A mildly amusing tour de Capitol Hill based on some reporting forays and armchair rumination by a veteran Washington journalist. Los Angeles Times contributing editor Thomas (coauthor of Red Tape: Adventure Capitalism in the New Russia, 1992) has written a lite accompaniment to more somber analyses (like Jonathan Rauch's Demosclerosis, p. 210) of why Washington doesn't work. He has a way with a quip, observing that Senator Robert Byrd ""has moved so many federal offices to poverty-stricken West Virginia, the state could pass for a government in exile."" But his survey of governmental inefficiency and self-protecting lawmakers doesn't dig too deep. He describes how congressional representatives grandstand to get media coverage, limns the proliferation of interest groups and congressional caucuses, and describes the Senate's unwillingness to investigate colleague Bob Packwood, charged with sexual harassment. The better chapters provide a fresh look at local folkways: Thomas follows the orientation of freshman representatives in 1992, observing how they get sucked into the system they ran against; he also shows how the city's racial polarization led Washingtonians to vote against a local death-penalty bill they felt was foisted on them by Congress. Unfortunately, his chapters on the Supreme Court, fund-raising, and lobbying are mostly old hat, and the best anecdote in his chapter on Congress-as-frat-house -- concerning a night on the town with senators Christopher Dodd and Ted Kennedy -- is borrowed from GQ magazine. Little in his narrative is as rich as the quotes he extracts from a transcript of the clubby, nasty TV show ""The McLaughlin Group."" Thomas admits that he offers no plan to solve any of our national problems -- ""which makes it [the book] a lot like Congress."" But he does conclude, quite reasonably, that congressional procedures should be reformed so that our representatives spend more time making laws than planning for reelection. This topic deserves either tougher reporting or an over-the-top satirist like Dave Barry.