Time For Specter To Get A Hobby

Arlen Specter wants to get to the bottom of an obstruction of justice that burns to the soul of America. Someone destroyed videotapes that evidenced a crime, and Specter wants an investigation. Was it the CIA who destroyed the videotapes? FBI? BATF? OMB? No — it was the NFL:

With the Super Bowl fast approaching, a senior Republican senator says he wants the NFL to explain why it destroyed evidence of the New England Patriots cheating scandal.
“I am very concerned about the underlying facts on the taping, the reasons for the judgment on the limited penalties and, most of all, on the inexplicable destruction of the tapes,” said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., in a Thursday letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Specter, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the matter could put the league’s antitrust exemption at risk.
“Their antitrust exemption has been on my mind for a long time,” he said in a Capitol Hill news conference.

I can’t think of a better example of what happens when people live in the Beltway for too long. Every little annoyance suddenly becomes a federal issue. In this case, we’re not even talking about a crime, we’re talking about a violation of NFL rules — which the NFL already addressed.
How does Specter come to the conclusion that this is a federal issue? He relates it to the federal antitrust exemption, claiming it’s been on his mind “for a long time”. That reflects the mind of Arlen Specter, but not the exemption, which only applies to the aggregation of broadcast rights for the league. The only way the exemption would even play into this story is to use for extortion to strongarm the league into some sort of action.
So what do we have here? We have a senior Senator sticking his nose into a violation of league rules that got resolved months ago, threatening a private business that has committed no violation of the law, just coincidentally two days before their biggest game of the year.
Awwww … does Arlen miss the spotlight?
I’m no great fan of term limits, but this isn’t a bad argument for them.
UPDATE: Corrected all instances of “Spector” to “Specter”. My apologies.

The Scaled-Down Expectations Of The Retreat Caucus

You have to hand it to the Democrats; they do surrender well. After coming out of their annual retreat last year with an ambitious agenda to force the White House into submission, the Congressional leadership managed to lose every major engagement with the supposedly lame-duck George Bush. This year, the term “annual retreat” took on new meaning:

A year ago, newly empowered House Democrats gathered here at the Kingsmill Resort for their annual retreat brimming with confidence. Before them was an ambitious legislative agenda and a determination to end or curtail the U.S. troop presence in Iraq.
This time around, the hotel and golf courses are the same, but the song is markedly different. Gone is the talk of forcing President Bush to end the war, as is the impetus to pass a comprehensive immigration package and to stick to strict budget rules. Instead, Democrats are thinking smaller, much smaller.
They hope to leave today with the beginnings of a scaled-down plan to pass a handful of bills in the House — even if they cannot get through the Senate — and build a case for November that Democrats have been productive enough to warrant at least another two years in the majority.

Last year, they left the retreat warning George Bush that they ran Washington in the wake of their midterm-election victory. Now they don’t even plan to get most of their bills out of Congress. Instead, their big plan — their strategy for demanding another two years in the majority — is a demonstration of futility by passing bills they can’t get through even a Democratic Senate.
This, according to the Democrats, demonstrates their productivity.
And what does appear on this year’s agenda? Opportunities for massive pork. They want a new energy bill, another transportation bill, and a reauthorization of No Child Left Behind. All of these give Democrats traditional opportunities to lard up in time for the election. Except for NCLB, they all give Bush a chance to wield his veto pen.
I had no idea that Kingsmill could be found over the event horizon, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they have pork barbecues on the agenda during the Congressional visit.

