Newton I. Steers, the freshman Republican Congressman from Montgomery County, had prepared what he believed were "cogent and penetrating questions" to ask Federal reserve Board chairman Arthur Burns during Burns appearance before the House Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs Committee.
But because of Congress' seniority system Steers, a new member of the miniority party, ranks near the bottom of the 47-member committee. With two hours allotted for questioning Burns, and each member permitted up to five minutes, in order of seniority, "I didn't come within a week of getting a shot at him," lamented Steers, who is at age 60 the oldest "new kid on the block."
Despite such frustrations, Steers told students at Cold Spring Elementary School in Potomac earlier this month, the transition from the 47-member Maryland State Senate, "where we all knew each other by first name and could interrupt to ask a question at any time, to the 435-member House has given him "a big thrill."
When sixth-grader Kevin Neale, 11, asked the new congressman his plans for the future, Steers replied pragmatically "to get re-elected this year."
The prospect of Republican Steers winning re-election in the heavily Democratic Eighth Congressional District - an anomally established by his precessor, five-time winner Republican Gilbert R. Guide - appears bright.
"I can't imagine anyone active in party affairs running against him in the primary," said Joseph Kenary, Montgomery County GOP chairman.
Democrat Lanny Davis, beaten by less than 5 percent by Steers in the closest congressional contest in Maryland in 1976, said he won't be a candidate again this year.
The only announced candidate is Democrat Mike Barnes of Chevy Chase, a little known lawyer who is a member of the Maryland Public Service Commission.
Democrat State Sen. Victor L. Crawford of Silver Spring, who could pose a more serious threat, said he is "seriously considering" seeking the nomination.
Crawford gave an indication of the kind of campaign he might wage against Steers, describing the incumbent as "a Republican who votes, walks, talks, waddles like a Democrat. As for his record, I haven't seen any major legislation, though I understand it is difficult for a freshman membr of a very minority party."
Davis thinks Steers is "vulnerable if the Democrats nominate an energetic campaigner who has support across the breadth of the party." Davis said Republican success in Montgomery has been tied to a harmonious primary that contrasted with blood-letting factional Democratic primaries.
Another factor likely to be missing this fall is the independent candidacy of Robin Ficker, who siphoned off 11 percent of the vote two years ago. Ficker, encouraged by Steers, has converted to the Republican Party.
Davis echoed Crawford's observation, that, "while it's difficult to criticize nonachievement in the first year, whatever he did can't be enough."
While Steers continued the moderat-to-liberal voting pattern of Gude, he missed 35 days last year because of a serious heart infection. As a result of that absence, he missed a number of votes that were considred important by the various interest groups that keep scorecards on members. So his first-year voting record may be not be shiny as he might like it to be for Montgomery's liberal, Democratic voters.
Steers sought his own liberal credentials by joining the bipartisan bicameral Members of Congress For Peace Through Law, the only first-termed Republican to do so, and was named to its steering committee "along with Ted Kennedy, Dick Clark and Mo Udall," Steers said nonchalantly adopting the Hill's name-dropping style.
He also joined the bipartisan House Environmental Study Conference and was named to its executive committe.
Finally, he was elected president of the 23-member GOP freshman class> scoring an 11-9 victory over Rep. Robert K. Doranaa of California that reflected the near-even split between conservatives and moderates among the GOP Class of '77.
Steers said he isn't discourage because none of the legislation passed in the first session of the 95th Congress bore his name, is staff is quick to point out that of 15,386 bill introduced, only 223 public and 25 private became law. His staff likes to say that several of the boss" "concepts" were incorporated into bills that were passed.
The same seniority system that prevented Steers from asking questions during the Banking Committee hearing also permits chairman of the powerful subcommittees, where most of the House's work is done, to adopt other members' ideas as their own.
Steers wa the padopt other members' ideas as their own.
Steers was the prime sponsor of 25 measures, some of which were on topics that were his pets in the state legislature, consumer protection and women's rights.
Steers hopes to conduct hearings next month on one of them, a bill that would appropriate $60 million over three years to provide local shelters for battered wives.
Introduction of that bill last June got him a bit of national exposure when he and consponsor Lindy Boggs (D-La.) discussed it on NBT TV's Today Show.
Steers boasts that he has not reversed his stand on any campaign position, and has carried through on his promise to have two blacks on his Congressional staff. In addition to hiring caseworker W. Gregory Wims and receptionist, Pam Galloway, he appointed a 15-member black advisory committee headed by Dr. James Moon.
He also emphasizes that he has "never refused to see anyone who wants to see me," although he encourages constituents to work though staffers.
His home telephone number remains listed in the directory, and he uses a room in his house as a field office, along with rented quarters in Wheaton.
Constituents who seek to take advantage of Steers' open-door policy are well advised, however, to call in advance before attempting to see Steers at his home.
His 11-acre estate off River Road in Bethesda is guarded by two German shepherds. Signs posted on trees bordering the winding, hilly one-third of a mile driveway caution "beware of dogs" and once a visitor arrives in the parking area between the tennis court and the house, a final warning is posted. "Please stay in car until dos are confined."
Steers and hsi eldest son, Newton III, 19, whom he calls Ivan, live as bachelors in the sprawling two-story stone house that has nine rooms and a bath on the main floor and five bedrooms and four baths upstairs.
Steers was divorced in 1974. His stormy marriage to Nina Gore Auchincloss fell aprat in 1972.
They were married in 1958, when she was a 20-year-old Bryn Mahr sophomore and Steers was a bachelor twice her age. Then-Sen. John F. Kennedy was an usher and his wife, Jackie, who is Nina's stepsister, was matron of honor.
Steers' ex-wife has remarried, to novelist-playwright Michael Straight. She has custody of Steers' two younger sons, Hugh 15, who attends Hotchkiss School in Connecticut, where both his father and older brother studied, and Burr, 12, who attends St. Alban's.
Although Steers didn't know on which side of the Capitol the House chamber was located when he first wnt to the Hill last year as a congressman, he did know a couple of members. Another usher in his wedding was now - Rep. Paul D. Rogers (D-Fla.) and Rep. James Cleveland (R1 N.H.) was his roommate at Yale Law School.
Steers followed through on another pledge this month when he donated $2,000 of last year's salary increase to charity $1,000 to Montgomery chapters of the Cancer and Heart funds).
He also donated to the local chapter of the NAACP the $236 in mileage he was reimbursed for commuting last year between his home and the Capitol.
Steers can afford to be generous: he has a $57,200 Congressional salary, and according to a statement he inserted in the Congressional Record last week, his net worth at the end of 1977 was $1.6 million. He valued his securities at $921,000 and his home and property in Bethesda, at $602,000.
While Steers wasn't pleased with his committee assignment - banking was his sixth choice - and office location - on the fifth floor of the Cannon Building, a brisk, eight-minute walk from the House floor - he said his first-year disappointment were tempered by realistic expectations.
He may not have etched his name on landmark legislation, Steers admitted, but he helped get federal funds so the children's theater at Glen Echo Park could get a new roof. He defended construction of the armed forces medical school; fought in behalf of federal workers who didn't want to be transferred out of his county; pulled strings for others who wanted to move; and represented suburban interests on the House District Committee by fighting against a commuter tax and for Metro funds.
There was "more time for thoughtful concentration" in the state legislature, he told students at Cold Spring School, but I don't have time to be unhappy."
He may be unknown to older members of the House, and his name is far from a household word on the banking committee, but, as he explained to Dick Clark, 12, "I'm the only full-time Montgomery County resident who can help make federal laws. I have a chance to help the world to get a little less messed up."