John King, USA

The latest political news and information on the most important stories affecting you.
February 17th, 2011
09:42 PM ET

Bachmann won't say president is citizen

CNN's John King talks with panel members about the "birther" debate surrounding President Obama.

Filed under: JKUSA
February 17th, 2011
09:35 PM ET

Mother's milk stirs unlikely political debate

Washington (CNN) - First lady Michelle Obama found herself at the center of an unlikely breast-feeding debate this week when three prominent conservative women criticized her for encouraging the creation of a "nanny state."

Conservative radio talk show host Laura Ingraham on Tuesday asked Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minnesota, about an announcement by the Internal Revenue Service that the purchase of breast-feeding equipment would be considered a medical expense. Ingraham suggested that the first lady's advocacy of breast-feeding as a way to fight childhood obesity might have been "coordinated" with the IRS decision.

Bachmann, a frequent critic of the Obama administration's policies, was quick to point out that the decision falls in line with the "hard left" agenda.

"I think this is very consistent with where the hard left is coming from," Bachmann said. "For them, government is the answer to every problem. So government got us in this problem, and so they think government is going to get us out of the problem.

"I've given birth to five babies and I breast-fed every single one of these babies, and to think that the government has to go out and buy my breast pump for my babies. I mean, you want to talk about the nanny state? I think you just got a new definition of the nanny."

At an event in New York on Thursday, Sarah Palin joined the conversation - although somewhat lightheartedly.

"No wonder Michelle Obama is telling people to breast-feed their babies, because the price of milk is rising so high," Palin joked, later warning reporters, "That better not be the takeaway here."

The controversy stems from an IRS announcement earlier this month that breast pumps and other breast-feeding supplies would qualify for reimbursement as a medical expense under federal tax law.

Previously, new mothers who set aside pre-tax money in health savings accounts, or who itemized their medical expenses at tax time, were prohibited from filing claims for money spent on breast-feeding equipment.

As for the question of whether politics played any role in the IRS decision, spokespeople for the IRS and the Treasury Department said the decision was a legal one made by the IRS general counsel's office.

Two days before the IRS announcement, Obama held a lunch with print reporters to celebrate the first anniversary of her "Let's Move" campaign to fight childhood obesity. When asked what plans she had for the campaign's second year, the first lady said, "Breast-feeding. Kids who are breast-fed longer have a lower tendency to be obese."

Five months earlier, she used nearly identical language in a speech to the Congressional Black Caucus' annual legislative conference.

"Because it's important to prevent obesity early, we're also working to promote breast-feeding, especially in the black community, where 40% of our babies never get breast-fed at all, even in the first weeks of life," she said in September. "And we know that babies that are breast-fed are less likely to be obese as children."

While the extent to which breast-feeding affects obesity is still unknown, some connection between the two is largely accepted.

In 2009, the American Academy of Pediatrics lobbied the IRS directly on the matter because of what it says are the "diverse and compelling advantages for infants, mothers, families and society from breast-feeding and use of human milk for infant feeding."

More specifically, the academy's 2005 policy statement on breast-feeding found that "some studies suggest decreased rates of ... overweight and obesity... in older children and adults who were breast-fed, compared with individuals who were not breast-fed."

A 2007 report on breast-feeding from Tufts-New England Medical Center found that "there is an association between a history of breast-feeding and a reduction in the risk of being overweight or obese in adolescence and adult life," along with a variety of other health benefits.

When asked if her problem with the IRS decision stemmed from a belief that breast-feeding shouldn't be in the same category as other medical expenses, Bachmann's office issued a statement that refocused her criticism on the federal tax code.

"The issue Americans have with the tax code isn't with one specific tax deduction," the statement said. "Instead of social-engineering through select tax breaks, the government should scrap the current tax code and put all Americans on the same playing field."

The IRS has a fairly broad interpretation of the term "medical expenses" in the federal tax code, including wigs, acupuncture, artificial teeth, eyeglasses, contact lenses, certain home improvements, lead-based paint removal and television equipment for the hearing-impaired as deductible expenses.

The cost of the IRS announcement is hard to estimate. Although the IRS provides broad instructions, individual insurance companies set their own guidelines for what is covered under health savings accounts. Additionally, only one-third of taxpayers itemize their deductions, and medical expenses need to exceed 7.5% of income in order to qualify for deduction.

Congress' Joint Committee on Taxation called the announcement a "regulatory decision" and has not prepared any public information on the issue. A 2010 cost analysis of low breast-feeding levels published in the American Academy of Pediatrics' medical journal Pediatrics found that if 90% of U.S. families followed medical recommendations to breast-feed for six months, "The United States would save $13 billion per year and prevent an excess (of) 911 deaths, nearly all of which would be in infants."

Posted by
Filed under: Interview • JKUSA
February 17th, 2011
02:48 PM ET

Your Congress at work: Lawmaker calls TSA a 'failure... totally out of control'

Washington (CNN) – Here's something to think about the next time you're waiting in the airport security line: According the Republican Congressman John Mica of Florida, the people who are supposed to keep air travelers safe – aren't.

Mica ought to know: He's now the Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. On the House floor this morning he begged members of Congress to get classified briefings on the Transportation Security Administration, the TSA.

"The failure of TSA puts this nation at risk," said Mica. He cited GAO reports on what he called the "total failure" of its behavior-recognition program, which was supposed to help security personnel spot suspicious behaviors among travelers.

"Get the classified briefing on the failure of the advanced technology," Mica continued. "They went out and bought a half a billion dollars worth of equipment, spent another half a billion to install it and the failure is dramatic. You can read that as members of Congress."

