# Ken Salazar



Year in review: national politics in 2009 (part 1)

It took me a week longer than I anticipated, but I finally finished compiling links to Bleeding Heartland's coverage from last year. This post and part 2, coming later today, include stories on national politics, mostly relating to Congress and Barack Obama's administration. Diaries reviewing Iowa politics in 2009 will come soon.

One thing struck me while compiling this post: on all of the House bills I covered here during 2009, Democrats Leonard Boswell, Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack voted the same way. That was a big change from 2007 and 2008, when Blue Dog Boswell voted with Republicans and against the majority of the Democratic caucus on many key bills.

No federal policy issue inspired more posts last year than health care reform. Rereading my earlier, guardedly hopeful pieces was depressing in light of the mess the health care reform bill has become. I was never optimistic about getting a strong public health insurance option through Congress, but I thought we had a chance to pass a very good bill. If I had anticipated the magnitude of the Democratic sellout on so many aspects of reform in addition to the public option, I wouldn't have spent so many hours writing about this issue. I can't say I wasn't warned (and warned), though.

Links to stories from January through June 2009 are after the jump. Any thoughts about last year's political events are welcome in this thread.

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Locke and Salazar undo damage to Endangered Species Act

It’s so refreshing to have a president whose administration sometimes produces good news below the radar. Earlier this week,

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke announced that the two departments are revoking an eleventh-hour Bush administration rule that undermined Endangered Species Act protections. Their decision requires federal agencies to once again consult with federal wildlife experts at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration before taking any action that may affect threatened or endangered species.

The Sierra Club’s Lay of the Land blog provides some background:

On its way out the door, the Bush administration bulldozed through rulemaking protocol and effectively eliminated Section 7 from the Act.  This is the section that mandates independent scientific review for any project proposed by a government agency.  By eliminating this section, the authority to determine how a project would effect an endangered species would be not in the hands of the expert biologists at US Fish and Wildlife or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, but rather in the hands of those who are proposing the project.  So essentially the Department of Transportation would be able to determine if the highway that they really want to build would negatively impact any endangered species.

The Democratic-controlled Congress deserves some of the credit for restoring the Endangered Species Act, because the 2009 omnibus appropriations bill approved in February empowered Locke and Salazar to revoke the Bush administration’s rule change. In a Republican Congress, that kind of provision never would have made it into the omnibus bill.

Add this to your “elections have consequences” file.

The Sierra Club is calling for comments to Salazar thanking him for restoring the Endangered Species Act and urging him to withdraw another last-minute Bush administration rule:

As you know, another harmful and controversial rule was finalized in January which sought to limit protections given to Polar Bears under the Endangered Species Act.  This rule, designed to ensure that oil and gas drilling offshore could proceed in the polar bear’s fragile Arctic environment, limits the extent to which science and the full range of cumulative impacts to the polar bear and its habitat can even be considered.  

I hope that you will continue to value the role of science by also taking advantage of the opportunity to withdraw the controversial polar bear rule.

Click here to send an e-mail message to Salazar, which you can personalize if you like.

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Open thread on Obama's 2010 budget and cabinet

President Barack Obama will present his first budget request to Congress today.

Early leaks indicate that he will propose some tax increases on the wealthiest Americans as well as some spending cuts to help pay for health care reform.

Ezra Klein, an excellent blogger on health care, is excited about what’s in the budget regarding health care reform. Although there is no detailed plan, Obama is submitting eight principles that should define health care reform efforts. Klein believes the principle of “universality” is likely to lead Congress to propose an individual mandate to hold health insurance.

I support mandated coverate only if there is a public plan that any American, regardless of age and income, can purchase as an alternative to private health insurance. The public plan would work like Medicare, in that individuals would be able to choose their own providers. Unfortunately, the Massachusetts model of mandatory private insurance without a meaningful public option has left a lot of problems unsolved.

It is not clear how much Obama will do to roll back George W. Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. I am with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others who would prefer to start rolling back tax cuts for the top 1 percent immediately. Last month the president seemed to be leaning toward letting those tax cuts expire over the next two years rather than fighting to repeal them this year.

According to Bloomberg,

President Barack Obama’s first budget request would provide as much as $750 billion in new aid to the financial industry […]

No wonder Obama went out of his way to make the case for helping banks during his address to Congress on Tuesday night. I firmly oppose shelling out another $750 billion toward this end, especially since the bailout money we’ve already spent hasn’t accomplished the stated goals of the program.

