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January 27, 2006

Obama and the editorial board

So when Sen. Barack Obama was chatting with the D/A editorial board Friday, talking about the good and the bad he's encountering in D.C., he mentioned the VA as an example of the good. Among the reasons things are going better, he said, is that the VA is buying drugs in bulk, cutting costs.

It's too bad, he said, that the same savings aren't coming in Medicare. But that's impossible because the latest Medicare bill forbids bulk drug purchases, he said.

I alertly asked why something that stupid would be in the bill.

That question brought us to the ethics issues, he said.
In fact, it's the perfect example of how the ethics problem touches each and every person, he said.

The ethics problem in this case was Rep. Billy Tauzin, the bill's chief backer in the House. Even while the Louisiana Republican fought for the highly controversial bill, he was negotiating with the drugmakers for the top job at their top lobbying group. He got it. Now he's president and CEO of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, getting $2 mil plus a year.

You all know what we got.

The senator kept going back to the need for change in health care. Said a lot of smart people are coming up good ideas, but that the politics keep getting in the way. No doubt about that, with people like Billy Tauzin involved.

Got the sense that Obama's seriously in the fight for the long-term, on the side of sanity. Nice, that feeling; don't often get it around politicians.

He touched on most of the issues of the day. Said he was going to vote against Sam Alito for the Supreme Court but that talk about a filibuster is silly. At least seven D's have said they're either going to vote for Alito or against a filibuster, rendering one just a waste of time, a distraction from pressing business.

I asked about a couple of issues dear to my libertarian core. He said medical marijuana isn't very high on his list. If one of the bills that would explicitly leave the choice in the hands of the states comes up, he'd have to look at it before deciding how to vote.

He did say he sees no reason for the Real ID act, which forces state drivers license bureaus to collect all kinds of personal data from people and upgrade their computers systems to enable the feds to get the data. Drivers license bureaus shouldn't be pressed into immigration-control duty, he said.

Any chance of killing it?

Not as long as James Sensenbrenner is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, apparently. "That's his baby," the senator said.

Seems like several times, when the subject was change, he said the first thing that needs changing is a committee chairman somewhere.

I hope enough folks catch on.


Hoping to get a tape of editorial board session transcribed before too awful long. Will post it here.

Posted by jcb at January 27, 2006 10:59 PM



FYI: House Republican Conference rules stipulate a three term limit for Chairmen. This is Chairman Sensenbrenner's last year as Chair of the House Judiciary Committee. Most other Chairmen will be losing their gavel as well, including (and in my view, unfortunately) Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas.

Say what you will about Jim Sensenbrenner, but his committee has been the most active so far in the 109th. And mostly bi-partisan as well... he's been without a doubt one of the most legislatively productive Chairmen in the last 30 years.

Also note that in the Democrats' 40 year majority status preceding '94, they had no term limits. I think Rostenkowski was Ways and Means Chairman for over 20 years. And he went to jail.

Posted by: ILDC at January 28, 2006 08:05 PM

In criticizing the Real ID program, I intended no denigration of Rep., Sensenbrener's accomplishments nor of any bi-partisan air that pervades his committee.

Indeed, the bill containing the Real ID provisions had strong bi-partisan support. It cleared the House 388-43, with 126 Democrats voting for it. Roll call

I would hope the vote would have been different had the Real ID been a stand-alone bill. But it was Title II of an act "Making Emergency Supplemental Appropriations for Defense, the Global War on Terror, and Tsunami Relief."

Voting against it, because of Real ID or whatever, would also have been to vote against against helping tsunami victims and meeting military payroll needs, which was the subject of Title I. Text of the bill

I've written previously about the evils of the act and how the nation's governors view it, so I won't go through all that again. But it's about as bad a piece work as a democratically elected legislature could do -- one of those "bridge too far" things that even good lawmakers like Sensenbrener go for when we're fighting a war on something or the other.

As to your point about the 40-year-reign of the Democrats -- at least it took them that long to stink the place up so badly we booted them out of power. It's taken the GOP just 10 to re-kindle the need.

Posted by: jcb at January 29, 2006 12:10 AM

It took less than 40 years for the Democrats to "stink up the place". Unfortunately, they were too stupid to know it, and the GOP wasn't yet strong enough to challange them.

Many of the dread neo-cons were liberal Democrats who were disgusted with the direction the Democratic Party took in the '60s---especially concerning national security and fighting crime. They felt that the Dems were losing touch with their grassroots and the common working person and becoming a party of the elite. How true! This is why they are a minority party today.

