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Authors: Jim Geraghty

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“Just a few more rungs on the GS ladder, we’ll have more authority and be able to do things the way they were meant to be,” Jamie insisted, motioning to their waiter for a second Stockholm 75.

“I … should be director of communications,” Lisa said, feeling the first wave of giddiness and tipsiness from her Negroni. “My boss is a translucent yes-man to Humphrey.”

Lisa found work at the agency particularly frustrating. A quintessential type-A personality, she had, through hard work and determination, always been able to get what she wanted before this. Within the agency’s Department of Communications, she had quickly deluged her boss with perfectly proofread
memos with ideas she deemed ingenious and irrefutably exciting. The first four generated increasingly terse rejections. The fifth generated a meeting with Humphrey.

“I’m in a communications office. I thought the point of this job was to communicate,” she said, quietly pleased with the direct simplicity of her plea.

“Communication is a dangerous weapon, my dear, only to be unsheathed carefully and when needed,” Humphrey said. “We want to ensure the world is watching on our best days and looking elsewhere the rest.”

“I’m not gonna quit,” Lisa said, extinguishing her cigar into one of the club’s deep ashtrays. “I can persuade these old dogs. The world’s changing. The Internet. These guys don’t even realize how much they’re hurting themselves. The whole reason Americans distrust government is because of a lack of communication, and if agencies just opened up and communicated better, Americans wouldn’t be so reflexively right-wing and antigovernment.”

They concluded, with a mix of hope and certainty, that everything would change when they were promoted and out of these low-level positions. And then they danced.

They had hoped that the guys in the club would join them, but most of the men were content to drink, smoke, and watch them dance instead.

NOVEMBER 1994

U.S. National Debt: $4.7 trillion

Budget, USDA Agency of Invasive Species: $91.2 million

As the evening progressed, Humphrey consumed a bit more scotch than he had planned. While he had proven that he could get more money for the agency in every fiscal year since 1977,
he had always worked with an easily distractible Republican president and a pliable, helpful Democratic Congress, or at least a Democratic House. One way or another, he always overcame resistance to his perennial argument that
yes, everyone agrees controlling spending is very important, and there are many other places to study closely for cuts in next year’s budget, but the activities of the Agency of Invasive Species really need more funding than last year, not less
. Always. Year in, year out.

But tonight’s election returns were showcasing the unthinkable: Republicans were winning on a scale not seen in fifty years. That blasted lunatic Newt Gingrich was about to become Speaker of the House.

Even worse, a familiar name had cropped up in some of the coverage of the impending political tsunami. In the outer suburbs of Philadelphia, one of the Congress’s most easily forgettable political weather vanes, three-term Democratic representative Bob Leere, found himself suddenly saddled with all of the failures of Congress under the Clinton administration: Hillarycare. Tax hikes. An invasion of Haiti. A surgeon general who wanted to teach masturbation in schools. A baseball season that ended without a World Series.

The Republicans had found a square-jawed, middle-aged man who had impeccable Reaganite credentials, experience in government and Washington policy fights, and about a decade’s worth of business success to self-finance much of his campaign. He spoke with particularly convincing passion when he pledged to hold the line on runaway costs and to wipe out wasteful spending. In fact, he kept using this metaphor of menacing, relentless
weeds
overrunning the garden and choking out the needed growth of the American economy.

Nicholas Bader … had been elected to Congress.

Humphrey simply couldn’t get his mind around it; it was one of those names that never belonged in the same sentence
as “elected official,” like Sonny Bono—except that in the clearest sign that the world had spun off its axis, Bono was being declared a winner in a California House race.

Congressman
Nick the Knife.
Representative
Big Bad Bader.

It was late, Humphrey’s wife had urged him to come to bed twice, but he couldn’t stop clicking through the channels, waiting for the moment that the anchor would shout, “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!” and reveal that it had all been an elaborate prank. But no reassurance came. At least Ted Kennedy had survived his challenge from that wealthy Ken doll who would probably now fade into obscurity.

Suddenly, the phone in Humphrey’s home office rang.

“Hello?”

“Humphrey … it’s
me
.”

Bader
. In the background, Humphrey could hear the noise of a raucous victory party.

“I suppose congratulations are in order, Mr. Congressman-elect.”

“Thank you, Humphrey, even though I know you don’t mean that. I wanted to call you as soon as it was official.… I had thought about mentioning it in my victory speech tonight, but I figured you wouldn’t see it in Washington.”

“Bethesda,” Humphrey corrected.

“Wherever. In my original draft, I thanked you, because it was the thought of you that made me decide to run for office.”

“I don’t know what to say to that, Mr. Congressman-elect,” Humphrey said, making no effort to hide his disgust. “I’m sure you have many happy supporters to thank—those corporations, those polluters, those misers so eager to see government workers tossed out in the cold.”

Bader laughed. “Oh, Humphrey … I can’t wait to see you again. With subpoena power.”

“I imagine we’ll be seeing a great deal of each other over the next two years,” seethed Humphrey.

“Oh, yes, you can count on that. Do you remember that night at the Kennedy Center, when I told you that someday I was going to cut your budget down to a big goose egg?”

Humphrey stared at the phone as the giddy congressman was briefly overcome by a laughing fit.

“I’m coming for you, Humphrey.”

The line went dead.

The Republican Revolution was on its way.

14
Joe Eszterhas,
American Rhapsody
, p.3.

15
Jerry Tempalski, “Revenue Effects of Major Tax Bills,” OTA Working Paper 81, Office of Tax Analysis, US Treasury Department, July 2003.

