Just about everyone knows U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn is known around Washington as “Senator No,” for the times he single-handedly has blocked what he considers wasteful federal spending and legislation funded by borrowing. In the clubby atmosphere of the Senate it’s an awkward roost — except that Coburn doesn’t care a whit about the institution’s you-scratch-my-back, I’ll-scratch-yours expectations.
Things get a little harrier when there’s an issue that attracts attention beyond the Beltway, such as legislation creating a health care package for 9/11 first responders. Coburn was opposed mostly because the spending wasn’t offset and because it bore the aroma of a new entitlement. Supporters easily morphed that position into attacks that Coburn didn’t care about first responders. Eventually, a compromise was worked out, but not before Coburn was portrayed as a heartless villain.
The issue illustrates one of Coburn’s main points about Washington: You can’t cut anything. Yes, we know the bill’s not paid for, it was said. But the first responders are sooo deserving. Guess what: The same can be said of just about every Washington program. Each has a deserving constituency. No one’s more consistent than Sen. Coburn in their opposition to that way of thinking. If it occasionally lands him in hot water from a PR standpoint, so be it. He doesn’t care much about PR, either.
Actual headline, seen on a national cable news network: “United Nations evacuated for suspicious odor” (Eye roll.) Next!
Seeing published remarks by Marine Corps Commandant James F. Amos, talking negatively about the possible repeal of the Pentagon’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays serving openly in the military, a question comes to mind: What are Amos’ plans after military service? It’s not the first time Amos has questioned the wisdom of repealing DADT (as the policy is known inside the Beltway). You’ve got to wonder how many times Amos can be publicly at odds with President Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen on DADT before he gets word that he’s been invited to a wonderful retirement ceremony at Quantico.
Speaking to newspaper and wire service reporters, Amos said combat service requires such a focus that no distractions can be permitted. He said repealing the policy would harm unit cohesion. A Defense Department survey of armed services personnel found 58 percent of Marine combat unit members said repealing DADT would be a negative (compared to 48 percent in Army combat units). “The Marines came back and they said, ‘Look, anything that’s going to break or potentially break that focus and cause any kind of distraction may have an effect on cohesion,’ ” Amos said. “I don’t want to permit that opportunity to happen. And I’ll tell you why. If you go up to Bethesda [Naval] Hospital … Marines are up there with no legs, none. We’ve got Marines at Walter Reed [Army Medical Center] with no limbs.” Amos adds that if higher ups repeal the policy he’ll salute and move smartly to implement changes. But the odds are rising he won’t get that chance.
The U.S. foreign policy community suffered a shocking blow Monday with the death of super special envoy Richard Holbrooke from complications related to weekend surgery to fix a torn aorta. Holbrooke was a 45-year diplomatic veteran and one of America’s ablest emissaries. He was ambassador to the United Nations during President Clinton’s second term. He was the Obama administration’s diplomatic point man for Pakistan and Afghanistan. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said Holbrooke’s work saved lives all over the world. He’ll be missed.
John Boehner, the next speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, admits he’s a pretty emotional guy. In a segment with CBS’ “60 Minutes,” Boehner breaks up a couple of times and tells Lesley Stahl, “What you see is what you get.” The mere mention of children, U.S. security, the “American Dream” — his ascendancy to the speakership from working as the night janitor at a bar — all break Boehner up. He’s not ashamed of it, telling Stahl he’s comfortable in his own skin. As mentioned in another post, Boehner will be the sharp contrast with Barack Obama, our Cool Cat president. Yet, what of a leader whose face, at a moment’s notice, looks like it’s being melted by a heat dish? Maybe Boehner will liberate a lot of closet-crying men out there, tough guys who need help being comfortable in their own skins. Stahl thinks America will like Boehner’s crying. Maybe. Or maybe, after a few months of a watery-eyed Boehner, we’ll all wish former Marine/actor R. Lee Ermey would stop by Boehner’s office with a box of tissues.
