TheBlaze - The Furnace Blog

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

  • Loretta Lynch: Death Penalty for Tsarnaev a ‘Fitting Punishment’
    Posted May 15, 2015 at 3:52 pm by Pete Kasperowicz
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  • Congress to punt on federal highway spending with a two-month extension
    Posted May 15, 2015 at 2:53 pm by Pete Kasperowicz

    The House and Senate are taking steps to quickly pass legislation next week that would extend federal highway funding for two months, just days before the so-called Federal Highway Trust Fund expires.

    Democrats have been hounding Republicans for weeks to do something to extend federal highway funding before it expires at the end of May. Without an extension, Democrats have warned that construction around the country would be put at risk, since those projects benefit from federal funding.

    (Source: Shutterstock)

    The House and Senate are getting ready to pass a two-month extension of federal highway funding, just days before the program expires. Image: Shutterstock

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  • Government reports record low levels of bullying at school
    Posted May 15, 2015 at 1:21 pm by Pete Kasperowicz

    The Obama administration said Friday that the rate of bullying at schools across the country has hit the lowest level since bullying episodes started to be tracked tracked by the government a decade ago, in 2005.

    The National Center for Education Statistics, a federal agency that studies education data, reported that overall bullying rates fell to 22 percent in 2013, down from 28 percent in 2011. The rate has hovered close to 30 percent since 2005, and in 2007 it rose to 32 percent.

    Screen Shot 2015-05-15 at 12.44.40 PM

    Image: National Center for Education Statistics

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  • Most Dems vote against bill to authorize national defense programs for 2016
    Posted May 15, 2015 at 11:55 am by Pete Kasperowicz

    The House passed legislation Friday to authorize U.S. defense programs and policy for the next fiscal year, but only had help from 41 House Democrats — 143 Democrats voted against it, following President Barack Obama’s threat to veto the bill, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s request that Democrats support their president.

    The National Defense Authorization Act has been controversial for Democrats because while it authorizes a total of $612 billion in funding for the Defense Department, it gets there by authorizing $89.2 billion for overseas contingency operations (OCO).

    House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif. speaks at the Generation Progress's annual Make Progress National Summit in Washington, Wednesday,July 16, 2014. The summit brings together progressive leaders and young people. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen) AP Photo/Cliff Owen

    House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) led the charge against a bill authorizing defense programs for the next fiscal year, and persuaded most Democrats to vote against it on Friday. AP Photo/Cliff Owen

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  • Rand Paul Says He’s Boycotting George Stephanopoulos Over Close Ties to Clintons
    Posted May 15, 2015 at 10:31 am by Pete Kasperowicz
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  • Obama dashes Senate Dem hopes for currency bill
    Posted May 15, 2015 at 9:33 am by Pete Kasperowicz

    The Obama administration warned Thursday that it doesn’t much care for a controversial bill supported by every Senate Democrat that would let the U.S. impose duties on goods from countries that are deemed to be manipulating their currency for a trade advantage.

    The Senate passed that bill Thursday in a 78-20 vote that saw all 46 Senate Democrats support it. Democrats have argued for years that countries like China have purposefully kept their currencies undervalued in order to create more demand for their exports.

    President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama announce their ‘Let Girls Learn’ initiative, Tuesday, March 3, 2015, in the East Room of the White House in Washington. The Obama administration is expanding efforts and directing a variety of federal agencies to work with other countries to help young girls worldwide attend and stay in school. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

    President Barack Obama warned Thursday that he’s not a fan of a bill dealing with international currency valuations that every Democrat in the Senate voted for. AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

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  • Republicans Kill Plan to Consider Illegal Immigrants as U.S. Military Recruits
    Posted May 14, 2015 at 9:04 pm by Pete Kasperowicz
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  • Congress gets a say on Obama’s Iran nuke deal
    Posted May 14, 2015 at 4:27 pm by Pete Kasperowicz

    The House approved legislation on Thursday that gives Congress a chance to review any Iran nuclear agreement reached by the Obama administration this summer, and lets members reject it if they don’t think it goes far enough to stop Iran’s nuclear program.

