Play of the Week

An Insider’s Look at U.S. Politics


The media has become an interesting institution over the past ten years. Journalists more often infiltrate their feelings or their editorial comments into news reports, not just in op-eds or editorials.

There are exceptions, but the media in general is great at building people up and then tearing them down. Interesting thing is, so many people are intrigued by it. Some actually love it.

It would be wise for all elected officials, pro athletes and Hollywood types to remember what one of my football coaches once said: “When people put you on a pedestal, that’s their fault. If you believe it, that’s your fault.”

The junior senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, has learned over the past few weeks that he’s clearly the Democratic nomination frontrunner. The media has made him a much bigger target and a much bigger fish.

And Sen. John McCain has discovered the media no longer perceives him as “the maverick from Arizona,” which they loved because he wreaked havoc on Republicans. Now that he’s the GOP nominee, they look at him quite differently.

This brings me back to the issue of recent coverage of Obama. Obama has surely produced some self-inflicted wounds over the past two months — saying rural Americans cling to their faith and guns, for instance. Nevertheless it has been interesting some of the inconsistencies or true oversights we’ve seen in the coverage of Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton.

Agree with me or not, but I don’t think Obama should be judged by what his pastor says or preaches. I believe Obama is wrong on many policy fronts but I’ve never seen anything from him that would give me the impression he is a radical extremist. Liberal, without doubt, but I can’t accept that he sees the world through the Jeremiah Wright prism.

The Clinton campaign and the media took Obama to task over his endorsement from and his association with the Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Some were asking if he would disavow his relationship with and decline the endorsement of Minister Farrakhan. He did both.

A little known fact that went unnoticed in the Pennsylvania primary was that the highest-ranking elected official in the Keystone State and the person most responsible for Clinton’s 10-point win had at one time heaped praise on Minister Farrakhan.

Ed Rendell, the state’s Democrat governor and the very effective spokesman for Clinton’s campaign there, heaped praise on Minister Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam eleven years ago. This is an issue because for so many people, Minister Farrakhan is poisonous. It is safe to say his tone makes many voters nervous.

Rendell, who was then the mayor of Philadelphia, praised Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam’s Philadelphia leadership at a rally in 1997. He expressed his “respect for the nation of Islam” and praised local Islam leader Rodney Mohammed for “the intensity of his beliefs, for the decency of his soul, and for the strength of his courage.”

Through her relationship with Rendell, Clinton and her team have as close or closer tie to Farrakhan as does Obama.

However, it was Obama who got tied to the Farrakhan wagon, and not Clinton. She got a pass. I found it interesting that Rendell was not asked to distance himself from Farrakhan or the Nation of Islam in order to support Clinton. Nor should he have been asked to. Clinton was not asked to distance herself from Rendell for his praising of Farrakhan, and the notion was never raised by the media or anyone else.

We often read columns, watch the news, and listen to debates with our own biased political filter. Republicans and Democrats alike are guilty of this. We usually don’t like the comments made by an analyst unless they lean toward our point of view. As is often said in politics, there are three sides to every story. Your side, my side, and the truth.

In the case of the tangled web between Obama, Clinton, and Minister Farrakhan, we didn’t get Obama’s side or the truth. We got Clinton’s side.

The bottom line is this: Neither Louis Farrakhan or Jeremiah Wright should determine this election, no more than certain endorsements of John McCain should determine the general election.

I am more concerned about who can keep America safe from terrorists, who can create opportunity for all, who has the best plan for educating our kids (1.2 million kids drop out of school every year), and who best understands that real change doesn’t require just talk, but real, genuine change.


J.C. WATTS: Social conservatives still a political force

By J.C. Watts

I started focusing on the political process in the mid-to-late ’80s. For as long as I’ve been involved, it has been generally accepted that Ronald Reagan’s success was keyed to his ability to bring the three legs of the conservative movement to stand together — the foreign policy, economic and social conservatives.

Today, I believe the Republican and Democrat establishments would love nothing more than for the social conservatives to sit down and shut up, but they know this demographic can still really impact an election.

It is harder for social conservatives to win elections by themselves these days. They have become so disillusioned and so misunderstood by the establishment of both parties that they tend not to get energized for elections anymore.

But when they are energized and they turn out across the country on Election Day, they are still one of the few demographics that can turn an election. Because they are Republican, Democrat, red, brown, yellow, black and white. You will find them everywhere.

