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Everyone C.W. Bill Young meets wants your money

The queen has arrived.

"I have Her Majesty Queen Noor to see Mr. Young," a woman announces from the doorway.

But the queen will have to wait. Rep. C.W. Bill Young isn't ready yet.

She is ushered into Young's posh office and sits stiffly in a straight-backed chair. An aide determines the queen is thirsty and then orders someone, "Get Her Majesty a drink of water."

A minute later, Young strides into the room and apologizes for being late. He was meeting with the Republican leadership to discuss the last-minute strategy for his big appropriations bills.

Wearing a prim gray business suit, the tall blond widow of Jordan's King Hussein quickly gets to the point. She wants Congress to support a commission on land mines and wants money for a global effort to remove the mines and compensate victims. The cost: $1.6-billion.

Young, chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee, listens intently, just as he has to hundreds of others who had enough status or pull or the local connections to get an audience with him.

After keeping a low profile for 28 years in Congress, the Pinellas County Republican suddenly finds he is one of the most popular people in the Capitol. Foreign leaders stop by to say hello (and ask for money), celebrities pose for pictures with him (and ask for money) and colleagues slap him on the back (and ask for money).

The job has given Young tremendous clout and enabled him to earmark more than $12-million in federal projects for the Tampa Bay area. He is the most powerful Floridian in the House of Representatives, working from an ornate office that has expensive artwork, a glimmering chandelier and a spectacular view of the Washington Monument.

But power isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Young is growing weary of the demands that keep him from seeing his family. He's frustrated by the partisan jockeying and the petty bickering.

And here's the surprising truth: Young doesn't care about his lofty title, the fancy office or the visits from royalty. He would rather be back in his old job, when he was in charge of defense appropriations and could sink his teeth into a few important issues.

For now, though, he has to tell the queen the same thing he has said to dozens of other people in the last few months. He'll have to say no.

Begging for money

Young came into power at a lousy time.

When Congress passed the Balanced Budget Act two years ago, it delayed much of the pain until now. Expensive programs and unpopular cuts were deferred until the 2000 budget. On Capitol Hill, they call that "planning for the out years." It's an easy way to balance the budget — unless you happen to be in charge of the checkbook when the "out years" arrive.

That's what happened to Young. In his first year as appropriations chairman, he had $17-billion less to spend than the previous year.

To make matters worse, his party has a majority of just five votes in the House. Because a handful of Republicans often vote against the spending bills because of disagreements about various programs, Young has to woo Democrats to make sure his bills pass. That's especially hard in this Congress, which is one of the most partisan in history.

"I'm the referee between all the different factions," he says.

To make matters worse, people keep begging for money.

His office gets at least 15 requests for appointments each day. He had requests for $80-billion in new programs from more than 400 members of Congress. That's in addition to the billions sought by the Clinton administration, the herds of private lobbyists and the occasional queen.

"After I became chairman, I found a million very close friends I never knew I had," Young says.

He has gotten good at saying no. In contrast to his fiery predecessor, Bob Livingston, who was notorious for being abrupt, Young wins praise from his colleagues for delivering the news gently.

That's how he handles Queen Noor during the meeting in his office.

She makes a passionate case about the dangers of land mines, delivering her message in crisp sound bites. "Every 22 minutes, somebody steps on a land mine," she says.

Young listens attentively and then talks with two men who have been injured by exploding mines. But after about 10 minutes, he has to deliver the bad news.

"I cannot commit to the 1.6-billion at this point," Young says, "but please be sure of our common sympathy to this problem."

The queen seems satisfied.

Sneaking a chimichanga

The fact that Young is meeting with a queen in a luxurious office at the Capitol is remarkable when you consider his humble beginnings.

Charles William Young grew up in a hardscrabble town in western Pennsylvania, in a rickety house that got washed away when a river flooded. His father drank too much and deserted the family. Young dropped out of high school to care for his mother when she was sick.

He was the lone Republican in the Florida Senate when he was elected in 1960 and served there until he ran for Congress in 1970. Today, only one House Republican has more seniority than Young — Rep. Phil Crane of Illinois.

But despite all that time in Washington, Young, 68, has never become part of the town's elite. He doesn't get mentioned in gossip columns and turns down interview requests from the networks. While most of his colleagues live near the Capitol, Young lives 30 miles away in the suburb of Woodbridge, Va.

As his colleagues dine at swank restaurants on Capitol Hill or in the stuffy Member's Dining Room, Young prefers to take his family to the El Charro Restaurant in Woodbridge, where he orders the chicken enchiladas with rice. If his wife, Beverly, isn't looking, Young, who had heart bypass surgery a few years ago, orders the chimichanga.

His trademark Conway Twitty hairstyle has thinned, but Young still has plenty of vigor. He walks to the House floor instead of taking the subway and handles the long days without difficulty.

But he misses spending time with his family. He and Beverly have three boys, ages 12, 15 and 22, and Young has three adult children from a previous marriage. He used to help coach the boys' baseball teams, but that hasn't been possible since he became appropriations chairman. He often works 12-hour days.

"We just don't have him much anymore," Beverly says.

