CQ Notes

It will be a light posting day today, as the hosting service for CQ had its share of problems overnight. Starting around 7:45 or so, Hosting Matters had a complete failure of some sort; the forums have no explanation, but all HM blogs went dark and didn’t come back until about an hour ago or so.
Unfortunately, that pretty much killed the traffic to my Blog Talk Radio show last night. It’s too bad — I thought I had a better show this time than the last, but only got a few calls. Sean from The American Mind paid another visit as I mostly focused on the Senate resolutions wending their way through committee hearings. You can listen to the show as a podcast at the CQ Radio home page, and I hope you enjoy it. I’ll be back next Thursday for another installment!
Addendum: It was apparently a line cut outside of HM’s control. When those things happen, you have to just wait them out until the phone company gets the line fixed. As a call center manager for 15 years, I have an unfortunately long history of having to manage exactly these kinds of problems. My sympathies are with the excellent Hosting Matters team who had to deal with this.

McCain Launches His Own Resolution

John McCain has decided to eschew the competing resolutions expressing disfavor with the new White House surge strategy in favor of an open-ended series of benchmarks intended to demonstrate what progress in Iraq will look like. The resolution gives no deadlines but does describe the process by which the Pentagon should measure success. Here is the conclusion on McCain’s bill:

Resolved, That it is the sense of the Senate that —
(1) Congress should ensure that General David Petraeus, the Commander of Multinational Forces – Iraq, and all United States personnel under his command, have the resources they consider necessary to carry out their mission on behalf of the United States in Iraq; and
(2) that the Government of Iraq must make visible, concrete progress toward meeting the political, economic, and military benchmarks enumerated in the preamble to this Resolution.

McCain obviously wants to offer a way for the Senate to demonstrate its frustration, but directed in such a way that it does not unduly damage the mission. Its benchmarks are reasonable, and open to definition to some extent. They include:
* deploying a “significant number” of Iraqi forces to secure Baghdad
* speeding up the transfer of responsibility for provincial security
* disarmig militias and ensuring the loyalty of the state forces to the Iraqi constitution
* equitable distribution of resources (oil revenues)
* building an effective and independent judiciary
* enforcing the law without regard to sect or ethnicity
* conducting long-overdue provincial elections
* building a process for amending the constitution that is fair to all
* $10 billion in cash for reconstruction
All of these are common sense goals, and the resolution wisely leaves out any timetables. Some would have to get accomplished before others, security most of all. It also stresses the unanimous confirmation of Petraeus as mission commander in a not-so-subtle hint that a resolution torpedoing his strategies before he even arrives to tak command is more than a little hypocritical.
Will it be enough to mollify those who abhor the sight of Congress demanding defeat and withdrawal while making enough of a statement of general impatience to attract support from Republican Senators? It might. Its entry does one more thing — it gives fence-sitters on Warner-Levin a reason to vote against it in favor of the McCain resolution. That may be enough to ensure a filibuster on the resolution making its way through the Senate committee chain now.
UPDATE: I will definitely review this on my Blog Talk Radio show tonight at 9 pm CT. Be sure to tune in and join the conversation by calling 646-552-4889!
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CQ Radio Show Tonight!

I’ll be back on my Blog Talk Radio show again tonight at 9 pm CT, ready to take your calls and discuss the issues of the day. Topics usually will be a game-time decision, but I’ll be interested in hearing your opinions on the dramatic rise and fall of the Joe Biden campaign, the Senate’s attempts to pass a non-binding resolution opposing the troop surge in Baghdad, Al Franken’s run at Norm Coleman’s seat, and much more. Be sure to tune in, and join the conversation by calling 646-652-4889!
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A Crack In The Caucus

One of the key constituencies of the new Democratic majority in the House has started to crumble. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus has split along gender lines, a rebellion against the caucus chair led by my old representative from California:

