- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 5, 2003

Hatch hopeful
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch predicted yesterday that the Republican-led Senate would overcome a possible Democratic filibuster and confirm Miguel Estrada as a federal judge.
With debate on the embattled nomination set to begin today, Mr. Hatch, a Utah Republican, said Democrats could delay a vote until next week.
But ultimately, Mr. Hatch said, he expects enough Democrats to cross the political aisle and help Republicans approve President Bush's nomination of Mr. Estrada to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
"I believe in the end Miguel Estrada will be confirmed as he should be," Mr. Hatch said. He noted that the Honduran-born nominee a Harvard-educated private attorney and former assistant U.S. solicitor general received the American Bar Association's highest rating.
Republicans control the Senate, 51 to 48 with one independent. Yet Democrats would need just 41 senators to sustain a filibuster and prevent a confirmation vote.
Democrats have been mulling a filibuster ever since the Estrada nomination was approved by Mr. Hatch's committee last week on a party-line vote of 10-9 and sent to the full Senate, aides said.
A decision may be announced after Senate Democrats hold their weekly luncheon meeting today, aides told Reuters news service.
Traditionally, judicial nominations are not filibustered, and Mr. Hatch said it would be a mistake for Democrats to effectively try to set a precedent.
"I have to believe there are enough Democrats who know we should not filibuster judgeship nominations," Mr. Hatch said.
'Murky' issue
The White House is a little "murky" about whether President Bush ever visited Johnson Space Center in Houston before yesterday, when he spoke at a memorial for the fallen astronauts from Space Shuttle Columbia.
Over the weekend, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters that Mr. Bush had visited the center when he was the governor of Texas. But yesterday the spokesman backed off that claim.
"The Texas staff all recall a visit," Mr. Flesicher explained to reporters aboard Air Force One. "I was asked to get the date. I am not able to find a date. And so I think right now it's somewhat murky."
He added: "Johnson Space Center says that he did not go there."
Mr. Fleischer said he asked the president whether he had ever been to the center.
"To the president's recollection, he thinks he had been there," the spokesman said. "He wasn't sure about when."
Mr. Fleischer now says his boss may have visited before he became governor, when he was a private citizen.
"I'm not able to find the exact date," he said. "So that's why I say it's murky."
Wails and howls
"Washington has greeted the $2,230,000,000,000 Fiscal Year 2004 budget that President Bush rolled out [Monday] with the now familiar wails and gnashing of teeth about 'the deficit.' The point to keep in mind is why everyone is really so upset," the Wall Street Journal says.
"The critics aren't worried about the deficit because they think $2.23 trillion is too much for the government to spend in one year. Far from it, they're angry because they know the deficit is the main thing preventing them from spending even more. Without the discipline provided by the deficit, Washington would have no spending discipline at all," the newspaper said in an editorial.
"Take North Dakota's Kent Conrad, the Senate Democratic point man on the budget, who howled [Monday] that 'the Bush budget burdens us, and our children, with trillions of dollars of new debt.' This is the same Kent Conrad who recently voted for nearly every one of the floor amendments that would have added some $380 billion in spending to the 2003 budget had they not been narrowly defeated. He is also the same senator who routinely leaves the Budget Committee, changes (symbolically) from his TV suit into his Oshkosh overalls, and joins the Agriculture Committee to denounce the White House for not spending enough.
"We don't mean to pick on … OK, we do. But Mr. Conrad has plenty of company on both sides of the aisle."
All about Bill
"Democrats on retreat in Pennsylvania late last week came back grumbling that President Bill Clinton didn't give them their money's worth. Of course, he was working for free, so what did they expect?" the anonymous Prowler writes at www.americanprowler.org.
"'It was all about him. His administration, what he did, would have done,' says an attendee. 'It's nothing we haven't heard before, it's just that there wasn't much constructive about it.'
"To be fair, Clinton did lay down some markers for the current legislative session and the 2004 campaign season, but those markers must seem pretty familiar to a Democratic caucus that has been wandering around in circles for the last couple of election cycles.
"Clinton pressed his Democratic brethren not be bullied by Republicans who have impugned his party's patriotism. The ex-prez told the audience, which according to attendees hung on his every word, to hit back, not to take such charges lightly.
"Any additional guidance was built on the classic class warfare rhetoric of Democratic races past. 'It was all about the Bush tax cuts and how everything we should be debating, all the issues we as Democrats should be forcing, flow out of those tax cuts for the rich,' says the attendee. 'He's right. Social Security, health care reform, balanced budgets, education, all those issues that we care about are in play. But we're too defensive.'
"Clinton was said to be at his best, speaking without notes, flitting about from subject to subject, deftly tying up loose ends and extraneous ideas.
"'It was great to see him on top of his game,' says the attendee, no longer as upset as he initially seemed. Clinton can evidently still wow them."
Kentucky candidate
Bruce Lunsford, a wealthy Kentucky businessman whose health care company is being sued for supposedly misleading investors, launched his campaign for governor yesterday by promising to pay for his campaign himself.
Mr. Lunsford also called for a top-to-bottom overhaul of Kentucky government and distanced himself from "habitual politicians" in state government, the Associated Press reports.
He said he expected his rivals to criticize him for pouring his own millions into the race.
"I say let my opponents say that while they grab the cash from the special interest groups," he told supporters.
Mr. Lunsford hopes to succeed lame-duck Democratic Gov. Paul E. Patton.
Other Democratic hopefuls include House Speaker Jody Richards and Attorney General Ben Chandler, who until last month was investigating at least three nursing homes overseen by Mr. Lunsford for supposed health violations.
Among the Republican candidates are Rep. Ernie Fletcher, Judge-Executive Rebecca Jackson and state Rep. Steve Nunn, son of the last Republican governor, Louie B. Nunn.
Rolling the dice
While several cash-strapped states are considering adding racetrack slots or new casinos, New Jersey's governor has proposed millions of dollars worth of new taxes on gambling halls.
Gov. James E. McGreevey, a first-term Democrat, unveiled a budget yesterday that calls for boosting the state's 8 percent tax on casino revenues to 10 percent and resurrects a plan to tax freebies rooms, meals, drinks and show tickets that casinos give gamblers.
The estimated windfall for the state: $135 million a year, the Associated Press reports.
Last year, Illinois took similar action in a budget crunch, boosting the top tax rate for casinos. Plans for "racinos" racetracks equipped with slot machines have gained momentum as potential budget-boosters in Maryland, Pennsylvania and elsewhere.


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