Amid Shutdown, the ‘Do-Nothing’ Label Just May Fit

National Journal
Elahe Izadi, Clara Ritger and Sophie Novack
See more stories about...
Elahe Izadi Clara Ritger Sophie Novack
Oct. 2, 2013, 6:21 p.m.

While people of­ten com­plain about a Do-Noth­ing Con­gress, massive staff re­duc­tions in­side the Cap­it­ol could make that truer than ever be­fore.

The day-to-day busi­ness of con­gres­sion­al of­fices and com­mit­tees — from con­stitu­ent ser­vice to hear­ings and in­vest­ig­a­tions — is largely on hold, as House Re­pub­lic­ans and Sen­ate Demo­crats stale­mate over a budget agree­ment.

Many of­fices are run­ning with only a frac­tion of their usu­al staff, for­cing law­makers to pri­or­it­ize what gets done and em­ploy­ees to struggle against gar­gan­tu­an work­loads.

“The en­emy of pro­ductiv­ity is fear and anxi­ety,” said Robert To­bi­as, a pro­fess­or at Amer­ic­an Uni­versity’s School of Pub­lic Af­fairs. “It’s very dif­fi­cult to get any­thing done when you’re stretched thin and anxious about wheth­er you are go­ing to be paid.”

Scenes of ex­actly that played out all over the Cap­it­ol, as law­makers re­vealed how their of­fices and com­mit­tees would man­age the shut­down. The choice of who is deemed es­sen­tial and who is fur­loughed is left to each in­di­vidu­al mem­ber. The same goes for com­mit­tees, where the chair and rank­ing mem­ber de­cide.

Ac­cord­ing to guid­ance is­sued by the House Ad­min­is­tra­tion Com­mit­tee, es­sen­tial em­ploy­ees are those whose jobs are “as­so­ci­ated with the con­sti­tu­tion­al re­spons­ib­il­it­ies, the pro­tec­tion of life, or the pro­tec­tion of prop­erty.” There is no re­quire­ment as to how many em­ploy­ees each of­fice needs to fur­lough, al­though of­fices do in­cur a debt for staff work, which will pre­sum­ably be paid once the gov­ern­ment is fun­ded again.

Law­makers ad­dressed the situ­ation dif­fer­ently. Of­fices for Demo­crat­ic Sens. Di­anne Fein­stein and Chris Murphy, for ex­ample, had signs up say­ing they were closed, with phone num­bers to call. Oth­ers, such as that of Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., were open with some staff in­side.

Com­mit­tees, too, were a mixed bag. The House Over­sight Com­mit­tee con­tin­ued with its sched­uled hear­ing Tues­day, which turned out to be first day of the shut­down. But the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee post­poned full com­mit­tee markups and Im­mig­ra­tion Sub­com­mit­tee hear­ings.

One com­mon com­plaint was how to ad­dress the large volume of calls and con­stitu­ent mail that comes in daily. “Pro­ductiv­ity has suffered,” said one Sen­ate aide, whose of­fice shrank from 29 staffers and in­terns to just eight. “Let­ters aren’t get­ting re­spon­ded to and are pil­ing up. We’re mon­it­or­ing phone mes­sages, but we’re not an­swer­ing the phones.”

In some cases, however, the lack of staff made for good op­tics. Sen. Joe Manchin’s staff, for ex­ample, sent out a photo of him an­swer­ing his own phones. A walk over to the of­fice re­vealed the West Vir­gin­ia Demo­crat at a re­cep­tion­ist’s desk, chat­ting away as re­port­ers and cam­er­as watched.

Manchin’s of­fice re­ceived about 200 voice mails from con­stitu­ents Tues­day, many want­ing to know wheth­er vari­ous so­cial ser­vices were still avail­able. They got an­oth­er 200 calls Wed­nes­day. So when Manchin ar­rived at his of­fice around 9:45 a.m. and heard the phones ringing, he sat down and picked up — and he kept go­ing as people in suits ar­rived for sched­uled meet­ings.

“They’re up­set, truly up­set,” Manchin told Na­tion­al Journ­al Daily, de­scrib­ing the con­stitu­ents who called. “They’re scared and up­set. And this is self-in­flic­ted pain. I just apo­lo­gize. I am a mem­ber of Con­gress, and I apo­lo­gize for this un­ne­ces­sary shut­down.”

What We're Following See More »
SPLIT ON FULL DEPORTATION
Gallup: Republicans Prefer Path to Citizenship
1 hours ago
THE DETAILS

The Republicans you heard chanting "build that wall!" last week in Cleveland are in the minority, a new poll from Gallup finds. While 62 percent of Republicans favor building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, just 33 percent of Americans hold that view. Conversely, 84 percent of Americans, including 76 percent of Republicans, favor allowing those living in the U.S. without proper documentation to become citizens "if they meet certain requirements over a period of time."

Source:
THROUGH THE ELECTION
Brazile Replacing DWS on an Interim Basis
1 hours ago
THE LATEST

Donna Brazile, the longtime Democratic strategist and political commentator, is replacing Debbie Wasserman Schultz as head of the Democratic National Convention, at least until the November elections.

Source:
OUTLIER OR TREND?
New Polls Show Big Bounce for Trump
2 hours ago
THE LATEST

According to a new CNN/ORC poll, Donald Trump emerged from the GOP convention "ahead of Hillary Clinton in the race for the White House, topping her 44% to 39% in a four-way matchup including Gary Johnson (9%) and Jill Stein (3%) and by three points in a two-way head-to-head, 48% to 45%. That latter finding represents a 6-point convention bounce for Trump, which are traditionally measured in two-way matchups." Meanwhile, a Morning Consult poll shows Trump leading by four points nationally. He had been down two points in the same poll a week ago.

Source:
AVOIDING CLINTON OR PREFERRING TO CAMPAIGN?
Some Dems in Tight Races Elect to Skip Convention
2 hours ago
THE DETAILS

As the Democratic National Convention gets underway today in Philadelphia, some prominent Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate are nowhere to be found. "At least four candidates in major races are opting out, including Russ Feingold, who is challengingSen. Ron Johnson in Wisconsin; Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, who is taking on Sen. John McCain in Arizona; Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, who is running against Sen. Roy Blunt; and Catherine Cortez Masto, who is battling Rep. Joe Heck in Nevada for the seat vacated by retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid." The candidates have stated their decisions aren't motivated by a desire to avoid being tied to the Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Source:
PRIME TIME ADDRESS
Bloomberg to Endorse Clinton This Week
5 hours ago
THE LATEST

Michael Bloomberg will endorse Hillary Clinton this week in a prime-time speech. "The news is an unexpected move from Mr. Bloomberg, who has not been a member of the Democratic Party since 2000; was elected the mayor of New York City as a Republican; and later became an independent. But it reflects Mr. Bloomberg’s increasing dismay about the rise of Donald J. Trump and a determination to see that the Republican nominee is defeated."

Source:
×