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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Perspectives on Congress

A couple of recent articles (h/t Tom Karako) cast light on the ways of Capitol Hill.

Molly Hooper writes at The Hill that deliberation suffers with fast voting:

The rapid-fire succession of floor votes in the House this year has triggered lawmaker confusion and mistakes.

With dozens of votes stacked in a lengthy series on recent bills, a number of House lawmakers have cast the wrong votes.

Over a period of 10 days in June, at least a half-dozen House members have stood on the floor to state publicly that they voted incorrectly.

It is important for members to clarify the record for a variety of reasons, most notably that one of their votes could be used against them in a future campaign.

While unintended votes happen in each Congress, some contend that they are on the rise in 2011. Part of that trend is attributable to changes implemented by Republicans.

The new House GOP majority has adopted a much different schedule from what Democrats embraced during the last Congress. By and large, the House recesses once every three weeks, allowing members to spend more time with their families and constituents. That change has attracted praise from members, but it also puts pressure on leaders to cram as many votes as they can into the schedule.

At Roll Call, Emily Heil describes the importance of loyalty among congressional aides:

Bad behavior by Members of Congress hardly raises an eyebrow in Washington, D.C., anymore. But on Capitol Hill, where current and former staffers describe a culture of extreme loyalty, it’s still unusual for them to blow the whistle.

If Capitol Hill staffers had an insignia, it might very well be slugged “loyalty above all.”

“It absolutely is the quality most valued by lawmakers,” one former House staffer says. “The proximity to a Member is so close, and you’re seeing them at their best, at their worst, when they’re exhausted, when you’re exhausted — they do not want to have to guard themselves, so they surround themselves with people they trust.”

Recently, some staffers have turned on their bosses. Ron Carey, former chief of staff to Rep. Michele Bachmann, penned an opinion piece last week declaring the Minnesota Republican unfit for the presidency. And staffer complaints have ultimately led to the downfalls of lawmakers such as former Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.).

But current and former staffers say those cases are exceptions to the rule.

“There’s essentially no upside to calling out the boss, but plenty of downside,” says Meredith Persily Lamel, a management consultant who works with Congressional offices. “The only upside is being able to sleep at night.”