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Capital Briefs: February 4-8

MCCAIN UP IN SOUTH: Within 48 hours of his victory in the Florida Republican primary, John McCain had overtaken Mike Huckabee in two key Southern states holding primaries on Super Tuesday, February 5. In Georgia, a recently completed Insider Advantage/Majority Opinion poll showed McCain leading Huckabee 33% to 25%, with Mitt Romney third at 18%. The same survey in Tennessee showed McCain with 35% and Huckabee tied with Romney at 24% each. In Alabama, however, Huckabee was still tied with McCain — 27% each — and Romney was at 15%.

HUCK’S OTHER OPTION: Mike Huckabee watchers point out that if the former Arkansas governor loses badly on Super Tuesday, he will in all likelihood close the curtain on his presidential campaign. But he also has another, little-discussed option, thanks to the political calendar in his home state: He has until March 10 to file for the Republican nomination against Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor. There are no other heavyweight GOP contenders for the Senate, and Huckabee would be a cinch for nomination against one-termer Pryor. “And all of Arkansas is proud of Mike for the campaign he has run,” a top state Republican told Human Events, “With the name recognition and new contributors he has from the presidential race, Mike would be at least even money in the general election.”

DEMO RACE EVEN TIGHTER: That’s what the Gallup Poll shows. In a just-completed survey of Democrats nationwide, it was clear that the recent widespread criticism of Bill Clinton’s campaign trail invective and the big loss in the South Carolina primary have taken their toll on Hillary Clinton. She now leads Barack Obama by just a 43%-to-39% margin—the closest the two top Democratic contenders have been since Gallup began its surveys of Democrats’ presidential favorites last year.

NOW 29 AND COUNTING: Last fall, National Republican Congressional Committee operating head Pete Kirkham had confidently predicted that the number of Republican retirees from the House would not hit the 22 who stepped down in ’06. But last week, the number of GOP “no goes” reached 29, as no fewer than five Republican House members announced they would not run for re-election in ’08: Tom Davis (Va.), Dave Weldon (Fla.), Kenny Hulshof (Mo.), Jim Walsh (N.Y.) and Ron Lewis (Ky.). The 29 retirees so far include Republican lawmakers who have resigned, such as former Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (Ill.) and Louisiana Representatives Bobby Jindal (who quit to become governor) and Richard Baker (La.), who is leaving to take a lucrative private-sector job. Sources on Capitol Hill say the exodus among House Republicans is not likely to stop there and the next lawmaker who will say he is not running will probably be Rep. Vern Ehlers (R.-Mich.), who has so far done almost no fund-raising for ’08.

FISA FIGHT GOES ON: As we go to press, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) debate is going down to the wire. In August, amendments to FISA were enacted to make essential repairs to the Carter-era law necessitated by a secret decision of the FISA court last spring. But the August amendments expired last Friday. The House Democrats—having passed a bill the President promised to veto—were scheduled to go on retreat the balance of the week, so before they departed Tuesday, they passed a two-week extension of the August law. Negotiations continued in the Senate over the Senate Intelligence Committee bill passed in October on an 18-to-two bipartisan committee vote.
Negotiations have been stymied by the inability of Majority Leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.) to gather enough support from dug-in liberals opposed to the committee bill’s grant of civil immunity to telecommunications companies and insisting on other limitations on intelligence agencies’ ability to gather electronic intelligence. At this point, GOP members and staff are optimistic that a deal that both passes the two-week extension and limits debate on the larger bill on the Senate floor can be reached. If it isn’t, the two-week extension will be passed and the Senate will remain paralyzed for at least the next two weeks while liberal amendments to FISA are thrashed out.

NEXT STAGE FOR STIMULUS: In what has been amazingly fast action by Congress—albeit very predictable in an election year when handing out money is involved—following action earlier in the House, the Senate Finance Committee last week approved an economic stimulus package that includes numerous financial handouts: $500 and $1,000 rebates for millions of taxpayers, tax breaks for selected businesses and $5.6 billion in energy incentives. The vote on the measure, which has a $157-billion price tag and was the subject of a vigorous lobbying campaign by the American Association of Retired Persons, was 14 to seven in the Finance Committee, with all the Democrats and three Republicans supporting it and seven GOP members against it. President Bush had urged senators to back a package passed earlier by the House. Its cost was only slightly lower—$146 billion.

GREENSPAN REDUX: Even in retirement, Alan Greenspan just can’t keep himself from grabbing headlines. In a series of interviews with the Financial Times last week, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve Board argued that it was not yet clear whether the U.S. was falling into a recession. Arguing that a recession could be forecast by discontinuity in the economic data, Greenspan told the FT, “We are beginning to see discontinuities in the data—for instance, the employment report and the Philadelphia Fed survey.” He quickly added, however, that “the hard data that we are in recession is by no means conclusive.” Still deploying his signature “Fedspeak,” Greenspan went on to say, “The models never forecast recession, because the paramenters are dominated what happens in normal times when the economy is growing. In fear-driven periods, the parameters are quite different from the periods of euphoria.” Greenspan also has emerged in the Republican presidential contest, with front-runner John McCain recently promising that, if elected President, he would name the 81-year-old Greenspan to lead a review of the nation’s tax code—even if the former Fed chairman were dead. “If he’s alive or dead it doesn’t matter. If he’s dead, just prop him up and put some dark glasses on him like, like Weekend at Bernie’s,” McCain joked. “Let’s get the best minds in America together and fix this tax code.”

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