By Rick Klein The swamp, it turns out, is still wet. And it’s muddy enough to create a muddle. What if 2010 isn’t 1994 or 1982, but 2006? Congress lurches forward on health care haunted by old memories: If you’re not thinking about Tom DeLay, Bob Ney and Mark Foley, you’re not thinking. Just another day in the life of the Democratic majority in 2010: The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee is out, with a “leave of absence” that seems more than temporary. He’s replaced by an oppo researcher’s dream. An obscure congressman is fending off odd allegations being vetted by the ethics committee and is creating yet another vacancy. Then there’s Gov. David Paterson, D-N.Y., apparently in this for the long haul, even as prosecutors close in. All while a legislative agenda stalls, with the White House pinning its hopes for a political comeback on an uncertain vote with less certain consequences. Beyond the specific Republican opportunities this bizarre series of events is creating — and you can put Rep. Eric Massa’s, D-N.Y., seat near the top of your likely takeover list now — Democrats are falling into what’s become the pattern of power. Democrats called it the “culture of corruption” when they ran against it. And it’s everywhere again — seeping into the micro and the macro parts of governance, complicating a push for votes that was already pretty difficult, and clouding election prospects that were already pretty stormy. “Dems have seen this movie before — only last time, it happened to the other guys,” Reid Wilson writes for Hotline on Call. “Now, a [beleaguered] Dem majority has to hope their party can withstand a building wave that favors the GOP, and that effort isn’t made any easier by countless, and mounting, self-inflicted errors.” Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., out at Ways and Means, presents the clearest face of the muddle: “Tom DeLay and Bob Ney, tarnished in past scandals, also said they were giving up their leadership positions temporarily,” Dana Milbank writes in The Washington Post. “Even as he sat in Statuary Hall, Rangel could be reminded of the ethics enforcers’ caprice: Five of those delivering tributes to [the late Rep. John] Murtha had been through their own scrapes with the committee or other authorities, as had the deceased, and all but Rangel had been cleared.” “Mr. Rangel’s ethics troubles presented a particularly delicate political issue for Democrats as they head into a difficult midterm election cycle,” Carl Hulse and David M. Herszenhorn report in The New York Times. “They campaigned hard against what they called the Republican ‘culture of corruption’ in their 2006 takeover of the House, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi promised to root out wrongdoing, providing an opening to Republicans who accused her of protecting Mr. Rangel.” The New York Times editorial: “Mr. Rangel offered no apology for his behavior, which he blames on two aides. Instead, Mr. Rangel apologized to Democrats for causing them re-election angst — as if that, and not a more dedicated avoidance of scandal, is what should drive the Capitol’s denizens.” Tastes of familiarity: “Rangel’s decision didn’t stop Republicans from hammering away at Democrats on ethics lapses, much as Democrats pummeled the GOP about ethics when Republicans controlled the House from 1995 to 2007,” McClatchy’s William Douglas and David Lightman report. All in place for a president who doesn’t do drama: “At stake now for Obama is his trademark composure, which will be tested like never before during the next two weeks,” The Washington Post’s Eli Saslow reports. “With governance already seemingly in disarray, Obama announced that he wants Democrats to push through his health-care reform legislation by calling for a simple-majority vote within the next few weeks. It is a process sure to further inflame the capital, and it raises a question central to Obama’s presidency: Will his evenness help ease the disorder around him? Or will the rising tension undo his signature bill?” And the Massa drama doesn’t end with his retirement — or admissions about “salty language”: “Several House aides told POLITICO that the House ethics committee has been informed of allegations that the New York Democrat, who is married with two children, made unwanted advances toward a junior male staffer,” Politico’s John Bresnahan and Josh Kraushaar report. “A more senior staffer — Ronald Hikel, Massa’s former deputy chief of staff and legislative director — took the complaints to the ethics committee and was interviewed about them twice.” Elizabeth Benjamin and Michael McAuliff, in the New York Daily News: “A top Washington Democrat compared Massa, 50, to disgraced former GOP Rep. Mark Foley, who quit in 2006 amid charges of sending sexually explicit messages to male congressional pages. ‘Massa just killed us,’ the Democrat said. ‘It’s like what Foley did to them in the last cycle.’” Leadership knew … The statement from House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s office: “The week of February 8th, a member of Rep. Massa’s staff brought to the attention of Mr. Hoyer’s staff allegations of misconduct that had been made against Mr. Massa. Mr. Hoyer’s staff immediately informed him of what they had been told. Mr. Hoyer instructed his staff that if Mr. Massa or his staff did not bring the matter to the attention of the bipartisan Ethics Committee within 48 hours, Mr. Hoyer would do so. Within 48 hours, Mr. Hoyer received confirmation from both the Ethics Committee staff and Mr. Massa’s staff that the Ethics Committee had been contacted and would review the allegations.” Massa’s retirement “means that 43 percent of the Democratic retirements in the House so far in this election have come in McCain districts. It also means that 14 percent of the 49 Democratic members who hold McCain districts are retiring this fall,” Washingtonpost.com’s Chris Cillizza writes. And what is it about New York? “Once a source