    Legislators passed the bill that the Senate approved a week earlier in a 98-1 vote. The House passed it 400-25, an overwhelming show of support for a bill that ends months of fighting over the precise role Congress will play if an Iran agreement is finalized.

    President Obama Delivers State Of The Union Address

    Both the House and the Senate have passed a bill giving Congress a say in any final Iran nuclear agreement reached by the Obama administration.

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  • Trey Gowdy Says the State Dept. Hasn’t Produced a ‘Single Document’ on Latest Benghazi Requests
    Posted May 14, 2015 at 3:57 pm by Pete Kasperowicz
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  • Senate Dems run from Obama on trade
    Posted May 14, 2015 at 2:52 pm by Pete Kasperowicz

    Nearly every Senate Democrat who’s anybody at all voted against a bill Thursday that would give President Barack Obama the authority to negotiate trade deals that can’t be amended by Congress, showing the continuing distrust that Democrats have toward their own president when it comes to trade policy.

    The Senate held a procedural vote a bill to give Obama trade promotion authority (TPA), a day after reaching a deal that first had the Senate vote on two trade bills favored by Democrats. The Senate easily passed those earlier in the day — one to extend trade preferences to sub-Saharan Africa, and another to boost enforcement of U.S. trade laws.

    President Barack Obama gestures as he delivers remarks during the White House Correspondents' Association dinner at the Washington Hilton on Saturday, April 25, 2015, in Washington. (Image source: AP/Evan Vucci)

    Senate Democrats agreed to a deal to allow several trade votes to go forward, but in the end, dozens of them still voted against the idea of giving President Barack Obama trade promotion authority. Image source: AP/Evan Vucci

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  • Senate passes controversial bill allowing U.S. to retaliate against currency manipulation
    Posted May 14, 2015 at 1:29 pm by Pete Kasperowicz

    The Senate passed legislation on Thursday that would give the U.S. government the power to impose duties on imports from countries when those countries are deemed to be devaluing their currencies in order to gain a trade advantage.

    Senators voted 78-20 in favor of the legislation, a broad bill that also looks to extend various U.S. efforts to enforce trade laws and trade agreements. All of the “no” votes were Republicans.

    Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., right, accompanied by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., speak to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, April 2, 2014, about the Supreme Court¹s decision in the McCutcheon vs. FEC case, in which the Court struck down limits in federal law on the aggregate campaign contributions individual donors may make to candidates, political parties, and political action committees. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

    Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), right, the lead supporter of legislation to address currency manipulation, won a victory Thursday when the Senate passed a bill allowing the U.S. to retaliate against countries with undervalued currencies. AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

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  • ‘Such a Stupid Question’: John Boehner Rejects Link Between Amtrak Crash, Funding Levels
    Posted May 14, 2015 at 12:05 pm by Pete Kasperowicz
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  • ‘I will no longer be a party to these VA games’: A top official unloads on the VA, cites billions of dollars in illegal purchases
    Posted May 14, 2015 at 10:52 am by Pete Kasperowicz

    A senior procurement official at the Department of Veterans Affairs told a House subcommittee on Thursday that VA management has willfully ignored his warning that the VA continues to spend billions of dollars a year in violation of federal procurement law.

    “Today I find myself in a position I never envisioned myself to be in,” Jan Frye, deputy assistant secretary for acquisition and logistics at the VA, said in prepared testimony to a House Veterans’ Affairs subcommittee. “I am testifying as a whistle blower.”

    Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald testifies before the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee on a report by the department's inspector general on patient care delays at the VA's Phoenix medical center, on September 9, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

    Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald has been accused of ignoring warnings that the VA has been spending billions of dollars each year in violation of federal procurement law. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN

    “I am here before you, because I have been unsuccessful in my persistent attempts to bring massive violations of federal acquisition and fiscal laws and regulations to a halt in VA,” he added.

