The Web's Best Political News Summary: Feb. 7: Let's Get Workable:

Our twin leads from yesterday — campaign finance reform and the budget — carry on into today, but absent President Bush, who will be occupied with other matters, and possibly distracted by humming TVs all over Beltwayville showing the Enron hearings.

Click here, and we'll let you know when the note is ready each day.

News Summary

Later this afternoon, Bush will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Sharon. The Washington Post writes that Sharon is expected to urge Bush to pay more attention to Iran, while another Washington Post story reports that "Iran has begun funneling money and weapons to one of Afghanistan's most unpredictable warlords, a move that could further destabilize a country where order remains fragile at best, according to government authorities here in the Afghan capital." ( ) and ( )

And every major paper curtain-raises the expected testimony of former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling, backed up by a doo-wop parade of other former execs expected to plead the 5th today before the House Energy and Commerce oversight subcommittee. We don't see any clear preview of what Skilling has told investigators in advance, or what he plans to say today in tone or substance.

Cut to Vice President Cheney stopping in Louisville, KY this morning to appear at a fundraiser for Rep. Anne Northup, who regularly tops Democratic target lists and regularly wins re-election, albeit by narrow margins because of the competitiveness of her district. Northup's Democratic opponent yesterday called on her to support campaign finance reform.

Cut to your generic Capitol Hill backroom, where the House Republican leadership, including a now actively engaged Speaker Hastert, will be plotting and lobbying to either kill the Shays-Meehan campaign finance reform bill, or make it more "workable" — a popular buzzword among GOPers that, best we can tell, seems to be a euphemism for "politically advantageous" — while House Democratic Leader Gephardt and his colleagues Shays and Meehan, with a little help from Senators McCain and Feingold, lobby from the other side.

Even with the Enron three-ring circus in full swing, it's not too early for the media to focus (as the activists and whips on both sides are) on the handful of moderate Republicans who are going to decide how this stage of the drama comes out. They are about to come in for an intense period of home-state and national editorials, leadership arm-twisting, the lobbying charms of the clean law firm of McCain, Feingold, Shays & Meehan, and some real soul searching. A few Democrats will get the same treatment.

There's a ton of legislative strategizing going on behind the scenes, leveraging off of the House rules, some of which we'll get into further below. The New York Times fingers what our sources say is one of the keys right now: "Supporters of the bill were considering changing its effective date until after the 2002 elections to get more votes for Democrats who fear their party will no longer be able to compete if soft money is abolished." ( )

To dwell on the past for a brief moment (but segue-ing, we promise, into today), we do wonder whether the White House realized the president would face such enormous pressure during his travels yesterday to reaffirm with a blood oath his commitment to find $20 billion for rebuilding New York.

First came the headlines in the New York newspapers slamming White House budget director Daniels for his ill-timed "money-grubbing comment" — though only his most uncharitable critics compared it to Pat Buchanan's references to "Bob Rubin and the New York bankers."

Then there was Daniels' walkback one day later, and a White House commitment to expend $20 billion on top of victim's compensation.

The president was quite clear yesterday: "I told the people of New York that we will work to provide at least $20 billion to help New York rebuild herself. And that includes money apart from the Victims Compensation Fund. And when I say $20 billion, I mean $20 billion."

So far, about $11 billion has been earmarked for the city. The New York Times ' Nagourney gets Senators Schumer and Clinton to tentatively offer "they might once and for all end concern that New York would end up not getting the money." ( )

The New York Post praised "Dubya's Pledge." ( )

And the Daily News offered this one-sided give-and-take between the president and his budget director: "While the president declined to say whether Daniels was mistaken or if the White House made a sudden about-face, he assured New Yorkers that he and his budget director were on the same page. 'Mitch understands my pledge,' Bush said. 'He understands what I said.'" ( )

It may well be to Daniels' endless frustration that his institutional, and probably personal instinct to restrain spending is countermanded by the significant political benefits of, well, spending.

Which leads us, as promised, to today. Consider the barbed letter Rep. Bill Young (R-Appropriations Party) sent to Daniels yesterday, in which he reminded the OMB chief that appropriating is Congress' prerogative — Congress' constitutional prerogative. "Unless the Constitution is amended, Congress will continue to exercise its discretion over federal funds and will earmark those funds for purposes we deem appropriate." Which means: more shipbuilding in Mississippi, more statues, more highway construction funds, more museums, more earmarks, more pork.