State Of The Union Live Blog

Tonight, George Bush delivers his final State of the Union speech to Congress, as mandated by the Constitution. Will he use the SOTU event to attempt a rapprochement with a hostile Congress, or will he draw lines in the sand for what promises to be a contentious session in 2008? The White House has a series of papers already assembled to support the SOTU speech, and it looks like a familiar set of objectives. It looks like Bush will lead with the economy and budgetary proposals, with national security, Iraq, and the GWOT close behind. Expect sops to the global-warming crowd and a big finish with a focus on “Advancing an Agenda of Compassion Worldwide”.
I’ll be remarking and analyzing the speech in reverse chronological order, so be sure to check back on this post later in the evening. Michelle Malkin will also live-blog.
Final thoughts: It didn’t move me much. He had his moments; his slam on earmarks was much appreciated, even if he didn’t take the action we wanted. It’s a huge improvement over where we were at just two years ago on the subject. His promise to veto any new taxes also satisfied me. The recitation of the success in Iraq was, I thought, particularly effective.
However, most of the rest of the speech seemed boilerplate and rote, and not particularly well delivered. Bush has been a mostly mediocre speaker, with a couple of moments in his terms where he seemed moved to eloquence. We know he can reach those heights when circumstances demand it, but otherwise he just sounds either diffident or annoyed.
It did leave me with one very clear impression: he intends to challenge this Congress just as he did in 2007. That is the best news I heard in the speech.
Live-blog follows ….
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9:01 – Talking about We The People. He’s a year late. Time Magazine already made each and every one of us the Person of the Year for 2006.
8:58 – Jonathan Adler at The Corner wonders what Nancy Pelosi is reading during the speech. It’s the printed SOTU speech, bound in a nice-looking paper cover. Does she need help following along?
8:54 – On FISA: “We’ve had ample time for debate. The time to act is now!” Indeed.
8:51 – Want to know how old blogging is? Sean Hackbarth describes this post as “traditional live-blogging”. He’s Twittering the speech. Punk kids! The Heritage blog is doing the old-fogey thing, too, so I don’t feel so alone.
8:50 – Palestinians have elected a president that understands that they have to fight terrorism? Did they have an election today? Oh, Bush meant Abbas. Yeah, sure.
8:46 – Over 20,000 of our troops will come home. Any other drawdowns have to be done in a manner which will not endanger the gains made in security. However, Baghdad has to improve matters, and Bush notes that they have made gains in oil revenue sharing and in de-Baathification reform.
8:41 – Iraqis have added 100,000 regular troops and 80,000 irregulars to fight al-Qaeda in Iraq. He’s doing a good summary of the progress between last year’s SOTU and now. One telling comparison: a year ago, AQI offered America safe passage out of Iraq. Now they’re looking for it themselves. Bush committed to victory in strong language — and half the Congress stayed seated.
8:38 – Adding 3200 Marines to the Afghanistan theater. That’s us, doing the job that Europeans won’t do.
8:34 – Finishes the domestic agenda on immigration, challenging Congress to live up to our laws and our best ideals. Won’t happen this year, not with a presidential election coming up. Now he’s focusing on terrorism, and he’s beginning to sound a little more eloquent. “Evil men” oppose the spread of freedom and liberty.
8:32 – Shorter GWB on entitlements: I had guts, you didn’t. Time for y’all to suck it up. And he’s right.
8:29 – I hate Vista. More DNS problems, just got them resolved. I liked what he had to say about stem cells and cloning, but wish he had been talking more about judicial nominations than just at the SOTU. The number of empty seats on the bench should be a Flash player on the White House website.
8:23 – Much more on trade than on the rest of the economic and domestic agenda. He cast the trade agreements in Latin America as a defense of democracy, but more accurately it should be cast as a defense of private property and capitalism.
8:19 – No one can deny the results of NCLB? Well, perhaps, but he wants it expanded, increasing federal involvement in what should be a community-run enterprise. What happened to vouchers? The NCLB originally relied on vouchers to push failing public schools to improve. Not even a mention in the SOTU. What a waste.
8:15 – Earmarks! He’s scolding and not chummy. Another veto threat if earmarks aren’t cut in half. He will issue the EO on future earmarks in non-legislative text; he should have issued it on all of the ones in the current budget, but we knew we wouldn’t get that. The “open vote” remark had to sting.
8:13 – The line of the night: “The IRS takes checks and money orders” for those who volunteer to pay higher taxes. Any bill that raises taxes will be met with a veto. That’s a pretty strong line in the sand.
8:12 – A little feistiness in telling Congress that loading up the stimulus bill, assumably with pork, will derail it — and it’s unacceptable.
8:07 – Now we get the thunderous applause that naturally arises when 13% meets 35%.
8:04 – Bush arrives in the cornflower-blue tie. Dick Cheney looks less enthused than Nancy Pelosi, for some reason.
8:02 – I’m watching this on C-SPAN, as I usually do. The chatter during the show on other stations gets very annoying, even with the best of commentators. It’s akin to football announcers filling dead air during lengthy injury time-outs.
7:59 – Do you ever wonder if the President (regardless of who he is) has to fight the impulse to just walk in and say, “Can’t we just get this over with?” I’ll bet Ross Perot would have done it.
7:53 – Minnesota’s Norm Coleman gets a spot on the escort committee.
7:51 – They’re appointing the escort committees. Gripping, I tell you, gripping.
7:49 – Getting settled in for the speech. I should have a bell-ring script or something on this, waking me up if I don’t update the post in any 10-minutes period of time. For me, the big mystery will be how Bush will attack on pork barrel spending. Will he take it easy and look for common ground, or will he scold? I’m betting the latter.

