Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Congressional lobotomy

An article in Washington Monthly describes the lobotomy the GOP has given Congress. This started back in 1995 when, to show how tough they were on saving money, the GOP, led by Newt Gingrich, cut funds for or outright killed the Government Accountability Office, the Congressional Research Service, and Office of Technology Assessment. They also cut support staff for members and committees. Then they put term limits on committee chairmanships while requiring a loyalty oath which meant expertise and clout didn't stick around. Want to sweep away all of the federal agencies? Start by sweeping away the people that were making sure they worked. Of course, no actual monetary savings happened.

But with these agencies crippled or gone and problems before Congress becoming more complex what's an overwhelmed staffer to do? Rely on studies, policy outlines, and actual bills prepared by industry lobbyists. So when the Heritage Foundation says a gov't shutdown won't be a big deal, there's nobody around to contradict them and members of Congress have become used to listening to the lobbyists.

Add to that a leadership that dictates how bills are to be written and committees have no incentive to actually learn about what they are legislating.

And with insufficient oversight (and GOP attention wasted on IRS and Benghazi “scandals”) there aren't enough eyes verifying agencies are doing what they should (see NSA overreach). All this erodes trust in the gov't – which, if you want to gut it, is a good thing.

What was dismantled, starting in 1995, was a great deal of infrastructure built up as a result of the Vietnam War and Nixon's shenanigans. From the 1960s through the 1980s this was a great era of congressional oversight. Lawmakers were able to become experts in various subjects, producing some pretty good legislation during that time. The article includes several examples, such as dusting off a law from 1899 to convince industry that the Clean Water Act of 1972 was in their interest. Another example was holding retreats with tax and economic experts (and without lobbyists) that resulted in the Tax Reform Act of 1986. Now oversight hearings don't get to the bottom of an issue, they're for members to give political speeches which may not have anything to do with the issue.

Sweeping aside long-term committee chairs might be good to avoid one person listening too long to certain lobbyists. But that requires an institutional knowledge that is no longer there.

What isn't in Congress: deep discussions on policy. What is there: scandal and intrigue – who can we help or hurt politically through this bill?

Since Congress controls the money, Congress could spend the money to reverse the brain drain and improve oversight. What's a few hundred million when the total budget is 4.8 trillion? But when your agenda is to gut the gov't why add to the gov't intellectual capacity and build up trust in the gov't?

Well, because, a dumber gov't hasn't resulted in a smaller or cheaper one. Too many billions have been spent in unnecessary, duplicate, and wasteful ways. And some are noticing that all those lobbyists are leading Congress astray. But the GOP hasn't gotten serious about these problem yet.

No comments:

Post a Comment