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Wolf to make announcement about GOP budget

Published by Mike Pound on .

(Larry Roberts/Post-Gazette)(Larry Roberts/Post-Gazette)

We should find out later this morning what Gov. Go Time plans to do with the Republican budget that's sitting on his desk.

The GOP-led state Legislature approved a compromise budget last week -- not the one Wolf agreed to with GOP leadship in the Senate and the House a month ago, but a significantly watered-down plan backed by more conservative House Republicans -- and a spokesman for Mr. Wolf said there will be an announcement at 10:30 this morning about that budget.

The governor has options. He can sign the plan into law or he could allow it to become law without his signature. He could slice individual spending items from the budget or he could veto it altogether. It's worth noting that the plan on his desk doesn't have anywhere near the increases in education funding Mr. Wolf had sought; we'll have to wait and see whether that plays a part in the governor's decision.

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Perry on Politics: Expect the unexpected in New Hampshire

Published by James M. Perry on .

Pat Buchanan rallies supporters in 1992. (Associated Press photo)Pat Buchanan rallies supporters in 1992. (Associated Press)

We're finally almost there.

Voters will begin picking delegates to their party conventions at caucuses in Iowa on Feb. 1 and in a primary in New Hampshire eight days later.

Democrats have a front-runner in Hillary Rodham Clinton, though she probably will be challenged here and there by Bernie Sanders. Republicans have no front-runner, though the bellicose Donald Trump leads in early polls, rarely reliable in telling us the identity of the eventual winners.

Thousands of Iowa Republicans will turn out in 1,682 precinct caucuses in living rooms and at church halls and libraries Feb. 1, a Monday, to begin a long and tedious delegate-selection process that won't be finished until every other state has picked its delegates. Right now, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, the candidate with a lean and hungry look, seems to be close to locking up the Iowa caucuses. The last two winners in Iowa were Mike Huckabee in 2008 and Rick Santorum in 2012 (they both defeated Mitt Romney).

Attention will then shift to New Hampshire, which began holding these presidential primaries in 1916, though not many Americans outside the Granite State took notice until 1952 when General Eisenhower defeated Sen. Robert Taft.

Strange things tend to happen every now and again in New Hampshire. In 1964, Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., thousands of miles away in Saigon, defeated Barry Goldwater and Nelson Rockefeller as a write-in candidate.

In 1996, Pat Buchanan, a very angry candidate, narrowly defeated Bob Dole, 27.25 percent to 26.22 percent. Buchanan appealed to many of the same kinds of voters Mr.Trump appeals to now.

"The peasants are coming with pitchforks," Mr. Buchanan said, the peasants being his loyal followers.

He ran in New Hampshire for the first time in 1992 against President George H.W. Bush and picked up a significant 37.5 percent of the vote. He pulled out of the race after that and endorsed Mr. Bush, delivering a rousing speech at the Republican convention in which he said "there was a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America."

Think, he said, what Bill and Hillary Clinton "would impose on America – abortion on demand, a litmus test for the Supreme Court, homosexual rights, discrimination against religious schools, women in combat units – that's change all right. But it is not the kind of change America needs ... and it is not the kind of change we can abide in a nation we still call God's country."

Mr. Buchanan's "peasants with pitch forks" are still out there, just as angry as ever. The big question is, will they attend the caucuses in Iowa or vote in New Hampshire? We shall soon know.

James M. Perry, a prominent veteran political reporter, contributes regular observations to post-gazette.com. Mr. Perry was the chief political correspondent of The Wall Street Journal until his retirement. Prior to that, he covered national politics for the Dow Jones weekly, The National Observer.

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Breakfast Sausage: 5 things to read today

Published by Mike Pound on .

Ben Carson, left, and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas look on as Donald Trump speaks during the Republican debate in Las Vegas, Dec. 15, 2015. (Ruth Fremson/The New York Times)Ben Carson, left, and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas look on as Donald Trump speaks during the Republican debate in Las Vegas, Dec. 15, 2015. (Ruth Fremson/The New York Times)

We've enjoyed our little pre-Christmas break and we're ready to finish off the year in a big way. So let's hit the reset button, shall we?

1) The Republican presidential candidates held another debate on CNN that Donald Trump didn't win, no matter what he says. Jeb! Bush actually landed a couple of punches on the Teflon Don(ald), although those points would have mattered much more in September. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz turned their attention on each other, giving viewers a couple of interesting non-Trump-related exchanges. And Ben Carson seems more irrelevant with each new debate appearance.

