ENPR: Week of June 27, 2007

June 27, 2007
Washington, DC
Vol. 42, No. 13b


  1. Although the Senate, as expected, voted Tuesday to bring back the immigration reform bill, the consensus is that the cloture vote on the bill will fail Thursday. Even if it succeeds and the bill actually passes the Senate, there appears little chance of its passing the House (with opposition there on both sides of the aisle, especially among Republicans). Nobody will succeed politically as a result of the bill’s defeat, but the biggest loser will be the divided Republican Party.
  2. The Senate debate on immigration was carried on simultaneously with a bizarre debate on a bill demanded by organized labor to eliminate the mandatory secret ballot in union representation elections. There was never any chance that the House-passed bill would get the 60 votes necessary for cloture in the Senate, but the AFL- CIO insisted on it anyway. It was a truly bad show for the Democrats, as cloture failed 51 to 48.
  3. The outlook for the Republican presidential nomination increasingly looks like a shoot-out between former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. The nominal front-runner, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, suffered a terrible week last week, and the previously presumed establishment candidate, Arizona Sen. John McCain, is fading badly.
  4. The conventional wisdom that New York Sen. Hillary Clinton is the sure Democratic nominee derives in no small part from the overwhelming support for her from Washington notables. But her high negatives in the polls should not be underestimated, and she could slip in early primaries.


Moving Left: When President Bush took office in 2001 after a close election, pundits — most of them coming from a center-left background — immediately accused him of going too far to the right when he began enacting his agenda. The same cries were heard when Republicans began control of Congress in 1995. Congress was misreading its mandate, they said, and moving too far to the right.

  1. No one is giving this Congress similar treatment, but they should. This Congress has misread its mandate, and its leaders are moving much too far to the left. Congress’ record-low 14 percent approval rating is significant, and much of the disaffection comes from the political center.
  2. After being elected in order to do something about Iraq and to stem corruption, the Democratic Congress has shown itself corrupt like its predecessor, and it has also capitulated to the President on Iraq. The recent earmark saga, in which Democrats attempted to adopt rules even more opaque than the Republicans before them, comes together with the indictment of Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) and an endless stream of new accusations against Rep. Jack Murtha (D-Pa.) for using his position as an appropriations “cardinal” to build a base of political money and power in Pennsylvania.
  3. In the meantime, Democrats pursue an agenda hostile to business, which is likely to diminish value for nearly 100 million small shareholders, and supportive of much larger government. The hearings on the Securities and Exchange Commission called by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) have as their aim the expansion of shareholder lawsuits against corporate management. This could seriously hurt the tiny portfolio of the average small stock owner saving for retirement. Likewise, plans to raise taxes on hedge fund managers will definitely affect the price of equities, slamming small investors. Democratic plans to raise taxes on private equity will keep small investors out of that market, or else it will slam them with increased costs, which will be passed along.
  4. Plans to punish oil companies and discourage new oil and natural gas drilling will result in higher gas prices that persist for a longer duration. Mandates for a variety of alternative energy sources will result in higher electricity prices. The failed union card-check rules would have been devastating for many businesses. Democrats hope to help union bosses regain influence by cutting the Labor Department funds used to enforce disclosure of how unions use membership dues by 20 percent.
  5. Also on tap are plans that would put 71 percent of all children on government medical care (see below), and a plan to regulate talk radio in order to purge or diminish the influence of conservative hosts.
  6. Republicans should have little difficulty making the argument that this is not what the American people sought to do when they threw them out in 2006. Republicans remain on their heels at the moment, but passage of some serious left-wing legislation may be just the thing to scare voters and breathe some life into GOP 2008 congressional campaigns.

Universal Health Care: There is no need to wait until a new President is elected next year for the great national health care debate. It is underway right now, disguised as a routine extension of a state health care program for poor children — SCHIP. In fact, this proposal is the thin edge of the wedge to achieve the longtime goal of government-supplied universal health insurance and the suffocation of the private system.

  1. The Senate Finance Committee was scheduled to mark up tommorrow, but disagreement over the size of the program and how to pay for it has forced postponement. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) would triple SCHIP’s current five-year cost of $25 billion to a level of $75 billion. That would grant federal largesse to an estimated 71 percent of all American children. Children in families making as much as $82,000 a year would become eligible, with states also continuing present coverage of adults under SCHIP, which is currently allowed in 14 states.
  2. Democrats here find themselves constrained by their own “PAYGO” rules, because they must find the money to fund the expanded program. Senators of both parties want to raise tobacco taxes, but that well is not bottomless — existing taxes have already reduced cigarette smoking. House Democrats, led by Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.), want to take money from private elements of Medicare instituted by the Bush Administration.
  3. A principal sponsor of the $75 billion program is Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), whose sweeping “HillaryCare” failed in 1994. The then-First Lady miniaturized her goals by limiting coverage to poor children in the SCHIP program, and Republicans, led by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) in collaboration with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), accepted SCHIP as a fall-back position at a beginning outlay of $4 billion a year. It was the bargaining chip given President Bill Clinton (D) in return for his signing the Deficit Reduction Act of 1997.
  4. SCHIP over the past decade has been a beloved program whose faults were overlooked, much like those of the Head Start school program. The federal government has consistently granted waivers to permit 14 states to cover adults under SCHIP, which now cost $5 billion a year. Minnesota led the way with 92 percent of money spent under the program going to adults.
  5. The massive expansion of SCHIP fulfills Clinton’s promise of “step by step” advancement toward universal health care. Her proposal to extend SCHIP to families at 400 percent of poverty (or $82,000 annually) has the cooperation of Hatch once again and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the Finance Committee’s ranking Republican. The Republicans want a mere $30-billion increase, compared with Rockefeller’s $50 billion, and that relatively minor dispute caused the postponement of the markup.
  6. Stark’s scheme of slashing the popular private Medicare program in order to pay for an expanded SCHIP would be a major step toward a government monopoly over all health insurance. Will children become accustomed to Washington’s taking care of them? Will adults drop their children’s private insurance? President George W. Bush may soon face the decision of whether or not to veto going into the election year.

