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Saturday, February 7, 2009
After several days of recrimination, harsh words, and not to mention a few tears, US Senators came to an agreement on the annual rugs, drapes and furniture budget on Friday.
Shortly before 11.30 pm Senate Majority leader Harry Reid finally closed the Ikea catalog and asked his fellow senators to meet him at the College Park, MD branch of the store at 12 noon Saturday and then reconvene for the final vote on Tuesday.
The source of the disagreements has been the new dynamic in Congress since the Democratic clean sweep at the 2008 elections. West Coast and New England Democratic Senators were leading the drive for a more modern, minimalist style, while Republicans and conservative Democrats had been fiercely defending the neoclassical style that has persisted since the current chamber's construction in 1859.
Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) were dead set on replacing the historic mahogany desks with new sleek glass units each with an iBook, and creating break out spaces in the public gallery. They also wanted to remove the blue carpet and create an easy to maintain parquet floor to allow easy movement of furniture so that the layout of the Senate could be changed quickly in line with the principles of Feng Shui when the mood of debates turn sour.
The vote in favour of a new modern chamber was teetering on 52 in favour on Wednesday, but the opposition were threatening a filibuster that could have also jeopardised a new supply of stationary for the 111th session of Congress. An angry John McCain (R-AZ) was seen weeping at his desk and heard railing against the Obama-esque fascination with youth and modernity. At this point a group of moderate senators from both parties stepped in to resolve the issue.
Ben Nelson (D-NE), a key architect of the deal, explained how it was hammered out. "Over several hours a compromise was made whereby the traditional fixtures and fittings will be kept, but out of sight and subtle changes will be made to allow modern, smarter working. These will include new invisible storage spaces under Senate floor, iPhones in each desk for internet and email access, plus a dedicated budget for a team of porters to be on hand to move the desks when required."
President Obama praised senators for making the deal. He said: "This updates the facilities and fixtures of the chamber for the 21st century while preserving the historic feel of the place. Metaphysical change has come to the Senate."