Pay staffers more

Lower- and mid-level staff on Capitol Hill should be paid more. The higher pay would be better for the Congress, and therefore the nation, helping to ensure a more competitive available employment pool for these coveted jobs.

You’re welcome, all of you Hill rats stuck in the sweltering 103-degree D.C. heat during the week of the Fourth of July. I know your plight and I sympathize.

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It’s true there are roughly 2,000 senior-level staff members making at least six figures — and then some. I’m guessing for the most part they are worth every penny, even though $100,000 doesn’t go nearly as far in Washington as it does in most other parts of the country. But I’m not addressing their plight. They don’t have a plight. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, a student graduating college in 2010 can expect, on average, a starting salary of $47,673. With the average starting salary on Capitol Hill hovering around $30,000, perhaps it’s time to give a nod to the younger set toiling away in their entry- and mid-level jobs.

Too many Members of Congress gratuitously pat themselves on the back for being “careful” with taxpayers’ dollars, eager to brag back home (particularly in places where it’s much, much cheaper to live than Washington) that they are not spending all of their allotted funds for staff and are “returning” the money to the taxpayers. Or, more accurately, to the Treasury.

While it’s laudable to want to save taxpayers a buck or two, it shouldn’t be done on the backs of the thousands of wide-eyed bright young things who flock to Washington chasing their dreams. With Congress lording over literally trillions of dollars in spending (and debt), it seems there might be other, more reasonable areas to cut federal spending, starting with waste and fraud in the various government agencies.

As a once-starving young staffer about a million years ago, I can attest to the sobering fact that unless you are the treasured offspring of a wealthy contributor, or part of the “trust fund and pearls group,” as we used to so affectionately and jealously refer to our well-heeled young colleagues, it can be a tough row to hoe attempting to make ends meet while pursuing that Capitol Hill dream in the early part of one’s career.

Rather than ensuring that only the best and the brightest who want it really, really badly will bother to take such low-paying jobs, or even unpaid internships, therefore winnowing out the unserious or less industrious, too often many good, smart, potentially excellent public servants are kept out, noses pressed against the window, simply because they cannot afford to remain on their chosen career path.

Most members of Congress are reluctant to defend decent staff salaries to their constituents, preferring to punt with the “giving back” scheme. Ironically, what they should be forced to defend (or end) is a practice that, by its very nature, contributes to constituents not being as well-served as they could be with top-notch staff, with a system that favors young professionals whose parents can afford to subsidize them. Those higher-paying senior-level Capitol Hill positions could eventually be accessed by more young professionals from lower- to middle-class families if they are able to continue along that career path and compete as in most other fields. Politically driven substandard pay often stalls such opportunities.

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Washington is one of the most expensive cities in which to live. Rents are sky-high — even for the most charming of cockroach-infested “English basement” apartments. Metro fares have steadily risen so that careful monthly budgeting is required. Groceries are expensive, and one cannot live on a diet consisting primarily of Ramen noodles, no matter what leftovers you doctor them up with. Friends don’t let friends subsist on Ramen, and neither should a good boss.

(Note: Clip this column and place on office refrigerator door for the boss to see — anonymously, of course. And good luck!)

Jacobus, president of Capitol Strategies PR, has managed congressional campaigns, worked on Capitol Hill and is an adjunct professor at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management. She appears on CNN, MSNBC and FOX News as a GOP strategist.