Let’s see: You’re the president of the United States, in the unenviable position of having to defend your tax plan against your own party. So you call in the Big Tuna of re-enforcements: former President Bill Clinton. The two of you meet, you set your stra-tee-gery (as W. liked to say it) and you go out to meet the press, which is in a froth for some red meat. Things are going well. The big guy has ‘em eating out of his hand, and in the process he’s letting Democrats know they better back your tax deal or risk being blamed for unleashing the economy from hell on America. But then a question comes your way, you check your watch and announce you’ve got to leave. The first lady is waiting. You head for the briefing room door, leaving the Tuna with the press while America gets the idea Mrs. Obama is tugging your leash. The optics? Not so good.
U.S. House Democrats say the White House’s tax compromise with Republicans is a bridge too far for them. On Thursday the Democratic caucus held a non-binding vote rejecting President Obama’s tax deal that would keep income tax rates where they’ve been for the better part of the past decade. The deal also would temporarily lower the payroll tax and extend unemployment benefits. The last shriek of a House Democratic majority that’s about to go poof, or a rallying cry for progressives and liberals throughout the land? If taxes go up on all Americans in January, the backwash against Democrats might be fearful. “A clear majority of the U.S. House of Representatives supports this plan,” Rep. Dan Boren, D-Muskogee, said in a statement. “We are allowing the liberal wing of the Democratic caucus to hold these critically needed tax cuts hostage.” Maybe, but not for long. Even if Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her loyalists fight it out on last stand hill, you’ve got to think the new Republican majority’s first agenda item will be taxes.
The incoming chairman of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee is … Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky. Rogers is the pick of the Republican steering committee over Rep. Jerry Lewis of California in a contest between two veteran appropriators. The full GOP caucus was scheduled to vote on all chairmen Wednesday. Rep. Jack Kingston of Georgia was favored for appropriations by tea party groups, but really, it was Rogers vs. Lewis — who would’ve needed a waiver of GOP term-limit rules on committee chairmen to take the gavel. In terms of the recent elections, neither Rogers nor Lewis looks especially responsive to the anti-Washington, anti-spending wave that rolled through in last month’s elections. Both are Beltway insiders, and cynics have a point when they say each has piled up so many earmarks during their careers that entrusting either with the helm of the House’s chief spending committee looks dubious — that is, if the idea is to cut federal spending. Rogers has said he got the message on spending from the mid-terms. We’ll see.
If Congress repeals the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that effectively bars gays from serving openly in the armed forces, no one will be more affected than the military’s chaplains. The Pentagon’s report on the potential effects of repealing the policy notes that some chaplains “condemn in the strongest possible terms homosexuality as a sin and an abomination, and inform us that they would refuse to in any way support, comfort, or assist someone they knew to be homosexual.” Not all chaplains feel that way, of course, but clearly a policy change would have ramifications for the spiritual role chaplains play. Among those most opposed to lifting the policy are Catholic chaplains, ministering to service members who comprise about 20 percent of the armed forces, according to The Washington Post.
It’s hard to predict what will happen if the policy is changed. Most likely, some chaplains will welcome the change, others will adjust and still others will leave the service rather than do anything they would consider a faith compromise. “If there’s no protection for the chaplain to be able to speak according to his faith group, that might affect the number of chaplains we recruit or our ability to do our duty for the troops,” the Rev. Douglas Lee, a retired Presbyterian Air Force chaplain and brigadier general, told The Post.
Right-Wing Conspiracy? Bah, humbug! If it was as powerful as Hillary Clinton alleges, Bristol Palin would’ve won “Dancing with the Stars” Tuesday night. But she didn’t. She and partner Kyle Massey finished third behind winning couple Jennifer Grey and Derek Hough. But not before lots of Americans became convinced votes from tea partiers were keeping Palin on the show even as she received lower scores from judges than other competitors who got the boot.
The Washington Post’s Sally Quinn penned a funny column recently describing her angst as Palin survived week after week while better dancers got sent home. “This could be a metaphor for things to come,” Quinn wrote. “Sarah Palin is a force to be reckoned with and if her supporters can influence a TV show of 23 million viewers they can have more serious influence on elections. And if they can mobilize the religious right then the Democrats better pay attention and start dancing as fast as they can.” Ultimately, Grey prevailed. Of course, Grey is a ringer. Her dad is famed danceman Joel Grey and she starred in “Dirty Dancing” with Patrick Swayze in 1987. Takes a lot more than the mythical RWC to overcome bloodlines and professional talent.