Democrats need to pick up 15 seats to gain the US House majority but Charlie Cook of National Journal sees 28 seats as competitive, and 11 of them are now held by Democrats. To regain the majority, Dems would need to hold all their vulnerable seats and win 88% of the GOP-held seats. Cook said that would be the equivalent of getting two inside straights in the same poker game. But Democrats hope to put 50 or so seats in play and Cook says 85 or so GOP-held seats could become competitive by next year if Democrats can recruit good candidates. If the public continues to sour on the war in Iraq, high energy costs and reports of Republican corruption and incompetence, Democrats may find it easier to recruit strong candidates. Bush's approval rating was at a record low of 37% in the 10/7/05 CBS News poll and Dems were beating R's 45%-32% in Gallup's 10/13-16/05 generic matchups. Rep. Rahm Emanuel, who heads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told The American Prospect's Garance Franke-Ruta he hopes to recruit more than 50 strong challengers and has targeted all open seats, incumbent R's tied to scandal, such as Bob Ney (Ohio) and Richard Pombo (Calif.) and 18 districts that John Kerry carried last year but are rep'd by R's. Six Democratic Iraq war veterans will take on Republican incumbents and all three GOP incumbents in Connecticut will be targeted for the first time. Cook noted that New Mexico Attorney General Patsy Madrid, whom Democrats had been wooing for months, recently announced her challenge to a perennial target, Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M. "On paper at least, Madrid is the strongest candidate to face Wilson since her 1998 special election," Cook wrote. Filing deadlines range from Dec. 19 in Illinois to Aug. 11 in Louisiana.
Rep. Tom DeLay has drawn a challenge from former Rep. Nick Lampson, who was redistricted out of his Southeast Texas seat by DeLay's corporate-sponsored legislature. A recent Survey USA poll found 51% in DeLay's District 22 disapprove of the indicted congressman and 42% think he should resign.
On the Senate side, where Democrats need to win six of seven contested seats, Chuck Schumer's Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has outpaced Elizabeth Dole's National Republican Senatorial Committee in recruiting top-tier challengers. Dems have lined up competitive challengers to GOP incumbents in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Missouri, Arizona and Rhode Island. In five more states -- Montana, Nevada, Tennessee, Virginia and Mississippi -- GOP incumbents are seen as vulnerable or are leaving seats open. While US Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine is not generally considered among the targets, former TPP columnist Jean Hay Bright of Dixmont is challenging Snowe as a progressive Democrat. See www.jeanhaybright.us.
RIGHT SPLIT ON BUDGET CAPS: Colorado Gov. Bill Owens (R) is pushing to overturn his state's Taxpayer Bill of Rights, a spending cap that has forced critical cutbacks in state government services. "I don't think it was designed to cripple government," Owens said, according to the Los Angeles Times. "This is an unintended consequence." But Kevin Drum of WashingtonMonthly.com is not buying it. "Of course it was intended to cripple government. That's why Grover Norquist and Dick Armey and the rest of the tax jihad army are still fighting to keep it around. To them, destruction of state services is a feature, not a bug. They won't be happy until Colorado and the entire rest of the country look like Mississippi." Colorado voters decide Nov. 1 whether to lift the cap for five years. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Nov. 8 wants voters to enact similar spending controls in California.
GAY MARRIAGE BAN MAY BACKFIRE: A Texas constitutional amendment that purports to ban gay marriage may actually do the opposite, due to poor wording, Texas liberals say. The proposed amendment, up for an 11/8/05 vote, says that "marriage ... shall consist only of the union of one man and one woman" and "This state or a political subdivision ... may not create or recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage." Some read that poorly-drafted language as prohibiting heterosexual marriage. Gay marriage already is prohibited in Texas by statute, but liberal opponents of the amendment hope confusion over the wording will help them marshall more than 43%, which is the highest opposition to a gay marriage ban tallied so far, in Oregon last year.
DELAY RIDES CORPORATE JET TO BOOKING: When former House majority leader Tom DeLay showed up in Houston on Oct. 20 to post bond on state charges of conspiracy and laundering money for the illegal use of corporate money in Texas campaigns, the Washington Post reported that he flew to Houston on a corporate jet owned by R.J. Reynolds, a longtime contributor that has flown him to Puerto Rico and other destinations; DeLay staffers said the jet was "used in compliance with regulations." The company, which has also given $17,000 to DeLay's legal defense fund, did not comment.
