Monday, October 09, 2006

Pepin the Short Redux: Staff Controls Congress

John Fund at the WSJ has a key article of much more depth and salience than any MSM dogpack following the thundering herd on the left. It concerns Congress and the late, great Barry Goldwater, who warned that staffers were proliferating like rabbits, and lobbyists were sure to follow.

I'm sure that if events tend to follow their natural course, the situation may end up like the end of the Merovingian Dynasty, when the mayors of the palace like Pepin the Short made the selection of who would be the next Merovingian king, until the competent mayors tired of the game and kicked the incompetent Merovingians off the throne. Okay, every analogy is inexact, but read Fund's article above and check out a couple of tasty tidbits:
The staffs on Capitol Hill increasingly are a power in their own right, and that should concern both members and voters. Many have accumulated so much influence that they can "micromanage" the executive branch, create pork-barrel "earmarks" out of thin air, and subject officials to relentless investigation. Ernest Hollings, a former Democratic senator from South Carolina, once described what he called "the staff infection": "I heard a senator the other day tell me another senator hadn't been in his office for three years; it is just staff [there]. Everybody is working for the staff, staff, staff, driving you nutty, in fact."

Or, as longtime congressional staffer Harrison Fox puts it, "Because they are not accountable to the voter, staffers are often driven by different values and priorities."

One can imagine the charmless Sen. Jeffords of VT not showing up after his rat-out to the Dems for committee seniority ended in disaster in 2002 when the Democrat Party lost the Senate and Jeffords was revealed for being a stupid con. Wonder what other Senators Hollings may have been thinking of? Both my wife and both in-laws were congressional staffers way back before the number got astronomical, but I do recall one member of Congress telling me in an embassy that his vote on an important bill having to do with the host-country was due to the advice of a staffer. More from Fund:
The growing power of the staff has in turn fueled the dramatic increase in the number of Washington lobbyists, who perhaps not without coincidence also number about 30,000, twice as many as six years ago. Staffers who leave Capitol Hill often hit the jackpot as high-priced lobbyists or consultants. The sheer complexity and size of government now mean it's often impossible for members to know how to understand and navigate it, so they often turn over that job to their staff or former staffers turned lobbyists.

Anyone who doesn't believe staffers exercise that kind of power on a day-to-day basis should talk to Mark Bisnow, a former aide to such senators as Hubert Humphrey and Bob Dole. "Just watch senators on their way into the chamber for a vote," he told me several years ago. "Many will quickly glance to the side where aides stand compressing into a single gesture the sum of information their bosses need: thumbs up or thumbs down."

Hastert should get thumbs-down from the voters for delegating his authority to a senior staffer.

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