Is being a congressperson the worst job in America?

Eight reasons to skip that run for Congress

Is being a congressperson the worst job in America?
Scott Anderson

Imagine, in a moment of suspended belief, that your job pays 174 grand a year. And comes with a $1.3 million expense account. And a staff of 18 Ivy League yes-men whose sole duty is to bray loud and wide about the miracle that is you — when they're not babysitting your kids or fetching your dry cleaning, that is.

You get free travel to anywhere on the globe. A private dining room and a private gym replete with swimming pool, sauna, and steam bath.

Best of all, you're only required to show up to work for the equivalent of four months per year.

Dick Lugar
Dick Lugar
Sherrod Brown
Sherrod Brown

Former congressman Tom Tancredo had this life for a decade. By the time it was over, he'd caught that affliction known to anyone who hates his job: a fear of Monday mornings. "As I drove to work, I'd get a knot in my stomach, and it would just start to grow," Tancredo says.

Here's why:

8. Think of your day as a Bataan Death March of meetings.

The meeting. It's the most nefarious act in the American workplace, an assault of trudging monologues and plans never to be fulfilled.

Yet this is your life as a legislator. Meeting. After meeting. After meeting.

Your mornings begin with committee hearings. But since most members serve on four to seven different committees, "you can't just go to one hearing and sit," says former representative Steve Bartlett (R-Texas).

After all, the line outside your office began forming at 8 a.m. There are staffers, constituents, and captains of industry all wanting ... meetings. Never mind the 12,000 registered lobbyists, who may suddenly lack the stamina to write a check if they can't get a sit-down.

So you knock them out in breakneck succession, with barely time to lob pleasantries and get down to business. "Everything in a congressman's life is scheduled within 15-minute increments, and oftentimes you're double-booked," says Bartlett, who subsequently became mayor of Dallas before heading a Wall Street advocacy group.

Tancredo's day would usually begin at 6 a.m., lest his commute turn into a grinding two-hour pilgrimage courtesy of the D.C. rush hour. His meetings would run for the next 10 hours. If the Colorado Republican wanted to speak on the House floor, he would still be working at 11 p.m., when a slot finally opened on the schedule.

Yes, it could all be a heady experience. "Powerful people beg for your vote," says one Capitol Hill staffer. "Ego-wise, it's an orgy at the Playboy Mansion."

It can also be enriching. Tancredo warmly recalls the deluge of information available nowhere else. "Every day you learned more shit about more shit," he says. "It was like a college education every couple of weeks."

The downside is that all this activity is usually for naught.

After all, this is a job of rigorous self-interest. Passing meaningful legislation only jeopardizes your survival, since it places your vote on a tee, there to be hammered by character-assassinating ads in the next election. So rather than act today, it's always best to speak of intended heroics in distant battles to come.

That means the most common vote you'll take is to rename a post office somewhere, which amounts to 20 percent of all legislation passed. According to former senator Alan Simpson (R-Wyoming), it's now all about running out the clock. "It's simply how do you stall until you get through the next election so you don't lose seats."

7. You will attend many parties. They will blow.

Washington is a party town. Bartlett often went to four a night, 12 months a year.

Yet D.C.'s definition of "partying" hews closer to the 1870s sense of the word. You will not lose yourself on the dance floor. You will not wolf shots of pomegranate vodka and end up sharing a bong with a ventriloquist named Renaldo at 4 a.m.

What you will do is shmooze and be shmoozed at dinners, receptions, and fundraisers, where the most unrefined moment will involve a woman wearing pastel out of season.

"The typical reception was about a 15-minute in-and-out," Bartlett says. "Most bartenders would prepare 'the congressional drink' — which is usually orange juice — as soon as you come in."

Yes, there's a good chance that someone will buy you a steak the size of a sub-Saharan principality. But there's also a good chance that you'll be seated next to a lobbyist for the American Coalition for Clean Coal, who will treat you to a soliloquy on the respiratory benefits of airborne toxins.

"They're not a respite," says Tancredo, who's now running for governor of Colorado. "They're usually with contributors to the party, and you're supposed to shmooze. They're not always comfortable."

Worse, these events have a way of trampling lesser egos.

Washington is often referred to as "Hollywood for ugly people." But since there are 535 members of Congress, only the most prominent get the all-hands-on-deck obsequiousness reserved for Brangelina and Clooney. If you're a freshman from Minnesota or a back-bencher from Missouri, expect to play the role of Tori Spelling.

Connie Schultz knows the drill. She's the author of And His Lovely Wife, a memoir of campaigning with her husband, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). Though she may be a Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated columnist, she's well acquainted with what's known as the "D.C. scalp stare" — the practice of looking over the head of the person with whom you're speaking, preparing to leap at first sight of someone more important entering your field of vision.

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15 comments
Justin Irvine
Justin Irvine

No once you get in its basically a job for life.

tomcool889
tomcool889

Sorry...Not going to pull at any heartstrings here or get any sympathy from the American people on this one (you know - those people who elected you and whom you claim to represent). I really hope it's the worst place to work in the country because it's painful to watch how little you actually care or know about your constituents. Just waiting out these career politicians lives at this point.

bcarlson56649
bcarlson56649

This article is nonsense.


If the job were so bad, why does almost everyone who gets elected run again for term after them after term, 5, 10, 15 terms, and more.

This is totally against what our founding fathers had in mind when they wrote the constitution.


From everything I have ever read about it, they intended the common person to take leave of their job and run run for an office, serve for a short while, and then return to their previous life. Common man or woman, knowing what things are like, knowing what needs to be done, representing common man or woman.


Career politicians are so out of touch with most peoples everyday lives and needs it is beyond belief.


Just think how much greater our great country would be today if only one single line more would have been added to the constitution:  "Single Term Limits For All Elected Officials".



Josh Murray
Josh Murray

I think you are looking at it wrong.

digitalprotocol
digitalprotocol topcommenter

PSYOPS BULLSHIT COVER STORY WHAT A JOKE

digitalprotocol
digitalprotocol topcommenter

uhhhhh  more like the best job in america! Do you guys have any clue about this, you buy into the soundbites about their awful jobs


US congressman is pure luxury... paid exotic trips, 10/10 women at your whim, POWER 


the finest foods and accommodations, respect from everyone


read a fucking book, US congressman is best job short of being a senator


oooo meetings... ooooooo

Kevin M Frazier
Kevin M Frazier

why would it be they make big money and don`t do a god damm thing to earn it

lkjhasdf
lkjhasdf

Uh, yeah, no. I mean, unless you have morals.

Casey Hanson
Casey Hanson

Hey, your next article should be about how much more difficult it is to be a billionaire because of all the bank accounts you have to keep track of.

Chad Howard
Chad Howard

Flags facing the wrong way.... blue to the left.....

Jonathan David
Jonathan David

If co-workers are the only factor to be considered, yes it might be the worst.

Chris James
Chris James

Getting paid a six figure salary to sit on your butt and do nothing? I'll take that job in a heart beat!

lkjhasdf
lkjhasdf

Wait, is this really congresspeople telling the rest of us not to run, because, we totally wouldn't like it anyway? 

ChazDanger
ChazDanger topcommenter

This is the dumbest comment on here.  But this comment had a lot of competition.

 
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