They are young, old, rich and poor, from the north, south, east and west. This group of Republican and Democrat voters determined where they stood on various issues before polling told them the politically correct crowd despised them. They will not change their ideology for the sake of political correctness.

There are two primary issues that cut to the heart of social conservatives — God and guns — and not necessarily in that order.

As hard as it may be for some on the left to understand, law-abiding citizens don’t own guns to rob banks and people, nor to look for someone to shoot. Those who do are bad people, and they would use knives, pitchforks, cars or any other object to carry out their evil intentions. That’s why trying to blame guns for crime is like trying to blame chains for slavery.

Bad people will use whatever inanimate object they can get their hands on — including their hands — to do harm to other people. Contrary to the clumsy assertion of Sen. Barack Obama, law-abiding citizens own guns in spite of poor government, not because of poor government.

A second issue that the establishment can’t get its arms around is the matter of one’s personal faith, and its role in the public square.

As I have said before regarding people of faith: Faith navigates their politics. Politics doesn’t navigate their faith.

People of faith are naturally concerned about taxes, health care, national defense and so many other issues beyond abortion or the family. They’ll fight for better health care. They’ll debate tax rates. If a candidate is on the “wrong” side of one of those issues, they can be forgiving. However, if a candidate is hostile to their faith, he or she will almost surely lose the faith voter. I remind you that people of faith cling to their faith in spite of poor government, not because of poor government.

Many refer to faith voters as “one issue” voters. But they are no different than the black community that will be hostile to parties or candidates who appear hostile to race issues.

Nine years ago this week, a couple of bad kids went on a shooting spree inside the walls of Columbine High School in suburban Denver.

Few care to recall that they used much more than guns to accomplish their evil intentions. Indeed, they compiled an arsenal of deadly contraband, much of it home-made. Guns were highlighted in this case.

In Columbine’s aftermath, Rep. Patrick Kennedy — who was the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee at the time — acknowledged that his party had written off rural America due to the gun issue.

Not many years later, a Democratic presidential hopeful named Howard Dean inartfully reached out to this demographic by claiming the person with the gun rack in the rear window of his truck should be voting Democratic. As of this writing, the party of Howard Dean, who is now Democratic National Committee chairman, is still trying to figure out how to reach gun owners.

Contrary to the wishes of leaders such as Dean, Obama, Sen. Hillary Clinton and some in my own party, these values voters — which include men and women of faith who rightfully and lawfully own guns — will not go away quietly. Any candidate who wants to win elections needs to resolve himself or herself to that reality.


Best in the business: Hired Guns

By The Hill Staff

After Democrats took control of Congress, they took control of K Street. Often junior partners during the years of Republican rule, Democratic lobbyists became the faces of their firms in 2007. Even as Democratic congressional leaders sought to break the bond between lobbyists and
lawmakers, some advocates took the plunge and opened new shops. By year’s end, several had built books of business worth millions of dollars.

The Hill’s annual list of top lobbyists reflects the greater importance Democratic lobbyists play, while not forgetting the Republicans in town who maintain a major role in crafting legislation, particularly in the Senate, where voting margins are so close. Today’s list names the best “hired guns” and corporate lobbyists. To compile our list, we talked to key congressional aides and lobbyists themselves.
Josh Ackil and Matt Tanielian, Franklin Square Group. Highly regarded for their tech industry connections, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) aide Ackil and ex-Senate Judiciary Committee chief counsel Tanielian have started their own lobbying shop.

John Ashcroft, The Ashcroft Group. Working with Juleanna Glover, the former attorney general has built a lucrative client base and plays a prominent role in legislative fights ranging from patent reform and telecom issues to immigration.

Doyle Bartlett, Eris Group. This lobbying powerhouse (formerly Bartlett & Bendall) renamed itself last year after the dwarf planet discovered in 2003.

Charles Black, BKSH & Associates. A senior official in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, Black recently stepped down from his firm to become a full-time adviser on Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) presidential campaign.

Jim Blanchard, DLA Piper. As government affairs practice co-chairman, Blanchard, a former Democratic Michigan governor, has overseen the firm’s strong lobbying presence.

Thomas Hale Boggs Jr., Patton Boggs. The pace setter for K Street, Patton Boggs routinely smashes records for annual lobbying revenue.

Chuck Brain, Capitol Hill Strategies. The ex-Clinton White House lobbyist and longtime Ways and Means Committee staffer is one of big business’s first choices to bring its message to Democrats.

John Breaux, Trent Lott, Breaux-Lott Leadership Group. The powerful former senators joined forces at the beginning of the year and already have some high-profile clients, among them Northrop Grumman.

