“We should begin orientation by getting to know one another,"

Dean Phillips (Rep. MN)

As public approval of Congress has hovered below 30% over the past 45 years, it is high time Congress take steps to improve the way it operates.  Perhaps that is why the House recently appointed a bipartisan Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress.

The House leadership has urged little more than the need for increased pay, more staff, banning members from living in their offices, reinstating earmarks, and improved technology.  Sadly, they have been silent on Executive Branch hijacking of Congressional powers, modernizing its operating procedures or addressing the acrimony and unwillingness to compromise that permeates the House.

Unless the culture in Washington and necessary changes to Congressional rules do not materially change, any results will be little more than window dressing and the public’s faith in the institution will continue to suffer.

In addition to the House leadership’s proposals, several more important and substantive changes must be addressed.

  1. Chamber Geography  –  Rather than seating Republicans and Democrats on the right and left sides of the chamber, exacerbating political divisions, each year all members of the House (including its leadership) should draw a random seat number to determine where they will sit.  Invariably most members will find themselves in proximity to members of the “other” party and those with more or less seniority, and with whom they might find they have much in common. strike up a friendship and be able to work and compromise.
  1. Eliminate Dictatorial Rule  –  All introduced legislation, once reviewed by the appropriate Committee(s) and receiving a 40% approval vote, must go to the full House for a vote.  Given all members of the House [and Senate] are legal peers, the House Speaker [nor Senate Majority Leader] should have veto power over what legislation can or cannot be addressed by the entire chamber.
  1. Reclaiming Constitutional Obligations   – The immediate enactment of legislation by veto-proof margins to recoup all Article I enumerated powers previously ceded to the Executive Branch.   There are no constitutional provisions to permit the delegation such powers.
  1. No Budget – No Pay  –  If Congress fails to pass a budget on time causing a government shutdown, Representatives [Senators and the President] should have their salaries permanently forfeited and their staffs’ pay suspended until the shutdown is ended.  Elected officials must do their jobs!
  1. Increased Pay – Despite the need to maintain a second residence in the DC area, $174,000 (plus generous allowances and premium benefits), while perhaps not as lucrative as in many large corporations, is far above the average American worker’s salary.  People serve in Congress by choice.
  1. Increased Staffing – As Congressional staffs have remained relatively constant over the past several decades, given the implementation of the above suggestions, modest staffing increases are reasonable.
  1. Earmarks – Earmarks as fine, except, as Alaska’s Bridge to Nowhere demonstrated, too many have historically been political pork, appropriating monies for unnecessary projects designed to impress and influence voters in their Districts.  Federal monies belong to the American public and should not be squandered as part of any member’s reelection strategy. 

The Select Committee expires on February 1, 2020, with regular interim updates posted on the Congressional Institute website.  Two-thirds of the Committee members must vote in favor of a recommendation for it to pass.

Unfortunately, any such recommendations must then be submitted to the affected House standing committees, where parochialism and politics can threaten their implementation.   The Select Committee’s recommendations should go directly to the full House for up-or-down voice votes.  

This is an opportunity that must not be squandered for partisan or personal political purposes!