Congress going home

Robert Novak

10/19/2002 12:00:00 AM - Robert Novak
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 Clinton administration. 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 international affairs. HOLLYWOOD POLITICS 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.