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THIS FIRST — GETTING CARDED — State agencies should exercise stronger internal controls of state credit care use, according to a new Legislative Audit Council (LAC) report. More than 10,000 state procurement cards have been issued at 93 state agencies. Legislators asked the LAC, an independent investigative body, to review the state’s effectiveness in using the cards and whether their use is properly monitored.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY — Neil Diamon and Aaron Neville both sing 70 today, while Mary Lou Retton flips her way to 43
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NATIONAL LENS — WISH LIST — Health care is Shannon Taylor’s “big, big hot button” and no wonder. She is a nurse in Tennessee who examines hospital bills for a health insurance company, and a mother who saw President Barack Obama’s health care law come just in time for her family. In the State of the Union speech Tuesday night, she will be looking for Obama to stand firm against Republicans who want to take the law apart. Many other Americans feel a personal stake in what Obama will say Tuesday and do later – and what Republicans do in response. The hunger for jobs and economic growth stood out in interviews with more than 1,000 people, part of an Associated Press-GfK poll asking Americans what one thing they most want the government to accomplish this year.
ALLEN ALL IN — Former Sen. George Allen will end weeks of speculation and formally declare his candidacy for U.S. Senate in Virginia on Monday, two Republican advisers tell Politico. Allen, who has been making all the moves of a candidate in recent weeks, is expected to blast an e-mail to supporters with a video message before alerting the media.
PARLOR GAMES — This Tuesday President Obama gives his State of the Union address, and everyone wants to know what he will talk about. For anyone playing parlor games at home that night, New York Times White House correspondent Peter Baker says it might be fun to count the number of times the word “jobs” comes up with the word “competitiveness.” Baker expects the president to underscore the need for American competitiveness amid the rise of countries like India and China. That will naturally include trade issues, he says, but also education, innovation and infrastructure.
STRONG CHANCE — There’s no deal yet on how to change Senate filibuster rules, but Democrats and Republicans are finding common ground in two other areas: ending the practice of so-called secret holds and smoothing the way for presidential nominees. Senate leaders from both parties are still trying to avoid a drawn-out fight over changing the rules to make it harder to filibuster. But as the Senate returns from a two-week recess this week, both sides may be willing to give a little, according to several sources familiar with the discussions.
TRYING TIMES — The Obama administration, with its plan to close Guantanamo largely stymied, is edging toward one option that is still available: trying detainees in military commissions at the island prison, according to officials and outside analysts. A U.S. official confirmed to Politico that Defense Secretary Robert Gates is preparing to lift a two-year-old order that banned new military commission cases from being filed.
PLAY CHICKEN — Republican efforts to repeal or limit the reach of the new health-care law took a new direction last week when Arizona lawmakers approved a novel and controversial attempt to cut Medicaid for 280,000 of the state’s poor. The bill, requested and signed by Gov. Jan Brewer (R), empowers her to make a formal request, most likely this week, for a federal waiver to avoid complying with provisions of the law that prohibit states from tightening their eligibility requirements for Medicaid. Twenty-nine Republican governors, including Brewer, have signed a letter calling on President Obama and congressional leaders to remove the provision from the law. But Arizona is the first state to, in effect, play chicken with the Obama administration.
10-20-30 — The top-ranking African-American in Congress called on President Obama on Friday to sharpen his focus on hard-hit minority communities in his plans for bolstering the economy. Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said the recession has devastated communities of color, leaving them with extraordinarily high unemployment rates. He said previous government recovery programs have left minorities behind and called on Obama to broadly incorporate a so-called “10-20-30” policy directing at least 10 percent of any recovery efforts into communities with 20 percent poverty rates for 30 years.
REGRETS ONLY — One invitation has been followed by a lot of rejection for the Conservative Political Action Conference. After event organizers decided to allow GOProud, a gay Republican group, to be a “participating organization” for a second straight year, social conservative organizations like the Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America decided they wouldn’t be coming out. Ditto for the Heritage Foundation and the American Family Association. Now, two more leading conservatives have announced they’re going to skip March’s festivities. “With leading conservatives organizations not participating this year, Senator Jim DeMint will not be attending. He hopes to attend a unified CPAC next year,” a spokesman for the SC Republican told CNN. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie also declined an invite.
BASH IN SESSION — Senate Budget Committee ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) ripped President Obama in a Washington Post opinion piece Monday for allegedly failing to provide leadership in addressing the budget deficit. He also proposed tying any vote to raise the nation’s debt ceiling to a 10 percent cut in spending. “Last month, President Obama would agree to maintain current tax rates only if Congress would agree to increase federal deficit spending. We are headed toward a cliff, yet the president hits the accelerator,” Sessions said.
