Pelosi’s controversial learning curve 

So, if you’ve led your party to a takeover of the House of Representatives, and as the newly elected speaker you pledge to sweep away the extravagances of the old regime, wouldn’t you be awfully careful not to be seen as wasteful? Surely San Francisco voters expected Rep. Nancy Pelosi to take the broom to Capitol Hill. How about her own office?

Maybe she should demonstrate personal neatness before finding herself ankle-deep in dust bunnies. We’re not saying the speaker has committed any grave offenses, but she’s scarcely held the gavel for two months and already she’s created the perception she expects better treatment than the rest of us.

The first eyebrow-cocking issue had to do with the minimum wage, which she’d promised to raise. She’d even taken up the cause of increasing it for all those Asian garment workers in the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, a U.S. territory, which super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff had worked so tirelessly to keep suppressed. When the matter came to the House floor, however, workers on American Samoa, toiling just a few hundred miles from the Marianas, found themselves exempted from the paycheck enhancement.

It turned out that many of those Samoans worked for StarKist Tuna, whose parent company, Del Monte, is based here in Pelosi’s home district. The speaker’s office quickly claimed the exemption was an oversight — begging the question of how, exactly, one exempts an oversight — and vowed to correct the matter.

A new embarrassment: Speaker Pelosi, second in succession to the president, has demanded the Air Force place a C-32 at her disposal. The commercial analog of such a military plane is a Boeing 757-200, built for 300 passengers. Pelosi’s office says she needs the spacious aircraft — which includes a wood-paneled stateroom, 42 business-class seats, a big-screen television, a 16-member crew, a full-sized bed and an open bar — for staff, other members of the California delegation and family.

This airborne setup already is designated for the vice president and the first lady, and a reasonable case can be made that the elected official two heartbeats away from the presidency should be similarly provisioned. The entitlement was born after 9/11 when a commuter-size jet was dispatched for the regular use of then-Speaker Dennis Hastert. Again, Pelosi’s office reasonably observes that Air Hastert would need to refuel before landing on this side of the continent. If the nation were under terrorist attack, it could be prudent to keep her aloft longer.

White House spokesman Tony Snow calls the controversy "silly," clearly sparing his boss this dogfight. He’s probably right. The worst offender is Pelosi’s confederate, Rep. John Murtha, who warns the Air Force to oblige or face an appropriations cutoff. For the speaker’s part, this is not the best time to be learning the political wisdom that perception is reality.

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Staff Report

Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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