POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jan 16, 2011
After more than five decades in the spotlight, it isn't likely that Sen. Daniel K. Inouye will display an unguarded emotion.
So Thursday afternoon, when he was asked about Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who criticized Inouye's earmark to support the Hokulea Polynesian voyaging canoe, there was just a trace of movement as his lips started to sneer.
"Of all the projects, he should have picked on something else. That is a project I am proud of," Inouye said.
When he was in the service, Inouye prided himself on being a good poker player: It was all about counting and remembering. In politics, the same skills are needed, and Inouye has them.
Hawaii is a tiny, isolated state that is easily ignored, except for Inouye's ability to count the votes needed to pass legislation. His early alliances with Southern Democrats came from a need to find some friends who needed some votes.
If Hawaii's senior senator can offer a sneer at the mention of a challenge from McCain, it must have grown into a full scowl in December when he watched both his carefully constructed appropriations bill and then the omnibus spending bill collapse in the face of Republican parliamentary maneuvers.
The Congress was left to pass a continuing resolution that essentially said: "Just keep spending like you did last year."
At the time, Inouye said "Nothing good comes from a C.R."
"In the vacuum that this creates, it is left to the bureaucrats to determine how taxpayer funds are allocated, not elected representatives."
During his Honolulu news conference last week, Inouye was just as emphatic about his determination to continue his purview of federal funding.
In terms of political muscle, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee is not someone to trifle with. According to one congressional insider, there are five working fireplaces in the U.S. Capitol and Inouye's fleet of Capitol offices are the location of three of the five.
Inouye's earmarks contained in the spending bill that failed would have steered $27.5 million in defense spending to the University of Hawaii, $10 million to Oceanit for a system to track space satellites and millions more to projects at Pearl Harbor.
All totaled, Hawaii was in line to get $321 million in that omnibus spending bill. Inouye was asked what happens now.
Is there a new congressional order? Have Inouye's 141 earmarks evaporated?
"As far as I am concerned, I am going to do my best to undo that," Inouye said.
"I will do my best," Inouye repeated, adding "as chairman of the Appropriations Committee."
Inouye will still be counting the votes, but with some things, the vote he holds is all that matters.