Union leaders tell Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi to fix Obamacare

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Leaders of three major labor unions have written a blunt letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., demanding that they help fix sections of Obamacare that could hurt union members' healthcare coverage.

"[W]e voted for you. We have a problem; you need to fix it," said the letter signed by Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa, United Food and Commercial Workers International Union President Joseph Hansen and Unite Here President Donald "D" Taylor.

The letter reflects the union leaders' mounting frustration over the Affordable Care Act's impact on multi-employer health plans, which many unions provide for their members.

The plans are organized as nonprofits and under Obamacare's structure get no subsidies and are subject to financial penalties. That increases the cost of the programs and, with it, the possibility that many employers will pull out of them.

In addition, Obamacare gives employers an incentive to cut workers' hours to below 30 a week, which could result in many union rank-and-file members losing their health coverage.

Union leaders, who initially backed Obamacare, had assumed the president would address their concerns by now. Instead, he has snubbed them, and the administration disagrees with the unions' concerns.

Labor leaders are now trying to pressure Democratic lawmakers to act on their behalf.

"When you and the president sought our support for the Affordable Care Act, you pledged that if we liked the health plans we have now, we could keep them. Sadly, that promise is under threat," the union leaders note.

"[T]he law as it stands will hurt millions of Americans including the members of our respective unions. We are looking to you to make sure these changes are made."

— Sean Higgins, Senior Writer

 

POLITICS: GOODLATTE TELLS OBAMA TO STAY OUT OF IMMIGRATION DEBATE

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, the Republican overseeing immigration reform in the House, warned President Obama to stay away as lawmakers try to construct a compromise that can pass the lower chamber with a majority of GOP support. "If he tries to muscle this process and disrupt the natural order of checks and balances and divsion of power ... he is stepping into an area that will not serve him well," Goodlatte, R-Va., said on C-SPAN's "Newsmakers."

Goodlatte said it was "disturbing" that the administration played a heavy behind-the-scenes role in the crafting of the immigration reform bill in the Senate. Obama in the past used executive orders to make sweeping changes to how the federal government addressed the children of illegal immigrants, and Goodlatte said a similar maneuver could blow any chance for a congressional deal on immigration.

"The executive branch can play a useful role in providing technical advice, and we have met with the president's lead advisers on this issue from time to time," Goodlatte said. "We think if the president tries to drive this issue either by threatening [to use executive orders] or by trying to jam something down the throats of the American people and their representatives in the House that they don't want, it will have a negative impact on the process."

— STEVE CONTORNO, Congressional Correspondent

 

FUNDRAISING: RUBIO BRINGS IN MORE THAN $3 MILLION IN SECOND QUARTER

Sen. Marco Rubio's prominent but controversial push for immigration reform did not dampen his second-quarter fundraising. In fact, the Florida Republican's latest campaign finance report will show an increase over his first-quarter take, according to sources familiar with the senator's Federal Election Commission filing.

Rubio raised more than $3 million between April and June for the Rubio Victory Committee, a national fundraising operation that feeds his leadership PAC and personal campaign account. The take bested Rubio's first-quarter fundraising by 31 percent, with more than half of the money coming from grass-roots contributors in donations of less than $200 each.

The senator, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, reported a combined total of nearly $3 million of cash on hand in his political committees, including $980,000 in the Reclaim America Political Action Committee and $1.97 million in his Senate re-election committee. Rubio raised $5.28 million during the first six months of 2013.

Rubio recently told the Washington Examiner that he would decide in 2014 whether to run for re-election to the Senate in 2016, seek the White House, or pursue some other opportunity.

— DAVID M. DRUCKER, Senior Congressional Correspondent

 

REVOLVING DOOR: LEIBOVICH: OBAMA'S 'CELEBRITY OPERATIVES' GET RICH OFF D.C.

Mark Leibovich, author of the book "This Town," appeared on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" to discuss President Obama's failed attempt to change Washington.

Leibovich noted that Obama and his team of "celebrity operatives" came into office promising to change Washington, but many of the original aides in the Obama administration have gotten rich in the process. He added that "the notion of a changed Washington was a complete myth."

"It was obviously very effective marketing strategy in 2008 -- I assume it was genuine then, but I also think it's gotten a lot of people very, very wealthy, and I think the whole circle of the revolving door this team was supposed to stop has only been intensified," Leibovich said.

Leibovich was joined on the panel by former Obama White House press secretary Robert Gibbs -- now an MSNBC political contibutor.

