Capital Briefs January 4, 2010

STIMULUS CREATING SCHOOL SHORTFALLS? A little-noticed study released last week by the New York State Comptroller’s office had some very significant news about the federal stimulus money. With the Government Accountability Office reporting that 63% of states are using 50% of their school stimulus money to retain jobs, the New York study found that doing so is going to create a budget shortfall that schools will find even more difficult to deal with when the stimulus money runs out. New York alone will see a $2 billion shortfall after the stimulus ends in 2011-12 and that could drive up what already are some of the nation’s highest local property taxes by another 8%, according to State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. “This isn’t just a New York problem,” DiNapoli told the Associated Press. “Other states across the country will face a similar dilemma if they used stimulus money to plug budget holes instead of paying for one-time expenses.”

WHAT NEXT FOR NEWEST GOP CONGRESSMAN? In a surprise move before Congress recessed for Christmas, freshman Rep. Parker Griffith (D.-Ala.) announced he was switching to the Republican Party. In becoming the first Democratic House member to change to the GOP in five years, the 62-year-old Griffith, himself a physician, cited as his chief reason the “public option” health care measure that barely passed the House. Earlier this year, Griffith had said that he would not vote for Nancy Pelosi for speaker again if he was re-elected and Democrats retained control of the House. But the newly minted GOPer may have more trouble winning over Republicans. In narrowly winning the 5th District seat year, Griffith was repeatedly hit for having made two separate $1,000 donations to Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign and to the re-election kitty of Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (Nev.). Les Phillip, who had already declared for the Republican nomination before Griffith’s switch, said he was staying in the race and sent out a mailing highlighting the incumbent’s “campaign cash to liberal Democrats.”

GOP IN THE MONEY: Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele is certainly one happy man these days, as the RNC ended the year with $10 million in the bank and no debts. “And we have about $1.5 million individual donors nationwide,” RNC Treasurer Randy Pullen told HUMAN EVENTS last week, adding that “the biggest wave of contributions came in to us after Republicans won both races for governor [in Virginia and New Jersey] in November.”

BIG COPENHAGEN COLLAPSE: After more than two years of detailed planning and after a decade of similar conclaves, the United Nations summit on climate change in Copenhagen concluded — or as the Financial Times put it, “collapsed into such a shambles. It is as though no preparatory work was done. Consensus on the most basic issues was lacking. Were countries there to negotiate binding limits on emissions or not? Nobody seemed to know.” In the end, a three-page agreement was reached that commits no country to anything, but is an expression of aims: recognizing the scientific argument for keeping the rise in global temperatures to 2 degrees centigrade and calling on countries to provide $100 billion a year by 2020 in support of poor nations’ efforts to deal with climate change.

RADANOVICH IS HOUSE GOP’S THIRTEENTH: Three days before the New Year began, Rep. George Radanovich (R.-Calif.) stunned observers from California to Washington by announcing he would not seek re-election to the Central California seat he has held without difficulty since 1992. Conservative GOPer Radanovich explained to HUMAN EVENTS’ Political Editor John Gizzi that his wife Ethie was battling ovarian cancer and “she is my most urgent priority.” Radanovich also signaled that he will endorse fellow conservative State Sen. Jeff Denham in the Republican primary next June for the nomination to succeed him. Radanovich is the thirteenth Republican in the House to announce he will be leaving Congress in 2010. Ten Democrats have said they are not seeking re-election to the House.  

: Before leaving for the Christmas break, Republican Senators Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and Jim DeMint (S.C.) did manage to block the appointment of conferees to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate versions of “Obamacare.” It takes three motions to send the bill to conference and Congressional Democrats may not even attempt to appoint conferees after Congress reconvenes in mid-January. More likely, substantial time will have to be devoted to actually getting the Senate version of Obamacare over to the House in an attempt to pass the bill without using a conference committee. This would be what Capitol Hill hands call a “ping pong” strategy: To begin with, the House can either take up, amend and pass the Senate version, or the House can simply pass the Senate version and send it on to the President for signature. The Senate can do the same with the House bill: pass it (unlikely, because of disputes over the public option and pro-life language it contains) or amend it and send it back to the House. As this sending of amended versions back and forth across Capitol Hill goes on for several times, it is thought the bill could well lose steam and die.