20 biggest news stories of ‘06

December 27, 2006 at 9:28 am

John Hawkins runs down the list and offers this little tidbit about the number one story:

Hold onto your wallets and burn proof your American flags because the Democrats are back in charge and this time? It’s personal!


What’s Frist up to?

December 27, 2006 at 9:12 am

The Washington Post has the scoop on former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist’s activity now that he is out of the Senate. In an email Frist gave his update:

But retirees shouldn’t reminisce, and Frist won’t. “Over the next couple of weeks, Karyn and I and the boys will be on the go; traveling and visiting with family and friends,” he writes. For example, he said, he was heading to South Texas with two of his sons and some friends for a father-son hunt.

“Karyn, the boys and I will then spend the 23rd with Karyn’s Mother and sister Trisha and their extended family (45 McLaughlins at their biannual McLaughlin family Christmas) in Austin. And then back to Nashville for Christmas Day to join the Frist clan,” he writes. “We’re rehabbing the home I grew up in, but it’s not ready so we are living in the backyard in a garage apartment (now beautifully decorated by Karyn!).”

The key is to keep moving. “Another hunt with the family on the 26th to replicate the traditional southern hunt (at night) that we did exactly four years ago on the night that I became majority leader.”

A hint of nostalgia there, but Frist quickly recovers. “I’ll spend early January talking with and listening to folk around the country on the new focus for my leadership committee Volunteer PAC (VOLPAC) and promise to send along information before the end of the month.”

Okay. Maybe all that doesn’t excite you. But at the end of his message, Frist promises real news. “February I’m off on my annual medical mission trip delivering care, doing surgery, and treating AIDS patients in Kenya and Sudan and am so excited that Karyn will join me this year.”

So stay active and keep moving. There’s always a future presidential run to think about.

Gerald Ford, RIP

December 27, 2006 at 9:09 am

Where’s Tim?

December 27, 2006 at 8:15 am

Posting has been sparse as I have been enjoying the Christmas season. Plenty of fun with family, much food, good drink and merriment have filled the last few days. But this Christmas my wife and I bought a puppy so it has been a little different. By different I mean no sleep. I have been chasing Pippin (like the hobbit not Scottie) around for five days now cleaning up messes, waking up to whining in the middle of the night etc. etc.

Here the little creature is below seen playing with my sister-in-law and little niece. He is a Welsh Corgi.

Weekend links…and video

December 23, 2006 at 12:11 pm
  • Obama to run
  • Christmas song contest
  • So much for earmark reform
  • Kudlow for McCain?
  • Before the first Christmas
  • The longest night is over
  • Christmas breakfast beer
  • A last Christmas for some?
  • Conan’s Christmas cards

Retail blogs

December 21, 2006 at 9:00 am

The Washington Times writes about an emerging trend:

The most desirable up-and-coming retail space isn’t necessarily in the mall. It’s in your list of favorite Web sites, right between your best friends’ blogs.

A growing number of retailers have started blogs, or Web logs, this year, hoping that an account of the company’s newest ideas, explanations of big decisions and stories of employees’ lives will show the human side of their shops and create some buzz.

“For any company, blogs are the most efficient way to get people talking about your Web site,” said Andrew Sernovitz, chief executive officer of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, a Chicago trade group.

Raising the minimum wage

December 20, 2006 at 12:19 pm

President Bush today said he supported raising the minimum wage:

President George W. Bush said on Wednesday that he supports a Democratic proposal to increase the U.S. minimum wage but said it should be coupled with tax and regulatory relief for small businesses.

“I believe we should do it in a way that does not punish the millions of small businesses that are creating most of the new jobs in our country,” Bush told a news conference. “So, I support pairing it with targeted tax and regulatory relief to help these small businesses stay competitive and to help keep our economy growing.”

Democrats, who took control of Congress in November elections, have said they will push to raise the minimum wage over two years to $7.25 per hour from $5.15 per hour.

Bush appears to have GOP congressional backing as well. This statement was released today from Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell:

An increase in the minimum wage needs to help both the workers who earn it and the small businesses that pay it. That’s why it just makes sense to pair the increased wage with tax and regulatory relief to help the small businesses that provide most of the jobs in this country stay competitive and employ even more people. The President laid out a commonsense approach to this issue, one that the Congress can pass in a bipartisan way.

