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Turning the Page

A Year After the House Program Was Ended, Capitol Hill Denizens Notice the Difference

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Carlos De La Torre (second from right) and Hannah Marrs (right) were among former pages who urged Members' offices to keep the program after Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi announced in 2011 that it would end.

Do people miss the House page program in the year since its termination?

The more jaded Capitol Hill staffers will tick off what they don't miss: having to wait for elevators that were stalled by pages who kept holding the door open for every single one of their friends to scramble onboard.

Or having to wait in line at the Capitol Carryout at the end of the day. They'd just wanted to buy one cup of coffee, but half a dozen pages were queued up ahead, all looking to settle the tab on their favorite late-afternoon snack: chicken fingers and fries.

But staffers and lawmakers - often the same ones who just finished complaining - will also admit they miss the House pages' spirit. They miss pages' enthusiasm for the job, not yet tainted by the cynicism that the institution ultimately engenders.

"It was a daily tonic in an otherwise difficult environment to be reminded, as a Member, that there are a whole bunch of young people who believe in what we're doing," Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said.

The stories Roll Call collected on life on the House side of the Capitol in the year since the page program was dissolved suggest that the thousands of high school juniors who came to Washington, D.C., each year for nearly 200 years were part of the chamber's cultural fabric, and it's changed in their absence.

There's less agreement on what, in recent years, pages brought to the professional table on Capitol Hill. Are there significant workforce gaps that have gone unfilled since the pages departed? To what extent have the day-to-day operations that fuel the legislative process been affected by the program's elimination?

Do people miss the pages for what they symbolized or for what they contributed?

Absence Felt on the Floor

In August 2011, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) jointly announced that while the Senate page program would continue, the initiative on the House side would be shuttered because of steep costs and because the duties that pages once performed were now being made redundant by technology.

It's difficult to quantify the cost-benefit of the move or whether it has had any real effect on how the House does its business. Several years ago, a formal study of the program was conducted to determine the cost breakdown, among other things, but the findings have never been made public.

But in the year since the pages have been absent, lawmakers and staffers can begin to assess whether Boehner and Pelosi were right in saying that pages, while well-loved, had generally outlived their usefulness.

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