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Flash Traffic

Flash Traffic | Political Buzz from Washington

Issue: "Osama's witnesses," May 18, 2002

On the stump, President Bush receives hearty applause with speeches emphasizing fiscal restraint-"We need to hold the line on spending in Washington, D.C."-but beltway conservatives are jeering his intention to sign a bloated farm bill. "It spends too much; it undermines the president's goal of free trade, and damages the economy," says activist Grover Norquist, who typically supports the White House, but parts company with TeamBush over the legislation that boosts agriculture spending by 80 percent ($82 billion over the next 10 years). The bill creates new subsidies for chickpeas, honey, lentils, milk, mohair, peanuts, and wool. It also increases subsidies for grain and cotton. The bill is so bad it's actually unified the editorial pages of The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal against it. Conservative congressmen John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Cal Dooley (R-Calif.) warn that "Congress is on the verge of turning back the clock 50 years in federal farm policy" and setting up a situation where "our deficits will swell" and "our trading allies will become more hostile." Farmers are key constituents in Senate battleground states like Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, and South Dakota. But with Bush's approval ratings in the high 60s, isn't there a cheaper way to win votes?

Ohio Democratic Rep. James Traficant is now a convicted felon. In April, a jury found him guilty of 10 counts of racketeering, bribery, and tax evasion; in the sentencing phase of his trial, he faces a sentence as steep as 60 years in prison. But that hasn't stopped him from running for reelection anyway, this time as an independent, and the race to replace him is getting interesting. Rep. Traficant's seat has just been redistricted by the Republican- dominated state legislature. That should give the edge this fall to Ann Womer Benjamin, a moderate Republican state legislator who just won her nomination unopposed. The Democratic primary pitted Timothy Ryan, a 28-year-old freshman Democratic state senator, against eight-term Congressman Tom Sawyer, 56, whose seat was eliminated by redistricting. Rep. Sawyer seemed the shoo-in, especially with a huge fundraising lead. But when the votes were cast on May 7, Mr. Ryan stunned political observers by trouncing Mr. Sawyer, 42 percent to 25 percent.

Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.) appears to be turning against Israel, and that's created a possible political opening for a little-known freshman congressman who may challenge him in 2004. A recent resolution supporting Israel in its war against Palestinian terrorism passed 94 to 2, but Sen. Hollings and Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) voted against it. Mr. Hollings also took to the floor to link the elected Israeli prime minister to the dictator of Iraq: "The UN passed resolutions to send weapons inspectors to Iraq. We condemned Saddam for not letting them in. Now the UN has formed a team to investigate the incursion into Jenin. [Ariel] Sharon refuses to let the UN investigate, so in a way he's acting like Saddam Hussein." Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), who is said to be mulling a run against Sen Hollings, called the remarks "insulting," and said he doesn't want his state to look "narrow-minded or no-minded."

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Matt Drudge says spin is coming from Bill O'Reilly's self-proclaimed "no spin zone," and he doesn't like it. Mr. Drudge reported last winter that just as Rush Limbaugh was going deaf, Mr. O'Reilly was negotiating a national radio deal to capture dittoheads. Mr. O'Reilly vigorously denied he was trying to capitalize on Mr. Limbaugh's medical situation and said he would suspend any further consideration of a daily radio program. But last week came the rollout of The Radio Factor with Bill O'Reilly. Mr. O'Reilly, Westwood One, and Fox news negotiated arrangements with 205 radio stations across the country to carry the program. Mr. Limbaugh, whose hearing was restored with a cochlear implant, says he welcomes the competition.

Joel C. Rosenberg
Joel C. Rosenberg


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