Heard on the Hill

Paid Internships Were Victim of Clinton Era Deficit Reduction

The LBJ internship program was suspended in 1994 after 20 years

An internship program, named after President Lyndon B. Johnson, once funded two interns for every House office. (Courtesy the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library)

There was a time when all House members paid their interns. But that ended more than 20 years ago, the victim of a Clinton-era push for more deficit-cutting. 

The LBJ Congressional Intern program, named to honor the recently deceased President Lyndon B. Johnson, was authorized by a House resolution in 1973. It provided funds for lawmakers to hire two LBJ interns per year.

The two-month internships began with stipends of $500 a month for each House intern, Washington Monthly reported, and were adjusted for inflation over time.

President Bill Clinton’s efforts to cut the deficit when he came into office 20 years later was the death knell of the LBJ internship.

As one of his cost-cutting moves, Clinton reduced the number of White House staffers in 1993. In the spirit of sharing the burden, Democratic House Speaker Thomas S. Foley cut the congressional budget by 4 percent. When Congress then didn’t appropriate funding for the internship program, it was suspended the following year.

“There may be a few less young interns working on Capitol Hill this summer: A congressional internship program that would support nearly 300 summer interns has been suspended by the House as part of an effort to cut staff,” The Washington Post reported in May 1994.

The Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 later excluded interns from the definition of a congressional employee, so they aren’t covered by labor regulations or considerations. 

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