Tales from the Trail

This lame duck sure can fly

Congress seems to work better under deadline pressure (like journalists).

Democrats are racing to cram as much through the post-election lame duck session as possible, before their majority turns into a pumpkin when Republicans take control of the House of Representatives in January.

HUNGARYRepublicans are grumbling about all the rush, but President Barack Obama went to their pond with some bread — tax cut extensions for the wealthy — so they aren’t quacking too loudly.

The lame duck session of Congress has produced — tax cut extensions have been signed into law, the repeal of “Don’t Ask , Don’t Tell” to allow gays to serve openly in the military will be signed into law tomorrow, and the START treaty is moving toward ratification.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said he was “baffled” as to why Senate Democrats can’t wait a month, when MORE REPUBLICANS are seated, to take up START (we think the answer is contained in his question).

Democrats distributed a flier with pictures of prominent Republicans like former President George H.W. Bush, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who support START, and a lone picture of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin in opposition. 

Washington Extra – jumpSTART

There are 11 days to Christmas, time for Congress to do the end-of-session roll in which proposals that grew cobwebs for months and months are now heading through the chambers at breakneck speed.

Tax cuts are closing in on the finish line — House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer signaled that resistance was waning among Democrats when he said there were “compelling reasons” to back the measure.

USA/Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid today is holding out the possibility that the START treaty will be ratified before lawmakers wrap up the lame duck session. Debate could start as early as Wednesday, and Reid says he’s got the votes.

Democrats, Meet Mr. Hobson

RTR1H4KV_Comp-150x150Democrats don’t like President Barack Obama’s tax compromise. They’re disappointed. Some may vote against it. But the package still seems destined to pass.

“If the idea is that this is a take-it-or-leave-it deal, I think the president’s going to realize there are going to be a lot of Democrats who are going to be voting ‘no’,” House Democrat Anthony Weiner tells ABC.

The tough-talking New Yorker, one of Obama’s more ferocious critics on the tax issue, has likened the tax discussion Vice President Joe Biden had with House Democrats on Wednesday to a prison brawl.

Hoyer, Clyburn compete for House leadership post

clyburn_stenyU.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer will win his bid to remain in party leadership in the soon-to-be Republican-led chamber, a source close to Hoyer said on Sunday.

“We’re going to win,” the source said.

But a spokeswoman for the current House Democratic Whip James Clyburn, who’s trying to fend off a Hoyer challenge, fired back: “We dispute that.” She voiced confidence in Clyburn’s candidacy, saying he has broad support in the Democratic caucus.

With Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi running to be minority leader when the new House convenes in January, Hoyer and Clyburn — her two top lieutenants — are seeking the No. 2 job.

Comedian Colbert “inappropriate”?

Comedian Stephen Colbert’s satirical testimony before Congress last week left some lawmakers cold, and one of them was House Democratic leader Steny Hoyer.
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“I think it was inappropriate,” Hoyer said on “Fox News Sunday” when asked about Colbert’s appearance before a House judiciary subcommittee on immigration where he testified on his brief stint as a migrant farm worker.

Hoyer said Colbert’s testimony, delivered in his Comedy Central television character as an over-the-top conservative news commentator, hurt him more than it did lawmakers.

“I think it was an embarrassment for Mr. Colbert more than the House,” Hoyer said. “If he had a position on the issues, he should have given those issues.”

Boehner says lawmakers should expect to do more reading if he becomes House Speaker

Republican John Boehner wants you to know that if his party wins control of  the House of Representatives and he becomes the chamber’s next Speaker, things will be a lot different.

For starters, Boehner says lawmakers in both parties will get a better opportunity to actually read bills before they vote on them.

USA-HEALTHCARE/“One of the things that the American people are most fed up with is the practice of rushing massive, expensive bills to the floor before anyone has had a chance to read them,” Boehner said this week in looking ahead to the November election.

Are folks ‘for’ or ‘agin’ healthcare reform? Both, according to the partisan rhetoric

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Republicans say Americans don’t want the president’s healthcare reforms. Democrats beg to differ. What’s true? Depends how you figure, though as Mark Twain observed: figures don’t lie, but liars … well, you know.

Not that anyone would lie, of course. But opinion polls have been dumping figures aplenty into the debate in Congress, and the debaters have been eagerly using them to patch up their arguments’ foundations.

Take the new NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey: 46 percent want Congress to pass President Barack Obama’s plan; 45 percent don’t.

Republican wants more Massa exposure but Democrat says it’s over

House Republican Eric Cantor thinks Congress should get to the bottom of Eric Massa’s bizarre tale of congressional nudity, satanic White House advisers, the groping of men (or not) and a congressional healthcare putsch by Democrats. But House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer says the case is over. 
 

“I know that Steny joins me in hoping that the ethics committee in Congress looks into this adequately and can get to the bottom of all of this,” said Cantor, who appeared along with Hoyer on NBC’s Today show. ”The best place for this to be resolved is in the ethics committee and let’s get to the bottom of it.”

Otherwise, the whole thing seems to make Cantor want to hold his nose. And he is not alone. “I’m a little taken aback and stunned,” the Virginia lawmaker confided. “I don’t know the facts of this at all. I know that the American people are sickened.”

With jobs the priority, Obama invites culture war?

AFGHANISTAN/Has President Obama opened a Pandora’s Box marked “Culture War” by moving — however slowly – to repeal the Pentagon’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on gays in the military?
    
Conservative punditry hasn’t weighed in yet. But  there’s no reason to doubt  the issue will be red meat for those who want to sink the Obama agenda and send congressional Democrats to the unemployment office in November.
    
“Our service members wear the uniform to fight and win wars, not serve as liberal-social-policy guinea pigs,” Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, tells Time magazine.
    
Sen. John McCain, a top Republican on military affairs, accused the administration of acting by fiat to circumvent Congress and the military’s chain of command after the Pentagon announced a year-long review of the policy.
    
“You’re embarking on saying it’s not whether the military prepares to make the change but how we best prepare for it, without ever hearing from members of Congress, without hearing from the members of the Joint Chiefs, and of course, without taking into consideration all the ramifications,” he told Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen at a Senate Armed Services hearing yesterday.
 
Polling data show most Americans favor allowing gays to serve openly in the military. But the risk for Obama is that Republicans and their talk-show allies will cry up the issue and steer the now palpable frustrations of voters against him and his fellow Democrats.
    
Democrats, who got a taste of that voter frustration in Massachusetts last month, now hope to win favor by making the economy their USA-HEALTHCARE/PELOSItop priority.
    
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer favors repeal but seems happy to let the Pentagon take the lead until after this year’s election.
    
“What I want members to do in their districts? I want them to focus on jobs and fiscal responsibility. Those are our messages,” the Maryland Democrat told reporters. “The American public clearly wants us focused on growing the economy, adding jobs. That is a principle responsibility.”

 Photo credits: Reuters/Andrees Latif (U.S. Marines in Helmand Province); Reuters/Jim Young (U.S. Capitol)

Click here for more political coverage from Reuters

Talking healthcare: How close is “close”?

The talk on Capitol Hill is that a deal is close on healthcare legislation, President Barack Obama’s signature issue.

But trying to define what close means is not that easy. How far away is close can basically be anything since the definition of the word close does not have an actual time attached to it. USA HEALTHCARE

“I would certainly hope that within the next 24, 48, 72 hours, that we have a general agreement between the Senate and the House.” House Democratic leader Steny Hoyer told CNBC on Friday.