- The Washington Times - Friday, June 26, 2009

SENATE

Thune succeeds Ensign in GOP post

Republicans on Thursday elected Sen. John Thune to the leadership post vacated by Sen. John Ensign, who stepped down after admitting to an extramarital affair with a campaign aide.

Mr. Thune will lead the Senate Republican Policy Committee, the No. 4 position in the leadership, and play a role in shaping the Republican message and agenda on health care, climate change and spending.

Mr. Thune had served as vice chairman of the conference, the No. 5 leadership job. He captured attention in 2004 when he defeated then-Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota.

Mr. Thune is seeking re-election in 2010 and has been viewed by some Republicans as a potential 2012 presidential aspirant. His campaign committee reported nearly $4.4 million in cash on hand at the end of the March reporting period.

Mr. Ensign acknowledged last week that he had an affair with a campaign staffer from December 2007 through August 2008. The Nevada senator recently apologized to his Senate colleagues.

FEC

Coleman can use funds for legal bills

The Federal Election Commission has ruled that former Sen. Norm Coleman can use campaign money to pay for legal bills to address allegations involving a donor.

The agency’s ruling Thursday said the Minnesota Republican can use the money for legal bills linked to two lawsuits. They claim that a former Coleman donor funneled at least $75,000 to an insurance company that employed Mr. Coleman’s wife.

Mr. Coleman was not named in the suits and has denied wrongdoing.

Mr. Coleman and Democrat Al Franken are fighting in Minnesota’s highest court over who won November’s election.

HEALTH CARE

Committee close to reform bill

A $1 trillion bipartisan health care reform bill with a payment plan is within grasp of the Senate Finance Committee as Congress leaves for its recess.

Chairman Sen. Max Baucus said Thursday that his committee has come up with a series of proposals for a reform plan that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office would score at or under $1 trillion over 10 years - a number that has become a sticking point for some Republicans and moderate Democrats.

It’s a step closer to President Obama’s plan for comprehensive health care reform. But there is still no bill. An early draft of the bill was scored at $1.6 trillion.

“We have ways to fully pay for this bill,” said Mr. Baucus, Montana Democrat. “We’re getting a lot closer to an agreement.”

Mr. Obama said the bill must be fully paid for so that it doesn’t increase the federal debt.

Mr. Baucus declined to talk specifically about how the bill would be paid for, but other attendees of the closed-door meetings said payment methods being considered include raising taxes on top earners - a preferred method of Mr. Obama’s - capping the tax break employers get for giving their employees benefits.

The price was reduced at least in part by decreasing proposed subsidies that would help individuals or businesses purchase insurance. But attendees would not get into specific figures.

A bipartisan group of seven committee members who have been heavily involved in the negotiations put out a statement Thursday that the group has made progress.

“As we have been for the last several weeks, we are committed to continuing our work toward a bipartisan bill that will lower costs and ensure quality, affordable care for every American,” the group said.

Some Republicans weren’t quite as optimistic Thursday, leaving finance committee meetings expressing doubt about the CBO figures.

“I’m willing to bet money there’s some gimmickry going on, putting some things off so they don’t get scored at this point,” said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican.

BANKING

Judge sets bond for Stanford

Texas financier R. Allen Stanford will spend another night in a Texas jail after he pleaded not guilty Thursday to 21 criminal charges that he ran a $7 billion Ponzi scheme.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Frances Stacy in Houston set Mr. Stanford’s bond at $500,000 with a $100,000 cash deposit. But the judge stayed her order until 4:30 p.m. CDT Friday after the Justice Department said it plans to appeal, arguing that Mr. Stanford was likely to flee the country rather than face life in prison if convicted of the charges.

The once high-flying billionaire and sports promoter has been in federal custody since June 18, when he surrendered to the FBI in Virginia after a Houston grand jury indicted him on 21 counts of conspiracy, fraud and obstruction of justice.

“Not guilty, Your Honor,” said Mr. Stanford, 59, wearing an orange jumpsuit and with his hands manacled in front of him.

Mr. Stanford is the second high-profile fraud case to shake public confidence in Wall Street and the U.S. financial regulatory system, after veteran financier Bernard Madoff pleaded guilty to a massive Ponzi scheme that could have cost investors as much as $65 billion.

JUSTICE

Holder urges new hate crime law

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. urged Congress to pass a new hate crimes law so the government could prosecute cases of violence based on sexual orientation, gender or disability.

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Thursday, he cited the recent killing of a security guard at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The alleged assailant is a white supremacist.

“One has to look at the unfortunate history of our nation. There are groups that have been singled out, that have been targets of violence,” the attorney general said. “We have to face and confront that reality.”

Lawmakers debated the possible effect of the proposedMatthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, named after a gay man killed in Wyoming in 1998. It would allow federal prosecution of violence committed because of the actual or perceived gender, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity of the victim.

For more than a decade, Democrats have sought to update the hate crimes law, which already makes it a federal crime to attack someone because of their race, creed or color.

PENTAGON

$1.75 billion added to budget for F-22s

Senators have added $1.75 billion to a Pentagon budget proposal for seven more of Lockheed Martin’s F-22 fighter jets, setting the stage for a battle with the Obama administration.

The Senate Armed Services Committee said it finished closed-door deliberations on its version of the fiscal 2010 defense spending bill.

Congressional aides familiar with the legislation say Sen. Saxby Chambliss, Georgia Republican, a staunch advocate of the radar-evading jets, requested the funding. The aides spoke on the condition of anonymity because the committee’s recommendations have yet to be made public.

The Obama administration already has threatened to veto a $680 billion military budget that contains money for the jets.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates wants to end production of the F-22 after 187 aircraft have been built.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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