Friday, October 19, 2007

Getting Paid for Waiting: A Time Honored DC Tradition

When I first came to Washington, DC, I took a job as a receptionist / secretary / legislative assistant at a lobbying law firm. On several occassions, I was assigned the task of waiting in line to get a seat at a hearing for one of the firm's lawyers.

I recognize that doesn't sound very glamorous and, believe me, it will seem even less so when I tell you that I often had to arrive around 4:00 or 5:00am to stand outside in the freezing cold or sweltering heat (DC has two temperatures) before being let in around 6:30 or 7:00am. That's why I was thrilled when enterprising entrepreneurs created new line waiting services. Yippee! No getting up at 3:00am any more!

Alas, a recent Washington Post article notes that Senator Claire McCaskill is seeking to end this practice. She expressed outrage that well-heeled lobbyists are able to pay people to undertake the arduous task of standing in line, hence taking up seats that the "average citizen" might want to have. Her argument is that it is, after all, "the people's house."

While it doesn't impact me directly anymore (it would take a lot more than a legislative assistant salary to get me up at 3:00am), I have to say that I don't buy Senator McCaskill's argument. Frankly, I can't think of many "average citizens" that want to physically sit in on a hearing. The lines for seats come not from a competition between lobbyists and "the average joe," but rather from competition between lobbyist A and lobbyist B. I say, go ahead and let them duke it out for seats -- just so long as I don't have to wait in line for them.

In fact, in time this problem may resolve on its own. Given that most popular hearings are available through C-Span or other online venues, fewer and fewer lobbyists, much less average citizens, are actually going up to the hill for these events.

Ironically, it seems that the only "average citizens" who would be impacted by McCaskill's proposals to eliminate the practice are the line waiters themselves -- and the impact would be wholly negative. Eliminating jobs seems like something a representative of "the people's house" wouldn't really want to do.

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