Squeezing Congress: Our three-legged stool of government is perilously close to collapse
Because of the pervasive influence of money on elections, our federal officials must spend an inordinate amount of time raising funds for their next election in order to wage a competitive campaign. In his recent book, By the People, Charles Murray reports that one of the major parties recommends that members of Congress spend four hours a day in telephone fundraising and one hour on constituent service. This advice is a recognition of the changing environment faced by candidates for political office and presents them with a Hobson’s choice that will, if elected, clearly impair their effectiveness in discharging their constitutional responsibilities.
Yet another demand on their time comes from the enormous growth of the administrative state in recent decades. This can require the official to spend considerable time intervening with the federal bureaucracies on behalf of their constituents.
These demands on their time may explain why Congress has failed in recent years to assert its rightful legislative role: members simply do not have enough time to perform the duties we elected them to do. As a result, they rely heavily on their staff to do the research and advise them on how to vote on an issue. This weakens the legislator’s role and creates opportunities for the executive branch and bureaucracies to expand their influence over legislation, contrary to the responsibilities assigned in the Constitution. This has resulted in a scramble for the exercise of power in Washington, severely impacting the effectiveness of the federal government.
The remedies available today to redress the abuse of power (publicity, lawsuits, funding restrictions, and impeachment) are woefully slow, cumbersome, costly, and often ineffective.
Reforms of the federal government should address these problems with “quick fix”
tools. If properly designed, they will create an effective and responsive
government with accountability enforced.
The “systemic corruption of Washington” is a phrase often used to characterize the use of money in election campaigns and lobbying in Washington. Clearly, money buys access to legislative and regulatory proceedings and offers the opportunity to influence them to serve the special interests of large donors to campaigns and lobbying efforts. If we can eliminate the source of much of this corruption, we will free up Congress to more faithfully represent the views of their constituents rather than special interest groups.