This week in Congress

December 4, 2006 at 10:17 am

This week in Congress marks the final hours of the 109th Congress. It’s been a long, strange trip.

In the House of Representatives there are two essential items: 10 appropriations bills and a tax extender package. The tax extender package looks like it will pass as it is a Christmas tree tax bill with enough goodies for everyone. Also expected this week is a vote on a Senate-passed offshore oil drilling package.

The appropriations bills will not pass stand alone. Instead, Republicans in both chambers will pass a Continuing Resolution that funds the government at last year’s levels through February 15th. This CR not only saves the taxpayers $17 billion (thanks Senators DeMint and Coburn), it also puts Democrats in a serious bind.

When Congress returns in the new year Democrats will be forced to deal with appropriations bills and the often endless debates surrounding them before they get cranking on their agenda. As an added bonus, the CR is scheduled to end mid-February, right before the busy Congressional budget season ramps up.

Non-floor activity in the House and Senate this week will be interesting to watch. In the House Republicans pick their committee slots on the 6th and 7th. One high profile committee showdown to watch will be between Representatives Ander Crenshaw and Paul Ryan.

Crenshaw is next in line on the Budget Committee but the challenge being mounted by Ryan is formidable. Despite being 13th in line on the committee, Ryan may be able to jump up to the top GOP slot with the support of conservatives who admire Ryan’s youthful energy and limited government ideas. A jump like this would not be entirely unprecedented. John Kasich made a similar leap when he became Budget Chairman in the 90’s.

Meanwhile, the conservative Republican Study Committee will assemble on Wednesday to elect their new Chairman. Mike Pence has declined to run for the top spot again leaving open a void that will be filled by either Todd Tiahrt or Jeb Hensarling. Tiahrt is supported by the RSC founders and will likely draw support from appropriators in the RSC. Hensarling is supported by the most conservative and most active members of the RSC.

Finally, tomorrow morning in the Hart Senate Building the Robert Gates nomination will begin in the Senate Armed Services Committee. Most observers expect Gates to be confirmed despite the inevitable political posturing from the top Democrat on the committee, Carl Levin.

UPDATE: Representatives Tom Price and Mike Pence along with 24 other House conservatives sent this letter to leadership today urging the passage of a year long continuing resolution in order to save more taxpayer dollars.

The longest 100 hours of your life

December 1, 2006 at 12:55 pm

Nancy Pelosi’s first 100 hours as Speaker of the House are likely to stretch on for some time.

Byron York explains:

Pelosi plans to enact the Democrats’ “Six for ’06” agenda in 100 legislative hours — not real hours.  And a legislative hour is not just any hour that the House is open for business. “It’s when the House convenes, after the one-minutes and before the special orders,” says Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly, referring to the times of day when members of Congress will sometimes drone on about any issue that comes to mind.  At that pace, Daly says, the first 100 hours “could take a couple of weeks.”

Or maybe longer.  “We don’t really have a term ‘legislative hours,’” says a top Republican House aide.  Depending how that is defined, “it could last for several weeks.”

After leadership loss, where to now for Pence?

November 28, 2006 at 2:16 pm

At first glance Mike Pence’s 168-27-1 loss in this month’s House leadership elections may look like a significant political setback. But a little history might be good for some perspective.

Recall that in Nov. 2002 the upstart Harold Ford challenged Nancy Pelosi for minority leader and lost by a similar margin: 177-29. By all accounts, Ford’s bid for Minority Leader was a longshot as he challenged Pelosi under similar premises as Pence challenged Boehner: giving Democrats a more conservative alternative and new direction for the party as well as a TV and media friendly face to bring them back to the majority.

Even though Ford was soundly defeated, it didn’t hurt his reputation, especially in Tennessee, as the leadership election was viewed as an Inside the Beltway vote. In fact, some argue it helped get Ford even more national exposure and made him the odds-on favorite to gain his party’s nomination for a statewide run later. Four years later he did end up mounting a very strong bid to become the first African American Senator from the South since Reconstruction and almost pulled it off.

Now Ford is out of office, but don’t be surprised when the ambitious young Democrat comes back in a big way.

