Bryan Kennedy, Democrat challenging Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., apparently is the first candidate to run a TV ad in the 2006 congressional campaign, Chris Bowers of MyDD.com reports. The ad attacks the Judiciary chairman for voting against aid to Gulf Coast hurricane victims after voting for aid for Iraq and Asian tsunami victims. Sensenbrenner's 5th District is considered the most GOP in the state, voting 61.6% for Bush in 2000, but it is among the districts targeted by Project 90, which recruits Democratic challengers in Republican districts that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has been reluctant to get involved in. In addition to trying to elect more Democrats, Project 90 seeks to keep Republicans from diverting their money to defeat Democrats or moderate Republicans in marginal districts. Project 90's Walter Ludwig has calculated that Democrats failed to challenge 120 House Republicans in the last three elections -- and that those Republicans contributed $63 million to colleagues in closer races.
Bowers also notes that the national presidential popular vote was almost identical to the national vote for the House of Reps in 2004. That is, 50.1% voted GOP for Congress and 50.7% voted for Bush. Since the election, Bowers has found that DC Democrats hold out the slimmest hopes of retaking Congress next year, figuring 2012 is a better bet, after the next census and redistricting. But Bowers wrote that increasing polarization as well as gerrymandering has reduced the number of House seats at play. In an increasingly polarized, gerrymandered and congressional landslide-prone environment, he concludes, "the best Democratic opportunity to pick up seats is going to come in a mid-term election year with an unpopular Republican president, a.k.a. 2006. In a polarized environment where there is little movement from one camp to the other, and where up-ticket races have a large impact even upon House seats, the best Democratic chance for real, positive movement is going to take place when we can run 'generic, local Democrat' against unpopular, specific, national Republicans, like Bush and DeLay. Polls throughout 2003 repeatedly showed that 'Democratic candidate' fared several points better against Bush in trial heats than specific Democrats, like Dean, Clark and Kerry. In other words, actually knowing who the Democratic candidate was served as a drag on the Democratic ticket. However, in the generic versus specific ballot, voters were allowed to imagine their ideal Democrat going up against Bush, thus boosting the Democratic cause several points."
MyDD.com on 9/24/05 also posted a list of 74 House seats that are considered potential pickup, based on votes in 2002 and '04, incumbent status, scandals (particularly in Ohio and Kentucky) and appeal of Democratic challengers, including Iraq war veterans. The strongest pickup rating is in northeast Iowa's 1st District, a Democratic district whose GOP Rep. Jim Nussle is running for governor. Longest shot among the potential pickups is Wyoming, which despite its recent GOP history has a popular Democratic governor while Rep. Barbara Cubin (R) underperforms GOP strength in the state, had trouble winning a sixth term (57-43) in 2004 and could be hurt by western dissatisfaction with Bush.
Bowers of MyDD.com also noted that Paul Hackett, who was narrowly defeated in a special election in a strongly Republican Cincinnati-area congressional district in August, is expected to run for the Senate in Ohio against Mike DeWine (R). The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported he is assembling a campaign staff. "Hackett makes seven strong challenges (Arizona, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Tennessee) to Republican-held Senate seats a reality, thereby improving Democratic chances to gain seats in the Senate, and even retake control of the chamber," where Republicans now have a 55-45 advantage.
PoliticalWire.com reports 9/26/05 that a Winston Group poll (R) shows voters turning away from the GOP. "Those surveyed had less confidence in Republicans to handle a wide range of issues, including education, Social Security, health care, jobs and energy prices. Democrats beat Republicans by at least 9 percentage points in each category. In addition, Democrats were also viewed as better able to handle war in Iraq and the economy."
