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The Ketchup Comeback Kid

The bureaucrat blamed for Ronald Reagan’s most notorious social policy faux pas — the cockamamie idea to count ketchup as a vegetable in school lunches — is finally feeling vindicated. Thanks to a little-noticed news report touting the nutritional value of ketchup, Bill Hoagland is rising above his critics and friends who have ruthlessly teased him for the past 24 years.

Hoagland, the Senate Republicans’ chief budget and appropriations adviser, saw an “Inside Scoop” e-mail from CBS News one day last week listing that night’s “Evening News” topics. The lead item: “DID YOU KNOW? 4 tablespoons of ketchup has about the same amount of nutrition as a ripe tomato?”

“Yahoo!” Hoagland thought, envisioning the lifting of the albatross from his neck. Mr. Fall Guy, no more! Hoagland, who was ousted from the Reagan Agriculture Department over the ketchup dust-up, whipped off an e-mail to GOP colleagues that forwarded the CBS news blurb and, of course, added the four words he had longed to say: “I told you so.”

One of the aides who received the e-mail was Bob Stevenson, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and a longtime friend and colleague of Hoagland going back to their days on the Senate Budget Committee. Smiling as he read the e-mail, Stevenson decided to reward his old buddy with breakfast at his desk Thursday morning.

He properly put a knife, fork, glass and china plate down on Hoagland’s desk, and on the plate he placed about 20 ketchup packets with a note reading, “Bon Appetit!”

You could almost hear Hoagland shaking his head when HOH asked how he liked his breakfast of champions. He said his surprise petit dejéuner reminded him of the day he returned to Capitol Hill in August 1982, following the ketchup debacle. He walked into his office, sat down at his desk, opened a drawer and ketchup packets began spilling out everywhere.

His wife had predicted he would be tossed from his job as administrator of the Food Nutritional Service. “You’re finished,” she told him when he came home late from work one night. “When Johnny Carson starts telling ‘ketchup is a vegetable’ stories in his monologue, you’re finished.” “She was right,” he sighed.

Hoagland just hopes the ribbing won’t last an eternity. He said he fears his loved ones will put “Ketchup Is a Vegetable” on his tombstone. “I’m hoping we can avoid that,” he said.

Kissinger and Rummy, Chummy. Fans of Donald “Rummy” Rumsfeld and Henry (we won’t call him “Kissi”) Kissinger went wild Thursday night at Bistro Bis when they spotted the swashbuckling duo dining together in a booth.

Folks knew there were VIPs inside when, as they walked into the Hotel George restaurant, they saw Secret Service officers looking through the plants near the entrance. “It was totally weird,” said one witness.

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