Lobbyists run Washington, DC. One part of the problem is that money is the mother’s milk of politics in this country, and politicians need to spend half their day fund raising. The other big problem is that there is no one in town besides lobbyists capable of running Washington. Congressional offices are dangerously understaffed and underpaid.
I’ve met many Congressional staffers, and they tend to be very hardworking, nice, smart, young professionals. That is also part of the problem, they are young professionals. The hours are very long, the stress level is high, and the pay is terrible. Add to that a huge lobbying industry waiting to give them jobs with thirty times the salary, and the result is a very high turnover rate. Even a young idealist not in it for the money can quickly burn out.
These congressional staffers are the watchdogs of the taxpayers’ money. They help shape legislation governing all our lives, and take part in deciding how trillions of federal dollars are spent. Their jobs are incredibly important to everyone in this nation. It is crazy that these watchers are, for the most part, a bunch of underpaid, overworked 20-somethings. Don’t we want this job done by well-paid, experienced technocrats?
We will never see a Washington not run by lobbyists until we make a commitment to hiring sufficient numbers of highly qualified staffers committed to doing the job long term. Each House member is limited to maximum staff of 18, and the average size staff is only 14. (These people run our government, but I’ve eaten at delis with larger staffs.) Most Hill staffers are paid $45,000 a year, or less. That is not the pay you need to retain a large staff of well-trained career technocrats. That is the level of pay that produces a farm system for the next generation of political consultants and lobbyists.
I have nothing but sympathy for these low-paid legislative aides. I have spent months focused nearly exclusively on health care reform, and I can only just barely wrap my head around it. I don’t know how they can properly study such important pieces of legislation while still trying to take care of a variety other duties.
What Congress needs is not just more staff, but better paid staff. Make the salaries sufficient so that more people will honestly look on the job as a career. Losing the institutional knowledge because of high turnover is not good for this country.
For basically the price of one completely wothless F-22, we could have doubled the size of the staff and increased salaries for every House office for one year. Maybe if we had spent more money on professional staff, we could have avoided wasting so much money on those useless planes.
I know the congressional staffers write the bills and often become the lobbyists. It is time they lobby on behalf of themselves and the American people. I say to the congressional aides, hire yourselves some much-needed help and give yourselves a raise. It would be a small price to pay to ensure that someone in Washington besides the lobbyists know how to run our government. If need be, call it a jobs bill.