WASHINGTON — It's 7:35 in the morning as Rep. Anne Northup (R) of Kentucky rushes into her office for a phone interview with WWKY radio in Louisville.
The workday's just started, but she's already running late - the interview was scheduled for 7:30. And before the day is through, she's going to be running later, through no fault of her own.
The interview centers on the disaster relief bill and its partisan wrangling. As it ends, Northup sighs and looks at her desk. "All the work I was going to do last night is still here," she says, even though she worked until 10 p.m.
Welcome to a day in the life of a freshman congresswoman. It's a day of nonstop meetings, phone calls, and floor votes in the House of Representatives. It's a day of thinking about everything from bakery issues to the future of the Republican Party. And it's a day in which Rep. Northup wishes politics allowed more time for family.
For now, she gives some quick instructions to her staff and digs out of her briefcase the papers she signed at home last night. "One of my pet peeves is a messy desk" she says. "I just hate it."
It's not even 8, and already her schedule is changing. Northup has to skip a breakfast meeting of Kentucky credit unions to attend an unexpected meeting of House freshmen to discuss campaign finance reform. She sets out for a conference room in the labyrinthine Longworth House Office Building. Her secretary meets her at the elevator with coffee and a pint of milk.
The breakfast is not the only appointment she's missed in the last 24 hours. "I feel so guilty," she confides on the way. She was supposed to take her daughter, one of her six children, out to a birthday dinner last night but got stuck in the office until it was too late to go to a restaurant. "It ended up being a snack at Tortilla Coast."
The meeting lasts until shortly after 9. Northup runs back to her office to wash coffee off her sleeve, make sure somebody met with the credit unions, and review the schedule. She heads off through the tunnels to a Republican conference meeting in the Capitol. A lobbyist greets her on the way in, and after a brief conversation, she joins her colleagues to discuss the tax proposal introduced by Ways and Means chairman Bill Archer of Texas.
After the hour-long GOP meeting concludes, Northup stays on for a few minutes to talk to other Republicans. She's trying to round up votes for Rep. Jennifer Dunn of Washington, who's running for a GOP leadership slot, and to persuade colleagues to vote in favor of renewing China's normal-tariff trade status.
Then Northup hops on the small subway to the Rayburn House Office Building to attend a hearing of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education. The executive director of Congress's National Education Goals Panel is testifying about his budget request for fiscal 1998. One of Northup's aides quickly fills her in on what's going on. When it's her turn to ask questions, Northup voices concerns about inconsistent scoring of state-wide student achievement tests.
Suddenly the hearing-room clock emits a loud, angry buzz. It's a call for members to race to the floor for a roll-call vote. An aide intercepts Northup on the way to brief her. On the House floor she uses an electronic card to vote for an amendment to cut off aid to Russia if it sells China SS-N-22 missiles. It passes. As Northup returns to her office, a lobbyist asks her about the tax discussion during the Republican conference meeting.
Next in line are representatives of the Home Builders' Association, who want to discuss lumber imports from Canada. After 20 minutes or so, the home builders depart, and Northup's staff ushers in the owners of a family bakery in her district who represent the Biscuit and Cracker Manufacturers' Association. They're opposed to peanut and sugar subsidies, which drive their prices up, and urge further study before the Environmental Protection Agency imposes new clean-air requirements. Northup is generally supportive.
It's shortly after noon when the bakers leave. Northup reviews her schedule again, quickly telephones her daughter, and takes her first phone call since the radio interview. At 12:20 the clock buzzes again: another floor vote.
Northup dashes out of the office and back across the street to the House floor to vote against an amendment to freeze State Department spending in 1998 and 1999.
Then she heads outside to the Capitol steps and meets a TV reporter from Louisville's WHAS-TV who wants to interview her about the disaster-relief bill. Standing in the parking lot across from the Supreme Court, she answers questions on camera against a background of roaring tour buses, giggling school children, honking taxis, and cawing crows.
After that it's back to her office to meet another constituent. Then, unexpectedly, at 1:45 the clock signals another floor vote. The GOP whip's office advises that the House is about to take an incredible 23 votes in a row on amendments to the State Department bill.
At this point in the process, such amendments are usually moved through on a voice vote. But Democrats are insisting on all-hands-present roll calls, feeling they were snubbed on an earlier ballot. Since each electronic vote takes about 10 minutes, Northup's schedule is now out the window.
The situation is also a godsend, however. All day long Northup has been fretting over the number of colleagues she must contact. Now they are trapped on the House floor and she can work the chamber.
After the 12th vote, Northup enmeets a representative from the Marriott Corporation who works in her district. He's interested in tax issues, including deductions for business lunches.
Shortly before 4, Northup returns to a lounge off the lobby to meet with representatives of the American College of Surgeons, who want to thank her for supporting funding for the National Institutes of Health and voice concerns about managed care. After vote No. 16, Northup runs back to the lobby to review her decimated schedule and instruct her staff.
At 5:08 the House finally approves the last amendment, then passes the State Department bill on a voice vote. Northup strolls back to her office through the muggy sunshine and spends the next two hours in her office catching up with paperwork and phone calls.
After a business dinner dealing with health care Northup revisits her office at about 8:30. By 9, she's had enough and heads back to the small apartment she stays in when in Washington.
The next morning she's back in the office at 5.
How to Fill a 14-Hour Day
Rep. Anne Northup rarely has time to lean back and prop her feet up on her desk. On a recent day, she:
* Participated in two media interviews.
* Attended two congressional meetings and a subcommittee hearing.
* Took three trips to the House floor to vote 26 times on amendments and bills.
* Had six conversations (some scheduled, some on the fly) with lobbyists and constituents.
* Talked health care at dinner.
* Put up with a reporter all day.