It’s time to see some outsourcing of federal jobs in America’s Capital City or, perhaps, just serious layoffs.
Visiting the District of Columbia is an awful experience when you work hard to support your family out in the hinterlands. You arrive in a place with constant construction. Houses that would be $300,000 in the booming growth counties of Texas are $750,000 in D.C. You drive through the suburbs and see building after building dedicated either to a government agency or to some organization that lobbies government. Roads are generally in good repair and they are full of cars.
I visited D.C. in January for the March for Life and met a friend at the Dubliner Irish pub near Capitol Hill for dinner. As we sat down to eat, I told her that I found the city to be ugly and offensive on my drive in from Dulles International Airport. Misunderstanding my point, she said “Oh no, there are so many beautiful neighborhoods. I’m sure you just took the wrong route!”
I had to explain to her that it was exactly those beautiful places that offended me.
It’s a town that has been built on the backs of American taxpayers for the comfort of the elite. Despite being a place where people are supposed to come and serve temporarily, the truth is they never leave. Congressman move from Nevada or Alaska or Florida to serve in Congress, but soon they put down roots in Arlington or Alexandria or Falls Church or Bethesda.
And their staff do the same. Young, bright-eyed 22-year-olds write to members of Congress hoping to land a job answering mail or studying an issue for the elected representative. And they never go home. They enjoy D.C. too much. There is the power and the excitement and all the beautiful monuments. There is the Smithsonian and the Kennedy Center. There is Georgetown University and Wisconsin Avenue. Tenley Circle and DuPont Circle. Bars and clubs. Famous people around every corner.
And there are more $100,000-a-year jobs than most 30-year-olds could ever dream of finding with their relative inexperience and educational backgrounds than in any other city, with the possible exception of New York.
I was a 17-year-old college freshman in spring 1988 when I wrote letters to every Republican I could think of asking for a summer internship. Jack Kemp, Newt Gingrich, Al D’Amato, Orrin Hatch. I must have written 100 letters. Steve Duchesne from U.S. Senator Gordon Humphrey’s office offered me a position. It did not pay but I was one of five helpers that summer. It was very exciting and so much fun. I did research on a couple of legislative proposals. I helped out in the policy areas of family, welfare, adoption, and abortion assisting two paid staff of the senator.
With my badge, I could bypass the metal detectors. Occasionally a senator would allow us to ride in their special elevator, and in that way I quite literally rubbed elbows with Ted Kennedy and a few other famous senators. On the other hand, I only met Sen. Humphrey twice as he did not work out of the same office we used, though I did get a photograph with him while I held my favorite Detroit Tigers baseball cap. I even got to see Reagan return from signing the INF treaty with Mikhail Gorbachev.
The point is, for a young person interested in politics, it was intoxicating. I didn’t want to return to college at the end of that summer.
People in D.C. become addicted to the place. They forget that it exists for us, not us for it.
Maybe, like me you watched the Fox News profile on Charles Krauthammer a couple months ago, discussion his recent book. They spent significant time talking about his love for the Washington Nationals baseball team. They showed how he rushes away from the Fox News studio every evening after his appearance on “Special Report” and gets to the ballpark just in time for the first pitch. He has season tickets. He loves his “Nats.” I think Charles grew up in New York City. Every word of that profile bothered me.
Every Sunday at the end of “Fox News Sunday” I get a dose of such profiles. The panda is going home to China. Some musician is the best cellist ever. The barber in the Senate. The architect of the Capitol showing off his repairs.
It is a swamp. It’s the worst kind of swamp because it seems like a Garden of Eden, not a stinking nasty mosquito infested swamp. It draws people in, and, like the Lotus-Eaters in Homer’s Odyssey, they never want to leave.
There are half a million federal government employees in or near the D.C. area and 1 million more whose jobs are spawned by the government. It is bad enough that we employ half a million federal workers and give them above-average benefit packages, but we also overpay them because it is expensive to live in D.C. Food there is 30 percent more costly compared to, say, Houston. Housing, clothes, gas—all of it costs more, especially in recent years, because the government keeps growing. Three of the wealthiest counties in America are now in the D.C. metropolitan area.
The federal government employs almost 3 million civilians across the nation as well as another 1.5 million uniformed military personnel. The only real cut we’ve seen over the last 50 years has been in the military where that number is 750,000 smaller than at the end of the Reagan administration. Of course those soldiers are by far our lowest paid federal employees.
Washington, D.C. could use to see housing prices drop along with the other high costs of living. Californians have seen their housing bubbles burst more than once in the last three decades. The Detroit area saw a nearly 50 percent drop when the car business tanked. Next came Las Vegas and Florida.
Now it is D.C.’s turn. If we could trim 50,000 government jobs and maybe send another 50,000 to other parts of the country, we’d also see cuts in the many other businesses that feed off those jobs. Most of this can be accomplished by attrition—just giving a year’s notice of a 10 percent cut in wages and another 10 percent the following year. Housing costs would probably drop 10 percent. Maybe 20 percent. And those lower costs would be some consolation to workers left behind.
And we’d see lots of bargains for tourists. Cheaper hotel costs. Bargains on airfare. D.C. might have to rely more on the rest of us to come visit them and voluntarily spend our money instead of depending upon the beautiful coercion of taxation.
A little austerity would do D.C. a lot of good.
Maybe lawyers would go back to Florida and Texas and Ohio. Maybe small business people would return to business instead of lobbying for bits of government largesse. If we also made sure there is no Congressional pension and had smaller staff budgets, Capitol Hill might not be the beginning of a lifetime in D.C. but just a stop along the way.
Of course we will simultaneously be cutting regulations on business and cutting taxes and working to defend employment through economic nationalism so the rest of the country could be having a boom while D.C. loses a little weight.
When I worked for Sen. Humphrey, I knew he had promised New Hampshire voters he would only serve two terms. He also refused to buy a house or even rent an apartment in D.C. He slept in a marine barracks in the Anacostia area south of Capitol Hill. He told people he did not want to get used to D.C. His wife and two adopted children stayed home in New Hampshire, and he flew home every weekend to see them. He didn’t put down any roots in D.C. and his name isn’t famous.
The federal city is full of too many people who come from somewhere else and never go home. But that isn’t how it once was. John Adams went home to Braintree and Jefferson to Monticello. Back then, members of Congress wrote home about their fears of the real swamp that D.C. was set in and they longed to get out of town. Let’s shrink the bureaucracy and lower wages a little. Let’s make the rest of America Great Again by making the capitol a little smaller.