Sour Grapes

Generally, the beer and wine industries seem to get along just fine. Booze is booze, after all, and everyone knows that hot dogs go with beer, and brie or other little things on crackers go with wine.

But in Washington, a nasty battle has been, well, brewing between the guzzlers and the sippers. It surfaced recently when the National Beer Wholesalers Association took out an advertisement in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call condemning "Illegal Modern-Day Bootlegging!" and calling for new federal penalties for shipping alcohol directly to consumers in violation of state laws, an idea it turns out the wine industry opposes.

The ad was sparked by three television news stories about

17-year-olds in three cities -- Philadelphia, Birmingham, Ala., and Springfield, Ill. -- who ordered beer and wine by telephone or the Internet. It's clearly an epidemic. All three stories appeared between May 13 and June 1.

"The House of Representatives has the opportunity," the beer wholesalers' ad said, "to stop the growing and dangerous problem of the illegal direct shipment of alcohol" by passing a bill that imposes federal penalties on wineries or retailers that ship in violation of state laws. (Only 15 or so states allow interstate sales of wine.).

The American Vintners Association and the Wine Institute, both of which think wineries should be allowed to ship to customers, were harsh in response: "It is time for the wholesalers to put a cork in their irresponsible ways and not be afraid of honest, old-fashioned competition in the marketplace."

The issue is not drunken teenagers, but "protectionist legislation that favors one segment of the industry over another," the wine producers said. Just about the only interstate sales to minors occur "in wholesaler-inspired artificial stings," the wine folks said, and the argument by the beer wholesalers that states lose $200 million in taxes per year because of direct sales is "pure hallucination."

It can get nasty when it's "booze vs. booze." Could cause real problems for Hill receptions.

A Ringing Endorsement

Tired of leaving messages on those bothersome answering

machines that have cropped up in government agencies around the country? Seems some people on the House Appropriations Interior subcommittee are -- and they're not going to take it anymore.

At least that's the message we get from Section 327 of the subcommittee's report. That section "prohibits the use of answering machines during core business hours except in case of emergency. The American taxpayer deserves to receive personal attention from public servants."

Let freedom ring . . . and ring . . . and ring.

A New Deal

That Appropriations subcommittee also wins the Loop's Claude Rains Memorial Award for its reaction to the Park Service's request for $5 million to add a sculpture of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in a wheelchair to the FDR Memorial.

"The Committee was shocked [SHOCKED!] to see additional funding . . . included in the budget," the report says. "The Committee had no idea that the Park Service . . . was involved in discussions about expanding the new memorial." No idea at all. Even though the Clinton administration formally announced the effort last year and it was all over the media.

And what's more, the committee has already "provided over $40 million" for the memorial, the report says, reminding the Park Service "that not only did the private fund-raising effort fall far short of its goals, but that the former President requested that a memorial, if built, be no larger than his desk."

It's a bit late for that, no? Maybe, as Rains also said in "Casablanca," they should round up the usual suspects.

E-Nough Already!

Most political repartee is pretty lowbrow, at the sophistication level of kids in a sandbox arguing "Did too. Did not." But every once in a while, a bit of creativity seeps in.

For example, National Journal's Technology Daily reported last month that the New Democratic Coalition was going to unveil an "e-genda" after meeting with high-tech industry people in Silicon Valley.

House Majority Leader Dick Armey (Tex.), who had a week earlier joined other Republicans in putting out the GOP "e-Contract" outlining how the Republicans were going to help the techies, issued this statement in response: "e-mitation is the sincerest form of flattery."

Tips and comments for Al Kamen's column are welcomed at: In the Loop, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or by e-mail at Loop@washpost.com. Please include home and work phone numbers.