Capitol Hillbillies

Frank says gay rights marches aren’t the answer

Rep. Barney Frank, the first openly gay member of Congress, says he’d rather see gay rights supporters lobbying their elected officials than marching in Washington this weekend, calling the demonstration “a waste of time at best.”

Frank , in an interview with The Associated Press, said he considers such demonstrations to be “an emotional release” that does little to pressure Congress.

“The only thing they’re going to be putting pressure on is the grass,” the Massachusetts Democrat said Friday.

Thousands of gay men and women are expected to gather for Sunday’s National Equality March.

Senate panel approves Patriot Act renewal

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill Thursday that would renew portions of the USA Patriot Act in an effort to address administration concerns about protecting terrorism investigations.

But several Democrats and civil liberties advocates said the legislation would do little to strengthen privacy protections. And some Republicans said the bill, despite amendments worked out with the administration, would still unduly burden investigators.

By a vote of 11 to 8, the committee sent to the Senate floor a measure that would extend until 2013 three surveillance provisions set to expire Dec. 31. They would allow investigators to use roving wiretaps to monitor suspects who may switch cellphone numbers, to obtain business records of national security targets, and to track “lone wolves” who may be acting alone on behalf of foreign powers or terrorist groups.

Democrats get good news about health care bill

Democrats are breathing a sigh of relief after a positive cost report on health care overhaul gave them a chance to rally around a Senate plan that significantly expands coverage while trimming the federal deficit.

The Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday that the latest version of the Senate Finance Committee proposal would expand coverage to 94 percent of all eligible Americans at a 10-year cost of $829 billion.

The budget umpires added that the legislation would reduce federal deficits by $81 billion over a decade and could lead to continued reductions in federal red ink in the years beyond.

Pelosi, Reid at war over Afghanistan

The eye roll said it all.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid emerged from the White House Tuesday with broad, bicameral smiles — until Reid put his arm around Pelosi to announce that “everyone” would support “whatever” Afghanistan policy the president produces.

The lazy, lax work schedule of Congress

Like most Americans, members of the House are expected to report promptly — no excuses — when summoned by their bosses for the start of another workweek. One difference: For lawmakers, starting time doesn’t come until about 6:30 Tuesday evening.

After taking control of the House in 2006 — and again when President Barack Obama was elected president in 2008 — Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) boasted that lawmakers would work four or five days a week to bring change to America.

But midway through Obama’s first year in office, Hoyer’s House has settled into a more leisurely routine. Members usually arrive for the first vote of the week as the sun sets on Tuesdays, and they’re usually headed back home before it goes down again on Thursdays.

Poll gives health care reform a new lease on life

The fever has broken. The patient is out of intensive care. But if you’re President Barack Obama, you can’t stop pacing the waiting room. Health care overhaul is still in guarded condition.

The latest Associated Press-GfK poll has found that opposition to Obama’s health care remake dropped dramatically in just a matter of weeks. Still, Americans remain divided over complex legislation that Democrats are advancing in Congress.

The public is split 40-40 on supporting or opposing the health care legislation, the poll found. An even split is welcome news for Democrats, a sharp improvement from September, when 49 percent of Americans said they opposed the congressional proposals and just 34 percent supported them.

Health care reform nears key vote in Senate

President Barack Obama gathered doctors from every U.S. state at the White House on Monday to press his case for healthcare reform in a week when the sweeping overhaul could clear a major hurdle in Congress.

The Senate Finance Committee, the last of five panels in Congress to move on healthcare legislation, aims to vote this week on Obama’s top domestic policy priority, an effort meant to cut costs, regulate insurers and expand health insurance coverage to the millions of Americans now going without.

“At this point, we’ve heard all the arguments on both sides of the aisle,” Obama told the crowd of 150 white-coated doctors who support the healthcare drive.

GOP silence on Ensign’s ethics problems

The second-ranking Senate Republican offered no support Sunday for embattled Sen. John Ensign, facing renewed criticism over an extramarital affair with an aide and the actions he took on behalf of her husband.

Asked on CNN’s “State of the Union” if Ensign can serve effectively or should step down, Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., did not address his colleague’s future and said he would await a Senate Ethics Committee investigation.

Kyl’s sidestep followed on Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell’s repeated refusals on Friday to answer questions about Ensign or pledge any support.

Can Harry Reid deliver on health care reform?

Forget mission accomplished. Try mission seemingly impossible.

With the Senate Finance Committee on the verge of approving a sweeping health overhaul bill Tuesday, the path might appear open for action by the full Senate.

Not so fast.

First the Finance Committee bill must be combined with a more liberal version that the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee wrapped up this summer. This merger is so rare that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has never attempted it on any piece of legislation — much less one as complex as President Barack Obama’s top legislative priority. The senator from Searchlight, Nev., will need plenty of guiding light.

Health care bill could increase Medicare costs

Medicare recipients could see higher premiums for prescription drug coverage as a result of changes to complex provisions in a Senate health care bill, a senior Republican said Friday.

At issue are marching orders for a powerful new commission that would recommend annual Medicare savings to Congress. Those recommendations would go into effect unless overruled by lawmakers.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said an amendment approved by the Finance Committee in the pre-dawn hours Friday would allow the commission to recommend changes leading to higher Medicare prescription drug premiums. The Democratic amendment was approved on a 13-10 party line vote.