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Historic preservation vs. wilderness in Green Mountain lookout debate

PUBLIC LANDS — Spearheaded by Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a measure last week to save the popular Green Mountain fire lookout, which a federal judge has ordered removed from its perch in the Glacier Peak Wilderness.

The U.S. House approved the bill by a voice vote on Monday and it's on the way to the desk of President Obama, who's indicated he supports it.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation responded to the vote with praise for the Green Mountain Lookout protection bill as a milestone in the ongoing national discussion about historic resources on public lands.

“The S. 404 legislation protects an integral piece of the Pacific Northwest’s heritage, a key contributor to its local economy and asserts that wilderness protection need not come at the expense of historic preservation,” said Erica Stewart, the group's media contact.

The structure was built on 6,500-foot Green Mountain in Washington’s North Cascades in 1933 by the Civilian Conservation Corps. It served as a fire lookout and as a perch for detecting enemy aircraft during World War II. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

The Forest Service used a helicopter and machinery to repair it in 2009. That prompted a lawsuit from a Montana-based environmental group: Such methods aren’t allowed in federal wilderness areas, they charged, and the judge agreed.

But since the lookout preceded the 1964 Wilderness Act, and since its remote perch makes a major overhaul in today's budget climates prohibitive without motorized help, the use of a helicopter was justified, officials say. 

 “Obviously, we’re disappointed that they’re doing this,” said George Nikas, executive director of the Montana-based Wilderness Watch, shortly before the House vote. The group sued in 2010 to challenge the structure’s construction. “It’s not only harmful to the Glacier Peak Wilderness, it sets a very troubling dangerous precedent for wilderness.” 

The structure is popular with hikers, tourists and locals in nearby Darrington, which is reeling from a nearby devastating mud slide that blocked access through the area and killed at least 33 people.

Read on for more background and the full statement by Stephanie Meeks, NTHP president:

Mitchell Assails ‘Senator No’ Risch

U.S. Senate candidate Nels Mitchell said today he’s not surprised Jim Risch is touting his dubious achievement as the most obstructionist senator in Washington. “He’s running away from his record,” Mitchell said. “Risch has turned into ‘Senator No,’ and his negativism is hurting Idaho,” Mitchell said. “When he votes against funding for INL, against protecting women from violence, against payments to Idaho’s rural counties, he’s voting against Idahoans.” “Jim Risch wants to run as the anti-everything candidate because he has a dismal record of working for Idaho,” Mitchell said. “It’s no wonder he says it doesn’t matter if he’s on the job or not, because when you vote the way he does, it really doesn’t”/Dean Ferguson, Idaho Democratic Party. More here.

Question: Do you prefer politicians who vote against things most of the time?

Panel OKs Syria Resolution, Risch: No

Idaho GOP Sen. Jim Risch was among the minority in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee just now opposing a bipartisan resolution giving President Obama authority to use limited military force against Syria in response to a deadly chemical weapons attack; the resolution, crafted by the panel’s Democratic chairman and GOP ranking member, passed on a 10-7 vote. Five Republicans and two Democrats opposed it; seven Democrats and three Republicans supported it; while one Democat, Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., voted “present.” The measure now moves to the full Senate for a vote next week/Eye on Boise. More here.

Question: Do you agree/disagree with Sen. Risch?

Palin ponders Senate run

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is hinting at a run for the U.S. Senate, and revving up feuds of longstanding with rivals in both political parties.

Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, is up for reelection next year, a fairly popular Democrat in a Republican-leaning “red” state. A group called the Tea Party Leadership Fund has urged Palin to make the race.

“I’ve considered it because people have requested me considering it,” Palin told Sean Hannity on his radio show.

“But I’m still waiting to see what the lineup will be and hoping that, there again, there will be some new blood, new energy, not just kind of picking from the same old politicians in the state that come from political families … because too many of them have been part of the problem.” Seattle PI Full story.

Will Sarah run?

Today’s fun video: Senate D’s do up budget stalemate

At some point, you've probably seen “I'm Just a Bill”, a video that tries to explain to kids how a bill becomes law.

U.S. Senate Democrats have a new take on the old theme called “I'm Just a Budget” that tries to skewer Republicans for keeping the budget from going to conference. Graphics are about the same as the original, which is to say not phenomenal by 2013 standards.

It shares one other trait with the original. It's pretty simplistic. But among it's co-stars is Washington Sen. Patty Murray.

