It's hard, but of course since you;re flipping burgers how would you know?
Read and weep:
This summer’s reading list on Capitol Hill includes tomes with page counts that rival “War and Peace” — and the freshmen are having a hard time keeping up.
The House votes Friday on the Democrats’ 1,201-page climate change bill. Up next is an 850-page outline for health care reform.
“The pace is making many well-intentioned people nervous,” said Rep. Parker Griffith, a first-term Democrat from Alabama.
Griffith is an oncologist, which leaves him better prepared than most for the coming health care debate. But even he complains that Democratic leaders are moving too fast on health care for members to understand what they’re doing.
“Why does it have a deadline?” Griffith said. “That makes no sense.”
But junior members like Griffith don’t set the legislative agenda, let alone the calendar for considering it. President Barack Obama has said he wants a health care bill on his desk by October, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has vowed to have a bill on the floor in July.
Rep. Frank Kratovil Jr., a freshman Democrat from Maryland who arrived in Congress with a bull’s eye on his back, said he’s been struck by “the pace at which these things move.”
“At least initially, it’s overwhelming,” he said.
Congress is always a culture shock for first-year lawmakers, but this year’s freshmen face the steepest learning curve of any in decades. Obama took office with an ambitious first-term agenda and a once-in-a-generation economic crisis that demanded bold strokes.
Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill, hoping to capitalize on his popularity, wasted no time drafting ever more ambitious bills to address legislative priorities that have been on their wish lists for years.
Already this year, the freshmen have cast party-line votes on a $787 billion economic rescue package, a budget blueprint and a bill funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Depending on how the rest of the year plays out, these new members could find themselves defining their entire careers with votes cast before they’ve figured out how to navigate the Capitol basement.
Of all the bills, health care is the “Moby Dick.” And with key committees in the House and Senate already moving forward with the drafting process, first-year lawmakers feel as if they’re being asked to swallow the whale.
“I could spend my entire career trying to be a health care expert, and I’d never get there,” said freshman Rep. Christopher Lee, one of three New York Republicans. “It’s so complicated.”
Soon after the election, Lee recruited a group of 70 local health care experts — doctors, patient advocates, administrators and others — to help him weigh the competing interests involved. These local tutors help the congressman define the issue — and allow him to stake a position with his constituents before he’s asked to cast a difficult vote.
Other members are educating themselves — and their constituents — in different ways. During the last weeklong recess, first-year Democrats held 77 town halls, conference calls and other local health care events with constituents, according to a count compiled by the office of Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).
“From the day I got elected, I knew this would be the big focus of Congress,” said freshman Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from Maine. “We’ve done as many meetings as we can.”
As assistant to the speaker, Van Hollen has worked closely with Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) to educate first- and second-term Democrats on the complex topic. The group recruits stakeholders and other experts to the Capitol to brief junior members, and Hoyer’s staff has produced reams of paperwork to feed anyone desperate for more reading material.
Freshman Rep. Thomas Perriello, a Democrat from Virginia, said the leaders have “done a good job of listening.”
But the freshmen know that they’re not driving the train.