When I heard that the House was ending the 200-year-old Page Program, I was floored. The Page Program is an institution, a tradition, and around here the old ways die hard. It just seems unfathomable that it’s ending.
Almost as unbelievable as the fact that Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi actually agreed on something.
I understand that the program costs the House $5 million annually and that we’re all looking at ways to cut costs. And I recognize that the program has popped up in a few tabloid scandals over the decades. But this program’s value to the participants and the country far outweigh the costs.
Over the past two decades, roughly 4,000 young people have been pages on the House side alone. Their experience teaches them about government, builds a foundation for a lifetime of civic engagement and has a balloon effect on their families, schools and communities.
How many staffers used to be pages? How many Members? How many political journalists, lobbyists, party employees, non-profit do-gooders, and Administration officials?
I took a quick look through my Rolodex and I know 17 people who were pages, and those are just the ones who talk about it.
We are facing an engagement drought in this country. Our teenagers are growing less interested in government, less interested in what happens in this country and across the globe. And they’re becoming more engrossed in a virtual world based on commercialism and social networks where what they had for dinner and what song they’re listening to is an important status update.
Yet, each year, thousands of teens apply to the House Page Program just for the opportunity to work for Congress. They want to see this government in action with their own eyes. They want to attend the lectures, take the trips and meet the other teenagers who might one day grow up to walk the marble halls or wear Member pins or have bylines in the dailies.
Mr. Boehner and Mrs. Pelosi argue that the program isn’t necessary because technology has made errand runners obsolete. Well, until they can convince the dozens of Capitol Hill offices (looking at you House Telecom and GOP Cloakroom) that are living in the stone age to change their ways, you better add another paid staffer to each office. Because my staff assistant will never get her work done if she has to go to the Cloakroom five times per day and pick up the flags herself and do the half-dozen other things that we rely on the pages to do.
And if obsolescence is really the problem, why not try to change the program to meet emerging needs? Why eliminate a valueable program when you can evolve?
And if it’s fiscally unsound, why not look at ways to retool the program to save money? Can you honestly tell me that you won’t have to hire paid door openers, flag deliverers, phone answerers, etc. to replace the pages? Because, if not, I know a few people who just had their duties doubled or tripled.
I’m really disappointed in the decision to shutdown the page program. The stupid Mark Foley thing aside, I don’t know anyone who was a page who didn’t love and benefit from the experience. And in a world where civic engagement is lacking across generations, but especially among young people, cutting the program seems like a nail in the coffin.
Because while the Speaker says that they’re going to look at ways to keep young people involved in civics, I doubt another half-assed, poorly-funded national program will have half the impact that educating 200 emissaries per year has on this nation’s present and future.
If you’d like to sign the petition expressing support for the House Page Program, click here.