One of the interesting things about this Congress job is that at any given moment, there are three or four different things to do. What one has to show for one’s time in Congress is, more than anything else, a question of time management.
Last Wednesday posed an interesting choice for me. I was invited, like all members of Congress, to the Radio/TV Correspondents Association annual dinner. This is a spectacular opportunity to “network with” (i.e., suck up to) major figures in the national news media, like network news anchors, national radio show hosts and White House correspondents.
To make the dinner extra-special, Emeril Lagasse, a world-famous chef, prepared a unique New Orleans-inspired menu. It featured olive and goat cheese hors d’oeuvres, fried oysters, Creole shrimp and stuffed quail.
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I didn’t go. I had something else that I needed to do.
Also on Wednesday night was the annual Bipartisan Congressional Baseball Outing. (As President Obama would say, “Baseball is not a Democratic game. It’s not a Republican game. It’s an American game!!” ) Members of Congress were invited to go see the game between the Washington Nationals and the New York Mets. Congressional staffers were to sing the national anthem, but I wanted to go anyway. (Just kidding, congressional staffers. You know I love you.) I have a great deal of fondness for the Amazin’ Mets, going back to the Tom Seaver/Jerry Koosman era, when Nolan Ryan was a fifth starter with a very wild arm. I used to watch Mets games on a 21-inch black-and-white TV screen, on Channel 9, WOR-TV. (Note to my children: “TV” is something that people used to watch before there was Netflix and YouTube.) If I had gone, I would have been one of the few people in the ballpark to enjoy that game, since the Mets won by a score of 10-1.
I couldn’t make it. I was too busy doing something else.
On Wednesday night, there also was a four-alarm fire three blocks from my office in the Cannon House Office Building. Having grown up in New York City, I know that nothing draws a good crowd like a fire.
I was in the Capitol Building the whole time, so I didn’t see it. Plus I have an alibi.
So what was I doing all night on Wednesday? Passing three amendments in the Homeland Security appropriations bill:
An amendment prohibiting federal contract awards to contractors that commit numerous crimes;
An amendment requiring Homeland Security to respect our constitutional rights under the 1st, 2nd and 4th Amendments (think racial profiling); and
An amendment prohibiting Homeland Security from acquiring and using military or weaponized drones in the United States. (Hats off to Rep. Rush Holt, who came up with this amendment but couldn’t offer it on Wednesday – not because he was at a dinner or a ballgame, but because he was at Senator Lautenberg’s funeral.)
To get these amendments passed, I had to sit down with the House Parliamentarian, and make sure that they would not be ruled “out of order” on procedural grounds (as many are). Then I had to discuss the amendments individually with Democratic and Republican members and staffers — a very dicey game, because the Republicans have enough votes to vote down any amendment at will. (And, duh, I’m a Democrat.) Then I just had to sit, and wait.
Until we reached the part of the bill when I could offer my amendments, and it was my turn to offer those amendments.
So I could have spent Wednesday night in gastronomical paradise, or being honored at a ballgame between two teams that I love. But instead, I did my job as a lawmaker, which is to make laws. To make the world a better place.
Isn’t that what you deserve?
Rep. Alan Grayson