Hill Staffers Speak Out Against the "Full Vitter" Amendment

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Oct. 15 2013 5:03 PM

Hill Staffers Speak Out Against the "Full Vitter"

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"I'd love to give the full Vitter a full Nelson," says one junior staffer.

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The newest version of the House Republicans' debt limit/CR bill has been posted before it goes to the Rules Committee. It will not survive in this form, but I see it does include the "full Vitter" punishment of Hill staffers and members of Congress, and it limits the Treasury's ability to move money around, as promised:

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the Secretary of the Treasury shall not, during the period beginning on the date of the enactment of this joint resolution
(1) direct or approve the issuance of debt by the Federal Financing Bank for the purpose of entering into an exchange transaction for debt that is subject to the limit under such section,
(2) suspend investments in the Government Securities Investment Fund of the Thrift Savings Fund
(3) suspend investments in the Exchange Stabilization Fund established under section 5302 of title 31, United States Code
(4) suspend new investments in the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund or the Postal Service Retiree Health Benefits Fund, or sell or redeem securities, obligations, or other invested assets of the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund or the Postal Service Retiree Health Benefits Fund before maturity.
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That's one of the sops to Republicans. The other, the full Vitter, is making staffers quietly furious. Apparently I'm far from the only reporter asking staffers to send me (anonymously) their thoughts about the mess, but hey—read those other reporters' stories, too! Here's what I have so far.

I am a Democratic House Chief of Staff w/ 17 years of Hill experience. I have 2 children, including one son with health problems. I have not gotten a COLA in 2 years (nor has anyone on my staff), and there’s little chance of that changing anytime soon. My husband is a partner in a law firm, so we are certainly more fortunate than many Hill staffers in terms of combined income (though his income has decreased each of the past 3 years due to the poor economy). But as a partner he has no employer subsidy for health insurance, so we have always depended on mine, and it’s a pretty significant reason I’ve stayed on the Hill all these years.
I can guarantee you that if our subsidy were taken away, I would immediately start looking for work in the private sector. I have absolutely no problem with participating in the health exchanges—this is, as many have pointed out, not about Obamacare. But there is no way I could stay in this job indefinitely if I had to shoulder the entire burden of my family’s health care. I care deeply about Congress and have always felt extremely privileged to work here and more than willing to sacrifice the higher pay, better hours and other perks I might find off the Hill. But there’s a limit to what we can absorb, and I know I speak for a great many of my colleagues.
I am proud, at least, that my boss recognizes how crazy and mean-spirited it is to treat Congressional staff this way, and I am grateful that he’s willing to take a tough vote on Vitter for the sake of his employees.

From a junior staffer:

It's honestly a little confusing for junior staff. Under my current plan (pre-exchange), with no subsidy, my premium would quadruple. But what effect would tax credits have in combination with being a young person?
Frankly, some of us may move up the ladder a little quicker if there truly is an exodus. But who knows how it will turn out. Either way, I'd love to give the full Vitter a full Nelson.

From the House:

I understand the near term political gain by pushing this morale killing idea, and don’t necessarily know that I would have done anything differently if I were in leadership’s shoes. My concern is the slippery slope where Members of Congress are essentially ashamed of their jobs and continually self-flagellate for a short term boost in the polls. In the long run, it matters if the public respects their leaders and political institutions, and right now they don’t. How can these members claim to have the right to govern when they continually undercut the importance of their responsibilities by demeaning the office they hold? This includes essentially telling their staff that they don’t deserve to be treated like other professional employees in both the public and private sectors. Ultimately, it’s not the de facto pay cut that bothers most staffers, it’s the insult to their professionalism.

And from the Senate:

Every single Republican member of Congress whining about the employer contribution should have to answer a basic question—if an employer contribution represents “special treatment,” then why don’t they immediately give up their contribution? Members of Congress have the ability to forfeit their contribution, or cut a check to the Treasury today for the amount they’ve gotten in contributions. If they feel so strongly, why won’t they do that… put their money where their mouth is?

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.