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The Sausage Factory

Solving Congressional Dysfunction? There’s A Bill For That.

Ready to have your mind blown? Since 2010, more than 50 U.S. Senators and more than 260 new U.S. Representatives have been sent to Washington on a promise to fix it. How’s that working out? Not so well? Well, there’s now a bill for that, and Betsy Wright Hawkings, director of Governance Program at the Democracy Fund, has a great piece in Real Clear Policy on why it’s so important that we have a functioning Congress.

Consider this, from the op-ed:

“Fewer than 2 percent of the bills originating in the House of Representatives become law; nearly two-thirds of respondents to a recent survey of Washington-based congressional staff reported that they were looking for new employment; and fewer than 10 percent of Americans recently polled by Gallup say they have a great deal of trust in Congress.”

Those are some pretty bad statistics. In looking at the roots of congressional dysfunction, the Democracy Fund developed a mapping project to really hone in on “factors and dynamics inside and outside Congress that work to undermine the effective functioning of the institution.” They also “identified several interrelated narratives describing the drivers of that dysfunction.” It’s a tremendous project, and you can go here for the interactive map.

Democracy Fund found there are nine components necessary to reverse obstructionism and overcome gridlock so that Congress can fulfill its constitutional responsibilities and gain public trust.” Among them, (from the op-ed):

  • Rewarding members for legislative efforts — not just partisan loyalty — and not penalizing those who work across the aisle to advance substantive legislation;
  • Budgets passed on a regular basis;
  • Prompt votes on the confirmation of presidential nominees;
  • And, appropriations bills completed before the end of the fiscal year.

Democracy Fund also found “three key obstacles to curing dysfunction in the congressional system:

  1. Congress lacks the internal capacity necessary to [adequately] formulate public policy …;
  2. Congress receives a distorted view of Americans’ public-policy preferences because of the exaggerated influence of some organized constituencies and the disengagement of others;
  3. The political incentives for members in the current electoral environment exacerbate hyper-partisanship within Congress.”

The fact is, congressional dysfunction is a real problem that needs a real solution. Wright Hawkings hits on the answer: A Joint Committee that is a “non-controversial effort to create a forum for fixing the system is a solution every interest can and should support.”

Go here to read the full op-ed. And be sure to check out Democracy Fund’s systems mapping project. It’s a real eye-opener.

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