Ethanol and politics

Robert Novak
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Posted: Oct 09, 2004 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON -- A wide-ranging tax bill given up for dead by Washington's corporate lobbyists was revived largely because of the bipartisan ethanol bloc, including Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle.
 
The bill contains many breaks for business, but what opened the door to approval was a provision extending tax credits for small ethanol producers. Ironically, the Republican-controlled Congress could save Daschle, who is facing a tight re-election race in South Dakota.

 A footnote: Both candidates in North Carolina's close contest for the U.S. Senate, Republican Rep. Richard Burr and former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, were in Washington to lobby for the bill because of its payout to tobacco farmers. As a member of Congress, Burr was on the floor of both the Senate and House buttonholing colleagues for support -- a privilege denied to Bowles.

SHELTERING EDWARDS

 Political rivals all year have ignored Sen. John Edwards's use of a tax shelter to avoid paying Medicare taxes on $10 million of money earned as a trial lawyer, but Vice President Dick Cheney brought it up in Tuesday's debate.

 In his last two years practicing law (1995-1996) before running for the Senate, Edwards set up a dummy corporation through which he received funds free from Medicare taxes. Cheney said Edwards saved $600,000.

 Edwards responded: "I have paid all the taxes that I owe." When Republican Sen. Lauch Faircloth brought up Edwards's tax shelter in their 1996 campaign, Edwards replied: "I have paid every dime of Medicare taxes I owe." He then challenged Faircloth to raise the issue "to my face in debate." Faircloth did not. But when Cheney did, Edwards still made no response.

THE DRAFT MYTH

 House Republican leaders Tuesday brought up the military draft bill, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Charlie Rangel of New York, in order to stifle the Internet myth that President Bush will restore conscription if re-elected. But the 402-to-2 negative vote did not convince one of the myth's perpetrators: Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas.

 "Frankly," Jackson Lee declared, "let me say to my colleagues on the floor of the House, there is a secret plan for the draft." When Republicans greeted that with laughter, she concluded: "I will vote a resounding 'no,' but there is a secret plan for a draft."

 Rangel voted against his own bill. Raising the measure to defeat it, he told the House, is "a prostitution of the legislative process."

ARLEN MOVES LEFT

 Sen. Arlen Specter, who moved right to stave off a conservative challenge in this year's Pennsylvania Republican primary, took a sharp left turn in a general election debate last weekend.

 Noting that he is in line to become chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Specter promised: "I can bring centrist judges to the bench." This contrasted with his primary campaign promise to back all of George W. Bush's judicial nominees.

 In last Saturday's debate, Specter reneged on another primary election campaign pledge to back personal Social Security accounts advocated by his two conservative champions: President Bush and Pennsylvania's senior Republican Sen. Rick Santorum. "I looked more deeply into the issue," Specter said, "and found it would create a $1 trillion diversion."

JUDICIAL POLITICS

 Rep. James Sensenbrenner, Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, last Tuesday saved a conservative plan to undermine the liberal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals based in San Francisco.

 The measure, sponsored by Republican Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho, would strip Montana, Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, Alaska, Oregon and Washington from the 9th Circuit. The long-pending effort enjoyed new life two years ago when the circuit ruled that inclusion of "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance was unconstitutional.

 However, eight conservative Republican congressmen from California voted against the bill on grounds that it created new judgeships that John Kerry, if elected president, would fill with liberals. The bill was losing 195 to 201 when Sensenbrenner went to work on the Californians, arguing that George W. Bush was going to be elected. All eight switched, and the bill passed 205 to 194.