THANKSGIVING! Supreme Court Upholds First Amendment Against Cuomo Worship Restrictions

In what could prove to be a landmark decision upholding the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom of assembly and practice, the Supreme Court late Wednesday slapped down New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s limits on worship assemblies in certain hard-hit areas of New York.

In a 5-4 decision, the Court said Cuomo’s restriction of religious assemblies in the targeted areas to no more than 25 individuals in some and no more than 10 in others must address a “compelling” state interest, satisfy “strict scrutiny” and be “narrowly tailored” to minimally impinge on First Amendment rights.

But Cuomo’s regulations failed on both counts, saying “Stemming the spread of COVID–19 is unquestionably a compelling interest, but it is hard to see how the challenged regulations can be regarded as ‘narrowly tailored.’

“They are far more restrictive than any COVID–related regulations that have previously come before the Court, much tighter than those adopted by many other jurisdictions hard-hit by the pandemic, and far more severe than has been shown to be required to prevent the spread of the virus at the applicants’ services.” Continue reading “THANKSGIVING! Supreme Court Upholds First Amendment Against Cuomo Worship Restrictions”

WORKING ON CAPITOL HILL: These Are The Top 10 Best, Worst Paying Offices For Staff

Senators traditionally pay their staffs somewhat more on average than House members, but the latest comprehensive salary data from Legistorm makes clear that is not necessarily always the case.

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) pays the highest average staff salary in Congress.

Scan through the top 10 highest average staff salary offices and you find seven senators, two House members and one non-voting House member.

At the other end of the database, all 10 of the lowest-paying members are in the House. Continue reading “WORKING ON CAPITOL HILL: These Are The Top 10 Best, Worst Paying Offices For Staff”

WORKING ON THE HILL: Hearing Of The Select Committee On The Modernization Of Congress On Staffing Issues

Earlier this summer, the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress convened a hearing on staff compensation and benefits. The basic issue — what to do about low pay and high turnover rates — was the central question of the day.

Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA) is chairman of the panel, while Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA) is vice-chairman. In his opening remarks, Kilmer offered this analysis of the problem:

“Staff are the backbone of this institution. They are dedicated public servants who are here because they want to do meaningful work. They choose careers on the Hill despite the long hours, the lack of job security, and lower pay compared to what they could make in the executive branch and private sector.

“Congress is fortunate to attract such talented and hard-working staff. The challenge is keeping them here. We know that turnover rates for House staff are really high and while there’s churn between Hill offices, the typical staffer leaves the Hill after 4 or 5 years.

“That’s right about the time they’ve picked up a lot of institutional knowledge and policy expertise. As unfortunate as this pattern is, it makes sense. For a lot of staffers, the desire to serve the public is eventually outweighed by the need for a better work/life balance, and the need to make more money to afford housing, support families, and put kids through college.

“This reality puts Congress at a disadvantage compared to the executive branch and the private sector. The bottom line is this: until Congress can offer competitive pay and benefits, Congress will continue to lose talented and smart staff. And rather than view them as replaceable, we should create an environment that encourages the best staffers to stay.” (Emphasis added)

The following video of the hearing is long at more than 90 minutes, but the two featured witnesses — Casey Burgat, Director of the Legislative Affairs at the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University, and Kathryn Pearson, Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota — provide an intelligent, detailed and compelling analysis of what must be done for Congress to address these problems:

HT: Kevin Kosar of the R Street Institute for pointing this video out to yours truly via email.

Democrats Dominate Top 50 House Members On Staff Spending; Check Out Major Position Average$

Democrats occupy 21 of the top 25 and 35 of the top 50 slots in a ranking of how much each member of the House of Representatives in the 116th Congress has spent through the first quarter of 2020 on salaries for staff members, according to data compiled by Legistorm.

Chart by Legistorm.

Rep. Ted Deutsch (D-Fla.) ranks number one in the ranking. Deutsch has spent $336,511 on 17 staff members, representing 87.4 percent of his total available office budget. The House average is 82.8 percent.

Deutsch has a seven-member staff in his D.C. office, with an additional nine working in three offices in his Florida district. Continue reading “Democrats Dominate Top 50 House Members On Staff Spending; Check Out Major Position Average$”

HILLFAITH SURVEY: Do You Think Congress Needs To Increase Each Member’s Staff?

With congressional staff beginning to return to Hill offices in some numbers and many more still working from home, the question of whether senators and representatives need larger personal staffs is likely to get more attention in coming months.

Thanks to COVID-19, many staffers accustomed to doing jobs on the legislative or media side have had to learn more about the difficulties and challenges of effective constituent case work. And having most staff working from home has created a host of new challenges, as well as new ways of getting important things done.

