politics as unusual

Forget Haiti. You Know Who Has It Really Hard? Congressional Staffers

On Sunday, 46-year-old Paula Nowakowski, chief of staff for House Minority Leader John Boehner, died tragically in her Washington home of an apparent heart attack. A well-liked hard worker, she was mourned by congressmen and colleagues on both sides of the aisle. But less than a week later, Politico has taken opportunity of the incident to get denizens of the Hill talking about their favorite thing: themselves. “Is Congress a health threat?” writer Erika Lovley wonders in a piece on the website today, which is about as classic an example of Politico’s Beltway navel-spelunking as you’re ever going to get. In a week where hundreds of American aid workers, doctors, and soldiers are working 24 hours a day and braving the possibility of disease and injury to help a decimated Haiti, why not take some time to talk about how hard it is to be a Congressional staffer?

According to Politico, Nowakowski’s death was a wake-up call to fellow congressional staffers. She, like many of them, smoked, didn’t make sure to eat well all the time, and worked up to seven days a week. Here is some of the evidence that the website compiled to prove how hard — nay, dangerous! — it is to work on the Hill:

• “In 2005, then-House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas) was in the midst of high-stakes negotiations on the Hill when he began having chest pains. Within 20 minutes, he was in a downtown hospital, where doctors warned him that he was quite likely having a heart attack. ‘It was probably caused by eating too many chicken-fried steaks — and the stress of being in the middle of negotiating a major end-of-the-year spending bill,’ Barton told POLITICO.”
• A staff gym has been built, but many staffers can’t find time to use it.
• “‘In the long run, I’d say this lifestyle could certainly be detrimental to your health,’ said Rep. Kathleen Dahlkemper (D-Pa.), a freshman who previously worked as a dietitian and spoke with POLITICO by phone from the Blue Dog retreat on Tuesday. ‘I’m sitting here watching them bring out trays of snacks: cheeses and sweets. We just ate lunch, which was huge. And before that, we had a very big breakfast. I can’t get over how much food they put in front of us.”
• “There’s no health ethic at all,’ said [nutritionist Katherine ] Tallmadge. ‘Capitol Hill is still very much a good-old-boys kind of place. Go out for huge steak dinners at night and drinks after work. There are candy and chocolates lying around. Sometimes the only chance you have to eat are hors d’oeuvres at parties. The congressional offices are toxic environments.’”

Toxic? This sounds downright malevolent. Who knew our politicians and their staffs were being tortured thusly? Someone call some of those human-rights workers back from Haiti — they’re serving steak and chocolate on Capitol Hill!

Is Congress a health threat? [Politico]

Forget Haiti. You Know Who Has It Really Hard? Congressional Staffers