The Democrats have had several programs they’ve sacrificed for the sake of not adding to the deficit. They’ve apparently had to, because they can’t get the votes for it, they can’t get Ben Nelson to vote for it, they can’t get enough Republicans to vote for it. It’s just been remarkable that there are a lot of other big pieces of the federal budget you might look at cutting, but they immediately go to these $7 billion dollar programs, those fall victim to the deficit concern. It’s like the government is schizophrenic about what it wants to do to alleviate the jobs crisis.

Why are they so schizophrenic?

It’s certainly the result of the structure of the Senate; the Senate’s not very democratic, except in its purpose. It could be that people would be less concerned about the deficit if there weren’t an election coming up in the next two months. But we’ll certainly find out after the election happens. Unemployment benefits are up for re-authorization again in November, and it will be interesting to see if people still feel upset about the deficit.

So the deficit hawks are convincingly winning the debate in D.C.?

Absolutely. [Peter G.] Peterson is spending a billion dollars to make sure it happens. I don’t know what effect his campaign has had, but the deficit hawks have won the day. Even though there are people outside of Congress who are deficit hawks, like the Concord Coalition, who thought the whole unemployment benefits thing was ridiculous, and not a good place to practice deficit hawk-ery.

You grew up in Washington. Has working so closely to its power center changed how you think of the city?

I’m twenty-seven, I’ve been doing this for just two years. But I talked to an old lobbyist who worked on the Hill many years ago. He said that after all this time watching people going back and forth between K Street and jobs on the Hill, if he wrote a book about it he would call it, “Perception is reality.” He’s saying that the cynical attitude, that it’s corrupt here and ‘so what?’, is actually the naïve attitude. If you think it’s just totally corrupt, you have the right idea.

You also cover lobbying. What’s your approach to that part of your job?

It started off just going to fundraisers, the rinky-dink boring fundraisers, all the time. We get the invitations from the Sunlight Foundation’s Party Time Web site. And it’s just amazing how common they are and yet how offended people are if you write about them.

What were you writing about them?

It would be stuff like, “Look at this Congressman, having a fundraiser, with bank lobbyists… in the middle of a hearing about the financial crisis.” Good grief! Then they tell you, “Well this is the way it’s done; people can’t make it to every hearing.” It’s back to perception being reality, or not.

Do those mentioned in pieces like that come to you directly with feedback?

One time it got out that there were certain fundraisers that were being looked at for a certain story. I had somebody’s chief of staff call me and ask me, please, not to come.

Did you go?

No. It turned out I couldn’t. I went to a different one.

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Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor.