The Trans-Pacific Partnership is finally public. Here’s what you need to know. – Updated by Timothy B. Lee on November 5, 2015, 6:40 p.m. ET

The Obama administration has finally released the full text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a controversial deal that would knit together the economies of a dozen Pacific Rim nations. Now Obama just needs to win one more vote in Congress for the US to accept the agreement.

But while the Obama administration says that the deal will boost the US economy and boost America’s influence in Asia, critics have portrayed it as a package of giveaways to corporate interests. They’re mobilizing the deny Obama the congressional majority vote he needs to get the deal over the finish line. The fight over the TPP has pushed Obama and Republican leaders into an unusual alliance against congressional Democrats who vehemently oppose the deal.

As soon as the agreement was released, interest groups began flooding my inbox with press releases praising or attacking the deal. But Simon Lester, a trade policy expert at the Cato Institute, predicts that it could take a month for a full picture of the deal’s implications to emerge. “If you want to get an overall sense, you have to compare every product and every service.” And there are hundreds of provisions spread over 30 chapters, so that’s going to take a long time.

The TPP is a lot more than just a trade deal

The TPP is usually described as a trade deal, and it certainly will have important provisions related to trade. Negotiators have been considering liberalizing trade in cars and trucks, rice, dairy products, textiles, and a lot more.

But the agreement is also a lot more than a trade deal. It has more than two dozen chapters that cover everything from tariffs to the handling of international investment disputes. The reason these deals have gotten so complex is that people realized that they were a good vehicle for creating binding international agreements.

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White House, Congressional Leaders Reach Tentative Budget Deal – By Kristina Peterson,  Nick Timiraos and  Siobhan Hughes Oct. 27, 2015 1:55 a.m. ET

Agreement would suspend debt limit through mid-March 2017, boost spending by $80 billion through September 2017

Speaker of the House John Boehner heads to the floor for votes following a GOP conference meeting on Oct. 26

Speaker of the House John Boehner heads to the floor for votes following a GOP conference meeting on Oct. 26 Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

WASHINGTON—The White House and congressional leaders reached a tentative deal Monday on a two-year budget plan that also would raise the federal debt limit.

If approved by Congress, the broad pact would allow House Speaker John Boehner(R., Ohio) to resolve two of the thorniest fiscal hurdles before he resigns later this week. If it fails, it could leave the U.S. government a week away from potentially being unable to pay all its bills.

The plan is designed to remove the risk that the government might default and diminish the prospect of a partial government shutdown in December. It would suspend the debt limit through mid-March 2017 and boost spending by $80 billion through September 2017. Lawmakers still would need to pass detailed spending bills by December, likely in one combined measure.

For it to pass the House, the pact will need to quickly win backing from most Democrats and at least a few dozen Republicans who have frequently balked at spending and debt-ceiling bills they say don’t do enough to shrink the budget deficit.

At the same time, the White House and GOP leaders will have to make sure the provisions used to pay for the deal don’t alienate liberal Democrats, who could oppose changes to safety-net programs.

On Nov. 3, the Treasury will exhaust emergency cash-management measures that it has employed since March if the debt limit isn’t increased. Congress, meantime,faces a Dec. 11 deadline when funding for the government runs out.

Congressional Republicans have been torn apart by intraparty feuds, resulting in Mr. Boehner’s surprise decision last month to resign. Still, he has stitched together a few bipartisan accomplishments this year, including a payment-funding fix to Medicare this spring and trade-negotiation authority this summer.

Resolving both major fiscal issues would ease the burden for Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.), who is expected to become House speaker when elections take place Thursday.


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Obama to push for prison reform, gun control in Chicago – By Jordan Fabian – 10/27/15 12:01 AM EDT

Seeking to build support for a bipartisan criminal justice overhaul, President Obama will speak to a group of police chiefs on Tuesday in his hometown of Chicago.

But Obama also plans to wade into the politically divisive issue of gun control during his speech to the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

“He will continue to push for criminal justice reforms that will make the system smarter, more effective, and more fair, while addressing the need for commonsense gun safety reforms,” a White House official said in a statement.

Obama is seeking to capitalize on bipartisan momentum behind reducing the nation’s large prison population, which could hand him a major legislative victory during his final 15 months in office.

The president and Democrats argue mass incarceration has ripped apart families across the country, especially in communities of color. Republicans have emphasized the high cost of imprisoning nonviolent drug offenders.

Obama asked Congress this summer to send him a criminal justice reform bill by year’s end. That effort took a step forward last week, when the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced a proposal that would reduce certain mandatory minimum sentences.

The legislation still faces a long road to passage — the House and Senate must vote on it. But if it reaches Obama’s desk, it would be a significant achievement given partisan divisions in Congress that have been deepened by election-year politics.

At the same time, Obama has vented his frustration at lawmakers for failing to pass new restrictions on gun sales following a series of mass shootings that have cast a cloud over his presidency.

