Fall Follies

The Speaker’s Lobby: Fall Follies

By: Chad Pergram

27 September 2009

Autumn has arrived. And so too have the fall follies that accompany the equinox.

But we start with a rather serious newsflash.

Washington is in crisis.

Not because the economy. Staggering deficits. ACORN. Cap-and-trade. Health care reform. Terrorist threats on mass transit systems. Or a nuclear-armed Iran.

At a time when the nation’s auto industry is in shambles, perhaps it’s only appropriate that one of the greatest debacles in Washington football history unfolded in the Motor City Sunday. The Obama Administration may have replaced Rick Wagoner as the head of General Motors earlier this year. The move called into question whether Washington was running the auto manufacturer. But it was clear that Detroit owned Washington on the gridiron Sunday. 

The town’s beloved Washington Redskins fell to the woeful Detroit Lions, 19-14. This the same Detroit squad who lost their previous 19 games dating back to late 2007. The losing streak spanned parts of three seasons.

To put it in political terms, the Lions last won a game before Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. Back when Hillary Rodham Clinton was the odds-on favorite to be the Democratic nominee and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) was flailing behind Mitt Romney in the GOP contest.

Think the Redskins would qualify for cash for clunkers?

Democrats and Republicans alike can’t agree on much in Washington. But whether they hail from a blue state or a red state, the city’s political establishment lives and dies with the burgundy and gold.

Few expected much from the Redskins this year. But a loss to the Lions will make Washington apoplectic. Expect a host of long faces exiting the Capitol South Metro station Monday morning. And you can count on lots of folks cutting off other drivers as they try to merge at the Beltway’s Mixing Bowl.

Perhaps it’s only fitting that the Lions vanquished the Redskins before sundown Sunday. That’s when the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur, or “Day of Atonement” began. And after this wretched loss, the Redskins seemingly have much to atone for.

Fall not only means football. But the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly.

President Obama made his inaugural visit to the U.N. a few days ago. As is custom, the U.S. president and a score of others spoke. World leaders and representatives from the 192-member nations listen as the U.N. simultaneously translates the speeches into multiple languages.

Translating is a hard job. One U.N. translator even collapsed after Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi blew past his 15-minute time limit and spoke for 75 minutes.

While the translation staff labored over Gaddafi’s remarks, they didn’t have to work as hard on Mr. Obama’s presentation. Fortunately the translators didn’t find themselves uttering “E Mentira” in Portuguese, “Ban noi doi” in Vietnamese, “Yalan” in Turkish, “Je ligt” in Swedish, or “Vi si trovano” in Italian. Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) did not attend President Obama’s speech and no one shouted “You lie!” from the U.N. peanut gallery.

Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) is back this week for another turn on “Dancing with the Stars.” Known for his brass-knuckle tactics to win votes on the House floor, there’s buzz on Capitol Hill about what methods DeLay might employ if he’s in jeopardy of getting booted off the show.

During an informal chat, a few veteran Congressional reporters concocted several scenarios for DeLay to preserve himself.

One potential maneuver would be to hold open the vote for nearly three hours until DeLay can round up enough votes to stay on the program. In November, 2003, DeLay and the rest of the House Republican leadership team held a vote open a record two hours and 51 minutes to approve a prescription drug bill. The vote started at 3 am and ended just before 6 am on a Saturday.

Another option would be to drive the rest of the contestants to Oklahoma.

In 2003, Texas state legislators tried to draw new Congressional districts. DeLay spearheaded the plan. The lines would be drawn in a way to help Republicans get elected to Congress and imperil the Democrats who occupied those seats at the time. In order to prevent the legislature from having a quorum, and thus block adopting the redistricting measure, a number of Democratic members of the Texas legislature drove to a motel just across the state line in Oklahoma. Texas authorities aren’t authorized to “arrest” their lawmakers if they’re out of state and bring them back to Austin.

Finally, if DeLay gets voted out, the Congressional reporters suggested he just blame the whole affair on his long-time arch-nemesis Ronnie Earle. Earle was the legendary Travis County, Texas, District Attorney who empanelled a grand jury to indict the former Majority Leader. DeLay was charged with violating state election law. A judge later tossed out the indictment and DeLay’s case never went to trial.

The next item comes from the file labeled “Congressional misinterpretation.”

Several years ago, Lynne Truss penned the book “Eats, Shoots and Leaves.” It’s a tome about how punctuation influences the meaning of language. The title of Truss’s book stems from a story about a panda who eats a sandwich at a restaurant, opens fire and then departs. A report about the incident said the panda “eats, shoots and leaves.” But if you look up the diet of a panda, you’ll discover that it “eats shoots and leaves.”

Members of Congress speak to an array of diverse groups each week. Think tanks. Universities. Trade organizations. But the ambiguous grammatical construction of a press release e-mailed a few days ago by the office of Rep. Joseph Cao (R-LA) produced confusion as to who the Congressman was speaking to.  

The title of the Congressman news release? “Cao Addresses Chinese Drywall.”

Of course, what Cao’s office was really trying to say is that he spoke about safety issues posed by Chinese drywall. The Louisiana Republican did not do as Pyramus and Thisbe did when they chatted up one another through a gap in a wall in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream.” In fact, Cao talked at a meeting of the Congressional Contaminated Drywall Caucus.

As fall arrives, the leaves are now turning. But the topics aren’t. It appears that the issue that perplexed Congress for so long this summer will bedevil lawmakers throughout autumn: health care reform.

The coming days could prove to be pivotal as House Democrats hope to mix together three health care reform bills into one. And the Senate Finance Committee is edging closer to completing its version of health care legislation.

The negotiations have produced a lot of anxiety and heartburn. Lawmakers are popping TUMS to stave off upset stomachs amid the talks.

But a flight home to Arkansas by Rep. Vic Snyder (D-AR) seems to encapsulate the entire state of affairs.

While in the air, a businessman passed Snyder a note about the need to approve a health care reform measure. The businessman scribbled to Snyder that he can’t keep paying the premiums and provide insurance to his workers.

The businessman didn’t write his note on a scrap of notebook paper or even a drink napkin. The businessman penned Snyder’s health care missive on an airplane barf bag. 

– Chad Pergram covers Congress for FOX News. He’s earned an Edward R. Murrow Award and the Joan Barone Award for his reporting on Capitol Hill.

 - The “Speaker’s Lobby” refers to a long, ornate hallway that runs behind the dais in the House chamber. It’s a place where Members of Congress, aides and journalists often chat during votes on the House floor.