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Dems Alter Wall Street Reform Bill In Dash For Votes

By Kyle Trygstad

The death of Sen. Robert Byrd means Democrats have one extra vote to pick up to give final approval to Wall Street reform, which was first reported out of conference committee late last week. But the shuffle for votes was on well before the nine-term West Virginia Democrat passed away Monday morning, and that fact was reemphasized over the last two days.

The conference committee reconvened late Tuesday afternoon and agreed on new ways of funding the bill's increased regulation, removing a $19 billion bank tax that threatened the votes of a handful of Republicans. The committee agreed last night to Sen. Chris Dodd's (D-Conn.) proposal to effectively end TARP now, three months before its scheduled sunset, and increase the percentage banks with more than $10 billion in assets pay into the FDIC's Deposit Insurance Fund.

Democrats hope the move will bring enough senators on board to pass the conference report this week, before a replacement for Byrd is appointed.

At least six senators' votes have been in flux since May 20, when the Senate approved the plan with no margin for error. Four Republicans joined Democrats on final passage of the Senate bill -- Iowa's Chuck Grassley, Massachusetts' Scott Brown and Maine's Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins -- and two Democrats opposed it, Wisconsin's Russ Feingold and Washington's Maria Cantwell.

However, on Tuesday, Feingold and Brown had already announced they would not support the bill as written. In a letter to the lead proponents of the bill, Sen. Chris Dodd and Rep. Barney Frank, Brown wrote that he could not support it after the conference committee inserted the bank tax.

"This tax was not in the Senate version of the bill, which I supported," Brown wrote. "If the final version of this bill contains these higher taxes, I will not support it."

Brown's reluctance to support a bank tax pushed negotiators back to the table Tuesday afternoon in search of alternate ways to pay for the new regulation. Meanwhile, Feingold wants the bill to go further, explaining that his opposition is due to the bill's failure to stop a future financial crisis, including leaving out his push to break up "too big to fail" banks.

Continue reading "Dems Alter Wall Street Reform Bill In Dash For Votes" »

Scott Brown Will Oppose Wall Street Reform

By Kyle Trygstad

Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown announced today he will not support the Wall Street reform conference report in its current form because of its inclusion of a bank tax. Brown announced his opposition in a letter to Sen. Chris Dodd and Rep. Barney Frank, the lead Democratic negotiators on the bill.

"I am writing you to express my strong opposition to the $19 billion bank tax that was included in the financial reform bill during the conference committee," wrote Brown. "This tax was not in the Senate version of the bill, which I supported. If the final version of this bill contains these higher taxes, I will not support it."

Brown was one of four Republicans to support the original Senate version of the bill, which passed May 20. The House-Senate conference committee concluded negotiations Friday and both chambers were expected to vote on the conference report this week, enabling President Obama to sign by July 4.

With the death of West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd and Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold's announcement yesterday that he will not support the bill, Democrats are struggling to come up with the 60 votes necessary to overcome a likely GOP filibuster.

Three other Republicans -- Iowa's Chuck Grassley and Maine's Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins -- have yet to announce whether they will support the bill. And Washington Democrat Maria Cantwell remains undecided as well. For Democrats to pass the bill this week, they will need all four of their votes.

Democrats could re-open the conference committee to continue negotiations. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid could also choose to hold off the vote until after next week's Fourth of July recess, when a replacement for Byrd can be appointed. But Democrats will still need GOP votes to pass it.

UPDATE: Dodd and Frank announced the conference committee will in fact reconvene at 5 p.m.

Immigration Reform's Unclear Path

While Democratic leaders ramp up for an effort to push immigration reform to the floor of the Senate, the general sense among Senate Republicans is that it has no chance for success, GOP aides tell RealClearPolitics. If it fell well short of passing in 2007 after extensive bipartisan work, how exactly will 60 senators come together in the next month on a bill that has yet to be written?

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's decision yesterday to back off from pushing immigration ahead of climate change reflected that.

On June 28, 2007, just 46 senators voted in favor of cloture on the comprehensive immigration bill, 14 shy of the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster. Among the 46 were 12 Republicans, including Arizona Sens. Jon Kyl and John McCain, and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham -- all of whom could now oppose a new bill.

Continue reading "Immigration Reform's Unclear Path" »

Dems Confident They'll Have The Votes

Democratic leaders professed confidence this morning that the House would pass both the Senate bill and the accompanying bill of "fixes" today. Having promised members at least 72 hours to look at the new bill, the earliest House Democrats could call a vote would be 2:07 p.m., though it's not expected to take place until this evening.

"We're going to get those 216 votes," Hoyer said on NBC's "Meet the Press," saying they're within "low single digits" of getting to 216. "I think we're going to have 216 votes when the roll is called, yes. There's still members looking at it and trying to make up their minds. But we think there are going to be 216-plus votes when we call the roll."

House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson went a step further, saying on ABC's "This Week": "We have the votes, we're going to make history today...We have the votes now, as we speak."

A House Democratic leadership source, speaking on background, sounded equally confident that the bills would pass. When the vote takes place -- which previously was reported would likely be between 6 p.m. and midnight -- depends on how many delaying tactics Republicans invoke, but it is still expected tonight.

Hoyer: Process Is Interesting To Us, Not Americans

The debate on Capitol Hill now is whether or not there will be an up-or-down vote on health care reform in the House if Democrats go forward with the "Slaughter Solution" -- whereby there will only be one roll call vote on a bill that fixes unsavory parts of the Senate bill and thereby automatically approves the Senate bill.

Republicans continue to push the message that this will remove any accountability for the bill, allowing House Democrats to tell voters they never voted for the unpopular Senate bill.

On the House floor today, Minority Whip Eric Cantor called for an up-or-down vote, and Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence said the proposed process showed Democrats are "willing to trample on the traditional rules of the House and Senate and even trample on the Constitution of the United States" to pass health care reform.

Minority Leader John Boehner announced this afternoon he would introduce a resolution that would force an up-or-down vote on the actual Senate bill.

Democrats argue that the legislative maneuver they are considering was used countless times by Republicans when they were in the majority -- including on a massive lobbying and ethics reform package in 2006 -- and that there is no hiding the fact that the vote on the accompanying reconciliation bill will lead to the passage of health care reform.

"Frankly, what we want to do is do the Senate bill as amended by reconciliation," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters today. "If we pursue this process, it is consistent with the rules, it is consistent with former practice, and in my opinion will be consistent with having members express themselves on the Senate bill as amended by reconciliation."

"We will vote on it in one form or another," he added.

Republicans are highlighting the process of passing health care reform as they go district-by-district warning vulnerable House Democrats that their vote could be fatal to their political future. The National Republican Congressional Committee just launched the latest in a string of TV ads in Democratic districts. This one is airing in the Cincinnati-based district of freshman Rep. Steve Driehaus, who unseated Republican Steve Chabot in 2008 and will face the former congressman again in November.

That effort could be having an effect on Democrats getting the necessary 216 votes to pass reform, as Majority Whip James Clyburn says he still does not have enough vote commitments from his members.

Hoyer argues that while Republicans "have done everything in their power to undermine" the ability of Congress to move reform through both chambers of Congress, process is not what Americans are focused on. Republicans lost power in 2006 "because of substance," not process, he said.

"I don't think any American...is going to make the distinction," said Hoyer, adding that both parties have used this process and that few voters care that Republicans actually used it more often than Democrats. "Process is interesting, particularly to all of us around this room. But in the final analysis, what is interesting to the American public is what does this bill do for them and their families."

The House Budget Committee marked up and voted on the reconciliation bill yesterday, and Democratic leaders are still waiting for scoring from the Congressional Budget Office, which will tell them how much the bill will cost. Hoyer said he expects the bill will come up later this week.

Dreier Slams Dems' Health Care 'Gymnastics'

As House Democrats consider a new legislative option for moving health care reform to President Obama's desk, Rules Committee Ranking Member David Dreier (R-Calif.) said only an up or down vote in the House on both the Senate bill and its reconciliation accompaniment would be appropriate for such a large piece of legislation.

"It's very painful and troubling to see the gymnastics by which they're going to avoid accountability," Dreier told reporters today during an off-camera briefing.

Under the proposed solution by Rules Committee Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), the committee could "deem" the Senate bill passed upon passage of the accompanying reconciliation bill, which would fix some of the issues that House Democrats had with the Senate's bill. The move would theoretically save Democrats in vulnerable districts from technically voting for the Senate bill; they would only be voting to fix it and remove certain undesirable aspects from it, such as the now infamous "Cornhusker kickback."

But their vote, which Dreier said could take place Sunday, would still directly result in the passage of the Senate bill. Because there would be no vote on the Senate bill itself, "There is absolutely no accountability," Dreier said. "To resort to these kinds of tactics to deal with this is just plain wrong."

"While the process of lawmaking should be ugly, I have never seen it as ugly as it seems to be coming before us this week," he said. "The fact is every amount of energy that is being applied today is trying to avoid the accountability of an up or down vote on this process."

Reporters noted to Dreier that Republicans used similar tactics for large pieces of legislation when they were in power from 1995-2006. Dreier and one of his advisers said there was no comparison and that instances of deeming a bill passed without a vote were "pretty rare."

However, Dreier did admit that what the Democrats are doing is well within the rules. "It's something they can clearly do if they have the votes."

"There was nothing of this magnitude that was done" under GOP control, Dreier said. "The notion of having the federal government move to take control of what is one-sixth of the economy is something that deserves a much more open process than we are getting here."

In recent weeks and over the weekend, Democrats have sought to put the focus on what health care reform would mean for Americans and take the spotlight off the process of passing it.

"The one thing I'm sure of is that the American people don't know or care much about the sequencing of parliamentary procedures," White House senior adviser David Axelrod said yesterday on NBC's "Meet the Press." It's "not about procedure. It's about what are we going to do to protect the American people and give them the security they deserve?"

Noting Axelrod's statement, Dreier flatly disagreed, saying: "Process is substance."

2010 Primaries Update

Here is an update on some 2010 Midterm primaries:

PA-12 -- Hafer Drops Out: Former State Treasurer and Auditor General Barbara Hafer is dropping her bid to succeed the late Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), leaving a mostly clear Democratic path to November for Mark Critz -- whom state party leaders already nominated for the May 18 special election. Hafer announced her bid one week after Murtha's death in early February. However, party leaders preferred Critz, a former Murtha aide.

GA-7 -- No Ralph Reed: Former Christian Coalition executive director Ralph Reed announced this morning he will not be running for the open seat in Georgia's 7th District. Reed drove up speculation in the last day that he would run by announcing a forthcoming announcement. It did, however, draw attention to his work founding the Faith and Freedom Coalition -- which he said will work to register "an estimated one million new faith-based voters and make tens of millions of voter contacts" in the 2010 and 2012 elections.

MI-1-- Stupak Gets Primaried: Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) is now most well known for leading the charge of pro-life Democrats to include stricter abortion language in the stalled health care reform legislation. Because of this, a Democratic activist named Connie Saltonstall, who is a former Charlevoix County commissioner, has announced she's challenging him in the primary. "It's his willingness to not have health care pass over his abortion position that has people like me upset," Saltonstall said. Stupak represents the Upper Peninsula and 16 of the state's northernmost counties on the Lower Peninsula.

OH-10 -- Kucinich Gets Kos Warning: Liberal Rep. Dennis Kucinich's (D-Ohio) opposition to the health care bill because it doesn't go far enough could earn him a Netroots-backed primary challenge, according to DailyKos founder Markos Moulitsas. "I don't think he gets a pass," Moulitsas said last night on "Countdown with Keith Olbermann." "I don't care what his excuse is." Moulitsas, who called the reform bill "a good first step," compared Kucinich unfavorably to Ralph Nader, who "paved the way for eight years of George Bush" by running against Democrats in presidential elections.

Is GOP Better Served If Health Care Passes Or Fails?

The two committees responsible for electing Republicans to the House and Senate indicated yesterday that GOP candidates will be well served by running on health care reform, which Democrats are still attempting to get to President Obama's desk. Yet an interesting question has arisen -- would Republicans be better off if the legislation passes or fails?

Publicly, the National Republican Congressional Committee and National Republican Senatorial Committee say passing the plan would be disastrous for Democrats. However, both are also making efforts to stop it.

In a memo to House candidates, NRCC Executive Director Johnny DeStefano wrote that challengers can affect the outcome of health care in Congress right now by warning their Democratic opponent that their vote will not be forgotten.

"Regardless of how your opponent voted in the past, you can make a major impact on his or her political calculations by reminding these Democrats that a 'YES' vote on the Senate-passed bill will guarantee them an all-out, full-throated blitz from your campaign and national Republicans throughout the spring, summer, and fall," wrote DeStefano.

Likewise, NRSC Chairman John Cornyn told reporters yesterday that Democrats would be wise to give up on the party's current reform plan, if they know what's good for them in November.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid "are being told that it's better to pass something" than nothing, said Cornyn. "But if they pass this bill, this is going to be the issue in November 2010. If they don't pass it and move on to something else, they at least have a fighting chance."

Pelosi and Reid "seem to have no regard for their members' electoral prospects," Cornyn added.

Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg said today on MSNBC's "Daily Rundown" that the Democrats' best move would be to pass the bill, and explain to Americans exactly what's in it and why they should like it. Republicans won back Congress in 1994 shortly after Democrats ended their health care reform efforts.

"In 1994, it was the end of September -- six weeks before the election -- that they gave up on health care," he said. "So it was late in the process, they failed on it, they didn't explain it, the president did not give a major speech saying what it is."

Asked why Republicans wouldn't just let the Democrats vote on the bill if they're certain it will hurt the party in November, Cornyn dismissed it, saying: "There's politics and then there's policy."

The same dynamic is true in the NRCC memo, which calls for Republican challengers to help defeat health care reform while simultaneously noting that any Democrat who votes for it will pay for that vote in the election.

"We are on the road to victory," DeStefano concludes. "Now we must work together to capitalize on the monumental opportunity to stand with the American people and prevent an historic disaster."

Hoyer's Office Flatly Denies Massa Accusation

The office of House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer flatly denies the accusation of outgoing Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.) that the White House and Democratic House leadership got rid of him in an effort to pass health care reform.

"That's completely false. There is zero merit to that accusation," Hoyer spokeswoman Katie Grant told RealClearPolitics.

Massa announced his departure from Congress on Friday after an ethics investigation was launched into his conduct with a male staffer in his office. His resignation becomes official at 5 p.m. today.

Massa opposed the Democrats' health care plan for reasons opposite of Republicans -- the bill did not go far enough.

"There's a reason that this has all happened," Massa said on a New York radio station on Sunday.

With the departure of Hawaii Rep. Neil Abercrombie and the untimely death of Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha, he said, "Mine is now the deciding vote on the health care bill. And this administration and this House leadership have said -- quote, unquote -- that they will stop at nothing to pass this health care bill. And now they've gotten rid of me and it will pass. You connect the dots."

Ethics Committee Confirms Massa Investigation

The House ethics committee confirmed today that it is looking into allegations made against Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.), who announced yesterday he won't return to Congress next year due to health concerns related to cancer.

However, it was reported that Massa was also leaving amid an allegation that he harrassed a male staffer in his office. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer's office released a statement last night confirming that Hoyer knew about the allegations and insisted they be reported to the ethics committee.

The ethics panel, referred to officially as the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, released a brief statement today saying it is "gathering additional information concerning matters related to allegations involving Representative Eric Massa."

Massa denied the charges yesterday during a conference call with reporters to announce he would not seek re-election to a second term.

Dems' New Reconciliation Spokesman: Judd Gregg

Senate Democratic leadership released this video to reporters today, jokingly calling New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) their "new spokesman to explain why reconciliation is a simple up or down vote that the American people deserve."

"It is totally inappropriate for a senator to come to this floor and represent that this is some sort of unethical act, as was implied," Gregg said. "We are using the rules of the Senate as they are set up to be used."

Gregg made the comments from the Senate floor on March 16, 2005.

"We appreciate Senator Gregg's support and his explanation of reconciliation," said Senate Democratic leadership spokesman Rodell Mollineau. "We could not have expressed it better ourselves."

Ways & Means: Stark Out, Levin In

After about a day of serving as acting chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee, Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) is out and Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.) is in, Speaker Pelosi confirmed this morning.

Roll Call reported the move earlier, writing that "Democrats on the committee resisted the idea" of the the outspoken liberal taking over the reins in place of Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), who stepped down amid a number of ethics investigations against him -- including one that ended in a public admonishment of his actions.

Stark, who represents the Bay Area-based 13th District, is known for "his incendiary debating style" and remarks that he concedes are at times "unnecessary," according to the Almanac of American Politics. The 69-year-old is serving his 19th term in Congress.

Levin, the older brother of Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, is serving his 14th term in the Detroit-based 12th District. The Almanac describes Levin as a "hard worker and a details man, willing to spend endless hours with others working out solutions."

Speaker Pelosi released the following statement:

"Congressman Pete Stark has informed me that, due to his desire to remain as subcommittee Chairman of the Health Subcommittee, he has resigned as acting Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. Pete Stark has been a leader in health insurance reform, and we will continue to rely upon him as we enter the final stretch of ensuring health care for all Americans.

"With Congressman Stark's decision, Congressman Sander Levin is now acting Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. As Chairman, Sandy Levin will be a powerful advocate for addressing the urgent needs of the American people."

Hoyer Confirms Massa Ethics Charge

Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.) denied yesterday that reported ethics charges factored into his decision not to run for a second term in Congress this year, citing a third recurrence of cancer and doctor recommendations that he slow down. In a short statement to reporters over a conference call yesterday, Massa said articles referring to the rumors were "unsubstantiated without fact or backing."

However, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer's office confirmed last night that the charges do exist and that he knew about it.

Here is the statement from Hoyer spokeswoman Katie Grant:

"The week of February 8th, a member of Rep. Massa's staff brought to the attention of Mr. Hoyer's staff allegations of misconduct that had been made against Mr. Massa. Mr. Hoyer's staff immediately informed him of what they had been told. Mr. Hoyer instructed his staff that if Mr. Massa or his staff did not bring the matter to the attention of the bipartisan Ethics Committee within 48 hours, Mr. Hoyer would do so. Within 48 hours, Mr. Hoyer received confirmation from both the Ethics Committee staff and Mr. Massa's staff that the Ethics Committee had been contacted and would review the allegations. Mr. Hoyer does not know whether the allegations are true or false, but wanted to ensure that the bipartisan committee charged with overseeing conduct of Members was immediately involved to determine the facts."

Politico reported yesterday that the ethics charges dealt with allegations Massa "made unwanted advances toward a junior male staffer."

Rangel Requests 'Leave of Absence'

Embattled New York Rep. Charles Rangel (D) told reporters this morning that he has requested a "leave of absence" from his post as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. Rangel was admonished by the House ethics committee on Friday for accepting corporate-paid travel and remains under investigation by the panel for other possible transgressions.

From the New York Times:

"I have, this morning, sent a letter to Speaker Pelosi asking her to grant me a leave of absence until such time as the Ethics Committee completes its work," the congressman said in a brief meeting with reporters.

He declined to answer questions in any detail, however, saying that to do so would raise issues that "would distract me from what I have to do in terms of completion of the president's health bill as well as making sure our committee gets a good jobs bill."

Republicans had been pressing for a vote to remove him from his chairmanship. Mr. Rangel said he acted in order to avoid forcing his colleagues to defend him during an election year.

The move saves Speaker Pelosi from the uncomfortable position of either removing a senior House member from his chairmanship or defending a member under multiple ethics investigations.

UPDATE: Pelosi released the following statement: "Chairman Charlie Rangel has informed me of his request for a leave of absence from his duties and responsibilities as Chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means. I will honor his request. I commend Chairman Rangel for his decades of leadership on jobs, health care, and the most significant economic issues of the day."

Snowe Most Liberal Republican, National Journal Finds

Over at RCP Blog, Tom rounds up the new National Journal rankings of the most liberal and conservative members of Congress.

Here, a look at the most liberal Republicans and most conservative Democrats in each chamber:

Most Liberal Republicans: House
1. Mike Castle (DE)
2. John McHugh* (NY)
3. Dave Reichert (WA)
4. Joseph Cao (LA)
5. Mark Kirk (IL)

Most Conservative Democrats: House
1. Bobby Bright (AL)
2. Parker Griffith** (AL)
3. Gene Taylor (MS)
4. Travis Childers (MS)
5. Jim Marshall (GA)

Most Liberal Republicans: Senate
1. Olympia Snowe (ME)
2. Richard Lugar (IN)
3. Susan Collins (ME)
4. George Voinovich (OH)
5. Judd Gregg (NH)

Most Conservative Democrats: Senate
1. Evan Bayh (IN)
2. Ben Nelson (NE)
3. Arlen Specter (PA)
4. Russ Feingold (WI)
5. Jim Webb (VA)

*Retired to become Army secretary
**Switched to the GOP

House Ethics Panel: Rangel Broke Rules

The House Ethics committee has found that New York Rep. Charles Rangel (D) broke House rules by accepting trips to the Caribbean that were paid for by a company that lobbied Congress, the Associated Press reported first. The report could have an effect on his status as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.

Rangel told reporters Thursday evening that he believes he will only be "admonished."

In its report, released Thursday evening, the panel's chair and ranking member wrote that Rangel was the only one of the six members being investigated who acted knowingly and violated rules. Rangel violated the "House gift rule" for accepting payment for travel.

Officers and employees at Carib News, the organization that hosted the members and accepted corporate contributions to help pay for it, were found to have given false or misleading statements to the ethics panel, which has referred their actions to the Justice Department.

"It is the intention of the Committee that publication of this Report will serve as a public admonishment by the Standards Committee of Representatitve Rangel," the report reads.

Rangel continues to be under investigation for other potential improprieties not connected with the Caribbean trips, including some tax-related issues. As Ways and Means chairman, he helps write the country's tax laws. He's been under investigation since mid-2008, when he called for an ethics investigation on himself.

The 79-year-old has represented Harlem since 1970. He spent Thursday at the Blair House attending President Obama's health care summit.

Durbin: Democrats Will "Press Forward" On Health Care

Speaking to reporters during the lunch break at today's health care summit, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin hinted that Democrats are expecting to press ahead on health care through reconciliation, a tactic Republicans have decried for this legislation.

"I'm glad the president is trying, the American people want him to try," he said, according to a pool report. "If nothing comes of this we're going to press forward. We just can't quit. This is a once in a political lifetime opportunity to deal with a health care system that is really unsustainable."

The use of reconciliation was actually a flashpoint early on in today's summit, with Senate GOP Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander asking President Obama to renounce the use of the procedural tactic.

"You can say that this process has been used before, and that would be right, but it's never been used for anything like this," he said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid later responded.

"No one has talked about reconciliation but that's what you folks have talked about ever since that came out, as if it's something that has never been done before," he said. "The Speaker and I have not talked about doing reconciliation as the only way out of all this. Of course it's not the only way out. But remember, since 1981 reconciliation has been used 21 times. Most of it has been used by Republicans, for major things, like much of the Contract for America, Medicare reform, the tax cuts for rich people in America. So reconciliation isn't something that's never been done before."

The Week Ahead: Health Care Summit

Thirty years after the Miracle on Ice in Lake Placid, Team USA wins another upset in Olympic hockey. Our side defeated the Canucks (Team Canada, that is) in Vancouver Sunday night 5-3, thanks in part to a solid performance in goal by Ryan Miller. Both teams move on to the elimination round, but the Americans get a bye.

Here in Washington, it's another busy week.

White House: At 10 am today, the Obama administration will officially post its latest health care proposal. Early reports on the draft call for the federal government getting new power to regulate excessive premium increases, on the heels of Anthem Blue Cross of California's announcement of a 25 percent hike.

"The status quo is good for the insurance industry and bad for America," Obama said in his weekly video address. "And as bad as things are today, they'll only get worse if we fail to act."

This all comes ahead of a planned bipartisan summit on Thursday where the president has promised to give Republicans a chance to pitch their ideas. Today, President Obama is set to speak to the National Governors Association at the White House (the governors enjoyed a state dinner there last night). Wednesday he'll speak to the Business Roundtable in Washington.

Capitol Hill: House members never made it back to town two weeks ago as Washington was pummeled by snow, and last week was lost to the previously scheduled Presidents Day recess. So the House returns today -- a day early -- for a week in which health care heads back to the headlines. The president's health care summit is set for Thursday -- so far House Republicans haven't said whether they will attend, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday he and other Senate Republicans will be there.

On the docket in the House this week could be a portion of the Democrats' comprehensive health care bill -- removing health insurers' antitrust exemption. The Senate picks up on some leftover business from two weeks ago as well with a cloture vote on a jobs bill scheduled for 5:30 pm tonight.

Politics: This is the final full week of campaigning before the gubernatorial primaries in Texas on March 2. Gov. Rick Perry (R) seems to have a commanding lead in the Republican primary, but he's still short of the 50 percent threshold he needs to avoid a runoff, likely against Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. We haven't seen polling since a third candidate, Debra Medina, drew criticism for comments about the 9/11 attacks on Glenn Beck's radio show.

Speaking of Beck, his Saturday night speech capped off a busy weekend at CPAC. The biggest surprise was not Vice President Dick Cheney's unscheduled visit, but instead the victory of Ron Paul in a 2012 presidential primary straw poll. Expect that to lead to continued discussion of the role of the tea party movement as well as libertarians like Paul in the GOP ahead of elections this fall.

Governors also made their mark this weekend at the NGA meeting, with considerable discussion on Sunday shows from both leaders in both parties about the political environment in Washington. Check back here for more from an interview with Gov. Jack Markell (D) and conversations with other state leaders this weekend.

** Poll Watch:
Obama Job Performance: Approve 47.1 / Disapprove 46.0 (+1.1)
Congress Job Performance: Approve 20.4 / Disapprove 73.4 (-53.0)
Generic Ballot Test: Republicans +1.1

**In Case You Missed It: Speaking of governors, New York's David Paterson kicked off his re-election campaign Saturday. Judging by the headlines in the Big Apple, it didn't go well. Oddly enough, Paterson sat at a table with White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel at Sunday night's state dinner, after the White House pushed him to announce he wouldn't run.

Speaking of strange pairings, here's video of Michelle Obama talking about her obesity initiative with Mike Huckabee on his Fox News Channel show.

Medal Count: U.S., 24; Germany, 18; Norway 12; Canada, 9; Korea, 9; Austria, 8; Russia 8.

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

The Week Ahead: Olympic Recess

The Winter Olympics opened Friday evening under a somber cloud following the accidental death of a luger just hours earlier. The Vancouver-hosted games continued on, however, with an exciting first two days. Tops was the men's and women's freestyle skiing events. Canada's first gold medal on home soil was won last night in thrilling fashion by Alex Bilodeau -- who barely defeated Canadian-turned-Australian Dale Begg-Smith. America's Hannah Kearney turned in an equally awesome performance the night before to win gold ahead of Canadian favorite Jenn Heil.

White House: The threat of snow shortened what was to have been a long weekend for President Obama at Camp David. He is back at the White House today with no events scheduled on the holiday. His schedule for the rest of the week includes a mix of domestic and foreign policy, as well as some politics. Tomorrow he'll have another event focused on jobs in the DC area. On Wednesday, Obama welcomes Spain's King Juan Carlos I to the White House, followed Thursday by a meeting with the Dalai Lama.

Also Thursday, Obama will travel to Denver one year and one day after he signed the Recovery Act into law. This trip is about politics, though -- he'll be attending a fundraiser for Sen. Michael Bennet (D), appointed last year and facing a tough primary and general election this year. After the event, Obama travels to Las Vegas for a DNC fundraiser. Then on Friday, he'll have events to boost Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's re-election bid. Reid still faces an uphill climb, but he did get some good news with the decision of Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki (R) not to run, and the qualification of a Tea Party candidate.

Capitol Hill: Just before the weekend, Obama signed into law a bill raising the country's debt limit by nearly $2 trillion, as well as a requirement that any new spending or tax cuts by Congress must be offset by a corresponding spending reduction or revenue increase.

Both chambers of Congress are on recess this week in celebration of Presidents Day. Due to snow, the House was out all last week as well. Senators and Representatives will return next Monday, Feb. 22. The Senate will open with a reading of George Washington's Farewell Address by Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.), then take up a new jobs bill it was unable to compromise on last week.

Politics: Two big conferences are on the schedule later this week. The annual CPAC gathering starts this Thursday in Washington, with Florida Senate candidate Marco Rubio delivering the keynote in the morning. Also due to speak are Glenn Beck, Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, Mike Pence, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul.

Then on Saturday the nation's governors descend on Washington for the annual NGA Meeting. NGA Chair Jim Douglas of Vermont had chosen health care as his policy focus for the year, so you can expect to hear the state leaders weighing in on the national debate. On Sunday night the governors have dinner at the White House.

** Poll Watch:
Obama Job Performance: Approve 47.6 / Disapprove 45.3 (+2.3)
Congress Job Performance: Approve 20.4 / Disapprove 73.4 (-53.0)
Generic Ballot Test: Republicans +2.0

**In Case You Missed It: Today is Presidents Day, but Sunday was Vice Presidents Day on Sunday talk shows. RCP Video has clips from Joe Biden and Dick Cheney's dueling appearances, focused on the Obama administration's prosecution of the war on terrorism. This is a topic that will continue to be debated.

Medal Count: U.S., 6; Germany, 4; France, 3; Canada, 3; Korea, 2; Italy, 2.

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) Retiring

Rhode Island Rep. Patrick Kennedy is retiring from the House after eight terms in office, AP reports.

"Now having spent two decades in politics, my life is taking a new direction, and I will not be a candidate for re-election this year," Kennedy says in a taped statement that will be played Sunday on local TV stations.

While his late father's Massachusetts Senate seat was won by a Republcian last month, Kennedy's House district is heavily Democratic and he never won re-election with less than 60 percent of the vote -- including 2008, when he won by a 45-point margin. The 1st District is the eastern half of the state's two House districts, and includes Pawtucket and Newport.

UPDATE: DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen expressed confidence in a statement this afternoon that Democrats would hold on to the seat. "We are confident that a Democrat who shares Congressman's Kennedy commitment to public service, particularly during these difficult economic times, will continue to serve the 1st District with the same passion that Congressman Kennedy has throughout his tenure in Congress," he said.

(S)No(w) Votes In The House This Week

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer announced this afternoon that the House will not hold votes this week due to weather-related travel troubles for members attempting to get back into town. The House was already scheduled to be out of session next week for the President's Day recess.

"As a result of the inclement weather affecting Members' ability to travel to Washington, DC this week, there will be no votes in the House for the remainder of the week. The change this week means that we will add two days to the schedule as we look to take action on a jobs bill and other critical measures. Therefore, the House will reconvene on Monday, February 22, one day earlier than previously scheduled. The House will now also be in session on Friday, February 26th."

For more on the crazy weather we're having here in the D.C. area, check out the Washington Post's excellent Capital Weather Gang blog.

Congressional Leaders React To White House Meeting

The immediate reactions are in from the congressional leaders in attendance for a small gathering at the White House today to discuss a jobs bill.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid:

"Today's meeting with the President was productive. I applaud his continued efforts to work on a bipartisan basis to strengthen our economy. One of the most important issues on the minds of people in Nevada and across the country is the need to create jobs. Last year we took steps that prevented a bad situation from becoming worse, but it's time to make our country strong again. Senate Democrats remain hopeful that our Republican colleagues will work with us this week to take swift action and pass legislation to help businesses thrive and create jobs."

Continue reading "Congressional Leaders React To White House Meeting" »

White House Health Care Meeting Met With Skepticism On The Hill

President Obama's recently proposed White House health care meeting was immediately met with skepticism on Capitol Hill -- Republicans are wary of the motives behind the move, while Democrats doubt the result will be any different than negotiations with the GOP over the past year.

Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, called it "a hollow PR blitz," adding, "Republicans welcome honest discussion, but this event reeks of political gamesmanship." GOP House leaders John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Eric Cantor (R-Va.) sent a lengthy letter to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel outlining their many concerns with the meeting.

On the Senate side, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) indicated a willingness to talk as long as the plans that passed the two chambers are scrapped and the two sides start from scratch, which Boehner and Cantor called for as well.

"If we are to reach a bipartisan consensus, the White House can start by shelving the current health spending bill," said McConnell.

Meanwhile, some liberal members aren't convinced Republicans are willing to negotiate and believe the opposing party has simply adopted an obstructionist political strategy -- and the event could provide a televised forum for political posturing.

"If there is an earnest effort to come to some kind of understanding, then it's worth the effort," Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said Monday in an interview with RealClearPolitics. "Personally, I'm not optimistic."

President Obama announced the Feb. 25 meeting during an interview with CBS News just before the Super Bowl, hoping the televised effort will help bring transparency and solutions to the Democrats' stalled effort of reforming the health care system. Democrats and Republicans from the House and Senate will be invited, though it's unclear which of the many factions in the debate are willing to compromise their priorities to solve the impasse.

For instance, liberals are still pushing the public option, which was left out of the Senate bill after failing to receive enough support and assumed to be a nonstarter in bicameral negotiations. With weather permitting, Grijalva and other Progressive Caucus leaders will meet late this afternoon with several senators, including Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), to discuss the government-run insurance option, an insurance exchange and other reform measures.

"We don't think they're dead," Grijalva said of the progressives' priorities. "I hate to be pessimistic about the White House meeting, but regardless of what happens with that we're still working to get something done."

Reactions To Murtha's Death

Here is a look at John Murtha the man and congressman by Politico's David Rogers.

President Obama:

Michelle and I were deeply saddened today to hear about the passing of Congressman John Murtha. Jack was a devoted husband, a loving father and a steadfast advocate for the people of Pennsylvania for nearly 40 years. His passion for service was born during his decorated career in the United States Marine Corps, and he went on to earn the distinction of being the first Vietnam War combat veteran elected to Congress. Jack's tough-as-nails reputation carried over to Congress, where he became a respected voice on issues of national security. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife of nearly 55 years, Joyce, their three children, and the entire Murtha family.

And here are reactions from members of Congress:

Continue reading "Reactions To Murtha's Death" »

John Murtha Dies

Rep. John Murtha (D-PA 12), an 18-term congressman from southwestern Pennsylvania, died today at age 77. He had been hospitalized for complications related to gallbladder surgery.

Murtha's death comes just days after he became the longest-serving member of Congress in Pennsylvania history. Murtha represented the 12th District since winning a special election in February 1974. Beginning with his election to a full term later that year, Murtha never won re-election with less than 58 percent of the vote.

Murtha's passing will set the stage for the seventh House special election in the 111th Congress, in a district that was evenly split in 2008 between John McCain and Barack Obama. Murtha had faced his toughest race that year as well, on the heels of a controversial remark about people in his district being "racist." He's also been the subject of scrutiny over earmarks he's secured for his Johnstown-based district.

This year, Murtha was facing a primary challenge from Ryan Bucchianeri, a former Naval officer and placekicker on the Navy college football team. Republican Bill Russell, whom Murtha defeated with 58% in 2008, is running again, as is Republican businessman Tim Burns.

Whoever replaces Murtha will have the impossible task of filling in for one of the more powerful members of Congress. Murtha, the first Vietnam veteran elected to Congress, was an Approprations committee "Cardinal" -- a title given to the chairmen of the various Appropriations subocommittees. Murtha chaired the Subcommittee on Defense.

The area that now makes up the 12th District was heavily Republican from the Civil War to the 1930s, according to the Almanac of American Politics. Without Murtha, it is the quintessential swing district. McCain won it by fewer than 1,000 votes; John Kerry won it by 8,000 votes four years earlier.

Democrats have won every special election in this Congress, including one pick-up from the GOP in New York 23. Another is set in the Florida 19th on April 13, with yet another seat opening soon when Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-HI) steps down to run for governor.

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

The Week Ahead: Digging Out, Digging In

We survived the Snowmageddon in Washington this weekend, but don't look now -- there's more coming this week. Meanwhile, what a weekend in New Orleans: a landslide mayoral win for Mitch Landrieu preceded a big win for the Saints in Super Bowl XLIV -- and Mardi Gras is just a week away. Laissez les bons temps rouler.

** White House: President Obama managed to sneak in some news during his pregame interview with Katie Couric last night. He's invited leadership from both parties for a health care summit at Blair House next week, all of which will be televised. The practical effect is a delaying tactic on health care legislation.

The leadership was already scheduled to come to the White House this week for a session that is due to focus on other legislative priorities, a jobs bill in particular. Also on tap this week: the president hosts another White House concert, this one in honor of Black History Month. Also on Wednesday, Vice President Biden will give a broad speech on nuclear threats facing the nation.

** Capitol Hill:: Congress will likely be slowed this week by the District's massive snowstorm, with more snow expected Tuesday. The House wasn't expected back until Tuesday anyway, while the Senate delayed votes until tomorrow that had been scheduled for today. With jobs the No. 1 priority for Democrats this year, the Senate -- now with 59 Democratic votes -- is having trouble coming to a concensus on a jobs bill that was supposed to be voted on this week. Meanwhile, the House may vote this week on a piece of their comprehensive health care reform bill -- ending the antitrust exemption for insurance companies, titled, "Health Insurance Industry Fair Competition Act."

** Politics: Is New York Gov. David Paterson (D) resigning? During last night's Super Bowl, a report indicated that he would, with a coming bombshell in the New York Times being the trigger. Paterson's office quickly denied it. If Paterson did resign, it would elevate a man most New Yorkers would be hard-pressed to identify -- Richard Ravitch -- to the state's top job. Ravitch was only appointed lieutenant governor after a court fight this year over whether that position could be filled by the governor. If Paterson resigned, or at least announced that he won't run for election, it could speed up Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's entrance into the race. It's quite a saga in the Empire State that began with Eliot Spitzer's surprising resignation in 2008.

Speaking of scandals, Illinois lieutenant governor nominee Scott Lee Cohen officially announced Sunday night that he would withdraw his candidacy -- a move that spares state Democrats of a potentially disastrous situation this November. Though Cohen won the nomination last week on his own, state law calls for him to run jointly on a ticket with Gov. Pat Quinn this fall. Now, the state Democratic committee gets the luxury of picking a new candidate for that slot -- which could provide an opportunity to find someone more electorally potent for the entire slate.

The Texas governor's race continues to heat up. Sarah Palin, fresh off her Tea Party Convention keynote address and Fox News Sunday appearance, joined Gov. Rick Perry yesterday for a rally. Meanwhile, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison paid for some Super Bowl ad space to air this attack on the incumbent.

** Poll Watch:
Obama Job Performance: Approve 48.4 / Disapprove 46.9 (+1.5)
Congress Job Performance: Approve 22.4 / Disapprove 70.2 (-47.8)
Generic Ballot Test: Republicans +2.8

** In Case You Missed It: It was a somewhat lackluster "SNL" this weekend, but this gem late in the show saved it. Andy Samberg's imitation of Rahm Emanuel wasn't great, but he nailed the White House chief of staff's attitude.

A bonus note: this fascinating behind-the-scenes look at one of the few good Super Bowl ads, the Oprah-Dave-Jay spot for "Late Show."

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

The Week Ahead: Spotlight Illinois

This week will be capped off Sunday with what should be an excellent Super Bowl between the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints -- two teams with high-powered offenses and underrated defenses. Until then, our attention will be on Democrats' continued efforts at passing health care reform, a forthcoming jobs bill and President Obama's new budget blueprint. The most exciting moment, though, will be Tuesday night when Illinois primary election returns come in.