Obama On Gun Vote: ‘Shameful Day’

An angry President Obama criticized a minority of the Senate on Wednesday who helped defeat a proposal to expand background checks on gun purchases. “It all came down to politics,” Obama said in the Rose Garden. “All in all, this was a pretty shameful day for Washington.” Obama was flanked by the family of Daniel Barden, who was among the 20 children and six adults killed Dec. 14 in a gun massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Also with Obama: former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head during an assasination attempt in 2011. Just hours before, the Senate voted 54-46 to defeat an amendment by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa. on tougher background checks/Gregory Korte and Catalina Camia, USA TODAY. More here. (AP photo: President Barack Obama is shown with former Rep. Gabby Giffords, left, and Mark Barden, the father of Newtown shooting victim Daniel)

Question: Do you support/oppose decision by U.S. Senate re: gun background checks?

Murray announces Senate budget hearings

WASHINGTON — The first official steps toward passing a Senate budget will be taken next week, Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray said today.

The Democratic senior senator from Washington announced two sessions scheduled for Feb. 12 and 13. Murray has vowed, amid rebukes from House Republicans about the four-year absence of a Senate spending plan, to pass a budget resolution this spring. The legal deadline to bring a resolution to the Senate floor for approval is April 1.

The 22-member committee, which also includes Idaho Republican Sen. Mike Crapo, will first hear from Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Elmendorf. Elmendorf will answer questions about the nonpartisan group’s Budget and Economic Outlook report released Tuesday.

That report projected a shrinking deficit in 2013, falling to around $845 billion from more than $1 trillion in 2012. That would make 2013’s deficit near 5 percent of GDP, its lowest level since President Barack Obama entered office. However, the report predicts rising deficits over the next decade due to “the pressures of an aging population, rising health care costs, an expansion of federal subsidies for health insurance, and growing interest payments on federal debt.”

In response to the report’s findings, Murray reaffirmed her commitment to protect certain spending programs and explore revenue-increasing measures.

“We need to continue working to cut spending responsibly, protect and strengthen programs like Medicare, and raise revenue by closing tax loopholes that the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations take advantage of,” Murray said in a statement.

On Feb. 13, the committee is expected to hear from representatives of the public testifying on how federal budget decisions affect them. Murray has stressed her commitment to involving public input in the resolution drafting process, which has included soliciting their suggestions on the committee’s website through a program called “MyBudget.”

Senate Democrats are in Annapolis, Md., for a legislative retreat that is expected to last through Wednesday. Budget issues will likely be on the table among a number of fiscal policy issues, including deep spending cuts to defense and discretionary programs set to kick in next month.

Murray announced the hearings via Twitter with the comment, “Looking fwd to getting to work!”

Murray to Dems: Don’t give up on more “revenue”

The Washington Post has posted a 12-page memo from U.S. Sen. Patty Murray outlining her positions on writing a budget for 2014.

Murray, D-Wash., argues that deficit reduction has so far focused almost entirely on cuts and not enough on “revenue” — tax increases.

“We need to make sure any budget deal we make is balanced, fair for the middle class, and calls on the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share,” Murray wrote in her letter introcuding the memo.

Murray, who was in Spokane last week highlighting job programs, is the new chairwoman of the Senate Budget Committee.

The memo and Ezra Klein's analysis is worth a glance and is a good outline for the Democrats' position and interal battles in the upcoming budget showdown brewing in Congress.

Today’s fun video: When filibuster shoe was on the Democratic foot

Senate Democrats may decry the filibuster now, but in 2005, when they were in the minority, they were all for it. 

Note the young guy speaking in favor of it at the start. Sen. Patty Murray shows up about 1:40 in.

Murray to lead Senate Budget Committee

Patty Murray will be the Senate's chief budget writer next year when Congress convenes for its new session.

The Washington Democrat announced today she will seek the chairmanship of the Senate Budget Committee, a position that will become open at the end of the year with the retirement of Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota. Although the position won't become official until the new Congress meets, Democrats will hold a 55-45 majority in the chamber so the result is a foregone conclusion.

The committee also considers the nation's economic policy and the budgetary impact of “everything we do and everything wie fight on,” Murray said. She hopes to expand the discussions of the committee, which in recent years have focused on debt and deficits, to consider the other side of the budget: the nation's spending priorities and the investments it should make.

“It gives me a really good place to fight for the priorities of Washington state,” she said, such as the cleanup of waste at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, better transportation systems, military and veterans issues and improved job training for health care and aerospace workers.

To read the rest of this item, go inside the blog.

What does a “Sportsmen’s Act” have to do with hunters and anglers?

ENVIRONMENT — Can we expect a “Sportsmen's Act” introduced in Congress to actually be in the best interest of hunters and anglers?

