Watching Capitol Hill these days brings to mind the old Dan Hicks song, "How Can I Miss You When You Won't Go Away?"
It's been more than seven weeks since the 101st Congress adjourned. But many of its members are still around - holding hearings, issuing press releases and otherwise working to get on the nation's airwaves and news pages.The differences between an in-session and an out-of-session Congress have been blurred in this age of instant communication and fast travel. Other than the actual votes on bills, there's little that cannot be accomplished, and lawmakers are well-polished at working the system.
In its early days, Congress would meet for a few months in the winter, after which lawmakers would flee the summer moisture and heat of this sultry swamp city.
"We pay them to be full-time, professional legislators now," said Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution. Members of the House now get $96,600 while senators are paid $98,400.
"It's not like the 19th century. We give them not only a living wage but all of the staff they need to work at it. When you combine that with jet planes . . . air conditioning. . . . It's a different attitude," he said.
Some still cling to the ideal of the citizen-lawmaker. The most recent popular expression of it can be found, Hess said, in the drive for term limits.
But there's really no going back to the old days.
The stalemate in the Persian Gulf provides a vivid example of how the Democratic-controlled Congress tries to exercise its powers when not in session.
"Even though Congress is in recess they are still in the loop," said Jeff Biggs, whose boss, House Speaker Thomas Foley, D-Wash., has been working in his Capitol office for most of the recess.
By holding hearings and generating publicity, lawmakers can affect national policy without passing a single bill.
Taking advantage of exposure on the national C-SPAN cable network, several committees in the House and Senate have held hearings on the gulf. While their legislative goal may still be unclear, they have left no doubt that Congress wants its views heard and prerogatives protected.
"Without those hearings, the public would be left with the impression, by the administration, that no course other than military action . . . would be effective in driving Iraq from Kuwait," said David Dreyer, spokesman for House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo.
Several experts, including former top Pentagon officials, testified that the United States should give economic sanctions more time to work before considering an invasion.
"The (Bush) administration is in business 365 days a year . . . (spending) 98 cents out of every federal dollar," Dreyer said. "It's our job as an entity to spend just 2 percent to monitor" how that is carried out.
Of course, good government isn't the only force that moves Congress to work year-round.
Because of the long legislative sessions, many younger lawmakers put their children in school in the Washington area. So they're in town anyway until the Christmas break.
And not all of Congress' post-session activity is making members look good. One of the most-watched events has been the Senate Ethics Committee's hearings into whether five senators sold their influence to former savings and loan operator Charles H. Keating Jr.
Lawmakers' enthusiasm for hanging around the Capitol does have its limits.
At a private meeting, several members of the House Armed Services Committee barked when they were told that Chairman Les Aspin, D-Wis., scheduled two weeks of hearings ending just five days before Christmas. After so many weeks of testimony, Aspin was insisting on hearing from second-string witnesses, including university professors and think-tank experts.
Forced to absorb the brunt of the complaints was Rudy deLeon, staff director of the panel, said one lawmaker, who requested anonymity. Aspin himself was stuck in Milwaukee due to another sign of the season - a winter storm.
Perhaps it was a sign from Dan Hicks.
EDITOR'S NOTE - Steven Komarow covers Congress for The Associated Press.