No Cuts


Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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36 Responses

  1. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    “Most people I’ve talked to thinks it’s a fantastic way to provide opportunities to societies most at-risk…”

    …do you have some cites for these “most people”? Sources, quotes we can track, information on who actually said this?Report

    • Avatar dragonfrog says:

      Since they’re “people he’s talked to” – probably not. I don’t know about you, but I have most of my conversations without the benefit of a court stenographer.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck says:

        I talk to lots of people, and they often say just what I need them to say for my point to have an apparent weight of evidence on its side. There is always a convenient authority for me to appeal to.Report

  2. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    This libertarian finds it abhorrent, for exactly the reasons you discuss.Report

  3. Avatar J_A says:

    A small defense of AOC

    I doubt that she was very familiar with DC before a month ago. I don’t know how common the practice of paying to stand in line in in the Bronx (surely, it exists), but she’s likely still lea4ning something new about DC every day.Report

    • I also suspect she believed the lines of homeless she saw in the Hill were there because it was warmer inside the buildings, not because of any “soup kitchen” service. At least, that’s probably what I would suspect if I were a DC newbie.Report

  4. Avatar JoeSal says:

    Good grief.

    There probably should be some parsing of what is a ‘market’ here. What is rent seeking here. What is a market built on rent seeking.

    “Which would be great, except for one thing: they are all very, very, very wrong.”

    So there exists social objectivity to back this up? Because otherwise it looks a lot like another freckin’ opinion.

    If Libertarians received a vote every time the Good Society was outraged by a social construct behaving badly, they would win every damn election.

    (Is Boston Uni offering refunds yet? Geebus Aich.)Report

  5. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    Next up: banning lobbyists from using cell phones or other communication devices while standing in line, because those can be used to conduct lobbying activity, which means they’re making use of access to political figures that the poor unworthy slobs also standing in line don’t have, and are therefore not incurring the kind of opportunity cost that said slobs are making in order to stand in line for the hearing.Report

  6. Avatar Jaybird says:

    We saw this a lot in any number of Eastern European countries during the cold war.

    If you don’t want to divvy out scarce resources by price, you’re going to have to do it by queue.

    And the connected will *STILL* be able to game it.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      If I have to come up with a suggested fix, I’d suggest Radical Transparency.

      “These are the 50 people who got seats in the room with their names and whether they were a registered lobbyist. These are the 50 people who were waiting in line prior to the meeting and their names and whether they were a registered lobbyist.”

      Maybe we could put something about whether they were willing to mention whether they were homeless if we could figure out a way to do that tastefully that didn’t imply a violation of privacy.Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog says:

        How about, there are two queues – one only for people waiting on their own behalf, and one that allows both pro se attendees and paid line-waiters. Admission is by zipper merge – one from each queue by turns until the room is full.

        Anyone caught switching out with a line waiter in the pro se-only queue is barred from meetings of that committee on an exponentially increasing basis – the present meeting only on a first offence, the next two meetings on a second, the next four on a third offence, the next eight on a fourth offence, etc.Report

        • Avatar dragonfrog says:

          To prevent lobbyists from benefiting by filling the pro se queue with paid line waiters, and using paid get-kicked-out-ers to sabotage that queue and prevent any actual admissions from that queue, someone getting kicked out from that queue loses their turn, but not the queue’s turn – the person behind them in the pro se queue is admitted next.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          I’m not sure that that would be even close to enforceable.

          Heck, I’m not sure how they’d enforce the “waiting in line” part of my suggestion. Have people whose job it is to ask the people in line what their name is? At what point does this happen? Have someone walk down the line with a tablet 30 minutes before the hearing? An hour before?

          Then, after they get the name… what? Check it against a list to see if they are a registered lobbyist? Ask them “Are you a registered lobbyist?”Report

  7. Avatar Michael Cain says:

    I take this as just another indicator that Congress has outgrown its physical facilities, and it’s time to move on. Can’t increase the number of Representatives in almost 90 years because the chamber’s too small to accommodate more. Committee rooms are too small to satisfy the public’s desire to see the people’s business being conducted. Staff, especially for very junior members of the House, have to work way to hell over there. Let the Capitol retire gracefully and be a fine old landmark. Build a new federal district and let DC either be a state or be Maryland’s new leading city. Will Truman likes Kansas City. I’m kind of partial to North Platte, NE because I think it would encourage the Congress critters to wind up a session in a more timely fashion.Report

  8. I have a few quibbles with some of the side points made in this OP. I can see how a freshman congressperson might not know or understand that lobbyists pay people to stand in line. I also don’t see the draft lottery as the symbol of a “Democratic institution,” if by “Democratic institution” we mean an institution that respects the right not to be compelled into involuntary servitude. (That said, a draft lottery is arguably more democratic than what preceded it, because it was less unlikely that the rich/powerful/influential could be saved from it. But forcing people to put their lives in danger doesn’t count as “democratic” in that sense.) And paying to opt out of compulsory military service wasn’t “done in the shadows.” It was policy, at least during the Civil War. Finally, hiring the poor as “independent contractors” may be a way to avoid tax liability and further serve the interests of lobbyists, but some money is sometimes better than none, and $40 an hour isn’t necessarily a bad thing for the person receiving it.

