UPI's Capital Comment for Nov. 29, 2002

By United Press International  |  Nov. 29, 2002 at 9:49 AM
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WASHINGTON, Nov. 29 (UPI) -- Capital Comment -- Daily news notes, political rumors, and important events that shape politics and public policy in Washington and the world from United Press International.

Musical chairs

Next to the members of the elected leadership, the most powerful politicians in the House are said to be the various chairmen of Appropriations Committee subcommittees -- known in Hillspeak as "The Cardinals." Thanks to a round of retirements at the end of Congress, those chairmanships are about to be shuffled around.

Unlike other committees, the most senior member of the majority party does not automatically take over the chairmanship if a spot opens up. "Cardinals" with more seniority on the committee are often given the chance to jump to a new chairmanship before the other members of the committee are allowed to rise. Two of the most important subcommittees, in terms of their ability to slice the pork, are now open, meaning that a lot of high stakes dealing is going on.

The retirements of Alabama Republican Sonny Callahan, chairman of the Energy and Water Subcommittee, and Joe Skeen, who chaired the Interior Subcommittee, have most of the lobbyists in Washington who deal with spending holding their breath to see how things turn out.

If, for example, a sitting "Cardinal" like Henry Bonilla, R-Texas, takes over at Energy and Water, then a new chairman must be found for Bonilla's Agriculture Subcommittee. It's all a bit confusing and, for the taxpayers, quite a bit expensive. The "Cardinals" have the power to save or kill programs and are much feared -- even by some in the elective leadership -- because of it.

Pin stripe PAC

Most people think of U.S. foreign service officers as rather staid and diplomatic types. So it came as a shock to many in Washington to learn that, as reported in The Hill, a weekly newspaper covering events on Capitol Hill, some members of the American Foreign Service Association have established their own political action committee. In the 6 months since it was created, the group has raised $30,000 and spent $20,000.

Organizers say they felt this was the only way they could improve their access to key lawmakers making decisions about foreign policy and spending. One member of the group told The Hill there was wide sentiment that they were "fobbed off from both a political and priority standpoint."

What's for dinner?

According to the Census Bureau, the traditional meal on Thanksgiving tables across America is "usually turkey with dressing, gravy, potatoes, candied yams, cranberries and an assortment of freshly baked pies." How they reached that conclusion is unclear but the bureau says whatever was served in the nation's more than 112-million households was made possible by the efforts of "fewer than 2 million U.S. farmers and ranchers" -- quite a remarkable achievement if you think about it.

A monumental decision

In the Western United States, the Clinton administration's environmental policy was seen by its critics as, well, too Eastern -- meaning the interests of the people who want to visit the land and look at it took priority over the needs of those who lived on it and worked it.

One of its most controversial moves was the designation of six areas in four Western states as "national monuments," a maneuver some groups have been fighting for a number of years. Now two of them have asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to step in to keep their lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the move alive.

The Mountain States Legal Foundation, a conservative public interest legal organization, and the Blue Ribbon Coalition, a property rights group, are asking the court to review a three-judge panel's decision that they could not continue their challenge. In their petition for review, the groups argue that the panel's October decision conflicts with decisions by the Court of Appeals itself as well as by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The groups say that Clinton's authority over federal lands is limited to the power delegated to him by Congress and that the decision to create these six national monuments exceeded the president's authority under the Antiquities Act of 1906, which was limited to "scientific" and "historic" items upon the land and further limited to "the smallest area compatible with the protection of the resource."

Personnel notes

Veteran GOP operative Steve Sutton signs on as the chief of staff to freshman U.S. Rep. John Kline of Minnesota. Sutton had been the top aide to Nebraska GOP Rep. Lee Terry... Richard Bush, senior fellow and director of the Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution, a centrist Washington think tank, has been awarded the first Michael H. Armacost Chair in Foreign Policy Studies. Armacost, a former U.S. ambassador to Japan and undersecretary of state, spent 7 years as president of Brookings... Illinois state Treasurer Judy Barr Topinka, the only member of her party to survive the Democrat landslide in November, has become the new chairman of the state Republican Party. A moderate with a reputation for boundless energy, she replaces businessman Gary MacDougal -- a close political ally of George Bush the elder.

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