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 »
"It is with humility, determination, and boundless confidence in America’s promise that I accept your nomination for president," said Hillary Clinton in becoming the first woman to accept a nomination for president from a major party. Clinton gave a wide-ranging address, both criticizing Donald Trump and speaking of what she has done in the past and hopes to do in the future. "He's taken the Republican party a long way, from morning in America to midnight in America," Clinton said of Trump. However, most of her speech focused instead on the work she has done and the work she hopes to do as president. "I will be a president of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. For the struggling, the striving, the successful," she said. "For those who vote for me and for those who don't. For all Americans together."
Supporters of Bernie Sanders promised to walk out, turn their backs, or disrupt Hillary Clinton's speech tonight, and they made good immediately, with an outburst almost as soon as Clinton began her speech. But her supporters, armed with a handy counter-chant cheat sheet distributed by the campaign, immediately began drowning them out with chants of "Hillary, Hillary!"
If a new poll is to be believed, Hillary Clinton has a big lead in the all-important swing state of Pennsylvania. A new Suffolk University survey shows her ahead of Donald Trump, 50%-41%. In a four-way race, she maintains her nine-point lead, 46%-37%. "Pennsylvania has voted Democratic in the past six presidential elections, going back to Bill Clinton’s first win in 1992. Yet it is a rust belt state that could be in play, as indicated by recent general-election polling showing a close race."
"President Barack Obama has chosen Jackson Park, a lakefront park that once hosted the world’s fair on the city’s South Side, for his $500 million presidential library, according to a person familiar with the matter."
Wednesday was the third night in a row that the Democratic convention enjoyed a ratings win over the Republican convention last week. Which might have prompted a fundraising email from Donald Trump exhorting supporters not to watch. "Unless you want to be lied to, belittled, and attacked for your beliefs, don't watch Hillary's DNC speech tonight," the email read. "Instead, help Donald Trump hold her accountable, call out her lies and fight back against her nasty attacks."