A firestorm erupted Wednesday within the Congressional Hispanic Caucus when California Rep. Loretta Sanchez quit in protest of Rep. Joe Baca’s chairmanship and alleged mistreatment of women.
Sanchez, in her fifth term representing California’s 47th District, reportedly is furious at fellow California Democrat, Baca, for alleged derogatory remarks. In an interview with Politico.com she accused him of calling her a “whore.” …
Sanchez’s protest of Baca’s chairmanship of the caucus — which represents 21 Hispanic House Democrats — dates back to November 2006, when she voted against him for the leadership post. Four other women members, including Sanchez’s sister, Rep. Linda Sanchez, abstained.
Just a few weeks ago, four female lawmakers requested that Baca repeat the election because the group did not follow it’s own rules of using secret ballots. Sanchez’s spokesman said they never received a response.
Sanchez told Politico.com that “I’m not going to be a part of the CHC as long as Mr. Baca illegally holds the chair … I told them no. There’s a big rift here.”

It didn’t take long for the first signs of disunity among the Democrats to appear, although it was fairly predictable. This feud has simmered for months, and the lack of response by Democratic leadership has allowed it to explode. At a time when both parties want to do its best to attract the growing Hispanic population, the Democrats have to deal with infighting among its best envoys to that demographic.
This stems from decisions made almost a year ago to support non-federal candidates with the caucus’ PAC funds. Baca sent funds to California state candidates, two of whom coincidentally happened to be Baca’s sons. I blogged about the controversy last March, noting that the funds that went to Joe Baca Jr. was used to oppose another Hispanic candidate, a decision that made Sanchez and five other members irate enough to go public with their dissatisfaction.
At the time, I figured that the scandal would force Baca from his post, especially given the Democrats’ insistence on making ethics the centerpiece of their midterm campaign. Unfortunately, that proved to be a bad prediction. Baca apparently eschewed secret ballots for the CHC leadership election, a move that may have been intended to intimidate caucus members into forcing them to support his re-election. It would be hard to find any other reason to violate caucus rules on leadership elections, and considering the need to control BOLDPAC for Baca family political ambitions, a necessary step indeed.
One has to wonder why Nancy Pelosi has not intervened in this fiasco. Apparently, the need for ethics reform doesn’t apply to Democratic politicians misdirecting money to build family political empires.

Hey, Big Spender

With the presidential primary race well under way, the meter has started running on fundraising and spending. Ironically, deficit hawk John McCain has taken the lead on the latter, lapping his competition while doling out over $7 million for his start-up and support for Republicans in the midterms:

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) spent $7.8 million last year to assist other politicians and get his fledgling presidential bid underway, an early sign of the intensity of the spending that is expected to become a fixture of the 2008 campaign.
Among those candidates who had filed 2006 year-end reports with the Federal Election Commission late yesterday, none had come close to spending so much so early on the preparations for the presidential election.
Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) spent $3.4 million, ex-New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani (R) spent $2.4 million and ex-Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (R) had spent $2.1 million from his federal leadership committee by the end of November. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) doled out $1.7 million through her leadership committee, much of it on presidential groundwork, even as she sought reelection to the Senate.

That’s an impressive figure, but it points out the amount of effort it will take McCain to garner mainstream support within his own party. Given McCain’s status in the Senate, it doesn’t surprise that he could raise that much money. However, it does seem surprising that he had to spend that much more than a year before the first primary contest, and that he didn’t bank that for the tough 2007 phase of the campaign.
It does seem a bit unseemly for the man who demanded reform of campaign finance to shell out so much money for his own candidates in the midterms. I’m not exactly complaining, as I’m sure it went to assist Republicans, and Presidential candidates get judged on their ability to help others get elected. Nevertheless, McCain has damaged freedom of political speech with his supposed reform of campaign financing, attempting to rid the process of the damaging effects of cash overdoses. McCain used his own cash to build a constituency of politicians in order to advance his personal and organizational goals. How exactly is that different than what he decries?