Would hiring larger personal staffs well-serve the public? Would your boss be able to serve his or her constituents more effectively if more staff members were available?

Cast your vote below. Leave a comment. And don’t worry, it’s all anonymous, so share your thoughts and don’t be bashful!



WORKING ON THE HILL: Moving From Adversity To Aspiration On Capitol Hill

By Bret Bernhardt

Bret Bernhardt, former chief of staff for senators Don Nickles and Jim DeMint.

Moving from adversity to aspiration may seem like a matter of national policy, especially now, but it is just as relevant to us personally as we work on Capitol Hill.

These two “A’s” can serve to unite a nation, yet they can also help us individually to overcome personal trials. I can think of no better time to explore what this means than now.

Throughout American history, adversity has served to bring us together as a nation, and not just the United States, but other countries as well. Look no further than wars, disasters, and catastrophes. Continue reading “WORKING ON THE HILL: Moving From Adversity To Aspiration On Capitol Hill”

WORKING ON THE HILL: Learning To Pray For Your Enemies

Being a journalist covering Congress and national politics, I often hear from readers reacting via email to something I’ve reported, usually in positive terms but not always. Once in a while, a message comes soaked with insults and venom.

Photo by Alessandro Bellone on Unsplash.

I got such an email earlier today reacting to my March 20 story in The Epoch Times reporting on criticism sparked by that news photo you probably saw of Vice President Mike Pence leading prayer in the Oval Office for the Coronavirus Task Force he heads and for the nation in its response to the coronavirus Pandemic.

“Bob” (not his real name) is evidently from New York and was extremely agitated by the headline on the story, “Trump’s National Day of Prayer Nettled Critics, but America is Still a Praying Nation.” Continue reading “WORKING ON THE HILL: Learning To Pray For Your Enemies”

WORKING ON CAPITOL HILL: Broad Coalition Of Advocacy Groups Urge Staff Pay Raises

A coalition of good government groups, think tanks and concerned individuals urged four key leaders in Congress in a March 4 letter to support increased pay for the 20,000 mostly young men and women who work for senators, representatives and committees.

The letter was addressed to House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-NY), Ranking Minority Member Kay Granger (R-TX), Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), chairman of the legislative appropriations subcommittee, and Rep. Jamie Herrera Buetler (R-WA), the ranking minority member of the subcommittee.

Dear legislators:

On behalf of the undersigned bipartisan group of civil society organizations and individuals, we encourage you to raise the funding levels appropriated toward the compensation of your U.S. House of Representative staffers. Continue reading “WORKING ON CAPITOL HILL: Broad Coalition Of Advocacy Groups Urge Staff Pay Raises”

WORKING ON THE HILL: Data Shows Dramatic Declines Since 1981; Kosar Tells Committee The Congress Needs Bigger Staff

Congress is the “first branch” because the Founders intended the Republic’s national legislature to be “the fountain of all lawmaking authority and governmental action,” according to Kevin Kosar, vice-president for research partnerships of the R Street Institute.

Kosar’s comment came in his mid-January testimony before a hearing of the House of Representatives’ Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress concerning the growing inability of the First Branch to fulfill its constitutional roles.

The cause of that growing inability is clear: Congress is starving itself of the most critical resources, especially experienced staff, to do its many jobs, according to Kosar. Continue reading “WORKING ON THE HILL: Data Shows Dramatic Declines Since 1981; Kosar Tells Committee The Congress Needs Bigger Staff”

STAFF MOVES: Look Who Is Being Promoted On The Hill!

Recent Staff Moves, As Reported By Legistorm:

Katie Earle is the new professional staff member in the office of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Republican staff. Katie comes over to the House side following her tenure as a national security fellow for Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND). She is a 2019 MA graduate in security studies and military operations from Georgetown University, while her 2012 BA from Middlebury College was in Russian studies.

Another significant move on the Republican side of things is that of Erik Kenney to legislative director for Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI). Erik’s 2013 BA in political studies is from Marquette University.

Newlyweds Natalie Knight and Matthew Ellison (Screenshot from Facebook).

New evidence that Hill staffers sometimes meet, work in some proximity, fall in love, then get married: Natalie Smith, legislative counsel for Rep. Lucy McBath (D-GA.) and Matthew Ellison, deputy policy counsel for the House Democratic Whip Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC). HillFaith sends blessings and best wishes to the newlyweds.

Ebise Bayisa is the new House Judiciary Committee counsel on the Democratic side. The judiciary slot is Ebise’s first position on a Hill staff, as she formerly worked for the U.S. Sentencing Commission as a senior attorney. Her law degree was earned in 2005 from the American University Washington College of Law. Continue reading “STAFF MOVES: Look Who Is Being Promoted On The Hill!”

