Capitol Hillbillies

An old game of Liar’s Poker

While America’s super-sized attention was diverted and divided among the superlatives of Super Bowl Sunday and Super Tuesday, Official Washington began playing its favorite old parlor game: Liar’s Poker — also known as the old budget game.

On Monday, with all the non-fanfare of an errant husband tiptoeing home after a bad boys’ night out, President Bush lamely gave Congress his lame-duck, legacy-lap budget. It was the first to break the $3 trillion mark. But the most crucial parts of Bush’s budget were written in two types of ink: red and disappearing.

Hill balks on Bush’s budget

Democrats, already looking ahead to the next White House occupant, quickly relegated President Bush’s final budget to the ash bin of history, saying his proposals to rein in spending on programs are untenable and won’t happen.

Even the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, invoked a note of reality. “Let’s face it. This budget is done with the understanding that nobody’s going to be taking a long, hard look at it.”

More debt as a stimulus?

Even as President Bush cautioned against loading up the stimulus bill, the Senate was loading it up.

In a rare display of cooperation, indicating that in the eighth year of Bush’s presidency there may still be hope for bipartisanship, the White House and House Democrats agreed on a $146 billion bill consisting largely of tax rebates. The idea was for a clean, simple bill and quick passage.

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.