Feb. 8, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER
Roll Call

Beach Bound?

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) sure seemed revved up for spring break, judging from the dozen or so bills he introduced before the Senate adjourned last week. It looked like he was working to waive taxes on various toys he might need while at whatever sunny destination he was heading to.

Take S.2574, a bill to suspend the duty on “certain golf club driver heads.” Or S.2575, a bill to suspend the duty on “certain golf club fairway heads.”

And not just any fairway head. Kerry’s next bill, S.2576, would suspend the duty on “certain golf club driver heads of titanium.” And the next, S.2577, would suspend the duty on “certain golf club driver heads with plasma welded face plate.” Those really are the best for driving into wind, you know.

Hmmm, or maybe that’s not the right club. Kerry’s S.2578 bill would suspend the duty on “certain golf club driver heads with rhombus shaped center face.” Ah yes, that’s the right club.

And, heck, if golf doesn’t go so well there’s always basketball, he must have thought. Bills S.2579 and S.2580 would suspend the duty on “certain” leather and rubber basketballs.

Playing hoops doesn’t float your boat? Try beach volleyball! His S.2581 bill would suspend the duty on — you guessed it — “certain volleyballs.”

We were surprised that there wasn’t a bill to waive the duty on windsurf sails. We called Kerry’s office to see what was up with his bills, and whether the Senator was bound for an exotic locale where he might enjoy the fruits of his duty-free labors. Of course not, spokesman David Wade said.

It turns out that Massachusetts is home to Spalding, which makes basketballs, footballs, volleyballs and soccer balls. And the Acushnet Company — the world’s largest manufacturer of golf equipment, including brand names such as Titleist, FootJoy, Cobra and Pinnacle — employs hundreds of workers at a couple of plants in southeastern Massachusetts.

So all Kerry was doing was fighting to keep his state’s jobs from going overseas.

“It had nothing to do with the all-powerful volleyball lobby and everything to do with keeping jobs in Massachusetts,” Wade said.

Well, if Kerry does end up vacationing on a tropical island, at least he’ll have his little buddy Spalding to keep him company, like Tom Hanks’ pal Wilson.

Near-Snafu. What in the world was House Administration Chairman Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.) thinking? During his panel’s markup of lobby reform legislation last week, Ehlers was all ginned up to offer an amendment that would have weakened the bill so that pension benefits would be denied to Members convicted of public corruption charges only during their period of imprisonment. Once out of jail — voilà! — their retirement pay would resume.

The GOP lobbying reform bill, unlike the Democratic alternative, would permanently deny Congressional pensions to Members convicted of bribery, treason or extortion.

Ehlers’ office already had handed out copies of the amendment to reporters when other GOP members of the House Administration Committee, envisioning yet another public relations debacle, convinced the chairman to scrap the amendment during a closed-door meeting before the markup.

Ironically, it was Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) — the man known as “Representative #1” in court documents and as “Dead Man Walking” to aficionados of the Jack Abramoff scandal — who argued most passionately against Ehlers’ amendment.

Ney — who under scrutiny in the Abramoff scandal was forced out as the panel’s chairman and replaced by Ehlers — had prepared a statement to read at the markup. In it, he acknowledged the obvious: “My critics would likely say that there would be no Member more than myself who would want to seek protection from such a stiff financial penalty.”

His statement included an unequivocal defense of himself. “I never engaged in any criminal or unethical actions, and certainly never violated any of the laws that as outlined in this bill would cause a Member to lose his Congressional pension.” He went further to say that any Member of Congress convicted of “such egregious criminal actions as bribery and extortion” didn’t deserve the “privilege of continuing to live on the American taxpayer’s dime.”

Ney and others convinced Ehlers that newspaper headlines would surely blare: “Ehlers Votes to Weaken Lobby Reform Bill.” Ehlers countered that Democrats did not even have a pension penalty in their bill — so, therefore, Republicans would still look stronger revoking pension benefits during prison time, right?

Well no, Vern, they explained. Other House committees had already approved a full revocation of pension benefits for convicted Members, so this committee would look, well, not so good, if it weakened the penalty.

In fact, House Administration members John Mica (R-Fla.) and Candice Miller (R-Mich.) had already voted in another committee to revoke pensions for Members convicted on public corruption charges. They could hardly change their vote in this committee.

As one source familiar with the closed-door meeting put it, “You don’t win political arguments simply by saying you’re not as bad as the other guy, and just because the Democrats did not address this issue in this bill did not mean Republicans wouldn’t have been ridiculed had this amendment been adopted and the bill weakened.”

John Brandt, a spokesman for Ehlers, declined to say how persuasive Ney was in walking Ehlers back from the edge of the cliff. He said only, “There was a discussion among the Members and they all agreed that they wouldn’t move the amendment forward.”

Ney’s office declined to comment.

Close But No Cigar. No, Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) was not dining with “The Matrix” actor Laurence Fishburne at Oya last week, as an HOH informant surmised. Nope, the only connection he has to Fishburne is watching him on the silver screen, according to Moran spokesman Austin Durrer.

“Congressman Moran was eating dinner with his wife and son and didn’t realize Laurence Fishburne was in the restaurant. A fan of ‘The Matrix,’ the Congressman would have liked to ask Mr. Fishburne what Morpheus would have thought of the Republican’s matrix of corruption, cronyism and incompetence.”

Please send your hot tips, juicy gossip or comments to hoh@rollcall.com.

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