Bartlett burned by flap over mustache measure
Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (Baltimore Sun/Karl Merton Ferron / October 6, 2011)
At issue is the STACHE Act, a satirical proposal from the American Mustache Institute that would provide up to $250 in tax breaks for mustache grooming supplies. The group has produced a white paper arguing that "a Mustached American lifestyle can have a positive impact on the American economy" and it has planned a "Million Mustache March" to be held on April Fools Day.
In other words, the STACHE Act -- or, the Stimulus to Allow Critical Hair Expenses -- is itself a bit of an act.
Enter Rep.Roscoe G. Bartlett, the mustached Republican from Western Maryland. The group reached out to Bartlett this week to ask for his support. An aide in Bartlett's office, Lisa Wright, said she would pass the group's material on to the Ways and Means Committee, which handles tax policy in the House. It was a nice way of saying: "Thanks, but no thanks."
But based on her response, a story was born.
The conservative Weekly Standard questioned whether Wright should have even forwarded the proposal to Ways and Means without Bartlett's approval. The story got picked up by the Associated Press, New York Magazine and dozens of other news organizations, not all of which conveyed the satire behind the original proposal or Bartlett's actual position on the matter.
His position, according to Wright, is that he'd never heard of the STACHE Act.
But that hasn't stopped Bartlett's political opponents from trying to tie him to the proposal, which doesn't exist in bill form. The 10-term incumbent is running for reelection in one of the nation's most competitive House races. He also faces an April primary that includes several state lawmakers.
"This bill could be sexist," state Sen. Kathy Afzali, who is seeking the Republican nomination for the seat, told WUSA-TV. "With people in District 6 -- probably about 15 percent unemployed -- I think we have some other issues that are a little more important than facial hair."
State Sen. Rob Garagiola, a Democrat, sent an e-mail to supporters on Thursday under the subject line "serious times call for serious people." In it, Garagiola notes that he has been talking about the economy while "Roscoe has been arguing with the American Mustache Institute over whether or not he supports the STACHE Act -- a tax credit for people with facial hair."
"This bill isn’t funny," Will McDonald, a spokesman for Democrat candidate John Delaney told Roll Call. "This is exactly why so many Americans want new leadership in Congress."
The blowback put Bartlett's office into damage control mode, with the congressman’s new chief of staff -- Deborah Burrell -- sending a statement Tuesday clarifying that Wright never sent a bill to Ways and Means because there was no bill to send.
"For the record: Roscoe is pro-stache, but he does not believe Americans should pay for people's personal grooming decisions," Burrell's statement read.
Aaron Perlut, president of the American Mustache Institute, noted that the group is raising money for charity through all the attention the STACHE Act is now receiving.
"There's no question that we do try to parody the system for lack of a better phrase. We think that our message is best delivered by leveraging humor," Perlut said when asked what he thought about the fact that Bartlett is taking some real flak for being associated with the measure.
"Unfortunately, you have some very silly opponents of the congressman who are trying to leverage the kindness of his office by simply passing on a piece of paper and then grandstanding about government."
Perlut said that the April 1 march in Washington is the real deal.
Bartlett, it's probably safe to assume, will be somewhere else.