2) More than 18 million people watched last week's Republican debate. Not counting immediate family members of candidates and journalists who were required to cover it, something like 37 people saw the Democratic candidates debate on ABC Saturday night. Sure, the Dems don't have a candidate of Trumpian stature to draw in viewers, but it's still not clear why the Democratic National Committee would schedule debates on Saturday nights.

3) The details have changed slightly, but, shamefully, the story remains the same on Dec. 21 as it did on July 1: Pennsylvania still doesn't have a 2015-16 budget.

4) A lesson in crisis management that Hillary Clinton should have noticed: To lead off the Democratic debate, Bernie Sanders was asked if Ms. Clinton was owed an apology because his campaign staffers improperly accessed Clinton campaign data; Mr. Sanders apologized to Ms. Clinton, immediately and directly. Imagine how quickly Ms. Clinton could have put to rest the continuing annoyance of the State Department email scandal if she had done the same.

5) We're going to miss the candidacy of Lindsey Graham, who announced this morning he was withdrawing from the Republican campaign. He was far and away the most entertaining guy of the bunch.

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Report: Pat Toomey is very conservative indeed

Published by Chris Potter on .

A well-connected Democratic group is weighing in with criticisms of Senator Pat Toomey, accusing him of being … well … a conservative Republican.

“Partisan Pat Toomey Puts Ideological Republicans First,” reads the headline of a release from Senate Majority PAC, which seeks to elect Democrats to the Senate. The organization claims Mr. Toomey has voted with Republicans 93 percent of the time, and “with the Koch brothers" 96 percent of the time. The latter number is based on the lifetime rating Mr. Toomey has accrued with Americans for Prosperity, a Koch-funded group.

The group's five-page report breaks out a number of votes Mr. Toomey has cast, including repeated votes to defund Planned Parenthood, and a vote this month opposing a Democratic bill to bar firearm purchases by people on a federal “no-fly” terrorism watch list. (Mr. Toomey, who has said he was concerned that innocent people have ended up on the list with little recourse, supported a rival proposal that Republicans said had more procedural safeguards.) The report also cites several occasions in which Mr. Toomey backed tax breaks for oil companies and other businesses. 

Mr. Toomey has plenty of conservative bona fides: He's the former head of Club for Growth, a staunchly conservative advocacy group, and his Americans for Prosperity rating in 2015 is a perfect 100 percent; other conservative groups also regard him warmly.

On the other hand, the Lugar Center, which espouses the cause of bipartisanship, ranked Mr. Toomey 40th on its Bipartisan Index this week, putting him the same ballpark as fellow Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey. And from the time he launched his re-election bid in September, Mr. Toomey's campaign has sought to protray him as unblinkered by partisan considerations. In a promotional video, for example, the campaign quotes testimonials asserting that Mr. Toomey rises above the “yelling and screaming” that characterizes government today. 

But Senate Majority PAC appears intent on denying him bipartisan cred, putting voters on notice that Mr. Toomey is a staunch conservative. “Pat Toomey is not who he says he is,” its release begins, accusing him of voting “in lockstep with partisan and ideological Washington Republicans on the most pressing issues facing people across Pennsylvania.”

In a way, today’s release may be putting Mr. Toomey on notice as well. While Majority PAC was established by veteran Democratic operatives in 2010, the year Mr. Toomey was mounting his successful Senate campaign, this is the first time it has waded into a Pennsylvania election fight. And today’s release may well preview future activity here.

If so, Senate Majority PAC could be a notable player. As an independent political committee, it can spend unlimited sums, though it must disclose donors and is barred from coordinating with any individual campaigns. During the 2014 election cycle, for example, the organization spent more than $45 million on nationwide media buys. Among its big-dollar contributors has been noted financier George Soros and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, owner of the business-news service that bears his name.

In response to the report, Toomey campaign spokesman Steve Kelly said "Senator Toomey has been successful in working across the aisle to achieve real results in promoting job creation, national security and better public safety for Pennsylvanians. Just last week, his bipartisan legislation to help keep child predators out of our schools was signed into law. Partisan political groups are merely trying to distract from their failed far-left policies that have stifled job creation, made the world less safe, and sent the national debt soaring."

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PA Society gathering slightly less sociable

Published by Chris Potter on .

Mayor John Fetterman, in a "tux"

For more than a century, the annual Pennsylvania Society gathering has been a place for political and business leaders to see and be seen. This year, the New York City event -- and the constellation of receptions and parties that surround it -- was marked most notably by conspicuous efforts to be seen somewhere else.

