Capitol Hillbillies

Congress endorses Obama’s budget goals

Democrats in Congress capped President Barack Obama’s 100th day in office by advancing a $3.4 trillion federal budget for next year — a third of it borrowed — that prevents Republicans from blocking his proposed trillion-dollar expansion of government-provided health care over the next decade.

House approves expanded hate crime law

The Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday approved an expansion of federal "hate crime" laws — an effort that former Republican President George W. Bush had opposed.

On a vote of 249-175, the House passed and sent to the Senate a bill backed by the new Democratic White House to broaden such laws by classifying as "hate crimes" those attacks based on a victim’s sexual orientation, gender identity or mental or physical disability.

GOP Sen. Arlen Specter switches parties

Veteran Republican Sen. Arlen Specter disclosed plans Tuesday to switch parties, a move intended to boost his chances of winning re-election next year that will also push Democrats closer to a 60-vote filibuster-resistant majority.

"I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans," Specter said in a statement posted on a Web site devoted to Pennsylvania politics and confirmed by his office. Several Senate officials said a formal announcement could come later in the day or Wednesday.

Leahy calls for investigation of torture

A senior US lawmaker on Sunday called for a special commission to investigate the US government’s alleged torture of terror detainees, amid calls by some that the country bury the controversy.

"I know some people say, let’s turn the page. Frankly, I’d like to read the page before we turn it," Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy told CBS television’s "Face the Nation" program.

McCain splits with Cheney on memos

Releasing classified memos showing whether harsh Bush-era interrogation methods yielded useful information from terrorism suspects is not necessary, Republican Senator John McCain said on Sunday in a public disagreement with former Vice President Dick Cheney.

After President Barack Obama released four memos this month revealing the Bush administration’s legal justification for methods such as waterboarding — a form of simulated drowning — Cheney called for declassifying any memos showing that these techniques succeeded in producing valuable information.

New Democrats show independent streak

Freshman Rep. Bobby Bright won his seat in Congress by convincing conservative southeast Alabama voters that he wasn’t a typical Democrat. Barely a week into his Washington career, he showed that he meant it.

On a vote that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi saw as a slam dunk for kicking off the new Congress, Bright opposed a bill named after an Alabama tire-factory worker that would ease restrictions for women challenging pay discrimination. A few days later, Bright voted against another Democratic rallying point, expanding health insurance for children of the working poor.

Can Congress cure health care system’s ills?

This time it’s really going to happen. Or so they claim.

Senators get down to work this coming week on turning ideas into legislation to cover some 50 million people without health insurance and contain costs for everyone else. Hopes are high that Democrats and Republicans can find common ground for a bill to emerge by summer.

They will have to defy history.

Grand plans to revamp health care have a half-century history of collapsing. More focused proposals, such as the creation of Medicare in 1965, have succeeded.

Republicans still looking for direction

Three months into the new Congress, Republicans are struggling to reinvent themselves on the fly as they adjust to life without a president of their own party or a majority in the House and Senate.

Opposition to President Barack Obama’s policies is relatively easy to achieve. But developing alternatives that can appeal outside the party’s conservative core seems more difficult.

Former Utah Congressman dies in ATV crash

Former Utah congressman Bill Orton died in an ATV accident when his machine flipped over on a sand dune at Little Sahara Recreation Area. He was 60.

Juab County Sheriff Alden Orme told The Associated Press that Orton died almost immediately of his injuries about 4 p.m. Saturday.

Orton, a Democrat, was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1991 to 1997. He ran an unsuccessful campaign for Utah governor in 2000.

Congress boosts Obamas agenda

Passage by both House and Senate of companion budget plans gave President Barack Obama and his allies on Capitol Hill a key victory, but the debates also exposed some of the president’s vulnerabilities.

Obama’s Democratic allies passed plans broadly supporting the young administration’s agenda of higher spending on domestic programs like education and overhauling the nation’s health care system. The $3.6 trillion House plan passed by a 233-196 vote Thursday.