans’ campaign committee raised almost $10 million in March and has $31.2 million banked to defend the party’s majority, according to financial reports filed Sunday. The National Republican Congressional Committee’s $21.2 million fundraising haul in January, February and March gave the group its best first-quarter showing since 2003. It also puts the committee roughly $8 million ahead of its fundraising at this point in 2012. From left to right are Democratic Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel, D-N.Y., House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra, D-Calif. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File) AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File

    House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other Democrats are pushing for a $12 per hour minimum wage, their latest effort to boost wages for lower-income Americans. AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

    Murray’s bill has 32 Senate Democrats on board, and the House version from Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) has 160 cosponsors, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

    Democrats have clamored for a raise in the minimum wage for the last several years. The last increase came in 2007.

    Democratic demands for a higher wage have increased as the years have gone by. Three years ago, Democrats in the House offered a few proposals to boost the minimum wage to about $10 an hour. One bill put forward by more than 100 Democrats called for a $9.80 minimum wage, and would have required 85-cent increases each year for three years to get there.

    Last year, progressive Democrats called for a $15 minimum wage, at a time when President Obama had been pushing for a $10.10 minimum.

    Republicans have resisted the idea of a minimum wage hike, and have said increasing it would make fewer jobs available at a time when millions of people are still looking for work.

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  • Rand Paul stumbles with press on Baltimore reaction
    Posted May 1, 2015 at 10:45 am by Pete Kasperowicz

    Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and his campaign staff were forced to backtrack in the press this week, after he seemed to gloss over the violence being seen in Baltimore after a black man died shortly after being apprehended by police.

    Paul appeared on the Laura Ingraham show on Tuesday, and noted that he traveled through Baltimore Monday night when major rioting broke out.

    Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014, during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the U.S. strategy to defeat the Islamic State group. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

    Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and his campaign staff admitted this week that he may have too quickly glossed over the rioting in Baltimore while on a radio show Tuesday. AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

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  • Chris Christie hints at 2016, says Superstorm Sandy ‘molded me as a leader’
    Posted May 1, 2015 at 9:58 am by Pete Kasperowicz

    New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) said Friday that he now believes he’s more ready to be president of the United States after dealing with the tragic results of Superstorm Sandy, which left hundreds of thousands of families homeless in his state.

    “Sandy went a long way toward making me ready,” he said of the 2012 storm. He said that event forced him to process reports from the National Guard, law enforcement and others and decide how the state would pull through the crisis.

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    New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) said Friday that Superstorm Sandy in 2012, and the aftermath that his state is still coping with, helped make him more ready to be president. (AP)

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  • House Votes to Block D.C. Abortion Rights Law
    Posted April 30, 2015 at 11:10 pm by Pete Kasperowicz
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  • ‘You didn’t bother to ask!’: Trey Gowdy rips official for ignoring sexual harassment at EPA
    Posted April 30, 2015 at 3:47 pm by Pete Kasperowicz

    Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) on Thursday slammed a senior Environmental Protection Agency official for apparently doing nothing after getting several reports that another EPA worker had several sexual harassment complaints against him from female employees.

    John Reeder, deputy chief of staff at the EPA, appeared at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing about the EPA’s failure to control an EPA official who had more than a dozen complaints against him. Peter Jutro, the former acting associate administrator for the EPA’s Office of Homeland Security, was named in an inspector general report that documented these sexual harassment claims.

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  • Obama administration organizes drills around the country to prepare for climate change Armageddon
    Posted April 30, 2015 at 3:01 pm by Pete Kasperowicz

    The Obama administration on Thursday set up a series of “discussions, drills and exercises” aimed at preparing Americans for severe weather events related to climate change.

    Today marked the launch of what the administration calls “PreparAthon,” which is being run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The goal is to get ready for storms and other events that the White House says are being caused by, or being made worse because of, climate change.

