October 27th, 2010
By Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 27, 2010; 12:57 AM
Just before Thanksgiving 1998, John A. Boehner hit bottom. The Ohio congressman, once a comer in the Republican Party, was unceremoniously removed from his post in the House leadership. Boehner's colleagues had a win-at-all-costs mind-set; he saw no point in antagonizing the Democratic minority just because he had the power to do so.
That night, Boehner commiserated with his closest friends at Sam and Harry's steakhouse in downtown Washington. He kept a brave face over glasses of red wine, until Republican Rep. Tom Latham of Iowa rose to toast his best friend. That's when Boehner, who is prone to tears (it drives him crazy, but he can't help it), lost it.
"Everybody in the whole room cried," he said.
Twelve years later, Boehner, 60, is on the verge of completing a remarkable political comeback. He is now the minority leader, and if Republicans win control of the House in next week's midterm elections, he will almost certainly become speaker.
His rise is partly the result of a tireless fundraising operation that has poured money into fellow Republicans' campaigns, and partly a reward for his willingness to fashion himself into the uncompromising leader of the opposition to President Obama.
During the climate-change debate in June 2009, for instance, Boehner used his position's special privilege for limitless speeches to speak for more than hour, a mini-filibuster that delayed the vote until after network news broadcasts.
In March of this year, during the health-care debate, he led Republicans in a chant of "Hell, no!"
White House staffers are still angry that Boehner began opposing Obama's agenda immediately after the inauguration. Just hours before the new president was to visit Congress to seek support for his $814 billion stimulus plan, Boehner snubbed him by calling a news conference to denounce it. That helped set the tone for his two-year effort to block Obama at every turn.
Boehner chalks up his theatrical obstructionism to the reality of being minority leader: He must shout to be heard.
Yet he insists he will be a very different kind of politician if the GOP wins Congress and he is elected speaker. He'll help bring the animosity between the two sides under control, he says, by allowing Democrats greater freedom to have their say on the floor of the House and letting them bring their proposals to a vote.
As it is now, the party in power routinely uses rules and procedural tricks to prevent the minority from offering bills and amendments. In retaliation, members of the minority use what few tools they have to obstruct the majority.
That's how it has been ever since the combative Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), once a mentor to Boehner, became House speaker in 1994, the last time the GOP retook Congress from the Democrats. After Gingrich, Republican leader Tom DeLay, known as the "Hammer," took this punitive style of leadership to the next level. And the current Democratic speaker, Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), has advanced a similar zero-sum approach to politics.
"A lot of scar tissue has been built up on both sides of the aisle," said Boehner, who says he would create an atmosphere in which Democrats wouldn't have to resort to the kind of tactics he has used against them.
"If there's a more open process, and members are allowed to participate, guess what? It lets the steam out of the place," he said in a speech last month at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington.
Democrats aren't buying Boehner's vow to bring courtesy back to the Capitol. They describe him as the consummate partisan player who has shown no inclination to work with them, at least not in recent years. The Boehner of 2010, they say, bears little resemblance to the reform-minded congressman of a decade ago, who befriended Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) when the two cooperated to push No Child Left Behind through Congress.
Rep. George Miller (Calif.), a liberal Democrat who once worked with Boehner on education issues, said the speaker-in-waiting would never reach out in that way today. "That was in a galaxy far, far away, in a place doesn't exist anymore," Miller said. "Don't translate that one-off moment into lasting bipartisanship."
If Boehner is serious about trying to reform the ways of Washington, he may have a difficult time convincing some in his party to go along - especially with the prospect of a slim majority and a bevy of tea party freshmen arriving in the capital with what they believe is a mandate to challenge the leadership.
No grand plans
In the fall of 1994, Gingrich spent long afternoons plotting the first 100 days of his tenure as speaker. After the 2006 elections, Pelosi spelled out an ambitious agenda that began with a promise to pass a major piece of legislation every day for the first week of the new session.
Boehner has no such grand plans in mind if he winds up presiding over a Republican majority. He does not fancy himself a grandiose political thinker in the mold of Gingrich or a steely operator like DeLay or Pelosi.
Those close to him say he would probably bring a few big items up for votes fairly quickly. One would be a package of spending cuts based on points outlined in the GOP's Pledge to America. He is also mulling the timing of a long-shot bill to repeal - or significantly curtail - the Democrats' health-care law.
