WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Facing the real prospect of losing control of the Senate in this year's elections, Majority Leader Bill Frist called together 10 other Republican senators for a Tuesday night strategy session on "saving the majority."
Frist, who is not seeking re-election in 2006, took copious notes about the ideas put forth. But no consensus was reached on how to deal with possible loss of GOP Senate seats in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Missouri, Montana and Rhode Island, with mediocre compensating prospects for defeat of Democratic incumbents.
The need for Republicans to cure their addiction to costly earmarks was raised at the meeting, but hardly any of the senators present showed interest in the subject.
SAVING THE VETO
House Majority Leader John Boehner is credited with cooling off opposition by Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis sufficiently to save the administration-backed line-item veto in the House June 22.
Lewis had been giving a run-around to Republican Rep. Paul Ryan, sponsor of the bill providing presidential authority to veto parts of a spending bill (subject to approval by both houses of Congress). Boehner reminded Lewis that President Bush and the congressional Republican leadership supported the Ryan bill. Consequently, the majority leader urged the chairman not to mobilize the 36 Republican Appropriations Committee members against the line-item veto.
As a result, Lewis e-mailed his committee members that he would vote against Ryan's bill but was not calling on his fellow appropriators to follow him. That ended the danger that monolithic opposition by the Appropriations Committee would turn enough other Republicans to kill the measure. The bill passed, 247 to 172, with Republican appropriators supporting it, 27 to nine.
The Rasika restaurant in downtown Washington was jammed at 6 p.m. last Wednesday for a fund-raising reception benefiting Sen. John McCain's political action committee.
Republicans were willing to pay $5,000 each to hear McCain speak. They wanted to be on record as present to help the prospective front-runner for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination.
Included among those attending were some of Washington's top GOP lobbyists: Charlie Black, Wayne Berman, Scott Reid and Rick Hohlt. Also present was Sen. John Warner, whose fellow Virginia senator -- George Allen -- is McCain's potential opponent for the presidential nomination.
FUNDING 'LITTLE ITALY'
Rep. Jeff Flake, continuing his persistent but unsuccessful crusade against congressional markups, last Wednesday ran into implied accusations of anti-Italian bias when he opposed another $150,000 federal subsidy for the Arthur Avenue Retail Market in the Bronx's "Little Italy."
Noting that this unauthorized appropriation brings to $700,000 the taxpayers' money spent on the market servicing Italian food merchants, Flake declared, "There is a lot of federal prosciutto ... for a private Italian grocery market." He added, "I would argue that this is one cannoli the taxpayer doesn't want to take a bite out of."
Those words apparently offended Democratic Rep. Jose Serrano, whose Bronx district includes the Arthur Avenue Market. "The gentleman from Arizona's use of certain ethnic words like 'cannoli' and 'prosciutto' indicate that he takes this more lightly than he should," Serrano told the House.
Serrano's subsidy was one of nine earmarks, totaling nearly $3 million, that Flake tried to eliminate last Wednesday. All his efforts were rejected.
GOP'S MICHIGAN CHOICE
Although Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard faces opposition in the Michigan Republican primary Aug. 8, he took part in a strategy session in Washington last Wednesday attended by incumbent GOP senators.
Bouchard is heavily favored to be nominated over the Rev. Keith Butler, a former Detroit city councilman. Bouchard was invited to the midday meeting at the last minute by Sen. Elizabeth Dole, the Senate Republican campaign chairman.
The Republican challenge in Michigan against first-term Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow has attracted little national attention so far. However, national Republican strategists consider Stabenow one of the few vulnerable Democratic Senate incumbents in 2006.