Category: Caroline Bridges

Shaheen, Gregg attend White House Health Care Summit

March 5th, 2009 in Caroline Bridges, Jillian Jorgensen, New Hampshire, Spring 2009 Newswire

Photos by Caroline Bridges

New Hampshire Union Leader
Jillian Jorgensen
Boston University Washington News Service
March 5, 2009

WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama invited a group of lawmakers—including Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H.—and insurance, labor and medical officials to the White House Thursday to discuss how to reform the country’s health care system.

In his opening remarks to the group of more than 100 attending the summit, Obama called the “exploding cost” of health care “one of the greatest threats not just to the well-being of our families and the prosperity of our businesses, but to the very foundation of our economy.”

“Our goal will be to enact comprehensive health care reform by the end of this year. That is our commitment. That is our goal,” Obama told the group.

The president called a seat at the summit “the hottest ticket in town.”

After the opening remarks the group split into “break-out sessions” before offering the president comments and questions.

Shaheen said in an interview after the summit that at the break-out session she attended, the participants – ranging from Democrats to Republicans, labor, small business and pharmacology representatives to advocates for AIDS patients and Native Americans – agreed on the need to move to a system focused on wellness rather than illness, to promote primary and preventative care, and to address the health care workforce, which is lacking doctors and nurses.

“We need to look at what works, look at the outcomes, look at evidence-based treatments and procedures. And when we do that, that will help drive down costs,” she said.

Gregg said the meeting was constructive, but that not much consensus was reached.

“It would be difficult to get much consensus in a first meeting like this,” he said in an interview after the meeting.

Gregg said he believed reform was possible in the next year or 18 months if taken in parts, but that to do one massive overhaul in that time would be more difficult.

“I think it’s a possibility, if you don’t try to do the whole thing at once. If you just take some chunks of it and try to address those issues I think you could make some strides,” he said.

For the summit’s closing remarks, Obama entered with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass.,who has been away from Washington while fighting a malignant brain tumor.

“I’m looking forward to being a foot soldier in this undertaking,” Kennedy said. “And this time, we will not fail.”

Shaheen agreed with the sentiment.

“Failure is not an option. We’ve got address this, we’ve got to address the individuals and families who are struggling because they don’t have health care and the businesses who can’t be competitive because of the cost of health care,” she said.

Shaheen said the president pointed out in his closing remarks that Congress would be in control of the details of the plan.

“It’s going to be the Congress that really puts the details on health care reform and that really fleshes that out,” she said.

She said the proposals for reform in the Senate have so far been bi-partisan. She added that representatives from the business, hospital and pharmacology industries and labor officials were also prepared to get down to work.

“The feeling was that all of the players who need to be at the table understand the urgency of addressing this issue,” she said.

Gregg said making wealthier people pay a fair share of their Medicare premiums, allowing people to take advantages of facilities that are producing higher quality care at a lower cost, and increasing investment in health information technology were areas where there was a great deal of bi-partisan support.

But he was not without his concerns.

“I’m worried about a lot of things, but I’m most concerned about undermining the quality of health care and the research efforts in this country, by having the government overly nationalize the system,” he said.

He was also concerned about “creating an atmosphere where there’s no incentive for people to be thoughtful purchasers of health care, and we just pass all the cost on to the taxpayers and the debt.”

During the closing remarks, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., asked Obama if he thought the method proposed by Gregg and Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., for fast-tracking entitlement reform might help in the overhaul of Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare.

“Although he didn’t endorse it, he didn’t say that he was opposed either,” Gregg said. “It was in play as far as he was concerned.”

Gregg said he agreed with Obama that Social Security was an easier fix than health care, because it was less complex. Using the Conrad-Gregg approach, “we could do Social Security before the end of the summer. That would be a nice win. It would be a very bipartisan event,” he said.


Adm. Allen Stresses need for Modernization in Annual Address

March 3rd, 2009 in Caroline Bridges, Connecticut, Kathryn Koch, Spring 2009 Newswire

Photos by Caroline Bridges

The Day
Katie Koch
Boston University Washington News Service
March 3, 2009

WASHINGTON—Anticipating a tight budget in the midst of the current fiscal crisis, Adm. Thad W. Allen, Coast Guard commandant, said Tuesday that the Coast Guard must focus on modernizing its communications and processes before upgrading its fleet.

Modernization remains “job one” for the Guard, Allen said. But, he emphasized, the process “is not budget driven. It is driven by the motivation to change and adapt to ensure future readiness.”

Allen’s remarks came as Congress debates the federal budget submitted last Thursday by President Barack Obama, who vowed to streamline the defense budget in his address before Congress last week.

