“It’s a crazy thing. There’s no other thing where a high-schooler can be put into politics like that,” Bengochea said Monday as other alumni traded outraged messages on Facebook. “I don’t understand why they would cut it to save, like, pennies, basically.”
Pages made $1,804.83 a month, minus taxes and a 35 percent room and board fee. Boehner and Pelosi said the program cost the House about $69,000 to $80,000 per page per school year; their note doesn’t spell out who will now deliver messages and packages. The program was eliminated at a time when the GOP-led House is seeking to make itself a model for a smaller, more efficient federal government.
(Charles Dharapak/Associated Press) - House pages and others greet President Obama before his State of the Union speech in January.
“I can see the logic,” said Jerry Papazian, a California consultant who heads the page alumni association. “I’m still sad about it. It’s too bad.” He said technology does much of the work he did as a page in 1971 and 1972. “In some ways, I’m surprised it didn’t happen earlier.”
The House’s page program has been at the center of two sex scandals as lawmakers were accused of abusing the teenagers in the chamber’s care. In 1983, Reps. Gerry E. Studds (D-Mass.) and Daniel B. Crane (R-Ill.) were censured for having sex with pages in separate incidents.
In 2006, Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) resigned after reports that he sent inappropriate messages to House pages. Afterward, leaders pledged to improve oversight of the page program.
House pages trace their roots to two men selected to be “Door-Keepers and messengers” to the First Continental Congress in 1774. In the 1820s, the chamber’s messengers came to be known as pages: Historian Darryl J. Gonzalez wrote that their tasks included tending the House chamber’s fireplaces and delivering covert mint juleps to a speaker who liked to drink them through a long straw during sessions.
The pages, historians say, were a mix of well-connected youngsters and orphans in need of a job. The list of alumni include Microsoft titan Bill Gates and seven current members of Congress. Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) was a page from 1936 to 1941, while his father served in the House.
The younger Dingell was in the House gallery when President Franklin D. Roosevelt described the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor as “a date which will live in infamy.” His job was to mind a rowdy right-wing personality sitting in the gallery.
“I had the responsibility of making sure he didn’t cause a ruckus,” Dingell remembered. He didn’t. On Monday, Dingell said he had enjoyed recommending youths to serve as pages, then watching them grow into successful adults.
“And I’m not going to have the opportunity to do that anymore,” he lamented.
Staff researcher Lucy Shackelford contributed to this report.