In this issue

Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review Oct. 9, 2006 / 17 Tishrei, 5767

Staff Infection: The unelected thousands who really run Congress

By John H. Fund

Printer Friendly Version
Email this article

http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | "Every member of this House knows how important it is to have good staff. These are the people who run this institution from day to day. . . . We, as members of Congress, place our trust and careers in their capable hands every day."

— Tom DeLay

The House Ethics Committee and the FBI are sorting out what happened in the Mark Foley scandal. But from what we already know, there was at a minimum a management breakdown in how the initial, suggestive emails Mr. Foley sent a former page were handled. One thing members of Congress need to realize is how much their reliance on staffers is hurting the institution and helping make it unaccountable.

Let's look at the facts in the Foley case. Last year Royal Alexander, chief of staff to Rep. Rodney Alexander (no relation), contacted Speaker Dennis Hastert's office to say a former page was concerned about email exchanges he'd had with Mr. Foley. Mr. Hastert's office sent Royal Alexander to see then-House Clerk Jeff Trandahl, a Hastert appointee who administered the page program.

Royal Alexander declined to show Mr. Trandahl the full text of the emails, citing privacy concerns. He would only describe the exchange as "overfriendly," and he said the page's family wanted the contact to stop but without any publicity. Mr. Trandahl bizarrely accepted that the family's wish for privacy precluded him from seeing the entire email exchange. He then contacted Illinois's Rep. John Shimkus, chairman of the House Page Board, and they arranged a meeting with Mr. Foley. During the meeting, Rep. Shimkus says, they showed Mr. Foley two brief excerpts from the emails, including one in which the Florida congressman asked the former page for a picture.

According to Mr. Shimkus, Mr. Foley responded by saying, "If I'm being accused for being overly friendly, I am overly friendly with the pages." But he insisted he was only mentoring the young man. At the end of their conversation, Mr. Shimkus says, he told Mr. Foley to end any further contact with the former page. Mr. Foley agreed. Mr. Shimkus has noted that when two Florida newspapers were shown the email exchanges they ended up not writing about them.

The initial e-mails may not have piqued media interest, but even Speaker Hastert has told reporters that Mr. Foley's request for a teenager's picture "would raise a red flag" with him. But he defended the decision by Mr. Trandahl and his other staffers to handle the Foley issue without telling him: "I see no reason to bump it up to me at that time." He insisted he would not second-guess how his staff handled the situation.

That shows Speaker Hastert just doesn't get it. If something was a "red flag," he should have been told about it. Now Washington is filled with speculation that Mr. Trandahl and other staffers might have been trying to cover up for Mr. Foley. On "Fox News Sunday," Rep. Jack Kingston, vice chairman of the Republican Conference, raised the idea that "there was a staffer or two who decided to maybe protect Mark Foley for reasons unknown."

The Washington Post has reported that Mr. Trandahl is on the board of the gay-rights group Human Rights Campaign and is "personally close to the now-disgraced former lawmaker, who announced through his lawyer this week that he is gay." In November 2005, days after his involvement in the Foley matter, Mr. Trandahl left his job as House clerk to head up the National Fish and Wildlife Federation. The Post noted that "House aides say the circumstances of Trandahl's exit were oddly quiet," marked with little of the congratulatory sendoff other departing House clerks have received.

Whatever role Mr. Trandahl or other staffers played in the Foley matter, they clearly failed to put the interests of the pages or their bosses first. This doesn't shock many longtime Capitol Hill observers. 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."

There are now more than 17,000 staffers on personal or committee staffs, a work force bigger than an Army division. Political scholars James Bennett and Thomas DiLorenzo believe that in reality many of them make up a "network of tax-funded 'constituent service' aides whose actual job is to subvert the electoral process — that is, to give incumbents unfair advantages over their already underfinanced challengers."

As long ago as 20 years ago, the growing power of staff attracted the attention of Sen. Barry Goldwater. He took the opportunity to single staffers out for attention in his 1986 "farewell address": "Today's Hill staffers write most of the legislation and speeches, they do all kinds of work that the members of Congress should be doing," Goldwater warned. "It is safe to say that the U.S. Congress is now run by paid staffers, not by people elected to do the job."

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."

What makes the Foley scandal so potentially disastrous for Congress's reputation is that if Speaker Hastert wasn't informed of the Foley emails, then he wasn't even given the courtesy of a hand gesture warning him of the potential disaster they represented. "As the speaker I take responsibility for everything in this building. The buck stops here," he told reporters last week.

If that's true, then it's time Mr. Hastert or whoever is speake

r next January start thinking carefully about how members of Congress can once again reassert control over the place. As poor as the GOP record in that regard has been, congressional Democrats, who seem to want only to expand the size and complexity of the federal government, will find that only enhances the power of staff.

"My biggest fear about the whole Foley mess is that members will now crack down on our freedom and ability to maneuver," one congressional aide told me. "That could really cramp my style." However, he added with some relief that he doesn't think that's likely to happen.

Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in in the media and Washington consider "must-reading". Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

JWR contributor John H. Fund is author, most recently, of "Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy". (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.)

Comment on this column by clicking here.


© 2006, John H. Fund