Capital Briefs February 1, 2010

DEFANGING EPA: Last month, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R.-Alaska) was joined by 39 of her colleagues, including three Democrats, in introducing a Resolution of Disapproval aimed at repealing the back-door global-warming regulations issued by the Environmental Protection Agency. Action on the resolution could come as early as March. However, insiders suggest the moderate Sen. Murkowski is using the resolution to enhance her position when it comes to negotiating a comprehensive energy and global-warming bill. Wary conservatives on Capitol Hill agree that the EPA regulations represent a huge threat to our economy, but so, they point out, would a comprehensive energy bill.

Days after the Supreme Court’s sweeping decision that struck down many of the provisions of the controversial McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill, GOP Sen. John McCain made it clear he was not going to re-fight the ten-year war he waged to secure those campaign finance restrictions. Appearing on CBS-TV’s “Face the Nation” program, McCain said that the Supreme Court has spoken on the constitutionality of campaign spending by corporations and labor unions and there was not much more that could be done. The Arizona senator, who embraced campaign finance as a cause after his brush with scandal in the 1992 “Keating Five” affair, faces a strong primary challenge this year from conservative former Rep. J.D. Hayworth

: That was the big political news from Delaware last week, as Democratic State Atty. Gen. Beau Biden announced he would not run for the Senate seat held by his father Joe from 1972 until he became Vice President last year. When Joe Biden relinquished his seat, his longtime right-hand man Democrat Ted Kaufman was appointed to the Senate, with the understanding that he would hold the seat until the younger Biden had completed his military service in Iraq in 2010 and was ready to run himself. But several polls showed Beau Biden trailing moderate Republican Rep. Michael Castle, who has previously served as governor of Delaware. With Biden’s exit and the retirement of Sen. Byron Dorgan (D.-N.D.), the likely pickups of these Democratic seats by Castle and North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven mean that Republicans go into the 2010 election cycle with at least a two-seat gain in the Senate. 

BROWN EVEN WITH OBAMA: Although he has not yet been sworn into the Senate, Scott Brown of Massachusetts has already received considerable mention as a Republican candidate for President in 2012. According to a just-completed Newsmax-Zogby poll, the senator-elect trails Barack Obama among likely voters by only 46.5% to 44.6% nationwide. What was particularly noteworthy in the poll was that, at a time when independents are the fastest-growing group of voters, Brown tops Obama among voters who are registered with neither major party by 48.6% to 36%

OBAMA’S FREEZE GETS ICY RESPONSE: Within days of his call for a three-year freeze on discretionary, non-defense federal spending, Barack Obama was drawing spirited opposition from the left as well as the right. Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) told reporters that Obama’s proposed freeze wasn’t enough, with McCain telling The Hill newspaper:  “There’s got to be spending cuts. They’ve added nearly 20% in spending in the past year.” Left-wing MSNBC-TV commentator Rachel Maddow dismissed the Obama freeze as the kind of strategy “Herbert Hoover used in the ’30s to make the depression great.” Liberal Sen. Sherrod Brown (D.-Ohio) insisted “in a recessionary time, you don’t pull back government. What does that mean for job growth?” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.) had no comment on the proposed freeze, saying they needed to see more details. McCain and Sen. Evan Bayh (D.-Ind.) have introduced a separate Fiscal Freeze Act of 2010, which will freeze spending and abolish earmarks until the deficit is eliminated, and also establish long-term spending targets.

RECONCILIATION NEXT? “We are so close,” President Obama said of passage of his healthcare plan in the State of the Union address last week. As Democratic congressional leaders plan what direction to go with the disparate versions of healthcare reform passed by the House and Senate, some liberals in Congress are crafting a controversial plan to use the expedited procedure known as reconciliation to pass at least some parts of the measure. Reconciliation is a special Senate procedure to deal with budget or tax issues and senators would need only a simple majority in the Senate to pass the bill, meaning Republicans would be unable to filibuster. The first healthcare legislation would be a measure carrying “corrections” to the 2,700-page bill that passed the Senate and is awaiting action on the House calendar. That corrections bill will be designed to make the Senate bill more acceptable to House members. Once the “corrected” measure passed the Senate, the House would then be able to pass the massive Senate version of healthcare and, with a presidential signature, “Obamacare” would become law.