Roll Call adds, in a story about how the move to repeal earmarks ticked off members: ""I don't feel that we're going to repeal any earmarks," said Rep. Ralph Regula (R-Ohio), chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education. 'There's no way we're going to do that.' Regula said he had received a number of calls from fellow Republicans who were worried that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has already begun to use the issue to stir up trouble in their districts." ( )

Pork, of course, is bad in the abstract but politically necessary in the particular, particularly if you're a vulnerable member of Congress up for re-election. ( )

And speaking of local projects, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader concludes that the new budget doesn't contain as much money for a key water project as local officials had hoped. ( )

All the big legislative decisions made during the rest of this year will be seen by the leadership of both parties starkly through the prism of how it might help their own candidates in the fall elections, and how it might help or hurt the candidates of the other party.

Cynics like to turn that into "everything is so cynical and political in Washington," but we prefer to see it as: in a democracy, it isn't so terrible for elected officials to consider what the voters want in deciding what legislation to consider and vote for.

So on the shattered stimulus bill, the New York Times says, "The fate of the benefit extension now rests with the Republican-controlled House. Republican aides said there was some division within the party about whether to try to package some tax cuts with the extension of the unemployment benefits or pass the extension as a stand-alone bill." ( )

And the Los Angeles Times' Hook writes: "Some House Republicans are suggesting that the party attempt to add tax cuts or other provisions to the unemployment bill, which could slow its progress. Others want to simply go along with the popular bill rather than give Democrats the opportunity to say Bush and the GOP are unconcerned about the plight of the unemployed. 'The politics are pretty simple: You just do it,' a top House leadership aide said." ( )?coll=la%2Dnews%2Da%5Fsection )

The Washington Times notes, "when Senate Democrats killed the stimulus bill yesterday, White House advisers were forced to re-evaluate the administration's political and economic strategy for the year, in which the Democrats are only six seats away from regaining the House and could strengthen their tenuous hold on the Senate." The paper got an interview with Larry Lindsey, but he doesn't make much news. "'I've long said that we'll have a recovery starting early this year, and I still believe that. What I'm concerned about is its strength,' Mr. Lindsey said." ( )

All of which overshadowed what has the potential to be the more enduring political story: President Bush's re-engagement in direct, overt, pre-planned campaign fundraising. Bush raised $2 million at two fundraisers last night and praised Gov. George Pataki's good sense.

USA Today notes (despite Ari's refusal to confirm numbers yesterday), "Except for a Washington fundraiser he attended last month for his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the events were the first of 100 fundraisers Bush and Vice President Cheney will attend this year on behalf of Republicans running in the November elections and his first avowedly political appearances since the Sept. 11 attacks." (

From the ABCNEWS London Bureau: The manhunt continues across Pakistan for those responsible for the kidnapping of Daniel Pearl … Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reports that three Afghan civilians were killed by a missile fired by remote control from a pilotless CIA aircraft in the southeast of the country. Last night, U.S. officials in Washington said they believed an al Qaeda leader had been killed in the missile strike, but the private AIP news agency said the missile hit a group of young men in the Zawar Khili area, 20 miles southwest of Khost town and 10 miles from the Pakistani border on Tuesday night.

Reuters reports that U.S. aircraft have launched bombing raids over parts of eastern Afghanistan near the Pakistan border where remnants of the Taliban and al Qaeda are believed to be hiding. U.S. aircraft bombed the Mafazatoo area of Gorboz district, about 12 miles to the south of the town of Khost, on Tuesday and late on Wednesday … Dozens of Palestinian gunmen, shooting and throwing homemade bombs, stormed a Palestinian police post in the northern West Bank on Thursday and freed six militants detained there. The gunmen overpowered police in the city of Jenin and freed members of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad militant movements for fear Israel would target the Post in response to a Palestinian attack on a Jewish settlement on Wednesday … Overnight Israeli warplanes attacked a Palestinian Authority building early on Thursday in the West Bank city of Nablus, wounding 11 people, after the Palestinian attack on Hamra settlement.

Budget Politics

Republicans obviously have not given up on their efforts to demonize Daschle, even though every indication is that no one outside zip codes starting with "200" (and his constituents) have ever heard of the guy. And the press overall continues to give him mostly a pass on his willingness to use Senate rules to thwart the will of the majority on some issues.

