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Washington Calling

GOP revolts ... a helicopter that doesn't work ... and more
Scripps Howard News Service


April 28, 2006

WASHINGTON - Congressional vows for sweeping reforms of how lawmakers do business with lobbyists in the wake of the Jack Abramoff scandal are being watered down regularly.

In the latest skirmish, House leaders facing a rank-and-file revolt backed away from proposals requiring the naming of sponsoring lawmakers to be associated with all special spending measures buried in huge bills.

So-called "earmarks" are what congressional critics call pork, but they're bacon for incumbents who are fiercely protective of the special projects they win for home districts. House leaders agreed with the dissenters that the House wouldn't impose the requirement to disclose the sponsors of secretive spending measures unless the Senate did as well.




Since senators are unlikely to agree, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California says the House leadership is left with only "an embarrassingly trivial response" to Washington's culture of corruption.


Handing over the "official" White House flak jacket, press secretary Scott McClellan said he looked up at the taller Tony Snow, the incoming White House spokesman, and said: "I used to be your height before I started in this position."


Former Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson made himself the government's top fat-fighter when he was in office, promoting a "small steps" program that asked office-workers to walk to work, and handing out step-counting pedometers.

But after Thompson left, it looks like the health agency's enthusiasm for fighting fat has sagged. The Center for Science in the Public Interest notes that obesity gets only a mention in HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt's program for the next 500 days.


Watching someone sit at a desk drafting red tape isn't really exciting, and outsiders don't have the necessary security clearances to attend secret sessions on the war in Iraq. So for this year's "Bring Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day," Pentagon chieftains arranged with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus to bring the show to the Pentagon courtyard to keep the kids from becoming bored and unhappy.


While the costs of fighting the global war on terrorism have almost doubled in the last three years, congressional budget crunchers say they are pleasantly surprised at the success the Army is having in reducing the price of feeding troops in Iraq. It costs about $6,000 a year to feed each GI in Iraq, down from $9,500 in 2004. Today's Army contracts with food services, rather than rely on recruited cooks as in previous wars.


The Department of Homeland Security insists that it wants airline-passenger data only to thwart terrorism and other serious crimes. But the Air Transport Association says there's a secret agreement for DHS to share such information with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which is fighting government efforts to compile a watch list on citizens, says the pact violates not only what DHS promised the public, but also an international agreement on how passenger information gathered on international flights will be used.


As part of that $107 billion emergency spending bill, the Senate is proposing to drain money from programs paying for night-vision goggles and explosives-detection equipment needed in Iraq. That cash would go instead to keep alive the Marine Corp's crash-prone Osprey helicopter.

Dick Cheney, when he served as secretary of defense, sought to kill the tilt-wing helicopter. But it's testimony to the power of weapons lobbyists that taxpayers have spent $18 billion so far keeping it going. The Marines say they need the Osprey to replace aging Chinooks, but Pentagon watchdog groups like the Project on Government Oversight and the Taxpayers for Common Sense say it's too risky taking money away from equipment that troops in Iraq need for a helicopter that doesn't work.


Contact Lance Gay at GayL(at)
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