Capitol Hillbillies

Too little too late

Washington wanted to show America and the world that it could act quickly and decisively in the face of a potential panic. And it seems to have succeeded — one hopes more than temporarily — in stabilizing the American markets and reassuring the foreign markets.

Fed chairman Ben Bernanke arrived at his office early Monday morning and by late afternoon had engineered a record one-day rate cut, down three-quarters of a percentage point to 3.5 percent. It was indeed dramatic, as intended.

A lonely but honorable fight

In a speech on politicians and the press, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., told a group of journalists that intensive scrutiny was all very well, but from time to time “try to catch us doing something good.”

McCaskill is one of a brave — some would say foolhardy — band of lawmakers who have voluntarily renounced earmarks, or, to use the less polite term, personal pork projects, a popular system for using federal tax dollars to please the people back home.

Hearings set on missing emails

A White House chart indicates no e-mail was archived on 473 days for various units of the Executive Office of the President, a House committee chairman says.

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., says a White House spokesman’s comments suggesting no e-mail had disappeared conflicted with what congressional staffers were told in September.

On Thursday night, Waxman said he was scheduling a hearing for Feb. 15 and challenged the White House to explain spokesman Tony Fratto’s remark that “we have absolutely no reason to believe that any e-mails are missing.”

A new spin on the CIA tape scandal

The new Republican spin on the destruction of CIA tapes that showed torture of terrorism suspects has a familiar ring to it: An underling took it upon himself to take criminal action against the wishes of his superiors.

It’s an old Washington game called scapegoating: Having someone take the fall to protect those higher on the food chain.

GOP Rep. Pete Hoekstra laid the foundation for the new spin Wednesday, telling reporters that closed-door testimony revealed that a lower-level CIA official gave the order to destroy the tapes against the direction of his superiors.

The rise and fall of John Doolittle

The California state Senate was once — a few decades ago — a very clubby, almost nonpartisan, place, and one of its unwritten rules of decorum was that neither of the political parties would overtly attempt to unseat an incumbent senator of the other party.

H.L. Richardson, a very conservative senator from Southern California on a mission to shake up the Capitol, ignored the rule, and in the 1976 and 1978 elections masterminded successful challenges to two liberal Democratic senators, generally accusing them of being soft on crime.

For Pelosi, a year marked by failure

Nancy Pelosi crashed through a glass ceiling when she became the first female House speaker a year ago. That turned out to be the easy part.

The reality of leading a bitterly divided Congress at odds with a Republican White House is that victories are difficult and disappointments many. Chief among them for the liberal San Francisco Democrat was failure to deliver on her biggest goal: ceasing U.S. combat missions in Iraq and getting troops on their way home.

Washington’s dim bulbs

A great many unkind things have been said about our current Congress — many of them merited.

But nothing this august body has done this session has more exemplified its meddling ineptitude than its decision to phase out incandescent light bulbs, of all things, beginning in 2012.

As explained by Reuters in a recent report, the measure signed by President Bush on Dec. 19 requires lighting to use “up to 30 percent less energy,” effectively outlawing the brilliant device engineered 125 years ago by Thomas Edison.

A year of Democratic failures

Democrats running Congress for the first time in more than a decade faltered at key points this year as they grudgingly passed important bills opposed by many, or even most, of their House members. When Republicans were in charge, they generally avoided a similar fate.

Republican solidarity also forced House Democrats to abandon a campaign promise to avoid new deficit spending by paying for new programs with tax increases or budget cuts.

Reid blames GOP for Dem failures

Congressional Democrats accomplished important goals this year but they need more cooperation from Republicans, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Saturday.

The Democratic majorities in the House and Senate cut middle-class taxes, raised the minimum wage and took other steps to help working families, Reid said in the Democrats’ weekly radio address.

Democrats tried to do more, but President Bush and his GOP allies in Congress thwarted them while siding with tobacco firms and “big oil companies,” said Reid, D-Nev.

Senate stays in session to block Bush

The Senate is holding special one man sessions throughout Christmas and the New Year to prevent President George W. Bush from making appointments without the approval of the Democratic majority.

With the bang of a gavel, Democratic Senator Jim Webb declared the first session open on Sunday morning before closing it seconds later, without any of his colleagues present in the hall.

The brief ceremony will be repeated every two to three days until January 18, when lawmakers resume their work after the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.