Nevertheless, Republicans beat on. The latest: an e-mail from the Republican National Committee deputy chairman Jack Oliver (a/k/a the man who carries out White House orders) to the party faithful, urging them to call Senate Democrats' offices and complain about the death of the stimulus bill — complete with high-tech, webby links to phone numbers of the congressional offices.

The language is familiar: "Democrat Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle on Tuesday announced his intention to unilaterally kill President Bush's bipartisan economic security package in the Senate even though a majority of Senators support the plan. With his pronouncement, Daschle and partisan Democrats have denied Americans much needed economic relief and put their own self-interest above that of America's out-of-work and uninsured families."

"Under the obstructionist leadership of Tom Daschle, the partisan Democrats have officially become the 'Won't Do' Senate. Daschle WON'T allow the Senate to vote on legislation unless it has the support of 60 Senators. Partisan Democrats WON'T put aside the partisan games for the sake of our economy."

As Democrats remain totally clueless about a comprehensive budget message that would get them what they want substantively AND help their candidates in November, they are getting the gift of some time to get their act together, since the Republican in-fighting is ratcheting up more than a bit. While some GOPers are fighting for more spending, some leaders are still agitated over the deficit spending.

Bob Novak reaches into his "Liberals-Who-Pretend-to-Be-Supply-Siders" Outrage File and chronicles presumptive House Majority Leader Tom Delay and his "no props" policy towards Congressional Budget Office director Dan Crippen. Crippen wrote a letter insinuating that the president's tax cuts would unnecessary swell deficits. ( )

"What really enrages DeLay is [Crippen] at CBO. He was no favorite of supply-siders when he ran domestic policy as chief of staff James Baker's lieutenant in the Reagan White House. The choice to fill a CBO vacancy in 1999 was made by Senator Pete Domenici, then Republican chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. He insisted on Crippen despite pronounced opposition from supply-siders.

"The notion that DeLay, majority whip and presumptive party floor leader, was rebelling against Bush budget plans arose two weeks ago. DeLay and House Majority Leader Dick Armey met with Daniels in St. Michaels, Md., and firmly objected to red ink projected for the next two budgets. They then traveled to Camp David to say the same to the president. Word spread back to Washington that DeLay had told Bush he could not get his budget through the House if it contained the becalmed economic stimulus bill. That's not quite accurate. DeLay's position is that he regards the second, watered-down stimulus bill passed by the House, which has been blocked in the Democratic Senate, as a bare minimum. Since that bill is not likely to pass Congress, there is no point in adding to the budget the revenue loss from tax cuts."

Other possible upcoming moves in the jockeying of the budget wars, courtesy of the The Wall Street Journal : "In addition, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle announced the Senate will vote to increase the debt limit to $6.7 trillion from $5.95 trillion sometime in February — another possible vehicle for Republicans to introduce stimulus tax cuts. Some Democrats also may seek to amend that bill with a trigger-like mechanism to curb future spending and tax cuts, now that the era of deficit spending has returned."

It takes a lot these days to get the Wall Street Journal editorial board to be critical of President Bush. But every so often, the president's support for one Washington-funded-and-regulated social engineering solution after another makes principled fiscal conservatives too ticked to stay quiet.

The Journal sides with Dick Armey today on AmeriCorps: "In countless speeches, George W. Bush has stressed that government and money can't solve every social problem. But he sure seems to spend a lot of money on programs that claim to do precisely that."

On the other hand, it doesn't take much these days for the same ed board to attack Tom Daschle; we wonder if anyone in the Majority Leaders office keeps all of these "Who Is Tom Daschle?" pieces tacked up to a bulletin board.

Today, they take him on for killing the stimulus bill. They make the excellent point that "President Bush was able to borrow Mr. Daschle's favorite word and say how 'disappointed' he was in the Senate action." The piece is otherwise heavy on "what ought to be" masquerading as "what is," with all sorts of assumptions about the economy (they claim to be sure that things are improving fast enough to help the GOP); and about the likelihood that Daschle and the Democrats will get the blame.

But they hit the nail gleefully on the head in suggesting the Democrats have no message (yet) on the economy.

Because of a fervent war spirit and a desire to support our fighting men and women, even liberals in Congress feel compelled, at what appears to be a 100% rate, to fully support the president's request for Pentagon spending. Having conceded the macro number, however, little thought seems to be going into HOW to spend the money, which would seem kinda important too, even if you concede that the amount the president chose is exactly right, and not too high.