Al Cardenas, Tew Cardenas. A Bush-Cheney ’04 campaign co-chairman, Cardenas was involved in former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s (R) presidential run.

Gerald Cassidy, Cassidy & Associates. Despite intensifying scrutiny of earmarks, Cassidy, with help from Republican Gregg Hartley, has seen business remain steady for his firm while diversifying its client base.

David Castagnetti, Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti. This one-time Kerry campaign liaison to Congress boasts close ties to Democrats on the Hill.

Kirsten Chadwick, Fierce, Isakowitz and Blalock. A former aide to Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Chadwick has few peers on K Street in accurately counting votes.

Steve Champlin, Ken Duberstein, The Duberstein Group. A former staffer for several House Democratic whips, Champlin is an effective vote counter on trade and other issues who often works in tandem with Kirsten Chadwick. Duberstein is a top Republican strategist.

George Crawford, King & Spalding. The former chief of staff to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) opens doors on the Hill. The charismatic former staffer has been busy on issues ranging from healthcare to energy and immigration reform.

Al D’Amato, Park Strategies. The top lobbyist for the Poker Players Alliance, this former GOP senator has fused his work with his passion.

Linda Daschle, Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz. The go-to lobbyist for the airline industry, Daschle is broadening her business to rail and telecommunications clients.

Julie Domenick, Multiple Strategies. Domenick struck out on her own last year. When she’s not lobbying, she is usually raising money for Democrats.

Tom Downey, Downey McGrath Downey. A former Democratic House member with impressive access to leaders in both chambers, Downey has built a stable practice with a broad range of clients.

Steve Elmendorf, Elmendorf Strategies. If you need a sit-down with a top Democrat on Capitol Hill, calling Elmendorf is a good place to start.

Vic Fazio and Bill Paxon, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. The Democratic and GOP ex-Reps. Fazio (Calif.) and Paxon (N.Y.) keep racking up business for the large law firm.

William Ferguson, The Ferguson Group. Ferguson and his firm wrote the book on lobbying for local governments.

Mike Fulton, GolinHarris. A former Appropriations Committee aide, Fulton is a veteran hand in the earmarks game and is well-known among West Virginia’s congressional delegation.

Sam Geduldig, Clark Lytle & Geduldig. This former aide to House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) knows how to kill legislative threats to his clients.

Dick Gephardt, Gephardt Group. The former House Democratic leader also lobbies for DLA Piper, representing clients like Turkey. His own shop, which includes his son, Matthew, and daughter, Christine, has lobbied for Boeing and Peabody Energy.

Nick Giordano, Washington Council Ernst & Young. Giordano is among the most well-respected tax lobbyists in town.

Rich Gold, Gerry Sikorski, Holland & Knight. Democrats Gold and Sikorski, a former congressman from Minnesota, have broad experience in Washington and a long list of contacts on the Hill.

Slade Gorton, K&L Gates. From high technology to utilities to Starbucks, this former Republican senator from Washington served a smorgasbord of clients last year.

Frederick Graefe, Law Offices of Frederick H. Graefe. Graefe, a Marine Corps veteran, raises a ton of money for Democrats and represents many clients who have business before the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees.

Lanny Griffith, Loren Monroe, BGR Holdings.  Though it’s shifting to a bipartisan shop, BGR has held its own as an all-Republican outfit and is expanding into international business and state government work.

Larry Harlow, Timmons & Co. Harlow is a former official in the Reagan and Bush administrations. On K Street, his clients include Union Pacific, Chrysler and the American Petroleum Institute.

J. Steven Hart, Williams & Jensen. When he’s not lobbying on behalf of blue-chip corporations, Hart raises money for Republican candidates.

Richard Hohlt, The Hohlt Group. This discreet lobbyist attracted headlines when columnist Bob Novak cited Hohlt as a source during the I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby trial. Hohlt is a major contributor to the GOP, and represents high-profile clients – such as Chevron and Fannie Mae.

Mike House, Hogan & Hartson. The head of his firm’s lobbying group, House has set his sights on hard-to-pass legislation to reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac this year.

Mark Irion, Gary Andres, Dutko Worldwide. Irion, a former Democratic staffer, and Andres, who worked for Bush 41, have built a bipartisan lobbying powerhouse in Washington.

Joel Jankowsky, Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld. Jankowsky is one of the founders of the modern American lobbying business and still one of its best practitioners.

