Patrick Kennedy's decision

Robert Novak
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Posted: Apr 02, 2005 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON -- Close supporters of Democratic Rep. Patrick Kennedy tipped off his Wednesday announcement that he would not run for the U.S. Senate from Rhode Island. They said the race would be "risky" and might be a "trap" to eliminate Kennedy from politics.

 These backers did not mention the condition of his mother, Joan Kennedy, who is currently hospitalized in Boston. They said defeating Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee would be no easy task. Noting the loss of Kennedy's seat on the House Appropriations Committee if he did not seek re-election in the House, his supporters suggested he was being maneuvered into the Senate by political enemies.

 A footnote: Rhode Island's other House member, Democratic Rep. James Langevin, announced earlier that he would not run for the Senate. Democratic national strategists want pro-life Democrat Langevin against pro-choice Republican Chafee. They consider State Treasurer Bob Casey, a pro-life Democrat campaigning in Pennsylvania, to be the only anti-abortion Senate candidate the party can take.

NEW PENTAGON DEPUTY

 Philip Merrill, a longtime Washington insider who currently heads the U.S. Export-Import Bank, is being considered as the new deputy secretary of defense replacing newly appointed World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz.

 While publishing the Washingtonian magazine and several Maryland newspapers, Merrill has held national security positions in Washington and abroad during Republican administrations. He was assistant secretary general of NATO during the senior President George Bush's administration.

 Merrill is close to both Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and often meets with them. He was a staunch supporter of the military intervention in Iraq.

STOPPING KAY

 Entrepreneur Clayton Williams, who spent millions of his personal fortune in an unsuccessful 1990 bid for governor of Texas, has vowed to stop Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison if she runs, as expected, against Gov. Rick Perry next year.

 Williams has told friends he supported Hutchison only for the Senate, not to be governor. If she opposes Perry, Williams added, he will contribute whatever money is needed by Perry in the Republican primary.

 Perry has slipped in the polls, but he might have the advantage among the normal Republican voting base in the party primary. With Texas now essentially a one-party Republican state, Hutchison might need to solicit Democrats to vote in the GOP primary.

DEMOCRATIC RHETORIC

 The website HouseDemocrats.gov, run out of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's office, went blank after Republicans complained that its language was over-the-top for an official governmental site that bars partisan rhetoric. A Pelosi spokeswoman told this column the site had been experiencing technical problems with the server.

 "The 2006 budget submitted by the President is fiscally reckless, morally irresponsible, a failure of leadership," the official Democratic website said. Calling the budget "nothing more than an assault on our values," it concluded: "While the president picks and chooses which numbers to pour into the equation and which to leave out, the American people still have to pay the full price."

 After the Republicans complained, the Democratic website was blank last Tuesday evening. Beginning on Wednesday, a message directed visitors to Pelosi's minority leader website.

OLDEST TAX

 Rep. Christopher Cox of California, chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee, is prodding the Treasury to finally get rid of a "luxury" tax on telephone service that was passed in 1898 to finance the Spanish-American War.

 In a March 21 letter, Cox urged Treasury Secretary John Snow to order the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to issue a ruling that would eliminate the 3 percent excise tax by defining it out of existence. Cox deplored "the best efforts of the IRS bureaucracy to keep this beast alive."

 In 2000, the House voted 420 to 2 to repeal the tax. It was then tacked onto an appropriations bill that passed both houses but was vetoed by President Bill Clinton because of a dispute over education spending. Since then, President Bush has not made a serious effort to get rid of the tax.