A War of Answers

Looks can be deceiving. Just ask Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez.

He was subjected to a tirade Thursday by Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, D-Ohio, who asserted that he made jokes about her questioning and made a face at her during his testimony before the House Financial Services housing subcommittee.

Rep. Tubbs Jones was grilling him about the agency's decision to cut its $309 million drug elimination program. Remarking that she used to be a prosecutor, Rep. Tubbs Jones warned the Bush cabinet member that she wanted short answers before she began firing questions at him.

"You don't think in public housing where there's elderly people that [dealers] come in and prey on the elderly and sell drugs? What country have you been living in for the last 10 years?" she asked.

When he tried to answer with more than a "yes" or "no," he drew her ire.

"I don't get to answer the questions?" Mr. Martinez asked.

"No."

"OK, that's fine."

When she next paused to let Mr. Martinez answer, he asked: "Do you want me to answer all questions or only the ones you choose for me to answer?"

Rep. Tubbs Jones responded that she wanted Mr. Martinez to answer her questions and warned him: "Don't get smart with me because I am not getting smart with you, sir."

With that, subcommittee chairwoman Marge Roukema, R-N.J., stepped in with an apology to Mr. Martinez: "I'm sorry. I've never, ever in my 20 years on this committee heard this kind of response" by members of the panel to a witness. "I'm sorry."

Rep. Tubbs Jones responded: "I've never heard this response to members of Congress. I ask him a question - he tried to make jokes of my questions, and I don't appreciate it."

Rep. Roukema said she did not hear Mr. Martinez make any jokes and told Rep. Tubbs Jones: "If you want an answer, let him answer."

Rep. Tubbs Jones told Rep. Roukema: "With all due respect, Madam Chairman … you can't run my questions."

To her next question, Mr. Martinez simply responded: "Yes, ma'am."

When wrapping up the questioning, the two apologized to each other.

"I meant no disrespect … . If you think I did, please forgive me," she said.

Mr. Martinez responded in kind, saying that if she felt his facial expressions were disrespectful, "I sincerely apologize."

Balto Goes Private

The Federal Trade Commission's antitrust specialist, David Balto, has left his government post to become a partner in the law offices of White & Case LLP in Washington.

Mr. Balto, who was policy director of the bureau of competition for four years, has joined the firm's antitrust group, whose director, Robert Paul, was formerly general counsel of the FTC. In his new post, Mr. Balto will continue to handle cases involving competition issues, including those involving international enforcement.

At the FTC, which he joined in 1995 as an attorney adviser to chairman Robert Pitofsky, Mr. Balto investigated competition issues among financial networks, most notably the credit card associations Visa U.S.A. and MasterCard International, current defendants in an antitrust suit brought by the Justice Department.

Gold Dollars at IHOP

As yet another alternative to going to their local bank for golden dollar coins, consumers can now get them with their short stack.

In its effort to increase circulation of the coin, the U.S. Mint has made a partnership with the International House of Pancakes. More than 900 of the flapjack shacks will rename their signature silver dollar pancakes "golden dollar pancakes." The chain, like Wal-Marts and Safeway grocery stores before it, will distribute at least six million of the golden-tinged coins in change to help get the floundering currency into general circulation.

Bankers objected when Wal-Mart got the coins before they did, but passions have since cooled, and no breakfast boycotts are planned.

"I think the Mint has to do this to get the coin up beyond a collector's item and into general circulation," said Kenneth A. Guenther, president and chief executive of the Independent Community Bankers of America.

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