Like Ford, Pence’s stock has gone nowhere but up in his home state. The Indy Star:

His loss in a House leadership race could still provide a long-term gain for U.S. Rep. Mike Pence.

The Indiana Republican didn’t come close in his bid to be House minority leader, losing to Ohio Rep. John Boehner by a 158-27 vote. But the favorable attention Pence received in his race could play well for several options in his future, including a run for statewide office for U.S. senator or governor.

Unlike Ford, Pence still has his seat in Congress from which he can continue to practice the optimistic brand of Reagan conservatism that has won him praise in many circles.

As Pence’s stock continues to rise at home in Indiana and across the country, watch for the young conservative to make a move towards a state-wide run. Over the next six years it is likely that Pence will have the option to run either for Senate or for Governor. In either race he would be extremely competitive.

Should he win statewide…you know where the talk goes from there.

Musical chairs…office space style

November 22, 2006 at 11:16 am

Who gets what in terms of office space? That is the question on Capitol Hill right now. And the answer is, Nancy Pelosi decides:

WASHINGTON, Nov. 21 — Forget those pesky leadership fights. The folks who run Congress are now getting down to what really matters on Capitol Hill: dividing up the office space.

In something of a break with recent tradition, the incoming Democratic speaker, Nancy Pelosi of California, is planning to expropriate the second-floor suite of offices now occupied by the current speaker, J. Dennis Hastert — a handful of rooms providing a spectacular view of the Mall.

That space has been in Republican hands for 50 years or so, even when Democrats were in charge. In fact, the main offices are so strongly associated with Republicans that they were officially designated the Robert H. Michel Rooms by the House in 1995 in honor of the popular former Republican leader.

DeMint, Coburn pull Senate plug on pork spending

November 21, 2006 at 4:58 pm

Senators Jim DeMint and Tom Coburn deserve praise from conservatives for doggedly insisting that this Republican Congress not pass porked up spending bills in the remaining weeks before Dems take control.

Andy Roth has the details.

Battle for control of RSC brewing

November 20, 2006 at 4:34 pm

Congressional Quarterly has this disturbing bit of news:

A battle is brewing between the Republican Study Committee’s old guard and newer members over the choice of a chairman.

The four founders of the group of conservative House Republicans, known as the RSC, may nominate a leadership-aligned appropriator, Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan., to succeed rabble-rousing Mike Pence, R-Ind.

Until the last chairmanship election, the word of the founders — John T. Doolittle of California, Sam Johnson of Texas, Dan Burton of Indiana, and Ernest Istook of Oklahoma — was essentially law, but Pence opened up the process by allowing for nominations from the floor when he was the founders’ nominee. None were offered.

But that is not likely to be the case if the founders put Tiahrt’s name forward, according to Republican aides.

Many in the RSC consider appropriators the enemy — big spenders betraying the party’s fiscally conservative principals.

“It’s a complete effort to neuter the RSC,” said a conservative aide…

…Having Tiahrt in the top RSC post would give House Republican leaders a measure of control over their most troublesome faction.

This could be the beginning of the end for the RSC.

There are rumblings even now that were this scenario to unfold, you would see a major splintering of the RSC. The heart and soul of the RSC are the 25-30 members who are most conservative, most active, most likely to attend meetings and most apt to buck leadership. Under Mike Pence’s leadership that core group was able to lead the majority of the majority to some major wins, most notably Operation Offset.

In my opinion, it is in this role that the RSC is most useful. Who needs a tamer, more leadership friendly, RSC? What good does that do except provide a rubber stamp for often squishy leadership tendencies? No. The RSC should function as a conservative check on leadership. As the Proverb says, “as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” This is the job of the RSC: to sharpen Republican leadership.

If the founders hand pick a replacement for Pence that is a leadership-friendly appropriator who does not want to rock the boat, they run the risk of marginalising the influence of the RSC and splintering their once up-and-coming caucus.

Pence bows out gracefully

November 17, 2006 at 12:45 pm

From a Mike Pence press release following his loss to John Boehner in the House Minority Leader race:

“It was one of the greatest honors of my life to stand for election as Minority Leader of the House of Representatives. I am deeply humbled by the support extended to me by many both within and outside the Republican Minority in Congress.”I congratulate Minority Leader John Boehner on his election. I look forward to working with him as we steer our Republican Conference back to the principles of limited government, fiscal discipline and traditional moral values.”