Have You Decided Your Life’s Core Convictions? You Will Go This Far But No Farther?

Being an aide or intern to a senator or representative in Congress is a lot like what it must have been for Daniel, the Old Testament prophet who at a young age found himself among a small group of conquered Judeans being groomed for the court of King Nebuchadnezzar.

Do you or don’t you violate your most cherished convictions? (Photo by niklas_hamann on Unsplash)

Part of the group’s three-year study and preparation for service to the King involved adherence to a royally prescribed nutritional course that conflicted in key respects with the dietary regimen of the Jewish faith of Daniel and three of his friends, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.

“Daniel determined that he would not defile himself with the King’s food or with the wine he drank,” Daniel 1:8 tell us. “So he asked permission from the chief official not to defile himself.” Continue reading “Have You Decided Your Life’s Core Convictions? You Will Go This Far But No Farther?”

LIVING ON THE HILL: Eating Meals Together Is An Important Gift To Your Spouse, Kids

It probably seems like a small thing, and working on Capitol Hill can be among the jobs that make doing it on a regular basis extraordinarily tough, but sitting down for meals with your spouse and kids may well be among the most important things you can do for them.

Dr. Patrick Fagan, founder and director of the Marriage and Religion Research Institute (MARRI)

That’s according to a huge 2016 cross-sectional national study highlighted this week by the Marriage and Religion Research Institute (MARRI), headed by its founder, Dr. Patrick Fagan.

“The study of 8,500 adolescents found that 60% of adolescents shared family meals five times a week or more,” Fagan said in an email to HillFaith.

“The greater the frequency of family meals, the fewer were symptoms of depression or emotional difficulties, and the more frequent was emotional well-being.  On the particular measure of being shielded from symptoms of depression girls benefited more from frequent family meals than boys did,” Fagan said.

The abstract of the study, which was based on multiple regression analyses of a variety of factors, described the results as indicating “frequent family meals may have a protective effect on the mental health of adolescents, particularly for depressive symptoms in girls.

“Interventions that aim to increase the frequency of family meals are needed to evaluate whether family meals alone can have an emotional benefit for adolescents.”

So, tempting as it always is to stay at the office another hour or two, consider setting at least one or two nights a week to be home in time for that meal around the family table with the most important people in your life.

The full study is available at the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. For more about the keys to happy, healthy families, check out MARRI. See also the Marripedia.


WORKING ON THE HILL: Why Do So Many Staffers Resign From The Staffs Of These Senators And Representatives?

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas) had the highest rate of staff turnover in 2019, according to rankings calculated by Legistorm. But there may be more to their stories than first thought.

Senators and representatives tend to create their own unique staff universes that to some degree reflect themselves, so a lot of attention is paid to those with the highest and lowest turnover rates.

But a high turnover rate is not necessarily an indicator of a “bad boss” job seekers should avoid, especially in the cases of Harris and Granger. Harris made an unsuccessful bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. Such campaigns almost always have a big impact on an incumbent’s staff and Harris ranked much lower in prior years. Continue reading “WORKING ON THE HILL: Why Do So Many Staffers Resign From The Staffs Of These Senators And Representatives?”

STAFF MOVES: Look Who’s Getting Promoted On The Hill

Recent Staff Moves, As Reported By Legistorm:

The Problem-Solvers Caucus has added Jessica Gail to its ranks as communications director, working for Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ). Now in her seventh year, this is Jessica’s fourth position on the Hill since first joining the staff of Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) in 2013. She is a 2007 graduate with a BA from the University of Indiana at Bloomington in broadcast journalism and religious studies.

Holly Reagan Hinjosa is now policy adviser for Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), covering environmental protection and public lands issues. Holly is a native Texan but earned her BA in international and global studies from the University of Wyoming in 2015 and her MA in natural resources management from the University of Idaho in 2019. Holly’s Hill career began in 2016 as an intern for Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY). Continue reading “STAFF MOVES: Look Who’s Getting Promoted On The Hill”

WORKPLACE ISSUES: There Are Multiple Staff-Related Provisions In The Congressional Reform Package

A path to bigger personal staffs for House Members could be cleared if the bipartisan recommendations  from the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress are adopted.

Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA)

All House staff members would be paid twice a month instead of the monthly compensation schedule they have worked on for decades, under the recommendations.

Modernization panel Chairman Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Wa.) introduced the recommendations as a legislative package in December. The package is H. Res. 756. Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.) is the committee’s vice-chairman and its ranking minority member. Continue reading “WORKPLACE ISSUES: There Are Multiple Staff-Related Provisions In The Congressional Reform Package”