Capitol Hillbillies

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.

Senate blocks torture ban

Senate Republicans blocked a bill Friday that would restrict the interrogation methods the CIA can use against terrorism suspects.

The legislation, part of a measure authorizing the government’s intelligence activities for 2008, had been approved a day earlier by the House and sent to the Senate for what was supposed to be final action. The bill would require the CIA to adhere to the Army’s field manual on interrogation, which bans waterboarding, mock executions and other harsh interrogation methods.

Contempt citations for Bush aides

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted on Thursday to hold two men who have been top aides to President George W. Bush in contempt for refusing to comply with subpoenas in its probe of the firing of federal prosecutors.

On a largely party-line vote, the Democratic-led panel sent contempt of Congress citations against White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and former Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove to the full Senate for consideration.

Democrats cave to Bush once again

The failed Democratic leadership of Congress caved once again Wednesday to the most unpopular President in American history, giving George W. Bush another victory while abandoning the voters who put them into power in the 2006 mid-term elections.

House Democratic leaders dropped their demands for $22 billion in domestic spending and agreed to Bush’s spending limit on a half-trillion dollar bill. While the House version does not contain funding for Bush’s failed war in Iraq, the Senate is expected to add the money and send it back to the House, where it will be accepted as part of a deal between Democrats and Bush.

Silly season on Capitol Hill

Most Americans equate July with independence, fireworks and barbeques. But Congress wants Americans thinking about watermelons, too. A resolution before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee would make July National Watermelon Month.

Hayden lays tape blame on others

CIA Director Michael Hayden is briefing lawmakers behind closed doors about the destruction of videotapes showing harsh interrogation of terror suspects but says he can’t answer all their questions.

Hayden told reporters after testifying Tuesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee that he had “a chance to lay out the narrative, the history of why the tapes were destroyed” and the process that led to that decision.