** White House: Today is budget day at the White House, and the administration's plan for fiscal 2011 will set the tone for the week. The $3.8 trillion budget is highlighted by the three-year discretionary spending freeze President Obama announced in last week's State of the Union address. Obama and administration officials will be highlighting the plan today. Also, Obama continues his State of the Union sales job with a "YouTube interview," where he takes questions submitted from users and selected by YouTube officials. Tuesday, Obama travels to New Hampshire for an event on the economy. Looking ahead, he'll meet with governors on Wednesday to talk energy policy, and speak at the National Prayer Breakfast Thursday.

** Capitol Hill: The week on the Hill begins at 8 a.m. today, when the president's budget arrives. Meanwhile, health care remains the big question mark, as it's unclear if anyone knows what's going to happen -- if Democrats do attempt to pass a bill, how will they do it? Try reconciliation? Break it up in pieces? Or could House Democrats pass the Senate bill, even though Speaker Pelosi has said the votes aren't there? As the L.A. Times reports, conversations between Democratic leadership in both chambers is happening quietly, while the public focus is on creating jobs. We'll find out where unemployment is on Friday, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases its January report.

The House will also vote this week on statutory PAYGO legislation, which the Senate passed on a party-line vote last week. The bill requires any new spending to be offset by spending cuts elsewhere.

** Politics: Tuesday is Election Day in Illinois! It's the official start to the 2010 midterm elections, and it couldn't come any sooner. We were spoiled with the exciting Massachusetts special election two weeks ago, but the primaries for House, Senate, and governor in Illinois mark the beginning of what looks like it will be an eventful year. To see all the candidates running in Illinois, click here.

Of the House primaries, there should be some drama in a few districts, including the 10th, which Republican Mark Kirk is vacating to run for Senate. In the 14th, former House speaker Dennis Hastert's son, Ethan, faces a GOP primary in his quest to win his father's seat, which has been held by Democrat Bill Foster for a term-and-a-half. Also up for grabs this year is Obama's former Senate seat and the governor's race, still stained from the memory of Rod Blagojevich -- with competitive primaries in both races.

And don't forget, campaign finance reports were due last night. The latest reports will show how much money candidates have to begin the year, and will indicate which incumbents are vulnerable and which challengers have a chance.

** Poll Watch:
Obama Job Performance: Approve 49.3 / Disapprove 46.3 (+3.0)
Congress Job Performance: Approve 26.3 / Disapprove 66.3 (-40.0)
Generic Ballot Test: Republicans +3.2

** In Case You Missed It: Obama had two straight days of favorable national TV time. On Friday, Obama stood before the House GOP Conference at their annual retreat in Baltimore and answered questions for more than an hour. The Q-and-A was televised live and covered by all the nightly news programs. By Saturday, Organizing for America had emailed its millions-strong list of supporters with a link to the entire session, which can be found here.

In a far less political appearance, Obama and Vice President Biden attended Saturday's Georgetown-Duke basketball game at Verizon Center in downtown D.C. (Georgetown won!) In the second half, Obama sat with the play-by-play announcers for a brief period of time and even analyzed one of the plays -- which drew rave reviews from the broadcasters. You can see video of that here.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

How Many Dems Would Support Reconciliation?

While job creation is said to be the legislative priority this year, the president and Democratic leadership in Congress say health care reform must be completed. With Senate Democrats down to 59 votes after losing the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy's Massachusetts seat, compromising the House and Senate reform bills got a lot more complicated.

Conversations between the two chambers now focus as much on the process by which the bill will get through, as on what's in it.

"We're going to do health care reform this year," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Thursday. The only question, he said, "is procedurally how do we do it."

One option being considered is a two step process where the House would pass the Senate version of the bill and the Senate would then pass budgetary changes to the bill using reconciliation -- a parliamentary move that would require only 51 votes. The House would also vote on the changes.

It was a struggle for Reid to find the 60 votes necessary to pass the Senate bill early Christmas Eve morning. By changing the bill, some Democrats are expected to drop their support, either because they don't like the changes or are against using the reconciliation process, which allows the majority to circumvent the filibuster on matters pertaining to the budget.

So far, Senators Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) have announced they would not support this process. Both are running for re-election this year, and Lincoln particularly is in danger of losing her seat. Meanwhile, a poll released this week showed Bayh trailng Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) in a hypothetical match-up, though Pence said shortly thereafter he was running for re-election and not interested in challenging Bayh.

Still, that knocks the Democratic votes in favor of reconciliation down to 57, with just seven to spare. (They would need only 50 votes, as Vice President Biden could break a tie.)

Other Democrats who could join Lincoln and Bayh are Senators Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), although both said this week they're not necessarily against using reconciliation.

"If I support a bill, I would vote for it whether it takes 50 or 60 votes. I'm not focused on the process," Nelson told the Lincoln Journal Star.

According to the Arkansas News, Pryor said reconciliation was not his first choice but "he was not necessarily opposed to the idea." Pryor also indicated doubts that it would be attempted.

On Wednesday, Politico identified a total of eight Democrats (including Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., who caucuses with Dems) who were wary of reconciliation, including Senators Mary Landrieu (La.), Mark Begich (Alaska) and Claire McCaskill (Mo.). Nelson was included in that count as well.

As Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad said this week, reconciliation is no easy fix for health care. Unlimited amendments and the necessity of cutting the annual deficit by $1 billion represent two possible bumps in the road.

Democrats could turn to breaking the bill up and voting on pieces of it separately, leaving comprehensive reform for the future.

Senate Republicans Have High Hopes For Speech

Just out of their annual conference, Senate Republican leaders told reporters they hope to hear several things from President Obama tonight during his first official State of the Union address: that he's putting the health care bill "on the shelf" to focus on jobs, not letting the Bush tax cuts expire this year and clearing up confusion about prosecuting terror suspects.

"What we're hearing is the hope of the American people that tonight the president concentrate on jobs, on debt, on terror," said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the Senate Republican Conference chairman. "And if he stopped right there and focused on that until he got all three on a better track, we believe most Americans would be happy with that."

Asked what grade they would give Obama on his first year in office, all seven senators on stage at the press conference remained quiet and none stepped forward to the microphone. After a few moments of silence, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said, "We're pretty tough graders."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) professed his preference that Obama rethink his plans for Guantanamo, saying it was the best place to hold military commissions and house terrorists.

He also referenced an NPR poll out today that found Republicans leading the generic congressional ballot by 5 points. It's a far cry from Election Day 2008, when Democrats led it by 12 points and increased their majorities in both chambers of Congress.

"People are much more open to voting for Republicans -- and we saw that in New Jersey and Virginia and Massachusetts -- certainly than they were in November 2008," said McConnell.

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State of the Political Landscape

As President Obama prepares to deliver his first State of the Union address tonight, few Democrats expected the first year of his presidency to end with the party in such poor shape politically heading into this year's midterm elections. So before we hear about the overall state of the country, here is a quick rundown on the state of its politics:

• House Democrats hold a 256-178 majority in the House, with one vacant seat (Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla., resigned this month), while Senate Democrats hold a 59-41 seat advantage following the Massachusetts special Senate election of Scott Brown (R).

• Nearly 20 percent of Democrat-held congressional districts (49) are listed as competitive races by the Cook Political Report; 5 percent of Republican seats (10) are competitive.

• After losses in New Jersey and Virginia last November, Democrats' advantage in governors' offices is down to 26-24. In the 2010 elections, 11 Democrats are retiring or term-limited, as are 11 Republicans. Of 14 races rated as "toss-up" by the Cook Political Report, 10 are Republican-held seats.

• In 2008, John McCain won 49 congressional districts where a Democrat was elected to the House; one such Democrat, Parker Griffith, recently switched to the Republican Party. Barack Obama won 34 districts that elected a Republican.

• Ten Democrat-held congressional districts are competitive open-seat races, where the incumbent is retiring. Republicans so far have two such seats.

• Seven of Democrats' 18 Senate seats up for re-election this year are considered competitive, according to Cook; four of 18 Republican seats are competitive.

• Democrats are in serious danger of losing both President Obama's and Vice President Biden's former Senate seats. In both cases, the appointed senator is not running for re-election (in Illinois, that's a good thing), and the party failed to recruit its top choice candidates -- Attorneys General Lisa Madigan of Illinois and Beau Biden of Delaware.

• Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is in deep electoral trouble, trailing two Republicans who may not even end up on the general election ballot. The GOP is reportedly still seeking a top-flight candidate to take on the vulnerable Reid.

• Arkansas is a microcosm of Democrats' troubles. Its congressional delegation currently stands at five Democrats and one Republican. With Reps. Marion Berry and Vic Snyder retiring and Sen. Blanche Lincoln facing a potential GOP knock-out, Republicans could hold four of the six seats in the 112th Congress.

• Democrats' best news this year has been the retirement of five-term Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, who was likely to lose in November. Attorney General Richard Blumenthal currently holds big leads over his potential GOP opponents.

• Pennsylvania is one of the more awkward situations, as the White House and Democratic leadership promised Sen. Arlen Specter significant support if he switched parties. Now, he's up against Rep. Joe Sestak in a bitter Democratic primary and trailing Republican Pat Toomey in early polls. Plus, he no longer represents the 60th vote.

• Democrats are looking at four GOP-held Senate races in particular as potential pick-up opportunities, all of which the Republican incumbent is retiring: Kentucky, Missouri, New Hampshire and Ohio.

• The national Democratic House and Senate campaign committees had great fundraising years, outpacing both Republican counterparts. This will certainly help in protecting its many incumbents in GOP-leaning districts, while some Republican challengers may not get significant monetary assistance from the national party.

While the landscape looks rough for Democrats, party leaders say they were not caught by surprise as they were in 1994, when Republicans dominated the midterm elections two years after Bill Clinton won the White House. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, maintains that the party was expecting a tough political environment, as history shows the party that wins the White House often loses congressional seats in the following midterms.

"Even as the president was being sworn in -- and we were all still celebrating the election of President Barack Obama and even bigger majorities in the Congress -- we told our members to prepare for a very challenging cycle," Van Hollen told reporters in December, adding, "This is not going to be 1994 all over again."

Some Republicans, however, think it could be, and put the blame squarely on Democratic congressional leaders who "overreached" on their agenda last year. In a memo last month, Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said the party expects "to make significant, if not historic, gains" in the House this year.

The Week Ahead: State Of The Presidency

Championship Sunday in the NFL gives way to a very busy week in the world of politics. Congratulations to the AFC Champion Indianapolis Colts and the NFC Champion New Orleans Saints, who will face off in Miami in Super Bowl XLIV. Hard not to root for the Saints, whose first-ever Super Bowl appearance comes less than five years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city of New Orleans.

** White House: The main event in Washington is on Wednesday, when President Obama delivers his first official State of the Union address. It's actually his third address to a joint session of Congress; a year ago he delivered a "budget address," and then a September speech on health care. Obama hunkered down at the White House this weekend working on drafts.

We always tend to say these are critical moments, but in the wake of the Massachusetts Senate result and with health care in the balance, it's safe to say this is. The White House is clearly feeling the heat, as shown by the announcement this weekend that David Plouffe, campaign manager of Obama's successful 2008 campaign, is taking a more formal role in the White House's political operation. In Sunday's Washington Post he wrote: "If Democrats will show the country we can lead when it's hard, we may not have perfect election results, but November will be nothing like the nightmare that talking heads have forecast."

Obama starts the week with a meeting with the Middle Class Task Force today. The hoopster-in-chief will also meet with the NBA Champion Lakers this afternoon. After Wednesday's address, the president and vice president will have a rare joint event outside Washington, in the key swing state of Florida. Friday, Obama will head to Baltimore to join Republicans at their issues conference.

** Capitol Hill:: The House will only be in session two days this week, with Monday off and Republicans holding their issues conference Thursday and Friday. The Senate this week will continue work on raising the debt limit, and also is expected to vote on the confirmation of Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, who's four-year term is up at the end of the week. Both chambers will, of course, welcome the president on Wednesday evening.

** Politics:: Another busy week in politics. The RNC is meeting in Obama's home state of Hawaii starting today, where Michael Steele's leadership will be a hotly-debated topic. On Thursday, the House GOP's Issues Retreat kicks off in Baltimore, with the title of "Winning Back America." There will be considerable focus Obama's visit on Friday, but former House Majority Leader Dick Armey also gives a keynote on Thursday. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, who delivers the GOP response to Obama's State of the Union address, will also speak at this retreat.

Democrats are reeling with yet another retirement, this time Arkansas Rep. Marion Berry. It's the first such retirement since Brown's victory. Another potential sign of Democrats' midterm anxiety is in Delaware, where some in the party fret that Beau Biden may not seek his father's old Senate seat as expected. A Wilmington News Journal report quoted Joe Biden as saying he thought his son would not make the race, but the VP's office said the author misquoted him.

And don't look now, but there's another election on the horizon. This is the final week of campaigning in Illinois, where voters head to the polls to choose nominees for the Senate and gubernatorial races on February 2. A Chicago Tribune poll out Sunday showed Alexi Giannoulias and Mark Kirk leading in the Senate primaries.

** Poll Watch:
Obama Job Performance: Approve 49.6 / Disapprove 44.9 (+4.7)
Congress Job Performance: Approve 26.0 / Disapprove 66.2 (-40.2)
Generic Ballot Test: Republicans +2.5

** In Case You Missed It: Is this the first time someone has ever used, "I'm giving the State of the Union address this week" as an excuse to get out of jury duty? AP reports that President Obama received a summons at his Chicago home to appear at a suburban courthouse Monday. "A White House official said Sunday that the president has alerted the court he won't be able to make it," the report says.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

Sestak: Democrats Considering Other Reform Options

In the wake of stalled health care negotiations between the House and Senate, House Democrats are considering alternatives in an attempt to get at least something done. Democrats met this morning in a closed-door caucus.

"There is discussion still going on between the Senate and the House, but there is also talk about other alternatives," Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) said after the meeting in an interview with RealClearPolitics. "Let's scale down, get something through, that truly at least helps in what we wanted to get done. Or, let's just vote on single, individual pieces at a time."

Many assumed the loss of the Massachusetts Senate seat Tuesday meant the end for health care reform, as Senator-elect Scott Brown gives Republicans enough votes to filibuster the bill. However, Democratic leaders indicated yesterday that they were moving ahead as planned.

Still, the Massachusetts race has left Democrats more worried about their own necks come the November midterm elections. Asked whether members of the House Democratic Caucus were increasingly nervous about keeping their jobs, Sestak said, "Yes. Without a question."

UPDATE: Speaker Pelosi backed up Sestak's comments this morning, saying there are not enough votes in the House to pass the Senate bill as is.
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House Republicans Tout New Leverage

Along with holding a Capitol press conference, House Republican leaders hit the TV rounds yesterday in the wake of the GOP's Senate win in Massachusetts on Tuesday. The win, they said, was evidence that Americans don't want the health care reform currently being negotiated by House and Senate Democrats.

"While it was a lot about health care, it's not just health care. It's all the spending and debt that's being accumulated here. It's their national energy tax. It's their -- bringing the terrorists to America to put him on trial," Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) told Greta Van Sustren on FOX News. "The American people are opposed to all of these policies, and they are saying, stop."

Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) appeared on at least three TV shows on CNBC, FOX News and CNN, while Mike Pence spoke with Dylan Ratigan on MSNBC.

"The American people are tired of the borrowing, the spending, the bailouts, the takeovers that have been accelerated under now Democrat and previously under Republican administrations," said Pence. "They want us to put our fiscal house in order in Washington, D.C., and want us to set aside all these big government schemes and focus on the kind of measures that are going to get this economy moving again."

Meanwhile, Democrats indicated that health care reform was moving forward. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said as much yesterday during her speech to the mayor's conference on the Hill. Majority Whip Jim Clyburn concurred during his appearance alongside Cantor on CNBC.

"I do believe that we will have a health care reform bill, and we will have one that the American people can be proud of," said Clyburn.

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What Now For Health Care?

The electoral fallout of the Massachusetts special Senate election won't crystallize for several months, but its effect on health care could be known as soon as today.

Before the polls closed last night, House Democrats were steadfast in their belief that Congress would pass health care even if Republican Scott Brown won. However, Senate Democrats will meet today to discuss their options going forward.

There were rumors before Tuesday that Democrats could attempt to ram through a bill before Brown's election became official, which could take at least 10 days. However, there does not appear to be support for that within the Democratic Caucus.

"It would only be fair and prudent that we suspend further votes on health care legislation until Senator-elect Brown is seated," Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) said last night.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), no moderate, agreed with Webb: "I feel strongly that the Democratic majority in Congress must respect the process and make no effort to bypass the electoral results."

Senate Republicans are holding a press conference at 11 a.m., and will likely say the same thing.

Pelosi: Mass. Election Doesn't Change Anything

House Democratic leaders met this afternoon to discuss the status of health care reform in Congress, where Democrats in both chambers continue to negotiate a compromise both sides can agree on. There is no Republican support in either the House or Senate, where Democrats' filibuster-proof 60th vote is on the line in today's Massachusetts special election.

Congress is "on the brink" of passing health care reform, Pelosi told reporters following the meeting. "And regardless of what happens in Massachusetts, we believe that that will happen."

"Regardless of what happens in Massachusetts, we still have to resolve the difference between our two bills," continued Pelosi. "Our eye is on the ball of passing legislation. In order to do that, we have to resolve some differences, establish some priorities, make some decisions and that's what we're doing. Whatever happens in Massachusetts, we have to do that, and whatever happens in Massachusetts, we will pass quality, affordable health care for all Americans and it will be soon."

Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.), though, said today that if Democrats lose the Senate seat, "the chances would diminish significantly for achieving health care reform this year because of the Senate's inability to get anything done without 60 votes."

House GOP leadership responded to Pelosi's comments, with Boehner spokesman Michael Steel saying: "Regardless of what happens in Massachusetts, it's clear that jamming this government takeover of health care through Congress will set off a political firestorm. The American people are screaming, 'stop' at the top of their lungs, and out-of-touch Democratic leaders ignore them at their peril."

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The Week Ahead: Election En Mass.

Martin Luther King Jr. was born 81 years ago. Today we celebrate all of his and other Civil Rights leaders' accomplishments, which were made even more obvious last year when Barack Obama was sworn in as president. As we look back to the past, it's impossible not to wonder what the future holds -- specifically tomorrow's special election in Massachusetts and its impact on comprehensive health care reform in Congress.

** Politics: Polls clearly show the momentum in the Massachusetts Senate special election race quickly moving toward Republican Scott Brown, who just a couple weeks ago was still considered a longshot. A palpable shift in the mood of the country is on display as the seat held by Edward M. Kennedy and John F. Kennedy since 1952 (except for two years and some change) is in danger of going Republican.

The stakes are so high that President Obama himself went to Massachusetts Sunday. It's worth noting how health care seemed to be barely mentioned in his remarks, as instead he relied on the party's push on the so-called bank fee, which was just announced last week. Returning from the event, press secretary Robert Gibbs reaffirmed the belief of the White House that Coakley would win. "That was the theme of what this race has been, I think what the President will talk a lot about for the next year," he said.

If Brown wins, look for one major topic to be how soon he's sworn in. We've written about the potential delay Democrats could seek to take advantage of, which would then raise the question of whether they can still muster 60 votes needed to pass the bill quickly. A defeat for Democrats in Massachusetts of all places certainly would raise the possibility that one of the wavering votes -- Ben Nelson or Blanche Lincoln, perhaps -- feel pressure to change sides.

It's a bad mojo weekend for Democrats leading up to the vote, as there are fresh reminders of other defeats. Bob McDonnell (R) was sworn in as Virginia's governor Saturday. And as Massachusetts voters go to the polls Tuesday, New Jersey will see its new Republican governor, Chris Christie, take office.

** White House: What could make a Coakley loss so damning for the White House is the timing -- on the eve of the one-year anniversary of President Obama's inauguration. Just think back to the president's 100th day in office -- it came just after Arlen Specter switched parties and handed Democrats what, pending the Al Franken result being made official, would be their 60th vote. Now, if Brown wins, they'll lose that supermajority on another milestone day.

The White House is not marking the anniversary in any formal way. Monday, the president marks Martin Luther King Day with an event featuring African American seniors and their grandchildren. Thursday, a delegation from the U.S. Conference of Mayors will visit the White House. On Friday, Obama heads to Ohio for another stop on his "White House to Main Street Tour."

** Capitol Hill: The Senate returns to official business Wednesday after a much-needed break. It seems like a year ago, but less than a month ago the senators gathered on the chamber floor Christmas Eve to vote on health care reform. It passed, and negotiations between the House, Senate and White House on a compromise bill has been in the works ever since.

A week ago, many Democrats in Congress still weren't taking the threat of a Republican win in Massachusetts seriously. Remember -- the big news last Monday was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's awkward comments about Obama's skin and speaking pattern. By the end of the week, however, the White House announced that the president would indeed be deployed to the Bay State, while Democratic leaders in Congress were trying to figure out a contingency plan in case they fell below 60 Democratic seats in the Senate. The Capitol awaits Tuesday's results.

** Poll Watch:
Obama Job Performance: Approve 49.1 / Disapprove 44.5 (+4.6)
Congress Job Performance: Approve 26.3 / Disapprove 67.5 (-41.2)
Generic Ballot Test: Republicans +2.0

** In Case You Missed It: Three of the top four top seeds in the NFL playoffs -- AFC's Colts (1), and the NFC's Saints (1) and Vikings (2) -- all advanced to this weekend's NFC and AFC championship games, which will decide the Super Bowl contenders. Missing from that list: the San Diego Chargers, who were upset in the only competitive game of the weekend by the New York J-E-T-S Jets Jets Jets. Those Jets only got into the playoffs thanks to the Colts pulling their starters in the second half of their Week 16 matchup. Now they'll get a test of the team at full strength for four quarters.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

The Week Ahead: Game Changers

Sunday made for a great day of TV -- the Arizona Cardinals topped Green Bay in overtime after combining to score nearly 100 points, and one of our favorite shows of all time turned 20. Now let's take a look at what Monday and beyond holds in store for us in The Week Ahead:

The White House: What happened to the "hard pivot" back to the economy? The Christmas terror plot delayed that somewhat, but it is expected to be on display this week in the White House. At the same time, President Obama will make a visit to Capitol Hill midweek to meet with Democrats on health care. There is sure to be some increased pressure to move quickly, with the yet-to-be-scheduled State of the Union address looming, and perhaps some nervousness about the potential for a Republican upset in the Massachusetts special election next week.

The President's schedule for the week is light on details for the week, but today's rundown includes a meeting with labor leaders. Thursday, he'll speak at a forum on modernizing government. Also on tap: a Tuesday meeting between the president and female golfers. Vice President Biden remains in Wilmington, where services are scheduled Monday and Tuesday for his late mother, Jean Finnegan Biden.

The Capitol: "Vacation" is officially over for representatives in the House, which opens for business again Tuesday at noon. Of course, Democratic leadership has been back for a week continuing the push for a health care reform compromise with the Senate, which doesn't return to session until next week. A few outside factors -- which we delve into in the next section -- have added increased incentive for Democrats to get something done quickly.

As for the year ahead, no matter what happens with health care, the president and Congress have indicated that jobs will be a legislative priority in the second session of the 111th Congress. Another issue to watch for is immigration reform -- 80 House Dems introduced a new resolution in mid-December.

Politics: So much to talk about -- where to begin. The fallout from "Game Change," a new book from Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, has rocked the political world with salacious details about the 2008 presidential campaign. Harry Reid is looking to put controversial comments about Obama's race behind him. Politico reported on a claim in the book over tension between running mates Obama and Biden. An excerpt about John Edwards will bring his scandal back to the forefront. And "60 Minutes" featured new-ish details about Sarah Palin's chaotic run as John McCain's vice presidential nominee.

Michael Steele, plugging his own new book, will continue to be in the headlines as well. Reid's troubles made for a convenient distraction from increasingly public concerns from GOP types about his leadership. In the run-up to the RNC's winter meeting in Hawaii next week, look for more talk about his role.

State of the races: by week's end, we should have an official accounting of the fundraising totals for all the candidates for Congress this fall. FEC reports for the final quarter of 2009 should be public by Friday. Open Secrets had a good post this week using some already public numbers outlining some of the races on the House side where challengers had outraised incumbents.

Finally, this is the final week of campaigning in Massachusetts in the special election to finish Ted Kennedy's unexpired term. New polling this weekend showed very different results, but most Democrats will concede that it's closer than they'd like it to be. Make no mistake: if a Republican upset happens here with Scott Brown victorious, it will make the Democratic retirements this week look like the good old days. It also could mean health care never gets approved, at least in its current form. Bill Clinton headlines a Martha Coakley rally Friday. Perhaps Biden will be dispatched, or the president will record a TV ad. The candidates have one more debate tonight at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute.

Poll Watch:
Obama Job Performance: Approve 48.8 / Disapprove 46.0 (+2.8)
Congress Job Performance: Approve 27.4 / Disapprove 65.8 (-38.4)
Generic Ballot Test: Republicans +2.8

In Case You Missed It: Last night Fox marked the 20th anniversary of "The Simpsons," and the 450th episode. In honor of the great cartoon show we recall one of its great episodes, and what The Hotline (where both of us once worked) once called one of the greatest political satires ever: the season two show called "Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish." That's when Mr. Burns runs for governor. No clips online, but here's a good summary.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

'Ping Pong' Method Increased Under Dem Control

As House leaders meet today to discuss their priorities in the upcoming negotiations with the Senate on reconciling the two health care reform bills, controversy is growing over the reported decision to bypass a conference committee and instead hold informal talks out of the public eye. Although the "ping pong" practice is nothing new, a recent report showed its use drastically increased when Democrats reclaimed power in Congress.

In the 109th Congress (2005-2006), the last under GOP control, the House and Senate reconciled major bills through a conference committee 18 of 19 times, according to a report by congressional scholar Don Wolfensberger that was cited in an August 2008 Congressional Research Service analysis of the committee process. In the 110th (2007-2008), major bills were reconciled in conference just 11 of 19 times -- meaning Democrats negotiated eight times as many bills outside of conference as their Republican predecessors.

"While the conference bypass approach is just as legitimate under the rules as going to conference (and sometimes advisable when there are only minor differences to iron out), the procedure is more suspect when used on major bills on which numerous substantive disagreements exist between the houses," Wolfensberger wrote in his April 2008 column, printed in Roll Call.

Wolfensberger notes that Republicans were "not entirely blameless" for the increase in out-of-conference negotiations when they transitioned to the minority, but the point was that "the lack of conference deliberations shuts out majority and minority Members alike from having a final say on important policy decisions."

Skipping the formality of a conference committee allows Democrats to speed up the process of merging the bills by forgoing the necessary Senate floor procedures required to begin negotiations. The 2008 CRS report offers three reasons for the difficulty in convening a conference committee: the filibuster, increased polarization in the Senate and "the exclusion of minority party conferees from participating in the bicameral bargaining process."

A separate 2007 CRS analysis further describes the process of moving a bill from the Senate to a conference committee:

"There are several opportunities for extended debate and delay on the Senate floor in the process of sending, or trying to send, a bill to conference. Three separate, debatable motions must be made before sending a measure to conference. Other motions, including a motion to instruct conferees, are also in order, and Senators may choose to exercise their right to debate any or all of these motions at length."

Instead, Democratic leaders in the House and Senate simply send amendments back and forth until an accord is reached. Republicans have not always opposed the maneuver, according to Wolfensberger, but now it removes all opportunities for GOP input. Just one Republican in either the House or Senate voted with Democrats upon passage in each chamber.

Of course, Republicans are hardly the only group complaining about the decision to skip committee. House liberals are worried many of their preferences in the House bill may fall by the wayside when leaders merge it with the less progressive Senate bill, which barely passed in late December and therefore has far less wiggle room for modification than the House bill.

The Week Ahead: Welcome To Election Year

We love Washington and all, but -- no matter your political stripe -- one almost feels bad for President Obama's return home. It was nearly 80 degrees when he stepped on Air Force One in Honolulu Sunday night and likely will be in the high 20s when Marine One touches down on the White House lawn this morning. But all vacations must come to an end, so check out what to watch in RCP's Week Ahead:

The White House: President Obama and the first family was due to officially return "to the Mainland," as Hawaiians put it, at 11:30 am when Air Force One lands at Andrews Air Force Base. The White House has not put out a full schedule for the week, but one issue is sure to have found its way on to the president's crowded desk in the Oval Office: terrorism. Obama's counterterrorism czar was on the Sunday shows talking about the new threats from al Qaida, including those that led to the closure of the U.S. Embassy in Yemen.

The Capitol: The House and Senate remain on break this week, while Democratic leadership aides continue backroom negotiations on a compromise health care reform bill. As Reuters reports, the difficult task is highlighted in the two chambers' differences "over the use of federal funds for abortion, new taxes to pay for the plans, a government-run insurance option and the level of subsidies and penalties for the uninsured." Politico notes that, as it did during the August recess, the GOP has been trying to win the media war over the winter break as well.

Politics: Welcome to midterm election year 2010, when history and polling now stand on the Republican Party's side. AP's Liz Sidoti broke down the landscape in a great piece published over the weekend:

"But they face an incumbent-hostile electorate worried about a 10 percent unemployment rate, weary of wars and angry at politicians of all stripes. Many independents who backed Democrats in 2006 and 2008 have turned away. Republicans, meanwhile, are energized and united in opposing Obama's policies."

The first election in 2010 happens in just over two weeks, when Republican Scott Brown and Democrat Martha Coakley compete for the Senate seat in Massachusetts once held by Ted Kennedy (and now being kept warm by Paul Kirk). There are two debates this week, with another scheduled for a week from today at the Kennedy Institute.

The first regularly-scheduled primary is February 2, when the gubernatorial and Senate nominations will be decided in Illinois. For a full rundown of the primary calendar for the new year, check back to this post.

Look for Democrats this week to focus on the growing number of open seats that Republicans will need to defend next year. There are now 14 Republican congressmen not seeking re-election -- Rep. Henry Brown (R-S.C.) is expected to announce his retirement this afternoon, and Rep. George Radanovich (R-Calif.) announced his exit last week.

Poll Watch:
Obama Job Performance: Approve 49.8 / Disapprove 44.6 (+5.2)
Congress Job Performance: Approve 27.4 / Disapprove 65.8 (-38.4)
Generic Ballot Test: Republicans +1.7

In Case You Missed It: While most have focused on Democratic incumbents not seeking re-election next year, there is a growing number of Democratic recruits that have opted against running. This past week, freshman Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kans.) lost an opponent in state Sen. Laura Kelly (D), the fifth Dem challenger to drop out in recent weeks.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

The Week Ahead: Working Vacation

Are you ready for the Eagle Bank Bowl? UCLA vs. Temple is about all that you can count on this week in the nation's capital. Here's the RCP Week Ahead.

The White House: Mahalo! President Obama is enjoying a "working vacation" in the nation's 50th state this week. It's a week away that became less of an escape when a Delta flight was subject to an attempted terrorist attack. While the Obama family hit the beach on Sunday, Obama himself is on guard monitoring the new situation in airline travel. He'll make a statement to the press on camera this morning.

Members of Congress are already talking about hearings to look into the new potential threat. From the administration, an unfortunate gaffe by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. "The system worked as it should," she said on CNN this Sunday, responding to the incident on a Detroit-bound flight.

The Capitol: Members of Congress are at home this week, but the leadership of both chambers is hard at work negotiating differences in the House and Senate versions of health care legislation this week. Senators claimed Sunday that the final draft will more closely resemble the Senate's version of the complicated legislation.

"If we are going to have a final law, it will look a lot more like the Senate version than the House version," Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said on "Fox News Sunday." "I'm sure there'll be some compromises, but at the end of the day, I would expect that it will look very much like the Senate version."

Politics: As we mentioned last week, the pressure is on vulnerable incumbents and top GOP recruits to make a show of strength in their campaign fundraising for the period that ends this Thursday night. Don't be surprised to see a retirement or party switch this week, Rep. Parker Griffith's decision to become a Republican is likely the biggest blow for Democrats this month.

On "Fox News Sunday," Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair Chris Van Hollen said Democrats are "not going to be surprised like in 1994." "We've been preparing from day one," he said. "Is this going to be a tough year? Yeah, and we're ready to fight. Is it going to be another 1994? No."

** Poll Watch
Obama Job Performance: Approve 49.5 / Disapprove 45.1
Congress Job Performance: Approve 27.4 / Disapprove 65.8
Generic Ballot Test: Republicans +2.5

** In Case You Missed It: For this final week of the decade (the '00s? the oughts?), our friends at "First Read" have a good round-up of "Best of" lists, including Best Speech, Biggest Risers, Biggest Downfalls, and Statewide Races.

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

After Passing Health Care Reform, Senators Hit the Road

By a 60-39 vote margin, the Senate passed early this morning comprehensive health care reform, just before Democrats' Christmas deadline. With the House having already passed its version of the bill, the 7 a.m. Christmas Eve vote begins the next big step in the process -- House and Senate conference.

Now, reconciling the two bills may be at least as difficult as passing them out of each chamber, and it's unclear whether it will happen before President Obama's first State of the Union Address next month or the beginning of February.

This is the closest Congress has ever come to passing health care reform, and Democratic leadership didn't take that lightly in comments following the vote.

"This is a victory for the American people," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), whose colleagues lavished praise on him for guiding the massive bill through a highly partisan Senate. "We have affirmed that the ability to afford a healthy life in America is a right and not merely a privilege for the wealthy."

Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said Reid "navigated the waters" and Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) said Reid will always be remembered for making this one of the "shining chapters of the United States Senate." Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he "watched with awe" as Reid sheparded the bill through.

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who presided over the HELP Committee's work on the bill in Ted Kennedy's absence, called this "probably the most important vote that every member of this Caucus will cast."

Kennedy's widow, Vicki, watched the vote from the Senate viewing gallery.

In sub-freezing temperatures in the nation's capital, Cadillacs and Suburbans lined up outside the Capitol awaiting the senators who would scurry out en route to the airport.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) was the first to leave, waving to his colleagues as he jogged out of the chamber. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) skipped the post-vote press conference to make her flight. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), no stranger to snow which is still blanketing the Capitol grounds, was wearing New Balance sneakers during the vote.

Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the longest serving member of the House after being elected in 1955, watched the vote from the Senate viewing gallery. Just outside the gallery doors, Dingell said, "I've been waiting for this for 54 years."

House Republican Leaders Welcome Rep. Griffith To The GOP

House Republican leaders welcomed Rep. Parker Griffith (R-Ala.) to the party yesterday, though their statements mostly focused more on criticizing the Democratic majority than on Griffith himself. Here are excerpts from some of the statements::

Minority Whip Eric Cantor: "When a Member of Congress decides to leave a 258 seat majority to join a deep minority, it is a sure sign that the majority party has become completely disconnected from seniors, young workers, and families in America. From the massive stimulus bill that wasted billions of dollars and failed to create jobs, to a job-killing cap and trade energy tax, to a government takeover of health care - the Democrat majority has pursued an agenda far outside the mainstream."

Minority Leader John Boehner: "Democratic leaders should seize this opportunity to reevaluate their entire job-killing agenda, starting with Senator Reid's 2,733-page government takeover of health care. House Republicans will continue to offer the American people better solutions to address their everyday challenges, an effort that will surely benefit from Congressman Griffith's leadership."

GOP Conference Chair Mike Pence: "Congressman Griffith's historic decision should send a deafening message that the Obama-Pelosi agenda of borrowing, spending, bailouts and takeovers is being rejected by the American people."

Health Care Spotlight Now On Liberal House Democrats

With the Senate set for a final vote on health care reform Thursday morning at 8 a.m., the forthcoming House and Senate conference moves front stage as the two chambers figure out how to reconcile their differences.

The House bill, which passed by a slim 5-vote margin, contains the public option, which some liberal members have demanded to be included in a final bill. However, Senate Democrats are expected to have no wiggle room, as getting the necessary 60 senators on board for the less progressive Senate bill has taken months. If just one Democrat declines to support the conference report, the bill will die.

So the spotlight is on liberal Democrats and how they will react if the bill that comes out of conference does not include the public option, as well as what the abortion language will look like.

In a statement released yesterday, Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Raul Grijalva (D-N.M.) was vague on what exactly he and his 82-member group would support. He did not demand the public option be included in the merged House and Senate health care reform bills, but instead ticked off components of the House bill "that must not be dismissed": public option, strong insurance regulatory reform, affordability protection, employer mandate and a tax surcharge for the wealthy.

"I look forward to working with the House and Senate leadership to pass a final bill that will help the most people and create a realistic pathway to future improvements," said Grijalva. "My support for the ongoing reform effort is predicated on the belief that such a bill is within reach and can be passed in the short term. If a bill with these features is pursued, I will be proud to support it."

In an interview with Roll Call, Grijalva did say there would need to be changes to the Senate bill in conference for it to win enough support in the House, whether Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) like it or not. "They've had their way up to this point," Grijalva said. "For either them or the Senate to expect to send their bill as is through the House is going to be very difficult."

For their part, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer have only indicated that they are ready to work with the Senate to merge the two bills.

"We welcome the developments today in the Senate, and we look forward to reviewing the bill the Senate passes," they said in a statement Monday morning. "The Democratic Caucus is committed to middle class affordability, security for our seniors, responsibility to our children, and accountability for the insurance industry. On that basis, we look forward to working with the Obama Administration, the Senate, and our Caucus to reconcile our bills and send final legislation to the President's desk as soon as possible."

Senate Advances Health Care Bill

For the second time in 31 hours, Senate Democrats suceeded in getting 60 votes this morning -- advancing health care reform one step closer to final passage.

The successful party-line vote leaves one more procedural hurdle for Democrats, scheduled for tomorrow at 1 p.m., with a final vote on the bill coming Thursday at 7 p.m. However, with the bill appearing likely to pass and Christmas Eve falling on Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid were working on a timeline that could get senators home before the holiday.

"We are working on an agreement that will give certainty to end this session and hopefully the two of us together will be recommending something that makes sense for both sides in the not too distant future," McConnell said from the Senate floor following the rare morning vote.

Before McConnell spoke, Reid had been pushing senators on both sides of the aisle to get in the Christmas spirit, despite the heated debate over health care that has kept senators working weekends for much of the past month.

"I hope everyone would keep in mind, that's a time when we reflect on peace and good things in life," said Reid. "I would hope everyone would kind of set aside all the personal animosity -- if in fact they have any -- for the next little bit, and focus on that holiday."

The Week Ahead: Snowy Capital, Chilly Partisanship

The Senate worked through one of the biggest snow storms in D.C. history over the weekend, and it will continue cranking during this holiday week -- when members, staff and reporters all are wishing they could fly home. In the meantime, this is what to watch for this week in Washington:

The White House: President Obama's only scheduled public event Monday focuses on government efficiency. He'll also meet with his National Economic Council. On Tuesday, Obama will again meet with bank CEOs, this time representing small and community banks, with an eye on the economy and loosening the credit markets. Obama is due to head out with his family to Hawaii for the holidays, as is their custom. He's expected to return after the New Year.

