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Wednesday, June 15, 2005 | 9:25 a.m. ET
From Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi, Michelle Jaconi and Katie Adams

First glance
Last night, with Big Bad Voodoo Daddy providing the entertainment, and with adult-film star Mary Carey and more than 5,000 Republicans in attendance, President Bush delivered arguably his harshest attack on the Democrats since last year’s presidential campaign. “Members of the other party have worked with us to achieve important reforms on some issues,” Bush said at last night’s GOP fundraiser. “Yet, too often, their leadership prefers to block the ideas of others. We hear ‘no’ to making tax relief permanent. We hear ‘no’ to Social Security reform. We hear ‘no’ to confirming federal judges. We hear ‘no’ to a highly qualified U.N. ambassador… On issue after issue, they stand for nothing except obstruction, and this is not leadership. It is the philosophy of the stop sign, the agenda of the roadblock, and our country and our children deserve better.”

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More: “If leaders of the other party have innovative ideas, let's hear them. But if they have no ideas or policies except obstruction, they should step aside and let others lead.”

We will see whether last night’s speech will actually compel Democrats to want to work with the White House, or will persuade a majority of Americans (and also a few hesitant Republicans) to actually support his Social Security plan, or will actually help John Bolton’s nomination to the UN (which seems to also be opposed by two Senate Republicans). Today, at 11:00 am, Bush gives a speech on energy -- an issue, we’d point out, that has a fair amount of bipartisan support (so far) in the Senate. And at 7:00 pm, he attends a congressional picnic reception at the White House.

Democrats, however, have plenty of events on the Hill today suggesting that they’re not willing to cede any ground on Social Security, Bolton, and other issues. At noon, anti-private accounts Americans United hosts a presser with Democratic Sens. Max Baucus and Blanche Lincoln and Reps. Bob Etheridge and Stephanie Herseth, who all will talk about the importance of Social Security in rural communities. At 2:00 pm, moreover, Sens. Byron Dorgan and John Kerry will speak about the effect Bush's Social Security proposal would have on small businesses. Also today, Sens. Harry Reid, Dick Durbin, and Maria Cantwell hold a press conference at 10:00 am to outline their proposals on energy independence.

As NBC’s Ken Strickland reports, Democrats still aren’t backing down from their attempt to block Bolton’s nomination until they receive the classified documents they want. And Strickland also notes that Lester Crawford's nomination to be FDA Commissioner is expected to be voted out of committee today. But questions about the availability of the so-called "morning after" pill still threaten his ultimate confirmation. Democratic Sens. Hillary Clinton and Patty Murray plan to block Crawford's vote from the floor until the FDA can decide whether the pill will be made available to women without a prescription. The Senate meets at 9:30 am; the House meets at 10:00 am.

More news today: Terri Schiavo’s autopsy results will be released at a press conference at 11:00 am in Largo, FL. Also, the leaders of the Teamsters, UFCW, UNITE-HERE, the Laborers, and SEIU -- the AFL-CIO’s five largest unions, and the same five that are at odds with AFL leadership -- will hold a press conference at 12:30 pm to announce the creation of a new multi-union organization, the Change to Win Coalition, that they hope will help rebuild the American labor movement. As Harold Meyerson writes in today’s Washington Post, these unions seem to be building “a halfway house” to a new labor federation that’s apart from the AFL.

Finally, after yesterday’s primary in Virginia, it’s -- as expected -- Tim Kaine (D) vs. Jerry Kilgore (R) in this year’s best gubernatorial contest. And in Ohio, Pat DeWine, son of Sen. Mike DeWine (R), finished fourthin yesterday’s GOP primary to fill former Rep. Rob Portman’s congressional seat. More on those races below.

It's the economy
In his speech last night, Bush also touched on his economic agenda. “To keep this economy growing and creating jobs, we need to make the tax relief permanent. We need to get rid of the death tax forever… Our party is the party of economic growth, and our party is the party of spending restraint.”

Prices producers paid for their goods dropped last month, USA Today says, easing worries about inflation. “The producer price index … fell a seasonally adjusted 0.6% in May, the biggest drop since April 2003.” The Wall Street Journal: "In a mostly symbolic attempt to nudge petroleum prices to less than $50 a barrel, oil ministers of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries yesterday were preparing to announce today an increase of 500,000 barrels a day in their production ceiling.”

