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Congressional Reform Concepts

Congressional Reform Concepts
For Consideration By
A Joint Committee on the Congress of Tomorrow

The following recommendations are the result of conversations that have taken place among several groups and are intended to serve as a framework for short-term and long-term change.

Such a framework would be best achieved through the creation of a bipartisan, bicameral Joint Committee on a Modern Congress, patterned after those created during the last Century for a similar purpose.

BUDGET PROCESS

  • Establish a biennial macro-budget process that provides two-year binding levels of revenues and expenditures, containing budget projections for five years only. The budget resolution would also include, as a point of reference, projected spending levels for mandatory programs. The resolution would still require annual appropriations.
  • Change the fiscal year to the calendar year, with submission of the budget by March 15, and new deadlines for budget consideration.
  • Provide additional time for meeting reconciliation instructions.
  • Expedite procedures for House-Senate conference on budget resolutions, appointing conferees, instructing conferees and limitations on amendments in the Senate
  • Reassess the make-up of the budget committees with specific consideration to including greater representation of Ways and Means, Finance and Appropriation members, including the chairman of those committees.
  • Provide for the inclusion in the budget of long-term estimates for entitlement programs and consider including among reconciliation instructions, provisions to ensure the long-term viability of those programs.

AUTHORIZATIONS

  • Require the standing authorizing committees of the House to prepare a list of those authorizations that have expired or will expire in the current Congress and establish a priority list and procedures for addressing them.
  • Amend the Anti-Deficiency Act to require a biennial report from the Office of Management and Budget and the chief financial officers of the departments on duplicate programs and justifications for the duplication or legislative proposals to eliminate them. The report would also include identifying programs that are deemed to be inactive, ineffective or no longer necessary to meet statutory requirements.
  • Amend the Act to strengthen and better define Executive limits when administering unauthorized funding or priorities during program wind down or government shutdown

APPROPRIATIONS

  • Enforce and strengthen restrictions on the inclusion of unauthorized programs in appropriations and legislating on appropriation bills (addressed in BPC recommendations)
  • Restore regular order to House-Senate conference by adhering to established procedures for appointment of conferees, convening of regular meetings and consideration of amendments.
  • Provide for the bundling of appropriations for floor consideration after July 1, but not more than four subcommittee bills at once.
  • Amend congressional rules to permit members to direct spending, on a project-by project basis to state and local entities within their state and strengthen ethics rules governing conflicts of interest, transparency and sponsorship identity related to such direct appropriations.

DEBT CEILING

  • Initiate consideration of identifying national debt limit ceilings as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP rather than, or in addition to, the actual dollar-amount of the projected ceiling, and include in that consideration limits on Treasury borrowing when debt is projected to be above pre-determined percentages of GDP.
  • Provide for quarterly estimates of debt-GDP and an annual estimate that would serve as the index for determination of debt ceiling conditions.

CONGRESSIONAL OPERATIONS AND PROCEDURES

  • Adoption of a congressional calendar that provides for 5-day work weeks synchronized between the House and the Senate with three weeks in session and one week to conduct congressional affairs in the district or state of the member (BPC Commission on Political Reform).
  • Regular bipartisan meetings of the caucus/conferences in the respective bodies (BPC Commission on Political Reform)
  • Provide for bipartisan monthly meetings of the elected leadership when Congress is in session (BPC proposal);
  • Create special, select or joint committee to conduct an assessment of Committee procedures, including:
    • Alignment of Committee jurisdictions
    • Committee ratios
    • Make-up of the committee membership. How are members selected and why
    • Workload and time constraints of multiple membership on committees
    • Committee and subcommittee size and the eligibility of freshmen members for membership on certain committees.
    • Staffing
    • Time/management of committee meetings, particularly as they conflict with floor sessions
  • Create a Commission on Government Waste and Inefficiency, including private sector management experts, members of Congress, and representation from the Government Accountability Office and the Office of Management and Budget that would produce a plan for a concurrent, but separate review of each Federal Cabinet Department based on criteria to ensure that each review is conducted under consistent guidelines that would facilitate a final, comparative analysis. The Commission would report to Congress and the President specific programmatic and statutory changes, which the President would have a specific period of time to review and make recommendations to Congress that would take affect without congressional action, including such reforms as may be necessary in the conduct of congressional oversight.   Such a commission should become a periodic exercise.

HOUSE RULES AND PROCEDURES

  • Provide in the Rules of the House for restrictions and limitations on the use of closed rules.
  • Provide in the Rules of the House restrictions on the waiver of rules, requiring an extraordinary majority to do so.
  • Provide restrictions on amendments relative to germaneness.
  • Allow committees to meet during morning hours without conflict or interruption (BPC proposal)
  • Provide that bills be posted three days in advance of their consideration (BPC proposal)

SENATE OPERATIONS AND PROCEDURES

  • Changes in Senate rules should be restricted to the opening of each Congress and require two-thirds vote of the Senate to agree (BPC proposal);
  • Require the publication of “holds” on nominations 24 hours after the old has been declared (BPC proposal)
  • Adopt Senate rules that would restrict the power of the Majority Leader to “fill the amendment tree” effectively prohibiting other members of the body from offering amendments.
  • Adopt a Senate rule prohibiting the filing of cloture on the same day a bill is brought to the floor.
  • Adopt a Senate rule eliminating the authority of the body to filibuster the motion to proceed.

CONGRESSIONAL EDUCATION, INTERACTION AND ORIENTATION

  • Create a professional study of the quality of Congressional life for members, spouses and children, including roundtable discussions, survey research and data collection, and make recommendations.
  • Create an intensive course of study for Congressional staff, including curricula in history, constituent service, policy development, politics, time-management and technology. The course would also include discussion of the federalist system and the relationship between the Federal Government and the states.
  • Establish through the auspices of the House Republican Conference and the Democratic Caucus, a series of bimonthly Oxford style debates on the Floor of the House on a series of policy questions agreed upon by the bodies intended to enhance the base of knowledge of the general public.
  • Conduct a bipartisan conference at the outset of the 114th Congress on legislative and political procedure hosted by an outside organization (s) in cooperation with the House Democratic Caucus and the House Republican Conference. The Conference would educate newer members on:
    • Rules of the House
    • Procedures and practices relevant to the three pillars of legislative action: Budget, Appropriations and Authorizations
    • Relationships with leadership, the Senate and the Executive
    • Historical overview of the Legislative Branch, including jurisdiction of the committees and a historical perspective on the committees’ action on major issues.
    • Rules of engagement for bipartisan interaction
    • Opportunities for social interaction
  • Develop a handbook and video produced specifically for members of Congress and staff as part of the orientation process.
  • Provide for each Standing Committee to conduct orientation sessions that would focus on the history, precedents and rules that govern Committee activities, including discussion of coordination with leadership, the conduct of conferences, and bipartisan cooperation (Granger-Cleaver discussion).

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

  • Create a Joint Committee on Executive Authority that would authorize extraordinary actions and procedures in matters where the Executive may be encroaching on the powers of the Congress, including Judicial review;
  • Negotiate an agreement with the President at the outset of each new Congress to meet on a monthly basis wit the bipartisan and bicameral leadership of the Congress (BPC proposal)

CIVIL DISCOURSE

  • Create through the auspices of an outside Coalition a national commission on civil discourse and its impact on national government and civic participation, including analysis of the institutions of government, the political process, the political parties and the media
  • Continuation of the bipartisan retreats conducted in Hershey, PA, by non-profit organizations dedicated to better governance.

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