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Presidential Inauguration Is the Hottest Ticket in Town

By Kent Jenkins Jr.
The Washington Post

WASHINGTON

Forget the deficit. Put health care on hold. On Capitol Hill these days there's only one issue that matters, only one that makes politicians perspire and staffers stick by their telephones late into the night:

Tickets. Inaugural tickets.

Everybody -- well, more non-Republicans than you can count -- wants them. Congress has them. But supplies are limited, and many Democrats are discovering that demand isn't. So, in offices all over the Hill, harried aides spend endless hours begging, horse-trading and scrounging -- no one's been caught stealing yet -- to get their constituents invited to Washington's biggest blowout.

"I just got off the phone with a delegate to the Democratic National Convention who didn't get an invitation, and she's in tears every time I talk to her," said Mame Reiley, the top aide to Rep. James P. Moran Jr., D-Va. After a deluge of 5,000 requests, Reiley said, "we got four people on the phone and called the entire Congress" looking for extra tickets.

"That's all I do," said Donna Brazile, the top aide to Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C. "I got a call (about tickets) at 7:15 this morning. Powerful people get their secretaries to bug me every day. The demand is obscene. Every meeting I go to, I find a way to hustle for tickets."

Inauguration week will offer an overwhelming array of official ceremonies and social events, and lawmakers are being asked to snag invitations to almost all of them. But because they have no say in planning the festivities, most members of Congress have relatively little power to get people inside.

The only event at which legislators have any real clout is the swearing-in ceremony for President-elect Bill Clinton. All House members, regardless of party, are given 177 tickets apiece to distribute to the public, and all senators are given 250. They also are allowed to buy about a dozen tickets to an inaugural ball at $125 each. But for everything else, even legislators are on their own.

Like Moran and Norton, many lawmakers found their ticket allotments won't begin to take care of the requests they received. So the Capitol has given birth to an underground economy in which tickets to inaugural events are hard currency, to be acquired, exchanged or provided now in anticipation of a favor to be claimed later.

"It's dog-eat-dog, every member for himself," said Peggy Wilhide, press secretary for Sen. Charles S. Robb, D-Va. "We cold-called congressmen, we swapped and traded with Democrats and Republicans. Sen. Robb told his own daughters he couldn't get them tickets." As granddaughters of former President Johnson, however, Robb's daughters were entitled to passes beyond Robb's office allotment.