Congress is a basket case. Our national legislature has passed only a couple dozen laws this year, a count which includes legislation naming a post office and appointing former Senator Bob Dole a colonel. Committees, once congressional powerhouses, are moving little legislation and are conducting fewer oversight hearings than in past decades. Meanwhile, huge issues—like immigration and the ongoing military operations in Afghanistan and Syria—go unresolved. To citizens’ disgust, legislators fritter away precious hours by holding made-for-television screamfest hearings, delivering stemwinder speeches to mostly empty chambers, and stirring up ruckuses on social media.
Earlier this year, the House of Representatives—thanks to the hollering of some aggrieved members and good-government groups—established a Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress. Led by Representatives Derek Kilmer, Democrat of Washington, and Tom Graves, Republican of Georgia, the committee has held hearings and hustled out recommendations to upgrade congressional operations. So far, the Select Committee has voted on recommendations to upgrade Congress’ technology for legislating; make Congress more transparent; and increase diversity among Hill staff. The House Committee on Administration and other committees are looking to turn these recommendations into real reforms.
Unfortunately, the Select Committee is set to expire in February of next year. Improving Congress should not be done on an ad hoc basis every few decades. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy should commit to making the Select Committee permanent and better resourced. Like good private businesses, our national legislature should always have people whose job is to look for ways to improve operations. It should also have more funding (it currently has less than half a million dollars) and staff (it currently has only three employees and three fellows). With more time and—critically—a broader jurisdiction, the Select Committee could tackle even tougher issues, like the broken budget process.
Congress is the heart of our system of governance. Until it is fixed, political dysfunction will continue.
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