Chirac Shrugs At A Nuclear Iran

Jacques Chirac stunned reporters with his nonchalance over the prospect of a nuclear Iran. One or two little bombs didn’t make much of an impression on him, he said in an interview with the New York Times and a French newspaper:

President Jacques Chirac said this week that if Iran had one or two nuclear weapons, it would not pose a big danger, and that if Iran were to launch a nuclear weapon against a country like Israel, it would lead to the immediate destruction of Tehran.
The remarks, made in an interview on Monday with The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune and Le Nouvel Observateur, a weekly magazine, were vastly different from stated French policy and what Mr. Chirac has often said.
On Tuesday, Mr. Chirac summoned the same journalists back to Élysée Palace to retract many of his remarks.
Mr. Chirac said repeatedly during the second interview that he had spoken casually and quickly the day before because he believed he had been talking about Iran off the record.

The French government obviously felt quite a bit of embarrassment over Chirac’s remarks and the effect they could have on EU efforts to hold back the Bush administration on Iran. They released their own version of the session in a transcript that heavily edited Chirac’s statements, and even inserted something he didn’t say at all. France understood better than its leader that shrugging off a nuclear bomb or two would make for very poor public relations — even if they privately agree.
This goes a long way towards explaining European hesitancy towards pressing Iran to stop its nuclear program. They seem stuck in the era of mutually-assured destruction, when both sides of the nuclear divide had rational actors at the helm. Neither side figured to win a nuclear exchange, and it only ended when the Reagan administration turned the issue into an economic war that defeated the Soviets without firing a shot. Unfortunately, Iran doesn’t have rational actors attached to the fingers on the button; they have a millenial group of theocrats who believe that global chaos will bring the advent of their messiah, and they have paved a road for him to travel to Teheran.
Chirac has a good point about proliferation, too, but one or two nukes is enough to make Iran extremely dangerous. The nuke that destroys Tel Aviv will not go 200 meters into the atmosphere, which Chirac noted would bring a response that would raze Teheran. It will get smuggled into Tel Aviv by Hezbollah or Islamic Jihad, two of Iran’s terrorist front groups. Iran will keep its hands as clean as they possibly can to delay an Israeli or American response, one that Europe would no doubt oppose until we could deliver “proof” that Iran backed the attack.
This so clearly shows why the EU and “Old Europe” cannot be trusted on Iran and other matters of security, I’m a little surprised the New York Times reported it.

Air Force To Become Pelosi Air

It didn’t take long for Nancy Pelosi to create the imperial Speakership. She has requested that the Pentagon supply her with military aircraft at all times, and not just for herself, but also for her staff, her colleagues, and her family:

The office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is pressing the Bush administration for routine access to military aircraft for domestic flights, such as trips back to her San Francisco district, according to sources familiar with the discussions.
The sources, who include those in Congress and in the administration, said the Democrat is seeking regular military flights not only for herself and her staff, but also for relatives and for other members of the California delegation. A knowledgeable source called the request “carte blanche for an aircraft any time.”
“They are pressing the point of her succession and that the [Department of Defense] needs to play ball with the speaker’s needs,” one source said. The request originally went to the Pentagon, which then asked the White House to weigh in.
Mrs. Pelosi’s request is not new for a speaker, who is second-in-line in presidential succession. A defense source said the speaker’s regular access to a military plane began after the September 11, 2001, attacks. Rep. J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, who was speaker at the time, started using U.S. Air Force planes for domestic travel to and from his district for security reasons. A former Hastert aide said the congressman did not use military planes for political trips or regularly transport his family.

