Can Caucuses Help Make Congress Great Again?

President Obama meets with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in 2009. Source: Wikipedia.

President Obama meets with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in 2009. Source: Wikipedia.

Well, maybe---or maybe not in their current form.

Prof. Jennifer Victor of George Mason University writes:

"The current Congress hosts more than 400 official caucuses, and there may be a few hundred more that have not registered with the House Committee on Administration. The fact that these groups are voluntary and nearly free to participate in helps explain their popularity. Far from being trivial, our research shows that the growing network of connections formed by this mass of groups serves a social and informational benefit to Congress.... I have collected data on registered and informal caucuses and identified their members, and found a steady pattern of growth.... [T]he number and size of caucuses has grown consistently since the early 1990s, even after Speaker Newt Gingrich rewrote the rules to defund and nearly ban caucuses in 1995."

 Prof. Victor further notes:

"It may seem like a set of groups like this – designed to foster relationships and information for the benefit of improved lawmaking – might contribute to reducing polarization in the House. However, our analysis of voting patterns over this period suggests this isn’t necessarily the case. Through dozens of interviews with Capitol Hill staffers, we learned that caucuses influence bills in the early stages of the legislative process, when ideas are being floated and slowly massaged into legislation through the formal channels of Congress.
"At least, it seems unlikely that this system of caucuses makes things worse in Congress. Those who participate in the system appear to value it highly and draw benefits from it, even if it’s not making Congress more productive."