What remains to be seen is whether health care legislation will be passed by the Senate before his departure. David Axelrod, senior White House strategist, did his best to spin the apparent compromise that should give Democrats 60 votes it needs to get there. "I think that we're going to have some work to do when we come back," he said of the conference committee process that will begin after the holidays.

The Capitol: Should things fall in line and Republicans continue to filibuster, the Senate will take a final vote on health care reform Thursday, the evening of Christmas Eve. After a procedural vote early Monday morning -- 1 a.m. -- Democrats proved they had the necessary 60 votes to end the filibuster and bring the reform bill up for final adoption.

The vote schedule this week is likely to look like this: a second cloture vote Tuesday morning at 7 a.m., a third Wednesday at 1 p.m., and voting on final passage of the bill Thursday at 7 p.m.

The party-line debate and votes has put on display the level of partisanship that still exists in Congress. As a New York Times story put it this morning: "A year that began with hopes of new post-partisanship has indeed produced change: Things have gotten worse."

After Christmas, the majority staffs from the House and Senate will begin negotiations on a conference report -- the next major hurdle for health care reform.

Politics: In the final days of 2009, there may not be much activity on the surface but it's an important week behind the scenes. There's incredible pressure on candidates to keep raising big bucks for the fundraising quarter that ends December 31. And, with all the focus on the holidays, don't be surprised in the weeks ahead to see more retirement announcements from House and potentially even Senate Democrats.

Michael Steele continues to bang the drum on his "Listen To Me" anti-health care campaign, with a conference call today with Dick Armey. And speaking of health care opposition, here's a reminder that one shouldn't make any snap judgments about anyone's political fate: Mike Huckabee drew 1,800 people in Omaha, just across the river from Iowa, for a rally on Sunday meant to pressure Sen. Ben Nelson to vote against the final health care bill. Also, its quotes like this, from an interview on "Hannity" Friday. Speaking of the president, Huckabee said: "I would almost venture to say he's broken more promises than Tiger Woods, and I'm not sure we can give him a mulligan."

** Poll Watch
Obama Job Performance: Approve 49.3 / Disapprove 44.9
Congress Job Performance: Approve 27.4 / Disapprove 65.8
Generic Ballot Test: Republicans +2.3

** In Case You Missed It: Depending upon where exactly in the Washington area you lived, you may have seen as much as 20 inches of snow this weekend in what was the worst December storm ever. How's this for a whopping stat: 25 million pounds of snow needs to be cleared from FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland, before tonight's big Monday Night Football matchup between the Redskins and the Giants. The Redskins Blog has the story on getting the field ready.

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

Democrats' Talking Points On Health Care

Senate Democratic leadership released the following talking points, as it hopes to drive the conversation on the health care debate -- focusing on increasing momentum for a reform package to pass, its benefits and the GOP's attempts to obstruct the legislative process, including stalling the funding of troops overseas.


Continue reading "Democrats' Talking Points On Health Care" »

Looking Ahead to the 2010 House Race Landscape

As the House winds to a close this week, it's only natural to contemplate what lies ahead in 2010. For Democrats, who for the first time in 16 years control both the White House and Congress, much of the discussion next year will focus on the midterm elections. Based on historical standards and the current political atmosphere it's almost a foregone conclusion that the party will lose seats.

Democratic leadership is publicly looking ahead as well -- Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen has scheduled a press briefing on Capitol Hill this morning to discuss the midterms, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi held court yesterday with a group of reporters. Pelosi assured them that Democrats would indeed hold on to a majority in Congress after November 2010; however, following four retirement announcements in as many weeks from congressmen in swing districts, Pelosi said she is "in campaign mode."

"A swing of 110 seats," said Pelosi, "That is really challenging to sustain. But that is our goal, is to sustain our majority. And we will have a strong majority."

While few political observers expect Republicans to pick up the 41 seats necessary to win back control of the House, a close look at the raw numbers shows exactly why the GOP feels the wind at its back.

In his 2008 bid for president, John McCain won 49 congressional districts that are represented by a Democrat in the House. Beyond that, President Obama won 37 Democratic districts that voted for George W. Bush in 2004, including New York-23. While many districts regularly vote differently at the congressional and presidential level, a total of 86 Democratic districts -- exactly one-third of the Democratic seats -- have voted Republican in at least one of the last two presidential elections.

Of the 49 McCain-Democrat districts, nearly half are represented by a Democrat serving just their first or second term, including 14 freshmen and nine sophomores. Of those 23 districts, four Democrats won by 3 points or less in a district McCain won by double-digits: Bobby Bright (AL-02), Walt Minnick (ID-01), Parker Griffith (AL-05) and Frank Kratovil (MD-01).

The retirement announcements of Dennis Moore (KS-03), John Tanner (TN-08), Brian Baird (WA-03) and Bart Gordon (TN-06) in recent weeks signals the potential for more Democrats from moderate districts to bail out of a tough 2010 political landscape. It also bumped up to seven the number of competitive open seats.

While losing seats appears inevitable, Democrats do have opportunities to play offense, and the DCCC this week began running radio ads in five GOP districts that could be vulnerable: Dan Lungren (CA-03), Mary Bono Mack (CA-45), Lee Terry (NE-02), Charlie Dent (PA-15) and Joe Wilson (SC-02). Obama won four of the five districts, and Wilson won with just 54 percent of the vote -- as did McCain.

Obama won a total of 34 districts held by Republicans. Of those, three will be open seats in 2010, as Mark Kirk (IL-10), Mike Castle (DE-AL) and Jim Gerlach (PA-06) are all running for higher office. An even bigger target for Democrats, though, is Lousiana's 2nd District, where Joseph Cao defeated longtime incumbent William Jefferson -- who was sentenced last month to 13 years in federal prison -- by 3 points. Obama won the district by 52 points.

As it was in 2008, the state of the economy is sure to be an overriding factor in the outcome of the midterms. Looking ahead to November, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) told RealClearPolitics this week: "I think people are looking at jobs. What is going to happen with the jobs landscape?"

Reaction To Bernanke As Time's 'Person of the Year'

Here's one man's reaction to Fed Chair Ben Bernanke being named Time magazine's 'Person of the Year.'

Much to this person's chagrin, Bernanke was also named Foreign Policy's 'Global Thinker of the Year.'

Continue reading "Reaction To Bernanke As Time's 'Person of the Year'" »

Lieberman Now On Board?

After Senate Democratic leaders agreed to drop the Medicare buy-in for those 55 and older, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) appears ready to support the Democratic health care reform package. Here is a statement the senator released today regarding his past statements on the Medicare buy-in -- of which he appeared to support just months ago, though he is now against -- and how he sees the future of the bill:

Continue reading "Lieberman Now On Board?" »

Tennessee Rep. Bart Gordon (D) To Retire

Now the fourth Democrat to announce his retirement in four weeks, Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.) said this morning in a released statement that he will not run for re-election next year.

Gordon, a moderate Democrat from a Republican-leaning district, follows three other Democratic congressmen in similar political situations -- Brian Baird (WA-3), John Tanner (TN-8), and Dennis Moore (KS-3). President Obama won Moore and Baird's districts in 2008, but both were also won by President Bush in 2004.

"Turning 60 has led me to re-evaluate what's next," Gordon said in a statement. "I have an 8-year-old daughter and a wonderful wife who has a very demanding job. I am the only child of my 83-year-old mother, Margaret. They have made sacrifices to allow me to do what I love by serving in Congress, and now it's my turn."

Originally elected in 1984, Gordon has regularly been re-elected with more than 60 percent of the vote -- including every election this decade. He is chairman of the Science and Technology Committee. According to National Journal, his voting record places him near the middle of the House.

Tennessee's Sixth District is V-shaped and located in the middle of the state. John McCain won the district with 62 percent in 2008, and Bush won 60 percent four years earlier.

"When I was elected, I was the youngest member of the Tennessee congressional delegation; now, I'm one of the oldest," said Gordon. "In fact, I have members of my staff who weren't even born when I took office. That tells me it's time for a new chapter."

The run of retirements of Democrats in swing districts is a clear sign to Republicans that 2010 is going to be a good year -- one in which the party, down and out in the last two congressional elections, will at least cut into the Democrats' strong hold on Congress.

"It's official: Democrats now have a retirement problem," said NRCC spokesman Ken Spain. "After being forced to toe the line for Nancy Pelosi's reckless agenda too many times, Blue Dog Democrats would rather roll over and retire than face the political headwind that is barreling toward them. This is evidence of the fact that the Obama-Pelosi agenda of government takeovers, permanent bailouts, and fewer jobs is taking a political and mental toll even on incumbent Democrats who were once-perceived to be firmly entrenched."

Poll: Dems Want Lieberman Punished If He Joins Filibuster

An overwhelming majority of Democratic voters want to see Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Ct.) stripped of his committee chairmanship if he joins Republicans in filibustering the health care reform bill, according to a new poll.

Huffington Post reports this morning that a survey of 800 registered voters, conducted by Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Democracy for America, found that 81 percent of Democrats think Senate party leaders should remove Lieberman from his post as chairman of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.

Two-thirds of Republicans say Democrats should not punish Lieberman. Thirty percent of independents agree with Republicans, while 43 percent say he should be punished.

Lieberman reportedly told Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Sunday that he would filibuster the current form of the health care package should it be brought up for a vote. He, as well as Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), said on "Face the Nation" yesterday that they cannot support allowing people under 65 to buy into Medicare -- a key compromise negotiated last week.

The Week Ahead: Crunch Time In The Capital

It's the last full week of business before the holidays. Here's RCP's Weekly Planner with what to watch in politics.

** This Week At The White House: On Monday, President Obama meets with representatives from the financial industry, "to discuss economic recovery, small business lending, improving lending practices for homeowners and the Administration's plans for financial reform," the White House says. The gathering comes after Obama bluntly criticized Wall Street executives in a "60 Minutes" interview Sunday night.

"The people on Wall Street still don't get it," Obama told Steve Kroft. "They're still puzzled, why is it that people are mad at the banks. Well, let's see. You guys are drawing down $10, $20 million bonuses after America went through the worst economic year that it's gone through in decades, and you guys caused the problem. And we've got ten percent unemployment. Why do you think people might be a little frustrated?"

The other main item on Obama's schedule this week is a trip back to Europe Thursday night, where he'll take part in the Copenhagen summit on climate change as it wraps up.

** This Week On Capitol Hill: The Senate had a busy weekend, working overtime to pass a $446 billion omnibus spending bill that includes six of the 12 annual appropriations bills that will fund the federal government in fiscal year 2010. The bill now heads to the White House, where President Obama is expected to sign it this week. Congress had already passed five appropriations bills, leaving only the Defense Appropriations bill, which the House is scheduled to take up this week.

The Senate went back to work on health care legislation on Sunday, and Democrats will push to complete a compromise this week. On "Face The Nation" yesterday, Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell highlighted the trouble Democrats are having coming to terms. "It's noteworthy that you had to have three Democrats on to explain the Democratic position," he said, referring to previous guests Sens. Jay Rockefeller, Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman. "In fact, there are more Democratic positions than you'd find in a stack of newspapers, and therein lies the problem."

Be sure to check out the RCP Video page for more highlights from the Sunday shows.

**This Week In Politics: There was a noteworthy milestone in Texas this weekend, as the nation's fourth-largest city elected a lesbian as mayor. Annise Parker won Saturday's runoff with just under 53 percent of the vote. "Parker's name identification and experience as a candidate and elected official were too much for the well-connected Gene Locke," the Houston Chronicle reported. Expect that to get some national focus, coming as it did in a red state and at a time when gay marriage efforts have stalled in several states.

Also worth watching this week: Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) makes his first visit to New Hampshire as a potential 2012 candidate. He'll speak at a fundraiser in Concord for the state Senate Republican fundraising committee. Iowa has seen its share of Republican hopefuls in this very early going, but this is one of the first big forays in the home of the first-in-the-nation primary.

** Poll Watch
Obama Job Performance: Approve 48.6 / Disapprove 45.2
Congress Job Performance: Approve 28.8 / Disapprove 63.3
Generic Ballot Test: Republicans +0.8

** In Case You Missed It: Check out Sarah Palin's surprise appearance on "The Tonight Show," where she turned the tables on William Shatner by reading portions of his autobiography.

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

Democrats Have Yet To 'Drain the Swamp'

When the Democrats reclaimed Congress in the 2006 midterm, then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi pledged to "drain the swamp" of Congressional ethics violations that allegedly went uninvestigated under Republican rule. On the evening of Nov. 26, 2008 -- Thanksgiving eve - Pelosi, now House Speaker, released a statement to the press regarding the ethics investigation of Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), in which she stated, "I have been assured the report will be completed by the end of this session of Congress, which concludes on January 3, 2009. I look forward to reviewing the report at that time."

Now, more than a year later, as the 1st Session of the 111th Congress crawls to a close, the investigation into multiple potential improprieties by the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee remains incomplete. Many, including watchdog groups like the Sunlight Foundation and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, are left wondering how exactly the ethics situation in Congress has improved.

"I don't think things have changed in the way the ethics committee operates -- it's still very slow going, and they're loath to hold members of Congress responsible for misconduct," CREW executive director Melanie Sloan told RealClearPolitics. "The committee is nonpartisan, and in being nonpartisan they do not like to go after members of either party."

As more evidence was brought to light, the committee was forced to expand its investigation at least two times this year; in announcing an expansion of its Rangel investigation in early October, the House ethics committee said it had already issued "close to 150 subpoenas; interviewed approximately 34 witnesses resulting in over 2,100 pages of transcripts; reviewed and analyzed over 12,000 pages of documents; and held over 30 investigative subcommittee meetings."

However, Pelosi and Democratic leadership have swatted away any attempts to temporarily remove Rangel -- who among other things is being investigated for cheating on his taxes -- from his chairmanship of the tax-writing committee until the ethics investigation is complete. Republicans, who were swept from power in the 2006 elections partly because of their own ethics troubles, have continually criticized Democrats for this.

"To allow Mr. Rangel to continue to serve as Chairman of the very committee with IRS oversight...and with no end in sight to his ethics investigation, sends a clear message to the American public that this government refuses to abide by the same laws they impose on the working people of this country," Rep. John Carter (R-Texas) said in October.

Continue reading "Democrats Have Yet To 'Drain the Swamp'" »

Hoyer Calls Out 'Party of No'

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer called on Republicans in the House and Senate to step up to the historical standard of bipartisanship and begin debating major pieces of legislation in good faith.

"One of our two great parties is now an organization committed to an unprecedented level of lockstep opposition to the president," said Hoyer. "A 'Party of No,' whose political strategy is an investment in failure for our country and paralysis for its institutions."

In a 30-minute speech yesterday to the Center for American Progress, Hoyer cited a number of instances in which both parties in the last half-century worked toward compromise on major legislation: civil rights in 1964, Medicare in 1965, Social Security in 1983, tax reform in 1986, No Child Left Behind in 2001. He also included environmental legislation under Richard Nixon, welfare reform under Bill Clinton and the 1956 interstate highway bill.

"No one expects Republicans to roll over for President Obama," said Hoyer. "But the 'Party of No' strategy is so disappointing because the history of Congress is full of loyal oppositions that shared responsibility for governing in trying times and shaped some of the most important legislation of their eras."

Hoyer's comments come as the Senate engages in bitter floor debate on comprehensive health care reform -- debate that has seen Republicans use tactical, parliamentary tools to slow the progress of the bill. Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), who is retiring at the end of next year and turned down the Commerce Secretary position in the Obama administration, became the face of the GOP's maneuvers when his memo to colleagues on how to slow debate was leaked to the press.

Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) said in an MSNBC interview yesterday that Republicans have used "91 different efforts to stop and slow down debate" this year.

House Republicans scoffed at Hoyer's comments. When reached for comment, the office of Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.) directed RealClearPolitics toward a website that houses the GOP's alternatives to the Democrats' legislation for stimulating the economy, energy, health care and the budget (http://www.gop.gov/solutions).

"House Republicans have brought forth several plans to lower health care costs, create jobs and bring our fiscal house to order," Pence said in a statement to RCP. "Unfortunately, Democrats and the Administration have refused to work across party lines to create common-sense solutions that help our nation's hard-working families. Republicans will continue to put politics aside to move our country in the right direction."

While Hoyer admitted that Democrats have not been perfect, the speech centered on the failings of Republicans in the current Congress -- as opposed to Democrats and Republicans in years past that worked together to craft legislation.

"It is easy to understand why the Majority Leader is more eager to attack Republicans than defend his own Leadership's record," Michael Steel, spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner, said in a statement to RCP. "Every time out-of-touch Washington Democrats have chosen to go it alone on some liberal scheme this year, Republicans have offered a better solution, rooted in our principles. Democrats need to stop whining about us and actually get something done to help the American people."

Sen. Corker's Daughter Carjacked Last Night

Sen. Bob Corker's (R-Tenn.) daughter was carjacked last night in Northwest Washington. Corker's chief of staff Todd Womack released the following statement:

On Wednesday evening around 9:15 p.m., Senator Corker's daughter, Julia, 22, was involved in a carjacking in Northwest Washington. She was driving to the apartment she shares with her father approximately nine blocks from the Capitol and stopped at an intersection when she was pulled from her vehicle, a Chevy Tahoe, and thrown to the ground. She did not suffer serious injuries. She is a bit sore and shaken up but doing well. Senator Corker was nearby and able to get to the scene of the incident very quickly. The perpetrators were caught shortly after, were positively identified, and are in custody in Seat Pleasant, Maryland. Senator Corker is very grateful that Julia was not seriously injured, that those who committed the crime were quickly apprehended, and he is extremely appreciative to the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, the Capitol Police, the FBI, and the Seat Pleasant Police Department for their quick response and professionalism.

Rep. Jones: Democrats Not Alone In Wanting War To End

When four members of Congress joined Tuesday afternoon for a press conference outlining their displeasure with President Obama's commitment of 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, it was not surprising to see Republican Rep. Walter Jones (N.C.) standing alongside three liberal Democrats. However, his remarks to a few reporters following the event offered further insight into Jones's opposition.

About a month ago, Jones said, a retired general -- whom Jones would not name, but said he was well known enough to be instantly recognized -- told him the military cannot withstand another increase in troops.

"We are about to break the military. Tell your colleagues not to support the president in sending 45- or 50,000 more troops. Because I don't want to make the same mistake I made in Iraq," Jones said the general told him.

The eight-term congressman then said if Congress were able to vote on whether or not to send troops, he would not be the only Republican to vote against it.

"There are seven to 10 Republicans that believe we need to have an end to this policy," said Jones, who emphasized that they would only vote no on the policy, not necessarily a vote to fund the troops.

Jones's 3rd District covers most of the North Carolina coastline and is home to the Marine Corps's Camp Lejeune and Cherry Point air station. Fifteen percent of the district's population is military veterans -- one of the highest percentages in the country.

After voting to authorize the use of force in Iraq in 2002, Jones became deeply affected by the mounting combat deaths and decided he no longer could support the war effort. He joined Democrats in pushing Bush for a timetable for withdrawal in 2005 and in the 2007 vote disapproving of Bush's troop surge in Iraq. He has also written thousands of letters to the families of soldiers that were killed in Iraq.

So it was no surprise to see Jones standing next to three of the most liberal members of Congress in opposing the latest troop surge: Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.), Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.). They all agreed that Congress should be able to debate the surge before troops are deployed, though that is not expected to happen.

Rep. Woolsey: Majority Of Dems Will Vote Against War Funding

Here is an excerpt from my story this morning on liberal reaction in Congress to President Obama's troop surge in Afghanistan:

For most of the public policy decisions in the first 10 months of his presidency, President Obama has enjoyed the backing of the liberal wing of his party. However, Obama's latest move -- sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan -- places him at odds with many of his most ardent supporters in Congress.

The two co-chairs of the 82-member Congressional Progressive Caucus -- the largest subgroup in Congress -- oppose the troop surge and are just two of a sizeable number of Democrats who are likely to vote against its funding.

"I believe that the majority of Democrats are going to vote against funding for an escalation in Afghanistan," Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) told RealClearPolitics in an interview last night following Obama's speech at West Point.

You can read the rest here.

Five Senators To Watch On Health Care

With 60 Democrats in the Senate, the party has enough votes to pass any bill it pleases -- but that total includes two independents that caucus with the party and leaves no room for error. The tight margin is on display once again as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) searches for enough support to both bring health care reform up for a vote and actually pass it.

While many Republicans do not support passing comprehensive reform at all, Reid is struggling to win over the centrist members of his own party on a couple sticking points: a government-run insurance option and banning federal funding for abortions.

Following House passage of its reform legislation Saturday night, President Obama expressed confidence that the Senate would follow suit. The president has done his part, meeting personally with a number of centrist Democrats to discuss reform. How successful he and Reid can be remains to be seen, but there is consensus on the fact that it will be far more difficult than passing it out of the House.

As the Senate awaits cost estimates from the Congressional Budget Office this week, all eyes remain on a select group of senators whose support or opposition could alter the ultimate success of the bill. Here are Five Senators To Watch as Senate Democratic leadership looks to pass its own health care reform by the end of the month:

Ben Nelson (D-Nebraska)

As the Almanac of American Politics puts it, "He often is found in the middle of battles between the extremes of both parties." That was true in 2005, when he was part of the Gang of 14 that sought to allow President Bush's judicial nominations to move forward, and it remains true today, as Nelson continues to be at the heart of each battle over health care.

Nelson is against the public option, even with an opt-out clause, which had been the center of debate until this week. Now, since House Democrats passed a bill Saturday that bars federal dollars from being spent on abortions, Nelson says he will not support a bill that doesn't do the same thing. "If it doesn't make it clear that it does not pay for abortion then I wouldn't support it," Nelson told reporters Monday, according to Reuters.

The second term senator could introduce his own amendment that would solve the issue. House Democratic leaders were forced to include the Stupak amendment to get enough Dem votes for passage, and Senate Democratic leadership will likely be in the same boat.

Olympia Snowe (R-Maine)

As a moderate Republican who has joined Democrats in previous key votes, Snowe is often mentioned in the health care debate. Her vote in the Senate Finance Committee helped move health care reform to the cusp of the Senate floor. However, she made sure to note at the time that she will not necessarily support the final bill that is introduced to the full Senate.

Snowe's voting record pits her in the middle of the Senate, and Democrats are hoping to win her support on this crucial vote. But Snowe has said she does not support a public option, even with an opt-out clause. So winning her vote does not appear likely -- as Reid announced the bill will indeed include it -- unless Democrats decide to give the public option a "trigger," which Snowe supports.

Continue reading "Five Senators To Watch On Health Care" »

Breaking Down the Dems' Health Care Defections

House Democrats were able to pass comprehensive health care reform Saturday night by a 220-215 vote, despite the defection of 39 members of the Democratic caucus. The tight margin is indicative of the divisive nature of the bill, as well as the volatile political atmosphere of the country.

Members know that each major vote cast on the floor of the House chamber could be the issue that defeats them in the following election. All but one Republican opposed the bill, and the party, down 81 seats, is already using the vote as a wedge issue for next year's midterm elections.

The National Republican Congressional Committee released the following statement shortly after the vote to media in the congressional districts of nearly 50 of the Democrats who supported the bill:

"As the country recoils against the Democrats' reckless crusade for higher spending and more government control, Dina Titus just walked off a cliff at the request of her party bosses by voting for a bill that hikes taxes, slashes Medicare, kills jobs, and puts small businesses and middle class Nevada families in an even bigger bind."

In 2008, John McCain won 49 districts that also elected a Democrat to the House. On Saturday, 31 of the 39 Democrats who opposed the bill represent districts McCain carried, including 19 where McCain won 55 percent of the vote or more. Of the 31 McCain districts, 11 are represented by freshmen.

Fifteen of the 41 Democrats elected in 2008 voted against the bill, while just two from the even larger 2006 class opposed it. Just fewer than half of the centrist Blue Dog Coalition, whose votes the Democratic leadership aggressively lobbied for, voted against the bill -- the 24 Blue Dogs made up more than 60 percent of the bill's Democratic opposition.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), one of the most liberal members of Congress and whose Cleveland-based district Obama won with 59 percent, opposed the bill because it didn't go far enough. Kucinich favored a "robust" public option, which leadership eventually concluded could not win enough support to pass.

Two of the opposing votes came from Members who are running for higher office next year -- Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.), who's running for governor, and Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La.), who is challenging Sen. David Vitter (R-La.). McCain won at least 59 percent in both states in 2008.

Other noteworthy opposing votes came from Reps. Rick Boucher and Glenn Nye, both from Virginia, whose congressional districts were won Tuesday by Republican Bob McDonnell in the race for governor. The other two
Virginia Democrats whose districts McDonnell won, Reps. Gerry Connolly and Tom Perriello, voted in favor of the bill.

The lone Republican to support the bill was Rep. Joseph Cao (R-La.), whose district leans heavily Democratic and has one of the 10 highest percentages of African American voters. Cao is widely considered the most vulnerable incumbent in the country, as his election in 2008 hinged on ethical and legal woes of incumbent Bill Jefferson (D-La.).

Connolly: Va. Dems Not 'Spooked' By McDonnell's Election

Republicans argue that Tuesday's election results were enough to make some Democratic lawmakers - especially moderates from districts that lean Republican -nervous about their re-election viability, and in turn, cause them to think twice before voting to enact comprehensive health care reform.

But one of the Democrats who fits that description, Rep. Gerry Connolly of Virginia's 11th Congressional District, told RCP in an interview that using the gubernatorial results on Tuesday to determine vulnerability in the 2010 midterm elections makes no sense, and that he's not reading much into them.

"Prudence dictates you don't overanalyze one election," Connolly told RealClearPolitics.

However, none of the four Democrats in Virginia whose congressional districts were won by the Republican gubernatorial nominee have said which way they will vote tomorrow night. While all four are on record professing skepticism of the House reform bill well before Tuesday, any 'No' votes will likely be construed as a political decision.

Calling his colleagues "principled individuals," Connolly says "they're not going to be somehow spooked by one election cycle."

Wednesday morning, the National Republican Congressional Committee singled out the four Virginia Dems who could be feeling the heat after Gov.-elect Bob McDonnell (R) won their districts -- Reps. Rick Boucher, Glenn Nye, Tom Perriello and Connolly. The latter three are freshmen serving in districts long held by Republicans, and John McCain's largest vote percentage came in the 14-term Boucher's 9th District.

"Turn the clock back," said Connolly, referring to Virginia Democrats' success at the House, Senate and presidential level in 2008. "If I had said Bob McDonnell was in trouble a year ago, how would my comment look now?"

"Everything ultimately hinges on the economy" improving, he said. "We've got a whole year for that to happen."

Of the four, Connolly may have the least to worry about, even though his Northern Virginia district was represented by Republican Tom Davis for 14 of its 17-year existence. With Davis retiring last year, Connolly won 55 percent against businessman Keith Fimian; President Obama won 57 percent there -- his third largest percentage in the state.

McDonnell's 55 percent take in the 11th District Tuesday was his smallest of the four Democratic districts he won. Fimian, who outspent Connolly last year, is taking on the congressman again in 2010.

Republicans, including Republican Governors Association Chairman Haley Barbour, quickly began comparing this year's gubernatorial results in New Jersey and Virginia to 1993, when Republicans also swept the two elections and went on to win back Congress the following year.

Connolly says that to ensure nothing like that happens again, Democrats need to "prove we can govern. That's why passing health care reform is so important."

According to his spokesman, as of this afternoon Connolly is leaning toward voting for the health care reform bill that will likely come up for a vote Saturday night, but so far he's alone in that category. Jessica Barba, Perriello's spokesman, told RCP this afternoon that the congressman is still undecided, while spokesman Clark Pettig confirms Nye has not yet announced his decision. Boucher did not return a request for comment.

Boehner: GOP In The Mainstream

Currently down 81 seats in the House and 20 seats in the Senate, Republicans represent a minority of Americans in Congress. However, they continue to contend that they stand with mainstream America in opposing the Democrats' "tax and spend" agenda, including health care reform.

Calling Democrats' efforts to pass health care reform "gangster government at its worst," Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) invited people from all over the country to the Capitol today, to "tell their Representatives to vote no to a government take-over of one-fifth of our economy." Thousands of people showed up to the West Front of the Capitol as House GOP leaders, Bachmann, actor Jon Voight, and radio host Mark Levin bashed President Obama and congressional Democrats.

The event used populist themes in its disapproval of reform, as the word "freedom" was uttered countless times by speakers. Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) called the Dems' bill "the greatest threat to freedom that I've seen in my 19 years in Congress."

"I'm going to stand with you and all freedom-loving Americans against this bill," he continued.

Asked at a press conference later in the day about some racist signs that turned up in the crowd, Boehner said he didn't see any. Asked if he worried that the signs that appeared on the Capitol grounds today might show that the GOP is out of the mainstream, Boehner said it was just the opposite.

"I think Republicans are standing with the mainstream in opposition to Pelosi-care," he said.

Earlier in the day, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) said she was excited for Democrats' special election victories Tuesday in California and New York, not only because it gave her two more votes for health care reform, but because "health care was the issue" in both races. She did not mention the Democrats' losses in the New Jersey and Virginia governor's races.

Asked about Pelosi's comments, Boehner laughed and said he disagreed with her analysis of the races. As evidence, he pointed to the election results in New York's 23rd District, where 46 percent voted for Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman and 5 percent voted for GOP nominee Dede Scozzafava, who left the race days before the election.

"A majority of the people who voted in that election in New York on Tuesday night voted against the Obama-Pelosi agenda here in Washington," he said. "And so they can spin it any way they want, the leaders can, but let me tell you what: Their members saw what happened Tuesday night."

Rep. Foxx: Health Care Reform Scarier Than Terrorism

In a statement from the House floor today that is surely already making the rounds in Democratic circles and in the liberal netroots, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) said Americans should be more fearful of Congress passing the Democrats' health care reform legislation than terrorism.

"I believe that the greatest fear that we all should have to our freedom comes from this room -- this very room and what may happen later this week in terms of a tax increase bill masquerading as a health care bill," Foxx said. "I believe we have more to fear from the potential of that bill passing than we do from any terrorist right now in any country."

National Democratic campaign committees are e-mailing video of the statement by Foxx, of teapot museum earmark fame. Democratic National Committee spokesman Brad Woodhouse called her "an extreme right wing Republican" and criticized her for making such an "outrageous" comparison. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee reacted similarly.

"Representative Foxx believes that reducing health care costs for consumers is a greater danger to Americans than terrorists?" asked DCCC spokesman Jesse Ferguson. "It is outrageous that a representative of our nation that was hit by terrorists would have the gall to claim that Americans reducing their health care costs is a greater threat. The question is: Does Virginia Foxx's leadership agree with this Republican extreme right wing ideology?"

House GOP On Your Hip

Just when you thought you weren't connected enough to the Capitol, the House Republican Whip team is launching a BlackBerry application to provide up-to-the-minute updates and news.

"Today's launch of the WhipCast BlackBerry app is the latest demonstration of our commitment to modernize the way we communicate with Americans from coast-to-coast," said Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.). "The WhipCast enables the Whip Team to communicate with the public in a faster, smarter, and more effective way."

Not only will the app demonstrate that the GOP is up with new technology, it will also allow the party to more directly connect with voters. Professional athletes and other celebrities have taken to new technologies like Twitter, and found it to be an effective way to circumvent the media.

The app will feature "talking points, policy discussions, polling information, floor schedule updates, and more," according to Cantor's website, as well as video and audio updates.

Dems Announce House Health Care Bill

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic leaders today announced House Democrats' health care reform legislation, which will cost less than $900 billion over 10 years and expand coverage to 36 million currently uninsured Americans. As Pelosi has stated many times in recent weeks, the bill "will not add one dime to the deficit."

The principles of the legislation, titled, "Affordable Health Care for America Act," are "affordability for the middle class, security for our seniors, responsibility to our children," said Pelosi, who noted that the bill will include "a public option to boost competition" and "will end discrimination for a pre-existing medical condition."

Speaking at a grand ceremony on the west front of the Capitol, Pelosi promised that the bill will be online for all Americans to review, and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said much of the bill has been available online for more than three months. Republicans have criticized Democrats for not allowing enough time for proper review, but Hoyer said it will be available for 72 hours before it goes up for a vote.

Congress, Hoyer said, is "one step further on a long, hard road -- a road to bring quality, affordable health care to every one of our fellow citizens."

"I told members of the press and the public over and over and over again, there is not one member of our caucus -- from every region of the country -- who did not say to us, 'We need to adopt health care reform,' " said Hoyer, indicating any argument within the House Democratic caucus has been on the details, not the overall goal.

The Congressional Budget Office will release its scoring of the bill later today, and the speaker's office says the bill will cost $894 billion over 10 years and is fully paid for.

Gallup: GOP Not Trusted On Health Care

When it comes to health care reform, Republicans in Congress are trusted less than their colleagues across the aisle and President Obama, according to a new Gallup survey (Oct. 16-19, 1521 A).

Just more than one-third (37%) of American adults have a great deal or fair amount of trust in congressional Republicans on reforming the nation's health care system, while nearly half (48%) trust congressional Dems and more than half (55%) trust the president.

Only counting those who said they have a "great deal of trust," 4% said Republicans, 10% said Democrats and 23% said Obama.

Republicans not only lag in trustworthiness among the nation as a whole, but also among members of their own party. Just 61% of Republicans nationwide trust the Republicans in Congress on health care, while 81% of Democrats trust congressional Dems and 86% of Democrats trust Obama.

As for independents, 36% trust Republicans in Congress, 39% trust Democrats and 51% trust Obama.

Two-Thirds of Country Could Opt Out of Public Option

Two-thirds of the country could opt out of the public option, based on a Real Clear Politics analysis.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is promoting a federal government-run insurance option that states would be able choose whether or not to participate in. But if the decision falls to the state legislatures and governors, as indications are it would, the vast majority of states could choose to opt out.

Ten states are completely controlled by Republicans (including the state House, Senate and governor's mansion). Meanwhile, Republicans have control of at least one chamber of the state legislature or the governor's mansion in 23 states.

Potentially, any state with at least partial Republican control could choose to opt out of the public option. That would leave 33 states, totaling 200 million people, that would not be included in the most decisive, and divisive, portion of health care reform.

If only states totally controlled by Republicans were to opt out, 70 million people would be without a public option.

In Virginia, Democrats currently control the state Senate and governor's mansion, but Republican Bob McDonnell leads by more than 10 points with one week to go in the gubernatorial election. Should he become governor and the option be available, McDonnell would opt out.

"Bob McDonnell does not support nationalized heath care," said McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin. "As a result, he does not support Virginia's participation in a federal public health insurance system. As governor he would opt Virginia out of such a system."

Whether or not Reid's proposal ever goes up for a vote on the Senate floor remains in flux, however. Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) said today he was against the public option, even with an opt-out clause, and would join Republicans in withholding it from a floor vote.

Should Reid's plan make it through both chambers of Congress, the public option would likely remain in at least 17 states where Democrats have complete control and 97 million people reside.

Washington D.C. was not included in RCP's analysis. Population data was taken from the U.S. Census Bureau's 2008 population estimates.

Hoyer: House Will Adjourn Later Than Scheduled

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) announced today that the House will stay in session beyond its scheduled adjournment date in order to pass health care reform legislation.

Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) blasted Democrats this week for wasting time on the House floor with unimportant bills instead of working to improve the economy. It's unclear how the minority leader will respond to news of overtime hours being scheduled to pass comprehensive health care reform, which most Republicans do not support.

Here is Hoyer's statement:

"After months of work addressing critical issues like economic recovery and protecting American consumers, the House will meet beyond the targeted adjournment date as we continue to advance health insurance reform legislation and other matters. As is often the case when we come to the end of a session, the voting schedule is subject to change as the House and Senate work together to complete action on legislation, as well as to accommodate committee work and provide time for Members to review major legislation before voting.

"To that end, we are scheduled to be in session for the entire week of November 2, and are prepared to be in session the first weekend of November if necessary. We are also scheduled to be in session the entire week of November 16. In addition, we have marked several days on the calendar for Members to reserve in case they need to be here to pass health insurance reform. Those days are: Monday, November 9th; Tuesday, November 10th; Monday, November 23rd; and Tuesday, November 24th."

Reid: Senate Bill Will Include Public Option

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced today that the health care reform bill that hits the Senate floor in the coming weeks will include a public option. The decision to include or exclude government-run health insurance had been in flux, as one of the two Senate bills being merged over the past week did not include it.

"I believe that a public option can achieve the goal of bringing meaningful reform to our broken system, will protect consumers, keep insurers honest, and ensure competition," Reid said at an afternoon press conference in the Capitol. "And that's why we intend to include it in the bill that will be sent to the Senate."

Reid and senior advisers from the White House have been involved in backroom negotiations with the leaders of the two Senate committees that passed health care bills -- Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who ushered a bill through the HELP Committee, and Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.). In doing so, a compromise was brokered to allow states to opt out of the public option by 2014.

"As we've gone through this process I've concluded, with the support of the White House and Senators Dodd and Baucus, that the best way to move forward is with the public option with the opt-out provision for states," said Reid, who cited recent national polling as evidence that the American public is in favor of the public option. "Under this concept states will be able to determine whether the public option works well for them and will have the ability to opt out if they so choose."

Republicans have argued that a government-run insurance plan would lead to the demise of private insurance companies, while Democrats say its purpose is to keep the insurance companies honest and protect consumers by promoting competition.

"It will be a thousand-page, trillion-dollar bill that raises premiums, raises taxes and slashes Medicare for our seniors to create new government spending programs. That's not reform," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has previously said he is against comprehensive health care reform, with or without a public option. "So, wholly aside from the debate over whether the government gets into the insurance business, the core of the proposal is a bill that the American public clearly does not like, and doesn't support."

Reid said he was disappointed that so few Republicans appear willing to negotiate on health care reform, or many other issues that have come before the Senate this year, including extending unemployment benefits, which is currently being debated on the Senate floor.

"I'm always looking for Republicans" to support legislation, Reid said. "It's just a little hard to find them. ... When I came here to the Senate, we had a lot of moderate Republicans who worked with us on everything, and we worked with them. But of course now the moderates are extremely limited. I can count them on two fingers."

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) was the only Republican on the Finance Committee to vote in favor of the Baucus bill, but she does not support a public option of any kind -- including one with an opt-out provision for states. However, Reid hopes she will eventually support the bill.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs released a statement saying President Obama is "pleased that the Senate has decided to include a public option for health coverage, in this case with an allowance for states to opt out. As he said to Congress and the nation in September, he supports the public option because it has the potential to play an essential role in holding insurance companies accountable through choice and competition."

Later this afternoon, Reid will send the Congressional Budget Office a series of proposals that includes alternative versions of a melded bill, and he'll wait to hear back on how much each version would cost. Democrats need 60 votes to pass the bill, so Reid is looking for the most cost-effective, yet comprehensive, plan to do so. While there are 60 Democratic senators, not all of them have indicated support for the bill.

"As soon as we get the bill back from CBO and people have a chance to look at it," said Reid, "I believe that we will clearly have the support of my caucus to move to this bill and begin legislating."

Sen. Reid Schedules 3:15 PM Presser

Close followers of the health care reform debate in Congress may want to keep their eyes glued to the TV at 3:15 p.m. today, when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is scheduled to make an announcement regarding Senate legislation.

The Reid press conference comes as he, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), and senior White House advisers are completing negotiations on merging the two health care bills that have passed out of separate committees. A scoring from the Congressional Budget Office is expected this week, though Reid's press conference will provide further details on exactly where in the legislative process health care reform is, and perhaps what the merged bill will look like.

Nat'l Journal Poll: Dems Could Do Better On Ethics

Three in 10 Congressional Democrats say their party leadership is not doing enough to police ethics enforcement in the Democratic Party, according to National Journal's latest Congressional Insiders Poll.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi has caught the most heat for refusing to make any moves regarding Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), chairman of the powerful Appropriations Defense subcommittee, despite numerous investigative media reports depicting potential misdeeds. Despite calls for Rangel to step down from his post, Pelosi has maintained that she will wait for the ethics committee to complete its investigation.

"Leaders should not attempt to influence the timing or outcome of an ethics investigation," one Democrat, who thinks leadership isn't doing enough, told National Journal. "However, they should ask any subject of an investigation to step down from positions of leadership during the review of serious charges."

Just 62 percent of House and Senate Democrats surveyed said party leadership was doing enough, nearly 20 points less than the number of Republicans who say the same about their own leadership. But, reminds one Democrat, "Let's not forget: It wasn't until the Democrats took over the majority that Congress adopted strengthened rules of ethical oversight."

While 19 percent of Republicans say their party leaders are not doing enough, most say the tables have turned since 2006, when Democrats rode a "drain-the-swamp" wave back to power.

"All of the Republican ethical issues resulted in them losing power--lesson learned," said one Republican.

Pence Takes On The Media

Pushing back on a Politico article this morning, which reported Republicans are worried about a 2010 electoral backlash to conservative activists and media personalities, House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) took to the House floor today and called it "hogwash."

"Lately the national media has taken aim at conservative commentators in radio and television -- suggesting that they only speak for a small group of activists, and even suggesting in one report today that Republicans in Washington are 'worried about their electoral effect.' Well, that's hogwash," Pence said. "So to my friends in the so-called 'mainstream media' I say, conservative talk show hosts may not speak for everybody but they speak for more Americans than you do."

You can download and watch the clip here.

CNN Poll: 61% Favor Public Option

Democrats are promoting a national survey released this afternoon by CNN/Opinion Research (Oct. 16-18, 1038 A, MoE +/- 3%), which finds 61% of Americans in favor of a government-run health insurance plan to compete with private insurance companies. The poll comes as the House and Senate are each merging separate health care reform bills for an eventual vote on the chamber floors.

At a morning press conference, CNN's Dana Bash asked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid whether the fact that six-in-10 Americans approve of a public option has any effect on whether it would be included in the Senate plan. Reid refused to answer, as he remains deep in negotiations with Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), whose bill does not include the option, and Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who as the acting chairman of the HELP Committee included the option in his committee's bill.

The press conference was held to announce that Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy's (D-Vt.) Health Insurance Industry Antitrust Enforcement Act of 2009 will be introduced as an amendment to the eventual bill that reaches the Senate floor. The amendment would strip insurance companies of their antitrust exemption status, which Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) described as "an accident of American history."

Schumer said that in 40 states, two insurance companies dominate the market, allowing them to raise health care costs on consumers . "This exemption is antiquated, out of date, and doesn't belong," he said. "We can't pass effective health care reform if we don't hold health insurance companies to the same standards as other American industries."

The CNN poll found 49% favor President Obama's health care plan overall, while 49% oppose it. However, when asked which would be better for the country, passing a bill similar to Obama's plan or leaving the current system in place with no changes, 53% say Obama's plan would be better compared with 44% who say nothing should change.

The 61% of Americans in favor of the public option is up 5 points since late August.

CA Poll: Pelosi Not So Popular

As the head of the House of the Representatives, Speaker Nancy Pelosi is a divisive figure in the national political scene, but a new poll finds unhappiness with her even in her home state and among members of her own party.

A Field Poll released over the weekend found just 51% of Democrats in California approve of the job Pelosi's doing as speaker, while 23% disapprove and 26% have no opinion. Overall, she has a 34% approval -- her lowest since May 2008 -- and 44% disapproval rating. Just 7% of California Republicans approve of the speaker, while independents are split.

The two months Pelosi was most popular were March 2007, just after becoming speaker, and March 2009, following President Obama's inauguration.

The state's two Democratic senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, have positive approval ratings, though both are under 50%. Boxer, who's up for re-election next year, has a 44% approval and 37% disapproval rating, while 46% approve of and 35% disapprove of Feinstein.

The survey was conducted of 509 registered voters from Sept. 18 to Oct. 5 with a margin of error of +/- 3.2%.

Second Senate Committee To Examine 'Czars'

The issue of White House policy "czars" is heading back to the Hill next week. The Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee announced today it is holding a hearing Thursday to examine the history of czars in the White House, as well as their policy implications and oversight considerations.

This will be the second Senate hearing this month on the topic.

The hearing, titled, "Presidential Advice and Senate Consent: The Past, Present, and Future of Policy Czars," will feature the following witnesses:
--Tom Ridge, former Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Secretary of Homeland Security
--James Pfiffner, public policy professor, George Mason University
--Lee Casey, partner of Baker Hostetler law firm and former Attorney-Advisory Legal Counsel office at DOJ
--Harold Relyea, former Congressional Research Service specialist in American National Government

Obama's czars have been a hot topic of discussion this year, with Republicans criticizing the lack of advise-and-consent usually attached to top presidential appointments. However, some Democrats have joined in the criticism. Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.), chairman of the Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution, has been outspoken on the topic and held a hearing last week.

Democrats argue that Bush had at least as many czars as Obama, so GOP criticism amounts to the pot calling the kettle black.

McCain Again Presses Obama To Pardon Boxer

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is not giving up his fight on behalf of Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight boxing champion. McCain and Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) sent a letter to President Obama today asking for a posthumous pardon for the boxer, who was imprisoned in 1913 for his romantic relationships with white women.

In the letter, McCain and King "say it is regrettable that neither Obama nor anyone from his administration responded to their first letter, sent in August," AP reports. "They say they hope Obama would be eager to erase what they call an 'act of racism' that sent the first black heavyweight champ to prison."

McCain and King introduced legislation in April calling on Obama to pardon Johnson. At the time, McCain said Obama "will be more than eager" and "the last person I have to convince." The Senate passed the resolution June 24 and the House followed suit July 29, both without the need for a roll call vote.

The White House had no immediate comment, according to AP.

Pelosi Leaves No Doubts On Public Option

In her weekly press conference, Speaker Nancy Pelosi once again argued for the need for a government health insurance option.

"The need for a public option is very clear, and, as I have said, our House bill will have a public option," she said. With a mandate included and news that private insurance rates will increase next year, "the idea that we would have health insurance reform without a public option becomes less likely."

The Senate is currently blending the two bills passed out of the Finance and HELP committees, and Pelosi said the House will finish merging its three bills in the next week. Should the blended bills pass the House and Senate, they would be sent to a joint conference, followed by each chamber voting on one combined bill.

Pelosi demurred when asked if Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), the lone Republican on the Finance Committee to support the Baucus plan, has more influence than the Speaker in the health care debate. Snowe has said that the kind of robust public option Pelosi prefers is one she could not support, and Senate Democrats and the White House want her support in order to make it a bipartisan bill.

"It is not about who has what kind of influence. It is the question of what is the best approach for America's middle class when it comes to affordability, and a public option, in our view, is what takes down cost," Pelosi said. "The robust public option that is being considered in the House saves $110 billion. How can you ignore that: $110 billion?"

Pelosi cited two polls released this week by CBS and Marist -- each found more than 60 percent of Americans approve of the public option. That statistic may come in handy not only in debate with Republicans, but in negotations with centrist Democrats in both chambers.

"We are also saying if you are going to mandate that people must buy insurance, why would you throw them into the lion's den of the insurance industry without some leverage with a public option?" said Pelosi.

Rep. Wexler Stepping Down From Congress

Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) announced this morning he is stepping down from his Congressional seat to accept the position of president of the Center for Middle East Peace, a D.C.-based think tank aimed at ending the Arab-Israeli conflict. Wexler announced the decision this morning at his Boca Raton office, and his exit from Congress is effective as of January 2010.

"Taking over as president of the Center for Middle East Peace offers me an unparalleled opportunity to work on behalf of Middle East peace for an important and influential non-profit institute," Wexler said. "After much discussion with my family, I have decided that I cannot pass up on this opportunity."

Wexler, one of the more liberal members of Congress, was an outspoken surrogate of Barack Obama last year during the presidential primaries and general election campaign, and he served as the campaign's Middle East adviser. He currently serves as the chairman of the Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Europe and sits on the Middle East subcommittee.

The congressman is in his seventh term representing the 19th District of Florida -- a long and skinny stretch in Palm Beach and Broward counties, landlocked by the 22nd and 23rd districts. It has one of the highest percentages of Jewish residents, and is firmly Democratic. President Obama won 66% of the vote in 2008, the same as John Kerry in 2004 but down from Al Gore's 73% in 2000.

"I am proud that everyday I have sought to advocate for and provide a voice to my constituents: whether it was fighting for a legitimate vote during the 2000 election, working toward enacting a voter verified paper trail in Florida, or advocating for health care, education, Social Security and countless other issues," said Wexler.

Gov. Charlie Crist (R) must now set a special election date to fill the vacant seat. While the winning party is in little doubt, there will surely be a group of ambitious Democrats lining up to run. They include state senators Jeremy Ring and Ted Deutch, West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel, Broward County Mayor Stacy Ritter and former Broward County Commissioner Ben Graber, according to the Miami Herald.

Finance Committee Passes Bill, Vote Spinning Begins

Following the Finance Committee's 14-9 vote to pass Chairman Max Baucus's health care bill, the Democratic and Republican Senate campaign committees quickly released statements calling out members from the opposite party for their votes. Meanwhile, the Democratic and Republican Senate leaders focused their statements on Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), the lone Republican to vote in favor of the plan.

"Sen. Snowe is also to be commended for voting for this proposal in the face of immense pressure from opponents of reform," said Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.). "Her courage to stick with her principles in the face of an increasingly partisan environment in Washington, DC is heartening and should serve as a reminder that health care is an issue that should defy party labels."

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), firmly against the bill, focused on Snowe's continued reservations with the plan, which she voiced this morning to McConnell as well as in committee.

"Sen. Snowe called me this morning to let me know that while she continues to have serious, substantive policy reservations with this proposal, she wanted to keep the process moving," said McConnell. "I share her concerns about the direction of this bill once it leaves the committee, and her call for transparency before we vote to proceed to any bill on the floor."

Both leaders recognized that while this was an important vote that continued to move Democrats' health care reform initiatives forward, this bill is not the one that will end up on the Senate floor. Reid and a committee of senators will now merge the Finance bill with the one passed three months ago in the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, formerly chaired by Ted Kennedy.

That will not be a simple process, as the HELP bill contains a public insurance option, unlike the Finance bill. Should a bill pass the full Senate, it would then need to be combined with the House bill and voted on again. Snowe maintained that by voting today, it did not guarantee her continued support.

"My vote today is my vote today, it doesn't forecast what my vote will be tomorrow," said Snowe.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee is focusing on Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), who is up for re-election next year and whose vulnerability could be decided by how she votes on health care and other issues.

"It very troubling that Senator Lincoln went back on her word and decided to vote in favor of a bill that will ultimately shift costs to voters in Arkansas who are still struggling to make ends meet," said NRSC spokeswoman Amber Wilkerson Marchand. "Despite her assertions to the contrary, Blanche Lincoln has effectively opened the door with this vote for a government-run program that will come between her constituents and their doctors and potentially cause over 88 million Americans to lose their coverage."

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee went after Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), the Finance ranking member. Grassley is up for re-election next year as well, but not considered vulnerable at this point.

"With today's vote, Senator Grassley affirmed his loyalty to insurance companies," said DSCC spokesman Eric Schultz. "Instead of championing the people he pledged to serve, Grassley sided with the special interests and toed the Republican Party line by voting to obstruct progress at every turn. Senator Grassley owes the people of Iowa an explanation."

Ethics Committee Expands Rangel Investigation

The House Ethics committee announced today it will expand its investigation of Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) to determine if he "violated the Code of Official Conduct or any law, rule, regulation or other standard of conduct applicable to his conduct in the performance of his duties or the discharge of his responsibilities with respect to all Financial Disclosure Statements and all amendments filed in calendar year 2009 by or on behalf of" Rangel.

The committee said that in its year-long investigation into Rangel, it has so far issued 150 subpoenas, interviewed 34 witnesses for more than 2,100 pages of transcripts, reviewed more than 12,000 pages of documents, and held more than 30 investigative subcommittee meetings.

A Republican resolution introduced in the House yesterday to remove Rangel from his role as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee was shot down by Democrats in a legislative maneuver. It was the second resolution filed this year by Rep. John Carter (R-Texas), with both ending similarly.

Republicans have already jumped on the Ethics committee's announcemnt, calling on Speaker Pelosi to remove Rangel until the committee has completed its investigation.

"Given the expanded investigation announced today, it is past time for Speaker Pelosi to insist that Chairman Rangel step aside until the Ethics Committee completes its work," Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a released statement within minutes of the Ethics committee's announcement. "The American people won't stand for having a chairman of the House's tax-writing committee who is under investigation for not paying his taxes. What more has to happen before Speaker Pelosi does the right thing?"

Boehner: Pelosi, Reid Abusing Power

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) criticized Democrats for attaching a hate crimes measure to the Defense Authorization bill, scheduled for a vote today on the House floor. Boehner is opposed not only to adding charges to a crime if the accused committed a violent act based on the victim's sexuality, but mostly the Democrats' use of a troop-funding measure to get it passed.

"This is just an abuse of the legislative process," Boehner said during his weekly press conference. "It's an abuse of power by Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid. And it's offensive, it's offensive to me and a lot of my colleagues. And that is why I will vote no and urge my colleagues to vote no."

Boehner will not be alone in voting against the bill, as Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Conference Chair Mike Pence (R-Ind.) have also stated that they will not support the bill. Cantor called it a "political ploy and symbolic of everything that is wrong with Washington."

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) also criticized the Democrats' legislative maneuver during a briefing with reporters yesterday, but he said he will likely vote for it when it hits the Senate floor.

Pelosi: I'm In My Place

Speaker Nancy Pelosi responded this morning to a National Republican Congressional Committee press release that stated General McChrystal should "put her in her place" regarding Afghanistan war policy.

"It's really sad they don't understand how inappropriate that is," Pelsoi said. "I'm in my place, I'm the Speaker of the House, the first woman Speaker of the House. I'm in my place because the House of Representatives voted me there. But that language is something I haven't heard in decades."

Pelosi was asked for her reaction during her weekly press conference, which focused on health care and the economy.

Pelosi, Reid: Open To a Second Stimulus

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid met with President Obama at the White House this afternoon to discuss the economy and the potential for further spending bills to stimulate more growth. In a statement released following the meeting, Pelosi indicates her willingness to do so:

"Today's meeting with President Obama reaffirmed our top priority as a nation: getting Americans back to work. The President, Leader Reid, and I all agree that we must respond to the urgent need to promote the creation of good jobs, rebuild our workforce, and restore stability to our neighborhoods. Congress stands ready to partner with the White House to keep our economy moving in the right direction and lay the foundation for growth long into the future.

"Our recovery efforts have brought our economy back from the brink. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Cash for Clunkers, and a series of other steps have halted the freefall and have begun put us back on the path to long-term prosperity. The House has passed measures to invest in the clean energy jobs and to extend unemployment benefits to workers hardest hit by the recession.

"We are beginning to see signs that the economy is turning around. But we are committed to take further action on behalf of the millions of Americans out of work or at risk of losing their jobs, their savings and their homes."

Here is Reid's statement:

Continue reading "Pelosi, Reid: Open To a Second Stimulus" »

CBO: Baucus Bill Would Reduce Deficit

The Congressional Budget Office said today that Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus's (D-Mont.) health care bill would cost $829 billion and reduce the federal government's annual deficit by $81 billion during the years 2010 to 2019. By 2015, 94 percent of Americans would have health insurance, according to CBO's preliminary analysis (large .pdf).

The CBO score appears to be the "clean bill of health" Baucus had been hoping for, and the Finance Committee could vote on the plan as early as tomorrow. Should the committee pass the bill, a conference will gather to mesh the plan with the one passed in July by the HELP Committee.

The report also indicated that states would take on an additional $33 billion in Medicaid costs from 2010-2019, something that governors around the country are worried about.

Dems Ramp Up Pressure On Health Care

Here is my story today on the Democrats' efforts to pressure Republicans to support comprehensive health care reform:

While the Senate Finance Committee awaits a cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office on Chairman Max Baucus's (D-Mont.) health care bill, Democrats are ramping up their efforts to build support among the American people and pressure Republicans to eventually back comprehensive reform.

In a briefing with reporters Thursday, Senate Democratic leadership focused solely on what they referred to as the Republicans' obstructionist efforts on reform.

...

In pressuring Republicans, Democrats have also utilized recent quotes from prominent Republicans around the country who have stated a desire for Congress to work in a bipartisan fashion to pass reform this year.

Read the rest here.

Carter Again Seeks To Remove Rangel From Ways & Means

Rep. John Carter (R-Tex.) is again working to remove Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) from his post as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee until the House ethics committee completes its investigation into his potential impropriety.

Carter read aloud his privileged resolution on the House floor at 12:55 p.m. today, and by rule it will be voted on. However, his previous resolution, introduced in February, was tabled by Democrats and today's vote appears to fare a similar outcome.

"We cannot tolerate a double standard in this country, one for the common man and another for the rich and powerful," Carter said in a press release this morning. "To allow Mr. Rangel to continue to serve as Chairman of the very committee with IRS oversight, without paying a nickel in penalties, and with no end in sight to his ethics investigation, sends a clear message to the American public that this government refuses to abide by the same laws they impose on the working people of this country."

An investigation into Rangel has continued for more than a year now, as the ethics committee first announced on Sept. 24, 2008, the formation of an investigative subcommittee to look into his dealings. The committee announced a separate inquiry in June for trips he has taken to the Caribbean.

The full text of the resolution can be read here.

UPDATE (1:51 p.m.): The House voted to refer the resolution to the ethics committee, ending the chance for any debate. The resolution is now dead as the committee has no mandate to do anything with it.

Two Democrats voted with the Republicans to not refer the motion to committee: Reps. Gene Taylor and Travis Childers, both of Mississippi. Childers represents a swing district, but Taylor is regularly re-elected with well more than 60% of the vote.

"These votes show that support for the Democratic Leaders' decision to sweep this matter under the rug is starting to crack," said Michael Steel, spokesman for Minority Leader John Boehner.

Continue reading "Carter Again Seeks To Remove Rangel From Ways & Means" »

Baucus 'Not Discouraged' On Forthcoming CBO Score

The Senate Finance Committee is awaiting a cost estimate, or "score," from the Congressional Budget Office, and Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said today he's unsure when it will come.

"I'm hopeful it's tomorrow, but I can't guarantee it," Baucus said after emerging from the Senate Democrats' weekly luncheon.

Movement on his health care bill has stalled so senators on the committee, especially Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), can cast their vote knowing how much the bill will cost. As for when a vote will take place, Baucus said it all depends what the CBO score looks like.

"If it's a clean bill of health," the vote will take place sooner, said Baucus.

Asked if he had spoken with CBO during the process and what he expected in the score, Baucus smiled and said, "I'm not discouraged."

Who Is At The White House

Here is a list of the bipartisan group of congressional party and committee leaders who trekked down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House this afternoon for a briefing with President Obama and Vice President Biden on Afghanistan and Pakistan:

US Senate
• Senator Harry Reid, Majority Leader, D-NV
• Senator Dick Durbin, Majority Whip, D-IL
• Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican Leader, R-KY
• Senator Jon Kyl, Republican Whip, R-AZ
• Senator Carl Levin, Armed Services Chairman, D-MI
• Senator John McCain, Armed Services Ranking Member, R-AZ
• Senator Daniel Inouye, Appropriations Chairman and Defense Subcommittee Chairman, D-HI
• Senator Thad Cochran, Appropriations Ranking Member and Defense Subcommittee Ranking, R-MS
• Senator John Kerry, Foreign Affairs Chairman, D-MA
• Senator Richard Lugar, Foreign Affairs Ranking Member, R-IN
• Senator Patrick Leahy, Foreign Operations Appropriations Chairman, D-VT
• Senator Judd Gregg, Foreign Operations Appropriations Ranking Member, R-NH
• Senator Dianne Feinstein, Intelligence Committee Chair, D-CA
• Senator Kit Bond, Intelligence Committee Ranking Member, R-MO

US House
• Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-CA
• Representative Steny Hoyer, Majority Leader, D-MD
• Representative John Boehner, Republican Leader, R-OH
• Representative James Clyburn, Majority Whip, D-SC
• Representative Eric Cantor, Republican Whip, R-VA
• Representative Ike Skelton, Armed Services Chairman, D-MO
• Representative Howard McKeon, Armed Services Ranking Member, R-CA
• Representative Howard Berman, Foreign Affairs Chairman, D-CA
• Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Foreign Affairs Ranking Member, R-FL
• Representative David Obey, Appropriations Chairman, D-WI
• Representative Jerry Lewis, Appropriations Ranking Member, R-CA
• Representative Nita Lowey, Foreign Operations Appropriations Chairman, D-NY
• Representative Kay Granger, Foreign Operations Appropriations Ranking Member, R-TX
• Representative John Murtha, Appropriations, Defense Subcommittee Chairman, D-PA
• Representative Bill Young, Appropriations, Defense Subcommittee Ranking Member, R-FL
• Representative Silvestre Reyes, Intelligence Committee Chairman, D-TX
• Representative Peter Hoekstra, Intelligence Committee Ranking Member, R-MI

Merkel To Give Speech To Congress Next Month

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will speak Nov. 3 to a joint session of Congress, Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office announced today. Merkel will be the first German leader in 52 years to address the legislative body, and her speech comes just six days before the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

"Congress will warmly welcome Chancellor Merkel to the Capitol next month as part of her visit to the United States," Pelosi said in a released statement. "We look forward to hearing the Chancellor's views on how we can continue to work together to confront international security threats, to implement necessary climate change measures, and to resolve the global financial crisis."

The last German leader to speak before Congress was Konrad Adenauer, a German spokesman said at a news conference held this morning to announce Merkel's speech.

Reuters reports that "Adenauer, like Merkel a member of the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU), was West Germany's first postwar chancellor and an ally of the United States in the Cold War."

Merkel's speech will take place Nov. 3 at 10:30 a.m. in the House chamber.

Senate Dems: Where Is the GOP Plan?

While Republicans have repeated the phrase, "Where are the jobs?" all year as a criticism of the Democrats' economic stimulus package, Democrats continue to request a Republican alternative to health insurance reform.

"I think it's important to spend a little bit of time on the Republicans' plan," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said this afternoon at the weekly Democratic leadership briefing with reporters. "It's very clear what that is -- and that is to keep things the way they are, the status quo."

Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) conceded that as the "loyal opposition," it's no surprise that Republicans have been critical of the Democrats' proposals. Still, he said, he'd like to see how they would tackle the imminent problem of the rising costs of health care.

"At the end of the day they don't have anything to offer the American people," said Durbin. "The Grand Ol' Party's coffers are empty when it comes to health care reform."

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) offered a financial metaphor as well in criticizing the GOP.

"All you have to do is sit at the Finance Committee and you realize the bankruptcy of the Republican Party," said Schumer. "The number of positive amendments, even if you disagreed with them, was small. Almost every amendment was negative, aimed at some kind of message and doing nothing to move health care forward. They have nothing to say. They have nothing to offer."

Schumer went on to say that the GOP's strategy may have worked in 1980, "when the American people were feeling good about themselves and feeling everything was fine -- they don't need government anymore," but not in 2009.

Following the briefing, Schumer told a scrum of reporters that he's spoken with "almost all of the moderate Democratic Senators and they are open to" the public option. That includes Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), whose bill does not include the option and who voted against the amendments introduced by Schumer and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) that would have added the option to his bill.

Baucus told Schumer he was not ideologically against the public option -- he just doesn't think Democrats can get 60 votes if it's included in the bill.

"I said, give us a chance to show you," said Schumer. "And he said, fine. So that's what we're trying to do."

Pelosi: If Grayson Apologizes, So Should Republicans

Speaker Nancy Pelosi didn't say Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) should apologize for his recent comments about Republicans and health care, but she did say that if he does apologize the Republicans who have used similar language on the House floor should apologize as well.

"If anybody is going to apologize, everybody should apologize," Pelosi said this morning at her weekly press conference. "Apparently Republicans are holding Democrats to a higher level than they hold their own members."

During a late Tuesday speech on the House floor, Grayson was criticizing Republians when he uttered the words that have caused an uproar within the GOP.

"If you get sick, America, the Republican plan is this: Die quickly," said Grayson. "That's right, the Republicans want you to die quickly if you get sick."

Republican Study Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.) has threatened to introduce a privileged resolution of disapproval for Grayson's comments if he does not apologize -- similar to the tack taken by Democrats following Rep. Joe Wilson's (R-S.C.) "You lie!" outburst during President Obama's speech to a joint session of Congress last month.

However, as Pelosi noted, Republicans have made similar comments on the House floor.

In July, Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite (R-Fla.) said from the floor that the Democrats' plan was a message to senior citizens to "drop dead."

"Last week Democrats released a health care bill, which essentially said to America's seniors, 'Drop dead,'" Brown-Waite said.

Pelosi said she'd prefer to move on to a discussion on the issues within health care reform, rather than focus on these distractions. "Republicans are using this as a distraction from the fact that they have no plan to move us forward," she said.

The Speaker reconfirmed that the Democrats' House reform bill will include a public option and reiterated that it will not go to the House floor until it is fully paid for.

"We will know we are ready when the bill is deficit neutral," she said. "We won't go to the floor until we're ready."

Kerry, Boxer Introduce New Climate Change Bill

Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) introduced today the Senate version of a climate change bill, one they call "The Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act."

"Our health, our security, our economy, our environment, all demand we reinvent the way America uses energy," Kerry said in a statement announcing the bill. "Our addiction to foreign oil hurts our economy, helps our enemies and risks our security. By taking decisive action, we can and will stop climate change from becoming a 'threat multiplier' that makes an already dangerous world staggeringly more so."

The Senate Republican leader quickly released a statement criticizing the bill for the costs he says will be taken on by the American public -- the same argument House Republicans consistently used earlier this year.

"While many details are missing, this latest draft of the Democrats' new national energy tax appears to be even more expensive for consumers and for our economy than the bill that passed the House," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). "The last thing American families need right now is to be hit with a new energy tax every time they flip on a lightswitch, or fill up their car--but that's exactly what this bill would do."

The House passed its version, the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, on June 26 by a narrow, 219-212 margin. Here are some reactions from House leaders, Democrat and Republican, on the new Senate bill...

Continue reading "Kerry, Boxer Introduce New Climate Change Bill" »

Senate Finance Committee Votes Down Public Option

From the AP:

The Senate Finance Committee has voted against creating a new government health insurance plan to compete with the private market.

The 15-to-8 vote could forecast the fate of the public option in the Senate as a whole. The outcome was expected but still a defeat for liberals who view government-sponsored insurance for the middle class as a key component of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.

Five committee Democrats, including Chairman Max Baucus, joined with all 10 committee Republicans to defeat the measure by Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) also has an amendment that includes a public option up for a vote today, though the Rockefeller amendment vote result makes Schumer's proposal a long-shot, even though it is less progressive than Rockefeller's.

You can follow along on the New York Times' excellent live-blog of the committee proceedings.

UPDATED 3:51 p.m.: The committee just voted down Schumer's amendment on a 10-13 vote.

Leadership PACs and Golf Outings

Pro Publica pulls back the curtain on the Leadership PACs of members of Congress, and the fact that they allow lobbyists to provide public officials with some of life's luxuries they might not otherwise be able to afford.

When it comes to golf, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., has champagne taste.

...

Fortunately for Chambliss, a political fund covers the costs of his golf hobby. The fund received $692,618 during the 2008 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Almost all of it came from lobbyists, political action committees (PACs) and corporate leaders.

The public might be forgiven for thinking the days are gone when lobbyists and special interests could pay for a lawmaker's cross-country golf outings. After all, both the House and Senate in 2007 responded to a spate of scandals by banning members of Congress from accepting gifts of any value from lobbyists or the companies that hire them.

But those reforms preserved a major loophole: leadership PACs like Chambliss' Republican Majority Fund [1], which have far looser rules and get far less scrutiny than campaign committees. At first, only a few rising stars in Congress had them. Now, 70 percent of the members do. So do a dozen former members.

Click here to see how your member of Congress spends his Leadership PAC money.

Dems Continue Call for GOP Health Care Bill

House Democrats are still waiting for Republicans to introduce their own health care proposal, which Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), chairman of the GOP's health care working group, guaranteed in June they would do. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer's (D-Md.) office released a timeline today to illustrate the point, and the DCCC sent out a reminder Thursday night that Friday marked 100 days since Blunt's promise.

DCCC Chair Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said that night on MSNBC that the GOP hasn't introduced it's own proposal "because they're afraid that people will realize that the plan they're putting forward won't do the job."

Since June, party leaders have gone back and forth in remarks to reporters on whether a bill would indeed come forth from their side of the aisle, though they've maintained that whether they have a complete bill or not, the party has presented alternatives to President Obama's plan.

Most recently, though, Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said the party's most imminent goal is stopping the Democrats' bill. "The problem right now is they're in this big rush to pass this bill, and the American people want us to do everything we can to stop it," he said Sept. 9, the day Obama spoke to a joint session of Congress.

Pelosi Concerned Rhetoric Could Incite Violence

Asked at a press conference today if she was concerned that "anti-government rhetoric" could lead to violence, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi alluded to the assassination of gay rights leader Harvey Milk and said people will "have to take responsibility for any incitement that they may cause."

"We are a free country and this balance between freedom and safety is one that we have to carefully balance," she said. "I have concerns about some of the language that is being used because I saw this myself in the late '70s in San Francisco, this kind of rhetoric was very frightening and it gave -- it created a climate in which ... violence took place."

Pelosi, of course, represents San Francisco. Though she doesn't reference President Obama, it's a delicate matter to be discussing political assassination when there is real concern about the president's safety. The remarks are especially stunning when you consider the uproar caused by comments Hillary Clinton made late in the 2008 Democratic primary about the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, which some viewed as her suggesting then-Senator Obama could be killed as well.

Pelosi said she wishes people would "curb our enthusiasm" since some who are hearing some strong rhetoric "are not as balanced as the person making the statement might assume."

"Again, our country is great because people can say what they think and they believe, but I also think that they have to take responsibility for any incitement that they may cause."

You can see the question that lead to these comments, and the speaker's full response, after the jump.

Continue reading "Pelosi Concerned Rhetoric Could Incite Violence" »

Pelosi Compares House Proposal to Baucus Bill

In a statement released to the press this afternoon, Speaker Nancy Pelosi compares the proposals that came out of the three House committees working on health care reform to the plan released today by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.):

"We are pleased that Senator Baucus' plan mirrors some key provisions in the House proposal, including sweeping insurance reforms and consumer protections. The House bill clearly does more to make coverage affordable for more Americans and provides more competition to drive insurance companies to charge lower premiums and improve coverage. The House bill also does more to help seniors afford prescription coverage, closing the donut hole completely, while the Baucus proposal simply reduces the cost of brand name drugs in the donut hole.

"As this proposal evolves, we hope to see modifications that result in the Senate bill better reflecting the work of the House to make health care more affordable for all Americans and promote competition that is key to keeping costs lower. I believe the public option is the best way to achieve that goal."

Ethics Committee Investigating Jackson, Waters, Graves

The House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct (a.k.a. the Ethics Committee) announced today that it is investigating potential misconduct by Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), but will defer its consideration of the matter until the U.S. Department of Justice concludes its investigation into the scandal over President Obama's former Senate seat. An indictment of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is still pending.

In a letter sent Friday to Ethics Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich requested the committee "defer further action" until the Blagojevich trial and "related investigations" are complete.

The Board of the Office of Congressional Ethics voted July 24 to recommend the Ethics Committee begin an investigation into Jackson and his efforts to secure Obama's Senate seat. The Board recommended the inquiry based on evidence that a Jackson "emissary" offered to raise money for Blagojevich in exchange for the Senate appointment and that "staff resources" in Jackson's D.C. and Chicago congressional offices were used to mount a "public campaign" for the appointment.

The committee is also investigating Reps. Sam Graves (R-Mo.) and Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) for separate incidents. The committee did not identify the reasons for the Graves or Waters investigations, but Roll Call reports that Graves "invited his friend and neighbor Brooks Hurst to testify before a Congressional hearing on renewable fuels, without mentioning that his wife and Hurst are investors together in renewable fuels plants in Missouri." Waters was questioned in the media earlier this year for her role in securing OneUnited Bank $12 million in federal bailout funds.

The Joe Wilson Resolution

Here is the resolution of disapproval for Rep. Joe Wilson's (R-S.C.) behavior during President Obama's speech to a joint session of Congress next week:

Raising a question of the privileges of the House.

Whereas on September 9, 2009, during the joint session of Congress convened pursuant to House Concurrent Resolution 179, the President of the United States, speaking at the invitation of the House and Senate, had his remarks interrupted by the Representative from South Carolina, Mr. Wilson; and

Wheras the conduct of the Representative from South Carolina was a breach of decorum and degraded the proceedings of the joint session, to the discredit of the House: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved that the House of Representatives disapproves of the behavior of the Representative from South Carolina, Mr. Wilson, during the joint session of Congress held on September 9, 2009.

The House is currently in temporary recess, though House members have now been called to the chamber to discuss and vote on the resolution.

White House: Wilson Rebuke Is 'House Business'

From a gaggle on Air Force One today with Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton:

Q Actually, Bill, do you have a comment on the resolution on Joe Wilson -- now on the floor today?

MR. BURTON: I don't. That's House business. The President has already -- Congressman Wilson called the White House to apologize. The President accepted his apology. And this is something that the House is doing.

Joe Wilson on the House Floor

Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) spoke on the House floor today, just a few feet from where President Obama stood last Wednesday when Wilson yelled "you lie!" Wilson was on the floor for the opening prayer and pledge of allegience, and gave a short statement on health care. Wilson spoke on the floor yesterday as well.

Later today, Democrats are expected to introduce a resolution of disapproval for Wilson's actions during Obama's speech to a joint session of Congress. Some Republicans are expected to support the measure, though Minority Leader John Boehner announced yesterday he would not be one of them.

Boehner to Vote 'No' On Wilson Resolution

If it was ever in question, it isn't anymore. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced today that he will vote 'No' on a potential resolution that condemns Rep. Joe Wilson's (R-S.C.) actions last week during President Obama's address to a joint session of Congress.

Greg Sargent reported today that Democrats are planning a "resolution of disapproval," the lowest of four levels of condemnation in the House (below reprimand, censure and expulsion).

"Rep. Wilson has apologized to the President, and the President accepted his apology," Boehner said in a released statement. "Last Thursday, Speaker Pelosi said that she believed it was time to move on and discuss health care. I couldn't agree more, and that's why I plan to vote 'no' on this resolution. Instead of pursuing this type of petty partisanship, we should be working together to lower costs and expand access to affordable, high-quality health coverage on behalf of the American people."

Since Wilson's "You lie!" outburst last Wednesday, both he and his Democratic challenger in the 2010 election, Rob Miller, have reportedly raised more than $1 million. The action has clearly energized both conservatives and liberals.

Health Care Negotiations Continue in Senate

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said today he plans to introduce his health care reform proposal tomorrow and begin mark up on the plan next week.

"I believe that by the end we'll have some significant bipartisan support," said Baucus.

Baucus was speaking with reporters after emerging from a morning meeting with a bipartisan group of six senators on the Senate Finance Committee who have been meeting regularly to negotiate a reform bill. Baucus said they discussed Medicaid, medical malpractice and immigration. Baucus said they were working to ensure no immigrants that are in the country illegally would receive benefits.

The issue of illigal immigrants hit the fan last week after Rep. Joe Wilson's (R-S.C.) now-infamous interruption of President Obama's address to a joint session of Congress.

"We continue to work together toward a mutual goal of reforming our health care system to reduce costs -- and I want to underline that," Baucus said. "I don't think that's been emphasized enough in all the discussions on health care reform. It is to reduce the rate of growth in health care spending in America."

On Medicaid expansion, Baucus said states will be "pleasantly surprised" with the committee's proposal, which he says would not cost states "as much as originally feared." Governors had expressed to the president and Congress their concern with states bearing the brunt of increased Medicaid costs.

Levin: Equip Afghan Army Before Sending More Troops

Senate Armed Forces Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said today, on the eighth anniversary of 9/11, that further steps to equip the Afghanistan army should be taken before sending additional U.S. troops into the country.

"We've been pressing this issue: more trainers, a larger Afghan army, more equipment to Afghanistan for about six months at least," Levin said at a press conference today. "These are the steps that we need to take before we consider additional combat forces in Afghanistan."

"I think there is a major consensus in strengthening the Afghan army," Levin continued. "I think the American people support and I support, I think most of my colleagues would support, getting essential equipment...to the Afghan army so that they can take major responsibility for their own security."

In May, President Obama committed 21,000 additional troops to the country with the same goals Levin outlined today. After August became the deadliest month yet, Gen. Stanley McChrystal called for a "revised implementation strategy" and was expected to call for more troops.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said yesterday that she sees little support within Congress for sending additional troops to the country.

Asked about her comment at the White House daily briefing yesterday, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said "the assessment that has been delivered to Central Command, to the Pentagon, and to the White House from General McChrystal is part of a rigorous assessment process that the President wanted instituted upon coming into office, and to reassess our strategy in this very important region of the world. That continues to be discussed here and at the Pentagon."

Levin, asked today if he agrees with Pelosi, said, "I think there is a significant number of people in the country that have...questions about deepening our military involvement in Afghanistan."

Levin discussed the issue on the Senate floor this morning as well.

"I believe that taking those steps on an urgent basis, while completing the previously planned and announced increase in U.S. combat forces, provides the best chance of success for our mission: preventing Afghanistan from again being run by a Taliban government which harbors and supports Al-Qaeda," he said.

Musical Committee Chairs; Baucus Health Care Bill Coming Next Week

At a press conference announcing the latest changes in Senate chairmanships, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Finance Committee, announced he will introduce a health care bill in the committee next week, with markup planned for the following Monday (Sept. 21).

Baucus said he will introduce the bill "whether there is bipartisan support or not," though he insisted a bipartisan plan is still his goal. He also said it will not include a public option. He plans to meet with the bipartisan Group of Six this afternoon as negotiations continue.

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), as has been previously reported, will not leave his current post as chairman of the Banking Committee to take over the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee chairmanship left vacant by Kennedy's death. Taking over the HELP Committee will be Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), current chairman of the Agricultre Committee. Replacing Harkin on Agriculture will be Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.).

In July, Dodd helped shepherd a health care bill through Kennedy's committee.

"The HELP Committee couldn't be in better hands," Dodd said at a group press conference with Majority Leader Harry Reid, Baucus, Harkin and Lincoln.

