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Capitol Hill's calendar is looking fuzzy

By Al Kamen
Wednesday, July 14, 2010; A17

The stakes are high this November. The Republicans are looking to retake the House. (Ah, the subpoenas, the subpoenas.) They need to pick up 39 seats.

They also have a shot at taking the Senate, where they need to pick up 10 seats. And they may be able to make inroads on the Democrats' numbers there even before the new Congress convenes in January.

That's because five seats up for grabs are now held by unelected folks appointed by their state governors. Four of the seats were vacated by senators who went to the executive branch -- to be president, vice president, secretary of state and secretary of the interior -- and one senator, Mel Martinez (R-Fla.), retired.

While each Senate seat is important, some may be more valuable than the others. Depending on how somewhat opaque state laws are interpreted, winners might be able to take office shortly after the election results are in on Nov. 2, rather than waiting until the new Congress convenes Jan. 3.

One is the old Joe Biden seat, now held by Biden's former chief of staff, Ted Kaufman (D-Del.), who was appointed and is not running for election.

If, as appears likely now, Rep. Mike Castle (R) wins that race, he will be sworn in when the Senate comes back into its unavoidable lame-duck session after the election. Thus the Democrats would immediately be down to 58. (Biden may have to swear Castle in, something of a rarity, although Al Gore did the honors as vice president when Republican Fred Thompson won Gore's Senate seat.)

Another possibility is the former Hillary Clinton seat now held by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who was also appointed to fill in until the November election. Although Gillibrand is seen as a solid bet to win, if she doesn't, then we're told her Republican opponent, depending on how state law is interpreted, might become a senator as soon as the dust settles on Nov. 3.

Early arrivers would garner two months more seniority than other members of their class. That may not seem like much, but every day of seniority is critical in the Senate. (Just ask Republican Sens. Richard Lugar of Indiana and Orrin Hatch of Utah, who have long debated who's on first -- but we're not going down that road again.)

Though seniority doesn't govern office assignments, it does cover important matters such as committee assignments -- not just now but throughout a senator's oft-lengthy career. It can determine, in the long run, when you'll get that committee chairmanship or that coveted seat on the Appropriations Committee.

In the short run, it means you might soon be in line for a chairmanship on an important subcommittee, which turn could enable you to lead -- and take your beleaguered spouse on -- a Senate junket to find those elusive facts, especially the facts that have a tendency to migrate to warmer climes in winter and cooler places in summer.

Location, location . . .

Speaking of Senate office space, Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) has, since his stunning victory in January, enjoyed one of the most prized offices on the Hill, the one once used by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D), whose seat Brown took.

The spacious corner office on the third floor of the historic Russell Senate Office Building has a marble fireplace, sconces and other fine touches, we're told, in addition to those 15-feet ceilings.

But the most spectacular feature is through the French doors: to the large balcony running along Constitution Avenue with a view of the Capitol so beautiful that television reporters often do stand-up segments from it.

We're not talking nightly keggers here, but the freshman Sen. Brown's staffers are said to be making the best of their temporary situation, taking time to enjoy the view and the breezes. Constituents also have dropped by to survey the expanse. Some folks have been known to go out onto the balcony for some privacy and better cellphone reception, which doubtless explains why they might have occasionally and mistakenly crossed the invisible barrier that separates their space from that of their next-door neighbors, the Senate Rules Committee.

But they know -- the Rules Committee has notified them as well the staff in Gillibrand's shop, now housed in Hillary Clinton's old offices -- that these glory days may be coming to an end soon no matter who controls the Senate. And if the Democrats hold on, Brown will be lucky if he gets anything above a first-floor room somewhere in Dirksen or Hart with no view to speak of.

Foggy Bottom green

Speaking of real estate, Secretary of State Clinton and other officials cut the ribbon in December on a new annex building in Foggy Bottom to house officials from several bureaus, including the Educational and Cultural Affairs folks. Seems some of the occupants have been a little remiss on the housekeeping side. So a message went out recently to people on level C-1 reminding them of the need to "avoid any potential roach and/or rodent problems."

So "do not leave dirty dishes in the sink to soak" and wipe any splatter after using the microwave, the missive says. Don't snag food or drinks from the fridge that aren't yours and keep your cubicles clean of cups and bowls and the like.

Also "since we are in a 'Green' building with water conserving toilets, please FLUSH, check and FLUSH again -- THANK YOU!"

Kermit never thought being green would come to this.

Opportunities on the Hill

There's been slow movement of veterans of the health-care reform effort to new jobs. Last month, Kavita Patel, former Senate aide and more recently a key player on the White House reform team, joined the New America Foundation. Word came Tuesday afternoon that Liz Fowler, the Senate Finance Committee's highly regarded health policy chief, is leaving to be the deputy director of the Office of Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight at the Department of Health and Human Services.

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