- - Thursday, November 3, 2011


DOMA repeal bill delayed for week

Senate lawmakers on Thursday put off a much-anticipated debate on a bill to repeal the law that forbids recognition of gay marriage at the federal level.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican and ranking member of the SenateJudiciary Committee, asked the committee to “hold over” the Respect for Marriage Act to allow for more study, as is the committee’s tradition for new bills.

SenateJudiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, agreed to the delay, and suggested that the bill to repeal the 15-year-old Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) be brought up again Nov. 10.

Mr. Leahy and other Democrats used Thursday’s session to express their convictions that DOMA would soon be repealed. The law, which defines marriage in federal law as the union of one man and one woman and gives states the right not to recognize out-of-state gay unions, is the subject of numerous lawsuits as well as Democrat-led repeal efforts in Congress.

“When I voted for DOMA in 1996, I believed it was a way to allow states to maintain their independence and define marriage as each state saw fit,” Mr. Leahy told Thursday’s committee meeting. “But much has happened since DOMA’s passage to show us why it must now be repealed,” he said. He noted that his own state initiated civil unions for gays and is now a gay-marriage state.


Justice backpedals on nondisclosure plan

The Justice Department has backed down from a sharply criticized plan to lie to the public by denying that records exist when requests for information turn up content it deems sensitive, but is clinging to other proposals that stand in contrast to President Obama’s professed commitment to openness, a senator with oversight of the department said Thursday.

“The Justice Department decided that misleading the American people would be wrong, and made the right decision to pull the proposed regulation. The American people are increasingly cynical with the federal government, and increasing transparency can be an important tool to build more trust,” wrote Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, ranking Republican on the SenateJudiciary Committee.

Denying that records exist, rather than specifying why they need to be withheld, would have prevented the press and public from evaluating those reasons and challenging them in court.

Left intact in a new rule proposed by the department are provisions that make it more likely that those seeking information under the Freedom of Information Act would be charged exorbitant fees and less likely that they could obtain records in modern, digital formats. It would deny requests by applying exemptions whenever possible.


Democrats ask state to oppose ID laws

Democrats in Congress are pleading with secretaries of state in all 50 states to oppose new state voter-identification laws.

House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland says the letter to the state officials overseeing elections seeks to counter a “concerted” effort by Republicans to create voting obstacles for the elderly, minorities, low-income families and young people. States have passed laws toughening voter-ID and voter-registration requirements and reducing early-voting days.

The Democrats’ letter asks the secretaries of state to put aside partisan considerations and be vigilant against fraud while protecting access to the polls for all voters. The letter had 196 supporters in Congress on Thursday.


Boehner calls anti-tax activist ‘random person’

To many members of Congress, Grover Norquist is a force to be reckoned with. Yet House Speaker John A. Boehner referred to the anti-tax activist on Thursday as a “random person” and sidestepped a reporter’s questions about whether Mr. Norquist is a positive influence on GOP lawmakers.

“Our focus here is on jobs,” said Mr. Boehner, Ohio Republican. “We’re doing everything we can to get our economy moving again and to get people back to work.

“It’s not often I’m asked about some random person in America,” he added, drawing reporters’ laughter.

Asked again whether Mr. Norquist’s opposition to tax increases was helpful for GOP lawmakers, Mr. Boehner said Republicans oppose tax increases because “we believe tax hikes will hurt our economy and put Americans out of work.”

The conservative Mr. Norquist, who heads Americans for Tax Reform, has been a major force in Washington for years by getting many members of Congress, including nearly all Republicans, to sign a pledge promising to oppose and vote against tax increases.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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