This week, Republicans and Democrats will meet to elect their caucus leadership and pass caucus rules. Much like a vote on the high school homecoming court, it is a process that matters very little to most of us, and everything to the few who will be bestowed vaunted titles and crowns of one form or another.
Some Democrats will endorse “remote voting,” allowing members of Congress to cast their support or opposition to legislative initiatives via verified identity through the phone. Republicans will castigate this as “phoning-in” the job of Congress. To date, I’ve toed the party line, but no more: the Republicans are wrong. Remote voting would be a devastating blow to the lobbyists and special interests who corrupt our politics and harm our nation.
I’m here for it.
Let me walk you through the typical day for a Washington lobbyist. They start by sitting in the Capitol Hill Club for three hours of 15-minute coffee meetings with donation-thirsty lawmakers. They hand off thousand-dollar PAC checks and make requests for their well-paying clients. A letter to an agency here … an appropriation rider there … the usual. It’s the exchange of money for favors, done in the smarmiest of ways. By then, it’s time for lunch.
Lunches allow PAC fund managers and lobbyists to congregate with senators and representatives. Since we are all in one place, it is easy to raise tens of thousands of dollars over mediocre Tex-Mex with contributions and legislative requests swapped over the guacamole.
Dinner is less about the money, and more about the lifestyle. Swanky bars heavy-pour smooth bourbon. The finest steak and butter-poached lobster might not be available on someone else’s dime back home in Scranton, but DC offers all the temptations — and all the ways to fulfill them.
But imagine instead if Beltway influence peddlers had to fly to Topeka, Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport or Maine to swap campaign cash for corporate-driven desires. Lobbyists would hate it — but America would benefit greatly. The people’s representatives would spend more time at home, serving the people they represent, and lobbyists would have to work much harder to develop relationships with lawmakers. Lobbyists fill the trough of DC, plying Congress with free food, drink and money; by having to travel to individual congressional districts, they lose their stature, and become little more than traveling salespeople — and just as easy to turn down.
We often ask why so many good people come to Congress and get corrupted. Perhaps it’s because DC is a deeply corrupt place.
I support remote voting, because we are better as public servants when we spend more time with the public we are elected to serve.
Some will say that remote voting will erode the quality of legislative debate. Defending its current quality would be difficult. During virtually every debate, congressional participation is so low that staff members from both parties are told to sit in the camera frame to avoid the chamber looking empty. On virtually no days do lawmakers outnumber unelected staff on the floor of the People’s House during debate.
People will ask: “So why make it worse? If Henry Clay could ride on horseback to congressional service, why can’t the 117th Congress fly in on Delta?” To put it bluntly, after four years in Congress, I’m convinced that time in Washington doesn’t make any of us better. Time at home reminds us of our priorities and our purpose. All humans innately want to please those who are in our proximity. If we spend more time with our constituents, we will be a more representative body. Congress can’t drain the swamp if its members primarily spend time wallowing in the mud with swamp monsters.
And if we cannot drain the swamp, we should at least spend less time in it.
Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-FL) is a member of the House Armed Services Committee and the House Judiciary Committee. He represents Florida’s First Congressional District.