-- Nearly 200 years since its inception, Congressional leadership ended the historic and occasionally scandal-ridden House Page Program Wednesday, because of budget cuts and technological advances that have rendered the pages' duties obsolete. So, the 72 high school Juniors who annually embark on Washington with their navy blazers and 3.0 or higher GPAs to live, study and discover the workings of the United States Congress are now a thing of the past.
While it seems that Republicans and Democrats in Congress can agree on little of anything nowadays, this decision was announced in a joint statement by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in early August. It hinged largely on an independent review of the program, conducted by Strategic Assets Consulting and Fieldstone Consulting, Inc., which estimated the total annual cost of the program at over $5 million and the annual cost of educating each of the 72 pages at around $80,000 (a figure greater than tuition at preparatory school and the majority of colleges.
"We have a great appreciation for the unique role that Pages have played in the history and traditions of the House of Representatives," the joint statement reads. "This decision was not easy, but it is necessary due to the prohibitive cost of the program and advances in technology that have rendered most Page-provided services no longer essential to the smooth functioning of the House. Although the traditional mission of the Page Program has diminished, we will work with Members of the House to carry on the tradition of engaging young people in the work of the Congress."
It was money that eventually did in the program, which had survived high-profile scandals, like a sex scandal involving two Congressmen in 1983 and the Rep. Mark Foley texting scandal in 2006.
The news has sparked strong opposition among scores of former House pages, many of whom now hold prominent positions in government. Four-term congressman Rep. Dan Boren, D-Okla., for example, penned a rebuttal letter on August 22, urging Boehner and Pelosi to reconsider their decision.
"We firmly believe that the U.S. House of Representatives Page Program remains an asset to Congress," the letter reads. "Former pages have gone on to become today's leaders, both in government and the private sector. It would be a shame to permanently take this opportunity away from our youth."
The 27 other Democrats and one Republican lawmaker - freshman Rep. Lou Barletta of Pennsylvania - who signed Rep. Boren's letter conceded that the page program would likely have to be revamped to remain useful. However, the 29 House members insisted that these changes would be simple and feasible enough to merit the continuation of the historic program.
"While we understand the need to cut our expenses in Washington, eliminating the page program will harm the institution of Congress as a whole," Rep. Boren wrote. "There are ways we can reduce the cost of the program without ending it completely."
Specifically, the House members proposed either reducing or eliminating the salary that each page receives to ease the program's financial burden. They also suggested that the pages' job description be altered to adapt to technological advances and the current needs of the Congress; that tours and special office projects might be a better use of the students' skills.
Former pages, who did not go on to become politicians, have taken to social media and the web to voice their dissent, as well. A new Facebook page has emerged, entitled "Save the Page Program," to organize protests and provide a forum for disgruntled alums. So far, 1,654 Facebook users have "liked" the page to join its community.
Jonathan Turley, a legal scholar and law professor at George Washington University, who worked as a House page in the 1970s, took to his website on August 9 with a sternly-worded post on the travesty of the situation.
"To say that former pages are furious is an understatement," Turley writes. "There are few institutions in this country as old as the page program. Moreover, these are members who have been gushing hundreds of billions of dollars abroad without any serious effort to bring three wars to an end. Billions have been reported stolen by the Karzai government and other governmental officials abroad. Yet, for the leadership has decided to kill this almost 200 year institution to save $5 million — without even discussing the possibility of private support."
The page program's woes, Turley believes, could have been solved with a simple overhaul of its oversight; alumni management and private funding, perhaps. However, for all of the push back, the program's termination has received, the fact remains that – without any consultation of House membership or page program alumni – House leadership has officially made its decision.
Thus, as of August 31, the storied opportunity for American youth to serve as messengers and couriers in the halls of Congress and on the House floor has unequivocally ended. A program almost 200 years old is now over because of tough economic times and the plain fact that electronic devices are more efficient at delivering messages than people; a ruling delivered to members of Congress, in a moment of poetic irony this August, by an email.