Allen pointed to increased use of the web to communicate both within the Coast Guard and with the public as an important area of modernization.

He mentioned the Guard’s new partnerships with Google, YouTube and other major Web sites, as well as a new Facebook page, that are part of his goal to build an “effective and secure presence in cyberspace.”

“While funding levels set general limits on what is possible,” Allen said, “our internal organizational structure, our ability to create effective doctrine and our ability to plan and execute operations must be optimized to make the best use of every dollar appropriated.”

Still, Allen did not downplay the “deteriorating condition” of the Coast Guard’s fleet. Cutter availability for missions is decreasing, he said, as older vessels like the Dallas and the Gallatin are removed from active duty to repair structural decay. Meanwhile, the cost of operating the Guard’s major cutters is increasing.

“Time is a merciless thief, and it is stealing readiness with each passing year,” he said.

The recently passed stimulus package allocated $98 million for the Coast Guard to replace some aging equipment and upgrade older facilities. But despite that additional funding, Allen warned, high demand for the Guard’s services could ultimately strain it to a breaking point.

“The good news…and bad news is there’s never been a greater demand for our services,” he said.

In the meantime, Allen acknowledged, manpower shortages in the Guard must be addressed to meet high demand for the Guard’s services.

“This notion of doing more with less needs to leave our lexicon,” Allen said in a question-and-answer period after the speech.

“One of our combatant commanders recently told me, ‘You know, the Coast Guard is like a great fighter that punches above his weight,’ ” Allen said. “I appreciated his comment, but it’d really be nice to move to a higher weight class.”

Allen was aggressive in asserting that, despite the formidable budgetary and logistical challenges the Coast Guard still faces, it has made significant progress in his two-and-a-half years at the helm.

“This is not the same Coast Guard that existed even one year ago,” Allen said.

Allen emphasized that the Coast Guard has begun to implement acquisition reforms “not only for Deepwater but for all initiatives,” and that the progress made in that area over the past two years “needs to be recognized.”

He said the Coast Guard took the lead in streamlining communication between planners, technical experts and acquirers for the recently completed USCG Cutter Bertholf and will do so for future cutters, boats and aircraft.


New Hampshire Delegation Reacts to Obama’s Budget

February 26th, 2009 in Aoife Connors, Caroline Bridges, Jillian Jorgensen, New Hampshire, Spring 2009 Newswire

Photos by Caroline Bridges

New Hampshire Union Leader
Aoife Connors and Jillian Jorgensen
Boston University Washington News Service
Feb. 26, 2009

WASHINGTON – New Hampshire lawmakers divided sharply Thursday over President Barack Obama’s budget proposals for next year and for the long term.

Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H, the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, led the Republican assault on the budget at a press conference with Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the senior Republican on the House Budget Committee.

“I have some severe reservations about where this budget is taking us, and the issue really comes down to this: where’s the restraint in spending?” Gregg asked.

“This budget doubles the debt of the federal government in five years, triples the debt of the federal government in 10 years, builds up obviously massive deficits over this period, and never really gets us back to a point where we’re on a glide path toward getting control over the costs that we’re passing on to the next generation,” he said.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., on the other hand, praised Obama’s announced goal of cutting in half the $1.75 trillion deficit by 2013. “I think we’ve got to work very hard to address the debt and the deficit,” she said, because “it’s not in the country’s interest to continue to carry the kind of debt and deficits that we’ve inherited from the last administration.”

“I think it’s positive that the president has made a commitment to try and reduce the deficit in half by 2013,” Shaheen said.

But Gregg slammed Obama’s promise to cut the deficit in half, saying a $500 billion deficit would still be left. If the budget kept to the current spending baseline, he said, the deficit would drop to about $150 billion in the same time.

“It’s like you take four steps back and then only take two steps forward,” he said. “We’re taking four steps back in the deficit fight and then we’re only taking two steps forward in the deficit fight, when if you were just to stay on the basic course you’re on, you could take three steps forward.”

Gregg expressed concern that tax increases would put a heavy burden on small-business owners.

But Shaheen, who visited 30 New Hampshire small businesses last week, said: “I’m not sure what context Sen. Gregg was talking about taxing small businesses. I certainly am going to work to address their tax rates and do everything I can to make sure small businesses get the support they need.”

While Republicans slammed Obama for proposing to raise taxes in a recession, U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H., said middle-class families would not see a tax hike.

“He’s keeping a commitment and a promise for the middle class; there is no tax increase for them,” she said. “This country needs revenue. I think it’s perfectly fair to expect those who earn the most to pay their fair share. There is no tax increase for about 95 percent of this country.”