    Even so, I agree with what I take to be Tod’s main point, though. It’s bad form for lobbyists to do this. It’s bad practice, too, because, I assume (but am skeptical about the degree it’s true or no, but it probably IS more true than not truet) that ability to lobby equals the ability to influence policy. Maybe the practice should be forbidden. How? I like the discussion between Jaybird and Dragonfrog above because they try to answer it. But “there oughtta be a law” and making an actual law (or rule) is another thing. I don’t know the solution, but any solution will probably have drawbacks. Those drawbacks may not be a reason not to do it, but they’re drawbacks nonetheless. And it’s hard to come up with a good solution.

    I guess I’m being overly critical. I realize that Tod wrote this post to point out a problem and not to suggest a solution. And again, I agree it’s a problem, both for the (symbolic) reasons he stated and the (potentially) practical reasons why it’s bad.Report

    • Avatar Zac Black says:

      but some money is sometimes better than none, and $40 an hour isn’t necessarily a bad thing for the person receiving it.

      You understand that they’re not actually paying the line-standers $40 an hour, right? They’re paying them sub-minimum wages and pocketing the difference.Report

      • I didn’t understand that. That would change things.

        ETA: and now that I re-read Tod’s post, I can see how it could work out that way. I still agree with what JR said below that ending this system creates one less opportunity (among a short list of not very good opportunities). That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t outlaw or get rid of the practice, but we have to take the good with the bad.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      Notice that it points out that it’s worth it to the clients of these lobbying firms to pay $40 an hour to have their representatives merely in the audience at a hearing, not even necessarily speaking or being heard, merely to have it noticed that they were there.

      By itself, that’s unseemly.Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain says:

        But very common, even at the state level. When I was on the budget staff for the Colorado legislature, from November through early April I did one or more presentations to the budget committee every week. During presentations, my back was to the audience. Paid lobbyists in Colorado are required to register with the state and wear their ID when they’re in a state building. When I would finish and get up to leave and could finally see the audience, I was always surprised by how many of the people had lobbyist IDs. And we’re not even that big a state.Report

        • And to elaborate, Burt, I’m not saying anything different. The practice is unseemly and probably should be abolished. That’s why I said I agreed with the main point in Tod’s post. My main concerns is how we can end the practice effectively and what sort of trade offs we’ll have to accept in order to end it.Report

          • Now that I re-read your comment, I think I was being unfair. You were pointing out that the fact that lobbyists in some instances find it worthwhile to pay so much is unnerving, which is a different elaboration of the point Tod was making. I shouldn’t have pulled the “and that’s what I said in my comment” card.Report

  9. Avatar j r says:

    Most people I’ve talked to thinks it’s a fantastic way to provide opportunities to societies most at-risk, like some kind of Federal Work Studies program that gives the poor the skills for a future career as office furniture.

    I may be one of those people, but that’s not quite what I think. I think that if you ended paid line-waiting tomorrow, you would have zero increase in good governance or public policy outcomes, but that a bunch of people with already limited employers opportunities would have one less opportunity.

    If you want to do that in the name of symbolism, fine. But even the symbolism argument is weak, because no one will remember or care about this issue next week… except for the people who have one less way to earn some money.Report

  10. Avatar Road Scholar says:

    There’s a simple way to fix this.
    All committee hearings are closed-door and livestreamed. Everyone who’s interested has access, no lines, no lobbyists doing the “you see me here” thing.Report

    • Avatar Michael Cain says:

      Based on my experience at the state level, there’s a lot of two-way body-language communication going on at these hearings between committee members/staff and select lobbyists in the audience whom they trust.Report

      • Avatar Road Scholar says:

        Exactly. That’s why they have the paid line-standers, no?

        Seems to me we can either just accept the status quo of “petitioning the government…” effectively being the sole province of professional lobbyists or find some way to open it up to the average citizen. The practical reality is that hardly anyone other than the pros have the time and wherewithal to actually attend a committee meeting in a state capital let alone DC.Report

        • Avatar j r says:

          The idea of the average citizen effictively petitioning the government through the legislative process is so far disconnected from how the legislative process works in real life. Even theoretically, it doesn’t address the problem of concentrated benefits versus disbursed costs.Report

        • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

          Close the door to the public and Livestream the meeting. Include a polling applet so that the public viewing the hearing can express their opinions in real time (I would suggest a hot & cold slider) with the results of the applet displayed in the meeting room. If it’s an obscure committee meeting, the lobbyists could probably control the temperature of the applet, but if it’s a hot topic, the public could control.Report

          • Avatar Michael Cain says:

            Assumes facts about how Congress (or most any state legislature) works that are not in evidence.

