Capitol Hillbillies

GOP could gain edge in ethics issues

The revelation that Democratic appropriations kingpins may face a House ethics investigation of their campaign receipts from lobbyists for recipients of government grants and contracts moves Republicans closer to gaining a corruption issue in 2010.

Senators live high on taxpayer tab

While talking about the need to bring spending under control, some members of the Senate live high on the hog and send the bill to American taxpayers, an investigation by Politico has found.

The web site’s investigation found Republican Senator John Cornyn racked up the highest bills for travel with Democratic colleague Chuck Schumer coming in second. Together, Cornyn and Schumer spend 10 times more than some other Senators.

Both Senators prefer private, chartered planes to commercial air transportation and think nothing of using taxpayer dollars for the privilege.

Sotomayor hearings set to start July 13

Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor will start on July 13, a top Democrat announced on Tuesday, and a Republican predicted she would be easily confirmed as the first Hispanic on the highest court in the United States.

Rejecting calls by other Republicans for more time to review her record, Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy made a Senate speech announcing the date for his panel to begin publicly questioning the nominee under oath.

Democrats considering tax on health benefits

Despite a less-than-rousing reaction from the Obama administration, House Democrats are considering a new tax on employer-provided health benefits to help pay for expanding coverage to the uninsured.

Several officials also said an outline of emerging legislation envisions a requirement for all individuals to purchase affordable coverage, with an unspecified penalty for those who refuse and a waiver for those who cannot cover the cost.

GOP will question Sotomayor’s objectivity

The Alabama senator leading the GOP’s vetting of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor said the American tradition of impartial courts is "under attack" and the pivotal question in her nomination should be whether she allows personal views to color her decisions as a judge.

Delivering the Republican Party’s weekly radio and Internet address Saturday, Sen. Jeff Sessions didn’t say if he thinks Sotomayor crosses that line. But he raised questions that reflect a growing chorus of GOP criticism that Sotomayor sees her role as something more than an impartial umpire.

Public health insurance plan threatens deal

President Barack Obama’s hopes for a bipartisan health deal seemed in jeopardy Thursday as GOP senators protested his renewed support for a new public health insurance plan, and a key Democratic chairman declared that such a plan would likely be in the Senate’s bill.

A public plan that would compete with private insurers is opposed by nearly all Republicans. Obama long has supported it, but he had avoided going into detail about his health goals, leaving the specifics to Congress and emphasizing hopes for a bipartisan bill.

That changed when Obama released a letter Wednesday to two Senate Democrats saying he believed strongly in the need for a new public plan.

Another Gitmo setback for Obama

Lawmakers Thursday dealt another blow to President Barack Obama’s plans to close the Guantanamo Bay prison, denying a request for extra funds and restricting the transfer and release of detainees.

The House Appropriations subcommittee, tasked with funding the Justice Department and other agencies, threw out a request for 60 million dollars to help the department shutter the prison on the US naval base in southern Cuba.

Congress vows short leash on auto bankruptcies

Congress will closely monitor the role played by the federal government during its management of insolvent auto giants General Motors and Chrysler, a top House Democrat said Wednesday.

"Obviously the committees of jurisdiction will be exercising oversight," said Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, at a press conference.

GOP offers $23 billion in spending cuts

Responding to a challenge from President Barack Obama, House GOP leaders are offering up a roster of more than $23 billion in spending cuts over the next five years.

The proposed cuts, which were to be sent to the White House on Thursday, bear little resemblance to the dramatic proposals Republicans unfurled when they took over Congress 14 years ago.