She added,. “No matter what people in Washington say-- Republican leaders in Washington-- President Obama went around this country, spoke to millions of Americans, spoke about his plans that are reflected in this budget, and Americans said ‘yes’ and voted for him.”

Gregg said the budget was a missed opportunity to make Social Security fiscally solvent for the next 50 years and achieve Medicare reform.

“If we did those two things jointly in a bipartisan way, we would create a massive amount of confidence in the American people,” he said.

“I would have liked to see a pathway to get Social Security reform along the lines of Conrad-Gregg,” a plan he and Senate Budget Committee chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., have developed calling for a commission to study entitlement spending, Gregg said after the news conference.

Gregg said he saw promise in the budget’s plan to apply income standards for premium payments to the Medicare drug subsidy program and its proposal to cut subsidies for some large farms.

The president’s proposed “down payment” on health care reform is described in the budget as costing $634 billion, but Gregg estimated that it would truly cost more than $1 trillion.

But Shaheen insisted that “we’ve got to address our health care system if we’re going to get this economy going right again in the long term.”

While Americans pay more for health care than do citizens of most industrialized nations, Shaheen said, “we’re getting poorer outcomes on many things,” a sentiment Gregg also expressed.

Gregg said it was possible to reform health care without additional costs.

“When you’re spending 17.5 percent of GDP [gross domestic product] on health care … you’ve got a lot of money in the system, and that money should just be allocated in a more efficient way,” he said.

Rep. Paul Hodes, D-N.H, said in a statement that he looked forward to working with the president and other members of Congress to make “critical decisions to create more jobs; reinvest in health care, alternative energy and education; and work to cut the deficit.”

The budget requires scrutiny, Hodes said, “to make sure we are not spending billions on wasteful government programs that won’t create jobs, rebuild our economy and improve America’s stature throughout the globe.”

As for where the budget that Republicans plan to introduce would get its money, Gregg cited entitlement cuts.

“Let me quote a sage, [bank robber] Willie Sutton: you go where the money is,” Gregg said. “The money is in entitlements. Almost all the cost of the growth of the federal government is driven by entitlement spending.”


Reps. Hodes and Shea-Porter Call for Additional Home-Energy Assistance

February 11th, 2009 in Aoife Connors, Caroline Bridges, New Hampshire, Spring 2009 Newswire

Photos by Caroline Bridges

New Hampshire Union Leader
Aoife Connors
Boston University Washington News Service
Feb 11, 2009

WASHINGTON—New Hampshire Democratic Reps. Paul Hodes and Carol Shea-Porter joined other members of Congress Wednesday in a last-minute push to include $1 billion in the economic stimulus legislation for the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

The $820 billion House version of the stimulus package included $1 billion for the program The Senate $838 billion version excluded funds for the energy aid program, widely known by its acronym, LIHEAP.

Hodes said that the $1 billion he and his colleagues were seeking included an additional $8 million for New Hampshire.

“Given the financial burdens of the terrible situation in our economy, this money is especially important for New Hampshire and the residents of the Northeast who are battling with a cold and snowy winter,” Hodes said.

Speaking after the Wednesday briefing, Hodes said “we are hopeful” that the House and Senate conferees on the package would restore the money that the Senate bill did not include.

“Carol Shea-Porter and I have been so outspoken about LIHEAP for I think so long now that they call us Mr. and Mrs. LIHEAP. When [House Majority Leader] Steny Hoyer sees us coming, he goes, ‘Oh no! Here come Mr. and Mrs. LIHEAP!’” Hodes said

“It is unimaginable to me that the Senate did not include $1 billion for LIHEAP in this recovery package,” he said. Calling on the conferees to include the $1 billion in the final bill, Hodes said, “It has to be in there, and we’re going to keep fighting to make sure its there.”

Shea-Porter said, “I’m astounded that it is not included because all of the senators obviously have constituents that cannot afford to pay for their heating bills and their cooling bills.”

If the LIHEAP funds are not included, she said, “there’ll be another fight and we’ll put it in the appropriations bill and the fight will go on. But it’s an argument that we shouldn’t have to have, and I don’t understand why this is a political issue; this is a necessity.”

In December, ice storms left almost 60 percent of New Hampshire homes without power. Hodes said this “caused terrible permanent damage,” and the $6 billion in repair costs, he said, are going to be passed onto the consumers.

He added that the LIHEAP money is absolutely critical for New Hampshire and low- income families everywhere.

“I have every faith that we will come to the conclusion that this is something that every American public think is worthy to spend on, to ensure that people are warm or properly cool,” Shea-Porter said.