    Frye outlined his latest attempt to tell VA Secretary Bob McDonald that the VA was illegally buying $6 billion worth of goods in the absence of a competitive bidding structure, which he said likely resulted in millions of dollars wasted. Frye wrote a 35-page memo to McDonald back in March, but said McDonald has done nothing.

    He also said he tried to report “massive, illegal acts” to Congress in 2013, but said he was thwarted in part by a senior VA official.

    Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), who chairs the subcommittee, said at the start of the hearing that the VA appears to be continuing to try to ignore and silence Frye. Coffman said the VA tried to prevent Frye from testifying today, and only appeared after the committee insisted several times that Frye appear.

    “Over the past five years, some senior VA acquisition and finance officials have willfully violated the public trust while Federal procurement and financial laws were debased,” Frye said. “Their overt actions and dereliction of duties combined have resulted in billions of taxpayer dollars being spent without regard to Federal laws and regulations, making a mockery of federal statutes.”

    “I am not aware of a single senior acquisition leader being held accountable for wrongdoing or dereliction in the nearly 10 years I’ve been in my present VA position,” he added.

    He said that when the VA buys off contract, it gives up legal protections that it would have if it used a contract. But instead of buying through contracts and competitive bidding, the VA has been buying billions of dollars worth of goods on the fly.

    In one example cited by the Washington Post, the VA spent about $1.2 billion worth of prosthetics over the last 18 months, using “purchase cards” that were supposed to be used for small purchases.

    He also warned the committee that VA officials would try to downplay these issues, even when asked directly by Congress.

    “If you happen to ask us about what we’ve failed to tell you, we hope we can answer your questions in such a way as to quickly extinguish potential follow-on questions,” he said in his prepared remarks. “In short, obfuscation is our game.”

    “I will no longer be a party to these VA games,” he added. “The vaunted Veterans Affairs ICARE values, with Integrity being first, make an attractive lapel pin, but little else if we don’t live these values daily.”

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  • DHS watchdog: Judgment of Secret Service agents ‘more likely than not’ was impaired by alcohol
    Posted May 14, 2015 at 9:10 am by Pete Kasperowicz

    The government watchdog for the Department of Homeland Security has concluded that two Secret Service agents probably had too much to drink the evening of March 4, when they disrupted an active bomb threat investigation at the White House.

    The DHS Office of Inspector General released a report Thursday on the incident that is one of several that have shaken Congress’ confidence in the Secret Service. Among the others are a shooting incident at the White House in 2011, the 2014 White House fence-jumping episode, and new allegations from this year that a senior Secret Service officer sexually assaulted a colleague.

    A U.S. Secret Service Uniformed Division officer stands between the temporary barricade and the fence line of the White House in Washington, DC, October 23, 2014. (JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

    A report from the Department of Homeland Security watchdog says two Secret Service agents were most likely impaired by alcohol the evening of March 4, when they interrupted an active bomb threat at the White House. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

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  • House Votes to End the Government’s Bulk Collection of Americans’ Phone Data
    Posted May 13, 2015 at 5:48 pm by Pete Kasperowicz
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  • GOP Marks Gosnell Conviction by Voting to Ban Abortion After 20 Weeks
    Posted May 13, 2015 at 5:33 pm by Pete Kasperowicz
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  • Senate Dems cave to pressure from Obama, GOP on trade bills
    Posted May 13, 2015 at 3:21 pm by Pete Kasperowicz

    Senate Democrats on Wednesday gave in to demands from the Obama administration and Senate Republicans, and agreed to allow a series of votes on a handful of trade-related bills starting on Thursday.

    Democrats caved just hours after Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) insisted that four major trade bills would have to be considered as a single bill, instead of in a few separate votes as Republicans had demanded.

    Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nev. speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 17, 2015, following a policy Luncheon. Reid is wearing special glasses as part of his recovery from injuries suffered in a violent exercise accident in January. (AP Photo/Molly Riley)

    Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had been pushing for a single bill on trade, but on Wednesday he settled for separate votes, as Republicans had insisted. Image: AP Photo/Molly Riley

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  • GOP bill puts guns in the hands of military spouses to protect from Islamic State threat
    Posted May 13, 2015 at 2:55 pm by Pete Kasperowicz

    Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.) on Tuesday introduced legislation that would let military spouses buy handguns in the state where their husbands and wives are on permanent duty.

    Rigell said this change is needed after the Islamic State released a “hit list” of military targets, which puts military families at risk of attack. He said that threat means it’s critical to ensure that military families have access to guns wherever their service member spouses are serving.

    SALT LAKE CITY, UT - JANUARY 15: Naomi (last name withheld) looks at a shotgun to purchase for home protection at the 'Get Some Guns & Ammo' shooting range on January 15, 2013 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Lawmakers are calling for tougher gun legislation after recent mass shootings at an Aurora, Colorado movie theater and at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Credit: Getty Images

    A woman examines a shotgun at a gun dealer in Utah. House Republicans have just proposed a bill to let military spouses buy guns in states in or near where their service member husbands and wives are stationed, a response to a threat from the Islamic State to target some military families. Credit: Getty Images

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  • Dems clamor for Amtrak funding hours after fatal crash in Pennsylvania
    Posted May 13, 2015 at 1:54 pm by Pete Kasperowicz

    House Democrats on Wednesday pushed for more funding for Amtrak, the government-run rail service, just hours after a fatal derailment in Pennsylvania that so far has claimed seven lives.

    Democrats have routinely argued in favor of more infrastructure spending, and early Wednesday were pointing to the crash as another reason why more money is needed. But even as they were making these arguments, reports were filtering out that bad infrastructure may not have been the problem, and that the crash happened after the train was traveling at 100 m.p.h. around a curve where the recommended speed was 50 m.p.h.

    Investigators and first responders work near the wreckage of an Amtrak passenger train that was carrying more than 200 passengers from Washington, D.C., to New York City when it derailed Tuesday night, May 13, 2015 in Philadelphia. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

    Democrats pushed for more Amtrak funding just hours after a fatal crash in Pennsylvania, but House Republicans rejected those demands and blasted Democrats for using the tragedy as a justification for more funding when all the details of the accident are not yet known.Win McNamee/Getty Images

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  • Government watchdog: ICE released almost 13,000 illegal immigrants in 2014 after deciding they weren’t priorities for deportation
    Posted May 13, 2015 at 11:42 am by Pete Kasperowicz

    The government watchdog for the Department of Homeland Security released a report this week saying that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement released nearly 13,000 illegal immigrants in fiscal year 2014, because ICE deemed they were not enforcement priorities.

    The same report from the DHS’ Office of Inspector General found that DHS is not gathering and assessing enough data on its various policies of prosecutorial discretion, even though it had promised to do so.

    DHS Seal

    The government watchdog for the Department of Homeland Security said DHS isn’t following through on its commitment to track its use of prosecutorial discretion when it comes to policing illegal immigrants.

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  • McConnell: No trade deal possible with Dems’ ‘poison pill’ language
    Posted May 13, 2015 at 10:42 am by Pete Kasperowicz

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Wednesday that he won’t agree to Democratic demands to combine several trade bills into one, and said doing so would only end up killing the effort to give President Barack Obama the authority to negotiate trade agreements.

    McConnell spoke a day after almost every Senate Democrat voted against giving Obama trade promotion authority, or TPA — a huge loss for Obama, who seemingly had no ability to convince any significant number of Democrats to support him.

