Washington — They were listening to a story that would be overrun by the news. Yet most of the 31 reporters in attendance didn't mind. They were there to capture the flavor, perhaps pick up some points that would ''hold'' even after the vote on the tax increase came through later in the day.
To put it simply, they were there for the show. Genial Jim Wright, the influential Democratic House majority leader from Texas, was this morning's guest.
Representative Wright eschews a conversational tone, even before small groups. Instead, he leaps to oratorical heights at the drop of the smallest question. And there are always Wright's animated features and his bushy eyebrows , which dart up and down as if to punctuate declamations and exclamations.
Wright sat down at the table without much ado. He seemed to be scribbling something. But the scribbles soon took form, a very good pen-and-ink likeness of the reporter from the Dallas Times Herald.
''Yes,'' said Wright, ''I once wanted to be a cartoonist. In between wanting to be a boxer and a football coach, I wanted to be a Herblock.''
''How is the fight going to turn out?'' a reporter asked. ''What fight?'' asked Wright in mock bewilderment, his journey into forensic flight beginning.
''There are so many fights in Congress,'' he boomed, still joshing. ''There's the fight over the immigration bill. I suppose you are interested in that - or something else,'' he teased.
Then, without needed further prompting, Wright plunged into ''Topic A,'' the possible outcome of the tax-increase, which he supported.
Racing to keep up with his eyebrows, Wright comments, jabbing here, touching some historical reference there, could be condensed to this:
''It is still an uphill fight. . . . There is very little public support for it. . . . There are very few letters and wires and phone calls in support of Reagan on this measure. . . . We may make it. . . . We aren't behind it because of any enthusiasm for this tax measure. . . .
''But there is a necessity for the bill to be passed, to save the deficit from going even larger. . . . It is necessary because of the excessive tax increase. . . . It's to redress those excesses.''
But what if the bill loses?
The economy is in a delicate and dangerous position. . . . The bill should be passed.
What if Reagan wins?
If he wins, it really is nobody's victory. But a loss would be a defeat for the country.
Why has the stock market gone up so much?
No one knows. But it is very hopeful, even though the second day it settled down. I don't know what it means. It may have something to do with interest rates coming down. Or with Henry Kaufman's pronouncements on the economy. Or the President's speech, indicating we were going to pass a tax bill and redress the problem of the tax cut, may have had an effect.
But isn't it possible that the President will gain politically if the bill passes?
I think that is possible.
Is the President waking up, from your point of view - is he moving away from supply-side economics and adopting a more practical approach, such as perhaps now being willing to drop the final 10-percent increment of his tax cut?
I hope so. I'd like to believe in the educability of a President. But in my negotiations with him during the budget fight a few months ago he refused to accept my proposal, that the final 10 percent be cut to 5 percent.