Last year 35,000 families benefited from LIHEAP funds in New Hampshire. “Those are the families who came forward and asked for the assistance,” Shea-Porter said. Many families had to make difficult choices, Shea-Porter said, “for example not paying for prescriptions because they had to pay for their heat or letting themselves fall behind in rent or mortgage because they had to pay for heat.”

If the stimulus bill omits LIHEAP funds, Hodes said, “we’re going to keep fighting this fight every day, even when it is warm, we’re going to remind people that’s the time we need to be thinking about the winter that’s coming.”


Dodd to Treasury: Constituents Are Frustrated

February 10th, 2009 in Caroline Bridges, Connecticut, Spring 2009 Newswire, Tait Militana

Photos by Caroline Bridges

Norwalk Hour
Tait Militana
Boston University Washington News Service
Feb. 10, 2009

WASHINGTON—Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., urged the Treasury Department Tuesday to act swiftly to distribute the remaining Troubled Assets Relief Program funds, saying Americans are frustrated with the results so far.

“They are frustrated that even as we spent billions of their money, they have yet to see the results,” Dodd said. “They reminded me that we cannot restore the credibility of our financial institutions and put our economy back on track, until we restore the credibility of the government’s response.”

The Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, of which Dodd is the chairman, questioned Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner following his announcement of a new plan for the remaining financial system rescue funds earlier in the day. In a speech at the Treasury building, Geithner outlined a four-part program to restart frozen credit markets and alleviate the problems of the devastated housing industry. Congress passed the original plan last October.

Though Geithner did not produce specific details about the plan, he said the key components would create a public-private investment fund, a consumer and business lending initiative, an evaluation of the banking industry and a foreclosure prevention plan. He said the $350 billion in remaining funds need to be used in a comprehensive plan in a variety of areas because the problems are all interconnected.

“We believe that action has to be sustained until the recovery is firmly established,” Geithner said.

Dodd, who said he would need to see more specifics and called for further hearings in the future, applauded the new direction for the bailout bill. He said the first use of funds, dictated by the Bush administration, did not work.

“Rather than increasing confidence in the banking system, the piecemeal, lurching intervention of the previous administration scared away private sources of capital needed to plug the growing hole on the balance sheets,” Dodd said. He estimated that the credit loss in the banking system has doubled since September.

According to Dodd, housing foreclosure is the most critical issue facing Connecticut. He called on Treasury to make it the number one priority, saying that nationwide, nearly 10,000 families are losing their homes each day.

Dodd also pressed Geithner to make the future use of the money transparent so that he and his constituents could see how the money was being spent.

But not every senator at the committee hearing was as optimistic about the potential for the rest of the funds. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., the committee’s senior minority member, said the first half of the program was a failure that was hastily pushed through Congress.

“The economy worsened as Congress panicked,” he said.

Geithner said moving forward will not be easy. He said that the bailout plan alone would not solve the economic crisis but that paired with the stimulus bill could create significant strides forward.

“This strategy will cost money,” he said. “It will involve risk and take time. As costly as this effort may be, we know that the cost of a complete collapse of our financial system would be incalculable for families, for businesses and for our nation.”

The stimulus bill passed the Senate Tuesday afternoon and now is in conference to work out differences with the House version.


Sen. Shaheen Settles in to her New Job and Temporary Office

February 5th, 2009 in Caroline Bridges, Jillian Jorgensen, New Hampshire, Spring 2009 Newswire

Photos by Caroline Bridges

New Hampshire Union Leader
Jillian Jorgensen
Boston University Washington News Service
February 5, 2009

WASHINGTON—In the vestibule of Senator Jeanne Shaheen’s temporary Senate office, things can get pretty crowded when visitors come to call. Recently as she walked through the door she ran right into a group of constituents from New Hampshire awaiting a meeting with a legislative aide.

The “swing suite,” as Shaheen has called it, was full of ringing telephones, cluttered desks and busy staff members. Shaheen, like other freshmen senators, is waiting to get her permanent assignment and move into a suite of offices.

She stopped in the middle of the bustling office to fill in the visitors about what had happened on the floor of the Senate the night before.

"I hate to interrupt, but we've got to get you to a foreign relations hearing," an aide told the senator.

She said goodbye and walked out into the chilly hallway of the Dirksen Senate Office Building, heading toward the elevators reserved for senators. “I never use it,” Shaheen said inside the bright blue elevator. “It takes too long to get here.”

She prefers to take the stairs. With a non-stop workday and votes that can last until late in the night, you must be creative about making time for exercise.

Shaheen is the first New Hampshire woman to hold a United States Senate seat, the first Democrat elected to the seat in 30 years, and the first American woman elected as both governor and senator. If Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., is confirmed as commerce secretary, Shaheen will go from the state’s junior to senior senator after just weeks in office.