The Emperor’s New Carbon Offsets

As government waste goes, $89,000 will barely register on the meter. However, it did provide a relatively inexpensive demonstration on the costliness of political fads and the vacuousness of carbon-offset markets as a solution for purported anthropogenic climate change. It also, once again, demonstrated the connection between contributors and policy:

The House of Representatives has presumably learned that money cannot buy love or happiness. Now, it turns out it’s not a sure solution to climate guilt, either.
In November, the Democratic-led House spent about $89,000 on so-called carbon offsets. This purchase was supposed to cancel out greenhouse-gas emissions from House buildings — including half of the U.S. Capitol — by triggering an equal reduction in emissions elsewhere.
Some of the money went to farmers in North Dakota, for tilling practices that keep carbon buried in the soil. But some farmers were already doing this, for other reasons, before the House paid a cent.
Other funds went to Iowa, where a power plant had been temporarily rejiggered to burn more cleanly. But that test project had ended more than a year before the money arrived.

Congress, in effect, burned $89,000 for no reason at all. Of course, I speak figuratively; had they actually burned the money, it could have at least heated a home for a low-income family, although it would have produced unacceptable carbon emissions. Not a single molecule of carbon emissions got avioded, but a lot of Democrats emitted smug into the DC political atmosphere (apologies to South Park), and perhaps more than $90,000 worth of it.
So Congressional Democrats didn’t reduce carbon emissions, but they did manage to increase their contributions. Brian Faughnan at the Weekly Standard did a little checking on the efforts by the Chicago Climate Exchange in the political arena, and discovered that one of its directors has a special connection to the Democrats. Stuart Eizenstat served in both the Carter and Clinton administrations, and he did his part for 2007’s candidates, too. Fourteen donations went to Barack Obama, Chris Dodd, Joe Biden, and Hillary Clinton — in fact, all of the Senatorial candidates in the race. They received over $10,000, and the DCCC got another $1000.
Let’s recap. The Democrats got five figures from Eizenstat, who then got $89,000 in federal money to provide exactly nothing to Congress. It’s the Emperor’s New Clothes all over again.