But what nobody is talking about is consequences of raising the minimum wage. Heritage’s Tim Kane:

After decades of experience, everyone should know that regulating the price of labor is identical to any other price control and an especially crude way to “fix” free markets. Raising the minimum wage will hurt low-income workers, cost jobs, and hobble the American economy. Congress should know by now that bucking the laws of economics does not work.

Bush: Tax hikes on the table for Social Security

December 20, 2006 at 9:25 am

The Washington Post:

Signaling a new flexibility on issues in the wake of the Democrats’ wins, Bush said he is willing to discuss Democratic ideas for solving the Social Security problem, including tax increases. “I don’t see how you can move forward without people feeling comfortable about putting ideas on the table,” Bush said when asked about the prospect of tax increases to keep Social Security solvent. “I have made it clear that I have a way forward that can do it [without raising taxes] and I want to hear other people’s opinions.”

Here is the problem: Bush will put tax increases in the table for discussion while Democrats will continue to say no to discussing personal retirement accounts. It is not a fair trade. This is a strategy that I fear will end with a poor solution for the Social Security problem and a tax increase. If that happens, all the effort that this President has put forth to avoid the “read my lips” moment that his father could not will have been for nothing.

Red State bought by Eagle

December 20, 2006 at 8:41 am

Red State, the premier conservative group/social network blog has announced today that they have been bought by Eagle Publishing here in Washington, DC.

Soaking the rich

December 20, 2006 at 8:27 am

The Wall Street Journal today:

Maybe our liberal friends are onto something. They keep saying the rich should pay more taxes, and it turns out the rich already are! That’s one of the valuable lessons from the IRS’s annual study of income tax data, just released for 2004.

Americans who earned more than $1 million in adjusted gross income paid $178 billion, or an average of $740,000 per filer, in income taxes in 2004. That’s up about one-third from 2002, the year before the Bush tax cuts in marginal income-tax and dividend and capital gains rates. The wealthiest 1% of tax filers paid a remarkable 35% of all individual income-tax payments that year.

Santorum speaks

December 19, 2006 at 10:08 am

In his first major interview after his loss, Rick Santorum tells the Pittsburgh Tribune Review’s Salena Zito that he will not stop talking about the “greatest problem” confronting this country.

Big government Republicans

December 19, 2006 at 8:55 am

Former speechwriter for President Bush Michael Gerson wrote in his Newsweek column this week about a “Republican identity crisis.” In this piece, Gerson attacks conservatives in the following manner:

My low point with the Republican Party came in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In attempting to deliver benefits to victims, the administration found men and women who had never had a bank account; families entirely disconnected from the mainstream economy. A problem rooted in generations of governmentally enforced oppression—slavery and segregation—demanded an active response from government to encourage economic empowerment and social mobility.

Yet the response of many Republicans was to use the disaster as an excuse for cutting government spending, particularly the Medicare prescription-drug benefit for seniors. At a post-Katrina meeting with White House officials, one conservative think-tank sage urged: “The president needs to give up something he wants. Why not the AIDS program for Africa?”

This reaction previews a broader, high-stakes Republican debate as we head toward the 2008 election. One Republican Party—the Republican Party of movement conservatives on Capitol Hill and in the think-tank world—will argue that the “big government Republicanism” of the Bush era has been a reason for recent defeats. Like all fundamentalists, the antigovernment conservatives preach that greater influence requires a return to purity—the purity of Reaganism.

But the golden age of austerity under Reagan is a myth. During the Reagan years, big government got bigger, with federal spending reaching 23.5 percent of GDP (compared with just over 20 percent under the current president). But the Reagan reality is more admirable than the myth. He wisely chose what was historically necessary—large defense increases and tax reductions—over what was politically unachievable: a massive rollback of government.

Gerson continues:

As antigovernment conservatives seek to purify the Republican Party, it is reasonable to ask if the purest among them are conservatives at all. The combination of disdain for government, a reflexive preference for markets and an unbalanced emphasis on individual choice is usually called libertarianism. The old conservatives had some concerns about that creed, which Russell Kirk called “an ideology of universal selfishness.” Conservatives have generally taught that the health of society is determined by the health of institutions: families, neighborhoods, schools, congregations. Unfettered individualism can loosen those bonds, while government can act to strengthen them. By this standard, good public policies—from incentives to charitable giving, to imposing minimal standards on inner-city schools—are not apostasy; they are a thoroughly orthodox, conservative commitment to the common good.

