Freshman Rep. Morgan Griffith says he understands that rank-and-file Members have to be left out of high-level negotiations because of his experience as former Majority Leader in the Virginia House of Delegates.
In a week of closed-door negotiations, the door separates a small A-list from the vast rest of the crowd.
On a sunny afternoon last week, Reps. Joe Barton (R-Texas), Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) and Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.) stood together, their backs to the Capitol. The three were holding a press conference to introduce a new coin honoring the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
"There is no greater American sport than baseball," Barton said. "It transcends politics and generations, and it is what America is all about."
The few observers gathered around the lectern clapped dutifully.
Meanwhile, across the Dome, Senate Democrats were holed up with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. The scent of catered lunch wafted into the hallway.
Washington might be a town full of insiders, but as Congress and the White House try to broker a delicate deal to raise the debt limit — a process that might (or might not) balance the budget, pay down the nation's staggering debt and overhaul entitlement programs as we know them — very few are permitted at the negotiating table.
Operating under the adage that too many cooks can spoil the broth, leaders from both parties have simply kept most of their people out of the kitchen. That exclusivity has many lawmakers feeling restless.
"For the rank and file, this is a time of high anxiety," Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) said. "We're getting no information other than what we read in the papers, and whatever information we get in the morning might not be operable by the afternoon."
House leaders canceled the long-planned recess scheduled for this week so lawmakers could focus on the deficit reduction talks. But most Members of Congress are in the unusual position of watching the deficit negotiations from afar, even as they remain in Washington.
Many Members scrapped meetings, barbecues and town halls back in their districts to hang around in D.C.'s humidity for the week. And because the debate is still very much behind closed doors, they're casting around for things to do.
"I thought we were all going to be up in that big, white house," Burgess said, lacing his voice with mock chagrin. "I mean, if it's so important that we be here, I thought we'd all be negotiating."
Others are trying to exercise patience. Rep. Morgan Griffith said he recognizes the bind that House leaders are in. The Virginia Republican might be a lowly freshman, but as the former Majority Leader in the Virginia House of Delegates, he knows that rank-and-file Members have their place — and it's not at the negotiating table.