Aug. 8, 2017
Lee Drutman wrote an article for Vox's Polyarchy about why Congress can't function with its current institutional capacity.
As I’ve written elsewhere, this Congress has been de-investing in its institutional capacity for decades, and congressional staff earn absurdly low salaries, leading to high turnover and consistent staff inexperience.
As Kathy Goldschmidt, the report’s author, writes in more sober language, “Both Congress and the public should be concerned that senior congressional staffers do not feel their human resources are adequate to support Senators’ and Representatives’ official duties.”
I’d say more than “concerned.” I’d say instead “panicked.” Also: “furious.” Also: If you are relying on Congress to check executive power, these findings are hair-raisingly scary.
The House and the Senate combined spend about $2 billion a year on their own staff. If that seems like a lot of money, compare it to an almost $4 trillion dollar federal budget. Less than 0.1 percent of the federal budget goes to staffing Congress. Congress spends even less money on itself than private interests spend on lobbyists.
So the next time members of Congress, present or former, talk about how regular order has broken down in Congress, how there’s no process and no deliberation, they should get a simple question: What have they done to provide Congress the resources to ensure high-quality deliberation can take place?
If they’re not supporting massive increases in congressional staffing and technological infrastructure to make sure senators and representatives have access to genuine expertise in developing and thinking through policy, they’re not serious about fixing Congress.