Last Song

George Bush makes his final State of the Union speech tonight, and according to the Washington Post, it will focus on two themes associated with the administration: economy and the war. The White House does not plan on turning the SOTU speech into a valediction, instead focusing on the tasks in front of the nation and the necessity of action in 2008. They only hope that they have an audience:

For years, President Bush and his advisers expressed frustration that the White House received little credit for the nation’s strong economic performance because of public discontent about the Iraq war. Today, the president is getting little credit for improved security in Iraq, as the public increasingly focuses on a struggling U.S. economy.
That is the problem Bush faces as he prepares to deliver his seventh and probably final State of the Union address tonight. For the first time in four years, he will come before Congress able to report some progress in tamping down violence in Iraq. Yet the public appears to have moved on from the war — and possibly from Bush himself.
The economy has supplanted Iraq as the top public concern, and with voters shifting their focus toward the presidential primaries, Bush faces a steep challenge in persuading Americans to heed his words on the war, economic policy or any other issue, according to administration officials, lawmakers and outside observers.
“Very large segments of the American people have written him off already and have moved on to the next chapter,” said Jeremy Rosner, a Clinton White House aide and Democratic pollster. Even some of the Republican presidential candidates appear eager to distance themselves from the president.

Those “very large segments” wrote him off in 2001 and have never written him back into the picture. Bush proved highly relevant as a president in 2007 after Democrats took control of Congress. Last year at this time, people like Rosner dismissed Bush as a lame duck with no leverage at all to pursue his agenda — and he spent all year beating Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi like tympanis at a Wagnerian opera. One might have thought that instructive, but apparently not for Rosner.
Bush knows that 2008 will shape up similarly to 2007. The election year will make it tougher to get anyone’s legislation through Congress, and he who defines the agenda first will have the upper hand. The SOTU speech gives Bush a strong national platform to do exactly that, and just as in 2007, he will use it as a launching point for the infighting to come.
What will he say about the war and the economy? He prevailed on the war in 2007 and can show real improvement as a result. He may remind the US that some used the floor of Congress to prematurely declare defeat in 2007, although decorum probably prevents him from naming Harry Reid as chief defeatist. He will undoubtedly urge Congress to make his tax cuts permanent to bolster confidence among the investor class, and remind them that that investor class includes at least 70% of all Americans, thanks to pensions and 401k accounts.
I will live-blog the SOTU speech tonight. Be sure to check back this evening for continual updates.

Telecom Immunity Moves Forward In The Senate

The Bush administration won a legislative victory yesterday when the FISA bill that excluded immunity for telecommunications companies that cooperated with the NSA failed spectacularly in the Senate, leaving the path open to the immunity approach endorsed by the White House. The version without telecom immunity only garnered 36 votes in the upper chamber despite the Democrats’ endorsement of it. Twelve of their members joined 48 Republicans in voting against it:

The Senate signaled in a key vote yesterday that it supports giving some of the nation’s largest telephone companies immunity from dozens of privacy lawsuits related to a federal domestic eavesdropping program initiated after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
In a lopsided 60 to 36 vote — with 12 Democrats joining Republicans in the majority — the Senate rejected a version of the proposed legislation sponsored by Democrats on the Judiciary Committee. That bill omitted immunity for the telecommunications firms involved in warrantless eavesdropping.
The move kept alive a competing proposal, from Democrats and Republicans on the Senate intelligence committee, that would give the companies the legal protections they seek. It also underscored the deep divisions among Democrats on the surveillance issue. A measure passed by House Democrats would offer no immunity for the companies.
The vote marked a notable victory for the White House, which has pushed hard for telecom immunity.

The House has its own version in process which looks similar to the failed Senate approach. The robust rejection of the Democratic efforts to allow for unlimited lawsuits against the telecoms makes it clear that the House version has no chance of ever becoming law. They can hem and haw and stamp their feet, but the Democrats not only don’t have the votes to overcome a cloture call in the Senate, they don’t even have the votes to come close to a majority.
The Democrats have begun the second session of the 110th Congress much as they spent the first: in disarray. They put themselves on deadline for FISA reform by putting a silly six-month sunset on the last bill. Instead of working this out in the intervening time, they have waited until those six months have almost expired before finally getting around to a vote.
This puts them in the same position as they found themselves in May on funding the Iraq war. They have run out of time. A failure to extend the FISA legislation passed in August will mean that the NSA will have to stop collecting some data in real time, putting the nation at risk. That means that the House Democrats can’t afford to stall the Senate into compliance. Their own deadline forces them into action — and that gives a veto threat as well as strong Senate rejection all the more leverage.
The leadership of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid have led their party into another trap of their own making. It portends another long, disappointing, and embarrassing year for the pair — essentially a replay of 2007, but with heightened scrutiny in an election year. If they wanted to make Bush look more relevant and more clever, they couldn’t come up with a better strategy.