A Missoulian opinion columnist is skeptical in this column.

“Those who watch Congress have surely noticed an alarming trend of putting misleading titles on bills and policies that actually do the opposite of what they say,” writes George Ochenski.

President Bush’s “Healthy Forests Initiative” provided ways to clearcut national forests without environmental review or public oversight. Likewise, Bush’s “Clean Skies” legislation made it easier for corporations to pollute. The USA PATRIOT Act has nothing to do with patriots and everything to do with spying on citizens. And now we have H.R. 4089, the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act of 2012 that, in reality, would undercut the 1964 Wilderness Act and destroy what remains of the nation’s once-great natural heritage.

Trib: Craig Still Stonewalling

Five years ago last Monday, then-U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, walked into the men's room at the Minneapolis airport and got into trouble. An undercover airport cop said Craig propositioned him for gay sex. Craig pleaded guilty to disturbing the peace. And we've been talking about it ever since. Why? Ask Craig. It's Craig who has refused to come clean about misleading Idahoans about his “intent to resign from the Senate,” only to take it back and serve out the remaining 16 months of his term. Never once has Craig subjected himself to an even modestly objective interviewer to answer why he misled his constituents - even though he now insists on playing the role of elder statesman wherever the opportunity presents itself/Marty Trillhaase, Lewiston Tribune. More to come.

Question: What would you advice Larry Craig to do if he had a do-over after getting caught in the Minneapolis, Minn., airport bathroom — to minimize fallout?

Legislature ReCalls Sen. Jim McClure

Jim McClure’s widow, Louise, was in the VIP gallery for Monday’s memorial, along with their son, Ken, and daughter-in-law Sally. McClure (pictured in 1994 AP file photoserved in the Idaho Senate from 1960-66 and 24 years in Congress, rising to chair of the Energy Committee. He died in February 2011 at the age of 86, after a series of strokes. Also remembered Monday were late-Sens. Kenneth Bradshaw, Vearl Crystal, Don Mackin, “Is” Merrill and William Crutcher. Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, noted McClure’s humility, hard work and humor, including a potato anecdote involving Sen. Ed Muskie, D-Maine. McClure and Muskie were discussing how students were let out of school during harvest. McClure said Idaho students had to reach junior high before they could enter the fields. “Idaho potatoes are so big it would hurt the smaller children to lift them,” he told Muskie/Dan Popkey, Idaho Statesman. More here.

Question: Do you remember Idaho U.S. Sen. Jim McClure?

Read more here: http://www.idahostatesman.com/2012/02/22/2004438/idaho-senators-remember-the-iconic.html#storylink=cpy

Luna Speaks Re: No Child Left Behind

Testifying at a U.S. Senate committee hearing today, state schools superintendent Tom Luna says he backs the bipartisan efforts to reauthorize the federal No Child Left Behind education law. The testimony came months after Luna informed the federal government that Idaho would opt out of some of the provisions in the 10-year-old law. “The current No Child Left Behind law reminds me of the old Clint Eastwood movie, 'The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.' The good is that it created a standards-based system where schools are accountable for every child. The bad is it is a one-size-fits-all model that is difficult to implement in rural states like Idaho. The ugly is the federal government now sets the goal and prescribes the programs we must use to meet that goal. If those programs don’t work, we are held accountable,” Luna said/Kevin Richert, Statesman. More here.

Question: Are you elated/dismayed that Superintendent Luna is speaking on behalf of Idahoans before Congress re: the No Child Left Behind education law?

Advocates not resting as Senate blocks raid on top trails funding source

TRAILS — The U.S. Senate voted 60-38 to reject Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky) amendment to siphon the only dedicated source of funding for walking and biking trails into bridge repair projects.

“The amendment was opposed by both Democrats and Republicans, important news as we head into what is likely to be months of more attacks on the Transportation Enhancements program,” said Jake Lynch of the Rails to Trails Conservancy.

Transportation Enhancements funds have been the largest and most cost-effective source of funding for trails, walking and bicycling during the last 20 years.

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy has posted a short story on both the vote and the amendment.

“This current budget battle has the potential to dramatically alter everything from how we get around to our economic, environmental and personal health for decades to come,” said Lynch, who's based in Washington, D.C.

Follow the political threats to active transportation on the Rails-to-Trails Consevancy blog.

Senate approves allowing ski areas to develop offseason activities

NATIONAL FORESTS — A proposal that would allow ski areas to potentially expand activities to biking, zip lines and rope courses — legislation that likely would create jobs in mountain towns — passed the U.S. Senate late Tuesday and is likely to be signed quickly by President Obama.