— CHARLIE SPIERING, Commentary Writer

 

FUNDRAISING: TEXAS' WENDY DAVIS COMES TO WASHINGTON

Texas Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Texas, after achieving national fame with her 11-hour filibuster of a bill banning abortions after five months of pregnancy, plans to stand with lobbyists at a fundraiser in Washington next week.

Prospective donors should contribute $500 apiece to have breakfast with the Democrat, suggests the invitation email, which the Washington Examiner obtained from a lobbyist.

The invitation names Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., as Davis' sponsors at the fundraiser, which is scheduled for Thursday at Johnny's Half Shell near the Capitol.

Davis has hinted at the possibility of a run for governor in Texas, but she has not announced a candidacy. Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott stands as the favorite to win his party's nomination to retiring GOP Gov. Rick Perry.

— JOEL GEHRKE, Commentary Writer

 

PROPOSITION 8: CALIFORNIA ALLOWS GAY MARRIAGES TO CONTINUE

The California Supreme Court refused to stop gays from marrying while it considers a request by same-sex marriage opponents to resurrect the state's controversial Proposition 8 law.

The court turned down a request by ProtectMarriage, the sponsors of the 2008 voter-approved referendum, for an emergency order to halt the issuing of marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The group's move was a last-ditch attempt to preserve Proposition 8 after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to rule on it last month, essentially striking down the law.

In dismissing the case, the U.S. Supreme Court said ProtectMarriage lacked the legal authority to defend the law in court after state officials refused to do so. While the justices avoided making a sweeping decision on the constitutionality of the state's gay marriage restrictions, their move left in place a lower court's ruling that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.

But the California Supreme Court said it still plans to consider whether the lower court ruling that invalidated the ban, as well as a companion mandate prohibiting the state from enforcing it, applied statewide or only in Los Angeles and Alameda counties.

ProtectMarriage also argues that because the U.S. Supreme Court didn't directly rule on Proposition 8's constitutionality, state law requires that the measure's ban on same-sex marriage remain.

The court is not expected to rule on the group's petition until at least August.

— SEAN LENGELL, Congressional Correspondent

 

LABOR: AFL-CIO PONDERS ACCEPTING NON-UNION MEMBERS

Big Labor bosses are considering opening their unions to non-members in an effort to create "an omnibus organization" of both union and non-union members, according to the American Prospect.

"The AFL-CIO is preparing for a national convention in September at which it will consider opening its ranks to workers who aren't members of or represented by unions, or (sic) creating an omnibus organization of both union members and non-members," the article by Harold Meyerson said.

In other words, the labor federation would create grassroots groups for people they have little hope of ever formally organizing. Instead these people would take part in grassroots pro-union activism at the state level, particularly for living wage ordinances.

Pushing these so-called "living wage" bills -- essentially increases in minimum wage laws, but usually targeted at non-union businesses -- is a strategy unions have increasingly been using.

The AFL-CIO had a role in getting the D.C. Council to adopt a living wage law. It was written to target Walmart and would force the nation's largest retailer to pay its workers $4.25 higher than the minimum wage, or 50 percent more, for most other District businesses. The nonunion retail giant is planning to build six stores in the city but warns it may pull out of three stores if Mayor Vincent Gray signs the law.

— SEAN HIGGINS, Senior Writer

 

GOVERNMENT SURVEILLANCE: HOLDER ISSUES RESTRICTIONS FOR SNOOPING ON THE MEDIA

The Justice Department provided new guidelines for criminal investigations involving reporters, an effort to respond to a furor over revelations that the U.S. government was snooping on reporters' phone lines and private emails on an unprecedented level.

The Justice Department will be restricted from labeling a journalist as a criminal co-conspirator in seeking a search warrant to gain access to reporting materials. After news of government surveillance on reporters broke, President Obama said he didn't think the government should be prosecuting journalists who print classified material.

"The Department of Justice is firmly committed to ensuring our nation's security, and protecting the American people, while at the same time safeguarding the freedom of the press," Attorney General Eric Holder said. "These revised guidelines will help ensure the proper balance is struck when pursuing investigations into unauthorized disclosures."

The new rules will require more internal Justice approvals for requests of reporters' phone and email records, including from the director of public affairs as well as a privacy/civil liberties officer, but neither official will have the power to veto the probes.

When Justice receives a referral to investigate a leak of classified information, the director of National Intelligence will have to certify that the leak caused "significant harm" before opening a case. The media, however, will not be notified of subpoenas in all cases. Instead, the DOJ will hold significant discretion in determining when and whether to alert media outlets that they are under investigation, a decision reporters called disappointing.

