Clyburn says his fellow South Carolinian tends to launch into “nerdy” analyses where most Members of Congress would offer glib responses. “Sometimes I would say to him, ‘John, I just need an answer to this question, not a history of the issue,’” he says, laughing.
Spratt is nonchalant about his fluency in wonky issues. “I was able to establish myself as someone who did his homework and is not parochial about things. They were issues of serious importance.” Spratt sees his work balancing the budget, including starting negotiations that led to the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, as his proudest accomplishment.
Today’s deficits, he warns, are far steeper than those of the 1980s and early ’90s. “They are going to be much more difficult to turn around and reverse … than the Reagan-Bush deficits,” he says. Spratt sits on the fiscal commission, something he sees as his last chance to weigh in from somewhere other than the sidelines on the deficit, which he calls the country’s “biggest domestic issue.”
But in his box-strewn office, today’s challenge is simpler. Spratt and his staff have mere days to vacate their quarters in the Longworth House Office Building. Soon, the photos of some other Member of Congress will line these walls. Plaques and handwritten notes bearing some other lawmaker’s name will rest on the shelves.
Unexpected Friendships “The camaraderie,” Spratt answers without hesitation, when asked what he will miss most about Congress. When he first arrived in Washington, he wasn’t sure what he’d find, or whether he would fit in among a group of politicians he suspected were “a group of glad-handers and back-slappers.” Spratt was pleased to have been proved wrong.
“They are gregarious — they have to be; that’s how they get elected,” he said of the colleagues he came to admire. “But they are also some of the most interesting people I’ve ever known.” And for all his budgetary prowess, Spratt somehow can’t seem to make the institution of Congress add up.
“After serving here for some time, I came to the conclusion that this place,” he says, “might be less than the sum of its parts.”
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