WASHINGTON — As Christmas rapidly approached four years ago, one man--dubbed "Sen. Scrooge"--blocked Congress' frantic efforts to adjourn and go home.
Jesse Helms was carrying on a seemingly endless filibuster against an increase in the gasoline tax, infuriating colleagues and making him a near-outcast in the Senate. Finally, the resentment boiled over and, in an unusual violation of Senate custom, several members openly denounced the Republican from North Carolina.
"Seldom in my 17 years of legislative experience have I witnessed a more obdurate and obnoxious performance," fellow Republican Alan K. Simpson of Wyoming declared. Eventually, Helms relented and the tax passed.
In Helms' 14 years in the Senate, his obstructionist tactics and outspoken ways have made him one of its most controversial members. Ironically, the harsh public image contrasts with the politeness and restraint he often exhibits in private dealings with colleagues, aides and reporters.