Heard on the Hill: Keeping Their Clunkers

Posted June 10, 2009 at 6:36pm

The House passed a “cash for clunkers— bill on Tuesday amid lots of big talk about cleaning up the environment and weaning the U.S. off its dependence on foreign oil.

[IMGCAP(1)]And while many Members of Congress drive exactly the kinds of dumpy gas guzzlers the legislation targets, it seems many of them simply won’t be parted from their jalopies, no matter how sweet the trade-in deal.

Sen. Jeff Merkley’s beloved ride — a slightly beat-up 1996 Ford Taurus that the Oregon Democrat purchased from a Craigslist posting — does not qualify. Owners must have had their vehicle registered for at least a year, and Merkley nabbed his just in January.

“The Taurus will live to see 14, because while it may have been made in 1996, it was only Merkley-d in 2009,— spokeswoman Julie Edwards tells HOH.

Others, though, have their own reasons for holding on to their junkers.

Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) has a few vehicles that might qualify, but don’t look for him to pony up to buy fancy new wheels anytime soon. He’s probably too cheap … er, make that “frugal,— spokesman Steve Taylor says. The Congressman carefully maintains a small fleet of aging vehicles for his family: a 1961 MG into which he personally installed a Buick engine, a 1988 Honda Accord, and a 1994 Ford van with a whopping 290,000 miles on it.

Akin does much of the grease-monkeying himself, too. “He’s been known to turn a wrench or two,— Taylor says, adding with a bit of doubt in his voice that his boss would “think about— taking advantage of the program.

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) isn’t giving up his clunker, either, spokeswoman Marilyn Dillihay said — but for him, it’s for sentimental reasons. “It’s an ’83 or ’84 Caddy, and he loves it — it was his mother’s car,— she says.

And House Budget Chairman John Spratt’s much chuckled-at ride, a worse-for-the-wear 1995 Buick Park Avenue with more than 200,000 miles that has sported a duct-taped side mirror, would fall under the trade-in program, spokesman Chuck Fant says. “He’s planning to hold on to it for now, but he’s starting to face the facts that he might need to get a new car sometime,— Fant says.

And where are the South Carolina Democrat’s beat-up wheels now?

Why, in the shop, of course.

So often, we hear about Congress passing legislation that they’ll personally benefit from, but this bill seems to be quite the opposite.

Six Degrees of Roland Burris. As the nursery-school song goes, it really is a small, small world — especially if you’re from Chicago.

Sen. Roland Burris filed documents with the Senate showing he did work for the public relations firm started by David Axelrod, the senior adviser to President Barack Obama.

And while you can’t draw a line from Burris to Axelrod to the White House — which has tried to distance itself from the embattled Burris — it’s certainly a study in coincidence.

Burris’ financial disclosure report, made public a few weeks ago, showed that in 2008 he made more than $5,000 from Axelrod’s Windy City-based ASK Public Strategies.

Burris spokesman Jim O’Connor tells HOH that Burris was paid for his work on a commercial.

ASK managing partner Eric Sedler adds that the firm hired Burris to narrate a radio commercial for an ASK client fighting to keep Illinois from holding a constitutional convention, during which state lawmakers would re-examine the state’s constitution. Illinois law requires that every 20 years voters must vote on whether to hold such a convention.

As a former state attorney general, Burris “was a logical choice— to appear in the ad for the Alliance to Protect the Illinois Constitution, which aired on African-American radio stations, Sedler says.

But he says Axelrod had taken a leave from the firm to work for Obama’s campaign by the time ASK worked with Burris.

Hit the Recall Button. Among the advice companies regularly give their employees is to watch what they put into their e-mails — and apparently, that advice applies to campaign committees, too.

Included in an otherwise routine list of campaign fundraising events the National Republican Congressional Committee released on Tuesday was a fundraiser for Michigan Rep. Gary Peters, the nonprofit Sunlight Foundation reported on its “Party Time— blog.

Peters, of course, is a Democrat — and one of the Members the NRCC is actively targeting in the 2010 elections. He is set to host the fundraiser this morning at the swanky Capitol Hill restaurant Bistro Bis — with Democratic mainstay Rep. John Dingell (Mich.) set to appear as a special guest, no less.

Not exactly the type of event the GOP would want to advertise. But an NRCC staffer played down the error, noting that staffers keep track of dozens of campaign events every week and including Peters’ fundraiser amounted to “just a simple copy-and-paste mistake.—

The NRCC released a revised calendar of events just minutes after sending out the first one, asking recipients to disregard the first, the staffer added.

“He has a challenge ahead of him, so we’re giving him all the help he can get,— the staffer joked of Peters.

Postal Delivery. Members offered touching tributes to one-time GOP vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp after he died earlier this year, and on Tuesday they moved to give the former Congressman a uniquely Congressional honor: a post office named after him.

Sen. Charles Schumer and Rep. Brian Higgins introduced legislation to name the post office at 60 School St. in Orchard Park, N.Y., for Kemp, who died on May 2 after a bout with cancer.

[IMGCAP(2)]Naming an Orchard Park post office after Kemp is a fitting tribute, the New York Democrats argue, since the city is home to the Buffalo Bills. As the Bills’ quarterback, Kemp led the team to two American Football League championships in the 1960s, and, after he retired, represented New York’s 31st district in Congress.

Kemp also served as secretary of Housing and Urban Development under former President George H.W. Bush and, perhaps most famously, was Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole’s running mate in 1996.

“Jack Kemp was an accomplished politician, outstanding athlete and tireless servant to this nation,— Schumer and Higgins said in a statement. “He is already greatly missed.—

Seen and Heard. Actress Gabrielle Union (in a gray silk dress and towering heels) was spotted making the rounds on the Senate side of the Capitol on Wednesday. The “Bring It On— actress also testified at the Senate Judiciary Committee about her harrowing tale of being raped at the age of 19 by a man who robbed the shoe store where she worked.

Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) praised her for sharing. “I’m sure it’s painful to tell … but it has an effect and should be heard,— he said during the hearing.

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