Freshman Rep. Anne Northup (R) of Kentucky is finding life in Congress a whirlwind of committee meetings (sometimes three at once), phone calls, and urgent appointments all wedged between weekly flights home to Louisville to see her family and constituents.
After several years in the Kentucky General Assembly, she's used to being busy. But her stint in Washington is giving new meaning to the term.
She's on three appropriations subcommittees - the legislative panels that decide how much money government agencies are going to get. Since it's budget time, those subcommittees are in full swing, sometimes meeting simultaneously.
On a recent day, "three of my subcommittees were meeting all afternoon, and we were running back and forth [to the House floor] to vote," Mrs. Northup says. (That's about a block-long walk.) "I miss appointments or appointments have to come see me. I realize that people up here are used to that. I'm not ... that feels so rude to me."
How does she go to three subcommittee meetings at once? She studies the advance text of testimony. Then she and her staff draw up questions. She tries to attend opening remarks at each.
In any case, a member of her staff sits in on every meeting and calls her beeper to let her know when her turn to ask questions is getting close. As she rushes into a meeting, her aide lets her know what's gone on in her absence and whether any of her questions have already been asked.
Fortunately, she says, "I am able to read and pull together information really fast."
The other big difference from her state role: She's a member of the majority instead of the minority in a much-larger assembly. And some of her colleagues take a pretty hard line, as happened last week, when 11 dissident GOP conservatives voted with Democrats to hold up a bill to fund committees. As a result, senators and representatives had to stay in town an extra night, angering many members.
"You have 228 people that are emphatic about what they believe.... I know that whatever we pass will never be just what I would have written. It'll be ... the best we could hammer out with 228 people."
When she came to Washington in January, Northup worried that her absences might affect her family - especially her husband and the last of her six children still living at home.
"The family's doing great," she says. But "it's an adjustment for me. It's like stepping into two worlds. You're very engaged there.... Then I come up here and that's ... far away. It's almost like that's the other person you are."
It's a bit discombobulating: She says she often forgets her Washington apartment phone number and how to get messages off her answering machine.
Northup and her husband talk every day by phone. And she tries to talk every night to her son who's still at home. "In some ways I've had more time to call some of the other children," she says.
A son and a daughter in college have come to see her on spring break. Her daughter sat next to her on the floor last week during a series of procedural votes on a controversial anti-abortion measure.
"Many people are surprised at how much I'm in Louisville," she says. She catches a flight to Washington on Tuesday mornings, arriving in her office by 9:45 a.m., and usually returns to Louisville late Thursday evening. So she's only gone from home two nights in an average week when Congress is in session.
Northup spent a lot of time in her district during recent Ohio River floods. She felt a sense of responsibility to those affected, she says. "On the one hand, it wasn't real hard, because at every level of government, [officials] did what they were supposed to do.... It was also an opportunity to see what is there in an emergency - to see how really fabulous the Red Cross is."
"But there's also a feeling of helplessness," she says. "There is no program we have that makes these people's lives whole again. The only thing you can do for those people, besides making sure that the access to financial resources is available them, is to comfort them, to answer their questions."
Northup says she felt her presence was helpful, "just telling people that they've got a friend in Washington, that you're doing everything you can, that we'll follow up, and we have."
* Earlier articles in this series ran Nov. 22, 1996 and Jan. 14, 1997.