Morning Must Reads -- Massa investigation a ticklish situation for Pelosi 

Washington Post -- Nancy Pelosi's office was told of concerns about Eric Massa

It seemed at first that House Democrats had acted swiftly to deal with the charges against tickle-fight fan Rep. Eric Massa, avoiding one the central problems that dogged the GOP in the 2006 election year: trying to protect Rep. Mark Foley who was pawing at the boy pages.

But now the House leadership is caught in a bit of a bind – on the day that the Ethics Committee dropped the investigation into Massa’s alleged sexual harassment of his male aides (the Foley probe went on for weeks after he left Congress and produced a damning report about him and his protectors) it is also revealed that the House speaker’s office knew about Massa’s unusual sense of congressional decorum last fall, but took no action.

It lends some credence to the theory that Massa’s antics only became an issue once Democrats were rounding up votes for the final health care vote. Massa voted n on the grounds that the bill was insufficiently liberal and was a prime target for leaders looking for switchers.

Writer Carol Leonnig tells us what Pelosi’s office knew in October:

“Joe Racalto, Massa's chief of staff, was uneasy that Massa, 50, was living with several young, unmarried male staffers and using sexually explicit language with them, one source said. But what finally prompted him to call Pelosi's director of member services, the source said, was a lunch date that Massa made with a congressional aide in his 20s who worked in the office of Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.).

According to a person briefed on the call, Racalto was concerned that the lunch followed a pattern by Massa -- who is married and has two children -- of trying to spend time alone with young gay men with no ostensible work purpose. Racalto, according to this person, also alerted Frank's chief of staff. The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the political sensitivity of the matter.”


Washington Post -- Employers plan to shift more health-care costs to workers, survey reports

The drive for Obamacare has already had one major effect – employers are dumping costs on workers as fears of crippling expenses grow.

Writer David Hilzenrath looks at the results of the National Business Group on Health, the annual survey that looks at trends in the health benefits field. The results show that many employers are trying to get out in front of new regulations and fees by shifting the burden to workers. Another popular strategy is to start edging high-risk/high-cost employees out of company plans so they can be quickly dumped into any new government program that does emerge.

“So-called spousal surcharges impose a fee if an employee's spouse enrolls in the company plan, despite having the option of getting coverage through his or her own job. The theory is that spouses who take advantage of the company plan are likely to be heavier consumers of health care. Twenty-eight percent of employers plan to use spousal surcharges next year, up from 21 percent this year, the survey found. Although only 3 or 4 percent of employers give employees financial incentives to meet targets for blood pressure, weight and cholesterol, 13 to 14 percent are considering doing so, the survey found. Six to 7 percent are considering declaring that only employees who meet targets can enroll in "preferred" health-care plans, up from 1 percent now.”


Washington Post -- Politics, shaky economy create no rush to restructure Fannie and Freddie

Writer Zachary Goldfarb tells us that while the Fed and Treasury look for ways to spin down bailout projects, it looks more and more like the total federal control of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are permanent conditions. Along with General Motors, the mortgage lenders are likely to become wards of the state in perpetuity.

The government has pumped $125 billion into propping up the lenders and there will be more costs as foreclosures continue and the administration looks for new, and more expensive, ways to intervene.

So for now, the lenders operate in a shadow world where there is neither the oversight and transparency of a government agency nor the competitive pressures of the free market – and there’s no plan to devise a permanent solution.

“When the Bush administration seized the firms, it said it would make $200 billion available to them. The Obama administration a year ago doubled that figure, then decided late last year to offer them unlimited financial assistance as a signal to investors that the companies' solvency was guaranteed.”


New York Times -- Tight Race in Iraq Could Mean Weeks of Horse-Trading

Ahmed Chalabi, the Shi’a schemer who helped feed fake Iranian intelligence to the U.S. in the run up to the Iraq invasion, seems to have lost again in parliamentary elections. The forecast vote from Sunday’s election has Chalabi’s party trailing secular reformer Ayad Allawi in the balloting. Allawi’s team trails the party of incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, but is close enough to get some say in the formation of the new government.

Left out by the voters, Chalabi and his Iranian backers, are looking to delegitimize the results.

Writer Mark Santora explains the tough road ahead for forming a ruling coalition.

“In the months after the 2005 election, while politicians wrangled for months about the makeup of the government, insurgents gained strength and religious tensions worsened. Tens of thousands were killed in the sectarian fighting that followed, which made Mr. Chalabi’s challenge on Thursday deeply troubling to Western observers.”


Washington Post -- It's Obama vs. the Supreme Court, Round 2, over campaign finance ruling

Liberal outrage at Chief Justice John Roberts found a new gear after Roberts answered a question from a University of Alabama law student by objecting to the high court being placed in the public stocks during President Obama’s State of the Union address.

Roberts point was that while it may have become a nice tradition during the modern era of states of the union for the justices to turn up and smile silently through the speech, it’s no good if it’s a chance for the president to shame the judiciary. What the president did was tacky and unprecedented, and Roberts said only that he found it “troubling” and that he may follow Justice Thomas’ lead and leave the “political pep rally” to the politicians.

The White House seized on the chance to reengage the debate on the underlying issue – the decision to lift blackout dates imposed by the McCain-Feingold Act on political expenditures by non-candidates.

Robert Gibbs was immediately bleating about the corporate takeover of American politics and proving that he likes being disagreeable while disagreeing. Fortunately for Gibbs, writers Robert Barnes and Anne Kornblut were on the case to explain that this was all very bad news for Roberts and would reinforce that the president’s public chiding was the right thing to do – lots of blind quotes about the ruling and the political wisdom of boorish behavior.

“[Obama officials] acknowledged that a debate over campaign finance fed into Obama's central campaign promise of transparency and reform. ‘This is really about the president's change agenda,’ a White House official said.

‘This is the functioning of democracy at its highest,’ the official said. ‘People disagree, they discuss, they debate.’”


--My column about Rahm just being Rahm is here.


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About The Author

Chris Stirewalt


Washington Examiner Political Editor Chris Stirewalt, who coordinates political coverage for the newspaper and in addition to writing a twice-weekly column and
regular blog posts.

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