Never a details man, Boehner has not specified budget cuts or how much they would save, or what his alternative to the health-care law would look like.
He let out a long sigh when asked where he would look to work with Obama.
"Only time will tell. I came here to fight for a smaller, less costly and more accountable government, and to the extent that he wants to work with us in terms of where we're going, I would certainly welcome it," he said.
His hands-off style has its critics among Republicans. Some believe he isn't a forceful enough presence to lead lawmakers where they are reluctant to go. In late September 2008, Boehner headed the effort to secure votes to pass the $700 billion bailout of the financial industry, something the Bush administration was pushing.
Privately, he told his colleagues that the legislation was a "crap sandwich," but they had to support it or the entire financial sector would implode. On Sept. 29, 2008, only a third of the GOP conference - 65 Republicans - supported Boehner as the legislation went down and the stock markets plummeted nearly 800 points.
Inside his office an hour later, Boehner, taking long drags on his ever-present Camel cigarettes (he is exempted from the Capitol's smoking ban while in his office), explained that it was almost impossible to pull off the vote. He stuttered over the words "break arms," saying it just wasn't something he could do.
Four days later, when the House voted again and approved the measure, Boehner couldn't get his closest friends, such as Latham and Rep. Steven C. LaTourrette (R-Ohio), to back the legislation.
By Election Day 2008, Republican congressional leaders had an approval rating of just 24 percent, and Republicans suffered a second straight loss of more than 20 seats. But Boehner never considered stepping down. "There are a lot of factors that go into how elections are won and lost. If I had felt responsible for what happened in '06 and '08, I would have left," he said in late September.
'Leading the team'
The 2010 midterms, however, are a different story: Boehner feels responsible for the GOP's campaign strategy, both in the House and at the National Republican Congressional Committee. He has campaigned at more than 170 events around the country and has raised $44 million for GOP candidates, helping them so they will help him when it comes time to choose their leader.
"I'm leading the team," he said.
He has become a major draw for special interests, particularly large businesses. His own reelection account serves largely as a transfer vehicle for donations to the NRCC to use in other, competitive races - since he wins every two years with about 70 percent of the vote. This election cycle, political action committees have donated $2.4 million to Boehner's reelection effort.
After encountering tea party activists in his travels, Boehner met with his GOP colleagues and delivered a message: Meet these folks in your districts. "Get on the right side of these people," he said, according to one aide in the room.
Boehner said he feels a certain kinship with the outsider candidates, who remind him of himself 20 years ago. Back then, Boehner was the president of Nucite Sales, a plastics company in southwestern Ohio, and a member of the state legislature. When the local congressman got into an ethics scandal, Boehner jumped into the Republican primary and went on to win the election.
Boehner immediately made himself a nuisance in Washington. He joined up with a group of other freshman, dubbed the "Gang of Seven," and exposed a series of scandals at the House bank. They were rebels against the institution, and by the summer of 1994 Gingrich brought Boehner, then in his second term, into his fold.
Under Gingrich, Boehner rose to the No. 4 position in the House leadership. As the chairman of the GOP conference, he was in charge of connections to outside groups and K Street. He learned to play a key fundraising role, leading to an infamous moment when he distributed corporate PAC donations to other Republicans on the House floor. (He later apologized and helped pass a rule forbidding distributing donations on the floor.)
When Republicans lost seats in the 1998 midterm elections, Gingrich resigned under pressure. Boehner was voted out of the GOP leadership. As he walked out of the Capitol basement meeting room, he told his longtime chief of staff, Barry Jackson: "I'm going back to my committees. And I'm going to work hard and I'm going to let my work speak for itself."
Jackson drafted a long-term mission statement with the goal of getting Boehner back among his party's leaders. Among the proposals: raising campaign money for his colleagues.
By 2006, Boehner was once again on the rise. In January of that year, after DeLay resigned as majority leader amid a series of scandals, he pounced. He sent a 37-page mission statement to more than 230 House Republicans, declaring that "a majority that matters" must reclaim the reform mantle, both in terms of ethics and in terms of how the chamber was run.
