June 9, 2006

June 9, 2006 | Commentary on Legal Issues

Taxpayer funded race-based governing?

Our nation's capital is echoing with alohas this week. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) has flown key players in to Washington, D.C. to lobby Capitol Hill in favor of S. 147, the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act.

The taxpayer-funded organization plans to hold a news conference Thursday morning on the West Lawn to tout a bill many critics say would create the first ever race-based government in the United States.

The press conference is part of OHA's extensive lobbying strategy. Already the group has spent more than $660,000 of taxpayer funds to hire the well-connected D.C. lobby shop Patton Boggs.

OHA wants its lobbying effort to pay off when the Senate votes on S. 147 (maybe as early as Thursday evening). Opponents of the bill need 41 votes to deny cloture and therefore kill it.

Multiple Hill sources confirm that opponents of the bill (a pet project of Democratic Sen. Daniel Akaka of Hawaii) have absolutely no idea how that vote will go. This is one of those rare instances in the Senate where the outcome of a scheduled vote isn't all but certain ahead of time. According to one Senate source, conservatives opposing Akaka may be within one vote of the requisite 41. That should encourage conservatives to keep cranking on all cylinders and apply the necessary pressure to the U.S. Senate.

Marriage amendment underwhelms

A vote on a constitutional amendment to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman failed this week in the United States Senate. Supporters of the amendment had hoped to improve significantly on the 2004 vote that failed 48-50. It was thought that the addition of five new Republican Senators after the 2004 election would help in the effort, but Republicans only improved on their 2004 number by one in a 49-48 vote. That's well shy of the two-thirds necessary to pass a constitutional amendment.

Indeed, the build up to the vote was nowhere near as momentous as it was in 2004. "There just doesn't seem to be the same excitement," complained one GOP Senate aide, "It just looks too political." When, on MSNBC, Chris Matthews asked Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott if this was "Karl Rove pushing for an election issue," Lott said, "I wouldn't put it past him."

The perception of a political play dampened the support of many conservatives who might otherwise be sympathetic to the amendment. The political tip sheet the Hotline monitors political weblogs. It commented, "Nobody in the blogosphere likes the Federal Marriage Amendment. Lefty opposition is hardly worth mentioning but as the Senate officially takes up debate today, righty bloggers are speaking out and they have no love for their party's stance."

Republicans who joined Democrats in voting against the amendment included Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), John Sununu and Judd Gregg (N.H.), Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins (Maine), Arlen Specter (Penn.) and Lincoln Chafee (Rhode Island).

Paulson faces some conservative critics

President Bush's nomination of Goldman Sachs CEO Henry Paulson to replace outgoing Treasury Secretary John Snow is welcomed by most Republicans on Capitol Hill. But some conservatives in the Senate are quietly grumbling about the nomination.

Paulson's role as Chairman of the Board at the Nature Conservancy (a large conservation organization) and other ties to the environmentalist movement raise a few eyebrows on the Hill. Some are worried that Paulson may favor environmental issues to the detriment of the economy. This stems from Paulson's well-documented disagreement with the GOP over the climate change issue. In the past, Paulson has supported issues (including the Kyoto Protocol) that many conservatives say could severely hamper America's economy.

Also of concern is an investigation into a Goldman Sachs accounting fiasco involving the already scandal-prone Fannie Mae and the shifting of some $100 million to allegedly cook the books. This accounting issue could give Democrats an opportunity to go after Republicans on the "culture of corruption" issue during the Senate nomination hearings.

Tim Chapman is the Director of the Center for Media and Public Policy at The Heritage Foundation and a contributor to Townhall.com's Capitol Report.

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