    FILE - This June 3 2014 file photo shows Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. speaking on Capitol Hill in Washington. The Senate’s top Democrat has yanked a $180 billion spending measure from the floor after the chamber’s top Republican protested a plan that would have denied Republicans the chance to more easily win changes to the measure. Majority Leader Harry Reid pulled the measure after McConnell thwarted a move to require a supermajority 60-vote threshold for adoption of amendments to the measure. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File) AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) says Wednesday that no trade deal is possible under the terms Democrats are now offering, although there are signs a trade bill can move if Democrats agree to cut language dealing with currency. AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File

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  • Dems Have A Bunch of New Ideas to Stop You From Buying Ammunition
    Posted May 13, 2015 at 9:04 am by Pete Kasperowicz
  • Defiant Dems Block Obama’s Trade Authority
    Posted May 12, 2015 at 2:56 pm by Pete Kasperowicz
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  • Report: Veteran commits suicide in Phoenix VA parking lot
    Posted May 12, 2015 at 1:07 pm by Pete Kasperowicz

    A veteran allegedly committed suicide in parking lot in the Department of Veterans Affairs’ parking lot in Phoenix, Arizona, an event that is being seen as a protest against the failure of the VA to provide adequate treatment to veterans.

    Fox News affiliate KSAZ reported early Tuesday morning that 53-year-old Thomas Murphy drove to the VA lot, and left a note in the car before apparently taking his life with a gun. The report said a witness watched as Murphy drove into the lot, and then heard a gunshot.

    FOX 10 News |

    Brandon Coleman, a Marine Corps veteran who is a VA employee and a VA whistleblower, told KSAZ that he believes Murphy’s suicide was a protest against the VA.

    “I don’t think there’s anything more symbolic than to complete suicide on VA grounds,” Coleman said. “I think he would want to speak with us about this, I think it was an ultimate show of disregard and just frustration with a broken system.”

    Both Republicans and Democrats have blasted the VA for more than a year now about the VA’s failure to get veterans the medical care they need, and have said more care for veterans with suicidal thoughts is also needed. But the VA remains a broken agency even after Congress passed a bill to fix things up — wait times are still long for health care, whistleblowers still face retaliation from the VA, huge bonuses continue to be paid to top officials, and no one has been fired yet for their role in the scandal.

    Coleman himself has been the subject of retaliation for being a whistleblower. He told TheBlaze last month that VA officials went through his medical files, and he told KSAZ that he has been put on paid leave after complaining about this unauthorized access.

    The Phoenix VA is seen by many as the center of the VA’s problems, and the former director there, Sharon Helman, was finally removed earlier this year. However, Helman is now suing the VA to get her job back.

    One of her lawyers is Debra Roth, a lawyer who also serves as general counsel to the Senior Executives Association. That group has opposed legislation making it easier to fire senior officials for corruption or negligence, has dismissed the idea that the health care access problem at the VA is a “scandal” at all, since no one has been fired because of it.

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  • Mitch McConnell promises votes on Dem amendments in bid to save Obama trade bill
    Posted May 12, 2015 at 11:51 am by Pete Kasperowicz

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday that he would give Senate Democrats a chance to amend legislation giving President Barack Obama the authority to negotiate trade deals, in an effort to convince Democrats to support the bill in a key procedural vote later today.

    But amendment votes don’t guarantee that those Democratic priorities will make it onto the final bill, which means it’s still unclear whether there are enough Democrats to advance the legislation.

    In this Nov. 21, 2013, photo Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., joined by Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., left, speaks to reporters after the Democratic majority voted to weaken filibusters and make it harder for Republicans to block confirmation of the president's nominees for judges and other top posts, on Capitol Hill in Washington. As Democrats watched Senate Republicans use filibuster powers to thwart more and more of President Barack Obama’s agenda and nominees, they asked themselves, How much worse can it get? Last week they reached a breaking point. GOP obstruction had made a mockery of democracy, party leaders concluded. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday that he would give Democrats a chance to amend a key trade bill up today, but didn’t go as far as some Democrats want. AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

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