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Week of February 21, 2007

February 21, 2007
Washington, DC
Vol. 42, No. 4b

  • Bush Administration declares plan to ignore earmarks
  • Replacement of U.S. attorneys poses problem for White House
  • Murtha shoots his mouth off, reveals anti-war strategy
  • Early 2008 primary schedule could impact Iowa, New Hampshire contests
  • Despite brain hemorrhage, Johnson likely to run for re-election

Outlook

  1. The principal issue in Washington is the Democratic effort to stop the surge of troops in Iraq, The non-binding resolution is only a sideshow. The coming battle over funding promises to be an epic struggle with constitutional implications.
  2. Whatever happens on the congressional scene, there is a strong feeling inside the Bush Administration that the Iraq issue must be decided one way or another long before the end of the year. Republicans are determined not to go into the 2008 election year with blood being spilled in Iraq.
  3. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is functioning as a partisan leader, much more in the style of Newt Gingrich than Dennis Hastert. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has been eclipsed as Pelosi makes the decisions with her close friend and adviser, Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.).
  4. House Republican opponents of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for the presidential nomination are coalescing around former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, forgiving and forgetting his liberalism of a dozen years earlier. Romney is the fastest rising of the Republican candidates.
  5. However, Romney has not yet connected with rank-and-file conservatives, who seem to prefer former Speaker Gingrich. Nobody thinks Gingrich can be nominated. But if he runs, he could do grave damage to Romney.

Bush Administration

Earmarks: The Bush Administration, taking advantage of Democrats’ passage of anti-earmark rules in Congress, has declared its intention to ignore earmarks not written into statute. This is an idea that was launched last year by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) during a contentious Appropriations subcommittee hearing chaired by the Senate’s Republican king of pork, Ted Stevens (R-Alaska).

Members of Congress are calling executive agencies to ensure that their earmarks are still funded, according to sources on Capitol Hill. But the administration has specifically instructed the agencies not to heed lobbying by Congress and congressional staff on such matters. The great irony here is that this conservative, anti-earmark result probably could never have come about under last year’s Republican Congress.

Justice Department: The administration’s trouble stemming from the replacement of seven U.S. attorneys could become a serious problem for the White House.

  1. House Democrats, led by Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel, are targeting Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales and the Justice Department under him in a wide-ranging congressional investigation into the matter.

  2. The seven U.S. attorneys in question had all been involved in probes of public corruption, which is great politics for Democrats. On Thursday, Emanuel sent Gonzales his second letter demanding the appointment of Carol Lam, fired as U.S. attorney in San Diego, as an outside counsel to continue her pursuit of the Duke Cunningham case.

  3. Emanuel’s targeting of Gonzales was accelerated last Thursday by a report in the Washington Post that Sue Ellen Wooldridge, while an assistant attorney general, bought an expensive vacation home with oil lobbyist Don Duncan. Wooldridge had approved rulings that benefited Duncan’s employer, ConocoPhillips.

  4. Meanwhile, the administration did avert disaster in its terrorism strategy with the appellate court ruling that prevents Guantanamo Bay detainees from challenging their detention in civilian courts. This issue was decided last year when Congress approved a federal statute called the Military Commissions Act. The Supreme Court had ruled that such an act would be necessary in order to lock up the detainees without civilian trials. The new ruling upholds its constitutionality.

Congress

Troop Funding: Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) has a knack for shooting his mouth off, sometimes to his detriment. He did this again last week with his decision to divulge the rationale behind the Democrats’ latest tactic in opposing the Iraq War.

  1. Rather than legislating directly in favor of redeployment — either through another non-binding resolution (see below) or a cut in military funding — Murtha has elected an indirect strategy of weighing down the Iraq occupation by subtly limiting the number of troops that can be deployed. The limitation would come under the guise of “readiness requirements” that would seriously hinder the military’s ability to deploy.

  2. Who could be opposed to requirements that troops have sufficient equipment and training before being deployed? The problem is that the requirements set the bars artificially high. Their purpose is not to protect the troops as much as it is to put so many obstacles in their way that neither an additional force (a “surge”) nor even reinforcements can be easily deployed in the first place.

