In early June, Congressman Scott McInnis, a Republican from Colorado, materialized at the Interior Department building in Washington, D.C., and demanded immediate entrance. Unfortunately for the course of history, he had forgotten his photo I.D. and it took him and the reporter he had in tow 10 minutes to get past the guards. (His forgetfulness may someday be likened to the famous nail that lost the shoe that lost the horse that lost the cannon that ...)
McInnis was at Interior in search of waste. Congress wants to cut 10 percent from the National Park Service budget, and the bureaucrats threaten to close 200 parks and monuments. A bunch of those parks and momuments are in McInnis' district and his constituents are typical Western conservatives: we like our pork with the fat thick on it. Parks and monuments are part of our federal entitlement.
As a result, McInnis has been feeling heat. He's not under pressure from people who love parks and want to visit them. He's been hearing from his real constituents: motel owners, chamber of commerce members, park concessionnaires.
Ordinarily, McInnis seeks only to cut federal spending in other congressional districts. He's especially courageous on eliminating subways and deep-sea ports. But he's now a Beltway captive of the Newtoids. They expect him to help eliminate not only school lunches and union jobs, but also national parks. That troubles McInnis because he is a man of inviolable principle, the principle being that he never irritates the rich and powerful.
So here he is, trapped between conservatives in western Colorado and conservatives in the Capitol. His response has been to claim Interior can save zillions in administrative costs without touching a park ranger. To prove it, on Thursday, June 8, he barged into Interior, after that famous 10-minute delay, and roamed the halls. In no time at all, right there in the fourth-floor budget office, blatantly in sight, he found a Xerox copy machine.
He told his reporter, "Now this copying machine right here is a very expensive copying machine. I would imagine the federal government buys hundreds of thousands of copying machines." Having solved the park-closing problem, and perhaps even the entire budget-deficit problem, McInnis headed back to the Hill.
The incident makes me wonder about Bruce Babbitt's Interior. His functionaries had 10 minutes to hide incriminating objects. Couldn't they find a place to stick the copier? Or was the copier a decoy? Did Babbitt say to his aides, as they huddled before McInnis' entry:
"Let Scott find something, for god's sake, or he'll come back."
Did they then debate what he should find: an electric envelope slitter? a deluxe model Mr. Coffee? a computer program churning out resumes for assistant secretaries and undersecretaries and press secretaries?
Babbitt's reasoning would be fascinating, if we knew it. But what about McInnis? Did he reason too? Did he know Babbitt would let him find something damaging, but not too damaging? Did he shrewdly smell a setup? Is that why he brought a reporter from Scripps Howard News Service instead of from The New York Times?
And wasn't McInnis worried that someone would remind him that he is against charging royalties to mining companies? Wasn't he afraid someone would bring up his votes against higher grazing fees and for below-cost logging?
Wasn't he afraid of the H word - afraid someone would call him a hypocrite for closing parks while protecting foreign mining companies? He isn't a hypocrite, of course. At any given moment, he is tremendously, totally, almost tearfully sincere. But he also knows that sincerity counts for nothing in the Beltway snakepit. He must have known he was running a risk.
I've been reading the New Mexico newspapers a lot, and listening to G. Gordon Liddy and Rush Limbaugh. I don't agree with everything, but I'm catching on to their reasoning. Thanks to them, I'm sure that McInnis was actually at Interior in pursuit of the Christian Coalition vote. I think McInnis wants to see those 200 parks and monuments close. That's why he left after only finding a copying machine; that's why he didn't keep searching until he'd found that deluxe Mr. Coffee, or that automated envelope slitter.
Moreover, I think 199 of the park and monument closings are screens. The real object is Dinosaur National Monument in northwest Colorado. He's after Dinosaur, I'm convinced, because McInnis has struck a deal with the Christian Coalition.
It is a little known fact that, after abortion, Dinosaur National Monument is the coalition's major federal enemy. Each year tens of thousands of young children (those who have somehow escaped the abortionists) and their impressionable parents are exposed to the idea that dinosaurs once roamed the earth, even before Adam and Eve and Pat Robertson. Given that, it makes sense to me - it's the only thing that makes sense to me - that Ralph Reed, head of the Coalition, secretly visited Scott McInnis in a black helicopter that landed at 3 a.m. ear the Washington Monument. In their pre-dawn meeting, Ralph convinced Scott to shut down Dinosaur.
Why else would Scott McInnis search Interior for copy machines? Why else would a Republican try to balance the federal budget on the back of a worthy corporation like Xerox?
McInnis, after all, is no fool. He's read Edgar Allan Poe's "The Purloined Letter." He knows Interior's real waste is sitting right there at 19th and C - the monumental building that Harold Ickes built in the 1930s, back when Americans had the crazy idea that government could pull them out of the Great Depression they had been tossed into by unbridled free enterprise.
Ickes' building is a disgrace: high ceilings, wide corridors and so many corner offices that even an assistant deputy undersecretary's secretary can feel like a big shot. McInnis must have noticed those corridors and corner offices. Even a Bruce Babbitt couldn't hide them.
So it is open and shut. If McInnis wanted to keep Dinosaur open, he'd propose razing the Interior building. Then he would stuff all its employees into trailers on the vacant site. (The bill should specify no double-wides. Fourteen-footers are good enough.) That would save money and create an authentic Western atmosphere. It's a moderate, sensible course. The fact that McInnis hasn't submitted it as a bill proves he's after Dinosaur.
But Scott needs to know this: He will have to pry Dinosaur out of my cold, dead fingers. n
HCN's Washington, D.C., reporter, Nancy Shute, is doing research in Alaska and Russia through July. HCN publisher Ed Marston is filling in, more or less, until she returns.