Democrat Aides Find They Are Out in the Cold
The day after the Republicans' Nov. 8 election juggernaut swept across the political landscape, Pat Rissler received bad news from the firm that had offered her a job months earlier.
"'We don't need you,' they said. 'We need someone to lobby Republicans,'" recalled Ms. Rissler, a 30-year Capitol Hill veteran who spent 21 of those years on the staff of Rep. William D. Ford, D-Mich.
Mr. Ford, who has been the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee since 1991, announced some time ago that he would retire at the end of this year. That gave Ms. Rissler, the staff director of the panel, a head start.
But with that fateful phone call, she joined 87 other Democratic aides on the committee who face uncertain futures come January, when the 104th Congress begins.
"My advice to the others is, assume there will be nothing, and think about your mortgage payments," Ms. Rissler said.
Another top aide fared better. John F. Jennings, the chief counsel for the education committee, announced earlier this year that he would retire after 27 years with the panel. He will head a new education-policy center at the Institute for Educational Leadership in Washington. (See Education Week, 09/28/94.)
But most Democratic aides have not found safe harbors. Adding to the anxiety, House g.o.p leaders last week reaffirmed a campaign pledge to cut overall committee-staffing levels by a third, from 1,960 workers to about 1,300 next year.
Because Republicans gained 52 seats in the election to take over as the chamber's majority party, staff reductions will be absorbed on the Democratic side.
Democratic staff positions now outnumber the Republicans' by 87 to 29 for the House education committee, which will be renamed the Committee on Economic and Educational Opportunity. A reversal of those ratios is expected, though distributions of staff positions have not been made final.
'Great Time' To Be G.O.P.
"If you're a Republican, this is a great time to work in Congress," said Vic Klatt, the committee's Republican education-policy coordinator.
Commenting on the travails of his Democratic colleagues, Mr. Klatt said: "Unfortunately, that's how Washington works. On another level, you can't help but have sympathy for what they're going through."
Senate Republicans--who took control of that chamber by gaining eight seats--have promised their own reductions, including cuts of 15 percent in committee staffs. And some want to do even more.
Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum, R-Kan., who is expected to chair the Labor and Human Resources Committee, plans to eliminate two subcommittees and cut staffing by 25 percent.
By some estimates, a total of up to 3,000 committee workers, aides who work in lawmakers' personal offices, and other Congressional staff members and support workers could be out of work next month.
For many of them, the transition actually began Nov. 9.
"Our phones almost immediately started ringing and have been ringing constantly," said Cheryl Lyons, the Washington manager for Manpower Temporary Services, a national employment agency.
"We see a larger influx than we saw two years ago when President Clinton was elected," Ms. Lyons added. "While these people are younger, they are well qualified."