Republican Hill Staffers Jumping Ship

Frustrated Republican health care staffers are leaving the Hill for lucrative positions on K Street.


Frustrated Republican health care staffers are leaving the Hill for lucrative positions on K Street.

POLITICO (“Frustrated GOP health staffers jump ship“):

Since the election, one top Republican health policy staffer after another has fled the Hill for consulting and lobbying gigs that promise better pay, fewer hours and less obstructionism.

Of course, there’s always a natural shifting of staff after each election. But health staffers say the flood of resignations after President Barack Obama won reelection is evidence of a deeper disillusionment.

It’s been a bumpy few years for these staffers, most of whom participated in the health care law negotiations in 2009 and 2010, watched as Democrats passed the law without a single Republican’s vote, stood by as their bosses continually tried — and failed — to ditch the law and saw GOP hopes for entitlement reform fall by the wayside.

Now, many of them are saying enough is enough.

“I think there were a lot of Republican staff who stuck around in the hopes they would actually make real substantive changes,” said Chuck Clapton, a former HELP health policy director who left for Hogan Lovells. “Obviously, the likelihood of that happening has diminished significantly.”

Among the first to depart was Katy Spangler, former deputy health policy director for the Senate HELP Committee, who left last June for VBID Health, a firm that designs and promotes health plans. But the real exodus began after the election, with Howard Cohen leaving his post as chief health counsel of the House Energy and Commerce Committee in December to start his own consulting business.

In January, HELP lost Clapton and health counsel Keith Flanagan. Energy and Commerce Committee Chief Health Counsel Ryan Long also jumped ship for BGR Group.

February saw the departure of Emily Porter, health policy adviser to Speaker John Boehner. She is joining The Nickles Group.

And Thursday was the final day on the Hill for Dan Elling, staff director for the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee and an influential GOP voice as Congress passed the health care law. He’s accepted a job at Alston & Bird.

“There is a general level of frustration that everybody realizes we have these problems on the immediate horizon that need to be addressed — and there doesn’t seem to be the universal appetite to deal with these things,” Elling said.

Another former senior staffer said, “Honestly, I think there’s been so much brain drain over the past six months of really excellent people leaving the Hill because they’re so frustrated and they’re tired of beating their heads against the wall.”

Even the reporter, Paige Winfield Cunningham, acknowledges that this is circumstantial and that turnover is both natural and more complicated than any single factor. Without some comparative numbers to use as a point of comparison, I’m not sure we have anything here beyond anecdote. In the health care arena, particularly, I’m sure frustration is always high given how big the problems are and how infrequently anything gets done to address them.

Having lost the presidency twice in a row and having failed two consecutive congressional cycles to capitalize on opportunities to pick up Senate seats means that Republican staffers would be frustrated even if their caucus were packed with Daniel Websters and Arthur Vanderbergs. Eight years is a long time to be in the minority, especially as a staffer.

All that said, it surely has to be frustrating to be on professional staff and have to abide a stance of pure obstructionism. President Obama was apparently willing to sign just about any bill that could purport to make improvements in our health delivery system and was desperate for the appearance of bipartisan approval. The Heritage Foundation could have written the bill for all he cared. Indeed, the final bill actually took provisions of Heritage’s alternative to the Clinton bill from the 1990s. But, rather than trying to get the most conservative bill possible passed, Republicans opted to fight against the passage of any bill at all—and looked to have won with the election of Scott Brown to Teddy Kennedy’s seat. Ultimately, though, they got nothing for their efforts but a talking point in the 2012 elections. Which they lost.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Mark Ivey says:

    Fleeing a sinking ship for $$, i don´t blame them, who want´s to go down on the USS-GOP?

  2. superdestroyer says:

    Why would anyone with any ambition or ability want to be a Republican staffer when the Republican have become irrelevant to policy or governance in the U.S. As the Republicans have worked very hard to make themselves irrelevant and as their political operatives have chased after one shiny object after another, what is there left for staffers who want to be serious about policy or governance. Why work hard when one’s efforts will have zero impact on the future.

    Ins’t this just a foreshadowing of the future that there will soon be no conservatives at the Ivy Leagues because there will be no careers open to conservatives. Soon learning how to mouth the standard boilerplate positions of elite progressives will become mandatory of getting a job in DC.

  3. Woody says:

    It’s telling that these folks are GOP healthcare staffers. One of the strengths of the Republican party is their unusual cohesiveness – they are an effective bloc. However, this places them in a quandary as well: there is a very large number of prominent Republicans that are still attempting to destroy the Affordable Care Act, with no replacement mechanism. Where’s the policy for them to promote?

    The exodus to the private sector is certainly understandable, as the pay gap between public and private continues to expand. It’s too bad – having highly qualified people in government would result in better government – which is actively opposed by the GOP.

  4. steve says:

    I have long said that the ACA is a mediocre bill, but it is the only game in town. The GOP has never pursued healthcare reform except in opposition to a Democratic plan. They have nibbled around the edges a few times with ideas that fit with their ideology, like Medicare Advantage or the SGR, but those ideas have either increased spending or failed because they wouldnt even vote to enforce what they had passed. Then there was Medicare Part D increased spending and was pretty clearly an attempt to buy the votes of the elderly.

