"It's a snake pit," said Rep. John LeBoutillier (R-N.Y.) of the august institution of which he is a duly elected member. "But then I didn't really expect a whole lot."

It's the sort of remark that goes with the territory. At 27, LeBoutillier is the youngest member of Congress and only four months into his first term, so it is almost de rigeur for him to go around saying things about Capitol Hill and its denizens that sound either refreshingly candid or insufferably cocky, depending on one's point of view. Particularly while circulating in the crowded $250-a-head fundraiser that was held at the Fairfax Hotel last night to help rid him of a $200,000 campaign debt.

LeBoutillier, after all, dusted his alma mater when he was only 24, in a book called "Harvard Hates America," so it was perhaps inevitable that he would waste little time lighting into his latest interest. Actually, he said, "I've found that Congress and Harvard have at least one thing in common -- the hardest part is getting in."

In addition to the usual gaggle of lobbyists who turn out for the drinking, canape-munching and contract-making that go on at this sort of thing, several senators and a clutch of congressman showed up at the LeBoutillier shindig to wish him well. "No," said Rep. Hamilton Fish (R-N.Y.), he was by no means as self-assured as his young colleague during his first term. "Or the second or the third or the fourth." In fact, said Fish, with the kind of self-deprecation congressmen in their seventh term can feel comfortable using when talking of their freshly hatched colleagues, "I was here 11 years before I had a party in Washington -- before that I didn't think anyone would come."

LeBoutillier was feeling particularly gleeful because the vice president's wife had promised his a dinner invitation on the condition that he not go around describing the other guests the way he did Sen. Charles Percy. "I called him a wimp," said LeBoutillier. "I'm not one to mince words."

Except, it seems, when asked about his relationship with Robin Hancock, the attractive stockbroker standing at his side.

"Are we an item? Oh gosh, I don't know," said LeBoutillier. "We're not an item."

"Well, we are in a way," said Hancock.

"We're very close friends," said LeBoutillier.

"Well, how many other close women friends do you have here?" asked Hancock.

"If I'd brought more than one, it wouldn't have looked too good," LeBoutillier said cheerfully as he went off to circulate.