24 December 2009

They Voted for You: Health Care

U.S. Sens. Robert C. Byrd and Jay Rockefeller, both D-W.Va., each voted to pass their chamber's version of federal health care legislation, The Associated Press reports.

The 60-39 roll call reflected a party-line vote and the absence of Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky.

The bill "could define President Barack Obama's legacy and usher in near-universal medical coverage for the first time in the country's history," AP reports, adding that is also "must still be merged with legislation passed by the House before Obama could sign a final bill in the new year. There are significant differences between the two measures but Democrats say they've come too far now to fail."

AP also offers a comparison of the Senate- and House-passed versions that must be reconciled by a conference committee.

Byrd issued a statement following his vote. Rockefeller had earlier posted his floor speech (and audio as well as video) in support of the legislation.

23 December 2009

Election 2010: Congress

The National Republican Congressional Committee has targeted much of West Virginia with robo-calls this week attacking Reps. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, and Nick Rahall, D-3rd, in their respective districts, Politico reports.

The item considers the choice of Mollohan, Rahall and 14 other House incumbents "obvious" for a robo-call campaign because "these are the most vulnerable Democrats in 2010."

The major campaign observers have yet to reach that conclusion, at least regarding West Virginia's delegation.

Mollohan and Rahall don't appear on the latest lists of competitive races offered by The Rothenberg Political Report, Congressional Quarterly's CQ Politics or National Journal's Hotline.

The Cook Political Report, meanwhile, recently added Mollohan's seat to its chart, but as "likely Democratic."

Within West Virginia, the NRCC has been promoting a recent article in The Intelligencer of Wheeling reporting that former state GOP Chair David McKinley met with its officials about a possible challenge of Mollohan.

A Wheeling architect and former state lawmaker, McKinley told the newspaper "that an announcement regarding his plans should occur before the end of 2009."

22 December 2009

Manchin Official Resigns, Gets Sued

The man who stepped down last week as head of the Governor's Office of Economic Opportunity had earlier become a defendant in a lawsuit also filed against the Huntington church he pastors, The Charleston Gazette reports.

Fifth Third Bank alleges that "Apostolic Life owes more than $702,000 on a loan taken out in 2001, plus nearly $37,000 in interest," the article said. "The bank also claims that a man who runs a technology company in Tennessee helped the church file fraudulent documents related to the loan."

That co-defendant, Mark Shannon Manuel, "called the lawsuit 'frivolous' and said the church has paid off its debt," the article also said.

The Gazette reported earlier on Harper's abrupt Friday departure from the state office.

"Harper's resignation came two days after a meeting where the heads of several community action agencies told Harper they might close their doors because federal stimulus funds that pass through the GOEO were so late," that article said.

W.Va. Storm Response Criticized

Gov. Joe Manchin expects to hold a Capitol press conference this afternoon (corrected from morning) after telling The Associated Press and others that "he wants state agencies to account for their actions during the weekend snow storm that left hundreds of motorists stranded on West Virginia’s highways."

“Mistakes were made and it has to be fixed,” Manchin told AP. “I’m upset and I want answers.”

The Manchin administration has caught flak over how state agencies responded. The West Virginia Turnpike has also come under fire for not closing until after hundreds of vehicles had become stuck, stranding travelers on the road for 16 hours and more.

"It marks the second time in as many years that the decisions of West Virginia Turnpike officials are being questioned," AP reported. "In August 2008, Manchin asked for a review of turnpike operations after an accident trapped motorists for 10 hours."

Manchin also spoke to MetroNews, which has audio, and to Public Broadcasting (ditto).

W.Va. Again to Count Stimulus Spending, Jobs

As with other recipients of federal stimulus funds, West Virginia officials are gearing up for the next round of disclosures meant to detail how the money's been spent and whether it's created or saved any jobs, The Associated Press reports.

The numbers will become public at the end of January, f0llowing reviews on both the state and federal level during much of that month.

AP had reported on the spending and jobs figures from West Virginia's first stimulus disclosure. As the latest article explains, "The initial round of reporting counted a little more than 2,400 jobs retained or created between February's passage of the massive legislation and the end of September. They were linked to around $191.8 million from West Virginia's estimated $1.8 billion share of the stimulus."

"Gov. Joe Manchin's stimulus coordinator, Danny Scalise, is standing behind the administration's portion of West Virginia's figure," the article said, but it adds that a review "suggests problems with some of the other jobs claims behind West Virginia's tally."

Praying for Byrd. Or Not.

U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., raised eyebrows at Political Wire and elsewhere after contributing this comment to the weekend debate over that chamber's health care legislation.

"What the American people ought to pray is that somebody can't make the vote tonight," Coburn was quoted as saying. "That's what they ought to pray."

Dana Milbank of The Washington Post interpreted his votive thusly: "They needed one Democratic senator to die -- or at least become incapacitated... It was difficult to escape the conclusion that Coburn was referring to the 92-year-old, wheelchair-bound Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.V.) who has been in and out of hospitals and lay at home ailing..."

Milbank explained that "It would not be easy for Byrd to get out of bed in the wee hours with deep snow on the ground and ice on the roads -- but without his vote, Democrats wouldn't have the 60 they needed."

But, as The Associated Press and others reported, supporters "won a crucial test vote on President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, putting them on track for passage before Christmas of the historic legislation to remake the United States' medical system and cover 30 million uninsured."

Milbank ended his column by describing the crucial scene that provided that outcome:

Coburn was wearing blue jeans, an argyle sweater and a tweed jacket with elbow patches when he walked back into the chamber a few minutes before 1 a.m. He watched without expression when Byrd was wheeled in, dabbing his eyes and nose with tissues, his complexion pale. When his name was called, Byrd shot his right index finger into the air as he shouted "aye," then pumped his left fist in defiance.