Heard on the Hill: Taxi, Please

Posted February 3, 2009 at 6:31pm

In this age of anti-ostentation, it’s all about rolling in a humble ride. Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) was savvy enough to take a taxi to Capitol Hill on Monday to grovel for forgiveness for failing to pay taxes on that luxe chauffeured Cadillac service. Big Three auto execs famously got grilled for taking private jets to hearings during which they were asking for billions in bailout money.

[IMGCAP(1)]That’s why Nick Calio, the top lobbyist for Citigroup, raised eyebrows when he was spotted hopping into a chauffeured sedan (with dark-tinted windows, natch) outside the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Tuesday. Citigroup, after all, is getting a reported $45 billion under the bailout bill, and the company recently announced it would lay off a staggering 75,000 workers.

Spending on fancy perks by bailout recipients isn’t sitting so well with Members of Congress these days. And President Barack Obama already took a swipe at Citigroup for buying a private jet (the company subsequently canceled the order).

Of course, it’s nothing new for uber- lobbyists to roll around town in plush hired cars. But at a time when shoppers at luxury stores are forced to seek plain paper bags to carry their Prada, don’t we all have to sacrifice a bit?

Like, at least asking the driver to wait around the corner.

Way Better Than a Toaster. So what if they’re in the minority party that’s in the midst of an identity crisis? Members of the House Republican whip operation could be getting some pretty nice consolation prizes in the form of spanking-new iPods.

The whip team is considering buying the nifty devices to allow whippers to listen to podcasts on GOP messaging and other topics, HOH hears. And hey, if they want to download a little music, too, well, who’s to stop them?

If you couldn’t identify the 40-plus Republicans who make up the in-crowd before now, you’ll soon know them by the telltale little ear buds they’ll be sporting.

Brad Dayspring, spokesman for House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.), said the iPods could function as a modern version of the influential cassette tapes former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) once distributed to spread his GOPAC message — and there’s an enviro-boon to them, too.

“Years ago, GOPAC tapes galvanized Republican candidates and activists, and in 2009 the whip team will use these as a sort of ‘GOPOD’ to the same function as they travel to and from their districts,” Dayspring said. “Not to mention, putting all of their briefing material into podcast and video form will save a bunch of trees.”

Staffers are still working out the details, like how to properly pay for the things. HOH is certain that won’t be the only hang-up: We’re pretty sure some of these guys (who may have just mastered cassette decks) are going to need some technical assistance with the newfangled machines.

Makeover at the Beauty Shop. Ah, the hectic life of a Congressional staffer. Help draft legislation, dash to committee hearings, visit the salon for a trendy blowout …

OK, so most staffers don’t actually do the latter (at least during work hours) but Chief Administrative Officer Dan Beard is hoping more will soon.

Beard’s office is looking to spiff up the House’s oft-ignored beauty salon, issuing a Feb. 1 procurement request that seeks vendors capable of managing the salon and nearby barbershop.

The two beauty establishments have been Capitol Hill mainstays for decades, with the salon in the Cannon House Office Building and the barbershop in the basement of the Rayburn House Office Building. In 1995, House officials privatized the facilities, with the idea that outside vendors would offer more services and the latest hairstyling trends.

Since then, the House barbershop has maintained a steady, loyal clientele, but the beauty salon “has been a lesser-known quantity,” CAO spokesman Jeff Ventura said.

So the thought is that a revitalized salon would offer the same services it already does — hair cuts and coloring, shampooing, manicures, even waxing — but employ stylists who stay up on the fashions, thus luring in more overworked, underpaid staffers for some much-needed pampering. “We are hoping to bring a new vendor in who will re-energize the salon concept and get people excited about having a ‘cutting-edge’ stylist, pun intended, in the House,” Ventura said.

That Daschle Ad, Plucked From Obscurity. While Washington, D.C., reacted on Tuesday to the news that former Sen. Tom Daschle was withdrawing his nomination to be Health and Human Services secretary, plenty of Congressional staffers were busy chuckling at an old campaign advertisement featuring the South Dakota Democrat.

And while the ad was an Internet sensation on Tuesday, it wasn’t always so notable.

Dating from Daschle’s 1986 race to take then-Sen. James Abdnor’s (R) seat, the ad features then-Rep. Tom Daschle driving to the Capitol in an ugly, rusty, old Pontiac. “Sure, it’s rusted and it burns a little oil, but after 15 years and 238,000 miles, Tom Daschle still drives his old car to work every day,” a narrator says. It’s funny now, of course, since Daschle got into trouble for failing to report taxes on a fancy-schmancy car service.

But in its day, the ad actually was one of the least extraordinary of a very negative campaign. Daschle (described back then by the Washington Post as a “shrewd, well- organized campaigner”) tried to depict Abdnor as being out of touch with the needs of his constituents, while Abdnor depicted Daschle as “a left-wing activist who is out of touch,” the New York Times noted at the time. (Hence the “I drive my old car” campaign ad.)

And it actually was Abdnor who produced the most infamous ad of the contest. Often laughed at for a speech impediment, the South Dakota Republican put out an ad — produced by future Fox News President Roger Ailes — in which he said: “So, I’m not a great speaker. Heck, I’m not a great dancer, either. But I’m a great fighter for South Dakota.”

Well, it was the most memorable ad of the campaign until now, anyway.

Clean as a Whistle. At least he takes care of his own dirty laundry. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) was spotted on Tuesday leaving the Hart Senate Office Building with a passel of dry cleaning bags.

Guess the scandal-scarred Senator really has cleaned up his act.

Submit your hot tips, juicy gossip or comments here.