GAO REPORTS E-VOTE PROBLEMS: The Government Accountability Office on 10/21/05 published a report that criticized the lack of transparency and accountability in electronic voting systems, from the day contracts are signed with manufacturers to the counting of e-votes on election day. GAO identified vulnerabilities, including potential modification of ballots and logs, and weak security systems. It also identified problems that have occurred in elections in California, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Florida. According to GAO, "Until these efforts are completed, there is a risk that many state and local jurisdictions will rely on voting systems that were not developed, acquired, testing, operated, or managed in accordance with rigorous security and reliability standards -- potentially affecting the reliability of future elections and voter confidence in the accuracy of the vote count."
Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., ranking Democrat on the Government Reform Committee, said the GAO report indicates the need to act quickly to improve the security of electronic voting machines. ."State and local officials are spending a great deal of money on machines without concrete proof that they are secure and reliable. American voters deserve better," he said. "It is totally unacceptable that in 21st-century America we would allow faulty machines and systems to rob citizens of their voting rights," said Rep. John Conyers, ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, adding, "it is incumbent upon Congress to respond to this problem and to enact much-needed reforms such as a voter verified paper audit trail that protects all Americans' right to vote."
HEALTH INEQUALITIES KILL: The gap in health care between rich and poor Americans causes 84,000 additional deaths a year, more than the equivalent of a hurricane Katrina every week, David Atkins, of the US Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality said on Oct. 21 in an editorial in the British Medical Journal. Atkins said the images of people clinging to rooftops made it clear that being poor and black in a poor southern state is hazardous to health. But the victims die of illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, HIV/AIDS and alcohol or drug addiction so they don't grab the public's attention in the same way as the deaths caused by Katrina which killed more than 1,200 people. "This may truly be a teachable moment about the impact of poverty and race on health," said Atkins. "In the rush to rebuild in the southern states, Americans should pause to think more deeply about what it would take to create more equitable and healthier communities in New Orleans and throughout the affected area," Atkins said.
ARMED FORCES WON'T HEAR LIB TALK: Politicians apparently shot down plans to put liberal radio talker Ed Schultz on Armed Forces Radio in October. The Washington Post reported 10/18/05 that the radio network agreed in September to carry Schultz's program as an alternative to Rush Limbaugh, but on 10/17/05, the day Schultz was supposed to go on, his producer got a call from Allison Barber, the Pentagon's deputy assistant secretary for internal communications, who said without explanation that the deal was off. "It kind of floored us," Schultz told the Post from his studio in North Dakota. "The fact is, they don't want dissenting voices or any other kind of speech unless it's going to be promotional for them. Obviously, these people are making sure they're not going to have any opinion other than the Rush Limbaughs of the world." Limbaugh noted that the network carries National Public Radio and declared, "I am the political balance."
SENATE BOOTS FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY: The Senate, on a 15-82 vote on 10/20/05, rejected an amendment by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., that would have stripped $125 million of "pork" from the federal highways bill to pay for repairs of the Katrina-damaged bridge over Lake Pontchartain. Only four Democrats -- Evan Bayh, Ind., Kent Conrad, N.D., Russ Feingold, Wis., and Mary Landrieu, La., joined 11 Republicans in voting for the amendment, which targeted two notorious bridges in Alaska. During the debate, Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, threatened to quit the Senate if it passed, but senators apparently feared that prospect less than the precedent of putting earmarked projects in jeopardy. The conservative Club for Growth noted that pork-barrel projects in federal spending bills have tripled over the past five years, from 4,326 in 2000 to 13,997 in 2005.
DEMS FORCE GULF WAGE VOTE: Invoking a never-before-used parliamentary rule included in the National Emergencies Act, Democratic House leaders are demanding an up-down vote on Bush's suspension of the Davis-Bacon law in the Gulf Coast. George Miller, D-Calif., on 10/20/05 introduced a Joint Resolution under the 1976 National Emergencies Act, which provides for fast-track action by Congress when the president unilaterally suspends a law, as he did with Davis-Bacon. Congress must act on Miller's Joint Resolution within 15 calendar days -- in this case, by 11/4/05. Nathan Newman noted at TPMCafe.com, "37 Republicans have written to the president opposing his suspension of the Act, more than enough to overturn Bush's action, and they may have to put their votes where their mouths are if the Democrats succeed with this maneuver." UPDATE: On Wednesday, Oct. 26, President Bush rescinded his order, effectively restoring the prevailing wage for federal contractors along the Gulf Coast.
US WORKERS STIFFED ON WAGES: Only 25.2% of American workers have a job that pays at least $16 per hour and provides health insurance and a pension, according the Center for Economic and Policy Research (cepr.net). The report, "How Good is the Economy at Creating Good Jobs?" found that between 1979 and 2004 the share of American workers in good jobs remained unchanged at about 25%, despite strong economic growth over that period. In the last quarter century, the US workforce has become older, more experienced and better educated, but 75% are still struggling in jobs that do not provide health insurance, a pension and solid middle-class wages. Since 1979, inflation-adjusted GDP per person increased 60%, but the percentage of workers in good jobs remained unchanged at about 25%. The study also found that 26.6% of the workforce is in a job that pays poorly and offers neither health insurance or a pension. This is close to the share of Americans in bad jobs in 1979 (27.9%).