According to AFP, today’s budget proposal will include a plan

to raise money through a mandatory cap on greenhouse emissions.

Obama’s budget director Peter Orszag earlier estimated that a cap-and-trade scheme could generate 112 billion dollars by 2012, and up to 300 billion dollars a year by 2020.

Cap-and-trade may be more politically palatable, but a carbon tax may be a better approach for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

In cabinet-related news, have calculated that expanding the food-stamp program

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar wasn’t the top choice of environmentalists, but I was pleased to read this post:

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar canceled oil shale development leases on Federal lands in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming and announced that the Interior Department would first study the water, power and land-use issues surrounding the development oil shale.

Meanwhile, Homeland Security Secretary wants to review US Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids and told Congress that employers should be the focus of raids seeking to enforce immigration laws at workplaces. Obviously, swooping in and arresting a bunch of undocumented workers does nothing to address the root of the problem if employers are not forced to change their hiring practice.

Yesterday Obama named former Washington Governor Gary Locke as his latest choice to run the Commerce Department. Locke seems like a business-friendly Democrat, which is a big improvement over conservative Republican Judd Gregg, who thankfully withdrew his nomination for this post.

Republicans have been freaking out because of alleged plans by the Obama administration to “take control of the census.” Of course the GOP wants to continue the practices that have caused millions of white Americans to be double-counted in past censuses while millions more Americans in urban centers (largely non-whites) were not counted at all. Click here for more on the political battle over the census.

This thread is for any thoughts or comments about Obama’s cabinet or budget.

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A Republican for Transportation Secretary and more reaction to Obama's cabinet picks

President-elect Barack Obama has apparently decided to appoint retiring Republican Congressman Ray LaHood of Illinois as Secretary of Transportation. LaHood was elected to the U.S. House in the 1994 landslide. He decided not to run for re-election this year because “It’s not any fun being in the minority.” (Are you listening, Tom Latham?)

An Illinois blogger writes that LaHood doesn’t have much of a record on transportation issues, although he has voted for more public transit funding and more passenger rail service on Amtrak.

At Grist, Ryan Avent sees three possibilities:

  1. Obama doesn’t intend the DOT secretary to do the heavy lifting on his transportation policies,

  2. Obama doesn’t really care about transportation, and

  3. It isn’t true.

But I agree with the reader who suggested a fourth possibility:

4) Obama knows this guy personally, finds him to be a trustworthy sort.  

I am going to hope for number 4 and that Obama will have LaHood implement the transportation priorities Obama and Biden believe in. Expanding passenger rail is one of the biggies.

Incidentally, LaHood was one of the leaders of the impeachment proceedings against Bill Clinton. Let’s hope he won’t try to undermine Obama’s presidency as well.

Regarding Obama’s choice of Senator Ken Salazar for Secretary of Interior, some environmental groups are concerned. He’s far from the environmental champion they were hoping for in Congressman Raul Grijalva. Kate Sheppard has more on the environmental community’s mixed feelings on Salazar at Grist.

However, the Sierra Club praised Salazar, as well as Tom Vilsack, in this press release.

In this Daily Kos diary, Kula 2316 provides more reaction to Obama’s choice of Vilsack for Secretary of Agriculture.

Share any relevant thoughts in the comments.

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New thread on Obama cabinet appointments and speculation (updated)

UPDATE: Barack Obama announced the key appointments in his energy and environmental team today. Meteor Blades has a good piece up on the “Green Team” of Energy Secretary Steven Chu, “energy czar” Carol Browner, Environmental Protection Agency chief Lisa Jackson and head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Nancy Sutley.

On Saturday Obama devoted his weekly address to the housing crisis (click the link to watch the video) and announced that New York City Commissioner of Housing Preservation and Development Shaun Donovan will serve as Housing and Urban Development Secretary in his cabinet. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York commented,

Shaun Donovan has been one of the most effective housing commissioners in New York City’s history. At this time, with the housing crisis raging, he is exactly the kind of person we need as HUD secretary.

Sam Dillon of the New York Times discussed some possibilities for Secretary of Education and noted,

As President-elect Barack Obama prepares to announce his choice for education secretary, there is mystery not only about the person he will choose, but also about the approach to overhauling the nation’s schools that his selection will reflect.