In addition to the pressures of his job, the family has had two scares in the past few years that Beverly might have breast cancer. Both lumps were benign, but Young says the worry is "always there, always an underlying concern."

The new job has meant he devotes most weekends to his family, which means fewer trips back to his district. Since Young became chairman in January, he has gone back to Pinellas less than once a month, according to House travel records.

"That's one big regret I have, not being able to get back in my district as often as I used to," Young says.

He seems more a resident of Virginia now. Like many colleagues in Congress, Young discovered it was better if his family lived in the Washington area. That allowed him to attend his sons' basketball games, chaperone dances and become "Uncle Bill" to his sons' friends.

But the tradeoff is that he rarely is able to visit his district. He doesn't own a home in Pinellas today. He sold his Indian Rocks Beach condo in June and says he is looking for a larger place.

'The gentleman from Florida'

Young has lots of opportunity to play hardball with the Democrats. He controls a $1.3-trillion budget and could use it for lots of mischief against his political rivals. But that's not his style.

A month or two ago, a Republican colleague wanted Young to get revenge on an annoying Democrat by removing the Democrat's pet project from a spending bill.

Young refused. He said it was wrong to use a government program to play politics.

Indeed, Young would rather strike a compromise with Democrats than wallop them. He has managed to get considerable bipartisan support for most of his spending bills, passing them with an average of 88 Democratic votes.

He can still be partisan when he needs to be. After his meeting with the queen, he heads to the House floor to debate Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., the ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee.

They are good friends who work together every day, but on the House floor, they must play their partisan roles. Young says he knows what Obey will say: that while Young has done a good job, the Republican leadership has been unwilling to compromise and that the Republicans are lying when they say they won't touch Social Security.

Sure enough, Obey declares that "the gentleman from Florida" has done a good job but that "militant elements" of the GOP won't compromise. He says the Republicans are using accounting gimmicks to balance the budget and are pretending they won't touch Social Security.

Young fires back that the Democrats used a gimmick of their own in 1974 when they changed the start of the budget year.

It's all in good fun, like watching two football players bash each other and then help each other to their feet.

But Obey's complaints about the Republican leadership have some truth to them. While Young has been trying to referee the squabbles in his own party and produce bills that can get Democratic votes, he has been undercut by GOP leaders who have made decisions without him.

As he leaves the floor after sparring with Obey, a reporter asks Young what he knows about a GOP plan to drastically change a popular tax credit. Young says he hasn't been told about it.

Likewise, the GOP leadership didn't follow his advice when he warned them in January about the need to raise the budget caps that had made balancing next year's budget so tough.

"If the leadership had listened, we would not be in the dire shape we are today," says Rep. John Edward Porter, R-Ill.

Although Young has passed all but one of his 13 bills through the House, many have since gotten bogged down by internal party squabbles or disagreements with the Senate. Clinton is likely to veto at least five of them, which will extend the budget process for several more weeks.

In the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call last week, several Republicans complained that Young wasn't doing enough to push his party's priorities. But Porter, one of the "cardinals" who heads an appropriations subcommittee, says Young is a pragmatist who knows he must work with the Democrats.

"He's done super," Porter says.

Young says he has had some big accomplishments since he became chairman.

He passed 12 of his 13 bills through the House, and the 13th was held up at the leadership's request. He has kept them largely free of unrelated "rider" amendments. The delays since they passed the House have been because of vetoes and disputes with the Senate that he says are beyond his control.

But he admits that he's not thrilled with the new job. The desk in his fancy office is bare, testament to the fact that he still does most of his work in his old familiar office in the Rayburn building across the street.

As appropriations chairman, he could be raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for his party, as Livingston did with his political action committee. Young started a PAC at the request of party leaders several months ago, but he says that so far, the only money in his account is the $100 he used to start it.

He says, "I refuse to get on the phone with people and say, 'I have to have money.' "

In a town where seemingly everyone yearns for more power, Young would be happy with less.

"Everything being relative, I enjoyed being chairman of the defense subcommittee more than this job," he says. "The demands of this job are huge. Much of it is refereeing disputes."

He loved the old job because it wasn't so caught up in politics. He could deal with a few concrete issues, such as replacing aging military hardware, without worrying about all the party posturing.

Still, he plans to run for re-election next year and, assuming the Republicans keep control of the House, he says he will continue as chairman.

"I've got a challenge now," he says. "This is the biggest challenge I've ever had."

A meeting with Michael J. Fox

A few hours after seeing the queen, he meets with actor Michael J. Fox, who has Parkinson's disease and is urging Congress to spend more money for research into the disease. Fox's arms and legs twitch noticeably during the meeting, a signal his disease is getting worse.

Young says he's glad that Fox played a young Republican in the old TV series Family Ties. "I don't know how the liberals feel about you, but the conservatives love you," Young says.

This time, Young doesn't have to say no. He says Congress is boosting the budget for the National Institutes of Health by nearly 10 percent, which should mean more money for Parkinson's research.

When the meeting ends, Young is approached by his son Billy, who was in the office to meet the actor. Billy says he is hungry and wants to buy something at the snack bar downstairs.

He asks his dad, "Can I have some money?"

Everyone C.W. Bill Young meets wants your money 10/02/99 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 9, 2013 1:35pm]
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