Capital Briefs December 14, 2009

MORE TEA: For the third time in less than a year, the Tea Party Express will hold a string of rallies nationwide early next year. Billed as “Tea Party Express III: Just Vote Them Out,” the latest tour will include the now-familiar bus caravan and will crisscross the country for 20 days from March 17 to April 15.  Beginning with a “Mega Rally” in Searchlight, Nev., (hometown of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid) that will feature a number of celebrities and the Republican hopefuls competing for Reid’s Senate seat next year, the caravan will head Eastward and hold tea parties in several cities. The final destination is Washington, D.C., for what could be the biggest Tea Party yet on Tax Day (April 15).  

WHERE DID THAT STIMULUS DOUGH GO?  That’s what four Republican House members were wondering last week. Amid news reports that former Hillary Clinton pollster Mark Penn received $6 million in stimulus money and preserved three jobs, the four lawmakers demanded an audit of the full $787 billion stimulus package. Under the National Commission on American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, a bipartisan commission would be created to investigate precisely how the stimulus money has been spent so far and how many jobs have been created. As one of the sponsors, Rep. Jeff Miller (R.-Fla.) told reporters, “In my home state of Florida, 52 jobs were created in the 34th Congressional District, according to the And 46 jobs were created in District 00. Those districts simply don’t exist. How can the administration expect us to trust their dubious jobs-created numbers when they can’t even manage their own website?” Along with Miller, the co-sponsors of the audit measure are Republican Representatives Joe Wilson (S.C.), Mark Souder (Ind.), and Jack Kingston (Ga.).

ANOTHER DEMO BAIL-OUT: On the heels of recent retirement announcements by Democratic Representatives Dennis Moore (Kan.) and John Tanner (Tenn.), six-term Rep. Brian Baird of Washington State last week announced that he is also stepping down in 2010. In explaining his decision, the 53-year-old Baird, whose Vancouver-based 3rd District is now considered very competitive, mentioned his four-year-old twin sons and the now-predictable desire to “spend the time I need with my family” that most retiring politicians cite. Baird’s surprise exit has fueled even more speculation that additional House Democrats will “bail” in 2010 and will make their plans known in December and January. As National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (Tex.) said after Baird’s announcement: “It is clear that members of the majority are feeling the ground shaking beneath them. Facing an angry and frustrated electorate, Democrats are quickly realizing it’s time to throw in the towel.” (For more on Washington State, see “Politics”.)

FAMILY FEUD OVER AFGHANISTANMassachusetts Democrats last week nominated State Atty. Gen. Martha Coakley for the seat of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D.-Mass.), but one fact barely mentioned by the national press was that Coakley and all three of her primary opponents were vigorous opponents of the President’s troop deployment to Afghanistan. When this was pointed out to White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs — along with the fact that both major Democratic hopefuls for the Senate in Ohio oppose Obama on Afghanistan — the President’s top spokesman simply replied, “I think the President would be the first to tell you that people can look at the situation and come to different conclusions on both the Democratic and Republican front.”  

WATCH PETRAEUS IN MAY: The announcement last week that Gen. David Petraeus will be presented with the 2010 Irving Kristol Award by the American Enterprise Institute next May has fueled speculation that the head of U.S. Central Command may use the occasion to announce his retirement — and possibly begin a presidential bid in 2012. Petraeus-watchers note that President Obama is almost certain not to move the four-star general up to the Army chief of staff position or to that of Supreme Commander of NATO and thus there is no further command to which Petraeus can go. Petraeus, whose political affiliation is unknown and who admitted last week that he hadn’t voted in many years, will also deliver the Kristol lecture when he accepts the award in five months.  

MCCONNELL UNDER FIRE:  As the Senate moved closer to passing a radical healthcare reform last week, the lawmaker Republicans have long viewed as key to thwarting it came under some fire from the right. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) was criticized by Rush Limbaugh for not doing enough to stop the proposal because he was allowing debate and votes on amendments. “I don’t know if adding amendments is a [strategy] to bollix it up and slow it down. But I disagree,” Limbaugh told listeners on his nationally syndicated radio program last week. “They just need to say no. There is nothing wrong with saying no to this.” Limbaugh’s salvo came on the heels of a similar blast from Gun Owners of America, which sent an e-mail to its Kentucky members recalling times McConnell failed to stop liberal legislation in the past and accusing him of aiding “Obamacare legislation.” Several senators have spoken out backing McConnell’s approach, while Sen. Jim Inhofe (R.-Okla.), told The Hill newspaper:  “We all have different feelings about this. I would have preferred, and the leadership decided otherwise, to handle it in a way of not making [the bill] any better by introducing amendments that might make it better.”