Congrats to Pence, who was a class act in this race from start to finish and who, more importantly, ran a campaign emphasizing a return to bedrock conservative principles. His campaign for leader was important because it gave voice to many in the conservative movement who have watched in dismay as the Party that they have considered their home drifted away from Reagan Republicanism toward pragmatic power brokering. Now Boehner has won, but in the course of the campaign to his great credit he too has grasped the same lessons that Pence did and he too has promised to steer the Party of Reagan back to its roots.

While the final tally this morning did not show it, I suspect Pence’s star is only beginning to rise.

Blunt beats Shadegg 137-57

November 17, 2006 at 10:40 am

Below is a statement from a Roy Blunt press release:

“For twelve years, the Democrats have gotten away without leading, without offering an agenda, and without saying what they’re actually for. Now they will be forced to govern.”Under this Republican leadership, the job of the Minority Whip will no longer be to go to the House floor every day and lose. Instead, each time we hold our team together and force the Democrats to vote like Democrats, we’ll be taking one more step toward recapturing our majority in 2008.

“One-hundred-forty-nine Democrats demonstrated yesterday that they are willing to buck Nancy Pelosi. We’ll work each day to give those Democrats a viable alternative to her liberal, San Francisco agenda.

“John Shadegg ran a good race, and I look forward to working with him in the 110th Congress to advance the reform agenda that he articulated so well throughout this campaign. As a party, we learned some hard lessons last week. But our ideas didn’t lose — we did. Today begins the rebirth of House Republicans’ common sense agenda with a leadership team that is more unified than ever, ready to regain the trust of the American people, and ready to restore faith in our ideals.

“John Boehner is a good friend, and he and I will continue working hard with all of the leaders elected today to advance an agenda aimed at limited government, personal responsibility, and economic and national security.”

What will they do?

November 17, 2006 at 8:08 am

Right now, gathered in the Canon House Office building is the entire GOP caucus. They will vote for their new leaders from top down, meaning the first vote is the biggest: Pence or Boehner.

The order of elections will be:

1) Republican Leader

2) Republican Whip

3) Chair of the Republican Conference

4) Chair of the Committee on Policy

5) Vice Chair of the Republican Conference

6) Secretary of the Republican Conference

7) Chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee

Each nomination will be preceded by a nomination speech that lasts about 3 minutes before the caucus proceeds to cast secret ballots.

Waiting…

UPDATE: NRO’s Jonathan Martin has a user’s guide to this morning’s leadership elections.

UPDATE 9:04: Nominating speeches for Minority Leader are finished and the voting has begun.

UPDATE 9:10: Votes are being counted…Fox News’s Major Garrett predicts a Boehner landslide but a closer Whip race.

UPDATE 9:12: The House GOP conference has announced a Boehner victory.

UPDATE 9:15: Boehner is speaking to the GOP caucus right now. The first man to shake his hand after the vote was Mike Pence.

UPDATE 9:21: The final tally was 168-27 for Boehner.

UPDATE 9:26: I have to run to a previous commitment so updates will stop here for a bit. I will be sending Andy over at the Club for Growth any updates I get. Be sure to head over there as he will be covering what is going on over there in the Canon HOB.

The Corner is all over this too.

UPDATE 10:40: The election for Conference Chair is underway. They are moving to a second ballot. Lungren fell off with 29. Blackburn had 31, Kingston - 58 and Putnam - 81.

UPDATE 10:57: Blackburn is out with 30 votes. Kingston had 74 and Putnam had 89 on the last ballot. Kingston was the beneficiary of most of Lungren’s votes. They now move to the final ballot. Blackburn supporters will decide outcome.

UPDATE 11:04: Putnam wins 100-91.

UPDATE 11:21: Thad McCotter just won Policy Chair.

UPDATE 12:10: Tom Cole and Pete Sessions are headed to a second ballot for NRCC Chair. Phil English was shed on the first.

UPDATE 12:15: Cole gets it.

UPDATE: John Carter to Secretary.

