Fun with fighting lawmakersThe staff of the U.S. Congress is so influential that they are referred to by people in the political community there as “unelected representatives.” According to a book on lobbyists written by Song Ui-dal, although it is the members of the House of Representatives and Senate who hold the power in Washington, D.C., the people who control them are their assistants.
The Congressional staff members who leave to work as lobbyists are also influential. According to a study done by Northwestern University last year, some 160 lobbyists who worked for the trade group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America in connection with health insurance reform were former assistants to House and Senate leaders and others who worked on committees involved with the health reform bill. It was also revealed that the person among them who was paid the highest salary received $156,000 (180 million won).
A typical example of a former Senate staffer who became a lobbyist is David Nexon, who was the senior health policy advisor to the late Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy. Nexon played a key role in getting the tax burden on medical equipment dealers reduced to nearly half, from $4 billion to $2 billion, last year, leading a team of lobbyists that included former congressional staff members. It is ironic since Senator Kennedy, Nexon’s former boss, was a symbolic figure of the health reform movement.
Of course, some of these staff members use their talents to have fun with the issues. The group Capitol Steps (www.capsteps.com), established in 1981, stages satirical sketches aimed at politicians. It began performing regularly when one of its sketches, which was staged by three people at a year-end party, began appearing on television shows such as “Good Morning America” and the “Today Show.”
Six years later, the original members of the troupe left their jobs to perform full time. The troupe was comprised only of former congressional staffers until 1996, but when President Bill Clinton was in office, he produced so many moments worthy of satire that they decided to accept performers who had not worked on Capitol Hill. They now have 30 performers and have recorded nearly 30 albums containing songs with satirical lyrics set to pop songs. Their latest hit is “Obama Mia,” to the tune of the ABBA song “Mamma Mia.”
In Yeouido, four assistants to National Assembly members are under investigation for using their influence with banks and accepting bribes. I suggest that National Assembly staff members stage a performance satirizing lawmakers. Since there are so many possible topics to choose from, they will have to accept performers who are not staff members from the get go. But I imagine that if they replicate the events we have seen in the Assembly over the past year, making sure to including lots of scenes with fighting lawmakers, they will have audiences rolling in laughter and in tears.
The writer is a political news reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Koo Hui-lyung