Arizona Republican debate discussion thread

Tonight the four remaining Republican candidates for president take the stage in Mesa, Arizona, for the final debate before super Tuesday. CNN will broadcast the debate starting at 7 pm central time. Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich are under the most pressure to dent Rick Santorum’s momentum. Based on the last few debates, I expect Ron Paul to take more shots at Gingrich and Santorum than at Romney.

Any comments about the GOP presidential race are welcome in this thread. I’ll update the post later.

UPDATE: That debate wasn’t very interesting. Romney seemed to do a little better than Santorum, but I didn’t think anyone was on top form. Paul went after Santorum and mostly left Romney alone. Gingrich absurdly promised $2.50/gallon gasoline. I posted some excerpts from the CNN transcript after the jump.

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Iowans divided as House passes "legislative line-item veto" bill

Most governors have the power to veto specific line items in appropriations bills, and many deficit hawks believe bills passed by Congress should be subject to the same kind of scrutiny. However, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1998 that it is unconstitutional to give the president line-item veto power over appropriations bills. Seeking a way around that problem, the House approved a bill yesterday that would allow the president to recommend budget rescissions for Congress to consider. The legislation attracted an unusually bipartisan group of supporters and opponents.

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Hastert fundraiser could become liability for Gibbons

Last night former House Speaker Dennis Hastert headlined a fundraiser for Jim Gibbons, the candidate in the third Congressional district favored by beltway Republicans. Gibbons raised the most money by far in the fourth quarter of 2009, and Hastert’s appearance should help him out-raise his five or six Republican rivals in the current fundraising period too.  

By the same token, Hastert’s trip to Des Moines will provide fodder for Gibbons’ opponents. Tea Party favorite Dave Funk is pushing this message:

As a pilot, I know if you don’t chart a clear course and stay ever vigilant, you’re going to lose your direction and get lost. I hate to say it, but that happened under Dennis Hastert’s watch. The House Republican caucus lost its way with excessive spending and policies that didn’t represent the values and ideals of our party or the majority of American voters.

To be honest, Dennis Hastert was the “earmark king” of the Republican Party.  And now Jim Gibbons has aligned himself with Dennis Hastert and the very philosophy and actions that resulted in our party losing control of Congress, the Senate and the White House.

How can we in Iowa’s Third District expect real leadership from Jim Gibbons, when he is joining forces with the leader who led the House Republicans on the spending spree with taxpayers money that cost conservatives their reputations as fiscally responsible small government leaders?

State Senator Brad Zaun took a subtle swipe at Gibbons in a press release that was mostly about Zaun submitting his nominating papers:

“While some of the candidates in this primary are worried about earning the favor of the powerbrokers on Capitol Hill, I’ve been focused on serving my constituents and listening to the voters across the 3rd Congressional District. I look forward to ramping up our efforts in April and May after the legislative session adjourns,” concluded Zaun.

Former Representative Greg Ganske hosted the Hastert event for Gibbons. He represented Polk County when it was part of Iowa’s fourth Congressional district from 1995-2003. Ganske isn’t universally popular with the Republican base, though. He nearly lost the 2002 U.S. Senate primary to wingnut extraordinaire Bill Salier, and some Republicans believe (foolishly in my opinion) that being too moderate cost Ganske that year’s election against Tom Harkin.  

The Iowa Democratic Party released a statement yesterday on Hastert’s visit:  

More than two years after leaving public office to become a lobbyist, former Republican Speaker Dennis Hastert continues to receive nearly $40,000 a month in taxpayer funded perks including an office, cell phone, staff, and an SUV.  

“Keeping Former Speaker Dennis Hastert on the taxpayer dime while he works as a lobbyist is hardly what Iowans believe is a good use of their hard earned money,” said Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Michael Kiernan. “Republican Jim Gibbons should know he is only as good as the company he keeps, and by choosing to embrace Dennis Hastert his calls for fiscal restraint ring [hollow].”

