Reforming Congress

Our nation is in the midst of a hyper-partisan era, which makes it difficult for lawmakers to legislate and meet the needs of the American people, but the incoming 116th Congress provides a unique opportunity to make the institution more efficient and effective. BPC Action is advocating for a set of reforms, including the creation of a new Committee on the Organization of Congress, to revitalize the governing process.

 

These recommendations, which are ripe for bipartisan action, will improve the political process, particularly in a polarized atmosphere.

Recommendations for Congressional Reform

Recommendations from the Commission on Political Reform

BPC’s Commission on Political Reform, which includes former Senate Majority Leaders Tom Daschle and Trent Lott, former Representative and Secretary Dan Glickman, and former Senator Olympia Snowe, championed specific reforms that will make Congress work in today’s polarized political atmosphere.

 

Implement a New Legislative Schedule:

  • The House and Senate should schedule synchronized, five-day work weeks in Washington, with three weeks in session followed by one-week state and district work periods.

Revitalize the Committee Process:

  • Important legislation shouldn’t be brought to the floor without the benefit of committee deliberations and a full report.

Build Bipartisanship:

  • Joint party caucuses and joint chamber caucuses should plan periodic meetings and informal gatherings to discuss areas for legislative cooperation and build relationships across the aisle.

Give Members a Say:

  • Bills should be posted a minimum of three days in advance of a vote to allow sufficient time for members and the public to read and discuss measures.

Adopt a Biennial Budget:

  • Congress should adopt a biennial budget process that includes two-year budget resolutions and appropriations bills.

Revive Ethics in Campaign Spending:

  • Congress should pass legislation requiring detailed disclosure of spending by congressional leadership PACs and mandating that leadership PAC funds be used solely for political activities (such as donations to other candidates) and not for personal use.

Strengthening Representative Democracy by Reinstating Earmarks

Congressionally directed spending has understandably been the target of derision due to past abuses.  At the same time, when done with transparency and accountability, earmarks reflect a core aspect of our democracy: the Constitution delegates power over spending to the legislative branch, which allows federal lawmakers to direct resources toward constituent priorities.

 

In his testimony before the House Rules Committee earlier this year, BPC President Jason Grumet describes how earmarks can actually strengthen our representative democracy, dispels the common misconceptions around earmarks, and offers approaches for reform. In a Roll Call op-ed, he wrote on how earmarks can help tackle the national debt, which is now over $20 trillion.

 

Congress should immediately reform and reclaim this important constitutional prerogative so that elected officials, who are directly accountable to voters and have firsthand understanding of the needs of their district, are making critical spending decisions, and to ensure public trust in the earmarking process.

Benefits of a Committee on the Organization of Congress

Revitalizing Congress with a New Committee

 

With Americans increasingly frustrated with Washington, the time is ripe for a new Committee on the Organization of Congress to help rebuild public trust and restore individual members’ roles in the legislative-making process. Congress has the opportunity to make holistic reforms now.

 

The momentum for this committee is growing: legislation supported by nearly 70 members of Congress has been introduced. This crucial committee would:

 

  • Evaluate the legislative rules and procedures that control how Congress functions.
  • Empower members to participate in the legislative process, debate issues, compromise, introduce amendments, and get laws enacted.
  • Restore vital relationships between members of Congress and constituents, the House and the Senate, and the Legislative and Executive branches.

 

The Committee on the Organization of Congress is not a new concept: in fact, there have been three since 1945 with the last one in 1993 (find out more from R Street Institute here). Composed of an equal number from each party and chamber, it would examine Congress’s rules and procedures and propose comprehensive reforms to make the institution more efficient, effective, and accountable to the American people.