As an ex-jock, businessman and new-breed Democrat, McMillen can barely stop uttering this year's Washington buzzword—"competitiveness." He's one of 120 members of the bipartisan Congressional Competitiveness Caucus, which was formed to address American industry's inability to compete effectively in world markets.
"I still recall when everyone made fun of Japanese radios, and now you can't even buy an American-made radio," says McMillen as he heads back to Washington from Annapolis with Grant at the wheel. "We're in kind of the same posture the Japanese were in when I was growing up. We have to say: 'I'm tired of people buying Japanese radios and West German cars.' Out of curiosity, I went through my parking lot the other night and only one-quarter of the cars were American. I'm appalled by that."
But McMillen doesn't sound appalled. If there's a quality he seems to lack, it's passion. Still, he has already staked out his congressional territory—economics, technology, finance—and, by all accounts, he will do an excellent job working that ground. He's a voracious reader, and the chances of someone out-backgrounding him on an issue are remote. After all, this is a man to whom something called the "non-bank bank loophole" is at least as clear as the NBA's illegal defense guidelines.
Back in Washington, McMillen hits the ground running. He has five minutes to make a vote in the House. A man rolls down his car window and shouts at him: "Hey, Mack-Millen, you're playing better than ever." The congressman waves his thanks.
"Guess he thinks I'm still in the NBA." McMillen says, shaking his head.
A blizzard all but shuts down D.C. the next morning, but McMillen is still busy, hopscotching from a banking committee meeting to a House vote to a luncheon meeting of the Competitiveness Caucus. The luncheon begins 35 minutes late, which may be indicative of why it's necessary to hold such a meeting in the first place.
"Being a freshman congressman is a little like being an NBA rookie," says McMillen. Figuratively, he's still carrying the basketballs and the projector. Freshmen get the last pick of offices in the Longworth and Ray-burn office buildings, for instance. McMillen didn't do too badly, choosing ninth out of his class of 49, but Kennedy drew 45th and got a glorified broom closet along a drab corridor known as Death Row.
As one of the new kids in town, McMillen is feeling his way, finding out when he should throw an elbow and when he should back off. He depends heavily on Grant, an experienced behind-the-scenes man. and Yates, who at 27 seems to have been born and nurtured on the Hill. When McMillen has to bolt early from the drier-than-dust banking hearing. Yates removes McMillen's name-plate. "That's so the Republican National Committee won't take a picture of an absent Tom McMillen," he says.
En route to vote for the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee—"It's a big disadvantage being six-eleven when they're looking around for the undecideds," McMillen tells a fellow representative later—he sweeps past a meeting on Soviet Jewry. With the instinct of a born politician, he ducks in, shakes a few hands and ducks out before it starts.
The snow finally shuts down all federal business, and McMillen returns to his office. Two of his constituents, marchers from that day's antiabortion demonstration, are waiting for McMillen, who opposes Federal funding for abortions. He instructs Sarah Geithner, a legislative assistant, to sit down with them and promises to return in 15 minutes. But they leave early and that bugs him. "Now they'll think I didn't want to talk to them," he says to Geithner. "You get their names? Good. Write them a follow-up letter and thank them for coming in."