Chris Jennings, Jennings Policy Strategies. In addition to being one of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (D-N.Y.) top healthcare gurus, Jennings also runs a fine lobbying operation with clients in healthcare, manufacturing and high-tech sectors.

Broderick Johnson, Bryan Cave Strategies. A former Clinton administration lobbyist, Johnson helped to win the longest moratorium on Internet taxes last year.

Joel Johnson, Glover Park Group. Johnson, who was a top aide to then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), and his firm are viewed as being particularly effective in the Senate, which is often the true test for legislation.

Thomas Jolly, Jolly/Rissler. Jolly is well-known around town, having founded The Washington Caucus, a group that has held monthly meetings with members of Congress to tackle legislative issues for over 15 years.

Matt Keelen, The Keelen Group. A lobbyist with political consulting skills, Keelen was active in this year’s Republican presidential race.

Kenneth Kies, Clark Consulting. The former director of the Joint Committee on Taxation, Kies is a sought-after lobbyist for companies trying to avoid tax increases.

Robert Leonard, Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld. This sage of tax reform was the Ways and Means staff director during the 1986 tax overhaul.

Bob Livingston, The Livingston Group. While the former House Appropriations chairman lobbies for many clients from his home state of Louisiana, he does not shy away from high-profile jobs such as Turkey’s fight against a House resolution condemning as genocide the killing of Armenians during and after World War I.

Paul Magliocchetti, The PMA Group. The Appropriations Defense heavyweight keeps delivering for his clients large and small. He has strong ties to several Appropriations Defense subcommittee veterans, including panel chairman Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.).

Drew Maloney, Moses Mercado, Ogilvy Government Relations. Maloney, former aide to then-House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas), maintains strong ties to Republicans in both the House and Senate; Mercado, who used to work for the Democratic National Committee and on then-House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt’s (D-Mo.) staff, is a rising star on K

Susan Molinari, The Washington Group. Molinari rose quickly up the Republican ranks as a member of Congress. She’s charted the same upward course on K Street.

Daniel Mattoon, Mattoon & Associates. Even without Tony Podesta at his side and during an era of Democratic control, this GOP vet snagged plenty of business in 2007.

Steve McBee, McBee Strategic Consulting. The former senior aide to Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) not only has seen a booming client list, but has also extended his business to Seattle.

Scott Parven, Brian Pomper, Parven Pomper & Associates. Democrats Parven and Pomper are go-to guys for clients who want to reach out to Blue Dogs on Capitol Hill.

Jeffrey Peck, Johnson, Madigan, Peck, Boland & Stewart. Peck helped to shield the private equity industry from a tax hike pushed by the Democratic-controlled Congress last year.

Jim Pitts, DC Navigators. Pitts and co-founding partner Phil Anderson lead this well-regarded GOP firm.

Anthony Podesta, The Podesta Group. Podesta and the firm’s other 32 employees represent clients like Lockheed Martin, the National Association of Broadcasters and BP America.

Heather Podesta, Heather Podesta & Partners. Along with husband Anthony, Podesta is a prominent Democratic fundraiser; her new lobbying shop represents blue chippers like Boeing and HSBC North America.

Elliott Portnoy, Mike McNamara, Sonnenschein Nath and Rosenthal. Portnoy, who built the Chicago-based firm’s lobbying arm from scratch, is now the youngest chairman in Sonnenschein’s history; McNamara, a Harvard-educated lawyer, took over its public policy branch.

Larry O’Brien, OB-C Group. O’Brien’s bipartisan shop has clients from practically every sector of the business world.

Manuel Ortiz, Quinn Gillespie & Associates. Ortiz was on the finance committee for Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) 2004 presidential campaign and is well connected to several Democratic senators.

Jack Quinn, Quinn Gillespie & Associates. Republican partner Ed Gillespie may leave from time to time, but Quinn always keeps the firm on course by hiring people like Kevin Kayes, a former chief counsel to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), and Allison Giles, a former chief of staff to then-House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.).

Thomas Quinn, Venable. Wall Street regularly turns to Quinn for representation in the Democratic-controlled Congress.

Robert Raben, The Raben Group. Raben, a former top aide to Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), leads a growing shop with a diverse client base, which includes corporate giants like Home Depot and advocacy groups like the Human Rights Campaign.

John Raffaelli, Capitol Counsel. A top Democratic lobbyist, Raffaelli is already collecting clients nervous about tax increases if a Democrat wins the White House.

