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

National Journal
Sophie Novack, Clara Ritger and Elahe Izadi
Add to Briefcase
Sophie Novack Clara Ritger Elahe Izadi
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 »
FLINT FUNDING STILL AT ISSUE
Spending Bill Fails to Clear 60-Vote Hurdle
2 hours ago
THE LATEST
SURPASSED 80 MILLION VIEWERS
Monday’s Debate Was Most Watched Ever
2 hours ago
DEBATE UPDATE
‘WASN’T PREPARED’
Hill Republicans Don’t Like What They See in Debate
2 hours ago
THE LATEST

"It was obvious he wasn't prepared." “He only mentioned her email scandal once." "I think he took things a little too personal and missed a lot of opportunities to make very good debate points." That's just a smattering of the reactions of some elected Republicans to Donald Trump's debate performance.

Source:
MOST WATCHED EVER?
Little Ratings Drop-Off from Beginning to End of Debate
4 hours ago
THE LATEST

The conventional wisdom is already emerging that Donald Trump opened last night's debate well, but that he faded badly down the stretch. And most viewers apparently witnessed it. "The early Nielsen data confirms that viewership stayed high the entire time. Contrary to some speculation, there was not a big drop-off after the first hour of the 98-minute debate." Final data is still being tallied, but "Monday's face-off may well have been the most-watched debate in American history. CNN and other cable news channels saw big increases over past election years. So did some of the broadcast networks."

Source:
FUNDING RUNS OUT ON FRIDAY
Federal Agencies Prepare for Govt Shutdown
6 hours ago
THE LATEST

As Congress continues to bicker on riders to a continuing resolution, federal agencies have started working with the Office of Management and Budget to prepare for a government shutdown, which will occur if no continuing resolution is passed by 11:59 p.m. on Friday night. The OMB held a call with agencies on Sept. 23, one that is required one week before a possible shutdown. The government last shut down for 16 days in 2013, and multiple shutdowns have been narrowly avoided since then. It is expected that Congress will reach a deal before the clock strikes midnight, but until it does, preparations will continue.

Source:
×