John McCaslin
PARDON ME At the same time the Washington press corps was scurrying about the U.S. Capitol to learn more about the Republican defection of Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont, former President Gerald R. Ford was visiting the historic Old Senate Chamber -- reflecting on his 25 years of service in Congress before making history as the nation's 38th president by pardoning Richard Nixon. But reporters, for the most part, ignored Ford's presence in the Capitol, instead focusing their attention -- like a pack of hungry wolves -- on a Senate Republican leadership aide who, passing by like a guppy in a piranha tank, did all he could to escape the feeding frenzy. "Hey, President Ford's here," said the aide, eyeing the scribes nervously. "Really, you just missed him. He's over there." The reporters didn't move. "He's here to pardon Jeffords," the aide cracked, as the reporters broke out in laughter. YIELD TO MILITARY Normally, it's the environmentalists railing against urban sprawl. Now a Republican congressman is upset about "urban encroachment" on the U.S. military. "The armed forces' readiness is being eroded by urban expansion," warns Rep. Jim Gibbons of Nevada, a member of the House Armed Services Committee who also cites military and commercial competition for flight space and communication frequencies. "Make no mistake," the congressman says. "Encroachment is like a cancer, eating away at our training capabilities.' LIBERAL TRAIL Some congressional observers cite Sen. Jeffords' abandonement of the Republican Party as being the result of a conservative party hostile toward a self-described "middle-of-the-road" politician. But examining Jeffords' spending habits over the past decade, it seems less like a moderate being ousted from an undeserving party and more like an "established liberal coming home." So says Tom McClusky, senior policy analyst for the National Taxpayers Union Foundation, who compared Jeffords' spending record during the last decade with the spending records of senators from both major parties. "The truth is that Jeffords has always been out of step with his fellow Republican senators, and many times has proven himself less fiscally responsible then even his new Democratic colleagues." Take the 103rd Congress, when Jeffords' overall proposed agenda had a $456 billion price tag -- a figure 20 times more than the average Republican senator's net agenda to save taxpayers $23 billion. Jeffords, in the same session, was closer to but still less fiscally responsible than the average Democrat. NOT SO DUMB Don't call the school children in this country dumb, Democratic Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr. of Tennessee warned during congressional debate on improving academic achievement in the nation's classrooms. For as Ford submits to Congress, if "9-, 10-, 11- and 12-year-olds could vote, they would vote us all out of this place." PUMPED UP While Washingtonians are crying all the way to the gas pumps, the nation's major oil companies "are laughing to the bank," reveals a Democratic congressman who sits on the House Resources subcommittee on energy and mineral resources. "In this first quarter of this year alone," Rep. Ron Kind of Wisconsin reports to Congress, "ExxonMobil is realizing a $5 billion profit . . . BP Amoco is at a $4 billion profit . . Chevron, a $1.6 billion profit . . . (and) CONOCO with a $700 million profit already in just the first few months of 2001. "So obviously they are making a hefty profit," he says. PICNIC CANOPY Don't trample on that errant oak seedling. After all, it's America's new national tree. This past Arbor Day, Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman, Environmental Protection Agency chief Christine Todd Whitman, and Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton joined the National Arbor Day Foundation in planting a young oak on the U.S. Capitol grounds after the American public, over a four-month period, voted the oak America's National Tree. Then last week, Rep.Robert W. Goodlatte, Virginia Republican and chairman of the House Agriculture subcommittee responsible for forestry, introduced legislation granting the oak "official status" as America's National Tree, calling it "a most fitting selection." The stately oak, the congressman observes, is common to all 50 states. Beyond that, he says, there's no better satisfaction than lying beneath one of the "shaded giants." CONSIDER IT DONE "Isn't it somewhat of a misnomer to call Senator (Tom) Daschle the Senate 'majority' leader?" writes political observer Michael Lazarus. "A majority is defined as more than half, while Daschle is the leader of the 50 Democrats, which make up exactly half of the Senate. It seems to me that it would be more appropriate to call him 'Senate Plurality Leader Daschle.'" CRANKING POWER We have to laugh at the Russian-made, non-battery, hand-cranked flashlights that the Competitive Enterprise Institute distributed at its annual Warren Brookes Dinner, which featured an appearance by Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham. The labels on the flashlights -- the brainchild of CEI general counsel Sam Kazman -- read: "The CEI Envir-o-lite, also known as the California Streetlight. Perfect for government-induced blackouts." OTHER DEFECTORS "Interestingly enough in this partisan climate of late, the National Council for a Republican Congress (NCRC) says Democrats should be thanked for final passage of the $1.35 trillion dollar tax cut supported by President Bush. "While the lion's share of the credit for this monumental accomplishment belongs to President Bush and Republican leaders in Congress, those moderate Democrats who put the interests of the country ahead of the divisive class warfare tactics of (House Minority Leader) Dick Gephardt and (Senate leader) Tom Daschle are also to be applauded," says NCRC First Vice Chairman Marc Levin.

John McCaslin

John McCaslin is a contributing columnist on Townhall.com and author of Inside The Beltway: Offbeat Stories, Scoops, and Shenanigans from around the Nation's Capital .

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