Take the case of former Rep. Billy Tauzin of Louisiana, who was the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee in the early 2000s. He worked very hard to expand Medicare to include prescription drugs. (Say thank you to Billy.) He also worked very, very, very hard to make sure the government couldn’t use its massive new negotiating power to bring drug prices down — the way most sane countries do. (Say what, Billy?) Then, after announcing his retirement in 2004, Tauzin became head of the drug manufacturers’ lobbying arm, PhRMA, at an annual salary of $2 million.
“The impact of money in Washington is felt everywhere. It goes far beyond campaign contributions. The revolving door is at its center,” Warren said.
If we really want to drain the swamp, this would seem like an excellent place to start. Close the revolving door and drain the swamp. (Readers have pointed out that the swamp metaphor needs revision, since swamps actually improve water quality and prevent flooding and erosion. Nominees for replacement include “drain the sludge pond” and “clean up the Superfund site.”)
But about closing the revolving door between Congress and lobbying. It would be a stupendous move that would completely change the way many members of Congress think about their careers:
“OK, I’ve put in my time in Washington. Now I’m gonna go home and campaign for the state Senate.”
“Well, the new district lines just aren’t going to work for me. I guess it’s back to running the funeral home with my sister.”
“I’ve loved serving the people of this state for the past 20 years, but now I want to spend time with my family. No — honestly. Just my family. We’re going to get in the RV and visit relatives in Toledo. Then there’s a real big basement do-over waiting for me.”
Sounds sort of cool, huh? But you know there’s got to be a catch.
“There are going to be ways to sneak around the rules,” said Tim LaPira, a professor of political science at James Madison University and the author of a book on the revolving door. “Secondly, it’s unconstitutional. Lobbying is clearly a First Amendment-protected activity.”
I say don’t give up the ship, people. This fall when candidates come around asking for your vote, say, “Promise us that when you’re done serving, you’ll come home.” Make them put it on their website. And tell them you want to know how to make the same rules for everyone else.
Demand the whole package. If people in Washington think you’re irrational, what the heck. It works for the guy in the White House.
Writes for the New York Times.