The measure passed unanimously in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The proposed law would allow ski areas to apply to use national-forest land for activities in the spring, summer and fall. Though some areas already boast summertime activities on nearby private land, this bill would allow areas to apply to build whole summer activity parks on public land with National Forest Service approval.

Read more from the Denver Post.

Baumgartner ‘officially’ in Senate race

State Sen. Mike Baumgartner made his “official” announcement today that he's running against Maria Cantwell next year.

If that sounds familiar, it's because he was on television Friday evening, and in this newspaper Saturday morning, saying he'd run. That may have seemed pretty official to most folks.

Baumgartner previously said he'd make an announcement today, but did an interview with KING-TV on Friday for that station's weekend public affairs show. He said he was running with cameras running; KING and its Spokane sister station KREM had it at 5 p.m. Friday, and KXLY had a brief mention by 5:30 p.m. Generally speaking, The Spokesman-Review does a single story about a candidate's announcement and  will wait for an “official” announcement that we know is coming as long as the candidate doesn't make some other kind of public pronouncement. When that happens, as it did in this case, we posted  Friday and published  Saturday that we would have posted today and published tomorrow.

So let's call today the official unveiling of his campaign website and the unveiling of the obligatory campaign video on YouTube. And there's nothing more official for a campaign than having a web site and a video, no?

Well, nothing except maybe drawing a first strike from the opposing party. State Democrats were quick to brand Baumgartner as a far-right extremist for signing the 2010 Spokane County Republican platform which calls for such things as withdrawing from the United Nations, eliminating the U.S. Department of Education, returning to the gold standard and repealing the Endangered Species Act.

Baumgartner did sign the platform, but said it has about 120 planks; he agrees with some but has spoken out against others, such as withdrawing from the UN.

Expect the platform to come up on a regular basis as Baumgartner tries to get some name identification on the West Side.

Baumgartner to run for the other Senate?

Sen. Mike Baumgartner at his desk on the Senate floor this spring. File photo.

OLYMPIA — State Sen. Mike Baumgartner of Spokane is being discussed for the political equivalent of an upgrade, as a candidate for U.S. Senate against Democrat Maria Cantwell.

Baumgartner said Wednesday evening he's “taking a strong look at it” after being urged to get into the race by some supporters. He said he and wife Elinore will make a decision “in the next few weeks.”

It would be a big jump for Baumgartner…

To read the rest of this item, click to go inside the blog.

Lieberman Won’t Seek Re-election

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., introduced by his wife, Hadassah, right, acknowledges a gathering before he announced that he has decided to retire and not seek a fifth term in 2012 in Stamford, Conn., Wednesday. At center is Maddy Wisse, Lieberman's granddaughter, and Rebecca Liberman-Wisse, one of his daughters. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

Question: How will Lieberman be remembered for his years of service in the U.S. Senate?

Crapo, Risch Wolf Action Falls Short

Idaho GOP Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch's bill to remove wolves from Endangered Species Act protections failed Tuesday when they couldn't get unanimous consent to move the bill in the final hours of the 111th Congress. Crapo and Risch, along with Republican colleagues from Utah, Wyoming and Arizona, introduced their bill in September, as efforts to resume hunting of wolves in Idaho were blocked in federal court. To move quickly, SB 3919 needed to overcome Senate procedural hurdles/Dan Popkey, Idaho Statesman. More here.

Question: What action would you like to see next year re: wolves?

GOP Senators Block Immigration Reform

Senate Republicans and a handful of Democrats voted Saturday morning to block legislation that would grant legal residency to illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. before the age of 16. The DREAM Act, which would give legal status to illegal immigrants who came to the country at a young age, lived here for at least five years, graduated from high school and attended college or served in the military, fell five votes short of the 60 needed to overcome a GOP-led filibuster — 55 to 41/Alexander Bolton, The Hill. More here.

Question: Do you agree/disagree with U.S. Senate GOP action to block the DREAM Act?

Senate OKs Tax Bill, Simpson Wary

The Senate-passed tax cut compromise is on its way to the House — with support from Idaho Republicans Mike Crapo and Jim Risch But 2nd Congressional District Rep. Mike Simpson is concerned about the bill’s impact on the deficit, and isn’t sure how he’ll vote. “I’ve got some real concerns with it,” Simpson told the Statesman Wednesday afternoon. Simpson, R-Idaho, said he has not had a chance to read the bill, which passed the Senate today on an 81-19 vote. But he is concerned with some of the add-ons that have found their way into the bill — including subsidies for wind and solar power, ethanol and sports stadiums/Kevin Richert, Idaho Statesman. More here.

