- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 10, 2007

For most of the past five weeks, House Republicans could do little else but watch as majority Democrats passed major legislation without giving them a chance to propose changes or offer alternatives.

So when they finally got a chance Thursday to vent pent-up frustrations over how Democrats were running things, the Republicans decided to make some noise — and how.

They aimed high, all the way to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The California Democrat went before the House Science Committee in the morning to champion her commitment to do something about global warming, a rare appearance for a leader of the House.

She did so as reports swirled on Capitol Hill that she had requested a bigger, swankier government airplane than her Republican predecessor had used for trips back to her home district when Congress isn’t meeting.

For Republicans, feeling muzzled and still down over losing control of the House, the irony was too good to ignore.

A waste of the taxpayers’ money, some said, estimating that her trips would cost $15 million a year if she used planes such as the military version of the Boeing 757-200. In its commercial configuration the 757-200 usually seats 175 to 190 passengers.

Mrs. Pelosi should lead by example, others argued, because a bigger plane consumes more fuel and contributes more to the global warming she expresses concern about.

“The jet that Pelosi has produces 10,000 pounds of carbon dioxide an hour, far more than the previous speaker used,” said Rep. Patrick T. McHenry, North Carolina Republican. Mrs. Pelosi’s predecessor was Rep. J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican.

“By commandeering a huge government plane for her personal transport to California, this is totally contradictory to the alarm bells we heard her ringing in the Science Committee just a few hours ago,” said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican.

Democrats said the debate about the plane, which occurred during a Republican amendment to a bill to promote ethanol and other alternative fuels, was “silly.” White House spokesman Tony Snow also weighed in, also calling the plane controversy “silly.”

The Republicans’ amendment to the alternative fuels bill amounted to a dig at Mrs. Pelosi; it specifically mentioned passenger planes “capable of transcontinental flights.”

“I do not question the imperative of providing for the safety of the speaker of the United States House of Representatives,” said Rep. Mike Pence, Indiana Republican. “On the subject of whether this is a silly debate, I think it is silly to question the right of the minority to question public expenditures.”

And so it went for nearly two hours. The bill passed 400-3, with the amendment included.

During the hubbub, House Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Livingood, who is charged with the speaker’s security, issued a statement saying it actually was he, not Mrs. Pelosi, who had requested that the military provide the larger plane so Mrs. Pelosi could fly nonstop to San Francisco.

After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Pentagon agreed to provide the House speaker, who is second in the line of presidential succession behind the vice president, with a military plane for added security during trips home. Mr. Hastert flew in a commuter-size Air Force jet.

“The fact that Speaker Pelosi lives in California compelled me to request an aircraft that is capable of making nonstop flights for security purposes, unless such an aircraft is unavailable,” Mr. Livingood said in a statement. “I regret that an issue that is exclusively considered and decided in a security context has evolved into a political issue.”

The Pentagon informed Mrs. Pelosi’s staff this week that she would get a plane, based on availability, and that nonstop service could not be guaranteed.

Mrs. Pelosi said Thursday that she would be happy to fly commercial.

“We never asked for a larger plane. This is a myth that [the Republicans] are talking about on the floor,” she said. “They have nothing to say to the American people about the war, the economy, global warming and the rest. So they have this game they’re playing.”

Back on the House floor, 83-year-old Rep. Ralph M. Hall, Texas Republican, offered that it probably would be cheaper if he rode the bus home to Dallas every weekend, but that issue could be debated some other time.

“The only airplane I’m thinking about,” he said, “is the one I wanted to be on at 12:30, heading for Texas.”

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