“It’s an honor to serve the people of New Hampshire as a U.S. senator, no matter my seniority,” Shaheen said. “It would be nice if Judd Gregg’s years of Senate experience and seat on the Appropriations Committee came along with the bargain, but the privilege of sitting at the famed Daniel Webster desk on the Senate floor will do for now.”

The ornate desk now used by Gregg once belonged to the granite state’s Webster, one of the Senate’s greatest orators.

Shaheen’s current desk is not bad, either: it belonged to President Barack Obama during his four years in the Senate.

“The tradition is for senators to carve their names in the desk,” she said. His is inside.

Shaheen defeated Sen. John E. Sununu, a Republican, in November, arriving in Washington in time for the inauguration of a new president and the debate over a faltering economy.

“People clearly voted for a new direction for the country, but that brings with it responsibility – responsibility to address the high expectations that people have for things to change,” she said.

The wall behind her office desk features one framed memento: a schematic drawing titled “Paper Manufacture from Preparation to Paper Machine,” a gift she received while governor from workers at mills in Berlin and Gorham.

“It means a lot to me, because it was something we worked so hard to try and get done, and we were able to put so many people back to work,” she said.

The paper mill in Berlin, which many New Hampshire politicians had endeavored to save as it and the mill in Gorham experienced financial problems over the last decade, closed for good in 2006.

Putting people back to work is what Shaheen hopes the president’s proposed stimulus package will do. She said the money must be spent “not only more effectively, but more competently” than the funds allocated for the financial bailout last year.

“I think it speaks to the need to look very carefully at how money is going to be spent, and in the case of the economic package, to look at doing everything possible to ensure that the dollars that are going to be spent are going to be spent to actually do what we want them to do,” she said.

She said that in a troubled economy, tax credits for businesses designed to create jobs may not work as intended.

“What we’re seeing businesses and families do, quite frankly, is hold on to their money because they’re worried about the economic climate,” she said.

“Tax cuts aren’t necessarily what’s going to get the economy moving again, and tax credits may not necessarily be what’s going to do it either. It’s got to be a combination,” she added.

While Shaheen may be fully briefed on matters of politics and policy, Senate rules, customs and dynamics may be harder to master.

Sununu said it will take time for someone with executive experience to become familiar with working in a legislative body.

“The U.S. Senate has a set of rules that is unique, and at times indescribable,” Sununu said. “For any new member, it takes a lot of patience to understand the rules and procedures for bringing forward legislation and amendments on the floor, in order to increase your likelihood for success when you’re advocating for something important to your state.”

Shaheen said she hoped her assignment to the Energy and Natural Resources Committee would provide the opportunity to address global warming, national security and job creation.

Shaheen said she is interested in the economic and environmental benefits of building a “new, smart” energy transition grid, pointing to the jobs created during previous infrastructure investments, such as the interstate highway system.

“How do we take advantage of the renewable biomass energies in the North Country that we want to get down to the southern part of the state and to New England?” she added.

“We need to upgrade the transmission system to do that.”

Meanwhile, the national economy also faces long-term problems, like overworked entitlement programs and the national deficit.

“We need to start now and develop a plan for how we’re going to address the debt that the country is in, and the increasing deficit,” she said.

Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, said Shaheen was in a better position than many other new senators: she is a member of the majority party, has extensive political experience, and hails from a state that is politically important because of its early primary.

“She’s pretty well-known, and she’s got some good committee slots,” he said. “She’s in a pretty good condition to do things right away.”

In addition to Energy, Shaheen will serve on the Foreign Relations Committee and the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee.

The Senate is driven by seniority, Smith said, and with the departure of Gregg, who has been in the Senate since 1993, the state is losing some of its seniority clout.

Shaheen said health care reform will be another priority for her. Last month, she voted for the expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

“If we can provide health care to 4 million more people through the expansion of children’s health insurance, that’s a very good start,” she said. “Obviously, we have a lot of other work to do in that area. We’ve got to look at addressing the cost of health care as well as expanding access.”

Because the nation spends so much on health care, Shaheen said it should not be thought of as an entirely separate issue.

“I think we’ve got a lot of work to do, but I don’t think we can throw up our hands and say, ‘We can’t address this issue because we’re trying to address the economy at the same time.’ It’s all part of the same piece,” she said.


Collins Leads Move to Trim Stimulus Package

February 5th, 2009 in Andrew Fitgerald, Caroline Bridges, Maine, Spring 2009 Newswire

Photos by Caroline Bridges

Bangor Daily News
Drew FitzGerald
Boston University Washington News Service
Feb. 5, 2009

WASHINGTON – A bipartisan group of senators led by Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Ben Nelson, D-Neb., met three times Thursday to “scrub” a now $900 billion economic stimulus bill of measures that they said would not directly create jobs.

