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Another Connecticut Republican gets

Another Connecticut Republican gets the shaft from Rep. Istook: this time, eastern Connecticut's Rob Simmons.

The issue is transportation funding for Simmons' district. And I was going to say he got the pork shaft. But I quickly realized that that might give the metaphor an awkward tilt -- particularly, I would imagine, for Rep. Istook. So I thought better of it.

Back to the topic at hand ...

There is no constitutional right to appropriations pork. So, aside from tweaking folks a bit, you can't exactly claim that there's an issue of high principle here. But I am curious to know more about the nitty-gritty dynamics of what happened here (see this earlier post for details.) Is this another sign of House majority hubris? Perhaps one more telling and significant than the DeLay Rule or the Istook Amendment?

Here's what I mean. The GOP congressional majority rests on its dominance in the reddest of the red states -- particularly, in the South. But it can't survive without healthy representation in every region -- even in the Northeast, perhaps especially there, since it's there that the balance is hardest to pull off.

Back in the Gingrich era I remember often being surprised at how good Gingrich's relations were with many of the moderates. For all his bluster, he understood the importance of finding ways to help the bluer sort of Republican survive in parts of the country that were very different from the GOP's southern heartland.

I don't know the internal dynamics of the House or the GOP caucus well enough to know. And perhaps this is just an Istook story, aberrational rather than representative. But it makes me wonder if House Republicans are now feeling confident enough of their majority that they don't feel the need to cultivate or protect colleagues like these with whom, in truth, they have little in common.

The fact that Istook meted out this punishment over a disagreement about the regionally-tinged issue of funding Amtrak -- a spending priority which is rather more dear in the Northeast than in Oklahoma -- adds to my curiosity.

The pity of it

The pity of it all. These northeastern <$NoAd$>moderates like Boehlert and McHugh and Gerlach gave the thumbs up to the DeLay Rule. But that didn't stop them from getting thrown down under the tracks a couple days later by another one of Ernie Istook's last-minute appropriations surprises.

We pick the story up in The Hill ...

Deep in the transportation section of this year’s omnibus spending bill, Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Okla.) dispensed a little appropriator’s justice, punishing 21 Republicans who wrote him a letter in support of $1.8 billion for Amtrak.


Istook’s anti-Amtrak retribution hit several of the Republican majority’s most vulnerable members, including Reps. Rob Simmons (R-Conn.) and Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.), two Northeastern centrists who won tight races, in part, by convincing constituents of their ability to bring home road money.

The affected lawmakers did not learn of Istook’s drastic action until last Saturday, when the bill was passed. Several of them contacted Republican leaders to inquire if they knew of Istook’s punitive action and were told that party leaders were unaware that Istook was harming vulnerable members.

In addition to Gerlach and Simmons, Reps. John McHugh (R-N.Y.) and Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.) were said to be particularly outraged at Istook’s actions, according several committee sources. Upon learning that his projects were cut, McHugh came close to physical blows with Istook, according to some accounts.

Simmons got hosed too, of course. But at least he kept his dignity intact on the DeLay Rule.

Here are the last

Here are the last two grafs in <$NoAd$>a piece on the Istook Amendment in Wednesday's Post ...

Doubts remained yesterday over exactly how the controversial tax-return provision -- which allows Appropriations Committee chairmen or their "agents" access to Internal Revenue Service facilities or "any tax returns or return information contained therein" -- got into the omnibus spending bill late last week. House Republicans blamed committee staff aides and the IRS.

Rep. Ernest J. Istook Jr. (R-Okla.), chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the IRS, denied any role. Yesterday Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), who had referred to the proposal as the "Istook amendment" Saturday, issued a statement expressing regret for "any confusion my earlier remarks may have created."

Are we allowed to comment on how ridiculous this is?

Four days later and they can't figure out who put the thing in the bill? Just some aides, but it's not clear which ones or who they worked for, and someone at the IRS and maybe they handwrote a note and dropped it off at Rayburn and somehow it got into the bill.

Really, give me a break. Give all of us a break. This isn't Schrodinger's cat we're talking about. This wasn't the work of subatomic particles. Which aides? At whose direction were they working? And which IRS employee and what were they asked to write? Presumably it shouldn't hard to find out the identity of the IRS employee. Just ask the mystery staffer since that he or she asked them to write it.


Sen. Stevens R-AK has

Sen. Stevens (R-AK) has the handwritten note (from the Fairbanks News-Miner): "Sen. Ted Stevens on Monday showed reporters a handwritten legislative proposal from an IRS employee that slipped into and nearly stopped the massive appropriations bill passed by Congress this weekend. Stevens said the note proves that neither he nor any other Republican had crafted the potentially privacy-invading language."

