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Week of February 7, 2007

February 7, 2007
Washington, DC
Vol. 42, No. 3b
  • Senate Democrats drop Iraq resolution when Republicans demand a vote on funding cutoff.
  • New budget contains same landmines for President as previous budgets.
  • New York liberals fear that Hillary is too widely hated to win the presidency.
  • Romney receives support from conservatives on the Hill.

Outlook

  1. While Republicans long have considered House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) a target of opportunity, she is the dominant Democratic figure so far in the Democratic-controlled Congress. She is eclipsing highly respected Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) in influence. A powerful figure behind the scenes is Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), called Pelosi’s consigliere.
  2. The much-feared reign of investigative terror by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) as chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee began with a whimper this week. The hearings on waste, fraud and abuse in the Iraq occupation authority, with former proconsul Paul Bremer in the witness chair, repeated old allegations without revelations. Next in Waxman’s sights is the Iraq contractor Blackwater.
  3. Former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) was the winner of the parade of Democratic presidential candidates at last week’s Democratic National Committee meeting in Washington. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) was not exactly a dud, but she was not very inspiring, either. The breaking of support for her in Hollywood, where there is substantial backing for Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), indicates there will be no unopposed coronation for the nomination as she had hoped.
  4. Democrats are already working on a hit list of Republican congressional retirements for 2008 to create open seats that are easier to win — a factor in the ’06 elections outcome. With life in the minority less pleasant, several retirements impend. The first announced retiree is Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.). With former Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway ruling himself out as a Republican candidate, Rep. Mark Udall (D) is the early favorite.

Congress

Iraq Resolution: Republicans won a round on the Iraq War resolution Tuesday by outmaneuvering the Democratic leadership on the Senate floor. This was by no means an unqualified victory, but it reduced harm to Republicans and wasted serious legislative time that Senate Democrats would like to use for other purposes.
The lesson for those unschooled in Washington’s ways is that the success or failure of a Senate resolution is often less important than the fact of forcing one’s opponents to cast votes they don’t like.

  1. Majority Democrats approached this resolution as an opportunity to make Republicans take a vote they didn’t want to take — a tactic used numerous times by Republicans when they were in the majority. Just as when the Republicans did it, the vote on the calendar had less to do with the subject at hand (in this case the Iraq troop surge) than it did with who would gain political advantage from it. This is even more obvious here, considering that the resolution at hand is non-binding, and that Democrats do not want to take a substantive vote on cutting off funding for the war effort because the issue divides them.

  2. The Democrats’ tactic was sound and in some sense it worked. They tried to vote on the Iraq strategy, and Republicans stopped them. Given the war’s unpopularity, that is something of a Democratic victory. Republicans, however, believe they would have been worse off had they been divided in a simple vote for or against President Bush’s surge. That would have been embarrassing to the entire Republican Party, as committed as it is now to success in Iraq. Republicans prefer to avoid such a vote altogether.

  3. On Monday, without enough Republican help, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) could muster only 49 of the 60 votes needed to proceed to a debate on the issue under his preferred parliamentary construction. What Reid wanted was to schedule first a vote on Sen. John McCain‘s (R-Ariz.) pro-surge resolution, then a vote on the anti-surge resolution of Senators John Warner (R-Va.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.). This kept the issue simple, symbolic, meaningless and damaging for all Republicans. Either vote for Bush’s "escalation," or vote against it. In order to achieve this structure, Reid "filled the amendment tree" for the resolution. This is the technical term for proposing several meaningless amendments (sometimes this includes amendments adding or removing commas from a bill) so that there is no room for substantive amendments to be offered.

  4. Republicans, however, decided to complicate matters. After sticking together on Monday to avoid an Iraq debate on Reid’s terms, they agreed to take their chances on the same Warner resolution, but demanded an additional vote on an amendment by Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) stating opposition to a cutoff of funding or to any congressional action that would harm troop morale in Iraq.

  5. As little as Republicans wanted to vote on the Warner resolution, Democrats were even more scared of voting on Gregg’s amendment — it would have defeated the Democrats’ entire purpose for voting on Iraq. Moreover, Warner’s resolution would not get the 60 votes needed to pass, and Gregg’s would have won. This would embarrass and divide the Democratic majority. More proof: When Gregg asked Reid on the floor whether Reid would vote for a resolution against cutting funding, Reid stammered, said he could not answer, and changed the subject.

  6. Democrats preferred no vote to a vote that included Gregg’s resolution, and thus they were forced to give up altogether on the idea of a resolution. After losing a round, their next move is to consider a resolution in the House in hopes of increasing pressure for the Senate to act later.

