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By Benjy Sarlin

WASHINGTON — Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., announced Wednesday that she would vote against her own party’s rules for the incoming House over restrictions on deficit spending, pushing long-simmering Democratic divisions into public view.

At issue is the House leadership’s plan to include “PAYGO,” short for pay-as-you-go, a rule Democrats have adopted in the past that requires them to offset any increase in the deficit by cutting spending or raising revenue elsewhere.

“PAYGO isn’t only bad economics … it’s also a dark political maneuver designed to hamstring progress on healthcare + other leg.,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted on Wednesday. “We shouldn’t hinder ourselves from the start.”

She joined Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., who came out against the rules package while warning that PAYGO “unilaterally disarms the incoming Democratic majority’s ability to govern.”

The issue has also emerged as a stand-in for a larger divide between the party’s progressive wing and more centrist Democrats — including the next House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, who supports the spending rule — over the role fiscal responsibility should play in their agenda.

“At a time when climate change threatens our planet, when our infrastructure is crumbling, when 30 million people have no health insurance, when millions of Americans are struggling with outrageous levels of student debt, I am concerned that the concept of PAYGO will make it harder for Congress to address the many crises facing our working families,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said in a statement on Wednesday.

Potential 2020 contenders, including Sanders, are currently proposing tens of trillions of dollars in new spending on progressive priorities. Given that Republicans passed a $1.9 trillion tax cut and boosted spending under Trump, substantially increasing the deficit, some Democrats argue they shouldn’t let deficit concerns get in the way when they retake power. There’s also growing interest among activists in economic theories that put less stock in fears of a rising debt.

The rule is not ironclad and has been waived in the past. Pelosi’s spokesman, Drew Hammill, noted on Twitter that Congress is already governed by a stricter version of PAYGO that President Barack Obama signed into law in 2010. That legislation forces cuts to programs unless Congress overrides them, which they’ve done under President Donald Trump.

“It reinforces the notion that if you vote for Democrats, the first thing they’re going to do is prioritize budget outcomes over human ones,” Stephanie Kelton, an economist and former adviser to Sanders, who has criticized the PAYGO rule, told NBC News.

While many in the party have rallied around pricier proposals under Trump, the midterms also featured a slew of Democrats who ran successful campaigns in swing seats attacking Republicans for spilling too much red ink. Their priorities could come into tension as Democrats take on more power.

“Such new House Democrats are likely to find it much harder to vote for major policy advances that progressives strongly support if those measures would add significantly to deficits and debt,” Robert Greenstein, president of the progressive Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, wrote in an article defending the PAYGO rules.

Activism against PAYGO has been driven by the party’s left flank, but Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, who led a largely centrist coalition against Pelosi’s speakership, also announced his opposition Wednesday.

“Critical investments in education, infrastructure, and health care should not be held hostage to budgetary constraints that Republicans have never respected anyhow,” he said in a statement. “We all believe we need to ultimately bring our budget into balance, but these investments are too important right now to pass up and will yield significant returns for the U.S. Treasury.”

His spokesman Michael Zetts told NBC News that Ryan is undecided on the overall rules package.

Pelosi earned a key endorsement ahead of the rules vote, however, from Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairs Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., and Mark Pocan, D-Wisc. In a joint statement, they said they had been “concerned about PAYGO for months,” but were satisfied with commitments from House Democratic leaders not to let it get in the way of progressive legislation.

“With the assurances that PAYGO can be waived, we do plan to vote for the House rules package and proceed with legislation to fix the statute,” they said.

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No deal Brexit: Does no-deal Brexit mean HARD Irish Border? It’s ‘obvious’ says EU



BRUSSELS has said a hard border would be “obvious” between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Britain leaves the EU on March 29 with no deal.

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Shutdown problems mount as workers poised to miss another check



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By Dareh Gregorian

Problems are piling up at the nation’s airports as workers affected by the government shutdown are poised to miss another paycheck.

Unless the government reopens by midnight — which would take a miracle, since the White House and Democrats don’t appear to be speaking to one another — federal employees will go another pay cycle without compensation, giving them four weeks without pay.

The fallout from the impasse over federal spending on border security was on display at airports across the country on Monday, where the Transportation Security Administration acknowledged that a large number of their agents failed to show up to work, causing longer waits at security lines.

TSA experienced a national rate of unscheduled absences 7.5 percent compared to a 3.3 percent rate one year ago on the same weekday, and “many employees are reporting that they are not able to report to work due to financial limitations,” the agency said in a statement.

The longest waits for travelers were at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, where the “max standard wait time” was 46 minutes, the TSA said. Newark Liberty International Airport had waits of about 40 minutes, and Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport had waits of about 36 minutes.

Other airports had quicker lines. Boston’s Logan International Airport, New York’s Westchester County Airport and Palm Beach International Airport in Florida all had wait times of just 10 minutes, the agency said.