President 2008

McCain: Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) receives more bad news with a new poll showing him at 8 percent in Nevada, now an early state. But McCain may be suffering there in particular because of his staunch support for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository.

McCain has sent a plea for funds to previous contributors who have not reached their campaign limit. “I took a risk by sending you first-class postage stamps with this air gram letter,” McCain began his appeal. “But I had no other choice, because I urgently need your help before June 30.” He said “the media and our opponents are eagerly awaiting” the quarterly campaign finance report “so they can take the measure of our campaign.”

Asserting he needs to raise $700,000 in the last week of June, McCain asked supporters to “please rush a contribution for $400, $300 or $200 to my campaign today to help keep building unstoppable momentum.”

Obama: Chicago lawyer-businessman William Daley, a former secretary of Commerce and a leading supporter of Barack Obama‘s Democratic presidential campaign, used a month-long business trip to Asia to address the Illinois senator’s supporters in China. When Daley met Obama backers in Shanghai and Beijing, they told him they could raise a half-million dollars for the senator’s campaign.

The overseas Democrats were so enthusiastic about their party’s prospects next year that Daley tried to restrain them. The national chairman of Al Gore‘s nearly successful 2000 candidacy, Daley said he expects another close presidential race in 2008.

Senate 2008

Louisiana: Republicans view the seat of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) as their best pickup opportunity. It could be a sign of how bad their Senate prospects look in 2008, but it is not necessarily hopeless. Republicans were already on the upswing here before Hurricane Katrina, and at the local level, the villains in the story of Katrina were nearly all Democrats. The election of 2007 could be promising for Republicans at the state level.

If Rep. Bobby Jindal (R) wins the race for governor this fall — and indications are that he will — then the governor and one senator will be Republicans. Of course part of the thinking, voiced publicly by no one, is that the state’s black population in New Orleans largely disappeared with Hurricane Katrina, significantly diminishing the base vote for Landrieu.

There is no obvious GOP candidate ready to step forward. White House advisor Karl Rove has been urging State Treasurer John N. Kennedy (D) to switch parties and run against Landrieu. Kennedy, who took 15 percent in the four-way 2004 Senate race, worked in Republican administrations for years. Moreover, party-switching is extremely common in Louisiana — three of the state’s five current Republican congressmen are former Democrats, as was former Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) and former Gov. Mike Foster (R) — so the idea is not as far-fetched as it might sound.

No one will be worrying too much about this race until after the governor’s race is over.

Montana: State House Minority Leader Michael Lange (R) has become known for his videotaped tirade against “dictator” Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D), in which he tells the Republican caucus that the governor can “stick it up your ass.” This YouTube speech, profanity and all, is a principled attack on the governor that makes Lange appear a sympathetic character. It would probably work in Lange’s favor were he to run for the Senate, but he stands little if any chance against Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D). Baucus eviscerated his minor-league opponent, state Sen. Mike Taylor (R), in 2002, and Democrats have now seized nearly all of the state’s levers of power.

New Mexico: Democrats want to make a real run at Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), and they hope they can use to that end allegations that he tried to improperly influence a voter-fraud investigation. Domenici will not be easy to beat, however. He handily won re-election over Gloria Tristani (D) in 2002 after stating in debate that he would like to “experiment” with Medicare and Social Security.

Democrats may also be hard-pressed to find a candidate who is both capable and willing. There are no indications yet that the state’s Democratic congressman, Tom Udall (D), is interested in leaving his House seat. Democrats are not at all interested in seeing former Atty. Gen. Patricia Madrid (D) run, feeling that she blew it in her 2006 House race. It may be a sign of how unlikely a serious race is here that Democrats discuss Gov. Bill Richardson (D), currently a presidential candidate, as a potential Senate hopeful.

Wyoming: Gov. Dave Freudenthal (D) chose state Sen. John Barrasso (R) to replace the deceased Sen. Craig Thomas (R) temporarily until 2008. As per Wyoming law, Barrasso was the governor’s choice from three names provided by the state’s Republican Party. He was chosen over state Treasurer Cynthia Lummis (R) and lawyer Tom Sansonetti (R). The choice of Barrasso was simple: Lummis had feuded with the governor in his first term, and Sansonetti had numerous vocal detractors in Washington, eager to tie him to the Abramoff scandal by association.

Barrasso, an orthopedic surgeon lost a very close Republican primary race against Sen. Mike Enzi (R) in 1996. He had run as a “pro-choice” candidate at the time, but now calls himself “pro-life.”

Robert D. Novak