You need a thick skin to work for a member of Congress during the shutdown. Among the indignities congressional staffers face is that while many have been deemed "nonessential" and furloughed like 800,000 other federal workers during the shutdown, some high school juniors remain at work. The 30 blue-blazered Senate pages were apparently deemed essential workers, and have remained on the Senate floor helping elected officials with their correspondence. So have some interns — though at least one congressman, Texas Rep. Blake Farenthold, is making his intern do the vacuuming. During the Capitol Hill shooting on Thursday, "somebody pounded on the door," Farenthold told CNN, "and it was our intern with a vacuum cleaner."
The staffers right under the lawmakers who caused the shutdown are the ones picking up the slack, and of course, a lot of staffers are sitting home without pay. Furloughed staffers are approaching their October 18 payday with little hope of seeing a check that day. But it's not because their bosses don't understand how important it is to get a regular paycheck. Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers told local news on Friday morning, "I need my paycheck. That's the bottom line." (CNN has a tally of lawmakers who plan to donate their paychecks from the shutdown.)
One glimmer of hope: the White House endorsed a House bill this afternoon that guarantees federal workers will receive back pay when the shutdown ends. For those teenage pages, it won't be much. The 16-year-old employees are paid on the basis of an annual salary of $21,033 depending on how many weeks they work, which ends up being about minimum wage. The Sargeant-at-Arms office, which employs and pays the pages, could not comment on the pages' current workload. As for the interns, barely a third who work for senators are paid.
And let's not forget that one of the central debates in the shutdown has been whether or not Hill staffers should receive subsidies for their health care — Sen. David Vitter's proposed amendment would strip lawmakers and staff of those subsidies, resulting in what's essentially a big pay cut for staff.
To make up for furloughed staff, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney is answering his own phone, and so are some senators. Most of President Obama's senior advisers are going without their assistants. One official was let go before her big moment — Jessica Santillo, the White House spokeswoman for Obamacare media requests, was put on furlough as the insurance exchanges opened.
Still, many federal workers are currently protesting the shutdown outside Capitol Hill. Natasha Rozier, an employee at the Census Bureau, spoke at the rally, stating that she had to tell her 5-year-old daughter why her parents aren't working this week:
With no money, Mommy is not able to take you to the places that you enjoy the most such as Chuck E. Cheese, going to the movies, going out to eat or even buying you books. This broke my heart.
And yet, the shutdown continues. If you see a federal worker — or a high school kid in a blue blazer — be nice.