With billions in Iraq construction contracts pending last year, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) borrowed World War II-era language for an amendment that would criminalize war profiteering. But the Republican leadership not only removed it; they also raised the limit on no-bid contracts from $7.5 million to $200 million, inaugurating a new era of raiding the U.S. Treasury, all of it legal.
Meanwhile, on the home front, pork spending has enjoyed such an unimaginable renaissance that even Pork Prince Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) is offended. Republican Sen. Charles Grassley, for one, convinced the government to underwrite the $225 million creation of an African
rainforest in Iowa to help children appreciate the “wonders of the jungle.” Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) procured a subsidy to help build a Hooters restaurant.
Let it be said here that this, the 108th Congress, will go down in history alongside the fetid Congresses of the 1880s, which laid back for the robber barons, and the “Laissez les bon temps rouler” Congress of 1929-30, whose anti-regulatory stubbornness walked us, eyes wide shut, into the Great Depression. Congressional rascality on such a scale requires a comparable arrogance of power. It’s not a coincidence that in this current Congress, Senate Majority Leader
Bill Frist convened 35 heart transplant patients he operated on so they could wash him with praise, before self-publishing a book titled Good People Beget Good People: A Genealogy of the Frist Family.
Yet even as they have scoffed at the rules the rest of us plebs must live by and spent like drunken sailors, the most profligate Congress in nearly a century still found myriad opportunities to, once again, do diddly.
The Trent Lott Award for Racial Sensitivity
••• Rep. Cass Ballenger (R-N.C.) admitted having “segregationist feelings” about former Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.), who is black. Ballenger also insisted that the appearance of a congressional aide in his yard to paint a three-and-a-half-foot, cast-iron black lawn jockey white was just “restoration”—this, after years of defending the icon as a “family heirloom.” He dismissed accusations of racism, saying, “I think everybody can look at my life and what I’ve done and say that’s not true. I mean, she was such a bitch.”
••• Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) was warming up a crowd in Missouri, talking about Mahatma Gandhi, when she suddenly blurted, “You know, he ran a gas station
down in St. Louis for two years. Do you still go down to the gas station? There’s a lot of wisdom coming out of that gas station.”
••• Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.) denounced a pair of Hispanic men who support Bush’s Haiti policy—Roger Noriega at the State Department and Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.)—as “white men” who “all look the same.” Not to kiss up to the Hispanic vote too nakedly, Republicans immediately issued a press release that began: “Los comentarios de
la congresista Brown son realmente deplorables.”
••• Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) took to the Senate floor on the occasion of Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd’s 17,000th vote to say that “my friend from West Virginia…would have been a great senator at any moment.” How quickly he forgot Trent Lott’s fate for saying that “we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years” had the country elected
Strom Thurmond president in 1948, when he ran as an unrepentant segregationist. Dodd insisted that Byrd—who a few years ago went on TV to denounce the existence of “white niggers” and who once achieved the rank of “kleagle” in the Ku Klux Klan—”would have been right during the great conflict of Civil War in this nation.”
••• Rep. Barbara Cubin (R-Wyo.) op- posed a gun control measure, observing, “One amendment today said we couldn’t sell them to anybody under drug treatment. So does that mean
if you go into a black community, you cannot sell a gun to any black person?”
The Good Riddance Award for Ex-Congresspersons
••• Newt Gingrich accused the State Department of a “deliberate and systematic effort to undermine” President Bush and therefore being a “broken instrument of diplomacy.”
••• John LeBoutillier has co-founded the “Counter Clinton Library,” located in Little Rock near the official version, which the former congressman says is funded by the “Red Chinese” and should be called the Clinton “LIE-brary.” LeBoutillier’s CCL will feature 16 rooms, including the Travelgate Room and the Anti-Propaganda Pavilion. It will also showcase an Exit Room that will, relying on accusations of trashed offices and broken computers, “re-create parts of the White House exactly as the Clintons left them.”
••• James Traficant, currently in prison for bribery and racketeering, announced his candidacy for president. Spokesman Marcus Belk explained, “The battle to free James
Traficant and to evict the socialists and ‘free traders’ from theDemocratic Party is now under way. Someone buy the Washington establishment a bottle of Maalox.”
The Pat Robertson Memorial You-Talking-To-Me,-God? Award
••• Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), during the turmoil of the Medicare bill, ordered his communications director, Stuart Roy, to rush in for a press briefing. On the drive over, a pitchfork described by Roll Call as “traveling 100 miles per hour” broke through the windshield of his SUV and “came within inches of decapitating him.” According to unbelieving heathens, the pitchfork
had come loose from a truck traveling in the other direction. Roy’s wife explained, “If you die by way of the pitchfork, it’s probably not a good sign as to which way you’re headed.”
••• Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) was out partying when her new Capitol Hill house burst into flames.
••• Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) arrived at the Wayfarer Inn in Bedford, New Hampshire, to attack the Democratic presidential candidates, when the ceiling of the lobby
caved in and crashed to the floor.
••• Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.) was with Frist and attempted to give his own speech when the overhead sprinkler system suddenly switched on.
The Roi Louis Grand Prix
Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) stonewalled a Democratic measure to adjust the child tax credit for 6.5 million working poor, denying families making less than $26,625 a $400 break, while giving a $93,500 tax cut to those making $1 million.
••• Tom DeLay ordered the Homeland Security Department to help Texas Rangers chase down Democratic state legislators in order to win a redistricting vote. Even though everyone knew the Democrats had fled to Oklahoma, officers swarmed the homes of the Democrats’ families and in one case barged in on a neonatal intensive care unit where a legislator’s wife was caring for
her newborn twins.
••• Tom DeLay held open the House Medicare vote throughout a dark night for democracy last November. DeLay panicked when it appeared that the budget-buster would go down
218-216. So he kept the vote open an unprecedented three hours for floor managers to strong-arm reluctant representatives until it passed.
The Congress-And-The-Jewish-Problem Award
••• Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) was happily a member of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews until he saw footage of himself and fellow IFCJ-ers Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson in an infomercial asking Christians to “rescue a Jew” by paying travel costs from Russia to Israel. A humanitarian effort, it would seem, until later in the pitch it’s revealed that IFCJ wants to get all the Jews into Israel in order to fulfill “biblical prophecy” and bring on Armageddon—at which time all the Jews who haven’t accepted Christ, such as Joe Lieberman, will burn in hell for eternity.
••• Rep. James Moran (D-Va.) opined, “If it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq, we would not be doing this.” He added, “The leaders of the Jewish community are influential enough that they could change the direction of where this is going, and I think they should.”
••• Rep. Max Burns (R-Ga.) stood quietly at a fundraiser in Georgia while a supporter, businessman Jackie Sommers, described Burns’ opponent as “that Jewboy down in Savannah.”
The Heidi Fleiss Medal For Congressional Pandering
••• Rep. James Moran (D-Va.), chronically in debt ($700,000, according to the Washington Post, spread out over “two dozen credit cards”), claimed he got a “cold call” from
banking conglomerate MBNA to help him out. MBNA consolidated his debt into one nice low-interest payment—causing an expert at Standard & Poor’s to remark, “This loan was the worst.” Afterward, Moran was suddenly overtaken by a keen interest in banking reform—which MBNA was spearheading in Congress—leading to a bill that would punish ordinary people who got in over their heads with credit card debt.
••• Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) became House majority whip in November 2002; hours later he secretly slipped into the 475-page bill creating the Homeland Security Department
a provision benefiting Philip Morris USA. Blunt’s language would have restricted low-cost cigarette sales on the Internet and prosecuted contraband sales. The congressman receives massive donations
from Philip Morris; his son works for Philip Morris; and he recently married the Washington lobbyist for Philip Morris. After the outrage was discovered (so outrageous that ethics purist Tom DeLay had the measure stripped), Blunt wailed that cigarette sales are connected to homeland security because Hezbollah has made money by selling discount smokes.
••• Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) was on the speakerphone with Majority Leader Bill Frist, unaware that Frist had a reporter in the room. Chambliss explained that a “major
Republican donor” wanted an ambassadorship to some overseas organization. “I don’t even know what the hell it is,” Chambliss said as the reporter transcribed, “but he wants it.” Unabashed, Frist asked, “He has a lot of dollar figures down there?” “That’s exactly right,” Chambliss
said, “and he did raise a chunk of money for me.” Frist concluded, “All right. You’re a good man.”
The Legislating-Is-Just-A-Start–What-I-Really-Want-To-Do-Is-Direct Award
••• Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) praised the testimony of Backstreet Boy Kevin Richardson on the topic of coal-mining effluvia leaching into river valleys. “He is knowledgeable,” Lieberman insisted of the boy-band heartthrob. “I believe his voice will add to our understanding of the issue.”
••• Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) had a fundraiser hosted by James Brown that featured the senator, in full ’70s polyester, promising “to put the fun back in fundraising.”
••• Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) took counsel from Catherine Zeta-Jones on the issue of nuclear proliferation.
••• Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) gave a Capitol tour to the ’80s arena-rock band Styx, which drew looks, Cantor said, because there “were definitely earrings and some dyed-blond hair.”
The Let-God-Sort-‘M-Out Award For Creative Xenophobia
••• Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) suggested that Congress restrict the import of Evian water and require French wine to carry “bright orange warning labels” noting that the contents used bovine blood as a clarifier.
