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Oh, Nellie

In yet another bad sign for President Bush’s $726 billion tax-cut plan, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) last week chewed out David Hobbs, the White House’s chief Congressional liaison.

Nelson, who is a key swing vote, was none too pleased with a back-door White House lobbying effort on the economic plan. In recent weeks, the administration has directed Nebraska business executives and some Republican officials to call Nelson personally to urge him to vote for the tax cut.

Nelson was irate because

he feels that the tactic was a little too cute. He has carried plenty of water for the White House, such as his support for the judicial nomination of Miguel Estrada, and thinks he deserves to be approached in a direct, above-board manner.

“My preference would be to work with me — not on me,” Nelson told HOH.

“One of the interesting things is the folks from back home who have called, asked me my opinion and have been more interested in what I have had to say — rather than call and say vote one way or another,” Nelson added. “As a strategy it just doesn’t work.”

Ready to Run From the Chicks. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) had been planning a big fundraiser with the Dixie Chicks during the country-and-western band’s June swing through Washington, D.C.

But like his Republican colleagues who have stopped eating french fries or have dumped out their bottles of Bordeaux, Walden is taking a stand. The Oregonian has cancelled the fundraiser in the wake of lead singer Natalie Maines’ anti-war comments.

During a recent concert in London, Maines said she was “ashamed” that she and Bush both hail from Texas.

That led to a major backlash for the band, with some people smashing their albums or calling radio stations and urging a boycott of hits like “Ready to Run” and “Wide Open Spaces.”

Walden was apparently ready to seek his own cover in the wake of the controversy.

“Congressman Walden simply chooses not to associate himself with a group that has made highly disrespectful comments about our commander in chief when the nation was on the brink of war,” said spokesman Dallas Boyd. “It was a great surprise to hear a Texas band making such offensive remarks while standing on the soil of an ally that stands side-by-side with the United States.”

Hammer on Wheels. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) was turning heads Friday morning by darting around a Capitol hallway on one of those Segway vehicles that are oh-so cool.

“He was riding around some of the statues, scaring tourists,” joked one Democrat.

But DeLay spokesman Jonathan Grella said it was all in fun.

“Tom was cruising down the hall, having a blast,” he said. “Like everything else, when DeLay leans forward, things start moving. The bystanders were in shock and awe.”

DeLay, meanwhile, wasn’t laughing about Rep. Brad Sherman’s (D-Calif.) effort to poke some fun at the GOP budget, which barely passed early Friday morning. Sherman blew up a fake American Express card with DeLay’s name on it and a credit limit of $4.2 trillion.

Grella responded: “Stale, unoriginal poster board gimmick … $1.19.

“Jobs created by Democrat economic plan … 0.

“Pulling the rug out from under Democrats on yet another close vote … priceless.”

Hoyer vs. Pelosi. Could there still be just a wee bit of tension between House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her second-in-command, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.)?

At a press conference with their Democratic counterparts in the Senate last week, Pelosi had the honor of introducing Senate Minority Whip Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

“Now I’d like to yield to the distinguished — do we call it ‘Whip’ in the Senate?” asked Pelosi.

“Sure do,” Reid said.

“I thought it had some elevated name,” joked Pelosi, apparently referring to the fact that Senate Republicans used to call it “Assistant Minority Leader” when Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.) had the job.

The tension came after Reid introduced Hoyer, who quipped that he “shares Mr. Reid’s view that ‘Whip’ is an elevated title, as the former Whip knows.”

Hoyer was tweaking Pelosi, who beat out the Maryland Democrat in a bitter battle for the Whip post before she was elevated to the top job last year.

Later in the press conference, Hoyer tried to jump in and provide an answer. But Pelosi cut him off.

“Let me just do that one, Steny, and then I’ll yield to you,” she said.

The press conference ended, however, before Hoyer got the microphone again.

The D in D-Day Is for “Duh.” Once the bombs started dropping in Iraq last week, Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) rushed out to deliver one of the first press releases supporting the mission.

But the first line suggested that Hastert’s press office may need a refresher course in history.

“Just as on June 6, 1945, when American troops, joined by our British friends, embarked on a mission to free Europe from the evils of a despicable tyrant, today on March 19, 2003, American troops, joined by our British friends, have embarked on a noble mission to free the Iraqi people from an evil tyrant,” Hastert said.

As the greatest generation knows, of course, D-Day in Europe was on June 6, 1944.

“It was a typo,” said Hastert spokesman John Feehery, who added that the office put out a corrected version immediately. “We caught it right away.”

