Heard on the Hill: Money to Burn

Posted January 27, 2010 at 6:34pm

Congress often gets accused of pouring taxpayer money down the drain — but a new plan has some fearing Capitol Hill officials could waste cash (well, coin) in a whole new way.

[IMGCAP(1)]Workers routinely collect the quarters, pennies, nickels and dimes thrown into the more than 20 fountains across the Capitol campus and bring them to the Capitol Visitor Center, where officials clean them and deposit them in a special revolving fund.

In the past year, however, some of the coins collected from the fountains have been so badly damaged that they’ve been rejected for deposit. Rather than (literally) throw that money away, one top CVC official recently proposed having them professionally cleaned.

Seems logical, right? Well, not so fast.

While there aren’t yet any official estimates on how much this new plan will cost, HOH hears rumblings that it could outweigh the coins’ worth.

Makes you think twice about throwing that penny into a fountain, doesn’t it?

According to a copy of the Jan. 26 proposal obtained by HOH, the coins would continue to be brought to the CVC, where officials would log the money and give it to a coin-cleaning vendor. The vendor would give the CVC a check representing the value of the coins and a bill for the cost of the cleaning — and some fear that bill would be bigger than the check.

Architect of the Capitol spokeswoman Eva Malecki cautioned that officials have collected coins for years and the “process is not profit-making.—

At the same time, Malecki added, she was not aware of a time “when the cost of cleaning the coins outweighed the value of them. The procedures used in the handling of the coins are part of our standard internal controls.—

Still, one taxpayer watchdog warned officials should be cautious in their cleaning efforts.

“I think that logic has to win out here,— said Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense. “It does seem pretty ridiculous that they would go through all that [effort] and cost just to put some pennies into circulation,—

But Ellis did admit “throwing coins into fountains isn’t my forte.—

“I’m too much of a penny-pincher,— he joked.

Fake and Bake. While HOH is sure most Members of Congress hit the gym and find a way to get their laundry done, it’s clear that they don’t follow the entire GTL regime — that’s gym/tan/laundry — made popular by the stars of MTV’s “Jersey Shore.—

In fact, recent action by some Members could affect the “Jersey Shore— lifestyle (and even the look of some famously bronzed Members on Capitol Hill).

First, there was that notorious proposal put forth to issue a 10 percent tax on indoor tanning services, with the funds going to pay for health care reform. And now Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) has introduced legislation that would put strict limits on tanning beds by expanding federal regulation of them.

If passed, the bill would limit the strength of ultraviolet rays emitted from tanning bed sunlamps and the amount of time a consumer may be exposed to the rays. Maloney’s bill also would ask the Food and Drug Administration to consider reclassifying tanning beds — right now they are “class 1 medical devices,— which pose “minimal harm.—

Maloney isn’t out to mess with The Situation’s style — she’s just trying to find ways to prevent skin cancer. The World Health Organization recently placed tanning beds in its highest risk category, “carcinogenic to humans.—

Funny Feud. Enough with the late-night comedy war between Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien. The new dueling funny people in town are Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), the two speakers at next month’s National Press Club Foundation dinner.

They’ll face a tough crowd made up mostly of the Washington press corps on Feb. 10, when they perform their stand-up acts poking fun at Congress, the media and (hopefully) themselves. And although the event, which benefits female and minority journalists, doesn’t officially crown a winner for the most laughs, judging who pulled it off best is a big part of the evening’s entertainment.

Both sides are playing their cards close to the vest. Pence’s people didn’t comment to HOH on what to expect, and McCaskill’s were cagey.

“She’s in the process of writing the speech,— a McCaskill spokeswoman says. And it’s entirely possible that McCaskill’s infamous penchant for Twittering (we’ve learned plenty about the Senator’s pizza-ordering and Target-shopping habits) might be comedic fodder. “You never know, Twitter might come up,— the spokeswoman says.

The Members-turned-comics have company onstage that’s pretty practiced at eliciting laughs: The emcees of the event are former Rep. Joe Scarborough (R-Fla.) and Mika Brzezinski, the co-hosts of MSNBC’s laugh-every-other-minute show “Morning Joe.— The duo, more used to waxing hilarious at the crack of dawn than after hours, will just have to drink a little evening joe instead.

“This will be the equivalent of a different time zone, but they’ve agreed to stay up beyond their bedtimes,— the event organizers promise.

Overheard on the Hill.“Rough week for POTUS. First Marsha Coakley and now John Wall and UK.—

“Martha Coakley rather. Don’t want to be the second Congressman to make that mistake.—

— Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.), poking fun at Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) in two tweets Wednesday. Kennedy repeatedly called the failed Massachusetts Senate candidate “Marsha— at a campaign event before the election.

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