Pence speech to conference

November 16, 2006 at 4:25 pm

Mike Pence, a candidate for Majority Leader gave a speech to the entire GOP conference today in which he laid out the reasons he wants to lead. During his speech he also talked about his opponent:

Let me say a word about my opponent, John Boehner.

I am not running because I think John Boehner did a bad job as Majority Leader. Quite the contrary. I think the guy deserves a medal.

John Boehner is an honorable man and John Boehner is a conservative.

He took a tough job under the worst circumstances and made the best of it and I commend him for it.

I am not running because I think I am a better man. I am running because I think I might just be the best man to lead this conference as Minority Leader.

And the role of the Minority Leader is different from Majority Leader. Each demand different skills and each have different goals.

Our goal in the Majority was to pass legislation reflecting Republican principles.

Our goal of the Republican Minority in the 110th Congress should be to defeat the liberal agenda of the Democrat Party and become the majority in Congress again.

We will only defeat the Democrat agenda by presenting a positive, conservative message in vivid contrast to the big government liberalism of the new Majority.

Read the entire speech in the extended section. Read the rest of this entry »

49 means nothing, 41 means everything

November 16, 2006 at 3:49 pm

Soon to be Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell today spoke with bloggers on a conference call. One of the first things he pointed out was the nature of the Senate. McConnell said that being in the minority in the Senate had its perks: “49 is nowhere near an irrelevant minority…much to the frustration of the majority,” said McConnell
“Being in the minoirty is not my first choice but we are not anywhere near helpless.”

McConnell sounded ready to lead the charge against what will certainly be a raft of liberal legislation offered by the Senate’s new leaders.

“My challenge will be to hold together 41 our of 49 Republicans…you can see why many people around town here think being the minority leader is easier than being the majority leader.”

McConnell will be referred to as “The Republican Leader” on the floor of the U.S. Senate rather than the “Minority Leader.” This tradition began with Harry Reid who didn’t like the sound of the word minority in his title.
McConnell’s biggest fear is that good judges get tied up in the Judiciary Committee.

He ended the call with this note: “Even though we would prefer to be in the majority it might do us some good to be in the monority for a while.” McConnell said it could “sharpen up” Republicans.

Ryun on leadership elections

November 16, 2006 at 11:14 am

Outgoing conservative Congressman Jim Ryun knows a thing or two about a conservative electorate who were in no mood to support Republicans this year. He was one of the many Republican casualties in the midterms. In this piece in National Review, Ryun argues that conservatism itself was not repudiated last week, but Republicans were. He urges his colleagues to take deliberate steps to rectify the situation and he points to tomorrow’s leadership vote as a good place to start:

On Friday, House Republicans will elect its leadership for the 110th Congress. These votes are a critical first step to ensure that the party returns to its core values. While I will not have a vote in these elections, I have spoken to many of my colleagues and have urged them to vote for leaders who will again make us the party of Reagan. We need real change and that starts with new leadership. The country once again needs Republican leaders with a demonstrated commitment to limited government, fiscal responsibility, and conservative values. We do not need leaders who simply give lip service to those principles, as too many of our leaders have done recently. I hope that my colleagues will chose wisely and in doing so that our party, the party of Lincoln and the party of Reagan will once again be able to gain the trust of the American people.

Dem leadership race

November 16, 2006 at 10:31 am

Hotline on Call reports that two independent sources are now saying that John Murtha’s campaign has conceded they will come up short this morning. If that does indeed happen and Steny Hoyer pulls it out, a serious message will have been sent to Nancy Pelosi from her Democrat colleagues: what you say from on high is not gospel.

It will also mean that all the tough talk from Jim Moran was just that, talk.

And finally, it may mean that there will be some real opportunities for conservatives to work with some of the more moderate Democrats in this majority. On that subject, it is worth noting this Roll Call story:

In an effort to boost their influence in the sharply divided chamber, members of the moderate Republican and Democratic House factions indicated Wednesday that the two groups may coordinate efforts in the 110th Congress and could move to create a formal bipartisan coalition in the new session.

Members of the fiscally conservative Democratic Blue Dog Coalition and the centrist Republican Tuesday Group met in advance of the Nov. 7 elections, Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) said Wednesday, to discuss areas where the groups could align.

