REP. CHARLES WILSON of Texas was musing about the possible public reaction to an amendment he tucked into the gigantic appropriations bill last month: "It just can't help but look like this kind of spoiled congressman with a bloated sense of self-importance trying to get back at someone for not flying his girlfriend around." He was right.
The legislator, it seems, was infuriated two years ago when Defense Department officials stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan refused to transport his friend around the country in an official plane. Citing department rules, they told him that since Annelise Ilschenko was neither a congressional staff member nor his wife, she didn't qualify. The congressman plotted his revenge, and in the final hours of the last session he slipped two provisions into the spending bill. One removed an exemption from budget-induced personnel cuts in the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon organization with responsibility for embassy planes, and the other took away two aircraft in the DIA fleet. Aside from the adolescent notion that a congressman should tour Afghan refugee camps with a girlfriend in tow, Mr. Wilson demonstrated a mean streak troubling in someone whom voters have invested with considerable power.
Dig deeper into the mammoth bill and you'll find another howler. Federal Communications Commission regulations prohibit one organization or individual from owning both a newspaper and a television station in the same town. Rupert Murdoch, who owns both a newspaper and a television station in New York as well as in Boston, had been given a short time extension so that he could sell some of these assets. In the closing hours of the session, Sen. Ernest Hollings put language into the bill forbidding the FCC to extend these deadlines or to modify the existing rule in any respect. His aim, he says, was to force Mr. Murdoch to relinquish his control of either the Boston Herald or WFXT-TV, a Boston television station. His amendment was cleared with and approved by both Massachusetts senators, Edward Kennedy and John Kerry, who have often been editorial targets of the Herald. Sen. Hollings did not notify the New York senators, whose constituents will be equally affected, and both have joined newspaper unions in protesting a step that could add to the problems the New York Post is already having in staying in business.
The Hollings tactic is sneaky. It leads one to ask exactly what part the Massachusetts senators played in a maneuver to silence a press critic. And why were New York Sens. Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Alfonse D'Amato, who had important interests at stake, kept in the dark? The amendment was in neither the House nor the Senate version of the bill, so without debate or recorded vote on the proposal there are plenty of important questions left unanswered.
It is disgusting that these all-inclusive spending bills, running into many hundreds of pages, become vehicles for special, personal and even petty interests pursued by legislators when they think no one is looking.