Paul  Weyrich

I'm not sure which woman was the more relieved by Anna Nicole Smith's untimely death. Is it the star of "Lust in Space," home in Houston, or is it the Speaker of the House? Last week both women had front page coverage but less than that of the late Ms. Smith. Inasmuch as I have no idea what would cause a successful woman to do what this astronaut charged with attempted murder did, I have no comment on that story. But the Speaker of the House? That is something about which I know a bit. So now that neither woman is the top story of the hour, let's deal with the Speaker.

Before 9/11 former Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-IL) always flew on commercial aircraft when returning to Illinois. After 9/11 the Secret Service approached him and suggested, since he was two heartbeats from the Presidency, that he should fly on a military aircraft. The Pentagon gave him a 12-seater which has the capability of making it all the way to the West Coast without refueling. That was big enough for Hastert, his Chief of Staff, Scott Palmer, and a few others to fly with him. Most of the time he was flying to or from his home in Illinois.

How about Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)? THE WASHINGTON TIMES broke the story that the Speaker was demanding a 747 with seating for 40, a middle compartment with a bed and a desk for, in this case, whoever is the host. This is known as Air Force II. It is the plane the Vice President uses for his trips. I flew on Air Force II. It is one comfortable outfit. The front of the plane is reserved for the elite on the trip. In my case it was the Vice President and his wife. The middle section can be used for children, for example. Then there is the "coach" section. In our case we had 70 staffers, speechwriters and reporters with us.

Given that Ms. Pelosi is two heartbeats from the Presidency, I felt perhaps her request was not unreasonable. That is, until I learned the following: the plane former Speaker Hastert used is capable of flying 3,700 nautical miles without refueling. That is well beyond the requirement for a San Francisco to Washington D.C flight. No, that wasn't good enough. She wanted the larger aircraft. Then I learned that the Speaker had sought a change in the rules that govern such trips. If anyone other than a spouse rides along he must pay commercial rates. She wanted an exemption so she could take grandchildren and a larger staff and maybe even lobbyists or financial contributors.

Paul Weyrich

Paul M. Weyrich is the late Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Research and Education Foundation.
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