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Heard on the Hill: We’re On to You

Senators, beware: The walls have ears. Two unsuspecting Senators on Tuesday shared their tricks for avoiding reporters — not realizing that one of the very scribes they were trying to dodge was under their noses.

[IMGCAP(1)]An HOH tipster, whose reporter’s badge was covered by a coat, caught the following exchange between Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Mark Begich (D-Alaska). As the

two boarded an elevator near the Senate chamber on the second floor of the Capitol, Barrasso turned to his new colleague with a bit of advice on giving reporters the slip.

“That’s the way to avoid the press,” Barrasso said, as they both chuckled.

Freshman Begich revealed that he relies on his relatively unknown face to avoid pesky scribes. “Yeah, I just cover up my pin, like this,” he said, demonstrating with the sheaf of papers and manila folders he was holding. “If somebody comes up to me, I just act like a staffer and say, ‘You want that guy,’” he said, gesturing over his shoulder.

More laughter.

But going unrecognized sometimes has its downside. Barrasso told Begich the story of how he was sitting at his office desk late one evening when a Capitol Police officer came in and asked for his identification. After Barrasso identified himself, the officer apologized, explaining that officers sometimes find staffers lurking behind Senators’ desks late at night.

“Sometimes they just like to sit where ‘the man’ sits,” Barrasso quoted the cop telling him.

Rangel Rule of (Tax) Law. Tax season is well under way, and embattled Rep. Charlie Rangel — a man who has had, ahem, some trouble with the IRS — has inspired legislation that could have taxpayers everywhere jumping for joy.

And the New York Democrat isn’t taking it as a compliment.

Introduced on Wednesday by Rep. John Carter, the Rangel Rule Act would amend the tax code to allow any U.S. citizen who writes the phrase “Rangel Rule” on the top of their tax return to be exempt from penalties or interest on any back taxes they might have to pay.

The Texas Republican says he was inspired to pen the measure after learning Rangel hadn’t paid any penalties or interest on the $10,000 worth of back taxes he owed from rental income on a Caribbean property. While Rangel did eventually pay the back taxes, it remains unclear if he ever will pay any penalties.

And that doesn’t sit well with Carter. “The Ways and Means chairman shouldn’t be treated any differently than you should,” Carter told reporters, appearing alongside Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.) at a press conference.

Aside from helping taxpayers, Carter argued the legislation will help stimulate the economy, as many Americans would be freed from their IRS debts. But it does beg the question: If Americans know they won’t get fined for not paying their taxes, what’s the point of even paying them?

“Patriotism,” Carter said, channeling Vice President Joseph Biden. “Haven’t you heard? It’s patriotic to pay your taxes.”

Carter wrote to Rangel on Jan. 6, asking the New Yorker to pay interest on the back taxes or help make the Rangel Rule law. Carter insists he “didn’t try to ambush Mr. Rangel” and is simply “after fairness for the American people.”

“I don’t think it’s wrong to start having a discussion in Congress,” Carter said of the measure. “And with a certain amount of humor in it.”

Rangel’s office didn’t find the bill too amusing.

“The legislation is unnecessary,” a spokesman said. “All taxpayers currently receive equal treatment under the law.”

So, Mr. Carter — if HOH writes “Rangel Rule” on the top of our Macy’s bill, will we have to pay the interest on that?

ISO Hill Rock Stars. Sometimes, after a long day of doing the people’s business, a guy just wants to rock out. And for one Senate staffer, just playing a few rounds of Guitar Hero isn’t going to cut it.

Donny Ray Williams, the staff director for the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Disaster Recovery, is advertising on Craigslist for band mates to form a musical act.

In the listing, Williams, a singer/songwriter/guitarist, says he’s looking for a musical escape from a grueling job. “My job requires long hours and intense work,” he writes. “I deal with disasters, like Katrina and the government’s efforts to help with the recoveries. It is ridiculously hard and draining work. By night … I play guitar and I write music.”

Williams doesn’t use his name, but a link to a MySpace page included in the listing tipped HOH off to his identity.

A slightly embarrassed Williams, contacted by HOH, says he’s gotten a lot of responses to the ad so far. And he says he’d love to hear from fellow Hill staffers with musical inclinations. “I’d always thought that’s where I’d find people, but it’s hard with everyone’s schedules here,” he says.

We have to admit we’re curious to hear if Williams does ever get a band together, since his list of influential music is eclectic (Radiohead and Stevie Wonder?), and his passion is evident. “I have an urge that I cannot satisfy without getting back on stage and playing music for people,” he writes in the ad, after explaining that he’s played with a few other local bands. “I don’t care what it takes, I will adjust my schedule, I will make a way to practice and I will be the hardest or one of the hardest working members of the band.”

HOH promises we’ll write a follow-up announcing their first gig. Possible band name: Disaster Recovery.

OK, we won’t quit our day jobs, either.

Spinning the Crash. When a politician’s Web site crashes, the typical response is panic, as anxious techies scramble to get everything back online before too many people notice.

But when former Sen. Norm Coleman’s campaign Web site crashed on Wednesday, his staff decided to alert the media about it.

The Minnesota Republican’s campaign team sent a press release out to reporters boasting that the site had crashed after receiving “tens of thousands of hits.” The reason, according to staff, was that the campaign has just debuted a Web feature allowing Minnesotans to search and see whether their vote is among those being challenged by Coleman’s Democratic Senate opponent, Al Franken. (Coleman and Franken remain locked in a court battle for the seat, with Coleman contending several thousand dismissed ballots should count, among other concerns.)

Coleman’s Web site remained down as of late Wednesday afternoon, although Coleman spokesman Luke Friedrich told HOH workers were “actively looking to get it up.”

“We’re definitely not excited that it’s down … but it certainly speaks to how interested people are,” Friedrich said.

Overheard on the Hill. “Always sucking the hind tit.”

— Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), on Wednesday bemoaning the fate of rural states, as quoted in a CongressNow story about children’s health insurance legislation.

“… how we fix health care in this country.”

— The cleaned-up version of a speech by Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) on the Senate floor, as transcribed in the Congressional Record of Tuesday’s session. Burr actually said, “how the hell we fix health care.”

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