What Congress is Really Like.
I’ve just made the last couple of reservations for my trip to Washington, DC, at the end of this month for the annual Spring meeting of the Rail Passengers Association. It’s a three-day affair, with the second day spent trudging from one congressional office to another, pleading the case for passenger rail. After a dozen years or so of making these visits, you realize that there’s not a lot about being a member of Congress that’s anything like what most of us have probably imagined.
While he or she is most likely a big deal back home, a first-term member of the House of Representatives is at the very bottom of the totem pole in Washington. You realize this when you visit the office of a newly elected member. Most of the congressional offices are woefully inadequate. There’s a small private office for the member, but it’s common for staff to be so crammed together that concentration is difficult.
For instance, on one occasion, my meeting with a representative’s staff person took place on a sofa in the office’s reception area. There were three of us on the sofa: the staffer, me, and the aide’s next appointment, ready to take my place as soon as I stood up.
On a typical day, the hallways in the Senate and House office buildings are teeming with people hustling along from one congressional office to another.
Almost everyone is carrying a briefcase in which are folders containing what is know as “The Ask”. None of us should be surprised by that. They all want something from the federal government.
Within walking distance of these huge office buildings are small innocuous offices with dozens of cubicles. These are phone banks, paid for any the political parties, where senators and House members can go to call lobbyists and significant donors and ask for money for their re-election campaigns. If there’s one thing that absolutely must change, it’s the law permitting anonymous unlimited contributions from corporations and special interests.