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    Image: FEMA

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  • John Boehner after Baltimore: The federal approach to fighting poverty ‘is not working’
    Posted April 30, 2015 at 1:57 pm by Pete Kasperowicz

    House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) argued Thursday that spending hundreds of billions of dollars on federal anti-poverty programs isn’t working, and said it’s time for the government to fix what’s broken rather than launch new programs.

    His remarks were made just days after rioting gripped Baltimore, which prompted some Democrats to suggest that even more federal spending is needed to help low-income Americans. Boehner said he believes Democrats aren’t looking at the problem the right way.

    FILE - This May 16, 2013, file photo shows House Speaker, Republican John Boehner of Ohio, indicating a tall stack of paper which represents the 20,000 pages of regulations of the Affordable Care Act regulations during a Capitol Hill news conference in Washington. Confused by the health care law or the debate over government surveillance? You're not alone. Most Americans think the issues facing the country are getting more complicated. (AP Photo/Molly Riley, File) AP Photo/Molly Riley, File

    House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said federal poverty programs are failing around the nation, and rejected the Democratic answer — more federal spending — to resolve the inequality that has become a factor in riots like those seen in Baltimore this week. AP Photo/Molly Riley

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  • ‘We’re in This Race to Win’: Bernie Sanders Hammers Income Inequality as He Seeks the White House
    Posted April 30, 2015 at 12:53 pm by Pete Kasperowicz
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  • Official who pushed visa approvals for foreigners with Dem connections tells Congress: ‘I did my job’
    Posted April 30, 2015 at 11:39 am by Pete Kasperowicz

    The number two official at the Department of Homeland Security on Thursday defended his efforts to help Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), Hillary Clinton’s brother and other Democrats get visas for Democratic-favored foreign investors, and said taking those steps was just another day at the office.

    “In the three cases at issue – cases that were the subject of bipartisan support – I did what I did in the many other cases that were brought to my attention; I did my job and fulfilled my responsibility,” DHS Deputy Secretary Alejandro told the House Homeland Security Committee.

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    Deputy Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas defended his past effort to help foreigners with Democratic connections get visas. Image: AP

    Before he landed in his current job, Mayorkas used to run U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and was the subject of a report in March that said he aggressively pursued these three cases favored by leading Democrats to get EB-5 visas for various reasons. The report said pressure from Mayorkas quickly turned visa rejections into visa approvals, and said many USCIS officials saw this intervention as blatant favoritism.

    “Mr. Mayorkas’ conduct led many USCIS employees to reasonably believe that specific individuals or groups were being given special access or consideration in the EB-5 program,” the DHS Office of Inspector General said.

    Mayorkas used the hearing to argue that his involvement was not partisan, and instead was an attempt to help guide a process for approving these visas that is “complex.”

    “EB-5 cases require complicated business and economic analysis, such as whether the required amount of investment capital is at risk and whether the econometric models used to predict future job creation are reasonable,” he said.

    But he dodged questions about exactly what led him to intervene in each of these cases. For example, he was asked about his decision to reverse a decision to deny EB-5 visas to investors in the L.A. Films Regional Center, which the OIG said happened after he met with former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D).

    “I don’t remember chronology of communications in that particular case,” Mayorkas replied.

    When asked whether he gave weekly briefings to Sen. Reid’s staff about an EB-5 visa for foreign investors in a new hotel and casino in Las Vegas, Mayorkas again said he couldn’t remember.

    “I don’t recall doing so,” he said.

    Committee Chairman Mike McCaul (R-Texas) said Mayorkas appears to have created a strong perception of political favoritism, especially after his mostly non-responsive answers.

    “In my judgment, reviewing this matter, and the responses you’ve given today, not really being able to respond specifically, your actions in these cases created at least at a minimum the perception of special access and political favoritism,” McCaul said. “In my judgment I think you also violated your own ethics policy.”

    DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said in March that he values Mayorkas in his current position, and gave no indication that Mayorkas would be removed for his role in the EB-5 visa decisions.

