WASHINGTON, DC—Beltway insiders report that Buster, the 7-month-old yellow Labrador Congress was allowed to keep amid much controversy last spring, has taught the nation's legislators some valuable lessons about responsibility.
"The skeptics believed that the House and Senate weren't ready for a puppy," Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) said. "They believed we wouldn't be able to maintain America's defenses, regulate commerce, and pass laws while raising Buster. But we have proven them wrong. We feed him and walk him every day."
Frist referred to a bicameral duty roster ratified Jan. 31.
"Congress knows who's supposed to take Buster when," Frist said. "If it's your turn to walk him and he's found tied to a handrail outside the U.S. Capitol, you're in serious trouble."
U.S. citizens initially questioned Congress' ability to care for a pet.
"It's a serious responsibility to have someone depending on you," Seattle voter Elaine Schermer said. "Given the two parties' fractious relationship and constant bickering, I didn't think they were ready."
Although a Gallup poll showed that 63 percent of American voters were "unsure" Congress was ready for a puppy, Vice President Dick Cheney allowed the legislators to keep the dog after weeks of Congress' pleading. He stressed, however, that if Congress didn't keep its promises, the dog would be taken away.
"Don't expect me to take care of that puppy for you if you lose interest in him," Cheney said. "I won't do it!"
According to sources on Capitol Hill, the "first 100 days" of housebreaking were rocky, and a minor scandal occurred March 2, when an unsupervised Buster shredded an entire file of records pertaining to the Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement.
Invoking his authority as Senate president, Cheney issued an ultimatum: "You work together to discipline Buster, or he will be taken away and given to the Department of Agriculture."
According to Majority Whip Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Cheney's words sparked immediate action.
"We learned you can't just play with Buster all the time," Russ Feingold (D-WI) said. "It is an important job to take care of a dog, one that we must take seriously."
In raising Buster, Congress has also learned lessons about compromise. Tempers flared in June, when Chief Deputy Majority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) suggested buying Buster a squeak toy with a bell and Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (D-TN) argued that Buster would prefer a rubber bone. The conflict was resolved only when representatives agreed to put bipartisan bickering aside and give Buster an old piece of rope they found.
Congress learned a lesson in financial responsibility when it received an invoice from Petco in March.
"This august body has limited resources, and tough choices had to be made," Senate Budget Committee Chairman Judd Gregg (R-NH) said. "After much deliberation, it was determined we would get Buster dry food instead of soft."
The move will save taxpayers $14 a month.
Some lawmakers have attempted to use Buster for their own political gain. On July 13, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) brought Buster onto the floor while arguing for a Senate amendment to H.R. 256, in the hopes that Buster's big, brown eyes would lead Senate members to vote with him.
Reflecting on the incident, Harkin said, "I realized at that moment that I was using the dog to forward my personal career. When I looked down into his big eyes, I thought, 'He deserves better from me.'"
Lessons aside, Congress said it is "elated" to have a dog.
"We love Buster," Frist said. "I believe I speak for this entire legislative body when I say he will be our very best friend forever and ever."
Citizens coast-to-coast have noticed Congress' growth in recent months.
"I think the dog has been good for the legislative branch," said Adrienne Jasper-Smith of Boulder, CO. "They're 216 years old now. It's high time they learned some responsibility."