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July 30, 2009

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Andy

Thanks for engaging, because I think this question of what should be changed in Congress is an important one, and it's never really taken seriously. I think your proposed solution has some merits, but I still have to quibble. First, the Rules committee in the House is for all intents and purposes owned by the Speaker. And 90% of what it does is, in fact, what you propose to continue allowing her (floor schedule, etc). Indeed, there already are two provisions allowing the majority to override her: 1) by voting against a rule; and 2) by signing a discharge petition.

Second, you have this dynamic in Congress where the authorizers on the one hand (mostly in oversight committees) are distinct from the appropriators (in the appropriations committee) and the revenue raisers (e.g. the Finance committee in the Senate and Ways and Means in the House). One thing you quickly learn about Congress is that the authorizers have much less de facto power than you would expect them to. There is a reason why John Murtha, who only chairs a subcommittee, is more influential and important than several full committee chairs. Why? Because he chairs the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, otherwise known as the body that says what gets spent on defense items.

But if you take away power from people like John Murtha, you inevitably have to give it to someone else. That is, unless you want to take the spending power away from Congress. And honestly, I just don't have a solution for that.

david.broockman

This seems to underrate the importance of policy expertise no small amount. One of the reasons we have committees is because after a really long time on the Financial Services committee, Barney Frank knows a lot about financial services. That means we not only get better policy outcomes but that other members - and even the public - respect and defer to his developed expertise in a way they probably wouldn't otherwise to hot bottom Barney (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/local/longterm/tours/scandal/gobie2.htm). In the absence of that respect/expertise under a system like the one you're proposing, I think we have some good reason to think the real experts - those hired by industry - might consequently have more sway (as they should under such a system!), not less, as their informational advantage would be much greater and thus the demand by members for their view of the world greater in turn.

Having said that, something probably should change. But I'm not sure there's a way to reconcile these things without fairly deeply Draconian ethics reforms, which would themselves probably wade somewhat into the policy-expertise-ruining. Any concentration of expertise will also entail a concentration of power and thus of influence-ability. I don't think it's a clear tradeoff.

Finally, I mostly disagree with this paper, but it's food for thought. http://web.mit.edu/polisci/research/representation/CF_JEP_Final.pdf

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