Capitol Hillbillies

Auto bailout plan includes a ‘car czar’

Congressional Democrats and the White House worked to resolve their last disputes Monday over terms of a $15 billion bailout for U.S. auto makers — complete with a "car czar" to oversee the industry’s reinvention of itself — that’s expected to come to a vote as early as Wednesday.

Capitol Hill Roundup: Shoulda given more…

The automotive industry must be kicking itself for being chintzy when it comes to campaign contributions to Capitol Hill lawmakers.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, campaign finance reports show that the auto industry ranks 34th on the list of most-generous industry donors. That’s way behind Wall Street, which has had far more success than the Big Three in snagging federal bailout bucks from Washington in this time of financial woe.

The reports calculate that the securities and investment industry comes in 4th on the generosity scale, followed by the insurance industry at 9th, financial firms at 10th, and commercial banks at 13th.

In all, automotive manufacturers and dealers gave just under $9 million to congressional candidates this election cycle. In contrast, the securities and investment industry alone doled out more than $58 million.

Voters oust indicted Rep. Jefferson

In a year when national Republican fortunes took a turn for the worse, Louisiana delivered the GOP two seats in Congress in elections delayed by Hurricane Gustav.

Indicted Democratic U.S. Rep. William Jefferson was ousted Saturday from his New Orleans area district, while Republicans narrowly held on to the seat vacated by a retiring incumbent.

The wins followed Republicans’ reconquest of another House seat earlier this fall that had been lost to Democrats.

Caroline Kennedy eyes Senate seat

Caroline Kennedy, daughter of slain President John F. Kennedy, is considering pursuing the New York Senate seat Hillary Clinton will vacate to become secretary of state, The New York Times reported on Friday.

"I believe that she is considering it," the newspaper quoted Kennedy’s cousin, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., as saying, adding he had spoken to her about the matter during the past week.

Holder pick may embarrass Democrats

Attorney General designate Eric Holder’s prominent role in Former President Bill Clinton’s controversial pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich probably won’t derail his nomination but it will become an embarrassment for Senate Democrats and possibly even new President Barack Obama.

Senate Republicans are planning to use Holder’s involvement in the Rich matter to hold Democrats and the new President up for scrutiny during hearings on the nomination.

In addition, some comments by prominent Democratic Senators could come back to haunt them as the hearings progressed.

For Republicans, the process will be fun. For Democrats, it could leave some of them red-faced and scrambling to find rationalizations.

Barack Obama calling…or not

When a man sounding remarkably like President-elect Barack Obama called a Florida congresswoman Wednesday, she assumed it was a crank call.

So Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen hung up. But, the Miami Herald reports, this was no prank.

"I thought it was one of the radio stations in South Florida playing an incredible, elaborate, terrific prank on me," Ros-Lehtinen told the newspaper. "They got Fidel Castro to go along. They’ve gotten Hugo Chavez and others to fall for their tricks. I said, ‘Oh, no, I won’t be punked.’"

The big three & Congress: dumb & dumber

What are we to think of the Big Three automakers plea to Congress (and each of us) for a $25 billion bailout, euphemistically known as a bridge loan or rescue package?

During the disastrous trip to Washington by the auto companies’ three CEOs (stupidly arriving on private luxury jets), the three men were unable to say exactly how much they need and how it would be spent, provide assurance they wouldn’t be back in a few months demanding more money and, finally, explain why Americans won’t buy their products.

You don’t give your last tourniquet to a dead man, said one lawmaker. What is at the end of the bridge, another demanded. Why are Toyota’s U.S. operations able to sell its cars, and you can’t sell yours, another congressman asked.

Stevens’ defeat: End to tawdry era

Sen. Ted Stevens’ election defeat marks the end of an era in which he held a commanding place in Alaska politics while wielding power on some of the most influential committees in Congress.

It also moves Senate Democrats within two seats of a filibuster-proof 60-vote majority and gives President-elect Barack Obama a stronger hand when he assumes office on Jan. 20.

On the day the longest-serving Republican in Senate history turned 85, he was ousted by Alaska voters troubled by his conviction on federal felony charges and eager for a new direction in Washington, where Stevens served since Lyndon B. Johnson was president.

Lieberman got off easy

Barack Obama perhaps didn’t directly intervene to save Joe Lieberman’s chairmanship but it certainly didn’t hurt when the President-elect said he would be "happy" to have the Connecticut senator and party apostate continue to caucus with the Democrats.

Democrats were furious when Lieberman showed up at the Republican convention to endorse John McCain and even more furious when he said dismissively of Obama that he was "an eloquent young man" but unprepared to be president. He then actively campaigned with McCain.

Should Congress bail out the auto industry?

Senate Democrats took the first step toward bailing out the nation’s crippled auto industry on Monday by proposing a $25 billion loan program, a plan that faces stiff political headwinds with millions of jobs potentially riding on the outcome.

With the year’s congressional calendar down to a few days, lawmakers and the Bush administration sparred over the best way to extend help to General Motors Corp, Ford Motor Co and Chrysler LLC.