Ring My Bell, Please. Despite the serious nature of the topic, there was a comical nature to many of the press releases on Iraq last week.

Practically every Member in both parties sent out press releases taking great pains to point out that they “support our troops” — as if someone was going to send out word that they’re against our men and women overseas.

And then there was freshman Rep. Chris Bell (D-Texas), whose office sent out a resume-style release on why their guy is an irresistible media interview about the war.

“A Fresh Perspective On Washington And Our World,” said the headline of the release. “Newly Elected Congressman Offers Unique View from ‘Just Inside the Beltway.’”

The release revealed that Bell is the “ONLY Texas Democrat on the House Committee on International Relations” and is “founder and co-chairman” of the House Port Security Caucus.

If television producers out there are still not convinced that they should book Bell, consider the fact that he represents “the most diverse Congressional District in Texas (31 percent Hispanic, 41 percent Anglo, 22 percent African-American, six percent Asian and other).”

And finally, Bell is a former TV news anchor and radio journalist “who has interviewed Henry Kissinger, John Erlichman, Michael Dukakis and now-President George W. Bush.”

If all else fails, Bell could always follow Dukakis’ lead and crawl into a tank with a helmet on his head. That should bring some media attention.

Hollings vs. Graham. In another sign of tense relations in Congress, South Carolinians Fritz Hollings (D) and Lindsey Graham (R) took out their frustrations with each other and the fiscal 2004 budget on the Senate floor last week.

Hollings, who had to wait 37 years for former Sen. Strom Thurmond (R) to retire so that he could become the state’s senior Senator, didn’t cut his freshman colleague any slack as he assailed a non-binding Graham “Sense of the Senate” amendment that advocated partially privatizing Social Security.

Since Thurmond rarely gave Senate floor speeches in the last decade of his tenure, it was probably Hollings’ first chance in years to clarify the differences between a South Carolina Democrat and Republican.

Part of that difference appears to be whether or not you understand what the word “poppycock” means and whether you care about the year 2042.

In assailing Graham’s amendment, Hollings told the Senate that he would “bring into focus the sham of the so-called resolution of the distinguished junior Senator from South Carolina.”

Later in his speech, Hollings declared Graham’s conclusions that the Social Security system would be insolvent by 2042 “poppycock.”

“We do not all have to be worried about 2042, today, as we go into Iraq,” said Hollings. “We ought to cut out the playing of games and get serious around here that we are running the economy into the ground.”

But Graham proved he was no pushover.

“Poppycock. I don’t know what it means, but it is often used by my good friend from South Carolina, the senior Senator from South Carolina,” said Graham. “It sounds good. Everything he says is intriguing to me, just by his speaking style.”

Whether Graham was attempting to attack Hollings’ mumbling speaking style is unclear, but he didn’t waste any time going for the heart of the matter.

“My senior Senator doesn’t want to talk about 2042. The reason I want to talk about … 2042 is I believe the reason I am here today is to pass on to the next generation a country very sound and very fit.”

Bayh-Bayh to Pork Projects? Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) clearly isn’t winning any friends in Senate Minority Leader Thomas Daschle’s (D-S.D.) office these days.

And if Bayh knocks on the door of Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, he may have a little trouble getting projects for his home state.

Appearing on on the “Hannity & Colmes” program on the Fox News Channel, Bayh buckled when given a chance to defend Daschle against charges that the leader had been unpatriotic by charging that Bush’s failed diplomacy had led to war.

The show’s conservative co-host, Sean Hannity, mentioned Daschle’s comments and then played a clip of Byrd suggesting that Bush was “undermining international order” with the war.

“On the very brink, Senator, we’re leading our men and women into war at this very moment,” Hannity said to Bayh on Wednesday night. “We have those [Byrd] statements, we have the vicious statements of Tom Daschle. … These are the leaders of your party. I think I know you pretty well, and I think if you were to be honest, you’re embarrassed and ashamed by their statements.”

“Well, Sean, those are not words that I would have chosen,” said Bayh. “And I have said publicly I think there will be a time for looking back on the events that have led us here. And people can — it’s a free country involved in second-guessing at that time. But this is not the appropriate time for that.”

Hannity added, “I’m not going to push you any further on it, but I think deep in your heart, you’re mortified by this. And it is disgraceful, as we are about to send these men and women into harm’s way, that this is how the leadership of this party is acting. I’m stunned.”

After Hannity said he was angered by the “duplicity” and “hypocrisy” of the Democratic leaders, Bayh responded, “Well, Sean, we need to do what it takes to move forward and unite the country at this point and put the politics aside.”

Mark Preston contributed to this report.

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