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Washington Calling

A faint showing on ethics ... Committee votes ... More
Scripps Howard News Service


March 17, 2007
Saturday AM

WASHINGTON -- Despite the perception that GOP ethical lapses helped propel them back into control of Congress, Democrats didn't put their money where their rhetoric was when they had the chance.

This past week, Dems voted only a small increase in the budget of the House ethics committee, even though the bipartisan leaders of the panel had asked for an extra $1 million above its $6 million allocation in light of new oversight duties designed to give the panel more punch.




Democrats chose instead to put the $1 million in the new committee they have created to examine climate change and energy independence.

Meanwhile, Republicans also are complaining that House leaders have been slow to issue guidance to lawmakers on what they can and can't do under new ethics rules.


Some of the most important votes on Capitol Hill take place in committees, where it is not uncommon for lawmakers to oppose a measure when it's before a committee and then support it when it reaches the House or Senate floor.

But those committee votes might as well take place in secret because, unlike for floor votes, no system exists to make the panel tallies quickly public. You almost have to be there to count them yourself if you want to know how your congressman voted.

Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, wants to change that so "every vote a member takes (is) more transparent." Under his bill, every House committee would have to post the votes on its Web site within 48 hours.

Don't hold your breath for the House to embrace the idea. Not only would this data reveal the both-sides-of-the-same-issue votes, but also how often lawmakers are absent for committee business.


Does this plastic make me look fat? A new study from the University of Rochester in New York warns that phthalates, a common class of chemicals found in plastics, soaps, etc., already tied to reproductive problems, may also be contributing to wider bellies in men. That's because the stuff suppresses testosterone levels that contribute to leanness. Federal scientists are also studying the health effects of the unpronounceable chemicals. Still unexplained: NFL linemen, pro wrestlers.


In an age of plastic surgery and miracle cosmetics, most American women aged 30 to 69 say they feel "about 40," according to a new Roper poll done for Prevention Magazine. But 85 percent of them would rather reveal their exact age than how much they weigh.


Unintended consequence? A new NASA study reports that Earth may be heating up in part because mankind acted to curb one type of air pollution - dust and aerosols - that in the past acted as a "sunscreen" for the planet by reflecting sunlight back into space.

Research shows that Earth ended a decades-long trend of reflecting more solar energy right around 1990 - just when new curbs on aerosols began to kick in.


Two recent "first-time-since-the-Vietnam-War" moments:

- For the first time in 30 years, the Navy this month deployed an active-duty "riverine squadron" to Iraq to patrol its inland waterways. This is the same sort of "swift-boat" unit commanded by then-Navy Lt. John Kerry in Vietnam.

- The USS Gary's port call in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, last month marked the first time a U.S. military vessel has docked in that southeast Asian nation since 1975, when U.S. warships massed there after the Khmer Rouge regime seized the American merchant ship Mayaguez. This time, the U.S. frigate's sailors played soccer with Cambodian troops, and Navy dentists fixed the teeth of villagers.


In other way-back news, 2007 marks the 40th anniversary of Loving v. Virginia, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that forbade bans on interracial marriage. Since the unanimous1967 ruling, the number of mixed marriages has inched up, according to a new Stanford University study.

In the immediate years after the landmark decision, less than 2 percent of married couples were interracial. By 2005, about 7.5 percent were. That year, there were 440,000 black-white unions; 755,000 Asian-white marriages; and 1.75 million between Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites, the study said.

Note: The 1960 marriage in Hawaii of Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama's African father and white mother would have been illegal in more than half of the U.S. states at the time.


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