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Bartlett's Swan Song
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December 13, 2012
After losing the congressional seat he held for 20 years, Representative Roscoe Bartlett would have preferred to just fade off into the sunset. But, no. The Republican lawmaker has got to stick around Washington waiting for a budget deal he's pretty sure won't come on his watch. WYPR's Karen Hosler found Bartlett counting down the minutes... and filed this report.
Karen Hosler: The prestigious Rayburn House Office Building is in a state of controlled chaos. The hallways are lined with office furniture, much of it standing on end. Painters trot in and out of the empty offices, sprucing them up for new arrivals. For congressional freshmen, or veterans seizing choicer real estate, this grand office shuffle is an exciting time. For so-called departing members, like Western Maryland’s Roscoe Bartlett, the indignity of being tossed out of private space into a cafeteria jammed with computers and telephones, is painful.
Representative Roscoe Bartlett: Well, there are eighty-some of us. You aren’t alone. That helps a little.
Hosler: Following his blistering defeat at the polls, Bartlett wouldn’t be here at all, except that there might be one more congressional duty he must perform. House speaker John Boehner wants all his fellow republicans within reach to vote on the budget deal Boehner hopes to strike with President Obama to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff”: tax increases and spending cuts set to take effect at the end of the year. Trouble is, Bartlett is convinced that the Boehner exercise will be in vein.
Bartlett: Well, I hope that there is a possibility of reaching some rational resolution. But I said a number of months ago that my best guess of what they ultimately will do is move the responsibility on to the next congress.
Hosler: That means no “fiscal cliff.” But no progress, either. Perhaps the worst of all worlds by Bartlett’s reckoning.
Bartlett: We’ve now waited way too long to address the problem. We’ve waited so long to address the problem that it is perhaps insoluble now. If you just look at the dimensions of the problem we have, in excess of a trillion dollar deficit, nobody believes that we can even cut a fourth of that.
Hosler: Always a fiscal conservative, Bartlett mostly resisted pork-barrel politics during his early years in Congress. But he later found a way to bring home some bacon to his Western Maryland district. Which, arguably, was his job. But now, the US treasury’s shortage of income versus outgo is so severe that Bartlett thinks the best answer is a federal sales tax, that would tax all consumption except items that poor people need. Odds of a deal like that happening before the end of the year are prohibitive. For Bartlett and his wife Ellen, relief from Congressional life will be palpable. They get to stay home on their Buckysville farm with their eighteen grandchildren.
Bartlett: In a way, you know, my wife’s comment the evening we lost was “free at last.” And she wrote on our phone log, it’s kind of a little modified diary, and she wrote on the diary – I can show it to you, it’s there – the next morning she wrote on the diary “Roscoe lost. Wonderful.”
Hosler: That definitely sounds better than falling over a fiscal cliff. I’m Karen Hosler, reporting from Washington for 88.1, WYPR.
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