EVEN IN A TOWN where making history was the major local industry, Andrews Air Force Base, ten minutes by presidential helicopter from the White House, had always commanded special attention. For most of the past half century, presidents had departed from there on momentous missions all over the globe. Countless foreign heads of state had landed on its tarmac, amid appropriate pomp and ceremony. And no one who watched television news in November 1963 on the day that John Kennedy's presidency ended could forget the heart-wrenching return to Andrews of Air Force One bearing the grieving widow and the body of the slain president.
Yet in all the years when it had served as a backdrop to dramatic and transforming events, Andrews had never witnessed anything to rival the scene on Friday afternoon, September 7, 1990, when the legislative leaders of both parties, along with the president, gathered there for what they had chosen to call a budget summit.
Arriving by bus, the participants hauled their luggage to identical sideby-side bungalows. They marched in pairs by order of rank, behind their leaders -- Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell of Maine and House Speaker Thomas S. Foley of Washington for the Democrats, and Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas and House Leader Bob Michel of Illinois for the Republicans. As a homey touch, Dole brought along his pet schnauzer -- and in a labored attempt at levity, presented to President George Bush a giant baseball bat dubbed the "big budget stick."