WASHINGTON, April 30 (UPI) -- Capital Comment -- Daily news notes, political rumors, and important events that shape politics and public policy in Washington and the world from United Press International.
Judging the confirmation process ...
A bipartisan group of U.S. senators has examined the judicial confirmation process and found it wanting. In a letter sent Wednesday to the Senate leadership, John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Mark Pryor, D-Ark., joined by the Senate's eight other freshmen, urge "a fresh start" for the confirmation process, arguing a better way to confirm nominees must be created.
"The Senate needs to find an end to the downward spiral of accusations, obstruction and delay," Cornyn said. "The president's nominees, and in fact our entire judicial system, deserve no less."
In the letter, they wrote: "When a well-qualified nominee for the federal bench is denied a vote, the obstruction is justified on the grounds of how a prior nominee -- typically, the nominees of a previous president -- was treated. All of these recriminations, made by members on both sides of the aisle, relate to circumstances which occurred before any of us arrived in the United States Senate.
"None of us were parties to any of the reported past offenses, whether real or perceived," the 10 senators write. "None of us believe that the ill will of the past should dictate the terms and direction of the future."
Cornyn, who is chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution, intends to hold a hearing on the judicial process May 6, nearly two years after President George W. Bush announced his first group of federal appellate nominees, two of whom are being filibustered on the Senate floor.
For the children ...
Children's Defense Fund President Marian Wright Edelman and House Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman James E. Clyburn of South Carolina are using the interest in South Carolina as an early presidential primary state to focus attention on the needs of at-risk children.
"With the Democratic presidential candidates in South Carolina this weekend, and President Bush's possible visit the following week," the Congressional Black Caucus said in a release Tuesday, "the Children's Defense Fund and Congressman Clyburn want to be sure children's issues are included in every candidate's agenda.
"They believe anyone seeking the presidency should commit to improving and expanding services for children. Current proposals would eliminate, dismantle, cut and freeze essential children's services to pay for massive new tax breaks for the rich."
Keep those cards and letters coming ...
The study of costs imposed on the economy by regulation is a fairly new discipline. A number of economists now specialize in this area, trying to determine the economic impact of these hidden taxes on American growth and productivity, which might run into the millions if not billions of dollars.
The White House Office of Management and Budget is responsible for compiling information on the costs and benefits of regulation at the federal level. The agency recently put out a draft of its sixth annual "Benefit-Cost Report for 2003," which is supposed to provide an estimate of the total annual costs and benefits (including quantifiable and non-quantifiable effects) of federal rules and paperwork requirements.
The comment period is open until May 5 and some critics say it does not provide a sufficiently rigorous analysis.
Rather than providing reliable independent estimates of the hidden taxes of regulation, the OMB report sums up federal agency estimates of the economic costs created by the regulations they are charged with overseeing. Some critics of the OMB approach would prefer agencies with the federal government be required to produce estimates based on a consistent and objective review of the available information.
The OMB has also issued draft guidelines for future regulatory analysis that are intended to bring more rigor and transparency to the regulatory review process, a move that budget economists have praised. The Mercatus Center, a think tank based at George Mason University that studies regulatory issues, says: "Holding agencies accountable for basing policy on sound regulatory analysis grounded in accepted scientific and economic principles is an important step."
However, say Mercatus and other critics, the revised guidelines for the conduct of regulatory analysis "may undermine the ability of regulators to ensure their initiatives do more good than harm."
Comments may be directed to OMB until May 5 via the Internet at WhiteHouse.gov/OMB/Inforeg/regpol.html.
Nuclear reaction ...
Even the idea that a French company might be in line for a substantial piece of a pending federal contract for work at the Yucca Mountain, Nev., nuclear waste disposal facility is starting to generate a buzz now that Congress is back in session.
Angry activists who are still upset about the lack of French cooperation in the Iraq war are circulating around Washington an April 3 New York Times column by William Safire. The Department of Energy, he writes, "is about to award a $30 million contract to design a system for its nuclear waste program in Yucca Mountain, Nev."
Bechtel, the international construction firm that is the general contractor for the Yucca Mountain site, Safire says, has asked for design bids from three firms of different pedigrees, one being the French-owned nuclear conglomerate Cogema.
"Assuming the expertise and price are in the same ballpark," Safire asks, "which outfit should not get this sensitive project financed by the American taxpayers?"
None of the firms involved confirmed which companies might be under consideration, but even the idea that a major U.S. government contract might end up enriching the coffers of a French-owned firm might provoke another round of difficulty on Capitol Hill for the Yucca project.
Got an item for Capital Comment? E-mail it to CapComm@UPI.com.