John Gizzi's Capital Briefs 3/26/10

VOTERS BACK LAWMEN AND LAWSUITS: Less than 24 hours after the House of Representatives narrowly approved the $1 trillion Obamacare bill last week, attorneys general from 11 states announced plans to file lawsuits to stop the measure on the grounds that it usurps state sovereignty and gives the federal government unconstitutional powers. According to a just-completed Rasmussen Poll, 49% of voters nationwide support the lawsuits by the states, 37% oppose them, and the rest are undecided. Among Republicans, 72% support the legal action and among independents, the level of support is 58%.  Some 65% of Democrats oppose the suits. (As of last week, the states filing suit against the healthcare plan were Alabama, Florida, Nebraska, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Washington State.)

BENNETT BRINGS D.C. MARRIAGE TO RECONCILIATION: As senators began the reconciliation process on the healthcare bill, one of the amendments they had to deal with involved another red-hot issue: same-sex marriage in the District of Columbia. Last week, Sen. Robert Bennett (R.-Utah) introduced the D.C. Referendum on Marriage Amendment to the Healthcare Reconciliation Act of 2010. Under Bennett’s amendment, the District of Columbia would be required to suspend issuance of same-sex marriage licenses until district voters are given the same right citizens of many states have: the opportunity to vote on the matter in a ballot referendum. 

ABORTION ORDER BEHIND CLOSED DOORS? More than a few angry opponents were wondering what happened last week when President Obama signed the much-publicized executive order supposedly barring federal funding for abortion. In striking contrast to the extravagant public ceremony one day earlier at which Obama signed the healthcare bill, the signing of the executive order was a subdued affair behind closed doors and with no press allowed. Attending were turncoat sometime pro-life Rep. Bart Stupak (D.-Mich.) and 12 other House Democrats who supported the healthcare bill, along with liberal Sen. Robert Casey, Jr. (D.-Pa.), who helped draft the “compromise” language. 

READING FINE PRINT IN HEALTHCARE BILL: One of the bold, expensive promises the President made in selling his healthcare bill was that it would insure that Americans with pre-existing conditions have access to health insurance. But in crafting the version that was signed last week, Congress failed to include any provision preventing insurance companies from barring children with pre-existing conditions from getting healthcare. All other Americans with pre-existing conditions will not have access to health insurance until 2014.

PETRAEUS TO N.H. Speculation that Gen. David Petraeus might seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 was ratcheted up a bit last week. The commander of the U.S. Central Command spoke at St. Anselm College in New Hampshire (where Petraeus is a legal resident) and later visited the New Hampshire Institute of Politics. Like other career military officers, Petraeus has not said whether he has any political party affiliation and last year told an interviewer he has not voted in several years. His New Hampshire address came days after House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) spoke to the Hillsborough County, N.H., GOP’s Lincoln-Reagan Day Dinner and a day before Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty made an address in the state. 

EDUCATION CHICAGO-STYLE: Education Secretary Arne Duncan, while serving as Chicago Public Schools chief, maintained a list of special requests from politically connected individuals for children to attend the city’s best schools, the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times reported last week. Duncan’s list is the subject of a federal probe and an investigation by the school district inspector general. According to the Tribune, “The log is a compilation of politicians and influential business people who interceded on behalf of children during Duncan’s tenure.” It includes 25 Chicago aldermen, Mayor Richard Daley’s office, State House Speaker Michael Madigan, his daughter Illinois Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan, former White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers and former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun (D.-Ill.). The news comes amid growing concerns in the District of Columbia over the fate of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, a signature school-choice initiative that benefits low-income families, whose dismantling Duncan has overseen. 

HOW LONG CAN HOLDER HOLD ON? More than a few in official Washington are wondering just that. As the Wall Street Journal noted last week, “Eric Holder has spent much of his first year as attorney general trying to reverse a series of Bush Administration policies. But the controversies continue to mount.” Holder “didn’t tell the Senate Judiciary Committee about seven Supreme Court amicus briefs he prepared or supported … including two urging the court to reject the Bush Administration’s attempt to try [terrorist and U.S. citizen] Jose Padilla as an enemy combatant,” the Capitol Hill periodical Politico reported recently. Department of Justice spokesman Matthew Miller later admitted to reporters that “the [Padilla] brief should have been disclosed as part of the confirmation process.” The Padilla matter was expected to be brought up March 23 before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Department of Justice oversight but, a day before, the attorney general’s appearance was rescheduled for April 14. 

BEFORE STUPAK, ELLSWORTH: Two days before Rep. Bart Stupak (D.-Mich.) finally caved on the pro-life issue and supported the healthcare bill, Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D.-Ind.) did the same—and is very likely to pay dearly at the polls this fall. The two-term House member and former county sheriff voted “yes” on the healthcare bill in November primarily because it contained an amendment barring federal funds for abortion. At the time of that vote, Ellsworth put out a statement declaring: “I will not support a healthcare bill that I believe would result in federal tax dollars being used to pay for elective abortions. Period.” But earlier this year, after Sen. Evan Bayh (D.-Ind.) stunned fellow Democrats by announcing he would not run for re-election this fall, Hoosier Democratic leaders settled on Ellsworth as their Senate candidate and he will formally be given the nomination at the state party convention in May. Before last week’s vote, Indiana Right to Life head Mike Fichter told the Wall Street Journal that if Ellsworth voted yes, “it would be a broken promise and we would deeply regret that. We will make sure everyone in Indiana knows that.” The pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, which spent $2 million nationally on a media blitz to keep pro-life Democrats in the “no” column, is also likely to weigh in strongly against Ellsworth, who recent polls show losing to all three GOP Senate hopefuls. According to a Rasmussen Poll conducted days before the healthcare vote, former Sen. Dan Coats (R.-Ind.) led Ellsworth among likely voters by 49% to 34% statewide, former Rep. John Hostettler (R.-Ind.) beat him 50% to 32%, and State Sen. Marlin Stutzman beat him 41% to 34%.