House Page program ending after nearly 200 years

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WASHINGTON (AP) — After nearly 200 years, the House is killing the messengers.

House Pages swarm President Obama in January. (Photo: Associated Press)

Leaders are ending the page program that began in the 1820s, allowing high school students to serve as messengers while getting a behind-the-scenes look at Congress that few Americans ever get.

Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., wrote House members Monday that the Internet and email have left the pages with little to do. Their message — delivered via mail — said the House could no longer justify the $5 million annual expense.

Pages, usually high school juniors, live in their own dorm, have their own school and at times party like — well, like teenagers whose parents are away. The program, which has adult supervision, has nonetheless been touched by a few sex scandals.

But most of the time, the pages could be seen around the Capitol complex with their dark blazers and neatly trimmed hair, running at warp speed when summoned by a member of Congress. They all were smart, needing a minimum 3.0 grade average in core school subjects to get into the program.

The problem, Boehner and Pelosi said, is they now have little to do. The stacks of bills and the packages they carried, the messages transmitted from one lawmaker to another, can all be delivered electronically.

The House program will end by Aug. 31, although the Senate page program will continue.

In 1983, the House censured Republican Rep. Dan Crane of Illinois and Democratic Rep. Gerry Studds of Massachusetts for sexual relationships with pages — Crane with a young woman and Studds with a young man.

More recently, in 2006, Republican Rep. Mark Foley of Florida resigned in disgrace after it was learned he had sent sexually suggestive electronic messages to former male pages. That scandal, and the failure of Republican leaders to act after they learned what Foley was doing, helped the Democrats regain the House that year.

After the Foley case, the House overhauled the board that supervised pages, including giving both parties an equal say in overseeing the program. The Republican chairman of the board during the Foley scandal had failed to notify other board members of Foley's questionable emails. The board also was expanded to include a former page and the parent of a page.

One former page, Rep. John Dingell, said "It's very sad" that the program is ending.

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