BLAST FROM THE PAST — Oh, for the good old days on Capitol Hill, like nearly 200 years ago when Congress was one big happy family. James Monroe was president and the country was on a high after claiming victory over the British in the War of 1812. True, there was only one major political party at the time, which kept squabbling to a minimum. But political cooperation was in. Partisan acrimony: out. Historians call it the Era of Good Feelings. Flash-forward now to the Congress of today, the Era of I-Hate-Your-Guts-And-Want-To-Rip-Your-Lungs-Out-You-Unpatriotic-Jerk. Weary of a climate that has grown so toxic that Congress should earmark money for a political Hazmat team, some lawmakers have a solution.
LEVEY BREAKS — The point man for the Obama administration’s financial wars on Iran, North Korea and al Qaeda, Stuart Levey, has decided to leave his senior U.S. Treasury Department post at what is turning out to be a particularly critical time. Mr. Levey’s departure will leave President Barack Obama without the principal architect of Washington’s economic-sanctions campaign against Tehran, just as that campaign is likely to be ramped up following the breakdown of talks among Iran, the U.S. and a bloc of global powers on Saturday.
ANOTHER RSVP — Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia will speak on Monday on the separation of powers at an event organized by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and her Tea Party Caucus. Though the Tea Party Caucus is a conservative group, Bachmann’s office confirmed to Politico that it invited all members of Congress to attend the lecture and that some Democrats indicated plans to be on hand. The lecture is going on despite the objections of some observers.
2012 WATCH — If anyone thought the tea party movement would fade away after the November elections, content to have played a key role in ousting the ruling Democratic class and splintered by internal divisions, they were mistaken. Saturday’s victory by tea party favorite Jack Kimball in the New Hampshire GOP chairman’s race provided the most significant evidence to date that the energy that activists brought to the midterms is now being channeled in a different direction—one that could reshape the 2012 GOP presidential race and require candidates to rethink the traditional approaches to winning the Republican nomination.
FOOT THE BILL — Since the government took over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, taxpayers have spent more than $160 million defending the mortgage finance companies and their former top executives in civil lawsuits accusing them of fraud. The cost was a closely guarded secret until last week, when the companies and their regulator produced an accounting at the request of Congress. The bulk of those expenditures — $132 million — went to defend Fannie Mae and its officials in various securities suits and government investigations into accounting irregularities that occurred years before the subprime lending crisis erupted. The legal payments show no sign of abating.
FIRE IN THE MAILROOM — The U.S. Postal Service plays two roles in America: an agency that keeps rural areas linked to the rest of the nation, and one that loses a lot of money. Now, with the red ink showing no sign of stopping, the postal service is hoping to ramp up a cost-cutting program that is already eliciting yelps of pain around the country. Beginning in March, the agency will start the process of closing as many as 2,000 post offices, on top of the 491 it said it would close starting at the end of last year. In addition, it is reviewing another 16,000—half of the nation’s existing post offices—that are operating at a deficit, and lobbying Congress to allow it to change the law so it can close the most unprofitable among them.
PLAYING THE FICKLE — President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats learned at least one big lesson in the November elections: What the independent voter gives, the independent voter can also take away. But now, the same temperamental bloc that threw House Democrats out of power appear to be in a giving mood again – at least as far as Obama is concerned. That unpredictable, cranky group of voters who helped carry the president into office two years ago before turning against him in dramatic fashion, may be turning back in Obama’s direction even more quickly.
BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO — MSNBC never had any doubt about what it was getting when it made Keith Olbermann the face of the network in 2003: a highly talented broadcaster, a distinctive and outspoken voice and a mercurial personality with a track record of attacking his superiors and making early exits. Still, the news of his abrupt departure from “Countdown” — delivered by Mr. Olbermann on Friday night — came as a shock to his many fans, some of whom accused Comcast, the incoming owner of MSNBC’s parent, NBC Universal, of forcing out the host for political reasons.
HIGH SPEED DOLLAR — High-speed rail, a favorite target of some politicians during last year’s election campaigns, has gotten a big boost recently. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida’s senior senator and the only statewide-elected Democrat, told a meeting of editors and political writers last week that getting the money and constructing the project is crucial. The federal government has promised $2.6 billion in stimulus money for the construction of the first leg of a high-speed rail system in the state. The state’s match is $280 million and the money is earmarked for bullet train construction only. Some politicians in other states have refused their projects, thinking they can take the money and use it elsewhere. They can’t. This is high-speed rail money.
