Decentralizing Congress

I haven’t dropped the whole bicameralism thing–that will be a longer post for a non-travel day and a non-sleep-deprived blogger–but in the meantime, and on a related note, I wanted to highlight an interesting idea from Conor Friedersdorf (via a post of his at TAS).

The idea is this: Instead of having all the members of Congress split time between living in their home districts and in the Beltway, the United States government should have all of them connected by a computer network, so that they can debate legislation and vote without ever leaving their districts. This is supposed to make them more responsive to their constituents and limit the corrosive influence of Beltway culture and the close proximity of industry lobbyists.

One thing I like about this idea: Friedersdorf wisely stays away from discussing the technical aspects of a system like this, but it could conceivably result in a lot more House and Senate business being conducted via the written word instead of through actual public speaking. And if floor debates were to look more like an exchange of blog posts than of prepared statements read aloud, that limits the opportunities for grandstanding, creative use of props, and other theatrics. If the ideas of our elected officials were required to stand on their own, without the help of visual aids, then maybe they would start to look more like actual, um, ideas.

One Response

  1. It is an interesting idea, but I don’t necessarily think it’s a good one.

    The appeal to the founding fathers in the original post annoys me, and I’m going to pretend it isn’t there.

    Next up are the lobbyists. No one will argue that the culture of influence in Washington doesn’t damage the integrity of Congressmen, but it seems wrong to say that dispersing Congressmen would remove that influence. First off, these new Congressmen would be more wired, and easily accessible from anywhere in the country. Face to face interactions would be devalued out of necessity, and I see no reason lobbyists would not adapt. Even if lobbyists tried to maintain face to face interaction, there are currently about six lobbyists for every lawmaker – more than enough to glad hand each Congressman in person.

    The value of keeping the Congressmen near their constituency is clear, and would probably be the biggest benefit from such a system. But it seems to me that this is something that could also benefit from a wired solution. Congressmen have the potential to be incredibly accessible to their constituents today – they only need to use it.

    And lastly, to your point about an increase in written debate – it would certainly be nice to see, but in an age where it is so simple to send video across the web, I can’t imagine that it would even be considered as an option.

    In short, I think it would be more practical to fix the lobbyist problem in DC (like the approach of change-congress), and encourage increased engagement with constituency.

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