Friday, February 02, 2007

Republicans Block Congressional Pay Hike

Lawmakers' pay will be frozen at $165,200 for this year in the dispute, in which Democrats violated a yearslong understanding that the competing parties would not use the pay raise issue in campaign ads.

Under the annual COLA, lawmakers automatically get a pay hike unless Congress votes to block it. Hoyer and GOP leaders such as Minority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo., made sure to smooth over any potential obstacles to the pay hike.

Typically, the annual vote on the pay hike came on an obscure procedural move _ instead of a direct up-or-down vote _ and the Democratic and GOP whips each delivered a roughly equal number of votes to shut off any move to block the pay hike.

Blunt said Democrats broke the agreement last year after the pay raise-related vote had already taken place. In a 263-152 vote in June, the House blocked a bid by Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, to force an up- or-down vote on the pay raise.

"The agreement always was that the parties would not use the COLA issue in the campaign," Blunt said. "It was as formal as anything not signed is."

Under the congressional pay raise law enacted in 1989, lawmakers won a big pay raise in exchange for giving up honoraria for personal gain. The COLA was born as part of the reforms, but it also had the political benefit of freeing lawmakers from having to vote on pay hikes.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Iranian Reveals Plan to Expand Role in Iraq

BAGHDAD, Jan. 28 — Iran’s ambassador to Baghdad outlined an ambitious plan on Sunday to greatly expand its economic and military ties with Iraq — including an Iranian national bank branch in the heart of the capital — just as the Bush administration has been warning the Iranians to stop meddling in Iraqi affairs.

Iran’s plan, as outlined by the ambassador, carries the potential to bring Iran into further conflict here with the United States, which has detained a number of Iranian operatives in recent weeks and says it has proof of Iranian complicity in attacks on American and Iraqi forces.

The ambassador, Hassan Kazemi Qumi, said Iran was prepared to offer Iraq government forces training, equipment and advisers for what he called “the security fight.” In the economic area, Mr. Qumi said, Iran was ready to assume major responsibility for Iraq reconstruction, an area of failure on the part of the United States since American-led forces overthrew Saddam Hussein nearly four years ago.

“We have experience of reconstruction after war,” Mr. Qumi said, referring to the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. “We are ready to transfer this experience in terms of reconstruction to the Iraqis.”

Mr. Qumi also acknowledged, for the first time, that two Iranians seized and later released by American forces last month were security officials, as the United States had claimed. But he said that they were engaged in legitimate discussions with the Iraqi government and should not have been detained.

Mr. Qumi’s remarks, in a 90-minute interview over tea and large pistachio nuts at the Iranian Embassy here, amounted to the most authoritative and substantive response the Iranians have made yet to increasingly belligerent accusations by the Bush administration that Iran is acting against American interests in Iraq.

President Bush has said the American military is authorized to take whatever action necessary against Iranians in Iraq found to be engaged in actions deemed hostile.

Deeply distrustful of Iran, the White House has expressed scepticism about Tehran's plans to greatly expand its economic and military ties with Iraq.

The US has accused Iran of supporting terrorism and supplying weapons to kill American forces.

"If Iran wants to quit playing a destructive role in the affairs of Iraq and wants to play a constructive role, we would certainly welcome that," US National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.

But, he added: "We have seen little evidence to date (of constructive activities) and, frankly, all we have seen is evidence to the contrary."