Capital Briefs: March 17-21

MIXED BAG AT RNC: As expected, John McCain is beginning to put his imprint on the Republican National Committee, and it is a mixed bag for conservatives. All signs are that the GOP nominee-to-be will leave National Chairman Mike Duncan, who is not idealogical, in place. Last week, the McCain campaign tapped well-known Washington lawyer-lobbyist Frank Donatelli as deputy chairman of the RNC, serving as liaison between the committee and the presidential headquarters. A longtime conservative activist who got his start in the conservative Young Americans for Freedom, Donatelli worked for Ronald Reagan on his 1976 and ’80 presidential campaigns and then served on the Reagan White House staff. The new RNC deputy chairman also has some ties to more moderate GOPers, having served as campaign manager for James A. Baker in the future secretary of State’s bid for attorney general of Texas in 1978. McCain’s two other choices for national campaign roles drew far less applause on the right, however. Carly Fiorina, onetime CEO of Hewlett-Packard, was named to the head the “Victory ’08” committee to oversee voter turnout for the full GOP ticket. As nationally syndicated columnist Robert Novak has noted, it is rather unusual to appoint someone to coordinate efforts for the national GOP ticket who has not contributed to a Republican candidate or a national campaign committee in eight years. Even more controversial was McCain’s choice for finance chairman of the “Victory ’08” group, New Jersey industrialist Lewis Eisenberg. A longtime supporter of pro-choice causes and candidates, Eisenberg—a top fund-raiser in McCain’s ’08 primary campaign—was vigorously opposed by pro-lifers and other cultural conservatives when the Bush White House named him as finance chairman of the RNC.

HERGER VS. CAMP FOR WAYS AND MEANS: With Rep. Jim McCrery (R.-La.) retiring from Congress this year, two conservative lawmakers last week began insider campaigns to succeed him as ranking Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee. Eleven-term Rep. Wally Herger (Calif.) and nine-termer Dave Camp (Mich.) will compete for the top minority slot on the tax-writing panel when the 27-member House Republican Steering Committee picks ranking members after the November elections. There are few differences between Herger and Camp, both of whom support making the Bush tax cuts permanent, repealing the estate tax and taking a fresh look at reforming entitlements, including Medicare and Social Security.

AFL-CIO AT IT AGAIN: As they have every election year since their Committee on Political Education (COPE) was started back in 1944, the AFL-CIO last week launched its campaign to paint the Republican nominee for President as “anti-worker.” In announcing its “McCain Revealed” effort, Big Labor’s central organization said it will spend $53 million on what the Wall Street Journal dubbed “one of the oldest strategies in the political playbook: Define your opponent before your opponent defines himself.” The Journal added that “McCain Revealed” would “paint McCain as anti-worker and tie him to the economic policies of President Bush.”

REAGAN AT 100: It may be difficult for many Americans to believe, but Feb. 6, 2011, will mark the 100th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s birth. Rep. Elton Gallegly (R.-Calif.) wants to commemorate the occasion and recently introduced HR 5235 to create a Reagan Centennial Commission. Modeled after similar commissions that honored Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Abraham Lincoln, the Reagan Commission would oversee celebrations throughout the country hailing the life and achievements of the 40th President. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) is promoting the measure in the Senate.

NEW YORK’S NEW GOV’S NEW IDEAS: As he prepared to become the new governor of New York last week, Democrat David Paterson was widely described in the press as an arch-liberal and even more liberal than predecessor Eliot Spitzer. He is foursquare against the death penalty and, as the Wall Street Journal noted, “appeared to endorse a proposal to let legal residents who were non-citizens have the right to vote. Even pro-immigrant Mayor Mike Bloomberg refused to join that crusade, asking: ‘If voting is given to everybody, what’s the point of becoming a citizen?’” But the Journal also noted that Paterson goes against the grain of liberalism in being a passionate booster of school choice. “[Paterson] has even spoken at two conferences held by the Alliance for School Choice,” observed the Journal. “At one, he pulled off the rare feat of quoting both Martin Luther King, Jr. and individualistic philosopher Ayn Rand approvingly in the same speech.”

LOUISIANA’S NEW GOV’S NEW IDEAS: Less than a month after becoming Louisiana’s governor, Bobby Jindal demonstrated why many conservatives have already started to boom him to be John McCain’s running mate. In calling a special 20-day session of the legislature, Jindal asked lawmakers to consider ending major taxes on business and to enact a 50% tuition deduction for families with children in private schools. Among the items in the Jindal agenda are accelerating elimination of several taxes, including the corporate franchise tax on borrowed capital, the state sales tax on manufacturing machinery and equipment and the 1% state sales tax on business utilities. Jindal even went a step further on breaks for non-public education, asking the legislature to give tax deductions for “qualified educational expenses” for parents of homeschooled children.

CHENEY ON STAR WARS: One of the memorable quotes in Washington last week came from Dick Cheney in his address to the Heritage Foundation dinner to mark the 25th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s nationally televised “Star Wars” speech (March 23, 1983) that launched the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). “An invitation from the Heritage Foundation obviously is very special,” the Vice President told the audience, “only more so when it provides an opportunity to talk about Ronald Reagan’s visionary Strategic Defense Initiative. I’m sure [Heritage President] Ed Feulner thought, well, if we’re going to talk about Star Wars, we might as well invite Darth Vader.”

MCCAIN-ROMNEY IN ’08?  No one knows what John McCain is thinking about a running mate, but being No. 2 is apparently fine as far as Mitt Romney is concerned.  In his first interview since leaving the presidential race, the former Massachusetts governor said he would be “honored” to serve as the vice presidential candidate with the Arizonan.  Regarding some of his harsh exchanges with McCain during their televised debates, Romney said on Fox News’s “Hannity and Colmes”:  “There really are no hard feelings,” and “There are things I wish he would not have said, but he was successful, and I have to recognize that now is the time for us to come together and support his candidacy.” Many of the former top fund-raisers for Romney have since gotten aboard the McCain bandwagon. Michigan industrialist John Rakolta, Sr., for example, who headed up Romney’s finance team in that state, is now an enthusiastic McCain fund-raiser.