NOT SO EASY — There’s a pattern to recent terror attacks in the United States: Americans — either citizens or residents — have been behind them. In the past two years, dozens of American citizens and residents have been arrested on terrorism charges. In some cases, the suspects were young Muslims traveling overseas to train for violent jihad. In others, they’re accused of actually trying to launch attacks. Attorney General Eric Holder said homegrown terrorism is one of those things that keeps U.S. officials awake at night. Now there is someone new at the National Security Council who won’t be getting much sleep: He’s a former Rhodes College professor named Quintan Wiktorowicz, and he’s an expert on, among other things, how some people decide to become terrorists.
PRIVACY PLEASE — Looking ahead to President Barack Obama’s State-of-the-Union address Tuesday, Rep. James Clyburn said Sunday that government has a limited role in Obama’s top priority, job creation. “The president is very clear that he is going to focus on job creation, and government can create the climate within which jobs are created,” Clyburn said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” But the government should not be in the business of actually creating jobs, he said. “No, we can’t create jobs, and we shouldn’t,” he said. “We want them created in the private sector, and I think that’s what we are seeing.”
LIFE AFTER LOSING — She was one of the Democrats’ most vulnerable incumbents in 2010—the subject of a fierce primary challenge from the left and an even fiercer challenge from the right in November. But in the end, Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln’s vote in favor of President Obama’s health-care reform helped pull her under, and she lost her Senate seat by a substantial margin. Lincoln, who spent 18 years in elected office, is one of a host of lawmakers now adjusting to life without power. A conservative political wave swept away such high-ranking Democrats as South Carolina’s Rep. John Spratt, 68, and Delaware’s Republican Congressman Mike Castle, 71.
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TARGET-AD — A Washington-based liberal advocacy group said Friday it is launching a new television ad taking U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham to task over comments about changing the Social Security retirement age. “I love my job. But I’m in pain every day at work,” Agnes Pomata, a Charleston librarian, says in the TV spot from the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. “Now, Sen. Lindsey Graham says he wants to raise the Social Security retirement age,” the woman says. “Sen. Graham, people like me just won’t make it.”
RULES ARE RULES — State lawmakers have yet to tackle a mile-wide loophole in S.C. campaign finance laws that allows political groups to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence Palmetto State elections. A federal judge created the loophole in September, ruling unconstitutional portions of the state’s campaign finance laws that sought to regulate third-party groups. The ruling did not affect fundraising limits or spending by candidates. At the heart of the ruling was language in state law that defined any group spending more than $500 to influence an election as a committee, which could include political parties, political action committees and other third-party groups.
NOT HOW YOU SHOULD ACT — South Carolina’s Scholastic Aptitude Test scores dropped by five points in 2010, making the state 49th in the nation with only Maine scoring lower. The state’s average composite SAT score was 1,447 compared to the national average of 1,509. However, ACT scores were much better and rose again for the eighth consecutive year to a score of 20, compared to 21 nationwide. Most local schools followed the state trend in both SAT and ACT scores. Only three showed significant improvement in SAT scores.
TRAILBLAZER — While the eyes of the state and the nation were on Nikki Haley as she took the state governor’s office, a woman closer to home — one who also has an impressive list of firsts after her name — was taking the reins of Pickens County government. Jennifer H. Willis, 40, was the first woman elected to Pickens County Council when she won her seat in a special election in 2003, and she was also the youngest person elected to County Council, which has had district seats since 1970. But when her fellow council members elected her chairwoman of the council this month, Willis couldn’t say she had just become the first chairwoman, since she had already held the post once during her time in office.
PEACE ON EARTHA — Recognition for the late Eartha Kitt has mostly been absent in South Carolina, but one man’s efforts to change that are coming to fruition. State Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter (D-Orangeburg) has sponsored legislation that will establish the North native’s birthday, Jan. 17, as “Eartha Kitt Day” in South Carolina. Cobb-Hunter said she offered congratulatory legislation for Kitt during the last General Assembly session.
MOUNT MITCHELL — State Rep. Harold Mitchell, D-Spartanburg, hopes black lawmakers will spend the next two years focusing more on policy issues and clearing obstructions out of the way of small and minority businesses than on wedge issues such as the placement of the Confederate flag on the Statehouse grounds. Mitchell was elected by his peers to the No. 2 leadership position in the S.C. Legislative Black Caucus last week. He said the position is important because the chairman, Aiken Democrat Bill Clyburn, will be busy with House Ways and Means Committee work on the state budget crisis.
