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Idaho Republican Sen. Larry Craig insists he isn’t gay and that he wasn’t soliciting sex before his arrest last summer. But he’s still willing to pay for dudes. Well, for a dude ranch, anyway.

Craig, the ranking member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies before being forced to step down this fall after his sex scandal, still got an earmark in the omnibus spending bill allocating $1.6 million to Idaho’s Gold Creek Ranch.

[IMGCAP(1)]The money, which would be used as part of the USDA Forest Service’s Forest Legacy program, is for a 640-acre parcel of land in northern Idaho that’s feeling the pressure of development. The project was requested by President

Bush, Craig spokesman Dan Whiting tells HOH.

Helping the dude (ranch) is just one of the things Craig’s been doing since getting back in the saddle on Capitol Hill. Last week, Craig assumed a higher profile than he has since his scandal broke, taking to the floor in favor of an amendment limiting eminent domain.

Although the amendment failed, the floor debate gave Craig a rare opportunity to win praise from his GOP colleagues, including Sens. Wayne Allard (Colo.) and Sam Brownback (Kan.), who haven’t always been so supportive of their scandal-plagued colleague.

Brownback went so far as to liken Craig’s efforts to the founding fathers, invoking the words of Thomas Jefferson.

Whiting says it’s business as usual for his boss, who also secured a $7.5 million earmark for the 2009 Special Olympics International Games held in Idaho. “He will represent them in the Senate until January 2009 and will work for Idaho well beyond that as a private citizen,” Whiting said.

He’ll Leave the Light On. Senate Democratic leaders are mulling a strategy of keeping the Senate in recess over the Christmas holiday to keep that other pesky branch of government from making any recess appointments, and the Democrats’ go-to guy for keeping the lights on claims he’s up to the task.

Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) has the unfortunate (some might say) distinction of being both a junior Senator and a relative local, meaning he’s the guy who would be tasked with popping over to the Capitol, banging the gavel and officially — albeit briefly — calling the Senate into session, whilst his colleagues enjoy their egg nog in the comforts of their homes. Eager-beaver Webb insists that the pleasure is all his. “I’m happy to do it,” Webb said. “I’m glad they are doing it.”

The guy who will preside over the pro forma sessions said Monday there’s been a breakdown in the “cordiality in the process” that has forced Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to keep the Senate in business over the recess.

The point of the skeleton sessions isn’t just to force Webb to don a coat and tie instead of the usual recess garb: Democrats have said they learned their lesson after Bush bypassed the Senate confirmation process and installed a trio of controversial executive branch nominees in April, including Republican donor Sam Fox as ambassador to Belgium.

Floor Factions. It was a Jets-versus-Sharks moment on the Senate floor Friday, when rival cliques headed by the two Democratic presidential frontrunners caused a ruckus in the normally sedate chamber.

While Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was speaking, two gaggles formed on the floor, seemingly oblivious to the business at hand. An HOH tipster caught Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) bantering and laughing loudly with some of the chamber’s veterans, including a few of her Senatorial endorsers, including Sens. Daniel Inouye (Hawaii) and Barbara Mikulski (Md.). Across the way, in the corner, Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) was yukking it up with some of the Senate’s young Turks, Sens. Sherrod Brown (Ohio) and Jon Tester (Mont.).

With McConnell trying to talk over the noise, the dueling confabs provoked some order-loving Senators.

Sen. Jim Webb, who was in the chair, banged the gavel. Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) then yelled, trying to shut them up. Then, the last straw: Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) rose from his chair and slammed his hand on his desk, calling out “the Senate is not in order.” At that point, Webb again instructed that the Senate “is not in order — on the majority side!”

Chastised, the Clintonites hustled into the Cloakroom and the still-guffawing Obama-ites piped down to whispers.

Later, Tester caught sight of his buddy Webb, and ribbed him for playing the heavy. “Thanks, Webb, you got me in trouble,” he chided, the tipster tells HOH.

Hmm, perhaps the chamber didn’t resemble so much the Jets and Sharks as it did a middle school cafeteria.

Bye, Bye Birdie. Reporters in the Senate daily Press Gallery got a visit from a fine feathered friend on Monday when an obviously lost bird swooped into the room, ruffling the feathers of the hard-working scribes.

[IMGCAP(2)]As of late yesterday, the bird, perhaps realizing the company it was keeping, left the gallery for greener pastures on the third floor of the Capitol. The intruder managed to evade maintenance staffers attempting to snare it with long-handled nets, though rumors were swirling that the bird had died (untrue, one bird-watching HOH source insists).

The gallery is no stranger to visiting wildlife (and we’re not talking about the hard-partying press corps here). In the last few weeks, a bird has gotten into the gallery at least three times. Gallery denizens suspect that the birds have been entering through the chimneys on the third floor of the Capitol.

HOH suspects that the bird felt some kinship with the reporters, who are themselves trapped in the Capitol — at least until Congress adjourns for the holiday recess.

Money Matters. Don’t be surprised if Rep. Peter Visclosky (D-Ind.) starts looking over his shoulder and wearing a wallet chain around Capitol Hill.

The 12-term Congressman was robbed Friday night as he was walking to his car from a grocery store in Merrillville, Ind., around 9 p.m., according to an Associated Press report. The robber grabbed Visclosky from behind as he was putting his groceries in the back seat and got away with about $10 in cash and the Congressman’s credit cards. While Visclosky says he didn’t think the robber recognized him, it was still “terrifying,” he told the AP.

The culprit is still at large, Commander Lance Huisch of the Merrillville police department tells HOH.

Erin Billings contributed to this report.

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