On December 11th, 2018, the United States Capitol Historical Society (USCHS) hosted a panel discussion featuring Congressional Committee Staff who specialize in tax and trade issues moderated by USCHS Trustee Mary Moore Hamrick. The bipartisan, bicameral group of speakers included Angela Ellard of the U.S. House Committee on Ways and Means, Aruna Kalyanam of the U.S. House Committee on Ways and Means, and Tiffany Smith of the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance.
USCHS Leadership Council and Constitution Signers members attended the lively, candid, and at times humorous discussion of the current state of tax and trade policy and politics. The panelists discussed the challenges of bipartisanship in our polarized times, but highlighted the areas in which they and their fellow staffers were able to cooperate and compromise.
When asked to share their fondest memories of congressional service, Ms. Kalyanam told of a celebrity encounter she experienced early on: film legend Paul Newman had come to the Capitol to meet with Members of the tax-writing committees who were meeting with a foreign leader and unavailable; Ms. Kalyanam had to entertain the Academy-Award winner. She also recommended that everyone play Neil Diamond’s “America” while driving on East Capitol Street from 7th Street towards the Capitol – the chorus will begin just as the Dome becomes visible!
Ms. Ellard and Ms. Smith both recalled moments of awe that struck them late at night when passing through an empty Capitol Rotunda. There is rarely a more profound stillness than that which permeates that breathtaking space when the crowds have left and all who remain are quietly, diligently pursuing the business of our country.
The “Taxistas” – as the panelists are sometimes referred to on the Hill – were also asked to share any advice they would give to someone looking to succeed them in the future. Ms. Smith advocated a flexible demeanor; the ever-evolving politics and circumstances on Capitol Hill mean that only those who can adapt can keep up. Ms. Kalyanam said that the most successful staffers are those who do not let questions of authorship bother them; sharing or even yielding credit can still help advance a career. Ms. Ellard noted that the best staffers always remember that the Member of Congress is the boss; at the end of the day the Member’s opinion is decisive.
At the conclusion of the panel, USCHS Chairman Donald Carlson thanked the panelists for sharing their wisdom, experience, and time with the guests.
USCHS thanks Express Scripts for generously hosting and supporting this event.