The White House is aware of the symbolism of speaking out on the issue in Chicago, where gun violence has reached record levels. The city had experienced 2,300 shootings this year as of the end of September, up by 400 at the same point in 2014. Homicides have jumped by 21 percent.

“The problem of gun violence is all too familiar to our nation’s police officers and is a critical threat to public safety and their safety,” the White House official said.

Obama said he would not be afraid to “politicize” the issue of mass shootings earlier this month after a gunman killed ten people at an Oregon community college.


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Congress looks increasingly skeptical about GMO labeling – Updated by Nathanael Johnson on October 24, 2015, 10:00 a.m. ET

Originally published on Grist.

On Wednesday morning, for the first time in a decade, there was a US Senate hearing on agricultural biotechnology. Lawmakers are tuning into the issue for two reasons: First, the Obama administration has said that it’s time to update and modernize GMO regulations; second, there are bills pending that would either force or ban mandatory labeling of GMOs in food products.

The hearing, held by the Senate agriculture committee, provided a chance to gauge how senators are thinking about this issue. The Senate is currently mulling a bill, already passed by the House, that would set a federal standard for voluntary labeling, while also invalidating any mandatory labeling laws that states — like Vermont — have passed or might pass. I’ve gotten the sense from Politico’s reporting on this that Republicans are having a hard time finding Democratic senators to sign on to the bill, so I was a bit surprised to see a fairly pro-GMO sentiment prevailing in the hearing Tuesday morning.

Of course, this was the agriculture committee — and I’d expect some pro-GMO sentiments from Democrats with big constituencies of farmers. But I was also expecting to see some senators from more liberal states channeling anti-GMO concerns as well. Instead, I heard strong pro-GMO statements, and no senator planted a flag on anti-GMO ground.

An exchange between regulators and Heidi Heitkamp, a no-nonsense Democrat from North Dakota, was illustrative of the general tenor of the hearing. The regulators had been saying time and time again that the GMOs they approved were just as safe as any other food. So Heitkamp asked William Jordan, from the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs, to explain how he shared the information he used to determine that safety with the public. Jordan began talking about making every effort toward transparency against a broader backdrop of a general decline in trust in government.

Heitkamp jumped in: “Except what people hear is blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah.”

Jordan: “I know that.”

Heitkamp: “I believe the science is so strong in this area — that these are products that will not have an adverse effect in any way on health, in fact can improve health by making food more available worldwide. And yet we seem to be losing the fight, not just on labeling but on how we are going to make these products more accessible.”

Then, turning away from Jordan, she threw the question to a USDA regulator, who began to give a similar homily about the importance of press releases and emailing stakeholders.



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‘These have been among the worst weeks of my life’ – By RACHAEL BADE 10/18/15 07:10 PM EDT Updated 10/18/15 08:19 PM EDT



In a POLITICO interview, Trey Gowdy laments attacks on him and the Benghazi committee as Hillary Clinton’s appearance nears.

House Benghazi Chairman Trey Gowdy, a former federal prosecutor, used to get death threats in his previous line of work. But watching his Benghazi investigation get slammed by accusations that it’s a partisan assault on Hillary Clinton is actually much worse, he says.

“I would say in some ways these have been among the worst weeks of my life,” Gowdy said this weekend during a lengthy interview with POLITICO. “Attacks on your character, attacks on your motives, are 1,000-times worse than anything you can do to anybody physically — at least it is for me.”

Gowdy faces the biggest moment of his political career when he squares off with Clinton this Thursday. But as the chairman prepares for the showdown, he’s facing increasing pressure to salvage his panel’s reputation — and perhaps his own.

Gowdy worked behind closed doors for 18 months in an effort to keep the committee’s work out of the political fray. But his strategy started unraveling after three Republicans suggested the committee was aimed at hurting Clinton in the polls. Democrats pounced, newspaper editorials called for the panel to be disbanded, and now there are calls from commentators of all stripes for Gowdy to reveal what he’s uncovered.

Meanwhile, the Clinton campaign and its allies have kept up the pressure with an almost daily barrage of news releases and statements slamming the panel’s work.

It’s left the usually cheerful South Carolina lawmaker sounding frustrated — and, at times, even defeated. Weary of the drumbeat of criticism, Gowdy says he’s stopped watching the news and reading the newspaper. During a Sunday morning TV appearance, Gowdy, usually quick to joke, seemed solemn as he fended off another round of accusations that the committee is a partisan exercise.

Gowdy believes the criticism has been demonstrably unfair — an attempt to “delegitimize” his panel and discredit his personal reputation ahead of Clinton’s high stakes testimony on Thursday.

“It’s not lost on me that the uptick in criticism is [happening] the two weeks before she’s coming,” he says. “I don’t think that that is a coincidence; it’s an attempt to marginalize and impugn the credibility of the panel that’s going to be asking her questions.”


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California enacted the strictest law yet on antibiotic use in farms – Updated by Julia Belluz on October 11, 2015, 3:20 p.m. ET


Antibiotic resistance is now considered a catastrophic threat to public health, as more and more deadly, drug-resistant bacteria have been appearing in our cities, farms, and hospitals. In theory, the solution should be simple: We need to stop overusing antibiotics. Yet nearly every attempt to do so thus far has failed.