A good friend of mine emailed me his reaction to Gerson’s piece which I think worth posting:

In a nutshell, Gerson asserts that Reagan wasn’t really a small government conservative, and that greater government intervention is necessary to help those in need.I respect Gerson’s abilities immensely, but his inclination towards bigger government is misguided and wrong. I’m surprised that Gerson, an incredibly well-read theological scholar and evangelical, is not more familiar with the writings of C.S. Lewis, who insistently cautioned against faith in the concept of an omnicompetent government.

In his essay “Is Progress Possible? Willing Slaves of the Welfare State” Lewis writes:

We have on the one hand a desperate need; hunger, sickness and the dread of war. We have, on the other, the conception of something that might meet it; omnicompetent global technocracy. Are not these the ideal opportunity for enslavement? This is how it has entered before; a desperate need (real or apparent) in the one party, a power (real or apparent) to relieve it, in the other. In the ancient world individuals have sold themselves as slaves in order to eat. So in society. Here is a witch-doctor who can save us from the sorcerers — a war-lord who can save us from the barbarians — a Church who can save us from Hell. Give them what they ask, give ourselves to them bound and blindfold, if only they will! Perhaps the terrible bargain will be made again. We cannot blame men for making it. We can hardly wish them not to. Yet we can hardly bear that they should.

Gerson asks in his column, “What does antigovernment conservatism offer to inner-city neighborhoods where violence is common and families are rare? Nothing.” That is an incredibly depressing assertion to be made by someone so astute. I have no doubt about Gerson’s intentions, his sincerity, or his desire to help those in need. What is so sad about his statement is that it conveys a complete lack of faith in any compassionate individual to offer assistance to those in need without a nudge from government.

The question that Gerson needs to ask himself is this: “Over the last 50 years, what has big government given to inner-city neighborhoods where violence is common and families are rare?” The answer? Nothing but dependence, incompetence, and injustice.

Former White House Chief of Staff Andy Card told The New Yorker earlier this year that Gerson was “a C.S. Lewis type”. If only it were so.

Senate GOP will not demand same treatment as 2001 Dems

December 18, 2006 at 4:40 pm

In 2001 the Senate was divided 50-50.

Democrats in the Senate demanded under threat of filibuster that the GOP pass a Senate rules package that gave the minority more funding for committee slots and — as it turned out more importantly — the right to reorganize should the makeup of the Senate change in favor of the Democrats. The makeup of the Senate did change when Jim Jeffords switched parties and because the Senate GOP had conceded to Democrat demands providing a rule for mid-session reorganization, Democrats gained control of the Senate. Had the GOP not conceded to that rule, they could have filibustered the motion to reorganize and kept control of the Senate.

Now, the shoe is on the other foot, and unlike the 2001 Democrats, today’s Senate GOP will reportedly not push for equal treatment. Congressional Quarterly reports:

Senate Republicans, sensitive to appearances and confident of their parliamentary prowess, are unlikely to press for a formal agreement with Democrats to reorganize the chamber if the GOP picks up a seat in the course of the 110th Congress.

This week’s sudden hospitalization of Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., who underwent emergency surgery for bleeding in his brain, dramatically underscored the tenuous balance of power in the new Congress.

While I understand that pushing for this rule at this time could be perceived as morbid, I think it is a mistake not to demand equal treatment. This has nothing to do with Senator Johnson. His recovery thankfully appears to be going well and I fully expect and hope that he will be back casting votes in the Senate soon.

What this is about is another Senator: Joe Lieberman.

Joe Lieberman was betrayed by many of his colleagues and his closest friends in the 2006 midterm elections. That betrayal he has made clear is something he will not soon forget and he has hinted multiple times that he would consider switching parties if the extreme liberal faction of his party pushes things too far. It is good for conservatives and for the nation to have Joe Lieberman acting as check on these extreme elements in the Democratic Party.

But now, as the GOP is foregoing their right to demand equal treatment, Joe Lieberman’s power to act as a counterwieght to liberal extremism has been diminished.

If the Senate rules do not treat the GOP in the same way that the 2001 Dems were treated, Joe Lieberman’s threat to switch parties if liberals get out of control is rendered toothless. This is because under the rules about to be conceded to by the Senate GOP, Democrats would be able to filibuster any motion to reorganize should the makeup of the Senate change. If Lieberman switched parties, do you think a liberal Senate Democratic caucus who already has demonstrated that they have no love loss for Lieberman would hesitate to filibuster a motion to reorganize? Of course they wouldn’t. They would feel justified in their filibuster because they would say that Lieberman caucused with their party and that the 2006 midterms was an American stamp of approval on a Democratic majority for these two years.

