Thursday, December 06, 2007

Back to School

Although I could have found it on my own, having covered Congress since he was 18 months old, I was met on my first day back as a reporter by my son, who led me through security and up to the Senate hearing room where I had been assigned. He, of course, is a rising star in political reporting and an expert on Congress, and I am now a part-time stenographer. Which means I have to be careful not to embarrass him. And maybe not even talk to him too much about work since our publications are direct competitors. But if he wanted to escort me to my first day back at school, as I did with him, that was fine with me; it might even work in a bad novel some time.

Actually, it wasn’t that much fun for me -- no credentials, cramped working conditions, so crowded with staff and reporters, it was difficult to even think of leaving for water fountain or bathroom, so I sat four and a half hours taking notes on issues I barely understood (kinda like that dream where you are looking for the right classroom for the final exam in a course you just remember you signed up for three months ago, but at least I wasn’t in my underwear, I don’t think.) Then the committee, instead of breaking for a decent length of time for lunch, decided to have pizza brought in to a back room for all of 15 minutes.

Anyway, the experience was something like returning to your old school; the layout and bricks and marble are in the same places, but the people are younger and technology has taken over. The robo-TV-camera inside the horseshoe made by the committee tables was new, as was the fact that a dozen or more reporters were taking notes, writing stories and surfing the Web on laptops. The last time I covered Congress (with a pen and pad and maybe a clunky cassette recorder) was in June of 1983, before the advent of C-SPAN, and before the advent of many of the committee staff’s birth. Now, senators making a point have intricate, colorful and amusing charts to display to make points there rhetoric alone cannot. The place has been dumbed down, if that was ever possible.

First thing I noticed was that one-time prostitute-patron David Vitter was just two seats away from serial men’s room panderer Larry Craig, separated by a new senator, named Barasso.

Joe Lieberman began an all-day “markup” of a bill on climate change by reminding folks it was Chanuka, which he said commemorated “a divinely inspired sustainable energy program.” Oddly for a committee devoted to environment and public works – usually the province of the outer provinces of rural America -- 10 of the 11 Democrats on the committee are from northern, urbanized states and California. Five of them are Jewish, not that it mattered, but the Finance Committee and Judiciary Committee must have been full when their turn came for choosing. Only Hillary Clinton was not there, having better things to do, one assumes. Lieberman and Republican Lamar Alexander were there, however, as punishment for having lost their own presidential bids.

Each of the 180 prepared amendments (not all were actually voted on) was labeled by the name of the author and the number of his or her amendment. Sen. Thomas Carper of Delaware, perhaps giddy from the tedium, referred to his forthcoming “Carper Number Nine, Number Nine, Number Niiiiine,” provoking tittering from reporters and members themselves under the age of 60.

Luckily, since I was basically sent there just to tag along with the real reporters from the organization that hired me, like an intern, I was sprung after about eight hours, instead of having to stay through the evening.

I am looking forward to doing more of this in the coming weeks, maybe even years, because I love Capitol Hill, and I can still write. The real question is whether I can sit still for hours at a time and whether my bladder is going to be any more patient than the rest of me.

No comments:

Post a Comment