Capitol Hillbillies

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.

McCain, Obama pledge to work together

The bitter general election campaign behind them, President-elect Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain are seeking common ground on a range of issues in hopes of engendering greater bipartisan cooperation in Washington.

The erstwhile rivals met for 40 minutes at Obama’s transition headquarters Monday to discuss possible collaboration on climate change, immigration, Guantanamo Bay and more.

It was their first meeting since Nov. 4, when Obama vanquished McCain in an electoral landslide. Last Thursday, Obama reached out to another former competitor, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, whom he is considering as a possible secretary of state.

Seeing red

The federal budget deficit has taken an alarming turn for the worse.

In October, the first month of the federal fiscal year, the government ran a record deficit of $237.2 billion, close to the deficit the government ran for the entire year of 2006.

The deficit for this year could run over $1 trillion, dwarfing the record deficit of $454.8 billion we set in the fiscal year just ended. The accumulated budget deficits make up the national debt, which now stands at over $10.6 trillion.

The debt is more than an economic abstraction; it has practical political implications. Congress must appropriate the money to pay the interest on that debt each year, and that rapidly growing interest payment competes with other government programs.

Sparks will fly in Congress this week

Expect plenty of fireworks when the U.S. Congress meets this week for a post-election session focused largely on the ailing U.S. economy.

With Barack Obama preparing to become the 44th U.S. president on January 20, lawmakers will take another crack at providing fiscal relief to Americans and the U.S. auto industry, and elect leaders for the new Congress set to convene on January 6 with Obama’s Democrats in stronger control.

Lawmakers also will move to expel Republican Ted Stevens from the Senate if a protracted ballot count shows that Alaska voters returned the 84-year-old senator to Washington after his conviction for corruption last month.

Obama to Congress: Let’s get moving

President-elect Barack Obama on Saturday urged Congress to get moving next week on an economic rescue plan that would extend jobless benefits among other actions.

“If Congress does not pass an immediate plan that gives the economy the boost it needs, I will make it my first order of business as president,” Obama said in his Democratic Party’s weekly radio address.

The radio address was also videotaped and being posted online through a YouTube link to Obama’s transition Web site, http://www.change.gov. The president-elect plans to continue to record online videos of the addresses after he takes the oath of office Jan. 20.

Obama vows broad review of government

Senior politicians, former ambassadors, top business leaders and lawyers will lead special teams into US government agencies to prepare the ground for Barack Obama’s presidency, his office said.

An army of specialists — including senior members of former president Bill Clinton’s administration — is set to fan out across in the Treasury, State Department and Pentagon.

Even the White House will be scrutinized as the 450-strong transition team goes through more than 100 departments and agencies.

Making it up as they go along

The $700 billion bailout was rushed through Congress as a way of pumping liquidity into the financial system by letting the Treasury buy up so-called toxic assets, the most troubled loans on lenders’ books.

Well, that’s not what the Troubled Asset Relief Program is any more. Not too long after it passed, Treasury decided that it could put money into the system more effectively by purchasing bank stock directly.

Everything new is old again

For all the change supposedly blowing into Washington in this election, the face of the new Congress, aside from having around two-dozen more Democrats, won’t change all that much.

To be sure, there will be new people around the U.S. Capitol — about 60, in the House and at least nine in the Senate.

And based on victories declared for all but a dozen or so contests around the nation, Democrats will outnumber Republicans by 80-some votes in the House, the biggest majority since 1992, while holding a solid majority of at least 56 in the Senate.