Thousands of Democrats to be jobless in Washington

(Chris Morris For The Washington Post)
By Al Kamen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 4, 2010; 5:55 PM

The Great Shellacking of 2010 will throw more than 2,000 Democratic congressional staffers out of their jobs. And it will send thousands of gleeful Republican staffer wannabes into overdrive to get those resumes up to the Hill to fill those vacancies.

Here's a back-of-the-envelope look at the numbers: On the House side, 60 victorious GOP candidates are expected to hire more than 1,000 new aides in their personal offices. The staff allocations on the House committees have yet to be worked out, but they often run 2 to 1 for the majority party, so that could add up to a shift of maybe 800 or so jobs. Then there are the new House leadership staffs and so on.

On the Senate side, the six new GOP senators are likely to hire around 150 personal office aides, and more Republican committee staff members will be sitting behind the senators at hearings.

Democrats, with a sagging local economy - K Street isn't hiring the way it used to, foundations and think tanks are pressed, colleges are hurting, corporations are frozen - may well be pounding the pavement for quite a while.

The situation, one senior House Democratic aide said, "is very bleak, especially for mid-level people." A senior House Republican aide commiserated. "I was here in 2006," he said, when the Democrats captured the House as well as the Senate. "It was very tough." And that was before the economy tanked.

There will be jobs for senior aides, said Tony Podesta, head of Podesta Associates. "The market will be tough," he said, but people with great experience and stellar reputations "will always find a place."

Washington has long been "immune from employment trends," he said, but it's going to get a taste of what the rest of the country has been experiencing.

Former Clinton press secretary Joe Lockhart, who runs the Glover Park Group, was a bit more optimistic. In 1994, when the Democrats lost the House for the first time in 50 years - and the Senate as well - the lobbying and political strategy business was a lot smaller and foundations hardly had a presence. "The industry is much bigger than it was in 1994," he said, and the "corporate footprint in town is bigger." So each potential employer may not be filling many slots, he said, "but there are a lot more of them."

On the other hand, job-hunting Democrats also are facing competition from GOP aides, Lockhart said. "If you're a top House Republican staffer thinking of making a move" to the private sector and the big bucks, "now's a good time."

And there's more bad news. After the "Drubbing of '94," some 220 panicky Senate and House Democratic aides jumped to Clinton administration lifeboats and got jobs in federal agencies. They did so under the 1940 Ramspeck Act, which allowed them to circumvent civil service rules and snag jobs.

Then-White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta, we wrote just after that election, "announced at a White House staff meeting that administration personnel boss Veronica Biggins is putting a group together to work with the congressionally unemployed to see what can be done for them."

But the Ramspeck Act was repealed in 1997. And there aren't many mid-level political jobs unfilled at the agencies. So the administration can't do much this time around.

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