Bloomberg for President?

Democrats close to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton take seriously a possible third-party presidential candidacy in 2008 by Michael Bloomberg despite the mayor of New York’s disavowal of interest.

One prominent investment banker with political connections predicts that Bloomberg will dispose of his multibillion-dollar business interests before his term as mayor ends a year before the presidential election. While expected to continue his heavy philanthropy, he will have millions to spare for a presidential campaign.

A footnote: Unity08, the third-party movement established by ex-Jimmy Carter aides Hamilton Jordan and Gerald Rafshoon, is reported by political insiders to be seeking financial aid from Bloomberg. But if the mayor is going to contribute to such a cause, it likely would be on behalf of his own candidacy.

Inviting McCain Out

Sen. John McCain canceled his scheduled appearance for Republican Brian Bilbray, who won Tuesday’s special congressional election in San Diego to replace the disgraced Duke Cunningham, not out of pique but because the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) suggested it would be a good idea.

McCain canceled his visit after Bilbray repeatedly attacked the Kennedy-McCain immigration “amnesty” bill. The Bilbray campaign did not ask McCain to cancel, and the senator had planned to fulfill his commitment. However, the NRCC suggested McCain’s presence would not be helpful in a campaign where Bilbray was stressing opposition to illegal immigration.

A footnote: Republican National Chairman Ken Mehlman is credited with masterminding operations that retained the congressional seat.

Paulson’s Wife

Bush administration officials are delighted to hear that Wendy Paulson, the liberal Democratic wife of Treasury Secretary-designate Henry Paulson, intends to remain in their upper West Side luxury apartment in Manhattan without moving to Washington.

Since 1997, Wendy Paulson has contributed $32,800 to Democrats, compared with $10,500 to Republicans ($1,000 to Sen. John McCain for his 2000 presidential run and the rest to liberal Republicans). Her contributions include $6,000 to Sen. Hillary Clinton and $5,000 to HILLPAC (Clinton’s political action committee).

Republicans fear that if Mrs. Paulson is much in evidence at events in the capital, she would be subject to questions from reporters that might result in embarrassing answers.

Nancy’s Orders

Rep. John Spratt of South Carolina, ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, has followed orders from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to abandon his original proposal for a limited presidential line-item veto.

Spratt’s proposal has been adopted by Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as a remedy for earmarked funds inserted by members of Congress. The plan would empower the president to veto individual spending items, subject to mandatory up-or-down votes in both the House and Senate. The House Budget Committee will consider the bill Wednesday.

Pelosi has decreed blanket Democratic opposition to this and any other Republican budget reform, and Spratt went along. That means Republican members of the Appropriations Committee, who oppose any line-item veto, could join with Democrats to defeat Ryan’s proposal when it reaches the House floor.

GOP Money

Lobbyists were eager last Thursday to attend the annual fund-raiser for Rep. Ralph Regula in the belief he might be succeeding Rep. Jerry Lewis of California as House Appropriations Committee chairman.

The early evening reception ($1,000 for individuals, $2,500 for political action committees) was held at the Washington mansion of lobbyist Wayne Berman, as it is every year. It was a magnet for lobbyists this year because of conflict-of-interest allegations against Lewis, including new charges in a report last Wednesday by NBC’s investigative unit.

A footnote: The competing event Thursday was sponsored by Republican operatives Ed Gillespie and Mary Matalin on behalf of Sen. George Allen, a presidential prospect who faces an unexpectedly tough re-election battle in Virginia, probably against Democrat James Webb (President Ronald Reagan’s secretary of the Navy). A reception at Matalin’s home in Alexandria, Va., was followed by a $5,000-a-plate dinner at the nearby Morrison House Hotel.