Eight Reasons Why Congress Offers the Worst Job in America

Welcome to a life of mooching, meetings and trying not to get caught making out with your aides.

"People are always looking over your shoulder as you're talking to them to see who else is coming in," she says. "It's ambitious, and it can be so impersonal."

6. Wasn't I supposed to get 252 days off this year?

Technically, you were. The U.S. House is scheduled to meet only 113 days this year, making this the easiest job since the invention of trophy wives. But most members believe that if they're not in constant demand, "they're slipping into obscurity," says one staffer.

So they're off to the airport every Thursday night, flying home to a new schedule of parades, manufacturing tours, town-hall events and meetings. Always more meetings.

Fridays and Saturdays are spent touring the state, playing the resident dignitary at Eagle Scout ceremonies and business openings. It's a grueling schedule, especially if you represent a more populous state. Brown, for example, must answer the needs of 11 million people. "You have a lot of people who want your time," says Schultz.

Nor does the workweek finally end when the clock ticks five on Saturday evening. "It is a 24/7 job," says former senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas). "You're always on call for the emergencies that occur. There are people who are trapped on the top of mountains. There are people who are taken hostage. It could be Sunday. It could be Saturday at 2 a.m."

Someone, somewhere will want you to immediately mobilize the government.

And they'll still be calling you a lazy swine two weeks from now.

5. You will beg treasure from complete strangers.

This is what Washingtonians euphemistically call "strategic outreach."

A leaked PowerPoint presentation from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee shows the party urging incoming freshmen to spend at least four hours per day soliciting money. Since it's considered gauche — and likely illegal — to mooch contributors from the office, this means slipping away to party headquarters, where your dialing finger develops calluses worthy of an Indonesian call center.

Yet dial you must. This job is a purely capitalist pursuit. He who stockpiles the most loot wins 91 percent of the time. And raising money for the party directly correlates with the prestige of your committee assignments. Beg with insufficient zeal, and you'll find yourself chairing the Subcommittee on Gardening & Lawn Care Products.

Democratic senator Dennis DeConcini spent 18 years representing Arizona before becoming a lobbyist. Whenever election time neared, his treasurer would "give me a list of people to call, with the names of their wives and where their kids went to college. And that's what I did all weekend — call people."

"You're having to ask people all the time to fund your career," adds Schultz. "What other profession is like that?"

This may explain the worsening reputation of Congress, whose approval rating now flutters at just 13 percent. You have to be deeply committed to the cause — or equally willing to debase yourself — to even consider this job.

Asks Democrat Bob Graham, a former senator and governor from Florida: "How many people would feel comfortable being handed 100 telephone numbers of people you don't know and calling them up and asking them for $1,000?"

4. You probably suck at parenting.

The crushing schedule leaves you primed for charges of familial abandonment. Most legislators get just one day a week with the spouse and kids.

When people ask Tancredo if they should run for office, he answers with a simple question: "I say, 'Well, do you like your family?'"

He relates the tale of a fellow congressman, a father of five whose work left little time for home. One day the man's five-year-old found a videotape of Dad speaking and plugged it into the VCR. The boy's younger brother had seen so little of his father that he tried to hug his image on TV.

Connie Morella had it easier than most — if it's possible to describe a mother of nine's life as "easy." When her sister died of cancer, the Republican congresswoman and her husband — who already had three children — ­adopted her sister's six kids. But at least she represented nearby Maryland.

She recalls hustling to PTA meetings and back-to-school nights, where her kids were forced to compete with constituents for her attention. It left her with a lingering sense of guilt. "Oh, yes," she says. "Children had to sacrifice to be in political families."

Much worse is the ache in parents who represent distant states. In the old days, legislators could keep their families intact by moving them to D.C. But as disgust with Congress grew, so began an arms race to demonstrate who could be less Washington than the next guy.

Think of it as a weird form of one-upmanship for people with deficit self-awareness. If you're a member of Congress, after all, you're the very embodiment of Washington.

Still, most now boast of keeping their families back home. Others make public spectacles of sleeping in their offices. Look! I'm so not D.C., I don't even have an electric bill here!

"Members will get criticized if they move their families to Washington, because they'll be seen as out of touch with the district," says Martin Frost, a former Democratic congressman from Texas. Occupationally speaking, this can be a lethal accusation.

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7 comments
MelADavis
MelADavis

Last time I checked, serving an elected office is not a job or a career.  It is an honor, duty, and privilege.  Perhaps this is why Congress is so broken.  

Anse
Anse

I wonder if publicly funding campaigns--getting rid of private donations entirely--might go a long way toward reforming this stuff? 

icemanu
icemanu

As a journalist who's spent more than 20 years covering politics from school boards to international summits, all I can say is this is great stuff and dead-on. One of the first things I ask newbie candidates is if they really want to spend 40 hours a week in committee meetings, another 20 gladhandling at ghastly cocktail parties and another 30 making telephone calls to raise funds. It's also among the less than five articles I can recall that made me feel a bit of sympathy for the likes of Tancredo (I can name plenty of Democrats just as awful, BTW). Not saying I'm overly sympathetic, given all the people working two jobs for low wages in abusive conditions, but it's fair to note even Congress is something of a hellish job requiring more than a cushy three-day week (and you can imagine how much worse it is for the staff).

stevek77536
stevek77536

"Every day you learned more shit about more shit," ... I suspect this should be taken literally, even if not meant that way.  With political "geniuses" like Rove doing the teaching, we end up with what we have, Congressional approval ratings in single digits.  Bile-spewing and (secretive) begging have long since replaced public service.

roguebotanist
roguebotanist

No sympathy for Tancredo or Hutchinson.  Both were around at the height of the Iraq war and were lapdog yes men/women for the GOP powers with no meaningful bills between them. They won't be missed as politicians. 

larrybradley
larrybradley

Don't have time to read the whole thing right now, so I will assume it is a joke, a tongue-in-cheek piece; otherwise, "the most terrible job in the world" sure seems to be one that most people will do anything to hang on to. You not what the REAL worst job in the world is? It is being unemployed when you are able and willing to work, but the economy has been so screwed up by those who don't bother to show up for most of their meetings (aka Congress) that people have given up. Despair over meetings when you make $174k and many thousands, if not millions, more on the side is way different from despair over joblessness. Okay, so maybe it is a tongue-in-cheek piece. If so, thanks anyway for giving me an opening to sound off.

Anse
Anse

@larrybradley I don't know. If you're really idealistic and sincerely want to do the best for your district and your country, this sounds like a pretty awful way to go about it. 

 
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