Written by Tom Fitton
On Wednesday night, “Mr. Cool” lost his cool. Barack Obama, frustrated at his inability to strike a deal with Republicans in Congress on raising the debt ceiling, stormed out of a meeting saying, “enough is enough.” As of today, the negotiations are in limbo.
I’m sure you’ve been following this story. Leaders in both political parties say that if the debt ceiling (the federal government’s borrowing limit) is not raised by August 2, 2011, the government supposedly will run out of money and will default on its obligations. This, the Establishment says, will trigger a global economic meltdown.
(You may recall this same “sky is falling” rhetoric was used back in September 2008 when former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson was running around Congress asking for a blank check for the bailouts and then forcing banks to “take the money or else.”)
At any rate, while leaders in both parties say they need to raise the debt ceiling they have very different ideas on the type of deal they’d be willing to strike.
Here’s how things shake out: Some Republicans are willing to raise the debt ceiling and allow more borrowing, but only if Democrats make significant cuts to the bloated federal budget without raising taxes that would kill jobs and harm an already limping economy. Obama has indicated that he’s willing to nibble around the edges on government spending, but will not sign onto any deal that does not include tax increases.
And so here we are. No deal. (Most Americans don’t want the debt ceiling raised at all, but their views don’t seem to count much here in Washington. Check out this Gallup poll.)
Given all the discussion about what might happen if the debt ceiling is not raised, we thought it would be interesting to learn exactly what the Obama administration intends to do if they can’t borrow money anymore. For instance, will it, as Obama has threatened, withhold Social Security checks?
So on June 6, 2011, Judicial Watch filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the Bureau of Public Debt (BPD) seeking an answer to a very simple question: What is the Obama administration prepared to do if Congress fails to raise the debt ceiling?
But how did the Obama administration respond to our request? None of your business! Out of 172 pages of records the BPD found responsive, they released a grand total of 17 unhelpful pages. (Here’s the letter from the BPD. And here’s a link to the documents.)
Tea Party favorite Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN), also a candidate for the Republican nomination for president, suggested Wednesday that Obama is merely using scare tactics to continue his spending spree and that we can meet our essential obligations without a debt ceiling increase. Of course, we don’t know whether Bachmann or Obama is right because the Obama administration is stonewalling the release of these important debt ceiling documents.
This secrecy reveals that the Obama administration has something to hide about what its plans are in the event a debt deal is not passed into law by August 2.
Adding some doubt as to the veracity of the Treasury’s projections, one of the documents turned over to Judicial Watch is an April 4, 2011, letter from Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) in which Geithner tells Reid, “The Treasury Department now projects that the debt limit will be reached no later than May 16, 2011.” Of course, May 16 came and went with no default and no global meltdown. (A January 6 letter also included in the documents suggests that the debt ceiling could be reached as early as March 31, 2011, which also came and went without incident.)
The secrecy continues as President Obama and congressional leaders meet behind closed doors to try to hatch a deal that affects nearly $50 trillion (ten years of current federal outlays) of your money. This whole process is an affront to accountability, transparency and the rule of law. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) has had enough of the whole mess and called the process “disgusting.” I agree wholeheartedly. Indeed, at this point I can think of no good reason to prevent C-SPAN from covering these debt “negotiations.” (Incredibly, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) seems to think there are too many people at the negotiating table!)
I read with interest a Wall Street Journal piece yesterday by scholar Michael W. McConnell, who pointed out that this process is contrary to law and could have been avoided if our budget law had been followed by Obama and the U.S. Senate. He writes:
It is insane to think that tax and spending proposals of this complexity can be negotiated at this level of generality and put into statutory language in a matter of weeks. Didn't the health-care fiasco teach us anything about the importance of transparent and responsible legislative process?
Wise or foolish, this budgetary game of chicken is contrary to law. In 1974, Congress enacted the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act, which sets specific deadlines and procedures for raising revenue, setting spending priorities, and adjusting the debt limit—all in the sunshine of public scrutiny…
Let’s hash out our nation’s budget and debt issues in the light of day!
As this circus continues, you can count on your nonpartisan Judicial Watch to push for transparency and the truth.
House Judiciary Committee Launches Kagan/Obamacare Inquiry
Should Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan recuse herself from any Obamacare challenges that may come before the High Court? Judicial Watch recently released a batch of documents showing that Elena Kagan helped to coordinate the Obama administration’s defense of Obamacare when she served as Solicitor General. And now, in an extraordinary development, the House Judiciary Committee seems to be pursuing the matter.
According to CNS News:
The House Judiciary Committee is launching an inquiry to probe the involvement that Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan had in “health care legislation or litigation” when she was serving as President Barack Obama’s solicitor general and was responsible for defending the administration’s position in federal court cases.
