Beltway Beat: American think tank

John McCaslin
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Posted: Mar 14, 2002 12:00 AM
One of the first things Georgia's junior senator, Zell Miller, noticed when he came to Washington last year was that you hardly ever see a pickup truck in the city. "They're scarce up here," the Democrat says. "But I can tell you they're not scarce outside the Beltway." In fact, pickup trucks account for just under 20 percent of all registered vehicles in this country - a figure that rises to as high as 37 percent in some states - making the pickup the third most-popular choice of vehicle for American drivers. Wherein lies the problem. Miller, along with Republican Sen. Phil Gramm of pickup truck-crowded Texas, are concerned that the extra costs associated with implementing higher federally imposed mileage standards for pickups would be passed on to farmers, rural families and small-business owners. So they've introduced legislation freezing pickups at the present mileage levels of 20.7 miles per gallon. I submit to you the back of the pickup is the 'think tank' of rural America," says Miller. "I suspect more problems have been solved on the tailgates of pickup trucks after a long day's work than have been solved anywhere." And if the legislation fails? The tailgates of America are going to drop," fears the Georgian, observing that pickup truck owners - farmers, homebuilders, plumbers, electricians and painters - historically vote in large numbers. "Then the conversation at the end of the day on the back of the pickup as the sun goes down ... will be how to get rid of us in the next election." And pickup truck drivers aren't as dumb as they might look, he adds. I knew a fellow back in Georgia," Miller reveals. "He didn't have a Ph.D. in economics - he would have thought Ph.D. stood for post-hole digger - but he was one of the wisest men I knew." LOST WAR? Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., makes a good point while weighing Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's contention, echoed by a few other Democrats, that the U.S. war against terrorism will be a failure unless we track down Osama bin Laden. "I guess they better explain that to World War II veterans," says Kingston, "because, after all, we never found Hitler." PAY NOW, OR LATER And how big is our U.S. Army? Not big enough, according to lawmakers on Capitol Hill, who want to increase the Army force structure before it's too late. Today, America only boasts the ninth-largest army in the world," reveals Rep. Jim Ryun, a Kansas Republican who sits on the military personnel and procurement subcommittee. Of the top eight," the congressman adds for effect, "six are potential adversaries." SELFLESS ACT Now the rest of the nation can see why Wyoming high school teacher Christine French achieved national recognition for exemplary service to her students. She was chosen as the recipient of the Christa McAuliffe Fellowship and award worth $28,000. Rather than spending the award money on herself, French has taken it and purchased laptop computers and other technology tools for her students. This subsequent "selfless contribution" to education on the part of the teacher was recognized on Capitol Hill this week. CAN'T WIN When former two-term Delaware Gov. Thomas R. Carper decided two years ago to seek a seat in the U.S. Senate, the Democrat knew he wouldn't have the support of everyone in his state, particularly Republicans. It was during his final year as governor, he now tells the story, that a constituent walked up to him and said, "Were you the governor when we had the ice storm of the century?" "And I said, 'Yes,'" Carper recalls. "He said, 'Were you the governor when we had the blizzard of the century?' I said, 'Yes.' "He said, 'Were you the governor when we had the flood of the century?' I said, 'Yes.' "He said, 'Were you the governor when we had the drought of the century?' I said, 'Yes.' "The guy said, 'You know what I think?' I said, 'No.' "He said, 'I think you're bad luck.'" BUILDING WALLS Holding important political debates in Spanish - as Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidates Dan Morales and Tony Sanchez did for an entire hour on television last week - is sending a destructive message to the people of Texas and this country. So says Mauro E. Mujica, chairman and CEO of U.S. English and an immigrant from Chile. Founded in 1983 by the late Sen. S.I. "Sam" Hayakawa of California, U.S. English is working to make English the official language of government at both the federal and state levels. "This is political pandering of the highest level," says Mujica. "If these candidates are so worried about all Texas voters, they should conduct their debate in all 170 languages other than English that are spoken today throughout the Lone Star State. "Why, for example, do these gentlemen think that Spanish should be put ahead of Afrikaans, Hindi, Tagalog, Japanese or Slovak - all languages spoken in Texas?" Mujica says that in this age of diversity, speaking one common language is not only a symbol of American unity - much like the U.S. flag and the Declaration of Independence - but also a means of cementing citizens together. STIFF AND CELLULOID Barely 15 months after Al Gore lost his bid for the White House, the Democratic National Committee is already peddling him as a "celluloid reproduction." For $19 a set, the DNC is selling "collectors' sets of 26 limited-edition celluloid reproductions of Democratic presidential candidates," among them Mr. Gore. THE ECONOMY, STUPID Don't look now, but thanks in large part to immigration, the United States is now growing at a faster rate than China. The United States admits three times as many immigrants every year as the next-highest receiving country," says the immigration watchdog group Project USA. "Immigration rates are now so high (1.1 million per year) that we will double our population within the lifetimes of today's college students if Congress does not lower the numbers." Which isn't likely anytime soon, owing to what's being called economic "greed." Immigrants, Project USA explains, help drive the economy, which is why we keep hearing the "vacuously sentimental" refrain "we are a nation of immigrants" repeated so often. It's not just this country's "employed" immigrants who help bolster the economy, but those who come here to study. You'll recall that in the wake of Sept. 11, Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif,, proposed that Congress initiate a six-month "time-out" on student visas while the United States got its foreign-student tracking system under control. However," Project USA charges, "the education industry, which rakes in $14 billion per year from foreign students, quickly forced Feinstein to back down." Still, it was revealed late last month that in two states alone - Nebraska and Iowa - 459 foreign nationals allowed entry into the United States on student visas never showed up for class. WHOLE AGAIN The men and women who are six weeks ahead of schedule rebuilding the Pentagon will be honored with a congressional resolution. By working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, these dedicated men and women are demonstrating America's resolve and know-how," Rep. Mark Foley says of Pentagon Renovation Program workers, made up of 15 percent government and 85 percent contracted personnel. They're putting more than bricks and mortar into their jobs, and they deserve to be honored," he said. The 400,000 square feet of demolition work that had to be complete before construction could begin was finished in a mere two months after estimates pegged the job to take upwards of eight months. The Florida Republican, who calls the Pentagon one of this nation's most symbolic buildings, says he will have the language to the resolution written this week and hopes to get the resolution passed in the House as soon as possible.