WASHINGTON -- Congress on Wednesday effectively closed shop
until the week after the election, without officially adjourning. A formal
vote to go home would have opened members of Congress from both parties to
campaign charges that they quit without passing homeland security or
prescription drugs aid.
Even so, some 50 Republican House members initially resisted
approving the funding resolution that makes possible the month-long recess.
Closing the vote in the House was delayed for a half-hour while the
recalcitrant Republicans were taken to the White House to be convinced by
President Bush himself.
Votes from 26 House Democrats favoring the resolution were found
to accommodate the six Republicans who in the end voted no on the
resolution. That included Rep. John Thune, who is engaged in a tight Senate
race in South Dakota.
NO TAX BILL
A rare rebuff dealt Wednesday behind closed doors by the House
Republican Conference to Rep. Bill Thomas of California, the powerful
chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, can be traced to both
ideology and personality.
The new batch of tax proposals put together by Thomas in the
closing hours of the current Congress ran into trouble from fellow
Republicans on the left and right alike. Liberals bridled at tax cuts for
investors. Conservatives did not like tougher treatment of companies whose
corporate headquarters are located abroad.
In addition, Republican House members seemed eager to give
Thomas his comeuppance for his autocratic manner in pushing much of the Bush
agenda through the House.
DOWN IN GEORGIA
The Bush political team is excited about the prospects for
picking off an incumbent Democratic senator previously thought to be
untouchable: Max Cleland of Georgia.
Cleland, a triple-amputee Vietnam veteran and experienced
Georgia office-seeker, has been slipping in the polls after attacks for not
being fully engaged in the war on terrorism. His polling edge over
Republican Rep. Saxby Chambliss, chairman of the House subcommittee on
terrorism, is now within the margin of error.
A footnote: The once overpowering lead in North Carolina's
Senate race of two-time Republican Cabinet member Elizabeth Dole against
Democrat Erskine Bowles, who was President Bill Clinton's chief-of-staff,
also has narrowed to single digits. While Cleland is actually slipping in
Georgia, Bowles is gaining thanks to support from Democratic voters --
especially African-Americans -- who backed other candidates against him in
the September primary.
RIGHT VS. COLIN
Social conservatives are angry with Secretary of State Colin
Powell's selection of his executive secretary, Maura Harty, as assistant
secretary of state for consular affairs and are trying to block her Senate
confirmation. The Coalition for the Defense of Human Rights considers her
deficient on the increasingly sensitive child abduction issue.
The conservatives cheered when Powell dismissed a Clinton
holdover, Mary Ryan, from the consular post. However, they failed to get
President Bush to reject Powell's recommendation of foreign-service officer
Harty to replace Ryan. Harty was accused of being soft on Saudi Arabian and
Syrian abduction cases when she was deputy in the consular office during the
Democratic senators want Harty confirmed. In retaliation for her
blocked confirmation, the Democrats are holding up approval of conservative
intellectual Kim Holmes, a political appointment as under secretary for
Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, campaigning across California for
his after-school-aid initiative, is privately asking supporters whether they
will back him for governor in 2006. That assumes Democratic Gov. Gray Davis
will win a second term Nov. 5 against Republican Bill Simon.
The Schwarzenegger initiative and the former actor's political
future are supported by former Gov. Pete Wilson's political high command,
Bob White and George Gorton. However, many party leaders would prefer to see
Schwarzenegger run against Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer in 2004.
A footnote: Hollywood director Rob Reiner may join an expected
crowded Democratic field for governor in 2006, and he is already trying to
lose weight for his candidacy. Reiner, a longtime liberal activist, has
never run for public office.