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Have you seen this

Have you seen this headline?

Key presidential advisor used non-profit to launder Abramoff money.

You probably haven't. But it's a key part of the Abramoff story. And really just the beginning. The individual facts are all out there, sure. Grover Norquist is one of the two or three top Republican political operatives in Republican Washington. He's a close advisor to President Bush. Among other things he used his organization, Americans for Tax Reform, as a pass-through to hide the fact that Ralph Reed was getting his money for 'anti-gambling' activism from Washington's top Indian casino lobbyist.

I don't know about the law of non-profits and 501c3s. But that's got to be an abuse of some sort.

On front after front these scandals go right into the White House. A top official at the OMB arrested? The Deputy Secretary of the Interior Department under criminal investigation? Abramoff's former chief assistant a top White House aide?

Why the unwillingness to pursue this?

Annals of Medicare Part

Annals of Medicare Part D ...

I'm too overwhelmed to do much with the Medicare Blog, but I think it is a great idea. I did want to offer an anecdote for you though. I have just started on the inpatient cardiology service at xxxxxx and have admitted two patients to the hospital in the past 24 hours who were unable to get important medicines as a result of the new plan (or lack there of). It is truly amazing! I don't think either is life threatening, but they both could have and will cost the tax payers and Medicare tens of thousands of dollars in needless hospital days. Moreover, we are running at 110% capacity now with some patients spending three days in the ER waiting for a bed. These Medicare admissions have obviously not helped.

Now doubt, more to come.

Theres been a lot

There's been a lot of discussion in recent weeks of President Bush's aggressive use of so-called 'signing statements'. They got attention lately because of the one he signed which argued, in so many words, that he did not believe that the 'McCain law' barring torture was actually binding on him.

The point of these signing statements is to achieve for presidents something like what Congress does through so-called 'legislative intent'. By one measure the law is just what is down there in black letter in the legislation itself. But courts will frequently also look at what Congress thought it was doing, what it intended to do, when it passed the law. So they'll look at the debates which accompanied the legislation, stuff various members put into the Congressional Record, and so forth.

This process is easily abused. But that's a separate matter. At least in principle, some review of legislative intent seems reasonable in interpreting legislation, though divining what the intent actually was is likely much easier said than done.

But back to signing statements. Again, the idea seems to be here to allow the president his own version of legislative intent, to imbed what he thinks the law means into the record, presumably for future courts to take into consideration or to justify at some later point how he chooses to implement the law.

Sam Alito, twenty years, wrote that "Since the president's approval is just as important as that of the House or Senate, it seems to follow that the president's understanding of the bill should be just as important as that of Congress."

(As with John Yoo, this seems to me to be another example of how the greatest threat to our constitution may be the noodling of brainiac young lawyers who ply their wizbang 'logic' in the absence of what seems like just about any serious historical grounding in the traditions and practices of our system of government.)

But as Andrew Sullivan notes here and elsewhere, the president's understanding of the law or interpretation of it is irrelevant. Indeed, to imagine that this is not so turns the whole structure of our government on its head.

Congress makes laws. The president has all sorts of power invested in him by the discretion he has in enforcing the laws. But what the laws are, what they mean, is entirely beyond his purview.

Parsing this out can just be an exercise in high school civics. And at the margins it may be a fine point. But there's something big going on here.

This is the executive invading the territory of the Congress and to an extent also the judiciary. Now, I know I'm not the first one to say or realize this. There's a body of literature and debate about this theory of the unitary executive.

But this bunkum about 'signing statements' is a good example, a good opportunity to point out how these theories are solecisms in the scheme of our constitutional structure. For all their chatter about originalism and the constitution, these folks are trying to import alien ideas into the fabric of our republican system of government.

Im looking for someone

I'm looking for someone to write a limited duration blog about the Medicare prescription drug plan debacle -- the implementation, how the program is structured, who benefits, who doesn't and so forth. This would be a bit like the Social Security blogging we did early last year and a bit like the Special Edition Bankruptcy Bill blog. Basically, we're looking for one or two people to help walk us and our readers through how this program is working or, as it seems, isn't. The person who does this doesn't have to have fancy credentials or a bunch of initials after their name -- just a real world grasp of the nuts and bolts of how this stuff works. If you're interested, drop us a line.

November Santorum The K

November Santorum: "The K Street project is purely to make sure we have qualified applicants for positions that are in town. From my perspective, it's a good government thing."

January Santorum: "Well, I don't know what you mean by Senate liaison to the, quote, 'K Street Project.' I'm not aware of any Senate liaison job that I do for the K Street Project."

