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Week of December 6, 2006

December 6, 2006
Washington, DC
Vol. 41, No. 25a

  • Rumsfeld replacement says what Democrats want to hear
  • Dodd and Biden get a victory as Bolton nomination goes down in flames
  • Congress looks to pass bill designed to benefit one company
  • White House will not rule out tax hikes for Social Security reform
  • Bonilla still fighting to hold GOP seat in Texas
  • Outlook

    1. The leaked memo by outgoing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld hardly provides a clear blueprint for President George W. Bush with 21 separate options for what to do in Iraq. But the paper does contain multiple exits for Bush that the President might be more likely to consider than a single course. Contrary to popular conception, Rumsfeld was always a doubter on Iraq.
    2. Important Bush Administration officials are ready to leave the government rather than undergo two years of hell from Democratic committee chairmen in Congress. Leading the exodus are officials of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), fearing investigation by two chairmen, Representatives Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and John Dingell (D-Mich.).
    3. House Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) showed she is a hard woman when she prevented the well-qualified Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) from taking the chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee after many years as its ranking Democrat. Pelosi avoided another disaster (following her feckless support of Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) to be majority leader) by rejecting the ethically challenged Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.). She picked the committee’s third-ranking Democrat (behind Harmon and Hastings): low-profile Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Tex.), who was a career border guard before his election to Congress. Reyes, unlike Harman, voted against the Iraq war.
    4. Much of Republican Washington turned out at the huge Christmas party Monday night hosted by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) at the Corcoran Art Gallery. Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), the newly elected Senate minority whip, has emerged as a major McCain backer. McCain is not only the front-runner for the presidential nomination but is emerging as the establishment candidate.
    5. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D- N.Y.) passed the word to New York Democrats that she intends to run for President at a time when many Democrats are looking for an alternative. Former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) is campaigning hard, but the biggest threats to Clinton are former Vice President Al Gore (who may never run) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) (who has not made up his mind).

    Bush Administration

    Gates Nomination: Robert Gates, President Bush’s replacement for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, sailed through his confirmation hearings as though he were the nominee for an uncontroversial district judgeship or undersecretary position.

    1. His answers to senators’ questions suggested that he was given free rein to say whatever the Democrats wanted to hear. The result was that at times his testimony was surprising. One of his answers — the one that got the most press — was the one thing Bush has not been willing to admit: That the U.S. is not winning in Iraq. This combined with the loss of the Bolton nomination (see below) and the release of the Iraq Study Group report today are signs that President Bush’s ability to conduct his own foreign policy has been seriously diminished.
    2. Gates then came back to clarify his statement, contending that the U.S. is not winning in Iraq but is not losing either. This irrational proposition should have alerted everyone to tension in his mind between what he had to say to avoid Democratic opposition to his confirmation on the one side, and what he had to say to avoid embarrassing the man appointing him on the other. Meanwhile, he was very cautious about proposing solutions in public, and rejected the idea of a fixed timetable for a result.
    3. In other words, only the rhetoric is different. The replacement of the Defense secretary, while perhaps important politically or symbolically, has little to do with the problems the administration is facing in Iraq. Rumsfeld’s leaked memorandum, suggesting 21 alternative courses on Iraq, demonstrates that he was not really in denial over just how bad things look there, as many of his critics cast him. He appears to have been loyal to Bush, presenting him with all the options — including partial redeployment both within and outside Iraq, and a cut-off of reconstruction funds for unruly and uncooperative local populations.
    4. The President is getting a political benefit from the dumping of Rumsfeld. Not only can the public be misled to believe that failures in Iraq are Rumsfeld’s fault, but the public can also embrace the idea that a genuine change in Iraq strategy is taking place, whether it is or not.
    5. Still, it may be an impression that the public needs. The disturbing revelation from last weekend’s leaked NSC report — that the Iraqi insurgency is now a self-sustaining criminal enterprise — gives the lie to White House talking points promoting the continued U.S. occupation of Iraq as a way of fighting terrorists “over there” or that the battle there somehow drains their resources and keeps them away from the U.S.

    Bolton Nomination: The decision by John Bolton not to pursue confirmation as UN ambassador was his own, though it is not clear that the President Bush wanted to go through the parliamentary maneuvers needed to keep him in office.

    1. The victory by Senators  Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) and Joseph Biden (D-Del.), both presidential hopefuls, is a serious blow to hopes for bipartisanship in the next Congress. The Dodd-Biden vendetta, despite Bolton’s excellent service at the UN, tells the story of what Democrats really consider “bipartisan.”
    2. Lameduck Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.) provided the decisive vote keeping the Foreign Relations Committee from reporting Bolton’s nomination, with the probability that he would have been approved by the full Senate. Republicans are enraged by Chafee, who was heavily supported for renomination by the White House and the GOP establishment. Chafee had privately indicated that after he was elected that he would vote for Bolton, but his loss apparently relieved him of that responsibility.

    3. The White House suggested the long-vacant deputy secretary of State’s post or a Cabinet-level counselor’s post for Bolton were possibilities. While he was not actually offered either post, Bolton appears to have had enough of dealing with vindictive Democrats.