The GOP should not roll over on this issue. This is not about getting the majority back. This is about allowing Joe Lieberman to temper the Democrats’ extreme liberal tendencies.

Now this is a great video

December 18, 2006 at 11:59 am

I would normally save this for my weekend post but this new U2 video is too good not to post today…plus Congress is out of town and things are slow anyway.

Enjoy U2’s tribute to great musicians of the past…

Troop surge option divides Dems

December 18, 2006 at 10:11 am

President Bush is reportedly leaning toward injecting as many as 50,000 new troops into the Iraq conflict in an effort to establish security. Fred Barnes writes about the plan:

It envisions a temporary addition of 50,000 troops on the ground in Iraq. The initial mission would be to secure and hold the mixed Baghdad neighborhoods of Shia and Sunni residents where most of the violence occurs. Earlier efforts had cleared many of those sections of the city without holding them. After which, the mass killings resumed. Once neighborhoods are cleared, American and Iraqi troops in this plan would remain behind, living day-to-day among the population. Local government leaders would receive protection and rewards if they stepped in to provide basic services. Safe from retaliation by terrorists, residents would begin to cooperate with the Iraqi government. The securing of Baghdad would be followed by a full-scale drive to pacify the Sunni-majority Anbar province.

Soon to be Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid likes the idea:

The Senate’s incoming majority leader said he would support a temporary increase of U.S. military forces in Iraq, so long as any such act was tied to a withdrawal by 2008.

“If it’s for a surge — that is, for two or three months — and it’s part of a program to get us out of there as indicated by this time next year, then, sure, I’ll go along with it,” Sen. Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said on ABC’s “This Week.”

But how will more liberal elements of the Democratic Party react? In their eyes, wouldn’t this be seen as making a bad mistake worse?  Ted Kennedy speaks for the extreme left when he says he disagrees with Reid:

“Well, I respect Harry Reid on it, but that’s not where I am,” Mr. Kennedy told “Fox News Sunday.” “The generals who have testified before the Armed Services Committee think that we would add to being a crutch for the Iraqi civilian government in not making the right judgments and decisions. I think that is a persuasive case and is one that I support.”

And speaking of the Kos crowd, here is there reaction:

I try to tell myself not to second guess Senator Reid too often…

The political problem, of course, is the same one we’ve been dealing with all along. Fear of the “Dems are soft on the war/terror” meme. Or its evil twin, “We coulda won if it hadn’t been for those meddling Democrats.”

But the time has come to cut Bush off. He’s out of political capital, and is casting his eyes about to see if anyone will nod assent to putting his counterfeit Rolex on the table to get back in the game.

Nobody profits from playing cards with a degenerate gambler who can’t cover his bets. Least of all one who has nothing to lose from taking a beating rather than paying up.

It seems that the Kos contingency will not be happy with anything other than withdrawal. The “surge” option puts Democrats in an awkward position. If they oppose it, they run the risk of appearing disinterested in victory in Iraq. If they support it they own a new Iraq policy and therefore own the Iraq problem.

A cut?

December 18, 2006 at 8:21 am

The Washington Post buys into the beltway mode of thinking about federal spending:

The Republican-controlled Congress’s decision to adjourn a week ago before completing many of the spending bills that finance the federal government will reverberate in ways large and small, such as understaffed U.S. attorney’s offices, delayed renovations at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut and a scuttled global nuclear energy exchange.

Republican leaders left behind just enough spending authority to keep the government operating through mid-February, less than halfway through the 2007 fiscal year that began Oct. 1. Democrats have signaled that when they take control of Congress in January they will extend that funding authority for the remainder of the year based largely on the previous year’s spending levels, which will result in many cuts in programs.

If the funding is at last year’s levels that is by definition not a cut. It may mean that some programs will have to “cut” their planned spending for this year that was based on assumed future spending increases. But that is far different than a regressive cut in spending.

Weekend links…and video

December 16, 2006 at 10:16 am
  • Bayh rules out White House bid
  • Investigation time…
  • VA orthodox Episcopalian mass exodus
  • 2008 musings
  • Equality tax
  • 12 days of Christmas
  • Keating considers ‘08 bid
  • Global power barometer?
  • Israel did it!
  • Angels and Christmas

Destiny boy?