Harkin has been in the Senate for 25 years and previously served five terms in the House. He's chaired Agriculture since 2007, but now hands the reins over to Lincoln, who's facing a difficult political atmosphere back home as she runs for re-election next year.

"It is a daunting prospect" taking over Kennedy's committee, Harkin said at the press conference, "one that I appreciate."

While not the next most senior member on the committee, Lincoln takes the helm of Agriculture because Sens. Patrick Leahy (Judiciary), Kent Conrad (Budget) and Baucus (Finance) already chair other, more prestigious, committees. Lincoln becomes the first woman and first Arkansan to hold the Ag chairmanship.

What the GOP Wants to Hear From Obama

It's hard to figure how many Republicans in the House and Senate the president will be able to reach tonight as he delivers the second address to Congress of his still young presidential term. Many, including the minority leaders of the House and Senate, are simply against a comprehensive health care reform bill -- with or without a public option.

"What I hope I won't hear tonight is that we have to do a massive, comprehensive bill or nothing," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, speaking at a joint press conference this afternoon with House Minority Leader John Boehner. "That strikes us as not the way to move forward."

Boehner is hoping the president says he wants to start over on a reform bill, something few expect the president to say. The American people, Boehner said, simply "want the current system to work better; they don't want to replace it with a big, government-run plan."

Neither side of the aisle feels there's been much bipartisan cooperation on the issue of health care reform, though McConnell outlined certain fundamentals of reform Republicans would be open to working with Democrats on: strengthen the care and insurance people have, making insurance more accessible to the uninsured and lower costs for all. "Those are the kinds of principles around which we could rally, I think, a broad bipartisan agreement," McConnell said.

McConnell wants Congress to "skinny" the bill down and target issues such as "junk lawsuits" and insurance reform -- passing smaller, more focused bills.

"We're all interested in what he has to say," said Boehner. "But I hope he's been listening to the American people, because I think over the course of August they've made their voices loud and clear that they don't want this massive government takeover of our health care system. But it appears the president is going to double down tonight, and try to put lipstick on this pig and call it something else."

The Consensus Is There Is No Consensus

Appearing with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid at the White House after a meeting with President Obama, Speaker Nancy Pelosi had this to say regarding the inclusion of a public health insurance option in a reform bill, per our White House reporter Mike Memoli: "I believe that the public option will be essential to our passing a bill in the House of Representatives."

The message was certainly different, if not opposite, of the one given this morning by House Democrats' No. 2, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. He said a reform bill that did not include the public option could still be "very good" and that he would support it, though his preference would be to include the option -- which he called "an alternative that people ought to have."

"If the public option weren't in there, I still could support a bill because I think there is a lot in there that is good," he said.

Hoyer discussed the August break, saying that during his nearly three decades in Congress he hasn't seen a time when "more people have gotten more engaged in an issue than this one."

"Some 82 percent of the American public believes that changes are required," said Hoyer. "There is not a consensus, as you've seen, on exactly what those changes should be. But there is no doubt that there is consensus among the American people that change is needed."

At an off-camera briefing with reporters this afternoon, Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.) and Ways and Means ranking member Dave Camp (R-Mich.) said employers in this economic climate would dump their employees from their health insurance rolls if a public option were available. "The government competes with the private sector the way an alligator competes with a duck," Pence said.

They said Obama and congressional Democrats should listen to the American people, who "don't want a government-run health care plan."

Obama will speak to a joint session of Congress tomorrow night, and both Republicans said they were open to hearing what the president has to say. But, Pence said, Americans "don't want another health care speech, they want another health care plan."

Reid, Pelosi Invite Obama to Address Congress

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent a letter to the White House today inviting the president to address a joint session of Congress on Sept. 9.

Here is the full text of the letter, as provided to reporters:

September 2, 2009

President Barack Obama
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

Our nation is closer than ever to achieving health insurance reform that will lower costs, retain choice, improve quality and expand coverage. We are committed to reaching this goal.

We would like to invite you to address a Joint Session of the Congress on Wednesday, September 9 on health insurance reform.

Thank you for considering this invitation to speak to the Congress and the nation.

Sincerely,


HARRY REID NANCY PELOSI
Majority Leader of the Senate Speaker of the House

James Jones Statement on Kennedy

The White House released the following statement from National Security Adviser Jim Jones:

As a young Senate Liaison officer during the early 1980's, I had the opportunity to get to know Senator Edward Kennedy who was then a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Senator Kennedy and his staff were among some of the best supporters the Marine Corps ever had on Capitol Hill. Despite his many responsibilities, he always made time for me on issues of importance to Marines and their families. Always gracious and well informed, the Senator was instrumental in the passage of the landmark legislation known as Goldwater-Nichols and military pay reforms, which ushered in the most comprehensive reforms of our military and defense establishment since the end of World War II.

Senator Kennedy, among the many things he will be remembered for, deserves to be honored for his genuine care and compassion for our men and women in uniform - his tireless work and his voting record clearly supports this distinction. While he never shied from challenging our senior military leadership during hundreds of committee hearings, he could always be counted on to be fair and open-minded in letting witnesses like me make our case to the committee and to the American people. He contributed a great deal to my "Washington education", and I'm sure he is most proud of the contributions many of his former staff members continue to make to our nation today.


Remembering Kennedy

Robert-Ted-John-Kennedy.jpg

National Journal has a string of interesting anecdotes and testimony from former Kennedy staffers remembering the senator.

GOP House Leaders Statements on Kennedy

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio):

"The people of Massachusetts and the United States Congress have lost a tireless public servant.

"Ted Kennedy was my friend. While there were few political issues on which he and I agreed, our relationship was never disagreeable, and was always marked by good humor, hard work, and a desire to find common ground.

"Ted Kennedy was also a friend to inner-city children and teachers. For the better part of the last decade, Ted and I worked together to support struggling Catholic grade schools in inner-city Washington. By helping these schools keep their doors open and helping them retain their committed teachers and faculty, this joint effort made a positive difference in the lives of thousands of inner-city children, who otherwise would have been denied the opportunity for a quality education. It wouldn't have been possible without Senator Kennedy and his genuine desire to give something back to help inner-city students in the city in which he'd served for so many years. I'm proud to have worked with Senator Kennedy on this project, and I will dearly miss his friendship and his partnership in this cause.

"Debbie and I extend our thoughts and prayers to Vicki and the entire Kennedy family at this difficult time."

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.):

"I am saddened to learn of the passing of Senator Ted Kennedy. Senator Kennedy's service in the Senate spanned nearly a half-century, and his influence upon that institution and the Democratic Party is undeniable. I offer our deepest prayers and condolences to his wife Vicki and the entire Kennedy family."

Orrin Hatch Statement on Kennedy

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) served alongside Ted Kennedy for more than 33 years in the Senate. He released the following statement today:

"Today America lost a great elder statesman, a committed public servant, and leader of the Senate. And today I lost a treasured friend. Ted Kennedy was an iconic, larger than life United States senator whose influence cannot be overstated. Many have come before, and many will come after, but Ted Kennedy's name will always be remembered as someone who lived and breathed the United States Senate and the work completed within its chamber."

Statement from the Kennedy Family

Sen. Ted Kennedy's office released the following statement from the Kennedy family:

"Edward M. Kennedy -- the husband, father, grandfather, brother and uncle we loved so deeply -- died late Tuesday night at home in Hyannis Port. We've lost the irreplaceable center of our family and joyous light in our lives, but the inspiration of his faith, optimism, and perseverance will live on in our hearts forever. We thank everyone who gave him care and support over this last year, and everyone who stood with him for so many years in his tireless march for progress toward justice, fairness and opportunity for all. He loved this country and devoted his life to serving it. He always believed that our best days were still ahead, but it's hard to imagine any of them without him."

Speaker Pelosi Statement on Kennedy

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) released the following statement:

"Today, with the passing of Senator Edward M. Kennedy, the American people have lost a great patriot, and the Kennedy family has lost a beloved patriarch. Over a lifetime of leadership, Senator Kennedy's statesmanship and political prowess produced a wealth of accomplishment that has improved opportunity for every American. Senator Kennedy had a grand vision for America, and an unparalleled ability to effect change. Rooted in his deep patriotism, his abiding faith, and his deep concern for the least among us, no one has done more than Senator Kennedy to educate our children, care for our seniors, and ensure equality for all Americans. Ted Kennedy's dream of quality health care for all Americans will be made real this year because of his leadership and his inspiration. Sadly, Senator Kennedy left us exactly one year after he inspired the nation with his speech of optimism, vitality, and courage at the Convention in Denver. On behalf of all Members of Congress, and personally on behalf of my family, today and in the days ahead, our thoughts and prayers are with the entire Kennedy family, especially with Senator Kennedy's devoted wife Vicki, and with Kara, Teddy Jr., and our colleague Patrick, who made their father so proud. I hope it is a comfort to them that our nation and the world mourn their loss and are praying for them at this sad time."

Reid Statement on Kennedy

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who served more than 22 years in the Senate with Ted Kennedy, released the following statement:

"The Kennedy family and the Senate family have together lost our patriarch. My thoughts, and those of the entire United States Senate, are with Vicki, Senator Kennedy's children, his many nieces and nephews, and his entire family. "It was the thrill of my lifetime to work with Ted Kennedy. He was a friend, the model of public service and an American icon.

"As we mourn his loss, we rededicate ourselves to the causes for which he so dutifully dedicated his life. Senator Kennedy's legacy stands with the greatest, the most devoted, the most patriotic men and women to ever serve in these halls.

"Because of Ted Kennedy, more young children could afford to become healthy. More young adults could afford to become students. More of our oldest citizens and our poorest citizens could get the care they need to live longer, fuller lives. More minorities, women and immigrants could realize the rights our founding documents promised them. And more Americans could be proud of their country.

"Ted Kennedy's America was one in which all could pursue justice, enjoy equality and know freedom. Ted Kennedy's life was driven by his love of a family that loved him, and his belief in a country that believed in him. Ted Kennedy's dream was the one for which the founding fathers fought and his brothers sought to realize.

"The liberal lion's mighty roar may now fall silent, but his dream shall never die."


Club for Growth Targets Utah Republican

Club for Growth, the limited government, anti-tax group that most often targets incumbent Democrats, is now taking on Utah Sen. Robert Bennett (R), who co-sponsored a health care bill with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). The third-term senator is up for re-election next year, and a number of conservative Republicans are lining up to challenge him in the primary.

"We believe it's important for Senator Bennett's constituents to know that he's pushing for massive tax increases and government-run healthcare," said CfG president Chris Chocola, a former Indiana congressman. "Empowering bureaucrats at the expense of patients and doctors is the wrong medicine for our health system. It's time for Senator Bennett to scrap his costly government takeover and focus on patient-centered solutions that ensure more Americans have access to real, quality care."

Chocola is also attempting to pressure Bennett from within his own state party. He is sending a letter to the more than 3,000 delegates to next year's state party convention, requesting they "call on" Bennett to drop his bill -- which Chocola says is "in some respects...worse" than the Democrats' plan.

The TV ad in Utah is part of a nationwide $1.2 million ad buy, though it's unknown how much is being spent in Utah.

Pelosi: Public Option Is 'Best Option"

As liberals worry that President Obama may be resigned to signing a health care reform bill without a public option, Speaker Nancy Pelosi released a statement this afternoon calling a public option the "best option":

"As the President stated in March, 'The thinking on the public option has been that it gives consumers more choices and it helps keep the private sector honest, because there's some competition out there.'

"We agree with the President that a public option will keep insurance companies honest and increase competition.

"There is strong support in the House for a public option. In the House, all three of our bills contain a public option, as does the bill from the Senate HELP Committee.

"A public option is the best option to lower costs, improve the quality of health care, ensure choice and expand coverage.

"The public option brings real reform to lower costs over the 10-year period of the bill."

A second press release minutes later took aim at the media for repeating "a myth opponents of health insurance reform have been spreading: that people would be 'forced' to choose a public health insurance option." Pelosi's office cited AP, ABC's Jake Tapper, FOX News's Chris Wallace and NBC's David Gregory.

The public option "simply provides...a choice between various private plans and a public plan," the Speaker's office wrote.

GOP Celebrates Stimulus 6-Month Anniversary

Republicans are celebrating today the six-month anniversary of President Obama's signing of the economic stimulus package -- a $787 billion bill designed to quickly infuse cash into an economy in deep recession.

"By any objective standard, the Democrats' trillion-dollar 'stimulus' isn't working," House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) said today in a released statement. "The Administration promised the 'stimulus' would provide a 'jolt' to our economy and create jobs immediately, but 2.8 million more Americans have lost their jobs since the 'stimulus' became law."

Boehner and other GOP leaders highlight a new USA Today/Gallup poll that found 57 percent of American adults think the stimulus is either having no impact on the economy at all or is making it worse; it also found that 60 percent think it will do little to help the economy in the near future.

"With the loss of more than two million jobs since the stimulus was signed and unemployment at 9.4%, the results are in: the stimulus isn't working. This Administration and this Congress have failed to keep their promise to the American people," said GOP Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.). "In the next six months, Democrats in Washington should start working with House Republicans on real solutions to get this economy back on track."

Democrats argue that without the stimulus bill the economy would be even worse. At a townhall event in Belgrade, Montana on Friday, Obama said the stimulus stopped an economic "freefall" and "there is no doubt that the recovery plan is doing what we said it would: putting us on the road to recovery."

Unidentified Prankster On the Hill

A press release this afternoon from the office of Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.):

Today the Office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid responded to automated calls from unidentified sources that have been made to appear as though they originated from the Majority Leader's office. These calls, which were not made from Senator Reid's office, were directed to numerous Congressional and government offices.

"An unidentified organization is dishonestly using Senator Reid's office number to mislead people and to create yet another distraction from the important issues our country needs to address," said Reid spokesman, Rodell Mollineau. "American families are suffering and every day that defenders of the status quo spend on misleading and disruptive tactics like this is a wasted opportunity to be working on finding real solutions."

Senator Reid's office is working with the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms office to look into this matter.


Reid Statement On WH Meeting

President Obama, on his 48th birthday, invited the Senate Democratic Caucus over for lunch to discuss various topics -- the most pressing one being health care. Following the event, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid released the following statement:

"We had a productive meeting this afternoon and greatly appreciate the President's time and graciousness. Both the President and the Senate have said from the start that we are committed to getting health insurance reform done this year and we will.

"We share the same goals as the President in achieving reform in a bipartisan manner and we hope our Republican colleagues want to work together. This debate over health insurance reform is too important to be overtaken by those who want to mislead, misrepresent the truth and spread misinformation all for the sake of standing in the way of reform.

"We are closer to real health insurance reform than ever before and while it's easy to focus on the areas where we still need to find agreement, it's important to be mindful of the common ground already shared by all parties involved.

"Democrats stand united with hospitals, doctors, nurse and businesses - we all recognize the gravity of this moment and the significance of this effort. We remain committed to achieving reform."


OFA Radio Ad Boosts Swing District Dems On Health Care

Organizing for America is welcoming some potentially vulnerable Democrat members of Congress back to their districts with a new radio ad praising their votes on health care -- both the SCHIP extension and a reform proposal still working its way through Congress. Here's the list, per the DNC:

  • Driehaus (OH-01)

  • Dahlkemper (PA-03)

  • Kirkpatrick (AZ-01)

  • Giffords (AZ-08)

  • McNerney (CA-11)

  • Perlmutter (CO-07)

  • Kosmas (FL-24)

  • Grayson (FL-08)

  • Walz (MN-01)

  • Heinrich (NM-01)

  • Titus (NV-03)

  • Maffei (NY-25)

  • Massa (NY-29)

  • Kilroy (OH-15)

  • Boccieri (OH-16)

  • Space (OH-18)

  • Wilson (OH-06)

  • Nye (VA-02)

  • Kagen (WI-08)
  • "These members have been part of one of the most ambitious, historic and successful opening months of a Congressional session in our nation's history," OFA Director Mitch Stewart says in a statement.

    You can read a sample script after the jump. 

    Continue reading "OFA Radio Ad Boosts Swing District Dems On Health Care" »

    Schumer: Reconciliation on the Table

    Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) often dismisses reporters' questions on the possibility of reconciliation for health care reform, as his goal has always been to win bipartisan agreement on a plan. Today, though, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), vice chairman of the Democratic Conference, left no doubt that the maneuver -- which allows the majority party to pass a bill with just 51 votes rather than 60 -- remains on the table.

    "No matter what happens, we're going to enact health care reform by the end of the year," Schumer said on a conference call with reporters. "And we hope it can be struck in a compromise with our Republican colleagues by September 15, but if the Republicans are not able to produce an agreement we will have contingencies in place. These plans will likely only be considered as a last resort, but make no mistake about it, they remain on the table."

    Schumer later clarified that reconciliation was indeed one of the "contingincies in place," though he stressed that getting a bipartisan bill was everyone's priority.

    "We hope to get a bipartisan agreement. That's goal one. If we can't do that, the second goal is to get a bill done," he said.

    White House Luncheon: Health Care, Clunkers, And Cake?

    Most of the 60-member Senate Democratic caucus will head to the White House tomorrow for their weekly luncheon, with plans to discuss a range of issues with President Obama on what happens to be his 48th birthday.

    "Chuck E. Cheese was booked," press secretary Robert Gibbs joked today.

    It's also in part a continuation of the White House's mid-year review. The president huddled with his Cabinet this weekend. Gibbs said he expected health care and the economy to be a focus, with Obama also likely pushing the upper chamber to act on legislation to continue the Cash for Clunkers program.

    "Without some help from the Senate ... the program will have to be stopped by the end of the week," he warned.

    Obama marked his birthday over the weekend by having some friends at Camp David for dinner, and to play basketball and bowl. Gibbs said Obama tallied 144 in the latter, including three strikes and a 9-of-10 in his final four frames.

    "I told the president, if you had done this in Pennsylvania my life would have been a little easier last spring," he said.

    Sen. Kyl Won't Support Sotomayor

    Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said today he will not vote to confirm Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court. The Senate is set to vote on her confirmation this week after the Judiciary Committee approved her nomination July 28.

    "For 220 years, presidents have sought out judges and justices who fulfill the requirement that they put aside any personal opinions and apply appropriate U.S. law to impartially resolve disputes," Kyl wrote in a long statement. "I have not been persuaded that Judge Sotomayor will uphold this important tradition. For these reasons, and others, I will oppose her confirmation."

    Kyl, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, first announced his opposition to Sotomayor's nomination July 22. Just one Republican on the committee, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, voted to send her nomination to the floor of the Senate.

    Kyl said Sotomayor's judicial record gives him "reason to believe she will not set aside her own personal biases when deciding a case."

    Pelosi, Hoyer Joint Statement on Health Care

    House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer released the following joint statement this afternoon on the progress of health care legislation:

    "Congress is closer than ever before in history to passing comprehensive health insurance reform. Already, the House Ways and Means Committee and the Education and Labor Committee have reported out this critical legislation. This afternoon, the Energy and Commerce Committee will resume its markup and will report out a bill this week. Over August, the three House committees will work to reconcile their versions and produce strong legislation.

    "We are pleased with the full participation of all our Members, who have reviewed the legislation and proposed significant changes. At this time, we want to particularly recognize the valued leadership of the Blue Dog Coalition to lower costs, to make the legislation work better for their constituents, and to assist small businesses. These are goals shared by all Members of the Caucus. At the request of the Blue Dog Coalition, in order to allow more time to carefully review the additional proposed legislative language, we will bring the bill to the House floor in September.

    "Health insurance reform directly touches every American life and we need to get this right. It is crucial to our nation's fiscal health and for our businesses to be competitive in a global marketplace.

    "In September, Congress will pass legislation that puts Americans and their doctors back in charge, holds insurance companies accountable, guarantees stability and peace of mind, lowers costs, and provides more choices for higher quality care."


    Dems Outraise GOP in Swing Districts

    Here is my piece today on fundraising in districts won by incumbents with 55% or less:

    As Democrats gear up for 2010, they face a daunting historical fact: since Abraham Lincoln, only two newly-elected presidents have seen their party gain seats in Congress in their first midterm election.

    Aside from the weight of history, there are other ominous signs for Democrats, who now have complete control of the government and are laboring to govern through an ongoing economic recession: Obama's approval ratings are slipping, unemployment remains high, Congress is taking up a string of big-ticket items in health care reform and climate change, and the gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia look favorable for the GOP.

    A bright spot for Democrats, however, is the strength of their fundraising in congressional swing districts.

    A RealClearPolitics analysis of fundraising by some of the most vulnerable incumbents shows Democrats in good shape. And the campaign finance reports released this month offer fresh data for the Democratic and Republican campaign committees as they refine their search for vulnerable incumbents in 2010.

    Read the rest here.

    Senate Judiciary Approves Sotomayor Nomination

    The Senate Judiciary Committee approved today the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court, voting 13-6 in her favor. All 12 Democrats on the committee and one Republican, Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), voted to report the nomination to the Senate floor.

    "As her record and her testimony before the Committee reinforced, she is a restrained, fair and impartial judge who applies the law to the facts to decide cases," said Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy prior to the vote. "Ironically, the few decisions for which she has been criticized are cases in which she did not reach out to change the law or defy judicial precedent - in other words, cases in which she refused to 'make law' from the bench."

    He continued, "I have every confidence that she will be that kind of Justice of the United States Supreme Court."

    The Senate is expected to confirm Sotomayor to the bench within the next two weeks, before it leaves for August recess.

    Grassley Voting No On Sotomayor Nomination

    For the first time in his Senate career, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) will cast a no vote on the confirmation of a Supreme Court nominee. He explained his decision in an interview with the Des Moines Register:

    Grassley said Sotomayor did little to dispel his suspicions that the federal appeals court judge would not defer to the role of Congress in making law and the separation of powers. He said that has been a nagging concern for him about retiring Justice David Souter, whom Sotomayor would succeed on the court.

    "And consequently, I don't want someone succeeding him who doesn't have a clear role of what the Supreme Court is," Grassley told The Des Moines Register.

    Of the seven Republican members of the Judiciary Committee, all but one so far is voting against Sotomayor. Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) is the only yes vote; Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) has not yet announced his choice.

    Reactions to Minimum Wage Hike

    Members on opposite sides of the Congressional aisle had opposite reactions to the national minimum wage rising today to $7.25 an hour. Here are excerpts from Members who released statements...

    Speaker Pelosi: "Tomorrow, millions of hardworking Americans will be getting a raise. As the final step of the minimum wage increase goes into effect, studies have shown we are also stimulating the economy by giving hardworking Americans the income they need to buy groceries, fill up their gas tanks, and get their children ready to head back-to school."

    Majority Leader Steny Hoyer: "Tomorrow's increase in the minimum wage couldn't come at a time when it was more needed--for our families or our economy. For minimum-wage workers and their families, the raise will make it easier to make ends meet. And our economy will benefit from the increased consumer spending that will result, which, in turn, can help preserve jobs."

    Republican Study Committee Chairman Tom Price: "America is often called the Land of Opportunity, but misguided policies like minimum wage mandates make job opportunities harder and harder to find. This wage hike will hurt the very same Americans it is intended to help by putting strain on the payrolls of the small businesses that drive job creation. When employers can't afford to pay the higher wages, they will respond by cutting workers' hours, laying off employees, and refusing to make new hires."

    GOP Women to Hold Health Care Presser

    The ladies of the House GOP will hold a press conference tomorrow morning at the Capitol "to highlight the consequences of Democrats' health care legislation," according to a press release from the House Republican Conference.

    "The press conference will also be attended by working mothers who will share personal stories about how the Democrats' health care legislation will hurt women and affect their day-to-day lives," the release states.

    Senate Democrats brought in "real" people today to a press conference on health care to explain why the Democrats' reform plan is necessary, and yesterday House Dems included doctors and other health care industry workers at a press conference hosted by Members who work in health care in their other lives.

    Attending tomorrow's GOP event: Conference vice chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Michele Bachmann (R-MN), Judy Biggert (R-IL), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Mary Fallin (R-OK), Virginia Foxx (R-NC), Kay Granger (R-TX), Lynn Jenkins (R-KS), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Candice Miller (R-MI), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Jean Schmidt (R-OH).

    Reid Won't Rush Health Care Bill

    At a midday press conference, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said, "Something has to get done," and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said, "This is our chance." At an afternoon press conference, Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) said, "The present situation is unsustainable" and "we don't have the luxury of not getting it," and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said, "The current costs [of health care] cannot be sustained."

    However, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) said today, the urgency to pass a health care reform bill is not great enough to rush a bill before the Senate recesses in two weeks.

    "It's better to have a product based on quality and thoughtfulness rather than try to jam something through," he told reporters today. "The decision [to not rush a bill to the floor] was made to give the Finance Committee more time to get a bipartisan bill."

    "All this is no big surprise to anyone," Reid continued. "The president wants something done by the end of the year."

    GOP Leaders Preview Obama's News Conference

    President Obama will address the American people tonight in a primetime news conference that will focus on health care reform. In recent days, Obama has called out Congressional Republicans for attempting to block his efforts for reform and chalked it up to playing politics.

    In anticipation of Obama's remarks, the Republican leaders of the Senate and House held their own news conference at the Capitol this afternoon. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) said to expect Obama to repeat his criticism of the party, which they say is unfounded.

    "I continue to hear suggestions that members of the Republican Conference in the Senate are not for health care," McConnell said. "I can't find a single member who is not for trying to improve America's health care system."

    "Tonight we'll hear the president likely repeat some of the myths that he's been repeating over the last several months," said Boehner. The "myths" he listed included that Americans would be able to keep their health care plan if they want to; that the bill would reduce costs; that it will not add to the deficit.

    Boehner also said he heard the president would likely say he "rescued the economy."

    "If they try to fix our health care system like they're trying to rescue our economy, I think we're in really, really big trouble," he said. McConnell brought up the stimulus bill as well and criticized the speed it went through Congress. "We don't need a do-over of that kind of procedure," McConnell said.

    Asked whether he thinks Speaker Pelosi has the votes to pass the health care bill in the House, Boehner said, "Well I don't know whether she has the votes are not. I'm not quite sure she knows whether she's got the votes or not." He added that what's clear is Democrats will push the bill to the floor next week.

    Tonight, Obama will do his part in selling the plan to Members' constituents.

    Pelosi Has the Votes, NRCC Looks for Flip-Floppers

    From Roll Call:

    Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Wednesday that she has the votes to pass a health care overhaul in the House, even as the bill remains stalled in the Energy and Commerce Committee.

    "I have no question that we have the votes on the floor of the House to pass this legislation," Pelosi told reporters.

    The Speaker said she still intends to put the package to a vote next week but left open the possibility of keeping the House in session past the chamber's scheduled adjournment of July 31. The Senate is poised to adjourn one week later on Aug. 7, but that date also may slip because of health care reform.

    The National Republican Congressional Committee is already trying to pinpoint who may have changed their minds. Here is an excerpt from a press release the NRCC distributed just after Pelosi made the announcement:

    "After expressing serious concern over a government takeover of the health care industry, has Jason Altmire suddenly changed his position? House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) is suddenly claiming she has the votes. With the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) stating that the Democrats' government-run health care bill will increase costs, run up the deficit and raise taxes, Jason Altmire's constituents can only hope that he isn't planning on supporting such a disastrous policy."

    GOP Leaders Pre-empt Obama Newser

    With President Obama set for a primetime news conference tonight on health care, Congressional Republican leaders have announced their own news conference for mid-afternoon.

    In a rare joint appearance, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader John Boehner will meet the press at 3:30 p.m. in the Capitol "to discuss the need for health care reform," according to a press release.

    The move comes a day after Obama blasted Republicans who "openly declare their intention to block reform."

    "These opponents of reform would rather score political points than offer relief to Americans who've seen premiums double and costs grow three times faster than wages," he said.

    At the daily briefing, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs followed up Obama's point that Republicans are politicizing the debate. "I think there are some Republicans that have decided that this isn't about health care, it's about politics and it's about scoring political points and it's about perpetuating the political games that have dominated Washington for far longer than even the debates on health care reform," Gibbs said

    McConnell took to the Senate floor this morning, previewing what he may say later.

    "All of us recognize the need for reform," he said. "That's not in question. And that's why day after day, I have come to the floor of the Senate and proposed concrete, common-sense reforms that all of us can agree on, reforms that would increase access, decrease costs, and guarantee that no one in this country would be forced to give up the care they currently have."

    While the president and Congress go back and forth on the details of a health care reform bill, Gallup reported today that 16 percent of American adults do not have health insurance.

    Blue Dogs Talk Health Cost With Obama

    President Obama spent an hour meeting with Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, talks a key conservative Democrat called productive, though no final decisions on a key concern -- cost containment.

    "There's a number of potential cost-cutting measures which I think the American people expect before we consider any kind of new revenue," Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), head of the Blue Dog Democrats' health care task force, told reporters after the meeting today. "They want us to squeeze every ounce of savings we can out of the current system. That's what we're demanding."

    Ross said the entire meeting focused "specifically on cost containment," and said there are "a lot of ideas out there." But he and his colleagues want to see another CBO score that factors in projected savings before agreeing to any specific terms.

    Energy and Commerce Committee chair Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said that Obama "expressed to us his great, strong, firm commitment that the legislation that he signed will have to be deficit neutral and will hold down the cost in the future."

    Meanwhile, the White House hinted today that it may be open to taxing a portion of health insurance benefits, on so-called "Cadillac" plans. Press secretary Robert Gibbs echoed comments the president made last night in an interview with Jim Lehrer, differentiating Obama's opposition to ending the deductibility of health insurance benefits altogether with such a limited exclusion being lifted on the most expensive plans.

    "He doesn't support what Senator McCain proposed in the campaign, which, as you know, wasn't a tax on a certain level of the exclusion but instead to remove the entire tax deductibility," Gibbs said.

    Hoyer: Blue Dogs Not Alone With Concerns

    House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters today that conservative Democrats aren't the only members of the caucus with concerns about the health care bill currently being formulated in the House.

    "Members have concerns," Hoyer said, "but they're not just Blue Dogs. Progressives, Blue Dogs and everyone in between."

    The bill has already been approved by two of the three committees with jurisdiction over the plan, with the Energy and Commerce Committee still to go. Prompting concerns among freshmen members and Blue Dogs is a new tax that Democratic leaders are considering including to help pay for the massive plan.

    "Every Democrat I've talked to agrees we need health care reform," Hoyer said. "They have various concerns of how that ought to be accomplished."

    Hoyer deflected a question regarding whether Democrats had the votes to pass the bill, joking that reporters had asked him up until the last second whether the climate change bill would pass. It did pass June 26, but by a margin of only seven votes.

    The majority leader, who controls what bills hit the floor, said it was his intention to bring the bill up next week, but it's possible it could be delayed until after the August recess -- which begins August 1.

    House Dems: Health Care Bill Will Pass

    Democratic leaders are encouraged by the progress of a health care reform bill that is making its way through three House committees and are certain the full House will pass it. They held a news conference this afternoon to tout the still-evolving plan.

    "Over 100,00 people will have health insurance who didn't have it before," said Speaker Nancy Pelosi. "Over a hundred million dollars in meeting the needs of public health hospitals will be there. And just a very few people called upon to help with the revenue stream."

    Those "very few people" Pelosi was referring to are couples making more than $350,000 per year, whose taxes will go up to pay for the $1 trillion bill.

    The three committees involved in marking up the bill are the Energy and Commerce, Education and Labor, and Ways and Means. The latter two approved the bill this morning.

    Joining Pelosi at the news conference were Education and Labor Chairman George Miller (Calif.), Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel (N.Y.), Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (S.C.), and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.), among others.

    "The American people are demanding health care reform," said Hoyer. "Do we have good health care in America? We do. But it's not accessible to many, and it costs twice as much as most countries of the world."

    "We are going to pass health reform," he said.

    House Leaders To Hold Health Care Presser

    Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (N.Y.), Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller (Calif.) and other House Democratic leaders are scheduled for a 12:30 news conference to discuss the health care bill being marked up in committees.

    The Ways and Means Committee approved it early this morning on a 23-18 vote.

    Groups Question Sotomayor on 2nd Amendment

    Sonia Sotomayor completed three days of question-and-answer sessions today, and now must wait until July 28 to find out whether the Senate Judiciary Committee will approve her nomination. If she's approved, as expected, leaders in both parties have said a vote will come before the August recess.

    While members of both parties expect Sotomayor to receive bi-partisan support when the full Senate votes, some organizations are playing up her answers on the 2nd Amendment in a push for Republicans to oppose her.

    In a lengthy statement, the National Rifle Association announced today it opposes Sotomayor's confirmation based on her answers on the 2nd Amendment. The Republican National Committee released a web video, titled "Tough to Say," that questions what Sotomayor's stance on the 2nd Amendment is.

    Chu Can Get Comfortable

    Barring a serious challenge from within her own party, Democrat Judy Chu can look forward to a long career in Washington. The 56-year-old will become the newest member of Congress today after winning Tuesday's special election in California's 32nd District.

    Ms. Chu defeated Republican Betty Chu, her cousin by marriage, with 62% of the vote and replaces former five-term Congresswoman Hilda Solis, who now serves as the U.S. Secretary of Labor.

    The 32nd District, shaped like the state of Virginia and lying east of Los Angeles, is majority-Hispanic and friendly Democratic territory. President Obama won 68% of the vote in 2008, while Ms. Solis went unchallenged. In fact, the last time Ms. Solis faced a Republican challenger was 2002, when she won 69%. Betty Chu, a Monterey Park city councilmember who had switched parties to become a Republican, had only one hope of winning: a fluke victory due to exceptionally low turnout. But though winner Judy Chu ended up collecting a mere 15,238 votes, her tally was twice cousin Betty's.

    This was the second special election Ms. Chu has won in her political career. Before her election in 2006 to the California Board of Equalization, a state tax administration board, Ms. Chu was elected to the State Assembly in May 2001 and served three terms. Term-limited in 2006, she was succeeded by her husband, Mike Eng.

    Ms. Solis was a state legislator in her pre-Washington days as well. In 1994 she became the first Latina elected to the California Senate. After she's sworn in today by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Ms. Chu will become the first Chinese-American elected to Congress (for which she earned a Twitter message of congratulations from Barack Obama).

    Her election leaves just one remaining vacancy in the House. Former California congresswoman Ellen Tauscher left her 10th District seat last month after being appointed as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security. A special election for her Bay Area seat will be held September 1.

    Dem Leaders See GOP Support for Sotomayor

    Senators Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) believe Sonia Sotomayor won't need to rely solely on Democratic votes for confirmation.

    The three Democratic leaders, along with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), lavished praise on the Supreme Court nominee today in their weekly off-camera briefing with reporters and said they expect some of their colleagues from the other side of aisle to back President Obama's nominee.

    "I think that when it's all over, it's not going to be just Democrats who" vote for her, Reid said. "I think there's going to be a vote with a number of Republicans voting for her."

    Durbin said "a number of Republicans" have spoken with him, and it's his belief that "she will receive a substantial number of Republican votes. I can't tell you how many."

    Schumer, who formally introduced Sotomayor to the Judiciary Committee on Monday, concurred. "I think we're going to get a good number of Republican votes," Schumer said.

    "She's just wowed the committee," said Schumer. "A number of Republicans came over to me after the first day and then the second day and said, 'Wow, she is good.' They knew they didn't lay much of a glove on her."

    Reid said he hopes the committee hearings will "end soon" so Sotomayor's confirmation can be brought up for a vote "as soon as possible." He also indicated that before the Senate breaks August 7 for its month-long recess the chamber will vote on the Department of Defense Authorization Act, Sotomayor's confirmation and health care.

    Dems Hold Open Vote For Appropriations Bill

    Republicans on the House floor booed and hissed as Democrats held the vote open on the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill. H. Res. 644 ended up passing 216-213.

    The spending legislation appeared to not pass as time ran out on the vote, with the Nays up by two votes. However, the Democratic Nay votes began decreasing while the Yeas simultaneously increased, still with "0:00" remaining.

    Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) was the last to vote, as he hobbled on crutches to the front of the floor and turned in his green voting card, boosting the margin of passage to three votes.

    After a GOP parliamentary inquiry, asked to the acting speaker, regarding whether the vote was held open to change the outcome of the vote, the speaker responded: "The vote was held open for the minimum amount of time ... There is no maximum."

    The Republicans responded: "Boo!"

    GOP Senators Not Happy With Answers

    "I don't think the nominee's answers today are any clearer than they have been," Judiciary ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) told reporters during the 15-minute break in confirmation hearings this morning. "It's muddled, confusing, backtracking on issue after issue. I frankly am a bit disappointed in the lack of clarity and consistency in her answers."

    "We have not yet had satisfactory answers," said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).

    Republicans aren't happy with what Sonia Sotomayor has had to say today, through four questioners -- two Democrats and two Republicans. Unfortunately for the GOP, though, they're out of members.

    Just four Democrats are left to ask Sotomayor 30 minutes worth of questions, though Republicans will have a another shot at her in the second round, with 20 minutes allotted to each.

    Sotomayor Hearings, Day 3

    The Senate Judiciary Committee is closing in on two hours of question-and-answer with Sonia Sotomayor today. Starting 9:30 a.m., with 30 minutes alloted to each senator, Sotomayor's has faced questions from John Cornyn (R-Texas), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

    The remaining four members of the committee -- all Democrats -- will question Sotomayor today as well. They include, in order, Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Ed Kaufman (Del.), Arlen Specter (Pa.) and Al Franken (Minn.).

    Eleven committe members questioned Sotomayor yesterday -- the most tense moments coming in the afternoon during Sen. Lindsey Graham's (R-S.C.) 30 minutes. For more on Graham and his approach to the confirmation hearings, check out my story today.

    South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) has bigger plans for the Supreme Court confirmation hearings than simply scrutinizing Sonia Sotomayor's judicial record and credentials. Graham wants to show the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee that disagreeing with a nominee's ideology is not reason enough to vote against them.

    Watch the hearings live at RealClearPolitics Video.

    Confirmation Hearings Done for the Day

    Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has called into recess the hearings on the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. Eleven of the 19 committee members questioned the nominee today, and questioning will begin again tomorrow at 9:30 a.m.

    Following the hearing's conclusion, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said Sotomayor put on "a bravura performance." Asked if he'd learned anything about the nomninee over the last couple of days of confirmation hearings, Leahy said, "Not really."

    Recent Supreme Court Confirmation Votes

    Many, including some Republican senators, believe Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation is a foregone conclusion -- barring a "complete meltdown," as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) put it today in his opening remarks. However, it's unclear how much support Sotomayor, nominated by President Obama, will have among GOP senators.

    Here is a breakdown of the Supreme Court confirmation votes under the previous three presidents and how supportive the opposing party has been.

    (President George W. Bush nominated Samuel Alito and John G. Roberts. President Bill Clinton nominated Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. President George H.W. Bush nominated Clarence Thomas and David Souter.)


