- The Washington Times - Friday, January 3, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 3 (UPI) — Capital Comment — Daily news notes, political rumors, and important events that shape politics and public policy in Washington and the world from United Press International.

Pay up or shut up…

TomPaine.com, the left-leaning opinion Web site underwritten by The Florence Foundation, recently offered a $10,000 bounty to the first person able to prove the identity "the Eli Lilly bandit" — the name the Web site gave to the person responsible for inserting a provision into the recently enacted homeland security bill giving pharmaceutical companies like Lilly "a shield from lawsuits by parents who claim the company's vaccines caused their children's autism."

The terms and conditions for collecting the reward are clear: "The Florence Fund, the nonprofit parent of TomPaine.com is offering a $10,000 reward to the first person who documents, to the satisfaction of (the Florence Fund/TomPaine.com) staff, the identity of the member(s) of Congress who is (are) responsible for inserting into the Homeland Security Bill the two-paragraph provision favoring Eli Lilly & Company (as widely reported in the media)."

Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, says he's the guy. He told CBS News, "I did it and I'm proud of it," because in his view the provision is a necessary protection to keep vaccine manufacturers from going out of business under the weight of mounting lawsuits.

Tom Paine.com is refusing to pay up, now saying it was the name of the person "who 'asked' Armey" to put the language in the bill that they were after, which is a substantial alteration to the original warrant. Armey has nevertheless claimed the bounty and wants it to go to the Cornerstone Community School, a charter school serving the needs of low-income inner city children in Washington.

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Getting out while the getting is good?

On Thursday, North Carolina Sen. John Edwards announced the formation of an exploratory committee for a 2004 presidential run. Edwards, a Democrat, is considered by many to be the next Bill Clinton — a bright face from the South who can lead the party back to its former days of glory.

In some ways, however, Edwards' chances of getting elected president may be better than his chances of being re-elected to the Senate. What most pundits have ignored to this point is that the seat Edwards occupies in the senate has changed hands in every election since 1974 when incumbent U.S. Sen. Sam Ervin, Jr., a Democrat, retired.

Democrat Robert B. Morgan won the 1974 contest but was defeated six years later by Republican John East in the Reagan landslide. East elected not to seek re-election in 1986 and later that summer committed suicide. Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Broyhill, the party's general election nominee, was appointed to the seat but lost the November election to Democrat Terry Sanford, a former governor.

Sanford was defeated in his 1992 bid for re-election by Republican Lauch Faircloth, whom Edwards beat in 1998.

Historical trends do not determine outcomes, as a number of pundits have discovered. It is still worth noting that this particular Senate seat seems to go GOP in presidential years and to the Democrats in years when the White House is not up for grabs — something that multi-millionaire trial lawyer Edwards may have considered in planning a presidential bid.

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Lexus celebrate this development…

As of Jan. 1, 2003, the federal luxury tax on automobiles is history. Enacted in 1990 as part of the Dick Darman-authored effort to close the federal budget deficit through tax increases, the levy was part of a provision raising the cost of cars, pleasure boats, furs, jewelry and private airplanes.

In 1993 Congress repealed the tax on most of the luxury goods after economic models demonstrated it had been responsible for the collapse of the American boat construction industry. But, for reasons that have become famous throughout the Washington lobbying community, luxury automobiles continued to be taxed.

The reason? A lobbyist for the industry said in an open meeting with other association representatives and members of Congress that, while his industry wanted repeal, their fallback position was to have the tax indexed to eliminate the impact of inflation on the price of automobiles.

They got their indexing. Everybody else got the tax on their goods repealed.

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Caught in the draft…

Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., the Korean War veteran who would be chairman of the power House Committee on Ways and Means if the Democrats were in the majority, has come out for a restoration of the draft if war breaks out in the Persian Gulf. Rangel says he hopes that the prospect of a draft would make the country less eager for war with Saddam Hussein. In an opinion piece originally published in The New York Times, Rangel says his proposal will also include "an alternative national service" option for people physically unable to serve as well as those who will not serve "for reasons of conscience."

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