Top Tens (updated)

Showing a keen understanding of the media’s love for end-of-year lists, Senator Arlen Specter’s campaign has compiled a tally of challenger Joe Sestak’s top ten 2009 “blunders.”

Making the cut:

–Sestak claiming all military officials are Democrats, whether or not they know it

–The congressman’s months-long flirtation with a formal campaign announcement

–127 missed votes

The Sestak campaign, in turn, has put together a list of the “ten worst votes Arlen Specter ever cast.”

Included:

–Supporting “many of the most reactionary judges the Republican Party could find, including voting for Justices Thomas and Alito”

–Voting to authorize the invasion of Iraq

–Opposing an effort to extend the federal assault weapons ban

Thanks, Carl

Carl Kasell has been delivering the news to NPR listeners since the very first Morning Edition was broadcast in 1979.  Starting Monday, though, he’ll get a chance to to sleep in. Carl’s continuing his duties on Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me, but  retires as a newscaster at 11 o’clock.

Carl looked back on his career with both NPR’s Renee Montagne and WITF’s Tim Lambert this morning. Montagne dug up some incredible jingles and radio dramas from Carl’s pre-NPR career, and Lambert asked for tips on working the early shift.

Wagner: Defender of Taco Tuesday

As Capitol cafeteria employees continue to stamp out the eatery’s “severe” rodent infestation, Auditor General Jack Wagner is pointing out he’s been calling for increased inspections there for years.

The last Agriculture Department cafeteria inspection before this month’s visit took place in 2005. In a Christmas Eve press release, Wagner’s office said that checkup was a “direct result” of a 2005 audit calling out lax inspection policies.

That audit, which took a look at restaurant inspections across the state, devoted several pages to the lack of inspections at state Capitol facilities. At the time, the cafeteria hadn’t been looked at since 2000. Wagner determined that was a result of turf confusion — Department of Agriculture, City of Harrisburg, Department of General Services and Department of Labor and Industry officials all thought one of the other agencies was responsible for oversight.

The audit found that, “when state agencies hide behind their own bureaucracies as these agencies did, nothing gets done until someone steps up to take responsibility.  Accordingly, this finding in particular shows why it is so critical for one state agency to vest itself with coordinating the licensing and inspection procedures and inspection results statewide. As we stated in the previous finding, this authority should be assumed by the Department of Agriculture.”

Agriculture spokesman Justin Fleming tells the AP the 05-09 lapse was “‘an unfortunate oversight’ while the agency worked to correct problems cited in Wagner’s audit.”

No love for Jack Wagner

To me, the most interesting part of Governor Rendell’s “year in review” press conference was the questions on next year’s Democratic gubernatorial primary. At first, Rendell said he has no plans to endorse a candidate or influence the field. He said he’s never done that. When a reporter pointed out that Rendell had, in fact, waded into previous races, Rendell said “he might do that again.” So it’s unclear whether the incumbent will pick a favorite.

But then Rendell mentioned how closely he’s worked with:

-Dan Onorato

-Joe Hoeffel

-Chris Doherty

-Tom Knox.

Missing anyone, governor?  I asked how close he was with the  one candidate he didn’t mention.

Rendell: Who’s the other candidate?

Me: Jack Wagner?

Rendell: He’s a good public servant.

When asked how helpful Wagner’s often critical audits have been, Rendell said, “Some are, some aren’t. Some are accurate, some aren’t. But that’s probably the case with any auditor general that you look at in history. Auditor generals have a history of running for other offices.”

Between that and the snark Rendell directed at Wagner during an October appearance on WHYY’s Radio Times, I wouldn’t expect the Auditor General and Governor to get together for any joint fundraisers in the near future.

Specter on health care passage

The Republican-turned-Democrat makes a historical analogy in his praise of this morning’s vote.

“The Senate took a historic step today in seeing to it that quality health care becomes a right in America and not a privilege.  While I would have preferred inclusion of a public option, this bill may be improved in conference and is a significant step forward for incremental reform.  It took the initial steps of the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1964 to set the stage for the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965. That precedent could be followed by future healthcare legislation.

Health care bill clears Senate

After months of debate, a major health care overhaul  passed the Senate on a 60-39 vote this morning. Pennsylvania Democrat Bob Casey says it’s “a historic step,” claiming the measure will expand coverage to 31 million more Americans, as well as lop 132 billion dollars off the federal deficit over the next decade.

Here’s more of Casey’s statement:

“This bill also makes improvements for children’s health care and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).  I have been a strong advocate for protecting and improving CHIP in this bill.  We prevented the dismantling of the program and were able to secure a two-year funding extension in addition to other improvements such as strengthening enrollment and outreach mechanisms and immediately implementing provisions to prevent denial of care because of preexisting conditions.

“More power is given to consumers and we end many of the worst practices by insurance companies.  Discrimination because of pre-existing conditions would be prohibited.  Insurance companies wouldn’t be able to drop coverage if you become sick.  Arbitrary limits on coverage would be eliminated.”

PA Republicans disagree. State chairman Rob Gleason calls it “an awful piece of legislation that will raise taxes, kill jobs and drive a government-sized wedge between patients and their doctors.” He says it doesn’t address the country’s health care needs, and that the party looks forward to waiving the bill around during this year’s Senate campaign. “Pennsylvanians will not forget that Senator Specter gave the Democrats their 60th vote and assured the passage of this awful legislation.”

Corbett questions “Nebraska Compromise”

In  a thinly-veiled attempt to make up for the 1994 college football rankings, Attorney General — and GOP gubernatorial front-runner —  Tom Corbett is launching an investigation into the constitutionality of the deal Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid  cut with Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson.

Nelson, as you may recall, was the 60th Democrat to back health care. His support stymied a GOP filibuster, and set the state for tomorrow morning’s Senate vote.  In exchange for his “yes” vote, Nebraska is exempt from increased Medicaid payments…forever.

Corbett doesn’t like that.  He says, “Medicaid expenses for Pennsylvania total approximately $15 billion per year and the Nelson amendment raises serious constitutional questions about imposing federal costs and mandates that treat one state differently from all the others.” He’s worried the deal “could have dire consequences for Pennsylvania taxpayers,” who, along with the taxpayers of 48 other states, would presumably shell out money for Cornhuskers’ medical bills until the Second Coming. (Or until December 2012, I suppose.)

Corbett’s not the only A-G looking into the deal. Spokesman Kevin Harley says the probe could lead to a lawsuit, but that it’s too early to predict whether that’s likely.

Ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports an Allegheny County grand jury is investigating Republican Senator Jane Orie. The complaint? “Political calls were being made there on behalf of state Supreme Court nominee Joan Orie Melvin, the senator’s sister.”

The news comes a day after an AP story saying House Majority Leader Todd Eachus is being implicated in grand jury testimony, and a week after Democrats Bill DeWeese and Stephen Stetler were arraigned for theft, conflict of interest and conspiracy charges. 25 people have now been charged in Attorney General Tom Corbett’s ongoing corruption probe, though defendant Sean Ramaley was acquitted on all six counts he faced earlier this month.

You have to wonder how many PA political leaders are sweating — and furiously trying to remember whether they ever made a single political phone call from a public office — as they get ready for the holidays.

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