The Diminishing Returns Of S-CHIP Expansion Votes

The Democrats staged another attempt to override a veto on S-CHIP expansion, with predictable results. Their refusal to negotiate with the White House produced even fewer Republican crossover votes in the House as the bill went down to defeat. The Democrats promised another try later in the session:

House Democrats failed for the second time in nearly four months yesterday to override President Bush’s veto of a proposed $35 billion expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.
The 260 to152 tally left backers of the legislation about 15 votes short of the two-thirds majority of lawmakers voting necessary to override the president’s Dec. 12 veto. Forty-two Republicans supported the override attempt, two fewer than in the previous effort to reject Bush’s Oct. 3 veto of an earlier version of the bill. ….
“Ultimately, our goal should be to move children who have no health insurance to private coverage — not to move children who already have private insurance to government coverage,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said yesterday.
Yesterday’s defeat was expected, but Democrats said they will not give up. “This won’t be your last opportunity this year to address this issue,” House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) told fellow lawmakers.

The most amusing aspect of this standoff is its futility. The Bush administration has repeatedly said it wants to expand this program, but it also wants adults out of a program that supposedly services children. The White House also wants to focus the program on the poor and working class, not the middle class, which can afford to pay for health insurance on its own.
Instead of compromising with the White House, the Democrats want to put on a show of defiance. They believe that they can sell the public on the idea that Bush wants to take health care away from children, when the plan involves insurance subsidies spent on adults and families who don’t need them. They also want to use one of the most regressive taxes in place — cigarette taxes, which hits the poor very disproportionately — to fund the expansion of the program into the middle class.
Democrats haven’t been able to sell that yet, however. While their approval ratings crash through the floor, the White House has patiently publicized the massive tax increase and exploding costs of the program, and continue to point out that the expansion goes mostly unfunded. Who wins? Well, it’s not for nothing that the huge advantage in Congressional polling Democrats enjoyed throughout 2006 and most of 2007 has mostly dissipated.
Steny Hoyer wants a repeat of this bill in 2008. Maybe he should consider that one definition of insanity is repeating the same action over and over again and expecting different results.

Running On Empty

A group funded by labor unions that originally formed to oppose George Bush’s plans for Social Security in 2005 will spend over $8 million in 2008 to try to keep Bush’s approval ratings low. That strange mission will get launched this afternoon by Americans United for Change, who see that as a critical step in keeping Republicans from winning seats in Congress:

A liberal advocacy group plans to spend $8.5 million in a drive to make sure President Bush’s public approval doesn’t improve as his days in the White House come to an end.
Americans United for Change plans to undertake a yearlong campaign, spending the bulk of the money on advertising, to keep public attention on what the group says are the failures of the Bush administration, including the war in Iraq, the response to Hurricane Katrina, and the current mortgage crisis.
In selling the plan to fundraisers, the group has argued that support for President Reagan was at a low of 42 percent in 1987 but climbed to 63 percent before he left office. “All of a sudden he became a rallying cry for conservatives and their ideology,” said Brad Woodhouse, president of the group. “Progressives are still living with that.”

