Oversight OversightOversight
Dispatches from Capitol Hill and the executive branch

Play of the Day -- The Hilarity of Insulting 47% of Americans

The secret tape of Mitt Romney at a $50,000 plate fundraiser discussing the 47 percent of Americans who according to him live off of government assistance and pay no income tax dominated the political jokes of the late-night hosts.

Today's Must See Moment -- Fast forward to 1:47 to an excerpt of the secret Mitt Romney tape that was given exclusively to David Letterman.

Wanted: ‘Adult’ leaders to fend off sequestration

The inability of lawmakers to head off the looming threat of automatic budget cuts is a crisis that already is harming agencies and cries out for “adult” leaders to put patriotism over party, a prestigious panel of ex-government officials said Monday.

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates and former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman retired Adm. Mike Mullen joined with former budget office directors and senators who served on the major fiscal commissions to blast a political culture in Congress that has allowed the “suicide pact” sequestration to continue on the horizon through election season.

Only some expressed optimism that a solution soon will be found, among them former Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., who said serious behind-the-scenes talk for a large budget deal are in progress.

“The longer we delay dealing with our fiscal problems, the more painful and risky it will be to national security,” the retired Gates told the second panel in a series on the fiscal crisis sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Concord Coalition, the Bipartisan Policy Center, and other groups. “It requires the political class to show leadership and make decisions that are unpopular in the short run but will strengthen...

Who are the 47 percent?

Mitt Romney’s bashing of the 47 percent of people who pay no federal income taxes may have sounded like a shocking admission to liberals, but it’s a talking point that conservatives--and not just Romney--have grown fond of in the last year as a way to talk about the size of the federal government.

Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah loves to trot out the statistic. He’s not alone in that on Capitol Hill. During the Republican presidential primary, so did Rep. Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain. Longtime Republican operative Peter Wehner, now a top adviser to the Romney campaign, explained it as “resentment toward the tax system” rather than resentment toward the poor.

“It’s more directed at the tax code than the people receiving the benefits. It’s an inequality, in their minds, a response to Occupy Wall Street,” Wehner told National Journal last winter before joining the Romney team.

But who are the 47 percent? Are they moochers or freeloaders taking advantage of some bloated government?

Well, no, not at all. Most of the people who pay no federal income tax do pay taxes in some form: payroll taxes, as well as Medicare and Social...

Analysis: It’s too early to write off Romney

Take a breath, Washington. It’s too early to write off Mitt Romney.

First, let’s deal with the obvious. There is no question that the GOP nominee is a flawed candidate, starting with his original sin: a history of flip-flops that belies a lack of ideological conviction.

Then there is the matter of the Romney campaign allowing President Obama’s team to define Romney this summer as a heartless, out-of-touch CEO who likes to fire people. And only a fool would ignore the past three weeks of political malpractice: missed opportunities at the GOP convention; a ham-handed response to violence in the Middle East; campaign infighting; and, the latest, Romney captured on hidden camera dismissing 47 percent of the country as people hooked on the government dole.

Worse yet, polls show a growing number of voters believe that the country is on the right track, a sign that the Democratic convention–specifically, former President Clinton–touched a chord.

It’s easy to dump on Romney. But, remember, some of the same people counting him out today dumped on Obama a few weeks back. Pundits have short memories. Here are five ways the campaign narrative could turn against Obama.

  1. Bad...

Play of the Day -- Fox News Gets Punked and Obama Releases Beer Ad

With the presidential election heading into the final leg, the late night shows took to guessing each campaign's new strategies. Mitt Romney's giving away money, Barack Obama's appealing to the beer lover in all of us.

Skip ahead to 3:13 to see the college student that tricked Fox News into thinking he was a disappointed 2008 Obama supporter who was switching to Romney for this election.

Postal Service reform will be a lighter measure, lawmakers say

A compromise on U.S. Postal Service reform legislation -- not expected until after the November election -- likely won’t be as large of an overhaul on the cash-strapped agency as lawmakers had initially hoped, according to The Hill .

“We’ve been all along working on ideas that would be hybrids,” House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif. told the newspaper. “We believe that at least some reform will get passed.”

