- Mixed (bipartisan) seating at the State of the Union address, to avoid the spectacle of one side jumping up to applaud and the other sitting glumly.
- A bipartisan retreat for each house of Congress.
- Regular visits to the district/state of a member of a different party
Of all the various rules and reforms John Boehner set forth when he claimed the speaker's gavel this afternoon, his pledge that the House will have smaller committees has gotten less commentary than other rule changes. But it's something worth watching. House committees are huge – leaving aside committees that deal with internal issues, the committees in the 111th House ranged from a merely unwieldy 29 members to a chaotic 75 members.
It's hard to see how committees of that size can operate efficiently, so trimming their rolls makes sense. But tinkering with social dynamics can have unforeseen consequences. In the last congress, there were 868 committee seats for 435 members, meaning that (in theory) nearly every member could serve on two committees. Significantly reducing the size of committees will almost certainly make them more cohesive working units. But it is likely to also decrease the number of committee interlocks (instances in which people served on more than one committee), removing a prime conduit of information exchange and coordination.
Bridge designate? As the new House settles in, some players will have positions that their titles don't capture. As RealClearPolitics pointed out, one example is Peter Roskam (IL 6) who, in addition to being Republican chief deputy whip and one of the members who escorted Boehner to his swearing-in as Speaker, is a former Illinois State Senate colleague of Barack Obama's. Assuming Roskam continues on the Ways and Means Committee, his position as a potential bridge to the White House may be critical at a time when fiscal issues are front and center.
How you know them (part II). Last week I mentioned the rule banning ex-members who are currently registered lobbyists from working out in the House or Senate gyms, protected sanctuaries for informal connections. On New Year's Day, The New York Times ran a piece on an even more exclusive hideaway – Capitol Hill's four lactation suites, where party rhetoric takes a back seat to exchanging child-rearing tips. “I definitely got to know Republicans who I wouldn’t have otherwise known,” said Jennifer Walsh, chief of staff to Dennis Cardoza (CA 18) . “Especially with all of the limitations on travel and trips and everything like that these days, there’s not a lot of camaraderie up there, there’s not a lot of room to meet people on the other side of the aisle.”
the decision by a company Quadrangle controlled, Good Times Entertainment, to buy distribution rights to an obscure movie called "Chooch," about a Queens ne'er-do-well who lets down his softball team. The low-budget film was being made by a brother of David J. Loglisci, chief investment officer of the pension fund. Investigators wanted to know if the movie deal was done in exchange for the pension business. Mr. Rattner, who introduced the filmmaker, Steve Loglisci, to Good Times executives and urged that they treat him "carefully given his brother's importance to us," was pressed by investigators about his role in the deal, which came together at the same time that Mr. Rattner was trying to persuade David Loglisci to invest more money with Quadrangle.Because this web of involvements included a government agency and its fiduciary responsibility, it drew the fire of the Attorney General's office. But remove that aspect and it becomes a run-of-the-mill instance of favor trading. It also illustrates how networks expand as people interact with each other based on different attributes. If Rattner only knew David Loglisci as the chief investment officer of the New York State pension fund, "Chooch" would have never entered the discussion. But once Loglisci becomes the brother of a guy with a film in need of distribution, the entire dynamic of the network changes. Which is why the new Republican majority in the House will continue the existing prohibition against letting ex-members who are now lobbyists use the House gym. The gyms of both chambers have become guarded sanctuaries where members check a lot their baggage at the door. One House member, Jack Kingston (R-GA 1) advises new members to go to the gym and join a members' Bible study group: "You don't want your relationship with another member to be defined based on committee work or floor action," he told Politico. "Because if you do, you're limiting your scope of who that person is." That's something good networkers know, even if it occasionally leads to trouble.
Noam Scheiber has a much-read piece at The New Republic positing that WikiLeaks “will be the death of big business and big government.” In short, the thesis is that in the age of WikiLeaks, everyone is a potential leaker, and the larger the company or government agency, the more potential leakers it has. As tightening security is of limited effectiveness, there will be downward pressure on the size of organization so that they are
small enough to avoid wide-scale alienation, which clearly excludes big bureaucracies. Ideally, you’d want to stay small enough to preserve a sense of community, so that people’s ties to one another and the leadership act as a powerful check against leaking. My gut says it’s next to impossible to accomplish this with more than a few hundred people.
As it happens, Scheiber echoes an important concept in the notion of social capital—how reputation and influence works within a network.
Both The New York Times and The Washington Post used President Obama's departure for Hawaii as occasion to suggest that the president will be entering the second half of his term with a greater focus on the human side of governing. That this speculation seems to be based on little more than his desire to meet with leaders of both parties at Camp David shows how much of a “schmooze deficit,” as the Post put it, Obama seems to be running.
Both these articles depict Obama's insularity as a byproduct of his cerebral and self-sufficient nature. But this ignores the fact that Obama's political trajectory was fueled by flawless networking and socializing.