In conjunction with the Reform Institute, Norman J. Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute and Thomas E. Mann of the Brookings Institution have co-written a report entitled “Restoring Order: Practical Solutions to Congressional Dysfunction.” In the report, the authors offer concrete suggestions that the leaders of the next Congress should
Download Audio as MP3 take in order to begin to repair the processes for deliberation, oversight, and ethics. Ornstein and Mann will discuss the report at this event.
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Thomas E. Mann, Brookings Institution
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Norman J. Ornstein, AEI
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In conjunction with the Reform Institute, Norman J. Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute and Thomas E. Mann of the Brookings Institution have co-written a report entitled “Restoring Order: Practical Solutions to Congressional Dysfunction.” In the report, the authors offer concrete suggestions that the leaders of the next Congress should take in order to begin to repair the processes for deliberation, oversight, and ethics. Ornstein and Mann discussed the report at at AEI on November 16, 2006.
Congress has been dysfunctional for years, and there is a willingness to bend rules because of a pervasive belief that the ends justify the means. The current method of passing legislation is to bring up a thousand-page bill at 3:00 a.m. for a vote. No further amendments are passed. This has facilitated a demise of oversight and a culture of corruption.
We recognize that rule changes are ineffective without willing and cooperative leaders. Though the new leadership has pledged to make some changes, we think there are a series of reforms that are also necessary. These reforms involve changes in earmarks, oversight, appropriations, and various other problematic issues.
In order to encourage these reforms, we call for a strong independent ethics process, which may include an Office of Public Integrity, reaching across party lines to find responsible leadership.
Unfortunately, these reforms seem unlikely. Congress has not been around much, and when it is, its activities are a joke. If Congress met more frequently, that would improve its situation. Timing, however, is crucial. If significant changes are not made before January 4, when the new Congress begins, future reforms are unlikely.
Thomas E. Mann
The Brooking Institution
Throughout its history, Congress has enjoyed varied relationships between its members, autocratic committee chairmen, and political parties. At different times, each of these has become too powerful.
In the last thirty-seven years, the power of committees has declined. Individuals used to hold great power, but recently we have seen the rise of the power of political parties. The consequences of these changes have been enormous, resulting in a culture of corruption, a decline in the quantity and quality of deliberation, and a lack of oversight on the executive branch. We need to loosen the current reins on committees and allow them to talk to each other instead of performing choreographed functions.
By nominating Representative John Murtha (D-Penn.) for majority leader, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has sent a signal of how she intends to run the House of Representatives. It seems that she will not be open to much change and dissent. This is worrisome, showing how there is nothing strictly Republican about the problems in Congress. The seeds of these problems were planted in the 1980s under Democratic rule, and the Republican leadership of the 1990s made them worse. There is no acknowledgment of how the system could and should work, as Congress seems to follow an old routine.
The best way to improve the situation seems to be to introduce incentives to make present rules work. New rules could have perverse consequences.
There are three potential solutions that are promising. First, Congress needs a serious ethics package with an independent capacity to allow individuals without conflict of interest to receive and handle complaints. Second, Congress should place reports on the Internet so the public can sift through bills and congressional analysis. Third, Congress should adopt a schedule with three five-day weeks in a row, followed by a three-day week.
Finally, much of the responsibility for reform belongs to leaders in Congress, but they are constrained by its members. The majority empowers its leader to deliver its agenda, so members do have powers that can make a difference.
AEI intern Seth Rokosky prepared this summary.