NEIGHBORHOOD FIGHT — Deepening the shipping channel in the Savannah Harbor comes down to a paradox 13 years and $36 million in the making. Navigation experts say the new generation of container ships, a considerably larger fleet, will be able to pull into this port without running aground only about 120 days a year — and only while steaming at a dangerously slow speed. The channel must be dredged deeper, they say. Meanwhile, environmental experts say the ecological destruction that would happen at the proposed depth would be grave. The channel cannot go that deep, they say. Both sides recently addressed the Savannah River Maritime Commission.
ARD-IO — Lt. Gov. Ken Ard says his duties with the Office on Aging are falling into place. After being in office for a week, he reiterates his campaign message that, “Our aging population and the costs associating with aging will be the defining issue of my generation.”
SMALL TOWN BOY — A handful of South Carolina mayors were in Washington last week lobbying Congress and the president to keep local projects in mind when they create next year’s budget. The US Conference of Mayors was predominantly led by mayors from larger cities, but smaller city mayors such as Sumter’s Joseph McElveen also made the trip. McElveen said one of the top priorities of mayors on a national level is to urge Congress to fully fund Community Development Block Grants, which are used to revitalize poorer parts of cities.
CATCH THIS — New catch limits for certain types of fish are among items being discussed during public hearings in the Southeast during the next two weeks. The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council opens the hearings in New Bern, N.C., on Monday, followed by meetings in North Charleston, S.C., on Wednesday and Pooler, Ga., on Thursday. Three more hearings are being held in Florida next week – in Jacksonville, Cocoa Beach and Key Largo. Among the items on the agenda are proposed annual catch limits for species of fish not currently listed as overfished. The council says the species include grouper species as well as dolphin, wahoo and golden crab.
HOME SWEET HOME — There may be no clearer evidence that Greenville County’s Hispanic population is emerging as a vibrant component of the local economy than a business group that needed a business address. For years, the South Carolina Hispanic Chamber of Commerce operated out of the home of Evelyn Lugo, its founder and president, in Taylors, with a phone number and not much else. That changed this month when the Chamber opened its first official office at 107 East Park Ave. in Greenville.
FUEL FOR THE TANK — A little-known policy council has garnered immense influence with Gov. Nikki Haley – a fact made clear at a budget briefing a week before Haley took office. The task force Haley appointed to tackle the state’s financial problems is wrestling with ways to reshape the way government spends money. The South Carolina Policy Council and its allies shape what’s happening at those meetings. Haley trumpeted one of the council’s top issues – transparency – during her rise to the governor’s mansion. And now it’s clear the council will have her ear and an important role to play the next four years.
LEXINGTON — Lexington suspends fall festival
CHARLESTON — Recycling roll carts rolling out on SC coast
WINNSBORO — 175-year-old building burns in Winnsboro
LAKE CITY — Bolden: ‘It was Ron who inspired me’
MURRELLS INLET — Murrells Inlet business cited for immigration violation
VIEWPOINT — TWIST AND SHOUT — Jamie Dupree writes “President Obama gets the chance to re-set the political landscape tomorrow night with his State of the Union Address. Will it be memorable? Or just another speech? What should we expect? The White House says a main focus will be jobs and the economy, which is something Democrats in the Congress are more than ready to emphasize as well.”
VIEWPOINT II — ON A TREY — SC Congressman Trey Gowdy writes “I first want to express my sincere gratitude for the opportunity and privilege to serve. I am deeply humbled and honored to represent South Carolina’s 4th Congressional District. When I came to Washington, I promised to assiduously defend the interests of the 4th District of South Carolina. It is the reason I serve, and the solemn duty I am charged with fulfilling as your elected representative. Born and raised in the Upstate, I know many of you personally and share your concerns with the direction our country is headed. The mentality of passing on our generation’s problems to our children and future Americans is unacceptable, and does not reflect the values instilled in us by our South Carolina community. It is time to make a comprehensive, collective change, and it starts with taking a hard look at Congress itself.”
FINALLY THIS — SOUPER BOWL SUNDAY — Hundreds of hungry area residents had a chance to be critics Sunday and pick their favorite soups during the 19th annual Lowcountry Soup Challenge, a fundraiser benefiting Volunteers in Medicine, at The Mall at Shelter Cove on Hilton Head Island. About 20 of the best chefs from across the Lowcountry created their finest soups, bisques and chowders to raise money for the clinic, which provides medication and dental services to people living or working on Hilton Head or Daufuskie islands.