Mitch Rose, Mitch Rose Strategic Consulting. Rose is best-known for his work with the entertainment industry, boasting moviemakers, cable TV providers and record companies on his client list.

Alan Roth, Lent, Scrivner & Roth. Roth maintains close ties to the Energy and Commerce Committee, which his old boss, Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), again runs as chairman.

Marty Russo, Cassidy & Associates. The ex-Illinois Democratic congressman not only is CEO of one the biggest lobbying shops in town, he’s also tight with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).

Melissa Schulman, The Bockorny Group. Schulman, a former top aide to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), helps her clients reach the centrists on Capitol Hill.

Scott Segal, Ed Krenik, Bracewell & Giuliani. Segal represents utilities, while Krenik’s clients include manufacturers; both are well-respected on Capitol Hill.

Rhod Shaw, the Alpine Group. Shaw and his firm come highly recommended by congressional aides on Capitol Hill.

Joseph Stanko, Hunton & Williams. Stanko, a former GOP counsel to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is the cerebral head of a government-relations team that also includes former E&C counsel Mark Menezes.

Charlie Stenholm, Olsson, Frank and Weeda PC. The former top Democrat on the Agriculture Committee, Stenholm is close to the key people writing this year’s farm bill and knows the policy inside and out.

Sandi Stuart, Clark & Weinstock. A Clinton administration veteran, Stuart represents a lot of healthcare clients but has a broad portfolio.

Linda Tarplin, Tarplin Downs & Young. After opening the doors to her firm two years ago, this GOP veteran and her partners quickly became a go-to shop for healthcare interests.

Rich Tarplin, Tarplin Strategies. Tarplin left Timmons & Co. at the beginning of the year to use his K Street, Clinton White House and Senate experience to their full benefit representing healthcare and financial services clients.

Dan Tate Jr., Capitol Solutions. Tate’s experience both on Capitol Hill and in the White House gives companies like Honda, Amgen and Comcast a leg up in Washington.

Stu Van Scoyoc, Van Scoyoc Associates. Known for its appropriations work, Van Scoyoc’s firm remains one of the top lobbying practices in town.

Alex Vogel, Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti. The former chief counsel for then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) has helped build up one of D.C.’s newest blue-chip firms.

Eric Washburn, BlueWater Strategies. Washburn, a former energy adviser to then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), continues to be a resource for Democrats on issues relating to climate change and renewable fuels.
J.C. Watts, J.C. Watts Companies. Watts, an election-night analyst for CNN and a former House GOP leadership member, is tied in with top U.S. corporations.

Vin Weber, Clark and Weinstock. The former Minnesota congressman has racked up high-profile clients ranging from pharmaceuticals to financial services and Internet companies.

Anne Wexler, Wexler & Walker. A pioneer for female lobbyists, Wexler has strong connections to Democrats, having served in the Carter administration. Her partner, former Rep. Bob Walker (R-Pa.), also has clout on K Street.

Jonathan Yarkowsky, Patton Boggs. Yarkowsky is a highly respected advocate on issues before the House and Senate Judiciary committees.


J.C. Watts to Akron crowd: Education should be on campaigns’ front burner

By John Higgins
Beacon Journal staff writer

Former Oklahoma representative J.C. Watts Jr. told a Greater Akron Chamber audience this morning that the presidential candidates need to campaign on education in a way that transcends the typical debate positions.

”So many Republicans will say the answer is parental choice in education,” said Watts, a conservative African-American Republican who represented Oklahoma’s 4th District from 1994 until 2002. ”So many Democrats will say ‘more money.’ That’s kind of how the parties lock themselves into the education debate and you never talk about anything in between.”

Watts spoke on behalf of ED in ’08, Strong American Schools, a national nonpartisan campaign aimed at getting the presidential candidates to make education a top issue on par with national security, the economy, health care and global warming.

”Those four issues usually pop up in every one of our presidential candidates platforms, their stump speeches,” Watts said. ”It would be extremely difficult to execute on any one of those things without education. Trying to separate education from everything that we are as a nation would be about like trying to separate the water from the wet. You can’t do it.”

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Eli and Edyth Broad Foundation are funding the effort, which focuses on three main concepts that supporters hope Republicans and Democrats can agree on in principle:

* Raising education standards to better compete in the global economy.

* Providing more classroom time for teaching and learning with longer school days and longer school years.

* Increasing pay and incentives, tied to performance, to attract and keep qualified teachers.

”There’s just something wrong when rookie football players make millions and rookie teachers make a few thousand,” said Watts, who gained national fame as a quarterback for the University of Oklahoma Sooners.

