We Are Experiencing Institutional Difficulties

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14 Responses

  1. One thing I’d say in response is that a key element of nationalizing Speaker elections would be that it pretty strongly weakens the committee system (and especially committee chairs) by giving the Speaker formal authority to appoint chairs; by decoupling the Speaker from the Congressional majority, you in effect put an end to the seniority system that is so particularly poisonous. This probably wasn’t clear from the original post, though.

    As for making obstructionism more difficult, I’m not sure that’s a particularly good solution in and of itself. Instead, I think the real issue is that the existing system encourages cooperation between majority partisans and squishy centrists rather than between majority partisans and minority partisans. To me, this is a result of the strength of political parties in Congress, which I think decoupling the Speaker from simple nomination by her Congressional partisan peers would do a lot to reduce.

    I think this also helps resolve the issue of stronger majorities by making party identification less important to how an individual Congresslizard will vote.

    In other words, I think a big chunk of the problem right now is that the interests of Congressional leadership are perfectly mutual and coextensive with the interests of their Party as a whole. A huge part of their job, then, is to make sure that the Party stays unified, even if this is at the expense of better legislation that could be achieved by working with the partisans from the other side.

    If you want to focus on veto points, I’d say that as things currently stand the Speaker is already a fairly strong veto point, as are the various chairpersons, the weakness of legislative majorities, the strength of the High Broderites, and of course the interests of each interest group in the majority’s coalition. A big part of my proposal is that strengthening the Speaker not only creates greater legislative accountability, it also comparatively weakens those other veto points by decoupling them from the actual Legislator-in-Chief’s interests. I think a big part of why we place the Presidency on such a pedestal – even after we’ve had our share of crappy Presidents – is precisely that the President’s divergent interests from his party (and all these other things) allow him to almost always act substantially more independently from his party than the average Congresslizard.Report

    • Avatar Kyle says:

      I just watched the old V miniseries and every time you wrote Congresslizard, I imagined kanye-ish sunglasses, reddish-orange jumpsuits, and Diana…in Congress.

      Thanks, Mark, for this entirely amusing and far too nerdy visual.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

      I’ve come to really love your idea, Mark. It’s damn good. You need to email Dennis Sanders again about that think tank.Report

  2. Avatar Scott says:

    People not holding Congress responsible for their actions is not a structural flaw of the gov’t but is the fault of an electorate which does not participate. I believe that people who don’t vote get the gov’t they deserve.Report

    • But why are American voters comparatively apathetic, particularly in Congressional elections? If I vote to keep my Republican Congressman in office, my vote accomplishes nothing, since the Republicans are in the minority. I can’t hold Nancy Pelosi or the Democrats accountable for anything, and I can’t hold my Congressman accountable for anything either since as a practical matter he has little more power than the ability to say “no” to what the majority wants.Report

      • Avatar Scott says:

        Maybe the lack of civics education to teach the importance of voting or folks feel that there is too much lobbying and money in races. I still think that we should move the date taxes are due from April 15 to the day before election day. That might encourage folks to vote.Report

        • The point is that as a practical matter, votes for Congress are pretty meaningless for half the country at all times. On top of that, the two-party system ensures that in the other half of the country, there’s precious little way of holding Congress accountable other than by being apathetic and staying home. If you’re a Democrat who is disgruntled at the Democratic majority, you probably also think that the Republicans would be worse. So how do you hold the Democrats responsible? You stay home.Report

          • Avatar Scott says:

            If enough folks stay at home then the local congresscritter may lose. Ultimately people have to participate or any structural changes will fail. I think the best way to change the House is to change the way districts are drawn b/c right now they are drawn to benefit the incumbent.Report

  3. Avatar Kyle says:

    “A system where committees are weaker, majorities are stronger and obstructionism harder is a system that incentivizes better legislation, as each member knows that their bill can make it to the floor in more or less its original state. It’s a system where there are fewer opportunities for capture by special or parochial interests, and it’s a system that actually empowers presidents to pursue their agendas.”

    Isn’t this a matter of 2+2+Smoke = 10?

    Special/parochial interests are wield enormous influence over electoral fates of legislators, so I don’t see how this proposal would reduce their power, even if there are fewer opportunities for them to enter the legislative process.

    Is it even prudent to give more concentrated power to legislative majorities in a country this large and diverse? I mean it’s something that comes up infrequently, that perhaps Congress should be more parliamentary, but well-functioning parliamentary democracies have three key features relative to America: they’re smaller, less heterogeneous, and representatives – on average – represent fewer constituents.

    If anything, this system makes intra-party loyalty the crucial determinant for legislative success, which, in turn, would seem likely to make legislation more polar. Which might make it “better” legislation, but I question whether contentious legislation will retain enough support among the people to be executed well. Essentially, I question whether the nation is prepared to support the bold reform your reforms would lead to. It very well could be, but for all the complaints of how moderate and status quo oriented reform is today, rarely do we have to consider issues of capacity and continued public support.Report

  4. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    Jamelle – certainly a more efficient governing system is desirable. I would only point out that there are times when the slow pace and inefficiency of government may actually do some good. I think a larger problem, in any case, is the influence special, monied interests have in our legislation. I’m not sure simply making it easier to pass laws would be a good thing without addressing that first.Report

    • Avatar Jamelle says:

      I agree that the oversized influence of special, monied interests is a problem, but it’s a problem that is exacerbated by the large number of veto points in our system. I think I’ve argued this before, but special interests don’t have that much influence as special interests; insofar that they have an impact (on the legislative process), it’s because they can occupy the various veto points in the legislative process and exact a toll.

      Think about it: it’s very easy to focus your attention on a single senator, who can then hold up the entire process. Even if you were to do something as simple as eliminate the filibuster, that a very wide avenue for obstruction would be shut down, and it would take more work on part of those interests to achieve the same results, which could have the result of diluting their impact. Simply put, the more obstruction, the more opportunities for those interests to adversely effect legislation.Report

  5. Avatar JPB says:

    Congress, thank Madison, wasn’t meant to work efficiently, let alone enable the president to simply impose his will (agenda, or whatever name you want to give it). Congress rolling over for W. is what got us in half the mess “progressives” have been complaining about (rightly, for the most part) for the past 8 years. But now that your guy is in, let’s ramp up the power? Doesn’t make sense.Report

    • Avatar Jamelle says:

      I don’t have a paper trail for this (since I haven’t been blogging for that long), but I’ve long been in favor of making the Senate a more majoritarian institution. This has nothing to do with partisanship and everything to do with the ability of the president to govern.Report