Now California is taking drastic measures. This weekend, Gov. Jerry Brown signedthe toughest restrictions yet on antibiotic use in the United States, banning the state’s livestock producers from using certain antibiotics for routine disease prevention and growth promotion.

“The science is clear that the overuse of antibiotics in livestock has contributed to the spread of antibiotic resistance and the undermining of decades of lifesaving advances in medicine,” Brown said in a statement.

This is, potentially, a huge deal. Across the United States, more than 70 percent of medically important antibiotics are sold for use in animals, so curbing overuse in this area has always been a priority for public health reformers. And California’s new law could push other states to follow suit.

Why curbing antibiotic use on farms is so controversial

The science behind drug resistance is straightforward enough. The more we use antibiotics to kill off disease-causing bacteria, the more likely those bacteria are to evolve resistance, developing random mutations to outwit our drugs. And overuse has become a huge problem. In the United States alone, antibiotic-resistant infections are now associated with 23,000 deaths and 2 million illnesses every year.

So public health experts have been looking for places to curtail misuse. It would help, for instance, if doctors stopped prescribing unnecessary antibiotics. But another key place to look is on farms, where the vast majority of medically important antibiotics are sold.

Antibiotics on farms are typically used in three ways: to treat sick animals, to prevent infections, and to fatten up animals. The first use is uncontroversial: Everyone agrees that it’s okay to use antibiotics to treat animals that come down with disease. But public health experts have criticized the latter two uses. They argue that many livestock producers needlessly overuse antibiotics to prevent infections and promote growth — essentially relying on them as an alternative to hygiene and good nutrition. These are considered “nontherapeutic” uses.

And experts argue this overuse has real consequences. Both the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have told Congress that there’s a link between the routine, nontherapeutic use of antibiotics on farms and the superbug crisis in humans.


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Congress Avoids Government Shutdown – By Gabrielle Levy Sept. 30, 2015 | 5:05 p.m. EDT

The Capitol Dome, covered with scaffolding is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington on Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2015.

The Senate and House each voted on Wednesday to approve a government spending bill before the midnight deadline.

Congress managed to avoid a government shutdown Wednesday, as both the House and Senate voted to approve legislation that supplies funds for federal operations through Dec. 11.

Senate lawmakers voted 78 to 20 Wednesday morning to pass a continuing resolution that keeps federal spending at its current levels, with 32 Republicans joining the entire Democratic caucus in supporting the measure. Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, both Republicans running for president, skipped the vote.

“This bill hardly represents my preferred method for funding the government,” Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters Tuesday. “But it’s now the most viable way forward after Democrats’ extreme actions forced our country into this situation.”

The House followed suit Wednesday afternoon, voting 277 to 151 with 91 Republicans joining House Democrats in favor of the legislation. That vote followed one on a procedural measure that would defund Planned Parenthood; the measure passed separately from the continuing resolution and won’t have any effect on the funding that keeps the government running.

“I understand that so far we have lacked the votes in the Senate to include defund language in the continuing resolution,” Rep. Martha Roby, an Alabama Republican and sponsor of the measure, said on the House floor Wednesday afternoon. “I realize this is a last-ditch effort to do this and the chances of this correction maneuver succeeding in the Senate are low, but I believe … that we have to fight until the very end.”


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White House, GOP weighing big budget talks – By SEUNG MIN KIM 09/29/15 03:29 PM EDT Updated 09/29/15 07:55 PM EDT



The goal is to ease the threat of repeated government shutdowns until after the 2016 elections.

As President Barack Obama and top congressional leaders prepare to launch negotiations on a two-year budget deal, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is maneuvering to cut key Democrats out of the talks, according to sources familiar with the nascent negotiations.

The ambitious budget goal, outlined by McConnell on Tuesday, could help ease the threat of repeated government shutdowns until after the 2016 elections. But drama is already unfolding behind the scenes with McConnell’s private suggestion that the discussions be limited to just him, President Barack Obama and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), according to Democratic sources — a proposal that the president and outgoing speaker have rejected, the sources said.

On Tuesday, McConnell detailed the talks, which are focused on top-line budget numbers for fiscal 2016 and 2017. The discussions, which included McConnell, Obama and Boehner, began with an initial phone conversation among the three men nearly two weeks ago.

The discussions are preliminary, and are likely to stretch beyond the end of October, when Boehner’s resignation from Congress takes effect. But if the talks can produce top-line numbers for domestic and defense spending, that could help the GOP-led Congress avoid future showdowns over government spending like the standoff that will loom in mid-December.

“We’d like to settle a top-line for both years so that next year, we could have a regular appropriations process,” McConnell said Tuesday. “The president and Speaker Boehner and I spoke about getting started into discussions last week, and I would expect them to start very soon.”

A Boehner aide confirmed the talks, saying the men “discussed the need to get moving on the budget process.”


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