Capital Briefs July 27, 2009

NRA WILL REMEMBER SOTOMAYOR VOTE: To the surprise of few, the National Rifle Association last week came out against the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court — a little too late, some skeptics say, as the New York jurist appears to be sailing toward confirmation. But taking it one step further, the NRA also announced that it would score the votes of senators on President Obama’s first High Court nominee as part of their annual ratings of lawmakers. This may have the most impact on the Democratic senator so far considered the lone possibility of voting no, Nebraska’s Ben Nelson. In his latest example of irking conservatives, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R.-S.C.) also announced last week he would support Sotomayor. But the two top Republicans in the Senate, Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.), both announced their opposition to the nominee. The American Conservative Union also plans to use the vote in its Senate ratings.  

SPECTER CASTS RISKY VOTE: Facing a very difficult re-election challenge in a state with an extremely high number of gun owners, Pennsylvania’s newly minted Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter shocked politicos by reversing his long-standing pro-2nd Amendment stance and opposing the Thune Amendment (S.B. 1618) that would have permitted Pennsylvanians who are licensed to carry lawfully concealed firearms to take them across state lines, while respecting the laws of the host state. The conceal-and-carry measure, which fell two votes short of the required 60 votes needed to end cloture, had the support of the Keystone State’s other Democratic Senator, Bob Casey, Jr. and of Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (Nev.). Backed by the National Rifle Association in his last re-election bid, Specter opposed the original ban on semiautomatic weapons in 1993 and its extension in 2004, and voted against waiting periods for hand-gun purchases. Just 11 days before his party switch, Specter again voiced his opposition to the ban on semi-automatic weapons. Specter’s switch on guns comes as polls show him in a tight political squeeze. According to a just-completed Quinnipiac Poll of likely Pennsylvania voters, Democrat Specter barely edges certain GOP nominee Pat Toomey by a tight 45% to 44%. Six years ago, then-Republican Specter narrowly defeated stalwart conservative Rep. Toomey in the GOP primary. The same survey showed that by 49% to 40%, voters statewide don’t think the 79-year-old Specter deserves re-election. Specter also faces a strong primary challenge from two-term Democratic Rep. Joseph Sestak, who, according to Quinnipiac, trails Toomey among voters statewide by 39% to 35%.  

WHAT’S WITH STIMULUS MONEY IN CALIFORNIA? Although only a fraction of the $787 billion fiscal stimulus money has been spent so far since Congress passed it in February, there is no evidence now of any of the 4 million jobs that President Obama said the package would “save or create.” In California, with 11.5% unemployment, “it has done little more than prevent layoffs of state workers,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Of the $2.6 billion awarded to California highway projects, $1.6 billion was for 383 projects that have been approved by the federal government and only 49 of those, worth nearly $1 billion, were “on the street,” or put out to contract, California Transportation Director Will Kempton told the Chronicle last week. Supposedly, another 24 projects worth $745 billion will be awarded by the end of the summer. About one-fourth of the stimulus money will be out the door by the end of the year, and the bulk of it will arrive in 2010.  

BAUCUS BUCKS: With the Senate Finance Committee increasingly assuming the starring role in the ongoing drama on health-care reform, Chairman Max Baucus (Mont.) has become the leading Senate recipient of contributions from hospitals, insurers, and other similar groups that have an interest in the outcome. “Health-related companies and their employees gave Baucus’s political committees nearly $1.5 million in 2007 and 2008, when he began holding hearings and making preparations for this year’s reform debate,” reported the Washington Post.  Baucus, who is not up for re-election until 2012, also sponsors a fly-fishing and golfing weekend for a minimum donation of $2,500 and hosts “Camp Baucus,” which is billed as “a trip for the whole family.” (The Post did report that Baucus began refusing contributions from health-care PACs after June 1).  

‘OBAMACARE:’ As the President prepared for his primetime sales-pitch press conference last week and debate raged on Capitol Hill over the comprehensive health care package he wants enacted, polls showed the public is turning increasingly against Obama on this issue. Along with the Washington Post/ABC News poll, the latest Rasmussen Poll showed 44% of American voters were at least somewhat in favor of the reform effort, but 53% opposed. Two weeks ago, support for health care reform was 46% and in late June it was 50%, according to Rasmussen. The latest CNN Poll of Polls showed 47% of voters nationwide approved of Obama’s handling of the health care issue and 44% disapproved. CNN Polling Director Keating Holland concluded that “Obama remains more popular than most of his policies, including health care.”


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