As members of Congress, we often hear from our constituents that Congress is just not working. Voters back home question how we can get things done, together, across party lines.
These concerns get reinforced when the government shuts down or Congress fails to complete its basic tasks, like writing a funding plan for federal programs on time.
Congress, as a whole, has not passed all appropriations bills on time since 1996 and is increasingly viewed as unable to address the concerns of its constituents. In fact, according to the latest Edelman Trust Barometer, 59 percent of the public thought that the government was the most broken institution in the U.S. The time to reform Congress and our political system is now.
There are already glimmers of hope that this reform is possible.
The last stopgap funding bill included the creation of a Joint Select Committee on Budget and Appropriations Process Reform. This bipartisan committee will examine proposals to rework the budget and appropriations process from top to bottom, with its recommendations eligible for fast-track consideration on the floor of the House of Representatives and the Senate. This self-examination of one of the most important congressional processes is long overdue.
However, this new joint committee does not address the equally important issues of congressional oversight capacity and the need to reauthorize or sunset programs. It will also not address the perception that members don’t get the time or resources they need to delve deeply into complex issues or that the current political environment encourages us to tear one another down instead of building working relationships.
That is why we joined together to launch the Congress of Tomorrow Project in 2016, and subsequently introduced H.Con.Res. 28.
Our resolution would establish a Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress to examine all the structures and rules of both chambers to find ways to enable the institution to once again respond to the needs of the country. To date, our bill has attracted 63 co-sponsors.
This joint committee would consist of 24 members from both the House and Senate who would discuss, propose and analyze ideas for reform. They would then report their findings and recommendations to the full Congress. Importantly, for those who argue this is just another way for the House to force filibuster reforms on the Senate, only senators can vote for Senate-centric reforms and only House members can vote for House-centric reforms.
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Members of Congress along with numerous nonprofits and think tanks, including the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Commission on Political Reform, have developed ideas and recommendations on how to improve Congress.
However, there is currently no official mechanism for consideration of such recommendations.
The joint committee would provide that forum. It would begin by looking at overhauling legislative rules and procedures that govern how Congress works.
Its second objective would be to empower members to take ownership of the legislative process and drive more substantive debate on the issues of the day.
Finally, the committee would look at Congress’ relationship with the people and how to return the institution to high esteem among the public.
This joint committee is not a new idea, having been used three times in the past, with the last one established in the early 1990s. The previous work of the committees resulted in the current practice of recording votes on the House floor so that the American public can hold their representatives accountable. Other reforms included requiring committees to set regular meeting schedules and requiring them to publish roll call votes.
These were all important steps to build trust and increase effectiveness, and it is time we take another so that Congress can once again work toward those same goals.
The Joint Committee on Budget and Appropriations Process Reform is an excellent first move, and we are glad to see it enacted. But now we need a more comprehensive member-driven examination of the institution as a whole to restore Congress to its status as the world’s greatest democratic institution.