WASHINGTON -- With time running out on this session and the Middle East in turmoil, both houses of Congress adjourned last Thursday until Tuesday for a four-day weekend. That enabled senior lawmakers, at government expense, to attend an international air show in England.
The identities of these congressional delegations are kept secret, but around eight senators are going -- including the present and past chairmen of the Appropriations Committee, Thad Cochran and Ted Stevens. The House delegation is headed by Rep. Bill Young, a former appropriations committee chairman.
The departure for England came after a three-day workweek following the long Fourth of July recess. In the rest of July, the House has only about 14 workdays left and the Senate around 18. After the August recess, both chambers will be in session approximately 16 days before final adjournment. So far this year, only one appropriations bill has reached the president's desk.
Moderate Democratic senators, asked by the White House to cooperate with President Bush's proposed entitlement reform, replied they cannot help because Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid has laid down the law against it.
Democrats previously told Bush that the problem with his bipartisan tax reform commission was that he selected its Democratic members. Accordingly, the president has asked the opposition party's leaders to select their representatives on the entitlements commission. But in line with Reid's non-cooperation mandate, no recommendations have been made to the White House.
A footnote: Reid also has made it clear to his Democratic colleagues he wants no bill eliminating the estate tax, in part or in whole, to be passed this year. Such an accomplishment could help Republicans before the 2006 elections.
Former Rep. Tom DeLay, hopeful that he will not have to run for election this year for a House seat from Texas from which he has resigned, is concentrating on building a nationwide grassroots political organization to pursue a conservative agenda.
DeLay is optimistic that the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will overrule a federal judge's decision that his name cannot be removed from the ballot. He asserts a Republican candidate can be named in time to contest the election.
Contending that the National Rifle Association is the only conservative organization with a genuine grassroots operation, DeLay wants to build one on the framework of some existing network. In the meantime, he is working for the "fair tax" reform proposal to create a national sales tax.
James Flug, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's longtime political gunslinger, last week finished his latest hitch on the senator's staff, reputed by friends to be discouraged by his failure to block President Bush's Supreme Court nominations.
Flug returned to Kennedy's staff in 2003 after 30 years in private practice, at age 64 taking a job normally held by somebody much younger. He led the unsuccessful effort to undermine the reputations of nominees John Roberts and Samuel Alito.
Kennedy helped cushion Flug's landing with a position at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government. He also will teach at the Harvard law school.
The conservative Club for Growth, making its first congressional rating of Congress (to be announced later this week), gave its Republican booby prizes for 2005 to Olympia Snowe of Maine (18 percent) in the Senate and Jim Leach of Iowa (21 percent) in the House.
Other Republicans under 30 percent were Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey and Rep. Rob Simmons of Connecticut. The highest rated Democrats were Ben Nelson of Nebraska (35 percent) in the Senate and Melissa Bean of Illinois (44 percent) in the House.
Receiving 100 percent perfect scores were Sens. John Sununu of New Hampshire, Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Jon Kyl of Arizona, and Reps. Jeff Flake, Trent Franks and John Shadegg of Arizona, Mike Pence of Indiana, Jeb Hensarling of Texas, Ed Royce of California and Todd Akin of Missouri.