Lobbyist calls for better legislating

Submitted by Rafael DeGennaro on Fri, 2006-03-24 10:58.

Read this wise man on the work of legislating. Super lobbyist H. Stewart Van Scoyoc started out in 1974 representing Dupont when “big donors still delivered bundles of cash to lawmakers’ campaign account.” He has in the last 16 years built “the largest independent lobbying firm in Washington” with more than 300 clients. In a big picture interview with National Journal (“Taking the Long View”, March 25, 2006), he’s nostalgic for the days when members themselves used to do the tedious work of going through the bills line by line in committee. His favorite reform? Make committee markups more “open” and participatory, with real legislating, instead of working it out later off the floor. (ReadtheBill.org’s point — which may not be Van Scoyoc’s — is that later never comes and too often shoddy bills are rushed through the floor and NEVER get adequate scrutiny.)

National Journal: Some say that the culture of Washington has changed in recent years. Do you agree, and if so, how do those changes manifest themselves?

Van Scoyoc: The committee process in the last 20 to 25 years has changed very dramatically, and that’s a real negative. Congress used to spend a lot of time legislating. When I first got here, they had a clerk whose job was to read the bill during a markup session … and it was a very, very tedious process. But it caused everybody who wanted to be heard to get involved. And you had to be there, you had to participate in the debate.

It was a much more open, participatory process, where they actually spent a lot of time going through bills almost line by line, offering the amendments, debating the amendments. The members were much more engaged. Now, I think, the lion’s share of the work is done by the staff.


National Journal: If you could change one thing about Capitol Hill and/or the regulations governing lawmakers and lobbyists, what would it be?

Van Scoyoc: I think I would go back to a process where the markups were held in public and where there was more intellectual back-and-forth. The markups go relatively swiftly, they’re relatively benign, but they are almost always done that way with the understanding that … almost everything ends up being negotiated off to the side … or on the Senate floor, which means that the flow of legislation is very different from what it used to be.”

There’s another word for the kind of legislative process that involves members going through bills line-by-line. It’s called work.