But it appears (I hope) that the GOP has learned from the Dems. John McCain and Jon Kyl had and op-ed today saying that what needs fixing is not lobbyists (who are after all protected by the First Amendment) but "earmarks". There also has been some movement on the right/libertarian blogosphere concerning "PorkBusting". I don't see any interest at all for this on the left.

Also many conservatives are disgusted with the "compassionate conservatism" of GWB, and who can blame them? Rule #1 for either party: Don't annoy your base.

Posted by: paladin at January 29, 2006 03:11 PM

Sen. McCain launched his attack on earmarks last July, when he introduced S. 1495, which provides that "No Federal agency may obligate any funds made available in an appropriation Act to implement an earmark that is included in a congressional report accompanying the appropriation Act, unless the earmark is also included in the appropriation Act."

That strikes at the heart of the system, which apparently features the "earmarks" being good even if they're not in the appropriation bill itself, but are merely in an accompanying report.

The Dems' proposal would require (this is from a PR summary, not an actual bill) "that all conference committee meetings be open to the public and that members of the conference committee have a public opportunity to vote on all amendments. Make copies of conference reports available to Members, and post them publicly on the Internet, 24 hours before consideration (unless waived by a supermajority vote)."

Unless the summary left out the part about earmarks having to be in the actual appropriations bill, not sure the D proposal would change much.

This press release from Citizens Against Government Waste (spawned by Reagan's Grace Commision in the mid-'80s) summarizes the earmarks issue.

An aside here, Paladin. You brought up the "give-your-pork" to Katrinia recovery issue some time back. One of the very few Congresspeople who did so was Nancy Pelosi, the Dem house leader. She pledged $70 million. (Heritage Foundation article)

Posted by: jcb at January 30, 2006 12:17 AM

This is exactly what the current House Republican Leadership race is all about. It takes place on Thursday (Feb. 2). The rank and file Republicans are basically going to decide who they want cleaning up K Street (and to what extent). Those most serious about earmark reform (and retaining the Republican majority) will be with either John Shadegg (AZ) or John Boehner (OH). We'll see where the Conference stands on Thursday.

Over the years there have been quite a few conservatives in the House and Senate truly upset about the growth of earmarks. Never heard any democrats gripe about it before the Abramoff scandal.

In any event, even if there were, the few that put their money where their mouth is are Republicans. McCain and Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) do not ask for or recieve earmarks in appropriations bills. Even though it does upset many people, (mostly the local governments) in Mesa and throughout Arizona. Democrats never complained because 45% of the earmarks go to their districts. That's why appropriations bills pass overwhelmingly.

I do think that Republicans are at an advantage in the current climate due to McCain's presence on their side of the table. Look for House and Senate Republican Leaders to become best-friends with him for the next few months.

I don't think anyone who pays attention to the US Congress would honestly think that what Leader Pelosi says actually means anything to average Americans, or anybody really. There are many worried members in the democratic caucus who feel that she has so little credibility that she needs to go before the elections: http://www.suntimes.com/output/novak/cst-edt-novak05.html

Posted by: ILDC at January 30, 2006 08:57 AM

Sennsenbrenner is a loathsome toad. He's made my skin crawl for years. I can't look at him or listen to him without imediately being put in mind of "Matt Foley", the Chris Farley character on SNL who is a supposed motivational speaker for youth and famously "lives in a van, down by the river."

Posted by: TID at January 30, 2006 12:33 PM

That certainly elevates the discussion.

Posted by: Anonymous at January 30, 2006 12:45 PM

Yes, I'm sure Bob Novak is the "inside guy" in the Democratic caucus that can write about Pelosi's credibility. Novak might be good at leaking things, but if you read a column of his and think you've come away with some insight about democrats I have some nice houses out near Barstow you might be interested in.

I have trouble seeing people (like Senator Frist) who would have to face McCain in a primary getting too buddy-buddy with him. If they do though that's a good sign that the GOP would be willing to run him in 2008. I think moderates in both parties (myself included) would see that as a very, very good thing.

Posted by: t at January 30, 2006 06:40 PM

The House D's aren't monolithic, and I'm sure anti-Pelosi members knew Novak would be glad to carry water for them. To that extent, he may actually know a bit about the D's internal dynamics at the moment.

ILDC, Iagree that election of Blount as majority leader would mean GOP's not serious about cleaning up K Street or anyplace else. But I'm also skeptical about Shadegg and Boehner -- on some ethics issues, they're reformed drunks. But, maybe, they're really on the wagon. If one of them is chosen, we'll know soon enough.

Posted by: jcb at January 30, 2006 09:58 PM