As for the TSA's controversial pat-downs of travelers, Mica says that program's a failure, too. "Everybody's getting pat downs. You think that's helpful? I implore members to get a classified briefing and see, again, the results of that failure."

Since you probably don't have the security clearances necessary to read the classified reports Mica talked about, let's consider the TSA bureaucracy.

Mica says it has "mushroomed" since it was founded after 9/11: "TSA has more employees than the Department of State, the Department of Education, and Labor, and Housing and Urban Development combined!"

He continued, "If you think the bureaucracy in Washington is bad, there are 9,233 non-screener employees at the airports across the country. There are only 400 airports in the program. That's 20 bureaucrats per airport, on average."

Mica's bottom line: "This agency is totally out of control." He intended to ask the House to approve cuts to TSA's budget but withdrew his request this morning, admitting his cuts "were not as surgical as they probably need to be."

But he promised to work with other members of Congress to "improve" TSA's mission.

Posted by
Filed under: JKUSA
February 17th, 2011
02:41 PM ET

Your Congress at work: Lawmakers on contraception for wild horses

Washington (CNN) – The issue of dragging wild horses away was the topic of a House floor debate Wednesday. Wild horses and burros, actually.

Indiana Republican Rep. Dan Burton says the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) needs to saddle-up and find a better way to manage the horses and burros that graze public lands. The holding pens they're put in are expensive and Burton wants to cut $2 million from the "Management of Lands and Resources" account of BLM.

"What I want to do is I want to send a message," said Burton, R-Indiana. "It costs about 25-hundred dollars per horse to keep them in these pens," Burton said. "There are other ways to handle this problem."

Everyone on Capitol Hill seems to agree that there are too many of them, wild horses that is (and burros). How to stop the horses (and burros) from over-breeding is the question, and the reason they wind up in holding pens.

Rep. James Moran, D-Virginia, who also supports Burton's proposal, complained, "The BLM continues to use helicopters to round-up and remove wild horses from the range and place them in long-term holding facilities. There are about 40,600 horses in these pens, currently."

Moran called for using contraception instead of pens, BLM's current approach. He said the pens are "enormously wasteful and misguided."

"Instead of capturing wild horses and holding them in pens for life, BLM already should have fully implemented a less-costly, preventative and more humane option: That of controlling herd size through contraception," Moran said.

Moran, citing a study by the U.S. Geological Survey, said the BLM could save up to eight million dollars a year with "the implementation of herd reduction through birth control."

Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, spoke in support of the cut and noted, "The wild horse population is not native to North America and can double every four years. If horses are not removed from the range it can cause degradation and reduce foliage for wildlife and livestock."

But Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyoming, rose in opposition, saying she's ridden BLM wild horses and is not carried away by the arguments for the budget cut.

"It is this Congress that has caused the problems by saying we cannot slaughter horses. Yet, we're not supposed to keep them in pens. We're supposed to let them overgraze the West," Lummis said. "When the gentlepeople east of the Mississippi will take these excess horses into their back yards, I will support this amendment."

Burton's cut passed the House on a voice vote.

Posted by
Filed under: JKUSA
February 17th, 2011
01:13 PM ET

Be in the know: Today's political bullet points

Every day we ask influential politicos to send us their top three bullet points that are driving the day's conversation inside and outside Washington.

Good Thursday to all. Bahrain is front and center today as political unrest ripples across the Middle East and, though tiny, this one poses a gargantuan challenge for the Obama administration. The anti-government forces are driven not only by the powerful political and economic alienation we saw in Egypt, but the tensions are exacerbated by decades of tension between the kingdom’s Sunni rulers and majority Shiite population. Add in a US Naval Station critical to US national security interests (read: Iran and oil), and this small nation becomes a giant challenge. The administration is privately and publicly critical of a bloody government crackdown overnight, and the next 24-48 hours here should be telling. Here at home, the spending debate remains at center stage. A bipartisan group in the Senate is having those adult conversations many of us say are in too short supply here in Washington: working on a plan to force spending restraint by creating triggers for cuts and tax increases in lawmakers cant make the tough choices themselves. For now, the House GOP showdown with the Democratic White House will generate most of the sparks, but keep an eye out to see if the Senate can emerge as the circuit breaker. Erick and Mario bring their usual pointed wit to their observations today, with the budget/spending/priorities debates in Washington and in state capitals across America dominating their focus. Enjoy the day. – John King

RedState.Com Editor Erick-Woods Erickson:

– Two years in, the media has seemingly forgotten Obama's promise that unemployment would not get above 8% and is instead fixated on a new report that the "new normal" for unemployment may be 6%.

– Coming soon to a Republican talking point memo near you: the Balanced Budget Amendment with a spending limitations component.

– Top story on Drudge is that the U.S. agrees to rebuke Israel in the Security Council. That's not going to help Obama with Jewish voters. In fact, it will reinforce a prevailing sentiment among Jewish voters who voted Republican in 2010 that the Obama Administration generally and Obama himself specifically are anti-Israel.

Talk Show Host and Online Editor of Mario Solis-Marich:

– Walking the Walk: Speaker Boehner losses the battle to bring hundreds of jobs to his constituents though Pentagon pork, so be it!

– Taking a Walk: Democratic Colorado Governor Hickenlooper takes the easy route and sets aside an additional 2% for a hypothetical future state “emergency” by ignoring the state’s current education catastrophe.

– Walk Like an Egyptian: Wisconsin explodes in the streets as the rhetoric of conservatism hits the reality of need.

Filed under: Bullet Points