Akron Public Schools superintendent Sylvester Small said he’s seen many politicians make promises about education, but then drop the issue once the election is over. He asked what would happen to the campaign after November.

Watts said the foundations funding the campaign have made significant investments in improving education and will continue to do so, although not necessarily with the formal ED in ’08 structure. ”The Gates Foundation and the Eli Broad Foundation both are totally committed to education,” he said. ”I don’t think Bill and Melinda Gates are going to go away any time soon after Nov. 5.”

For now, the campaign is hoping to get the candidates to focus on those areas that have the best potential for agreement across party lines.

”We are falling further and further behind in education and we’ve got to get beyond the platitudes,” Watts said after the presentation. ”We’ve got to get beyond Republican and Democrat and say how do we fix this so that we can have the right work force in the next 10, 20 years.” 

Watts Partner, Tripp Baird on MSNBC

To view Tripp, please go to:

The transcript of Tripp’s interview is below:

MSNBC 04/10/2008 16:46:30: …>>> hillary clinton and barack obama today are pushing the argument that john mccain represents little measure more than a third bush term. republicans are voicing concern about mccain undually influenced by neoconservatives in the bush administration foreign policy. a story in “”new york times”” quotes lawrence eagleburger, saying, quote. >> no question that a lot of my friends decided since you can’t beat him, persuade him to slide over as best we can. liz is a democratic strategist and supporter of barack obama. trip baird is a democratic strategy. we have heard hillary clinton and barack obama trying to paint that notion or just get it through to voters’ heads that voting for john mccain would be like voting for bush again. we’ve heard mccain say he would not rule out a preemptive strike on iran. what do you think the democratic steak will be? >> well, amy, i think the democratic strategy i is to show what john mccain is doing, which is embracing the neoconservative view. he has many people on his foreign policy panel that are big knee your conservatives including someone who i think is his chief foreign policy adviser. i think what it really says it will be a third bush term, that’s not what america needs. >> trip, mccain was on the view this northern morning, and he was asked about remarks for keeping u.s. troops in iraq for the next 100 years. >> we’re in many countries around the world because america is a great force for stability and security. americans are satisfied with that. what they don’t want is americans to be killed or wounded. >> trip, is john mccain’s election success or failure going to depend on to what we see happen in iraq? is his election tied to what’s going on in iraq? >> well, your first point whether we’re getting a third term of bush, i mean, everyone knows and it seems like we a history here. john mccain was the biggest critic of how bush went into war and how he’s executed the war. the surge policy a really a john mccain policy, and it’s the only thing that’s actually worked over there, so democrats wade into this water claiming he’s…


Pork Barrel Remains Hidden in U.S. Budget

April 7, 2008



WASHINGTON – Sometimes on Capitol Hill, lawmakers find that it pays to ask nicely instead of just ordering the bureaucrats around.

With great fanfare, Congress adopted strict ethics rules last year requiring members to disclose when they steered federal money to pet projects. But it turns out lawmakers can still secretly direct billions of dollars to favored organizations by making vague requests rather than issuing explicit instructions to government agencies in committee reports and spending bills. That seeming courtesy is the difference between “soft earmarks” and the more insistent “hard earmarks.”

How much money is requested for any specific project? It is difficult to say, since price tags are not included with soft earmarks. Who is the sponsor? Unclear, unless the lawmaker later acknowledges it. Purpose of the spending? Usually not provided.

How to spot a soft earmark? Easy. The language is that of a respectful suggestion: A committee “endorses” or notes it “is aware” of deserving programs and “urges” or “recommends” that agencies finance them.

That was how taxpayer money was requested last year for a Christian broadcasting group to build a shortwave radio station in Madagascar, a program to save hawks in Haiti, efforts to fight agriculture pests in Maryland and an “international fertilizer” center in Alabama that assists farmers overseas.

After hard earmarks figured into several Congressional scandals and prompted criticism of wasteful spending from government agencies and watchdog groups, Congress cut back on their number last year and required disclosure of most of them. (There were more than 10,000, costing nearly $20 billion last year, according to the Congressional Research Service.)

But soft earmarks, while not a new phenomenon, have drawn virtually no attention and were not included in the ethics changes – and current ones under consideration – because Congress does not view them as true earmarks.

Their total cost is not known. But the research service found that they amounted to more than $3 billion in one spending bill alone in 2006, out of 13 annual appropriations bills. And the committee that handles the bill, which involves foreign operations, has increasingly converted hard earmarks to soft ones.

