Capital Briefs April 6, 2009

MORE AMERICORPS: One of the most-criticized programs of the Clinton Administration, which was maintained under George W. Bush, was significantly expanded last week by Congress. By a vote of 79 to 19 in the Senate and 321 to 105 in the House, Congress approved the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act. The measure, co-sponsored by Kennedy (D.-Mass.) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R.-Utah), triples the funding of the make-work AmeriCorps program, adding $5.7 billion over the next five years. One of the few GOP lawmakers to speak out against increased AmeriCorps funding was Sen. Jim DeMint (R.-S.C.), who warned that the $5.7 billion over five years actually “means $10 billion over a ten-year period.” DeMint contrasted AmeriCorps, which spawned the phrase “paid volunteers,” with proven charities he has volunteered for such as the United Way and denounced the increased funding as “a huge, well-intended mistake we are making.”

That’s what the betting among Florida Republicans is now. With Sen. Mel Martinez (R.-Fla.) stepping down after one term, signs are growing strong that Republican Gov. Charlie Crist will run for that seat rather than seek a second term in the statehouse. Most polls show the popular Crist an easy winner over any Democrat, but conservatives are wary of having Crist in the national spotlight. Last year, Crist emerged as a champion of environmentalists on the climate-control issue and, at the National Governors Association meeting this year, he was one of the first GOP governors to weigh in for Barack Obama’s $787 billion stimulus package. Recalling how conservatives jeered Martinez as “Amnesty Mel” over his stand on illegal immigration, one prominent Florida Republican who requested anonymity told HUMAN EVENTS: “You guys will be wishing you had [Martinez] back after a year of Charlie in the Senate!”  

FRANKEN ADVANCES: After seven weeks, 19,181 pages of filings, 1,717 exhibits and testimony from 142 witnesses, Al Franken moved a step closer last week to taking the hotly contested Minnesota Senate seat from Republican Norm Coleman. A three-judge panel in Minnesota ruled that, at most, 400 uncounted ballots be turned over to the secretary of state April 6 for counting rather than the 1,360 additional ballots that the Coleman campaign requested. With Coleman trailing Democrat Franken by 225 votes in the latest count, it now appears extremely difficult for the former Republican senator to make up that lead with only 400 votes to be counted. Shortly after the ruling, Coleman’s lawyer Ben Ginsberg told reporters that unless the panel of judges doesn’t reverse its decision, “it will give us no choice but to appeal that order to the Minnesota Supreme Court.” The appeal to the state’s high court must come within ten days of the counting of the 400 ballots.  

CAP AND TAX: Branding the so-called “cap and trade” legislation nothing more than “a huge hidden tax and welfare transfer, largely to China and India,” Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R.-Wis.) last week vowed to wage all-out war against the environmental measure proposed by Democratic Representatives Ed Markey (Mass.) and Henry Waxman (Calif.). “Their plan should be called ‘cap and tax,’ ” Sensenbrenner told HUMAN EVENTS, pointing out that the Waxman-Markey bill “contains no numbers, so a consumer can’t figure out his or her increase in the cost of electricity, oil and heating, and gas at the pump.” He explained that in order to cooperate with the legislation that deals with “climate change,” China and India will have to have compensation equivalent to 1% of the entire world’s Gross Domestic Product. “That comes to about an additional $1,900 in taxes every year for every American,” said Sensenbrenner, who pointed out that this would be raised through “hidden taxes” on electricity and gasoline. “The sooner we have those numbers, the sooner ‘cap and’ tax’ can be killed.”

EFCA LIVES: Even though Sen. Arlen Specter (R.-Pa.) changed his position from support to opposition and four Democrats have so far weighed in against it, the Big Labor-backed Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) apparently lives on. Last week, actor Martin Sheen and many of the cast of the now-concluded “West Wing” television series were on Capitol Hill to lobby for the measure containing the controversial “card-check” provision. “And the Progressive Caucus used the ‘special orders’ part of the House session just to talk about EFCA,” Rep. Glenn Thompson (R.-Pa.) told HUMAN EVENTS Political Editor John Gizzi, “They’re not giving up by a long shot.” Thompson has introduced the competing Secret Ballot Protection Act to ensure continued use of the secret ballot in union elections, which “card check” would eliminate.

THE NEXT BIG LOBBYING SCANDAL? Much like the FBI probe of former lobbyist Jack Abramoff that brought down several Republican House members in ’06 and ’08, there was guessing in Washington that the FBI raids on the home and office of high-rolling lobbyist Paul Magliocchetti could result in the fall of several Democratic lawmakers. Magliocchetti, a protégé of powerful Rep. John P. Murtha (D.-Penn.), closed his company PMA Group last week after the FBI raids reportedly focused on whether the lobbyist violated the gift bans for members of Congress as well as campaign finance laws. (Campaign finance reports show that $1.5 million was donated by Magliocchetti’s family). Magliocchetti and PMA, known for lavish entertaining of members of Congress and their staffs at tony restaurants in Washington, have lobbied for “earmarks for more than $300 million in the military spending bill passed last year alone.” A spokesman for Murtha told the New York Times the congressman “had done nothing wrong and was not involved in the investigation.”