Systemic institutional dysfunction was a leading cause for more than 50 Republican and Democratic members of Congress who voluntarily did not seek re-election this year, according to a new joint report by Issue One and the R Street Institute.

Interviews with a select group of over half a dozen outgoing and recently-retired lawmakers who were vocal about why they chose not to return to Congress next year raised a number of critical issues. They range from hyper-partisanship in Congress and increased fundraising demands, to the growing centralization of power in party leaders, “closed rules” limiting legislative debate, and even the House calendar.

“These departing Republicans and Democrats paint the disturbing picture that Congress is fast becoming a place that repels, rather than attracts, leaders who want to get things done,” said Issue One CEO Nick Penniman.

“A healthy Congress is one where legislators feel like they are actually legislating for the public good,” said R Street Institute Vice President for Policy Kevin Kosar.

Only once since 1930 has the number of voluntary departures been higher than it was this cycle. Members choosing to walk away from their public service positions include eight Republican committee chairs and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), who became the second speaker in a row to voluntarily give up the gavel of the most powerful position in the House.

Among the report’s key findings:

Republican and Democratic members of Congress have proposed a variety of potential solutions, including the formation of a Joint Select Committee on the Organization of Congress.

Read the full report and proposed solutions in “Why We Left Congress: How the Legislative Branch is Broken and What We Can Do About It” here.

Issue One is the leading cross-partisan political reform group in Washington. We unite Republicans, Democrats and independents in the movement to fix the broken political system. Issue One’s ReFormers Caucus of more than 200 former members of Congress, governors, and Cabinet officials is the largest bipartisan coalition of its kind ever assembled to advocate for solutions to fix our broken political system.

The R Street Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, public policy research organization. Our mission is to engage in policy research and outreach to promote free markets and limited, effective government.

Featured Publications