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Heard on Hill: Bad News at the Pump — and the Tap

Consumers might be spitting mad over rising gas costs, but hell hath no fury like a Congressional staffer whose drink prices are raised on him. The Democratic National Club, the House-side meeting, dining and drinking spot for those of the Democratic persuasion, announced on Monday that prices for booze are going — you guessed it — up.

[IMGCAP(1)]Just as staffers were no doubt beginning to contemplate where to drop their hard-earned cash on beers that evening (i.e., sometime before noon), an e-mail bearing the sad news arrived in inboxes around Capitol Hill: “Due to an increase in the cost of alcoholic beverages and because drink prices have not been increased for four years, effective on July 1, the price for beer and wine will be increased by $1.00 and all other distilled spirit prices will increase by $1.50 per serving.” The missive was signed by Dee Johnson, who oversees the club’s catering operations.

Drink prices now range from $6 to $8, so the increase represents a sizable one — particularly if you factor in the one-is-never-enough ethos of many a Hill drinker.

Cue the lamenting from staffers whose salaries are already strained by their bar tabs. “We’re paying more at the pump, grocery store and everywhere else,” one House staffer griped to HOH. “House salaries still stink. Add to that no gifts and junkets. And now they hit where it really hurts, raising the price of booze.”

Wait, Wait … Whodunnit? Obstructionism is reaching new heights around the Senate these days. Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) introduced a harmless little bit of legislation recognizing an NPR comedy show, only to have it blocked by an unknown Republican. Durbin’s gimme of a bill would have celebrated the 10th anniversary of the show “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!” by designating June 2008 as “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!” Recognition Month.

Not coincidentally, Durbin was a call-in guest to the news quiz show on Saturday and told the show’s hosts the tale of how the bill was stymied. Durbin said he had enlisted the support of Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) (Durbin noted that any Republican honoring NPR should be commended for showing “extraordinary courage”), and with the help of Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), readied the bill for the floor last Thursday night. It was there, though, that it hit a snag: An unknown Republican was blocking it. Durbin said he weighed his options. “I was going to risk a filibuster and Dick Cheney breaking the tie,” he joked to the hosts.

But he explained that mysterious, anonymous holds were a part of life in the world’s greatest deliberative body, deadpanning: “That’s the way things work in the Senate. We do things in secret.”

Durbin’s spokesman says they still don’t know who’s behind the hold, and HOH couldn’t smoke out the culprit, even after calls to some of the Senate’s more prominent GOP bill-blockers.

Still, Durbin’s radio cameo wasn’t all in vain. He dropped the hint to a potential President Obama that he’d maybe like a cushy ambassadorship to Italy. And he actually uttered the word “orgy” — which was the name of a rock band in one of the quiz questions.

Chew on This. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has a lot to chew on these days, at least metaphorically. But the Nevada Democrat had an actual mouthful on Monday, when he was spotted chewing gum on the Senate floor.

An HOH tipster spotted Reid chomping on the gum — mouth mostly closed, thank goodness — while he opened the chamber for business.

At last, a breath of fresh air in the Senate.

Hey Buddy, Can I Borrow Your Speech? Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, we’ve always heard. But what happens when it’s not so much imitation as … well, shameless ripping off?

A columnist for the Augusta Chronicle noticed striking similarities between commencement speeches given by Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) and Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) and exposed them in a column on Saturday.

The columnist, Don Rhodes, determined that Isakson was the original author of a touching graduation address, in which he clues graduates into “six silent secrets of life.” Isakson has given the speech, which he penned in 1988 for his eldest son’s high school commencement, “about 117” times in the past two decades, spokeswoman Sheridan Watson says, including to this year’s graduating class at Georgia Southern University.

Miller cribbed Isakson’s speech for a 2004 address to the University of West Florida. The text of the speech, which is posted on Miller’s Web site, didn’t, until recently, include a line crediting Isakson. Only after Rhodes called him out on it, Miller phoned Isakson to say he didn’t know how the credit had been left off the posted speech. And only after the columnist pointed out the similarities, Miller added this line to the speech on his Web site: “I’d like to share with you some thoughts — they’re actually rules for living life that a good friend of mine Congressman Johnny Isakson shared with me.”

Miller apologizes to Isakson, a spokesman tells HOH, adding that the Web site was changed “as quickly as possible.” Watson says Miller got a copy of the speech from Isakson’s office in 2002 or 2003 — the Georgian was then serving in the House — but didn’t mention that he was going to borrow it. Isakson “is glad that they’ve recognized the error and corrected it,” she says.

Sound of Silence. After a long day of gossiping, HOH wants nothing more than to turn on the tube and bask in the deliciousness of a juicy nighttime soap opera. But HOH’s enjoyment of watching fashionable 20-somethings stab each other in the back always is dampened when the reverie is interrupted by screaming commercials.

Apparently, Sen. Roger Wicker feels the same way (although HOH wonders if he shares the same viewing habits). The Mississippi Republican introduced the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act last week, which would require commercials be broadcast at the same volume as the program they accompany. (California Democratic Rep. Anna Eshoo already has introduced similar legislation in the House.)

“The Senator doesn’t have the opportunity to watch a lot of TV,” one Wicker aide told HOH. “But when he does, he sides with the surprisingly high number of agitated Mississippians who have contacted him and asked that something be done about this annoying problem.”

And although HOH is, of course, strictly impartial when it comes to all matters legislative, to this one we can only say: hear, hear.

Seating Arrangements. Prepping for the presidential inauguration is a lot like planning a wedding. The food, decorations and entertainment must be arranged months in advance, and even the smallest detail can’t go unchecked.

Including where everybody is going to sit.

Knowing this, the Architect of the Capitol issued a notice on Friday looking to rent about 28,600 “contour” chairs for the 2009 presidential inauguration for Jan. 20 on the Capitol’s West Front. The vendor who nabs the contract faces a hefty job — it must furnish, deliver and set up all the chairs, and then remove them once the ceremony is over.

AOC officials are scheduled to pick the contractor in early August, according to the notice. Then all that’s left is figuring out who will get to sit in those seats …

Briefly Quoted. “It’s not important what I see, it’s what you all see. Please go to the movies, and see them often! We have homes in Beverly Hills that are expensive to keep up.”

— Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) on Monday at the National Press Club, refusing to name which summer blockbuster flick he’s most excited about and calling on luncheon-goers to support his district’s movie industry.

Jessica Brady contributed to this report.

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