AP The White House

AP: "The White House is refusing to reveal details of tainted lobbyist Jack Abramoff's visits with President Bush's staff. Abramoff had "a few staff-level meetings" at the Bush White House, presidential spokesman Scott McClellan said Tuesday. But he would not say with whom Abramoff met, which interests he was representing or how he got access to the White House."

Drip, drip, drip ...

K-ching, k-ching, k-ching ...

Oh and the fun

Oh, and the fun continues.

K Street Project? What K Street Project. From the Santorum press conference today on the hill ...

QUESTION: Senator Santorum, you have been the Senate's liaison for the so-called K Street projects. It's been reported you hosted monthly meetings with lobbyists, the top lobbyists in town. What makes you the correct person to lead this charge to reform?

SANTORUM: Well, I don't know what you mean by Senate liaison to the, quote, "K Street Project." I'm not aware of any Senate liaison job that I do for the K Street Project.

What I've done is I do host meetings, you know, once or twice a month with members who represent a variety of different groups in Washington, D.C.

I know Senator Hutchison hosts some, Senator Smith hosts some, all in an attempt to try to make sure that what we're trying to accomplish is communicated to those who represent organizations who could be helpful to us in getting that message out across America.

I think it's important that we communicate to people who could be supportive of us to make sure that that grassroots activity and that information gets out.

I think it's been actually very, helpful for us to be able to transmit that information and to get feedback from people who are obviously skilled in the area of legislation as to how, you know, we're coming across and what we're being perceived and what we need to do to improve our chances of being successful here.

Nuthin to see here. Just some grassroots activity ...

Jack Abramoff international man

Jack Abramoff, international man of mystery?

I must say, this Hastert transcript will be choice pickings for humor posts over the next day or so. Here's one question the Speaker got today at his press conference.

QUESTION: Mr. Speaker, if I could ask you a question, the Abramoff scandal is what has forced you into this position. A year ago, the things that you're proposing would not have been politically possible for you to talk about.

Why is the Congress reacting and why didn't it act initially if all these are good ideas?

HASTERT: Well, you know, a year ago most people around Congress couldn't tell you who Jack Abramoff was and didn't know who his associates were or what connections there are.

As this thing unrolls, people understand that we need to learn from what happened in the past and try to rectify that if we can.

That's great. People on Capitol Hill didn't know who Jack Abramoff was or who his associates were? The guy was one of the biggest lobbyists in DC, moved huge amounts of money around Capitol Hill, was close to most of the key Republican power-brokers in and out of Congress. But no one knew who he was. And no one knew who his associates were?

This is a deeper vein than it looks like on the surface. Denny Hastert is like the Mr. Magoo of DC Republican corruption. The DeLay Machine was the muscle and sinew of the House on his watch. The Abramoff clique ran deep tentacles all through the institution. But Hastert didn't know anything about it. It's all news to him.

Sen Reid responds to

Sen Reid responds to today's GOP reformapalooza ...

“The idea of Republicans reforming themselves is like asking John Gotti to clean up organized crime. I thought I’d seen the last of corruption when I helped clean up Las Vegas thirty years ago. But, while its not quite the mafia of Las Vegas in the 1970s, what is happening today in Washington is every bit as corrupt and the consequences for our country have been just as severe.

“Some problems have no legislative fix, and the Republican culture of corruption is one of them. Today’s announcements by House and Senate Republicans should be taken at face value – minor wrist slapping and good public relation stunts by the same people responsible for this mess. Democrats will lead the tough reforms, because we owe it to the American people to stand up for their interests over special interests. Are we really going to believe that Republicans will stop answering the calls from their friends on K Street? Are they really going to put seniors ahead of drug companies when it comes reforming Medicare? Are they really going to help families over oil companies when it comes to gas prices? The answer to these questions is no, and that’s why the American people trust Democrats to clean up Washington and put their interests first.”

Criticisms below notwithstanding, I think Reid's hit on a key point. The Republican majorities in both bodies, but particularly in the House, have to start cooperating with the investigations of the criminals and corrupt officials in their midst before they get on to proposing bans of getting free meals. There's a major criminal investigation into the political operation that Denny Hastert is at least nominally in charge of. Has he pledged cooperation with that probe? Is he going to launch any sort of congressional investigation into the seemingly systemic corrupt practices that have evolved under his leadership? It's almost farcical. The mobsters want to join the Rotary Club without even passing 'go'. If Michael Corleone had only known ...