The key for conservatives will be finding popular conservative — not squishy moderate — legislation that centrist coalitions will be able to support.

UPDATE: Murtha got whooped, 149-86 and Pelosi suffers her first defeat very early.

Boehner announces more commitments

November 16, 2006 at 9:41 am

John Boehner’s office has released a letter this morning from Reps. Buyer, King, McMorris and Porter announcing their support of Boehner. The letter can be read in the extended section. Read the rest of this entry »

Big day for House Dems

November 16, 2006 at 9:15 am

Who will be the next House majority leader? Liberal John Murtha or moderate Steny Hoyer? That is the question before the House Democratic caucus this morning as the gather in the Cannon House Office Building. And the side story here is Nancy Pelosi who is doing everything in her power to elect Murtha (who was instrumental in getting Pelosi the top Democratic position in 2001).

Roll Call reports:

Both Murtha and Hoyer and their supporters spent much of Wednesday shoring up votes — nearly 80 Democrats have publicly endorsed Hoyer, while more than 20 have backed Murtha’s bid — and working the handful of lawmakers believed to remain undecided in the hours leading up to the vote.

“Things have moved significantly in the past few days,” asserted Rep. Tim Ryan (Ohio), who has backed Murtha in the contest. Another Murtha operative, Rep. Jim Moran (Va.) suggested that the race remained tight, but predicted the Pennsylvania lawmaker would nonetheless win. “Things are close for us, they’re OK,” he said.

But Murtha also spent Wednesday deflecting questions over his involvement in the Abscam scandal of the early 1980s, in which he was caught on videotape being offered a $50,000 bribe by an undercover FBI agent. Murtha, who never was charged in the case but was named as an unindicted co-conspirator, has maintained he did nothing wrong.

Murtha also surprised some moderate Democrats on Wednesday, asserting at a Blue Dog Coalition meeting that an ethics and lobbying reform bill touted by party leaders was “total crap,” but said that he would work to enact the legislation — despite having opposed an earlier iteration on the House floor — because Pelosi supports it,

“Even though I think it’s total crap, I’ll vote for it and pass it because that’s what Nancy wants,” Murtha said in reference to the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act, a cornerstone of the Democrats’ legislative agenda in the 110th Congress.

Regarding Murtha’s “total crap” comment…maybe he isn’t all that bad, as, in my opinion, that mish-mash of a bill is a completely political exercise designed to dupe the public rather than reform Congress. There are better ways to clean up Congress.

The Hill has more on the deepening divisions in the Democratic Party:

House Democrats head to the ballot box today to elect their majority leader, with many of them fretting that the contentious race has split their caucus into two warring camps, one allied with Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) and Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the other with Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), regardless of today’s outcome.

The race has reinforced longstanding divisions between different factions in the caucus, members and observers said, and has diverted their attention from a positive message they hoped to project just days after winning control of the House…

…Many Democrats were dismayed at the ever more heated and at times ugly battle between two of their most senior members, much of it playing out on national television.Some Hoyer backers questioned Pelosi’s political judgment, arguing that the effort to “purge” Hoyer from the leadership would damage caucus unity.

“It’s a terrible way to start. It’s a lose-lose situation. Either way she has polarized the caucus,” said one House Democrat allied with Hoyer.

“You’re going to be more likely to question her after something like this that is so clearly bad for us and could have been avoided,” another commented.

The situation reminded more than one lawmaker of a remark made once by former Rep. Mo Udall (D-Ariz.): “I have learned the difference between a cactus and a caucus. On a cactus, the pricks are on the outside.”

Who will lead the minority to the majority?

November 16, 2006 at 8:45 am

I preview tomorrow’s GOP leadership elections for Townhall today:

On Friday morning House Republicans will hold a meeting to elect leaders who will lead them in the minority for the first time since 1994. The House leadership elections have become ground zero for an intra-party debate about the future of the Republican Party and the broader conservative movement.

Many outside groups, conservative blogs and grassroots conservatives are agitating for a return to bedrock conservative principles. The call for a back-to-basics approach has often been coupled with a call for fresh faces in GOP leadership. Among the members vying for leadership positions there are indeed some fresh faces as well as some old hands. But all have one thing in common: They are echoing outside calls for a return to the fundamentals.