How Disaster in Oklahoma Can Show Government Works

National Journal

IN THE NEWS: White House shifts IRS timeline again … IRS officials deny knowledge of "targeting" … Obama pledges resources for tornado relief … Apple CEO defends tax-avoidance charges … What really happened in the Facebook IPO flop?


How Disaster in Oklahoma Can Show Government Works

The scenes of destruction, the mourning—all of it is on our minds after tornadoes ripped through Oklahoma on Monday. In Washington, the Kabuki ritual of disaster began.

These days, presidents always vow to help, as Barack Obama did Tuesday. But it wasn't always this way. For much of the nation's history, disasters were considered the bad luck of localities and not Washington's problem.

That changed with the Mississippi River flood of 1927, when an ambitious Commerce secretary named Herbert Hoover helped guide the recovery and used his success as a springboard to the White House.

Today, first principles are still at stake. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., wants relief for his state to be offset by budget cuts, while other Republicans, including House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., say that's not necessary.

For Obama, the challenge is to manage the federal response to the crisis. So far, so good in the first hours. Nevertheless, the spotlight will be on the president, and it's a chance for him to show he can make government work. Read more

Matt Cooper


ADMINISTRATION SHIFTS TIMELINE FOR IRS DISCLOSURES. The White House today adjusted its timeline on the Internal Revenue Service controversy, with press secretary Jay Carney saying that administration officials met with Treasury Department staff as early as April 16. Carney said that White House staff had discussed with the IRS the method of disclosing the targeting of conservative groups, acknowledging that there had been "discussion about the possibility of a speech" by Exempt Organizations Director Lois Lerner. Carney said that Deputy White House Chief of Staff Mark Childress met with Treasury Department officials and likened inquiries about the administration's actions to "birther" claims about the president. Read more

SHULMAN, MILLER DENY KNOWLEDGE OF IRS 'TARGETING.' Former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman and outgoing acting Commissioner Steven Miller told members of the Senate Finance Committee today that they only recently learned that the agency had selected conservative groups for additional scrutiny. Asked why he did not acknowledge the practice during March 2012 congressional testimony, Shulman told the panel, "The full set of facts around these circumstances came out last week…. Until that point, I did not have a full set of facts." Facing criticism from Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who accused the officials of committing a "lie by omission," Miller said, "I did not lie, sir." Read more

  • Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew questioned the decision by IRS officials to disclose the targeting practice by planting a question at an American Bar Association conference. Lew told a Senate panel Tuesday. "I would have advised against doing that, but it was a decision for the IRS to make." Read more

SCHUMER, HATCH REACH DEAL ON HIGH-SKILL VISAS AHEAD OF MARKUP. Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, have reached a deal on visas for high-skilled workers that should ensure Hatch's vote for the immigration bill in committee, National Journal's Rebecca Kaplan and Fawn Johnson report. An aide to Hatch said the senator was still awaiting final language on the deal before signing off on the agreement, but the agreement accepts most of his conditions. Hatch has said he has other finance-related amendments that he intends to offer that will need to pass for his continued support. The agreement accepts several of Hatch's amendments with some additional protections built in for American workers. Read more

OBAMA PLEDGES RESOURCES TO OKLAHOMA IN AFTERMATH OF TORNADO. During remarks at the White House on Tuesday, President Obama pledged federal aid to the Oklahoma communities hit by a powerful tornado Monday. "As a nation, our full focus is on the urgent work of rescue and the hard work of recovery and rebuilding that lies ahead," the president said. He vowed that local authorities "would have all the resources that they need at their disposal." Local officials have revised the preliminary death toll from the storm, which the National Weather Service estimates to have been a Category 4 on the Enhanced Fujita scale, from "at least 51" to 24 confirmed deaths. Read more

  • Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., who opposed a federal aid package after Hurricane Sandy, told MSNBC today that Monday's tornado was "totally different," citing the Sandy package's inclusion of funds unrelated to the disaster. His colleague, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., pledged that "any and all available aid will be delivered without delay," but he plans to seek budget cuts to offset federal spending. Read more

APPLE'S COOK DEFENDS TAX PRACTICES AT SENATE HEARING. Apple CEO Tim Cook testified at a Senate subcommittee hearing, where he disputed a subcommittee report released Monday that claimed the corporation skirts U.S. taxes using its foreign subsidiaries. "We pay all the taxes we owe—every single dollar," Cook told the panel. "We don't depend on tax gimmicks." The subcommittee report estimated that Apple, which reported paying $6 billion in U.S. taxes in 2012, had avoided paying $3.5 billion in U.S. taxes in 2011 and $9 billion in 2012. Apple holds $102 billion of its $145 billion cash reserves overseas, and Cook said that the company will not repatriate its overseas profits absent an overhaul of the U.S. tax code. Subcommittee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said that "Apple is exploiting an absurdity." Read more

