By Ted Nesi
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – It’s becoming a familiar cycle in Rhode Island: President Obama needs a defense secretary, and national reporters start speculating that U.S. Sen. Jack Reed could get the job. Yet Reed never actually winds up at the Pentagon.
But why wouldn’t Jack Reed – a proud West Point alum and veteran of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division – want to be in charge of the most powerful military force the world has ever known? There are quite a few reasons.
By Ted Nesi
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – U.S. Sen. Jack Reed continues to hold a massive lead in his bid for a fourth six-year term ahead of next month’s election, according to a new online-only poll released Sunday by The New York Times, CBS News and YouGov.
By Ted Nesi
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Democrat Jack Reed appears on track to coast to a fourth six-year term in the U.S. Senate next month, according to a new online-only poll released Sunday by The New York Times, CBS News and YouGov, which has Reed at 64% and Republican Mark Zaccaria at 22%.
By Ted Nesi
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island’s congressional delegation is taking a cautious approach to the state’s debate over whether to jettison HealthSource RI for the federal Obamacare marketplace, saying it’s a matter for state lawmakers to decide.
• Related: Feds drop demand for $4.6M to fund HealthSource RI (May 27)
Max Baucus, the longtime U.S. senator from Montana, resigned last month to become President Obama’s new ambassador to China. But before he said his last goodbye to the chamber, Baucus delivered a farewell address that lavished praise on, among others, Rhode Island’s own John Chafee:
It was my honor to have friendships that formed the basis for solving some of the nation’s most difficult problems.
I’ll never forget working together with the late-Senator John Chafee on the Environment and Public Works Committee.
I worked with him for years before finding out he was an amazing war hero, decorated for his service in the Korean War.
Few people knew this about his war record because he didn’t brag about it or use it for political points.
He served because he believed in it, not because he thought he’d get credit for it.
Without a doubt, we need more John Chafees in the world.
Between 1989 and 1990, we sat together in a small room just off the Senate floor, facing wave after wave of unhappy senators – sometimes until one or two in the morning.
He was the ranking Republican member of the EPW committee, and I had become the chairman of the Environmental Protection subcommittee.
Together, we met with our colleagues, ironing out compromises on acid rain, ozone depletion, air quality permits, and scores of other issues.
Senator Chafee later became Chairman of the EPW Committee.
We had our disagreements, but by and large, under Senator Chafee’s chairmanship I recall an oasis of civility.
That friendship helped us pass the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990.
It’s a small point – but I always respected that he never raised his voice.
John never lost his temper. He listened carefully to the other person’s point of view. He was the paragon of a senator. •
(1999 file photo: Khue Bui/AP)
By Ted Nesi
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said Monday he’s cautiously optimistic that Senate Democrats and House Republicans can reach an agreement during high-stakes budget talks aimed at keeping the government open and reducing the impact of mandatory across-the-board spending cuts.
A conference committee was created in the bipartisan deal that ended this month’s government shutdown, and ordered to craft a federal spending blueprint by Dec. 13. Whitehouse, a member of the Senate Budget Committee, is the panel’s only member from Rhode Island, Massachusetts or Connecticut.
• Related: Watch U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse on Newsmakers (Sept. 29)
Here’s the video in two parts, via YouTube:
What do you think? Who won?
• Related: Whitehouse will debate Ted Cruz on CNN’s ‘Crossfire’ Thursday (Oct. 9)
U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse will debate U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas – who has become one of the most prominent Republicans in the country for leading the GOP’s shutdown fight – on Thursday’s evening edition of “Crossfire,” the venerable political program CNN recently revived. The program airs at 6:30 p.m.
“The senators and the hosts will debate the latest developments in the partial government shutdown and the looming congressional battle over raising the federal debt ceiling,” a CNN spokeswoman said in an email. Newt Gingrich and Van Jones will also be on the show.
It should be quite a clash of views.
