Capital Briefs: June 18-22

BRINGING PERMANENT TAX RELIEF: Rep. Tim Walberg (R.-Mich.) and 80 of his House Republican colleagues introduced the Tax Increase Prevention Act last Thursday, unveiling it at a well-attended Capitol Hill press conference. The tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 brought great advances to the U.S. economy, and this bill—which should be a major cause for conservatives this year—aims at making that tax relief permanent and, in the process, protecting taxpayers from $400 billion in tax increases. The bill would eliminate the sunset provisions of the 2001 and 2003 tax-cut packages passed by Congress and give working Americans and employers greater ability to plan for the future. Walberg said that this bill “would make it impossible for the Democrats to increase taxes on things such as marriage, childbirth, adoption, earning and saving money, college loans and death.” Appearing at the press conference along with a large number of House Republicans were former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist and National Taxpayers Union Vice President Pete Sepp.

HELP FOR LIBBY? Now that the judge in the I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby case has ruled that Libby must go jail while awaiting a decision on his appeal, the pressure on President Bush from Republican officeholders, contributors and activists to give some relief to Libby, who appears to be the victim of prosecutorial excess and administration blunders, will intensify. If Bush does not want to pardon Libby immediately, these advocates argue, he could commute his sentence, eliminating his huge fine and time in prison and then pardon him when the appeal process is over. Most Republicans feel that, between Libby and Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales, Libby is the more deserving public servant and do not understand why, despite the embarrassment he has brought on the administration with his blunders, Gonzales still has Bush’s support.

WASTED TRIP? When President Bush went to Capitol Hill last Tuesday to lobby GOP senators to pass his “compromise” amnesty/immigration bill, Bush and his team, including White House Press Secretary Tony Snow and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, spent the whole day making the President’s case, but no Senate minds seemed to be changed.
Before the President arrived, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R.-Ala.) said that the President should “back off,” stop pushing the bill so hard and join with conservatives to draft a new one. At presstime, Human Events learned there is a deal to resume Senate consideration of the bill as early as this week.

WILL JOE GO? The hottest political rumor in Connecticut last week was that Sen. Joe Lieberman, the 2000 Democratic nominee for Vice President who won his fourth term in the Senate as an Independent last fall, is finally fed up with the Democratic Party and prepared to become a full-fledged Independent. (Although he was re-elected as an Independent after losing the Democratic primary to leftist cable TV tycoon Ned Lamont, Lieberman still caucuses with Senate Democrats.) Last week, Lieberman made headlines when he called for a harder U.S. line with Iran and even suggested taking military action against the Tehran regime — prompting denunciations from such high-profile Democrats as retired Gen. Wesley Clark and New Mexico Gov. (and ’08 presidential hopeful) Bill Richardson. In addition, Lieberman recently broke party ranks to host a fundraising event for liberal Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins, who faces a strong Democratic challenge next year.

RUDY’S ‘12 COMMANDMENTS’: Rudy Giuliani took another step last week in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination by unveiling what he called the 12 goals he will pursue if elected. The planks in Giuliani’s manifesto will please conservatives and surprise no one. Among them: making America more secure, cutting spending, ending illegal immigration, and reducing the number of abortions (although the New Yorker is the lone major GOP hopeful who dubs himself “pro-choice”). In calling for spending cuts, however, Giuliani’s manifesto conspicuously left out making changes in the biggest source of bloated government spending: the entitlement programs. Also not mentioned: his criteria for appointing judges.

THOMPSON CATCHES RUDY: In the latest Rasmussen poll, former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson tied Giuliani for the lead among Republican presidential candidates, even though Thompson has yet to officially announce his candidacy. The two each received 24% support, eliminating the six-point lead that Giuliani held the week before. Both former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Arizona Sen. John McCain fell significantly. Complicating the picture was another non-candidate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, with 7%.

With Thompson’s popularity increasing, his supporters are bracing for the attacks his opponents are said to be preparing to launch. Several negative stories about Thompson’s various lobbying clients have already appeared, and Politico reported last week some other ways competitors could come against Thompson to hit his “perceived soft spots.” Thompson is winning the support of many traditional conservatives who feel the current GOP field is lacking a truly Reaganesque candidate, but many question if Thompson’s vocation as an actor has made him able to seem more prepared and presidential than he actually is. Thompson last week all but formally confirmed his candidacy on NBC’s “Tonight Show” with Jay Leno and is expected to make his official announcement sometime around the 4th of July.

MOST WHO FOLLOW IMMIGRATION BILL OPPOSE IT: As President Bush tried desperately last week to rally congressional support behind his embattled immigration bill, a Gallup Poll showed that, among those registered voters following debate over the measure, nearly three times as many were opposed to it as were in favor of it. According to a nationwide Gallup survey, 18% of American voters were “closely following” debate over the Bush-backed immigration legislation, another 42% following it “somewhat closely,” and another 40% either following it not too closely or not at all. Among those who were following it, however, Gallup found that 11% favored the controversial legislation, 30% opposed it, and 58% did not know enough to have an opinion. 

GUN BAN FOR MENTALLY ILL: There has been much discussion and controversy about the appropriate gun laws for the mentally ill after the tragic Virginia Tech shootings, and last Wednesday the House passed the National Instant Criminal Background Check System Improvement Act by voice vote. This measure will bar those ruled mentally ill from purchasing guns by enforcing stricter screening of the mental health records of potential gun buyers. There was little opposition to the bill, and the National Rifle Association strongly supports it. However, gun-rights advocates say they will remain vigilant in monitoring any possibly unconstitutional amendments that might be added to the bill as the Senate takes it up.