Boehner's bid to succeed DeLay was based on his promise to be a different kind of leader. If Gingrich and DeLay epitomized the class bullies in his colleagues' eyes, Boehner gave off the vibe of a cool kid who didn't need to pick on those who were less popular.
He grew up working class in a two-bedroom house with 11 siblings, but Boehner is now a country club Republican. He lives in a wealthy neighborhood near the Wetherington Golf and Country Club in Butler County, Ohio, where his hectic campaign travel schedule has left less time for the game he loves. He grumbles that he has broken 80 just twice this year on his home course.
In Washington, Boehner is surrounded by a cadre of loyal, dedicated staffers and former staff members that forms the innermost circle of what they call BoehnerLand. Jackson, his chief of staff and confidante, is revered as someone who can deliver him news that he won't hear from anyone else.
"There have been times when [someone] might have mentioned, 'Hey, John needs to think about this, you know.' And rather than going to John, we'd go to Barry, because he can talk to him like nobody else," said Sen. Saxby Chambliss, a former House member who is close to Boehner.
Boehner is not close friends with any of the other elected Republican leaders, including House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) and Rep. Mike Pence (Ind.), the No. 3 leader as chairman of the Republican Conference. Instead, he has a core group of friends from the rank and file in both the House and the Senate. First among equals is Latham, who was elected in the last GOP wave, in 1994. Latham holds no leadership title and aspires to nothing more than higher seniority on the Appropriations Committee. He has free access to Boehner, serving as his eyes and ears on other lawmakers.
He and Latham are part of a "supper club" that also includes Chambliss and Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), another former House member. Along with other lawmakers, they can frequently be found dining at restaurants on Capitol Hill.
His wife, Deborah, spends most of her time back home in Butler County, and his two daughters are grown. When he is in Washington, Boehner lives in a basement apartment near the Capitol that he rents from one of his lobbyist friends, John Milne of mCapitol Management.
Boehner has long drawn attention for his close relationship with lobbyists. His largest corporate donor over the past 20 years is AK Steel, an Ohio company whose lobbyists helped launch his political career in the mid-1980s. He has also accepted large checks from the financial services and insurance industries.
"I talk to everybody all the time," Boehner said. "The question is not how close I am to them, the question is whether the people agree with what I'm doing."
Now that he may be on the verge of becoming speaker, Boehner finds he has many more friends who can't wait to meet him. Every October, he holds a charity dinner in Washington to raise money for Catholic schools. (He used to co-host the event with Kennedy.) Last year, it drew a modest crowd, and Boehner pleaded with those in attendance to recruit more donors. This year, he had no such trouble. When Boehner arrived for the dinner, the ballroom was packed.
October 27th, 2010
By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 27, 2010; 12:28 AM
A growing number of creatures could disappear from the earth, with one-fifth of all vertebrates and as many as a third of all sharks and rays now facing the threat of extinction, according to a new survey assessing nearly 26,000 species across the globe.
In addition, forces such as habitat destruction, over-exploitation and invasive competitors move 52 species a category closer to extinction each year, according to the research, published online Tuesday by the journal Science. At the same time, the findings demonstrate that these losses would be at least 20 percent higher without conservation efforts now underway.
"We know what we need to do," said Andrew Rosenberg, senior vice president for science and knowledge at the advocacy group Conservation International and one of the paper's co-authors. "We need to focus on protected areas, both terrestrial and marine."
The survey, conducted by 174 researchers from 38 countries, came as delegates from around the world are meeting in Nagoya, Japan, to debate conservation goals for the coming decade.
The researchers analyzed the International Union for Conservation of Nature's "Red List" - a periodic accounting that classifies mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish along a spectrum depending on how imperiled they are.
While many industrialized countries have undertaken conservation efforts at home and helped fund this work overseas, "the reality is we're still exporting degradation across the world" by taking food and other resources from the developing world, according to co-author Nicholas K. Dulvy.
"We've transformed a third of the habitable land on earth for food production," said Dulvy, who co-chairs the IUCN's shark specialist group. "You can't just remove that habitat without consequences for biodiversity."
Southeast Asia's animals have experienced the most severe hit in recent years, stemming from a combination of agricultural expansion, logging and hunting. Species in parts of Central America, the tropical Andes of South America and Australia have also all suffered significant population declines, largely due to the chytrid fungus killing off amphibians. Forty-one percent of all amphibians are now threatened with extinction.