GOP BUDGET PLAN: TARGETS WORKING POOR, VETS: The Republican Study Committee's plans to pay for hurricane damage by cutting other areas of domestic spending, in what amounts to a standard conservative wish list "and not a very serious one at that," Kevin Drum wrote at WashingtonMonthly.com. Among the proposed savings are $477 billion from Medicare/Medicaid cuts and $9 billion a year by conducting more audits of low-income workers who claim the Earned Income Tax Credit. That tax credit, which is an effective way to boost the incomes of the working poor, has been a target of conservatives for years, but populist economist Max Sawicky of the Economic Policy Institute has noted that EITC abuse accounts for at most $9 billion a year while more than $250 billion is underpaid by individual and corporate tax filers. "For some reason, though, the Republican Study Committee doesn't seem to think that increasing the IRS budget to go after that other $250 billlion is worth thinking about," Drum wrote. With underreported payroll, estate and excise taxes, the IRS could gain $353 billion without harassing EITC claimants. (See also comments on the GOP budget proposals by Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities at www.cbpp.org.) And David Sirota noted at workingforchange.com that reinstating the estate tax and other taxes that were cut for the richest 1% would gain $336 billion over the next five years but Republicans are proposing instead to cut health care for veterans and military families and stateside elementary and secondary schools for military family members in areas where public schools are seen as offering lower-quality education.
GAS PRICE WINDFALL FOR REFINERS: When the average price of a gallon of regular gasoline peaked at $3.07 recently, the Washington Post reported, the nation's refineries were getting 99 cents on each gallon sold. That's more than three times the amount they earned a year ago when regular unleaded was selling for $1.87. Companies that pump oil from the ground swept in an additional 47 cents, a 46% jump over the same period. ExxonMobil Corp. reported in July that its second-quarter profit was up 32%, to $7.64 bln and profits are expected to soar with the effects of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Rising pump prices have caused Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., to propose a tax on windfall profits. A national poll conducted by 40mpg.org and the Civil Society Institute found that 87% of Americans think that oil companies are gouging consumers today and 76% of Americans would support a windfall profits tax on oil companies.
For a company like Exxon, producing a barrel of oil costs about $20, the Post reported. When the selling price rises about that, the increase is almost all profit. After Katrina bore down on the Gulf Coast, the price of oil set a new high, approaching $70. Gasoline distributors took about 18 cents on each gallon when the average price hit a peak of $3.07 on Sept. 5. A year ago, they took 17 cents of each gallon, according to Energy Department data.
The Federal Trade Commission is supposed to investigate oil price gouging, but Bush's recess appointment of former ChevronTexaco lawyer Deborah Majoras to be the agency's chair through 2005 after Democrats stalled her nomination doesn't inspire much confidence in her probity.
MILITARY EYES WMD MARTIAL LAW: US military in September conducted a highly-classified practice session on extra-legal powers that could be exercised in incidents involving a weapon of mass destruction, William M. Arkin, NBC News military analyst and a former Army intelligence analyst, wrote at WashingtonPost.com 9/21/05. The demonstration, code-named Granite Shadow, envisions emergency military operations in the US without civilian supervision or control. US Northern Command (NORTHCOM), the military's new homeland security command, is preparing its draft version and the resulting Granite Shadow plan has been classified above "Top Secret" by adding a "Special Category" (SPECAT) compartment restricting access, Arkin wrote. The plan reportedly include deployment of commandos under the Joint Special Operations Command in Washington, D.C. and other domestic hot spots and involves intelligence collection and surveillance, "unique rules of engagement regarding the use of lethal force, the use of experimental non-lethal weapons, and federal and military control of incident locations that are highly controversial and might border on the illegal," Arkin wrote. It follows development of another top-secret plan, called Power Geyser, to support civil agencies in the event of a domestic incident. "Both plans seem to live behind a veil of extraordinary secrecy because military forces operating under them have already been given a series of 'special authorities' by the president and the secretary of defense. These special authorities include, presumably, military roles in civilian law enforcement and abrogation of State's powers in a declared or perceived emergency."
ELECTION REFORM IN OHIO: The most important election of 2005 may be Ohio referenda proposed by Reform Ohio Now. As a poster at DailyKos.com noted 9/26/05, Issue 4 on the Nov. 8 ballot would take partisan gerrymandering out of state elections by forming a five-member state commission, with judges naming the first two members who would then name the other three on a nonpartisan basis. They would redraw legislative and congressional districts. Republicans, who fear they could lose six of their 12 seats in Congress, are fighting the measure. Other initiatives would allow early voting before election day; limit campaign contributions; and replace the partisan secretary of state as election administrator with a bipartisan board of elections. See www.growohio.org.