I’m not even sure that the succession is good enough reason to meet the demand for the House Speaker, even if Denny Hastert used that reasoning. The Speaker is second in line for the Presidency in the case of the death of the President and Vice-President, and therefore deserves some special security protocols. It doesn’t take a military flight to implement those, especially just to fly home on the weekends.
This request by Pelosi goes far beyond even that questionable consideration. Pelosi’s staff doesn’t have anything to do with the succession, and neither do her colleagues in the House. The military is not a charter service for politicians who want to avoid using the same airports as the rest of the hoi polloi. The military has other responsibilities, especially in a time of war, and pampering Congressmen shouldn’t take precedence over them. That most certainly applies to flying Pelosi’s family around, too.
I seem to recall that Pelosi and her party ran on the notion that the Republicans had grown too fat over the perquisites of power. The GOP lost touch with the people of America, they claimed, and let power go to their heads — and certainly in some cases they were right. It’s hard to square that rhetoric with these new demands that the Pentagon start providing free charter flights to Democratic politicians and their staffs and families at a moment’s notice.
UPDATE: Think Progress manages to misstate the issue and then proclaim it a non-story. The Sergeant at Arms of the House says that he suggested the air transport and the larger plane for Pelosi based on Hastert’s use of the plane since 2001. Nowhere does the Sergeant at Arms address Pelosi’s request to use it for the entire Northern California delegation, nor her family or her staff, all of which is unprecedented by Hastert or anyone else. That’s the crux of my criticism, and Think Progress doesn’t even bother to address it.

Bush The Populist?

George Bush has decided to do some Clintonian triangulating in the last two years of his presidency on issues outside the war, it now seems. He surprised observers by using a well-received speech on the economy to Wall Street executives to scold them on income inequality, which he acknowledged has grown over the last generation. While speaking to cheers when reviewing the booming economy, Bush warned them to mind the executive compensation packages that have grown exponentially:

President Bush acknowledged Wednesday that there is growing income inequality in the United States, addressing for the first time a subject that has long concerned Democrats and liberal economists.
“The fact is that income inequality is real — it’s been rising for more than 25 years,” Bush said in an address on Wall Street. “The reason is clear: We have an economy that increasingly rewards education and skills because of that education.”
In some respects, Bush’s remarks were an unremarkable statement of what many economists accept as common wisdom. But they appeared to represented the first time Bush has personally addressed an issue on which his administration has found itself under fierce attack from Democrats. The official White House Web site offers no record of Bush uttering the phrase “income inequality” in a speech or remarks, and aides said they could not recollect such an instance.
The comments came during a generally upbeat economic speech outlining Bush’s economic agenda and the state of the economy.

Democrats ate this up, and that seems what Bush intended with the effort. Barney Frank seemed especially pleased that the election delivered this particular message to the White House. The administration pointed out that members of the Bush economic team, Treasure Secretary Henry Paulson and chief advisor Edward Lazear, mentioned the issue in speeches last year.
Bush, though, appears to be taking a page from Bill Clinton’s playbook. After the devastating midterm elections in 1994, many believed Clinton to be largely irrelevant politically. Instead, Clinton started “triangulating”, adopting the most palatable talking points of the Republican opposition in order to make the issues his own and take some steam out of Newt Gingrich and the GOP majorities. The effort allowed welfare reform and balanced budgets to become reality, and Clinton took as much credit as he could for what had been traditionally Republican goals.
On immigration, of course, Bush has always been closer to the Democratic positions and is now expected to finally get his version of comprehensive reform passed. These kinds of economic populism might threaten his earlier work on taxes and economic stimulation, but if he can take the opportunity to offer symbolic paeans like this speech instead of substantive populist positions, then he will certainly do so.
Interestingly, the Washington Post missed one part of the speech that helped create some of the enthusiasm the Post notes. Readers have to go to the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) to know that Bush wants to push back against the Sarbanes-Oxley nightmare that has enriched consultants and auditors but has kneecapped productivity:

In his speech, Mr. Bush repeated his view that the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley law he signed amid a wave of corporate accounting scandals has been a success. But he gave encouragement to the law’s critics, saying that one section in particular “may be discouraging companies from listing on our stock exchanges.”
He said “we don’t need to change the law; we need to change the way the law is implemented,” and praised efforts by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson — former head of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. — and Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Christopher Cox to roll back what they have termed excesses.
Mr. Bush’s comments likely will fuel efforts to relax Sarbanes-Oxley, particularly Section 404, which requires companies to assess whether they have adequate controls over their financial reporting. Business groups, especially smaller companies, say the assessments are costly and burdensome, and focus on minor issues such as who has access to office keys, while placing insufficient emphasis on who has access to financial records.
Mr. Cox has already begun watering down the provision, and Mr. Bush’s remarks provide him with political cover to go further. Mr. Paulson, chairman of the president’s Working Group on Capital Markets, plans to host a conference this spring to examine the competitiveness of U.S. capital markets and may make his own recommendations on some rules.

