Mickey Edwards: Fill congressional committee vacancies by lot

One of the six steps that Mickey Edwards offers for “fixing Congress” is to fill congressional committee vacancies by lot.

Edwards’s critique of elected government starts promisingly enough:

Angry and frustrated, American voters went to the polls in November 2010 to “take back” their country. Just as they had done in 2008. And 2006. And repeatedly for decades, whether it was Republicans or Democrats from whom they were taking the country back. No matter who was put in charge, things didn’t get better. They won’t this time, either; spending levels may go down, taxes may go up, budgets will change, but American government will go on the way it has[.]

Unfortunately, but predictably, by the second paragraph (or to be more accurate, by the last sentence of the first paragraph – a sentence I have elided in the quote above), Edwards slips into the cliches of the horrors of partisanship and nostalgically informs his readers about the glory days of the birth of the blessed union, days when the spirit of non-partisanship ruled, days long since lost.

Edwards’s list of six steps matches his superficial diagnosis of the problem. These are minor technical tweaks to the existing system – tweaks of the kind that has been thoroughly explored over the decades of electoral regimes. Among those stands out (for its form, rather than for its value) the following:

The derivation of leadership in Congress from an internal version of the party primary or convention is an artificial construct. In every informal congressional subgroup—the Human Rights Caucus, the Rust Belt Caucus, the Flat Tax Caucus—leaders are chosen without regard to party affiliation. Imagine how different the congressional dynamic would be if that practice prevailed in committee assignments. If three seats became open on a committee and five members sought appointment, the House could fill the positions by lot, thereby appointing committee members who were not beholden to party leaders for their selection and therefore not fearful that crossing party lines would cost them their position. They would be freer to vote as they saw fit.

4 Responses

  1. I would assume, contra Edwards, that most caucuses are overwhelmingly of one part or the other. It’s not hard to guess the partisanship of the typical member of the Flat Tax Caucus (I’d never heard of it, actually) or the Progressive Caucus. The main exception would be caucuses organized around some kind of special interest (i.e., agriculture), and everyone just loves those to death, I’m sure. But if there are examples of caucuses that are 1) not obvious special interests and 2) genuinely contain many members of both parties, I’d certainly like to hear about them.


  2. Like many other elements of the political orthodoxy, the lack-of-bipartisanship trope is a matter of self-congratulating faith and does not require any basis in reality for sustenance.


  3. Edwards here is like the posse which ran out of the saloon, jumped on their horses, and rode off in all directions. Basically, there needs to be a vocabularial revolution away from “elect”=”vote” and into “elect”=”draft” which will automatically result in democracy replacing plutocracy and Political Office as a patriotic duty instead of career conquest. And what about “Political Expertise?” To Hell with it, whatever the Hell it is supposed to have been!


  4. Your faith is touching, but it’s prudent to start counting the spoons when someone claims that a political initiative will “automatically” produce a certain result. As Popper pointed out long ago, the unintended consequences of actions usually exceed the intended ones.


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