The Congressional Retirement Plan Is Alive and Well

As I noted long before it was fashionable (or even acknowledged*):

…it’s not about the campaign contributions. If their reluctance to support a public option were based solely on the electoral calculus of campaign donations versus popular support–that is, votes–the votes win hands down. Any Democratic senator in a swing state who needs independent and Republican votes can’t afford to piss off the ~50% of Republicans and ~70% of independents who support a public option. To the extent that an Evan Bayh is supported by independents and Republicans, does he really think that these crossover voters are the ones who oppose a public option? (Actually, Bayh just might think so, since he’s dumber than a fucking sack of hammers). So, if this is simple electoral politics, the obvious move is to screw your donors (of course, we are talking about ‘new Democrats’ who are the most inept politicians in recorded history, so who knows?).

So, Mad Biologist, how is this about money? It’s simple: it’s about life after politics. One of the dirty secrets about many, if not most, congressmen and senators is that they like Washington, D.C., rhetoric notwithstanding. They want to stay in town after they leave (or lose) office. Once you’ve tasted the Capital of the Free World, do you really want to go back to Pierre, South Dakota? (Tom Daschle comes to mind…). It’s funny how many politicians, having made a career out of bashing War-Shing-Tun, don’t…seem…to…ever…leave.

I can’t blame them: I moved to Boston, and would be very happy to stay here. Places do grow on you. The problem comes, for politicians, when they have to find a job. For an ex-politician, there aren’t that many ‘straight paths’ to getting your next job: lobbyist and corporate board member are the easiest and the most lucrative.

But if you get a reputation as someone who opposes large business interests, what chance do you have of getting either of these types of jobs? Sometimes, the quid pro quo is very crude and direct (e.g., Billy Tauzin), but the Village’s political culture makes it clear what is acceptable. One should not be ‘populist’, or, heaven forbid, liberal.

Vox, in commenting on Paul Ryan’s new chief of staff, has a hot different take on this (boldface mine):

It looks like Paul Ryan is bringing in a lobbyist to be his chief of staff upon becoming speaker. The dance of outrage practically writes itself: “Another example of the pay-to-play culture in Washington and the cozy relationship between K Street and Capitol Hill.” How can he possibly serve the public interest now? More of that typical Washington corruption. Yada yada yada.

Morality plays asides, the real story here is not corruption or pay-to-play. The real story here is that the best candidate for the job (by Ryan’s assessment) was working in the private sector instead of the public sector. And the reason for that is because the private sector is where you make the real money in Washington, and therefore it’s where the most experienced and qualified people are most likely to be working….

The obvious good government move here would be to blame Hoppe for “cashing in” on his public service. But the reality is that DC is an expensive place to live, and even as a chief of staff, you are at most making around $160,000 a year. This is what a first-year law associate makes in DC. Moreover, when you’re working for somebody who retires or loses an election, there’s no obvious place to go in government. Winding up in lobbying is often the path of least resistance.

I’m not surprised this is Vox’s take on this: after all, Ezra Klein, head of Vox, seems to have done well on the corporate speaker’s circuit. But maybe if those in government had to live like the rest of us–including many of us in the Washington area, we might get somewhat different results.

But gentry class justifications are probably the better business model.

*I really do appear to have been the first internet commentator to have described this.

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