Posted on September 30, 2016
One Day in DC
We’ll cover our whole trip to DC later, but for now, I just want to tell you about our Thursday in Washington.
Our trip started off with a visit to our Senator’s office. Tammy Baldwin was having her weekly Coffee With Constituents, so we hiked up the hill to the Hart Building for some pastry (Kringle, naturally) and caffeine. Apparently no one visits in September; we were the only people to show up! We talked about what she was working on, and about how, when Russ Feingold returns to the Senate, she will be the Senior Senator from Wisconsin—even though he has more years of service in the Senate itself.
We’ve been told on Facebook that if we wanted to meet with Senator Baldwin, all we had to do was stalk the aisles of Jenifer Street Market back home; but according to the kids, meeting her was the highlight of their time in DC. It was a pretty neat lesson in representative government, to connect a human being to this thing called “senator” that they’ve been studying. We had a tour of the Capitol at 10:20—set up by her office—so as we said our good-byes, we mentioned where we were heading. “Oh, you’re headed to the Capitol right now? Would you like to take the underground tunnel and the Senate tram?” Uhm—100% yes!
An aide walked us through, while we quizzed her about working for the Senator, and about life in DC in general. According to my brother, the tram used to be open to mere mortals; when he worked for the Senate, he said he took the tram all the time. Now it requires a special pass. We felt like visiting dignitaries!
We sped through the tour lines with our reservation, and were treated to an excellent tour of the Capitol building, including the old senate and house chambers. According to our tour guide, we lucked out—restoration scaffolding from the interior of the Capitol dome had just been removed the previous Tuesday. After a quick lunch in the congressional cafeteria, we waded through security lines and bag checks to make our way to the galleries of the Senate and the House of Representatives.
So here’s where things become additionally interesting. Congress had been spending the past week trying to pass a continuing resolution to keep the federal government funded and open until the actual budget could be passed. We spent maybe 15 minutes in the senate gallery commenting on the architecture, locating Baldwin’s seat, and watching the bored senate pages before we saw any action; finally, Senator Mitch McConnell strode onto the floor with a hive of aides to strip some provisions from the CR. (It was some excellent beurocracy—the presiding speaker stating the amendment, Senator McConnell confirming the amendement, the clerk starting to read the amendment, Senator McConnell asking that the reading be waived, the speaker asking for objections to the waiving of the reading of the amendment, the speaker confirming the waiving of the reading of the amendment…and then on to the next amendment.) At the end of a long listing of amendments to be peeled from the CR, Senator McConnell proceeded to make a short speech about how this was now a clean Continuing Resolution, and how everyone now needed to vote for it immediately.
At that point, Senator Barbara Mikulski from Maryland rose to speak for the Democrats. She addressed the continued lack of funding in the CR to address both the Flint water crisis and the impending threat of Zika, and said that the Democrats would be unable to vote for the CR until these issues were addressed. Lest you think she was using her time wisely to move sundry Republicans to her side of the issue, I have to say that you’re probably miasimagining the room. She was the only senator there; even Senator McConnell had exited after dispensing with his procedures.
OK, so, interesting; clearly some details of the CR were still being worked out. We headed over to the House, after some delays in security—something in F’s dress was not agreeing with the imaging system, and she had to be taken aside and frisked. Clearly a threat. Anyways—off we went to the House side of things, where the Democrats were pressing their case about Zika and Flint. Two Representatives spoke passionately about how these were actual crises facing the US, and how unimpressed the parents of the children affected by lead poisoning and encephalophy must be by federal inaction. A Representative from Texas rose on the Republican side, and we waited for his rebuttal. Surely there was something else going on here?
Instead he spent his time—and the time of some fellow Republican from Michigan—talking about the pressing need for a tax break on capitol gains for employees who had been granted stock options by their companies.
Now, my kids understand Zika. They’ve spent not a small amount of time defending themselves against possible tropical diseases. We haven’t fully explained the Flint water crisis, but they understand how problematic it is not to have safe drinking water (we’re about to run out, as a matter of fact—gotta’ get to a marina tomorrow and fill up). The contrast between what the Democrats were discussing, and what the Republicans deemed important—a tax cut that, let’s face it, would almost entirely benefit the wealthy and do very little for those living in poverty, despite the assurances of this congressman—well, it couldn’t have been more glaring. And all of these words, on both sides, seemed to be delivered for the benefit of the clerks; no other representatives were listening.
I am, I hope, not an idiot. I know members of Congress have more to do than sit in session and listen to their fellow members pontificate; but it made me sad to see that a great, impassioned, persuasive speech could be made, and it was purely for show; so that a member could show tape on a campaign commercial, not so that anyone could listen and be convinced of compromise or reason. I understand that the real business of swaying votes takes place out of sight, with swapped favors and adhesion to party lines. We were all reminded, in talking to Senator Baldwin, of the incremental rate of change required at the federal level. But I wish everyone could have seen the contrast between the two parties that we saw that day.
It is becoming increasingly difficult for us to keep posting cheery updates from our two-year sabbatical in the face of gaining momentum of a candidate for the presidency that is both dangerous and a fool. It is becoming painful to pepper Facebook with photos of our children having a great time, when so much of our feed is devoted to black citizens of this country being murdered. This isn’t a political blog; we have readers from all kinds of political backgrounds, and we have no desire to start a fight or ability to present a nuanced argument about the great challenges facing our country in this space. But we have to say, after this day in Washington, the Republican party is going to have a pretty difficult time recruiting our kids.