Sunday, July 11, 2004

Slumber party

If the current trend continues, congressmen will have to stay up mighty late — or else awaken before the crack of dawn — to cast votes in the waning months of the 104th Congress.

Sleepy-eyed Democrats aren’t amused by the Republican-led “wee-hour” voting, including a groggy Ohio Rep. Sherrod Brown, who calls the previous five days “a bad week in Washington.”

“Never before when the Democrats were in control, or when Newt Gingrich was [Republican] speaker of the House, never before has this House of Representatives operated in such secrecy,” he says.

“At 2:54 a.m. on a Friday in March,” he begins, “the House cut veterans’ benefits by three votes. At 2:39 a.m. on a Friday in April, the House slashed education and health care by five votes. At 1:56 a.m. on a Friday in May, the House passed the tax-cut bill, weighted especially towards millionaires, by a handful of votes.”

Is that the worst of it?

“At 2:33 a.m. on a Friday in June, the House passed the Medicare privatization bill by one vote. At 12:57 a.m. on a Friday in June, the House eviscerated Head Start by one vote. And then, after returning from summer recess, at 12:12 a.m. on a Friday … the House voted $87 billion for Iraq,” he continues.

Are you, sir, insinuating a Republican strategy — to cast votes in the dark of the night while newspapermen are home sleeping?

“Always in the middle of the night, always after the press had passed their deadlines, always after the American people had turned off the news and gone to bed,” Mr. Brown insists.

“At best, Americans read a small story with a brief explanation of the bill and the vote count in the Saturday newspaper. And people here, the Republican leadership, know that Saturday is the least-read newspaper of the week.”

How long has this been going on?

“In November, they did it again. The most sweeping changes in Medicare in its 38-year history were forced through the House at 5:55 on a Saturday morning.”

Trading with Fidel

The Miami Herald tells a most intriguing story of a 95-year-old Cuban-American woman who has just filed federal suit against Paris-based Club Med, accusing the resort chain of unjustly profiting from a five-star hotel it built on land that her family owned in pre-Revolution Cuba.

Elvira de la Vega Glen of Miami says she and her surviving son are entitled to compensation for a Club Med built in 1997 on a stretch of beach that her family owned for generations.

“The land, now part of a valuable tourism area, was seized by the Cuban government after the Fidel Castro revolution,” explains the Herald, saying the suit charges the resort company with violating the U.S. Trading With the Enemy Act.

“I’m bringing this case because the people who are there have no business being there,” Mrs. Glen informs the newspaper. “It was the most beautiful beach in the world, oh, the most beautiful beach.”

Representing the woman is Washington lawyer Stuart Newberger of the Pennsylvania Avenue law firm Crowell & Moring LLP. He says the State Department is looking into whether Club Med violated the Helms-Burton Act, which prohibits “trafficking” in property confiscated from Cuban Americans.

Club Med tells the newspaper that it will defend itself “vigorously.”

Virgin son

Let us continue our series of items on proposals to place former President Ronald Reagan’s portrait on various forms of U.S. currency, having written last about legislation to place the Gipper’s face on the front of every $10 bill printed after Dec. 31.

“Printing his likeness on the $10 bill is a fitting tribute to a leader who inspired the forces of freedom to victory over the evils of Communism, won the Cold War and restored America’s economic vitality,” says Rep. J.D. Hayworth, Arizona Republican.

Of course, the $10 bill features Alexander Hamilton, a Founding Father and the first secretary of the Treasury. When it was suggested that Mr. Reagan’s mug shine on the dime or half-dollar, Democrats not willing to erase the images of former Presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy cried foul. We jokingly pointed out that there was no immediate reaction from the Alexander Hamilton fan club — until now.

“Today in St. Croix, where we walk, where [Hamilton] lived and worked, we are celebrating his life,” says Delegate Donna M.C. Christensen, Virgin Islands Democrat. She says that although Hamilton was a great American, “it is not widely known that he was from St. Croix, my home.”

“Alexander Hamilton relocated to St. Croix from Nevis at the age of 9,” Mrs. Christensen notes. “There, he developed the exceptional accounting, finance and writing skills which later propelled his career.”

Losing streak

“Other than that second inning, the game was pretty good.”

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, after Republicans beat his team 14-7 in the 43rd annual Roll Call baseball game for charity. A 5,000-plus crowd, including Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Lou Brock, saw the Republican team score 10 of its runs in the second inning.

• John McCaslin, whose column is nationally syndicated, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or

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