Beltway Beat: Grounds for Heroes

John McCaslin
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Posted: Jun 27, 2002 12:00 AM
Among other points, Texas Sen. Phil Gramm insists he's not fat and says he's too old to be intimidated. "When I objected to that bill going forward, Mr. (Jan) Scruggs made a lot of personal comments about me, attacking me as 'fat.' Actually, I'm not that fat," the Texas Republican informed this column. Which was the same day we wrote about Gramm's chance encounter at New York's LaGuardia Airport with Scruggs, founder of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Ironically, we reported, Scruggs had been in the Big Apple trying to persuade NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw to investigate Gramm's legislative maneuvering over the past 18 months to prevent a Vietnam Veterans Education Center from being built at the widely visited memorial, also known as "The Wall." As Scruggs tells the story, he introduced himself to Gramm as the two walked down the jetway to their airplane, in doing so acknowledging "the long struggle" against the senator over the education center. "Is it over or not, Senator? I need to know," Scruggs said he asked Gramm, who reportedly then replied: "As far as I am concerned, it never happened." But Gramm painted a different version of the encounter. He says Scruggs apologized to him during the short stroll to the airplane, saying "he hoped I didn't hold a grudge for what he had said about me, and that is when I responded that as far as I was concerned, it never happened." In other words, Gramm says: "I was accepting his apology for his (earlier) bad manners." As for the Vietnam Education Center? "I have no intention of letting a bill pass that precludes the building of another memorial at the Mall," Gramm tells this column. "Currently, we are considering a memorial to Eisenhower and one to Ronald Reagan, and there is no possibility that I am going to let a bill go forward that would allow no more memorials." The Texas lawmaker, who retires at the end of his term in January, stresses that he's not opposed to the education center, however he vows to continue to stop its legislation until language provisions are removed "that would prohibit memorials to Eisenhower or Reagan or any other future hero - and I hope we have some and I'm confident we will!" GO FIGURE President Bush has given the go ahead for covert U.S. operatives to overthrow, if not pull the trigger on Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. In the meantime, Sen. Frank Murkowski points out, this country every day continues importing more than one million barrels of Iraqi oil to fill American's gas tanks. Last year alone, says the Alaska Republican, the United States spent more than $4 billion to purchase Iraqi oil. As the ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee puts it: "We need solutions to better align our national security policies with our energy policies." FINDERS KEEPERS Don't everybody look now, but $17 billion has been misplaced by Uncle Sam. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill has just received a letter from Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-N.C.) asking him to account for $17.3 billion in "unreconciled transactions," as revealed in the 2001 Financial Report of the United States Government. What can $17 billion buy in these times of war? As Mr. Jones calculates it: two aircraft carriers and two full air wings, with pocket change. EXTRA BUTTER, PLEASE The Center for Science in the Public Interest, an activist group that wants taxes on snack foods and soft drinks, dubbed fettuccini Alfredo a "heart attack on a plate," and trashed Chinese food, popcorn, pizza, and other popular dishes, may have a sense of humor after all. "Or maybe CSPI is just too accurate for its own good," says Mike Burita of the Center for Consumer Freedom. "The nation's top nanny group now wants us to call it NANA," he observes. "Whether you read that as another name for Nanny, a step away from CSPI shaking its finger and saying 'no no' to your favorite foods, or activists thumbing their nose at consumer freedom with a juvenile 'nyah nyah,' it all amounts to the latest condescending attack on your intelligence."