by Nicolas Tomboulides
The number of Congress members who self-identify as lifelong politicians has risen substantially in the last 40 years.
Since the 1970s, the Brookings Institution has maintained detailed data on the prior occupations of members of Congress. In 1979, just 29 members of the House of Representatives listed their prior occupation as professional politician. By 2019, that number had risen to 171, a 490% increase!!
The Senate hasn’t fared much better. In 1979, 15 senators identified themselves as professional politicians. Today the number sits at 49, a 227% increase.
Lawyer is the second most well-represented profession in Congress, with 157 members of the House identifying as attorneys. While there is one lawyer for every accountant in America, the ratio in Congress is more lopsided: 14 lawyers for every accountant.
This could explain why our tax code is 75,000 pages long and it still hasn’t raised enough money to avoid $22 trillion in debt.
The Brookings data coincides with an increase in congressional tenure, particularly among members of leadership and committee chairs, where power is concentrated. Leaders on average have more than 30 years in their current seats; influential committee chairs more than 20.
In a nutshell, Congress has become a top-down, closed system run by lifelong political insiders. While some new blood enters the system every two years, it is quickly poisoned by senior leaders, who dangle clout and committee assignments based on conformity.