    4. Bolton did an extraordinary job at the UN, especially in achieving Security Council unanimity on the Korean question. But Dodd was implacable in preventing his confirmation as he had been earlier in keeping Otto Reich from being confirmed as assistant secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs. Both foes of Fidel Castro, the two were unacceptable to Dodd as enemies of normalizing relations with Communist Cuba.

    Congress

    The Congress is expected to spend no more than this week on its lameduck session, leaving most appropriations work to the new Democratic majority in January. Still, a few measures, including oil-drilling, are expected to pass in these slow post-election Winter days of Washington.

    Patent Nonsense: Among the lame-duck legislation that could be slipped through at the last minute is a patent measure that looks like a technical change to an obscure section of the U.S. Code. The bill would do little immediate or recognizable harm to anyone, but it is an illustration of how Washington works at its worst.

    1. The measure is carefully tailored to give a retroactive break to one single company — called the Medicines Company — so that it can extend a patent for its heart drug AngioMax. The company had the right to extend its patent, as drug companies usually do, to make up for time spent gaining approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. But the company’s lawyers were one day late with their patent extension paperwork back in 2001, an error that could cost them $500 million, but which would also bring down the drug’s price as generic companies begin to produce it.

    2. As matters stand, the company’s patent will expire in 2010 instead of 2014 or 2015. Instead of suing their lawyers for malpractice, the Medicines Company instead spent millions on the best lobbyists money could buy in Washington — figures such as former Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.), former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Tex.) and former LBJ aide Lloyd Hand, along with several others — to get a bill through Congress that would solve the problem for them by retroactively giving them a five-day extension of the deadline.

    3. Again, the direct negative consequences of this bill would be minimal — at worst, one particular heart drug will remain somewhat more expensive after 2010 than it would have been otherwise. But the blatant wheeling and dealing in order to get special treatment offers a rare window into the disturbing bipartisan self-dealing that goes on in Washignton. The patent measure, which one activist calls the “Sorry-I’m-Late-the-Dog-Ate-My-Homework Act,” is sponsored by the retiring Rep. Bill Jenkins (R-Tenn.), and co-sponors include Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.), Marty Meehan (D-Mass.) and Jim Duncan (R-Tenn.).

    4. A hearing was held on this bill September 14 in the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property. The Medicines Company’s CEO, Clive Meanwell, burst into tears at the end of his testimony after talking about the millions of lives the bill could improve. It is unclear what he could be referring to. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has not taken an official position on the bill. Undersecretary Jon Dudas noted that this bill would have potentially affected two patent extension applications out of more than 700 filed since 1984. In other words, this is clearly a bill being passed on behalf of one well-connected company that has hired the right lobbyists.

    5. As of Tuesday night, there were plans to attach the measure to an almost completely unrelated bill pertaining to ship-hull designs. The reason for attaching it to this bill is that the hull bill’s author is Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), one of the very few senators expected possibly to oppose the patent measure. Cornyn cannot exactly put a hold on his own bill, meaning it is left to a few other mavericks — especially Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) to do so. Either way, the United States Congress will likely pass a bill for the sake of a single corporation that missed a deadline, even though $500 million was potentially at stake.

    Social Security: Democrats are finally talking about reforms that would keep Social Security solvent, but they want a solution that the President had been unwilling to embrace in the past — tax-hikes generally, and specifically an increase in the maximum income subject to the Social Security tax. Conservatives are very distrustful of whether President Bush will keep his 2002 promise only to allow a tax hike over his own dead body.

    The Bush Administration has been noticeably dodgy about this. In an interview on CNBC, Larry Kudlow could not get White House economic advisor Al Hubbard to promise that President Bush would not accept a tax-hike as part of the Social Security solution.

    Election 2006

    Texas-23: Republicans fear that Rep. Henry Bonilla (R) has already squandered his chance to destroy former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D) with negative advertising in the upcoming runoff election before the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee could step in and begin pummeling him. Bonilla has stuck with positive ads until very late in the game. He polls just above 50 percent, which is a good sign, but Rodriguez is within striking distance.

    This race will provide a very important gauge of Republican prospects for winning the Hispanic vote in the future and over the long haul. Bonilla has now held this district long enough and won enough Hispanic votes in the past that he should be able to show enough strength among Hispanics to overcome extreme left-winger Rodriguez. Rodriguez lost his old district to Rep. Henry Cuellar (D) in a primary, then lost again, thanks to his inattention to the district and his anti-trade politics, which were always detrimental to its border-port city Laredo.

    If Rodriguez pulls this off, particularly after getting just 20 percent in the first round of the special election, it may give reason to fault Bonilla for being too positive with his campaign. But it may also signal such an unbreakable Democratic lean among San Antonio Hispanics that Republicans are a decade further away from being competitive than they thought.

    Early voting has already begun. Leaning Republican Retention.

    Sincerely,
    Robert D. Novak

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    Written By

    Mr. Novak was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report, a political newsletter he founded in 1967 with Rowland Evans. He passed away August 19, 2009. Read tributes to Robert Novak and his legendary work, as well as memories from Novak alumni and the Human Events family.

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