    Nominee....Nominated By....Roll Call...Opposing Party Yea Votes
    Alito.............Bush 43............58-42.............4 Dems
    Roberts........Bush 43............78-22.............22 Dems
    Breyer..........Clinton..............87-9...............33 GOPers
    Ginsburg......Clinton...............96-3...............41 GOPers
    Thomas.........Bush 41...........52-48.............11 Dems (1 GOPer opposed)
    Souter...........Bush 41...........90-9...............46 Dems

    Senate Leaders' Floor Comments on Sotomayor

    Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made statements from the Senate floor this morning regarding the opening of Judiciary Committee hearings on the Supreme Court nomination of Sonia Sotomayor. Here are excerpts of their remarks:

    Reid:

    "Today, July 13, is an historic day in America. Right now, Judge Sonia Sotomayor is testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee as President Obama's nominee for the highest court in our country. As we all know, she is the first Hispanic American to do so. Judge Sotomayor has a wide-range of experience not just in the legal world, but in the real world as well. Her understanding of the law is grounded not only in theory, but also in practice. Her record and qualifications are tremendous. She has worked at almost every level of our judicial system - as a prosecutor, litigator, a trial court judge and an appellate judge.

    "That's exactly the type of experience we need on the Supreme Court. And when she is confirmed, she will bring to the bench more judicial experience than any sitting justice had when they joined the Court. Judge Sotomayor has been nominated by both Democratic and Republican presidents. She has been confirmed twice by the Senate with strong, bipartisan support. Her record is well-known and well-respected.

    "We are committed to ensuring that Judge Sotomayor has a rigorous and reasonable confirmation hearing. We expect both sides to ask her tough questions, and we expect both the questions and their answers to be fair and honest."


    Continue reading "Senate Leaders' Floor Comments on Sotomayor" »

    Schakowsky Calls for Investigation of CIA

    Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), chair of the House Intelligence subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, has called for a congressional investigation into the revelation that the CIA misled members of Congress during Intelligence Committee briefings. In a letter released Wednesday, CIA Director Leon Panetta revealed the fact that the CIA had been misleading Congress since 2001.

    The Washington Post reported today that upon learning of a secret program the agency had hid from Congress, Panetta immediately canceled it and held a June 24 private meeting with members of the House and Senate intelligence committees.

    In an interview with AP, Schakowsky said, "The program is a very, very serious program and certainly deserved a serious debate at the time and through the years ... But now it's over."

    Schakowsky called for the investigation in a letter to Intelligence chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas):

    Dear Chairman Reyes:

    Over the course of the past eight years, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) leaders briefing the House Intelligence Committee have purposefully withheld information from Congress dealing with the national security of our country. The systematic deception by the CIA is a possible violation of the National Security Act and, at a minimum, a blatant disregard of this committee's oversight authority.
    ...
    It is inexcusable for the CIA to lie, mislead, or withhold information from the Congress. The Intelligence Committee depends on the presentation of reliable and complete information when deliberating important decisions that impact the national security of the United States. Past practices of the CIA compromise the integrity of this committee and undermine the ability of committee members to fulfill our oversight obligations as members to the Select Committee. To ensure accountability and restore faith in the system, I strongly urge you to promptly launch an investigation into this critical matter.

    Health Care On Hold

    The health care bill that was supposed to be finished today is still not ready, Roll Call reports, and it's now been "delayed indefinitely" so House Democratic leaders and the Blue Dogs can come to a consensus.

    Committee chairmen had planned to release their bill on Friday and begin marking it up on Monday, but notices were sent out this morning noting that both the release and markup would be delayed.

    Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), who chairs the Blue Dogs' health care task force, warned leadership in a two-hour meeting Thursday night that his group would bolt unless a series of demands were met, including altering reimbursement rates under a proposed public option so that they are not based on Medicare rates.


    Sotomayor Hearings Witness List Released

    The two senior members of the Senate Judiciary Committee released a witness list for next week's hearings on the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor.

    Included on the Republicans' list of witnesses is Frank Ricci, a New Haven firefighter that brought suit against the city for denying him and 16 other white firefighters (and one Latino) a promotion because too few minorities passed an exam. As a U.S. appeals court judge, Sotomayor ruled against the group, though the Supreme Court overturned that ruling last week. Also appearing is Ben Vargas, the lone Latino petitioner who filed suit along with Ricci.

    Democrats will call New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Major League Baseball pitcher David Cone, who played in New York a total of 13 seasons for both the Yankees and Mets.

    Click through to see the entire list.

    Continue reading "Sotomayor Hearings Witness List Released" »

    Pelosi Talks Health Care, Stimulus, CIA, M.J.

    In her weekly news conference, Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the health care bill in the process of being brought to the floor "essential" and said it would not include a tax on health benefits. "I promised the president that we would have legislation out of the House before we went into the August break. That is still my goal," she said.

    The Speaker said she could not recall the last time she received an intelligence briefing from CIA Director Leon Panetta, who told Democratic lawmakers that the agency had "concealed significant actions" in previous briefings. She also said she does not believe a resolution that celebrates the life and career of Michael Jackson should be brought to the House floor.

    On the stimulus, Pelosi said she was "committed to seeing through the first stimulus" and that "this third quarter is a very important one for" it.


    A Second Stimulus?

    The Atlantic is reporting that amid growing chatter of a potential second economic recovery package, "the White House is holding firm against the idea of a second major stimulus intervention" and will wait at least six months before deciding to move forward with another one.

    Whether they sustain this position will test Obama's ironclad commitment to hold steady in the face of regular congressional (and even public) panics. And lest you wonder, White House officials are very much watching the new statewide polling data showing a drop in support among independent voters.

    Republicans have been jumping on Vice President Biden's statement over the weekend that the administration had "misread" how bad the economy was, and it's criticizing Democrats for how relatively slow the money from the first stimulus is being spent.

    At his weekly off-camera briefing with reporters yesterday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said he would remain open to a second stimulus package, though he'd like to see how the first one turns out first:

    To the extent that we are, as I said, just 130 days out on the adoption of a very, very major effort to get the economy moving, certainly I don't think we can make a determination as to whether or not that's been successful, and certainly as successful as we want it to be or certainly not as quickly as we want it to be. We would all like to have plus numbers in terms of the growing employment rather than a loss of jobs. But I think we need to be open to whether or not we need additional action.

    Politico highlighted a difference of opinion on this among congressional Democrats.

    Stage Set for Sotomayor Hearings

    Here's a bit from my piece today on the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings set to take place next week on the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor:

    The Senate Judiciary Committee is set to begin questioning a nominee for the United States Supreme Court for the third time in four years. Hearings for Judge Sonia Sotomayor begin Monday, though backroom strategizing and public persuasion efforts have transpired for weeks.

    Senate Democrats, led by Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (Vt.) and Charles Schumer (N.Y.), are pushing the message that Sotomayor, a former prosecutor and federal appellate judge, has the judicial experience and mainstream record to warrant confirmation. She would become the first Latina to sit on the Supreme Court after being nominated June 1 by the first African American to serve as president.

    Read the rest here.

    Jackson Lee Speaks at Jackson Memorial

    Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), who helped lead a recognition of Michael Jackson's life on the House floor two weeks ago, spoke today at Jackson's memorial service in Los Angeles.

    Jackson Lee said she was speaking on behalf of the members of Congress and the Congressional Black Caucus.

    "I can tell you as a member of the United States Congress, we understand the Constitution, we understand laws and we know that people are innocent until proven otherwise," she said, presumably noting the child molestation charges Jackson had been acquited of. "That is what the Constitution stands for."

    "America appreciates and thanks you for Michael Jackson's life," she said to the Jackson family, holding up a framed copy of a House bill. "For that reason, we have introduced into the House of Representatives this Resolution 600 that will be debated on the floor of the House that claims Michael Jackson as an American legend and musical icon, a world humanitarian -- someone who will be honored forever and forever and forever and forever."

    Finally, The Fraternity Is Full

    As Al Franken stepped into the Senate chamber shortly after noon, his newest colleagues from both sides of the aisle gravitated in his direction offering hugs and congratulations. Franken then walked down the center aisle, accompanied by fellow Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D) and former vice president and Minnesota senator Walter Mondale, and stepped up to be ceremoniously sworn in by Vice President Biden.

    The Senate gallery was packed to the gills, with Capitol police forced to turn away visitors at the doors. Normally asked to be quiet, the gallery erupted in cheers and a standing ovation when Franken said, "I do," and Biden concluded, "Congratulations, Senator."

    The ovation lasted a few minutes as Franken received more handshakes and hugs from Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), John Ensign (R-Nev.), John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), to name just a few.

    The SEN fraternity is now complete.

    BCS Heads Before Antitrust Subcommittee

    A Senate Judiciary subcommittee will examine tomorrow the legitimacy and legality of the Bowl Championship Series -- college football's controversial ranking and bowl system. And, in timely fashion, RealClearSports has just posted its interview with BCS Coordinator John Swofford.

    The hearing -- titled, "The Bowl Championship Series: Is it Fair and In Compliance with Antitrust Law?" -- will be run by Antitrust Subcommittee ranking member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who has been outspoken in his quest to place a congressional check on the multi-million dollar business operation that is college football.

    "Personally, I believe that these kinds of decisions should be made in the context of higher education," Swofford told RealClearSports. "The business aspects of college football are not new; they have been a factor in the regular season and post-season for over a half-century."

    Hatch recently made his case for holding the hearings in an op-ed in Sports Illustrated last week, in which he calls the BCS "biased" and "arcane" and writes that "there are serious questions regarding the legality of the BCS." RealClearSports also recently sat down with Hatch to discuss the BCS.

    Among the witnesses appearing before the subcommittee will be Michael Young, president of the University of Utah. Based largely on the fact that Utah is in a "non-BCS" conference, the Utes were left out of the BCS national championship game this year despite an undefeated record, while Florida and Oklahoma -- the two championship participants -- had one loss apiece. Utah went on to defeat Alabama (which had been ranked No.1 during the regular season) of the Southeastern Conference by two touchdowns in the Sugar Bowl.

    "These will be the fourth set of hearings since the BCS's inception 11 years ago," said Swofford. "Much of the time, the criticism of the BCS heats up when there's a particular school that feels it deserves the chance to play in the championship game and does not receive that opportunity."

    Also appearing before the subcommittee are attorney Barry Brett of Troutman Sanders; Harvey Perlman, chancellor of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln; and attorney William Monts of Hogan and Hartson.

    Reid, Franken Deflect '60' Talk

    Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) and Senator-elect Al Franken (D-Minn.) both took the focus off the magic number 60 today in remarks to reporters inside the Capitol. Following a state Supreme Court ruling in his favor last week and former senator Norm Coleman's concession, Franken will give the Democrats a supermajority of 60 senators when he is sworn in tomorrow.

    "A lot has been made of this number 60. The number I'm focused on is the number 2. I see myself as the second senator from the state of Minnesota," Franken said. "I am going to work day and night to make sure our kids have a great future and that America's best days lay ahead. I'm ready to get to work."

    Reid called on his Republican colleagues to take this occassion to reach out further across the aisle.

    "Moving America forward will still require the cooperation of my Senate colleagues who are Repubclians," said Reid. "The last eight years have shown us the American people want us to work together. Democrats aren't looking to Sen. Franken's election as an opportunity to ram legislation through this body. In turn, Senate Republicans must understand that Senator-elect Franken's election does not abdicate from them the responsibilities to govern. That's why we have and will continue to offer Senate Republicans a seat at any negotiating table."

    "It's up to them," he said. "I would hope that the 'Party of No' is coming to an end."

    After two relatively short statements after their meeting, Reid said he and Franken would not take questions from the media until tomorrow.

    Cantor: Stimulus Isn't Working

    House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said the economic stimulus plan is not working and that some of the remaining money should be spent on assistance to small businesses.

    "The first attempt at a stimulus bill did not stimulate the economy -- I think we all can agree on that now," Cantor said this morning on a conference call with reporters. "I will be requesting a meeting with the president to perhaps go about redirecting some of the monies in the first go-around that haven't worked."

    Cantor's comments come on the heels of stimulus discussions on the Sunday talk shows.

    House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.), appearing alongside Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) on "Fox News Sunday," called the stimulus "essential," despite the fact that he doesn't "think anybody can honestly say we're satisfied with the results so far."

    On ABC's "This Week," Vice President Biden said the administration may have been too optimistic regarding the economy. However, regarding the stimulus package, Biden said, "We believe it is the right package given the circumstances we're in."

    Cantor disagrees. "We heard the vice president on the Sunday talk shows indicate that he felt the administration misread the economy," he said. "There wasn't any misreading. It is my belief they didn't misread the economy -- they miswrote the stimulus bill and got the prescription wrong."

    Cantor argued that the key was to provide access to more capital for small businesses, as did Boehner. "The way to help the economy grow is to help small businesses and American families keep more of what they earn because at the end of the day they're the ones who can get the economy going again," Boehner said.

    Pelosi, On Troop Withdrawal From Iraq Cities

    Speaker Nancy Pelosi released the following statement today regarding the withdrawal of U.S. troops from most major cities in Iraq:

    "Today marks a critical step toward the responsible withdrawal of American forces by December 2011 and the end of the war in Iraq, a war that tragically began more than six long years ago. This action is in keeping with the pledge made by President Obama and the Status of Forces agreement with the Iraqi government.

    "Last month during my visit to Iraq, I met with U.S. military commanders, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki, and Iraqi Parliament Speaker al-Samarraie. All agreed that Iraqi security forces have increased their capacities and are ready to assume responsibility for securing Iraq's cities. The Iraqi people have made clear their desire to assume responsibility for security in their country.

    "All of us in Congress are forever grateful for the dedication and sacrifices of our troops, and to the brave men and women who continue to serve our country in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the world."


    Floor Proceedings Getting Testy

    6-26-09_Rangel-house-floor.jpg

    Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.) just gave a fiery speech in support of the Waxman-Markey bill now in its third and final hour of House floor debate.

    "We send American taxpayer dollars overseas: to Russia, to Saudi Arabia, Lybia, to Venezuela, all the people you have chimed about today," Larson said, in response to Republican arguments that the bill is tantamount to a national energy tax. "That's the real tax we are paying."

    In response, Ways and Means ranking member Dave Camp (R-Mich.) quipped: "I wish the gentleman would reserve his passion to bringing this bill before the Ways and Means Committee." The committee skipped markup on the bill.

    Earlier, Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) responded to one Republican who had argued the bill would disproportionately harm the poor.

    "When the Republican Party becomes the protector of the poor, it's the day I've been waiting for," Rangel said, smiling.

    Latham Brings Props to House Floor

    6-26-09_Latham-floor-speech.jpg

    As debate on the Waxman-Markey energy bill continues on the House floor, Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa) brought a three-dimensional prop for his one minute of remarks in opposition to it. One of the most-used arguments by House Republicans has been the number of energy-producing jobs they say would be shipped overseas to China and India, and Latham's props were meant to illustrate that.

    Latham's prop was a large, yellow, gift-wrapped box, one side of which read:
    To: China
    From: The U.S. Congress

    When he opened the box, Latham pulled out a construction hard hat that read, "American Jobs," on one side.

    (The screen shot above was taken from C-SPAN.org's live stream of the House floor proceedings.)

    Why the GOP Says It's Pelosi's Bill, Not Obama's

    House Republicans refuse to tie President Obama to the Waxman-Markey energy bill that is being debated on the House floor today. Recent polling may explain why.

    "It's clear it's Speaker Pelosi, Mr. Waxman and Mr. Markey who are driving this train here in Congress," Boehner said this morning. "And so it's theirs -- they're the ones offering it, they're the ones putting it on the floor today, and they're the ones who are out of touch with American families and small businesses."

    Why the insistence that it's Pelosi's bill and not Obama's? Well, Obama is far more popular than Pelosi, so Republicans want the bill to be seen as the offspring of a "San Francisco liberal" -- not the gentleman in the White House.

    Gallup's daily tracking poll of Obama's job performance found the president with a 61 percent approval rating today, and he's now at 59.7 percent in the RCP Average. He's hovered around 60 percent since mid-May.

    By comparison, Congress has a 36 percent RCP Average approval rating, and a Washington Post-ABC News poll released this week found Pelosi with a 38 percent approval rating.

    Perhaps the most important of the Post poll's findings was its comparison of who voters trust more on the major issues: Obama or Republicans. On each of the four issues tested -- health care reform, the economy, the federal budget deficit and the threat of terrorism -- at least 55 percent chose Obama over Republicans.

    GOP: Bill Pits Coast vs. Middle America

    House Republicans this morning continued to frame the debate over the Waxman-Markey bill as an attack on middle America by the elite coasts.

    Thirteen GOP leaders and rural Republicans railed against the bill at a morning press conference, with a vote expected sometime this afternoon.

    "This is an assult on rural America and the poor in our country," said Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.). "We're voting no, and we're asking all our rural colleagues throughout -- especially the Midwest, from Pennsylvania to Wyoming -- to think about their constituents."

    "Heartland Democrats are going to have a choice to make: Do they stand with middle class families and small businesses in their districts, or do they stand with Speaker Pelosi, Al Gore and the left wing special interests," said Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio). "There's a big difference between the heartland and San Francisco when it comes to Speaker Pelosi's national energy tax."

    "This bill will hit middle-America family farmers the hardest," said Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kans.).

    House Observes Moment of Silence for Michael Jackson

    Moments ago, the House of Representatives observed a moment of silence in the memory of pop icon Michael Jackson, who died yesterday at the age of 50. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) led the observance.

    Thune Replaces Ensign as Policy Committee Chair

    Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) was elected chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee today. He replaces Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), who recently stepped down after revealing an extramarital affair.

    Thune, who had been serving as conference vice chair, was elected without opposition, according to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell at an afternoon press conference.

    Thune said he looked forward to helping "shape an agenda that I think will move America forward and will serve as a counter to some of the agenda items...that are currently being proposed by the president and Democrats in Congress."

    Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who had held an unofficial seat at the leadership table, will replace Thune as conference vice chair.

    Boehner: Where are the jobs?

    At his weekly press conference, Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) once again asked where the jobs were that Democrats said would result from increased federal spending. The Waxman-Markey energy bill, he said, will only make the job situation worse.

    "When it comes to energy, Washington Democrats are poised to make matters worse by imposing a job-killing energy tax courtesy of Speaker Pelosi," Boehner said. "This really is about shipping millions of American jobs overseas."

    At her weekly press conference earlier in the morning, Pelosi called the legislation a "jobs bill" and said energy independence and lowering pollution in the air was in the country's interest. Boehner disagreed.

    "This bill will also cost 2.3 to 2.7 million Americans their jobs," said Boehner. "That's because high-energy industries like the steel-making industry won't be located in the United States anymore. They are going to be shipped to our competitors such as China, India, South Korea who don't even have half of the EPA guidelines and environmental guidelines that we have here in America."

    While confident they'll have enough votes to pass the bill, Pelosi said the vote count is never really known until the actual roll call takes place. When asked about vote count, Boehner was skeptical it would even get to the House floor tomorrow, as Democrats still haven't put it on the official schedule. "Rumors," Boehner said. "I don't think they have the votes yet."

    "Mark my words, the American people are going to remember this vote," Boehner said. "This will be a defininig moment and a defining vote in this Congress. And the real question is where are the Democrats going to stand on this issue."

    Why Did Gore Cancel?

    After announcing last night that former Vice President Al Gore would appear with House Democrats at the Capitol today to discuss energy, Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office said this morning that the event had been canceled.

    Just after the announcement was released, the White House updated President Obama's schedule to include a Rose Garden speech on "the importance of passing a historic energy bill." The speech is scheduled for 1:45 p.m. -- the Gore event had been scheduled for 2 p.m.

    Later in the morning at her weekly press conference, Pelosi said the number of Democrats undecided on the Waxman-Markey energy and climate change bill had decreased, so Gore's trip from Tennessee was unnecessary.

    Minority Leader John Boehner's office later distributed a press release calling Gore "too toxic" for battleground state Democrats to appear with. The release included a blue/red state map of the 2000 electoral college results. As might be remembered, the entire middle of the country (aside from four upper Midwestern states) was red.

    UPDATE: NRCC Communications Director Ken Spain sends out this comment on the subject: "How is a Democrat sitting in a swing district going to tell their constituents with a straight face that they were undecided on whether or not to support a national energy tax until Al Gore or Nancy Pelosi convinced them it was the right thing to do? The cast of characters forcing this vote are putting dozens of Democrat House members into a position they won't be able to defend come 2010."

    Another Ethics Probe for Rangel

    The House Ethics committee has opened an investigation into trips taken to the Caribbean by Rep. Charles Rangel (N.Y.) and four other House Democrats.

    The official release from the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct states that a newly formed investigative subcommittee will look into "officially-connected travel in 2007 and 2008 that was sponsored, funded or organized by an organization known as Carib News or Carib News Foundation."

    Along with Rangel, the inquiry will include four other members of the Congressional Black Caucus: Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (Mich.), Donald Payne (N.J.), Bennie Thompson (Miss.), and Virgin Islands Delegate Donna Christensen.

    This marks the latest in a run of ethics issues for Rangel, who chairs the powerful Ways and Means Committee. Previous reports indicate potential financial disclosure issues and allegations that he helped obtain a tax loophole for a donor to the Charles B. Rangel Center at the City College of New York.

    Dems Hold Green Energy Rally to Tout Bill

    6-24-09_green_energy_rally.jpg

    Outside the west front of the Capitol this afternoon, House Democrats held a campaign rally-style press conference to tout the Waxman-Markey energy bill that is heading to the House floor Friday.

    The sunny, hot weather served as a better backdrop than previous outdoor events on climate change. Supporters stood behind the podium holding signs that read, "Make Our Energy Clean/Make it American."

    Speaking at the event were the architects of the bill -- Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) -- as well as freshman Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.) and Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), a member of Waxman's committee.

    The deal struck last night between Waxman and Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), chairman of the Agriculture Committee, has given Democrats a feeling of momentum toward the passage of the plan. In the middle of a scrum of reporters following his remarks, Doyle said he thinks Peterson's approval is "going to move some of the fence-sitters in the Agriculture Committee into the 'Yes' column."

    Doyle said behind-the-scenes vote counting is still taking place, but "there are so many leaning in the 'Yes' column, that there's a sense when it goes to the House floor" the bill will be approved.

    At a press conference this morning, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) said he heard Democrats had well below the number of votes necessary to pass legislation. He said Democrats had "maybe 190 votes, and that falls way short of the necessary 218."

    Cantor also questioned the latest scoring of the bill from the Congressional Budget Office, which said the plan would cost an average of $175 per household each year, well below the $3,000 figure Republicans have pushed for more than a month. "I think that calls into question the validity of this particular study because clearly this is a job killer," he said.

    In their remarks at the rally, both Markey and Waxman leveled praise on the leadership of Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the importance of President Obama's election to the bill's existence. Markey called it "the most important energy and environment bill in the history of the United States of America" and said it will "create a green energy revolution, not only for our country, but for the entire world."

    Following his remarks, Markey told a scrum of reporters that House Democrats and the Obama administration are "arm-in-arm" on the contents of the bill.

    "This is one of President Obama's top three priorities," said Markey. "The White House is very active in helping us right now. The White House is making very clear that they want this legislation to pass this week."

    GOP Pushes Back Against Dem Energy Deal

    Here is my story today on House Republicans' opposition to the Waxman-Markey energy bill:

    Following an agreement last night with Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), House Democrats are poised this week to pass an energy and climate change bill that has stewed in uncertainty since being passed out of committee one month ago.

    The bill will now hit the House floor on Friday, with a vote likely to take place by Saturday. The House is in recess next week.

    The sudden accord followed weeks of debate within the Democratic Caucus and set off an equally quick response from Republicans, whose leadership continues to oppose the plan offered by Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.).

    "House Republicans are opposed to the national energy tax that is reportedly making its way to the House floor this week," House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) said at a Tuesday afternoon press conference on health care. "This is a very bad idea."

    Read the rest here.

    Ensign Eludes Reporters

    Following a return to the Capitol yesterday a week after revealing a months-long affair with a former aide, Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) today snuck in the back door of the weekly Republican policy lunch -- eluding a large group of reporters awaiting his arrival near the room's front door.

    Reporters held place at a stakeout location outside a set of elevators that most senators use on their way to the lunch. One-by-one, senators would step off an elevator, but each time it wasn't the right one.

    Judd Gregg, nope. Olympia Snowe, not even close. A few reporters gathered around John McCain and Lindsey Graham, but they weren't who everyone was waiting for.

    Roland Burris? Not even the right party.

    Finally, word spread that Ensign had gone up a back stairwell and slipped in the back door without being noticed.

    Hoyer: Energy Bill to Hit House Floor Friday

    Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office announced last night that the energy and climate change bill will go to the House floor Friday, following a strenuous route through the Agriculture Committee. A new version of the bill was filed with the House Rules Committee last night.

    House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who sets the floor schedule, reiterated the point today during his weekly off-camera briefing with reporters and called it "one of our signature issues in this session of Congress."

    "It's quite possible, or even probable, we will go to the energy bill on Friday," Hoyer said. "We are close enough that we announced it last night. We all were confident enough that we were close enough to resolving the issues in the Agriculture Commitee and Mr. Peterson to bring it to the House floor."

    Standing in the way of the bill has been Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), who announced two weeks ago that he and Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), an architect of the bill, could not reach agreement and that he had close to 50 Democrats ready to vote against it.

    Hoyer said today that Peterson had up to seven issues with the bill, though he believed all would be resolved this week. The majority leader did not specify what those issues are, but some likely include concerns that rural areas would pay a disproportionate amount as a result of the cap-and-trade plans.

    "We really do want to have a bill that at least has consensus on our side, and hopefully some Republicans will join us," Hoyer said. "So we want to have agreement with Mr. Peterson ... and we expect to have agreement with Mr. Peterson."

    Dem Chairmen Lay Out Health Care Draft

    Democratic leaders introduced a "discussion draft" of a health care proposal, which the chairmen of the three committees with jurisdiction over health care policy developed over the past several months.

    Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel (N.Y.), Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (Calif.) and Chairman Emeritus John Dingell (Mich.), and Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller (Calif.) announced the plan in a joint press conference this afternoon.

    They said it was consistent with President Obama's goals -- building on the existing system -- while providing coverage for more Americans than any other proposal.

    "This proposal would improve the affordability, availability, and quality of health care and represents a major step toward the our goal of fixing what is broken about health care while building on what works," Obama said in a released statement.

    According to the bill's text, its purpose is "to provide affordable, quality health care for all Americans and reduce the growth in health care spending." It would also "guarantee that almost every American is covered by a health care plan that is both affordable and offers quality, standard benefits by 2019," according to a Miller press release.

    Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele released a statement just minutes after the Democrats' press conference began. "The Democrats don't want to admit it, but their health care tax-fest will include higher taxes on Medicare, soft drinks, alcohol, employers -- even a new national sales tax," Steele said. "All of this despite the president's promise to voters during the campaign that he would not raise taxes on 95% of taxpayers and would make health care cost less."

    Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the proposal a "historic and a critical step forward in meeting our commitment to the American people: to deliver an American solution for quality affordable health care."

    FEC: Visclosky May Use Funds for Legal Fees

    The Federal Election Commission issued an advisory opinion yesterday that Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.) may use campaign funds to pay for legal fees related to the federal investigation into his ties with PMA Group.

    Visclosky, chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on Energy and Water, is being investigated for improper political contributions received through PMA, a defunct lobbying firm that was raided by the FBI in November. The investigation includes other senior Democrats as well, including Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), chairman of the Appropriations Defense subcommittee.

    In a letter to Visclosky's campaign, the commission said Visclosky may use the funds "because the allegations relate to Representative Visclosky's campaign and duties as a Federal officeholder, and the legal fees and expenses would not exist irrespective of Representative Visclosky's campaign or duties as a Federal officeholder."

    Commissioners voted 6-0 to approve the opinion.

    Senate Apologizes for Slavery, Segregation

    The United States Senate passed a resolution today "apologizing for the enslavement and racial segregation of African Americans," according to the legislation's title.

    "It is important for the people of the United States, who legally recognized slavery through the Constitution and the laws of the United States, to make a formal apology for slavery and for its successor, Jim Crow, so they can move forward and seek reconciliation, justice, and harmony for all people of the United States," the resolution states.

    The House passed a similar measure on a voice vote last July, and the Senate passed an apology for Native Americans in February 2008.

    Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid released the following statement after the resolution's passage:

    Continue reading "Senate Apologizes for Slavery, Segregation" »

    Lieberman Pushing for Equal Benefits Legislation

    Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Ct.), chairman of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, called today for legislation giving same-sex partners of federal employees the same benefits received by married spouses. Lieberman's statement comes in reaction to and support of President Obama's recent push toward the same goal.

    Here is Lieberman's full statement:

    "President Obama's instruction that agencies provide same-sex partners the benefits that married spouses already receive is a significant step towards improving fairness and equality in the federal workplace, but there is still a need for legislation on this subject.

    "The bipartisan Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act, which I have introduced with Senator Susan Collins, R-Me., and which the President endorsed, would extend the presidential order to include all federal employees and all benefits that are currently available to married spouses of federal employees. This is not only a matter of fairness, but would also help the federal government attract, recruit and retain the most qualified workers, at a time when the number of federal employees eligible to retire is steadily increasing.

    "Congress must take the next step to ensure that all partners of federal employees are treated equally under the law by passing S. 1102."

    GOP Loses Leading Voice in Ensign

    The announcement yesterday by Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) that he had an extramarital affair and today's news that Senate leadership has removed him as head of the Republican Policy Committee (the No. 4 slot on the totem pole) means the Republican Party has lost a leading voice in its efforts to deride Democratic policies and promote its own.

    Ensign led a credible, yet unsuccessful, effort as head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee during the 2008 election cycle, and in this Congress has been at the forefront of several policy debates. Perhaps his biggest victory of the year was the gun amendment Ensign added on to the D.C. Voting Rights bill, which ultimately led to its demise in the House of Representatives.

    Now in his second term representing a state increasingly important to presidential elections, Ensign was twice elected with 55 percent of the vote -- in 2000 and 2006 -- and regularly carries far better approval ratings than his Nevada counterpart, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). A survey released last month found Ensign with a 53 percent approval rating compared to Reid's 38 percent.

    Whether Ensign was preparing for a presidential bid or not, his fall from grace seems just as far.

    Strategy Memo: Late Night in the House

    Today, President Obama "will lay out a comprehensive regulatory reform plan to modernize and protect the integrity of our financial system," the White House says. He meets with regulators in the Roosevelt Room, before making a public announcement in the East Room. Later, he meets with HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. And he'll later sign a Presidential Memorandum extending benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees.

    After begin called back last night for votes, the House will hold a marathon of votes on the 127 amendments added on to the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies appropriations bill. Votes are expected as early as 10 a.m. The Senate will resume consideration of the Travel Promotion bill, and at some point will take up the war supplemental appropriations conference report that the House passed yesterday.

    The Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee is hosting a Green Jobs Summit on the Hill. Vice President Joe Biden will deliver the keynote address. House Republicans will introduce an alternative health care plan at a morning press conference.

    Tonight lawmakers will have a chance to blow off some steam in the annual Democrats vs. Republicans Congressional Baseball Game at Nationals Park.

    Continue reading "Strategy Memo: Late Night in the House" »

    McCain Shows Off New Ride

    6-16-09_McCain new car.jpg

    While reporters awaited an outdoor press conference with Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Florida Senate candidate Marco Rubio, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) pulled up in his brand new ride -- a silver Ford Fusion hybrid, fresh with 30-day tags. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) was riding shotgun.

    Heading toward a metal U.S. Capitol traffic blocker, McCain flashed a grin and gave reporters the thumbs up, as he pulled off an effortless three-point turn and headed back in the opposite direction.

    McCain announced his new car choice on his Twitter account yesterday. "His office says he's getting the 2010 hybrid in silver and was impressed by its fuel-efficiency," AP reported yesterday.

    During the 2008 presidential campaign, McCain's taste for Cadillacs became common knowledge, as it was reported that he had two. President Obama gave up his Chrysler sedan for a Ford SUV hybrid, though he now rolls in a Cadillac limousine.

    Coburn Drops Anti-Stimulus Report

    Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) released a report this morning highlighting "100 examples of questionable stimulus projects" totaling $5.5 billion in federal government spending.

    "This report does not attempt to prove that the stimulus is not working," Coburn wrote in a letter introducing the report. "Rather, the intent is to educate taxpayers, policymakers and the media on lessons that can be learned from some of the early missteps and prevent other questionable projects from moving forward."

    Coburn ranked the top ten most wasteful projects, then listed the following 90 by region -- similar to a report released by Vice President Biden 100 days into the Obama administration that touted the projects the stimulus was helping fund around the country.

    The most wasteful project, according to Coburn, is in his home state of Oklahoma -- a wastewater treatment plant in Perkins.

    Rounding out Coburn's top five projects are the clean coal project in Illinois, FutureGen, which is a favorite project of the president; the repair of 37 bridges in rural Wisconsin "that hardly anyone uses"; $800,000 for the now infamous John Murtha Airport in Johnstown, Pa.; $3.4 million for a wildlife crossing in Jackson, Fla., allowing turtles and other animals to cross a road through a tunnel.

    GOP to Unveil Alternative Health Care Bill Tomorrow

    House Republican leaders said this morning that the health care plan they'll unveil tomorrow will cost less and offer patients more freedoms than the public health option Democrats are pushing.

    "The Republican plan has more," said Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kans.). More availability, choices and control, she said.

    House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) said President Obama's "problem with the health care system is that we spend too much," yet the proposals being brought forward call for spending $1 trillion.

    "It is troubleing when we're trying to save money to call for that kind of expenditure," said Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.).

    Judiciary Leaders Split On Sotomayor Schedule

    Senate Judicary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Ranking Member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) have divergent ideas about when committee hearings on the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court should take place.

    While admitting hearings in June would be too soon, Leahy indicated that by July he hoped to begin hearings -- particularly so Sotomayor can publicly defend herself from "some of the most vicious" attacks Leahy said he's ever seen.

    The Senate is out of session for the month of August, so hearings would have to wait until September, just a month before the Supreme Court enters a new session -- and when there would be a vacancy should Sotomayor not be confirmed by then.

    Sessions, who said he really enjoyed his conversation with Sotomayor, feels that July hearings would not give members of the Judiciary Committee enough time to look over her extensive record. "I hope the chairman keeps an open mind," Sessions said to a scrum of reporters waiting outside his office, as Sotomayor exited a side door on her way to her next appointment.

    Asked about some of Sotomayor's comments that have stirred controversy, Leahy said, "Of course life experience shapes you," whether you're from the South Bronx or South Burlington, Vermont. Sotomayor told him that "ultimately and completely, as a judge you follow the law."

    Boehner Disappointed, Congratulates McHugh

    Minority Leader John Boehner released the following statement regarding President Obama's selection of Rep. John McHugh (R-N.Y.) for Secretary of the Army:

    "John McHugh has served his constituents, the Congress, and the men and women of our Armed Forces with integrity for the past 16 years. While I'm disappointed we'll be losing him as a member of our Conference, I congratulate him on his nomination to be Secretary of the Army. His work on the Armed Services Committee has made him one of our nation's foremost military experts and advocates, and his experience will be invaluable as Secretary of the Army, particularly as our nation continues to fight terrorism and other global threats to our security. I thank John for his years of service and wish him all the best during the confirmation process and in his new position."

    White House Officially Nominates Sotomayor

    The White House officially sent the Senate today the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor for associate justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. The administration also released a list of senators Sotomayor will meet with tomorrow in her first official trip to Capitol Hill. From the White House press release:

    On Tuesday June 2nd, Judge Sotomayor will visit Capitol Hill to meet with the following Senators:

    Majority Leader Reid
    Republican Leader McConnell
    Senator Leahy
    Senator Sessions
    Assistant Majority Leader Durbin
    Assistant Republican Leader Kyl
    Senator Schumer
    Senator Hatch
    Senator Feinstein
    Senator Gillibrand

    Rep. Scott: Previous Nods Suggest Moderate Temp.

    Calling her "well qualified and highly experienced," Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) said Sonia Sotomayor's previous nominations to U.S. district court and the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals by George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton "suggests a judicial temperament that will likely be moderate."

    Whether accurate or not, this seems to be a line of argument many Democrats are taking.

    "I suspect her decisions on the U.S. Supreme Court will not satisfy completely neither those who wish to see a more conservative, nor those who wish to see a more liberal, philosophy than reflected by the decisions of Supreme Court Justice Souter whom she will replace."

    Scott, who represents both the Hampton Roads area as well as Richmond, sits on the House Judiciary Committee and was reportedly being pushed himself by the Congressional Black Caucus for the Supreme Court vacancy.

    As of 5 p.m., no Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee had statements regarding the nomination available on their official websites .

    More GOP Senate Reactions to Sotomayor

    Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) offered a short statement on the nomination Sonia Sotomayor. Below we'll have his remarks, as well as a running and constantly updated post including other members of the Senate.

    McCain: "I congratulate Judge Sonia Sotomayor on her nomination by the President to be an Associate Justice on the United States Supreme Court. I look forward to examining her record thoroughly during the Senate confirmation process."

    Here are some more: Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), John Ensign (R-Nev.), Mel Martinez (R-Fla.).

    Continue reading "More GOP Senate Reactions to Sotomayor" »

    House Leaders Offer Thoughts on Sotomayor

    Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader John Boehner offered the following statements on Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court.

    Pelosi:

    "I commend President Obama's nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor as an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Judge Sotomayor's experiences and understanding of the law will assure a strong voice for fairness on the Supreme Court. Judge Sotomayor will preserve our civil liberties, maintain the independence of the judiciary, and protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

    "As the first Latina to be nominated for the Supreme Court, Judge Sotomayor's nomination and life story are a testament to the American values of equality, opportunity, and justice. Her outstanding intellectual achievements -- as a student, attorney and judge -- make her one of the most qualified nominees in many years. I look forward to her timely confirmation by the United States Senate."


    Continue reading "House Leaders Offer Thoughts on Sotomayor" »

    Reid Approves of Sotomayor Nomination

    Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), who's receiving fundraising help from President Obama tonight in Las Vegas, issued a statement of approval for the president's nomination of Sonia Sotomayor:

    "As Majority Leader, I will do all I can to ensure Judge Sonia Sotomayor receives a fair and respectful hearing and the Senate's quick confirmation.

    "I commend the President for selecting such an accomplished, qualified and experienced nominee to replace Justice Souter on the Supreme Court. Judge Sotomayor has had wide-ranging experience not only in the legal world, but in the real world as well, which has helped to ensure that her understanding of the law is grounded not only in theory, but also in practice.

    "Both Democratic and Republican Presidents have nominated Judge Sotomayor to the federal bench, and the Senate has confirmed her with strong bipartisan support in the past. I look forward to working with both Democrats and Republicans on the Judiciary Committee to confirm Judge Sotomayor as the first Hispanic and the third woman to sit on the Court.

    "Justice Souter has been a friend of mine for a long time and powerful defender of our constitutional rights. Americans everywhere again thank him for his decades of service to the nation."

    Click through for more statements from Senate Democrats.

    Continue reading "Reid Approves of Sotomayor Nomination" »

    Senate Judiciary GOPers React to Sotomayor

    Judiciary Ranking Member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.):

    "The president's nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court today is an important step in a constitutional process that includes the advice and consent of the Senate. I congratulate Ms. Sotomayor on her nomination.

    "The Senate Judiciary Committee's role is to act on behalf of the American people to carefully scrutinize Ms. Sotomayor's qualifications, experience, and record. We will engage in a fair and thorough examination of Ms. Sotomayor's previous judicial opinions, speeches, and academic writings to determine if she has demonstrated the characteristics that great judges share: integrity, impartiality, legal expertise, and a deep and unwavering respect for the rule of law.

