- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 19, 2003

Nightmare scenario

Top constitutional law scholars and political scientists will huddle in the Senate Judiciary Committee room all day next Monday to weigh the unfathomable: A nuclear device in Washington kills the president, vice president and everyone in the line of succession.

Along with members of Congress, the analysts will seek to determine whether the current system of presidential succession is adequate for the post-September 11 world — and if not investigate reforms to the system.

For example, one of the less-pressing questions in the wake of any nightmare scenario, yet one to be considered by the scholars, is whether the presidency suddenly could switch parties if needed?

The Oct. 27 congressional panel was put together by the Continuity of Government Commission, its members including former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford; former Sen. Alan K. Simpson of Wyoming; former Clinton White House officials Lloyd N. Cutler, Leon Panetta and Donna E. Shalala; former House Speakers Newt Gingrich and Thomas S. Foley; and Kweisi Mfume, head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Martha’s gift horse

We shook our heads in disbelief when Homeland Security Committee Chairman Rep. Christopher Cox cited one reason he’s calling for legislative improvements to the grant funding process to first responders in times of crisis.

The California Republican noted that today’s grant procedure is outdated and too “cumbersome,” resulting in funding for first responders “getting trapped in the pipeline,” or else being funneled to the wrong places.

Can you provide an example?

“In Massachusetts, the Steamship Authority, which runs ferries to the resort island of Martha’s Vineyard, and one of the vineyard’s harbors were awarded $900,000 to upgrade port security,” the chairman notes.

“Oak Bluff’s harbor master told the Vineyard Gazette newspaper, ‘Quite honestly, I don’t know what we’re going to do, but you don’t turn down grant money.’”

Blindfolds optional

A proposed National Health Museum is one step closer to reality after Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson awarded a $1 million federal “partnership” grant toward the museum’s construction.

In addition, museum planners have determined that the soon-to-be-vacated Food and Drug Administration site in Southwest Washington “offers an ideal location” for the museum.

Now that funding and location are nearly settled, the Republican Study Committee points out that the museum can begin tackling other concerns. Take the controversy over the wording of the Enola Gay — the plane that dropped the first atomic bomb — display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

Asks the study group: “How will a National Health Museum deal with controversial health topics such as Roe v. Wade, RU-486, the morning-after pill … HIV/AIDS issues, sex education, abstinence, sexually transmitted diseases, etc?”

Grave expansion

Uncle Sam is running out of hallowed ground to bury his dead.

So the congressional leadership and Veterans Affairs have requested immediate consideration of a bill to establish six additional cemeteries in the National Cemetery System, the most appropriate locations being Sarasota, Fla.; Jacksonville, Fla.; southeastern Pennsylvania; Birmingham, Ala.; Bakersfield, Calif.; and Columbia, S.C.

Golden gavels

Being a new kid on the block, freshman Sen. John E. Sununu, New Hampshire Republican, frequently is handed the duty of presiding with firm gavel over Senate proceedings.

Last Friday, at approximately 6 p.m., Senate action was halted by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, to observe that Mr. Sununu had reached his 100th-hour milestone of presiding time. At which point freshman Sen. Mark Dayton, Minnesota Democrat, stepped up to the lectern.

“I join the distinguished majority leader in expressing my appreciation for your presence here this evening,” Mr. Dayton told Mr. Sununu. “I did not achieve my golden gavel status as swiftly as the senator from New Hampshire, but I did. I suffered through many hours when I would rather have been elsewhere in order to achieve that and … presid[ing] over what are, as we both know, occasionally unruly adults.”

John McCaslin, a nationally syndicated columnist, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or jmccaslin@washingtontimes.com.

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