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Heard on the Hill: Lucas, Solo Star on the Hill

A long, long time ago in a hearing room not so far away, a bunch of Members of Congress tried desperately to show off their pop culture smarts.

[IMGCAP(1)]The appearance of “Star Wars” creator George Lucas before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on elecommunications and the Internet on Tuesday prompted Members to conjure up all kinds of “Star Wars” metaphors.

The panel was studying reform of the Universal Service Fund, which helps telecommunications companies provide phone and Internet access to rural areas and other places that are hard to reach. Lucas was there to urge Members to help improve Internet access for public schools, a cause for which he frequently lobbies.

And although Lucas was serious while testifying, Members couldn’t resist alluding to Lucas’ most famous films.

Take Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.), who along with Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) has introduced legislation to revamp the fund: “I feel like Rick Boucher and I are Luke Skywalkers riding into save the USF from the Darth Vaders who want to destroy it.”

Then there’s Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas), who said those who try to reform the USF are wise like Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi, while those who don’t are Darth Vader. (Although he did quip, “I hope this will be the last of analogies to ‘Star Wars,’” before doing so.)

But the Jedi Master of “Star Wars” references had to be Rep. Mike Doyle, who quipped that “the Universal Service Fund needs to be blown up like the Death Star.”

The Pennsylvania Democrat then reflected on 1996, the year the USF and many other phenomena came about.

“The Telecommunications Act. The Macarena. One witness today was working on digitizing the ‘Star Wars’ trilogy. I won my first battle for re-election. So I remember 1996,” he said. “Some things are timeless, like the ‘Star Wars’ trilogy. Some things are better left to that time, never to be heard again — like the Macarena.”

Not to be outdone, subcommittee Chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) quipped, “What we did in 1996 … seems like a galaxy far, far away.”

The over-the-top “Star Wars” references reminded HOH of her personal favorite, uttered by the great Obi-Wan Kenobi: “Who’s the more foolish: The fool, or the fool who follows him?”

GOP Man’s Overbite. Most Capitol Hill denizens know that House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) is easily persuaded to break into song (his birthday serenades are legendary). But on Monday night, he was joined in a performance by a fellow Republican whose vocal skills have heretofore gone unrecognized.

Boehner and Rep. Gresham Barrett (S.C.) joined the band performing at Barrett’s annual “Shag ’n’ Eat” fundraiser at the waterfront bar Cantina Marina. The two Congressmen assisted the band in crooning the Motown classic “How Sweet It Is (to Be Loved by You)” and even showed off some dancing skills by linking arms with the band’s nominal frontman and showing off a Rockette-style kickline.

The enthusiastic, if not polished, efforts apparently inspired the audience, which included plenty of Hill staffers and lobbyists, to join in the dancing. Most notable among the shaggers: Barrett’s fellow South Carolina Republican Rep. Bob Inglis, who loyal HOH readers might recall knows a thing or two about cutting the rug. In February, Inglis posted a video on his Web site in which he practiced disco moves in preparation for an upcoming fundraiser, bedecked in towering platform shoes and an afro wig.

Unlike in his video, Inglis did not, at the Barrett event, attempt to perform a dance-floor split, we’re told.

Everybody’s Doing It. Add “author” to the résumé of Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.).

The third-term Congressman (she prefers the masculine) inked a book deal last year with Thomas Nelson Inc., an inspirational/Christian book publisher in Nashville, according to Blackburn’s annual financial disclosure form. Thomas Nelson clearly has a thing for GOP women: It also published the 2002 book by former Rep. Katherine Harris (R-Fla.), “Center of the Storm.”

Blackburn spokesman Claude Chafin said the book — which is nearly finished — is about women “who have not necessarily traveled the corporate path, but who take their leadership in church, leadership in kids’ schools and leadership in the family … and how they transfer that into other goals they might have,” including work in corporate America.

“This has been something that she’s been talking about for years and thinking about for years,” Chafin said.

The book, called “Life Equity,” is Blackburn’s first and is due out at the end of the year. Chafin said that the details of the book deal were approved by the House ethics committee, and Blackburn did not receive an advance for the book. House ethics rules prohibit Members from accepting advances, but they may accept normal royalties on book sales.

Dirty, Un-Sexy Legislation. As a gossip columnist, HOH is well aware of the importance of dirt. Others, though, might not have a similar reverence for the stuff. Good thing, then, that the Senate on Monday night passed a resolution recognizing the significance of dirt (the kind one finds on the ground, alas, not the kind HOH traffics in).

The Senate took time to adopt, by unanimous consent, a resolution recognizing soil as an essential natural resource.

Next up: a House-Senate joint resolution noting that the sky is, in fact, blue.

What’s the Word? Watching the legislative happenings of Congress can get pretty confusing, what with all those motions to recommit and points of order.

But when it comes down to it, things really aren’t all that complex.

The Sunlight Foundation, the nonprofit group that advocates for a more open Congress, launched www.capitolwords.org last week, an easy-to-read Web site that posts the single word most frequently mentioned in Congress the day before.

“We were thinking we wanted to have an easy way, and something fun, too, to show what’s the mood of the country,” spokeswoman Gabriela Schneider told HOH. “We thought the simplest lens to show what Congress is focusing on is a single word.”

Most of the words from the past few months aren’t surprising — “energy,” “housing” and “tax” have been mentioned pretty frequently, for example.

But there are some surprises. On June 13, “Caribbean” was the most popular, and every so often “Webb” tops the list, since local Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) often takes the gavel during pro forma sessions.

HOH’s favorite word mentioned this session? “Recess.”

Briefly Quoted. “Like jumbo shrimp or Salt Lake City nightlife, there is no such thing.”

— Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), dissing Utah while describing the efficiency of Congress after reconvening the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet on Tuesday. The panel twice adjourned during a hearing so Members could vote.

Paul Singer contributed to this report.

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