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GOP vs. Paulson

By Robert Novak

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson's plan for curing ailing financial markets received poor grades privately from House Republican leaders, though they mostly refrained from public criticism that would give Democrats ammunition in an election year.

The senior Republican congressmen grumbled that the former Wall Street titan had made the same mistake as Sen. Hillary Clinton in crafting a major financial bailout. That makes it harder for markets to find their bottom, the critics say.

What particularly irked the GOP lawmakers were Paulson's comments to the press that his plan could not be enacted completely in just one year. Whatever the outcome of the 2008 election, Paulson and his Treasury team will be gone in 2009.

SENATE AMITY

Under intense pressure from the business community, the two Senate leaders -- Democrat Harry Reid and Republican Mitch McConnell -- have agreed to bury the hatchet long enough to pass housing legislation that amounts to a second economic stimulus package.

Their handshake means they will forego their usual parliamentary tricks, which have caused little to be accomplished in the Senate for more than a year. Most significantly, Majority Leader Reid has promised not to "fill the tree" -- proposing enough amendments to foreclose the Republicans from offering their changes.

A footnote: The influential homebuilding industry, which would receive a multibillion-dollar tax break in the package, has been lobbying hard for it. The tax benefit was removed from the first stimulus bill when the Bush administration insisted that the measure be trimmed down.

HILLARY'S CREDITOR

The March monthly filing to the Federal Election Commission showed Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign with a $2.5 million debt for the month to her campaign manager Mark Penn's firm.

March expenses for the Clinton campaign listed by Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates was $3.1 million.

Penn, Schoen & Berland is owned by Burson-Marsteller Worldwide, Penn's international public relations and lobbying company. Burson-Marsteller, in turn, is owned by the British-based advertising giant WPP Group. Clinton's continued indebtedness to Penn has raised question of whether it constitutes an illegal corporate contribution or an illegal foreign contribution.

HOOSIER HOPES

While the Indiana primary May 6 is listed by Hillary Clinton's strategists as a probable win in her effort to stay alive for the Democratic presidential nomination, Barack Obama could surprise her there by concentrating on a few counties -- as he did in Missouri Feb. 5.

Obama benefits from large African-American voting blocs in Marion (Indianapolis) and Lake (Gary-East Chicago) counties, plus heavy student voting from Indiana University, Purdue and Notre Dame. Obama could win Indiana by carrying only five of 92 counties. In the barometer state of Missouri, Obama carried only five out of 114 counties, plus the city of St. Louis, in finishing first there.

A footnote: Obama broke into the Hoosier Democratic establishment Wednesday with an endorsement from the prestigious former Rep. Lee Hamilton. An ex-chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Hamilton won national acclaim as co-chairman of the bipartisan 9-11 commission.

LOBBYING GAME

Former Sen. Don Nickles of Oklahoma, an ardent foe of price controls when he was Senate Republican whip, is representing merchants in their push for what would result in government regulation of credit card fees.

Nickles is lobbying for the Merchants Payments Coalition, consisting of national and state organizations of retailers. It wants a bill -- co-sponsored by liberal Democratic Rep. John Conyers of Michigan and conservative Republican Rep. Chris Cannon of Utah -- that would require card companies to negotiate with retailers on fees. Opponents say this would lead to government price-fixing. Conservative Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas has shown interest in the bill after being lobbied by Nickles.

During the 2003 Medicare debate, then-Sen. Nickles warned against tying doctors and hospitals to "Medicare's price controls." As a former senator in 2007, he attacked price controls on energy as "punitive" and "heavy-handed."

COPYRIGHT 2008 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.

See Other Political Commentaries

See Other Commentaries by Robert D. Novak

Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports.

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