A former Joint Chiefs vice chair co-signs a New York Times op-ed piece with the courage to question both: "Congress cheered President Bush's pledge, in the State of the Union address, to spend 'whatever it costs to defend our country.' But here's the secret. Mr. Bush already has most of the money he seeks. And absent real reform, most of the additional money Congress ultimately approves — the president has requested a quarter of a trillion dollars more over the next five years — will never reach our fighting men and women in the field." ( )

The Economy

America's Taxman, the New York Times David Cay Johnston, has a fascinating story on how income and tax payment distribution changed during the late 1990s. We are sure that someone from the Heritage Foundation will soon slice and dice these numbers in order to challenge them, and claim they are the skewed product of the "liberal" New York Times . But while we wait for that, there IS some interesting stuff here. ( )

First, Bill Clinton always said he didn't oppose wealth and was happy to see as many new millionaires as the country could provide. Well, he got his way: "The number of Americans with million-dollar incomes more than doubled from 1995 through 1999, as their salaries and their profits from stocks soared, government figures to be published today show. The percentage of their income that went to federal income taxes, however, fell by 11 percent," suggesting that Clinton-Gore didn't raise taxes on the wealthy quite as much as some had thought.

Also germane to the current tax debate: "Although more than half of all families are investors in the stock market, largely through 401(k)'s and similar retirement plans, wealth in America is more highly concentrated today than at any time since 1929, said Professor Edward N. Wolff, a New York University economist."

Campaign Finance Law Vote

The Washington Post reports that House Speaker Hastert finally is wading into the thick of the Shays-Meehan debate, opposing the bill and planning to "personally lobby wavering House Republicans, who typically are loath to defy their leader on a high-profile issue." ( )

"At yesterday's closed meeting, Hastert declared, 'This is Armageddon,' participants said. He called it 'a life and death issue' for the GOP, they added. His remarks reflected a growing unease among Republicans that the bill would give their opponents a critical advantage in the closing months of this year's congressional elections … If approved, the bill would take effect in 30 days, although lawmakers are considering delaying it until 2003."

"To kill the measure, Hastert and other opponents must win over some of the 43 Republicans who have supported soft-money bans before. Twenty Republicans signed the 'discharge petition.'"

"DeLay told reporters yesterday that the Shays-Meehan bill is 'probably going to pass,' although he said leaders hope to alter it first. Amendments conceivably could force lengthy and potentially fruitless negotiations with senators … Republicans spent several hours yesterday debating how to alter the … bill. Some suggested politically problematic amendments, such as banning donations from lobbyists while Congress is in session. Others proposed more modest changes to make the bill more palatable to Republicans."

"Shays defended his bill in Hastert's closed-door session, urging colleagues to 'vote your conscience.' But several Republicans told personal accounts of how changing campaign finance laws could jeopardize their reelection chances. 'Chris is making it very hard to vote your conscience when he's on every talk show with his friends saying if you're not corrupt, you'll vote for this,' Rep. Anne M. Northup (R-Ky.) said after the meeting."

"Meanwhile, Democratic supporters continued to target several black colleagues who say the bill would hamper the party's voter mobilization efforts aimed at blacks. Gephardt and newly installed Minority Whip Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) appealed individually to several black Democrats yesterday."

Roll Call reports out of the same closed-door House GOP meeting that alternative CFR bill co-sponsor Bob "Ney and DeLay are also raising the specter of Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) becoming the next Speaker in order to pry away current GOP supporters of the Shays-Meehan bill. Both lawmakers told their Republican colleagues yesterday that Gephardt is only pushing the Shays-Meehan bill because the Missouri Democrat believes it will give his party an advantage heading into November's midterm elections. They argued that while Democrats can rely on labor unions to bring out Democratic voters, Republicans would be unable to counter that effort and must use their fundraising prowess to assemble a comparable get-out-the-vote network." ( )

"Gephardt and other Democratic leaders, joined by Shays, Meehan, Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) and a host of government watchdog groups, have also stepped up their own lobbying efforts. Gephardt has focused his attention on a group of Democrats, described as less (sic) than 30 Members, who are either strongly opposed to Shays-Meehan or undecided."

"Gephardt is focusing most of his efforts on making sure that the Ney-Wynn bill fails, if he succeeds, it virtually ensures that Shays-Meehan will pass."

