Capital Briefs June 22, 2009

MODERATES MEET ON HEALTH-CARE: As stories proliferate that single-payer health care is gaining support on both sides of Capitol Hill and conservatives dig in their heels for a fight, moderates from both parties in the House began holding private meetings last week to try to come up with some fresh health-care plan. The Hill reported that members of the 34-member moderate GOP “Tuesday Group,” the New Democrat Coalition, and the 52-member “Blue Dog Coalition” are holding private meetings to advance some form of compromise on health care. Already the Tuesday Group has come up with a plan that includes the formation of privately owned insurance cooperatives, but does not contain a government-run public option that liberal Democrats say is critical to any health-care plan. As to precisely which Democrats were meeting with the Tuesday Group, Rep. Pat Tiberi (R.-Ohio), and a Tuesday member, told The Hill he would not “throw [Blue Dogs] under the bus” by revealing their names and inviting retaliation by House Democratic leaders.

THUNE AFTER ENSIGN?  That was the word on the Senate side of Capitol Hill last week. In the wake of the sensational admission by Sen. John Ensign (R.-Nev.) that he had an extramarital affair with a former campaign staffer and his resignation as chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee, GOP eyes focused on Sen. John Thune (S.D.) to succeed him. The conservative Thune, best-known for unseating then-Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle in 2004, was reportedly working the phones hours after Ensign’s exodus to let colleagues know of his interest in the fourth-ranking position in the Senate GOP hierarchy. At week’s end, the widespread belief on Capitol Hill was that Ensign would not be resigning his Senate seat.

IT’S KLINE FOR ED AND LABOR: House Republicans last week elected Minnesota Rep. John Kline as their new ranking member on the House Education and Labor Committee. Kline (lifetime American Conservative Union rating 93%) beat out fellow conservative Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), who currently holds the post of Conference vice-chairman, the No. 4 position among House Republicans. Kline succeeds Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R.-Calif.), who stepped down from the top spot on Education and Labor two weeks ago after being selected to replace Rep. John McHugh (R-N.Y.), now U.S. Army secretary-designate, as ranking GOP member on the House Armed Services Committee.  

SAME DAY VOTING IN D.C.: Although a proposal to give the District of Columbia a voting U.S. House member appears dead in this Congress, at least for the summer, the liberal Democrats who dominated the government of the Nation’s Capital are determined to make it easier for almost anybody to vote. Last week, Councilwoman Mary Cheh introduced a measure, expected to pass easily, to initiate election-day registration, place no restrictions at all on early and absentee voting and grant voting rights to 17-year-olds — meaning voters a year younger than the constitutional minimum for presidential elections will be casting ballots in the District. The move that Cheh says would “really make us a model jurisdiction for voter participation” comes nine months after the September primary in which a computer error led to thousands of phantom ballots that at first resulted in more votes being counted that were actually cast.  

TEAM OBAMA LOVES THE ‘GRAY LADY’:  At a time when the New York Times is on thin ice financially and may even be purchased by Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, already a minority stockholder, the publication known throughout the Fourth Estate as the “gray lady” still has a notable enthusiast: Barack Obama. According to the Capitol Hill publication Politico, the President known for seeking out bloggers and on-line journalists to spread his message is nevertheless an avid reader of the Times and really cares what it has to say. “Even routine news stories buried deep inside the A-section of the Times quote high-level sources speaking both on and off the record,” noted Politico, which also pointed out how senior Obama Administration officials once posed for Times Sunday Magazine portraits and just last week opened their White House doors for the writers of another piece in the same publication on health care. The Times has also had “more unsolicited offers for participation from the Obama people in 45 days” than during George W. Bush’s two terms, Editorial Page Editor Andrew Rosenthal told Politico.


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