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The Sausage Factory

Reform Congress So It Actually Works

Is there anything Americans can agree on? According to an op-ed written by Congressional Institute President Mark Strand and published in TIME, yes: Congress doesn’t work. But for all the talk of Congress being ineffective, there’s been little in the way of solutions. Until now. U.S. House Members Darin LaHood and Dan Lipinski have introduced a resolution to create a Joint Committee to reform Congress. From the op-ed:

It’s clear Congress needs to undergo a significant transformation to create an environment in which needed legislating can actually happen. While the current Congress has been a little better, the last two Congresses (the 112th and 113th) were the least productive in modern history. Research commissioned by the Congressional Institute shows that less than 1 in 5 voters believes their voice is being heard. Polling from Gallup shows that disapproval ratings of Congress between March and August have hovered between 78% and 84%; in March, just 13% approved of Congress, and that rose to just 18% approval by August.

The Congressional Institute has been advocating for a Joint Committee for some time now, arguing that the committee would have the authority to get around the partisanship that’s causing gridlock and recommend institutional changes to get the U.S. House and U.S. Senate working again. As Strand wrote, “Reforming Congress is a massive undertaking that can touch on the entire federal government.” Indeed, it can. A dysfunctional budget process that results in threats of a government shutdown. Factions within each Chamber that prevent important items such a funding to combat the threat of Zika

Strand addresses some reform ideas, such as biennial budgeting that would let lawmakers focus one year on funding levels and the next year on oversight; changing the beginning of the federal fiscal year to Jan. 1 instead of October to simplify budgeting; and even bringing back earmarks, which can be a “powerful budgeting tool that refocuses a Member’s attention on the home district.”

As the op-ed notes, the last time Congress got serious about internal reforms was more than two decades ago; fewer than 70 House and Senate members serving today were in office then. Too many federal lawmakers have no idea what a functioning Congress looks like – or what one can do. Strand writes:

If the institution is to recover its Constitutionally intended role, it must change. And that change needs to come from vigorous bipartisan cooperation to develop solutions that restore regular order in Congress so that at all members can legislate, not just a few selected by party leadership.

Every year of continued congressional gridlock means more power shifts from the legislature to the executive. This is true whether the Democrats or the Republicans control the Congress and whether a Democrat or Republican is president. The issue is whether Congress will hold itself and the executive branch accountable, or continue to allow the role of the legislature in our federal system to erode. The stakes are that high.

Go here to read the full op-ed.

Go here to read about more reform ideas.

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