Norway's environmental minister, Erik Solheim, who is attending the talks in Nagoya, said in an interview that this sort of accelerating biodiversity loss, coupled with climate change, should compel nations to act boldly: "Very clearly, there's an increasing sense of urgency here," he said.
The grim study underscores the failure by parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity to fulfill a 1992 pledge to achieve "a significant reduction in the current rate of biodiversity loss at the global, regional and national level" by this year. The convention's 193 signatories meeting this month in Japan will set a conservation target for 2020; a U.S. delegation is attending the two-week session even though the United States has not ratified the pact.
Environmental groups are pushing for a goal of protecting 25 percent of all land on earth and 15 percent of the sea by 2020. At the moment, roughly 14 percent of terrestrial areas and less than 1 percent of the ocean enjoy some degree of environmental safeguards.
The new study documents the impact of such policies - 64 vulnerable species have begun recovering due to concerted conservation efforts, the article says. It provides a snapshot of how the world's birds, mammals and amphibians has evolved over three decades.
Two American species that had become extinct in the wild, the California condor and the black-footed ferret, have both made gains after being reintroduced, while several island species have boosted their numbers after humans took steps to shrink populations of invasive predators that were targeting them. The global population of the Seychelles Magpie-robin, for example, rose from fewer than 15 birds to 180 between 1965 and 2006 after the island's brown rat numbers came under control.
In some cases, a disparate combination of policies have helped species regain a foothold: the Asian crested ibis went from critically endangered in 1994 to endangered in 2000 due to protection of its nesting trees, controls over chemicals used in nearby rice fields and a prohibition of firearms.
In some instances, policymakers and scientists are just beginning to grapple with the challenges faced by some species - such as sharks, skates and rays. Jack Musick, professor emeritus at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, helped oversee a global study that suggests roughly 33 percent of cartilaginous fishes are threatened.
Musick, who started studying sharks in the Atlantic a half-century ago and began a shark survey in the Chesapeake Bay and Virginia's coastal waters in 1973, said he started seeing declines in the 1980s.
While the United States has cut back on shark fishing off its coasts, Musick said, "I can't say the same for international management."
Researchers in the IUCN's shark specialist group made assumptions about the state of some shark species because data is lacking for nearly half of them; they extrapolated what they knew about well-studied species and applied the same ratio of threats to lesser-known ones.
Sonja Fordham, the group's deputy chair and founder of the D.C.-based Shark Advocates International, said that gaps in data should not hold the world back from protecting sharks. "Around the world, we see similar cases of boom and bust fisheries, and management that is too little, too late," she said.
October 27th, 2010
October 27th, 2010
October 27, 2010 | By Bethany Murphy
Heritage's Plan to Reform Congress
The midterm elections are now exactly a week away. And these elections could transform the way that government in Washington runs.
The Heritage Foundation doesn’t have a dog in any of the election fights. As a non-partisan organization, we are in the unique position of being able to hold members of both parties accountable to uphold conservative values and principles.
Heritage has developed a plan that could help make congressmen more accountable to the people that elected them. If enacted, this Heritage proposal would change what elections cannot: how Congress itself is run. A shakeup of Congress’ internal structure could help newly-elected conservatives get a hearing for their ideas.
We have four major recommendations that both parties should implement before November 15, when new committee members will be chosen.
The steering committee, rather than party leaders, should select all committee chairmen and members.
Party leaders should no longer dominate or control the steering committee. This would allow rank-and-file Representatives to nominate and elect the controlling votes on each steering committee.
Term limits should apply to all House and party leaders, including the Speaker, as well as to committee chairmen and ranking members.
A cap should be placed on the overall size of each committee—such as a 50-member maximum—to avoid scenarios where committees wield a disproportionate amount of influence over the House.
“Over the last several decades, legislative branch authority has become overly concentrated into the hands of a few select leaders of the majority party,” Heritage experts Ernest Istook, Matthew Spalding and Michael Franc argue, “rather than the decentralized lawmaking body that is more consistent with its constitutional responsibilities.”
What does this mean? Because Congressional leaders often require that their members to vote in a bloc, lobbyists and members of the executive branch only need to convince a few Congressmen of the merits of the bill before it is voted on.
