Supreme Court won't restore $7.25B swipe fees settlement

Mar 27, 2017 8

The Supreme Court will not restore a $7.25 billion settlement between merchants and Visa Inc. and MasterCard Inc. over credit card transaction fees.

The justices did not comment Monday in leaving place a ruling by the federal appeals court in New York that tossed out the settlement in a lawsuit that began in 2005.

A group of 19 merchants and trade groups claimed in the lawsuit that Visa and MasterCard conspired to fix fees charged to stores for handling credit card payments.

A federal judge approved a settlement in 2013, but some retailers and consumer groups objected.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the proposed settlement was unfair to merchants that wouldn’t have received any money.

Mine safety bills fire up tensions in coal country

Mar 27, 2017 7

Two mining bills designed to eliminate safety checks for the coal industry have reignited smoldering tensions between miners and mine owners.

In West Virginia, lawmakers advanced revisions to a controversial bill that originally would have eliminated state safety checks at coal mines.

A similar effort made its way through the Kentucky Legislature. In that case, four annual inspections required by law would be cut down to as few as one.  An on-site safety equipment check would be subbed out by a written “safety analysis” report based on conversations with miners.

Longtime safety experts say they are shocked at the scope of the proposals that will seemingly void violations that traditionally carry stiff monetary penalties.

“It’s breathtaking in its scope,” said Davitt McAteer, who served as assistant secretary of the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration during the Clinton administration.

McAteer, an internationally recognized expert on mine safety, led a team that pushed for strengthening West Virginia’s mine safety efforts following the death of 29 miners after a coal dust explosion at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine in Montcoal in 2010.

The Kentucky and West Virginia proposals come at a time when the industry is fighting for its survival.

Coal production hit its peak in 2008, but when President Barack Obama came into office, he rolled out a series of regulations that he said were designed to protect America’s streams and waterways from the pollution caused by the mining operations. Those regulations, in concert with others, crippled the industry, leading to a loss of 50,000 jobs between 2008 and 2012, according to a study by researchers at the Duke Nichols School of the Environment.

Despite their dwindling numbers, coal miners played a central role in the 2016 election.

President Trump campaigned on a promise to end Obama’s “War on Coal” — and put out-of-work coal miners back on the job.

Trump traveled to West Virginia, donned a hard hat and promised jobs would return to an area whose very identity has been linked to the coal-mining industry for generations. And last month, Trump signed legislation undoing a regulation he called a “job-killing rule” that blocks coal-mining debris from being dumped into nearby streams.

But all of the goodwill came to a screeching halt a few weeks ago when the pair of bills was introduced in two of the country’s top coal-producing states.

In West Virginia, state Sen. Randy Smith, a Republican and Mattiki Coal Co. official, initially introduced a bill that would strip almost all coal mine safety enforcement by state inspectors. It was billed as a bridge between the fledgling industry and those working the coal mines, but received strong pushback by the pro-worker unions and organizations.

West Virginia Coal Association Vice President Chris Hamilton expressed his skepticism of the first bill to Fox News.

“No one wants to be perceived as being against safety,” he said, adding that tweaks needed to be made before his organization would sign off.  

United Mine Workers of America spokesperson Ted Hapney also said the union objected to the original version of the bill that included “losing three inspections a year and reducing — well, actually taking away — the enforcement power of the agency.”

Following a burst of negative national attention and strong pushback, Smith made some concessions — but maintains his original bill made the impact he intended.

“The bill I initially introduced was designed to be shocking,” Smith told Fox News. “I wanted it to be enough to get people talking. I think too often, we don’t have serious conversations about mine safety until someone is hurt or killed. I was able to accomplish getting this discussion moving without either of those having to happen first.”

Smith’s new bill focuses on modernizing coal mining regulations. He pushes back against allegations his motives were more about profit than security.

“Sometimes it is hard to get groups to come together,” he told Fox News. “This bill forced us all to come to the table to have a real discussion about the issue.” 

Failed ObamaCare repeal spurs fresh round of GOP finger-pointing

Mar 27, 2017 9

The week began with fierce finger-pointing in Washington in the wake of Friday’s flameout of the GOP alternative to ObamaCare, with conservatives and moderates blaming each other, President Trump sending mixed signals as to he faulted and Democrats gloating over the law’s preservation.

