Congress 2003

Capitol Cops Open Probe into Leak of Durbin Memos
Congress 2003

The Hill reports: "A complaint filed by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) with the Senate sergeant at arms caused the Capitol Police to confiscate computer records of the Senate Judiciary Committee after sealing off the room. Durbin's complaint to William Pickle, the sergeant at arms, focused on memos written by Durbin's staff in late 2001 about the opposition of liberal groups to Bush's conservative nominees to the federal bench. The memos were cited last Friday in an editorial that ran in The Wall Street Journal and in The Washington Times. In a letter to Pickle, Durbin said that his office 'did not release these documents, nor did we authorize their release to anyone... 'Therefore, it appears that the documents in question were taken without authorization and possibly illegally. This constitutes a serious breach of security and calls into question the [confidentiality] of Senate internal documents in both electronic and hard copy form.'"

Victory! Senate Stops Bush Nominees, Ends GOP Slumber Party
Congress 2003

"Democrats blocked two more of Resident Bush's federal appeals court nominees on Friday after a nonstop U.S. Senate debate of nearly 40 hours, boosting to six the number of stonewalled judicial candidates. On each of two votes, Republicans fell seven short of the 60 votes needed in the 100-member Senate to stop delaying tactics against California jurists Carolyn Kuhl and Janice Rogers Brown and clear the way for their confirmation. Democrats also sustained, by the same margin, a procedural hurdle known as a filibuster against another nominee, Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen, first blocked in May. The three votes followed the Senate's longest nonstop debate since a 57-hour, 24-minute marathon in 1988 over campaign legislation... 'This debate, make no mistake about it, strengthened our side,' said Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat. 'We are energized.'" Way to go, Dems!

Give 'em Hell Harry! Reid Halts Despotic GOP Senate for 8-plus Hours
Congress 2003

"It took just one angry Democrat to bog the Senate down to a slow crawl in a preview of what is likely to be a week of partisan fury. The No. 2 Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, stayed on his feet and spoke for more than eight-and-one-half hours on Monday. His rambling remarks covered some of President Bush's controversial judicial nominations, the weak economy and a reading of several chapters from a book Reid wrote on his tiny hometown. And they prevented the Senate from getting work done in anticipation of possible adjournment Nov. 21. Mostly, Reid's marathon was sparked by anger over Republican leaders deciding that the Senate will spend 30 consecutive hours this week discussing four judgeship nominations that Democrats have blocked. Democrats say they were not consulted on the decision and that the Senate should do more serious work if lawmakers are to end this session soon. 'We cannot be taken for granted,' Reid said. 'We cannot be thought of as nothing.'"

Have They No Shame? As Economy Crumbles, House Agrees to 2.2% Raise
Congress 2003

"The House on Thursday agreed to a 2.2 percent pay raise for Congress - slightly less than average wage increases in private business but enough to boost lawmakers' annual salaries to about $158,000 next year. The House members decided to allow themselves a fifth straight cost-of-living raise after rejecting them for several years during the 1990s. Their annual pay has risen from $136,700 in 1999 to about $158,000 in 2004, if the legislation clears Congress and is signed by the president. Their salary this year is $154,700.... Only one House member - Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah - voiced objections to the congressional increase during the debate. 'We are fighting terrorism on numerous fronts and our economy is in serious trouble, unemployment is at record high levels and our future budget deficits are predicted to be the highest in the history of this great nation,' Matheson said. 'Now is not the time for members of Congress to be voting themselves a pay raise.'" You GO Jim!

Major Legislative Activity Slated for this Month
Congress 2003

AP reports: "A main task for the House and the Senate before they leave again in August for a month will be advancing the 13 spending bills needed to run the federal government in the budget year starting October 1. Total spending is to grow by 2.5 percent next year to $785 billion, but there's an ever-tighter squeeze on available money because of fast-rising defense and homeland security needs and shrinking tax receipts... Congress also could soon send Bush a ban on the procedure opponents call 'partial birth abortion' that Republicans have been seeking since winning the House in 1995. President Clinton twice vetoed similar legislation, but Bush is eager to sign it... The House voted in March to cap non-economic damages from malpractice lawsuits at $250,000, but many Senate Democrats oppose limits on what juries can award and supporters appear to be well short of the 60 votes needed to overcome a Democratic filibuster."

