Thursday, March 28, 2013

Where Should Congress Do Its Work?

A proposal has been made for a "virtual Congress" in which Senators and Reprehensives would, essentially, telecommute from their home districts, coming together in person only for key votes and to berate hapless witnesses at useless hearings. Is this a good idea?

Whether good or not, it isn't a completely new idea. New Mexico Representative Steve Pearce first floated the idea of a virtual Congress in November 2010, arguing that a Congress operating from the local level is better for citizens, because it would put elected representatives closer to constituents and separate them from the teeming swarms of lobbyists and attorneys infesting the marbled halls of Washington. He also suggested that a Congress meeting virtually would save taxpayers money by minimizing travel costs, and would protect Congress as a group from terrorist threats by spreading its members across the country.

Some of the arguments are persuasive. The technology of relatively secure video communication is well-established and used in many businesses and branches of government to help keep down travel costs, and there's much to be said for keeping public servants close to those they serve and away from the temptations of the Big City. Members of Congress spend a lot of time traveling back and forth to Washington from their home districts, reducing the amount of time they're available to actually do the work of governing*.

On the other hand, having members of Congress spread across the country promotes insularity and prevents them from interacting directly with each other, building personal relationships and learning to see each other as real people rather than political caricatures. I believe it would also impede their ability to view problems and issues in a national, rather than a purely local context. But the worst problem, in my opinion, would come from House members spending most of their time in thoroughly-gerrymandered echo chambers, in which they hear only the opinions of those who are most likely to agree on a narrow set of views and values, without exposure to competing opinions.

What do you think? Should Members of Congress be allowed to telecommute from their home districts, assembling only when Constitutionally required or absolutely necessary? Can they do a better job operating locally, or should they maintain the current system of coming together in Washington to shout focus group-approved slogans past each other and participate in bogus committees three or four days a week? I vote no, but would like to know what everyone else thinks.

Because we've got to do something to get our government working again.

Have a good day. See you back here for Cartoon Saturday.


* Not that you'd notice from the amount and quality of governance actually performed.


eViL pOp TaRt said...

Bilbo, there's definitely a trade-off if we were to go to a virtual Congress. In all, I think that having them stay in their home districts, and having more frequent and direct contact with their constitutents would outweigh the possible advantages of personal contact with other Congresspersons. And, even better, it would possibly diminish the power of lobbyists!

And maybe, just maybe, we would get a better level of Congressional morality if they're responsive to the home folks. Washington provides a perpetual moral holiday for some.

And I like the idea of Congress spending less money for a change.

Duckbutt said...

A virtual Congress would work. I don't tyhink that physical proximity is really necessary for them to know each other. Virtual contact through teleconferences, email, and other methods would suffice.

Elvis Wearing a Bra on His Head said...

Maybe I've read too many Tom Clancy books, but if they were in separate places, it would be safer.

Mike said...

Think of the jobs it would create. Lobbyists x 50.

allenwoodhaven said...

I think it's a bad idea. They need the face to face time with each other. Teleconferencing is not the same as being there. Lobbyists would be less noticed and more numerous, being spread out all over rather than having to show up at Washington offices. And, as Bilbo pointed out so well, they'd be in gerrymandered echo chambers where contrary views would be largely absent.

In fact, things might be better is they had to stay in Washington. Going back to their districts every weekend doesn't do much to promote a common bond or purpose. (i.e. we're in this together as a country and we are supposed to solve the country's problems)

One more opinion: GREAT cartoon!!!

KKTSews said...

If we want them to compromise, which I think is sorely lacking, they must know each other and see each other.

Why do this? To cut down on travel costs and time? I really don't see the positive as all that great and the potential negative is huge. The few times I've tried to contact a congress person I have gotten a staffer, as one would expect, in the local office. I think they get plenty, maybe even too much, from what you call their own echo chamber and need to be together MORE, not less, to work to solve problems.