16
Common Sense Government Works Better & Costs Less
. Third report of the National Performance Review, September 1995, amount attributed to “changes in individual agencies.”

17
Joe Klein,
The Natural
, pp. 64–65.

18
“On Top of Old Stogie,”
The Washington Post
, February 16, 1996.

4

NOVEMBER 1994

Panic.

“The United States Capitol: it looks the way it did yesterday, but after last night, oh, boy, have things changed,” declared the morning show anchor, unable to repress a tone of slight incredulity. “Good morning, America. I’m Charles Gibson, and that Capitol is a very different building this morning. It is in Republican hands.
Solidly
in Republican hands. Indeed, the House is Republican, the Senate is Republican, the majority of governorships, now Republican. The nation, right now, it would seem, is now Republican.”

Humphrey called a midday Agency of Invasive Species staff meeting. For much of the morning, second and third cups of coffee were consumed, the morning papers were reviewed, radios and televisions remained on, stirring disbelieving groans every time Bob Dole was mentioned as the new Senate majority leader. Fifty-two Republicans had knocked off incumbent Democrats in the House at the morning hour, with a few races waiting to be decided. Eight more Republicans in the Senate. Eleven more new Republican governors. Alabama senator
Richard Shelby, a Democrat, announced that he would switch parties.

“I guess he has to follow his principles,” Jamie shrugged.

“His principle is that he doesn’t want to be in the minority!” hissed Lisa.

The younger staff was abuzz. Neither Jamie nor Lisa had voted yesterday—as District of Columbia residents, the only meaningful votes they cast came on the day of the Democratic primary—but they knew they had witnessed history, and the atmosphere of crisis was a welcome interruption to the boredom that had dominated their first two years on the job.

Wilkins found their excitement off-putting.

“I’ve got a friend, works in the administration, policy analyst,” Wilkins mumbled as they filed into the conference room. “He’s working on the next year’s budget proposal for the State Department. I called him this morning. He said, he came into his office, looked at a pile of paperwork about foreign aid allocations sitting on his desk, and thought, ‘Should I toss this in the trash? Should I go forward as if nothing changed? Is there even going to
be
any foreign aid?’ My God, what do we do now?”
19

Jamie couldn’t help but laugh. “This is kind of how I expected the government to respond to an alien invasion.”

“Have you ever seen that alien autopsy video? The thing on the table looks an awful lot like Newt Gingrich with no hair,” Lisa scoffed.

“This is no time for panic,” declared a grave, and slightly hungover, Humphrey from the doorway. “In two months, a horde of Republicans will take office, none of whom have any appreciation for the work of this agency, and at least one who is determined to see all of us thrown out into the cold. This is a time to report to battle stations.”

He settled in at the head of the conference table, and began handing out thick folders of information.

“We will need to research every potential avenue of leverage, every operation in every district with a new congressman, how many jobs, farms, and other Americans are influenced by our operations. We will need to research the past statements of all incoming congressmen who could be on the committees that could affect us—Agriculture, Appropriations, House Oversight and Government Reform, the works.” He sighed. “And then there is the new Speaker.”

A new hire asked, “Do we have any offices in Gingrich’s district?”

“Suburban Atlanta,” Wilkins answered. “We’ve got no real presence in the district, so we can’t claim he’ll cut jobs in his own community.”

Humphrey glanced down at a memo. “Any word from our allies in the pesticide industry?”

“They say they have some ties to DeLay, who’s supposed to be making a run for majority whip,” Wilkins said. “Might be something there, but it’s early and tenuous. Wouldn’t want to stake all our futures on it.”

Humphrey turned to Lisa.

“Miss Bloom, this morning I asked you to begin reviewing every public utterance that Newt Gingrich had ever said about the federal workforce and the workings of government. Have you found anything useful?

“Um …” she began, a little stunned that after feeling largely ignored for two years, the administrative director suddenly expected her to have an idea of how to save the whole ship from sinking within a few hours. “Gingrich’s election night party was hosted by a local conservative talk show host named Sean Hannity. In his speech last night, Gingrich promised, “Every
bill or committee report filed in Washington will be available instantly on computer.”

“Great, I was dreading a long wait to read the bill calling for the elimination of our jobs,” Wilkins quipped.

Undeterred, Lisa continued, “But in a speech a few days ago, he said, ‘When you see a large government bureaucracy, is it an inevitable relic of the past that can’t be changed, or is it an opportunity for an extraordinary transformation to provide better services?’ ”
20
She looked around the room. “The fact that he’s raising the question suggests that to him it’s not resolved.”

The looks from most of the senior staff were skeptical, with smirks and scoffs. Wilkins had a slightly kinder tone to the younger staff than most of the agency’s management, but even he came across as a bit condescending.

“Lisa, it’s great that you put in this effort, but I think you’re probably giving these guys too much credit,” he said. “These guys don’t see nuance. He’s holding up this idea of a theoretical perfect reform, some ‘extraordinary transformation’ as a fig leaf to hide the fact that he’s really intent on chopping away all of us ‘relics of the past,’ as he so kindly put it. To dissuade him, you would have to offer such an … ‘extraordinary transformation to provide better services’ that he’d be left with his head spinning …”

Humphrey suddenly jostled to life and began looking through the stack of folders and reports before him. Whatever he was looking for, it seemed to be at the bottom of the pile.

“What …” he began, almost absentmindedly, “was … that mumbo-jumbo from the trollop in the tech department?”

Lisa and Jamie exchanged a look, knowing he had to be referring to Ava.

Finally, Humphrey found what he was looking for. A report marked:

BOOK: The Weed Agency
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