Retiring from Congress this year must feel like stepping off a runaway train: relief mixed with concern - and no regrets.
"One of my burdens is being teased by my colleagues for having such incredible timing," laughs Rep. Bob Whittaker, R-Kan. "I'm glad I'm going to do it now."The budget mess, government shutdown, ethics scandals and the pay raise have made this latest Congress even more hateable than usual. But if the historical pattern holds, and it may not, there will be few House incumbents sent packing by the voters on Nov. 6.
There are a handful packing their own bags for home. Eleven out of 434 House members are retiring - not defeated, just leaving.
Conversations with most of them reveal some bitterness, a longing for happier times and a wish they were retiring from a Congress with higher public esteem.
"It takes you out with a bad taste in your mouth," the way the 101st Congress has performed, said Rep. Bill Frenzel, R-Minn., who labored mightily to find a bipartisan budget only to have the House shoot it down. "It's no fun to be part of a group that can't get its work done."
Rep. Jim Courter, R-N.J., ran for governor last year. He could have kept his House seat, but decided against seeking another term. He feels he's been proven right.
People who questioned "the rightness and correctness of my decision" are now coming up and saying, "I don't blame you," he said.
Courter, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said things have changed for the worse over the 12 years he's spent in the House. He related how he was barred from recent House-Senate talks on the defense budget, and then was threatened if he didn't sign the agreement.
"They told me, `You've put some language in there (the bill). It's going to come out unless you sign it,' " he said. He didn't sign.
"It's a heck of a way to go out," he sighed, looking forward to what he said would be "a more simple life."
Rep. Lindy Boggs, D-La., saw her husband Hale give his life to the House. She now is retiring from the seat he once held.
The current gloom "gives me particular pain because I spent so many years in the institution." But she takes solace in the work she did on marking Congress' bicentennial.
"When this temporary difficulty is passed, (that) will be there to sustain the institution . . . the People's Body," she said.
Whittaker, who'll be teaching political science at the University of Kansas, said he wasn't worried about Congress. He said there have been other periods when the legislative branch was held in low regard.
"From a historical perspective, it's something that goes around," he said.
Rep. Marvin Leath, D-Texas, says he hopes people will see something positive in his retirement from an influential congressional career at age 59.
"People say nobody walks away from that job. Well, somebody did. And maybe that gives a little bit of faith to people who think the system is so totally corrupt and bad. It really isn't," Leath said.
Rep. Virginia Smith, R-Neb., though saddened by the current uproar, remains sentimental about the place.
"It's been 16 great years," she said, recalling how she "had to win over nine handsome young men just to come to Congress" at a time when women were still considered unusual in politics.
"I'm going to miss these folks," she said, but "we want to leave while we're still young enough to look forward to going home."
Rep. Augustus F. Hawkins, D-Calif., is a powerful committee chairman who looks forward to returning to private life after 28 years - and complaining about Congress.
"It's good. I'm glad to see it," he said of the national discontent. "And I'll be one of those outsiders attacking."