Sunday, January 3, 2010

How to Make Life Easy For Lobbyists

The real great American pastime (politics division) is bashing Congress, and Conor Friedersdorf published a beaut just before the New Year.  Forget term limits, or other Congress-bashing greatest hits of earlier eras; Conor wants to disperse Congress back to their districts: an e-Congress. 

I was going to write a longish post explaining exactly why Congress is a Good Thing, and why reformers shouldn't be looking to muck it up, but then I saw the headline he gave to his blog post about the piece, and realized it would be overkill.  I'll get to that in a second...first, two recommendations.  If you want to know how Members actually spend their time in Washington, and what would be lost if we closed the Capitol down and had them legislate from their districts, read Member of the Hosue (and political scientist) David Price's The Congressional Experience.   For a general overview of the subject, see Nelson W. Polsby's terrific essay, Congress-Bashing for Beginners (I should note I suppose that I had just begun as one of Nelson's students at the time this was published).

Now, that blog post.  Conor titles it, "How To Make Life Hard For Lobbyists."  The idea is supposedly that with Members of Congress dispersed, it would be harder for lobbyists to influence them.  That misses the obvious effect of the "reform" -- a dispersed Congress would be a much weaker Congress, and so there would be little point in lobbying rank-and-file Members.  This wouldn't make life ward for lobbyists; they would welcome it.  Instead of navigating the tricky committee rooms of Congress, they could concentrate their efforts on executive branch agencies, secure in the knowledge that Congress would be incapable of serious oversight of whatever shenanigans were going on.  A weakened Congress would be limited, most likely, to endorsing or rejecting presidential initiatives, not actually writing laws.  So, good for lobbyists, but not especially good, in my view, for democracy.

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