The Valentine Earmark

By Al Kamen
Friday, February 3, 2006

Mark the date! Earmark Feb. 20 for the opening of the $14.2 million library wing at the University of Louisville.

No private fundraising was needed for this one, a university source said. It's all from the federal government, an earmark by an alum, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). And the new library's auditorium is to be named for his wife, Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao .

Why Chao? University President James R. Ramsey explained it was because she is a role model for students. "Elaine Chao is a national leader and a true friend of the university," Ramsey said. Chao also "is very positive in her comments about the University of Louisville when she speaks publicly," he wrote the school trustees, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal. Also, she "frequently attends sporting, cultural and social events that the university sponsors."

So pick a university, speak positively -- and publicly -- about it, don't miss a football game and who knows? Maybe the dedication plaque will say: "A gift from hard-working American taxpayers"?

Thumbing Noses at Chairman Specter

Speaking of Chao, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on labor, is awaiting her guidance on an extraordinary slap in the face he recently received from two Labor Department officials.

Loop Fans may recall that the duo, David G. Dye , acting assistant secretary for mine safety and health, and Ray McKinney , administrator of coal mine safety and health, walked out of a Jan. 23 hearing Specter was chairing on the Jan. 2 Sago Mine disaster in West Virginia, in which 12 miners died. In the past 30 days, 16 workers have died in West Virginia mines.

The walkout, Specter said in a letter to Chao the day after his hearing, came "after I had asked them to stay for another hour" in case there were additional questions from senators.

"Mr. Dye said they were too busy with their duties to stay," Specter wrote, noting that he had told Dye that the four senators at the hearing were also busy.

"Were these men instructed by anybody in your department to leave?" Specter asked. "Do you think their conduct . . . was appropriate after my specific request for them to stay . . .?"

"What action do you think should be taken in this matter?" he asked.

Mmmmm. Can you spell S-U-B-P-O-E-N-A?

Rumsfeld's Losing Weight

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld may not be the most loved Cabinet member on the Hill, but his views carry weight on some issues. Rumsfeld wrote House leaders Dec. 8 urging them to endorse a bill championed by Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) to give a Congressional Gold Medal -- Congress's highest award -- to the famed Tuskegee Airmen.

A medal bill needs 291 signatures to get a House vote. Before Rumsfeld's letter, 127 lawmakers had signed on -- 113 Democrats and 14 Republicans. By yesterday, 56 more Republicans and 92 more Democrats had endorsed it, for a total of 275, Rangel's office reported. Yet Rumsfeld's influence appears spotty. In his home state of Illinois -- also home to Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R) -- just four of nine GOP members have signed on.

More Outings on the Hill

It was said after the famous Tom DeLay - Bob Ney golf outings to Scotland that "golf" had become a four-letter word in Washington. Nonsense. There's a fine "Weekend Get-a-Way" at the elegant Ritz Carlton Naples golf resort in Florida, March 31 to April 2, for some sun and golf with Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.). And it's only $1,500 per PAC and $1,000 per person.

Closer to home -- and much pricier for cocktails at Democratic National Committee headquarters -- is a "Louisiana Seafood Festival" honoring Rep. William J. Jefferson (La.), who, we're reminded, is on the Ways and Means Committee.

Wait a minute. Jefferson? Didn't a former aide plead guilty last month to bribery counts involving an Internet and cable deal in Africa? And wasn't there a certain "Representative A" -- identified by the feds as Jefferson -- who allegedly solicited bribes?

Well, anyway, it's $5,000 if you want to be a patron, $2,500 if you just want to be a host. Wonder who will show.

The Oddest of Odd Trios?

President Bush 's most shocking State of the Union revelation was that the nation "is addicted to oil." And yet, the observation seemed familiar. Ah, yes, in James Carville and Paul Begala 's new book, "Take It Back: Our Party, Our Country, Our Future," there's a chapter: "Might as Well Face It, We're Addicted to Oil."

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