Washington Jan Meyers greeted the visitors, reached over and held up a fuzzy black and white stuffed animal sitting on her desk.
Kansas' 3rd District congresswoman explained that her staff gave her the toy following a remark she made to first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton at a recent health care forum in Kansas City, Mo.
"I told her I felt like the skunk at the garden party," Mrs. Meyers said, explaining she then criticized the Clinton health care package. Mrs. Meyers told the gathering that the package could cost as many as 1 million jobs if all small businesses are ordered to finance health care coverage for employees.
A day spent with the Republican House member, whose district includes Lawrence, showed she is independent, studies the issues thoroughly and is highly regarded.
"She is the most conscientious colleague I know," said Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., who serves with Mrs. Meyers on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "She works day and night."
Mrs. Meyers, who had taken a flight the night before from Kansas City International to National Airport in Washington, D.C., had a full day on her schedule. Highlights included:
- A one-minute speech on the House floor lambasting federal mandates in the Clinton health care plan.
- Meetings with visitors in her office on health care and the North American Free Trade Agreement.
- A brief meeting in the Capitol with Germany's Ambassador Immo Stabreit.
- A two-hour meeting of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on the deadline for bringing U.S. troops home from Somalia.
Although every day is different, Mrs. Meyers expects to put in long hours until Congress takes its Thanksgiving recess this month. Her busiest days are Tuesday through Thursday. She generally flies back to Kansas to work in her district offices on weekends.
As the ranking Republican on the House Small Business Committee, Mrs. Meyers spends 20 percent to 30 percent of her time in Washington dealing on small-business issues.
The North American Free Trade Agreement, which she was leaning against, brought in visitors from the Kansas City, Kan., Chamber of Commerce and from Quaker Oats.
Quaker Oats executives told her the NAFTA agreement would provide more growth for the company's pet food products, manufactured at the company's plant in Lawrence.
They told her there was a 10 percent tariff on the export of Kibbles 'N' Bits from the Lawrence plant to Mexico. Under NAFTA, the Lawrence plant would be able to produce more, which they said would improve employment in Lawrence.
However, Mrs. Meyers told them the trade pact has no built-in guarantees for wages to come up in Mexico or for the environment in Mexico. She told them many people in her district favored NAFTA. But the side agreements worry her.
"I want to get the right agreement when we do it," she told them. "I'm still struggling with it. It may be the most important trade vote we make."
Earlier, as she was walking quickly to the House floor, Mrs. Meyers said, "Nobody is neutral on NAFTA. You can really get an earful."
Although she has bucked the Clinton administration and the general Republican line on NAFTA, she joined fellow GOP members on the House Foreign Affairs Committee later in the day to move up the deadline to bring U.S. troops home from Somalia.
She spoke in favor of a nonbinding resolution calling on President Clinton to withdraw U.S. military forces by Jan. 31 -- 90 days earlier than the March 31 deadline agreed to by the White House.
Although the measure failed, it gave committee members a chance to debate the issue, she said.
Besides studying the issues, Mrs. Meyers also spends a lot of time meeting with constituents, both those who come to her Washington office and those who meet with her in her Kansas City, Kan., Overland Park and Lawrence offices.
The congresswoman gets 300 to 500 letters and telephone calls a week, said Kirk Walder, her new administrative assistant and press secretary.
Walder, who had worked in a Maine congressional office for 11 years, joined Mrs. Meyers' staff in September.
"One of the reasons I wanted to work for Jan Meyers was because she was so well respected," he said. "I think it's a fascinating mix of priorities that involve everything from constituent services to the legislative process and to see how everything works. People call with a wide range of problems."
Toward the end of the day, Mrs. Meyers was looking for something to pour the coffee from her Thermos mug into before she headed off to a meeting with a staff member on the Small Business Committee. She gestured toward her desk.
"One of the hardest things about the job is keeping up with the paperwork," she said, heading for an elevator.