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Heard on the Hill: More HGTV, Less C-SPAN

While former Vice President Al Gore was waxing lengthy about the devastating effects of global warming in his most recent Capitol Hill appearance, one of the Senators before whom he was testifying had some more pressing matters to attend to.

[IMGCAP(1)]Sen. Barbara Boxer left the Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Jan. 28 to mull over carpet samples, a spy told HOH.

The California Democrat slipped out during the hearing to consult in the committee’s anteroom with a guy holding a board affixed with swatches of carpet. Boxer, our witness said, was musing over whether to choose the “linen” or “straw” shade of floor covering.

As Boxer pondered such weighty matters (the spy says she feared the linen option had a “touch too much gray” in it), the committee was engrossed in a discussion of what Gore called “the most serious challenge the world has ever faced.” Among the topics: the very end of humankind.

A Boxer spokeswoman told HOH that a pipe had burst in the Senator’s home, damaging the carpet and necessitating an emergency repair job — hence the unconventional design consultation.

Still, the contrast between the important business taking place in the committee room and the … slightly less pressing matter Boxer was engaged in caused some chuckles.

Clearly, Boxer cares deeply about the environment — especially her own.

Do As I Say, Not As I File. Since he’s in the throes of a personal tax-filing controversy, Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel hardly seems like the ideal pitchman for tax advice.

But the defiant New York Democrat isn’t shying away: He’s slated today to appear at a press conference unveiling a grant offering free tax preparation and filing services for eligible taxpayers.

Free tax advice? Sounds like it could have come in handy …

In all seriousness, Ways and Means Communications Director Matthew Beck told HOH that the grant money will help low-to-moderate income individuals and families take advantage of the Rangel-backed earned income tax credit. The grant money, which is being provided by the Wal-Mart Foundation, will educate taxpayers who might not know about the credit without outside tax advice.

And despite Rangel’s well-publicized IRS troubles (failing to report income from a rental property in the Caribbean is perhaps the most famous), the foundation is standing by their invitee. “We are pleased that Chairman Rangel can join us,” spokeswoman Elizabeth Anderson told HOH.

(At press time, the House Radio-TV Gallery sent an e-mail notice saying the event was canceled, but Anderson told HOH the event was still on.)

Odd V-Day Alert. Because HOH wants to save you from a last-minute desperation jaunt to the CVS for a lame Shoebox greeting card and a Whitman’s sampler, here’s a reminder: Saturday is Valentine’s Day.

But plenty of House staffers already got a reminder to that effect, thanks to Scott Baker, a staff assistant to Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Texas). Baker sent an e-mail on Friday to a distribution list that one recipient estimated goes to “hundreds” of people. The e-mail, which was sent with an “urgent” tag, wasn’t the usual list of job openings Baker usually sends to that list, but rather a missive urging its readers to remember the lovey-dovey holiday.

Things also got strangely personal in the e-mail: “This is from a guy who loves to write love poetry and is a big sucker for pretty brown eyes, a great smile and dimples!” it read. “But I must be careful the last time that happened I ended up spending $360 worth of white roses on one young lady from Toledo, Ohio!!”

Baker wouldn’t comment on the head-scratcher of an e-mail.

It also included an attachment of a romantic sunset that one could use as wallpaper on one’s desktop.

Umm, thanks?

Bragging Rights. Most grandparents carry a wallet full of photos, ready to be whipped out and shown to anyone who shows the slightest interest. Lucky are those who can use the bully pulpit of the Senate floor to display a truly enormous family photo to a national audience.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) took to the floor on Monday to make a point about the cost of the stimulus bill — armed with an oversized portrait of the extended Inhofe clan, propped up by a staffer on one of those display easels that usually hold pie charts. He pointed to his daughter, Katie, who had asked him if the country would go bankrupt because of the stimulus package. “I said ‘no,’” he said.

An Inhofe spokesman told HOH that the Senator wanted to highlight the fact that Americans are going to be paying for the stimulus package for decades — something that will affect their own children and grandchildren. “That’s probably the best way to relate to American families, by showing his family,” the spokesman said.

But, hey, if we’re talking about holding down government spending, what about at least downsizing the family pictures?

Michael Phelps, Pot-Lobby Hero. Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps might regret smoking marijuana at that party a few months back, since a photo of him using a bong landed in the tabloids, leading to his three-month suspension from USA Swimming and being dropped like a hot pipe by at least one of his big corporate sponsors.

But for those lobbying to decriminalize the green, leafy substance, the Phelps controversy is good for business. As Aaron Houston, the director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project, told HOH: “The more people’s attention is drawn to this issue, the more it helps us.”

“There just isn’t a lot of conversation in America about marijuana or its prohibition,” echoed Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. “So what’s happened with Michael Phelps is that it’s actually crystallized that conversation.”

St. Pierre told HOH that in the days since the scandal broke, NORML’s donations were way up, including those from donors who haven’t given to the group in years. NORML also is leading a boycott of Kellogg’s (which dropped Phelps as a spokesman), and that effort has generated interest from thousands of people, St. Pierre said.

MPP, which lobbies to decriminalize pot, sees the Phelps controversy as helping the cause, Houston said.

“It’s just ridiculous that it has received this amount of criticism,” Houston said of Phelpsgate. “It’s a terrible situation for this guy that the laws are the way they are.”

What the Puck? Lobbyists might be a convenient rhetorical punching bag for Members of Congress these days, but an upcoming event could make things a little more literal.

A team of lobbyists will take on a team of lawmakers and staffers in the blood sport of ice hockey, in a March 6 charity game benefiting the Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club.

Rosters for what organizers hope is the first of an annual tradition are still shaping up, but Team Congress includes Rep. Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.), as well as a bipartisan array of House and Senate staffers. They’ll be pitted against Team Lobbyist, which includes Jeff Kimbell of Jeffrey J. Kimbell & Associates and John Goodwin of the National Rifle Association. The Web site for the face-off,, is worth checking out for the team photos alone — and for the mini-profiles of the players sounding off on pertinent questions, such as “Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks?” and “Should the moustache come back in style?”

It sounds as if the trash talking is already under way: “These guys have no idea what they are getting into, going up against Members from Boston, Philly, Brooklyn and Buffalo,” Higgins said. “We grew up playing hockey with the kids from the neighborhood and now we are looking forward to showing these guys just how we get the job done for a great cause that helps a new generation of neighborhood kids.”

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