The meetings came a day after Collins and Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, each met with President Barack Obama to discuss their concerns about the size and makeup of the bill.

In the Capitol Hill meetings Thursday, closed at times even to top aides, Collins and 14 other senators pored over the legislation line by line, removing any provisions that they thought would not save or create jobs or jumpstart spending.

“I know it’s unusual to think of senators doing that kind of painstaking, thorough work, but that’s exactly what we’re doing,” Collins said.

“It’s always refreshing to be able to do that because there are no filters and you talk straight, directly to one another,” added Nelson, a fiscally conservative Democrat who also met with the president Wednesday.

Details on the proposed reductions were not available Thursday night, and the talks could continue into Friday, but the group has come up with at least $50 billion in cuts, according to a press spokesman for Nelson.

Caught in the hall during a break in the negotiations, Collins said that the bi-partisan group has done “an in-depth scrub of the bill” to cut spending. Collins also said she originally wanted roughly a $650 billion package, but changed her mind after her meeting with Obama Wednesday.

“The president did convince me that a larger package would be good, but I can’t support a package the size of what the House passed,” she said.

“We don’t want a package that is too small, because that will end up just wasting the money,” Collins said. “On the other hand, we’re very leery of having an enormous package that would not be necessary and would just boost the federal deficit.”

As the meetings ran late into the afternoon, Collins said senators from both parties were disagreeing on several spending items. Part of the difficulty arose from different senators’ definitions of what is a stimulus, she said, because even economists differ on the ideal size of the package.

Snowe, who spent most of the week working to amend the tax portion of the bill, also said the spending half of the package needed revision. She said the dollar cost of the bill was not as important as its composition, though she said $900 billion was too much.

“I’m more concerned… that every measure is specifically geared toward job creation and stimulating the economy,” Snowe said in an interview. “When you’re going to spend to the tune of $800 billion, you’d better get it right.”

Snowe said it is important that more of the spending outlined by the Senate Appropriations Committee last week stimulate the economy relatively soon.

Both senators said they consider any measure not directly intended to create jobs inappropriate for the stimulus bill.

Snowe said she also planned to submit a temporary 35 percent tax break for small businesses to prevent them from laying off more workers. The problem is made even harder because banks are unwilling to lend to businesses trying to stay afloat, she said.

“We’re seeing so many businesses on Main Street shuttering,” she said. “It’s an emergency, in that sense.”

Snowe also sponsored an amendment Wednesday to strengthen oversight of the Treasury Department when it decides to dole out the second phase of its $700 billion federal bailout program. Companies supported by the bailout would have to repay any cash bonuses they gave executives while receiving the federal funding. The Senate passed the measure by unanimous consent.

“The flawed framework of the first financial rescue package enacted by Congress left open the escape hatch of golden parachutes for top executives on Wall Street – the same individuals whose careless mistakes hurt the financial system and forced taxpayers to foot the bill in the first place,” Snowe said in a statement Wednesday.

The stimulus package passed the House last week without a single Republican vote and President Obama has said he would like to have a bi-partisan measure on his desk by the end of next week.


Obama Nominates Sen. Judd Gregg to be Commerce Secretary

February 3rd, 2009 in Caroline Bridges, Jillian Jorgensen, New Hampshire, Spring 2009 Newswire

Photos by Caroline Bridges

New Hampshire Union Leader
Jillian Jorgensen
Boston University Washington News Service
February 3, 2009

WASHINGTON— Announcing the nomination of Sen. Judd Gregg to serve as commerce secretary Tuesday morning, President Barack Obama cited Gregg’s reputation for strict fiscal discipline and ability to work in a bi-partisan way to get things done as the reasons for his choice.

“As one of the Republican Party's most respected voices and skillful negotiators, Judd is a master of reaching across the aisle to get things done. He’ll be an outstanding addition to the depth and experience of my economic team, a trusted voice in my Cabinet, and an able and persuasive ambassador for industry who makes it known to the world that America is open for business,” Obama said.

Obama announced the New Hampshire Republican’s appointment in the Grand Foyer of the White House, flanked by Gregg on his right and Vice President Joe Biden on his left. It came after days of speculation over whether Gregg would be nominated and who Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat, would appoint to replace him in the Senate.

“This is not a time when we should stand in our ideological corners and shout at each other. This is a time to govern and govern well,” Gregg said. “And therefore, when the President asked me to join his administration and participate in trying to address the issues of this time, I believed it was my obligation to say yes, and I look forward to it with enthusiasm.”