    "Of primary importance, we must determine if Ms. Sotomayor understands that the proper role of a judge is to act as a neutral umpire of the law, calling balls and strikes fairly without regard to one's own personal preferences or political views.

    Click through to read the rest of Sessions' statement.

    Continue reading "Senate Judiciary GOPers React to Sotomayor" »

    Judiciary Chairman Leahy, Specter on Sotomayor

    Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a top player in Sonia Sotomayor's movement through the Senate confirmation process, issued a statement today regarding her nomination. Here is an excerpt:

    While I was visiting with our troops in Afghanistan today, President Obama called to inform me that he will nominate Judge Sonia Sotomayor to be the next Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Judge Sotomayor has a long and distinguished career on the federal bench. She has been nominated by both Democratic and Republican presidents, and she was twice confirmed by the Senate with strong, bipartisan support. Her record is exemplary. Judge Sotomayor's nomination is an historic one, and when confirmed she will become the first Hispanic Justice, and just the third woman to sit on the nation's highest court. Having a Supreme Court that better reflects the diversity of America helps ensure that we keep faith with the words engraved in Vermont marble over the entrance of the Supreme Court: "Equal justice under law."

    Click through for more reaction from Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats, including Arlen Specter (D-Pa.).

    Continue reading "Judiciary Chairman Leahy, Specter on Sotomayor" »

    GOP Leaders' Statements On Sotomayor

    Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell issued the following statement today, as President Obama introduced Sonia Sotomayor as his Supreme Court nominee:

    "Senate Republicans will treat Judge Sotomayor fairly. But we will thoroughly examine her record to ensure she understands that the role of a jurist in our democracy is to apply the law even-handedly, despite their own feelings or personal or political preferences.

    "Our Democratic colleagues have often remarked that the Senate is not a 'rubber stamp.' Accordingly, we trust they will ensure there is adequate time to prepare for this nomination, and a full and fair opportunity to question the nominee and debate her qualifications."

    RNC Chairman Michael Steele:

    "Republicans look forward to learning more about federal appeals court judge Sonia Sotomayor's thoughts on the importance of the Supreme Court's fidelity to the Constitution and the rule of law. Supreme Court vacancies are rare, which makes Sonia Sotomayor's nomination a perfect opportunity for America to have a thoughtful discussion about the role of the Supreme Court in our daily lives. Republicans will reserve judgment on Sonia Sotomayor until there has been a thorough and thoughtful examination of her legal views."

    House GOP Leaders Respond To Pelosi Newser

    The three top Republican leaders in the House issued statements responding to Speaker Nancy Pelosi's news conference today -- which was heavier on opening remarks than answering reporters' questions.

    Minority Leader John Boehner:

    "Today, the Speaker stood by her accusation against our intelligence professionals. She has had more than a week to produce evidence supporting her allegation that the CIA deliberately lied to Congress and does so 'all the time.' She still has not done so, and House Democrats are now stonewalling a bipartisan investigation to determine the facts. That is simply unacceptable. Claiming that the CIA engaged in a pattern of deception without either backing it up with evidence or retracting her statement and apologizing is an affront to the men and women who put their lives on the line to protect our country. They deserve better than this type of stonewalling."

    Continue reading "House GOP Leaders Respond To Pelosi Newser" »

    NRCC Responds To Pelosi News Conference

    NRCC Communications Director Ken Spain issued the following statement in response to the Democratic leadership press conference:

    "Speaker Pelosi stammered and filibustered around the elephant in the room because she knows full well that she has become a political liability to her fellow Democrats in Congress. Her obsession with the previous administration and her disdain for America's intelligence officials has reduced her to cheerleader status within the far left wing of her party and a distraction to the substantive debate over how to best move our economy forward."

    Pelosi, Dem Leaders Sum Up First Five Months

    Speaker Nancy Pelosi's weekly news conference is usually held on Thursdays, but this week it was pushed to this morning. As Pelosi entered the small reporter-packed briefing room, behind her followed Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.), Caucus Vice Chair Xavier Becerra (Calif.) and DCCC Chair Chris Van Hollen (Md.).

    Following last week's performance, during which Pelosi said the CIA had misled Congress -- comments roundly criticized by Republicans -- it appeared Pelosi was bringing in backup. Officially, though, the Democratic leaders were there to sign off on the first five months of the 111th Congress, as members head off for a week-long Memorial Day break.

    Asked about her commments last week and Minority Leader John Boehner's request for an inquiry into them, Pelosi said, "I stand by my comment. What we are doing is staying on our course, and not be distracted from it."

    Before the question-and-answer session with reporters, Pelosi, Hoyer, Becerra and Van Hollen touted the work Congress has done since January, including the SCHIP expansion and the bills being signed by President Obama today -- a weapons systems acquisition reform bill and a credit card holders' bill of rights.

    "What we have done in these last five months has been a joint effort with President Obama," Pelosi said.

    The leaders were also ecstatic that the Energy and Commerce Committee approved the Waxman-Markey climate change bill last night. Pelosi called Waxman's effort to win consensus "masterful."

    Pelosi and Hoyer traded compliments, smiles and private jokes, and emphasized that they were working in close tandem.

    "The partnership, frankly, between Speaker Pelosi and I over the last six years," Hoyer said, "I might say it has been a leadership team."

    Pelosi also confirmed she is leading a bipartisan congressional delegation to China next week, as had been reported.

    Pelosi Reaction to Obama Nat'l Security Speech

    UPDATED with a statement from House Minority Leader John Boehner.

    Here is a statement from Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the national security speech President Obama delivered this morning from the National Archives:

    "I share President Obama's commitment to protecting the American people while preserving American values. The President offered a sensible, balanced approach to the treatment of detainees and to the handling of state secrets. President Obama pledged to reassert our nation's moral authority and the rule of law consistent with providing maximum security to the American people.

    "President Obama proved again today that being honest with the American people about the threats we face, without resorting to hyperbole and fear mongering, is how responsible leaders conduct themselves in dangerous and difficult times. Congress will continue to work hand-in-hand with the President to provide our military and intelligence services all the tools they need to fight terrorism and to keep the American people safe."


    Continue reading "Pelosi Reaction to Obama Nat'l Security Speech" »

    McConnell to Obama: Show Flexibility on Gitmo

    Ahead of President Obama's speech on Guantanamo Bay this morning, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he hoped the president presents a plan for the military prison that would continue to keep Americans safe. If not, though, McConnell said "closing it without a plan is unacceptable" to both parties in Congress.

    "The President has an opportunity to reassure the American people that future releases won't lead to the same result," McConnell said from the Senate floor. "If he isn't able to provide specifics about his plan for terrorist detainees at Guantanamo, he could still provide this assurance by simply revising his policy. The President has shown adaptability on military commissions, prisoner photos, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Here's an opportunity to show more of that flexibility on Guantanamo."

    DPC Investigates Electrocution Deaths In Iraq

    Pasta or chicken?

    As in, what meal would you like on your flight back to the United States?

    That's what Eric Peters was told would be his choice if he questioned the shoddy electrical wiring he found in buildings wired by Houston-based KBR, Inc., on bases in Iraq. Peters, licensed as a master electrician in nine states, worked for KBR in Iraq from February to April of this year.

    Peters, along with Jim Childs, a former project manager in Iraq for the Army Corps of Engineers, and Charles Smith, the former head of the Army Field Support Command, testified today at the Senate Democratic Policy Committee hearing regarding tens of millions of dollars in government bonus money paid to KBR, a contractor whose faulty work is said to have led to the electrocutions of American soldiers.

    "The American people have been outraged, and justifiably so, over the issue of wasteful spending," DPC Chairman Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) said in his opening remarks. "When our soldiers answered the call to serve our country on the battlefield, they never expected that their lives might be endangered by an electrical contractor that was paid to keep them safe. And they certainly could not have imagined that our government would pay over $83 million in bonuses to the contractor that put their lives in danger."

    The most well-known electrocution was that of Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth, who was electrocuted and died while taking a shower in his room in January 2008. According to Dorgan, the previous occupant of Maseth's room had been shocked "four to five times" from June to October 2007, and that each time KBR claimed to have fixed the problem.

    Three months after Maseth's death, KBR was given more than $30 million in "award fees."

    Peters testified that about half of the KBR electricians in Iraq "do not understand the basic principles of bonding and grounding," a safety measure. According to the International Association of Electrical Inspectors, "each person deemed to be qualified to do electrical work must clearly understand what bonding and grounding is, why it is necessary and how it must be done."

    Childs, a master electrician who oversaw KBR's contract with the government beginning in July 2008, said "the electrical work performed by KBR in Iraq was some of the most hazardous, worst quality work I have ever inspected," and that while working on what was called Task Force SAFE (Safety Actions for Fire and Electricity), "my co-workers and I found improper electrical work in every building we inspected" that had been wired by KBR.

    Of the new construction buildings KBR worked on, 90 percent "were not properly wired," Childs said. "This means that over 70,000 buildings in Iraq were not up to code."

    After investigating KBR's work from March to May 2008, the Defense Contract Management Agency Report found 26,205 incidents of improper wiring, 5,225 errors with fuses and panel boxes, 2,285 conduit and raceway hazards, 4,571 incidents of outlet box hazards, and 3,201 hazardous switches and boxes.

    "So how could it be that, given these obviously widespread problems with KBR's electrical work, the Pentagon decided to give KBR bonuses totaling $83.4 million for such work?" Dorgan asked. "These bonuses are supposed to be awarded for work that is deemed, overall, to range from 'very good' to "excellent.' "

    Reached for comment, KBR corporate communications director Heather Browne disputed that the company was paid more than $83 million for work performed in Iraq, but maintained that the federal government had no problem with the company's work.

    "Our customer, the US Army, remains satisfied with our work, as evidenced by our award fee board scores that have consistently ranged from good to excellent," Browne said in an e-mail.

    "KBR's position remains that it was not responsible for the electrocution deaths that have been publicized. Further, the assertion that KBR has a track record of shoddy electrical work is unfounded. KBR remains proud of the work it performs in Iraq."

    Dorgan said that the Pentagon continues to say "there isn't as much of a problem here as people think," and KBR gives a "routine denial."

    "We're just trying to follow the facts and find out the truth," said Dorgan.

    Senate Passes Credit Card Bill

    The Senate passed by an overwhelming margin today its version of the Credit Card Holders' Bill of Rights. The bill is aimed at ending what consumer advocates say is unfair practices, including hiding percentage hikes and penalties in small print and language the average American doesn't understand. It would also make it more difficult for credit cards to be issued to younger adults.

    Ninety senators voted for the bill, with five voting against (four GOP, one Dem) and four not voting.

    "We stood up for consumers and stood up to abusive credit card companies," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said today in a press release following the bill's approval. "We said that big banks can no longer take advantage of hardworking Americans. We demanded that when Americans use a credit card -- as almost everyone does almost every day -- they no longer have to fear that they'll be abused."

    The House passed its version April 30 by a 357-70 roll call vote, with no Republicans supporting it and just one Democrat voting against it. The differences between the two versions will now need to be hashed out before it's sent to President Obama.

    All three South Dakota members -- Sens. Tim Johnson (D) and John Thune (R), and Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D) -- voted against the bill. South Dakota is home to Citibank and many credit card companies.

    Senate Dems Say No Dough For Gitmo

    CNN is reporting that Senate Democrats have decided against including $80 million in a war spending bill to help close the military prison located in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

    Republicans have been on the attack regarding President Obama's lack of a plan for what to do with the detainees currently located there, and the GOP campaign arms have been calling on Democrats to say publicly whether they would accept suspected terrorist detainees transferred into their districts and states.

    Some Democrats, like Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), have said they would accept detainee transfers to facilities in their districts, but most have simply come out against appropriating money without a set plan for what to do.

    "What this means is that Senate Democrats are now doing what House Democrats did last week," said CNN reporter Dana Bash, "Which is to say, you know what, Mr. President, if you want this money, this $80 million, you are going to have to present a plan, which he does not have yet, on what he will do with the detainees who are currently at Guantanamo Bay."

    House Democrats also decided against including funding for the prison's closing when it passed the war supplemental last week.

    "It was decided, because this has become a huge political hot potato," Bash reported. "And Democratic sources told us that they simply understand that Republicans are trying to use this as a wedge against Democrats. They don't want to let that happen."

    Pelosi's CIA Accusation

    In case you missed it, here's the video of Speaker Nancy Pelosi accusing the CIA of misleading Congress regarding the "enhanced" interrogation techniques it was using against terrorist suspects.

    From The Note's write-up:

    "The only mention of waterboarding at that briefing was that it was not being employed," Pelosi said, reading from a prepared statement. "Those briefing me in Sept. 2002 gave me inaccurate and incomplete information."

    "At the same time, the Bush administration was misleading the American people about the threats of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq," she added. "The CIA was misleading the Congress. At the same time, the administration was misleading the Congress on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq."

    Porter Goss, who in 2002 was the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and later director of the CIA, wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post late last month that Pelosi's comments continue to contradict.

    He wrote that he is "slack-jawed to read that members claim to have not understood that the techniques on which they were briefed were to actually be employed; or that specific techniques such as 'waterboarding' were never mentioned."

    House Campaign Chairs Hit, Hit Back

    The heads of the two parties' House campaign arms got into a back-and-forth today -- press release style -- over comments NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions made in a New York Times article. An excerpt from that piece:

    In an interview, Mr. Sessions cited rising unemployment in asserting that the administration intended to "diminish employment and diminish stock prices" as part of a "divide and conquer" strategy to consolidate power.

    In reaction to Sessions' comments, DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen issued a statement that referenced the remarks as "bizarre" and conspiritorial:

    "The American people want leadership to address our economic challenges, yet the Republicans are responding with one ridiculous sound bite after another while refusing to offer a constructive alternative to their failed economic policies of the last eight years.

    "The latest remarks by NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions have no place in our current economic debate and reflect a Party more pre-occupied with offering bizarre conspiracy theories than offering credible solutions to get our economy back on track. Families coping with the loss of a job, their home, or their health care need solutions from Washington, not more of the same broken politics embodied by Chairman Sessions and the Republican Leadership in the House, and talk show host Rush Limbaugh."

    Not to be outdone, Sessions responded with a released statement of his own, in which he refused to back down from his comments in the NYT article and said Van Hollen was simply "lobbing rhetorical missives":

    Continue reading "House Campaign Chairs Hit, Hit Back" »

    GOP Takes On Release of Gitmo Detainees

    House Republicans announced this morning the introduction of a bill that aims to halt the closing of the Guantanamo Bay prison and transfer of detainees into the United States. In the war supplemental appropriations bill, House Democrats stripped the funding requested by President Obama to transfer detainees currently being housed in the prison to domestic facilities -- helping fuel the GOP argument that the administration's plan is unwise.

    "Not only should there not be any money in the supplemental to move these detainees, we ought to make clear that none of these detainees should be brought to the United States until such time as the president has had a conversation with the American people, which is the essence of this bill we're bringing," Minority Leader John Boehner said, as the "Keep Terrorists Out of America Act" was introduced at a press conference.

    During a speech this morning on the Senate floor, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also criticized President Obama's proposal to close the prison and transfer detainees.

    "Does the administration really think Congress will appropriate these funds before it presents us with a plan that keeps the American people as safe as Guantanamo has?" McConnell said. "The administration needs to explain its actions to the American people and their representatives in Congress. And Republicans will continue to ask these questions until they do."

    A Rasmussen survey released last month found that just 36 percent support the closing of Gitmo -- down 8 points from January -- and 75 percent oppose releasing the detainees into the United States. Lawmakers from states with facilities administration officials have targeted for transferring detainees, such as Virginia, have been particularly concerned with the plan.

    Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) introduced a bill -- co-sponsored by fellow Virginia GOP Reps. Eric Cantor, Frank Wolf and Robert Wittman -- in February that would prohibit the use of federal funds to transfer detainees to facilities in Virginia.

    "If there ever was a time for protectionism, this is it," said Minority Whip Eric Cantor. "Coming from Virginia, where there are two facilities on the list of potential sites for relocating these terrorists, I am particularly passionate about making sure that the president's desire and some in this Congress to bring these enemy combatants to the soil of the United States does not happen."

    The issue is also likely to come up in forthcoming elections. Bob McDonnell, the GOP nominee in the Virginia gubernatorial race, has supported the Forbes bill. "As Governor I will take all prudent actions to ensure that the terrorists and enemy combatants from Guantanamo Bay never step foot on Virginia soil," McDonnell said last month.

    Energy Provides First Test in GOP Rebranding

    Here is my piece today on Republicans' push to rebrand the party and campaign against the Democrats' energy plan:

    Facing a growing image problem, a 78-seat deficit in the House of Representatives and soon to be on the short end of a filibuster proof majority in the Senate, Republicans set out this week to try and recast the Grand Old Party with voters by focusing on an issue Democrats have yet to build consensus around.

    "Our brand has been tarnished," House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) said Thursday during his weekly press conference. "We've been in a difficult position having lost a lot of seats in the 2006 election cycle, a lot of seats in the 2008 election cycle, and our candidate for president didn't do nearly as well as we all would have liked."

    Two new organizations have sprung up from the House Republican Conference to remedy the situation: the National Council for a New America and the American Energy Solutions Group. The NCNA, led by Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.), and the AESG, chaired by Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.), are taking the show on the road, holding "conversations" with Americans around the country. They say the best solutions come from the people, not the leaders, and these efforts will provide a direct channel between the two.

    You can read the rest here.

    Pelosi Endorses War Supplemental

    Speaker Nancy Pelosi released this statement last night supporting the war spending bill that the House Appropriations Committee will begin to consider Thursday:

    "Chairman Obey and the Members of the House Appropriations Committee are to be commended for quickly drafting legislation to meet our military's needs in Iraq and Afghanistan and to address the H1N1 flu virus.

    "The bill the Committee will consider on Thursday meets the first priority of Congress and the President, which is to protect the American people and to provide our men and women in harm's way with all the resources they need. Chairman Obey has also ensured that this legislation is fully consistent with President Obama's plan to end the war in Iraq and to refocus our efforts on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

    "I look forward to our debate in the House and to working with the Senate to ensure that this legislation gets to President Obama's desk as soon as possible."


    Sessions Overtaking Judiciary Ranking Member Post

    Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) will take over Sen. Arlen Specter's (D-Pa.) former ranking member position on the Judiciary Committee, The Hill reports. The move will last until the next Congress, when Sessions will take over the top GOP slot on the Budget Committee.

    Sessions and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) reached the deal that will allow the Alabama Republican to take over for Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), whose departure from the GOP last week left the committee without a ranking member.

    Under terms of the deal, Sessions will serve as ranking member until the 112th Congress, when he will take over the ranking member post on the Senate Budget Committee. Current Budget Committee ranking member Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) is retiring at the end of the 111th Congress.

    Grassley, the top Republican on the Finance Committee, will then become ranking member on the Judiciary Committee.

    Gregg, appearing on MSNBC this afternoon, confirmed and approved of the move.

    "He is one of the most talented, thoughtful and capable members of the Senate, and he will be a very strong ranking member on that committee," Gregg said. "I look forward to his assuming that position. I think he'll be great."

    Reid: Reconciliation Not Needed for Health Care

    Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said today he thinks the Senate will agree to bipartisan health care legislation without the need for reconciliation by the 2010 midterm elections, and that the bill President Obama signs will move the nation closer to universal health care coverage.

    "By the election in 2010, I think we're going to have health care legislation," Reid said in a wide-ranging interview this morning at a breakfast event hosted by National Journal. The interview was conducted by NJ political director Ron Brownstein.

    Reconciliation authority, used by the majority party to get around a filibuster, was inserted into the budget resolution for health care, though Reid indicated that for a number of reasons his preference would be for a bill to go through the normal legislative process.

    "A decision was made in the budget process to have in our back pocket reconciliation," Reid said. "The compromise we made was that it would not become available until October 15. That gives us five or six months to do a bipartisan bill. We all want a bipartisan bill."

    As evidence that he's hoping not to rely on reconciliation, which requires just 51 votes, Reid noted that with Sen. Arlen Specter's defection to the Democratic Party this week, he would need just one Republican to cross over to get the 60 votes needed. Also, Reid said, he told Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell that he wants Republicans to be able to offer amendments.

    "As I told McConnell after Specter indicated he was going to change parties, we're going to try to do our best to get along," said Reid. "We need to get a bill that is good for the American people. And if we just jam one through without giving the Republicans the option to be part of the process, it won't be as accepted."

    Asked what Democrats need to have passed for the midterm elections to be a successful one for the party, Reid said, "If we continue as we are this year," with health care and energy bills he thinks can be passed, "then 2010 will take care of itself."

    On Specter's party switch earlier this week, the effects of which continue to ripple through Congress, Reid said his, President Obama's and Vice President Biden's endorsements of the new Democrat in the 2010 Senate election in Pennsylvania were not conditional, regardless of how Specter votes on Democratic bills going forward.

    "He's going to be a valuable member in the Democratic caucus," Reid said. "And I think he'll be a lot of help to us. I don't think he'll be an automatic vote, but I don't have any automatic votes."

    On President Obama, Reid described him as "cool in a time of stress" and "about as cool and calm a guy as I've ever dealt with."

    House Passes Credit Card Bill

    The House, as expected, easily passed the Credit Card Holders' Bill of Rights legislation today. At a morning press conference, Rep. Carolyn Maloney said she expected the margin to increase from September, when the House passed it by a 312-112 vote, with 84 Republicans supporting it. And it did.

    The bill passed today 357-70, with 105 Republicans supporting it and 69 against it. Just one Democrat (Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D.) opposed the bill.

    Republican Leadership, including Leader John Boehner (Ohio) and Whip Eric Cantor (Va.), voted against the measure, while Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) did not vote.

    Click here for our earlier coverage of the bill and its prospects in the Senate.

    Boehner Releases Web Video on American Safety

    House Minority Leader John Boehner, along with Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), released a web video today asking whether the administration's strategy toward terrorism is keeping Americans' safe.

    Asked at his weekly press conference today whether the video was alarmist, Boehner said he was simply raising his own concerns on behalf of Americans regarding the decision to close the Guantanamo detainee facilities and release of the CIA interrogation memos.

    "Well, the question is, do you feel safer?" Boehner said. "What I'm trying to do here is to push the adminstration to tell us, what is the overarching strategy to take on the terrorists and defeat them, and to help keep America safe."

    Earlier in his comments, however, Boehner expressed support for President Obama's Iraq and Afghanistan strategies.

    "I support the president's responsible plans to bring our troops home from Iraq after victory, and to bring stability to the country of Afghanistan," Boehner said. "I think the president's made very good decisions with regard to how to approach those two theaters."

    Credit Card Bill Makes Way Through Congress

    Rep. Carolyn Maloney's (D-N.Y.) pet project may finally see the president's desk this year. The Credit Card Holder's Bill of Rights is expected to pass the House today, while the Senate will begin considering a companion version of the bill next week.

    The legislation would prohibit credit card companies from retroactively increasing interest rates on existing balances, as well as end so-called "double-cycle" billing, in which interest is charged on debt already paid.

    At Speaker Pelosi's weekly press briefing this morning, she and Maloney expressed confidence the bill would pass, as it did last September on a 312-112 roll call vote -- with 84 Republicans supporting it.

    "We will increase this margin," Maloney said, adding that President Obama's support for the bill will lead more Members to support it.

    "Ninety percent of the American people support this. I don't know about the other 10 percent. I don't know what they're thinking," said Pelosi. "We expect it to get the sufficient number of votes in the Senate and go to the president's desk."

    Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he did not yet know whether there were 60 votes in support of the measure in the Senate, but said there could be backlash from the American people against those who did not.

    "Democrats, independents and Republicans in the country want something done," he said.

    The House bill is currently being debated on the floor, with a vote expected this afternoon.

    House Approves Budget Conference Report

    The House of Represenatives gave final approval today to the $3.4 trillion budget resolution agreed to late Monday night in a conference of House and Senate members. The resolution was passed on a 233-193 roll call vote just before noon.

    In another unifying show of protest, no Republicans voted in favor of the budget. Seventeen Democrats crossed over and voted against it as well.

    The Senate is currently debating the resolution, and is expected to pass it later today.

    During the vote, Democratic leaders from both sides of the Capitol gathered to celebrate the legislative accomplishments achieved during President Obama's first 100 days. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the bills passed already were "all about jobs, jobs, jobs" and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer called it a "fast start to a long race."

    100 Days Stories

    There have been plenty of articles today looking at President Obama's first 100 days in office. Well, Mike and I wrote some as well.

    You can read Mike's story that looks at Obama's past and future 100 days here.

    And you can read my look at Congress and Republicans' difficult transition during Obama's first 100 days here.

    Budget Vote Tomorrow in House

    Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said today that he expects the budget resolution conference report, filed last night at 11:57 p.m., to be voted on tomorrow.

    "The budget conference report, I expect that up in the next day or so," Hoyer said this morning during an off-camera briefing with reporters. "I expect to see this passed in the next 30 hours."

    Democrats had hoped to bring the conference report to a vote in the House today, allowing for the Senate to vote on it tomorrow -- President Obama's 100th day in office. However, Hoyer said he had previously indicated he would allow 24 hours between the report's release and a vote, and that he wanted to stick to that.

    Dem. Corps: Cong. Battleground at 100 Days

    A new Democracy Corps/Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research survey (March 25-29) tested voters in the 40 most marginal Democrat-held congressional districts and 15 most marginal Republican-held districts, and found good news for Democrats.

    The 40 Democratic incumbents lead their generic Republican challengers by an average of 13 points. The Dem incumbents break the all-important 50% threshold even in the most vulnerable Democratic districts.

    In the 15 most marginal Republican-held districts, the GOP incumbents lead their generic Democratic challengers by just 6 points.

    What's helping Democrats in these marginal districts? "At the moment, the tide is still helping Democrats, with a good plurality saying they want to reelect their Democratic representative because they will fight for change, while in the Republican seats, a plurality says they want to vote in 2010 for a Democrat who will work with President Obama," the survey reports.

    The survey looked into support for the president's budget as well, and found that 52% of voters in the marginal GOP districts support it, while 43% oppose the budget plan.

    Pelosi: Not Briefed on Waterboarding

    Speaker Nancy Pelosi denied today that she had been told that waterboarding or other illegal interrogation methods were being used on terrorist detainees.

    "We were not, I repeat, we were not told that waterboarding or any of these other interrogation methods were used. What they did tell us was they had some legislative counsel opinions," Pelosi said at an afternoon press conference. "And if and when they would be used, they would brief Congress at that time."

    Earlier in the day, House Minority Leader John Boehner indicated his opposition to congressional investigations into past interrogation tactics because no new information would be learned. Congressional leaders had been regularly briefed, he said.

    "I don't see that we're going to learn anything that clearly members, in a bipartisan way -- the congressional leaders -- didn't already know about these techniques," Boehner said. "Yesterday I saw a partial list of a number of members in the House and Senate -- Democrats and Republicans -- who were briefed on these interrogation methods and not a word was raised at the time. Not one word."

    Congress Takes Stock as 100 Days Approach

    As President Obama's 100th day in office creeps closer, Members of Congress are beginning to take stock and spin what was and wasn't accomplished on Capitol Hill over the last three months -- as well as look forward to the work ahead.

    House Minority Leader John Boehner held a press conference this morning to discuss the first 100 days, and at an afternoon briefing, Speaker Nancy Pelosi passed around cards that listed Congress's achievements over the last three months. In one sense, the legislative bodies now find themselves exactly where they were 94 days ago -- expressing hope, as well as doubt, that a newfound aura of bipartisanship will overcome the Capitol.

    Asked how he would grade the first 100 days of the Obama administration, Boehner said "the grade would not be very good." After saying he realized "all this post-partisan talk" was a "ruse" when no Republican ideas were implemented in the economic stimulus package, Boehner said there is now a new opportunity for bipartisanship.

    "We're nearing the hundred-day mark, and frankly, we continue to want to work with the administration, work with our Democrat colleagues to create bipartisan solutions for the problems that the American people face," Boehner said. "So maybe we can have a new beginning."

    However, that hope was not shared by Democratic leadership on the other side of the Capitol, where Harry Reid, Richard Durbin and Charles Schumer held an off-camera briefing with reporters.

    "The hole we have inherited is very deep...but during these first weeks of Congress, we've done a lot of good work," said Reid. "It's too bad we couldn't have done these things with help from the Republicans. But they've said no to everything."

    Schumer looked forward and saw Republicans continuing to hold the Senate back from legislative progress. "As you can see, this is what Republicans want us to get done," Schumer said, pointing to an empty stand where a chart was supposed to have been placed. "They're just saying no, no, no. That's not a good political strategy."

    Dems Introduce Bill to Break Earmarks, Donations Link

    2006 freshman class members Paul Hodes (D-N.H.) and Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) introduced a bill today that would ban lawmakers from taking campaign contributions from companies during the same campaign cycle that they've requested earmarks for that company.

    "I want to make an explicit prohibition so that there isn't an appearance of any exchange," Hodes said at a press conference this morning.

    "This is not the end-all in terms of all the reforms this Congress needs to make, but it is a small step," said Giffords.

    Included in the policy would be the president, CEO, COO or CFO of any company that a member of Congress has requested an earmark for.

    Hodes and Giffords said they have both used this as a matter of personal policy since coming to Congress in January 2007, and that they believe Congress as a whole should adopt it to restore the trust of the American public.

    "It isn't against the law now, but it should be," Hodes said.

    Rep. Tom Perriello (D-Va.), an original co-sponsor on the bill, said this was part of a "pro-accountability, pro-responsibility movement" in Congress. Breaking the link between campaign contributions and earmark requests is "one of those things that makes basic common sense," the freshman lawmaker said.

    The bill, titled the "Clean Law for Earmark Acccountability Reform" or CLEAR Act, comes after Democrats tabled seven privileged resolutions to look into the relationship between earmarks and campaign donations, which was introduced by Giffords' fellow Arizona congressman Jeff Flake (R) following the FBI's raid of PMA Group, a defense lobbying firm.

    Hodes, Giffords and Perriello were three of just a dozen or so Democrats to support Flake's resolutions.

    Hodes said there has been "significant interest" from both sides of the aisle, but when asked if he discussed the plan with Democratic leadership, he said only: "We've told them what we're doing." Spokesmen in the offices of both Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer were unavailable for comment when reached by RCP.

    UPDATE: Hodes is running for Senate in New Hampshire, and the NRSC responds to Hodes' bill in an e-mail to RCP from spokeswoman Amber Wilkerson:

    Continue reading "Dems Introduce Bill to Break Earmarks, Donations Link" »

    Harman Defends Herself on MSNBC

    It's been a pretty interesting day-and-a-half since CQ reporter Jeff Stein's piece on Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) was published.

    Stein reported that in late 2006, an NSA wiretap picked up a conversation between Harman and a "suspected Israeli agent" during which Harman said she would lobby the Justice Department to be lenient on two AIPAC officials being charged with espionage, and the agent said he'd lobby Nancy Pelosi to give Harman the Intelligence Committee chairmanship.

    After uproar about the timing of his piece, Stein wrote a blog post early this morning showing the corroboration of parts of his article by other reporters and their sources. Stein also appeared on MSNBC's "Countdown" last night, on which he said he had three sources who confirmed his story.

    "There are many officials that know about this: at the Justice Department, the CIA, the FBI, the Director of National Intelligence and other places, and I'm told that Nancy Pelosi became very aware of this as well," Stein said on the show. "This is somewhat of a secret, but there's a wide circle of people who have known this for some time."

    Harman, however, has claimed innocence, and told Andrea Mitchell this afternoon in an in-studio interview on MSNBC that she was unaware of any of this. Harman said the first time she heard of any of this was Thursday night when Stein called her congressional office.

    "I didn't contact the Justice Department or anyone in the administration ever asking for lenient sentences for anybody," Harman said. "I didn't intervene."

    On a deal to help her win the Intelligence committee gavel after the 2006 election, Harman said: "No deals were cut with any groups for any reason ever."

    Harman said she has asked Attorney General Eric Holder to release any tapes from NSA wiretaps "in an unredacted form" and to investigate if any other members of Congress were "subject to this treatment" of being wiretapped.

    A 'Majority' Definition of Ethics

    On her way to recapturing control of Congress in 2006, Nancy Pelosi introduced a measure co-sponsored by Senators Harry Reid and Barack Obama that she called a "Declaration of Independence from special interests." Ten months later, on election night, she renewed the vow, saying: "Democrats intend to lead the most honest, most open and most ethical Congress in history."

    How quickly the tune has changed. "Ethics" may have served as a populist rallying point for Democrats in the minority, but apparently "ethics" doesn't have much to do with governing in the majority. As the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call reported yesterday, Mrs. Pelosi has now enlisted Rep. Howard Berman "to consult with House Democrats on why they should continue to resist Republican demands for an ethics committee investigation" of senior Democrats tied to PMA Group, a defense lobbying firm embroiled in a corruption investigation.

    PMA is now defunct since it was raided by the FBI last year, but top defense appropriator Rep. Jack Murtha, as well as several other Democrats, are reported to be implicated in an investigation of allegedly illegal campaign contributions in return for earmarks for PMA clients. Republicans, naturally, are relishing having the shoe on the other foot after their own disastrous involvement in the Jack Abramoff scandal. Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake has introduced seven resolutions calling for Congress to launch its own ethics probe -- and all seven have been tabled by the Democrats.

    Texas Republican John Carter likewise sponsored a resolution two months ago asking that House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel step down until the Ethics committee completes its probe of alleged tax-related impropriety. Democrats killed that as well, even as the ethics committee report on the Rangel investigation is more than four months overdue.

    But Democrats are clearly feeling some heat. Mr. Berman's appointment is seen as an attempt to show that Mrs. Pelosi and company take the concerns seriously while at the same time stalling any move against the members involved. Explained Roll Call: "After a long silence on the unfolding federal probe of the PMA Group and its ties to senior Democrats, House Democratic leaders are cobbling together a defense to offer political cover to their rank and file."

    Hoyer, Boehner React To Obama's Economic Speech

    Sure, this is no surprise, but it's worth noting anyway: Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Minority Leader John Boehner had completely opposite reactions to President Obama's speech on the economy this morning at Georgetown University. Both used the word "reckless," but were clearly pointing the finger at different groups.

    In a released statement, Boehner said the "economy will improve -- but it will be because of the ingenuity and hard work of American workers and small businesses, not because of the Washington Democrats' misguided policies that rely on recklessly spending taxpayer dollars."

    Hoyer, however, said it was prior recklessness that has forced the government to spend all that money. "This morning, President Obama explained the recklessness that led us into this recession, as well as the essential steps it will take to get us out," Hoyer said. "Democrats' recovery efforts are cushioning the blow of this recession and preparing us for a return to prosperity."

    Boehner sees the Dems' recovery efforts as accomplishing something a little different: "Instead of embracing tough decisions, Democrats have avoided them in favor of saddling our children and grandchildren with mountains of debt that we know they cannot afford."

    Hoyer believes, though, that the Democrats' moves are actually making the country more fiscally responsible: "We have an opportunity to end the fiscally reckless ways of the past by reducing our deficit, taking on spiraling healthcare costs, and finding the bipartisan will to confront the problem of entitlement reform."

    Obama, GOP Leaders Want Strings-Free Supplemental

    House and Senate Republican Leaders John Boehner and Mitch McConnell released statements today requesting that any supplemental war funding bill for Afghanistan and Pakistan be passed with no "extraneous spending" attached to it.

    President Obama, as well, asked for a "focused bill" in his letter yesterday to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, when he officially requested $83.4 billion "to support our men and women in uniform as they help the people of Iraq to take responsibility for their own future -- and work to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan."

    Boehner:

    Our men and women in uniform deserve to have full, complete and unfettered access to the resources they need to achieve success. Republicans want to work with the President to pass a clean troop funding bill, and it's my hope that both parties can work together to pass a bill without any strings attached that would tie the hands of our commanders on the ground as well as any unnecessary or extraneous spending. We need to do the right thing, and that is to listen to our commanders on the ground and pass a clean bill that fully funds our troops.

    Continue reading "Obama, GOP Leaders Want Strings-Free Supplemental" »

    Rep. Towns Questions Geithner's Reported Maneuver

    Following reports that the White House was seeking to circumvent Congressional restrictions on bailout funds -- including with regard to executive pay -- House Oversight Committee Chairman Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner requesting more information.

    In the letter, Towns expressed his "deep concern" and said he hoped "these allegations are not true."

    Congress included restrictions on executive pay at companies that received federal bail-out funds in the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act passed last year, as well as the economic stimulus package passed earlier this year. The House also passed last week legislation that would further restrict executive compensation from such firms.

    "We now know that extraordinary compensation was paid to bank executives even as they led their companies to the brink of collapse and later sought and received billions of dollars in federal funding," Towns wrote. "It would be unconscionable and irresponsible for the Treasury Department to permit excessive pay practices to continue at companies that have been rescued by the taxpayers."

    The report Towns references in his letter was a Washington Post article published Saturday. The lede from that story: "The Obama administration is engineering its new bailout initiatives in a way that it believes will allow firms benefiting from the programs to avoid restrictions imposed by Congress, including limits on lavish executive pay, according to government officials."

    The restrictions would be circumvented by setting up "special entities that act as middlemen, channeling the bailout funds to the firms and, via this two-step process, stripping away the requirement that the restrictions be imposed," the Post reported.

    Towns has asked Geithner to deliver more information on this and other questions to the Oversight committee by April 16, as it continues to investigate the collapses in the financial services and banking industries, as well as the ensuing federal rescue.

    One sample question Towns requested an answer to: "Is it your position that the executive compensation limits and federal ownership requirements imposed by Congress on bailout funding do not apply to the ultimate recipients of that funding if it is passed through special entities or special-purpose vehicles? "

    House Leaders Respond to Jobs Report

    The House majority and minority leaders released the following statements in response to today's jobs report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which reported 663,000 job losses last month and a rise in unemployment from 8.1 to 8.5 percent.

    Majority Leader Steny Hoyer:

    "Today's unemployment report for March delivers more bad news to millions of Americans struggling in this severe economic crisis. Last month, the U.S. economy lost 663,000 more jobs, bringing the unemployment rate to 8.5%, the highest since November 1983.

    "However, yesterday, the House passed the Democratic budget that is a part of our comprehensive plan to create jobs and address the immediate and long-term challenges facing our nation. To expand upon the job-creating investments in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the House Democratic budget makes targeted investments in health care, energy, and education. These investments are critical to the long-term economic prosperity of our nation and provide the job-creating initiatives that will help put Americans back to work.

    "The Obama Administration and Democratic Congress are committed to providing a better future for millions of American families. While today's news is grim, it does not dim the bright future and long-lasting prosperity that our hard work today will ensure."

    Continue reading "House Leaders Respond to Jobs Report" »

    Senate Passes Budget Resolution

    The Senate agreed to its budget resolution late last night on a 55-43 roll call vote. As in the House, no Republicans voted for the measure, while two Democrats voted against it.

    Here is what Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had to say after the vote:

    "This responsible budget will start cleaning up the mistakes of the past and make critical investments in our future.

    "The Senate's budget reflects the fundamental priorities proposed by President Obama and recognizes that we cannot recover unless we make health care and education better and more affordable and reduce our reliance on oil. Nor can we recover unless we cut taxes for hardworking middle-class families and make the hard choices necessary to cut the Republican Deficit.

