Dear Cloture Detective,
I’ve been working here for awhile and knowing how staff often wear many hats, especially as Legislative Assistants, I was wondering how long the history of Congressional staff spans?
Overworked and Underpaid
Well Overworked and Underpaid,
I hear your pain. Hill staff are some the most overworked and underpaid individuals in the whole city! Surprisingly, Congressional Staff is a relatively recent development in the long history of the US Congress. During the first half century of its existence, the United States Congress functioned without Congressional staff. By the 1840’s, committee members were granted funding for clerks to assist in committee work while Congress was in session. In 1856, Congress approved full time clerks for the House Committee on Ways and Means and the Senate Finance Committee. After these Committees set a precedent of employing full time staff, committee clerks increased in number.
Until the turn of the nineteenth century, government paid congressional staff was limited to committees, thus members who did not occupy a chairmanship either paid secretaries from their personal funds or did not have staff. In 1885 the Senate authorized part time clerks for individual members under the Legislative Appropriations Act (FY 1986) and the House implemented a similar measure eight years later in 1893. Congress passed J. Res. No. 21 on 3 March 1893, which granted individual Congressmen, who were not committee chairmen, government funds to pay for clerks while Congress was in session. In 1896, individual Congressmen were permitted to maintain clerks year round.
In July of 1919, the new 66th Congress passed H.J. Res 10420, which confirmed the staffing provisions of that year’s appropriation measure, and also added two further constraints that remain in effect today. First, the resolution placed a limitation on staff numbers, which was two in 1919. Second, it included the statement that clerks were ‘subject to removal at any time … with or without cause’ and thus emphasized the personal nature of staffing provisions. Twenty years later, H.R. 6205 allowed Members a third clerk. Advocates of H.R. 6205 insisted that numerous members were already paying a third clerk from personal funds.
Following an increase in funds allotted for Congressional Staff in 1944, the Committee on Accounts increased the number of clerks Members were permitted to 5. An increasing Congressional workload, particularly in constituent casework, provided the primary impetus for this change. Congressman Adolph Joachim Sabath, Chairman of the Rules Committee and the most senior member of the House in 1944, was an adamant supporter of the increase. On the House floor, Chairman Sabath argued for its passage by referencing the increase in constituent correspondence over the duration of his 38 years in the House. “When I entered the House, I venture to say we received daily three to six letters and sometimes a telegram. … Today we receive hundreds of letters and telegrams, resolutions and demands that were not dreamed of 38 years ago.” Sabath also noted that many of these requests came from the family members of those in the armed service, “to whom we all desire to be of service.”
- Cloture Detective