Skirting a statute

John McCaslin
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Posted: Jun 30, 2005 12:00 AM

All told, 25 lawmakers on Capitol Hill had 10 or more days of unexcused absences in the 108th Congress, amounting to more than $500,000 in illegal salary payments.

And 17 of those 25 senators and representatives were out campaigning at the time, according to a recent study by the National Taxpayers Union (NTU).

If that's not outrageous enough behavior, a Senate committee in recent days sent legislation to the floor to repeal the statute requiring congressional absentees to forfeit their pay unless they or a family member are ill.

"Rather than enforce this obscure but still-valid law, the Senate is moving to do away with it, and make it perfectly legal for senators to be absent from Congress and hit the campaign trail, all while collecting a salary from U.S. taxpayers," the NTU notes. "Imagine a private-sector worker getting paid for not showing up to his job because he's out looking for another one."

To no avail, the NTU for the past decade has sought enforcement of what is called the "No Work, No Pay" law. Congress, however, has looked the other way.

HINT, HINT

"Rove ran like a lump of sugar to avoid getting wet."

- Official White House pool report of President Bush's rain-soaked arrival Tuesday afternoon at Fort Bragg, N.C., accompanied by White House senior adviser Karl Rove.

ENDLESS CYCLE

Estimated amount spent lobbying Congress last year: $3 billion.

Number of former members of Congress or federal-agency heads who are now lobbyists: 240

- Harper's Index, July 2005

APPEAL OF THE WEEK

"The Republicans raise more than $10 million a month in huge checks from special interests and lobbyists. They have created a money-for-influence machine unlike anything our country has ever seen. A million of us contributing $20 a month can double their total."

Or so Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean observed this week, first criticizing Republicans for raising big money, then appealing to Democrats to double the GOP's amount.

HACKETT'S PLAN

Politicians and military officers alike weighed in on President Bush's insistence during a speech Tuesday night that the increasingly deadly war in Iraq is winnable.

Now, how about an opinion from a Marine and politician in one?

Paul Hackett, a 43-year-old Marine Corps major who returned from service in Iraq on March 18, has become a Democratic candidate for Congress in Ohio's most heavily Republican district. He is the first veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom to seek a congressional seat.

"No more lip service," Hackett said on the heels of President Bush's address to the nation Tuesday night on Iraq.

Instead, he says, the U.S. needs "a specific plan to complete the mission in Iraq."

Which is?

"My plan is simple: Match each Iraqi unit to an American unit," he says. "They will eat together, sleep together, train together and fight together. Our Americans will be a constant example of how professional soldiers conduct themselves.

"By making this commitment, we can successfully exit Iraq once the roughly 140,000 Iraqi security forces are adequately trained and skilled enough to defend their government," he continues. "I was in Iraq three months ago and we were teaching Iraqi soldiers by assigning four American advisers to a battalion of Iraqis. You would not send your kid to a school where 500 students learn from only four teachers."

Hackett, at the same time, makes clear that the Iraqi people "are grateful that we eliminated their brutal dictator," and cautions that while they are capable of running their own government and building a democracy, "it won't look like ours, nor should it."

Without naming names, he says U.S. leaders "cannot paint a rosy picture and expect us to believe it."

"This war is wasting billions of tax dollars and countless American lives," he says.

TOKE AND STROKE

Country music legend Willie Nelson will hold the inaugural "Willie Nelson/NORML Benefit Golf Tournament" this Sunday at his personal Pedernales Golf Club in Spicewood, Texas.

All proceeds will benefit the Washington-based National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

NORML founder and legal counsel Keith Stroup, a longtime friend of Nelson, says enrollment in the actual tournament has been sold out for several weeks and an additional 50 people have purchased VIP tickets "just to come out and hang with us."

In addition to Stroup, NORML's newly anointed executive director Allen St. Pierre will head down to the links from Washington.

Nelson serves as co-chairman for NORML's advisory board and has taped numerous public service announcements on behalf of the organization.

TALES OF CAMELOT

Some know Letitia Baldrige as America's leading authority on manners and etiquette. She's an author of 20 books, including the best sellers "More Than Manners" and "Letitia Baldrige's New Manners for New Times."

Others might remember Baldrige as the social secretary of John F. Kennedy's White House. With first lady Jacqueline Kennedy (the two were former classmates), she helped plan the administration's state functions and family celebrations.

For the president's 46th (and final) birthday, for instance, Baldrige helped throw a surprise party aboard the teak-paneled USS Sequoia presidential yacht in New York, shortly after Marilyn Monroe sang "Happy Birthday" to the president at Madison Square Garden.

Now, wouldn't you know, the landmark Willard InterContinental Washington, which is just around the corner from the White House (Abe Lincoln and his family lived at the hotel for a month before moving into the White House), has not only booked the privately owned Sequoia for its guests to enjoy the Fourth of July fireworks from the Potomac River, but the hotel is bringing Baldrige aboard to share some of her favorite anecdotes from the Camelot years.

Cost of this Independence Day package: $1,750 per couple.

READ FOR YOURSELF

Want a kinder, gentler America? Then turn off the radio and read a newspaper.

Journalism professors at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism have determined that it is the type of media a person consumes, not necessarily the message, that determines how polarized Americans become on a certain issue.

The school's study finds that radio listeners are the most polarized news consumers, particularly those who listen to "conservative" political commentators like Rush Limbaugh. Newspaper readers, at the same time, are the least polarized.

Conservative listeners have their ideals reinforced by radio shows, explains journalism professor Wayne Wanta, which ultimately leads to even more extreme views. Newspapers do not have the same space and time constraints as television or radio, he says, therefore they are able to provide readers with more information on both sides of an issue.

As a result, newspaper and Internet readers are less likely to adopt extreme attitudes about certain issues, the professor states. "Overall, our findings point to radio being a possible reason for the increasing polarization of the U.S. public."

HOP A BUS

Transportation-wise, Washington will soon appear a bit more European.

A fleet of 29 Belgian-made, "European-looking" buses featuring three street-level doors, low floors and large tourist-style windows, will debut on July 10, connecting many of the city's tourist spots and major business centers - from Union Station to Georgetown.

"Great - and at $1, cheap - hello, interns on the Hill! - for downtown workers, tourists, business travelers, conventioneers and residents," publicist Matt Amodeo tells The Beltway Beat.

The "D.C. Circulator" buses, as they are called, will operate at 5- to 10 minute intervals from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week, along two initial routes designed to complement existing bus and rail lines: an east-west link between Union Station and Georgetown along K Street NW, and a north-south route connecting the Southwest Waterfront with the Washington Convention Center via the Mall and 7th Street NW.

Patrons will pay $1 per ride. Transfers from Metro services (rail and bus) will be free.

The D.C. Department of Transportation owns the Circulator, while the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority will manage the service and First Transit, a private-sector transit operator, will operate the buses.

And how's this for optimism: operators are aiming for annual ridership of 4.6 million when the system is fully implemented.

"I believe I speak for many in the District's tourism industry when I say how excited I am to see the Circulator debut," says Bill Hanbury, president of the Washington Convention and Tourism Corp., who counts more than 30 hotels within one block of the bus routes.

DO YOU KORU?

A familiar name in Washington has given his new communications firm a most unusual name.

Andrew Solomon, former director of public affairs for the Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and director of communications and strategy for Harvard University's Institute of Politics, has just launched Koru Communication Strategies.

What's a koru?

A koru, says Mr. Solomon, is the spiral-shaped symbol of an unfurled fern and signifies potential and growth.