Heard on the Hill: Finger-Pointing

Posted September 25, 2008 at 6:58pm

Who’s responsible for that pesky housing-market meltdown that triggered the Wall Street crisis?

[IMGCAP(1)]Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) kicked up a controversy on Thursday when she pinned the mess on former President Bill Clinton (yawn) and minorities (now Democrats are listening).

During an otherwise mundane hearing on the federal takeover of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, Republicans, specifically Bachmann, focused on Clinton’s administration and its push to provide loans to low-income minorities as a key reason for the downfall of the housing market.

The Clinton administration turned Freddie and Fannie into a “semi-nationalized monopoly,” Bachmann argued. Specifically, that administration decided to make loans through the Community Reinvestment Act “on the basis of race and often on little else.” Backpedaling on the controversial comments, Bachmann later added that the law was “well-intentioned” because ensuring that minorities have access to housing is important.

Still, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) wasn’t pleased, arguing that minorities were being blamed for the downfall of the housing market when he says it wasn’t their fault.

‘Macarena’ Anyone? Cue up “Play That Funky Music.” With all that’s going on, most people on Capitol Hill probably missed one of HOH’s favorite holidays on Wednesday, national One-Hit Wonder Day. The day honors all those who had a brief moment in the sun — and on top of the charts — only to wind up in history’s bargain bin.

Sure, it might not be as big a deal as, say, Columbus Day, but we all need a reason to celebrate — something. And HOH is observing it Washington-style, by remembering the one-hit wonders of Congress, those big-name men and women who served one term or less in Congress. Here are a few of our favorites:

• Benjamin Harrison: In 1887, Harrison lost his bid for a second Senate term. But he didn’t get a bad consolation prize — he won the presidency a year later. Alas, his presidency was a one-hit wonder, too, and he lost a re-election bid to Grover Cleveland. Interesting note: He’s the only Hoosier to ever serve as president — sorry, Sen. Evan Bayh (D).

• John Ashcroft: The Missouri Republican, a former member of the Singing Senators who went on to become attorney general, has the dubious distinction of having been defeated in his re-election race by a dead guy. In 2000, just two weeks before the election, Ashcroft’s opponent, Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan, died in an airplane crash, and state officials declared that if Carnahan won, his widow, Jean Carnahan, would serve his term. Carnahan won anyway.

• Carol Moseley Braun: The Illinois Democrat became the first and only black female Democratic Senator when she defeated incumbent Republican Alan Dixon in 1992. She briefly put her toe in the presidential waters in 2003, but ultimately dropped out of the race before the Iowa caucuses. She now sells a line of organic food products.

• Abraham Lincoln: In his one House term, the Illinois Republican was sort of like the Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) of his time. Lincoln was most noted for his anti-war stance, opposing the Mexican-American war, although he — of course — later went on to lead the country during the Civil War.

• James Monroe: His famous doctrine might be the biggest highlight of his career, but Monroe, the fifth president of the United States, also was a U.S. Senator. Elected in 1790, he left the Senate four years later to become ambassador to France (that’s what we call a promotion).

• Hiram Revels: Revels, the first black Member of Congress, actually served less than one term, as he was elected in 1870 to fill the unexpired term of former Confederate President Jefferson Davis. A Mississippi Republican, Revels left the Senate in 1871 to become president of Alcorn College. To date, he remains one of only five blacks to ever serve in the Senate.

• Spencer Abraham: The Republican rose to national fame when he served as secretary of Energy during President Bush’s first term, so it is noteworthy that during his six years in the Senate, Abraham fought to abolish the Department of Energy. He failed in that effort, but did manage to author 22 measures that became law. These days, he runs a consulting group, aptly named the Abraham Group, and sits on the board of AREVA Inc.

• John Edwards: Once the rising star of the Democratic Party, Edwards now is in political purgatory after admitting to having an extramarital affair. So his one term as a Democratic Senator from North Carolina might mark the high point of Edwards’ political career, as he introduced about 200 bills and was charged with deposing Monica Lewinsky during former President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial.

Smooth Operator. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) prides herself on constituent work. She’ll help you get a passport, give you a Capitol tour and even make you a healthy fruit smoothie.

OK, so maybe not so much on that last part. But during the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation conference on Thursday afternoon, Norton did host restaurateur B. Smith and her executive chef, James Paige, as they showed a packed room of several hundred people how to make tasty treats that also are healthy.

Norton told the crowd she was inspired to host the event after statistics released showed that nearly one in four children in Washington is overweight — the highest in the nation. And reversing the trend starts with adults creating healthy eating habits, she said.

“We all know that it’s not easy,” Norton said. “I know this, and I certainly learned this after my children were born.”

Smith’s healthy eating tip? Make simple changes, such as adding more fresh food and cutting out all the processed stuff.

“I think that what happens with people is that we are all or nothing,” she said. “You have to begin to find out what’s right for you.”

Glover, Getting Serious. Also spotted at the CBCF conference on Thursday was actor Danny Glover, who appeared alongside Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) at an event highlighting the need to bring clean water to impoverished parts of the world. Glover, who serves as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, said he attended to highlight the fact that 26,000 children die each day from preventable diseases stemming from inadequate water supplies.

And those poor conditions are only worsening the global food crisis, he said.

“While Wall Street and Congress haggle over a billion here or a billion there, the world is going hungry,” Glover added.

Talk about a lethal weapon.

Cross the Aisle, Save a Life. Even with all the partisan testiness on Capitol Hill, hatchets get buried pretty quickly when there’s a real crisis on hand — and we’re not talking about the Wall Street bailout plan.

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) jumped into action quickly when Beverly Young, wife of Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.), asked for help in finding a bone-marrow donor for a young friend of hers who is likely to die if he doesn’t find a match. Beverly Young, who along with her husband champions the cause of bone-marrow donation, visited Jackson in his office on Tuesday, a Jackson spokesman tells HOH. She said she was desperate to find a match for a 17-year-old Marylander named Justin Thornton who has been battling leukemia.

Patients are more likely to find a match from someone from their own race and ethnicity, and Jackson agreed to reach out to the black community to help the teen find a donor.

Jackson is sponsoring a drive during the Congressional Black Caucus’ annual legislative conference.

Sponsors swear the process is painless, involving a little paperwork and a quick swipe of one’s inner cheek. The swab will be tested and medical officials will contact potential matches.

The event is set for Room 156 in the Washington Convention Center from noon to 4 p.m. today. You can get more information by calling the National Marrow Donor Program at 301-998-8900.

Stephen Langel of CongressNow contributed to this report.

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