Robert Koenig | St. Louis Public Radio

Robert Koenig

Robert Koenig

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This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: WASHINGTON – Wasting no time after being elected to represent the 8th congressional district in southeastern Missouri, new U.S. Rep. Jason Smith flew to Washington on Wednesday and was sworn in as a member of Congress less than 18 hours after his victory.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: WASHINGTON – Pressed by U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill and others, the top Pentagon brass told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that deterring sexual assault is a major priority, but rejected the idea of removing such cases from the chain of command.

This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: It was high noon on a sunny day when about two dozen environmentalists – one of them holding a cardboard “flat Earth” -- gathered recently outside the St. Louis County office of U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner to protest her stance on climate change.

In particular, the Missouri chapter of the Sierra Club is highlighting a recent letter that the first-term member of Congress sent to a constituent, in which Wagner wrote that the theory that humans are responsible for the planet’s recent temperature increase is “inconsistent and unsound science.”

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: WASHINGTON – If Congress doesn’t take action by July 1, many of the 57,000 college students in Missouri and 337,000 in Illinois who are getting new federal student loans will be saddled with more debt than they had bargained for.

That’s because the interest rates on those loans are scheduled to double – to 6.8 percent, from the current 3.4 percent – if there is no stopgap or permanent fix by then. A temporary fix last year kept the rates at the current level, but will expire at the end of June.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: WASHINGTON – With the U.S. Senate moving toward a big vote in June and the House developing an alternative plan, the fate of immigration reform – a major goal of the White House – may hinge on the debate over its costs and benefits, as well as border security.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: WASHINGTON – Missouri’s senators may not agree on many national issues, but U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill’s new bill that aims to deter sexual violence in the military picked up a GOP leadership co-sponsor on Thursday when U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt signed on.

The "Better Enforcement for Sexual Assault Free Environments" (BE SAFE) Act, announced earlier in the day by McCaskill, D-Mo., and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is one of several bills in Congress that take different approaches to the problem.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon - WASHINGTON – On opposite sides of Capitol Hill on a busy Wednesday, two witnesses ruffled some feathers when they invoked their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon - WASHINGTON – After Carol Houck’s two daughters were killed in a crash while driving a rental car subject to a safety recall, the California woman started a campaign to convince rental firms to "ground" such vehicles until they are repaired. 

It took years for Houck, consumer groups and sympathetic lawmakers to get the big rental companies — Clayton-based Enterprise Holdings Inc., Hertz Corp., Avis/Budget and Dollar/Thrifty — to agree to a voluntary pledge last fall not to rent recalled vehicles until manufacturer-defined flaws are fixed.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: WASHINGTON – With congressional probes of the Internal Revenue Service and Benghazi likely to remain in the spotlight, both allies and critics of President Barack Obama are predicting that fallout from the revelations could endanger key parts of his second-term agenda.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: WASHINGTON – With both the Army and Air Force rocked by sexual violence charges against personnel tasked with preventing sexual assaults, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill wants to mandate strict new criteria for officers in such jobs.

“When you have two incidents in two different branches of the military within 30 days of each other, then you realize that you need to scrub what’s going on and start over – recertify, retrain and re-qualify all the people that are doing these jobs,” McCaskill said.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: WASHINGTON – A major water resources bill approved Wednesday by the U.S. Senate calls for more public-private partnerships in river and harbor infrastructure, speeding up environmental reviews and studying ways to maintain Mississippi River navigation during severe droughts and floods.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: WASHINGTON – Responding to the revelations about the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status, U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt said his office was looking for Missouri examples — but so far had not found any.

“I’m going to continue to see if any Missouri groups have had a problem. So far, the groups I’ve talked to either had their IRS status before this began or just simply didn’t try to get it,” Blunt, R-Mo., told reporters on Wednesday

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: WASHINGTON – When U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt announced that he planned to block President Barack Obama’s nominee for the nation’s top environmental job, he couched his opposition in terms of a controversial flood-control project in Missouri’s Bootheel.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: WASHINGTON – Are government agencies trying to suppress or soften reports of waste and corruption in how billions of taxpayer dollars are spent on projects in Afghanistan?

That’s the assertion of the top U.S. auditor for Afghanistan reconstruction. And U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill – who pressured the White House to force out one of his predecessors for being too lax in his audits – is vowing to probe the new allegations.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: WASHINGTON – With the Pentagon reporting a sharp increase in sexual assaults and the Air Force officer in charge of preventing such crimes charged with sexual battery, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill is stepping up her efforts to try to toughen prosecution and alter laws to deter such crimes.

“I am confident there will be changes in how rape and sexual assault cases are handled in the military [included] in this year’s national defense authorization bill,” McCaskill, D-Mo., said in an interview Wednesday.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: The Senate’s approval of a “marketplace fairness” bill to make it easier for states to collect taxes on internet sales now shifts the focus to the U.S. House and – ultimately – to states such as Missouri that don’t enforce their existing internet sales taxes.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: WASHINGTON – With national debates raging on immigration, guns and budget issues, Americans tend to forget that this country is in the midst of the complex and expensive process of extricating itself from the longest war in U.S. history.