"With so much at stake on both sides, House GOP leaders have adopted a two-track strategy to kill the Shays-Meehan bill. First, they plan to exert pressure on GOP moderates in an attempt to weaken support for Shays-Meehan. They will also focus on any effort by the two lawmakers to modify their bill as proof that Democrats have not been genuine in their desire to see the legislation enacted."

The Washington Times writes, "Supporters of campaign finance reform have always feared that the use of 'poison-pill' amendments would make the bill unpalatable to a majority of House members. But Republicans, apparently conceding that some type of bill is likely to pass, are now thinking their best chance is to try to remove the parts of the legislation they object to most. 'I think the whole poison-pill idea is almost dead,' said one Republican leadership official, who said the focus now is on 'realistic amendments' that will make the bill more workable." ( )

"But Republicans also know that the more amendments they can attach, the less likely the bill will be acceptable to a majority in the Senate. In that case, the two chambers would convene a conference committee to work out differences, and campaign finance reform supporters say the bill would probably die in committee."


The The Wall Street Journal offers a handy viewer's guide to today's big hearing, with trading card-style profiles of the expected witnesses, and this not-over-written lead: "Like characters from a Shakespearean drama, the Enron Corp. officials who are set to come to testify on Capitol Hill on Thursday are a band of once-close-knit colleagues who — depending on the secrets they know and are willing to divulge — have the potential to send each other to prison."

Both the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times look at Fastow's background and write about how those who've known him just can't believe it … The Times writes, "The picture that emerges is of a greedy, self-dealing executive whom others dared not cross. Friends say they find that image impossible to reconcile with the synagogue-going, happily married, stand-up guy they know. It's as though there were two Andy Fastows." ( )?coll=la%2Dheadlines%2Dfrontpage ) and ( )

Enron Legislative

The The Wall Street Journal previews today's announcement from House Financial Services Committee members and chiefs from the Securities and Exchange Commission and National Association of Securities Dealers "to unveil significant proposals for new analyst disclosure and stock-ownership requirements."

The Journal also has this: "Leaders of the Senate's investigation of the collapse of Enron Corp. are moving to repeal a tax law that encourages companies to issue stock options, saying the energy company's financial dealings show the provisions are being abused."

"The Enron Corp. debacle is increasing pressure on lawmakers to close a loophole in the nation's bankruptcy code that allows millionaires in Texas, Florida and several other states to declare bankruptcy — and keep their mansions," the Los Angeles Times reports. "[F]ive states — Texas, Florida, Iowa, Kansas and South Dakota — set no limit on how much can be shielded through this 'homestead exemption' … Now Senate Democrats are raising the prospect that this Texas-style exemption will shield Enron's executives from the harsh consequences of bankruptcy." ( )?coll=la%2Dnews%2Da%5Fsection )

Enron Investigation

Our gut tells us that in the natural cycle of things, some of those partisan opposition researchers and journalistic diggers in Texas are about to gush forward with a second wave of material from various Texas archives. See last night's AP story about Ken Lay's personnel influence with then-Governor Bush of Texas for an idea of what we mean.

But also see this, about which Democrats in Washington are already buzzing: we always have loved the Florida open records law's presumption in favor of disclosure, and so does the Tampa Tribune , which scores today with a piece showing that Jeb Bush "held a 30-minute phone call with Chief Executive Officer Kenneth Lay and fielded questions from Marc Racicot, who was an Enron lobbyist and is now chairman of the Republican National Committee." . ( )Bush

"E-mail messages and calendars, released Wednesday by the governor's office under a public records request by the Florida Democratic Party, show a concerted Enron effort to bend Bush's ear."

This despite his insistence last week that Enron never tried to curry favor with him.

"Bush spokeswoman Katie Baur said Wednesday the governor had forgotten about the Enron meetings."

"'The governor has an excellent memory, not an infallible one,' she said."

""This was nearly a year ago," said Baur, seeking to keep plenty of distance between Bush and the company now under intense congressional scrutiny. "Enron was riding high; it was the seventh-largest company in the nation. It would have been unusual for him not to return a phone call."'

Today, a state House hearing convenes, trying to figure out how the state lost $325 million of its pension money in the collapse.

