By Harrison Yu
One thing that has particularly struck me from all of our site visits this week was the amount of work that is done behind the scenes for the work of U.S. Congresspeople. Whether it is lobbyists or committee staff workers, the congresspeople don’t appear to have the time to study the issues in-depth. Instead, those in these “lesser” positions have to do the grunt work on both the policy study and, in some committees, building bipartisan consensus.
This is not to discredit the good work that Congress does. Bipartisan legislation continues to be passed with varying degrees of success. Furthermore, Congresspeople have to make smart decisions on whom they bring with them to the Hill. They may intentionally choose people who have similar ideologies but also bring that expertise. I think that people have an overblown idea that Representatives and Senators are the individuals doing hard work for their constituents. Let’s acknowledge the work that “underlings” do.
So, what are Congresspeople good for? Well, they are good fundraising. From just about every account that freely gave the information, members of Congress spend several hours a day making calls and going to fundraisers. The amount of time spent fundraising increases for Representatives because they have such a quick turnaround between being elected and having to run another campaign. It’s a wonder they have any time to vote!
On a related note, a lot of our discussions have focused on what campaign finance reform would look like. I offer this alternative: campaign reform. Limit when election campaigns are allowed to appeal to constituents. This isn’t a new idea and is successfully implemented in other countries. The main issues that would arise are: what is considered free speech towards a candidate as well as what constitutes campaigning versus informing the electorate. Those would be tough political battles, but the long-term goal of allowing Congresspeople to focus on the issues and not the money is worth it.