'MOST CORRUPT' CONGRESS MEMBERS CITED: With a Texas grand jury investigation of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay winding down, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is calling for ethics investigations of "the 13 most corrupt members of Congress," including some of the most prominent leaders on Capitol Hill, the Los Angeles Times reported 9/25/05. Members of Congress recommended for investigation by CREW in "Beyond DeLay" include:
Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.): The report accuses him of violating federal campaign finance laws in how he disclosed a campaign loan. It also calls for an inquiry over his recent sale of stock in HCA Inc., his family's hospital corporation, which raised questions about possible insider dealing. The SEC has started an investigation and CREW filed a complaint with the Senate ethics committee.
Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.): The report criticizes him for trying to insert provisions into bills that would have benefited, in one case, a client of his lobbyist son and in another case, the employer of his lobbyist girlfriend, now his wife.
Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.): Questions arose over $3 million in appropriations he earmarked for an Indian tribe in Michigan that was a client of lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who gave Burns substantial campaign contributions from Abramoff, along with various clients.
Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio): Chairman of the House Administration Committee went on a golf outing to Scotland in 2002, arranged by Abramoff, at a time when the congressman was trying to insert a provision into legislation to benefit one of Abramoff's tribal clients. Ney reported to the House that the trip was paid for entirely by the National Center for Public Policy Research, a conservative think tank, which denied paying any of the costs. Ney has said he had been duped by Abramoff.
Rep. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.): CREW says he incorrectly reported that a golf trip to Scotland with Abramoff in 2003 was paid for by the National Center for Public Policy Research, which denied it. A Feeney aide said the congressman had been misled. Questions also have arisen about two other privately funded trips.
Rep. Richard W. Pombo (R-Calif.): He paid his wife and brother $357,325 in campaign funds in the last four years, the report says. He also supported the wind-power industry before the Department of Interior without disclosing that his parents received hundreds of thousands of dollars in royalties from wind-power turbines on their ranch.
Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif.): The report cites a December 2004 Los Angeles Times investigation disclosing how members of the congresswoman's family have made more than $1 million in the last eight years by doing business with companies, candidates and causes that Waters has helped. Before publication of the Times investigation last year, Waters declined to be interviewed, but said of her family members: "They do their business, and I do mine."
Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.): The report says he encountered controversy over disclosures that Pennsylvania taxpayers paid for his children's schooling while they lived in Virginia. Santorum maintained he did nothing wrong, and has pulled his children out of the school, according to reports.
Reps. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (D-Calif.) and William J. Jefferson (D-La.): Both congressional veterans are under federal investigation. Cunningham faces questions over his dealings with a defense contractor who allegedly overpaid him when he purchased Cunningham's house. Jefferson is under scrutiny for his role in an overseas business deal. Normally the House ethics committee does not hold inquiries while criminal investigations are underway.
Rep. Charles H. Taylor (R-N.C.): Questions have been raised about his private business interests, including a savings and loan in Asheville, N.C., and personal business interests in Russia.
Rep. Marilyn N. Musgrave (R-Colo.) and Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.): Both second-term House members encountered criticisms tied to campaign activities, the report says. Musgrave was accused of misusing her congressional office for campaign purposes. Renzi was accused of financing portions of his 2002 campaign with improper loans.
For the full report, which CREW added is not a definitive list of wrongdoing by Congress members, see www.beyonddelay.org.
N.O. ANARCHY REPORTS OVERSTATED: When the Federal Emergency Management Agency finally showed up at the Superdome in New Orleans following days of internationally reported murders, rapes and gang violence inside the stadium, they brought a refrigerated 18-wheeler and three doctors to process bodies. "I've got a report of 200 bodies in the Dome," Louisiana National Guard Col. Thomas Beron recalls the doctor telling him, according to the New Orleans Times Picayune. In fact, there were six bodies at the Dome and four of them died of natural causes, overdose and suicide. At the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, four bodies were recovered, only one of which appeared to have been murdered, despite reports of heaps of dead piled inside the building. Despite the widespread reports of rampant violent crime during the flooding, New Orleans officials say they have only confirmed four murders in the entire city in the aftermatch of Katrina -- making it a typical week in a city that anticipated more than 200 homicides this year, the Times Picayune reported. The vast majority of reported atrocities committed by evacuees -- mass murders, rapes and beatings -- have turned out to be false, or at least unsupported by any evidence, according to key military, law-enforcement, medical and civilian officials in positions to know.