The first session of the 108th Congress is now officially wrapped up, a year that witnessed an impressive 459 votes.
"We had more votes in the Senate this year than any time since 1995, the first year of the Contract With America," notes Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Several votes were so close that in three instances Vice President Dick Cheney, the president of the Senate, had to break the tie in the chair.
"So for those who were interested in drama and who typically think of the Senate as a place where you go to watch paint peel, there was a good deal of excitement this year at various intervals in our legislative consideration," McConnell adds.
The final session of the 108th Congress convenes at noon on Jan. 20.
A PENNY SAVED
In thanking the congressional pages who served during the first session of the 108th Congress - many of whom volunteered to stay beyond their scheduled time - Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) urged them to return one day as representatives and senators.
In fact, several members were pages in their youth, one of the more intriguing examples being former Arkansas Sen. David Pryor, the father of current Sen. Mark Pryor, a Democrat.
When other kids were placing pennies on railroad tracks, the elder Pryor as a congressional page hid a penny in the U.S. Capitol, making a promise to himself that he would come back one day and pick up that penny as an elected official. And he did.
"It was the prophet Hosea who lamented of the ancient Israelites, 'For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.'
"I wonder if it will come to pass," asks Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), "that the president's flawed and dangerous doctrine of preemption on which the United States predicated its invasion of Iraq will some day come to be seen as a modern-day parable of Hosea's lament.
"Could it be that the Bush administration, in its disdain for the rest of the world, elected to sow the wind, and is now reaping the whirlwind?"
Byrd, like President Bush, is a deeply religious man. After Bush was elected president, his first private dinner guest was Byrd, a Democrat. What impressed the senator the most was that the president said grace before the meal.
RIGHTS TO THE BILL
It took some "modern-day political negotiations," concedes Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Dela.), but after 213 years his state's historic original copy of the Bill of Rights - ratified in 1790 - is coming home.
While history has taught us that Delaware holds the distinction as the first state to ratify the Constitution, it happens to have been the sixth state to ratify the Bill of Rights.
"The two signers of this historic document were Jehu Davis and George Mitchell," Biden notes. "And they were quite efficient. Instead of drafting a separate letter, as most states did, to notify Congress of Delaware's ratification of the Bill of Rights, they simply penned their signatures on the Bill of Rights document and returned it whole cloth to Congress."
And back in those days there wasn't a carbon copy.
"Thus, Delaware had no copy of what Davis and Mitchell signed," Biden notes.
Which isn't to say the original got lost in the mail. The caring souls at the National Archives conserved Delaware's original Bill of Rights for more than two centuries, and today it's considered in "pristine condition."
Two years ago, Biden continues, the state of Delaware asked that he and other Delaware lawmakers on Capitol Hill (there are only two others, Democrat Sen. Thomas R. Carper and Republican Rep. Michael N. Castle) help negotiate the return of the document so it could be displayed in Delaware, "not stored in the basement of the National Archives in Washington, D.C."
Not a simple request, considering that the National Archives preserved the original for so long.
"The National Archives is, justifiably, quite protective of its documents," Biden agrees. "Suffice to say that it took 10 months of negotiations, meetings, letters and conference calls to come to terms on an agreement that returns this document to Delaware, while retaining the National Archives legal and preservation rights to it."
So, as of this Sunday, Dec, 7, which happens to be the 216th birthday of Delaware, the Bill of Rights will go on display in the capital city of Dover. And don't anybody spill any coffee on it, or it's going back down into the basement.
No wonder a Committee for a Unified Independent Party exists.
The Reform Party is gone. The Greens are at the margins. Ross Perot is writing a book. Jesse Ventura is piloting a TV show. Ralph Nader is back to lobbying. And Pat Buchanan is back on the McLaughlin Group, notes the committee's Sarah Lyons.
Does this mean the independents (35 percent of Americans identify as independent) are no more?
"Independent voters - without an independent candidate or party - are finding a way to be part of the presidential process," says Lyons, confirming that veteran leaders of the independent political movement will convene a national conference of independents to strategize about the role of the independent voter in the 2004 presidential race.
Better yet, the conference will convene in Bedford, N.H., and all the presidential candidates have been invited to attend.
And while the independents have no candidate or even party for this presidential election season, the committee is encouraging them to support one of four Democratic candidates who have "initiated connection to the independent voter" for attempting to reshape American politics. The four are former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, the Northern populist; Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, the Southern populist; the firebrand, Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio; and the black insurgent, the Rev. Al Sharpton.
"Sinatra returns to the Madison" - or so reads the invitation to celebrate the $40 million restoration and reopening of the famed Madison Hotel at 15th and M streets in Washington this Thursday (Dec. 4).
In that the Madison was Frank Sinatra's haunt for 30 years - the invitation shows him escorting first lady Jacqueline Kennedy up one of hotel's staircases - the theme for this week's celebration is "a night of dinner and dancing," featuring the 13-piece Sinatra orchestra Swingtown.
And since Ol' Blue Eyes is now performing elsewhere, the Madison will welcome back 84-year-old Hollywood icon Lee Solters, Sinatra's longtime publicist and travel companion through 1998. Solters, who continues to work a 50-hour week in Beverly Hills, is never in need of speaking material. After all, he's represented Cary Grant, Judy Garland, Lucille Ball, Sammy Davis Jr., Gregory Peck, Barbra Streisand, Jay Leno - heck, even the embattled Michael Jackson.
The celebration benefits the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.