    "It's going to take a lot of work to clean up the mess we inherited, and passing this budget is a critical step in the right direction. Staying true to these priorities will help turn around the economy for the many Americans who are underwater right now. But we won't settle for simply getting back to sea level -- we will to prosper once again."


    Continue reading "Senate Passes Budget Resolution" »

    House Passes Dem Budget Resolution

    As expected, the House of Representatives passed the Democrat-written budget resolution, on a 233-196 roll call vote. No House Republicans, who introduced two separate alternative budget resolutions, voted for the bill.

    Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine chalked up Republican opposition as simply politics as usual.

    "Unfortunately, the unanimous vote by the House Republicans against the budget does not represent the principle of loyal opposition upon which this country was founded, but opposition purely for political gain," Kaine said. "Today's vote affirms that the Party of No is more interested in playing politics than working with the Democrats and the President to solve our nation's problems on a bipartisan basis."

    Twenty Democrats voted against the bill -- mostly Members from moderate districts, with one exception being Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), who opposes including military funding with the operational funding of the government.

    "This budget is a plan that authorizes the expansion of the war. I simply cannot endorse a budget or a plan that" does that, Kucinich said.

    The National Republican Congressional Committee quickly jumped on targeted Democrats that voted for the resolution. "Larry Kissell and his fellow Democrats have thrown their promise of accountability and transparency out the window with this reckless budget," said NRCC spokesman Ken Spain.

    The White House applauded the bill's passage, and President Obama, who is currently overseas, released a statement in approval of the bill's priorities.

    "Tonight, the House of Representatives took another step toward rebuilding our struggling economy," Obama said. "This budget resolution embraces our most fundamental priorities: an energy plan that will end our dependence on foreign oil and spur a new clean energy economy; an education system that will ensure our children will be able to compete in the economy of the 21st century; and health care reform that finally confronts the back-breaking costs plaguing families, businesses and government alike."

    Shuler Steps Up for Dem Budget

    "Rep. Heath Shuler, D-Waynesville, isn't a Republican, though these recent votes and endorsements might cause one to assume otherwise. In his second term in the U.S. House of Representatives, Swain County native Heath Shuler has earned the accolade of fourth least likely to vote in line with his party, according to the Washington Post."

    That's what a local newspaper, The Smoky Mountain News, in Shuler's Western North Carolina congressional district wrote last week about the second-term congressman. Shuler's found himself in Speaker Nancy Pelosi's doghouse recently, as he's both voted against and voiced opposition to Democratic leadership.

    At a press conference today, however, Shuler stood alongside Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and voiced his support of the President's budget. Shuler was amongst a diverse group of Democrats speaking at a press conference in support of the party's budget resolution, which hits the House floor today.

    "We now have a budget that's an honest assessment of where we are," Shuler said. "Yeah, it's ugly, but it's an honest assessment."

    Shuler is a member of the fiscally-conservative Blue Dog Democrats, who have faced criticism of late from Republicans. Minority Leader John Boehner said last week that the group should be called "Lap Dogs" instead; and today, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) -- speaking in support of the GOP's alternative budget -- questioned whether Blue Dogs still exist.

    "No rational, conservative Democrat should vote for the Obama-Pelosi budget," McHenry said. "No Blue Dog -- if there are such things as Blue Dog Democrats anymore -- should vote for a budget that raises taxes to the magnitude that the President's budget does, spends to to the magnitude that the President's budget does, and taxes, again, for generations to come to pay off the debt."

    After voting against the economic stimulus package earlier this year, Shuler's non-defection from the party this time is likely a sign that very few Democrats -- even the fiscally-conservative ones -- will join House Republicans in opposing the budget.

    Budget Alternative In House, Not Senate

    The top Republican on the House Budget Committee said today that Republicans will introduce their long-awaited budget alternative tomorrow. Many expected to see a detailed explanation of the GOP budget last week, but Republican leaders distributed a vague, 17-page "blueprint" that drew criticism from the White House.

    "We'll release all of our numbers and all of our budget," said Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.). "Tomorrow, the Republican budget will show a better future for America on all the key metrics."

    Meanwhile, on the Senate floor this morning Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, shot back at the White House and Budget Chairman Kent Conrad's (D-N.D.) criticism of Senate Republicans for attacking the budget without offering their own alternative.

    Gregg pulled out a large poster board featuring a March 2006 quote from Conrad. At that time, when Republicans were in power, Gregg had similarly criticized Democrats for not offering an alternative budget. Conrad said then that it was the majority's job to introduce a budget, while "our job is to critique the budget."

    "And that's the tack we've taken this year," said Gregg, who added that the minority party traditionally offers amendments to the budget, which he said was the more bipartisan approach.

    Hill Leaders React To Obama's Anti-Extremism Plan

    UPDATED: Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer and Harry Reid, and Republican leaders John Boehner and Mitch McConnell reacted to the plan announced today by President Obama to combat extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Here are there statements:

    Pelosi:

    "I support President Obama's comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. The President's plan is the result of a detailed study and is wisely centered on dismantling al Qaeda and denying safe havens in both Afghanistan and Pakistan to those who would attack the United States. This strategy recognizes a point that I have emphasized for years, and one that I shared with the President following my visit last month to Afghanistan, which is that we must have a regional approach to countering terrorism.

    "By aiding Pakistan in their efforts to defeat terrorists, investing in and training Afghan Security Forces and their Army, creating conditions to marginalize insurgents and foster democracy, and cooperating with our allies to achieve these goals, we can strengthen our global counterterrorism efforts and prevent another catastrophic attack, such as the horrific one Osama bin Laden launched on September 11th.

    "The President's strategic and comprehensive approach is the right plan to stabilize Afghanistan and to protect the American people."


    Continue reading "Hill Leaders React To Obama's Anti-Extremism Plan" »

    Internal Strife Among House GOP Leadership?

    We reported earlier on House Minority Leader John Boehner referring to the Blue Dogs as "lap dogs," while Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) asked for the moderate Democrats' help in opposing the budget.

    Now, Politico's Glenn Thrush is reporting that Minority Whip Eric Cantor and Ryan, ranking member on the Budget Committee, were opposed to the House Republicans' release today of a budget "blueprint," though Boehner pushed them to back it.

    "Cantor and Ryan were reportedly 'embarrassed' by the document -- believing it was better to absorb a week of hits from Democrats than to be slammed for failing to produce a thoughtful and detailed alternative," Thrush reports.

    The Hill reported earlier this week on a "grumbling" among Republicans when Cantor and Ryan both voted for the Democrats' retroactive tax on AIG bonuses, while Boehner and Pence voted against it.

    Boehner Calls Moderate Dems 'Lap Dogs'

    On a talk radio show this morning, House Minority Leader John Boehner called out fiscally-conservative House Democrats, the Blue Dog Coalition, saying he now refers to them as the "lap dogs."

    "I would hope that the Blue Dogs would look at this budget and realize this just isn't going to work," Boehner said. "But you know we don't have conservative Democrats in the House much anymore. We've got a handful of them, and by in large the Blue Dogs have become what I call the lap dogs because every time they get a chance they end up voting with Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and doing what the President wants them to do."

    House Republicans released the outline of their budget alternative today that they say creates more jobs and better controls the national debt than the Democratic resolutions that will hit the House and Senate floors next week.

    "We just haven't seen any courage out [the Blue Dogs]," Boehner said, "and while I would love to have them take a serious look at our budget or work with us to develop a budget, I haven't seen any effort on their part to do so."

    While Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), ranking member on the Budget Committee, made a public plea yesterday for the fiscally-conservative Democrats to join with them in opposing the President's budget, there is no indication that Republican leadership has reached out to the Blue Dogs to work with them.

    "These statements come from the same individuals who wrote the President a blank check for eight years, driving spending to the highest levels in our country's history," Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La.), Blue Dog co-chair, said in response to Boehner's comments.

    "Rather than just saying 'no,' the Blue Dogs will continue working in a productive manner to moderate legislation and offer commonsense policy alternatives," said Melancon. "We do not subscribe to the extreme philosophies of the far right or the far left, and we certainly do not take serious issues and use them for political gain."

    Reid, On Reconciliation: 'Nothing's Off the Table'

    Speaker Nancy Pelosi said this morning at her weekly press conference that House Democrats will definitely "be proposing reconciliation for health care" proposals this year so as to achieve a "robust initiative" and "the strongest possible package."

    While Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said later during a briefing with reporters that reconciliation was not currently in the Senate's plans for health care or other Democratic priorities, he maintained he's "taking nothing off the table."

    The legislative maneuver would require only 50 votes to pass the Senate, far easier than the 60 votes usually needed. Republicans have voiced opposition to it, which Pelosi called hypocritical.

    Reid and fellow Democratic Senate leaders Dick Durbin (Ill.) and Charles Schumer (N.Y.) also brought up Republican hypocricy. Schumer read off of a press release statements by Republicans over the last eight years saying in a number of different ways that "deficits don't matter."

    "There's a little bit of speaking one way when there's a Republican president, and now a Democratic president's another," Schumer said. "They should worry about the deficit, but they should've worried about it back then."

    While House Republicans outlined their alternative budget earlier today, Reid said Senate Republican critics should come up with their own plan if they're unhappy with the Democrats' proposals.

    "You don't like this?" Reid said. "What do you suggest would be better?"

    House Passes Omnibus Lands Bill

    The House passed today the Omnibus Lands Bill that the Senate approved last week. The final tally was 285-140, with 38 Republicans voting for the bill and four Democrats voting against it.

    Click through to read Speaker Nancy Pelosi's statement following the vote.

    Continue reading "House Passes Omnibus Lands Bill" »

    Biden, Pelosi Stress Harmony On Budget

    The message of the day seems to be Democratic harmony, displayed just now between Vice President Biden and Speaker Pelosi as they prepared to have lunch at the Capitol. The Democrats both expressed strong confidence that lawmakers will produce a budget that meets the administration's goals, with Pelosi saying the House is "intent to deliver for the president."

    "I know at the end of the day, we will have a strong budget supportive of the president's principles," Pelosi said. She also sent a message to Republicans, saying that while she hoped a budget would pass with bipartisan support, "I know the bill will pass."

    Biden, saying he was happy to be back "home" in the Congress, said he is confident in the leadership of Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

    "We're in a position where in order to rebuild this economy, it can't be built on a false bubble," the former senator said. "We have to get down to rebuilding an economy that produces a solid foundation for the better part of the beginning of this century. And that requires us to deal with education, with health care, and it requires us to deal with energy, and also budget discipline built in."

    The White House announced today that the Economic Recovery Advisory Board headed by Paul Volcker will work to come up with other revenue streams through the tax code that would pay for Obama's plan, since lawmakers have objected to some of the initial revenue generators like the adjustment in charity deductibility. OMB Director Peter Orszag said the Congressional budget resolutions were "98 percent the same" as the White House's budget. And Biden repeated the view that they are on the same page.

    "I feel very confident that we're going to get a budget that is totally consistent with and reflective of all we've asked for," Biden said.

    Specter Announces Opposition to 'Card Check'

    Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) announced from the Senate floor today his opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act. His might have been the 60th and deciding vote for cloture, allowing the labor-backed bill to move forward this year for a potential vote. Instead, his decision could kill it.

    "I have made up my mind," Specter said from the Senate floor.

    Specter's decision to vote against cloture was first reported today by CongressDaily. Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, also broke the news today during a luncheon at a labor-issues conference.

    Specter noted the slim margin on this bill, and compared it to 2007 when he was the lone Republican to favor cloture on similar legislation. Even if Specter joined Democrats again this time, however, the bill was not assured of progressing. A few Democrats, such as Arkansas Sens. Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor, that voted in favor of cloture two years ago have not committed to doing so this time.

    Up for re-election next year, many viewed Specter's decision to be at least partially based on politics. Democrats have won the state in the last five presidential elections, including President Obama's 11-point victory in November. In 2006, Sen. Bob Casey (D) knocked out incumbent Republican Rick Santorum by more than 17 points.

    On the other side, Specter narrowly escaped primary defeat in 2004, holding off Republican challenger Pat Toomey by just 1.6 points. Toomey, a former three-term congressman who now leads the anti-tax Club for Growth, is currently gearing up to challenge Specter once again.

    "This announcement should end the rumor mill that I have made some deal for political advantage," Specter said. "I have not traded my vote in the past, and I will not do so now."

    Toomey, however, released a statement following Specter's announcement saying just the opposite. "The difference between Specter's vote on the big government stimulus bill and Specter's vote on card check: a threat in the Republican primary," Toomey said.

    Specter and other moderate Republicans have been in this position before, including during debate on the economic stimulus bill, which three Republicans -- Specter and Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe -- supported. Specter noted the pressure that this puts on centrist members.

    "In a highly polarized Senate, many decisive votes are left to a small group who are willing to listen, reject ideological dogmatism, disagree with the party line and make an independent judgment," Specter said. "It is an anguishing position, but we play the cards we are dealt."

    House Republicans Readying Budget Alternative

    Republicans on the House Budget Committee are preparing an alternative to President Obama's budget, while GOP leaders continue to paint the President's plan as an expensive, liberal agenda that will increase the national debt at an incomparable rate.

    At a morning press conference, Republican leaders John Boehner (Ohio), Eric Cantor (Va.) and Mike Pence (Ind.) railed against the budget in advance of the President's prime-time news conference tonight.

    "Our position is his budget is far outside of the mainstream," said Cantor.

    "The president is proposing a gusher of new debt, new taxes and more spending," concurred Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), ranking member of the Budget Committee. "The president's budget is so far to the left that it's to the left of the Progressive Caucus budget that came to the floor last year that about 130 Democrats voted against. So we're seeing a strong lurch to the left."

    "When you look at the debt numbers in this budget you'll see that over the next six years President Obama will create more debt than his 43 predecessors have in the last 220 years," said Boehner.

    "The President's budget is the most fiscally irresponsible budget in the history of the United States," said Pence.

    As Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) did yesterday, Cantor noted that Obama's planned trip to Capitol Hill tomorrow was a sign that his plan was not favored by centrists in Congress or around the country. "We wouldn't have to see a campaign to try to convince moderate Democrats to support this budget if it was reflective of the mainstream of this country," Cantor said.

    Boehner has planned a news conference this afternoon to talk about the President's prime-time event tonight, and Ryan will discuss the President's budget further at another press conference.

    Meanwhile, Democrats are touting the priorities of the budget as a way forward in the tough economic climate. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.) noted four specific priorities: reducing the deficit by half over the next five years; making a down payment on health care reform; investing in energy independence; and reforming and investing in education.

    Senators Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) spoke today about the health care, education and energy investments in the budget.

    "Investing in education is one of the most certain ways to prepare a skilled and ready workforce and to strengthen our economy well into the future," said Murray, the Democratic Conference Secretary. "Now is not a time to sit back and criticize. Now is a time to be bold and make the critical investments in our country that are so overdue."

    Hoyer also said that while Democratic leaders in the House "are all very concerned about the level of the deficit" Congress is facing in the near future, it was Republican policies that put the government in this position.

    "I've been very very criticial over the last eight years of the policies that have been pursued by the previous administration which put us deeply into debt," Hoyer said. "We're going to be working on getting that budget deficit down, but it will not be done near-term because of the budget hole we were dealt and left and that was so deep."

    Reid Statement On New Treasury Plan

    Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid released the following statement in response to the plan unveiled today by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner to buy bad bank assets:

    "The Treasury Department plan is based on the sound principle that if we are to revive our economy, we must unfreeze the credit markets so people can get the loans they need to keep their small businesses open, buy a car or send their children to college. Like any investment, this plan carries the potential for both risk and reward. But above all, we must act - one risk we will not take is standing on the sidelines and doing nothing while a bad situation gets worse."

    Reid has continued to hammer Republicans as 'do-nothing' legislators, as he implied in the last sentence of his statement. At an off-camera briefing with reporters Thursday, Reid took a few shots as well. "Once again Republicans are doing what they've always done in this Congress -- and that is to do nothing," he said. And later he added: "The problem we have here is the Republicans don't want us to get anything done."

    Reid noted from the Senate floor today that Republicans blocked his attempt to get the House's AIG bonus tax bill passed quickly last week as unanimous consent legislation and that he's awaiting their cooperation.

    "Despite last week's Republican objection to passing the AIG bonus bill, we will continue to work to right this egregious misuse of taxpayer funds," Reid said. "Republicans have asked for more time to study the legislation. With Republican cooperation, we can quickly and responsibly return these funds to the American people."

    House Passes Corporate Bonus Tax

    The House passed H.R. 1586 this afternoon, taxing at a 90 percent rate executive bonuses paid by companies that received at least $5 billion in bailouts from the government.

    The bill passed on a 328-93 vote, more than the necessary two-thirds majority. Republicans split on the vote, with 85 Members, including Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.), voting for it and 87 against it. Just six Democrats voted against the bill.

    Congress's move to tax these bonuses stems from the outrage caused by the $165 million in retention bonuses that AIG, which the federal government has given tens of billions of dollars in bail-out funds, recently paid to employees. This bill, if agreed to in the Senate and signed by President Obama, would affect AIG bonuses as well as other companies that have received substantial government dollars, such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

    Prior to the vote, Republicans on the House floor hammered the plan, calling it simply a rewrite and cover-up of history. GOP Members also questioned how a provision in the economic stimulus bill that would have capped bonus payments at $100,000 was stripped from the package during conference committee. It's unknown who stripped the Senate-approved provision written by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine).

    Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) also admitted yesterday on CNN that he helped write a loophole in the stimulus bill that allowed any bonuses paid before February 11, 2009, to be exempted.

    While Democrats attempted to look forward, Republicans were not inclined to let that happen. Pressed on the House floor by Republicans to answer what happened to the bonus restrictions, Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said he didn't know.

    "I was not a member of the conference committee," Frank said. "So the answer is I am not familiar with whatever the reasons were as to why this was left out. I will say this, had there been no language whatsoever, we still would not have had the authority. In other words, what did survive was additional authority. Now, if there had been no bill whatsoever, we would not have come even this close."

    Frank went on to say that he had no recollection of GOP members of his committee asking to increase restrictions on executive bonuses, calling their interest in compensation restrictions a "fairly newfound hobby."

    During an off-camera briefing with reporters earlier in the afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) refused to discuss what happened in the conference committee, and he instead criticized Republicans for their attacks on the Democratic plan.

    "Once again, Republicans are doing what they've always done in this Congress. And that is to do nothing," Reid said. "I'm always hoping for the sun going up. With Republicans, it's always going down."

    Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), the top ranking Members on the Finance Committee, are working on a similar bonus-tax plan in the Senate. Reid said he hoped the Senate could take up the bill before the chamber's two week-long recess in early April.

    House GOP To Introduce Bonus Tax Alternative

    House Republicans will introduce today an alternative to the Democrats' plan to tax 90 percent of the bonuses received by employees of bailed-out companies.

    The GOP plan would require the Treasury Department to come up with a plan within two weeks to recoup all of the bonus money.

    "We don't want 90 percent of it back," Minority Leader John Boehner said at a morning press conference. "We want all the money back."

    Republicans plan to point out today several mistakes with the Dem plan, including that it would take a year to get any of the money back -- after the execs file their tax returns next year.

    The GOP plan, which will be offered by freshman Members, allows Republicans to vote against the Dem plan with an alibi -- they do think Americans should get their money back but they feel their plan is better.

    --Kyle Trygstad

    House To Vote Tomorrow On Bonus Tax

    Democrats will introduce a bill on the House floor tomorrow morning that would apply a 90 percent income tax to bonuses given to employees of companies that have received at least $5 billion in TARP money. This would apply to bonuses paid by AIG, as well as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

    "We passed a recovery act. We did not pass a license to steal," said Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), one of the architects of the bill. "If you won't give the bonuses back, we will tax them back."

    House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who sets the House floor agenda, said at an afternoon press conference that the bill would be voted on tomorrow and that he expects it to pass "in an overwhelmingly bipartisan fashion."

    Hoyer was particularly "outraged" that AIG employees would accept such large bonuses and that the House would be forced to act, especially on the same day the House passed the GIVE Act. That bill will, among other things, increase the number of AmeriCorps volunteers and promote volunteering through college incentives.

    "Give it back," Hoyer said. "Give it back to the company and to the people that kept your company alive after your failure to act responsibly. Act responsibly now."

    According to a release handed out at the press conference, the bill will apply only to bonus payments received since the beginning of the year and to individuals whose annual income exceeds $250,000.

    "This money doesn't belong to AIG," Israel said. "It belongs to the American taxpayer, and we're going to take it back."

    GOP Continues Campaign Against Obama Budget

    House Minority Leader John Boehner released a video this morning detailing the outline for Republicans' alternative budget, as the party continues to campaign against President Obama's.

    One aspect of Obama's budget that Republicans have targeted is the cap-and-trade proposal, which would require companies to buy credits for the amount of pollution they release into the air. The aim is to lower carbon emissions while also raising $646 billion by the end of the next decade.

    A Wall Street Journal article, which Boehner's office distributed in a press release, reports that the revenue garnered from the plan could be up to three times as high as that figure.

    Republicans call it an "energy tax hike" and emphasize the fact that it would increase utility prices for Americans, though the White House included a tax credit to make up the difference.

    "The President says there isn't anyone that makes under $250,000 that's going to pay one dime of new taxes," Boehner said in a radio interview this morning. "It's just not true. They've got this energy tax in there that they call cap-and-trade. I call it cap-and-tax. If you drive a car, you're going to pay it. If you buy goods that are produced in the United States, you're going to pay it. And if you have the audacity to flip on a light switch, you're going to pay it."

    During an off-camera briefing with reporters this morning, Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) called the cap-and-trade proposal an "old fashioned hustle."

    "I found it breathtaking actually...at a time when people are really struggling, that this administration was contemplating an initiative that without question is going to raise energy costs," Roskam said. "And I would suggest to you that that's just an old fashioned hustle. The guarantee of higher energy costs with the elusive promise of something in the future."

    Dems Move To Recoup AIG Bonus Dollars

    Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced this afternoon new legislative proposals that would enable the federal government to recover taxpayer dollars misappropriated by companies such as AIG, the financially-troubled firm that gave its executives tens of millions of dollars in bonuses.

    "We have repeatedly called on executives at corporations that have taken our financial system to the brink of collapse with irresponsible business practices to return their bonuses and other financial rewards," Pelosi said. "Most appallingly, while millions of Americans struggle through this economy, those who have received the largest measure of taxpayer assistance from the Treasury Department have shown no restraint."

    According to a press release from the Speaker's office, Congress is considering "authorizing the U.S. Attorney General to recover prior and future excessive compensation payments made by companies, such as AIG, that received federal financial assistance; prohibiting abuse of retention bonuses by companies receiving capital infusions from Treasury; and recouping a substantial portion of the bonuses through special taxation legislation."

    "Congress has already passed legislation signed into law by President Obama last month that protects taxpayers from excessive executive compensation and we will continue to pursue all effective means to curb such abuses of the public trust," Pelosi said.

    Senate Democrats also sent a letter today to Edward Liddy, the chairman and CEO of American International Group (AIG), warning of a potential steep tax Congress could enact if the executives do not return their bonuses.

    "We insist that you immediately renegotiate these contracts in order to recoup these payments and make the American taxpayer whole," 44 Democratic senators wrote. "We stand ready to take the difficult, but necessary step of working to enact legislation that would allow the government to recoup these bonus payments, perhaps by imposing a steep tax - as high as 91 percent - that will have the effect of recovering nearly all of the bonuses that have been paid out since AIG turned to taxpayers for help."

    GOP Aims AIG Criticism at White House

    While Democrats made various proposals today regarding the bonuses received by AIG executives -- from pushing the execs to give the money back, to taxing the bonuses at an incredibly high rate -- House Republicans have used the opportunity to hit the administration for its lack of oversight.

    "Two weeks ago, the President's spokesman said that they were confident that they knew how every dime was being spent at AIG," Majority Leader John Boehner said this morning at press conference. "Well clearly, they didn't know what they were talking about. I think this is outrageous, and I think the American people are rightly outraged that their tax money is going to pay bonuses to the very people who got this company in trouble."

    "One of our biggest concerns with the bailout, the stimulus, and government intervention in the private market was the stunning lack of accountability for taxpayer dollars," Whip Eric Cantor said today in a press release. "To date the Administration still has not put forth a plan to show taxpayers how the government will be accountable for how their dollars are spent."

    Speaking from the House floor today, Conference Chairman Mike Pence compared favorably reactions to the President's budget to the outrage over AIG.

    "Now, much in the media today is focused on the frustration over a large business -- specifically A.I.G. ... But I also heard an enormous amount of outrage in my district yesterday about this Administration's budget," Pence said. "And as I explained the metes and bounds of this budget today, the outrage about A.I.G.'s bonuses, the outrage about bailouts had suddenly met its match."

    House Will Vote on D.C. Voting Rights Bill

    House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters today that the House will indeed vote on giving the District of Columbia a full-voting member in the House of Representatives. When exactly a vote will take place is still unknown.

    Doubt had arisen when Democrats pulled the bill from the floor two weeks ago. After the Senate passed its version Feb. 26, Hoyer indicated that the House would take up the bill the following week. However, the gun amendment added on to the Senate bill and the likelihood of one being added to the House version halted the progression of the bill's passage.

    "We're having discussions, and I think we're making some progress," said Hoyer. "This is the time for this bill."

    Hoyer indicated that the possibility of passing the bill with the gun amendment attached -- a take-what-we-can-get approach -- had been discussed with D.C. voting rights advocates, including Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and D.C. officials. However, Hoyer said Norton's opinion would be weighed heavily in the final decision and that some version of the bill would be voted on in the House.

    "My preference would be a clean bill that didn't deal with any other state and didn't deal with any extraneous issues," Hoyer said.

    Pelosi Slows Down Talk Of Second Stimulus

    After sparking an outburst of conversation Tuesday when she admitted the possible necessity of a second economic stimulus package, Speaker Nancy Pelosi pulled back some today during her weekly press conference.

    "I really would like to focus on the first one," Pelosi said, when asked about a second stimulus. "I know that people have made suggestions that we should be ready to do something, but I really would like to see this stimulus package play out. I think it's important that the American people and the Congress of the United States have confidence in the recovery package that we have passed."

    Pelosi discussed the subject later in the press conference as well. "We've done a big package, several hundred billion dollars, which I never thought I would see the day that we would have a package that big," she said. "We've done that. Let's see how that works."

    House Oversight Committee To Investigate Merrill Lynch

    House Oversight Committee Chairman Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) announced today that he has instructed committee attorneys to begin an investigation into whether Merrill Lynch misled Congress about when it decided to award billions of dollars in bonuses.

    New York Atty. Gen. Andrew Cuomo alleged yesterday that Merrill must have misled Congress in mid-November when it said it was waiting until the end of the year to decide on executive compensation. His reasoning comes from a March 3 deposition from Merrill's director and compensation committee chairman John Finnegan, who indicated a decision to pay bonuses before the end of the year had already been made by a Nov. 11 meeting.

    "The Committee takes very seriously Attorney General Cuomo's allegation that Merrill Lynch provided misleading information to Congress regarding bonuses for its top executives," Towns said in a statement released today.

    Towns also stated that the investigators will focus on two issues: "Did Merrill Lynch executives attempt to cover-up the decision to pay its top employees $5.8 billion in bonuses on the eve of its merger with Bank of America"; and "as a part of this cover up, did Merrill Lynch executives deliberately attempt to mislead this Committee in their November 24, 2008 letter, asserting that 'incentive compensation decisions for 2008 have not yet been made.'"

    Joint GOP Effort Against Budget

    Republicans in both chambers of Congress will join forces in opposition to President Obama's budget, the two chairmen of the House and Senate Republican conferences told reporters today.

    Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), beginning the cooperation in messaging, recited the party's new talking points on numerous occasions during an off-camera briefing with reporters, stating that the new budget spends too much, taxes too much and borrows too much. "We've got four weeks to make that case, starting this week," Alexander said.

    "Given the magnitude of the issues encompassed in this budget, this was the right battle to lock arms," said Pence.

    "Give Bill Clinton credit," said Alexander. "He raised taxes to balance the budget. This president is raising taxes to grow the government."

    Pence defended Republicans' response to Democratic proposals in the new Congress and derided the inclination that they are the "party of no." Noting that the President had asked for GOP ideas in the early stages of the stimulus debate and that they had offered their own plan, Pence said: "They were the ones that said no to those ideas."

    Pence also said he's heard "there's a lot of sticker shock among Blue Dog Democrats" regarding the size of the budget, and that the GOP "will make every effort to make common cause with any fiscally conservative Democrats."

    The conference chairmen also slammed Democrats for entertaining the idea of a second stimulus. Pence said this was an indication that their first stimulus plan "has already failed." Alexander said he was surprised about talk of new spending when "we don't even know what was in the first stimulus yet."

    On the Employee Free Choice Act, which both Alexander and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell referred to today as the "No Choice Act," Alexander called it "the most radical piece of legislation before this Congress" and said he was "astonished the Democratic majority would put it ahead of fixing health care" and other important matters.

    Cantor Blasts White House Priorities

    Speaking with reporters this morning, House Republican leaders criticized President Obama's budget and blasted what they say is a lack of focus on the economy.

    "It's as if the administration thinks it's a part-time job to address this economy," said House Minority Whip Eric Cantor. "We're at the White House last week for two hours talking about health care while the Dow drops 200 points."

    Going forward, Cantor said, "our focus will be about jobs -- jobs are the path to putting this country back on track."

    The GOP leaders, including John Boehner, Mike Pence and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, also called on Obama to veto the omnibus appropriations bill that the Senate is expected to pass today.

    Also present was freshman Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), who argued against what she said is "the largest budget proposal in history." Pence chimed in on the budget as well, saying it "spends too much, taxes too much and borrows too much, and the American people know it."

    Dems Defend Economic Policies

    Coming out of a "listening session" with econominsts, House Democratic leaders defended their approach to the economy and indicated another stimulus package may be necessary.

    Mark Zandi, an economic adviser to John McCain's presidential campaign and chief economist at Moody's Economy.com, said more taxpayer money was needed up front and that "another stimulus is a reasonable probability."

    Asked if she agreed with Zandi's comment, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said yes.

    The "word of the day," Pelosi said, is "confidence -- confidence in our markets, confidence in lending, confidence in our financial institutions." It's also "about time," she said. "In order to instill confidence, the President has taken a new direction. And it takes time."

    "In record time, we have passed the President's economic recovery plan and we are now anticipating very positive outcomes from that," Pelosi said. "Last week, the President put in motion the housing proposal and we are positive in anticipation of what that will result in."

    Zandi, among four economists to meet with House Democrats today, credited the speedy economic policy decisions of the White House and Congress and said that "by this time next year, the economy will stabilize."

    "The policy response to date has been very good, and we've got to give it a chance to work, which I think it will," Zandi said.

    "What we heard [in the meeting] was that President Obama was right when he called for an economic stimulus right away," said Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.).

    House GOP Leaders Denounce Stem Cell Order

    "In recent years, when it comes to stem cell research, rather than furthering discovery, our government has forced what I believe is a false choice between sound science and moral values. In this case, I believe the two are not inconsistent."

    That's what President Obama said this morning in announcing his executive order for federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research, as Mike detailed earlier. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid agreed with Obama, stating today that "our most promising scientists have been forced to work with one hand tied behind their backs" since President Bush took office in 2001.

    House Republican leadership -- not surprisingly -- has come out quickly against the move, with Republican Whip Eric Cantor calling it a distraction from the country's economic problems and GOP Leader John Boehner saying it's "further dividing our nation at a time when we need greater unity to tackle the challenges before us."

    Both Cantor, in a CNN interview, and Boehner, in a press release, cited their moral opposition to this as well.

    "Frankly, federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research can bring on embryo harvesting, perhaps even human cloning that occurs," Cantor said on CNN's "State of the Union" yesterday. "We don't want that. That shouldn't be done. That's wrong."

    "Indeed, science and respect for human life can coexist," Boehner said, after noting last week that he does not oppose federal funding for non-embryonic stem-cell research. "Politicians in Washington would be well-served to recognize this fact before they ask taxpayers to subsidize the destruction of innocent human life simply to advance a particular agenda."

    UPDATE: Click through to read what Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had to say about the executive order.

    Continue reading "House GOP Leaders Denounce Stem Cell Order" »

    Congress Passes Continuing Resolution

    A motion to freeze federal government spending at 2008 levels through the rest of this fiscal year failed in the House today, shortly before the House passed a continuing resolution, which will fund the government at 2008 levels through next Wednesday.

    Such a move would not have been necessary had Senate Democrats come up with 60 votes to pass the omnibus appropriations bill, which Republican leadership opposes because of its increased spending levels and 8,000-plus earmarks (though some of the earmarks were added on by Republicans). However, today's deadline for action on funding the federal government through Sept. 30 forced Democrats to buy Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid a few more days to come up with the votes.

    The temporary continuing resolution passed 328-50, with 2 Democrats and 48 Republicans voting against it. The Senate then agreed to it on a unanimous voice vote. The spending freeze, offered by House Republicans, failed on a 160-218 vote, with all 152 Republicans and eight Democrats voting for the measure.

    "Let's show the American taxpayers that we get it," House Minority Leader John Boehner said from the House floor shortly before the spending freeze vote. "Let's show investors in our American economy that we get it. Because clearly the bill that's been under consideration both here in the House and now in the Senate has a $30 billion increase over last year's spending, and includes nearly 9,000 earmarks. And the way to put all of this to a stop is to just have a spending freeze."

    Mixed Reactions To Housing Bill

    While Speaker Nancy Pelosi celebrated the House's approval yesterday of the housing bill, Minority Leader John Boehner said the bill would punish those who play by the rules.

    "The Helping Families Save Their Homes Act will prevent tragic home foreclosures, strengthen the housing market and our economy, and protect the American Dream of homeownership for America's families," Pelosi said following the 234-191 roll call vote. "Americans all agree that homeowners bear personal responsibility for their actions and their debts, but lenders must also act in good faith, lend responsibly, and work with homeowners who are at-risk of foreclosure because that is in the interests of lenders, borrowers, neighborhoods, and our nation's economy."

    Boehner, however, stated that while "Republicans believe that we need to help families who acted responsibly stay in their homes," this housing bill "doesn't do that."

    "This legislation forces taxpayers to reward irresponsible behavior - including lying about income on a mortgage application - and will prolong the housing crisis," Boehner said. "By letting bankruptcy judges rewrite a mortgage through the controversial 'cramdown' process, it gives a pass to the small percentage of borrowers who made bad decisions and adds more uncertainty to a market that desperately needs some stability."

    Meanwhile, the NRCC sent out press releases in 41 Democratic districts last night, targeting those that voted for the bill. "[This congressman] voted today against protecting millions of Americans who played by the rules, including thousands of his constituents," the NRCC stated in the press release. "The motion that he voted against would have prohibited those who lied on mortgage applications from receiving taxpayer assistance."

    Pitt Hits The Capitol

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    Actor Brad Pitt is making quite the scene inside the Capitol this afternoon. Teenage congressional pages were lined up 50 deep -- clogging the entrance to the Rotunda -- waiting to catch a glimpse of the Hollywood hunk.

    A seemingly equal pack of reporters and photographers were bunched together by the Speaker's Balcony for a photo opportunity. Pitt spoke briefly at a photo op with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Whip James Clyburn, just before walking into Pelosi's office for a meeting.

    "Did you see him?" asked one female reporter to another, as the photo op ended.

    "He said like four words," the other woman said.

    While Angelina Jolie films her upcoming movie "Salt" in D.C. over the next few days, Pitt met with Pelosi today to discuss his "Make It Right" project, which aims to help rebuild the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans.

    Just outside the Rotunda, the pages were continuing to wait for Pitt, hoping to see him on his way back out. "It just doesn't pay off to get here first," said one anxious female page to another.

    D.C. Voting Rights Bill Postponed

    The D.C. Voting Rights Act of 2009, passed by the Senate last week and scheduled to hit the House floor this week, has hit a snag.

    "A House vote on the D.C. House Voting Rights Act will be postponed to allow more time for discussion on outstanding matters," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer announced in a released statement today.

    The gun amendment sponsored by Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) was agreed to in the Senate last week, and the fear a similar amendment would pass in the House forced Democratic leadership to pull it yesterday from the House floor. The amendment would strike out the restrictive gun restrictions currently utilized in the nation's capital, which Ensign said today were "much too burdensome."

    "There's no question if it is voted on it will pass," Ensign said of a potential gun amendment to the House bill. "And that's what Nancy Pelosi is afraid of."

    D.C. voting rights supporters oppose Ensign's gun amendment, which would take away the District government's power to enact any laws that restrict gun ownership not prohibited by federal law. Ensign said today that he'd be willing to discuss his amendment but would not commit to a compromise because "they haven't offered anything."

    Asked if he'd rather see the bill pass with his amendment, or his amendment fail along with the bill, Ensign said: "I'd rather see the legislation go down and my legislation passed."

    House Minority Leader John Boehner weighed in yesterday after the bill was pulled from House consideration, calling out Democratic leaders for their "hollow" promise to restore "regular order" in the House. "By maneuvering to deny Second Amendment rights to residents of our nation's capital, Democratic leaders have made it clear that 'regular order' and the will of the American people will be respected only when it serves their interests," Boehner said.

    Hoyer said today he would continue to resolve the issues keeping the bill from the House floor. "I remain committed to working with the Democratic leadership, Congresswoman Norton, President Obama and all other supporters of D.C. voting rights to address the remaining challenges so we can bring this historic legislation to the Floor as soon as possible," he said.

    P.M. Brown Addresses Congress

    Gordon Brown, prime minister of the United Kingdom, addressed a joint meeting of Congress this morning in the House chamber. His 33-minute speech touched on the importance of the United States' role in world affairs, and he said the world has never been more ready to work together with the U.S.A.

    "You now have the most pro-American European leadership in living memory," Brown said. "Now, more than ever, the world wants to work with America."

    Brown said there were two new battles America and the rest of the world must tackle today: "a global economy in crisis and a planet in peril."

    Most of Brown's standing-ovation lines brought both sides of the aisle to their feet, though certain ones -- such as bringing fortune to everyone, not just the fortunate -- received a mixed reception from Republicans.

    McCain Omnibus Amendment Fails

    As he predicted it would, Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) amendment to the omnibus appropriations bill was voted down today on a 32-63 roll call vote. McCain's measure would have wiped out the $410 billion bill and kept most federal spending for fiscal year 2009 at its 2008 level.

    "Right now we are laying a huge debt, a debt on our children and grandchildren which is not in keeping with our responsibilities," McCain said. "I urge my colleagues to vote for this...amendment. I doubt if it will be passed."

    As he did yesterday, McCain called out some of the earmarks that are attached to the omnibus and called on President Obama to veto the final bill. "The whole process has to be fixed," he said.

    Just two Democrats voted for the amendment, while nine Republicans voted against it. The Senate will take up further amendments to the bill later this afternoon.

    Senate Dems Request Show Of Good Faith

    Since the beginning of the 111th Congress, both parties have worked hard to appear as the one seeking bipartisanship. Because of their sizeable majorities in both chambers, Democrats don't need many Republicans to support their bills, but they've seemed to be ramping up their efforts to appear bipartisan since House Republicans unanim