How to Use Congressional Staffers as Political Props

Some prime examples from Ted Cruz and President Obama.

Congressional staffers stand along the walls of the hearing room where the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. (National Journal)

Congressional staffers are the lifelines of members of Congress. So, how do you get under the skin of a senator or a representative? Bring their staff into the debate.

This seems to be the tactic being used in the continuing-resolution debate happening in Washington right now, one utilized by both President Obama on Friday and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, during his long speech from Tuesday into Wednesday.

Take Cruz first. When discussing what he said are the negative effects of the Affordable Care Act, he brought his staff into the picture, saying many were concerned about the law's effects on their personal income and welfare.

Among congressional staff, just like among members, the idea that they would be subject to Obamacare deeply concerns them. It concerns them on the money side and it concerns them on the quality of care and health insurance that they will be able to get on the exchanges.

I have had one staff member already indicate she would retire after many years of service, and the possibility of being put on Obamacare was a real factor in that decision.

President Obama used a similar tactic when talking about a potential government shutdown. If Congress doesn't pass a continuing resolution in the coming days, their staffers won't be able to come into work or get paid. And the president wanted to remind lawmakers of just that.

So, any Republican in Congress who is currently watching, I'd encourage you to think about who you're hurting. There are probably young people in your office right now who came to work for you without much pay because they believe that public service was noble. You're preparing to send them home without a paycheck.

It's unclear whether this playbook works, but it's hard to overstate the value that staffers have to their bosses — advising them on how to vote on legislation, responding to constituents, writing committee and floor speeches, running the office, communicating with other lawmakers' offices, and of course, crafting legislation.

By invoking the potential suffering of their staff, Cruz and Obama are banking on lawmakers acting to prevent such outcomes. For without staffers, Washington can't run, and lawmakers know it.