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Coalition hosts vigil for EFCA at Sen. Lincoln’s office

The “Turn Around Arkansas” coalition is rallying at Sen. Blanche Lincoln’s Little Rock office in an attempt to push her toward approving the Employee Free Choice Act, labor’s highest legislative priority.

The coalition, with members such as ACORN, Sierra Club, and the AFL-CIO, is hosting a 24-hour vigil, delivering hundreds of hand-written letters asking for support of the bill, and then rallying at the Arkansas Statehouse on Thursday.

Lincoln came out against the bill “in its current form” at a meeting of the Political Animals Club in early April, and has said her door is open to a possible compromise, yet one has not been offered by either labor or business.


Lincoln Day announcement?

Former U.S. Attorney Tim Griffin is slated to speak to the Saline County Republican committee at an annual gathering of the local GOP members.

Griffin is one of several names floating around as a possible opponent to two-term incumbent Sen. Blanche Lincoln in her 2010 re-election campaign. He announced his consideration of the running against Lincoln in December, but has yet to announce his candidacy.

Last week in an interview with the Arkansas News Bureau, Griffin said that whomever the candidate may be, he believes they must announce before June 1.

The Saline County GOP will host their annual Lincoln Day Dinner Friday, April 24th at the Bauxite Community Center at 7:00 p.m., with a reception in Bryant at Luigi’s Pizza at 5:30. Reps. Ann Clemmer, R-Benton, and Dan Greenberg, R-Little Rock, will host the dinner and reception respectively.


Beyond the V-chip

U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor is prodding the Federal Communications Commission to do more to help parents block scenes and language inappropriate for children from TVs and computers.

The Pryor-sponsored Child Safe Viewing Act is headed to President Bush’s desk after the Senate gave final congressional approval to the measure.

It requires the FCC to continuously review and implement blocking technology as it is developed, something Pryor says the agency has failed to do since Congress in 1996 required television manufacturers to embed the V-Chip in televisions to allow parents to filter some content according to a rating system.

The senator says parents today want more help in blocking an increasing amount of sexual scenes and violence shown on more than 500 TV channels and video streaming over the Internet.

“Today’s technology to protect children from indecency goes above and beyond the capabilities of the V-Chip,” according to Pryor. “It’s time for the FCC to take a fresh look at how the market can empower parents with more tools to choose appropriate programming for their children. This bill is a pragmatic, sensible approach where parents, kids and technology can all benefit.”


Alltel, Windstream donated to Stevens

Two Arkansas-based companies donated money this election cycle to Sen. Ted Stevens, the Alaska Republican convicted of seven felonies Monday for failing to disclose more than $250,000 in gifts he received from an Alaska oil company.

Alltel Corp.’s political action committee has given Stevens $5,000 in the past two years, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

Windstream Communications’ PAC donated $2,000 to Stevens in April, campaign finance reports show.

A spokesman for Alltel had no comment Monday about that company’s donations to Stevens. Alltel’s latest gift was $1,000 in March. The company’s PAC gave $4,000 last year.

Stevens, 84, is the ranking Republican member of the Senate Commerce Committee. The panel has jurisdiction over telecommunications legislation.

David Avery, a spokesman for Windstream, said the company typically donates money to lawmakers who support the rural telecommunications industry.

“Sen. Stevens generally, from what I understand, has been supportive of rural telecom interests throughout his career,” Avery said.

Stevens has been in the Senate since 1968 and is its longest-serving Republican. He faces up to five years in prison on the corruption convictions.

Stevens faces Democrat Mark Begich in the Nov. 4 general election.


Lincoln endorses ‘second stimulus’ plan

Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., said Wednesday she favors another stimulus package to help the nation’s struggling economy.

Congress is expected to consider a new economic stimulus when it returns to Washington after the election next month. Lawmakers in February approved about $150 billion in tax rebates to Americans in an effort to jump-start the economy.

But Democrats maintain that more needs to be done.

Lincoln said a second stimulus should include money for public works projects and education and tax breaks for small businesses.

Here is the text of a statement Lincoln released Wednesday:

“In February, Congress passed an economic stimulus plan, which included payments for families, seniors and disabled veterans and was designed to give our economy a much-needed boost. I called this plan an important first step, but that we must follow it with a long-term strategy to ensure our country’s future economic health.

“We must develop a comprehensive plan to revitalize our economy by rebuilding our nation for the twenty-first century and reinvesting in American businesses and American workers. That includes infrastructure projects that will create jobs and strengthen our economy. It also includes funding for education, which will ready our workforce to ensure our country’s future prosperity and economic security.

“Finally, we must implement policy that fosters growth in our small businesses, which truly are the engines of our economy. The economic crisis has left small businesses with alarmingly few options to access capital.  We must provide tax relief that will enable them to sustain and grow their business during this critical time.

“The chorus of voices calling for a second stimulus package is growing. Notably, earlier this week Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said Congress should consider another stimulus plan. Congress will reconvene in Washington following the election, and I believe a second stimulus package should be our top priority to help put our economy back on track. I will continue to fight for relief for Arkansas’s working families.”


Esquire: Pryor among 10 best lawmakers

Esquire magazine in its November issue named Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., as one of the 10 best members of Congress.

Pryor, who is finishing his first term in office, is the only Arkansan on the 10 best list. No one in the Arkansas delegation appeared as one of the 10 worst lawmakers, either.

The magazine said of Pryor: “This scion of a political family has proved himself to be a formidable senator in his own right. As a freshman, he took the lead in forging the bipartisan ‘Gang of 14′ that saved the Senate from Bill Frist’s reckless ‘nuclear option’ on filibusters. Indeed, Pryor’s balance of center-left economics and center-right social positions ought to be the model for a new generation of Southern politicians.”

