(CN) – Presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren unveiled a plan Friday to kick lobbyists on Congress, saying she would fortify the independent agencies whose budgets Republicans have gutted so that lawmakers are less reliant on self-interested corporate outsiders.
“In a democracy, Members of Congress invariably will come from a variety of backgrounds – and that’s a good thing,” her plan states. “But we are increasingly asking them to climb steep learning curves on these technical subjects without much help other than from corporate lobbyists whose goal isn’t to find the right policy answer but rather to secure the most profitable outcome for their companies.”
It wasn’t always like this. In the 20th century, Warren explains, Congress established several independent bodies to support its work including the Congressional Budget Office, the Office of Technology Assessment and the Government Accountability Office.
The Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) was particularly special, Warren notes, because it existed to help Congress understand the complex world of science and technology. Established in the 1970s and once a publisher of objective climate change research, it was defunded in 1995. Then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich argued at the time that the agency was “‘used by liberals to cover up political ideology.’”
As corporate lobbyists step in to fill the void, however, Warren notes that lawmakers were left with input from Exxon about the Green New Deal, while Google’s policy team gets a say in Congressional decisions to break up big tech companies.
“It was the ultimate insiders’ play,” Warren says of the lobbying action during Congressional discussions of financial reform: “Trust us because we understand it and you don’t. And too often — Congress doesn’t.”
Warren said her vision for reviving the OTA calls for a nimble organization with in-house experts.
The Massachusetts senator said she will increase funding for such agencies with a “Lobbying Defense Trust Fund,” paid for with a tax on excessive lobbying.
Warren also says members of Congress could use a primer on tech, recalling Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg’s April 2018 testimony during which multiple legislators demonstrated little understanding of social media, let alone of complex technology concepts like encryption.
Warren says Congressional staffers’ salaries have not kept up with inflation. If it pays well, she reasons, Congress can better recruit employees with subject expertise.
“We elect our representatives because we trust them to make decisions in our best interests – with the best information and scientific research our government has to offer,” Warren writes. “But today, members of Congress don’t have access to the latest science and evidence.”