Bunning, Rangel bring spotlight to Capitol
By Ben Pershing
The Capitol was a hotbed of activity Tuesday, as debate over health-care reform were upstaged by a retiring 79-year-old in the Senate and a 78-year-old in the House whose career in the chamber may also be nearing its climax.
"The Senate ended a politically charged impasse over unemployment pay on Tuesday night, voting to allow jobless Americans in danger of exhausting their benefits another month of aid," the New York Times ledes. The standoff ended when Harry Reid was able to strike a deal with Jim Bunning to end his days-long blockade of a vote on the package of extensions. The agreement came "following new moves by Mr. Bunning's fellow Republicans to distance themselves from his tactics," the Wall Street Journal writes, adding: "Momentum had been shifting to the Democrats Tuesday as they took the Senate floor to criticize Republicans for preventing the jobless from getting their benefits. GOP leaders, sensing political peril, distanced themselves from Mr. Bunning. ... For Democrats, Mr. Bunning's stance was an unexpected gift that played into their assertion that Republicans have been obstructionist on a range of issues, including health care."
The Washington Times echoes that "facing a potential backlash over the actions by Mr. Bunning, Kentucky Republican, many of his fellow GOP members are seeking to distance themselves and make clear he's acting on his own." The amendment vote Bunning fought so hard to get failed Tuesday night, and Politico writes: "During the vote, the irascible Bunning spent his time talking to the floor staff and retreating to the GOP cloak room - largely avoiding mingling with his GOP colleagues who had taken a big political hit for his decision to repeatedly object to passing the measure." The Hill notes that "as the Senate stalled, 2,000 federal transportation workers were furloughed and work projects were stopped in 17 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Kentucky was not one of the states affected."
In the House, Charles Rangel appeared to be losing his grip on the Ways and Means Committee gavel, following an ethics committee report finding that he violated House rules for accepting corporate-funded trips. The Associated Press says "Rangel is struggling to hold on to his powerful tax-writing committee chairmanship, with the House speaker declining to endorse him and other Democrats clearly nervous about retaining a leader who has been accused of ethical misconduct." The dam burst because Republicans are planning to bring a resolution to the floor stripping the job from Rangel. CongressDaily reports: "The prospect of that vote prompted a growing number of Democrats to say they would support the GOP measure this time. By late Tuesday afternoon, Democratic leadership aides and members of the House Democratic whipping team said the numbers of members within the Caucus indicating they would side with the Republicans on such a resolution led to the closed-door discussions between Pelosi and Rangel." Confusion reigned Tuesday night, as ABC News observes: "According to aides, Rangel was in the Democratic cloakroom Tuesday evening, working out the details of a temporary resignation with House parliamentarian and Democratic leaders. But upon leaving the meeting, Rangel was asked by reporters if he would remain chairman, and he replied, "You bet your life." Pelosi, who was at the meeting, declined to comment. Rangel also said he was still the chairman, and denied that he was stepping down as chairman."
Roll Call writes: "A senior Democratic source told Roll Call late Tuesday night that ... Rangel still plans to give up his gavel Wednesday despite his public protestations to the contrary." House Democrats will discuss Rangel's case at their 1 p.m. caucus meeting Wednesday, Bloomberg notes, if the situation hasn't been resolved by then. So who's next? Roll Call adds that "If Rangel does step aside temporarily, House rules would give the gavel to Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.), but leadership would prefer the gavel go to the more temperate Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.)." Politico says "plans for Rangel's succession already were being discussed, with Democratic aides rating the chances of the five Democrats who are next in line in seniority: Pete Stark of California, Sander Levin of Michigan, Jim McDermott of Washington, John Lewis of Georgia and Richard Neal of Massachusetts." Ruth Marcus was not impressed by the ethics committee's actions on this case: "This panel almost never fails to disappoint. It tends to be sluggish in its work and supine in its conclusions. But even by its indulgent standards, the committee reached new heights -- lows? -- of fecklessness last week as it brushed off complaints about lawmakers' acceptance of corporate-funded travel."
