Capitol Stakeout Gets Ugly

August 03, 1993|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- You could tell the budget negotiations had entered their final, meltdown stage.

It got ugly yesterday outside the guarded wooden door marked "Ways and Means," where close to 100 lobbyists and reporters were taking part in a classic Washington ritual -- the stakeout.

Crowded in a long marble hallway in the Capitol for up to 12 hours a day, they have waited for shreds of news -- about Medicare cuts, the gas tax, anything.

Granted, this restless group has had a couple of false alarms lately when it looked like decisions had been reached. "This thing has had more lives than 'Night of the Living Dead,' " quipped a trade association lobbyist.

And granted, a school-marm of a Hill official -- dubbed the "Sssssh Lady" by the crowd -- continually scolded the crowd for making noise and security guards kept pushing them inside a roped off area.

But was that really any reason to pick on the Boy Scouts, who have descended by the hundreds on Washington for their annual "jamboree" this week?

As a troop of the fresh-faced young boys marched by this beeper-and-cell phone crowd, you could here the cynical snickers from inside the lobbyists pen.

"Here come the Boy Scouts again," moaned one. "Go home!" shouted another. "Go home!"

"Are you reporters?" one of the kids asked.

Michele Siders, who was gathering intelligence for a Richmond-based law firm, was getting concerned her colleagues were making a bad impression. "Are we griping enough?" the 23-year-old said.

Truth be told, the serious griping hadn't even begun until the chairs arrived.

Not chairs like House Ways and Means chief Dan Rostenkowski or Senate Finance head Daniel Patrick Moynihan. These were black plastic chairs. The kind you sit on. The kind these folks who'd been standing in their loafers and pumps were ready to kill for.

But the first patch of chairs, it turned out, were for the journalists only. And a radio and TV press gallery staffer was so vigilant in enforcing this rule, she withheld a chair from lobbyist Laura (lobbyists don't like to see their full names in print), who is 8 1/2 months pregnant.

That is, until lobbyist Patty (Laura's friend) threatened physical action. And another friend, disgusted by the unequal treatment, asked the chair keeper if the lobbyists would have to use separate bathrooms.

"This is a real class system," one especially irritated man griped. "For people to be treated in such brutal fashion is stupid."

Finally, another cargo of chairs arrived for the lobbyists. But he, along with several of his colleagues, refused to sit. They stood against the wall on the other side of the hallway. Until they were asked by a security guard to move.

Another parade of Boy Scouts was coming through.

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