Capitol Hill Gets Exercised

The Washington Post's Dana Milbank sketches exercise guru Richard Simmons' testimony before the House Education and Labor Committee.Video by Akira Hakuta/
By Dana Milbank
Friday, July 25, 2008

Congress, its support at 14 percent in the latest Gallup poll, is having some self-esteem issues. Yesterday, lawmakers happened upon a novel solution.

The solution wore a red spandex tank top with glitter and stars. It had striped 1970s short shorts and leg warmers. And it stood on the terrace of the Cannon House Office Building during the lunch hour singing "Yankee Doodle."

"Get 'em up!" Richard Simmons shouted. "Here we go!" The aging fitness icon punched the air as he sang "I'm a Yankee Doodle DAAAAN-DEEEEE." Congressional staff members danced in lines behind him. "Scissors! Now, rumble! And, rainbow! Oh, yeah, baby!"

Sixty years old and his wild hair thinning, Simmons had spent the morning testifying before the House Education and Labor Committee about the need for more phys ed in schools. But he devoted just as much time to helping the lawmakers feel better about themselves. "Nothing is greater," he told Rep. Ric Keller (R-Fla.), who shed 100 pounds, "than to lose the weight like you did and to look in the mirror and say four words . . . 'I am worth it.' "

"I was shocked," agreed Keller, "that the biggest side effect is I'm hardly stressed over anything."

"You're stressful and you're cute," the flamboyant witness observed.

"I'm stressful now," Keller admitted.

Congress has cause to be stressed. Its standing in public opinion polls gives it the popularity of the fat kid who always gets chosen last for kickball. But if Richard Simmons could overcome his troubles to become a marvel of self-promotion, maybe Congress could, too.

"I was overweight, a little lethargic, a little short," the 5-foot-6-inch star of aerobics videos testified. "I was not a jock. . . . I was 268 pounds." But then he was "bitten by the sweat bug," he said, and, his voice breaking, he proclaimed: "I'm not 268 pounds anymore, and I'm still not a jock -- but I am fit!"

His tale of redemption turned the hearing room into a support group. Ostensibly there to talk about childhood obesity, the lawmakers talked about themselves. "I'm still waiting to get picked for the congressional basketball team," announced George Miller (D-Calif.), the chairman.

"I was a Latin teacher," declared Rep. Dale Kildee (D-Mich.).

"I was coaching in the high school," added Rep. Donald Payne (D-N.J.).

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