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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Scapegoating the Staff

As I used to hear old people say years ago: “You just can’t get good help these days.” That seems to be the refrain of the Republican Party this week, what with a $338 billion omnibus bill crashing and burning, and with intelligence reform legislation being stalled yet again–and unidentified low-level staffers appearing to take the blame in both cases.
After an elaborate game of hot potato in which House and Senate GOP leaders, Rep. Ernest Istook and the IRS took turns pointing fingers and denying responsibility, everybody seems to have agreed to blame House appropriations committee staffers for the language authorizing access to taxpayers’ returns that derailed the omnibus bill until December. According to CNN, “Senate GOP leader Bill Frist said Sunday that ‘accountability will be carried out’ against whoever slipped in the provision.” Guess somebody will be leaving the Emerald City posthaste and going back to toil in Daddy’s law firm.
Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld indignantly denied widespread reports that he had lobbied against intelligence reform. This leaves reform-smashers James Sensenbrenner and Duncan Hunter, who made it clear they were acting to protect DoD’s turf in this matter, looking kind of exposed, at least until such time as Rumsfeld and the White House figure out which low-level staffers at the Pentagon can be blamed for this perfidious disloyalty to the President’s position.
Ah, the staff makes such good scapegoats, and opportunities like these give politicians an excellent opportunity to vent their underlying irritation at having to rely on whippersnappers whom they suspect of forgetting Who’s the Boss.
Back when I worked in state government, every time the National Governors’ Association met they would hold Governors-only sessions where staffers were strictly banned. I once asked one of my bosses what they talked about in these sessions, and he looked me in the eye and said: “We sit around and complain about our staffs.”

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