  • Apple's tax-avoidance maneuvers are "all legal, thanks to a series of loopholes in U.S. tax code," Atlantic Wire's Abby Ohlheiser writes. "So it seems that lawmakers ... are accusing Apple of breaking the spirit, but not the letter, of the law." Read more

POLL: CLINTON LARGELY UNDAMAGED BY BENGHAZI CONTROVERSY. Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton maintains high job-approval ratings in a Washington Post/ABC News poll, ThePost reports. While Clinton's support has dropped among both conservatives and moderates, she "remains among the most popular secretaries of State in recent history." Still, poll respondents expressed distrust of the Obama administration's handling of the attack on the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, a fact that could affect Clinton's popularity in the longer term. Read more

  • Unnamed House GOP aides say that partisan concerns have sidetracked the Benghazi inquiry, Roll Call reports. "We have got to get past that and figure out what are we going to do going forward," one aide said. "Some of the accusations, I mean you wouldn't believe some of this stuff. It's just—I mean, you've got to be on Mars to come up with some of this stuff." Read more


NAPOLITANO TO OKLAHOMA. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano will head to Oklahoma on Wednesday to assess the tornado damage and make sure state officials are getting the federal assistance they need, the White House announced Tuesday.

TRANSPORTATION NOMINEE HAS HEARING. A Senate panel will hold confirmation hearings Wednesday for President Obama's Transportation secretary pick, Mayor Anthony Foxx of Charlotte, N.C.

HOUSE TO PROBE IRS. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will continue to look for answers on the IRS's targeting of conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status. Witnesses will include many of those featured in Tuesday's Senate hearing, including Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin and former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman.

DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION MARKUP. The House Armed Services Committee will dominate the attentions of defense wonks when the subcommittees markup portions of the massive, roughly half-trillion-dollar bill that authorizes Pentagon programs for fiscal 2014. Wednesday will be the busiest day, with the Strategic Forces; Intelligence, Emerging Threats, and Capabilities; Seapower and Projection Forces; and Military Personnel subcommittees crafting the bill.


"Why the hell do I have to keep updating apps on my iPhone?" –Sen. John McCain, questioning Apple CEO Tim Cook (Business Insider)


FACEBOOK: WHAT REALLY HAPPENED IN THE BIGGEST IPO FLOP EVER? After Facebook's disastrous debut last year, the preferred clients of big banks walked away with huge profits. How? Public documents and interviews with dozens of investment bankers and research analysts reveal that the Street caught wind of something the public didn't. The social network and the banks told half the story. Here is the other half, from The Atlantic's Khadeeja Safdar. Read more


THE DAY IN WASHINGTON SCANDALS. Despite scandals involving the IRS, Benghazi, and the Justice Department's search of AP phone records, President Obama's approval ratings are steady. Conan O'Brien mentioned that scandals don't register until they involve an intern and some sex. On NBC, Jimmy Fallon looked at Obama's recent remarks, including some tweets--real and made up--that show Obama's recent turn toward honesty. Jay Leno also brought Obama's birthplace into the scandals, saying Kenyans all now believe Obama was born in the United States. Watch it here


THE DESTRUCTION IN OKLAHOMA. The monster tornado that struck Moore, Okla., with winds of at least 200 mph, traveled for 20 miles, leaving a two-mile-wide path of destruction, flattening homes, smashing vehicles, and killing at least 24 people, including nine children. The Atlantic's In Focus blog has 38 photos of the aftermath. See it here


WHICH IS MORE CORRPUPT? AFGHANISTAN OR AMERICA? Afghan officials and politicians contend that their nation's reputation for rampant corruption is exaggerated—according to Transparency International, a monitoring group, Afghanistan is the most corrupt nation on earth, along with Myanmar, North Korea, and Somalia. They say that more to blame are poor procedures by the NATO-led mission and Washington that hand aid money directly over to graft-plagued contractors and subcontractors. National Journal's Michael Hirsh, reporting from Kabul, writes that a former finance minister says the secret CIA cash controversy involving President Hamid Karzai is viewed in Washington as simply more evidence of Afghanistan's corrupt ways. But he asked: "What does it say about the way the American government conducts itself?" Read more


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