Opposition from the House Freedom Caucus, the powerful bloc of conservative Republicans, prompted Speaker Paul Ryan to pull the bill prior to a scheduled vote, but members said it should spur a fresh approach instead of recriminations.

“Instead of doing the blame game, let’s get to work,” Jordan, R-Ohio, said on “Fox News Sunday.” “Let’s do the responsible thing. Let’s get back to work and do what we told the voters we were going to do.”

Trump, who has had an on-again, off-again relationship with Ryan, initially seemed let down by the Speaker’s inability to deliver the votes for a bill Trump had supported. The president sparked speculation he was gunning for Ryan when he tweeted Saturday morning for people to watch Fox News’ “Justice with Judge Jeanine,” which then featured a fiery monologue from host Jeanine Pirro calling for Ryan’s ouster.

“Hey Republicans, don’t worry, that burn is covered under the Affordable Care Act.”,”

– Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J.

But a day later, Trump tweeted that it was the Freedom Caucus and conservative think tanks that had killed the bill and left ObamaCare in place.

“Democrats are smiling in D.C. that the Freedom Caucus, with the help of Club For Growth and Heritage, have saved Planned Parenthood & Ocare!” Trump tweeted.

On Sunday, Trump Chief of Staff Reince Priebus seemed to elaborate on his boss’s comments directing blame at House conservatives.

“I think the president is disappointed in the number of people he thought were loyal to him that weren’t,” Priebus said.

The administration kept hope alive that another alternative could be in the works, when Vice President Mike Pence declared Trump has not abandoned the idea of repealing and replacing ObamaCare.

“West Virginia and President Trump, we all know the truth about this failed law, that every day Obamacare survives is another day that America suffers,” Pence told a crowd gathered Saturday at a Charleston construction supply company.

The Republican infighting extended to Freedom Caucus circles, where one member of the approximately 40-member group, Texas Congressman Ted Poe, quit over what he characterized as the group’s ever-changing demands of Ryan.

“To deliver on the conservative agenda we have promised the American people for eight years, we must come together to find solutions  to move this country forward,” Poe said Sunday through his congressional office.

“Saying no is easy, leading is hard, but that is what we were elected to do. Leaving this caucus will allow me to be a more effective member of Congress and advocate for the people of Texas. It is time to lead.”

In the Senate, critics of the bill, including Tom Cotton of Arkansas, said Ryan’s leadership team moved too fast and failed to build consensus on the bill. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a physician, has also been a vocal critic of the House bill and it was not clear that the Trump-backed plan would have passed in the Senate.

Democrats were giddy over the Republicans’ failure, mocking them for the self-inflicted wound.

“Hey Republicans, don’t worry, that burn is covered under the Affordable Care Act,” tweeted Sen. Robert Menendez, D- N.J.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards pays women $12,000 less than men

Mar 27, 2017 13

Louisiana Gov. Jon Bel Edwards (D.) called his state’s record on the gender pay gap “an embarrassment and an outrage,” but he has failed to attain gender pay equality in his own office, according to records of salaries paid in the governor’s office obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

Edwards has spent the past year pushing for a state gender discrimination law. Earlier this month, Edwards and his wife held an “Equal Pay Summit” after Louisiana ranked last in Bloomberg’s gender-equality ratings.

Salary data obtained through Louisiana’s Department of State Civil Service, however, shows that Edwards has his own gender pay gap, as women working in his office make just 82 cents for each dollar earned by men.

The analysis found that the median salary of the 43 women working in Edwards’ office is $55,000, which is $12,000 less than the median salary of $67,000 earned by the 23 men employed there.

Click for more The Washington Free Beacon.

Schumer jumps at chance to work with Trump on health care, other issues

Mar 27, 2017 14

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer jumped at a chance to find common ground with President Trump on coming up with a solution to a new health care bill Sunday as Trump’s aides opened the door to working with moderate democrats on health care and other pressing issues.

Schumer, D-N.Y., said Trump must be willing to drop attempts to repeal Barack Obama’s signature achievement, warning that Trump was destined to “lose again” on other parts of his agenda if he remained obligated to appease conservative Republicans.

