- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 23, 2009

STILL IN PLAY

You can run, but you can’t hide from Pat Toomey, the anti-tax crusader and former Pennsylvania congressman, according to a new Quinnipiac poll.

“A new poll shows former Rep. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) has closed a 20-point gap on Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) in a matter of just two and a half months, and that the two are virtually tied,” writes the Hill’s Aaron Blake.

“The Quinnipiac poll, released Wednesday, shows Specter leading Toomey 45-44 in a virtual tie. In early May, shortly after Specter’s party switch, he led Toomey 53-33.” Mr. Specter, who represented Pennsylvania for 28 years as a Republican, decamped to the Democratic Party this year on the verge of a primary threat from Mr. Toomey.

Since the switch, Mr. Specter has had mixed political luck: He was denied seniority within the party ranks, despite being one of the Senate’s longest-serving members; he has drawn a Democratic Party challenger in the form of Rep. Joe Sestak, despite support from his new team’s big wigs, including President Obama; and his negative ratings appear to keep increasing, according to this latest poll.

“Nearly half - 49 percent - of voters say Specter doesn’t deserve re-election, while 40 percent say he does. Independent voters have shifted to Toomey’s side by a 46-42 margin,” Mr. Blake said.

BUDGET, TAKE TWO

California’s budget writers look like they left the door wide open for a sequel to the state’s exhaustive fiscal troubles, but don’t count on the next Governator showdown to be any more bearable than the first, the Los Angeles Times says in an editorial.

“If a can is kicked down the road but no one admits doing the kicking, does it make any sound? Sure it does, and California will be hearing the racket for years, courtesy of the budget agreement announced in Sacramento on Monday evening. The deal to close the $26 billion gap between a budget adopted in February and the drastically lower revenue receipts that came later in the year cuts deeply into safety-net programs, leaving many seniors and children without medical care, and leaving cities and counties to deal with the fallout.”

The Times is counting on this next script to be written for the small stage, however, with local governments biting the bullet on raising taxes or cutting services.

“But here’s the can-kicker: The agreement also relies on swiping billions of dollars from those same cities and counties, sticking them with the hard choices whether to seek tax increases to prop up public safety, mental health, addiction, housing and job placement services, or to put up with more people in the jails, on the streets or lined up for scarcer assistance. Now, on top of the already deep and painful cuts in state programs such as Healthy Families, CalWorks and In-Home Supportive Services, county and city governments will have to identify millions of dollars more in cuts.

“That sort of delayed reckoning and outsourced accountability should not be portrayed as forward momentum. The state should not try to take credit for solving the budget problems when in fact it has merely foisted its problems onto local governments. There is no separation, in the minds of voters or in the pangs of those most in need, between state and local government.”

NOT SO BLUE

Think life isn’t easy for moderate to conservative House Democrats in Republican-voting district? Well, that’s probably right, but party leaders in the House are doing everything they can to make votes a little easier for their red-state charges.

Rep. Walt Minnick (D-Idaho) keeps getting a free pass on votes. And why shouldn’t he?” asks the Politico’s Kathryn McGarr.

“His victory in 2008 in a deep-red district seemed like a fluke, his party already has a huge majority in the House, and there are men in the White House who understand the legislative game.

“Back in January, when Minnick didn’t support a pay equity bill and a fellow Democrat cornered him on the House floor, Rep.Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) put his hand on his irate colleague’s arm and said: ‘He’s a Democrat from Idaho. He can vote however he wants,’ according to a House staffer who was told the story.”

But just because some House leaders are providing cover for Mr. Minnick and other Blue Dogs, doesn’t mean the White House’s top bulldog, Rahm Emanuel, will suffer them, particularly with the president’s health care agenda on the line.

“Yet with moderate Blue Dogs and vulnerable Democrats wavering on health care reform, the honeymoon might soon be over for the 32 freshmen who have been getting the kid-glove treatment from leaders who haven’t needed their votes. But even as they whip those votes, freshmen, Democratic leaders and even some Republicans admit that it’s not worth it to twist arms or threaten punishment.

“White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel ‘knows what members really need to stay elected and what members are trying to bull— the leadership,’ said GOP consultant John Feehery, who worked for Republican House SpeakerDennis Hastert (R-Ill.), Majority WhipTom DeLay (R-Texas) and Minority LeaderBob Michel (R-Ill.). ‘So he knows the level at which members can sustain themselves and where their breaking points are.’ ”

OUTSIDER WEIGHS IN

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal - a star Republican governor untarnished by random hikes in the U.S. that end in South America or mysterious vanishing acts with about half a term left to serve - is weighing in with a health care critique and what looks like a message as a Washington “outsider” in the Wall Street Journal.

“In Washington, it seems history always repeats itself. That’s what’s happening now with health care reform. This is an unfortunate turn of events for Americans who are legitimately concerned about the skyrocketing cost of a basic human need.

“In 1993 and 1994, Hillary Clinton‘shealth care reform proposal failed because it was concocted in secret without the guiding hand of public consensus-building, and because it was a philosophical over-reach. Today, President Barack Obama is repeating these mistakes.

“The reason is plain: The left in Washington has concluded that honesty will not yield its desired policy result. So it resorts to a fundamentally dishonest approach to reform. I say this because the marketing of the Democrats’ plans as presented in the House of Representatives and endorsed heartily by President Obama rests on three falsehoods,” writes Mr. Jindal, who has been floated routinely as a Republican presidential pick. Mr. Jindal announced in December that he would not run for president in 2012.

But he may be rethinking that decision, given the Republican Party’s turbulent landscape of late. South Carolina Gov.Mark Sanford unleashed the details of his love affair in an emotional news conference. Nevada Sen. John Ensign admitted to having an affair with a former campaign staffer and then having his parents pay $96,000 to his mistress’ family. And Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s decision to leave office with a year and a half left in her term has more pundits guessing about what she will do in 2012.

Tom LoBianco can be reached at tlobianco@ washingtontimes.com.

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