Capitol Hillbillies

Hastert calls it quits

Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who made a farewell speech to House colleagues 11 day earlier, made his resignation official Monday with a letter to Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Hastert’s formal resignation, which was to take effect at 11:59 p.m. EST Monday, came the same day that Mississippi GOP Sen. Trent Lott announced he would retire by year’s end after 35 years in Congress.

Hastert had announced in August he wouldn’t seek another term and earlier this month confirmed he wouldn’t finish his 11th term, but he hadn’t said when he would resign his seat.

Lott will resign by year’s end

Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi, the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, plans to resign his seat by the end of the year, congressional and Bush administration officials said Monday.

Lott, 66, scheduled two news conferences in Pascagoula and Jackson later in the day to reveal his plans. According to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of the announcement, Lott intends to resign effective at the end of the year.

Fatcat political donations hit record levels

The volume of political donations from industries and interest groups is gushing to new records even before the first 2008 primaries are held, and Democrats are pocketing most of it.

The biggest wave comes from the securities and investment industries, which have increased their giving 91 percent over 2004, giving a whopping $50 million already. Of that, Democrats have gotten 61 percent.

Lawyers and law firms have spent $76 million so far, a jump of 52 percent from 2004, with Democrats scoring 77 percent of this cash.

Few friends for troubled lawmaker

Rep. John Doolittle is garnering tepid public support from his California GOP colleagues in the latest sign of his slumping political fortunes as he aims for re-election while under criminal investigation.

Doolittle, a nine-term conservative who represents a heavily Republican district in northernmost California, is under scrutiny along with his wife, Julie, for their ties to jailed lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The ethics cloud nearly cost him re-election last year and since then his legal problems have worsened with grand jury subpoenas issued to him and aides and an FBI raid on his home.

Supremes to review handgun ban

The US Supreme Court Tuesday agreed for the first time in 70 years to review the right to own guns, as it considers whether the city of Washington can ban private handguns, a court spokeswoman told AFP.

The high court agreed to review an appeal by the city insisting its three-decade ban on handguns is constitutional, said court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg.

Arguments are expected between February and April with a ruling at the end of June, just a few months before the November 2008 presidential election.

Even pro-defense Dems want out of Iraq

Though they believe the military situation in Iraq has begun to stabilize, Democratic congressmen with strong defense credentials continue to say U.S. involvement needs to end because of the cost, the toll it’s taking on the Army and the Iraqi government’s political failures.

Reps. Adam Smith and Norm Dicks, both Washington state Democrats, said in interviews last week that Congress needs to keep pressuring President Bush to change his Iraq policy. They said the administration’s single-minded attention on Iraq is allowing an al Qaeda resurgence in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The poor struggling billionaire

When the agriculture lobby tries to justify its hugely expensive and inefficient system of taxpayer-paid subsidies and price supports, it invokes the “small family farm,” conjuring up Grant Wood’s famed “American Gothic” painting of a farm couple.

Actually, over half the money goes to less than 10 percent of the farms, generally huge corporate operations, but there are some small family farms in there somewhere as well as some other, more surprising beneficiaries — billionaires.

Senators benefit from farm subsidies

For some lawmakers, the current U.S. Senate debate on farm subsidies strikes close to home.

At least six senators have received government agriculture handouts in recent years.

Although some pocket a relative pittance, the total amount of taxpayer money that these legislators have received over the past decade is more than $700,000. Add in close family members and the amount more than doubles.

As the proposed farm bill stands now, these senators would likely still be eligible for their benefit checks.

Billionaries get ag handouts

More than 50 American billionaires have received government farm handouts in recent years from a program created to help struggling small farmers survive.

In just two years, between 2003 and 2005, at least 56 of the richest people in the country have pocketed taxpayer-funded federal agriculture subsidies totaling more than $2 million, according to a Scripps Howard News Service analysis of a newly released U.S. Department of Agriculture database.

Striking out

Six months after his nomination to be the nation’s top doc triggered fevered objections, James Holsinger just lost his best chance to finally get the job.

Holsinger, a Kentucky public-health physician who once wrote that homosexual sex is unnatural and can lead to death, has been cooling his heels since his Senate confirmation hearing in July, when he was flayed by Democrats and other gay-rights advocates for those views.