How to Use Congressional Staffers as Political Props

Some prime examples from Ted Cruz and President Obama.

Congressional staffers stand along the walls of the hearing room where the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
National Journal
Matt Vasilogambros
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Matt Vasilogambros
Sept. 27, 2013, 12:36 p.m.

Con­gres­sion­al staffers are the life­lines of mem­bers of Con­gress. So, how do you get un­der the skin of a sen­at­or or a rep­res­ent­at­ive? Bring their staff in­to the de­bate.

This seems to be the tac­tic be­ing used in the con­tinu­ing-res­ol­u­tion de­bate hap­pen­ing in Wash­ing­ton right now, one util­ized by both Pres­id­ent Obama on Fri­day and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, dur­ing his long speech from Tues­day in­to Wed­nes­day.

Take Cruz first. When dis­cuss­ing what he said are the neg­at­ive ef­fects of the Af­ford­able Care Act, he brought his staff in­to the pic­ture, say­ing many were con­cerned about the law’s ef­fects on their per­son­al in­come and wel­fare.

Among con­gres­sion­al staff, just like among mem­bers, the idea that they would be sub­ject to Obama­care deeply con­cerns them. It con­cerns them on the money side and it con­cerns them on the qual­ity of care and health in­sur­ance that they will be able to get on the ex­changes.

“¦

I have had one staff mem­ber already in­dic­ate she would re­tire after many years of ser­vice, and the pos­sib­il­ity of be­ing put on Obama­care was a real factor in that de­cision.

Pres­id­ent Obama used a sim­il­ar tac­tic when talk­ing about a po­ten­tial gov­ern­ment shut­down. If Con­gress doesn’t pass a con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion in the com­ing days, their staffers won’t be able to come in­to work or get paid. And the pres­id­ent wanted to re­mind law­makers of just that.

So, any Re­pub­lic­an in Con­gress who is cur­rently watch­ing, I’d en­cour­age you to think about who you’re hurt­ing. There are prob­ably young people in your of­fice right now who came to work for you without much pay be­cause they be­lieve that pub­lic ser­vice was noble. You’re pre­par­ing to send them home without a paycheck.

It’s un­clear wheth­er this play­book works, but it’s hard to over­state the value that staffers have to their bosses — ad­vising them on how to vote on le­gis­la­tion, re­spond­ing to con­stitu­ents, writ­ing com­mit­tee and floor speeches, run­ning the of­fice, com­mu­nic­at­ing with oth­er law­makers’ of­fices, and of course, craft­ing le­gis­la­tion.

By in­vok­ing the po­ten­tial suf­fer­ing of their staff, Cruz and Obama are bank­ing on law­makers act­ing to pre­vent such out­comes. For without staffers, Wash­ing­ton can’t run, and law­makers know it.

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