The inquiry will look at whether Kagan is required by law to recuse herself from judging cases challenging President Obama’s health-care law and whether her answers to questions posed by the Senate Judiciary Committee during her confirmation process were accurate.
The House Judiciary Committee made its decision after receiving a June 24, 2011, letter from forty-nine Members of Congress requesting an investigation of Kagan’s role in the Obamacare discussions. The Members were reacting to Judicial Watch’s release of documents, obtained through a FOIA lawsuit, indicating that Justice Kagan helped to coordinate the Obama administration’s legal strategy to defend Obamacare, which seems to contradict Kagan’s confirmation testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
I’ve covered these Kagan documents a few times now so I won’t repeat all of our “finds.” You can find them summarized here. But check out this January 8, 2010, email from Neal Katyal, former Deputy Solicitor General (and current Acting Solicitor General), to Brian Hauck, Senior Counsel to Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli:
Brian, Elena would definitely like OSG [Office of Solicitor General] to be involved in this set of issues…we will bring in Elena as needed. [The “set of issues” refers to another email calling for assembling a group to figure out “how to defend against the…health care proposals that are pending.”]
So, in short, Kagan’s top deputy is on record saying that Kagan “would definitely” like her office to “be involved” in discussions about “how to defend against the…health care proposals that are pending.” And Kagan will be personally “brought in” as necessary.
This is just one document. There are many others. Taken together they were enough to earn the attention of Congress.
The issue of Kagan’s involvement in these discussions will likely be central as to whether she will recuse herself. And if Kagan is off of the bench then that is one less liberal vote to be cast for Obama’s socialist monstrosity.
Here’s the statement I offered to the press in response to the decision by the House Judiciary Committee:
We are pleased that the House Judiciary Committee has followed Judicial Watch’s lead and is investigating Justice Kagan’s role as Obama’s solicitor general in crafting a defense of Obamacare.
The stakes are high regarding Kagan’s participation in Obamacare litigation. The U.S. Supreme Court is all but certain to decide whether or not Obamacare passes constitutional muster.
Justice Kagan suggested during her confirmation testimony that she was merely a disinterested bystander during legal discussions about Obamacare. However, the documents Judicial Watch pried loose from the Obama Justice Department suggest otherwise. Justice Kagan and her key deputies were heavily involved in crafting a legal defense for Obamacare.
FYI, Judicial Watch’s FOIA lawsuit has been consolidated with a similar lawsuit that had been filed against the Department of Justice (DOJ) by the Media Research Center. The lawsuits are now both before the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The documents were first produced in the Media Research litigation.
Both the Media Research Center and Judicial Watch continue to seek additional documents. And I will continue to update you in this space. It might be helpful in the meantime to call Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), who is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, to encourage his inquiry into the Kagan recusal issue. Rep. Smith’s office phone number is (202) 225-4236.
Documents Show Obama White House Attacked and Excluded Fox News Channel
The Obama administration’s distaste for Fox News has been on display from the outset of the Obama presidency. But it reached a whole new level when reports appeared in the press that the White House attempted to boycott the network from a round of interviews organized by the Treasury Department with “Executive Pay Czar” Kenneth Feinberg on October 22, 2009.
The scandal ultimately led to a backlash from the other networks and a reversal by the Obama White House. Of course, the White House denied the charge that Fox was singled out for exclusion repeatedly, blaming the issue on a miscommunication. That’s when we got involved, filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the Treasury Department.
Well recently, we obtained some documents in response to our request. And we once again caught the Obama gang in big fat lie.
Contrary to the administration’s repeated denials, these documents do, in fact, demonstrate that the Obama White House attempted to exclude Fox News Channel. But it gets worse than that. The documents, which include email exchanges within the Department of the Treasury and between Treasury and White House staff, also provide colorful evidence of a pervasive anti-Fox News bias within the Obama White House.
And when I say colorful, I mean colorful.
Now, when this scandal first erupted in the press back in 2009, it seemed everyone had an issue with the Obama administration’s handling of the interviews (except the Obama administration). Even the ultra-liberal New York Times: “Fox’s television news competitors refused to go along with a Treasury Department effort on Thursday [October 22, 2009] to exclude Fox from a round of interviews with the executive-pay czar Kenneth R. Feinberg that was to be conducted with a ‘pool’ camera crew,” the Times reported.
Fox News Channel’s James Rosen reported at the time that this backlash forced the Obama administration to reconsider its position on the matter: “The Washington bureau chiefs of the five TV news networks…consulted and decided that none of them would interview Feinberg unless Fox was included, and the administration relented,” reported Rosen. Ultimately, after other media representatives objected, Fox News Channel was allowed to participate in the interviews.
