A Dysfunctional Congress is Targeted in Bipartisan House Bill
CQ Roll Call
Lawmakers frustrated with what they say is continuing dysfunction in Congress want to start discussions about an overhaul, and their drive got off the ground this week with the introduction of bipartisan legislation.
The measure to establish a Joint Committee on the Organization of the Congress is spearheaded by two House members from Illinois, Republican Darin LaHood and Democrat Daniel Lipinski. It was introduced Wednesday and would create a committee made up of 28 lawmakers evenly divided between the House and Senate and Democrats and Republicans.
The panel’s mission would be to study the organization and operation of Congress and offer recommendations. These would be aimed at making lawmakers more accountable to their constituents, strengthening the relationship between the House and Senate and improving the “orderly, timely and effective consideration and disposal of legislation."
The legislation also directs the committee to study the organization of committees in the two chambers and their “effectiveness” in addressing legislative responsibilities such as the authorization of government programs and “future fiscal impact” [curbing the growing cost] of entitlement programs.
In a joint interview with CQ on Thursday, LaHood and Lipinski said the panel would provide a bipartisan and bicameral forum for the discussion of changes in rules or laws that would relieve the “dysfunction” in Congress.
“People complain all the time about Congress needs to be fixed, it’s dysfunctional, it doesn’t work, we’re not getting the essential work that we need to get done done,” LaHood, the chief sponsor and a first-term member, said. “And so what do you do about it?”
Answering his own question, he said a joint committee “gives us a platform to have a debate on those issues.”
Cosponsor Lipinski, who holds a doctorate in political science and once worked as a professor, said it “doesn’t take a congressional scholar to know that Congress is broken. We’re not getting our job done.” Lipinski said rules changes “could make Congress work better.”
The proposal, which grew out of a series of discussions among former lawmakers and senior staff sponsored by the Congressional Institute, has so far gained 38 cosponsors, including 11 Democrats. The Republican-leaning institute is a not-for-profit group that organizes legislative conferences.
Under the legislation, 12 members from each chamber would be appointed to the committee, with six each appointed by the House speaker and House minority leader, and by the majority and minority leaders of the Senate. The majority and minority leaders of both the House and Senate would be ex-officio members of the committee with full voting rights.
The proposal empowers the committee to hire staff and requires the panel to report its findings to Congress at the end of each session of the Congress.
Lipinski and LaHood both took a pass on advocating any particular changes in rules or policies, saying they do not want to create the wrong impression. “We’re not looking at this as a way to implement something that we have in mind,” Lipinski said.
The plan has been endorsed by former lawmakers and outside observers.
In an emailed statement, Robert L. Livingston, a former Republican House Appropriations chairman from Louisiana, urged support for the proposal “ if you are concerned as so many of us are that Congressional inertia has eroded the power of the legislative branch of government.”
Former Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Robert S. Walker said in a statement the Congress is in need of “structural and process reform” and that “its structure must allow it to address 21st Century concerns in a timely way, and its processes must reinvigorate the marriage between policy setting and spending priorities.”
Both Livingston and Walker are lobbyists. Livingston is a founding partner of The Livingston Group, while Walker is executive chairman of Wexler/Walker.
John Fortier, director of the Democracy Project at the Bipartisan Policy Center, wrote that because society, communications systems and national imperatives have changed “dramatically” over the last 25 years, “much will be gained from a broad and deliberate assessment of institutional strengths and needs.”
LaHood said he doubts the plan would get a vote before the end of the year. Introducing it now gives supporters “a head start going into the next Congress,” he said.
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