By Jesse Marx
By Chris Parker
By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
"People are always looking over your shoulder as you're talking to them to see who else is coming in," she says. "It's ambitious, and it can be so impersonal."
6. Wasn't I supposed to get 252 days off this year?
Technically, you were. The U.S. House is only scheduled to meet 113 days this year, making this the easiest job since the invention of trophy wives. But most members believe that if they're not in constant demand, "they're slipping into obscurity," says one staffer.
So they're off to the airport every Thursday night, flying home to a new schedule of parades, manufacturing tours, town hall events, and meetings. Always more meetings.
Fridays and Saturdays are spent touring the state, playing the resident dignitary at Eagle Scout ceremonies and business openings. It's a grueling schedule, especially if you represent a populous state. Brown, for example, must answer the needs of 11 million people. "You have a lot of people who want your time," says Schultz.
Nor does the work week finally end when the clock ticks five on Saturday evening. "It is a 24/7 job," says former senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas). "You're always on call for the emergencies that occur. There are people who are trapped on the top of mountains. There are people who are taken hostage. It could be Sunday. It could be Saturday at 2 a.m."
Someone, somewhere will want you to immediately mobilize the government.
And they'll still be calling you a lazy swine two weeks from now.
5. You will beg treasure from complete strangers.
This is what Washingtonians euphemistically call "strategic outreach."
A leaked PowerPoint presentation from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee shows the party urging incoming freshmen to spend at least four hours per day soliciting money. Since it's considered gauche — and likely illegal — to mooch contributors from the office, this means slipping away to party headquarters, where your dialing finger develops calluses worthy of an Indonesian call center.
Yet dial you must. This job is a purely capitalist pursuit. He who stockpiles the most loot wins 91 percent of the time. And raising money for the party directly correlates to the prestige of your committee assignments. Beg with insufficient zeal, and you'll find yourself chairing the Subcommittee on Gardening & Lawn Care Products.
Dennis DeConcini spent 18 years representing Arizona as a Democratic senator before becoming a lobbyist. Whenever election time neared, his treasurer would "give me a list of people to call, with the names of their wives and where their kids went to college. And that's what I did all weekend — call people."
"You're having to ask people all the time to fund your career," adds Schultz. "What other profession is like that?"
This may explain the devolving reputation of Congress, whose approval rating now flutters at just 13 percent. You have to be deeply committed to the cause — or equally willing to debase yourself — to even consider this job.
Asks Democrat Bob Graham, a former senator and governor from Florida: "How many people would feel comfortable being handed 100 telephone numbers of people you don't know and calling them up and asking them for $1,000?"
4. You probably suck at parenting.
The crushing schedule leaves you primed for charges of familial abandonment. Most legislators get just one day a week with the spouse and kids.
When people ask Tancredo if they should run for office, he answers with a simple question: "I say, 'Well, do you like your family?'"
He relates the tale of a fellow congressman, a father of five whose work left little time for home. One day the man's five-year-old found a videotape of Dad speaking and plugged it into the VCR. The boy's younger brother had seen so little of his father that he tried to hug his image on TV.
Connie Morella had it easier than most — if it's possible to describe a mother of nine's life as "easy." When her sister died of cancer, the Republican congresswoman and her husband — who already had three children — adopted her sister's six kids. But at least she represented nearby Maryland.
She recalls hustling to PTA meetings and back-to-school nights, where her kids were forced to compete with constituents for her attention. It left her with a lingering sense of guilt. "Oh, yes," she says. "Children had to sacrifice to be in political families."
Much worse is the ache in parents who represent distant states. In the old days, legislators could keep their families intact by moving them to D.C. But as disgust for Congress grew, so began an arms race to demonstrate who could be less Washington than the next guy.
Think of it as a weird form of one-upmanship for people with deficient self-awareness. If you're a member of Congress, after all, you're the very embodiment of Washington.
Still, most now boast of keeping their families back home. Others make public spectacles of sleeping in their offices. Look! I'm so not D.C., I don't even have an electric bill here!
"Members will get criticized if they move their families to Washington, because they'll be seen as out of touch with the district," says Martin Frost, a former Democratic congressman from Texas. Occupationally speaking, this can be a lethal accusation.