What a Month

Posted February 24, 2004 at 6:30pm

First Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) got the gavel, and now he’s gotten the girl.

Just as he assumed the chairmanship of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, Barton quietly got engaged on Valentine’s Day to Terri Taylor.

Barton and Taylor, who runs the Fort Worth chapter of the American Diabetes Association, are planning a Texas wedding in late spring or early summer.

“He certainly could not be more pleased with his February,” Barton spokeswoman Samantha Jordan told HOH on Tuesday.

Barton, who was recently divorced, met Taylor when she was at the University of Texas — as an employee, not a student, stressed Jordan.

“That was very difficult for him at first because he’s an Aggie,” Jordan quipped of the stout Texas A&M alum.

Wilson’s Stern Rebuke. Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.), who fired away at Viacom during a stinging denunciation of that infamous Super Bowl halftime show, is facing a backlash from one of the company’s hottest stars: shock jock Howard Stern.

Wilson cracked the evening news and the front pages of newspapers across the country when she raked Viacom chieftain Mel Karmazin over the coals at a recent House hearing on the Janet Jackson incident because his company also owns CBS.

“In the same way that Enron highlighted unacceptable corporate behavior from a financial point of view and ethics in our corporate boardrooms, Viacom’s support of shock jocks and allowing tasteless Super Bowl programming is a nationwide entertainment industry scandal,” Wilson told Karmazin. “You knew what kind of entertainment you’re selling and you wanted us all to be abuzz … because it improves your ratings, it improves your market share and it lines your pockets.”

But the stunt started backfiring on Wilson last week, when Newsweek’s “Conventional Wisdom” feature gave the Congresswoman a down arrow: “N.M. rep’s rabid tongue-lashing of CBS exec makes Janet’s boob seem like Al Qaeda. Get a grip.”

And now Stern, who has been known to endlessly praise his boss Karmazin, has spent gobs of time on his national radio show blasting Wilson. One tool in Stern’s arsenal is to repeatedly run a tape of a random guy purporting to ask Wilson, “How does it feel when I make sweet love to you?”

Stern’s sidekicks then splice in a Wilson quote from the House hearing: “I thought it was nasty.”

Wilson spokesman Joel Hannahs told HOH that the boss has nothing to say about the shock jock. “She’s never heard his show and she isn’t commenting on his remarks,” he said.

Singin’ in the Senate. Placido Domingo will be serenading Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), who turned 72 over the weekend, in the Russell Senate Office Building today.

Domingo is coming to the Senate to make a major announcement about The Washington Opera, where he serves as general director, with Kennedy and Senate Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) on hand.

Kennedy proposed to his wife, Vicki, at the opera and is very fond of Domingo, who wants to use today’s press conference as a chance to deliver some personal birthday wishes to the Senator.

In a Pickle. Conspiracy theories immediately started spreading (at least in HOH’s mind) when Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Pickle was spotted hobbling around the chamber with a broken leg and fractured ankle.

Did conservatives irate about Pickle’s investigation of leaked documents in the Senate Judiciary Committee finally decide to kneecap the poor man?

When an aide put that question to Pickle for HOH on Tuesday, the Sergeant-at-Arms just laughed and said he’s “not going to touch that one.”

It turns out that there’s actually far less intrigue to the story. Pickle was back home in Colorado skiing on Valentine’s Day, which happens to be his birthday, when he had an unfortunate accident on the slopes.

More importantly, Pickle’s staff doggedly refused to comment on his age. “He’s 29 again,” quipped an aide.

Ken and Martha Sitting in a Tree? It seems somehow poetic that Martha Stewart’s trial is reaching a crescendo just as the hard-charging Ken Johnson has stepped down as spokesman for the House Energy and Commerce panel.

After all, it was Johnson who first fanned the flames by endlessly blabbing about the committee’s probe of Stewart’s stock transactions to the national press corps — most importantly the New York tabloids. Now that Energy and Commerce Chairman Billy Tauzin (R-La.) has given up his gavel to Barton to prepare to become the drug industry’s top lobbyist, Johnson himself has stepped down from the panel and will work out of the Congressman’s personal office until deciding upon his next move.

“In an ironic twist of fate, it looks like Martha and I are going down at the same time,” Johnson deadpanned to HOH. “Martha even sent me a BlackBerry from the courthouse that said, ‘Sell at 60 dollars.’ Unfortunately by that time, my own stock as spokesman had already tanked.”

In fact, Johnson has always been bullish on his own stock, as witnessed by the fact that the committee sent out a dramatic press release to announce his exit.

CBO Weighs In. It’s nice to know that Douglas Holtz-Eakin, director of the Congressional Budget Office, is reading HOH closely.

In a recent item about the engagement of Tom Kahn, the Democratic staff director of the House budget panel, HOH quoted the aide as saying that while the Office of Management and Budget has determined his age to be 39 … he’s still waiting for a “scoring” from CBO.

Holtz-Eakin promptly fired off a letter to the staffer revealing that he had prepared a “cost estimate for the Age of Thomas S. Kahn Act of 2004” but had unfortunately “overloaded the circuitry of its computer systems” in the process.

“Thus, we have decided to calculate your age to be 61, so that you may take advantage of current Social Security and Medicare benefits as soon as possible. (And this does not constitute an opinion by CBO about the fiscal condition of those programs),” Holtz-Eakin wrote to Kahn. “We suggest you inform your fiancee of your Congressionally-scored age, so that she may plan accordingly (or, at a minimum, adjust your life insurance policies.).”

Those budget wonks are such cards.

Win Ben Stein’s Money. Since Holtz-Eakin is probably already booked at the Improv this week, House Education and Workforce Chairman John Boehner (R-Ohio) has found the next best witness to liven up today’s hearing on retirement planning: comedian/economist Ben Stein.

The host of the defunct Comedy Central game show “Win Ben Stein’s Money” is known for dishing out yuks. But he’s also a onetime speechwriter in Republican White Houses who dispenses personal finance advice as the honorary chairman of the National Retirement Planning Coalition.

A Boehner aide noted that while it’s common for celebs to testify on Capitol Hill, the panel is getting “the best of both worlds” by finding someone who actually knows what he’s talking about.