— SUSAN CRABTREE, White House Correspondent

 

SPORTS: USDA WORKS TO CUT BROKEN MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL BATS

Federal researchers have discovered a way to reduce the number of baseball bats that shatter in the course of Major League Baseball games, Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced.

"This innovative research by the U.S. Forest Service will make baseball games safer for players and fans across the nation," Vilsack said. "The U.S. Forest Products Laboratory has once again demonstrated that we can improve uses for wood products across our nation in practical ways - making advancements that can improve quality of life and grow our economy."

The Elias Sports Bureau, which tracks statistics for MLB, doesn't track the number of bats that actually break, but the sense is that the number of broken bats has increased since a majority of players began using maple bats over the last decade. In 2011, a shard of a maple bat hit a fan attending a Kansas City Royals baseball game in the face.

"I'm proud that our collective 'wood grain trust' has made recommendations resulting in a significant drop in shattered bats, making the game safer for players as well as for fans," said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, whose agency received funding from the MLB for the research.

— JOEL GEHRKE, Commentary Writer

 

CAMPAIGNS: McCONNELL RAISES ANOTHER $2.2M FOR RE-ELECTION CAMPAIGN

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell raised $2.2 million in the second quarter, increasing his 2014 campaign war chest to $9.6 million.

The Kentucky Republican raised another "substantial" amount for the state GOP, with much of that earmarked to support McConnell's own re-election effort. McConnell had raised $15.4 million for the election cycle through June 30, putting the Kentuckian ahead of the torrid fundraising pace he set during his 2008 campaign, when he raised $21 million.

McConnell has already invested significant funds in building a campaign infrastructure, and he might need it. Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes launched her campaign to oust McConnell, and she is considered a top-tier recruit for the Democrats. Grimes hails from a Kentucky political family that is close to Bill and Hillary Clinton.

The Bluegrass State is Republican territory, and McConnell is now favored to win a sixth term.

— DAVID M. DRUCKER, Senior Congressional Correspondent

 

TERRORISM: 9/11 MASTERMIND NOW VACUUM-CLEANER ENGINEER

Does Khalid Sheikh Mohammed have a yearning desire to re-engineer the Swiffer vacuum cleaner? The CIA isn't telling because that information is classified.

The jailed 9/11 mastermind requested that his handlers in Romania give him one of the household appliances so he could work on improving the design, according to media reports. This was apparently an effort on his part to relieve the boredom of being incarcerated.

Mohammed's military lawyer, Jason Wright, has been prohibited from discussing his client's interest in labor-saving household devices.

"It sounds ridiculous, but answering this question, or confirming or denying the very existence of a vacuum cleaner design, a Swiffer design, or even a design for a better hand towel would apparently expose the U.S. government and its citizens to exceptionally grave danger," Wright said.

The CIA has said that the vacuum redesign plans, "should they exist," are classified operational files.

— SEAN HIGGINS, Senior Writer

 

POLL: HISPANICS OF ALL AGES LEAN DEMOCRAT

Hispanics of all ages in the U.S. are more than twice as likely to identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party rather than Republican, a new poll says.

But the results of the almost-six-month Gallup survey show that younger Hispanics are trending toward the Republican Party and independent status at a faster clip than their parents and grandparents, whose loyalties are more rooted with Democrats.

Half of all Hispanics ages 18 to 29 surveyed say they're Democrats or lean toward the party, while 24 percent identify with, or lean toward, the GOP, the poll says.

For Hispanics 65 and older, 59 percent say they're Democrats or lean toward the party, while only 21 percent express Republican loyalties or leanings. Twelve percent say they're independent.

The struggle for both parties to attract Hispanic voters likely will intensify in subsequent years, as Census Bureau data show that 33.2 percent of Hispanics living in the U.S. are under the age of 18, compared with 19.7 percent of non-Hispanic whites.

— SEAN LENGELL, Congressional Correspondent

 

MILITARY: SENATORS TOUT SUPPORT FOR SEXUAL ASSAULT BILL

A diverse coalition of senators, led by New York Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand, touted new support for a proposal to change how the military prosecutes sexual assault cases.

Tea Party conservative Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., announced his support for Gillibrand's proposal to curb military sexual violence, breathing new life into an initiative that stalled after the Senate Armed Services Committee rejected it earlier this year.

He joined Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Gillibrand in supporting the measure.

Gillibrand's legislation would remove the military chain of command from the decision of whether or not to prosecute an allegation of sexual assault.

— TIM MAK, Congressional Correspondent

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