Help on the Way for Lawmakers Cut Off by Gustav

By Mary Ann Akers And Paul Kane
Thursday, September 4, 2008

Hurricane Gustav knocked the wind out of Louisiana members of Congress this week -- or at least out of their district offices -- but help is on the way.

Recently elected Rep. Don Cazayoux (D) of Baton Rouge reported a loss of power, phones and Internet access, leaving him helpless as he tried to respond to constituents after the Labor Day storm, said Jeff Ventura, spokesman for House Chief Administrative Officer Daniel P. Beard.

But a House office set up after the 2001 terrorist attacks to ensure continuity of operations for lawmakers sent a team of 10 technicians yesterday that will set up a free-standing mobile district office when it arrives on the Gulf Coast late this morning.

A multimillion-dollar truck -- called a HERCV, or House Emergency Response Communications Vehicle -- will make the trip, backed up by a second truck of repair equipment for Cazayoux's office, Ventura said. The HERCV is packed with satellite-enabled communications gear that can support 250 telephone and Internet connections.

Rep. Charlie Melancon (D), who represents hard-hit coastal parishes, and others also may plug into the mobile office, which requires no external power or communications link, he said.

The response is part of millions of dollars of "continuity of operations" upgrades the legislative branch has bought for itself since the terrorist strikes. It is the first use of the communications truck outside the Washington area, where it was activated briefly in a different form after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Ventura said.

Floor Show Running Strong

Back in Washington, Republicans who stayed behind to continue staging their "energy speak-in" on the House floor are pounding away at the one issue they feel could save them from a Democratic landslide in November.

Even though cameras are off during the recess protest, Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (Mich.), who is running the show this week, says lawmakers are on their best behavior. They're wearing suits and ties, sticking to formal parliamentary jargon and biting their tongues.

"No profanity, nothing off color," says McCotter, who is prone to off-color jokes and antics himself.

Of the nine Republicans who participated in yesterday's mock session, Rep. Steven LaTourette (Ohio) bonded most with the handful of tourists who watched the strange proceedings from the visitors gallery. "They love LaTourette. I cannot figure it out for the life of me," McCotter joked in a telephone interview.

Apparently, LaTourette got big laughs for his chart listing some of the more notable "accomplishments" of the Democratic-led House over the past year and a half, correlating the date of each measure's passage with the cost of gasoline on that particular day.

According to the chart, a resolution congratulating the UC-Santa Barbara soccer team was approved on January 29, 2007, when gas cost $2.22 a gallon. In February, House members approved a resolution commending the Houston Dynamo soccer team -- when a gallon of unleaded gas cost $3.03. The Great Cats and Rare Canids Act passed the House on May 20, when gas had risen to $3.84 a gallon. And on June 17, when Americans were paying an average of $4.14 a gallon to fill up their tanks, the House approved the Monkey Safety Act.

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