Gregg spoke briefly in the Grand Foyer, beneath a large, elaborate chandelier surrounded by portraits of former presidents including John F. Kennedy, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

The White House also announced Tuesday that former Sen. Tom Daschle withdrew him name as nominee for secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services after information about his delinquent tax payments was revealed.

Obama cited Gregg’s familiarity with the Commerce Department as one of the reasons for his choice. When the Republicans were in the majority in the Senate, Gregg chaired the Senate Budget Committee and the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. He also has chaired the Appropriations Committee’s Commerce subcommittee.

“Clearly, Judd and I don’t agree on every issue, most notably who should have won the election,” Obama said. “But we agree on the urgent need to get American businesses and families back on their feet. We see eye to eye on conducting the nation’s business in a responsible, transparent, and accountable manner. And we know the only way to solve the great challenges of our time is to put aside stale ideology and petty partisanship, and embrace what works.”

Gregg also spoke briefly of the “agreement” made by Lynch in regards to filling his Senate seat should Gregg be confirmed to the Commerce Department position.

“I also want to thank the governor of New Hampshire for his courtesy and courage in being willing to make this possible through the agreement that we have relative to my successor in the Senate,” Gregg said.

The announcement comes as the administration is seeking bi-partisan support for Obama’s proposed economic stimulus plan, which received no support from Republicans in the House.

“People are worried about their jobs. They’re worried about how they’re going to pay their bills. They’re worried about how they’re going to send their kids to college. And you’ve outlined an extraordinarily bold and aggressive, effective and comprehensive plan for how we can get this country moving,” Gregg said.

Neither Obama nor Gregg took questions after the brief announcement, which lasted less than 10 minutes.

During a conference call with reporters after the announcement, Gregg said he will probably not participate in shaping or voting on the stimulus package in the Senate as he awaits confirmation.

Republicans in both houses of Congress, including Gregg, have expressed concern over the spending in the plan. But Gregg has also spoken often about the need to pass a large stimulus plan.

In outlining Gregg’s political history – from his father’s election as New Hampshire’s youngest governor to Gregg’s own career as a member of the House of Representatives, governor and then U.S. senator – Obama also commented on Gregg’s reputation as a fiscal conservative.

“Judd is famous – or infamous, depending on your perspective – on Capitol Hill for his strict fiscal discipline. It’s not that he enjoys saying ‘no’ – although if it’s directed at your bill you might feel that way –it’s that he shares my deep-seated commitment to guaranteeing that our children inherit a future they can afford,” Obama said.

Gregg is the third Republican nominated to Obama’s cabinet, joining Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

Gregg’s nomination will be considered first by the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, before moving to the floor of the Senate for a full vote on his confirmation. Sen. John D. Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), committee chairman, said in a statement Tuesday that he supported Gregg’s nomination.



Freshman Rep. Himes Learns Ins and Outs of Congress

January 29th, 2009 in Caroline Bridges, Connecticut, Spring 2009 Newswire, Tait Militana


Photos by Caroline Bridges

Norwalk Hour
Tait Militana
Boston University Washington News Service

WASHINGTON – For many first-time members of Congress, the trials of starting their new jobs include finding their way around the Capitol, meeting other members and learning the ins and outs of Washington.

For Rep. Jim Himes, D-4, the first weeks also included dealing with unprecedented inauguration crowds and fixing the heat in his office.

He said he is still figuring out some of the basic stuff about Congress.

“I can get to the floor, no problem,” Himes said. “I can get to the gym, no problem. I know a couple of places where I know I can be fed. You ask me to get to anything a lot more esoteric than that and it’s a little slow.”

Taking the failing economy as his primary issue, Himes, 42, defeated incumbent Republican Chris Shays in November. The day after the election he began working on his transition to Washington. Yet this transition proved to be a challenge.

Himes started his career in Congress during one of the most historic events in politics. With almost 2 million people descending on the city to witness the inauguration of President Barack Obama, thousands of constituents looking for tickets and dozens of reporters nagging his incomplete staff, Himes said things have been hectic in his first few weeks as a representative.

“It’s been really busy,” Himes said. “The inauguration took all of the air out of the room.”

Himes also moved into his new office on Capitol Hill without a functioning heating system and during one of the coldest weeks of the year. Nonetheless, Himes has taken it all in stride. He said what really makes Congress tick is its members.

“The action of this place doesn’t really depend on the statues, the offices or the halls,” Himes said. “It’s about sitting down with people, thinking hard and making good decisions.”

Caitlin Donohue, a congressional assistant, said though Himes still may get lost, he is a hard worker and is always prepared for the next problem.

