Capitol Hillbillies

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.

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.