Capitol Hillbillies

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.

Threats, protests greet lawmakers at home

As they head home to their congressional districts for the August recess, lawmakers who support health care reform are bracing for protests and demonstrations that threaten to turn violent.

In North Carolina, a congressman who backs overhauling health care had his life threatened by a caller upset that he was not holding a public forum on the proposal.

Democratic Rep. Brad Miller received the call Monday, one of hundreds the congressman’s office has fielded demanding town-hall meetings on the health care proposal, said his spokeswoman, LuAnn Canipe. She said the callers were "trying to instigate town halls so they can show up and disrupt."

Florida Senator Mel Matinez resigns

Republican Sen. Mel Martinez announced Friday he would step down 16 months early, saying he was making good on a promise to voters that he wouldn’t stay just to keep the seat warm.

The move presents Gov. Charlie Crist with the challenge of selecting a solid replacement — almost certainly a fellow Republican — but somebody who will agree not to run for a full term in 2010 so Crist himself can win the seat.

Martinez, the only Hispanic Republican in the Senate, said he would serve until his replacement was named. Crist promised to try to make his selection before the Senate returns from its summer break after Labor Day.

What Congress should hear during recess

So our lawmakers, exhausted from weeks of bickering, are headed home for their annual August recess to take the country’s pulse at town meetings, constituent picnics and county fairs. What should we tell them?

They’re probably not expecting to hear, "Guys, you are doing a great job." They will not be surprised.

They are expecting to hear, "Hands off our health care." And, "When are you going to do something about our rotten health care system?" Again, they will not be startled.

Clunkers program gets $2 billion refill

Car shoppers caught up in the frenzy of the "cash-for-clunkers" program will have more time now and a $2 billion reason to trade in their old gas guzzlers.

The Senate voted to refill the popular car incentive program on Thursday, tripling the $1 billion fund that has led to big crowds at once deserted auto showrooms. President Barack Obama will sign the bill, extending the program into Labor Day and preventing the 2-week-old incentives from running out.

"Now more American consumers will have the chance to purchase newer, more fuel-efficient cars and the American economy will continue to get a much-needed boost," Obama said in a statement hailing the vote.

Sonia Sotomayor confirmed by 68-31 Senate vote

Sonia Sotomayor won confirmation Thursday as the nation’s first Hispanic Supreme Court justice, a history-making Senate vote that capped a summer-long debate heavy with ethnic politics and hints of high court fights to come.

The third woman in court history, she’ll be sworn in Saturday as the 111th justice and the first nominated by a Democrat in 15 years.

The Senate vote was 68-31 to confirm Sotomayor, President Barack Obama’s first Supreme Court nominee, with Democrats unanimously behind her but most Republicans lining up in a show of opposition both for her and for the president’s standards for a justice.

Right wing vows to keep heat on health care

Conservative activists are vowing to keep up their fight against President Barack Obama’s health care plans, even as the Democratic Party pushes back hard, accusing Republicans of organizing angry mobs.

Democrats and the White House are claiming that the sometimes rowdy protests that have disrupted Democratic lawmakers’ meetings and health care events around the country are largely orchestrated from afar by insurers, lobbyists, Republican Party activists and others.

"This mob activity is straight from the playbook of high-level Republican political operatives," the Democratic National Committee says in a new Web video. "They have no plan for moving our country forward, so they’ve called out the mob."