The Common Good

M2EP LIVE: Just Back From Capitol Hill

Dateline: Our Nation's Capitol --
Since my delegation left without me, or, more accurately, did not pause when I stopped to buy gum --one does not meet with a U.S. Senator with morning breath -- I had to catch up with them later. I wasn't quite sure where to go, but in my wandering around Capitol Hill, I apparently looked like I was, since I was stopped by no fewer than two sets of tourists asking for directions. One group was looking for Independence, to which I replied, "the independence we fought for, or the street?" A Capitol Hill staffer returning from the dentist intervened (stepping on my punchline) and pointed them -- and me -- in the right direction.

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As I arrived at the Hart Senate Building, I drew myself up confidently and did what most special interest lobbyists like myself must do before entering a seat of power: I looked for a place to put my gum. I started to use the outdoor ashtray but was shooed away by a handful of Senate staffers who apparently had not read the Surgeon General's findings on the hazards of smoking. Or, for that matter, the known hazards of snack foods, since they looked as if they were no strangers to either. Turned out, there was a wastebasket just inside the door and, having been screened for weapons of mass destruction or Bibles of excessive size, I gathered my laptop, adjusted my power belt---I wasn't wearing a tie, so the belt will have to suffice---and joined my delegation for our appointment with Indiana Senator Richard Lugar.

Having grown up in Indiana, I have always felt a special kinship with Senator Lugar, since he and I share a couple things not so common in our home state: namely, an open mind and only one gun. (I don't have a gun, but I'm averaging between the two of us.) I couldn't wait to talk to him.

He wasn't available.

(He was lunching with Republican colleagues, few of whom agree with him on much of anything. It's amazing to what lengths a congressman will go to avoid talking with powerful anti-poverty lobbyists.)

Okay, fine, so we talked with accommodating Lugar staff members who broke the ice by talking about non-poverty things for about 10 minutes, and then listened to each of us as we introduced ourselves. To their credit, they did an excellent job of staying awake and appearing interested, despite the fact they probably have an in-box full of favors from the military-industrial complex they needed to get back to.

Then came the "passing of the folder," the folder containing our materials which, despite the Hill's new Paper Reduction policy, was all printed on paper. (Doh!) Mobilization members then one-by-one shared the testimonies from their home cities, the growing joblessness and poverty, the good work of their nonprofits and churches to stem the tide, and the desperate need for the federal government to help out.

I momentarily felt embarrassed to be typing loudly on my laptop in the face of such powerful testimony, given by grassroots saints and prophets---from INDIANA, for gosh sakes, whose motto is "One Man, One Gun." These people were bringing such integrity and compassion into a Senate conference room that I momentarily forgot that my day job is as a humor columnist. This moment passed when I realized that Senator Lugar's office had a cockroach.

I only saw one, certainly not enough to extract information from a typical al Qaeda operative, but sufficient to raise concerns about the U.S. government's ability to clean its own house, or at least fumigate it. But I digress.

One member of our Mobilization complimented Senator Lugar (in absentia) for consistently supporting international aid development, but expressed a hope that he would give as much support to a domestic policy to reduce poverty and hunger. The word "statesman" is frequently used in describing Senator Lugar, a Republican with strong progressive bonafides who nonetheless, given his party's predispositions, must be encouraged to consistently do the right thing about poverty.

So, as Jim Wallis said at a plenary yesterday, "we'll be watching." Ronald Reagan said "trust, but verify." When it comes to trusting the platitudes of Senate staffers about their bosses' commitment to reducing poverty, we need to "keep watching." We can come back to Capitol Hill, if we have to.

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