  3. Murtha’s climb from being an ideologically moderate senior back-bencher to becoming a prominent war critic was incredible enough. But his return from defeat and humiliation late last year toward a position of controlling the Iraq theater has been equally surprising. Murtha and his ally, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, had suffered a huge defeat on November 16, when the Democratic Caucus overwhelmingly rejected Murtha as majority leader, choosing instead Rep. Steny Hoyer.

  4. Three months later, Murtha has shaped a party policy designed to cripple Bush’s troop surge by placing conditions on funding. Murtha just could not keep quiet the secret Democratic strategy that he had forged for the promised “second step” against President Bush’s Iraq policy (after the passage of a non-binding resolution of disapproval). In an interview last Thursday with a new anti-war website MoveCongress.org, Murtha revealed plans to put conditions on funding of U.S. troops. Murtha, chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on Defense, did not hide the point of setting standards for training, equipping and resting troops: “They won’t have the equipment, they don’t have the training and they won’t be able to do the work.”

  5. Murtha’s tactic represents the most daring congressional attempt to micromanage armed hostilities since the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War challenged Abraham Lincoln. Not surprising Republicans, Murtha’s plan basically played into their hands. Republicans had been suggesting that Democrats would cut off funding for the troops in order to prevent the so-called “surge,” and then Murtha went ahead and let out that they would, in fact, try to do so.

  6. Republicans are poised to contend that his proposed amendment to the upcoming supplemental appropriations bill would effectively cut off funding for the war, confronting moderate Democrats elected after promising voters they would support the troops with a large problem.

  7. Republicans cannot as easily block passage in the Senate of Murtha’s amendment as they stopped the passage of the non-binding resolution on Saturday, when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) forced an unusual weekend vote before the Presidents’ Day recess. Republicans stopped that on a 56-to-34 vote, using a rule requiring 60 votes to end debate. But the supplemental defense appropriations bill will have to pass in some form at the risk of a complete funding cutoff for the troops. Thus, unless Democrats retreat unexpectedly, Murtha will be driving U.S. policy in Iraq. That is an improbable elevation for a congressman best known until now as a purveyor of pork.

  8. When Murtha revealed the strategy, the House Republican staff quickly dispatched e-mails to GOP members listing Democrats who had campaigned last year against restricting support for troops in the field. The message asked: “Will they side with Jack Murtha and their leadership in Washington, or with the promises they made to their voters?” Murtha is putting some Democrats in a tough spot (though this is the time in the election cycle to do such things, with the election still nearly two years away). But even left-wing editorial boards such as that of the New York Times are questioning Murtha’s actions now.

Minimum Wage: Democrats’ desire to exploit one of their best populist issues came a step closer to fulfillment last week when the House Ways and Means Committee passed, with surprising ease, a measure providing for small-business tax breaks. The tax breaks must be included with any minimum wage increase in order to pass the U.S. Senate, where Republicans have the strength to block a tax-cut-free bill. The tax measure passed the House overwhelmingly on Friday, with only 45 members, all hard-core conservatives, voting in opposition.

For a time, it had appeared that Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) would prevent the tax cuts from becoming part of the minimum wage bill, but he swallowed hard and worked out a deal that passed the committee unanimously without any proposed amendments.

Republicans had a lot more leverage on this than they apparently recognized or wanted to use in this situation. Many of them have pet projects — special tax provisions they have been seeking — and they would just as soon not start the new Congress by pushing Rangel to the wall, lest they suffer later on. At the very least, a recorded vote, and a few amendments that could have put some Democrats in a bad spot, would have been appropriate. Ranking member Jim McCrery (R-La.) let it by, but he cannot take all of the blame for letting Rangel put through a relatively small tax package unopposed.

The Democrats’ problem, or what would have been a problem had Republicans resisted, is that they are positively expected to pass a minimum wage bill. They were not about to block a tax package just because Republicans tried to push them a bit. They needed the tax package to pass their bill. The result of this is that now the $2-billion House tax-cut package goes up against an $8-billion package from the Senate. In conference, Republicans will be giving up ground. They have already given up some — the bill cuts some taxes and raises others to make up for it, resulting in a very small net tax increase over 11 years. Also, the tax cut measures will expire, whereas the revenue-raisers are permanent.

CR-Omnibus: This was the measure to fund most of the U.S. government for fiscal 2007, which majority Republicans had left behind last year for the new Democratic Congress.

Senate Republicans were upset with the process used to pass this spending measure, without amendment. They argued that the Senate under Reid is beginning to resemble the U.S. House. Still, they preferred to support cloture on the bill rather than risk a government shutdown, which would have come about on Thursday without passage. The bitter memories of the 1995 government shutdown still linger for some in the GOP, as Republicans were blamed for the showdown with President Bill Clinton.

Sources indicate that in exchange for cloture, Republicans were able to bring two (possibly three) judges to the floor for confirmation — two district judges and one appellate judge, Randy Smith on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

President 2008

Early Schedule: This far out from the presidential election, it is easy to forget how suddenly (and perhaps un-dramatically) this year’s presidential primaries will end. The various state party elections, caucuses and conventions are being moved so far forward that only a miracle will prevent both nominees from being obvious by this time next year.

Many of the primary dates remain unknown at this point. Several legislatures (including Illinois, California, New York, and New Jersey) are currently working on bills to move their state primaries further forward. If these pass, the 2008 primary calendar may look something like this:

Possible 2008 Primary Schedule
(New Hampshire:
See below)

January 14 — Iowa Caucus.
January 19 — Nevada Democratic Caucus.
January 29 — Florida.
February 2 — South Carolina Primary.
February 5 — Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Delaware, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Utah, West Virginia Convention.
February 9 — Louisiana.
February 12 — Tennessee.
February 19 — Minnesota, Wisconsin.
March 4 — Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont.
March 11 — Florida, Mississippi, Washington.
April 15 — Alaska, Colorado.
April 26 — Kansas, Nevada.
May 6 — Indiana.
May 10 — Wyoming.
May 13 — Nebraska.
May 20 — Kentucky, Oregon.
May 27 — Idaho.
June 3 — South Dakota.
June 6 — Hawaii, Virginia.
June 9 — Montana.

Of some interest is the status of New Hampshire, which is omitted above. Democrats are trying to isolate New Hampshire by removing its “Big Two” status with Iowa, but that is not likely to work. Democrats are trying to increase Nevada’s significance by moving its contest to number two, but New Hampshire’s state government is capable of moving its primary very quickly, and could do so at such a late date that Democratic officials will be powerless to stop them from going before Nevada.

That aside, the main point here is that the big states are being moved forward, so everything will probably be decided on or around Super Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2008. This has the potential either to heighten or diminish the significance of the earliest contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. Either they will be rendered irrelevant as candidates focus on winning large majorities of the large delegations from Illinois, California, New York and New Jersey, or they will become extremely important by boosting one of the candidates heading into Super Tuesday.
There is also the possibility that the compressed schedule and the many simultaneous contests could result in a big split decision on Super Tuesday.

Hillary Clinton: New York Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton‘s “exit strategy” for Iraq — really a mandate to begin troop withdrawal within 90 days or less — is obviously a Democratic primary strategy. But again, it has the public policy virtue of setting goals rather than demanding a particular strategy.

Clinton has come under much fire for failing to directly apologize for her vote in favor of the Iraq War. This move, therefore, takes some of the heat off her from former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), both of whom have demanded substantial congressional action to withdraw.

Clinton refused to apologize only because it would lead to a whole series of further questions about why she voted for war in the first place — currently her defense is that she was fooled by manipulated intelligence along with everyone else. An apology could also open her up to accusations of “flip-flopping” in a general election race.

Senate 2008

South Dakota: Despite the brain hemorrhage that has kept him from work so far this year, Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) appears likely to run for re-election. Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) served as a stand-in last Wednesday at a Washington fund-raising luncheon for Johnson. Democratic fund-raiser Haroon Khan plans to hold 13 similar fund-raisers for the absent Johnson between now and March. The senator will not attend any of the events.

The $1,000-a-plate luncheon was held at 101 Constitution Ave., a private office building at the foot of Capitol Hill. This is a naturally difficult seat for Democrats to keep, but speculation about the race is especially futile until there is a better sense of just how up to the task Johnson will be.

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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