- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 9, 2003

Mysterious addition

A $750,000 provision to expand dental and vision coverage for House members and employees — snuck into a massive appropriations bill — raised the ire of both sides of the aisle yesterday.

Rep. David R. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat, objected late yesterday afternoon to language in the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education appropriations bill that only he seemed to notice.

“We’re opposed to the idea that this bill would slip into law without having an open, honest debate about it so we could discuss it in the sunlight,” Mr. Obey said.

Even Rep. C.W. Bill Young, Florida Republican and chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said he didn’t know the sweetheart health plan was in the bill.

Rep. John Linder, Georgia Republican and a dentist by trade, was particularly irked.

“This has happened before, and whoever is responsible for this should be fired,” Mr. Linder said, implying a legislative aide sneaked it in.

The mystery might not be solved, but the provision was killed on a procedural vote last night.

Free-speech attack

“John McCain and various Democratic senators are standing up for the Dixie Chicks,” James Taranto writes in his Best of the Web Today column at www.OpinionJournal.com.

On Tuesday, “the Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing on media consolidation, and the senators heard from the head of Cumulus Media Inc., which for 30 days banned its country stations (though not its top 40 ones) from playing Chicks tunes because one Chick had sparked an uproar by making a rude comment about President Bush during a concert overseas,” Mr. Taranto noted.

“The Baltimore Sun reports: ‘It’s a strong argument about what media concentration has the possibility of doing,’ McCain told Cumulus Chairman Lewis W. Dickey Jr. ‘If someone else offends you, and you decide to censor those people, my friend, the erosion of our First Amendment is in progress.’

“AdAge adds that ‘Mr. Dickey later admitted he would not repeat the move in light of the committee’s criticism.’

“So let’s see if we have this straight.” Mr. Taranto said. “A congressional committee intimidates a private broadcaster into changing his programming decisions, and this is supposed to be a victory for the First Amendment? The Sun notes that McCain last month ‘proposed legislation that would require industry giants such as Clear Channel to sell some holdings.’

“McCain seems to have forgotten the First Amendment’s first five words: ‘Congress shall make no law …’”

Texas two-step

Texas state senators on Tuesday all but declared dead House legislation to redraw the state’s congressional district boundaries and said they would draw their own maps, the Houston Chronicle reports.

The state House version would help Republicans gain as many as six seats in Congress. But it drew criticism even from some Republican senators who support redistricting to increase GOP strength in the Texas congressional delegation, the newspaper said.

“It’s a silly map. I can’t support that,” said Sen. Kip Avert, a Republican whose home county of McLennan is divided into two congressional districts in the House plan. “I can’t support splitting my county.”

There were indications from senators and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst that the boundaries of the state Senate districts may be used as a starting point for drawing a congressional district map that could break a potential Senate deadlock on whether even to debate redistricting.

Loosely following state Senate district boundaries probably would cost Democrats at least four U.S. House districts, because Republicans hold 19 of the 31 Senate seats. They hold 15 of the state’s 32 U.S. House seats.

The state House proposal for congressional redistricting was sent to the Senate at 12:03 a.m. Tuesday on a highly partisan vote after 10 hours of debate.

Feeling left out

At least one member of the all-Democrat Congressional Black Caucus is complaining that President Bush failed to consult them before heading off to Africa.

“This is a president that has failed to meet with us on issues affecting Africa and the Caribbean,” Donna Christian-Christensen, a nonvoting delegate from the Virgin Islands, told Agence France-Presse.

“It makes me wonder how sincere this trip is, if you won’t meet with the leaders of African descent in your own country,” the Democrat said.

Given the snub, “I think we have a lot of reasons to have thin skin,” she added.

Earlier this week, black activist Al Sharpton, who is seeking the Democratic nomination to run against President Bush in the 2004 election, made a similar complaint.

“I think it is interesting that the president is going to meet with African leaders when he has not met with African-American leaders — the head of the NAACP, the head of the Urban League, the head of Rainbow/Push,” Mr. Sharpton said in a TV interview Sunday.

Mr. Sharpton did not mention that the NAACP had sponsored TV ads during the 2000 presidential election that suggested Mr. Bush, by opposing so-called hate crime legislation in Texas, somehow approved of the brutal murder of a black man.

Arrested and booked

North Carolina’s former agriculture commissioner was arrested yesterday and booked on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. The arrest followed the indictments of three of her former aides, two of whom have pleaded guilty to extortion.

Meg Scott Phipps, accompanied by her husband, Robert, and attorneys Wade and Roger Smith, turned herself in to the Wake County magistrate in Raleigh. Mrs. Phipps, a Democrat, was released without bond and didn’t comment to reporters as she left, the Associated Press reports.

A day earlier, a state grand jury indicted Mrs. Phipps on five criminal counts charging that she lied during a State Board of Elections hearing last year and altered campaign checks to cover up illegal contributions given to a former aide.

The indictments also say that Mrs. Phipps gave a false deposition to an administrative law judge.

Mrs. Phipps, the 47-year-old daughter of former Gov. Bob Scott, resigned as agriculture commissioner June 6, the same day a federal grand jury indicted her former deputy. She had a year and a half left on her first term.

Thinking about it

Rep. Jim Marshall, Georgia Democrat, said Tuesday that he is considering running for the Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Zell Miller, whose decision not to seek a second term has attracted no less than four Republican candidates.

Mr. Marshall, the former Macon, Ga., mayor who was elected to the House last year, said in an interview with the Associated Press that he would “do the responsible thing here and carefully consider that race.” He didn’t say when he planned to make a decision.

Democrats have struggled to find a big-name candidate since Mr. Miller’s announcement in January that he won’t seek another term. State Sen. Mary Squires is the only announced Democratic candidate.

Republicans are expecting a fierce primary fight, with Reps. Johnny Isakson and Mac Collins, businessman Al Bartell and former Godfather Pizza CEO Herman Cain seeking the party’s nomination.

A million sold

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has sold more than 1 million copies of her memoir “Living History,” in almost exactly a month, her publisher announced yesterday.

“What has been particularly exciting is the speed with which it has achieved such unprecedented sales levels,” Simon & Schuster executive Carolyn Reidy said in a statement.

The company ordered 1 million copies for the first printing, an extraordinarily high number for a nonfiction book, the Associated Press reports.

Greg Pierce can be reached at 202/636-3285 or gpierce@washingtontimes.com.

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