Cruz is a rising Republican star in Congress already being discussed as a possible 2016 presidential candidate, and he thinks the Affordable Care Act is a grave threat to the future of the United States. Whitehouse is, of course, Rhode Island’s second-term junior senator and a vocal liberal Democrat who feels more free than ever to speak his mind after his landslide re-election victory last November.
By Tim White
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – All four lawmakers in Rhode Island’s congressional delegation will forgo their pay if federal workers lose their wages as a result of the government shutdown, WPRI.com has confirmed.
By Tim White
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – U.S. Sen. Jack Reed said Friday he’s concerned that “extreme elements” of the Republican Party in the U.S. House of Representatives may be pushing the country toward a government shutdown next Tuesday.
• Related: Whitehouse: Prepare for possible government shutdown (Sept. 23)
By Tim White
EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said Monday people should be prepared for the federal government to shut down on Oct. 1, saying there is “sufficient enough chance” it could happen.
• Video: Watch today’s full interview with U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (Sept. 23)
By Ted Nesi
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – U.S. Sen. Jack Reed said Monday he still hasn’t decided whether to support a request for authorization to attack Syria, a sign President Obama has yet to win over one of his own party’s most senior military experts. U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse has stayed silent about Syria since Aug. 31.
• Related: Sen. Whitehouse: US must help Syria as France helped US in 1700s (Jan. 22)
Richard Baker, the U.S. Senate’s historian emeritus, relates a classic story about a local legend:
When Senator Theodore Green of Rhode Island became chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1957, he was 90 years old. Intelligent, hard-working and well-liked, Green was no longer up to piloting this important cold war-era committee. Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson lacked the authority to remove committee chairs, but he found his opening when a Providence newspaper in 1959 demanded that Green retire. Johnson told the beleaguered senator that he shouldn’t put up with such abuse. Green agreed and decided to step down. But then the leader overplayed his hand and the elderly senator decided he should stay. L.B.J. finally engineered a face-saving way for Green to yield with dignity intact.
• Related: New Year’s Day marks 78 years since RI ‘Bloodless Revolution’ (Jan. 1)
Surveying the diminished clout of Massachusetts’ congressional delegation, Stonehill College’s Peter Ubertaccio writes for The Boston Globe:
The Bay State now ranks last in Senate seniority, and no member of the Massachusetts congressional delegation holds a committee chair or leadership position in either the Senate or the House. For the first time since early 1919, no member of our House delegation has served with a speaker from Massachusetts. …
Senator Edward Kennedy’s death in 2009 ruptured an important historical axis upon which the Commonwealth so depended for its influence. …
Why does this matter? Seniority, leadership, and clout bring two key benefits: prioritizing federal dollars and articulating political values. …
There is no easy solution to our dilemma. It requires the continued cultivation of political leaders who see their futures within the institutions they now call home.
This is a real challenge for Massachusetts. When I asked U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse in January what makes an effective senator, his first response was: “Seniority, which you can’t do much about – it is what it is – but as time goes by you need to be ramping it up the match your seniority.”
U.S. Sen. Jack Reed is getting some backup from two of his fellow Southern New England Democrats as he battles to change a bipartisan compromise on student-loan rates.
U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Sheldon Whitehouse on Tuesday sent email blasts to their campaign supporters in a bid to rally support for Reed, who is seeking to amend the loan legislation to cap students’ interest rates at 6.8%, lower than the 8.25% currently envisioned. The bill could be voted on as soon as today.
“Senator Jack Reed’s amendment is the only plan on the table right now that guarantees student loan interest rates won’t skyrocket above their current levels,” Warren wrote in an email pushing subscribers to sign up on Reed’s website in support. “We need to pass this amendment for our kids and grandkids.” The subject line of Warren’s email said: “The whole system stinks.”
“Unfortunately, our opponents would rather profit off our students than invest in them – so Jack is going to need all of us to stand with him to win this fight,” Whitehouse wrote in his email. “I’ve joined a group of Senators to work to pass Senator Reed’s amendment. But we need your help before this week’s vote.”
