Eight months after the demise of the House page program, little remains of the navy-clad messengers save nostalgia and a few phantom pains.
“Some members were understandably disappointed when it was announced, but we’ve not heard many, if any, complaints in recent months,” said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
Some Capitol Hill staffers did notice a void soon after the last pages left the House in August. Ed McDonald, chief of staff to Rep. Howard Coble, R-N.C., since 1985, felt the pages’ absence in November when he tried to call in a statement to the floor during debate on the continuing resolution.
“I picked up the phone and no one was there,” McDonald said. “I had to walk it over myself.”
McDonald wasn’t particularly inconvenienced by the walk; one reason offered by the speaker and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., for closing the program was that “most members are contacted directly via electronic devices” and no longer need messengers on the floor.
Still, even some new and fiscally conservative members say the program had value.
“With all the foolish, wasteful programs we have in Washington, D.C., we could have found what, $3 million?” said Rep. Allen West, R-Fla. “It’s not about efficiency, it’s about grooming the next generation of American leaders.”
Twenty-one pages from the House and Senate programs have gone on to serve in Congress, including eight present members: Reps. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., John Dingell, D-Mich., Rush Holt, D-N.J., Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla., and Dan Boren, D-Okla.; and Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Mark Pryor, D-Ark.
West suggested looking for private funding to keep the page program going for future generations. But the program, which actually cost the House $5 million, posed more than just monetary problems. According to Buck, there were “many considerations other than the cost” when an outside consulting group commissioned by Boehner and Pelosi took a look at the program.
Boehner’s office did not say whether recent scandals involving pages were among those considerations. In 2007, four pages lost their positions for reported shoplifting and sexual misconduct. Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., resigned in 2006 following accusations that he sent sexually explicit messages to male pages—all of whom are usually minors.
The Senate page program is still running with no plans for a shutdown. The Senate runs a leaner program, spending $25,605 per page annually (room and board is deducted and the rest is salary) versus the House’s $69,000 to $80,000 cost for each of its unpaid pages.
And, with only 30 pages at a time, “they are kept busy and work hard each day,” said Elizabeth Roach, who runs the Senate program out of the sergeant-at-arms office.
The Capitol Page Alumni Association is asking its members to support a bill that Boren introduced to reinstate the House program. But the bill has stalled in the House Administration Committee.
Both Pelosi and Boehner promised to look for ways to engage more young people in the work of Congress when they announced the program’s closure. Buck said that while there has been no talk of bringing back the pages, the speaker’s office “continues to believe young people have much to gain from witnessing the work of the House,” and that “we are exploring other ways in which they could engage in the process.”
Pelosi has introduced the Democratic Cloakroom Intern Initiative, which allows college students to perform duties on the floor previously handled by pages. But for the foreseeable future, the high school juniors who once recorded their experiences as pages in a blog entitled “I Love ITTTTTTTT!!!!” will have been the last to bring their 17-year-old optimism to the House of Representatives.
This article appears in the May 9, 2012, edition of NJ Daily.