WASHINGTON – When Rep. Roscoe Bartlett spoke to Congress about ending the “raid on Social Security,” his one-minute speech was broadcast into 22 million American homes over C-SPAN.
The Frederick Republican got the same coverage when he took to the House floor to give a 60-second speech honoring the Mount St. Mary’s College men’s basketball team last March.
Only 11 other Republicans have gone to the well more often than Bartlett, a master of the one-minute oratories that begin each day in the House. As of Nov. 2, the last date for which figures were tallied, Bartlett had given 23 one- minute speeches this session.
During the time set aside for those speeches, lawmakers can talk about anything they want — for precisely 60 seconds.
Sometimes, Bartlett chooses a policy issue, such as the Republican- proposed tax cut or the Cox report on Chinese espionage, but other times he chooses to recognize an individual or group back home. He has gone to the floor to mark the 100th anniversary of the Maryland Knights of Columbus, welcome a reverend to Frederick and celebrate the silver anniversary of the Howard County Summer Theater.
“It helps them to know that somebody cares — that somebody is watching them and knows what they do,” Bartlett said of the hosannas to local groups.
The folks back home agree.
“It was important to us to be recognized by the Congress,” said Jim Phelan, longtime coach of the Mount St. Mary’s team. “Since Congressman Bartlett represents our district, we thought it helped in recognition of the basketball team and the college itself.”
In mid-September, Bartlett took one minute to congratulate the Frederick County Builders Association on the House floor as “a professional organization dedicated to providing the Frederick community quality building, especially homebuilding.”
Bartlett, a former builders association member, presented the group with a copy of the speech from the Congressional Record, signed and mounted on a plaque. The plaque, presented at the association’s 40th anniversary gala in September, hangs in a prominent spot in the awards room in the association’s office.
“We thought it was absolutely wonderful,” said Bev Shelton, executive vice president of the association. “We appreciated the recognition that home building is a very important industry, not just in Frederick County, but nationally.”
Not all of Bartlett’s quotations take him back to Frederick. The Maryland lawmaker is an active member of the Theme Team, a group of about 50 Republicans who use the morning one-minute speeches to spread the party’s message on substantive issues.
Each week, the Republican leadership picks a topic for the Theme Team to hammer. A GOP speech writer prepares remarks on the topic of the week — speeches that are timed to fit in precisely one minute — and they are distributed in the House cloakroom to lawmakers, who can read them verbatim or use them as a guide.
Up to 10 Theme Teamers are assigned floor duty each week, but usually others show up as well. On those weeks when he is on Theme Team duty, Bartlett said he is there every morning, spouting GOP views on cutting taxes, protecting the Social Security surplus, preserving Medicare or whatever else the week’s topic may be.
The speeches are mainly for the record and for C-SPAN viewers — the congressman usually speaks to a chamber of empty seats. But Bartlett says he knows people are listening, because he has received mail from around the country on some of his Theme Team speeches.
The Theme Team keeps track of its members trips to the lectern and said Bartlett was tied for 12th-highest number of speeches at last count. House Democrats have a similar outfit, the Message Group, but they do not tally their speeches.
“It is very important to get the message out,” Bartlett said. “Our message is not well conveyed by the media and this provides us an opportunity to get our message out.”