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Washington Wrap

Dotty Lynch, Douglas Kiker and Steve Chaggaris of The CBS News Political Unit have the latest from the nation's capital.

While Hillary Looks Back, Podesta and Co. Move On: A new Democratic think tank headed by former Clinton White House Chief of Staff John Podesta will officially open its doors in September, although they've already found some prime D.C. office space. The Hill reports the American Majority Institute's game plan is to create a progressive organization to counter the phalanx of conservative policy shops and help focus the Democratic Party's message.

With a $10 million annual budget, the AMI's first big idea may have been to find a creative way to use soft money. The group will be able to take large contributions – the type now outlawed for political organizations – and its budget already dwarfs the $3 million annual budget of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council's think tank, the Progressive Policy Institute.

Democrats think the new group will counter-balance conservative groups like the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation, with their massive budgets of $16 million and $30 million, respectively. Key Democrats consider the party's ineffectiveness at selling its liberal agenda to the public and media as a reason behind GOP control of the White House and Congress.

"Certainly right now the conservative right does a much better job of feeding the media beast facts and arguments that make their case," former Clinton press secretary Joe Lockhart told the Hill. "On the progressive side of the aisle, we've been asleep at the wheel."

The AMI will have some serious staff firepower at its disposal, including Podesta, who will be president; former Dick Gephardt communications director Laura Nichols, who will be senior VP; Clinton administration NEC chief of staff Sarah Wartell, who will be chief operating officer; and Neera Tanden, Sen. Hillary Clinton's former policy director and deputy campaign manager, will run the domestic policy shop.

Nichols says the group will have "a muscular communications aspect" as opposed to other liberal policy shops that lack "serious marketing and communications aspect."

One strategist tells the Hill: "It would serve as a communications hub for a lot of policy ideas that people have … It would be a place where people are brought together to hash out policy in a lot of different areas."

Kucinich Wants Lynch Rescue Tape: Rep. Dennis Kucinich, the Ohio Democrat waging a long-shot bid for president, wants the Pentagon to release unedited footage of the rescue of Pfc. Jessica Lynch in April from an Iraqi hospital. Kucinich says he thinks the Pentagon might be exaggerating the drama involved in the nighttime rescue of Lynch, who was ambushed along a road near Nasiriyah in the early days of the conflict.

"Nothing the administration has said about Private Lynch has been verified by private news reports," Kucinich, a vocal opponent of the war against Iraq, told the AP on Tuesday. "It's time to find out the truth."

Kucinich – citing reports by the BBC and the AP questioning whether the U.S. military's dramatic show of force during the rescue was necessary – asked Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to explain whether American troops encountered any Iraqi forces at the hospital, whether they were fired on during the rescue, whether Lynch was injured during the rescue and whether U.S. forces fired on an Iraqi ambulance that allegedly was trying to deliver Lynch to safety before the dramatic rescue.

The Pentagon has denied that Lynch's rescue was staged or that the details were exaggerated. The Pentagon has never said there was shooting in the hospital, but said U.S. soldiers were fired on outside the building.

A Pentagon official told the AP it's unlikely the footage will be released to Kucinich, who is ranking member of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, Veterans Affairs and International Relations.

Tax Cut Fallout: The fight to give lower-income families the benefits of a child tax credit signed into law last week caused a bit of a ruckus in the House and Senate Tuesday.

House Democrats protested Republican leaders, who said they're opposed to extending the credits, by blocking passage of three minor bills – including one that would have named an Indianapolis courthouse for former Democratic Sen. Birch Bayh.

"The Republican leadership is trying to silence Democratic voices on the House floor. We will do whatever it takes to force Republicans to fix the child tax credit," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

The bill signed into law last week by President Bush includes rebates of up to $400 per child for families that qualify. But, in late-night congressional negotiations over the tax cut, families that make less than approximately $27,000 are exempt from the rebate, because they haven't paid enough income tax to qualify for the rebate.

"To me, it's a little difficult to give tax relief to people who don't pay income taxes," argued House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas.

Democrats in the Senate, meantime, tried to attach an amendment to the energy bill yesterday that would restore the rebates to the lower-income families. The amendment, sponsored by Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., gained some steam yesterday but Republican leaders pulled it from the floor to allow more time for them to mull it over.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and other Republicans are willing to restore the rebates but only in a bill that Grassley introduced yesterday that would include other tax cuts.

In other Hill news, DeLay weighed in on controversial comments by former President Bill Clinton in which he said he supports changing the 22nd Amendment regarding the two-term limit for presidents.

"If he wants to repeal it, I'm right with him," DeLay told reporters yesterday. "I've always been outspoken against term limits."

DeLay, of course, wouldn't go as far as saying he supports the former president completely, however.

"Maybe we can repeal the 22nd Amendment, then he can run again and we can beat him once and for all," DeLay added.

Runoff Rundown: The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reports that in the Texas-19 Republican vs. Republican runoff to fill retired Rep. Larry Combest's seat, Randy Neugebauer beat accountant Mike Conaway "by a slim 1.2 percent." Neugebauer edged Conaway by 715 votes – 28,610 to 27,895.

In Denver's Democrat vs. Democrat mayoral runoff, bar owner and political novice John Hickenlooper trounced City Auditor Don Mares. Hickenlooper 69,526 votes (64 percent) to Mares' 38,126 votes (35 percent). Hickenlooper will take over from popular longtime mayor Wellington Webb, also a Democrat.

Quote of the Day: "11:15-11:20 Give Adele the dry cleaning – newspapers - collect Coca Cola; 12:25 President Clinton, Hugh Rodham arrive; 12:30-1:15 grill - eat lunch (cheeseburger); 1:15-1:20 walk, cart to first tee; 1:20-6:10 play golf with President Clinton, Hugh Rodham, Aaron Podhurst; 6:10-6:20 cart area-turn in cart-walk to parking lot" … and on and on and on - Florida Sen. Bob Graham's diary for part of Feb. 10, 2001. (New York Times)

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