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Washington Insight

February 23, 1995|DREX HEIKES and GLENN F. BUNTING and ALAN C. MILLER

HEADY LETTER: Give House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) credit for charm. Internal documents related to his controversial academic class, Renewing American Civilization, include two letters sent to Kennesaw State College President Betty L. Siegel in an unsuccessful attempt to keep the course from being canceled on that campus. The first, on Sept. 8, 1993, applauds Siegel for support in the face of mounting faculty criticism of the course. "Thank you for your courage, you are my heroine," Gingrich wrote. A letter sent the next day referred to Renaissance Weekend, an annual intellectual gabfest whose most prominent guests are Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton. "Dear Betty, I just talked with your Renaissance Weekend host and he asked me to say 'hi' to you," the note began. It was handwritten on White House stationery.

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PORK'S FUTURE: When a Washington group dished out awards last week to lawmakers who were best at getting federal pork, it unconsciously drove home a key argument against term limits: Small states would suffer most. The nonprofit Citizens Against Government Waste's "Oinker" awards went to small-state senators whose seniority often enables them to out-muscle lawmakers from more populous states. The top porker was seven-term Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W. Va.), who secured $158 million for his state last year. Other winners: veteran Sens. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.), Mark O. Hatfield (R-Ore.) and Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii). None of their states ranks in the top 25 in population. Byrd's response to the award? "It is a yawn and a boar."

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AFFIRMATIVE ACTIONS: House Republicans have overcome reluctance to dive into the sensitive issue of affirmative action and now plan oversight hearings. Rep. Charles T. Canady (R-Fla.), chairman of the subcommittee on the Constitution, said his panel will review how the Justice Department's Office of Civil Rights has pushed affirmative action in a way that is "fundamentally inconsistent with the goal of a colorblind society." The hearing, one of several under consideration, will begin in March.

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STAR STUCK: New political icon Barbra Streisand can't decide which of many invitations to next month's White House correspondents dinner to accept. La Streisand is in a dither over whether to attend the event with the New York Times' Todd Purdum or CNN's Wolf Blitzer.

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CLEAN HOUSE: The point man in the Republican majority's effort to reform House operations is Oversight Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Bakersfield). The panel has hired Price Waterhouse to conduct a $3.7-million audit of House finances and operations. Thomas says the purpose is not to embarrass Democrats by reviewing their 40 years of rule but to make the House more professional, efficient and accountable. Among the targets: what Thomas calls "old plantation" practices, including patronage appointments and antiquated paper flow. He also promises hearings on the use of franked, or taxpayer-funded, mail.

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PLANET BOB: Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove) interrupted Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) on the House floor last week to ask where Markey came up with an estimation that the Republicans would spend an additional $40 billion on missile defense. "Where are you getting this $40 billion?" Dornan asked. "Off the planet Glatu Barato Niktu?"

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