Okay this ones an

Okay, this one's an original. We heard <$Ad$>from a reader this morning who told us that Rep. Rick Renzi's (R-AZ) office is telling constituents that he didn't get a chance to vote on the DeLay Rule because he's not a member of the Republican House Conference.

(Subsequently, we learned that another emailer got the same story.)

The TPM reader thought that sounded odd. But apparently the staffer was insistent. And it sounded awfully odd to me too since I thought every Republican member of the House is by definition a member of the Republican House Conference, just like every Dem is a member of the Democratic Caucus. (Sorta like every Major League Baseball team in the American league is also a member of the American League.)

So I dropped a note to a House GOP staffer friend of mine; and when he said that was his decided impression too, I felt that something might be seriously amiss. So I rung up Renzi's office and asked to speak with the staffer the TPM reader had spoken to.

I asked the guy if it was true that Rep. Renzi really wasn't a member of the House Republican Conference and whether the office was telling constituents that this was why he couldn't vote on the DeLay Rule.

First I heard a disbelieving guffaw. But when I said we'd heard this from more than one person and that they'd spoken to him specifically, the mood changed perceptively and shifted to some awkward discussion of someone possibly having mispoken and something and the other and various other somethings and others and ...

We didn't talk much longer than that.

But while I still don't know how Rep. Renzi voted on the DeLay Rule, I think we're clear that he is a member of the House Republican Conference. So that's some progress.

Sen. Frist issues a

Sen. Frist issues a formal apology ... to Ernest Istook.

STATEMENT FROM MAJORITY LEADER BILL FRIST: "I have spoken with Congressman Istook and he assures me that his office is not responsible for inclusion of the IRS provision into the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2005, the so-called omnibus bill. I regret any confusion my earlier remarks may have created."

Wistful for the HandfulChris

Wistful for the Handful?

Chris Shays tells the Hartford Courant that he regrets not calling for a recorded vote on the DeLay Rule ...

Shays actually spoke twice - only three others spoke at all - and said Friday he wished he had sought a secret ballot vote, particularly after DeLay boasted how overwhelming his support had been.

"I thought I had done my job at the time. Things happen quickly," Shays explained. "We might have gotten 50 votes. We might have gotten 80 votes."

Ah coulda beena contenda ...

Were hearing the first

We're hearing the first word of some payback in the air for the folks in the Shays Handful -- meted out in ye olde-fashioned currency of committee assignments.

In fact, maybe even payback for some folks who didn't denounce the Handful enough.

We'll keep you posted.

Heres another story to

Here's another story to keep an eye on.

On election day, one of the most powerful legislators in the Texas House of Representatives, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Talmadge Heflin (R-Houston) got beat by a Vietnamese American businessman named Hubert Vo (D).

It was awfully close -- 32 votes. And it was also the first Democratic gain in the Texas state House in 32 years. (They've had a string of rough decades.)

With such a narrow margin, Heflin is understandably calling for a manual recount, which he's just officially requested.

But more than that seems to be afoot.

Speaker Tom Craddick -- the guy who handled the DeLay redistricting power grab last year -- has made all sorts of noise that he's cutting Heflin loose. He even reassigned his plum Appropriations Committee chairmanship. At the same time, the Texas Republicans' hotshot election lawyer Andy Taylor -- the guy who handled the redistricting business for Craddick and DeLay -- is representing Heflin and tossing around charges of voter fraud.

Taylor's presence makes Democrats understandably suspicious about whether Craddick and Co. have really given up on the thought of trying to seat Heflin by any means necessary.

And here's how they'd do it.

Under Texas law, in addition to asking for a recount, Heflin can challenge the validity of the election by filing an official challenge with the secretary of state. Based on that challenge Speaker Craddick would appoint a member of the House as a "special master" to investigate the election. If that 'investigation' finds irregularities and fraud, as Andy Taylor is already alleging, they order that a new election be held -- effectively invalidating the results of the election.

Needless to say, the Texas state House is now in Republican hands. So what all of that means is that Tom DeLay's local sub-boss, Speaker Craddick, gets to decide whether Hubert Vo's election gets tossed out on the basis of spurious charges of 'irregularities' and 'voter fraud.'

Of course, these are just the things Craddick could do if he chose. For Craddick and DeLay and the rest of them to actually try pulling this off would be amazingly bold and brazen.

But, then, look who we're talking about ...