- The Washington Times - Friday, March 8, 2002

Repeat after me

Two senators nearly got themselves hitched during yesterday's contentious Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for Charles W. Pickering Sr. of Mississippi, a candidate for the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

In a lighter moment of the spirited debate, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, looked Utah Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, ranking Republican on the committee, in the eyes and told him how much he admired and "loved" him.

Mr. Hatch, somewhat taken aback by the expression of male affection from across the aisle, replied, albeit sternly: "I love you, too."

The entire hearing room erupted in laughter.

"But it is getting harder all the time," the Republican conceded to the Democrat.

At which point, the committee's chairman, Democratic Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, interrupted the "lovefest" to remind the two senators that he hailed "from Vermont."

This brought the house down. And a quick end to the lovefest, as both senators returned to their partisan rancor.

Same-sex "civil unions" are legal in Vermont.

American think tank

One of the first things Georgia's junior senator, Zell Miller, noticed when he came to Washington last year is that you hardly ever see a pickup truck in this city.

"They're scarce up here," the Democrat says. "But I can tell you they're not scarce outside the Beltway."

In fact, pickup trucks account for just under 20 percent of all registered vehicles in this country a figure that rises to as high as 37 percent in some states making the pickup the third most-popular choice of vehicle for American drivers.

Wherein lies the problem.

Mr. Miller, along with Republican Sen. Phil Gramm of pickup truck-crowded Texas, are concerned that the extra costs associated with implementing higher federally imposed mileage standards for pickups would be passed on to farmers, rural families and small-business owners.

So they've introduced legislation freezing pickups at the present mileage levels of 20.7 miles per gallon.

"I submit to you the back of the pickup is the 'think tank' of rural America," says Mr. Miller. "I suspect more problems have been solved on the tailgates of pickup trucks after a long day's work than have been solved anywhere."

And if the legislation fails?

"The tailgates of America are going to drop," fears the Georgian, observing that pickup truck owners farmers, homebuilders, plumbers, electricians and painters historically vote in large numbers. "Then the conversation at the end of the day on the back of the pickup as the sun goes down … will be how to get rid of us in the next election."

And pickup truck drivers aren't as dumb as they might look, he adds.

"I knew a fellow back in Georgia," Mr. Miller reveals. "He didn't have a Ph.D. in economics he would have thought Ph.D. stood for post-hole digger but he was one of the wisest men I knew."

Lost war?

Rep. Jack Kingston, Georgia Republican, makes a good point while weighing Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's contention, echoed by a few other Democrats, that the U.S. war against terrorism will be a failure unless we track down Osama bin Laden.

"I guess they better explain that to World War II veterans," says Mr. Kingston, "because, after all, we never found Hitler."

Pay now, or later

And how big is our U.S. Army?

Not big enough, according to lawmakers on Capitol Hill, who want to increase the Army force structure before it's too late.

"Today, America only boasts the ninth-largest army in the world," reveals Rep. Jim Ryun, a Kansas Republican who sits on the military personnel and procurement subcommittee.

"Of the top eight," the congressman adds for effect, "six are potential adversaries."

Selfless act

Now the rest of the nation can see why Wyoming high school teacher Christine French of Newcastle achieved national recognition for exemplary service to her students. She was chosen as the recipient of the Christa McAuliffe Fellowship and award worth $28,000.

Rather than spending the award money on herself, Miss French has taken it and purchased laptop computers and other technology tools for her students.

This subsequent "selfless contribution" to education on the part of the teacher was recognized on Capitol Hill this week.

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