“If he changes, he could have a different presidency,” Schumer said on ABC’s “This Week.” “But he’s going to have to tell the Freedom Caucus and the hard-right special wealthy interests who are dominating his presidency … he can’t work with them, and we’ll certainly look at his proposals.”

Trump turned the blame for the failure of the health care law from the Democrats to conservative lawmakers Sunday, tweeting: “Democrats are smiling in D.C. that the Freedom Caucus, with the help of Club For Growth and Heritage, have saved Planned Parenthood & Ocare!” The bill was pulled from the House floor Friday in a defeat for the Trump, having lacked support from conservative Republicans, some moderate Republicans and Democrats.

Trump aides made it clear Sunday that the president could seek support from moderate Democrats on upcoming legislative battles ranging from budget and tax cuts to health care, leaving the door open on possibly revisiting new health care legislation.

White House chief of staff Reince Priebus scolded conservative Republicans, explaining that Trump had felt “disappointed” with a “number of people he thought were loyal to him that weren’t.”

“It’s time for the party to start governing,” Priebus told “Fox News Sunday”. “I think it’s time for our folks to come together, and I also think it’s time to potentially get a few moderate Democrats on board as well.”

The health-care bill’s failure caused a ripple effect in the Freedom Caucus.

Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, resigned from the group. Poe intended to vote in favor of the bill and personally told Trump last week that he would support the measure. He resigned hours after Trump’s tweet.

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., chairman of the Freedom Caucus, told ABC’s “The Week” that he was doing a lot of “self-critiquing” after the health care defeat. He insisted the GOP overhaul effort was not over and that he regretted not spending more time with moderate Republicans and Democrats “to find some consensus.”

Much of the blame has been directed at the conservative group and its roughly 35 members, after House Speaker Paul Ryan realized that he didn’t have enough support for the bill in the GOP-led chamber and canceled the final vote Friday.

Ryan purportedly needed about 20 more votes, mostly from Freedom Caucus members and a handful of GOP House moderates.

Trump and Ryan spoke Saturday and Sunday. Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong said the leaders spoke Saturday for roughly an hour about “moving forward on (their) agenda” and that their relationship is “stronger than ever right now.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

DC mayor announces new initiatives to help find missing children

Mar 27, 2017 16

In light of the increased attention locally and nationally about the missing children in the District, Mayor Muriel Bowser has announced several new initiatives to improve the city’s response in finding them.

Since the beginning of the year, D.C. police have been using social media, especially Twitter, to post the images of people reported missing to increase the public’s attention to help locate them.

But the heightened awareness has also sparked concern that there is an increase of youngsters, especially black and minority girls, going missing in D.C. On social media, entertainment and sports figures such as Washington Wizards star John Wall, actor and rapper LL Cool J, actress Taraji P. Henson, and music artists such as Meek Mill, Nicki Minaj and P. Diddy have posted their concern about this issue

However, D.C. officials have said there has not been a spike in missing children in the city. The following is the number of juveniles reported missing over the past several years:

2017: 501 (as of March 22)

2016: 2,242

2015: 2,433

2014: 2,222

2013: 2,067

2012: 2,610

Commander Chanel Dickerson, who was appointed to head of D.C. police’s Youth and Family Services Division, told FOX 5 that “a large number of our missing teens voluntarily leave home and they’re found or located within a short time.”

“One missing young person, is one too many, and these new initiatives will help us do more to find and protect young people, particularly young girls of color, across our city,” said Mayor Bowser. “Through social media, we have been able to highlight this problem and bring awareness to open cases, and now we are doing more to ensure that families and children are receiving the wraparound services they need to keep families together and children safe.”

Also on Friday, Commander Dickerson held a Facebook Live event to discuss the police department’s efforts in missing children cases.

Click for more from Fox 5 DC.

Kushner to lead new WH office focused on using business ideas to fix gov't bureaucracy

Mar 27, 2017 21

Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, will be tapped to lead a new White House office that will effort to use business solutions to fix “government stagnation”, a senior White House official confirmed to Fox News late Sunday.

“We can confirm we are making an announcement tomorrow to establish the White House office of American Innovation and look forward to sharing additional details,” the official said.

The office will be filled by former business executives and seeks to bring in new thinking into Washington, the Washington Post reported. The Post first reported that Kushner would head the new office.