“This shows that even though lawmakers now have to disclose their pet projects, we’re not getting a full accounting of earmarks,” said Ryan Alexander, director of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a group in Washington that tracks earmarks. “We may just be looking at the tip of the iceberg.”

Representative Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, said he did not believe gentler language changed anything when it came to pork-barrel spending.

“No matter what you want to call it, an earmark is an earmark,” said Mr. Flake, a longtime foe of earmarks. “If Congressional leaders don’t believe that soft earmarks are earmarks, then I think that makes the case as to why we need tougher reforms in place.”

Soft earmarks are included in a number of spending measures, but they tend to occur more frequently in spending bills that give money to the State Department, the United States Agency for International Development and other foreign aid programs.

Federal agencies are not required to finance soft earmarks. However, officials have traditionally felt obliged to comply with such requests.

“Soft earmarks, while not legally binding, frequently come with an implicit threat: If you don’t take our suggestions, we will give you a hard earmark next,” said Andrew Natsios, former administrator of A.I.D. in the Bush administration.

In its report, the Congressional Research Service said agencies also could face budget cuts if they did not finance soft earmarks.

Mr. Natsios said two lawmakers once threatened to cut his budget if he did not pay for one of their requests. He declined to identify them.

Congressional leaders say soft earmarks are merely suggestions and not really earmarks. They argue that money is awarded at the discretion of the agency, largely through a competitive process.

“Recognizing organizations with a record of relevant work is part of Congress’s budgetary role,” Representative Nita M. Lowey, Democrat of New York, said in an e-mail message.

“It broadens the competitive grant process beyond administration priorities and encourages current recipients to maintain high performance standards,” said Ms. Lowey, who is the chairwoman of the House appropriations subcommittee on state and foreign operations.

Mr. Natsios agreed that some soft earmarks in the bill could result in a competitive bidding process. But that is not the case if the report names a specific organization, which routinely happens.

In considering lawmakers’ spending requests, some committees in recent years have switched hard earmarks to soft ones, saying it gives agencies more flexibility. Critics, including Mr. Flake, suggest it is being done to avoid scrutiny.

“With the efforts to shine more light on the earmarking process,” he said, “I am concerned that we might see increasingly creative ways to steer funding to recipients of funding that members of Congress want to see it go to.”

Financing for the shortwave radio station, called the Madagascar World Voice, for example, began as a hard earmark request by Representative Pete Sessions, Republican of Texas.

Mr. Sessions originally sought $2.5 million for World Christian Broadcasting, a group based in Nashville that broadcasts in several countries and promotes abstinence to prevent AIDS. The House Appropriations Committee converted it to a soft earmark.

A spokesman for World Christian Broadcasting said the organization had been in discussions with A.I.D. about the financing.

Another soft earmark was included for the International Fertilizer Development Center, in Muscle Shoals, Ala. The group has been criticized as wasteful by watchdog groups and Senator John McCain of Arizona, a critic of earmarks who is the presumptive Republican nominee for president.

John H. Allgood, director of finance and administration for the group, which teaches third world farmers about soil fertility management and other agricultural practices, confirmed that his organization received financing from A.I.D. but did not know whether it was through an earmark.

Mr. Allgood would not say how much money the group received, and the aid agency did not respond to requests for the information. The fertilizer center previously received a $4 million hard earmark requested by Senator Richard C. Shelby, Republican of Alabama.

A soft earmark, of course, does not guarantee financing. For example, the Sesame Workshop, home of Big Bird and the rest of the Sesame Street gang, said it did not receive any money despite such a request.

Still, organizations spend millions each year lobbying Congress for them. Lobbyists say getting a client’s organization into language in committee reports, which accompany spending bills and contain more detailed instructions to agencies, can have an impact.

“I certainly wouldn’t call them earmarks, but it does say to the agency that this is something that Congress is serious about,” said Fredrick Baird, known as Tripp, a lobbyist with J. C. Companies, a lobbying firm headed by former Representative J. C. Watts, an Oklahoma Republican.

Other than the amendment that Mr. Flake offered last year to shed more light on the process, no efforts to curb soft earmarks have been proposed.

President Bush signed an executive order in January that directed agencies to ignore all earmarks in committee reports.

But legal opinions by the Congressional Research Service and the Government Accountability Office found that Congress could get around the order by simply inserting them in the text of spending bills or including language in the bills that directed agencies to treat earmarks listed in committee reports as if they were written into the law. That frustrates groups seeking openness in government.

