Capitol Hill

I gloated about this earlier but did not give the full story. Yes, I did see one Mr. Richard Simmons on the Hill last week! He was here testifying about physical education and the “No Child Left Behind” act. Reps. Ron Kind and Zach Wamp were also at the hearing touting a physical education bill they have. It seems the “no child” act left P.E. behind, among other things, according to the lawmakers.

I was covering a different hearing, not the aerobiconference. But Dana Millbank’s amusing report reveals that Richard Simmons wore a suit, kissed congressmen, shouted about the importance of fitness for today’s youth and inspired lawmakers to share their various insecurities and tales of P.E. woe.

After the hearing, Simmons had a little rally on the steps of a congressional office building. That’s where I joined in (after my other hearing). I was really hoping that Reps. Kind, Wamp and some other congressmen would be out there with him, doing some fitness moves in their suits. But by the time I arrived, there were no congressmen in sight. I think they cleared out before it got too crazy. Madonna tunes were playing and Simmons was there in all his glory — red bedazzled tank top, red and white striped 80’s style nylon short-shorts, thinning hair waving wildly in the breeze.

I’ve seen Simmons a few times on David Letterman over the years, and each time I thought, “That guy is totally nuts.” But the truly crazy thing is that in person, he sort of starts to make sense. He is … well, inspiring. He told this heart-wrenching tale of growing up fat and sluggish, then later catching on to fitness, losing weight and gaining his self-esteem. In person you can tell he really cares — his overabundant enthusiasm seems directed at everyone there, rather than at television craziness. He’s really passionate about this, and he wants everyone — yes, even you uncoordinated, embarrassed people — to join him.

So when he started marching around to “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” it was like, “of course everyone should join him…”

OK, maybe I wept a little.

After two fitness songs, everyone started shouting for more. But no, Richard Simmons wanted to wrap the whole thing up in prayer — which was completely absurd, and yet somehow totally appropriate and wonderful. What else to do with all that zeal, really?

God bless you, Richard Simmons.


Nixon checks out the cufflinks of The Kind

Elvis did not give me his cufflinks today. BUT, the United States Secretary of Agriculture did! I can feel your envy/admiration through the computer already. What can I say? My life is very, very glamorous.

This is how it went down: I was covering a Senate Agriculture Appropriations hearing, where the aforementioned cabinet official was testifying. After the hearing, reporters huddled around him, as we are wont to do, and asked our pressing questions on the farm bill, trade agreements and meat-processing. Very glamorous.

While we were questioning Secretary Schafer, I could not help but notice that he was wearing interesting-looking cufflinks. And I love cufflinks. They appeared to depict some sort of shield. I wanted to ask him what it was, but I only had time for one question, and for the purposes of my job, it needed to be about the farm bill.

However, there was another moment of opportunity when the reporter huddle was over. Before being whisked out of the room, Secretary Schaefer paused at a table where he had left his folder; I followed him and asked about his ‘links. He courteously explained that they display the USDA seal; I proclaimed them cool … and the next thing you know, the man is taking off his cufflinks and handing them to me. A lot of funny things happen to me in the course of my job, but this is the first time I have been given cufflinks…or really any accessory.

I think the Agriculture Secretary must have a drawer-full (drawerful) of USDA cufflinks back at this office. At least I hope so. Otherwise, he’s walking around with floppy shirtsleeves all day.


As a reporter, I spend a lot of time skulking around in hallways waiting for Important People to come out and answer my questions (and this is seriously what I spent 6 hours doing yesterday). So, I also spend a lot of time walking back and forth in the Capitol building, puttering from the House side to the Senate side and back, trying to get the news.

My favorite route is on the second floor, through statuary hall and the big dome and all the most grand and beautiful parts of the Capitol. But I also love when I go down a stairway I never knew existed and — lo and behold — there is some huge beautiful painting of George Washington or one of his pals, just saying hello.  But my favorite artwork is actually on the floor — the ornate, painted Capitol tiles. Sometimes as I walk along, watching the stream of colors beneath my feet, I think, “this is what I will someday miss the most about my job…”

Reporters get to sneak around a lot of places in the Capitol, but the main thoroughfare through which I travel is also crowded with tour groups. In places like statuary hall, there are just too many of them to try to avoid, so I inevitably walk in front of people taking photos. Since we’re in the digital age, I do not feel too guilty about it — it’s not like I am wasting people’s film. But today I had at least three flashes go off in my eyes, and I began to wonder, how many people around the country have an accidental picture of me? Small, sad reporter, clutching notebook, looking down at the tiles…forgive me.


Larry Craig (R-Idaho) just said this on the Senate floor: “We all like what we like until we can’t afford liking them anymore.”

Mmm, hmmm. We know it, Larry Craig.

(OK, to be fair, he did say that in the context of a speech about SUVs and high gas prices and celluLOSE, not sexual rendezvous in bathrooms.)

Dear farm bill,

I really do care about you and I have been trying to arrange my schedule to accommodate your needs. However, I am not sure how much longer I can take this. When are you going to pass? Or fail? Or do something decisive? I feel like you are stringing me along all the time — “next week,”you tell me, then “next week” again. I’m just following you around all the time, waiting for something to happen. And how am I supposed to respond to today’s vote in the Senate, where they failed to lift a filibuster against you? I thought maybe you were dead, — which would have been OK, because then, at least, I could have a wake for you and drink lots of beer. But now you tell me it’s just a coma, or maybe even a nap. So I have to sit by your side until you wake up?! Spare me, farm bill. I just want to be a normal person again and not include “it depends on the farm bill” in my party RSVPs. Either work with me or be gone.


frustrated ag reporter

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) is the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee and therefore in charge this year of writing the five-year $283 billion farm bill. Perhaps you do not care about the farm bill, but I am here to tell you that you should. It oversees billions of dollars in crop subsidies that affect the way we use land and grow crops. The biggest chunk of money is for food and nutrition programs — like food stamps, which may get a new name in this year’s farm bill (but more on that later). It pays landowners to improve water, conserve land or create wildlife habitat. The farm bill enrolls more land in conservation programs than the entire National Wildlife Refuge System. (If you love ducks, you should love the farm bill.) Rural development, broadband access, ethanol biorefineries, international food aid and research are also in the farm bill too. So listen up, yo! The farm bill is your bill!

Anyway, that is not what I meant to tell you in this post. I am here to tell you that Sen. Harkin, among other things, LOVES the farm bill’s fruit and vegetable snack program for schools. He could talk about it all day. It gives kids little packages of carrots or spinach or apples or something in the midmorning or the afternoon … when they’ve got the growlies. That is what he always says: “you know, when kids have the growlies, they can have a nutritious snack.”

(I will note that it turns out getting fresh vegetables in schools is MUCH harder than you would think. See this excellent NYTimes piece.)
I have never heard the term “growlies” before, but I like it. If you have the growlies today, I hope you can eat a nice apple from the farmer’s market. Or if you are lucky like me, your growlies can be satisfied at a fabulous tea party with a beautiful bride and wonderful friends.