“We should have excellence in government,” Kushner said. “The government should be run like a great American company. Our hope is that we can achieve successes and efficiencies for our customers, who are the citizens.”

Trump told the newspaper that the office would focus on fixing “government stagnation.” It will have the authority to overhaul federal bureaucracy and fulfill campaign promises – such as reforming health care for veterans and fighting opioid addition.

Kushner hopes to bring in aggressive, nonideological views into team and he seeks talent from inside and outside Washington. The Post reported that the office is focused primarily on technology and data and is working with Apple chief executive Tim Cook, Microsoft founder Bill Gate, Salesforce chief executive Marc Benioff and Tesla chief executive Elon Musk.

Some of the tech giants have openly criticized Trump’s policies but insist they are eager to help the administration with its issues.

“I’m hopeful that Jared will be collaborative with our industry in moving this forward. When I talk to him, he does remind me of a lot of the young, scrappy entrepreneurs that I invest in in their 30s.” Benioff told the Post.

Fox News’ Serafin Gomez contributed to this report.

Click for more from The Washington Post.

Illinois lawmakers see marijuana legalization as gateway to fiscal boost

Mar 27, 2017 13

Marijuana advocates are trying to lay the groundwork for Illinois to become the first state in the Midwest and the ninth nationwide to legalize recreational pot, arguing the move will help solve the state’s notorious budget crisis.

Two Illinois state lawmakers introduced legislation last week that would allow residents 21 and older to possess, grow or buy up to an ounce of marijuana and license businesses to sell marijuana products subject to regulation. They say it would help fill Illinois’ multibillion-dollar budget hole with $350 to $700 million in new tax revenue.

A national advocacy group, the Marijuana Policy Project, based the estimate on the proposal’s $50-per-ounce wholesale tax, Illinois’ standard sales tax, federal marijuana consumption data and recreational pot prices in Colorado. The proposal earmarks 50 percent of wholesale revenues for the state’s general fund and divides the remaining half 30/20 between education and public health.

Every state to legalize pot to date has done so by voter ballot initiative, according to Chris Lindsey, a legislative analyst with the project. But Illinois advocates are not alone in holding out hope for lawmaker approval. Seventeen other states — including Missouri — are also considering legislative action.

Rep. Kelly Cassidy, a Chicago Democrat who co-sponsored 2014 legislation that legalized medical marijuana in Illinois, is sponsoring the proposal in the House. She said states that legalized marijuana have seen an economic boost from increased tax revenue, new jobs and bolstered tourism.

“We’re talking about all sorts of ways of raising revenue,” Cassidy said, referring to state lawmakers’ efforts to break a two-year budget logjam. “We might as well be talking about this, too.”

But she and fellow Chicago Democrat Sen. Heather Steans, who sponsored legislation that succeeded in decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of pot last year, know their new pitch could be a tough sell. They plan to jumpstart conversations with lawmakers, interest groups and the public this spring but won’t move legislation forward in the current session.

Key players like the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police currently oppose the measure. Ed Wojcicki, the association’s director, called legalizing recreational pot “an enforcement nightmare.” He said existing science remains inconclusive about how to best identify impairment on the road and in other compromising situations.

Democratic Rep. Lou Lang of Skokie, lead sponsor of the medical marijuana proposal, suggested the staggered timeline could help lawmakers gain a more complete picture of potential benefits and consequences — especially as more data rolls in on Illinois’ pilot medical marijuana program, which launched in late 2015.

“I do think this might be in Illinois’ future,” Lang said. “I certainly support the idea of having a discussion.”

Illinois legalization advocates like Dan Linn, who directs the state chapter of a nonprofit lobbying group called NORML, have long been working toward this conversation. Linn said states where pot is legal have recorded no uptick in traffic fatalities. Instead of threatening public safety, he contended, regulating the already widely consumed substance will take the business out of the hands of criminals and impose important regulations like quality and age controls.

“There’s not a drug dealer in this country that asks for an ID when someone’s looking to buy drugs,” he said.

The proposal is launching at a time when the federal government, which still lists marijuana as an illegal drug, is considering ramping up enforcement against recreational use. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said last month his department is reviewing an Obama administration memo that gave states flexibility in passing marijuana laws.

