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The Sausage Factory

Efforts to Reform Congress Through a Joint Committee Underway

The cure for congressional dysfunction is underway, so says an article published in CQ News. The article, which sits behind a paywall, reports:

“Lawmakers are quietly preparing bipartisan legislation that would create a joint congressional committee charged with producing a plan to overhaul the organization and operation of Congress and make it more accountable. Underlying it is a growing belief shared by members of both parties and the public that Congress has become dysfunctional and polarized and that change is necessary.

“Advocates of a “Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress” say the unique nature of the proposed bicameral panel offers a chance of winning agreement on significant changes to rules, procedures and structures.

“That in turn could lead to better governance, improved relations among members and branches of government and a restoration of public confidence. Congressional job approval routinely hovers in the low teens and sometimes even lower in public polling.”

A number of Republican lawmakers expressed interest in the legislation that is being spearheaded by GOP Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers. Democratic Rep. Daniel Lipinski said he, too, supports a Joint Committee. From the article:

“It is clear that Congress has failed at many of its core functions for years, and major reforms are necessary to better fulfill our responsibilities,” Lipinski said in a statement emailed to CQ. “While it isn’t yet clear who the lead sponsors will be, I’m proud to be an original supporter of the Joint Committee on the Congress proposal to examine the organization and function of Congress in order to get us better on track.”

The committee would be composed of 12 Senators and 12 Members of the U.S. House, all of whom would be appointed by Republican and Senate leadership in each chamber. The key to success is that the Joint Committee would be bipartisan and bicameral. It’s likely legislation will be introduced before the political conventions, and it’s possible a bill could pass before this session ends. Congressional Institute President Mark Strand is quoted in the article on how the Joint Committee would benefit both parties:

“If you have members of Congress who are completely shut out of the process, they have no interest in supporting legislation and in fact the only interest they have is to obstruct the process and tell the voters that Congress isn’t working,” Strand said. “So it’s actually in the majority’s interest to get the minority more involved in the floor process.”

The article discussed research from The Winston Group that shows “only 12 percent of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing, down from 27 percent in 2006. Just 19 percent said their voice is heard effectively by the government.” Among the complaints is the voters don’t believe they know how to “engage effectively” with their representatives. One of the goals of the Joint Committee is to provide greater measures of accountability for Congress. The article pulls from a Winston Group analysis:

“A paper describing the thinking behind the joint committee initiative states that ‘Congress suffers from functional and political gridlock, an inability or great difficulty in reaching bipartisan consensus on a whole host of critical issues.’

“The paper adds that while some may argue that the fewer laws enacted, the better, ‘whether you believe the government ought to be bigger or smaller, more powerful or less, more activist or less, your goals cannot be realized without the passage of legislation.’”

The hard work of an informal group of former lawmakers and senior staff is also mentioned in the article, noting that the group “initially compiled a list of 40 proposals involving changes in the budget process, the debt limit, appropriations, authorizations, congressional rules and procedures.” When group members realized the proposals – all good and meaningful reform ideas – wasn’t getting any traction, they began pursuing Joint Committee legislation.

A Joint Committee, according to Michael Johnson, former chairman of the Institute, would be a “neutral” body to move reforms that will get Congress working again and restore the faith and trust of the American people.

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