GOP judicial strategy

Robert Novak

2/5/2005 12:00:00 AM - Robert Novak

WASHINGTON -- Senate Republican leaders have decided to begin their use of the "nuclear option" -- forcing confirmation of President Bush's judicial nominations with a majority Senate vote -- on an African-American woman blocked by Democrats from a federal judgeship.
 
Associate Justice Janice Rogers Brown of the California Supreme Court was one of 16 Bush nominees for U.S. appellate courts whose confirmation was prevented by Democratic filibusters in the last Congress. With Republicans still short of the 60 senators needed to limit debate, the nuclear option will seek to confirm judges with a simple majority vote through parliamentary maneuvers.

 Republican leaders considered waiting to use drastic tactics against a possible filibuster until Bush made his first Supreme Court nomination. They decided, however, to launch the offensive about a month from now by trying to confirm Brown.

THE DEAN FILE

 Democrats, who now acknowledge the inevitability of Howard Dean's election as chairman of the Democratic National Committee, are concerned about the massive negative research about him stockpiled by President Bush's political operatives.

 The Dean file was compiled by Bush's re-election campaign when it appeared that the former Vermont governor was going to be nominated for president. It is a carefully researched compendium of Dean's often bizarre utterances.

 Well-placed Republicans do not deny the file exists but point out they kept quiet about often unsavory business dealings of Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic chairman the last four years.

SOCIAL SECURITY NERVES

 While President Bush has energized Republican members of Congress on Social Security, Republican leaders in the House still want the Senate to go first on the politically sensitive issue.

 Speaker Dennis Hastert and Majority Leader Tom DeLay do not relish their Republican members sustaining the risk of changing Social Security only to see the entire effort killed by a Senate filibuster. The House leaders say they will be able to improve even a watered-down Senate bill if the Senate goes first.

 Both the president and his political adviser, Karl Rove, were effective in promoting Social Security during the recent Republican retreat at the Greenbrier resort. Many rank-and-file GOP members want to move now and pass the president's priority reform without waiting for the Senate.

DEMOCRATIC HARD NOSE

 The decision to pass over the highly respected Rep. Ben Cardin of Maryland to be top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee subcommittee dealing with Social Security shows that the party will not tolerate any compromise on this issue.

 Cardin has cooperated with Republicans on pension legislation, and Republicans considered him the best bet for a prominent Democrat to accept President Bush's concept of Social Security personal accounts. Instead, the subcommittee position went to Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan, a former state party chairman and candidate for governor who can be counted on to follow the straight Democratic line.

 The cover story is that Cardin actually was given a better Ways and Means subcommittee. He replaces Levin as ranking Democrat on the international trade panel.

TAXING REPUBLICAN

 Indiana's newly elected Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels, who stunned conservatives nationwide by proposing a huge tax increase for upper income Hoosiers, will not be disinvited to the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington Feb. 17-19 because he actually never accepted the invitation.

 Daniels was the only Republican governor invited to attend the prestigious event. Once the new governor raised taxes, there was no place for him at CPAC. However, since he never accepted, nothing need be done.

 As President Bush's budget director, Daniels opposed all federal tax increases. In public, he contends that his state tax hike will be in effect for only a year before the state's budget shortfall is corrected. In private, he is delighted that, with the increase limited to incomes of more than $100,000, liberals cannot accuse him of balancing his budget on the backs of the poor.