Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Lobbyists: Demand & Supply

Jeffrey Birnbaum:
"Although not every political battle yields $100 billion, the return on investment in lobbying is often so substantial that experts and insiders agree that Washington's influence industry will continue to thrive no matter how lawmakers decide to rein it in."
Why would we want to make the assumption that Congress wants to reign this stuff in? Suppose we ask whether applying a market analogy would be enlightening?

The special interests might be seen as expressing a demand for legislation. If so, then who would be the suppliers of legislation? Let's suppose the members of Congress are the suppliers of legislation. This would suggest that it would be very unlikely that the members of Congress will want to truly reign in much of this stuff at all. Doing so would significantly reduce their opportunity to supply legislation. Doing so would mean that many of the reasons they want to go to Congress would have to change.

It is the very nature of a legislature to want to pass legislation. If we want to see less special interest legislation, then I suspect we will have to turn away from Congress itself to get that accomplished. There are two other branches of government to consider, as well as the Constitution.

As I read the Constitution, truly constraining Congress to only specific enumerated powers should be a more effective way to constrain special interest demand and supply of legislation. And, probably, historically, this was the case. But, for this to work, I think the Judicial branch of government has to decide to strictly hold Congress to only the clearly enumerated powers. If the Court said that Congress could regulate interstate commerce, but not all economic activity, then the realm of demand and supply of legislation would necessarily be much reduced. It would be much more difficult, it seems to me, to think that Congress had the power to pay for street lights, sculpture gardens, and model rainforests. Unfortunately, in my view, the Judicial branch of government has done a very poor job, since about the time of FDR, holding Congress to the enumerated powers.

What about the executive branch? I think James Madison thought that the President would use the veto power to constrain Congress. But, this seldom seems to be the case these days. Instead, it seems the executive branch often sees itself just as much a supplier of legislation as does Congress.

If we want to see less special interest lobbying and influence in Washington, then I suspect we will have to have a citizenry and a Judiciary that want to hold Congress strictly to only enumerated constitutional powers.

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