“Notably absent ... is any incentive ... to work with Members of the other party to develop wise policies,” Gibson writes. Here are some of the structural changes Gibson recommends to provide more incentive for Members to work across the aisle: • Shorter sessions, to make Members focus on fewer agenda items. • Lower pay, as an incentive not to stay forever. • Let Members work full-time at other jobs (which they could do with shorter sessions), to keep them in touch with the real world. • A smaller House, creating larger districts that would be more diverse and elect, presumably, more moderate Members who can get along better with each other.
None of these seem likely to muster much support within Congress.
Other of Gibson’s proposals, though, have at least been talked about seriously by some Members — creation of a committee on repeals, doing away with most campaign finance restrictions and making Senators who want to block legislation via filibuster actually hold the floor to do so.
Gibson is a good diagnostician, and any or all of those might serve the end he seeks.
But other doctors might consider the cure worse than the disease.
In his latest book, “Liberty Defined,” Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) wrote that “So-called moderate politicians who compromise and seek bipartisanship are the most dangerous among the entire crew in Washington.”
Now, either you believe that or you don’t. But Paul has a case to make, just as Gibson does.
This notion that bipartisanship is the highest good, and that more of it would yield better government, has certainly taken root. So has kudzu.
It could be argued, as Paul and others have done, that bipartisanship is actually the problem — me scratching your back and you scratching mine requires the government, i.e., the taxpayer, to buy two scratchers when one would probably be enough.
One example Gibson cites of unwise policy growing out of perverse incentives is the infamous “Bridge to Nowhere,” one of the more well-known appropriation line items of recent times. But it was just the kind of bipartisanship that Gibson prescribes that led to the Bridge to Nowhere. Had rigidly ideological lawmakers hellbent on cutting spending been running the institution, such a thing never would have happened.
The country is divided on questions of monumental import. Many of those questions are fundamental to deciding what kind of country we are going to be. Those kinds of differences, as my Roll Call colleague Stuart Rothenberg recently wrote, cannot be split. Somebody has to win and somebody has to lose.
Gibson has observed Congress from inside and out. His search for the ever-elusive “national interest,” and the “wise policy” that serves it, is a noble one.
If you change the rules, you will undoubtedly change the results.
But it is perhaps telling that his book’s subtitle is “Change the Rules, Change the Results,” not “Change the Rules, Improve the Results.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.