THIS IS A TYPICAL Saturday afternoon. I take my clothes to a laundromat on Pennsylvania Avenue and grab lunch at McDonalds while they are in the washing machine. Loaded down with my laundry bag and a bunch of damp shirts on hangers, I walk back across Capitol Hill to my hotel. Then I decide to take a run along the Mall and around the Washington Monument.
Tonight one of the legislative assistants in my office is throwing a party. Like most of the people who work for Sen. Max Baucus (I am an exception), Bob is a Montanan. From Bob's roommate with her cowboy boots and spurs to a keg of beer in the back, Bob's party is a lot of fun.
Unfortunately, because Exeter-Andover interns are high school students, we have some restrictions on our freedom while we are in Washington. One of these is returning to the hotel by 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. Because of this, I have to leave the party early. Sometimes I avoid the rule by checking out to my aunt's house for the weekend, but tonight i am forced to obey it. Sunday
This afternoon, I walk across Capitol Hill again, with one of my three roommates. We miss the end of brunch at our favorite greasy spoon and have to setttle for burgers at McDonalds. After lunch, we walk down Independence Avenue to the Mall to play Frisbee. It is sunny and cool with a slight breeze blowing. This is one of the times that Washington seems most beautiful, especially to a newcomer like me.
I have dinner tonight at the house of my roommate's aunt. (Last week the four of us ate at my aunt's house -- aunts can be quite handy sometimes). Monday
Much of the work done in any congressional office consists of opening, sorting and answering constituent mail. Some casework -- researching and writing a response to a probing constituent inquiry -- can be quite interesting.
Last week, my boss, Jose, gave me a constituent letter asking about the distribution of DMPA (an injectible contraceptive) to foreign countries. The constituent asked why Upjohn Company is allowed to sell the drug outside the United States when it has been banned for use here and why a federally funded organization, the International Planned Parenthood Foundation, (IPPF) distributes DMPA among foreign populations. He also questioned the State Department's role (through its Agency for International Development) in making the drug available.
In response to his letter, I first did some preliminary research in the congressional reading room to familiarize myself with the issue. Then I drafted letters for the senator asking information of the regional director of the IPPF, the administrator of AID, the director of the Bureau of Drugs at the Food and Drug Administration and drafted a prelimary response to the constituent telling him that we are looking into his question.
Today, the senator receives a reply from Robert Wetherell, associate director for legislative affairs of the FDA. The letter gives me a detailed regulatory history of DMPA and explains that its use is necessary in some underdeveloped countries because of the nature of their health care systems, the ratio of patients to physicians or social customs, among other factors.
In the United States, he says, because of the availability of safer options, DMPA is not a necessary drug and has, therefore, been banned. He also notes that AID does not distribute DMPA abroad because of a firm policy not to supply drugs that have been banned in the United States. I am quite pleased to have received so useful and detailed a response to the letter I drafted but at the same time glad I can set it aside to wait for responses to the other letters; I am swamped with work.
After work, I ride with Jose to the volleyball courts. About 40 amateur volleyball players gather at a high school gym each Monday, including a few from Sen. Baucus' office. I'm in some exciting games tonight, and I enjoy the exercise after a long day at my desk. I enjoy pizza at a local tavern afterward just as much. Tuesday
I spend this morning covering a hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which is considering the fate of a number of energy research programs. I am often impressed, sometimes amused and sometimes disgusted by famous figures and noted events on the Hill. It is worth it to me to sit through uninteresting discussions to see congressmen making some of the important decisions in government. I take careful notes in the hearing so I can relay important information to our energy staffer, Kayle.
After work, a friend and I drop by a reception in one of the House office buildings to grab a bite to eat. Although there is no "free lunch" in President Reagan's budget plan, there usually is on Capitol Hill. l Wednesday
This morning, I continue the Energy Committee hearings, keeping a special eye out for action on one program that David Stockman has slated for cancellation. The main purpose of my sitting through the hearings is keeping Kayle, and thus the senator, informed about the status of the project's funding.
I also drop by a hearing of the Finance Committee, of which Sen. Baucus is a member, and see Stockman himself testifying in favor of proposed cuts. On the far wall of the hearing room are bright lights and panning television cameras. The press table is overfull. This is the glamorous, newsworty side of Washington's political life, which often seems a bit surreal to me.
Still, a lot of important work in Congress is done behind the scenes. Sometimes, keeping quiet on an issue or providing the channel for interested groups to be heard on it is a hundred times more effectivethan introducing legislation or making a speech on the floor.
I return to my desk after lunch and write a memo to Kayle on the second day of Energy Committee hearings. Like the other people I have worked for in the senator's office, Kayle seems genuinely interested in seeing me do work that will give me some experience with the legislative processes of a congressional office. He tells me now that my memos are going into the senator's briefing book. I am pleased because my work has been useful and will be seen by the senator.
At 6, I leave the office and join some friends at another reception. I am becoming bored with receptions and reception food, but it is free, and I have nothing better to do for dinner tonight. Thursday
The pace of work in the office is furious today. This is all right with me, though, because I am only uncomfortable when I am sitting around trying to think of what to do next.
After running around doing a hundred things from photocopying a report to delivering a package, I sit down with a letter from Dr. Hernan Sanhueza, regional director of IPPF, which arrived this morning. His letter assures that IPPF does not use U.S. government funds, which make up 25 percent of the IPPF budget, for the purchase of DMPA. This confirms the information I found in a newspaper article, indicating that AID's funding of IPPF is directed to its other programs.
Having gathered all the information necessary, I draft a reply to the senator's constituent and give it to Jose. He has a couple of suggestions for improving the letter, which, with some more thoughts of my own, I use in writing a final draft.
Jose often gives me a piece of advice on a project or tells me where I can find some information, but stil gives me enough freedom and responsibility to make my work interesting. This is mostly because internships, at least in Sen. Baucus' office, are regarded as educational experiences and sometimes because Jose is so overloaded with work that someone has to help with it. Friday
I spend a lot of time working with Ed on memos to the staff of the North American Trade Caucus. Sen. Baucus and Sen. Pete Domenici are cochairmen. The memos, after revision by Ed and a staffer in Domenici's office, will be sent to the caucus staff in preparation for a meeting.
In the afternoon, Ed asks me to sit in on a meeting with administration officials in preparation for the full staff meeting of the caucus. This is exciting because I can see the interaction between the staff of a Republican administration and Democratic senator as well as getting a good idea of the issues that each is concerned about and how they like to address these issues.
After the meeting, Debbie, who handles social issues for Sen. Baucus, brings me a constituent letter asking about DMPA. She wants me to draft a response, since I now know a fair amount about the issue. Somewhat proudly, I pull out my newly completed DMPA file and begin work on the reply.
After this, things start to wind down and "office reflections" begin. Reflections means beer, chips and soda late on a Friday afternoon. This is one of my favorite times because I can relax, slow down and think over what I did during the week.
After work, I walk over to Union Station to meet a friend from school who is coming to visit for the weekend. We will stay at my aunt Dar's house to avoid check-in time at the hotel. When we arrive, Dar, my Uncle Clint and Aunt Polly are all there. They take us out for pizza -- a nice ending to the week and the beginning of a great weekend.