To Be Effective Legislators, Members of Congress Need Expert Resources of Their Own

Professor James Curry (University of Utah) is the author of Legislating in the Dark: Information and Power in the House of Representatives (University of Chicago Press, 2015). He writes:

“Public calls are on the rise for members of Congress to “read the bill” before they vote, but reading a bill is far from enough. Even when they take time to read bills, most rank-and-file lawmakers lack the technical and policy-relevant knowledge needed to understand the implications of legislative proposals. In the contemporary Congress, lawmakers have to turn to their party leaders for information – and lawmakers in formal leadership posts control an increasingly disproportionate share of House and Senate staff resources. As a predictable result, deliberations on many bills are not as well informed as they could be, mired in partisan talking points rather than in well-articulated diverse perspectives from legislators and their constituents”…. (Read more at the Scholar Strategy Network)

Lee Drutman’s review of Legislating in the Dark observes:

“The optimistic view is that Legislating in the Dark spotlights a path out of the current Chinese finger trap of ever-tightening leadership control, partisan gridlock, and ideological rebellion. By showing how much information (or lack thereof) has driven both polarization and member frustration, Curry lays out some clues about what a more deliberative House might look like. His analysis suggests that it would be a less polarized place, and probably an institution that would create space and perhaps even require more bipartisan compromise. A more informed House might also be a chamber in which rank-and-file members would feel a certain amount of ownership over policy development, rather than simply drifting unproductively between learned helplessness and angry rebellion. It will not be easy to get there, and there will be some difficulties along the way. But the status quo is far worse”…. (Read more at Washington Monthly magazine)