Capitol Hillbillies

Threats, protests greet lawmakers at home

As they head home to their congressional districts for the August recess, lawmakers who support health care reform are bracing for protests and demonstrations that threaten to turn violent.

In North Carolina, a congressman who backs overhauling health care had his life threatened by a caller upset that he was not holding a public forum on the proposal.

Democratic Rep. Brad Miller received the call Monday, one of hundreds the congressman’s office has fielded demanding town-hall meetings on the health care proposal, said his spokeswoman, LuAnn Canipe. She said the callers were "trying to instigate town halls so they can show up and disrupt."

Florida Senator Mel Matinez resigns

Republican Sen. Mel Martinez announced Friday he would step down 16 months early, saying he was making good on a promise to voters that he wouldn’t stay just to keep the seat warm.

The move presents Gov. Charlie Crist with the challenge of selecting a solid replacement — almost certainly a fellow Republican — but somebody who will agree not to run for a full term in 2010 so Crist himself can win the seat.

Martinez, the only Hispanic Republican in the Senate, said he would serve until his replacement was named. Crist promised to try to make his selection before the Senate returns from its summer break after Labor Day.

What Congress should hear during recess

So our lawmakers, exhausted from weeks of bickering, are headed home for their annual August recess to take the country’s pulse at town meetings, constituent picnics and county fairs. What should we tell them?

They’re probably not expecting to hear, "Guys, you are doing a great job." They will not be surprised.

They are expecting to hear, "Hands off our health care." And, "When are you going to do something about our rotten health care system?" Again, they will not be startled.

Clunkers program gets $2 billion refill

Car shoppers caught up in the frenzy of the "cash-for-clunkers" program will have more time now and a $2 billion reason to trade in their old gas guzzlers.

The Senate voted to refill the popular car incentive program on Thursday, tripling the $1 billion fund that has led to big crowds at once deserted auto showrooms. President Barack Obama will sign the bill, extending the program into Labor Day and preventing the 2-week-old incentives from running out.

"Now more American consumers will have the chance to purchase newer, more fuel-efficient cars and the American economy will continue to get a much-needed boost," Obama said in a statement hailing the vote.

Sonia Sotomayor confirmed by 68-31 Senate vote

Sonia Sotomayor won confirmation Thursday as the nation’s first Hispanic Supreme Court justice, a history-making Senate vote that capped a summer-long debate heavy with ethnic politics and hints of high court fights to come.

The third woman in court history, she’ll be sworn in Saturday as the 111th justice and the first nominated by a Democrat in 15 years.

The Senate vote was 68-31 to confirm Sotomayor, President Barack Obama’s first Supreme Court nominee, with Democrats unanimously behind her but most Republicans lining up in a show of opposition both for her and for the president’s standards for a justice.

Right wing vows to keep heat on health care

Conservative activists are vowing to keep up their fight against President Barack Obama’s health care plans, even as the Democratic Party pushes back hard, accusing Republicans of organizing angry mobs.

Democrats and the White House are claiming that the sometimes rowdy protests that have disrupted Democratic lawmakers’ meetings and health care events around the country are largely orchestrated from afar by insurers, lobbyists, Republican Party activists and others.

"This mob activity is straight from the playbook of high-level Republican political operatives," the Democratic National Committee says in a new Web video. "They have no plan for moving our country forward, so they’ve called out the mob."

Rep. Jefferson convicted on multiple charges

Former U.S. Congressman William Jefferson, who was caught with $90,000 in cash in his freezer, was convicted on Wednesday on multiple charges of bribery and money laundering.

The former Congressman from Louisiana, accused in 2007 of soliciting millions of dollars in bribes from companies while using his office to broker business deals in Africa, was found guilty of 11 of 16 counts of bribery, racketeering and money laundering.

In a search of his residence, FBI agents found the $90,000 neatly wrapped in foil and stashed in his freezer.

Jefferson faces up to 150 years in prison and could forfeit payments totaling $456,000, plus stock certificates.

Senate ready to refill clunker coffers

The Senate is poised to add $2 billion to the popular "cash-for-clunkers" program after lawmakers agreed to vote on the government car incentives and give shoppers until Labor Day to visit their local dealerships and make a deal.

Administration officials have estimated the tripling of the $1 billion program could fund an additional 500,000 new car sales, giving automakers a late summer boost after months of ragged sales. The Obama administration has said the program would go broke by Friday without congressional approval of the extension.

Government health plan would pay for abortions

Health care legislation before Congress would allow a new government-sponsored insurance plan to cover abortions, a decision that would affect millions of women and recast federal policy on the divisive issue.

Federal funds for abortions are now restricted to cases involving rape, incest or danger to the health of the mother. Abortion opponents say those restrictions should carry over to any health insurance sold through a new marketplace envisioned under the legislation, an exchange where people would choose private coverage or the public plan.

Abortion rights supporters say that would have the effect of denying coverage for abortion to millions of women who now have it through workplace insurance and are expected to join the exchange.

Insurers lay out cash to buy Congress

As the nation faces a political showdown over health-insurance reform, insurers worried that an overhaul could hurt their bottom line are funneling a wave of cash to members of Congress.

Health and accident insurers and HMOs have spent more than $40 million on current members of Congress over the past 10 years, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which analyzed Federal Election Commission data.

They’ve also spent an additional half-billion dollars lobbying during the decade.

Insurers ramped up their contributions in 2008 when health-care reform emerged as a major campaign issue. So far, the insurance industry has given $3.9 million this year.