I’m pleased to announce the publication of my first effort at Politics Daily — it’s a think piece that makes an argument for prohibiting Congressional representatives from inhabiting Washington DC.
Check it out.
Okay, you back?
Usually I refrain from advancing arguments that I’m uncertain about, but there are so many institutional obstacles to making this one a reality that it seemed safe enough to advocate for it as a thought experiment.
As professional lobbyists grow ever more powerful, it is increasingly consequential that members of Congress spend significant stretches of time hundreds or thousands of miles from their constituents, but mere minutes away from every K Street firm. An e-Congress wouldn’t merely result in legislators more attuned to their constituents by virtue of spending their working lives among them — it would make influence peddling far more difficult on lobbying firms, who’d find it more expensive and time-consuming to get face-time with multiple senators and Congressional representatives, or to simultaneously court a senator, six members of the federal bureaucracy, a few political journalists, and a dozen House underlings.
Neither should the impact an e-Congress would have on congressional staff be underestimated. Staffers in their twenties and their thirties are enormously influential in shaping the agenda of the men and women for whom they work, and they are, by and large, denizens of Washington. This changes the characteristics of those willing to apply to be staff members — it skews the labor pool toward people who want to live Inside the Beltway, making a career there. Inevitably, whoever is hired loses touch with constituents, at least relative to a hypothetical staffer who ate, drank and dated among the folks back home, as opposed to living among other District of Columbia politicos.
I offer more pro arguments, and point out some powerful objections, here. Since Matt Yglesias and Ezra Klein have been voicing there frustration with our present institutional arrangements, I’d be curious to hear what they think about this. Also, after I’d submitted the piece, but prior to it running, Will Wilkinson published a blog post that doesn’t address my argument directly, but probably cuts against it in an intelligent way.