WASHINGTON — Among the thousands of visitors touring the U.S. Capitol building on a sweltering Saturday, Rich Krzysik and his family stopped for a few minutes to watch the House of Representatives engage in its routine business.
Except things were anything but routine.
The Hinsdale, Ill., family wound up watching as the Republican-run House, in a largely party-line vote, struck down a version of the debt limit plan offered by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada.
"We got lucky," Krzysik said about witnessing a key moment in the historic debate over raising the federal debt ceiling.
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Typically, visitors to the Capitol tour the building, gaze at the statues and soak in the history. Some days, though, they see it made. And the process on Saturday didn't seem nearly as elegant as the building that houses it.
Interviews with tourists from around the nation — among the 16 million who visit the nation's capital each year — revealed awe at the institution but dismay at the politicians inside bickering over the debt limit.
Krzysik was struck by the party loyalty during the vote, saying the representatives looked like "a bunch of sheep."
"I didn't see a lot of thought going on — and perhaps there was, but when you go ahead and see it on the surface it seems like people are just saying 'yea' or 'nay' depending on which side of the fence they're on."
Not that Krzysik, a production manager for a biotechnology company, was surprised.
"It was pretty much what I expected," Krzysik said. "I just didn't expect it to be done so blatantly."
Richard Lafferty of Allentown, Pa., said that his family was watching the debt ceiling debate closely because failure to reach a deal could affect their personal financial situation. A computer salesman, Lafferty said he was disappointed that congressional leaders haven't reached an agreement despite weeks of debate and the deadline for raising the debt limit looming on Tuesday.
"I think it's very bad they're waiting 'til the last minute to compromise," Lafferty said.
"I think they're all too motivated for their own personal political views as opposed to for the greater good of the country."
Lafferty's wife Margie, a nurse, said the debate has drained attention from other issues that are important to her family, like health care and jobs. With their son, 20-year-old Patrick, due to graduate from Villanova University in two years with a political science degree, she expressed concern about the difficult job market, an issue that she said Washington seems to have forgotten about.
Chelsey Morrison, a wedding planner from Mebane, N.C., said she was very impressed by the Capitol itself. Interviewed in the gleaming, $621 million Capitol Visitor Center, which opened in 2008 at more than twice the originally projected cost, Morrison, 25, described Capitol Hill as "beautiful and amazing."
"But I'm just not sure," she said, "that this is where all the hard work gets done."
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