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WASHINGTON - God help the U.S. Senate. Alaska's irascible grouch, Senate Appropriations Committee chairman Ted Stevens, is in one mean mood.
It's Thursday, and three of his spending bills are stacked up on the Senate floor. The chamber's July 4 recess is a day away. Stevens is ready to knock heads to get his bills approved before the chamber's 99 other members race to Reagan National Airport.
``I intend to do some shouting up here this afternoon,'' he warns.
This is a perfect day for the Tasmanian Devil tie. It dangles from his neck like the fuse on a stick of dynamite.
Stevens is wearing a dark green suit, a pink shirt and this outrageously bright yellow tie with the Tasmanian Devil screaming forward in a terrorizing frenzy. The tie is so loud and utterly revulsive that it stuns the most hardened of politicians.
That's why Stevens wears it.
``When I wear ties like this on the floor, people understand I really mean business,'' he said. ``I hope they listen to me, because we're not going home until we finish these bills.''
To Stevens, ties around his neck serve the same purpose as flags run up on a warship. They signal purpose and intention. They scream before he screams. Look no further than his chest to know that you're in the path of Terrible Ted, or as he said Thursday, ``the jazz from Taz.''
If he has the Taz around his neck, watch out. Stevens is going to lose his cool, spew a few, froth and fume.
How seriously can you take a senator with a Tasmanian Devil hurdling from his chest?
Apparently Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott thinks Stevens takes on an entirely new personality.
``The leader calls me Taz now,'' Stevens said. ``In a conference, he says, `Hey, Taz, what have you got to say about this?'''
The Taz tie, as bad as it is, is not his worst. That would be his green Incredible Hulk unit.
``He wears his Incredible Hulk tie when he's facing the really big battles, explained Stevens' personal secretary, Delynn Henry.
That time is coming with the Congress nearing a logjam on its annual spending bills. If there's anything that Stevens hates most, it's logjams.
We'll have on the green one when the time comes, Stevens said.
Stevens' collection of ties, which started with a birthday gift from his daughter Lilly a few years ago, has drawn attention from coast to coast. People watching Senate proceedings on television often call his office wondering about what that thing is around his neck.
``The first time he wore his Incredible Hulk tie, the phones were ringing off the wall,'' said longtime office receptionist Suzanne Palmer. One woman called in and said that the senator just looked disrespectful in that tie.''
Palmer said the caller, who was not one of Stevens' constituents, was somewhat soothed to learn it came from his daughter.
Stevens delights in the horror that his ties create.
After becoming committee chairman, Stevens described himself as ``one mean, miserable SOB.'' He likes the fact that the ties accentuate that reputation.
``I think that's a good image,'' Stevens said as he headed forth into battle Thursday, with the Taz leading the way.