The December gathering is an occasion for state elected officials, lobbyists and politicos to rub elbows, and occasionally achieve make deals and progress on policy issues. But with the state’s budget crisis causing panic in school districts and prompting layoffs at social service agencies, many politicians decided to stay home, rather than risk the bad PR of being photographed at the Waldorf Astoria in a tux while social workers clip coupons. Some made a show of not showing up: Gov. Tom Wolf, for one, spent Friday helping out at a Harrisburg soup kitchen. Joe Sestak, one of three Democrats hoping to challenge Republican Senator Pat Toomey next year, similarly handed out cold-weather clothing and other gear to Harrisburg’s poor, while issuing a press release decrying the fact that “so many of our public leaders are leaving town to attend festivities in New York .... while leaving behind people who are cut off from basic necessities.”


Mr. Sestak’s Democratic rivals, Katie McGinty and Braddock Mayor John Fetterman, did attend: In a sort-of concession to the business-attire dress code, he exchanged his Dickie work shirts for a printed tuxedo T-shirt, customized with a “Fetterman” campaign button printed on it. Despite the unconventional garb, Mr. Fetterman’s mere presence at the event offered further proof that in some ways, he is in some ways running a more typical campaign than Mr. Sestak.


Another no-show: Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala. Mr. Zappala announced his race last week just in time to create some buzz for the event, but didn’t appear at the event itself to capitalize on it: His campaign said Mr. Zappala, who previously told the Post-Gazette he was hoping to stay close to Pittsburgh during the campaign, had “holiday family stuff” to attend to. (Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro, who is widely expected to run for AG himself, was on hand, though he would not disclose his intentions.)

Very few state legislators came to the event at all, and almost none from the state House, which last week torpedoed an apparent budget deal made between Mr. Wolf and state Senate leaders. The absence of legislators became a running topic of conversation: At a Saturday morning event, Congressman Pat Meehan joked that, “It’s nice to be in a legislative body that’s ALLOWED to be in New York.” Regulars said that in general, events seemed more subdued -- though on the bright side, a few noted, without so many legislators around, it was easier to get a drink at the bar.

It’s easy to make fun of the Society gathering: it’s a Pennsylvania event held in New York, where elected officials feast on hors d'oeuvres and liquor at parties hosted by some of the state’s biggest special interests. But David Taylor, the president of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association, lamented the absence of Mr. Wolf and other leaders.


Especially in a time of partisan rancor, he said, “One of the things of value this provides is that it’s shared territory.” Historically, the Pennsylvania Society gathers in New York because it was established by Gilded Age industrialists who lived far from their factories. “But it’s also good for [politicians] to be on neutral ground.” Mr. Taylor’s own event, for example, drew Republican and Democratic governors alike: Tom Corbett, Tom Ridge, and Ed Rendell all passed through the lobby of the Metropolitan Club Saturday morning, seeing old friends.


But this year, even the choice to show up had partisan implications. When Mr. Turzai cancelled a planned House session in Harrisburg, state Democrats accused him of “putting any budget agreements on hold so Republicans can have a good time in New York City.” In fact, House Republicans were almost entirely absent from Society events: The most prominent Republican legislative leader on hand was state Senator Jake Corman, who hosted a noisy event at the sports-themed 40/40 Club Friday afternoon. The Senate, he told reporter John Micek, had done its job.


Reporters scrounged for news as best they could, but there were few fireworks outside the Friday Republican fundraiser with headliner Donald Trump -- and even that event was perhaps most notable for the leaders who didn’t show up and the protesters who were forcibly tossed out. Pittsburgh-area Congressman Tim Murphy was on hand, and willing to talk up the prospects for his legislation overhauling mental-health care: Noting that House Speaker Paul Ryan “continues to say that we have to do this,” Mr. Murphy said he hoped to see it voted out of committee next month.


Mr. Toomey, meanwhile, spoke with business leaders and reporters alike about his concerns about the Obama administration’s nuclear-arms agreement with Iran. Mr. Toomey said the regime could not be trusted, and that although the Senate could do little to prevent sanctions from being lifted as part of the nuke deal, “The last thing we should do is be silent.”


Still and all, reporters could be heard lamenting the relative dearth of material. And for your Early Returns correspondent, a first-time attendee, the whole event was a powerful reminder of a lesson learned in high school: Any time I’m showing up at a party, that party is sure to be a dud.