of national leaders of both political parties, New York state has descended into a bizarre, riveting spectacle of corruption and political debasement, with its governor facing calls to resign and new charges of accepting illicit perks and lying under oath, the dean of its congressional delegation giving up his gavel over corruption charges, and another House member announcing he won’t run again amid allegations of sexual harassment,” Ben Smith and Glenn Thrush write for Politico. “And that’s just yesterday.” (They headline it “New York Babylon,” as opposed to Babylon, New York.) Maybe there’s some room left for health care here … Last campaign: “The speech, less than a week after Mr. Obama held a high-profile televised health care forum, will usher in what White House officials say will be their last campaign to bring Washington’s long and contentious health care debate to a close — with a bill-signing ceremony at the end,” Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Robert Pear report in The New York Times. “On Thursday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will meet at the White House with insurance industry executives to spotlight unpopular rate increases; next week, Mr. Obama will travel to Missouri and Pennsylvania to stump for the health care bill.” “After 12 months of legislative hearings, town hall meetings, speeches, polls and debates, Mr. Obama was in the position of selling not only the public, but his own party, on his top domestic priority,” Stolberg and Pear write. He’s got a few folks willing to answer this for him: “I do not know how this plays politically, but I know it’s right,” the president said Wednesday. You think? “Rank-and-file Democrats in Congress remain wary of health care legislation in spite of President Barack Obama’s closing argument for overhauling the system, well aware that success is far from assured and political perils abound,” the AP’s Erica Werner reports. Paging Bart Stupak … “The president has made it clear from the outset … the health care bill should not change the status quo on abortion policy,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “Good Morning America” Thursday. “It isn’t about an abortion debate. It’s about health care reform.” Rep. Stupak, D-Mich., on “GMA”: “We want to see the bill. But the bill that they’re using as the vehicle is the Senate bill … You would find in there that the federal government would directly subsidize abortions.” “No, we’re not going to vote for this bill with that kind of language in there … Give us our language. Let’s keep current law: No public funding for abortion.” Stupak says he controls 12 votes — and they’re willing to be the deciding votes: “We’re prepared to take responsibility.” “Despite polls that signal that strategy holds dangers for Democrats, the president is gambling that the voters who sent him to office want action on health care and share his impatience with inaction in Washington,” The Boston Globe’s Susan Milligan reports. “The president did not utter the words ‘budget reconciliation,’ shorthand for the parliamentary tactic used to attach legislation to a budget bill that can pass by a simple majority of 51 votes, rather than the 60 needed to overcome an expected GOP filibuster.” Time’s Karen Tumulty isn’t sold that it’s selling: “Speaker Nancy Pelosi has virtually no room to maneuver: since her chamber adopted its original measure in November, a death, several retirements and the defection of the bill’s lone GOP supporter have cut her five-vote margin to zero. She’s facing revolts in her caucus on a number of fronts; dozens of Democrats, for instance, have given notice that they will not accept the Senate’s more liberal language on abortion coverage — something that cannot be fixed through reconciliation.” No Plan C: “What’s important about this speech is that it didn’t leave any paths open,” Ezra Klein writes in his Washington Post blog. “This is the end of the line. There’s not a magic alternative behind the curtain or a hard reset that will lead to a harmonious bipartisan process.” Running against those you need to be with you: “Casting yourself as an outsider from inside the White House is no easy trick, especially when your party controls both houses of Congress. But that doesn’t stop Barack Obama from trying,” the AP’s Ron Fournier reports. “It may seem like a stretch, but it makes political sense for Obama to run against Washington. … Voters despise the place.” Jake Tapper and the rest of ABC’s White House team are keeping a whip count. Their latest dispatch is HERE. While you’re running those whip counts: “Two senior administration officials said the White House is telling Democrats reconsidering their support for health care reform that they will pay the price for their original vote no matter what happens, so they should reap the political benefits of actually passing a law,” Politico’s Carrie Budoff Brown and Patrick O’Connor report. This won’t make it easier: “National Republicans are planning to unleash a huge wave of robocalls [Thursday] targeting dozens of House Dems and warning their constituents that Obama and Nancy Pelosi are plotting to ‘ram’ their ‘dangerous’ health reform plans through Congress,” Greg Sargent reports at The Plum Line blog. “The robocalls — the first paid media by the NRCC’s new ‘code red’ program, which targets Dems on health care — comes after Obama told Congress to pass reform via reconciliation.” Wait — “dangerous?” (Maybe to big donors, yes.) “The Republican National Committee plans to raise money this election cycle through an aggressive campaign capitalizing on ‘fear’ of President Barack Obama and a promise to ‘save the country from trending toward socialism,’ ” Politico’s Ben Smith reports (and the visuals are priceless). “The strategy was detailed in a confidential party fundraising presentation, obtained by POLITICO, which also outlines how ‘ego-driven’ wealthy donors can be tapped with offers of access and ‘tchochkes.’ “ “One page, headed ‘The Evil Empire,’ pictures Obama as the Joker from Batman, while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leaders Harry Reid are depicted as Cruella DeVille and Scooby Doo, respectively,” Smith reports. Dangers of deadlines: “President Barack Obama’s push to get health-care legislation passed in the next few weeks might collide with his planned visit to Indonesia and Australia, creating a schedule conflict that concerns some Democrats, including White House aides,” Bloomberg’s Edwin Chen and Hans Nichols report. “Obama’s top aides have discussed whether to postpone the overseas travel in case the timing for a vote on the president’s signature legislative priority slips, according to a person familiar with the discussions. For now, the trip is on. The president is tentatively set to leave Washington March 18 and be overseas for a week. Congress is scheduled to begin a two-week Easter holiday recess March 29.” Making the case for reconciliation… “We must stop making the same mistake over again and do whatever it takes to reform the broken system,” Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., writes in a Detroit News op-ed. “And don’t be fooled by rhetoric that reconciliation is a gimmick. It’s not.” Sen. John McCain rides along with ABC’s Jonathan Karl, in the latest dispatch in the “Subway Series”: What happened to the old John McCain, Karl asks. “I heard that during the presidential campaign, too. ‘What happened to the old John McCain?’ Then I heard it in the primary: ‘What happened to the old John McCain?’ Who was the old John McCain?” McCain said. “The old John McCain and the new John — the present John McCain — I fight for what I believe in. I’m a fighter. I enjoy — one of the reasons I miss Ted Kennedy so much — it’s because a fight not joined is a fight not enjoyed.” Defending Bunning: “Jim Bunning exercised his rights as a senator,” McCain told Karl. “I respect those rights. And he was making a point that many Americans believe is legitimate.” (Watch for more of the interview on ABC’s “Top Line,” streaming at noon ET at ABCNews.com.) Back in New York … “Gov. David A. Paterson falsely testified under oath during an ethics investigation into his acceptance of free World Series tickets last fall, according to the State Commission on Public Integrity, which announced on Wednesday that it had asked prosecutors to determine if criminal charges should be brought against the governor,” Nick Confessore and Jeremy W. Peters report in The New York Times. “The commission said Mr. Paterson sought and accepted five free tickets for Game 1 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium. When inquiries were made about the tickets, he testified that he had always intended to pay for them. The panel said the governor backdated, or had another person backdate, a personal check to buttress his explanation that he had planned to pay the Yankees for the seats, which were behind home plate and had a face value of $425 each.” For those eyeing an Eliot Spitzer comeback … “You have to understand what my family would go through,” the former governor tells Time’s Sheelah Kolhatkar. “It would be unbearable. I just couldn’t do that to them. It would be day after day of the ugly stuff.” In Texas — decision time: “Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison lay low on Wednesday after her decisive rejection in the governor’s race, taking advice about her future from friends as those waiting for a shot at her job bided their time,” Todd J. Gillman and Tom Benning report in The Dallas Morning News. “Hutchison has kept pundits and rivals guessing for a year about the potential timing of her resignation. The day after voters dashed her ambitions, Senate GOP colleagues offered some political cover, publicly urging her to keep her seat, and adversaries in Texas generally avoided pressuring her.” The New York Times’ Peter Baker with an early glimpse at Karl Rove’s book: “Karl Rove … says in a new memoir that Mr. Bush probably would not have invaded Iraq had he known there were no unconventional weapons there. Mr. Rove adamantly rejects accusations that the administration deliberately lied about the presence of such weapons in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. But he acknowledges that the failure to find them badly damaged Mr. Bush’s presidency, and he blames himself for not countering the narrative that ‘Bush lied,’ calling it ‘one of the biggest mistakes of the Bush years.’ ” “For the most part, his book, ‘Courage and Consequence: My Life as a Conservative in the Fight,’ to be published by Threshold Editions on Tuesday, is an unapologetic defense of Mr. Bush and his presidency, and takes aim at Democrats, the news media and disloyal Republicans for what he describes as hypocrisy, deceit and vanity. He also recounts his hardscrabble upbringing in a family broken by divorce and his mother’s suicide.” From the team that brought you Sen. Scott Brown’s Web ads: “Candidates can now extend television advertising online with ads that are continually refreshed and serve as an innovative tool for rapid response. These dynamic ads grab voter attention and engage them in the campaign through social media links, polls, sign up forms and other interactivity,” Anupam Gupta, of the Seattle-based firm Mixpo, writes in a Washington Times op-ed. “Scott Brown’s upset victory in Massachusetts was fueled in part by his aggressive approach to using all the Internet tools at his disposal.”
The Kicker: “Do I or have I ever used salty language when I am angry, especially in the privacy of my inner office or even at home? Yes, I have, and I have apologized to those where it’s appropriate.” — Rep. Eric Massa, D-N.Y. “I’m not doing reality TV … Or some might say I am.” — Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, D-N.Y., on how his path is different than that of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, D-Ill.
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