Others on the 10 best list were: Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Rep. Artur Davis, D-Ala.

The 10 worst, as named by Esquire, were: Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, Rep. Joe Baca, D-Calif., Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., and Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska.


No thank you, Mr. President

Sens. Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor, both D-Ark., — like dozens of others in Congress — weren’t so eager to support President Bush in his last year in office, according to a study by Congressional Quarterly.

The publication compared voting records from this year to the president’s previous seven years in office.

Lincoln aligned with Bush’s positions on votes this year just 42 percent of the time. Her presidential support pre-2008 had been 62 percent.

Likewise, Pryor had been with Bush 56 percent of the time since the freshman senator took office in 2003. This year, he was a Bush ally for just 45 percent of votes.

Still, both supported Bush more often than the majority of Senate Democrats. The median for the party was 50 percent with Bush until this year. The 2008 median for all Senate Democrats was 34 percent, according to the study.

The publication noted that support for the lame duck president declined among both parties in both houses of Congress this year. Lawmakers who face tough re-election bids were also more likely to abandon the president on key votes, the study suggested.


Mark Pryor, movie star

Maybe Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., should have realized an on-camera interview with snarky comedian Bill Maher may not go as well as with, say, a fresh-out-of-college reporter at KFSM in Fort Smith.

The rookie may not have known that “indigously” wasn’t a word. Maher just plastered it across the movie screen when Pryor misspoke so that moviegoers could laugh at the senator.

And that’s what viewers did, repeatedly, Wednesday at an advance screening of Maher’s new movie, “Religulous,” at a Washington theater. The screening was open to reporters and members of various secular groups.

Maher and the film’s producers showed no respect for the state’s junior senator, though Pryor was in good company — there wasn’t respect for the world’s religions, either.

Maher’s blistering rebuke of all things religious framed the faithful as buffoons awaiting a false promise of a happy afterlife.

He interviewed Pryor about two years ago while the senator was a chairman of the annual National Prayer Breakfast. The meeting was in Pryor’s office, where his “Arkansas Comes First” sign is featured prominently on his desk.

Maher’s face time with Pryor takes up about two minutes of the 101-minute film, but it was one of the more amusing segments for Washington movie-goers.

Maher poked fun at Pryor’s use of the word “literacy” in describing his views on the gospel: “I do believe in the actual literacy of that story,” Pryor said.

The audience reserved its loudest laughter of the night for the pair’s discussion of the Old Testament account of Adam and Eve and the serpent.

“You’re a senator, you’re one of the very few people who are really running this country. It worries me that people are running my country, who think, who believe in a talking snake,” Maher said.

Pryor’s response: “You don’t have to pass an IQ test to be in the Senate though.”

“Religulous” opens in limited release Friday.


Lincoln leans toward support of bailout

With a Senate vote on the $700 billion financial bailout bill just a few hours away, Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., signaled Wednesday she would support the measure.

Lincoln said she still wanted to talk to a few more of her colleagues about the bill intended to stabilize the nation’s imperiled economy, but that: “I definitely think that doing nothing is not an option.”

The House rejected its bailout effort Monday, sending the stock market into a tailspin.

The Senate added to its version an extension of popular tax breaks on businesses in a move designed to lure support from House Republicans. A business research and development tax credit, incentives for renewable energy and a fix to protect more than 20 million Americans from the alternative minimum tax (AMT) is in the Senate bill.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said the House would take up the measure (if approved by the Senate) Friday, only if leaders knew they had the votes to pass it.

Lincoln said her constituents have made it clear Congress needs to do something, even if the bill may appear unsavory.

The measure is much improved over an initial Bush administration proposal that didn’t set limits on executive compensation and pledged a full $700 billion automatically. Lincoln said the Senate bill applies more accontability and transparency into how the government adminsters the bailout plan.

“We’re going to try to take a two-pronged approach here, which is making money available in installments,” she said. “The first, being $250 billion, then an extra $100 billion would be available for the executive branch to use if necessary.”

Lincoln called the tax breaks a “parallel approach” to the rescue plan for fixing the economy.

“Business and industry are the engine of the economy,” she said. “We have to make sure the jobs they have, they keep, and the jobs they want to give, they can give.”

While the tax package may entice House Republicans, it may put off a number of fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats. Blue Dogs oppose tax breaks that aren’t offset in the federal budget by additional revenue.

The incentives are partially offset with tax hikes for oil companies and closure of a corporate tax loophole. Still, about $25 billion would be added to the budget deficit under the proposal, Lincoln said.

“I try to be fiscally responsible, too, that’s important,” she said. “But we’re looking at a circumstance that needs a timely response.”


Trailers to be trashed?

The Senate on Friday approved a bill that forces the Federal Emergency Management Agency to come up with a plan to get rid of its mobile home and trailer stockpile in Hope.

But what is perhaps the world’s largest trailer park may not go away so quickly. The passage came in the waning days of this congressional session, and House aides said it “would be difficult” to put the measure on the crowded House calendar before adjournment.

Without House passage, the bill dies.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., requires FEMA to say within nine months to either use, sell or dispose of its housing units located across the country.

Nearly 20,000 units are in Hope, where many have collected dust since 2005. FEMA purchased the units for victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, but red tape and concerns about chemicals in the trailers have rendered thousands unusable.

Pryor has called the trailer collection at the Hope Municipal Airport an example of government waste that’s “beyond silly.”

Hope officials, however, don’t complain too much. FEMA estimates it spends $1 million a month to maintain the trailer site.  The city receives $25,000 a month in rent.


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