- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 14, 2009

More trouble

“How’s this for a welcome present? National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn, R-Texas, has been in his new job for just a few weeks, and already four GOP incumbents - Christopher ‘Kit’ Bond (Mo.), Sam Brownback (Kan.), Mel Martinez (Fla.) and George Voinovich (Ohio) have decided to call it quits,” Amy Walters writes at www.nationaljournal.com.

“This comes on the heels of two difficult election cycles where Republicans have lost 13 seats - 14 if you count Norm Coleman (Minn.) Are Republicans doomed to another losing cycle? Or does the earliness of these retirements mean Republicans will have the time they need to raise money and recruit the strong candidates? …

“Once other Republicans see their colleagues heading for the exits, it gets them to think twice about their own re-election decisions. Ultimately, it creates a negative-feedback loop. As the retirements start to pile up, pessimism grows stronger among the rank and file about their party’s chances in 2010. This, in turn, makes it harder to recruit challengers and raise money.”

Raising taxes

“Mark it down as the first tax increase of the new Democratic era. The Journal reported [Monday] that President-elect Obama and Congressional leaders intend to maintain the estate tax rather than let it expire on schedule in 2010,” the Wall Street Journal said in an editorial.

“They will do so even though their economic-stimulus plan is supposed to be about creating millions of new jobs in a hurry. The death tax strikes most heavily at small- and medium-sized family-owned businesses that generate the majority of new American jobs. So hitting these family businesses with a multimillion-dollar tax bill when the owner dies won’t help job creation,” the newspaper said.

“Republicans are partly to blame here for making this easy for Democrats, thanks to their mistakes in the 2001 tax bill. Rather than repeal the tax immediately, Republicans got bamboozled into agreeing to a 10-year phase-out that eliminates the tax only for a single year. Then the rate goes all the way back in 2011 to the confiscatory 55 percent rate of the Clinton era, with a mere $1 million exclusion. Republicans never did fix the tax-revenue estimating process on Capitol Hill, and this is one price for that failure.

“Mr. Obama wants to make the current death-tax rate of 45 percent permanent, along with an exclusion of $3.5 million ($7 million for couples). One issue to watch is whether this exclusion is indexed for inflation, or else over time it will hit more and more average earners who build up a small nest egg over a lifetime. Think Alternative Minimum Tax.

“The death tax is supposed to be an easy way to extract revenue from the likes of Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, who support the tax. It won’t. The superwealthy have foundations and other tax dodges to shield themselves from much of the tax. A 2006 Joint Economic Committee (JEC) study found that death-tax ‘liabilities depend on the skill of the estate planner, rather than on capacity to pay.’ So much for tax fairness.”

Wooing McCain

“As President-elect Obama readies his ascent to the White House less than [a week] from now, it appears that his political acumen extends not only to those in all parts of the Democratic Party, but in no small part to Sen. John McCain as well. Just three short months ago, we were inundated with McCain’s talk of Bill Ayres and ‘That One,’ but an easy detente appears to have developed between the former rivals,” Reed Galen writes at www.realclearpolitics.com.

“To that end, President-elect Obama has committed four distinct acts that telegraph his political savvy when it comes to Sen. McCain. His first move was to invite McCain to Chicago for a face-to-face meeting soon after the election. This magnanimous and post-partisan action surely played to McCain’s sense that politics has gotten far too ugly for its own good, and was probably much appreciated as a sign of respect for the Arizonan personally.

“Next, Obama selected Janet Napolitano to head the Department of Homeland Security. … With Napolitano firmly ensconced at the Nebraska Avenue headquarters of DHS, Sen. McCain’s toughest potential opposition to re-election in 2010 is out of the picture. …

“In another act that was both gracious and pragmatic, the president-elect helped ensure that Sen. Joe Lieberman would retain his chairmanship of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. This after Lieberman spent almost two years on the campaign trail in support of his friend John McCain. …

“Lastly, Obama announced that he had selected former Congressman Ray LaHood, a Republican from Illinois, as his Transportation secretary. Aside from having oversight over that department when he was the Senate Commerce Committee chairman, McCain and LaHood are good friends. McCain must have been pleased with such a choice. …

“With his almost assured re-election next year, it will not be much of a surprise if McCain, more often than not, turns out to be an ally of the Obama administration.”

Rich reminders

“So it’s settled: Caving to political pressure and a group bout of multiple personality disorder, Senate Democrats said Monday that they expect to seat Roland Burris this week,” the Chicago Tribune said Tuesday in an editorial.

“That five-week melodrama of Harry Reid, Dick Durbin and other senators alternately renouncing any Rod Blagojevich appointment and then cooing in Burris’ ear? That’s over. Senate Democrats want you to burn your notes: Forget, and maybe you’ll forgive.

“Yet the senators have made that impossible. Instead, they’ve provided Illinois voters - the voters they elbowed out of this Senate choice - with two years of rich reminders:

• “Every time voters see Roland Burris, they’ll think of that other notorious RB, Rod Blagojevich. Burris wants this Senate seat so desperately that he’ll even accept it from a guy who allegedly tried to sell it.

• “Every time we meet the big-shot Illinois Democrats who endorsed the governor for re-election in 2006 - even though FBI agents were on him like white on rice - we’ll think of Rod Blagojevich. Whenever you see a Democratic pol on the stump, look him or her in the eye and ask, ‘Did you endorse Blagojevich in 2006? How could you do that?’ …

• “Every time we think of Dick Durbin and recall his unequivocal demand for a special election - ‘No appointment by this governor under these circumstances could produce a credible replacement’ - we’ll think of Rod Blagojevich.”

• Greg Pierce can be reached at 202/636-3285 or e-mail Greg Pierce.

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