Roll Call says that newly disclosed financial forms show that at least 45 US Senators -- and among them eight potential presidential candidates -- claim net worth at $1 million or more. “That’s at least three more million-dollar Senators than the institution had when figures were released two years ago and five more than there were four years ago. As recently as 1994, the Senate boasted only 28 Members with more than $1 million in net worth, a stunning increase by any measure.”

Bradley Belt, executive director of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, sat down with reporters yesterday to talk about pension reform and the future of employee pensions. Here are some of the things he said.
-- On the higher profile of the PBGC in the news: “This used to be a backwater agency that no one knew about. Pensions and pension policy really do matter.”
-- On whether we’re seeing the inevitable decline of defined-benefit pension plans: “I think a lot depends on the policy choices the Congress makes in the weeks and months ahead… [But] there’s not much future viability in the traditional defined-benefit plan,” mainly because most employees don’t work for the same employer throughout their working lifetimes.
-- On how you avoid future airlines following United’s example by also defaulting on their pension program, since United how now gained a competitive advantage:  “You need to change the law, because that’s what current law allows… There is no question current law leads to bad outcomes.”

Bush Agenda
NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell reports that a senior Administration official described Bush’s comments last night as "the strongest language yet of the second term." O’Donnell adds that the President's apparent frustration over Social Security, as other domestic matters like energy and the highway bill, bubbles up frequently in his public statements. But this new language clearly attempts to hold Democrats -- not the majority party -- responsible for a lack of progress.

The Washington Times says Bush “ripped the Democratic Party as do-nothing obstructionists bent on derailing his reform agenda.”

The Washington Post puts Bush’s remarks last night in the context of the debate over Social Security. “Bush has been working to enlist Democrats in his plan to revamp Social Security, but his remarks showed frustration with the opposition's unified refusal to negotiate unless he backs off key tenets of his plan… Republican congressional aides said that by framing Democrats as obstructionist, he is beginning to insulate himself against possible defeat on Social Security. Administration officials said he is as determined as ever.”

Despite a sense that the Senate energy bill has more bipartisan support than it’s had in the past, the New York Times says the bill is “stuffed with the same politically combustible issues that have derailed past legislation - including fuel consumption, industry benefits, oil and gas drilling and pollution.”

The Wall Street Journal writes that Bush will oppose any climate-change amendments that are inconsistent with his climate change strategy, which remains centered on voluntary emissions-reduction efforts.

NBC’s Strickland reports on yesterday’s back-and-forth between Democrats and Republicans over Bolton’s nomination. In a morning press conference, Majority Leader Bill Frist said he might call for a vote on the nomination by the end of the week, and he accused Democrats of "moving the goal-post" in their negotiations with the Administration to obtain classified information regarding Bolton. Frist added that the Administration has provided the "necessary and relevant" information, and that Democrats are simply "filibustering" or blocking the confirmation vote. Frist, Strickland notes, was joined by Sen. John McCain, who said he doesn't deny the Democrats their right to filibuster. But McCain argued that it's "not in the best interest" of the nation to leave the UN post vacant.

Yet Strickland says that Sen. Dick Durbin, the second-highest ranking Senate Democrat, shot back, accusing the Administration of hiding damaging information about Bolton. "Clearly, there is something in those documents which is so damaging to Bolton they don't want to release them," Durbin told reporters. "What other reason could there be to drag this thing out? And if there isn't, prove it.”

The Washington Post notes that one of the three Democrats who sided with Republicans last month in the cloture vote on Bolton’s nomination -- Sen. Mark Pryor -- “said he may abandon the Republicans, leaving them farther from their goal than they were three weeks ago.”

Readying for a Supreme Court fight, Roll Call reports that some Senate Republicans want to push the eventual Bush nominee through the Judiciary Committee as fast as possible, to avoid letting liberal opposition mount throughout the summer.

Finally, the New York Times reports that Phil Cooney -- the man who the paper reported was editing government environmental reports -- has been hired by Exxon, where he'll start working in the fall.

The Democrats
The Washington Post catches up with John Edwards, who was speaking yesterday in Iowa about poverty and moral values. “Seven months after he and Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) lost their bid for the White House, Edwards is emerging with undiminished ambition and a fresh cause. The campaign he publicly admits to waging is one against poverty.”

The Des Moines Register also covers Edwards's Iowa visit -- his second one since last year's election.

Ethics and institutions
Roll Call reports that Rep. Louise Slaughter (D) yesterday called for House Ethics Chairman Doc Hastings (R) to resign his post, saying he has politicized the ethics process by insisting that his aide - rather than a non-partisan staffer -- serve as a director on the committee. “Republicans  … pointed out that Slaughter isn’t even a member of the ethics panel … and argued that the committee’s disputes should be worked out internally.”

