A Rise in Republican Angst

Republican angst is deepening in Washington, as incumbents fret about re-election chances and furor mounts over leadership shortcomings.

Reagan economic guru William Niskanen bitterly told his fellow gray suits at a recent tax summit that the Bush administration is the worst he’s seen in his adult life. There was no dissent from the Heritage Foundation pooh-bahs and other conservative heavies present.

On Capitol Hill, GOP incumbents are so steamed about the steady erosion of support in the polls that there’s open talk about new leadership elections in January. Expect discontent to erupt at a GOP retreat in January.

It’s not just the failure to gain any movement on overhauling Social Security that has disenchanted the Republican right wing, but the failure of the president’s tax-reform commission to embrace radical plans to scrap the income tax. Then there’s the real prospect of even more congressional “emergency” spending for Hurricane Katrina relief, bird-flu prevention and Iraq, without any sign of the serious budget cuts of federal social programs that the GOP conservative base was once promised.

Which federal agency gets to regulate America’s bagel dogs and pepperoni pizza is one of Washington’s most enduring and bitterly fought bureaucratic battles. But there’s sign of a truce in the war between the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which regulates meat products, and the rival U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which regulates ingredients. Under the proposed compromise, the USDA will be responsible for bagel dogs, meat and poultry-based sandwiches, and meat products made with natural casings. The FDA will get responsibility for pizzas, where meat is just an ingredient.

Moves by the Architect of the Capitol to quietly designate the Capitol Christmas tree the “Capitol Season Tree” has activists circulating petitions on Capitol Hill complaining that Congress didn’t authorize the name change. “This is Christmas,” Rita Warren, a 74-year-old activist who maintains a statue of Jesus on the Capitol’s steps, protested to the newspaper The Hill. “It’s about Christ.”

Lawmakers larded the highway bill with so many projects that the road-builders lobby says there won’t be enough money in the highway trust fund after 2008.

The Associated General Contractors of America, the interest group for the construction firms that build highways and bridges, says a solution is a tax increase. A U.S. Chamber of Commerce study suggests that alternatives could include highway tolls or per-mile vehicle taxes. But AGC Chairman Stephen Sandherr acknowledges that any proposal to hike federal gasoline taxes is “the third rail” in Republican-dominated Washington.

With dismal turnouts expected in the Nov. 8 election, some political scientists and activists are suggesting switching election days from the first Tuesday in November to Saturday instead. “Why Tuesday?” organizers say. It’s thought that Americans might be more willing to vote if elections were held on weekends rather than during the workweek.

Government investigators say they are seeing increasing cases of counterfeit drugs sold in the United States. Investigators say that up to 50 percent of the drugs sold in some foreign markets are counterfeits, and some of them are coming into the United States and sold in counterfeit packaging that is so good it can easily fool people into believing they are buying the real thing.

Government geologists say a preliminary survey shows that Hurricane Katrina did far more damage to Gulf Coast wetlands than previously thought. Using satellite data, U.S. Geological Survey scientists now estimate the storm turned more than 100 square miles of marshlands into open water.

Among others discombobulated by the way we change time twice a year are the pandas at Washington’s National Zoo. Panda keepers report that Tian Tian, father of the new cub, was unusually exercised by being fed an hour late after the clock changed Oct. 30 and began taking “power walks” around his cage and marking outdoor surfaces with scent from his anal glands.

P.S. Zoo insiders confide that Tian Tian doesn’t yet know he’s the father of 16-week-old Tai Shan because he’s never met the cub.

(Contact Lance Gay at GayL(at)SHNS.com)