Kauffman Holds Capitol Hill Briefing on Political Dynamism

Entrepreneurs are the creative individuals whose new ideas, passion, and determination birth new businesses, create jobs, and drive economic growth. Their activity makes our economy dynamic.

Is the same description of innovation and energy befitting of Congress?

A list of public policy challenges remain unsolved. In some cases, the answers are known but the political will does not exist to solve them. In others, innovative ideas are needed that bridge differences and apply new solutions to festering problems. In a very real way, Congress needs more “entrepreneurship.”

The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation addressed policymakers and staff about these challenges during a recent briefing on Capitol Hill. 

Lee Drutman, senior fellow in the political reform program at New America and a Kauffman grantee, spoke about his work to foster political dynamism and encourage policy entrepreneurship.

His presentation addressed the political barriers to political dynamism including partisan polarization, the role of lobbying, and the decline in congressional staffing.

Drutman outlined four policy approaches to consider to nurture political dynamism and more policy entrepreneurship.

Congressional Elections

According to Drutman’s research, elections have become increasingly expensive. One way to counter the influence of money on elections is to open up campaigns by empowering small donors through small donor matching.

Another way to alter congressional elections is to expand competition and party diversity through the creation of multi-member districts. This would help make elections more competitive and Drutman suggests that competition is the best way to spur innovation.

Interest Groups

While interest groups can help provide new information and approaches to policymakers, lobbyists are currently dominated by business. In fact, “of the top 100 groups, 95 now are either businesses or businesses associations” which produces an influence “imbalance between business interests and general interest organization.” Business interest lobbying is not necessarily the same as advocacy for entrepreneurs. Although the two interests may sometimes align, sometimes what may be good for established firms may be bad for startups.

Drutman’s solution is to expand general-interest lobbying organizations through a matching system “for a new class of ‘citizen lobbying’ groups to organize on behalf of general interests.”

Congressional Staffing

Congressional committee staff has dramatically decreased in the past 25 years. If Congress is to innovate and enact policy based on research and access to information, more staff is needed to help develop and research policy approaches.

In order to do this, it is important to increase staff sizes and salaries in Congress. To have the best talent, Congress needs to be able to compete in terms of salaries and benefits. Drutman suggests tripling the budget committee staff for both the House and Senate.

Congressional Organization

Finally, Drutman introduced the idea of decentralizing power in Congress by expanding the role of committees and subcommittees. He believes that Congress “should return to a more decentralized system where committees and subcommittees develop policy, and in which party leaders wield less centralized control. Committees should have more space to independently deliberate and individual members should have more opportunity to develop and advance policy.”

Want to learn more about Lee Drutman’s recent work? Check out Political Dynamism: A New Approach to Making Government Work Again.

Check out his presentation below:

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