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A cool, if pricey, place for a budget meeting

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You’d think from the increasingly testy debt-ceiling talks at the White House that budget negotiations have to be unpleasant or tedious affairs. Maybe that’s not necessarily so.

There had been talk that President Obama was looking to change the negotiation venue to Camp David — on Catoctin Mountain, 60 miles from Washington — in order to at least clear the air, literally, and get folks focused in a happier state of mind more conducive to reaching a deal.

That move is not in the works. But maybe it is in that spirit that the Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Affairs Tribal/Interior Budget Council is holding its quarterly budget meeting the first week of August in beautiful Bar Harbor, Maine, at the Bar Harbor Regency, which is conveniently located right on the water and near the entrance to Acadia National Park.

About 50 attendees (a couple of dozen or so from the tribes and about 20 from the department) will be flying up there for the Aug. 2-3 meeting, with an additional day to tour the nearby Penobscot Indian reservation — about 500 of the tribe’s 2,000 members live there. The reservation is also home to one of the first big Native American gambling operations — high-stakes bingo — in the country.

Unfortunately, the 50 rooms the BIA had booked at the waterfront hotel at the cheapo $219 rate — far higher than the allowed per diem, but we hear there was a special dispensation — are long gone. (Maine gets to be a bit pricey this time of year.)

Three of these quarterly meetings are held in Washington, BIA spokeswoman Nedra Darling told us, and the fourth is held in Indian country. Tribal representatives vote on the latter location.

“In previous years, the Indian-country meeting has been held in places like Oklahoma and Alaska,” she said. “This year, the meeting is being hosted by the Penobscot Tribe of Maine, located 30 miles from the meeting site in Bar Harbor.”

“We are implementing a number of cost-saving measures across the bureau,” Darling said, “including administrative cuts and travel reductions.” An executive order signed by President Bill Clinton requires these meetings as “part of our consultation process with the federally recognized tribes on our budget,” she said.

So when the inevitable heat and humidity return in August, you can think of your friends at Interior being flown in from around the country to enjoy the breezes in Maine. And you can blame it on Clinton.

‘Am I a terrorist? No.’

The folks at the Transportation Security Administration have been taking a beating this week on the Hill for some 25,000 security breaches at the nation’s airports since 2001. They’ve been hammered in the past for being overly aggressive in patting down even elderly people.

Now, thanks to T MZ, the celebrity-gossip Web site, it seems that even venerable former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, 79 as of Saturday, was deemed a possible threat and patted down Wednesday afternoon at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport as he tried to board a flight. Rumsfeld was reportedly “all smiles” during the hands-on event.

Rumsfeld, linking to the TMZ report and photos, tweeted Thursday that he had been “en route to Grand Rapids, Mich. to attend the funeral of one of America’s most beloved first ladies, Betty Ford,” when the manhandling, so to speak, occurred.

In another tweet, he noted, “It takes those of us with two titanium hips and a titanium shoulder a bit longer to get through TSA.”

You know, it looks as though he’s having too good a time.

Chamber of hires

Barbra Streisand had it all wrong. The “luckiest people in the world” are not the “people who need people.” In Washington, the luckiest of all are those who don’t need people, or at least don’t need senators to approve their nominations for top government jobs.

We’ve written for years about nominees twisting slowly waiting for the dysfunctional Senate to confirm them. But some lucky people, such as Michael Hammer, nominated by the president last week to be assistant secretary of state for public affairs, may not have to put up with endless delays by senators upset because their home-state widget manufacturer didn’t get a new contract.

A bill recently approved 79 to 20 by the Senate would lift Senate confirmation requirements for Hammer’s job and 168 others. If the House, as expected, passes the measure, Hammer will be in the job 60 days after Obama adds his signature.

The bill also puts an additional 270 jobs in a “streamlined” category where, if no senator objects, the nominee would bypass committee hearings and go directly to the Senate floor for a vote. (Unclear how often there will be objections. Best bet these days is far too often, but who knows? )

In all, the legislation should streamline the confirmation process for nearly one-third of the 1,400 or so most senior administration jobs.

The problem, experts in the confirmation process say, is that the exempted and streamlined positions are mostly the low-hanging fruit, the less contentious jobs in administrative and communications jobs, not sensitive policy posts.

Still, the effort “is a substantial step in the right direction,” said Max Stier, head of the Partnership for Public Service, to “reduce the clutter” in the confirmation process. The Senate gridlock, Stier said, “only encourages the White House to create czars” who don’t require Senate approval “to get things done.” In the end, the Senate “loses control and oversight by not approving these nominations quickly.”

“It’s a good first step,” agreed New York University professor Paul Light, “in that it shows the Senate acknowledges its role in this mess.” The late senator Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) is “spinning in his grave” Light said, at the Senate’s relinquishing power to confirm these nominees. “It would have been better to have cut back on holds and other obstacles to confirmation,” he added.

Well, you can’t always get what you want. And for Hammer and so many others, they may get what they need.

Follow In the Loop on Twitter: @AlKamenWP.

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