The Fort-Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel previews the hearings. ( )?coll=sfla%2Dnews%2Dflorida

Meanwhile, the The Wall Street Journal continues to pore through corporate filings and comes up with this: "[E]xecutive agreements filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission over the years disclose that the most senior (Enron) executives, who enjoyed … elite arrangements, were … able to shield their special pension packages from bankruptcy and protect them from creditors by sheltering them within private partnerships."

Enron Politics

The Los Angeles Times looks at how Enron has exploded into a big but tricky, glass-houses-and-stones issue in the California gubernatorial race: "Republicans Bill Jones and Richard Riordan say Gov. Gray Davis cozied up to Enron by secretly talking last year with the company's ousted chief, Kenneth L. Lay. But neither condemns the Bush administration's own private meetings with Enron officials while shaping its energy plan. Democrat Davis lumps former Los Angeles Mayor Riordan with Enron by accusing the city of gouging the state during last year's energy crisis. At the same time, Davis is fending off calls to return more than $100,000 in Enron campaign cash." ( )?coll=la%2Dheadlines%2Dcalifornia )

Cheers to NBC News, for giving full and repeated credit to their source material in doing an entire "Nightly News" spot last night based entirely on a Maureen Dowd column. ( )

Jeers to NBC News, for doing an entire "Nightly News" spot last night based on a Maureen Dowd column on women versus men in the Enron saga. Jim Avila is hard-working, but he's no Mo Do. If you are an amateur historian of the flagship broadcasts of the networks, you need to obtain a tape of this spot. It was something else.

("Cheers and Jeers" is a feature of "TV Guide," and we use that device here strictly as homage to the publication, and to a great idea.)

GAO/Energy Task Force Fight

A former Reagan and 41 official uses the The Wall Street Journal editorial page to buck up the White House in its fight to keep the energy task force information from the GAO, echoing Administration arguments, including that this is different from the Clinton health care task force and that executive privilege need not be used (yet) to defend the position.

Legislative Agenda

The Washington Post reports, "The Bush administration began yesterday to sketch out its plans for revising the nation's welfare system, calling on states to find new ways to promote marriage and to help poor workers secure better jobs — but without providing additional federal money for those priorities. Senior aides to the president made clear publicly for the first time that they will ask states to continue to operate their welfare programs with exactly the same financial help they began to receive a half-dozen years ago, primarily from annual grants totaling $16.5 billion." ( )

"Administration officials also said they want to use $100 million for selected states and communities to experiment with strategies to encourage low-income people to get — and to stay — married. The administration proposes to pay for the experiments by eliminating the financial bonuses the government has been giving to states in which births to unmarried women have decreased — an initiative regarded as ineffective."

"The future of welfare is a prime concern of the White House and Congress because the 1996 law that redesigned this basic element of the country's social safety net is set to expire in October unless it is renewed."

Nevada has five electoral votes. Which might not seem like much to a president who won by a landslide — but this one didn't. Those of you who've been listening to us on Yucca Mountain, hang onto your seats. "President Bush is expected to move swiftly, possibly as soon as early next week, to approve construction of a nuclear waste site in Nevada, according to congressional and administration sources," as reported by the Los Angeles Times. "Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham … by law has to wait 30 days to give a formal recommendation to the president. That time is up Saturday, and Bush is expected to make a decision quickly, the sources said … Nevada can block a presidential decision, but Congress can overrule the state." ( )?coll=la%2Dnews%2Da%5Fsection )

"Intervening for the first time in a case involving abortion, the Bush administration asked a federal appeals court yesterday to reverse a lower court ruling that struck down an Ohio law banning the controversial procedure known to critics as 'partial birth' abortion," the Washington Post reports. "In a brief filed with the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the Justice Department argued that the Ohio law should be upheld because 'it is virtually a carbon copy of provisions that the Supreme Court already has held are constitutional.' The case" is "the first to reach a federal appeals court since a 2000 Supreme Court decision overturned a 'partial birth' abortion ban in Nebraska." ( )

ABC 2004: The Invisible Primary

Al Hunt takes one of the more sophisticated looks to date at the Democratic party's changes to its nominating calendar. He slips in there that Al Gore is not Chairman Terry McAuliffe's choice to be the standard-bearer, and he tisk-tisks the front-loaded system, but his main points are summed up on these graphs, and we are guessing he has the same sources we do, because this all matches our reporting exactly (with the possible exceptions of what he says about Daschle, and his failure to mention any — for now — dark horse governors):

"The early front runner, at least in polls, is Al Gore: He'll probably run but it wouldn't shock any … [key Democrats] if he doesn't. Joe Lieberman won't run if Al Gore does, and might not in any event. Dick Gephardt and Tom Daschle both are gearing up to run but it's unlikely both will. Mr. Gephardt is the more probable candidate, especially if Democrats don't win back the House."