For those who work for companies that have to undergo Sox auditing, the news comes as hope for blessed relief. The amount of trivial make-work that Sox has created takes weeks out of the year for units of business with no direct responsibility for financial reporting or control. The WSJ’s characterization of having more concern for door keys than financial ledgers is, unfortunately, the exact experience of Sox auditing. It costs a fortune and only benefits the companies hires to conduct the outside inspections. It’s ISO 9000 without the cool logo for advertisements.

Senate Closer To Anti-Surge Resolution

The Senate moved closer to a non-binding resolution opposing the surge strategy last night when two key members of the chamber reached a compromise on the wording in the bill. John Warner and Carl Levin have agreed to reinforce the resolution with a vow that the Senate will not stop funding the troops:

Democratic and Republican opponents of President Bush’s troop-buildup plan joined forces last night behind the nonbinding resolution with the broadest bipartisan backing: a Republican measure from Sen. John W. Warner of Virginia.
Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) announced the shift, hoping to unite a large majority of the Senate and thwart efforts by the White House and GOP leaders to derail any congressional resolution of disapproval of Bush’s decision to increase U.S. troop levels in Iraq by 21,500.
Although the original Democratic language was popular within the party, it had little appeal among Republicans. Warner’s proposal drew support from both sides, and it was retooled last night to maximize both Democratic and Republican votes.
The revised resolution would express the Senate’s opposition to the troop increase but would vow to protect funding for the troops. The resolution does not include the Democratic language saying the Bush plan is against the national interest, but it also drops an earlier provision by Warner suggesting Senate support for some additional troops.

Pervious versions of the resolution will be withdrawn today, which means that the Hagel-Biden language will no longer be under consideration. The earlier language favored by the Democrats garnered little traction with Republicans dissatisfied with the President’s new strategy. They wanted something that affirmed their support for the overall war on terror but focused criticism narrowly on the additional troops. Harry Reid figured that any resolution that could beat a filibuster was better than a strident one that couldn’t get enough votes to force cloture.
The House plans on drafting its own resolution, and Nancy Pelosi made it clear that she would not settle for compromise. She wants to pass one that demands the retreat of American forces from Iraq, although she has not called for an end to the funding for the deployment. After hearing from Nouri al-Maliki that we could replace 50,000 troops with heavy armament in the hands of the Iraqi Army, she plans to demand that level of withdrawal within six months.
It seems increasingly likely that a significant number of Senate Republicans will wind up supporting the Warner compromise. If they support the war and its aims, why would they vote in favor of this non-binding resolution? It’s a hard question to answer, especially considering the unanimous support given General David Petraeus, one of the architects of the surge.
The answer may lie with the Bush administration’s handling of the issue in the midterm elections. The GOP lost control of both houses in what everyone now concedes was a referendum on the war. The next day, Bush dumped Donald Rumsfeld in favor of Robert Gates, and it came out that Bush had planned the move since the summer but wouldn’t pull the trigger until after the elections.
This infuriated Republicans in Congress, who believe that the decision cost them their majorities, especially in the Senate. The White House maneuvering forced GOP candidates to either defend Rumsfeld or attempt to shrug off questions about his management of the war. Had Bush replaced Rumsfeld in August or even September and made the changes that followed prior to the election, they could have saved one or two seats in the upper chamber, or so some analysts believe.
As a result, it’s easy to speculate that Republicans in both chambers (and those who did not return) might feel a bit betrayed and not inclined to support the administration with as much enthusiasm as before. Their decision to mind their own political fortunes and let the Bush administration twist in the wind would be understandable, but it would still be a mistake. That kind of short-term payback has long-term implications, and while this is speculation, those implications for defeat and an Iraqi collapse are absolutely real.