BACKGROUND:    

[…] Former Speaker Hastert maintains an office at taxpayer expense in Yorkville, Illinois.  The perks that Speaker Hastert accepted include an office, cell phone, staff, and a leased SUV. All told, Hastert receives nearly $40,000 a month in benefits from the federal government. These taxpayer-funded benefits are entirely legal as long as Hastert does not make use of them in the course of his lobbying work. [Politico, 12/21/09]

To my mind, Hastert’s current lobbying is less offensive than the fact that he sold real estate for nearly $2 million in profits after he secured federal earmarks to construct the Prairie Parkway near land he owned. I wonder what Gibbons thinks about that deal.

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Shelby releases some holds, still blocking military nominees

Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama released holds on most of the Obama administration nominees he has been blocking, the Washington Post reports, citing a statement from Shelby’s office:

“The purpose of placing numerous holds was to get the White House’s attention on two issues that are critical to our national security – the Air Force’s aerial refueling tanker acquisition and the FBI’s Terrorist Device Analytical Center (TEDAC). With that accomplished, Sen. Shelby has decided to release his holds on all but a few nominees directly related to the Air Force tanker acquisition until the new Request for Proposal is issued. The Air Force tanker acquisition is not an ‘earmark’ as has been reported; it is a competition to replace the Air Force’s aging aerial refueling tanker fleet. Sen. Shelby is not seeking to determine the outcome of the competition; he is seeking to ensure an open, fair and transparent competition that delivers the best equipment to our men and women in uniform.”

I wonder whether any of Shelby’s GOP colleagues leaned on him to take this step. They may have been worried about mainstream media coverage of Shelby’s grotesque hostage-taking exercise, or they may not want to push things too far in case Senate Democrats change the rules on putting “holds” on nominees.

Shelby’s power play is not over yet, because he is still vowing to block nominees “directly related to the Air Force tanker acquisition.” Emptywheel found out which nominees are covered by Shelby’s hold:

    * Terry Yonkers, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Installations, Environment, and Logistics (Nominated August 4, 2009)

    * Frank Kendall, Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (PDUSD) for Acquisition and Technology (Nominated August 6, 2009)

    * Erin Conaton, Under Secretary of the Air Force (Nominated November 10, 2009)

Democrats should blast Republicans for indulging Shelby while key Air Force positions remain vacant during wartime. I would encourage Roxanne Conlin’s campaign not to drop its “fight the hold” effort until Republicans allow the Senate to vote on all of these nominees.

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IA-Sen: Conlin organizing against Shelby's "political extortion"

Whether you call it hostage-taking or shark-jumping, we can all agree that Republican Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama is abusing Senate conventions. He has put a blanket hold on all Obama administration nominees until his state gets more than $40 billion in federal money.

Roxanne Conlin, one of three Iowa Democrats running against five-term incumbent Chuck Grassley, may be the first Democratic candidate in the country to organize against Shelby’s power play.

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Year in review: national politics in 2009 (part 1)

It took me a week longer than I anticipated, but I finally finished compiling links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage from last year. This post and part 2, coming later today, include stories on national politics, mostly relating to Congress and Barack Obama’s administration. Diaries reviewing Iowa politics in 2009 will come soon.

One thing struck me while compiling this post: on all of the House bills I covered here during 2009, Democrats Leonard Boswell, Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack voted the same way. That was a big change from 2007 and 2008, when Blue Dog Boswell voted with Republicans and against the majority of the Democratic caucus on many key bills.

No federal policy issue inspired more posts last year than health care reform. Rereading my earlier, guardedly hopeful pieces was depressing in light of the mess the health care reform bill has become. I was never optimistic about getting a strong public health insurance option through Congress, but I thought we had a chance to pass a very good bill. If I had anticipated the magnitude of the Democratic sellout on so many aspects of reform in addition to the public option, I wouldn’t have spent so many hours writing about this issue. I can’t say I wasn’t warned (and warned), though.

Links to stories from January through June 2009 are after the jump. Any thoughts about last year’s political events are welcome in this thread.

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