“Jim has adapted to the new challenges quickly,” Donohue said.

Earlier this week, Himes, who is on the Financial Services Committee, was appointed to two subcommittees: the Subcommittee on Capital Markets, Insurance and Government-Sponsored Enterprises and the Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity, which oversee the securities, banking and housing industries.

Himes, who worked at the global investment bank Goldman Sachs Group Inc. before running for office, said though his history in business should help him on the committee, the way things are done in politics is completely different from the business world’s methods. He said he was surprised by how important seniority is in the day-to-day happenings of Congress.

“The protocol and hierarchy are odd to me,” Himes said, describing the realities of seniority that “I came head to head with when I got to wait three hours to ask a question in a hearing.”

During Himes’ first week on Capitol Hill, he attended various social activities for new members and was able to speak to a lot of his new colleagues. One of the most powerful moments for him, he said, was walking through the Capitol for the first time and seeing the statues of Daniel Webster, Thomas Jefferson and of all the great politicians of the past.

“I had two sensations,” Himes said. “One was where we are today is really tough, but we’ve been in tougher straits before and we got through it. Two, boy the bar is pretty high.”

According to Himes, his biggest worry in the coming months is being a good husband and dad. He said he does not plan on moving his family to Washington.

“I’m regularly 200 miles away,” Himes said. “But as motivated as I am to be a public servant at this very important time, I’m fundamentally committed to being a good dad.”

Despite the challenges of the first few weeks and those that surely lay ahead, Don Carlson, Himes’ campaign chief of staff, said, Himes’ perseverance is one of the qualities that makes him so successful.

“He’s the most persistent guy I’ve ever met,” Carlson said. “He doesn’t know how to quit. He’ll make it work.”


Shaheen Enthusiastic About Children’s Healthcare Expansion

January 29th, 2009 in Caroline Bridges, Jillian Jorgensen, New Hampshire, Spring 2009 Newswire


Photo by Caroline Bridges

New Hampshire Union Leader
Jillian Jorgensen
Boston University Washington News Service
January 29, 2009

WASHINGTON—The Senate was considering a bill Thursday evening that would reauthorize and expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, which senators said would make an additional 4 million children across the country eligible for government-paid health insurance.

“That means that in New Hampshire, every eligible child could be covered,” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D.-N.H., said during a conference call with reporters before the Senate vote on legislation similar to bills Congress passed twice last year but which President George W. Bush twice vetoed.

The program also would allocate money for program outreach and enrollment and for improvements in the quality of the medical and dental plans.

“I’m excited that I’m going to be able to vote for this bill,” Shaheen said.

She said that making sure all children are covered by health insurance is not only the right thing to do but the cost-effective thing as well.

“If we address health concerns when children are young it’s going to save us money down the road,” she said. “This is something that makes sense on all kinds of levels.”

The Children’s Health Insurance Program is designed to cover children whose families do not qualify for Medicaid but cannot afford private health insurance. The program is administered through the states, and each state has flexibility in deciding eligibility requirements and designing the policies it offers.

In New Hampshire, a family that earns 185 to 300 percent of the federal poverty level, which is $17,600 for a family of three, are eligible for the program. That translates into maximum eligible income of $52,800 a year for a family of three. For larger families the maximum eligible income would be higher. Families pay a premium on a sliding scale, depending on their income.

The New Hampshire version of the program, called Healthy Kids Silver, was initiated while Shaheen was governor.

“They’re working families; they’re just not making enough to cover their kids. Or they’re people who, for one reason or another, have lost their jobs,” she said.

Republican senators, including Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the minority leader, have argued that the new program would allow states to cover children in families earning up to $88,000.

“The amendments that have been offered by Sen. McConnell and by other members this week have all been aimed at limiting the flexibility of states and limiting their ability to cover kids,” Shaheen said. “I think that’s the wrong approach.”

Republicans, including former President Bush, also have argued that the program would lead many people to drop their private health insurance in favor of the state funds.

Shaheen disagreed, saying, “Sometimes people are on the margins of being able to afford private coverage or they’re in a plan that offers very little in the way of help for whatever they need.”

The bill, which would provide the extra money by raising the federal excise tax on cigarettes by 61 cents per pack, to $1, would also remove a 5-year waiting period for children born to legal residents of the United States.

“I think it makes sense to cover children who are children of legal residents. Their parents, if they’re here legally, are paying taxes. They’re working to better the economy, and their children should be eligible,” Shaheen said.

In New Hampshire, the main problem is locating all the people eligible and helping them enroll in the program, the former governor said.

“My goal is to cover as many children who are eligible as we can find,” she said.