An Amateur Congress? No Thanks

Rick Perry wants an amateur Congress. Jamelle Bouie at the American Prospect is on it:

Here’s what you would get by adopting Perry’s “reforms.” Already, congresspeople are buffeted with concerns from constituents and interest groups on a variety of policies, to say nothing of the pressure of fundraising and reelection. Absent the time to educate themselves or the staff necessary to collect information, something has to give, and more often than not, that something is independence. When lawmakers are pressed for time, resources, and cash, they’re far more likely to rely on lobbyists for information, and even written legislation. After all, of the people in or around government, lobbyists (and assorted advocates) have the most time and resources for changing the direction of policy. Professionalized legislatures aren’t perfect, but they stand as something of a bulwark to the undue influence of interest groups. Take that away, and you’ve turned Congress into an institution more porous than it already is.

Exactly correct.

The only major thing I’d add is that an amateur Congress wouldn’t just mean more influence for lobbyists. It would also empower everyone else in the system, but particularly the bureaucracy, which would have much less to worry about from Congressional oversight of existing operations, and would probably have more influence on drafting bills. Moreover, it’s likely that an amateur Congress would tend to write more vague and less detailed bills, which would leave more discretion to the bureaucracy (and, for that matter, to the courts).

Bottom line: if you like (representative) democracy, you should arrange for the politicians to be important within the system.

On the other hand, as a campaign move, Congress-bashing is always a winner. So who knows whether Perry in particular will survive, but Congress-bashing surely isn’t going away any time soon.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.