"Two of the most attractive of the unknowns are Sens. John Edwards of North Carolina and Chris Dodd of Connecticut. Senator Dodd may not realize it yet, but he won't run because there are two women his life: his wife and firstborn child, five month-old Grace. Running for president and being a dutiful father, which he takes seriously, are incompatible. That'll pose challenges for Senator Edwards too, as will the fact the freshman lawmaker faces reelection North Carolina in two years. Nevertheless, he's the hottest topic among Democratic activists."

"There are only two 2004 certainties: Massachusetts Senator John Kerry will run, and Senator Hillary Clinton, to the dismay of the right-wing conspiracy, will not."

"Actually, there's one other certainty: the front-loaded primaries, like every other rules changes over the past thirty years, will have unintended consequences."

USA Today 's Benedetto reports on how the struggling economy is affecting cities' decision to bid for one or both presidential conventions in 2004, though his suggestion that "the belief by some that New York is the sentimental favorite after the attacks on the World Trade Center" runs counter to what we've heard, at least from Democrats. ( )

Within a round-up corrections column, Bill Safire adjusts his Democratic presidential nomination odds. ( )

Money isn't flowing into Senator McCain's Straight Talk America PAC the way it used to — though in part because they've stopped trying so hard to raise it. ( )

Here's something we missed yesterday from the hard-copy Washington Times (page A12): a Jack Kemp op-ed that not only praised Gephardt for his stance on the Bush tax cut, but cast Gephardt as an antidote to his Senate counterpart Daschle.


A lot of our bosses live in New York, as do Sting, Armani, and Derek Jeter. So we pay a wee bit more attention to what goes on in that state than we do elsewhere, as does most of the media. But trust us: there's a lot of political energy in a special state Senate race in New York City for a seat on the East Side that happens next Tuesday. For one thing, it's Liza Minelli and Rudy versus Hillary and Chuck. Plus, Gotham Republicans' inroads into labor support of the kind 43 wants in '04 is in play in this race. Read all about it here: ( )

Jack Kemp will announce his endorsement of Republican Bill Simon for governor of California today during media availabilities in Sacramento and San Francisco.

We're not exactly sure what this means, but we got an e-mail from the third guy (after Riordan and Simon) running for governor that was slugged, "Bill Jones to Expose Riordan's Cozy Relationship with Enron," but the body of the e-mail doesn't mention Enron at all — it simply says Jones "will reveal the validity of some of the statements Riordan made in the last few weeks." So stay tuned; the event takes place at 4:00 p.m. ET today in Los Angeles.

In the same theme, it seems, the Los Angeles Times today looks at Riordan's habitual candor and how sometimes it can be a good thing, but sometimes, um, not. ( )?coll=la%2Dheadlines%2Dcalifornia )

South Dakota Gov. Bill Janklow likely will announce his candidacy for the House next week, the Sioux Falls Argus-Leader reports. (Attention Hotline "Overlooked" writers: Who Else Went from Governor to Member of Congress?) ( )

Up in Massachusetts, one of the leading contenders for the Democratic nomination for governor struck it rich with her choice of a running mate — literally. A "little-known twist in the state campaign finance law allows … Shannon P. O'Brien to tap running mate Christopher F. Gabrieli's personal fortune during the primary race, giving her access to his millions of dollars for political advertising." Gabrieli spent about $5 million in an unsuccessful run for Congress four years ago. Note that "a spokesman for the O'Brien campaign … said O'Brien was aware of the ruling when she selected Gabrieli, but does not intend at this time to take advantage of the opening." ( )

Roll Call reports that because House Democratic Whip Nancy Pelosi decided to give $10,000 to her colleague Rep. Lynn Rivers, who has been thrown into the same congressional district — and thus the same primary — as the more senior and more prickly Rep. John Dingell, Dingell has decided to cease fundraising for the party's House campaign committee. ( )

The Des Moines Register 's Yepsen finds new reasons to crow about the Republican gubernatorial primary. lawyer Doug Gross, a late addition, may well be a better challenger to Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack than the other candidates, according to Dean Yepsen. Many Republicans seem to think so. ( )

Good-government folks like to denigrate state sales taxes. They're old hat — out of touch with a modern economy — and too sensitive to recessions and industry downturns.