••• Reps. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) and Walter Jones (R-N.C.) successfully ordered that “french fries” on menus in the House’s restaurants be rechristened “freedom fries.” A similar change occurred on Air Force One, where the more regal diners could choose cream-cheese-stuffed “freedom toast.”
••• Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) was telling jokes at a GOP event, including one that said his opponent Daniel Mongiardo—whose Italian heritage has given him dark hair
and eyebrows—looked like one of Saddam Hussein’s sons. A Bunning flack offered a hedged apology: “We’re sorry if this joke, which got a lot of laughs, offended anyone.”
The Horse-Head-In-Your-Bed Award
••• Rep. James Moran (D-Va.),
the hapless congressman, proposed legislation to outlaw bear baiting on federal lands, provoking notorious hothead Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), who is “proud to say that” environmentalists “are my enemy” and who once pulled out a walrus penis at a hearing to punctuate his loathing of these people who he claims “are not Americans.” Young threatened to call in his goons to punish Moran. “I wish I had my native people in here right now,” Young said. “You’d walk out of here with no head on.”
••• Rep. Nick Smith (R-Mich.) refuses to name names but has confirmed that during the midnight vote-buying that finally got the Medicare bill out of the House, he was promised “$100,000 plus” to help fund his son Brad Smith’s campaign. According to Smith, the Republican extortionists said the money would come from “pharmaceutical business groups.” According to columnist Robert Novak, when Smith voted no anyway, Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.) served as GOP consigliere, informing Smith that his son was “dead meat.”
••• Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), according to unnamed sources in The Hill newspaper, “unambiguously” pressured the General Accounting Office’s comptroller general into dropping a lawsuit against Dick Cheney for the release of his energy task force’s documents by threatening to slash the investigative body’s $440 million budget. (Stevens denies intimidating anyone.)
The Is-There-An-Unsend-Button-On-This-Thing? Award
••• Rep. George Nethercutt (R-Wash.) said that the rebuilding of Iraq was a good news story, adding, “It is a better and more important story than losing a couple of soldiers every day.”
••• Rep. John Hostettler (R-Ind.) said, “I should have definitely rechecked my luggage,” after airport security detained him for carrying a loaded 9 mm Glock semiautomatic
in his briefcase.
••• Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) offered his Iraq strategy: “Mow the whole place down, see what happens.”
••• Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) explained his vote in favor of the Iraq war: “Did I expect George Bush to fuck it up as badly as he did? I don’t think anybody did.”
••• Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) explained his opposition to the president’s economic policy: “I don’t need Bush’s tax cut. I’ve never worked a fucking day in my life.”
••• Rep. Fortney H. “Pete” Stark (D-Calif.) opposed the Iraq resolution, saying, “We have a president who thinks foreign territory is the opponent’s dugout and Kashmir is a sweater.”
The Sometimes-A-Cigar-Is-Just-A-Cigar Cigar
••• Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) has devoted much of his time recently to discussing exotic sexual arrangements—all while condemning them. Sitting with a female reporter, he lubriciously denounced “man on child, man on dog” sex. Santorum also gave a group of high school students more than they expected during a Capitol visit by detailing his views on “sodomy,”
and two days later he entertained a group of 16-year-olds from the National Youth Leadership Conference with more of his opinions on gay sex.
••• Rep. Doug Ose (R-Calif.) proposed the Clean Airways Act, which will go down in history as the filthiest bill ever written: “As used in this section, the term ‘profane,’
used with respect to language, includes the words ‘shit,’ ‘piss,’ ‘fuck,’ ‘cunt,’ ‘asshole,’ and the phrases ‘cock sucker,’ ‘mother fucker,’ and ‘ass hole,’ compound use (including hyphenated compounds) of such words and phrases with each other or with other words or phrases, and other grammatical forms of such words and phrases (including verb, adjective, gerund, participle, and infinitive forms).” This phrasing was apparently necessary because the FCC had just OK’d the word “fucking” when used as an adjective and not as the indecent verb form—which apparently refers to some kind of sexual act that perhaps Rick Santorum can describe in detail to the next female reporter who happens by.
••• Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) gave out the wrong 800 number to constituents to provide updates on the Medicare bill. It connected callers to a sex chat line where a willing woman introduced herself: “Welcome to Intimate Connections.”
••• Rep. John Boozman (R-Ark.) let the domain name boozmanforcongress.com lapse, so that for a while visitors found themselves at a gay porn site featuring “the hottest studs on the Internet.”
••• Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) has accused “Democratic activists” of smearing him as “gay.” The confirmed bachelor, who is 48 years old, argues that his sexual orientation is no one’s business. But John Parsons, the Republican state committeeman for Palm Beach County, has insisted on knowing if Foley has, you know, a refined interest in antiques: “By dodging the question, it makes him appear to be a homosexual to me.”