Critiques of Congress today focus on congressional partisanship and the lack of legislative productivity to conclude that Congress is a broken institution. But Monday at AEI, William Connelly Jr. argued that the goals of bipartisanship and productivity fall short of the constitutional design for Congress and therefore are not the most desirable standard by which to craft congressional reforms. Whereas Madison and his generation focused on the quality of deliberation, modern reform efforts have prioritized the speed or quantity of legislation, its responsiveness to polls, and the transparency of the legislative process.
Don Wolfensberger and Kathryn Pearson described internal congressional developments — such as the abandonment of regular order and the shift from committee to party leadership staff, which has restricted individual members’ rights and committees’ deliberative roles — and their deleterious effects on Congress as an effective institution. Congress is broken, countered Jonathan Rauch, but largely due to external forces rather than its own internal rot. Because of reforms since the 1970s, the mechanisms by which congressmen organize their world and conduct the business of politics have been largely dismantled. Returning to party machines and regular order would help Congress act on its convictions and reclaim its role in the constitutional separation of powers system.
The US Congress is regularly described as inefficient, ineffective, and polarized. How accurate is that description? Most reforms have sought to make Congress more open, responsive, and democratic. But have those reforms actually made Congress better at creating a governing consensus, overseeing the executive branch, and engaging in deliberation? What reforms might make Congress more effective, and what should be the standard for judging those reforms? Does the original constitutional design offer a better model for judging Congress today?
Please join AEI as a panel of scholars and experts discuss the state of Congress today and possible paths to reform.
Gary J. Schmitt, AEI
William F. Connelly Jr., Washington and Lee University
Kathryn L. Pearson, University of Minnesota
Jonathan Rauch, Brookings Institution
Donald Wolfensberger, US House Committee on Rules (former)
Gary J. Schmitt, AEI
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William F. Connelly Jr. is the John K. Boardman Politics Professor at Washington and Lee University. Additionally, he is founder and director of Washington and Lee University’s Washington Term Program. Previously, he served as an American Political Science Association congressional fellow, working as a legislative assistant for then-Rep. Dick Cheney and Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-IN). Mr. Connelly has also served as a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution. He has published articles in such publications as Political Science Quarterly, The Journal of Political Science, PS: Political Science and Politics, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Roll Call, and The Hill. Additionally, he is the author of “James Madison Rules America: The Constitutional Origins of Congressional Partisanship” (Rowman & Littlefield, 2010), coauthor of “Congress’ Permanent Minority? Republicans in the U.S. House” (Rowman & Littlefield, 1994), and contributing coeditor of “Is Congress Broken? The Virtues and Vices of Partisanship and Gridlock” (Brookings, 2017).
Kathryn L. Pearson is an associate professor of political science at the University of Minnesota specializing in American politics. Her research focuses on the US Congress, congressional elections, political parties, and women and politics. She has been a research fellow at the Brookings Institution, before which she worked on Capitol Hill as a legislative assistant for two members of Congress. Ms. Pearson has published several book chapters, and her research has appeared in The Journal of Politics, Perspectives on Politics, Legislative Studies Quarterly, Political Research Quarterly, and Politics & Gender. She is the author of “Party Discipline in the House of Representatives” (University of Michigan Press, 2015) and the forthcoming “Gendered Partisanship in the House of Representatives.” She is a contributing author to “Is Congress Broken? The Virtues and Vices of Partisanship and Gridlock” (Brookings, 2017).
Jonathan Rauch is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, where he researches and writes on government and public policy, among other topics. Additionally, he is a contributing editor of National Journal and The Atlantic. His numerous articles, on everything from government and public policy to introversion to animal rights, have appeared in publications including The New Republic, The Economist, Reason, Harper’s, Fortune, Reader’s Digest, US News & World Report, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, The New York Post, Slate, Salon, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and The Public Interest. He is the author of five books, including “Government’s End: Why Washington Stopped Working” (Public Affairs, 1999) and “Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought” (University of Chicago Press, 1995). Mr. Rauch is a contributing author to “Is Congress Broken? The Virtues and Vices of Partisanship and Gridlock” (Brookings, 2017).
Gary J. Schmitt is a resident scholar and the director of AEI’s Program on American Citizenship. He was a staff director of the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and executive director of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. His work in the area of citizenship focuses on challenges to sustaining a strong civic culture in America and a fuller appreciation of the principles of the American regime and the Constitution. He has published widely on the separation of powers and the American presidency, and he is the author and contributing editor of several volumes, including “The Imperial Presidency and the Constitution” (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017) and “Is Congress Broken? The Virtues and Vices of Partisanship and Gridlock” (Brookings, 2017).
Donald Wolfensberger is a congressional fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and a resident scholar at the Bipartisan Policy Center. Previously, he worked as a staff member in the US House of Representatives for Reps. John B. Anderson (R-IL), Lynn Martin (R-IL), Trent Lott (R-MS), and Gerald B. H. Solomon (R-NY), culminating in his appointment as chief of staff of the House Rules Committee in the 104th Congress. He is an expert on parliamentary rules and procedures and played a key role in developing House reform proposals for the Republican leadership, culminating in their adoption of House rules when the GOP won majority control in 1995. He writes the twice-monthly column “Procedural Politics” for Roll Call. He is the author of “Congress and the People: Deliberative Democracy on Trial” (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000) and a contributing author to “Is Congress Broken? The Virtues and Vices of Partisanship and Gridlock” (Brookings, 2017).