Capitol Hillbillies

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.

‘Tis the season for pork barrel

Congress, that irrepressible spending machine that is held in lower public esteem than even the current war-strapped president, has been busy stuffing constituent Christmas stockings full of goodies and if you happen to be one of the lucky ones, the coming year should be a good one. That is if George W. Bush doesn’t issue an order to his troops to ignore most of the outlandish projects tacked on to the $555 billion omnibus appropriations bill just passed and the $459 billion defense appropriations measure adopted last month.

Republicans still kings of pork

The demise of the bridge to nowhere notwithstanding, Sen. Ted Stevens and other Republicans remain the kings of pork-barrel spending, proving that GOP mastery of “earmarks” can withstand public scorn, a president’s rebuke and even a Democratic takeover of Congress.

Bush set for another win over Dems

The Democratic-controlled House is expected to give President Bush an end-of-session victory in his yearlong battle with anti-war lawmakers over Iraq by approving $70 billion for U.S. military operations there and in Afghanistan.

The vote Wednesday also would represent the final step in sealing a deal between Democrats and Bush over how much money to provide domestic agencies whose budgets are set each year by Congress. The Iraq funds have been bundled with an omnibus appropriations measure to create a massive $555 billion package that Bush has signaled he will sign.

Senate considers spending bill

The Senate is poised to take up a $516 billion measure to fund 14 Cabinet agencies and troops in Afghanistan, with President Bush likely to sign the measure if his GOP allies can add up to $40 billion for the war in Iraq.

Senate leaders would like to wrap up debate Tuesday, though GOP conservatives may balk, unhappy with spending above Bush’s budget and a secretive process that produced a 1,482-page bill with almost 9,000 pet projects sought by lawmakers.

Adding up to real money

Everybody knows Uncle Sam is running in the red and has been for a long time. Still, it’s a shock to learn how much in the red.

The blandly titled “Financial Report of the United States Government” says that the gap between what the government promised under Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other social insurance programs and the money on hand to pay for it is $45 trillion over the next 75 years. That’s ‘t’ for trillion as in the entire annual gross domestic product of the United States for this year being around $14 trillion.

Can Dems regroup from failures?

Congressional Democrats will have plenty to ponder during the Christmas-New Year recess. For instance, why did things go so badly this fall, and how well did their leaders serve them?

Partisan players will quarrel for months, but objective analysts say the debate must start here: An embattled president made extraordinary use of his veto power and he was backed by GOP lawmakers who may have put their political fortunes at risk.

Tax break for billionaires

More than 50 American billionaires can breathe easier now that Congress is set to keep the farm-subsidy spigot open for them and other wealthy folks who get government checks originally intended to help small, struggling farmers.

Despite a lot of rhetoric about reform, neither the Senate, which finished its work on the mammoth farm bill this week, nor the House did anything to change rules that allowed at least 56 billionaires to reap more than $2 million in agriculture handouts in 2003 to 2005 alone.

Congressmen promise CIA probe

U.S. Congress members vowed on Sunday to investigate the CIA’s destruction of videotapes depicting harsh interrogation of terrorism suspects, despite Justice Department advice that the agency not cooperate.

The top Republican member of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee and a leading Democratic voice on security joined in a blistering attack on the CIA and on the complex network of U.S. intelligence agencies in general.