“Soft earmarks are even more insidious than hard earmarks,” said Keith Ashdown, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense. “With hard earmarks, at least you know something about the amounts and recipients. With soft earmarks, everything is done in secret.”

Tom Torok contributed reporting from New York.






Tiger and Obama

I’m not a golfer. Never have been. I’m not one who finds any joy or relaxation in chasing a tiny ball around a lush landscape and poking it into a slightly larger hole. Nonetheless, count me in as a Tiger Woods fan.

I was watching the Arnold Palmer Invitational last weekend, watching Tiger win his third tournament in as many starts in 2008. As I watched this amazing athlete hoist the championship trophy, I pondered the reality that the other golfers know what he’s going to do, but they are powerless to stop him.

Hillary Clinton and her team surely empathize with the golfers on the PGA tour. When it comes to Barack Obama, they just seem powerless to stop him.

They have analyzed Sen. Obama just as the other golfers have analyzed Tiger, but Sen. Clinton has yet to conclude what I have concluded about Tiger Woods. He’s just a better golfer than the other guys. Well, Barack Obama has raised more money, he’s better organized, he’s a better communicator, and finally — notwithstanding the serious Jeremiah Wright-induced bump in the road — he’s just a better candidate.

As Tiger was raising another trophy and pocketing his millions in earnings I also thought about what some of the other golfers have thrown his way, and how disciplined and composed he remained.

Do you recall Fuzzy Zoeller’s clueless remarks after Tiger won his first Masters championship in Augusta in 1997? When talking to reporters following the match, Fuzzy stepped in it by saying “tell him (Woods) not to serve fried chicken or collard greens or whatever the hell they (blacks) serve” at the traditional Champions Dinner.

Tiger was a good sport about it. He didn’t rant and rave or call Fuzzy a bigot. He just focused on his game and has been nothing short of phenomenal for 11 years.

Barack Obama has had the rhetorical kitchen sink thrown at him in the Democratic primaries. In South Carolina, former president Clinton likened Obama’s campaign to a Jesse Jackson effort (code for “just another black candidate who can only get black votes”). Geraldine Ferraro said Barack would not be where he is today with his winning ways if he wasn’t a black man. Hmmm.

After the Ferraro comment backfired, my friend James Carville says we’re getting ultra-sensitive about these issues. To that, I would say the Democrats are getting hit with the bat they have been swinging for years.

Do I know Republicans who are racist? I do, and sometimes they needed to be hit with the race bat. However, it was always ironic; the Democrats would do the same thing, say the same thing they accused Republicans of, and get a pass. The Democrats use race more often than they want to admit. They like to throw the rock and hide their hands. It’s very difficult to combat that kind of racism.

Obama has had to endure the throwing of rocks and hiding their hands-type of racism for the entirety of his campaign.

Politico, a Washington-based online publication, reported that GOP strategists have commissioned polls to determine acceptable boundaries for attacking a black candidate. Might I suggest to my friends rather than commissioning polls and focus groups to determine how to get in the gutter gracefully, why don’t they research how to reach out to the black community with solutions that would improve their lives and strengthen their communities and consider an inclusiveness that says, “Come and help us bake the cake,” not one that says, “Come and help us eat our cake?”

If only Republicans would learn to say, “These are our values. These are our principles. How do we help you accomplish what you want to accomplish in life?”

Due to the foolishness conveyed about Obama — i.e. Bill Clinton’s remarks in South Carolina — the Democrats are scared to death they are going to alienate the most loyal constituency in their party, the African American vote. However, Republicans have so little credibility with Americans of African descent, I’m afraid this may be an opportunity Republicans and conservatives won’t be able to capitalize on. Republicans, especially conservative Republicans, have been so indifferent to race and other issues important to blacks that most blacks will not — will not — vote GOP, regardless of who is on the ticket with John McCain.

Anything short of a total meltdown by Obama, he will probably be hoisting the winner’s trophy at the Democratic National Convention in August.

I recall what Pauly said to Rocky Balboa, referring to the invincible Ivan Drago, “Hey Rock! He bleeds!” Over the last week, we’ve seen that Obama can bleed politically. And thanks to his early silence on his pastor’s inflammatory rhetoric, the general election is up for grabs.

J.C. Watts is chairman of J.C. Watts Companies, a business consulting group. He is former chairman of the Republican Conference of the U.S. House, where he served as an Oklahoma representative from 1995 to 2002. His e-mail address is