Issa, chief architect of the House’s version of the postal reform bill, urged the White House last week to include some postal reform measures in the six-month continuing resolution to keep the government open after Sept. 30. Issa asked that interim reform legislation defer USPS’ $5.5 billion obligation to prefund retiree health benefits, allow the agency to move to five-day delivery and ban it from entering into no-layoff agreements with employees.

In a letter to President Obama, Issa acknowledged that although those measures alone would not restore USPS to solvency, they “address the reality of a federal agency’s default, and they help move the overall goal of comprehensive postal reform forward.”

But Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., a leader on the Senate’s postal reform...

Senator: Congress can deal with 'fiscal cliff'

Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said on Sunday that while he is confident Congress can reach a deal to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff,” it will likely take several months to hammer out the details.

“If President Obama is re-elected, I believe we can avoid the fiscal cliff,” Durbin said during an appearance on Bloomberg’s new Capitol Gains Sunday show.

However, Durbin said he believed “only the broadest outlines” of a deal can be achieved when Congress returns for a lame-duck session following the November election.

Durbin’s optimism that a deal can be achieved is in contrast to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who said this past week that he was not confident lawmakers will reach a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff, when deep cuts to defense and domestic programs go into effect and the Bush-era tax cuts expire Jan. 1.

Durbin noted that there has been more bipartisanship in the Senate and that Boehner faces a tougher situation in the House. At the same time, he said, it could take up to six months for lawmakers to figure out the details on what changes would be required to the tax code and entitlement programs.


GSA and Postal Service can improve property management, auditors say

Underused buildings and insufficient interagency coordination are causing the government’s two largest civilian property owners to miss opportunities for cost-saving collocation arrangements, auditors said in a a new report.

The General Services Administration and the U.S. Postal Service, which manage more than 400,000 properties, rely too much on leasing and could take greater advantage of space-sharing possibilities with other agencies, according to a Government Accountability Office study conducted from July 2011 to July 2012.

The survey was requested by Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee on federal financial management, who has been working on legislation to reform the federal civilian property management process, as have members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

“The federal government owns facilities that are underutilized in locations where it also leases space,” the auditors said. “In some cases, space within these government-owned properties could be occupied by other government agencies.”

The report said the U.S. Postal Service’s under-exploited floor and retail window space could be used by other federal agencies to generate space-use efficiencies for USPS and to expand citizen access to government services. “Collocation could also help achieve agency synergies, such...

‘No More Solyndras Act’ clears House

The Republican-controlled House passed a bill to tighten oversight of a major Energy Department loan guarantee program in the wake of the politically controversial 2011 bankruptcy of the California-based solar energy panel maker Solyndra that cost taxpayers more than $500 million.

The bill introduced by Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., would reorganize the program to restrict eligibility for future guarantees to projects that submitted applications before Dec. 31, 2011. It would require the Treasury secretary to review those guarantees and oblige Energy to consult with the Treasury Department on any changes in the terms and conditions of a loan guarantee. The bill also would impose administrative sanctions and civil penalties of $10,000 to $50,000 on federal officials who violate the requirements of the program.

On Friday, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said the program was “rife with mismanagement” and that people involved violated law. “Department officials illegally altered the terms of Solyndra’s loan agreement to advantage individuals who were invested in the company and political supporters of the president,” he said. “Passing the No More Solyndras Act holds the administration and DOE officials accountable and provides greater transparency to...

Former Solicitor General Ted Olson plays Biden in Ryan debate prep

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Attorney Ted Olson, who was solicitor general for President George W. Bush, is playing the part of Vice President Joe Biden in Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan's debate preparation, the Romney campaign announced Saturday.

Olson has extensive experience both in and out of government. He served as the assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel for President Reagan, and acted as private counsel for both Reagan and George W. Bush. He has argued 58 cases before the Supreme Court, three quarters of which have been decided in his favor. His third wife, Barbara, was killed in the 9/11 attacks; she was a passenger on the plane that flew into the Pentagon.

Time Magazine named Olson one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2010. His high profile cases have included the Bush v. Gore recount in 2000 and the 2009 lawsuit against Proposition 8, California’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Olson represented Bush in 2000, then partnered with his opposing counsel in that case, David Boies, to challenge the marriage ban.

While his unexpected involvement in the California case alienated some conservatives, others still speak highly of him. Former...