Snowball Fight on the Hill Over Gov't Shutdown

WASHINGTON -- In a town where everything takes on political freight, this week's historic snows have dumped a shovelful of mixed metaphors on the federal government.

Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn found himself stranded inside the Capitol, an odd position for a small-government curmudgeon who called the government shutdown a "dream." He cleaned his desk, wrote to constituents, read books and reveled at the empty corridors of power.

"The best thing is we're not passing any legislation, which ultimately will save the government a lot of money," he said. "We're not gonna be blamed for this one," he added, alluding to a prior shutdown in 1996, caused by a dispute over the federal budget.

The storm, the result of two weather systems combining, brought official Washington to a near standstill, not to mention disrupting air travel and knocking out power to thousands in the capital area. Wednesday's snowfall, the fourth in two weeks, topped off what's now the nastiest Washington winter on record -- 55.6 inches of snow for the season so far -- and one of its foulest political seasons, too.

Liberals found their own metaphoric barbs in it. "This storm can try as it might," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) "but a few feet of snow have got nothing on Senate Republicans' ability to paralyze Washington with their blizzard of filibusters and procedural gimmicks."

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    Brendan Daly, an aide to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.), said, "Recovering from this blizzard demands patience, cooperation, collaboration and teamwork. Unfortunately, the Senate is in session this week."

    Not that the severe weather is just a matter for joking. Some 20 deaths have been attributable to the storm throughout the East, including traffic fatalities.

    In economic costs, one past blizzard, the 1993 "Storm of the Century," cost more than $6 billion across the East Coast, by some estimates. In terms of the expense of shutting down the federal government in Washington, one study has estimated that can run $100 million a day in lost productivity.

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