27
Jun
12

It’s good to be the incumbent

Andrew Sullivan links to Leo Linbeck:

Money can’t buy love, but it can buy power: in November 2010, Congress had an approval rating of just 17 percent, while the re-election rate in the House was 86 percent. This disconnect between approval and re-election rates is the clearest sign that the congressional accountability system is broken. …  With larger districts, primary elections, the greater influence of money, and a series of reforms that discouraged challengers, House members were freed from the accountability system that had held them in check.

Whence comes that money?  Why, from you and I, dear fellow taxpayer.  The federal budget is, in a lot of ways, merely a giant campaign slush fund for incumbents.

Today the House is a spending machine—it spends $10 billion each day and more than 25 percent of GDP.

(Actually, a lot of it comes from the future generations who’ll have to pay higher taxes and receive fewer services in order to finance increasingly-onerous debt service payments.  But they can’t vote yet.)

This is, pretty much down to the letter, why I’m not particularly fussed about the still mostly hypothetical “money buys power” implications of Citizens United.  Incumbents effectively already have a staggeringly vast money advantage.  When the Super PACs start spending ten billion dollars a day — heck, let’s drop that down to a hundred million dollars a day, one cent for every dollar Congress spends — I might start to take notice.  Until then, I’ll just shake my head at the folks who play Chicken Little whenever a concerned and engaged citizen drops the equivalent of a 2006 mortgage into the marketplace of ideas but don’t flinch a millimetre when high-powered Senators extort protection money from private companies for the outrageous insult of minding their own business and trying to avoid playing the Washington money game.

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