The emails are another sign of the increasing closeness of the Rhode Island and Massachusetts U.S. Senate delegations now that Warren and the newly elected Ed Markey have joined Reed and Whitehouse in Washington. All four are down-the-line liberals, and they share many of the same policy passions, notably financial regulation for Reed and Warren and climate change for Whitehouse and Markey.
• Related: Jack Reed pushing to overhaul interest rates on student loans (May 9)
U.S. Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse will both start filing their campaign-finance reports electronically, beginning with the latest one for the quarter that ended June 30, their spokesmen told WPRI.com this week.
The addition of Reed and Whitehouse means 17 senators are now filing their reports online – 13 Democrats, two independents who caucus with the Democrats, and two Republicans. Rhode Island is one of only three Senate delegations in which both senators file digitally, along with Montana, California and Vermont.
Senators, unlike lawmakers in the U.S. House, still have the legal right to submit their campaign-finance reports on paper. The Secretary of the Senate delivers the paper copies to the Federal Election Commission, whose employees must manually input the data into the FEC’s online database before they can be reviewed.
Reed’s campaign raised $704,411 during the three months ended June 30 and spent $189,677, according to figures his office provided at WPRI.com’s request. Reed, who is seeking a fourth six-year term, finished the second quarter with $2.57 million on hand.
The new fundraising numbers were disclosed the same day Nate Silver, The New York Times’ political numbers guru, released his updated forecast for U.S. Senate races in 2014 – and again gave Reed eye-popping 99% odds of winning re-election next year, unchanged from February.
Other numbers in the updated forecast may be a cause for concern in Reed’s office, however.
A new book by veteran Washington Post editor Robert Kaiser takes a behind-the-scenes look at how the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act made its way through Congress, and few politicians come off better than Rhode Island’s senior U.S. senator.
Kaiser’s book, “Act of Congress,” relies on two years of reporting and hundreds of interviews to tell the story of Dodd-Frank specifically and Congress today more broadly. Among those Kaiser interviewed were U.S. Sen. Jack Reed and Kara Stein, a longtime senior aide to Reed on banking issues who was recently nominated to join the Securities and Exchange Commission by President Obama.
Kaiser says Congressman Barney Frank, who led the House’s work on the financial-reform bill, had hoped U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., would share leadership of the Senate Banking Committee with “one of Frank’s favorites, Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, a former House colleague” if U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., took over a different committee after Ted Kennedy’s death.
Johnson’s health had become an issue after he suffered a major stroke, while “Reed was liberal, bright, hardworking – Frank’s kind of member,” Kaiser writes.
The Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne has a column today about the debate over surveillance, and one of the voices in the piece is that of U.S. Sen. Jack Reed (who also expressed concerns to WPRI last week):
That we’re now more inclined to question the national security state should not surprise anyone. “In the period immediately after the attacks of 9/11, the American people were willing to give the government broad power to keep them safe,” Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), one of Congress’s most thoughtful voices on national security, said in an interview. “Now, more than a decade later, it’s entirely appropriate that Americans are asking about the balance between security and privacy.”
Reed believes that we still need extensive surveillance programs. But he was also in the minority last December in supporting an earlier version of the Merkley proposal on the FISA court decisions. He also favored another amendment, proposed by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), that would have required the director of national intelligence to submit a report to Congress and the public on the impact of the revised FISA law on the privacy of U.S. citizens.
This is a rare issue that divides Reed and his junior colleague, Sheldon Whitehouse.
Reed voted yes but Whitehouse voted no on the two measures from December that Dionne references – the Merkley amendment to disclose legal justification for surveillance and the Wyden amendment to require a privacy report. As I wrote in Saturday’s column, Whitehouse’s views may relate to his past service on the Intelligence Committee, his time in law enforcement and his general trust in the federal government.