Despite an 18-month campaign for president and many debates, there remains uncertainty about what Mr. Obama believes is the best way to improve education.

Will he side with those who want to abolish teacher tenure and otherwise curb the power of teachers’ unions? Or with those who want to rewrite the main federal law on elementary and secondary education, the No Child Left Behind Act, and who say the best strategy is to help teachers become more qualified?

UPDATE: Obama reportedly plans to nominate Arne Duncan, the head of Chicago’s public school system, as Secretary of Education. Duncan is also a longtime friend of Obama’s.

Meanwhile, nearly 45,000 people have signed this online petition at Food Democracy Now. Excerpt:

As our nation’s future president, we hope that you will take our concerns under advisement when nominating our next Secretary of Agriculture because of the crucial role this Secretary will play in revitalizing our rural economies, protecting our nation’s food supply and our environment, improving human health and well-being, rescuing the independent family farmer, and creating a sustainable renewable energy future.

We believe that our nation is at a critical juncture in regard to agriculture and its impact on the environment and that our next Secretary of Agriculture must have a broad vision for our collective future that is greater than what past appointments have called for.

Presently, farmers face serious challenges in terms of the high costs of energy, inputs and land, as well as continually having to fight an economic system and legislative policies that undermine their ability to compete in the open market. The current system unnaturally favors economies of scale, consolidation and market concentration and the allocation of massive subsidies for commodities, all of which benefit the interests of corporate agribusiness over the livelihoods of farm families.

Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, has set a goal of 100,000 signatures for this petition.

Steph Larsen discussed some names on the short list for Secretary of Agriculture here. Sustainable agriculture advocates would love to see the job offered to Chuck Hassebrook, executive director of the Center for Rural Affairs. Hassebrook wrote this guest opinion for the Des Moines Register a few weeks ago, saying

Nothing better illustrates the broken politics of Washington than farm and rural policy. The federal government spends billions subsidizing mega farms to drive smaller farms off the land and often penalizes the best environmental stewards with lower payments. It largely fails to invest in the future of America’s rural communities.

For example, in 2005 the Department of Agriculture spent nearly twice as much to subsidize the 260 biggest farms across 13 leading farm states than on rural development initiatives to create economic opportunity for the 3 million people living in those states’ 260 most struggling rural counties. That does not help family farms or small-town Americans. It does not serve the common good.

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof is among those who want to see Obama nominate a “secretary of food” with a broad vision for agriculture. He named Hassebrook as a good candidate for the job.

The Center for Rural Affairs has launched its own online petition asking Obama’s future Secretary of Agriculture, whoever that may be, to promote a new vision for rural America. It’s a long petition, advocating priorities such as:

policies to support grassroots entrepreneurship in rural America, such as the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program, the Value Added Producer Grant Program, and the Farmers Market Promotion Program;

a plan to get affordable high-speed internet service to every rural business and home;

policies to support local ownership of wind turbines by farmers and ranchers, communities, and the rural workers who maintain wind turbines;

a plan to find the right approach to biofuels;

federal policies that work for family-size farms, including caps on payments;

better land and water stewardship using the Conservation Stewardship Program and other programs.

According to the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, Obama’s two finalists for Secretary of Transportation are former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk and Steve Heminger, executive director of the San Francisco Bay area’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission. Kirk was an early Obama supporter and the first African-American mayor of Dallas. Heminger has the strong backing of California’s large Democratic Congressional delegation. I don’t know enough about either man’s views on transportation to have an opinion about who would be better for this job.

New names continue to emerge in the speculation surrounding Obama’s Secretary of the Interior. Among the names previously floated, environmentalists have advocated for Raul Grijalva and against Mike Thompson. Now the Denver Post says Senator Ken Salazar of Colorado is a finalist for the job. Traditionally, someone from the west is named to head the Interior Department. Salazar is up for re-election in 2010, and Swing State Project already has a thread up to discuss possible Democratic candidates to replace him if he leaves the Senate for a cabinet position.

UPDATE: CBS news in Denver says Salazar has accepted Obama’s offer to become Secretary of the Interior. Not a great choice, and it leaves Democrats an open Senate seat to defend in Colorado in 2010.

Post any relevant thoughts or opinions in the comments.

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