BULLYING ON THE HILL

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There was a small but somewhat scary moment the other day on Capitol Hill caught in a photo by the Associated Press and reported on briefly on Page A 18 of The New York Times. It didn't rate much more, I suppose, and if it squeezed onto the evening news on any channel I didn't see it.

Besides, when you've got OJ footage, how much time do we have for boring stuff like government?

The photo showed a bunch of people, mostly men, striding along in the wintry sun, none of them wearing topcoats that I could see, and many of them holding a sheet of paper in their hands, a script, no doubt, to inform them what they were up to. The caption in the Times read:

"Seeking to prod senators into approving the balanced-budget amendment, Republican freshmen of the House marched to the Senate side of the Capitol yesterday. They were turned back at the Senate steps and the legislation went down to defeat."

Now you can support a balanced-budget amendment or oppose it and I don't really care that much since by the time the states got around to ratifying it, we will probably most of us be dead, but there is something about a bunch of congressmen "marching on" the Senate that sort of bothers me.

Listen to this dope, Representative Randy Tate of the state of Washington, a Republican freshman:

"We, the freshman class of 1995, were sent to Washington, D.C., to carry out the will of the American people. We're not going to allow one or two senators to stand in our way."

The last time I heard demagoguery like that was at the Imperial Duma in St. Petersburg in 1917 when the Bolsheviks weren't going to let that damned Kerensky and a handful of others "stand in our way." Or when early in the new regime, brownshirt members of the Reichstag shouted down the opposition and announced that a few Socialists and Catholics and old-line monarchists weren't going to "stand in our way" in the passage of enabling legislation establishing a Third Reich that was going to last a Thousand Years.

We've had a House and a Senate for a couple of centuries and until this month it's worked pretty well. The House does its work, the Senate does its, and then when legislation is passed by both houses they set up a compromise panel called a conference committee to haggle over and iron out differences in the two versions of the bill before sending it back to both full houses to be voted on yet again. Then it goes to the president.

But you don't organize marches and threaten the "one or two senators" with whom you disagree.

There were about 70 people who participated in this clownish endeavor. "It's a field trip," said Congressman J.D. Hayworth of Arizona, who at least had a sense of humor about the affair. "We go two by two. We hold hands," said someone. They then began a little chant:

"Hey, hey! BBA!" described by Katharine Q. Seelye of the Times as "Washington shorthand for balanced-budget amendment." When that chant soon faded, someone else shouted, "Ho Chi Minh!" which reporter Seelye said drew "puzzled stares from his colleagues."

When this merry little band got to the Senate they were informed by officials the rules precluded their holding a news conference on the Senate steps.

And I guess everyone went home.

Is this what we are to expect out of this new Congress over the next two years? What ever happened to decorum? To Robert's Rules of Order? To parliamentary procedure? To good manners?

There is absolutely nothing wrong with the occasional insult being hurled on the floor of the Senate or the House or the odd bout of fisticuffs. Such things are regrettable but human. What I object to are these little mass demonstrations intended to cow the opposition. I would object to them if they were led by Mister Sam Rayburn himself and consisted entirely of Democrats in white linen suits and string ties.

There is no place in the Congress of the United States for organized bullying. And I don't care what the issue is. What would Congressman Tate have his colleagues do with those pestiferous "one or two senators" standing "in our way"? Club them to their knees? Call for tar & feathers? Ride them through Georgetown on a rail?

And while I am waxing irritable, another thing I don't like is getting these congresspeople all lined up in bunches with these little American flags in their hands.

If you're a member of Congress and you need to wave a little American flag to prove who you are and what you believe in when the people of your state and district have just elected you to the noble and quite awesome job of participating in the governance of a great country, then there is something wrong with you on the inside, and you don't precisely know just why you are there. Or who you are.

I don't like zealots and I don't like demagogues and I want to see congressmen and senators on their hind legs orating and asking questions in committee and voting their conscience on matters of principle and on legislation that matters.

Not these silly little damned parades as if Peter the Hermit was organizing the children to walk to the Holy Land and liberate Jerusalem from the Saracens. Government is serious business and important as hell and if we need a Contract with America, let the Republicans get it approved on its merits and by outvoting the other side. That's how the men who framed the Constitution intended it to be.

Majority rules.

Not, "majority bullies." Stop, already, with the silliness. And whenever there are "one or two" independently maverick senators or congressmen of either party on their feet and opposing something in which they do not believe, pay them honor. For they are pure gold.

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