Monday, March 11, 2013

"Office Space"? No, Dean Heller Has a More Serious Scandal Coming.

So it's been one scandalicious day on Capitol Hill today. Gasp, someone refuses to lose his prime office! No really, this happened (or at least some of it did).

As part of the biennial Senate office lottery, junior members are obligated to show their office suites to more senior members, who then have 24 hours to decide whether to claim that space as their own. Heller’s office suite — which he inherited after the scandal-fueled resignation of Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev. — may be particularly attractive to other senators because its floor plan includes a larger-than-average member office.

Though special courtesies are usually extended to aides and members visiting offices, Heller staffers repeatedly tried to keep them from seeing the spacious member office, sources reported, saying meetings were ongoing and could not be interrupted.

Several Senate offices lodged complaints with the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, according to several sources familiar with the attempted visits to Heller’s office.

“This is beyond silly. We’re disappointed that this has become fodder for pettiness among staff members,” Heller spokeswoman Chandler Smith said. “Our office has worked hard to balance the busy and demanding work of running a Senate office, hosting meetings and greeting constituents while accommodating members and numerous staffers from nearly 20 offices who want to see the space.”

A visit from Sen. Saxby Chambliss’ staffers was particularly contentious, and the tension between the two offices only appears to have deepened in the weeks after the tour. When the Georgia Republican’s staff asked to see Heller’s suite, Chambliss had not yet announced his decision to retire in 2014. According to sources familiar with incident, Heller Chief of Staff Mac Abrams joked that Chambliss’ staff should ask Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., if he would like the suite. He also jokingly suggested that Heller would have to support any potential Broun primary bid if Chambliss took their office. (At the time, Broun was rumored to be contemplating a primary challenge, and he has subsequently announced he will run for the open seat.)

According to some sources told about the exchange, Heller’s chief of staff then offered $10,000 in campaign contributions from the senator’s PAC if Chambliss declined to take the suite. Heller’s office disputes this claim.

Is this petty? Or is this petty? And why is this even happening?

This is indeed beyond silly. No wonder why the US Senate is so dysfunctional. They're even bickering over office space.

Yet out here in the real world, there's uncertainty. And there's pain. And none of it was actually necessary.

From the Cronkite News: “An Arizona school superintendent said Monday that her district has already cut 40 positions because of automatic federal spending reductions and will recommend cutting 65 more and closing three schools next year to save money.”

In South Bend, Ind.,, “A $30 million dollar construction project … is delayed because of the sequester budget cuts.”

The Charlotte Observer notes, “Closing the control tower at Concord Regional Airport could cost the city hundreds of charter flights from NASCAR teams and other businesses, local officials said Wednesday after learning that the tower’s federal funding is being eliminated. … Concord officials said they were notified Tuesday by the Federal Aviation Administration that funding would be cut off soon.”

The Dayton Daily News learned: “Furloughed Air Force civilian workers would cost Ohio’s economy $111.1 million in lost wages through September.”

In Las Vegas, “More than 220 local FAA workers received notices that they will have to take some unpaid days off.”

And on Fort Drum in Waterstown, NY, “civilian employees on post will be forced to take one day off per week without pay.”

It’s not surprising that the news coverage of sequestration in Washington has been tinctured by partisan skirmishes over unpopular or politically motivated cuts. But outside the capital the public isn’t experiencing sequestration solely as a political issue — and the consequences of indiscriminate cuts may eventually force lawmakers to address the policy rather than distract the public from the real harm it’s causing.

This is what happens when Congress forces a manufactured crisis upon the country. Steve Benen summed it up well earlier today.

Going into 2013, there was reason to believe the U.S. economy would start to see a more stable and robust recovery, with stronger growth and vastly improved job creation. With positive projections on the horizon, Congress has responded with the following: an end to the payroll tax break, more public-sector layoffs, the possibility of a government shutdown, the possibility of a debt-ceiling crisis, and a sequestration policy that's already undermining the economy.

Ideally, lawmakers would be taking deliberate steps to improve the economy, but at this point, I'd be satisfied if congressional Republicans stopped making things worse.

So Dean Heller and his US Senate staff are waging war against his fellow Senate Republicans... Over office space. Meanwhile beyond Capitol Hill, people are already losing jobs as a result of Congress' latest manufactured crisis. We're even seeing the fallout here in Nevada. And the pain will only worsen if this isn't fixed by the end of the month.

Keep this in mind as we hear more about Dean Heller's "Office Space" scandal. While Beltway pundits gasp over who's fighting over which office, actual Americans are needlessly suffering. Before any Senators (Heller most definitely included) gripe any more about office space, they need to stop inflicting harm on the American economy and the American people.

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