Talk about a party pooper! Rep. Ralph Regula (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on the Interior Department, has weighed in urging President Clinton to reject a nifty plan for the New Year's Eve millennium celebration featuring fireworks attached to the Washington Monument.

Congress and private donors have just spent millions "to repoint and to clean the Washington Monument," Regula wrote in a letter to Clinton on Friday. "That project is barely completed and you plan to set off over 3,000 fireworks that will be between 4 and 10 inches from the face of the monument!"

Might seem a tad close, but event planners have repeatedly said there would be no damage to the monument.

"In addition, I understand that there have been approvals for 40 barrels to be placed in the Reflecting Pool to support more fireworks," Regula said. "I believe there is serious potential harm to the monument under this plan and urge you to disapprove it immediately."

Regula has another objection: "A fireworks display attached to the monument is a desecration of the values inherent in our designation of such monuments."

Well, if the National Park Service didn't contemplate precisely what's being planned, how come the official NPS acronym for the monument is WAMO?

Bracing for Bombs, Apocalypse and the Hill

Word from the Middle East is that security officials--especially in Israel--are on high alert for possible terrorist acts over Christmas and then for possibly violent acts from the millennium weirdos.

But folks at U.S. embassies in the region are not going to be able to take a break on Jan. 2. On the contrary, they'll be preparing for a historically heavy schedule of visits by lawmakers and administration officials to the Holy Land and throughout the region during the winter recess.

For example, just looking at Israel alone, an early planning list finds possible delegations headed by Sens. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.), from Jan. 2 to 7; Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), from Jan. 6 to 8; and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), in early January; and Reps. David M. McIntosh (R-Ind.), from Jan. 6 to 14; and Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.), in mid-January; and a group of Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffers, from Jan. 9 to 12.

Also, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson may be coming through--though Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman thought about going but decided against it.

A Recess Is a Tough Thing to Assess

And while the Senate's in recess, the Clinton administration is strategizing recess appointments for nominees who were not acted upon before the exhausted Senate left town last month.

The situation is a bit more complicated than usual. In years past, the Senate would come back in early January, begin the new session for a few days and then promptly recess for a couple of weeks. That would permit the president to make appointments during that break that would be good, under Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution, until Congress goes home after its next session, in the fall of 2001--long after Clinton is gone.

But this time, Congress is not coming back to begin its new session until Jan. 24. So any appointments Clinton makes now would only be good until maybe the fall of 2000, leaving a three- or four-month gap before the end of the administration.

Those appointees could then be re-recessed, but under federal law they couldn't be paid. (Some folks believe the law is unconstitutional, since it impinges on a clear constitutional authority of the president to make recess appointments, but it's never been challenged and the Clintonites don't seem eager to do so.)

Clinton & Co. could wait to make appointments during the Senate's first recess, but it's not at all clear when that would be. Another part of the puzzle is how long Congress has to be gone before there's a valid "recess." It's something that's never been defined.

Everyone seems to agree it's got to be longer than a weekend--although Teddy Roosevelt thought three days was long enough. Clinton appears to have used a full work week as a definitional rule of thumb.

Which then raises the question whether some senators may be able to work it that there's no weeklong recess until late February, for President's Day, and maybe not even then.

At some point, there would be so little time left that an appointment would be nothing but a resume-enhancer.

The administration is almost surely going to recess some folks, especially where the Clintonites can use a neutral "for-the-sake-of-good-government" justification. Stay tuned.

A New AmeriCorps VISTA Chief

Matt Dunne, 30, a member of the Vermont House of Representatives for eight years and a software executive, has been named director of AmeriCorps VISTA. Christine Benero, formerly with Target Stores and now vice president of the National Civic League, is the new director of the office of public liaison.


Correction: W. Nathaniel Howell was ambassador to Kuwait when Iraqi tanks rolled in. Edward W. "Skip" Gnehm Jr. succeeded him there.