Top Stories for Tuesday, December 9, 2014

House Readis $1.1 Trillion Spending Deal

From AP, “LIBERALS AND CONSERVATIVES GRIPE ABOUT $1.1T BILL”: “Exposed to the light of day, a year-end, $1.1 trillion spending bill drew vociferous objections from liberals and milder criticism from conservatives on Wednesday while lawmakers readied a brief, stopgap measure to prevent a government shutdown both parties vowed to avoid.

Democrats complained bitterly in public about a portion of the $1.1 trillion measure that eases regulations imposed on big banks in the wake of the 2008 economic meltdown – even though 70 members of party’s rank and file supported an identical provision in a stand-alone bill late last year.

After a closed-door meeting, Democrats also chorused objections to separate section of the spending bill that eases limits on campaign contributions to political parties.

The White House declined to state President Barack Obama’s position on the legislation, negotiated in secret over several days by senior lawmakers, including top leaders in both parties and both houses…

On the other side of the political spectrum, some conservatives grumbled that the measure left the administration’s controversial new immigration policy unchallenged until the end of February. That decision “makes no sense at all. We’ve let the Democrats set their agenda as though we lost the election,” said Louisiana Rep. John Fleming.

Given opposition from an unknown number of conservatives, Boehner and the Republican high command likely will need some Democratic support to assure the bill’s passage in a vote set for Thursday.

Whatever the Democrats’ motive, the political crossfire left the massive, 1,603-page bill in limbo – and so, too, chances of a smooth ending for a Congress marked by two years of intense partisanship.

From the Daily Caller, “GOP Spending Bill Gives Nearly $1 Billion To Aid Border Migrants”: “The GOP’s draft 2015 “omnibus” spending bill reportedly includes $948 million to help poor and unskilled Central American migrants establish themselves in the United States, but includes no effective restrictions on President Barack Obama’s plan to provide work permits and tax payments to millions of resident illegal immigrants.

That new spending works out to $16,928 for each of the 56,000 youths, young adults and children who crossed the border during the 12 months up to October 2014.

Prior to October, Obama’s officials sent only 1,901 of the migrants back home to Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua, according to a federal report.

Much of the $948 million may also be used to care for the next wave of illegals who could flood across the border during the summer. The influx in the summer of 2015 is expected to be large, because Obama is offering work permits and social security numbers to at least five million illegals already in the country.

The $948 million fund is part of the one-year, $1 trillion 2015 spending plan described in a late-night report from The New York Times.”

Senate Democrats Release Report on Enhanced Interrogation

From The New York Times, Panel Faults C.I.A. Over Brutality and Deceit in Terrorism Interrogations”: “In exhaustive detail, the report gives a macabre accounting of some of the grisliest techniques that the C.I.A. used to torture and imprison terrorism suspects. Detainees were deprived of sleep for as long as a week, and were sometimes told that they would be killed while in American custody. With the approval of the C.I.A.’s medical staff, some prisoners were subjected to medically unnecessary “rectal feeding” or “rectal hydration” — a technique that the C.I.A.’s chief of interrogations described as a way to exert “total control over the detainee.” C.I.A. medical staff members described the waterboarding of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the chief planner of the Sept. 11 attacks, as a “series of near drownings.”

The report also suggests that more prisoners were subjected to waterboarding than the three the C.I.A. has acknowledged in the past. The committee obtained a photograph of a waterboard surrounded by buckets of water at the prison in Afghanistan commonly known as the Salt Pit, a facility where the C.I.A. had claimed that waterboarding was never used. One clandestine officer described the prison as a “dungeon,” and another said that some prisoners there “literally looked like a dog that had been kenneled.”

The release of the report was severely criticized by current and former C.I.A. officials, leaving the White House trying to chart a middle course between denouncing a program that President Obama ended during his first week in office, and defending a spy agency he has championed.”

From Bloomberg, “CIA Torture Report: Bush Was Kept in the Dark for Years”: “Michael Hayden, who served as director of both the National Security Agency and the CIA during the Bush administration, said just because KSM tried to deceive interrogators about bin Laden’s courier doesn’t mean there was no useful information gleaned from him and others who went through the CIA’s program.

“After they went through the program, none of these people turned into loyal Americans, but they were more or less cooperative depending on the topic,” Hayden said. “And because they were more or less forthcoming as a group, we had a lot more data with which to compare answers.”

Hayden is one of a handful of former senior CIA officials — along with Tenet, Rizzo and former deputy director John McLaughlin — who are leading a campaign to refute the central claims of the Senate report. Today the group will launch a new website to refute the report called CIASavedLives.com.

The argument against the report will focus not only on its conclusions but also the process for reaching them. For example, critics say the Democratic staff never interviewed current or former CIA officials and relied instead on the prodigious trove of classified documents made available.

“Why were they afraid to talk to me, George, Jose, John and others?” Hayden asked, referring to Jose Rodriguez, who ran the program, in addition to Tenet and Rizzo. “What were they afraid of?” At the end of the day, Hayden said, he understood why there was a difference of opinion on some issues, but he refuted the idea that he or other CIA officials deliberately lied about the efficacy of the CIA interrogation program.

“All of us told the truth as we knew it. If they want to quibble on fact A, fact B, frankly I would argue with those points, but I would understand it,” Hayden said. “But the idea that three directors and three deputy directors and hundreds of CIA officers conspired to mislead the president, the Congress and the American people beggars the imagination.””

Jonathan Gruber Testifies Before Congress, Denies Being ‘Architect’ of Obamacare

From National Review, Elijah Cummings Savages Gruber: ‘Absolutely Stupid,’ ‘Incredibly Disrespectful’

From Politico, “Jonathan Gruber: I’m not ‘the architect’ of Obamacare”: “Beleaguered Obamacare adviser Jonathan Gruber declared he was not “the architect” of the health law as House Republicans on Tuesday hit hard at a pair of scandals that have overshadowed an otherwise successful launch of the second sign-up season.

“I was not the ‘architect’ of President [Barack] Obama’s health care plan,” the Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist told the House Oversight committee. He repeatedly apologized and dismissed as “mean,” “glib” and “arrogant” a series of controversial remarks about the passage of Obamacare and the “stupidity” of the American voter.
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“I am not a political adviser nor a politician,” said Gruber, who was a key economic adviser during the drafting of the law. And in his most pointed mea culpa, he allowed: “It was inexcusable that I tried to appear smarter by insulting others.”…

The “stupidity” remarks have fueled “Grubergate” but a different videotaped statement has been quoted in a lawsuit that threatens a central pillar of Obamacare. In that tape, Gruber seemed to endorse the argument in King v. Burwell, the case before the Supreme Court that contends Obamacare subsidies, designed to make insurance more affordable, are illegal for people who use the federal marketplace HealthCare.gov.

Thirty-seven states are using HealthCare.gov in 2015, either because they decided not to set up their own health insurance exchanges or because they tried and failed.

Gruber — who did crucial economic analysis while the bill was being written but said he was not among its drafters — repudiated any support for that lawsuit and said the remarks on the video lacked context. He said his own economic model, which was the basis for his work on the health law, had always assumed that the subsidies would be available in all states, whether they ran their own exchange or used the federal option.

“I have a longstanding and well-documented belief that health care reform in general, and the ACA in particular, must include mechanisms for residents in all states to obtain tax credits,” Gruber said.”