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Price likely to spearhead oversight of DHS 

Last weekend, 13 weary travelers made their way back home for the holidays after representing roughly a half-million North Carolinians in a Congress now infamous for doing less than its "do-nothing" counterpart of 1947.

With the GOP leadership apparently curled up in a fetal position somewhere, there were no last hurrahs for the era that began with Newt Gingrich in 1994.

"They were a mixture of angry, demoralized and divided. They had no heart," Fourth District U.S. Rep. David Price says of the GOP leadership in its waning days.

The last few acts were half-hearted indeed, culminating in a late-night agreement to keep the government—such as it is—running and to kick any tough decisions about spending, taxes, the war and you name it down the road. Thanks, 109th Congress. Now we all know what happens when one branch folds its tent.

Even as the 109th sun was setting, the 110th was setting up shop. North Carolina's delegation, which has a number of veteran Democrats, will see a distinct shift in the array of committee assignments. One of those likely to move up to a key chairmanship is Price, who is now the senior Democrat on the House Appropriations subcommittee for the Department of Homeland Security. The committee charts the budget for the massive 22-agency department, including the beleaguered Federal Emergency Management Agency.

In an interview Sunday, Price called the GOP's decision to punt on the budget bills "grossly irresponsible." The bills passed last week will cover operations until Feb. 15, he says, and "the rest of the year is up to us."

That puts Democrats in the position of trying to start from scratch or work within the framework of unpopular Republican bills.

It's not just Democrats who don't like the bills, Price says. "One of the reasons those bills didn't pass before the election was that even many Republicans never like them."

Though he has yet to be named chairman, Price, who moves up to senior Democrat with the retirement of Minnesota's Martin Sabo, was paid a visit last week by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Deputy Secretary Michael P. Jackson.

It was not a highly detailed look at the budget, Price says, more of a discussion of priorities and the progress of a reorganization of the department mandated by Congress this year. Price told Chertoff he favors an "all hazard approach" when it comes to prioritizing disaster preparedness. The administration, Price says, has shifted too many resources away from first responders, emergency preparedness and helping local law enforcement, choosing to focus almost exclusively on terrorism. "First responders actually have less help than they did before 9/11."

The congressman wants to take a hard look at the role and strength of FEMA and says it is likely that the committee will turn to the DHS inspector general and the General Accounting Office as part of a broader inquiry into the operation of DHS and how effectively all 22 agencies have been integrated.

Democrats, he says, are determined to revise the idea of checks and balances. "It's one of the things we had campaigned on. Congress shut down as an oversight operation."

Bonior signs on

He has not announced he's running yet, but John Edwards has a new campaign manager. Former House of Representatives firebrand David Bonior has agreed to join Edwards' One America Committee and will take on the role of campaign manager should the former senator decide to run.

Bonior signing on with the campaign re-enforces the notion that Edwards is running hard for the labor vote. The former Michigan representative chairs American Rights at Work, a workplace rights advocacy group.

Evidence that the strategy may be working came last Friday when Edwards snagged the AFL-CIO's Paul Wellstone award.

She's running, OK?

It took a few hours but U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole's office finally got word out that a report she was demoralized over the election and not going to run again was untrue. The report was posted by the same blogger who broke the Mark Foley scandal and made the front page of the lefty site Raw Story before Dole's peeps called Raw Story to say she was indeed running.

Meanwhile, the search for her opponent goes on, including the unorthodox Web appeal by N.C. Democratic Party chair Jerry Meek on the BlueNC site. You can view all 151 (and counting) comments at www.bluenc.com/who-should-i-recruit-to-defeat-dole.

Kirk Ross travels the state for CapeFearMercury.com and writes about state governance at ExileonJonesStreet.com. He can be reached at editor@capefearmercury.com.

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