Capital Briefs March 30, 2009

RIGHT DIRECTION OR WRONG TRACK? Just as President Obama was assuring Americans at his news conference last week that “a better day will come,” a Rasmussen Poll found that 59% of American voters say the country is heading down the wrong track, while 35% believe the U.S. is headed in the right direction.

HENSARLING TO BLUE DOGS: DO THE RIGHT THING! In one of the strongest calls yet for moderate House Democrats to oppose the Obama budget, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R.-Tex) last week called on the “Blue Dogs” to think, pray, soul search “look yourself in the mirror, and not say, ‘can I justify voting for this budget, but is it really what I came here to do?’” Hensarling, the second-highest ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee, recalled how he fought his own leadership when Republicans were in the majority because “I thought they were spending too much money.” The Blue Dogs, he added, “are the only ones that stand between us and causing this generation of Americans to be the first generation in America’s history to leave the next generation with less freedom and less opportunity and a lower standard of living. I hope and pray you choose wisely.”

FROM GITMO TO WHERE? With the Obama Administration’s decision to close down the detention center at Guantanamo by next January, the remaining question is where to put the 240 detainees — many of whose own countries will not accept them. Last week, Atty. Gen. Eric Holder sent chills nationwide when he told reporters: “People who can be released, there are a variety of options that we have, among them is the possibility that we would release them into this country.” Immediate speculation that they would be imprisoned at a facility in Alexandria, Va., and then could stand trial at the federal courthouse there was met with an outcry of opposition from residents of that Washington D.C., suburb. “We would do everything in our power to lobby the President, the governor, the Congress and everyone else to stop it,” Alexandria’s Democratic Mayor William D. Euille told the Washington Post. “We’ve had this experience and it was unpleasant” — a reference to the 2006 death penalty trial of 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui that turned much of Alexandria into an armed encampment.

: Despite what many thought were a few gaffes in his first few weeks as Republican National Chairman, Michael Steele can smile over one key area: fund-raising. During the month of February, Democrats under their new national chairman Tim Kaine raised about $3.26 million — or $1.84 million less than Republicans’ did in the same time period under new chairman Steele. Kaine’s excuse was that because of his other job as governor of Virginia, he was busy that month working out a budget with his state’s legislature. But, as many Republicans noted, while Steele had a bit of a rocky February dealing with controversial statements about abortion and Rush Limbaugh, his party was jetting ahead in terms of dollars raised.

SEIU VS. SEIU: The union that is considered the most powerful of all is now, in effect, at war with itself. The Service Employees International Union recently announced it was laying off about 75 of its field staff and organizers. The staff’s union, which is actually called the Union of Union Representatives (UUR), then filed unfair labor practices against the SEIU with the National Labor Relations Board. UUR President Malcolm Harris blasted the SEIU layoffs as “completely hypocritical,” and told reporters that “this is the union that’s been at the forefront of progressive issues, around ensuring that working people and working families are taken care of, but when it comes to the people that work for SEIU, they haven’t set the same standards.” SEIU President Andy Stern countered that the lay-offs are “not a financial issue,” and that the 1.7 million member union is actually relocating its resources to lobbying and communications in Washington to take advantage of Democratic control of the White House and Congress.  

NO BARK FOR PELOSI’S WATCHDOG: Two years after Nancy Pelosi became speaker of the House and one year after her much-sought Office of Congressional Ethics was authorized, the so-called independent ethics watchdog has not fetched much. According to the Capitol Hill publication Politico, “the office has little to show for its work and is encumbered by layers of secrecy. It may be July at the earliest before the office reveals whether it has actually recommended any cases to the House ethics committee, and the specifics of its investigations will remain shrouded from public view.” Among those Democratic powerhouses in the House who have potentially major ethics problems are Rep. John Murtha (Pa.) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (N.Y.). When Democrats won control of the House in ’06, Pelosi had called for the special ethics office to end what she deemed the “culture of corruption” under Republican rule.