WASHINGTON — Often lost amid the headlines about rancor in the House and fast-track contretemps is the day-to-day humor on Capitol Hill. It takes all forms, from biting sarcasm to good-natured ribbing. Sometimes it's a meaningless pressure-release valve. And sometimes it's deeply revealing.
If, for example, more politicos start donning Western footwear, blame House majority leader Dick Armey (R) of Texas.
He often starts his weekly press briefings with a stand-up routine about his weekend. Recently, he revealed that "as I was watching the football game, folding and sorting my clothes, I finally realized why I wear [cowboy] boots. Because the most miserable job in the world is sorting socks. Do you realize how many ... shades of blue there are?
But by wearing his high boots, Mr. Armey pointed out, "It doesn't matter if they match. See?" Displaying his boot: "You can't tell."
On the other side of the aisle, Senate minority leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota frequently uses gentle sarcasm to score points. He complained recently about the Senate practice of "holds," an arcane and often anonymous procedure used to block White House nominations to everything from the Federal Reserve to the IRS.
It has happened so often that Senator Daschle joked that appointees who don't have a hold "ought to feel lonesome." "You know, who's your holder? That seems to be the question of every nominee," he said. It's almost become a status symbol among senators. "I have no holds. I'm going to have to pick out a nominee to get to know him or her a lot better. It works that way.... 'Hello, I'm your holder. Come dance with me.'"
REP. JOHN KASICH (R) of Ohio, the knowledgeable but impetuous chairman of the House Budget Committee, recently was the object of a lighthearted jab by House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
During a press briefing in the Georgia Republican's "dinosaur room," so named for the huge Tyrannosaurus rex skull that takes up an entire corner, a reporter asked about Representative Kasich's ambitions to balance the budget. Kasich reportedly said that since the economy was going so well, he might just go ahead and balance the budget next year instead of waiting until 2002 - a date hammered out in the budget agreement after much wrangling. "He might, but I'm not sure the rest of the Congress will," Mr. Gingrich deadpanned. "It is a team project."
In a Congress with Southerners populating many of the leadership slots, barbed asides about the Civil War are not uncommon. Asked if he would run for president recently, Gingrich replied that "Politicians from Georgia never make Shermanesque statements," referring to the Union general who refused to run for president saying, "If nominated I will not run; if elected I will not serve." At one point in the budget negotiations, Sen. Trent Lott (R) of Mississippi cited Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, "I propose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer," adding later that "I don't usually quote Union generals, but in this case I'll make an exception."