Unelected Representatives: Congressional Staff and the Future of Representative Government

Unelected Representatives: Congressional Staff and the Future of Representative Government

Unelected Representatives: Congressional Staff and the Future of Representative Government

Unelected Representatives: Congressional Staff and the Future of Representative Government

Excerpt

I WAS NERVOUS. Fresh from academe, on my first assignment as a journalist, I was in the middle of an article about a conference committee that was deadlocked over the use of highway trust fund money for mass transit. I had done all the easy interviews — staffers and lobbyists who filled me in on the issues and players. But sooner or later I knew I would have to interview some elected senators and representatives. The $23 billion authorization bill was the most significant one to come out of the House Public Works Subcommittee on Transportation that year (1973), so it seemed obvious to me that I ought to see the chairman. So there I was, waiting in the office of the late John Kluczynski (D-Ill.) with tape recorder clutched in hand, and, as I said, I was nervous. After all, this interview could be the one to give me the political insights I needed to impress my new editors.

When I first got to Kluczynski's office, the receptionist said the congressman would be glad to see me in a few minutes. Then, while I waited, she telephoned one of the committee staff professionals working on the bill. The chairman wanted him there, she said, in case I raised any technical issues. That seemed a reasonable enough request, until we reached the first "technical" question.

I began the interview with what I thought was a throwaway question. (My experienced colleagues said that was a good way to break the ice.) What makes this issue important, I asked?

"This is a tremendously important bill. It involves millions of dol-

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