Plans: What Are They Good For?

Some would say a House candidate's plans are good for absolutely nothing. Jeff from the excellent 26th District blog puts it this way in a comment yesterday:

In the end though, a first-term Congressperson from NY-26 will NOT end a War, has almost no influence whatsoever on Abortion or Gay marriage, cannot revolutionize the economy or single handedly fix the energy crisis. Promises to the contrary might sound nice but they are empty.

We need to learn what these candidates understand about the process of creating policy, working their way through bloated and complex systems, how to follow procedure and understand organizational rules and how to leverage and bargain. It isn't sexy, but its what they will be doing. Turning thought and promise to policy is an enormously complex task especially in the House of Representatives but most of the questions I hear always focus on issues that have nothing to do with the job.

I agree that there's a huge disconnect between ambitious plans and what a Member of Congress can accomplish on his or her own. I still think candidates should release some sort of position statement on the issues of the day, and it's inevitable that political statements will come out in the form of bold plans. But we shouldn't get bogged down debating the fine points of those plans.

Jeff's second point is also important. How a potential Member of Congress will interact in the House and in his or her caucus is critical. My take is a little different. The House is such a lockstep institution that what I want to see is whether my candidate has a personality that will allow him or her to buck the leadership once in a while.

Finally, one last consideration: if your relatively junior Representative is not in the majority party, they have much less influence than a junior Member of the majority. The majority's goal is to keep its majority, and senior safe-seat Members will often help a more junior member in a tough district.

It's almost certain that the House is going to be more Democratic next session than it is now. Massa will be a relatively independent voice in tough seat that the Democrats will want to defend. It doesn't get much better than that for junior Representatives. If your vote is on influence rather than issues, that's worth considering.