Capitol Hillbillies

Kennedy beat the odds

In the quiet of a Capitol elevator, one of Edward M. Kennedy’s fellow senators asked whether the Massachusetts senator had plans for a family Thanksgiving away from the nation’s capital. No, he said shaking his head in reply, and mentioned something about visiting his brothers’ gravesites at Arlington National Cemetery.

In his half-century in the public glare, Kennedy was, above all, heir to a legacy — as well as a hero to liberals, a foil to conservatives, a legislator with few peers.

Sen. Ted Kennedy dies from brain cancer

Senator Edward Kennedy, a towering figure in the Democratic Party who took the helm of one of America’s most fabled political families after two older brothers were assassinated, has died, his family said. He was 77.

"Edward M. Kennedy, the husband, father, grandfather, brother and uncle we loved so deeply, died late Tuesday night at home in Hyannis Port (Massachusetts)," the Kennedy family said in a statement.

We don’t need more appointed Senators

Massachusetts should respectfully decline Sen. Ted Kennedy’s request that the state allow for the appointment, if his seat becomes vacant, of an interim senator to fill out his term rather than hold a special election within five months of the vacancy.

In a letter to Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, he said that it was "vital" that the state have two senators rather than go five months with only one. Kennedy is gravely ill with brain cancer and mostly absent from the Senate.

Kennedy wants successor named quickly

A cancer-stricken Sen. Edward M. Kennedy has written a poignant letter to Massachusetts leaders asking that they change state law to allow a speedy replacement of him in Congress.

The note has been sent to Gov. Deval Patrick and the state’s Senate president and House speaker while Congress considers an overhaul of the nation’s health care system, a life cause of Kennedy’s.

The letter acknowledges the state changed its succession law in 2004 to require a special election within five months to fill any vacancy. At the time, legislative Democrats — with a wide majority in both chambers — were concerned because then-Republican Gov. Mitt Romney had the power to directly fill any vacancy created as Democratic Sen. John Kerry ran for president.

Republicans back away from ‘end of life’ issue

Until last week, Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson was among the most enthusiastic backers of end-of-life counseling in government health care programs like Medicare.

That was before conservatives called it a step toward euthanasia and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin likened the idea to a bureaucratic "death panel" that would decide whether sick people get to live. And even though those claims have been widely discredited, the issue remains a political weapon in the increasingly bitter health care debate.

Emails overload Congressional computers

Amid a boisterous debate on health care reform, people flooded members of Congress on Thursday with so many e-mails that they overloaded the House’s primary Web site.

Technical support issued a warning to congressional staff that the site — http://www.house.gov — may be slow or unresponsive because of the large volume of e-mail being sent to members.

Jeff Ventura, a spokesman for the House’s chief administrative officer, which maintains the Web site, said traffic data was not available and could not be released without the lawmakers’ consent.

Rhetoric heats up on health care

Sen. Arlen Specter said Wednesday he thinks people who have been angrily disrupting town hall meetings on overhauling the health care system are "not necessarily representative of America," but should be heard.

"It’s more than health care," said Specter, 79, who earlier this year left the Republican Party and became a Democrat. "I think there is a mood in America of anger with so many people unemployed, with so much bickering in Washington … with the fear of losing their health care. It all boils over."

House pulls plug on private jet plan

House Democratic leaders said Monday that they will not force the Pentagon to buy four new passenger jets used to ferry senior government officials.

Democrats have been criticized for adding $330 million to the Air Force’s 2010 budget to buy the jets even though the Pentagon didn’t request the money.

Two of the planes would be the C-37 — the military equivalent to the fancy Gulfstream 550 — and cost taxpayers $130 million at a time when lawmakers have made villains of bailed-out auto executives who rely on corporate jets to travel.

Congress likes to fly in style on our tab

As the White House and the GOP Congress drove the federal government ever deeper into the red, Vice President Dick Cheney reportedly said, "Reagan proved that deficits don’t matter." Maybe not for the Bush administration, but they are an increasingly grave problem for President Obama and the Democratic Congress and perhaps an even worse problem for whoever comes after them.

An independent scorekeeper, the Congressional Budget Office, reported the government ran a July deficit — an excess of expenses over revenues — of $181 billion. That is close to the $185 billion deficit the Reagan administration ran for the entire year of 1984 when the government was battling its way out of a recession almost as bad as this one.

What Congress has, and hasn’t, done

Some of the Democratic-led 111th Congress’ accomplishments in the six months since Democratic President Barack Obama took office:

Passed a $787 billion stimulus package of tax cuts, benefit increases and new spending on road, bridge and other job-producing projects aimed at helping pull the country out of a recession.

Expanded health care subsidies for children of low-income parents to cover an additional 4 million children. Former President George W. Bush had vetoed similar legislation.

Imposed government regulations on the content, marketing and sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products.