• Related: Sen. Whitehouse defends Obama on surveillance programs (June 7)
By Ted Nesi
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse defended the Obama administration’s use of surveillance in terrorism investigations on Friday, breaking with fellow progressive lawmakers who have harshly criticized the president’s tactics this week.
Philip Elliott reports for the AP:
[A] collection of Democratic lawmakers on Thursday renewed their push to keep rates low but also backed interest rates that were based on the markets. Their plan would base rates on a 91-day Treasury bill and allow the Education Department to add to that to pay for the administration of loan programs.
“The student loan interest rate offered by the government shouldn’t be needlessly high, it should be based on actual costs,” Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said in introducing the plan.
The versions from both parties include a proposal that was central to Obama’s budget: interest rates would shift based on financial markets. …
Basing student loans on 10-year Treasury notes’ rates would, at least for now, offer a deal to some students. … That’s not to say, however, the rates would be a good deal forever. If Treasury increases its rates, students’ loan rates would rise, too.
For context, under the current system Congress sets the actual numerical interest rate on student loans – that’s why the rate is currently set by law at 3.8% and is (again) scheduled to rise to 6.8% on July 1. (Hence the growing focus on the issue at the moment.)
Reed’s bill would have Congress stop setting the rate by statute and start basing it on market movements instead, as outlined above. However – unlike similar proposals from President Obama and House Republicans – Reed’s bill would set a maximum cap on rates: 6.8% for subsidized loans and 8.25% for unsubsidized loans. It would also allow students to refinance their loans at a lower rate.
Why the cap? According to Reed, it’s necessary because someday interest rates will return to a higher level.
Reed’s staff says college graduates in the Class of 2007 would have paid almost 8% and the Class of 1981 would have paid almost 17% if the House GOP proposal had been law at the time. Using CBO economic forecasts, they project rates will be back above 8% by 2018 under the Obama/GOP proposals.
The White House and Republicans argue Reed’s proposal could raise costs for borrowers or force other taxpayers to subsidize student loans. “In order to have a cap, we would have to charge students more in order to hedge against the possibility that rates would go up to unmanageable levels in the future,” an administration official told reporters April 10.
While a capped market rate is Reed’s vision for a permanent fix on student loans, in the meantime he’s introduced a bill to freeze current rates for two more years while Congress comes up with a long-term resolution. “Some who claim it is important to avoid burdening our children and grandchildren with national debt are all too willing to bury these young people in student debt,” Reed said in a statement Thursday.
Reed isn’t the only local senator arguing for a fresh approach to student loans. Massachusetts’ Elizabeth Warren on Wednesday introduced a bill to let students borrow at the same rate that big banks get from the Federal Reserve’s discount window.
(photo: Manuel Balce Caneta/AP)
Three of the four members of Rhode Island’s all-Democratic congressional delegation will take aim Wednesday at someone who’s an unusual target for them: President Obama.
U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Congressman David Cicilline are among the eight members of Congress co-hosting a summit on Capitol Hill to criticize a proposal in Obama’s latest budget that would trim Social Security benefits by switching to a measure of inflation known as “chained CPI.”
Rhode Island’s entire delegation slammed the policy when it emerged, and Cicilline has garnered national attention for introducing a resolution that would have Congress express formal disapproval of chained CPI. U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont are also among the summit’s hosts, giving it a decidedly New England flavor.
There were 207,122 Rhode Island residents receiving Social Security benefits in December 2011, the most recent month for which figures are available – meaning nearly 20% of state residents are on Social Security. Two-thirds of Rhode Island’s beneficiaries were 65 or older, while 35,905 were disabled and 15,704 were children. The Rhode Islanders’ combined Social Security benefits totaled $236 million that month.
The congressional event at 12:30 p.m. will be streamed live online by Strengthen Social Security, a coalition of unions and progressive groups that supports increasing benefits.
• Related: RI congressional delegation slams Obama over Social Security (April 10)