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  • Spies like us: EPA claims ‘intelligence’ activities cannot be investigated by a gov’t watchdog
    Posted April 30, 2015 at 10:17 am by Pete Kasperowicz

    The Environmental Protection Agency has been refusing to let a government watchdog investigate some of its activities, on the grounds that those activities are protected for “intelligence” reasons.

    EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins testified at the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Thursday, and said the EPA has asserted this claim and prevented the IG from gaining access to some information.

    EPA

    The EPA, run by Administrator Gina McCarthy, has claimed that some of its ‘intelligence’ operations should not be subject to examination by a government watchdog.

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  • House votes to end the VA’s massive relocation payments to employees
    Posted April 30, 2015 at 9:17 am by Pete Kasperowicz

    The House voted Wednesday to stop the Department of Veterans Affairs from paying out huge subsidies to top officials when they relocate to start a new job at the agency.

    The VA’s Appraised Value Offer program was exposed when the VA spent more than $300,000 to help Diana Rubens move to Philadelphia to run the VA in that city.

    AP

    The House voted Wednesday to end a costly program at the VA that has allowed hundreds of thousands of dollars to be spent relocating top officials around the country. Image: AP

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  • ‘Shameful’: GOP lawmaker rips Obama’s threat to veto veterans’ funding
    Posted April 29, 2015 at 3:57 pm by Pete Kasperowicz

    Rep. Martha Roby (R-Ala.) accused the White House Wednesday of pretending the GOP’s bill to fund the Department of Veterans Affairs makes cuts to the VA, in an effort to blame Republicans for the ongoing failure of the VA to serve veterans.

    The spending bill for fiscal year 2015 would increase total VA funding by $3.6 billion compared to current funding, but the White House released a statement complaining about cuts. Those cuts, however, can only be seen as cuts when compared to the funding the White House requested.

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  • White House opposes House effort to cut bonus awards to VA employees
    Posted April 29, 2015 at 2:49 pm by Pete Kasperowicz

    The White House said Wednesday that it opposes a Republican plan to cut bonus payments to Department of Veterans Affairs employees by $60 million in the next fiscal year.

    Republicans have been aggressively pushing to chop VA bonuses ever since it was revealed last year that the VA was purposefully delaying veterans’ access to health care. In fiscal year 2013, the VA was paying out about $400 million in bonuses, even as the department was failing thousands of veterans and trying to cover up the scandal.

    President Barack Obama gestures as he speaks during a news conference in the East Room of the White House, on Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014, in Washington. Obama is holding an afternoon news conference Wednesday to share his take on the midterm election results after his party lost control of the Senate, and lost more turf in the GOP-controlled House while putting a series of Democratic-leaning states under control of new Republican governors. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

    President Barack Obama would veto a House spending bill to fund the Department of Veterans Affairs, in part because of a lower cap the bill would impose on bonuses paid out to employees of the broken VA. AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

    The House responded last year by capping bonuses at $360 million, and last week, the House Appropriations Committee proposed a $300 million cap.

    But the White House said it opposes this cut, and said the proposed cap is about $160 million lower than what it should be.

    “The administration also objects to the committee’s other reductions to the overall VA request, including $159 million in reductions for employee awards, bonuses, and the president’s proposed 1.3 percent pay raise for federal employees,” the White House said.

    Democrats have said cutting bonuses would only make it harder for the VA to retain qualified employees, and the White House mirrored that argument.

    “As VA attempts to enhance staffing to deliver better care to veterans, these reductions will hinder the department’s ability to recruit and retain personnel critical to the provision of benefits and services to veterans,” it said. “The administration urges the Congress to provide the proposed 1.3 percent pay increase for federal civilian employees.”

    The White House also complained that the House bill fails to give the VA another $582 million for construction. But House Republicans have said the VA has made a complete mess of a $1.7 billion construction project in Denver that was originally expected to cost $328 million.

    More broadly, the White House said it would encourage President Barack Obama to veto the VA bill and any other spending bill that aligns with the Republicans’ budget plan. Obama has said in the past he would veto any bill that fits in with the GOP budget, which would force government spending to increase more slowly compared to those offered by Democrats.

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