December 15, 2006 at 12:24 pm

Peggy Noonan today examines Barack Obama’s beliefs and concludes that there is no there there, other than the fact that he believes himself to be one of the “destiny boys”:

He doesn’t have an issue, he has a thousand issues, which is the same as having none, in the sense that a speech about everything is a speech about nothing. And on those issues he seems not so much to be guided by philosophy as by impulses, sentiments. From “The Audacity of Hope,” his latest book: “[O]ur democracy might work a bit better if we recognized that all of us possess values that are worthy of respect.” “I value good manners.” When not attempting to elevate the bromidic to the profound, he lapses into the language of political consultants–”our message,” “wedge issues,” “moral language.” Ronald Reagan had “a durable narrative.” Parts of the book, the best parts, are warm, anecdotal, human. But much of it pretends to a seriousness that is not borne out. When speaking of the political past he presents false balance and faux fairness. (Reagan, again, despite his “John Wayne, Father Knows Best pose, his policy by anecdote and his gratuitous assaults on the poor” had an “appeal” Sen. Obama “understood.” Ronnie would be so pleased.)…But again, what does he believe? From reading his book, I would say he believes in his destiny. He believes in his charisma. He has the confidence of the anointed. He has faith in the magic of the man who meets his moment.

He also believes in the power of good nature, the need for compromise, and the possibility of comprehensive, multitiered, sensible solutions achieved through good-faith negotiations.

But mostly it seems to be about him, his sense of destiny, and his appreciation of his own particular gifts. Which leaves me thinking Oh dear, we have been here before. It’s not as if we haven’t already had a few of the destiny boys. It’s not as if we don’t have a few more in the wings.

CSPAN executives are political geniuses

December 15, 2006 at 10:26 am

Who knew that CSPAN exectives had such a good sense of political timing?

The Hill reports:

Noting that Democrats have pledged to increase transparency and accountability in government, C-SPAN Thursday called on House Speaker-in-waiting Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to give television viewers the same real-time access to views of the House floor as anyone sitting in the gallery would have.

In a Dec. 14 letter, C-SPAN CEO and Chairman Brian Lamb asked Pelosi to roll back the three-decade old practice that put the House Speaker in charge of the cameras. C-SPAN and the House reached the current agreement in 1979 when cameras were first introduced to the chamber. He wrote that he sought a similar agreement in 1994 when Republicans captured control of the House, but he did not get it.


Rules and established practices prevent cameras from taking individual reaction shots or from panning the chamber, leaving viewers with an incomplete picture of what’s happening in the House,” he added.

In addition, Lamb asked Pelosi to immediately post how individual lawmakers voted on a piece of legislation. Currently, the parties’ totals appear on screen, but the individual tallies are not posted until hours later.

Providing viewers real-time access to who votes how and when would indeed be revealing. So often moderates in both parties vote last while they wait to see which way the tide goes or to see what is possibly in it for them when their vote becomes very valuable at the end. Establishing that trend on the record would be very illuminating.

UPDATE: And then there is this semi-related note from National Journal this morning…

Although Democrats have vowed a return to ‘regular order’ in the legislative process, along with more openness and accountability, many of the decisions about their first-100-hours agenda are being made privately by party leaders and a handful of committee leaders.

Johnson situation recalls topsy turvy Senate of 1950’s

December 15, 2006 at 7:57 am

Senator Tim Johnson is said to have good chances of recovering. That is indeed good news.

All the speculation surrounding Senator Johnson’s health has led to a beltway media feeding frenzy. But the Washington Post’s Al Kamen reminds us of another evenly divided Senate that was even more tumultous:

But the unsettled situation pales when compared with the bizarre 83rd Congress in 1953 and 1954, during which nine of the then-96 senators died, including one who committed suicide, and one resigned.

When the Senate convened on Jan. 3, 1953, the GOP was in charge 48 to 47, plus one former Republican, Sen. Wayne L. Morse– an independent so independent that he moved his seat to the Senate aisle and would not vote with the Democrats to organize.

By Aug. 3 of that year, when the first session adjourned, three members — including Majority Leader Robert A. Taft (R-Ohio) — had died. When the next session began in January 1954, the Democrats had become the majority, 48-47-1, but they did not assume control. At one point during that session, as various members died, the D’s even had a two-vote lead, but they never challenged Republican control of the body. The Senate adjourned Aug. 20 back where it had started, with the GOP holding a one-vote majority.