Mission Impossible: Why Trump's health care compromise was never going to pass

Mar 27, 2017 12

There’s plenty of blame to go around, but one thing is clear:

The ObamaCare battle was Mission Impossible from the beginning, because Donald Trump ran against Republican orthodoxy on health insurance.

There was simply no way to satisfy the GOP’s most conservative wing, which wanted to junk most of ObamaCare, the center-right conservatives who don’t want millions to lose coverage or face huge rate hikes, and Trump’s own conditions.

There’s been lots of media chatter about how Trump might not be as great a dealmaker as he says. Perhaps, but there was no way to square this circle.

The president faulted the Democrats for their united opposition–the same thing the Republicans did when the 2010 law passed–but the GOP never engaged the opposition party, confident it could win on its own.

While the failure to hold the vote is a major setback for Trump, it’s just as much of a defeat for the House Freedom Caucus, which, while acting on principle, may have fumbled its best chance to repeal much of a program its members despise.

The plain fact is there was virtually no bill that would satisfy the Freedom Caucus that could pass the House, and even if it did, it would have been doomed in the Senate.

So those lawmakers made the judgment that they’d rather have no repeal than such a watered-down version.

The party’s mainstream conservatives feared ownership of a health care debacle in which millions of Americans lost coverage or couldn’t afford coverage, while states struggled with huge Medicaid cuts, while premiums didn’t come down.

Which brings us to the president, who realized he’d rather move on than fight this losing battle indefinitely.

Trump doesn’t come out of the conservative movement, which is a key reason why he won the election. He called for the replacement of ObamaCare a zillion times during the campaign, but he also said that no one should lose their coverage. That the ban on preexisting conditions should remain. That kids should be able to stay on parental policies until 26. That he wouldn’t cut Medicaid (or Medicare and Social Security, which also breaks with the Paul Ryan philosophy).

With all those conditions, Trump was always going to be at odds with the Freedom Caucus that had the numbers to kill the bill.

On the tactical questions, should Trump have tackled an easier issue like infrastructure first? Probably. Should he have let Ryan take the lead? Probably not, for the House speaker couldn’t deliver. Was the bill rushed and badly flawed? Absolutely.

But my sense is that Trump didn’t care that much about the details, which is why he made several concessions, including on Medicaid. He wanted a deal, something he could declare a victory before turning to the rest of his agenda. He simply is not as passionate about the intricacies of medical insurance as he is about trade and immigration.

In the end, the bill that nobody liked died. And the Republican Party showed it’s far easier to be a protesting minority than to actually govern.

Georgia special election: Polls show tight race to replace Price in House

Mar 26, 2017 11

Early voting in the race to replace Health and Human Services secretary Tom Price in the House of Representatives begins Monday, with polls indicating a tight battle in a potential run-off election later this year. 

No fewer than 18 candidates are competing to represent Georgia’s 6th congressional district, which encompasses many of Atlanta’s northern suburbs. Price held the seat for 12 years before he resigned last month to take over as President Donald Trump’s man at HHS.

According to the results of a Fox 5/Opinion Savvy poll released Friday, 30-year-old former Democratic congressional aide and first-time candidate Jon Ossoff, would garner 40 percent of the vote. He’s followed by a quartet of Republicans: former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel (20 percent), former Johns Creek City Councilman Bob Gray (10 percent), State Sen. Judson Hill (10 percent) and former State Sen. Dan Moody (8 percent).

Georgia requires a so-called “jungle primary” to fill congressional vacancies. If no candidate earns at least 50 percent of the vote, the top two vote-getters — regardless of party — move to a June 20 runoff.

According to the poll, a runoff between Ossoff and all four Republican contenders would fall within the poll’s 4.5-percentage point margin of error, with between 11 and 17 percent of voters undecided.

Democratic and Republican leaders handicap the race as the most competitive of five upcoming House special elections, and a GOP political action committee already has committed more than $1 million to defeating Ossoff. Republicans currently hold a 237-193 majority in the House.

National Democrats’ House campaign arm has assigned nine paid staffers to Georgia. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has convened focus groups in the district, some aimed at voters 45 and younger, others trying to understand voters 55 and older who supported Republican Mitt Romney for president in 2012 but backed Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump last year.

The Fox 5/Opinion Savvy poll also finds district voters divided over Trump’s performance as president, with just 53 percent approving of the job he’s done so far.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.