The Hill, meanwhile, says that DeLay, trying to break the impasse over staffing, recommended that bipartisan staff members -- one Republican and one Democrat -- serve as the co-directors of the ethics panel. The article also notes that DeLay defended Rep. Duke Cunningham (R), who has come under fire for selling his home to a defense contractor whose firm received $65 million in federal funds in 2004.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times reports that Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens (R) “made $822,000 last year from the sale of a controversial real estate investment with an Anchorage developer who had obtained a huge federal contract with his help… In 1997, Stevens invested $50,000 with developer Jonathan B. Rubini. Last year, at Stevens' request, Rubini and his partner bought back the senator's interests in their deals for $872,000, according to Senate financial disclosure forms made public Tuesday. About three years after he made that investment, Stevens helped Rubini secure a $450-million Air Force housing contract.” Stevens denies any wrongdoing, and says he’s confident that the investment he made is consistent with Senate rules.

At 11:30 am today, the liberal Campaign for America's Future and Ohioans for a Cleaner Congress co-host a conference call to announce an advertising campaign in Rep. Bob Ney's (R-OH) district -- over recent controversy surrounding him that he took inappropriately financed trips and contributions.

Roll Call also notes that the liberal group will be releasing a research report on Ney, outlining his connections to embattled lobbyist Jack Abramoff and Abramoff’s casino and American Indian clients. “Brian Walsh, communications director for Ney, called Campaign for America’s Future, ‘the Michael Moore wing of the Democratic Party’ and added that the ‘partisan and personal attacks are not going to sit well in the 18th district.’”

The values debate
USA Today writes that the Senate may be within one or two votes of passing a constitutional amendment banning flag burning. “Next week, the House will vote on the amendment for a seventh time. If history is a guide, it will pass for a seventh time. That's when the spotlight switches to the Senate, where the amendment has always died. But this time may be different” -- with an expanded GOP majority in that chamber.

The Washington Post observes that conservative and liberal leaders seem to be finding common ground. “After a year in which religion played a polarizing role in U.S. politics, many religious leaders are eager to demonstrate that faith can be a uniter, not just a divider. The buzzwords today in pulpits and seminaries are crossover, convergence, common cause and shared values.”

On the second day of campaigning since calling for a special election, Gov. Schwarzenegger speaks in Garden Grove, CA at 1:00 pm ET, and in Bakersfield at 4:00 pm. These events, a press release says, “will focus on attempts by Democrats in the Legislature to increase the sales tax and the car tax.”

The Sacramento Bee covers Schwarzenegger's campaign appearance yesterday, noting that he campaigned in earnest "against a property tax increase hardly anybody is pushing."

The Los Angeles Times writes that California Democrats are preparing to vote on a state spending plan with no new taxes or extra money for schools. “Democrats fear that holding up the budget - even for what they argue is the noble cause of trying to restore $3 billion that schools say they are owed - would hurt them Nov. 8 and drive voters to approve spending controls the governor helped place on the ballot. They said they would try to secure the money by other means.”

In Ohio yesterday, Jean Schmidt bested 10 other candidates to win the GOP nomination in the race to succeed Rep. Rob Portman, who is now Bush’s US Trade Representative. Pat DeWine, son of Sen. Mike DeWine (R), finished a disappointing fourth. The Cincinnati Enquirer: DeWine “started this campaign with near universal name recognition…That name meant instant ability to raise staggering sums of money - nearly $1 million, nearly three times the loot that other major candidates were able to amass… [But] many voters were upset over DeWine's personal life - the fact that he left his wife and children two years ago while having an affair with another woman, something the candidate said repeatedly during the campaign he took full responsibility for.”

The Richmond Times-Dispatch says that former Attorney General Jerry Kilgore easily won the Republican nomination for governor yesterday, setting the stage for a November contest with Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine (D). As temperatures rose to make yesterday the hottest day of the year, voter turnout plummeted to 4 percent in the Republican primary and 2.6 in the Democratic primary.  Also, there’s word that Bush has signed up to be the guest of honor at a July 21 McLean fundraiser to help Kilgore add to his campaign coffers.

RNC chair Ken Mehlman, in Virginia with Kilgore and other members of the GOP ticket, attends three press conferences today -- first in Richmond at the Republican Party headquarters, then in Norfolk at the Hilton Norfolk Airport, and finally in Northern Virginia.


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