DADT Repeal Advances

The Senate just invoked cloture on the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” repeal, by a 63 to 33 vote, clearing the way for final passage. 

It’s hard to imagine liberals mounting a primary challenge against a president who brought them national health care and repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

UPDATE: The vote on final passage was 65 to 31.

What Was Pawlenty Thinking?

Outgoing Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty told the editorial board of the Deluth News Tribune that knowing what he knows now — that Republicans would take over the state legislature — he regrets not running for reelection. Taken on its own, there’s nothing wrong with the comment. But if he does have presidential ambitions, it’s kind of perplexing as to why he’d come out and say this. Doing so merely reinforces the criticism of Pawlenty that he’s a local politician who isn’t cut out for national politics. Saying you’d wish you had run for governor isn’t exactly the best way to communicate that you have the confidence and drive to be president.

Another Judge Seems Poised To Declare ObamaCare Mandate Unconstitutional

This has been a busy week when it comes to legal challenges to the national health care law. On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Henry Hudson ruled that the law’s requirement to purchase health insurance was unconstitional in a suit brought by Virgina. And on Thursday, another district court judge, Roger Vinson, heard oral arguments in a separate case against the individual mandate launched by Florida and 19 other states.

While a judge’s posture in oral arguments isn’t an ironclad indication of how he intends to vote, several news accounts of the hearing suggested Vinson — a Ronald Reagan appointee — was extremely skeptical of the Obama administration’s argument that the Commerce Clause gave the federal government the authority to regulate inactivity.

“It would be a giant leap for the Supreme Court to say that a decision to buy or not to buy is tantamount to activity,” Vinson said, according to the Wall Street Journal. The judge noted that when he was in law school he was uninsured when his first son was born and paid out of pocket.

Vinson called the mandate a “giant expansion” of federal regulatory power, the New York Times reported, saying, “People have always exercised the freedom to choose whether to buy or not buy a commercial product.”

There was even some suggestion that Vinson could go a step further in his ruling than the decision earlier this week. Hudson rejected Virginia’s call to strike down the entire health care law if the mandate is deemed unconstitutional, but according to both accounts, Vinson seemed more sympathetic to striking down the whole law, arguing that its elements were interconnected, like a clock that stops working if one part isn’t functioning properly. “It’s also been compared to a Rube Goldberg invention,” the Times quoted him as saying.

For opponents of ObamaCare, clearly the more rulings against the mandate — and the more chances to win at the appellate level — the better.

Tax Package Sails Through House

By a 277 to 148 margin, the House just passed the tax deal that President Obama struck with Republicans, making it a signature away from becoming law. Despite a lot of huffing and puffing among House Democrats, they rejected an amendment to alter the estate tax, and a majority of them ended up voting for the deal. Overall, Democrats voted for the compromise by a 139 to 112 margin and Republicans voted for it by a 138 to 36 margin. If you would have told me in January 2009 that not only would all the Bush tax cuts be extended, but that that more Democrats than Republicans would vote to extend them, I would have said you were insane.

Here is the roll call.

What a Difference a Year Makes

This time last year, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was racing frantically against the clock to try to ram through the national health care bill before the chamber adjourned for Christmas, but with Democrats holding a 60-vote majority, the only hope for opponents of the bill was that so-called moderates such as Sens. Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman — or maybe a liberal upset about the lack of a public option — would support a GOP filibuster. In the end, Republicans’ dragged things out but were ultimately helpless to stop the freight train. Yet a year later — in no small part because of they succeeded in passing the health care bill into law — Democrats find themselves in a much weaker position, and suddenly had to drop an omnibus spending bill that once would have sailed through.

A Victory for the Tea Party, But a Long Road Remains

Once mocked as angry racist mobs and “Astroturf,” the tea parties made their presence known in last month’s midterm elections. Tonight, they claimed their first genuine legislative victory when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pulled the $1.2 trillion omnibus bill with thousands of earmarks, conceding he didn’t have the votes to pass it. The reason he didn’t have the votes to pass it was was no doubt a result of the pressure put on Republicans by tea party activists who have made it politically untenable to be associated with massive government spending and special favors. Sen. John McCain took to the floor and called this a “seminal moment.” I would say that it could be, but that largely depends on how Republicans behave going forward. Democrats made Republicans jobs a lot easier this week by providing them with such a massive target so soon after an election in which voters rejected out of control spending. But the truer test will be if Republicans can show the same sort of fortitude on matters that aren’t so easy — especially when it comes to entitlement spending, which is a much greater threat to the nation’s fiscal health than earmark spending. So, this is something worth celebrating — but only as much as a first down early in the season. There’s still a long road ahead for those who want to rein in government.

