Capital Briefs October 19, 2009

WEXLER OUT OF CONGRESS: After writing a book last year on how proud he was to be a liberal, Rep. Robert Wexler (D.-Fla.) last week became the latest House member to announce he is resigning from office before his term ends. Seven-termer Wexler told reporters that he will quit to become director of the Center for Middle East Peace and Economic Cooperation. Wexler’s 19th District (Boca Raton) is safely Democratic and a special election for his seat is almost sure to be won by a fellow left-wing Democrat such as State Sen. Ted Deutsch or West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel.

GRAHAM’S FOLLY: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R.-S.C.) angered conservatives (again) by writing an op-ed with Democratic Sen. John Kerry (D.-Mass.) to highlight the potential for bipartisan agreement on cap-and-trade legislation. In the piece, which appeared in the New York Times on October 10, Graham and Kerry wrote that they “have found both a framework for climate legislation to pass Congress and the blueprint for a clean-energy future.” Graham later said he supports cap-and-trade, which is an energy tax on fossil fuels, because Kerry in turn agreed to support more nuclear power plants and greater access to offshore oil and gas resources. But, according to Senate Republican staffers, getting more nuclear plants and offshore oil and gas — assuming Kerry even supports those goals — is meaningless if tied to cap-and-trade. “They simply cancel each other out,” said one energy staffer. “Cap-and-trade is designed to lead fossil fuels to extinction. And the Democrats will never support measures to actually make nuclear happen.” This staffer predicted that “Graham will stand alone among Republicans” in supporting Kerry’s cap-and-trade bill, which he introduced September 30, with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D.-Calif.) because “Republicans are not going to cut deals with Kerry and the Democrats so they can get their energy tax.”

A GOP REMINDER: In a “Dear Colleague” letter sent to the press and to House Democrats last week, House Republican Study Committee Chairman Tom Price (R.-Ga.) said that “in light of public assertions that House Republicans have offered no solutions for healthcare reform," he was distributing a directory of healthcare solutions that have been offered by members of the RSC. According to Price, himself a physician, the directory now includes more than 40 bills that have been offered by RSC members this year alone. These range from H.R. 198, a bill by Florida’s Cliff Stearns to allow individuals to take a tax deduction from gross income for health insurance premiums and unreimbursed prescription drug expenses, to TRICARE, the Continuity of Coverage for National Guard and Reserve Families Act, Ohio Rep. Bob Latta’s bill to allow retired National Guard members and reservists with more than 20 years of service to purchase healthcare available to them during their time on active duty.

BIG LABOR SAYS NO ON BAUCUS: “When history calls, history calls,” declared Maine’s Olympia Snowe last week when she became the lone Republican on the Senate Finance Committee to vote for the healthcare measure crafted by Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D.-Mont.). Big Labor doesn’t see it that way, as about 30 unions ran a full-page ad in newspapers across the country October 14 denouncing the Finance Committee bill.  According to Chuck Loveless, legislative director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, unions are upset that the measure lacks a public option and that the bill would tax insurers that provide expensive coverage — the “Cadillac plans” that many union members now receive.  The unions sponsoring the ad include the AFL-CIO and the Communications Workers of America.   

THREE CHAMBER QUITTERS: Early this month, Exelon, Pacific Gas and Electric, PNM Resources, and Nike raised eyebrows in the business community after all four dropped out of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The reason the corporate titans gave for saying “so long”? They all disagree with the Chamber’s position opposing cap-and-trade legislation. Chamber President Tom Donahue insisted that the exodus of the four companies would in no way change his organization’s stand that cap-and-trade legislation would be too costly for business and the additional cost would be passed on to consumers. In denouncing the Chamber for its position and hailing the four, the liberal-leaning Harvard Business Review conceded that Exelon is the nation’s leading nuclear provider and “will benefit from carbon pricing and cap-and-trade.”

RUSHING THE NLRB: Although President Obama formally sent the Senate his three nominations for the five seats on the National Labor Relations Board in July, rumors were rampant on Capitol Hill last week that the three would shortly be rushed through to a vote by the full Senate without any hearings by the Labor Committee. While the Senate has often considered NLRB nominees as a package, there has been some controversy over the past associations of Obama’s two Democratic appointees: Craig Becker, associate general counsel of the Service Employees International Union, and Mark Pearce, a longtime union lawyer whose past clients include Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union Frank Ervolino (who, along with his wife, was indicted for embezzling more than $235,000 in union funds). GOP senators believe they can delay confirmation.