Olympia is no longer crawling with zombies, defined by dictionary.com as undead souls "mute and will-less." Will-less, fine, but mute? After adjourning a 17-day special session on Wednesday, the legislature will rise again in January and shamble back to the farmhouse (think George Romero's 1968 Night of the Living Dead) to finish what they started.
As the Olympian's Brad Shannon writes, lawmakers were able to prune $480 million in spending with (just) $1.5 billion to go. "The action, which passed by lopsided and bipartisan votes in the House and Senate, left the tougher budget decisions until lawmakers return Jan. 9 for a regular 60-day session," Shannon writes. "That is when liberal Democrats are likely to demand new tax revenues in exchange for new spending cuts, while others seek reforms to save money."
Does the special session represent mission un-accomplished or incremental progress? It looks to be a mix of both. "Wednesday’s finish was a bit of a whimper after the loud clashes between protesters and authorities that led to 15 arrests the first two days of the session. By day’s end, the Senate and House had agreed to pass a handful of other bills," Shannon writes. "Among them was a piece of legislation that enhances training opportunities for students who plan to work in the aerospace industry, and other bills dealing with involuntary commitments of mental patients and violent sex predators."
Who is the Northwest's most influential member of Congress? Most would argue Sen. Patty Murray or Montana Sen. Max Baucus, chair of the Senate Finance Committee. Seniority and committee assignments notwithstanding, Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden also merits a nod. As the Oregonian's Charlie Pope writes, Wyden has partnered with his political antithesis, Rep. Paul Ryan, to remodel and hopefully breathe life into Medicare.
"The plan that Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon and Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin, rolled out is a hybrid of earlier ideas, modified and repackaged in a way they hope will soften the partisan political turmoil," Pope writes. "Medicare serves more than 47 million Americans and is nearly sacred politically. At the same time, the ballooning costs projected for Medicare threaten both the popular program and the national economy."
Wyden characterizes this profile in bipartisanship as "a different conversation." The plan contains features certain to rile just about every constituency (often a healthy sign, at least in the political-courage category.) "He and Ryan propose maintaining Medicare in its traditional form until 2022, when seniors eligible for Medicare (those now under 55) would be able to choose Medicare or a private health care plan," Pope writes.
"Unlike previous proposals to privatize Medicare — including one from Ryan earlier this year — the new approach would be seeded with safeguards to guarantee minimum standards for care that would be approved by federal officials. Ryan and Wyden believe that injecting competition into the system would make Medicare nimbler and more efficient. Seniors would have more choices, they say, while market forces would lower costs." If Democrats maintain control of the U.S Senate, Wyden is likely to become chair in 2013 of the powerful Energy and Natural Resources Committee. If Republicans take over, it will be Alaska's Lisa Murkowski.
The New York Times highlights the avarice of former Washington Mutual executives and their tepid, grotesquely lenient settlement with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (deftly lampooned yesterday by the Seattlepi.com's Joel Connelly.) Kerry Killinger and other former execs will pony up a total of $400,000 out of $900 million (!) originally sought by the F.D.I.C. And what became of the sacrament of confession? At WaMu, settlement means never having to say you're sorry.
"The executives will neither admit nor deny wrongdoing in the settlement, according to another person briefed on it but not authorized to discuss it. The government has faced recent criticism over its willingness to settle cases without extracting admissions of guilt. In November, a federal judge in New York denounced that practice when he refused to approve a settlement between Citigroup and the Securities and Exchange Commission," Louise Story writes.
What was especially unseemly was the use of spouses as dinero shelters. "In an unusual move, the F.D.I.C. also accused the wives of Mr. Killinger and Mr. Rotella of helping them shield some of the compensation from the company from legal claims. The wives will also be released from the suit as part of the settlement," Story writes.
In fairness to Kerry Killinger, he could have had a horrific childhood (okay, it was more likely charmed and entitled). Either way, the issue didn't come up in his paltry F.D.I.C. settlement. Not so with Colton Harris-Moore, the so-called Barefoot bandit. "Criminal psychologists say Colton Harris Moore infamous crime spree was fueled by childhood depression and post-traumatic stress disorder," the Herald's Jackson Holtz writes. "Harris-Moore, 20, was abused as a child, grew up in a chaotic home and likely suffered from prenatal exposure to alcohol, according to more than 100 pages of reports prepared by the Camano Island man's criminal defense team."
Harris-Moore appears to have had the negligent mother from hell, but is that enough of a mitigating factor to tamp down his prison sentence? (or forecast what he is likely to do in the future?) "The experts concluded that Harris-Moore is a candidate for rehabilitation and likely will not continue his crimes after prison," Holtz writes.
Lastly, remember the time you learned as a kid that a blue whale is bigger than any creature that ever lived? Dinosaurs quickly seemed less cool. As the Seattle Times' Craig Welch writes, a record six blue whales were spotted 25 miles off Westport late last week. It was "something so extraordinary it had been documented off Washington's coast only twice before in the past 50 years — a blue whale, the largest animal on Earth."
The Olympian, "Legislature is adjourned"
New York Times, "Ex-bank officials settle F.D.I.C lawsuit"
Seattle Times, "As whale sightings go, this is big"