Question: Do you agree with the votes by Idaho’s U.S. senators in favor of the Senate-passed tax compromise?

‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Repeal Loses

Senate Republicans have blocked legislation that would have repealed the military’s policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and allowed gay troops to serve openly. Democrats failed today to cinch a procedural deal with Republicans in the waning days of the lame-duck session. The 57-40 test vote fell three votes short of the 60 needed to advance. The vote ends months of political wrangling on the bill and makes congressional action on the repeal provision unlikely any time soon/Associated Press. More here.

Question: Are you surprised by the action in the U.S. Senate?

Murray expected to lead campaign group

Sen. Patty Murray will be announced as the new chairwoman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee later today, sources in the other Washington are saying this morning.

Roll Call, a newspaper and website that covers almost every move in Congress, says Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is expected to make the announcement this afternoon. Murray’s office is saying officiallly only that an announcement is coming around noon Pacific time..

But Murray has been under pressure to take the job as the head of the committee working to elect more Democrats to the Senate, or at least make sure fewer Democrats get un-elected to the Senate. Democats have 23 seats to defend in 2012.

Murray had the job for the 2002 campaign cycle.

In The Winner Is …

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, rides the subway on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday,  following the weekly caucus luncheons, and as the count of her write-in campaign to retain her seat drew nearer to completion. The AP has delcared Murkowski to be the winner of her tight re-election campaign over Republican Joe Miller. In winning, she became the first U.S. senator to win as a write-in since 1954. AP Story here. (AP Photo/Harry Hamburg)

Question: Is this a setback for Tea Party movement and conservative kingmaker Sarah Palin, who backed Murkowski’s opponent?

Write-Ins Can Win

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, appears headed for victory as a write-in candidate as she seems to have built an insurmountable lead over Tea Party rival Joe Miller as counting of voters’ write-ins continue. This New York Times story by Nate Silver explains why Murkowski is likely to retain her Senate seat as a write-in after losing to Miller in the GOPrimary. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Question: Some say that the challenge by Tea Party candidates cost Republicans a U.S. Senate majority in the next Congress. What do you think?

Murray Wins Re-election To Senate

Sen. Patty Murray has defeated Republican challenger Dino Rossi, according to The Seattle Times analysis of vote returns. Murray’s victory gives Democrats 53 seats in the Senate/Seattle Times. Story here.

How close for recount?

The tight race for U.S. Senate would have to get noticeably tighter to trigger a mandatory recount.

Although tens of thousands of ballots have yet to be counted statewide, including more than 100,000 in King County alone, incumbent Democrat Patty Murray’s current lead over Republican challenger Dino Rossi (722,396 to 708,391 as of the latest election night tabulation) is beyond the one half of 1 percent margin that would trigger a mandantory machine recount under state law.

A machine recount also can triggered in statewide races if the the margin between the candidates is less than 2,000 votes. A mandatory hand recount is conducted if the margin falls below 1,000 votes and one quarter of 1 percent of total ballots cast.

The state Elections Division has a fact sheet on recounts that can be found at this link.

Risch Remains 13th Wealthiest Senator

Idaho Sen. Jim Risch is the 13th richest of 535 members of Congress, with his wealth estimated at $20.1 million, according to a report by The Hill, a Capitol Hill news outlet. Risch held the same fortunate spot last year, based on financial disclosure reports filed with the House and Senate. Risch made his early money as a Boise lawyer and then invested in ranches and other real estate. The Hill says Risch’s farm and ranch land accounts for $16 million of his assets. Risch, who began his first six-year term in 2009, bought a Washington, D.C., condo worth at least $250,000. His assets rose about $800,000 in the past year, as did those of many others on the Top 50 list/Dan Popkey, Idaho Statesman. More here.

Question: If you had as much money as U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, would you want to spend your golden years in an elective office?

Playing the lower expectations game

Democrats in the other Washington are already trying to lower expectations for the kind of votes  incumbent Sen. Patty Murray will pull down on Tuesday, and raise expectations for Republican Dino Rossi.

A press release from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee are contending that Rossi should outpoll Murray in the primary, but not to worry, she’ll win in November. Rossi got 46.35 percent of the primary vote in 2008 when he ran the second time for governor and “we expect him to earn at least that much in tomorrow’s primary,” the campaign committee’s exec director JB Poersch said earlier today. That plus Murray only got 45.9 percent in the 1998 primary, but went on to win the general by 16 percentage points.

This is an interesting example of using selective data to bolster a really bad argument by people who clearly don’t know very much about Washington primaries.

We explain, inside the blog