Reid Ditches Omnibus, Says He No Longer Has Votes

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he would not file cloture on the $1.2 trillion omnibus spending bill, saying he doesn not have the votes. Instead, he said he would work with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on a continuing resolution to keep the government funded for the short term.

Reid said he initially had agreements from 9 Republicans to vote for the bill, but that those votes have since evaporated. Brandishing a pocket copy of the U.S. Constitution, Reid defended earmarks, saying it’s one way to preserve the checks and balances put in place by the founders and that ending the practice would transfer too much power to the executive.

He also said he would file cloture on the DREAM Act and the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” repeal, setting up votes for Saturday.

The Omnibus and “Food Justice”

Scroll through any part of the Democrats’ $1.2 trillion omnibus spending bill and it won’t be long before you stumble upon an item that will have you scratching your head. I had a moment like that yesterday, when I reached page 11, and found a $35 million appropriation to the Secretary of Agriculture, “For necessary expenses of the Secretary to carry out demonstration projects to increase access to healthy foods through retail outlets.”

The allocation, it turns out, is part of a larger $400 million effort by the federal government, partnering the Departments of Agriculture, Health and Human Services, and Treasury, to attempt to make more fresh produce and healthy grocery stores available to underserved areas, dubbed “food deserts,” where fast food is the often the main option. The effort has been tied together with Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity crusade.

Under the program, the federal government helps provide financing to businesses (such as farmers and grocery stores). Here’s how the Obama administration described the Department of Agriculture’s role in a February press release:

USDA’s proposed funding level of $50 million will support more than $150 million in public and private investments in the form of loans, grants, promotion, and other programs that can provide financial and technical assistance to enhance access to healthy foods in under-served communities, expand demand and retail outlets for farm products, and increase the availability of locally and regionally produced foods. USDA has a solid track record of supporting successful farmers markets, and has also invested in grocery stores and creating agricultural supply chains for them, such as in the People’s Grocery project in Oakland, CA.

If you check out the People’s Grocery website, you’ll find that its slogan is, “Healthy Food For Everyone.” As described in its “About Us” page, this means: “We believe everyone should have access to healthy food, regardless of income. We call this ‘food justice’ – the belief that healthy food is a human right.”

When I asked the USDA for more information, they pointed me toward their website on “food deserts,” which highlights the type of grant opportunities available.

There are a number of things worth commenting on here. First and foremost, why should it be the role of government to subsidize private businesses to expand into these markets? Liberals could argue that the lack of healthy options in certain areas — not individual choices — are leading to rising obesity, which in turn leads to higher health care costs, which in turn leads to more government spending. But this is yet another reason to oppose national health care and another example of how big government begets bigger government — the more the government is involved in health care, the more people’s nutrition is in the interest of government, and the easier it is to justify programs such as these.

Yet even if you were to say that this is something worthwhile — which I would not say — why do we need to be spending this money at a time of massive deficits, and why is this part of a spending bill we’re told is an absolute emergency to pass by Saturday to keep the government open?

“Stuxnet” Designer Should Be Person of the Year

Today, Time magazine gave its “Person of the Year” honor to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, but another computer programer may have had a far greater impact on world events — the person (people?) who designed the “Stuxnet” virus that by a number of accounts has been a huge setback to the Iranian nuclear program.

The Jerusalem Post has spoken with the German computer whiz who has been studying the virus, and he’s concluded:

“It will take two years for Iran to get back on track,” Langer said in a telephone interview from his office in Hamburg “This was nearly as effective as a military strike, but even better since there are no fatalities and no full-blown war. From a military perspective, this was a huge success.”

Langer spoke to the Post amid news reports that the virus was still infecting Iran’s computer systems at its main uranium enrichment facility at Natanz and its reactor at Bushehr.

Last month, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nation’s nuclear watchdog, said that Iran had suspended work at its nuclear-field production facilities, likely a result of the Stuxnet virus.

According to Langer, Iran’s best move would be to throw out all of the computers that have been infected by the worm, which he said was the most “advanced and aggressive malware in history.” But, he said, even once all of the computers were thrown out, Iran would have to ensure that computers used by outside contractors were also clean of Stuxnet.

Obviously, there’s a lot that we don’t know. Israel is the leading suspect for creating the virus, but there’s no way of telling for sure, which is what’s so beautiful about it. The difficulty of resolving the Iranian nuclear crisis has always been that diplomacy would never convince the regime to abandon their program, Russia and China would never get them to agree to tough enough sanctions, and the military options would present tremendous operational difficulties and carry tremendous consequences. All the while, Iran was racing ahead with their program, while the clock ticked. Of course, even if reports are accurate, the “Stuxnet” virus didn’t resolve any of the bigger questions regarding Iran. But still, at the minimum, it bought the world more time without any human casualties.