Bush Administration

Budget: President Bush’s $2.9-trillion proposed fiscal 2008 budget sets a new record for the federal government. It roughly equals the combined Gross Domestic Product of every country from the Rio Grande to Tierra del Fuego. To give some idea of how rapidly government spending has risen under Bush, his first federal budget proposal, for fiscal 2002, contained $1.96 trillion (about $2.18 trillion in 2006 dollars). In six years, therefore, spending has risen 33 percent in real-dollar terms.

This budget contains all the same political landmines as Bush’s past budgets. Democrats, now controlling majorities in both houses of Congress, will make much of Bush’s proposal to cut grants for fire departments and emergency medical services by 55 percent, and to proceed with $78 billion in cuts over five years in Medicare and Medicaid. The administration argues that it is eliminating or cutting 141 federal programs for a savings of $12 billion, but Democrats will vigorously oppose some of these cuts.

The budget also cuts aid to states and local governments by about $3.6 billion. This, too, has featured prominently in Democratic complaints about Bush’s past budgets.
In addition, Iraq War costs have been the subject of Democratic discontent in every fiscal year since the war began. The budget also assumes that Iraq War costs will halve themselves in the next fiscal year and disappear completely in 2010.

President Bush claims that the new budget will produce a $61-billion surplus by 2012, but he will not be able to protect such a surplus without vetoes of numerous Democratic attempts to restore funding. Democrats are already pouncing, some of them demanding higher taxes. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) was the first, with his proposal in a hearing Tuesday for a "Terror Tax" to fund the War on Terror.

President 2008

Hillary Clinton: While Sen. Clinton’s presidential stock is rising among her congressional colleagues in Washington, prominent liberal Democrats in her home base of New York City fear that Clinton’s national negative ratings remain high at around 45 percent. Clinton’s performance in Iowa last week received poor reviews from liberals at home, who did not laugh at her little joke aimed at husband Bill Clinton when she was asked about her ability to handle "evil, bad men."

John McCain: McCain’s frontrunner status has been in question with many polls showing former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) in the lead for the Republican nomination. But McCain received a big vote of confidence when British Prime Minister Tony Blair requested McCain participate in the process of increasing the legitimacy of the Northern Irish Parliament. McCain was asked to contact the Rev. Ian Paisley, the hard-line Protestant leader in Northern Ireland, to press him to discuss a power-sharing plan. McCain has been actively engaged in this issue since 2005, and success could put him in the lead.

Meanwhile, McCain has fallen out of favor with liberals because he is taking a more orthodox Republican line on taxes this time than he did in 2000. McCain now says he wants the Bush tax cuts to be made permanent, and he opposes any increase in Social Security taxes to finance Social Security reform. He now counts supply-side economist Arthur Laffer among his advisors. This has cost McCain the support he once enjoyed among liberal journalists and other non-Republicans who were entranced by his campaign against George W. Bush in 2000. The tax question, to them, is one more straw on the camel’s back, along with McCain’s new peace with the Rev. Jerry Falwell and his support for more troops in Iraq.

McCain has many orthodox conservative credentials already — he was fighting congressional earmarks before it was popular. But conservatives still do not trust him on questions such as the environment and campaign finance reform. In fact, McCain could be embarrassed later this year if the newly composed Supreme Court strikes down key provisions of his signature McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill.

Mitt Romney: No matter how much credibility McCain gains with conservatives, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney appears to be winning their support much more. Romney unveiled the names of his 22-member congressional whip team, and among them was Rep. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.), head of the House Conservatives Fund and a key player in the Republican Study Committee.

House 2008

Indiana-9: While some discuss a fourth election contest between Rep. Baron Hill (D), and former Rep. Mike Sodrel (R), Hill may actually be preparing for a run against Gov. Mitch Daniels (R). For Hill, the equation is simple: a weakened Republican governor in a mostly conservative state, with no other obviously strong Democratic candidates in the wings. Although Republican polls smile on Daniels, nearly everyone attributes the failure of GOP congressional candidates last year to anger over some of Daniels’s official acts, such as the privatization of the state’s Northern Toll Road and the shift to Daylight Saving Time.

The Democratic mayors of Fort Wayne and Indianapolis have decided against entering the race, as has Sen. Evan Bayh (D). That leaves only State Senate Minority Leader Richard Young (D).

Meanwhile, Hill’s own conservative district could give him trouble again in the presidential election year — as it did unexpectedly in 2004 — should he try to stay in the House. This will particularly be the case if someone like Hillary Clinton heads the Democratic ticket.

Should Hill decide to run for governor, Sodrel would be heavily favored to take back this seat against any comer.

Sincerely,
Robert D. Novak

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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