Currently, party leaders choose committee chairmen, who have enormous power to shape legislation. Changing the way committee chairmen are chosen is just one important step in reforming the way that Washington operates on a day-to-day basis.
Heritage’s proposal is a useful guide to how the House can be made more responsive to public opinion. By diluting the authority of party leaders, the reforms could create a less partisan Congress. This, in turn, could allow lawmakers to more easily seek solutions across party lines, as they would be less beholden to party leaders. Bringing fresh faces to Washington may change the appearance of Congress, but structural changes will change Congress’ performance – for the better.
> Other Heritage Work of Note
- Unions—and particularly teachers unions—are notorious for keeping even bad workers on the payroll. But while bad teaching may not be a good enough reason to fire a teacher, Heritage’s James Sherk reports, political disagreement is enough reason to fire a union worker. “Duane Hammond . . . had a job helping build a stage for an upcoming Obama rally in Los Angeles,” writes the Heritage labor expert. “His union fired him because he wore a sweatshirt with the name ‘Bush’ on it.”
- National Public Radio, a supposedly unbiased company that receives government funding, has come under attack for its recent politically-motivated firing of Juan Williams. Heritage’s Mike Gonzalez examines this situation and concludes: “They present themselves as an objective media organization, but they’re not.”
- “In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, they came out by the thousands. They were some of the first on the scene and among the last to leave,” writes James Carafano about the State Defense Forces, groups of state volunteer militia that provide invaluable disaster relief without very much funding. Because of their low-cost, invaluable assistance, Heritage’s expert on homeland security believes that these forces should be expanded in various states.
- “When King George III asked if the colonists could boycott British goods, his solicitor general informed him it was beyond the power of the king to mandate that his subjects buy specific goods like tea,” writes Heritage’s Conn Carroll. Virginia’s Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli compared this to the new mandate to buy health insurance. “The power of the United States government under the Constitution must be smaller than that of King George,” Cuccinelli said.
> In Other News
- To counter perceptions that government officials are lazy and entitled, young federal workers are organizing a “Government Doesn’t Suck March” this coming Saturday in Washington, D.C.
- In the wake of March's earthquake, an influx of foreign aid has destroyed Haiti's private health care system. With a cholera outbreak outside the capital Port-au-Prince, the effects of that collapse are being felt.
- Employers are considering raising the cost of their health care plans or dropping them altogether in response to Obamacare.
- French workers have begun to return to work after striking for weeks against government plans to raise the retirement age.
- Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez plans to expropriate a U.S. company’s factories.
- Iran has started to inject uranium into one of its nuclear reactors.
Bethany Murphy is a writer for MyHeritage.org—a website for members and supporters of The Heritage Foundation. Nathaniel Ward; Amanda Reinecker and Andrew Vitaliti, a Heritage intern, contributed to this report.
October 27th, 2010
By Barry Secrest
And yet, while the President was lambasting better than half of the population and trying to score political points against the Republicans on his never-ending campaign trail in Los Angeles--and virtually everywhere he manages to string intelligible syllables together--we concurrently read of an article, ink still damp, within the National Journal of Obama stating, "we want people in Washington to act like grown-ups, cooperate and start trying to solve problems instead of scoring political points." But wait Mr. President! You just stated in the paragraph directly above...(sigh)...never mind, You just can't make this stuff up.
When Free Men Shall Stand
As an internecine war in America now rages, sparked by Obama and the Democrats pursuit of all things "redistributive," we can begin to now see a bit of sunlight dancing through the eye-wall of the liberal storm as the upcoming election looms in what promises to be a stark defiance of Obama's policies. Many see this particular storm as having been raging since President Obama was elected--but this storm that we have been enduring is but a spin-off of a larger storm which has waxed and waned throughout the 20th century. In fact, the path to a redistributive society from a free market capitalism powerhouse being based on the rule of law would, logically, have many points along the way to bleed off various individual liberties. Interestingly, these "bleed-off" points seem to always come at times of either economic or military duresss. It is the ideology in power at the times of these "bleed-off" points that often determine where the ultimate damage falls. We can, in essence, see these points as either lessening our liberties or lessening the relentless creep of Statism, with a preponderance of the damage more often strengthening the latter.