The partial shutdown began on Dec. 22, after President Donald Trump declared he wouldn’t sign a stopgap measure passed by the Senate that would have kept the government open until Feb. 8 because it didn’t include funding to build a wall along the southern border.

On Saturday, Trump proposed ending the shutdown by offering limited protections for so-called Dreamer immigrants who were brought illegally into the United States as minors and offering other enticements in return for $5.7 billion in funding for his wall. Democratic lawmakers, however, have said they won’t negotiate on border funding until the government is re-opened, and on Tuesday, the Supreme Court effectively extended Dreamer protections for 10 more months.

“Without a Wall our Country can never have Border or National Security,” Trump tweeted Tuesday morning. “With a powerful Wall or Steel Barrier, Crime Rates (and Drugs) will go substantially down all over the U.S. The Dems know this but want to play political games.”

A report from the FBI Agents Association on Tuesday said the shutdown is making the country less safe. The advocacy group, which represents 14,000 current and former agents, said the shutdown has impeded investigations across the country — preventing agents from doing such things as getting records in child sexual assault cases, doing undercover drug buys, or paying confidential sources in gang cases and counterterrorism efforts.

In addition to the 800,000 federal employees who are furloughed or working without pay, an estimated 1.2 million people who had been working on government contracts aren’t getting paid either.

Others whose businesses benefit from government operations are feeling the effects too.

With the national parks closed, National Park Inn at Mount Rainier National Park has had to lay off about half its staff so far, said Melinda Simpson, operations manager of concessionaire Rainier Guest Services.

“Do we want to lose any of these people? No,” Simpson said. “It’s not like a furloughed position where somewhere down the line they’re going to get money and and they’re going to get payment — they don’t get anything. For us as a company, we’ll survive. But for the individuals — and really that’s what this all about — I don’t know.”

Associated Press and Steve Patterson contributed.

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N.C. judge turns down GOP candidate’s request to certify disputed congressional race



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By Leigh Ann Caldwell

WASHINGTON — A North Carolina judge Tuesday denied Republican Mark Harris’ request to certify the still-disputed congressional race in the state’s ninth congressional district, saying that the North Carolina Board of Elections should complete its investigation before the court considers intervening.

Attorneys for Harris, who finished with a 905-vote lead in November’s general election, argued that the ongoing delays in the state’s investigation and uncertainty about the process going forward was enough reason for the judge to intervene and grant Harris’ petition.

Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway ruled against the request, and he expressed skepticism during the two-hour hearing in Raleigh on Tuesday, suggesting that it would be an overreach for the court to determine the outcome of the election before the state board had concluded its investigation.

“Certification is not appropriate until the investigation into the protest is concluded,” Ridgeway said.

The North Carolina Board of Elections has not certified the results of the race between Harris and Democrat Dan McCready because of its ongoing investigation into allegations of irregularities and fraudulent activities related to absentee by-mail voting.

Harris’ attorney David Freedman argued that Harris is not suggesting that an investigation shouldn’t continue but that the race should be certified without further delay.

“We are a couple months past the election and we don’t have representation for the residents of the 9th district,” Freedman said.

Ridgeway took a short recess before returning with his decision and saying that it would be an overreach for the court to determine the outcome of a disputed election when the court doesn’t have access to the records and investigative documents that have been collected in the case.

“Why are we looking at a dramatic intervention of one branch of government into another branch of government,” Ridgeway asked.

Representing McCready was Democratic heavyweight attorney Marc Elias, who served as general counsel for the presidential campaigns of Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, and for other high profile Democratic Party entities.

In a statement following the decision, North Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Goodwin said, “we are pleased that Harris’ frivolous request has been denied and that North Carolina can get back to investigating allegations of systematic electoral fraud committed on behalf of Harris’ campaign.”

But North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes said “nothing about today’s court hearing changes the fact that Congressman-Elect Dr. Mark Harris won the election. He received more legal votes and no public evidence has shown the outcome is in doubt. We are confident that Dr. Harris will be certified by the new State Board and will be seated in Washington.”

Central to the disputed race are allegations of unusual voting activity involving absentee ballots, especially in rural Bladen County. The investigation has centered on political operative McCrae Dowless who was hired by political consulting firm Red Dome, which was working on grassroots outreach for the Harris campaign.

Since Election Day, the North Carolina Board of Elections has been upended by both political and legal activities unrelated to the disputed congressional race but directly having an impact on it.

In response to a lawsuit by Democratic Governor Roy Cooper, who alleged that the independent, bipartisan nine-member board was unconstitutional, a three-judge panel ordered that the board be dissolved.

That ruling resulted in the creation of a new board that will be made up of three Democrats and two Republicans, giving Democrat McCready an advantage in the case.

Because of the dissolution of the board, the previously scheduled evidentiary hearing of the congressional race on January 11 is now scheduled for January 31.

Harris’ attempt to convince the court to decide is a last-ditch effort to certify the race before the new, Democrat-majority board is seated.

Rich Gardella and Annie Rose Ramos contributed.

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