On health care, the Washington Post reports that "President Obama on Tuesday made a last gambit to split Republicans on the issue, proposing to incorporate a handful of GOP ideas into his signature domestic initiative." USA Today says Obama "was rebuffed and urged to start over. A quick exchange of letters did little to bring the two sides together, five days after a summit showcased vast differences between Obama's comprehensive and Republicans' incremental approaches." The New York Times writes that "by signaling that he is open to the opposition's ideas, Mr. Obama struck a bipartisan tone even as the White House prepared the ground for Democratic efforts to pass comprehensive legislation on a party-line vote. Mr. Obama is scheduled to speak about his strategy for passing the bill in remarks at the White House on Wednesday."
"Obama is expected to stop short of formally calling for the use of reconciliation when he addresses his plans for health reform in remarks at the White House Wednesday, but officials say his message will be clear - Congress should take an up-or-down vote on a comprehensive plan," Politico writes, adding: "Even as all signs point to reconciliation - which would require 51 votes in the Senate to pass Obama's fixes to the Senate bill - other problems surfaced Tuesday that could further complicate the Democrats' efforts. The House is demanding that the Senate pass a second "cleanup bill," one to deal with issues like abortion and immigration that can't be done with reconciliation. Some senators are saying bluntly, No way." The Wall Street Journal finds that "At least a half-dozen House Democrats who voted against the health-care bill say they are now undecided. ... Democratic leaders said they saw the potential for gains among the 39 House Democrats who voted against the bill last time." Roll Call writes that "Harry Reid indicated the president's newest bipartisan offerings would get serious consideration in the as-yet-unwritten reconciliation bill," while "Nancy Pelosi made a major concession, signaling Tuesday that she may be ready to accept the Senate's language on two issues that have divided her Caucus -- immigration and abortion -- in the name of getting an overhaul passed. Neither issue can be addressed under a reconciliation bill because stringent rules governing such bills require provisions to have a direct budgetary impact."
Kathleen Parker thinks that "For all our bemoaning the tortures of health-care reform, the debate has been healthy for the nation. Everybody's crazy aunts and uncles have been let out of their respective attics and basements, and it's good to know who they are. It's also been helpful for Americans to see how the sausage is made and figure out whether they really want any." Bill Murchison says "The Republican call to 'start over' is parodied as politics. It's not that at all. It's a reflection of the reality that on a matter so urgent as health care we should take the time to do it right, not rush it through, then utter a long sigh of political relief. On this one, numerous moderate Democrats are right to be deathly afraid of the voters. The speaker of the House is desperately wrong not to care for anything but the shallow, transitory victory on which, for some illogical reason, she has her heart set." Michael Lind argues that Republicans are "insisting on gridlock" because, "Having lost much of the white professional class to the Democrats (perhaps temporarily), the Republican Party is increasingly the party of the declining white working class. Non-Hispanic whites are shrinking as a percentage of the U.S. population. Meanwhile, the traditional skilled working class and lower middle class are shrinking as a proportion of the workforce, while the service sector proletariat and college-educated professionals increase their share. ... In these circumstances, the American white working class quite naturally is experiencing "demographic panic." Declining groups experiencing such anxieties generally focus on blocking adverse change, using the political institutions they still control."
In Texas, Rick Perry easily triumphed over Kay Bailey Hutchison in the GOP gubernatorial primary. AP writes that "Perry tapped into a rising wave of anti-Washington ire and rode it to an easy Republican primary win over Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, once seen as the candidate who could block his march toward four more years in the state's highest office. Perry emerged from the rancorous battle with Texas' senior senator and a third candidate backed by some in the tea party movement to face a Democrat in many ways his polar opposite. Former Houston Mayor Bill White, a calm consensus-builder, easily defeated six opponents to win his party's nomination."The Houston Chronicle says Hutchison "paid dearly for not recognizing early enough the power of the anti-Washington sentiment." Politico asks, "Could Rick Perry be the Tea Party standard bearer in 2012? In an interview with POLITICO Monday, Perry insisted that he would not mount a White House bid. "I'm really interested in who's going to be the next president," he said, before quickly adding: "I have no interest in it being me in any form or fashion."
March 3, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
Categories: The Rundown
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