Against Constituent Services

My friend Fred Bernstein has a New York Times op-ed criticizing constituent services; I’m not sure what the right answer is here, but I think his argument is much worth reading. An excerpt:

Out of work and stuck with an expensive mortgage, my friend was on the verge of losing her house. Attempts to get the bank to modify her loan led to a situation Kafka would have recognized: scores of letters, hundreds of phone calls — but no modification. Then she called one of her senators. Soon a member of the senator’s staff had contacted the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the federal agency that regulates national banks. Not long after, my friend received the loan modification she had been requesting, unavailingly, for years.

A happy ending? Only for my friend. For the country, what government workers call “constituent services” — really the meddling of representatives in the business of executive agencies — is a sign of federal dysfunction, and one with consequences. Congress, arguably the most powerful branch of government, seems to have given up on the main thing the Constitution authorizes it to do: pass laws.

Instead, it is busy helping Americans one at a time, an impractical and outrageously expensive operation, which is not only a kind of favoritism masquerading as compassion, but a thumb in the eye of the Constitution, with its much admired blueprint for separation of powers.

Note that Fred’s argument goes beyond Congressmen getting government officials to pressure regulated private businesses; he criticizes constituent services even as to attempts to deal with purely government action, such as problems with social security, licensing, regulation, and the like.