THE FARM protest blockade starts today, and I feel a vague sense of minor victory because I've beaten it by hiking to Lee Highway and riding the bus and subway to the Hill. But in the Rayburn Building the corridors are jammed with farmers in uniform -- quilted coveralls and baseball caps. They're emblazoned with buttons commemorating other campaigns, and their backs are embossed with maps showing home states and towns.
I end up jammed on an elevator with a crew from Calhoun County, Ala. I know that place, so I drop a few community names -- "Ohatchee... deArmanville."
They are pleased at hearing someone acknowledge they come from someplace, and the one who looks the oldest says, "You sould like you been in our country." I tell them that "a million years ago, I was a reporter on The Anniston Star," the Calhoun County paper, and their looks cool.
"Oh, the Red Star," the oldest one says, and I recall the hatred toward the little daily, whose main crime may have been coming out against lynching when that ritual was still popular. "It's a good paper," I say, but the doors are opening and they are getting off.
Most of the demonstrators are big operators from the Middle and Far West who got entranced with $5 a bushel wheat and leaped into debts they couldn't possibly handle. They're ready to blow the Capitol up to get parity, but they'd be better off praying on the Capitol steps for charity. Better still, they ought to roll the tractors hoem and send the bankers and equipment dealers, who hold the notes on their farms and machinery, up here to lobby for them.
I feel sorry for them as I go into the morning staff meeting, but there are a thousand other things to worry about and work on. TUESDAY
A sausage-filled day. One at home at 7, more at a breakfast I had forgotten about with the Kentucky Hospital Association, and in my brown lunch bag... a sausage sandwich. the Kentucky hospital administrators put on a slide show on costs that don't go into physician fees. They know they are in a tough fight, because Carter has said his bill to control hospital costs will be the real test of whether Congress is serious about controlling inflation. But Congress knows that the test that counts comes every other year, on primary and general election day, and nobody has forgotten that energy's "moral equivalent of war" turned out to be surrender to old Exxon.
The phone is relentless as usual. A state official wants a friend appointed to an advisory board. An entrepreneur wants to entrep some federal dollars. A mother wants to get her daughter in a graduate school program. A lobbyist wants to know about a reporter who is going to interview him. A meeting is set up on trying to break loose $10 million of flood work money snagged on a problem left over from the 95th Congress. EPA is distorting an amendment to the Clean Air Act, to keep Kentucky and West Virginia coal out of Ohio. On and on.
On command performance receptions tonight, but House administrative assistants hold election of officers. A striking farmer smells the booze and wanders in, drinks, eats, chats and wanders on. WEDNESDAY
A friend, assistant to the administrator of an agency, had called to set up an early morning appointment to bring the new congressional liaison by, and she is smart, pretty, just right for the job. Carter has stuck women in high places in his administration as thick as lard in a pie crust, but Bella's belly-achers never say thanks.
This is the legislative off-season, so to speak. Subcommittees and committees haven't had time to report legislation, so lobbying is mostly low gear and low key. But some pleaders with big problems are around -- New York's Mayor Koch goes down the corridor, looking humble. That's exactly the right way to look when you're asking for mercy, not justice. Maybe he ought to put a lobbying seminar on for the farm demonstrators.
A freelance writer comes in with questions, and I expound, elucidate, find information. The mail has Kissinger's Rockefeller eulogy; it'll never make "The Fifty Greatest Speeches of All Time," but all in all it's a good eulogy. At the 1964 Republican convention in San Francisco's Cow Poalace, I watched the yahoos take the Republican Party away from Rockefeller -- a party he bought and paid for -- and, after that scene, which was more pathological than political, I've always had some sympathy for Rockefeller.
The weather is making the potholes deeper on the George Washington Parkway, and driving in I think of an old Happy Chandler campaign expression -- "Why, he [the opponent] didn't put enough black-top on this road to support a fat man on a bicycle."
The Farm Bureau News and the National Farmers Union Newsletter arrive in the same mail. The Farmers Union says that "Washington Fiddles While U.S. Sugar Refineries Close Down; Markets For 87,000 Acres Gone." But the Farm Bureau News says why -- "as a result of the increasing use of corn sweeteners the per capita consumption of beet and cane sugar dropped from 99.2 pounds in 1968 to an estimated 93.2 pounds in 1978." That's the story: The corn farmers took it away from the beet farmers in the war of all wars in Washington: who gets the sugar gravy, so to speak.
The lobbyist who had asked abouit the reporter before being interviewed calls again. He reports that the story has been read to him over the phone, and all went well. A call comes from a friend suggesting lunch at the Democratic Club; since I forgot my brown bag, I go. The food is on a par with a high school cafeteria, but the sustenance comes from the chit chat. There ought to be club motto -- "When beggars meet, compliments fly." Or, better still, the German proverb, "Whose bread I eat, his ong I sing."
I go from lunch to the Senate side for a meeting on the elusive $10 million flood control money. It is good meeting -- nobody grandstanding, everybody working -- but we've still got a problem FRIDAY
Sam Garst calls with some information on an appointment. He is an Agriculture Department congressional liaison, and he is also the grandson of the famous Iowa farmer who showed Nikita Khrushchev how they grew corn around Coon Rapids. The phone continues to hop, but it isn't always problems -- some grants come through, something the local people want to hear.
The anti-gun lobby sends a package of clippings from papers back home telling about shootings. One says that a sheriff's department official told the paper that "they believed the woman [victim] was a Kentuckian, because she had a liver ailment peculiar to natives of Kentucky." A medical discovery?
A reporter calls to ask about the "big issues" facing this Congress. Big Issues: Do we go through the welfare reform charado again? Does the next generation of kids fight its war in Iran? They're talking about a military draft. What about "overregulation," I'm asked. Does Xerox ever bitch about overregulatio? Not while all the regulations are being Xeroxed. Does General Motors bitch about busing regulations? Not while they sell buses. Thirty, forty years ago, George Orwell went and lived with the jobless, the scufflers, and wrote things which said something, in books like "The Road to Wigan Pier." Someone ought to be doing that today, but about today's crises.
I'm glad that spring's seeds arrived this week.