    We have known for many years that health care spending is the primary driver of our future debt. A party that is serious about addressing our future debt should be pushing on health care issues non-stop. All other budget issues should be secondary. They should be bringing in and keeping the best minds they can find. Instead, they avoid the issue and are losing some of their better people. The GOP needs to stop passing red meat bills for their base (Paul Ryan bills) and work on crafting some legislation that can become law. If they cannot get the exact bill they want, then make the ones that pass more conservative in some important ways. I agree with you that they could have wrung some pretty hefty concessions from Obama. They passed on that. They need to start participating. However, my prediction is that when they take back the presidency in 2016, they will continue to ignore the issue. They just dont get it for some reason.


  5. al-Ameda says:

    Can you imagine working for Republican Congressional members and expecting to be a part of effort to get things done? The representatives these people are working for are dedicated to ensuring that government does not work – in fact, they want to roll it back. Picture yourself working for Steve King or Ted Cruz – now picture yourself getting treatment for depression.

    That they’re leaving makes perfect sense. It is always better to leave early than leave late, and face it, the 2014 mid-terms are just around the corner.

  6. superdestroyer says:


    What is the more challenging project: finding ways to make the government run more efficiently with less cost and less negative impact or just throwing money at a problem until people get bored and move on to the next problem. The issue is that no one wants to invest in doing something for the long term when they will only be in DC a couple of years and the Republicans have not found a way to keep conservatives interested in the long term impacts of the government when they have no long term plans of being in the goverment.

  7. al-Ameda says:

    What is the more challenging project: finding ways to make the government run more efficiently with less cost and less negative impact or just throwing money at a problem until people get bored and move on to the next problem.

    All of the above. Working to ensure that government provides all services efficiently is challenging. Health care is a good example – Republicans resolutely refused to cooperate with Obama on ACA because of 2 reasons: (1) it was Obama’s plan, and (2) they thought that could use this foray into “socialism” to defeat him in 2012.

    The GOP is not interested in governing, they’re interested in disestablishing government programs.

  8. stonetools says:

    The Republican’s health care policy is not to have a health care policy. As such, there is nothing for those health care staffers to do. And no reason for the Democrats to debate or negotiate with the Republicans re health care policy.

    I expect the Democrats to regain the House and a filibuster-proof super-majority in the Senate by 2016, when the country gets fed up with the GOP’s “massive resistance” strategy. That’s when we’ll see fixes to US health care policy, not before then.

  9. superdestroyer says:


    The what is the long term impact of the Democratic Party being the dominant party? What is being restrained now that will be allowed to happen when the Democrats are uncontested?

    How high will taxes go? How open will the borders become? What will happen to private sector employment levels? Who will be the winners and losers when only POV is taken in politics?

  10. stonetools says:


    What you need to do, son is to go to conservative sites and tell them to stop applauding 2+2=5 budget proposals. Then, maybe , Republicans can save themselves from being the irrelevant party , which is where they are heading.

  11. Unsympathetic says:


    The long-term impact of Democrats being the only party is an actual balanced budget – like California has today, and the Democrats achieved before GWB.

    The main thing being prevented by Republicans is realistic discussion based on fact.

  12. superdestroyer says:


    The Republicans are already irrelevant. That is why the Democrats have zero interest in working with them on policy. Demographics and economic changes in the U.S. are going to eliminate any conservative party. The Democrats know that they can wait out the Republicans collapse and get all the government expansion, policy initiatives, and higher taxes that they want.

    The long term question is what type of person is going to go into politics when the biggest issue is how to pay for an ever expanding entitlement state.

  13. superdestroyer says:


    the budget is not balanced yet. The Democrats plan on having a balanced budget in the future if they can not adopt any new spending initiatives and the economic continues on a fairly rosy expansion. Given that the Democrats have not been able to resist expanding spending when the economy picks up I would not be so optimistic in the future.

  14. Jeremy R says:


    Republicans resolutely refused to cooperate with Obama on ACA because of 2 reasons: (1) it was Obama’s plan, and (2) they thought that could use this foray into “socialism” to defeat him in 2012.

    (3) They stuck to their agreed upon, long-term strategy. GOP leaders met the very evening of Obama’s first inauguration and decided (conspired?) unyielding opposition to all of his initiatives — denying him any legislative successes — would be their game-plan for getting back into the majority.

  15. rudderpedals says:

    A *lot* of money is about to be pumped into the cool new privatization scam that sucks on Medicaid. See Arkansas for ex. The staffers know exactly how to interpose themselves to get a fair share of those flows. They’re not stupid. Venal perhaps.

  16. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @superdestroyer: When did this rosey expansion start? Did I miss something? Last time I looked, the economy was growing at 1%–just under the rate of inflation. Hmmmm…

  17. C. Clavin says:
    As valid today as it was when first written.
    Republicans will never learn as long as thye willingly wrap themselves in a cocoon of epistemic closure.
    Republicans are following the most radical voices in the party. Those voices are those of tacticians with no sense of traditions or institutions and ideologues and they have created a zombie party with no ideas and no direction except old ideas and direct opposition.
    I keep wondering when some real conservatives will grow a pair and try to save the party.
    Unfortunately todays Republican party is Tsar and Jenos and Super-dope…who are nothing more than hopeless maroons bless their little hearts.