People are fascinated by coincidences — usually misidentifying them as irony — such as the convergence of fate that saw former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska perish in a plane crash less than 48 hours ahead of the death of former Congressman Dan Rostenkowski of Illinois. Stevens, a Republican, and Rostenkowski, a Democrat, were polar opposites on most issues. Yet they shared a love for and an expertise at operating Washington’s money-allocating machinery. Stevens chaired the Senate Appropriations Committee for more than six years. Rostenkowski was top dog on the House Ways and Means Committee for 13 years and one of the best deal-makers ever to set foot in Congress. Both were driven from office by accusations of wrongdoing, becoming symbols both of power and its corrupting influences. In a two-day span both are gone, a reminder of the truth spoken by the prophet Isaiah — all men are like grass that withers and their glory like flowers in a field, which fall.
It’s a little “inside baseball,” but there’s been an interesting discussion on the blogosphere this week, the crux of which is whether columnist Paul Krugman of The New York Times did a submarine job on U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s fairly innovative plan to reform health care and the entitlements, including Social Security and Medicare. Krugman handled Ryan pretty roughly in a recent column, accusing the Wisconsin Republican of fraud because he didn’t have the Congressional Budget Office analyze revenue losses from his plan’s proposed tax cuts, thereby making the plan look better.
But CBO doesn’t analyze or “score” tax repercussions in proposed legislation. That’s the jealously guarded domain of the Joint Committee on Taxation. As a result, Krugman has been catching flak for not appearing to understand the different roles played by CBO and JCT, which might have had a bearing on whether he accused Ryan of hawking snake oil. As it turns out, JCT was too busy to score Ryan’s plan earlier this year and even if it did would only produce a 10-year estimate. Too short a horizon, Ryan says, for a 75-year plan. In a blog post Krugman countered that Ryan “gamed” the revenue loss analysis and could have had one if he really wanted it. <Sigh.>
Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to summon the entire House of Representatives back into session to vote on a $26 billion education/Medicaid bill has some wondering if Pelosi suffers from a wee bit of tone deafness. There’s a reason for that. You don’t need a pollster to know Americans are increasingly agitated about Washington’s spending. And the $26 billion bill the House is scheduled to consider Tuesday ain’t chump change. Add to that the cost of 435 members of the House traveling from their districts to Washington on a quasi-emergency basis. It’s impossible to know the total price tag because not every member will return, the distances vary and not everyone has access to a government jet like the speaker. One member, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, told Politico it’ll cost about $1,000 for a round-trip flight from Hawaii, where he was vacationing with his family. The bottom line is the bottom line for Pelosi’ emergency recall is pricey icing on an already expensive cake at a time when many of those footing the bill are pretty fed up already.
Likening Michelle Obama to Marie Antoinette seems harsh, yet there’s no question there’s some political danger to the first lady in her current Spanish vacation with 9-year-old daughter Sasha. Exhibit A is a New York Daily News article comparing Mrs. O to the ill-fated French queen. The White House calls the trip “private,” which suggests the Obamas are paying for all of the reported $375,000 cost, including travel on a government 757, meals, accommodations at a swank hotel — perhaps even the Spanish cops who cordoned off about 100 yards of beach for Michelle, Sasha and their entourage. But, hey, it’s their money, right? Even so, the political backwash is a perception of extravagance at a time millions of Americans are out of work — and especially after the first family already has vacationed in Maine, Massachusetts, Hawaii and other venues during the past year and a half. Again, they’re entitled to spend their dough however they want, but that won’t shield them from criticism — and comparisons with President Bush, whose general idea of good downtime was whacking brush at his Texas ranch and turning in before 9.
The columnist’s lead was an attention-grabber: “Charlie Rangel is no crook.” Amid the swirl of denunciations of Rangel, the Democratic congressman from New York accused of breaking House rules — even President Obama strongly indicated he thinks Rangel done wrong and should go — The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson came to the defense.
Robinson writes the charges against Rangel range from “the technical all the way to the trivial” and that the congressman didn’t gain monetarily from any of his alleged transgressions. That’s certainly debatable. Rangel allegedly failed to declare rental income from vacation property in the Caribbean — the kind of omission that lands regular people in jail. No big deal, Robinson writes, because Rangel paid back what he owed in taxes, penalties and interest. As for allegedly using his official House letterhead to raise money for a college program bearing his name, Rangel is guilty only of padding his ego, not his pocket, Robinson writes. Move along, nothing to see here, seems to be the columnist’s attitude. Really?
So much for the crusading columnist, actively comforting the afflicted/afflicting the comforted, eh? Never mind the symptoms of entitlement and privilege wafting from Rangel’s ethics file. Hard to imagine Robinson, paid to propound liberal positions in The Post, giving such a wide berth to any of Rangel’s conservative colleagues.
Here’s a nomination for the political low-blow of the day: With a new poll showing U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler, D-N.C., running neck and neck with Republican challenger Jeff Miller, National Review Online’s Jim Geraghty embedded some video from Shuler’s NFL playing days to poke fun at Shuler’s ability to perform under pressure. The clip from “NFL Top 10 Draft Busts” recounts Shuler’s disappointing pro career (he’s No. 9 on the bust list). Shuler was a quarterbacking star at Tennessee when the Washington Redskins made him the third pick overall in the ’94 draft. He struggled over three seasons with the Redskins — once throwing five interceptions in a game — before being traded to the Saints. He retired from the NFL in 1998 because of injuries. Shuler was elected to Congress in 2006 and re-elected 2008. He’s generally humble and good-humored about his crummy NFL career. Now, like many Democrats, he’s in a tight race for re-election. Geraghty writes a cheeky blog, but the jab at Shuler’s pro football career is, shall we say, a wee bit of piling on.
Nancy Pelosi’s vow as incoming Speaker — to “drain the swamp” in the House of Representatives – is bubbling up like nasty heartburn after a supper of five-alarm chili. First there were the corruption accusations against former Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charlie Rangel, the New York Democrat. Now Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., faces trial for her alleged role in steering federal funds to a bank whose board included her husband. Waters says she didn’t do anything wrong and will, like Rangel, fight charges against her in a House trial.
In a sense, Pelosi also is on trial. Her defenders say she never guaranteed no Democrat would ever break House rules, only that if they did they would face the consequences. Hmmm … that’s probably not what most Americans believed they heard when Pelosi uttered her swamp-draining vow. Then, it sounded like Pelosi was promising the most ethical House in history, after voters punished Republican ethical lapses in the 2006 elections. The Pelosi House obviously has its shortcomings. With the Rangel and Waters proceedings in September and possibly longer, it’s getting harder for Democrats to avoid the “culture of corruption” tag that helped sink the GOP four years ago.