Maybe they should spend that money trying to get Democrats to change the leadership in Congress. If they want to protect the Democratic majorities, they should look not to Bush’s low approval ratings but to the even lower numbers Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid have achieved. After all, Congressional races are not likely to hinge on the performance of someone retiring in less than a year from politics altogether.
How do we know that? Despite the AUC’s historical illiteracy, Reagan’s rising numbers didn’t do anything for the GOP in the 1988 Congressional elections. The Republicans didn’t make any significant gains in Congress until 1994, and it wasn’t Ronald Reagan who created that momentum but Bill and Hillary Clinton, and the corruption in Congress under Democratic leadership. The Clinton attempt to nationalize health care created such a negative reaction that the American electorate pulled the legislative rug out from under Bill Clinton, who made a sharp turn to the right to hang onto his job two years later.
Even Republicans know that George Bush is no Ronald Reagan. Movements will not form around either George Bush. The latter will gain more respect as years go by, as did Harry Truman, who left office with some of the worst polling ever, but Reagan’s legacy will remain safe.
If the ACU plans on advertising, let’s hope they’re more accurate than they have been in the past. Fact Check took a look at their last campaign in 2006 against the Bush administration and found them deceptive and dishonest. They lied about Medicare, about gas prices, about FEMA when they clearly didn’t need to do so, and they coordinated all of this with — guess who? — Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and Barbara Boxer.
Now they want to spend eight times as much battling against an outgoing president who isn’t running for dogcatcher, let alone national public office. Sounds great to me. I hope the people who would otherwise donate to Hillary Clinton and Congressional Democrats sink more of their money in this AUC effort.
UPDATE: Michelle Malkin looks at the CVs of the AUC’s officers, and finds it dominated by unions and, well, more unions. I guess campaign finance reform must have missed this kind of effort.

We As A People Will Get To The Promised Land

Martin Luther King, Jr said this on the day I turned 5 — and the night before a lunatic assassinated him:

We as a people will get to the promised land. I’d like to interpret that to mean Americans as a people will get there together, and only when all of us have arrived has anyone arrived. We are a lot closer than we were 40 years ago when Dr. King gave this eerily prophetic speech. When we do arrive, we have to ensure that we stay there, too.

Republicans Closing The Congressional Gap

After a disastrous 2006 election, Republicans lost control of Congress for the first time in twelve years. After a disastrous 2007 session, Democrats may have given Republicans a window of opportunity to take it back. Rasmussen reports that the GOP has closed the gap on the generic Congressional ballot question to five points, their best showing since November 2006:

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that, if the Congressional Election were held today, 43% of American voters say they would vote for the Democrat in their district and 38% would opt for the Republican (see crosstabs). That’s the closest Republicans have been on this measure since losing control of Congress in Election 2006. It’s also the first time in six months that the Democrat’s advantage has been in single digits. A month ago, the Democrats enjoyed a ten-point edge over the GOP.
Democrats lead by eleven among women while Republicans lead by three among men. A separate survey found that voters have fairly low expectations for Congress during this election year.
It remains to be seen whether this survey reflects lasting change or is merely a statistical aberration. However, it is worth noting that Republicans have also recently reduced the gap in partisan identification. This may be partly due to increased confidence in the War on Terror and the situation in Iraq.

One of the more worrying indicators for Democrats comes from the behavior of independents. Unaffiliated voters gave Democrats a 20-point edge in December. Now that number has fallen to six points, a dramatic shift in a demographic that the Republicans desperately need to recapture.
Democrats tried to sell 2007 as a winning year at the end of the first session, but this shows that no one bought it. They failed to budge the White House on the war, and they spent so much time on fruitless investigations that they failed to push the rest of their agenda. Their leadership now faces the daunting task of pushing an agenda during a presidential election cycle, a near-impossibility even under the best of circumstances with the most talented of leadership.
Under Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, it will turn from tragedy to farce, and in fairly short order.
Republicans appear to have picked up momentum, but it’s largely based on recognition that the Democrats turned out worse than previous voter analysis of Republicans. If the GOP wants to give voters a real reason to continue flocking back to the Republican banner, they need to demonstrate their seriousness about ending corruption and pork-barrel politics and their commitment to limited government. Appointing Jeff Flake to Appropriations would be a good start, and an executive order defunding the airdropped earmarks in the latest omnibus spending bill would amplify that good start.