Capitol Hillbillies

Senate votes waterboarding ban

The Senate passed legislation Wednesday to bar the CIA from using harsh interrogation methods including waterboarding, a simulated drowning technique denounced by rights groups as torture.

The Democratic-led Senate voted 51-45 in favor of a bill calling for the Central Intelligence Agency to adopt the US Army Field Manual, which forbids waterboarding and other types of coercive interrogation methods.

Republicans face reality of life with McCain

In John McCain, congressional Republicans are grappling with the notion of a presidential nominee most didn’t expect or want.

Now, struggling under a raft of retirements that has dimmed their chances of regaining control of the House and Senate, Republicans are coming to terms with the idea of the Arizona senator at the top of their ticket in November.

Don’t ask, don’t tell may be on way out

That faint crumbling sound coming from the Pentagon appears to be heralding the beginning of the end of the controversial "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy on gays in the military. Or at least the end of its diligent enforcement.

It’s been more than a year since Army Sgt. Darren Manzella told his superiors that he was gay, and nearly two months since he told his story on "60 Minutes." So far, the medic — who spent a year in Iraq — continues to serve without penalty.

Rep. Tom Lantos dead at 80

Rep. Tom Lantos, who as a teenager twice escaped from a Nazi-run forced labor camp in Hungary and became the only Holocaust survivor to win a seat in Congress, has died. He was 80.

Spokeswoman Lynne Weil said Lantos, a Californian, died early Monday at the Bethesda Naval Medical Center in suburban Maryland. He was surrounded by his wife, Annette, two daughters, and many of his 17 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Annette Lantos said in a statement that her husband’s life was “defined by courage, optimism, and unwavering dedication to his principles and to his family.”

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.”