GOP Leaders Tighten Hold in the House; Hastert, DeLay Reward Loyalty over Seniority
Congress 2003

WashPost reports: "House Republican leaders, through a series of little-noticed rule changes and key appointments, are dramatically tightening their hold on power as they prepare to push for new spending cuts, bigger tax breaks and a more ambitious social agenda. Since padding their majority in the November elections, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) have circumvented the seniority system to reward their most loyal allies with important chairmanships. They have systematically changed internal rules to seize greater authority over rank-and-file members, and they unexpectedly scrapped the eight-year limit on Hastert's reign." The Gingrich Revolution - which gave the GOP control of the House after 40 years of Dem control - is dead, and has been replaced by the DeLay Dictatorship. Why won't the media cover this outrageous assault on Democracy?

Reform? Republicans Take It All Back
Congress 2003

Ryan Lizza writes: "One of the first things Republicans did in 1995 after they took control of the House was to adopt tighter ethics rules for House members, in response to what they saw as decades of Democratic arrogance and abuse. On Tuesday, after the new House was sworn in, the Republicans passed their first piece of business for the 108th Congress: House rules that overturned some of their old reforms. Critics quickly focused on the easing of restrictions on lobbyist-paid meals that are sent to Capitol Hill and on the loosening of limits on House member trips paid for by charities...Another change allows charities to pick up the tab for travel and lodging for members to attend their events. Critics say this harks back to the days when House members cavorted with special interests on free trips to golf resorts... Remember term limits? Republicans gave up on that cause long ago, and now they've also overturned their 1995 rule limiting a member to four terms."

Republican Agenda Items: Religious Social Programs, More Conservative Judges, Outlawing Abortions
Congress 2003

"GOP officials perceive a new mandate from voters -- [they] will be in a stronger position to make broad social changes than...during [Bush's] first two years in office. Republicans plan to use this power to help more religious groups administer government social programs; appoint more conservative judges and outlaw late-term abortions; and increase funding for pro-family initiatives and sexual abstinence teachings as part of a new welfare law...Bush, a born-again Christian, supports the party's social agenda, though some advisers worry that high-profile fights over abortion or other divisive issues might turn off independent voters in 2004. [Bush] is eager to advance the cause where he can, aides said, although he has shown a willingness to soft-pedal some proposals when political opposition grows...Bush wants to...help religious groups win government contracts to administer social programs such as soup kitchens and rehabilitation programs for drug addicts and alcoholics."

The Incredible Fading Filibuster
Congress 2003

NYTimes reports: "After Republicans won complete control of Congress in the recent elections, Democrats took some comfort in the notion that Democratic senators could filibuster any truly egregious Republican initiatives and that it would take 60 votes -- way more than the 51- or 52-seat Republican majority -- to overcome such a filibuster. But since they have been back in Washington, Democratic lawmakers have come to realize that some big items on the Republican agenda are immune to filibuster. The word in the Capitol last week was that Republicans might even be able to get approval of oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge through the Senate by a simple majority vote." It seems that the Senate rules may allow a lot of legislation to go into reconciliation bills, provided the parliamentarian allows. Oh, and in case he doesn't? Well, the "Republicans intend to discharge Mr. Frumin next year and install a parliamentarian more certain to do their bidding."

The GOP Could Win and Still Lose
Congress 2003

Byron York writes: "Under the Senate's rules, if a new Senate cannot come up with an organizing resolution, the resolution from the last Senate remains in effect. In 2001, that meant that if Democrats did not agree to a power-sharing arrangement, they would have to live under the pre-2001 arrangement, which was total Republican control....But now, if the Senate again splits 50-50, the situation will be just the opposite. Democrats will press for a power-sharing arrangement, and Republicans will know that if they do not agree, the Senate will remain under its current organizing resolution, which provides for complete Democratic control. The leverage Republicans had in early 2001 will belong to Democrats in early 2003."