Heard on the Hill: Stevens — Forgive and Forget

Posted July 30, 2008 at 6:42pm

Embattled Sen. Ted Stevens on Wednesday waxed eloquent about some themes that just might be on his mind these days. The Alaska Republican, who’s facing federal corruption charges, thinks (surprise, surprise) that those who make mistakes should be allowed to own up to them and be forgiven.

[IMGCAP(1)]During a Homeland Security Committee meeting, Members were discussing a bill that would crack down on federal agencies’ improper payments.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), is designed to eliminate wasteful spending by

requiring heads of federal agencies to review their annual spending and identify programs where some funny money might be passed along. At the hearing, Carper even pushed to toughen the penalties for workers who fail to stop wasteful spending.

That’s when Stevens spoke up, saying that employees should be encouraged to come forward and identify their mistakes and that Congress should offer them a way to stop more spending without fearing reprisal.

“In aviation, if a pilot made a mistake, he’d cover it up and try and protect it,” Stevens said. “Now, we’ve got the concept where, if a pilot makes a mistake and declares it and shows that he made it and how he could have avoided it, he’s not punished.”

Apparently, there’s nothing like being indicted on seven counts for failing to report gifts from lobbyists to make one reflect on absolution.

Grassley’s Rx: Legislative Laxative. It sounded Wednesday like Sen. Chuck Grassley was auditioning for a new role — that of Metamucil spokesman.

The Iowa Republican took to the Senate floor to complain about Democratic leaders stymieing his tax-extenders legislation, and he used a metaphor to which many of his silver-haired colleagues could relate, some perhaps a little too well.

“We’re not going through regular order … issues are building up,” he complained. “The Senate is constipated. This body needs a … laxative.”

Ew, thanks, Dr. G.

But Grassley wasn’t done with the bodily function imagery just yet. “The legislation needs to circulate through this body in the usual form, like food through your body,” he proclaimed.

Perhaps the cloakrooms should start stocking prune juice.

Coffin Nails. Octogenarian House Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) and House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) got in a tiff on the floor over tobacco-regulation legislation, and the exchange got a little personal.

Boehner, a heavy smoker, called the bill “boneheaded” and said there isn’t a smoker in America who doesn’t know that smoking doesn’t do the body good.

But Dingell countered that the legislation is needed because people are “killing themselves” with “evil” cigarettes.

And, he added, “the Minority Leader is going to be amongst the next to die.”

Cue the creepy music.

And You Are …? It’s tough being the newest gal on Capitol Hill. You’ve got to figure out what Congressional clique to join, you get stuck on the worst committees — and apparently you have a hard time getting recognized.

An HOH spy spotted Rep. Donna Edwards, the House’s most freshman Member, getting into a subway car in the Capitol on the way to the Rayburn House Office Building on Wednesday morning. The Maryland Democrat (who was sworn in June 19) sat in the “Members Only” section of the train, leading the conductor to ask her who she was.

Talk about a snub! Didn’t the conductor realize that, to paraphrase the famous Ron Burgundy, Edwards is kind of a big deal?

Edwards, though, was polite about the whole thing. She calmly told the conductor — at least twice, our spy says — that she is Donna Edwards, Member of Congress. The train departed for its destination moments later.

Guv Slums With Scribes. Most governors tend to travel and dine in style when in Washington, but sometimes they like to keep it real. Like Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who was spotted chowing down on a quick lunch while sitting in the Senate Daily Press Gallery on Wednesday.

The mayor was a guest of Capitol Hill scribe Gerry Shields, who covered O’Malley while working as a reporter at the Baltimore Sun (when O’Malley was a lowly city councilman) and then worked for O’Malley as a speechwriter.

Shields, now a correspondent for the Baton Rouge Advocate, stopped by a Capitol Hill press conference that O’Malley was attending on transportation issues, he tells HOH, and scrambled for lunch ideas when the governor suggested the two men grab a quick bite.

He decided to take the guv to the takeout joint in the Senate basement, then realized he hadn’t thought through where they would dine on their sandwiches. So Shields suggested the tables in the press gallery, where reporters usually spread out their newspapers and gab over messy lunches.

“I was so embarrassed,” Shields confesses about the humble surroundings. But he says O’Malley is an “unpretentious” guy. “He got a big kick out of it,” Shields says.

And there were plenty of double takes, we hear, when people walking through the gallery realized that the man downing takeout was none other than Maryland’s No. 1 guy.

Wacky Weed Event. Rep. Barney Frank isn’t blowing smoke when he says he wants to ease penalties for pot smokers. The Massachusetts Democrat joined pro-legalization groups Wednesday to talk about legislation that he’s co-sponsoring to remove federal criminal penalties for small-time pot users. But he wasn’t the only official at the event.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy’s chief scientist and two staffers — who obviously oppose easing the weed laws — crashed the press conference.

Aaron Houston, the Marijuana Policy Project’s director of government relations, says David Murray, the anti-drug group’s head scientist, press aide Rafael Lemaitre and another staffer showed up at the press conference to rebut the group’s arguments with reporters afterward.

Usually, Houston says, it’s the other way around. “I’m usually attending their events, trying to get my talking points in,” he says.

And he says he’s flattered that the White House bothered to come. “I’m tickled — it means they’re taking the issue seriously.”

And Frank, while speaking at the event, dropped this gem, explaining that while he wants to loosen marijuana laws, he said he doesn’t smoke it himself, nor does he encourage others to do so.

“I smoke cigars, and I don’t advocate that people smoke cigars. … It does relax me and helps me keep my weight lower than otherwise it would be,” Frank said. “But I’ll give that as an example — I smoke cigars, I don’t think other people should.”

Casting Call. Washington residents might not be able to vote, but they can play suffrage advocates on TV.

Advocacy group DC Vote is teaming up with D.A.A.S. Wuz Up Entertainment to make a music video designed to spread the word about D.C.’s lack of Congressional representation — and they’re seeking locals to take part in Saturday’s shoot.

Titled “Demand the Vote,” the video will promote a go-go song written for DC Vote by local artist Joe L. Da Vessel. The shoot will take place all over town, including from 12:30 to 2 p.m. on the steps of the Capitol.

“The video director wants real, everyday D.C. residents to fill out the crowds in a number of the shots,” an e-mail sent to DC Vote supporters on Wednesday reads. “We need people of all ages and backgrounds to participate in the crowd scenes. You wear what you want — whether it’s a t-shirt or a three-piece suit!”

And just like the spoiled stars of nonpolitical music videos, HOH hears video participants will get their own swag bag, which includes a DC Vote T-shirt.

Briefly Quoted. “They have now penetrated all of Idaho. They are literally in our backyards.”

— Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), on the Senate floor Wednesday talking about why he’s hungry for wolf population reduction measures.

Brendan Brown of CongressNow and Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.

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