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 »
THE PRESIDENT’S POCKET
16th Charity Cancels Function at Mar-a-Lago
1 hours ago
THE LATEST
EARLY SEPTEMBER
Senate Plans Two Hearings on Health Insurance
2 hours ago
THE LATEST

"The Senate health committee will hold two hearings early next month on how the nation’s individual health insurance marketplaces can be stabilized, as party leaders grasp for a fresh path following the collapse of the Republican effort to repeal and replace much of former President Barack Obama’s health care law. GOP and Democratic leaders are exploring whether they can craft a bipartisan but limited bill aimed at curbing rising premiums for people who buy their own insurance. In many markets, consumers are seeing steeply rising premiums and fewer insurers willing to sell policies."

Source:
OVER N. KOREA NUCLEAR PROGRAMS
U.S. Imposes Sanctions on 16 Companies
3 hours ago
THE LATEST
After Collisions, Navy to Suspend Some Operations
6 hours ago
THE LATEST

"The U.S. Navy announced a pause in its global operations and patrols and has begun a broad investigation after the destroyer USS John S. McCain collided with a merchant vessel, leaving 10 sailors missing, the second such incident in as many months."

Source:
“ZERO CHANCE” OF DEFAULT
Mnuchin, McConnell: We’ll Raise Debt Limit
6 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell predicted Congress will raise the country’s debt limit in time to prevent an unprecedented default." Speaking at a Kentucky event, Mnuchin said, “Everybody understands, this is not a Republican issue, this is not a Democrat issue. We need to be able to pay our debts.” McConnell echoed him, saying there's "zero chance" the ceiling doesn't get raised.

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login