Groaning the Capitol

Posted October 30, 2007 at 6:33pm

House staffers are finding out firsthand what Kermit the Frog has long warned: It isn’t easy going green. As part of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) Green the Capitol Initiative, House offices have switched to new, recycled printer paper — but although the greener pages are friendlier to the Earth, they’re not as nice to its inhabitants, ticking off staffers by jamming copiers in some offices. One staffer gripes that the thinner recycled paper is causing all kinds of backups in the office printer, frustrating busy aides. “We can’t get news clips to the boss,” the staffer tells HOH, adding that the copier repairman who came to fix the problem has fielded similar complaints from other House offices. [IMGCAP(1)]

The House Office Supply Service, located in the Longworth Building, is where most offices get their supplies, and the shop recently swapped regular paper for a recycled brand called New Leaf.

Jeff Ventura, the spokesman for the Chief Administrative Officer, who’s in charge of the greening initiative, says the CAO’s office hasn’t gotten any formal complaints, but he’s aware that there are some greening growing pains associated with the switch. “Nobody said avoiding global environmental catastrophe would be hassle-free,” Ventura tells HOH.

Besides, he argues, any office-equipment snafus are a small price to pay for a healthier environment.

“While we doubt the new eco-friendly paper is the cause of any copier chaos, as paper jams have been around since copiers were invented, we believe suffering through the trauma of a paper jam is a small sacrifice in the effort to save the planet,” he added.

Ventura also notes that the House goes through 70 million pages of blank paper every year (gulp) and that the changeover to recycled paper is saving 29,400 grown trees annually.

Tell that to the boss when he wonders where his briefing memos are.

Long Live the Kings. In a monarchy, there can be only one king. But since we’ve got ourselves a democracy, we’re practically crawling with Kings — just ask Sports Illustrated writer Peter King, who recently was confused with the Congressman of the same name.

The sportswriter (not the New York Republican) wrote about the recent mix-up in his blog, recounting how a security guard at the Newark airport looked at his New Jersey driver’s license and asked him whether he was the Congressman from Long Island. When King said no, the guard appeared unconvinced, he writes.

“A Congressman from New York with a New Jersey ID, in jeans and sneakers with a blue backpack. Hmmmm. That’s one perceptive security guy.”

But Rep. Peter King says he doesn’t mind the confusion. In fact, he tells HOH he’s hoping that potential book-buyers might confuse the two of them. Rep. King, who has written three books of his own, thinks the other King is a good writer. “I’m hoping people think he wrote them so they’ll buy them,” Rep. King said of his own literary efforts.

Rep. King appeared most surprised, though, that his fame had spread “all the way over to New Jersey” from the faraway land of New York, underscoring the wide schism (cultural, of course, not geographic) between the states. “That makes me feel good,” he tells HOH.

Coburn: Not Buying You Beer. The Senate’s spending hawk for Oklahoma, Tom Coburn (R), isn’t afraid to tick people off in his quest to save a few bucks, and he’s making no friends among a rather large segment of the population: those who like cheap candy bars, beer and pretzels.

Coburn was bemoaning the low taxpayer-subsidized prices on the snacks and beverages served on Amtrak, complaining in a Tuesday floor speech that the on-train price for a Milky Way candy bar was only 75 cents. The price for the same item on an airplane is a whopping three bucks, he noted, since airline food costs aren’t federally subsidized.

Amtrak shouldn’t shift the cost of that tasty — and inexpensive — candy bar or fizzy adult beverage you enjoy while riding the rails, Coburn railed. “Nobody expects when you get on an Amtrak rail passenger service that the rest of us ought to pay for your beer,” he said. “Nobody expects that we ought to pay for your Three Musketeers. Yet in essence that’s what’s happening.”

That’s MY Amendment! A markup at the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee turned ugly on Tuesday, when the normally unflappable Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) unloaded on fellow panel member Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.). The schooling ensued when Dorgan lashed out at DeMint, accusing him of lifting the text of legislation that he had authored with Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) allowing reimportation of cheaper prescription drugs, and offered it as his own amendment to an unrelated bill.

The run-in happened at a markup on legislation reauthorizing the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The committee had adopted a few noncontroversial amendments before voting to approve it when DeMint came into the committee room. Not understanding that the bill had been passed, he attempted to call a vote on his amendment.

Dorgan was clearly peeved at the move. While copy-catting a bill without getting approval from its authors might seem trivial, in the Senate, whose unwritten book of etiquette is bigger than Miss Manners’, it was a provocation.

Dorgan was relentless, using phrases like “stunning lack of courtesy.” Eyebrows in the audience shot up. “It was intense,” one audience member tells HOH. “Everyone in the room was grimacing.”

At first, witnesses tell HOH, DeMint tried to push back, telling Dorgan that he didn’t have a copyright on the issue of reimportation. When Dorgan pointed out that the junior Senator hadn’t just used his ideas but actually pirated the exact text of his bill without asking, DeMint appeared contrite. “He apologized a few times, but you got the sense that it was too little, too late,” another spy says.

Dorgan also was angered that DeMint had approached Snowe’s staff about using the Dorgan-Snowe bill, and even though Snowe had discouraged him from doing so, he did it anyway.

“This is amateur hour at its finest,” one senior Democratic aide told HOH. “[DeMint] should be embarrassed by the fact that he was offering an amendment to a bill that was already reported out, but courtesy dictates that he should have given Sen. Dorgan a heads-up.”

A spokesman for DeMint similarly was defiant, insisting that Dorgan’s anger was unwarranted. “He should be thanking DeMint for trying to move the bill forward to reduce prescription drug prices. After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” he said.

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