Budget squabbles that shut down non-essential federal government services over the weekend - and may do it again later this month - show what the true power in Washington is: fear.
Sometimes members of Congress act out of fear about what the president will do to them, such as veto their pet bill or not give the home district those hoped-for housing grants.Sometimes they act out of fear about what their party leaders in the Senate or House will do instead, such as not give them a choice committee assignment or not allow votes on their bills.
But this time, even world-class arm-twisting by both the president and congressional leaders did not scare members as much as the voters did, especially with Nov. 6 elections just four weeks away.
Only in a few rare cases did rank-and-file members in even remotely competitive races chance taking possibly unpopular stances for what they considered to be the good of the nation.
Reps. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, and Jim Hansen, R-Utah, were among the select company that did.
To understand the pressure that tormented members from all sides, consider what the president and party leaders were doing.
All Utah members of the House said President Bush called them personally at least once (and as many as three times), had no fewer than three members of the Cabinet call and invited some members in for personal arm-twisting sessions at the White House.
Some of the threats, Bush told reporters, was that he would only campaign and raise funds the rest of the year for his friends - as in those who supported the budget.
While that would only work on Republicans, the Bush administration also had plenty of ammunition to help persuade Democrats - including pledges of support and no vetoes on legislation important to them, such as maybe the barely afloat bill needed to complete the embattled Central Utah Project.
In other words, play ball or your bill or home state may strike out. But to give members political cover, Bush admits telling them to vote for the budget and blame him - because he doesn't face election this year as all House members do.
To show the intensity of arm-twisting, Bush even took away box seats to the Kennedy Center that he had given to Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Ohio, for a charitable auction. The seats were yanked just hours before two Ohio couples arrived thinking they would see a play. Regula made the mistake of telling Bush he was leaning against voting for the original budget compromise.
Numerous stories are also floating about deals that were cut on bills and committees to help draw votes on the budget.
For example, some Democrats said Owens finally sewed up tight a long-sought seat on the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee because he backed Democratic leaders on the budget, while his closest competitors for the seat did not.
Owens scoffs at that, though, saying House Speaker Thomas Foley already promised him that seat at a Salt Lake press conference three months ago. But similar promises in earlier races were somehow never fulfilled.
The president may have made a mistake when he tried to get residents to help his arm-twisting when he urged them in a televised speech to call members and tell them how to vote. They did, but it wasn't exactly what Bush wanted.
All Utah members said the calls were about 50-1 against the budget package, mainly from people worried about higher gasoline taxes or higher costs of Medicare.
Despite that, Owens and Hansen voted for the original package, saying it would cut the deficit and keep the government afloat.
Their opponents quickly criticized that, and Owens and Hansen tried to explain they were acting in the national interest and trying to avoid even greater pain that could hit Utah otherwise.
Members in other tight races didn't take such chances. In fact, every member of Congress seeking higher office opposed the budget compromise.
Rep. Howard Nielson, R-Utah, who is under little pressure because he is retiring, said he voted against the original package because it was bad for Utah and the nation.
The votes Monday to reopen government and approve an outline budget resolution have not ended the pressure. Unless a detailed budget resolution and a companion stop-gap funding bill are passed by Oct. 19, the government will again shut down.
Calls from the president, congressional leaders and voters back home should only get more intense. And the day of decision - Oct. 19 - will be less than three weeks from election day.