Capitol Hillbillies

NRA outsmarts opponents once again

For the first time since taking control of Congress, gun-control Democrats are taking on the National Rifle Association. The NRA seems to be nipping the effort in the bud.

At issue is whether Congress should loosen restrictions on local law enforcement agencies’ ability to gain access to gun-purchasing data to trace the movement of illegal guns around the nation.

Immigration bill faces crucial test

Conservative Republican senators and a handful of Democrats are trying to put a final knife in President Bush’s plan for legalizing millions of unlawful immigrants.

A broad immigration bill, embracing what critics call amnesty, survived a series of unfriendly amendments Wednesday. Supporters pointed to the bill’s tighter borders and workplace rules to keep it alive.

Rise of the ‘silent center’

There were no trumpets and no drums. No crowds cheering, no paparazzi scrambling. This was, after all, the U.S. Senate. And it was, after all, almost 8 p.m. Monday, and the prime-time TV news was over and tomorrow’s front pages were largely set.

So the last thing on the minds of the few strays roaming the Senate floor and yawning in the public and press galleries above was that they were about to witness a genuine profiles-in-courage moment in a capital city that has become all profile and no courage.

The silent center was speaking out at last.

More Republicans walk away from Bush

Republican support for the Iraq war is slipping by the day. After four years of combat and more than 3,560 U.S. deaths, two Republican senators previously reluctant to challenge President Bush on the war announced they could no longer support the deployment of 157,000 troops and asked the president to begin bringing them home.

“We must not abandon our mission, but we must begin a transition where the Iraqi government and its neighbors play a larger role in stabilizing Iraq,” Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, wrote in a letter to Bush.

Voinovich, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, released his letter Tuesday — one day after Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the panel’s top Republican, said in a floor speech that Bush’s strategy was not working.

GOP Senator says Bush’s war is failing

Sen. Richard Lugar, a senior Republican and a reliable vote for President Bush on the war, said that Bush’s Iraq strategy was not working and that the U.S. should downsize the military’s role.

The unusually blunt assessment Monday deals a political blow to Bush, who has relied heavily on GOP support to stave off anti-war legislation.

It also comes as a surprise. Most Republicans have said they were willing to wait until September to see if Bush’s recently ordered troop buildup in Iraq was working.

“In my judgment, the costs and risks of continuing down the current path outweigh the potential benefits that might be achieved,” Lugar, R-Ind., said in a Senate floor speech. “Persisting indefinitely with the surge strategy will delay policy adjustments that have a better chance of protecting our vital interests over the long term.”

An incredible double standard

“Do as I say, not as I do” appears to be the credo of some good-government groups, whose reluctance to reveal their contributors could help scuttle congressional ethics reforms.

Watchdog groups Public Citizen, Common Cause and Democracy 21 — which have been some of the most energetic forces for “open” government, campaign-finance reform and tough ethics rules — are now fighting to keep their own donor lists secret.

A grim outlook for Iraq

In remarkably blunt terms, a little-known but highly influential adviser to the top U.S. commander in Iraq is predicting that July and August could be among the deadliest months ever for American forces and Iraqi civilians.

That’s the assessment of David Kilcullen, an Australian army veteran who is considered one of the world’s top authorities on counterinsurgencies. Kilcullen is a personal adviser to Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. and allied troops in Iraq.

Reps’ kin live large on campaign funds

Democrats and Republican members of Congress use millions of dollars in campaign funds to pay fat fees and salaries to family members.

The practice is so widespread that lawmakers dismiss it with a nod and a wink and laugh at legislative attempts to ban payments to family members from campaign funds.

Federal Election Commission Reports show Republican and Democratic members of Congress diverted $5.1 million in payments were diverted to family members or entities owned by family members in the past six years and that the practice is increasing with each new campaign season.

Lame duck, lame Congress

More than two-thirds of Americans say they have lost faith not only in President Bush but also in the Democrats running Congress.

All of the presidential candidates should be extremely worried about this development.

Because of rivalry among the states, next year’s primaries have been scheduled in warp speed. In only eight months from now, we will know who the Republican nominee will be and who the Democratic Party’s nominee will be.

Reid blasts generals on Iraq

The top Democrat in the US Senate on Thursday fired off unusually frank criticism of the generals running operations in Iraq, in an acerbic aside to his quarrel with the White House over the war.

Majority leader Harry Reid said he was disappointed in Marine General Peter Pace, outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and hoped for a more candid approach from General David Petraeus, US commander in Iraq.