What's With All the Hating on Congressional Staff?

One of the oddest things we've seen in recent weeks is the way Republicans have taken to lashing out at congressional staff.

First you had Newt Gingrich arguing that health-care reform couldn't be done right because it was in the hands of staffers "who have never had a real job, who spent their entire life being arrogant to visitors from back home, who end up thinking they know a lot because they stay up until 3 o'clock working on a word processor, and who write legislation as though they have some contact with reality."

Then you had John Boehner imploring his banker friends, "Don't let those little punk staffers take advantage of you and stand up for yourselves" by fighting against financial reform. Now you've got Rep. Devin Nunes, who apparently is pledging the congressional fraternity Beta Tau Nutball (Michele Bachmann, Rush Chair), complaining that Democrats are employing "staff thugs" who do things like monitor votes.

It makes you wonder what the people who work for these members of Congress think. Not that members are, as a group, known for caring deeply about the feelings of their staff, but it must be awfully dispiriting to hear your boss talk about you that way.

I know plenty of people who either work on the Hill or have worked on the Hill in the past, and guess what: They're pretty much like any other large group of people. Some of them are brilliant and committed to creating a better world, and some of them are over-ambitious jerks. But they do work very hard, and usually for fairly modest salaries. Without them, laws would never get written. They often understand more about both the legislative process and the substance of issues than their bosses do, because those bosses have a lot of other demands on their time (like fundraising).

You could argue that there are too many of them (there are around 10,000 people who work in Congress), or that they have too much influence in one way or another, or that too many of them leave and become lobbyists. But surely Republicans can come up with a better argument against the Democratic agenda than "congressional staff are mean!"

-- Paul Waldman

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