            Let’s be honest here. The Congress critters on the energy committee don’t care much about the real-time response of the public to a hearing; they care very much about the real-time body language of the lobbyist(s) representing the petroleum industry. The lobbyist from the petroleum industry often doesn’t care about the member asking the question or the witness answering who are the ones shown on the streaming feed; they care very much about the body language of the member three seats down from the one who asked the question, who isn’t shown on the feed, because that’s the committee member who hasn’t committed one way or the other yet.

            Back in the day when I did technical work on how people would use real time multi-party multimedia over the internet, one of the things we learned about meetings was that using a single video window that showed whoever was speaking loudly enough to control the microphone was much less useful than showing multiple smaller video windows, one per participant, because the body language of the people who weren’t talking was a really important “signaling” channel.Report

            • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

              I was rather non specific about how things would work, for exactly this reason.

              But you expose my intent. If the Congress critters can’t see the lobbyists, then we’ve shut off that means of non-transparent communication that the public can’t access.Report

              • Avatar Michael Cain says:

                Your comment that I responded to seemed pretty specific: shut down the open, public high-bandwidth real-time access and substitute something much more limited. Hearings will become even more theater than they already are. More of Congress’s business will be conducted out of full view. The critters and the moneyed interests will find a way (eg, an exception will be made for “invited guests” of the committee members).

                Somewhere up there I made my own suggestion: make the committee rooms bigger, open the full-bandwidth access to more people. The House Election sub-committee is holding a field hearing in Georgia this week — want to bet on whether the room where they meet is larger than any of the rooms the committee normally uses?Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                I could see livestreaming a feed focused on each member, or of the whole committee, regardless of who was speaking.

                However, having committee meetings and hearings in much larger auditoriums, with the lighting such that the committee members can not see the audience, regardless of where they are sitting, would serve the same function of preventing unspoken influence from people who are not testifying or on the committee.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      I would support this, except that I think there is something symbolically important about having an open meeting that the public can attend. Even in a country on 300+million and rooms that seats a few dozen, I think it means something that I don’t think we want to abandon.Report

  11. Avatar Kolohe says:

    This is going to be the narcissism of small differences, because I too consider myself the Norman Rockwell Mr Smith Civic Idealist type – but I completely dissent from this piece.

    There is a difference between Civic Engagement, Civic Responsibility, and Civic Obligation. Civic Obligations include things like paying your taxes, voting, and reporting for Jury Duty and the Military Draft (though the Military Draft is Bad). Those things are required of individuals and are non-transferable. Civic responsibility is Thousand Points of Light type stuff – making the world better around you, without necessarily receiving commensurate remuneration or reward.

    Civic engagement is the entire web of interactions that convert individual preferences to policies of The State, backed up by all the instruments of power of the State. This is the essence of what we are talking about. It’s iof course important, I agree with you 100 on that – but this particular facet, attending a Congressional committee meeting in person, is a small part of that entire web, and I would argue, a mostly insignificant part. [Edit to add] The typical citizen already and necessarily outsources a great deal of their civic engagement, through membership in and contributions to various advocacy and professional (and worker) organizations.

    The meetings are public (at least the public meetings are public), and available for viewing, much of the time live, and almost all the time archived. (The particular role of CSPAN, a privately owned and operated entity, is an oddity on a certain level, but it works good enough for maximizing civic engagement). There is also a written record of these meetings, available via the printed page, or the internet (both of which, again, have some combo of private and public money behind them, but, if a citizen knows what she is doing, can obtain them at pretty much zero marginal cost to themselves)

    I am convinced that ‘we attend the meetings’ is a sales job lobbyists give their clients, and not at all an important function (I don’t have any evidence of this). What is important is *what is said* at these meetings, and who is allowed to speak. *This* is where the influence of lobbyists and the ideological preferences – and blind spots – of the Congresscritters are most relevant, and for that matter, determine the entire show. (e.g. Sandra Fluke)

    The congressional representatives themselves only partly (and perhaps only barely) attend their own meetings, popping in an out, but always present to get their own camera time when it’s their turn.

    The practical matter is strict line rules is just going to make an unnecessary headache for the Capitol Police. Note that the Supreme Court, it’s only the Bar membership line that made their own members follow a rule. The public line can still use line holders, if they want. There was also a thing a few years ago, I don’t remember all the details, where they changed the media credential line rules, which kicked out SCOTUSblog. Report

  12. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    “paid line standers” has been a thing for a long time now. I guess it’s true that having a Congressional meeting filled before anyone even lines up is a bad thing, but it’s not like this is something invented by evil influence-machine Professional Lobbyists.Report