In several states, Florida included, they are the primary source of government revenue and not easily reformed or changed. But desperate budget times call for desperate measures.

State Senate President John McKay wants to modernize the sales taxes and has an ambitious plan to do so.

He'd slash the rate from 6 percent to 4.5 percent and make up for the lost money by getting rid of lots of exemptions, which would hit, among others, lawn services, hair cuts, PRINT AND BROADCAST advertising, and religious institutions selling things.

But Gov. Jeb Bush, perhaps eager to avoid adding a controversial position to his portfolio and taking on that powerful coalition, is apparently not willing to endorse much, if any, change to the tax structure.

This Miami Herald story gets the political angle, but it doesn't say much about McKay's plan or much about the economics of the tax. (

In Pennsylvania, state auditor Robert Casey Jr., began his TV advertising campaign; he's running for the Democratic gubernatorial nod against former Philly mayor Ed Rendell in one of many brutal Democrat statewide primaries around America. The Philadelphia Inquirer says the ads are designed to prove to voters that Casey is his own man--and not a shadow of his very popular former governor father. (

Finally, Mr. DiStaso! Gov. Jeanne Shaheen admitted yesterday she is, indeed, running for Senate. The bright young people who have moved to the greater Concord metroplex to staff her campaign can breathe a sigh of relief. ( )?article=8696

The National Conference of Lieutenant Governors kicks off their three-day meeting today in Washington.

Bush Administration Strategy/Personality

We wonder how many people at Tom Ridge's National Press Club speech today will have read this New York Times headline: "Ridge Facing Major Doubts on His Ability." It's that "major" that really hurts. ( )

The story has something rare for this Administration: some on-the-record griping by senior people (the heads of INS and Customs) about a colleague. And of course a background quote or two being even more critical. Plus some hand-wringing from the usual suspects about how Ridge can't possibly succeed without more statutory authority, and about how he isn't bowing down low enough to Congress.

All in all, though, given the mindset against him in much of Washington back when he started, and given the press' inclination to focus on the negative, and that he has made some public errors in the job (which the article doesn't really list), we think the piece isn't so bad for the former Pennsylvania governor.

In a tale of spousal loyalty and ripping the cloak off of presidential speechwriting anonymity, check out Tim Noah's Slate exclusive, as the wife of one of Mr. Bush's speechwriters let's friends and family (and, thanks to Tim, the North Koreans with web access) know who exactly wrote "axis of evil." ( )

Lloyd Grove picks up on the Noah item, actually getting spouse Danielle Crittenden (or, we hope, someone answering e-mail to her account) to write back to him that she is "already feel(ing) too much like Lucy Ricardo." ( )

The The Wall Street Journal does its version of the White House's search for a post-Kyoto New Paradigm: "The Bush administration is working on what one official has called a 'gradualist approach' toward curbing emissions of carbon dioxide and other industrial gases that are believed to cause global warming." This is another HUGE story that isn't getting quite the attention it deserves — yet. But trust us: the White House is spending a lot of time talking to big business about it, and having internal strategery talks.

If you are covering (or staffing) the president's upcoming trip to Asia, definitely stuff into your three-ring binder a copy of today's The Wall Street Journal story on how the president's "axis of evil" line upset the South Koreans more than the North Koreans. Or, download a copy to your PDA, if you are so inclined.

Does the White House know that NBC is promoting the president's appearance in their big primetime Olympic kick-off broadcast?

After Ari Fleischer uttered some immortal New York state homespun wisdom yesterday, we suspect the White House press corps just might get T-shirts printed up with Ari's picture on the front, and the new catch phrase on the back, in bold font: "Everybody's entitled to make a mistake," Mr. Fleischer said yesterday, about OMB director Daniels.

Another Bush-Gore double standard that will produce little puffs of white smoke out of some Democrats' ears, courtesy of Adam Nagourney's New York Times story: "At one point, Mr. Bush was perhaps overly exuberant. 'As I said in my State of the Union, I stand in awe of New York City,' Mr. Bush told an audience at a $1,500-a-head reception for Mr. Pataki last night. Mr. Bush actually made no such mention of New York City in his State of the Union speech." ( )