April 19, 2013

U.S. Capitol police cleared parts of U.S. Senate buildings after suspicious packages were found including one for U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., the Hill reported. Two packages were in the Hart Senate Office Building and the third was in the Russell Senate Office Building where Shelby's suite is. Police said the suspicious packages tested negative. An official said letters were reported as suspicious because they were hand-delivered and not screened at a remote mailing facility. Another suspicious package was reported in a Michigan district office of Democratic U.S. Sen. Carl Levin. Security was tightened after the deadly Boston Marathon bombings and disclosure of a letter to Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., that included poison ricin, and a second letter to President Obama, the FBI said. Authorities arrested a northeast Mississippi man.

On the political side, the U.S. Senate in procedural voting failed to muster support for a gun-buyer universal background check bill, S. Amdt. 715, and other key measures and counterproposals that Huffington Post said likely dooms any major anti-gun legislation supported by President Obama. The background check measure was proposed by U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa. The 54-46 vote was short of the 60 needed to break a filibuster. 


To top it off, U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said Wednesday he fears a "train wreck" as the Obama administration implements its "signature" health care law, The Hill's Healthwatch reported. Baucus is chairman of the chamber's powerful Finance Committee and a key backer of the health care reform law. Baucus told Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius at a hearing that he isn't seeing results of implementation yet. The Hill's Sam Baker reported that the Obama administration plans to begin promoting the health care law in October, using "all media channels." Exchange enrollment begins in October.  


The U.S. Chamber of Commerce this week honored eight members of Alabama's congressional delegation with the Spirit of Enterprise Awards for their pro-business voting records. The U.S. Chamber's "How They Voted" scorecard that was released on Wednesday recognized 300 members of Congress. Alabama's recipients were U.S. Sens. Jeff Sessions and Richard C. Shelby, and U.S. Reps. Robert B. Aderholt of Haleyville, Spencer Bachus of Vestavia Hills, Jo Bonner of Mobile, Mo Brooks of Huntsville, Martha Roby of Montgomery, and Mike Rogers of Saks. The Business Council of Alabama is Alabama's exclusive affiliate to the U.S. Chamber.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., this week began pushing for an Internet sales tax bill, known as the Marketplace Fairness Act (S.336), to bypass the Senate Finance Committee whose leaders largely dislike the proposal, Politico reported. Reid threatens to go to the full Senate instead. The sales tax bill is needed before Alabama's Internet sales taxes can be collected. Montana U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, a Democrat, last month said he wanted to consider the measure as part of comprehensive tax reform in the Senate Finance Committee. A test vote on an amendment passed 75-24 during debate on the nonbinding budget resolution.

The Business Council of Alabama will support efforts to streamline and simplify our sales/use tax system so that in-state and out-of-state retailers are on a level playing field and provide a single point of filing for state and all local sales and local use tax returns.

Politico contributor Richard Berman, a critic of organized labor, said the Senate should question President Obama's labor secretary nominee, Thomas Perez, on whether he plans to continue the Department of Labor's increased pro-union activity of the past four years. Berman, a lobbyist, said the Senate can use Perez's answers, if asked, of whether the Senate should pursue labor reform itself "rather than leave things in the hands of a federal agency with a poor track record of enforcing the law."  


Berman wrote that the department allegedly is not investigating union financial reports to ensure they follow federal statutes that protect members from corrupt practices. Berman said DOL's financial and compliance audits dropped by 38 percent between 2009 and 2011. Sampling 513 audits, the Department of Labor reported violations in 16 percent yet when the Office of the Inspector General double-checked, it found that 92 percent of contained violations, Berman wrote.  


The OIG also said that the department repealed some of the Bush administration's reporting requirements concerning itemized expenses of more than $5,000. Between 2001 and 2009, the OLMS indicted a total of 1,004 union officials for embezzlement or fraud, yielding 929 convictions and more than $93 million in damages in the process, Berman wrote. He said the crackdown on this "widespread racket" lasted less than 60 days in President Barack Obama's Department of Labor.  


Immigration bill calls for slew of regulations, new bureaucracy

The Hill (Goad, Bogardus 4/18) reports, "The sweeping immigration reform bill unveiled Wednesday would bring a raft of new regulations and add more layers to the federal bureaucracy. The 844-page Senate bill calls for a dramatic expansion of the country's worker verification system, an overhaul of visa programs and a new set of proposed regulations allowing undocumented workers to become 'registered provisional immigrants'. The bill would establish penalty systems for employers and create protections for vulnerable immigrant workers in order to achieve the largest overhaul of the nation's immigration system in decades. The bipartisan Gang of Eight in the Senate, which penned the bill, set out 'to establish clear and just rules for seeking citizenship, to control the flow of legal immigration, and to eliminate illegal immigration, which in some cases has become a threat to our national security,' according to the legislation's preamble. Unlike the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, President Obama's healthcare overhaul and other legislation requiring major regulatory undertakings, the immigration proposal has significant support from Republicans and business groups."

Sen. Richard Shelby: Gun background checks would
undermine the Constitution

The Mobile Press-Register (Talbot 4/17) reports, "U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, expressed adamant opposition to legislation that would expand background checks for gun buyers, saying the proposed amendment to a gun control bill would undermine the Second Amendment right of Americans to keep and bear arms. Shelby said in a speech on the Senate floor (Wednesday) that the amendment, co-sponsored by U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., would cost taxpayers up to $100 million annually and would do nothing to prevent tragic attacks like the mass shootings in Newton, Conn., and Aurora, Colo. 'The harsh but unavoidable fact is that no amount of government intervention can prevent irrational people from doing terrible things,' Shelby said. 'Therefore, we should not react to these tragedies in an irrational manner that would erode a fundamental right of every citizen.' Shelby said Congress would do better to focus on stiffer penalties for violent criminals, addressing deficiencies in the nation's mental health system and examining the impact of violence in the entertainment industry. He said the background check proposal would compromise the Second Amendment. '"This is just the first assault on the Second Amendment,' Shelby said. 'More background checks today, gun registration tomorrow. Who knows what will follow after that. Congress should reject it all now.'"


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