TAXPAYERS OF ALASKA and elsewhere, pull up a crying towel and soak in the sad story of hard times in Washington, as told by Sen. Ted Stevens in defense of a tax break of up to $75 a day that Congress approved for its members:
This capital city, according to Sen. Stevens, is a hardship post in which life is made miserable by high crime rates, poor schools and dirty air. "God forbid that someone should tell me that the city of Washington is my home," says the senator. "I can't think of a worse city to have as capital and I don't care who knows it."
Home, of course, is where you make it, and Ted Stevens started to do that right here as long as 30 years ago, as a practicing lawyer and later in the 1950s as a legislative counsel in the Interior Department. Then again in 1968--not, presumably, at gunpoint or under any orders to move here--Mr. Stevens won an all-expenses-paid trip to the U.S. Senate by appointment and four years later by his own campaign for election. Then again in 1978, the senator chose to run for another six-year stay.
And God forbid that the taxpayers of Alaska should have to endure the daily grind of Sen. Stevens. Why, only last year, after a trip to China, the senator and his wife had to endure a modest reception in the Capitol, where according to the local journal of the next morning:
"The food piled high on the gleaming china reflected the regional tastes of both the hosts and the guests of honor--Alaska king crab, South Carolina shrimp and Tennessee baked ham. 'John Glenn said we'd only been in power a week and look how good we were living already,' Stevens said with evident satisfaction."
It was then that Mr. Stevens was heard to observe that "The Senate, of course, is a very special place, but it is less well known that the Senate is, indeed, a family . . ." Perhaps, too, not everyone outside this family knows that the family allowance for a member is a mere $60,000 or so, give or take subsidized restaurant meals, food and entertainment paid for by others, free parking, stationery allowance, special medical and hospital arrangements, gym, swimming pool, special income tax assistance, outside income from speaking engagements and other odd jobs--and in the case of anyone from Alaska, a lower cost of living here than back in the 49th state.
Sen. Stevens knows, too, how this wonderful sense of family can extend to one's own relatives, as it did in 1976, when it was reported that he and another senator hired each other's children to work in their offices. That, you see, gets around any stuffy nepotism restrictions. A year later, his Senate "family" picked Mr. Stevens along with four other senators and two committees for a $785,000 office- suite redesigning project. Oh, yes, and then there was the "family" car--which, if you are minority whip, as Sen. Stevens was in 1979, was a government-owned Mercury that was one of the few vehicles permitted to fill up at special pumps where gas sold for 67 cents a gallon.
Frankly, it's a wonder that the senator can stand it all.