The Treasury Department’s official response, as detailed in back-and-forth emails uncovered by Judicial Watch, included a clear denial of any such plot to exclude Fox News from the interviews: “There was no plan to exclude Fox News, and they had the same interview that their competitors did. Much ado about absolutely nothing.”
Moreover, in an email to Jim Rutenberg on October 23, 2009, Jake Siewart, Counselor to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, repeated the denial that there was an effort to exclude Fox News Channel: “Call me today on your Fox Treasury report,” Siewart wrote. “Not true that there was an ‘effort to exclude’ Fox.”
Then how does the White House explain this October 22, 2009, email exchange between Dag Vega, Director of Broadcast Media on the White House staff and Jenni LeCompte, then-Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs in the Treasury Department? When LeCompte asks Vega whether or not Fox should be included in the list of invited cable networks, Vega informs LeCompte “…we’d prefer if you skip Fox please.”
“We’d prefer if you skip Fox News,” seems like a very specific exclusion to me.
Regarding general anti-Fox News bias within the Obama White House in an October 23, 2009, email exchange between Deputy White House Communications Director Jennifer Psaki and LeCompte, Psaki writes, “I am putting some dead fish in the fox cubby – just cause”. In an email on the night of October 22, 2009, commenting on a report by Fox News Channel anchor Bret Baier that noted the exclusion of the network from the pool, Psaki wrote to LeCompte and fellow White House colleagues, “…brett baier just did a stupid piece on it -- but he is a lunatic”.
Deputy White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest bluntly described the White House’s position on Fox News Channel in an October 23, 2009, email to LeCompte: “We’ve demonstrated our willingness and ability to exclude Fox News from significant interviews…”
(It is interesting to note that the Treasury Department blacked out a key email regarding its refusal to make available Treasury Secretary Geithner for an interview on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. More evidence of an anti-Fox bias?)
So the bottom line here is that the Obama administration seems to have lied about its attempt to exclude Fox News Channel from access to an interview with the “pay czar.” And these documents show there is a pervasive anti-Fox bias in the Obama White House. Certainly the juvenile Mafioso-like talk in these emails has no place in any White House.
Even more importantly, the Obama administration’s attempt to purposely exclude a major news organization from access to information has troubling First Amendment implications – a point everyone seems to get except the Obama White House.
These emails made big news this week (you can see my Fox News Channel interview about it here and Bill O’Reilly’s coverage here). Even the White House was asked about Judicial Watch’s work at its daily press briefing yesterday. I’ll quote the exchange for you in full:
Q: Jay, I need to switch gears for a second. Judicial Watch, the watchdog group, has obtained some emails from the administration about an October 2009 incident about whether or not FOX News would get an interview with Ken Feinberg, then the executive pay czar. And publicly, the administration was saying that FOX was not excluded. The emails seemed to suggest that FOX was perhaps punished and was excluded. Has the administration concluded there was any inappropriate activity there?
MR. (JAY) CARNEY: Well, Mike, first of all, let me address a serious matter here, that I can say, having looked into this matter, that no one at the White House, either a current or former employee, ever placed a dead fish in the FOX News cubbyhole, which I know is a suggestion. (Laughter.) I can also say that it is well known that at the time there was a dispute between FOX News and its coverage and the White House and its feelings about the coverage. I mean, that was then, and we obviously deal with FOX News regularly. I call on you regularly. We give interviews to FOX News, including to Bill O’Reilly. But beyond that, I don’t really know much about it.
Q: As a matter of policy, if there’s a pool event, should it be open to all networks?
MR. CARNEY: As a matter of policy? I’ll have to look at -- I didn’t read that part of the policy manual. Isn’t a pooled event when one network pools for the rest? I feel like I’m getting caught in a trick question. And since I wasn’t here for that part of it, I’ll have to examine that, Mike.
Q: Well, if you were going to arrange for a pooled interview with a senior administration official, would you assume that all the standard networks would be included?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I’d have to look at what the policy standards are. But my point, Mike, is that we regularly engage with every network and every news organization here, including FOX, and give interviews to FOX, and respect the reporters at FOX who are reporters and do their job.
It is interesting to see the Obama White House run away from its inappropriate behavior! For its part, Fox News was in no mood to start a fight again. A top Fox official was quoted as saying, “On and off-the-air relations with this administration have come a long way since then, and if that unfortunate incident helped get things on a better track, then it served its purpose.”
I don’t believe that all is sweetness and light between the Obama gang and Fox. And the fact remains, we caught the Obama White House in a big lie and gained a glimpse of this administration’s Third World, banana republic approach to the media. I’ll leave you with a reaction quote from David Zurawik, The Baltimore Sun media critic, who is no fan of Fox News:
Not since Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew, have I see a White House with such contempt for the press -- and disregard for the historic role a free press plays in this society.
Until next week…