It is one of the oldest institution in our government and stretches back to the founding of our Republic. Yet, in a decision made without consulting other members, former pages, or historians, Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) snuffed out the program to save just $5 million. As a former House leadership page in the 1970s (and here), I have written repeatedly in columns to propose page alumni taking over the program and even funding most or all of the program. The problems in the past have been entirely due to the pedophiles among the members and poor administration. Instead of allowing some discussion of alternatives, the House leadership moved to kill a program that has been a cherished and powerful symbol in our government.
To say that former pages are furious is an understatement. One would have thought that the leadership would show a modicum of respect for the institution to allow discussion and conferral. 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 ranks include some of the most successful politicians and business people in the country, including Bill Gates.
I am floored by the both the decision and the way it was presented. The problem is that there are few advocates for history in Congress. Bridges, highways, and the like have concentrated benefits to one or more members. That is all that is needed. However, scientific and historical interests have no lobbyists or contractors to represent them. A 200 year institution simply does not rise to the level of an earmark.
It is not clear if there is a chance for pages and historians to be heard. Had we been informed, we could have come up with an alternative plan. The members have historically mismanaged the program but have refused to relinquish control to those who are willing to put the program on firm financial and organizational footing. Everyone understands that we have to cut back, but the decision not to allow consideration of private funding seems to reveal a desire to end the program regardless of its cost.
I have heard from dozens of pages in the last few hours who are irate and want to be heard. The question is whether the House leadership will allow us to propose a way to save this institution and its cherished symbol. Pages have always represented the rising generation as Congress crafts laws that will shape their future. It is too important of an institution to be scrapped without debate or consideration. After roughly 200 years, it deserves better.