Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Congress' sticky wickets

By Carol Gee

Difficult or embarrassing problems or situations are the subject of today's Congress post. Ranging from independent-minded committee chairs, to problems associated with lobbying and congressional leadership issues, to pay raises, there are lots of sticky wickets.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman, John Conyers (D-Mich), has sent a subpoena to Karl Rove. Conyers wants deposition testimony on Feb. 2, according to Yahoo! News,# "about the Bush administration's firing of nine U.S. attorneys and its prosecution of a former Democratic governor," Don Seigelman. "Moving forward" has been the philisophical view preferred by President Obama, as well as the House and Senate leadership. "Accountability" is the view adopted by Representative Conyers.

Robert Gates' choice on the line -- William Lynn's nomination to be Deputy Secretary of Defense and CEO of the DoD is being held up by the Senate Armed Services Committee, pending the issuance of a lobbying rules waiver by the White House. Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich) expressed concerns. To quote from the Congressional Quarterly story:

A Senate panel’s vote on the nomination of William Lynn to become deputy Defense secretary is on hold pending White House details on how to exempt him from new lobbying rules.

The nomination of Lynn, who lobbied for defense contractor Raytheon Co. into 2008, has come under fire because his recent lobbying work violates the new ethics rules signed by President Obama on Jan. 21. The White House is expected to issue a waiver for Lynn soon, but the details are still pending.

. . . Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates called Thursday on the Senate to confirm Lynn “as swiftly as possible” and said he urged the Obama team not to let the Raytheon connection block the Lynn nomination.

“I asked that an exception be made, because I felt that he could play the role of deputy in a better manner than anybody else that I saw,” Gates said.

Where are the earmarks -- Yahoo! News has the story of what may be happening to the President's stimulus package as the result of lobbyists' ability to skirt the earmark# ban imposed on the bill. To quote:

President Barack Obama's ban on earmarks in the $825 billion economic stimulus bill doesn't mean interest groups, lobbyists and lawmakers won't be able to funnel money to pet projects. They're just working around it — and perhaps inadvertently making the process more secretive.

. . .There are thousands of projects like those that once would have been gotten money upfront but now are left to scramble for dollars at the back end of the process as "ready to go" jobs eligible for the stimulus plan. The result, as The Associated Press learned in interviews with more than a dozen lawmakers, lobbyists and state and local officials, is a shadowy lobbying effort that may make it difficult to discern how hundreds of billions in federal money will be parceled out.

. . . Obama, who campaigned promising a more transparent and accountable government, is advocating a system that will eventually let the public track exactly where stimulus money goes through an Internet-powered search engine. In addition, Democratic lawmakers have devised an elaborate oversight system, including a new board to review how the money is spent.

Pay rates increasingly frozen -- Politico reports that Congress may soon freeze its own salaries. During the past 20 years Congressional pay was frozen at various times, but has enjoyed cost of living increases in the most recent years:

. . . low congressional poll ratings and rising unemployment rates make for a toxic political mix. Plus, Obama’s call for sacrifice in his inaugural address, together with his staff pay freeze, is going to make the size of congressional paychecks fair game.

President Obama's negotiating tactics, according to the Congressional Quarterly, could put strain on the ties between Senate Minority Leader Mitch MConnell and House Minority Leader John Boehner. To quote:

A push by President Obama to cut deals in the Senate is likely to put increased stress on relations between House Minority Leader John A. Boehner and his Senate counterpart, Mitch McConnell.

While McConnell, R-Ky., quickly opened quiet talks with the new White House on a range of issues, Boehner, R-Ohio, has taken a tougher approach and has recently moved with mixed success to begin a dialog with Obama. The president met with leaders of both parties Jan. 23 and plans to discuss the stimulus with Republicans during a visit to Capitol Hill on Tuesday.

Obama’s plan is to begin his term with bipartisan legislation that could help generate momentum for his most difficult objectives — overhauls of health care and entitlements. But it remains unclear whether Obama will press for deals with Republicans in both chambers or focus instead on the Senate, where some bipartisan support will be essential.

Cleaning up the mess in Congress will take some time, if it ever happens. Right now critical economic issues are at the forefront on legislators minds. Most, if not all, of the main confirmations are over. Bipartisanship would be tested yesterday as President Obama went to the Hill to meet only with Republicans. It was fun to watch. Today the House will pass the package, but with almost no help from the Republicans.

Hat Tip Key: Regular contributors of links to leads are "betmo"* and Jon#.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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