After several days in Afghanistan, U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart – the former adjutant-general of the Illinois National Guard – said that, despite the many challenges, he thinks it’s still possible to withdraw most of the 66,000 U.S. military personnel by the end of next year.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: WASHINGTON -- In his remote Yemeni village, young Farea al-Muslimi considered himself to be America's biggest booster. He had spent a year at a California high school and was awarded a U.S. scholarship to study at one of the Middle East's top universities.

But in mid-April, a missile fired by an American drone struck his village -- an explosion that "terrified thousands" in the area and, he said, will likely damage this country's efforts to win over the hearts and minds of people in the fight against terrorism in the region.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: WASHINGTON – In the VA's central region, the Chicago office has the highest and the St. Louis office the fifth-highest percentage of disability claims pending for more than 125 days. VA statistics indicate that nearly 72 percent of the 19,741 claims on file at its St. Louis office -- which handles Misssouri's disability claims -- have been pending for more than 125 days.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: WASHINGTON - U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill said Sunday that she would not rule out the possibility of U.S. troops in Syria, but cautioned that such an option should be considered only if deemed "absolutely necessary."

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: WASHINGTON – A Chesterfield physician is deluged by faxes from companies claiming falsely that her patients had requested medical equipment. An elderly Missouri woman gets three or four calls a day from marketing firms trying to convince her to ask her doctor for equipment she doesn’t need or want.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: WASHINGTON – As the Senate moved toward May approval of the “marketplace fairness” bill, which aims to help states force online retailers to collect sales taxes, backers agreed that the plan would require action from the Missouri Legislature to have much impact in the state.

“I think this does provide the tools that the legislature needs” to modify the existing – but unenforced – Missouri state tax on internet purchases, said U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., a cosponsor of the Senate legislation.

WASHINGTON – With the Boston Marathon bombing investigation focusing on two ethnic Chechens admitted to this country as refugees, the initial wave of public opinion late last week seemed skeptical about immigration reform.

But this week's second wave of reaction to the Boston terrorism – on Capitol Hill, at least – appeared to boost efforts to gain Senate approval for a bipartisan immigration overhaul bill backed by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and other senators.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: WASHINGTON -- With pressure-cooker bombs, indiscriminate casualties and a massive police manhunt that paralyzed a city, the Boston Marathon bombing and the ensuing search for ethnic Chechen suspects has given Americans a sense of North Caucasus-style violence.

But even though the prime-suspect brothers had early roots in the volatile region, there were only oblique indications Friday that their family ties in the troubled provinces of Chechnya and Dagestan in southwest Russia had any link to the motive behind Monday's terror attack in downtown Boston.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: WASHINGTON – In a severe blow to efforts to tighten the nation’s gun control laws, the U.S. Senate on Wednesday failed to advance a bipartisan compromise on background checks that had been regarded as key to passing a wider gun bill. Proposals to ban assault weapons and limit the size of ammunition magazines also were defeated.

With Vice President Joe Biden in the chair, the Senate’s 54-46 vote in favor of the background check amendment – sponsored by U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., and three others – fell short of the 60 votes needed. (This Washington Post article explains why 60 votes were required.)

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: WASHINGTON – After months of negotiations, a bipartisan group of senators, including U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, released details Tuesday of a compromise bill to revamp the nation’s immigration system and pave a 13-year citizenship pathway for millions who are living in this country without legal documents.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: WASHINGTON – Now that everyone has finished filling out their Form 1040s and a myriad other tax forms, plenty of Americans want to know if there is any prospect for a new law to simplify the complex and time-consuming tax code.

The simple but frustrating answer from most experts is: probably not.  But there’s plenty of talk about tax reform this year, and the tax panels of both the U.S. House and Senate are working on separate proposals.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: WASHINGTON – Even though President Barack Obama’s new budget tosses some bones to deficit hawks in an effort to loosen the debt deadlock, congressional Republicans gave few indications that they would be willing to compromise on his demand for revenue hikes.

While some Democrats praised the budget, many liberals, including U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, said they would fight one of the main budget concessions: the White House's proposal to use a less generous measure of inflation (“chained CPI”) to calculate cost-of-living increases for beneficiaries of many federal programs, including most Social Security recipients.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Updated 04.11.13 - On Thursday, the Senate voted 68 - 31 to rebuff initial delaying tactics and clear the way for debate on the gun legislation. U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., voted against moving forward. Voting with the majority were U.S. Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., Mark Kirk, R-Ill., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill. 

Original article WASHINGTON – A bipartisan proposal on the thorny issue of background checks – proposed by four senators, including U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill. – may help pave the way for votes on the first major gun legislation in a decade.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: WASHINGTON – With speeches, ads and new vote ratings, advocates of new laws to stem gun violence are trying to turn up the pressure this week on GOP lawmakers who are trying to block action on gun control.

On Tuesday, Mayors Against Illegal Guns – a group backed by funding from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg – put congressional offices on notice that it would start issuing a “scorecard, assigning members a letter grade on their gun policy records.”

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