So what’s one to make of the hissy fit Speaker Dennis Hastert and House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas threw for the benefit of Robert Novak‘s syndicated column?
The White House has been leaking to media and Capitol Hill sources plans to push through perhaps this year or early next a series of personal tax breaks and incentives, mostly targeted at middle and upper class investors. Novak’s column quoted Hastert as saying that nothing could be done in the House without Thomas’s backing — and that Thomas wasn’t backing Bush’s plan. Never mind that both Thomas and Hastert were part of White House strategy meetings on the economic stimulus package earlier this summer.
“They feel overlooked,” says a House Republican leadership staffer. “Hastert feels as though he’s been doing the heavy lifting for the White House and he and the Republicans in the House don’t get enough credit.”
Novak’s column made clear that economic stimulus was DOA in the House, in part, because of Thomas’s desire to be hands on in the planning and the fact that this time he feels he wasn’t, and because Thomas is more concerned about blunting Democratic economic legislation.
But Ways and Means staffers say the White House, fully aware of Thomas’s prickly personality, has gone out of its way to play nice with Thomas. “More than just about anyone on Capitol Hill, Senate or House, they’ve worked to keep the chairman in the loop,” says a Ways and Means staffer. “Going public like this doesn’t make sense. With the elections coming up we needed a united front.”
When Novak’s column hit the papers on Monday morning, the White House was seemingly stunned. “Hastert is basically trying to pull the plug on one of the party’s campaign issues. What the hell does he think he’s doing? How can the president go out and campaign on economic stimulus, when the speaker of the House, a Republican, won’t consider it?” said a White House legislative affairs staffer.
A Republican leadership staffer in the House, though, says, he wouldn’t be surprised to see his bosses fall in behind a Bush stimulus package that includes many of his desired tax breaks after the November elections. “Given our small margin of majority, it’s not a bad thing for Republicans in the House to show a bit of independence from the White House. This could actually help some of our people in November.”
TO SIR WITH LOVE
Maybe Janet Reno isn’t losing in her Democratic primary race against Tampa attorney Bill McBride on the issues. Maybe it’s her taste in music. Turns out last spring, a confident Reno had booked a mid-September victory party/fundraiser for a week after today’s primary, with Elton John as the entertainment. Back then, Reno was a seeming lock to run and lose to Gov. Jeb Bush in November, and the John appearance would have simply added to a much needed war chest.
Now, with McBride surging in the polls ahead of Reno, the former U.S. Attorney General has seemingly nixed the rockin’ party for something more low-key on election night, though her campaign insists it will be a “victory party.”
“I don’t think we’ll have much to celebrate,” says a Miami-based Reno volunteer. “Things are pretty glum around here.”
Even if Reno should lose today, the Elton John concert could still come off next week, but as a state Democratic unity event to send McBride off into the fall campaign in campy style.