Washington For Vice President Dick Cheney, 10 weeks of listening, lobbying and $5 lunches come down to this: Senate budget votes promising to be such squeakers that he'll be on standby all next week to break any ties.
"There will be a vote-a-thon. And given the nature of that kind of a process, we're going to have to watch it very closely," said Nancy Dorn, who coordinates Cheney's unusually active Capitol Hill activities.
This week, he was as busy lining up Republicans for next week's budget votes a critical, if only symbolic verdict on President Bush's economic agenda as he was collecting input on the energy policy recommendations that Cheney and his Cabinet-level task force are due to give Bush in May.
Think of the genial former Wyoming congressman as the president's ambassador to Capitol Hill.
Cheney has not, for example, personally lobbied the handful of moderate Republican holdouts who are the key to Bush's budget success, including Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, Jim Jeffords of Vermont and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island. Not yet, anyway.
"He listens. That's his m.o.," said vice presidential spokeswoman Juleanna Glover Weiss.
Listens, that is, to lawmakers pleading their cases on budget issues big (debt repayment, entitlement spending) and small (this pet project or that) and then, reports back to the president.
Cheney is a fixture at the Senate GOP weekly strategy luncheon, where he takes notes, typically speaks only in reply to senators' questions, and forks over $5 for the fare like everyone else. "He's there enough, almost every week now, that he's part of the fabric," said adviser Mary Matalin.