GOVS OPPOSE FED DISASTER TAKEOVER: Many of the nation's governors are banding together to ensure state authorities remain in control during disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, Stateline.org reported. Carrying the message to Congress, Govs. Jeb Bush (R) of Florida, Janet Napolitano (D) of Arizona and Rick Perry (R) of Texas testified at a hearing 10/19/05 that states have the specialized resources to deal with emergencies within their borders. "Let Texans run Texas," Perry told the House Committee on Homeland Security. The hearing came less than a week after the National Governors Association, led by Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R), declared NGA's opposition to President Bush's suggestions that federal officials assume more authority in emergencies. Governors from Alabama, Delaware, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana and West Virginia also have been quoted as decrying any attempt to give up
the power to oversee evacuations, rescues and recoveries. A survey by USA Today published 10/3/05 showed only two of 38 governors who responded -- Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) -- were willing to consider Bush's suggestion that Congress might want to make the Pentagon the top authority in certain disasters. "The military is not a fire department, a police department or a hospital," Perry said. "Leave first response to the first-responders."
GOP WOULD RESTRICT VOTER REGISTRATION: A gag rule in the Federal Housing Finance Reform Act (HR 1461) would restrict the ability of non-profit organizations to register new voters or advocate for their members if they seek grants from the Affordable Housing Fund, OMB Watch (ombwatch.org) reported. Even non-partisan activities such as voter registration and get-out-the vote efforts that use unrelated funds are restricted under the provision by Republicans whose right-wing leaders have worked to make it more difficult for low-income citizens to vote. Affiliation with any entity that engages in electoral activities from 12 months before applying for a grant through the grant period also would disqualify a group from receiving federal grants. UPDATE: On Oct. 26, the House approved the Federal Housing Reform Act with the provision barring non-profit organizations and their affiliates from registering new voters and other political activity.
FEINSTEIN WITHDRAWS BILL THAT WOULD PROTECT CORPORATE ABUSERS: Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., has introduced a bill to undermine the Alien Tort Clams Act, which is used by human rights activists to hold corporations responsible for their actions in developing nations, Nathan Newman noted at NathanNewman.org. In June 2004 the Supreme Court ruled in Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain that non-US citizens may sue their abusers in US federal court under the Alien Tort Claims Act. "So what Bush -- and now Feinstein -- want to do is reverse this victory and shut the courtroom door to those victims," Newman wrote. "It's not like ATCA has been a massively effective law in shutting down corporate operations overseas, but these corporations don't even want the possibility of having to answer questions about their dirty dealings overseas." UPDATE: After this went to press, Sen. Feinstein announced on Oct. 25 that after conferring with human rights activists she was withdrawing this bill from consideration.
BUSH: TORTURE OK FOR CIA: The Bush administration has proposed exempting CIA employees from a legislative measure endorsed 10/5/05 by 90 senators that would bar cruel and degrading treatment of any prisoners in US custody, the Washington Post reported 10/25/05. In related news, a federal judge in Virginia ruled 10/24/05 that prosecutors can use a confession extracted from a US citizen who alleges he was tortured by Saudi Arabian security officers. Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, a Houston native, was studying at the University of Medina when he was arrested by Saudi police. He is charged with conspiracy to assassinate the president, conspiracy to commit aircraft piracy, providing material support to al Qaeda and other crimes. He faces up to life in prison if convicted.
GOP: 'DON'T GET TECHNICAL': As special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald pursues possible charges against White House staffers in the Plame CIA leak scandal, Republicans were trying out their spins and bewailing the "criminalization of politics." Bill Kristol on Fox News Sunday said, "Scooter Libby or Karl Rove are going to be judged criminals for perhaps acknowledging her name, perhaps knowing, though there's no evidence they did, that she was a covert operative That's a crime?" Judd Legum of ThinkProgress.org observed, "Yes, outing a covert CIA operative is a crime. So is obstruction of justice and perjury." Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, on Meet the Press said she hoped if Fitzgerald pursues charges against White House personnel that he would indict "on a crime and not some perjury technicality." Funny that when the Republican House impeached Bill Clinton seven years ago, Hutchison was among the GOP senators who voted (but failed to convict) Clinton on perjury and obstruction "technicalities." (When NBC's Tim Russert pointed this out, Hutchison said, "There were charges against Bill Clinton besides perjury and obstruction of justice." There were not.)