Capital Briefs January 18, 2010

REID ON THE ROPES: Although Democratic Sen. Harry Reid’s ’08 remarks about Barack Obama’s being electable because he “doesn’t have a Negro dialect” may have been forgiven by the President, a Las Vegas Review-Journal poll showed the majority leader with the highest “unfavorable” rating since the newspaper began conducting surveys for the 2010 Senate election. A record 52% of likely Nevada voters had an unfavorable opinion of Reid, with 33% viewing him favorably, and another 15% saying they are neutral. The Review Journal poll also showed the three leading Republican candidates all defeating four-termer Reid: Former State GOP Chairman Sue Lowden beats him by 50% to 40%, businessman Danny Tarkanian by 49% to 41% and former state legislator Sharron Angle 45% to 40%. Amid growing suggestions that the 70-year-old Reid might consider stepping down rather than risk very possible defeat, campaign manager Brandon Hall told reporters: “He’s never backed down from a fight. We’re not trying to win a beauty contest here.”  

: With several polls showing the race for Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat a dead heat with days until the election in Massachusetts, the White House said no to any last-minute appearances by President Obama on behalf of embattled Democratic nominee Martha Coakley. “The President doesn’t have any travel plans to Massachusetts,” Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters eight days before the January 19 special election. Asked why, Gibbs replied, “It was not on the schedule to go.” When Fox-TV’s Major Garrett pressed Gibbs on why Obama wasn’t going to Coakley’s assistance, Gibbs would say only, “It was not on the schedule to go.” Garrett then asked whether Obama was asked to campaign by Coakley. “Not that I’m aware,” said Gibbs.  

SAVING THE OLD CADILLAC: Union leaders tried again last week to persuade President Obama to pull back on taxing the high-price insurance policies that many of their members have, but they got a more positive response on saving these so-called “Cadillac plans” from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was among the House and Senate leaders conferring with White House operatives last week in an attempt to reconcile the differences in the two healthcare “reform” measures. The Senate bill contains a provision imposing a 40% tax on the cost of employer-sponsored health coverage exceeding $8,500 a year for an individual and $23,000 for a family. Responding to the suggestion that the final package may exempt union workers from the tax while subjecting non-union members to it, House Republican Study Committee Chairman Tom Price (Ga.) proclaimed the proposed deal “the Big Labor Buyoff. Have they no shame? It’s another sleazy deal from the Democrats that will be roundly rejected by the American people. It’s little more than hush money paid to keep union bosses happy with a takeover of health care the American people don’t want.”

GOP HOUSE MEMBERS STILL TRUST GOD: In response to a lawsuit filed by the Madison, Wis.,-based Freedom From Religion Institution to scrub “In God We Trust” from the wall of the new Capitol Visitor Center in Washington, 41 House Republicans (including House GOP Leader John Boehner and GOP Whip Eric Cantor) have signed an amicus curiae brief in opposition to the suit. Written by the American Center for Law and Justice, the brief points out that “these expressions simply echo the sentiments found in the Declaration of Independence.… While the 1st Amendment affords atheists complete freedom to disbelieve, it does not compel the federal judiciary to redact religious references in every area of public life in order to suit atheistic sensibilities.”  

EFCA BACK IN SPRING? Labor lord Andy Stern, president of the radical Services Employees International Union (SEIU), vowed last week to push for a vote in the Senate on the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), the labor law reform measure considered the “crown jewel” on the union wish list. Stern, the most frequent visitor to Barack Obama in the White House (22 visits in his first six months in office), told the Financial Times: “We need a vote. We need a vote this spring.” Almost conceding the death of EFCA’s controversial “card-check” provision that would all but eliminate the secret ballot in union-representation elections, Stern hinted strongly he would accept a watered-down version without card-check. “I think people are trying to find a way to pass a bill that makes progress — like health care — and sort of recognizes different people’s interests,” Stern told the FT.   

DROP CAP AND TRADE, DEMS BEG WHITE HOUSE: Amid the stalemate on a health care package and the reluctance to revisit the unions’ EFCA, many Senate Democrats are now begging the White House to abandon any move for passage of the controversial cap and trade greenhouse gas legislation in 2010. At least half-a-dozen Democratic senators have told the White House and their congressional leaders to drop the cap and trade energy tax, with Sen. Mary Landrieu (D.-La.) telling reporters last week: “I am communicating that in every way I know how.” Although he did not go that far, more liberal Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D.-N.M.) did say that there is no consensus among lawmakers on what form cap-and-trade would take and that it’s unclear whether Congress will be able to pass any measure dealing with greenhouse gas emissions this year