QOTD: Darcy Burner
Pulled from this morning's Blue America chat.
It’s obvious to pretty much anyone following politics that Congress is broken. And it’s also clear that we won’t be able to make real progress on fixing our economy, on educating our kids, on climate change, or on any of our other priorities unless we fix it.
There are parts of fixing Congress that are big and hard and will take a long time. For instance, we clearly need to reverse Citizens United - the entertainment value of the Republican Presdential primary notwithstanding – and it looks as though that will take a Constitutional amendment. We need to do it, but it’s hard and it will take a long time.
Some of what we need to do, however, is much easier and quicker. When Gingrich took control of the House in 1995, he made a bunch of rules changes designed to break the institution, and we’re reaping the effects of some of those today. Reversing them would take a simple majority vote in the House.
Let me give you an example. Why do lobbyists have so much influence? Lots of people give campaign contributions; what is it that lobbyists are doing differently? Right now, most of the policy work in Congress is done by staff whose average age is 26, and who are typically covering 4-6 major policy areas each. If they’re lucky, they might really understand one of those policy areas. So when a lobbyist walks in and says, “Ok, here’s what you need to know about this bill your boss has to vote on tomorrow, here’s how your boss should vote, and here are your talking points,” and that’s the only information they’re given, of course the lobbyist will usually succeed. It wasn’t always this way: there used to be internal think tanks in the House where members would pool their resources to hire deep experts in some topic area. There were, for example, experts on nuclear nonproliferation and arms control. So if a member of Congress wanted to know how big a threat Iran’s nuclear program is, or the impact of some piece of legislation with sanctions, there were deep experts they could consult who were part of their team. Gingrich banned shared funding of staff and canned those expert staffers in order to consolidate power, and as a consequence members have to rely on lobbyists, leadership, or outside organizations like the Heritage Foundation for the information they need. That’s totally fixable – and it could conceivably be fixed in the first week of a new Congress.
There are a whole set of changes – allow shared funding of expert staff, turn on track changes for legislation so we can see who changed what, stream online any committee hearing a lobbyist is allowed to attend – that would make Congress more transparent and accountable to the American people in meaningful ways, and which we can do quickly.
I’m running because we have to fix Congress – and I’m signing up to fix it.
You can help her do it, by donating a few buck to her campaign now so that she can prepare her ground game.
Donate to Darcy's campaign, here.