Nation roundup for May 13
Wet spring snows hit the Rockies, Nebraska
DENVER (AP) — Trucks began rolling again across a southern Wyoming artery that had been shuttered for more than 24 hours and officials in Nebraska made plans to move some primary polling locations Monday following a powerful spring storm that brought up to 3 feet of snow to the Rockies and spawned thunderstorms and tornadoes in the Midwest.
Interstate 80, a major east-west truck route, reopened in Wyoming a day after its closure stranded thousands of travelers and truckers. The interstate quickly became crowded with the trucks that had packed rest areas.
Residents in eastern Nebraska were cleaning up from Sunday’s thunderstorms and twisters, which ripped roofs off homes and toppled buildings, but caused no major injuries.
Numerous tornadoes were reported across at least six Nebraska counties. Trained spotters identified 12 to 15 likely tornadoes as the storms moved across the state. Nebraska Secretary of State John Gale said Monday that two polling places for today’s primary election in Seward County will be relocated because of the damage.
In Colorado, the snow that began falling on Mother’s Day caused some power outages as it weighed down newly greening trees.
Among those affected by the outages was Denver International Airport, where some escalators and elevators temporarily stalled Monday morning. Airport spokeswoman Julie Smith said a backup generator spared the airport any major problems. At least 27 arriving and departing flights were canceled due to the weather, but Smith said there were no major delays. Crews were working overnight to de-ice runways.
The weather appears to be to blame for at least one fatal crash Sunday on U.S. Highway 285 southwest of Denver.
The highway was one of the worst for accidents in the storm. Two law enforcement cruisers were also hit along the road in less than an hour while responding to other crashes.
Spring is normally the wettest time of year in the Rockies. While snowfall is common in the mountains in May, significant snowfall at lower elevations like Denver in May only occurs every five or 10 years, Colorado state climatologist Nolan Doesken said. Denver got between 4 and 7 inches of typical heavy, wet spring snow.
Energy savings bill may fall victim to politics
WASHINGTON (AP) — A widely popular, bipartisan energy savings bill is falling victim to election-year politics and the Obama administration’s continued indecision on the Keystone XL oil pipeline.
The legislation would tighten efficiency guidelines for new federal buildings and provide tax incentives to make homes and commercial buildings more efficient. It easily cleared a procedural hurdle last week but is stalling now after Republican demand for votes on the Canada-to-Texas pipeline and on new administration-proposed greenhouse-gas limits for coal-burning power plants.
While Republicans are united in favor of the pipeline and against the new power plant regulations, Democrats are deeply divided on both. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., used a parliamentary maneuver to block them.
Reid said Monday that Republicans were “still seeking ransom” on the energy savings bill by insisting on the Keystone amendment and other votes. He said he had agreed to a long-standing request from pipeline supporters for a separate vote on the pipeline if its supporters would let the efficiency bill sail through unamended.
Minority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, called Reid’s maneuver disappointing. “The Senate use to be a place of great debate and accomplishment. Now it is run like a dictatorship shutting out the voices of millions of Americans,” he said.
Election-year politics are behind the accusations from both sides.
Democrats said Republicans were unwilling to hand a victory on the energy efficiency bill to co-sponsor Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, who is facing a re-election challenge from Republican Scott Brown, a former Massachusetts senator who now lives in New Hampshire. Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio is co-sponsoring the energy legislation.
The Democrats also said the GOP wants deny political cover to Sen. Mary Landrieu, who faces a tough re-election fight in Louisiana and to other Democrats in energy-producing states who have pushed for the pipeline’s approval during their campaigns. A Senate vote on the pipeline would help Landrieu and Democrats such as Mark Begich of Alaska, even if it fell short of the 60 votes needed to advance it. Obama delayed the project indefinitely last month, citing uncertainty over the pipeline’s route though Nebraska.
On the other side, Republicans accuse Democrats of dodging a vote on blocking the Obama administration’s proposed limits on carbon pollution on coal-fired power plants. No matter the outcome, having to vote on what Republicans call President Barack Obama’s “war on coal” would be uncomfortable for Democrats struggling to hold their Senate majority.
Republicans also wanted a vote on boosting exports of liquefied natural gas, another hot political issue. Lawmakers from both parties support increased gas exports, although 22 senators — mostly Democrats — wrote a letter to Obama last week warning that increased exports could lead to higher prices for consumers and possible shortages next winter.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday that Obama is committed to increasing energy security and efficiency and “will not rest even if Congress won’t act.”
Obama announced a series of executive actions last week aimed at increasing energy efficiency and reducing U.S. reliance on carbon fuels. They include the completion of energy efficiency standards for walk-in coolers and freezers typically used in grocery stores. He also announced that more than 300 companies, including Wal-Mart, have pledged to boost their use of solar technology.
US on track for narrowest budget gap since 2008
WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. government ran a big surplus in April, thanks to a flood of tax payments that helped keep the budget on track for the lowest annual deficit in six years.
The Treasury Department said Monday that April’s surplus totaled $106.9 billion, down slightly from last April’s $112.9 billion surplus. The government typically runs a surplus during April, when individual tax returns are due and corporations make quarterly tax payments.
Through the first seven months of the 2014 budget year, which began Oct. 1, the deficit totals $306.4 billion. That’s down 37 percent from the same period last year.
The Congressional Budget Office is forecasting a deficit of $492 billion for the full budget year. That would be the narrowest gap since 2008.
In 2008, the government recorded a deficit of $458.6 billion, which was the deficit up to that time. But that record was soon eclipsed as the government ran annual deficits surpassing $1 trillion for the next four years. Those deficits reflected a deep recession. The downturn reduced tax revenue and increased government spending to stabilize the financial system and pay benefits for people who had lost jobs.
So far this budget year, revenue totals $1.74 trillion, up 8.2 percent from the same period in 2013. Revenue has been boosted by a stronger economy, which means more people working and paying taxes, thereby reducing the deficit.
Government spending totals $1.6 trillion, down 8.2 percent from a year ago. The decline reflects efforts by Congress and the administration to trim spending.
After peaking at $1.4 trillion in 2009, the deficit has been falling. Last year, it dropped to $680.2 billion.
Over the next decade, CBO is projecting that the deficits will total $7.6 trillion, $286 billion less than it projected in February. The biggest factor in the improvement is $165 billion less in projected spending on health insurance subsidies for policies sold through exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act. Those policies are proving less costly than CBO originally thought, mainly because of tighter management of treatment options.
The CBO is forecasting that the deficit will fall to $469 billion in 2015 before rising again and topping $1 trillion annually starting in 2023. The increases will be driven by spending on the government’s major benefit programs, including Social Security and Medicare, as baby boomers retire.
Republicans have accused Obama of failing to propose significant cost-cutting measures to reduce soaring entitlement costs. Democrats counter that Republicans would rather impose sharp cuts on necessary government programs than impose higher taxes on the wealthy.
Neither side is expected to make major concessions in this congressional election year. But the budget wars of the past three years are likely to subside this year after an agreement was reached in December on the broad outlines for spending over the next two years. The agreement will allow Washington to avoid the showdowns that culminated in October’s 16-day partial shutdown of the government.
The cease-fire in the budget wars also includes legislation that will suspend the government’s borrowing limit through March 15 of next year. The puts off another battle over raising the debt ceiling until a new Congress takes office in January.
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