Can Congress be fixed? Some lawmakers think so


(Andrew Harrer/BLOOMBERG)

A Senate panel plans to review several options Wednesday that would revamp the rules and functions of the House and Senate (or — as we like to call them around here — the 2chambers). The hearing comes as Americans remain deeply pessimistic about Congress: One-third of voters approve of the way congressional Democrats are doing their jobs and just 23 percent rate the Republicans favorably, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released Tuesday.

“This hearing is important because it’s the first institutional indication that Congress knows it is sick,” Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) plans to tell colleagues at the hearing set to be held by the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.

“Our challenge is to find reforms that Congress will swallow,” according to Cooper’s prepared testimony. “The best reforms won’t work if Congress gags, but more palatable reforms must be strong enough to work. Congress is its own doctor; neither the President nor the Supreme Court can save us. If Congress won’t reform itself, I am confident that voters will.”

Most of the proposals come from No Labels, a nonpartisan group that released a 12-point “Make Congress Work” plan last year. Here’s a quick look at some of the ideas set for debate:


Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.). (Hyungwon Kang/REUTERS)

— Two-Year Budgeting: Sens. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) and Jeanne Shaheehn (D-N.H.) are cosponsoring legislation that would convert the federal budgetmaking process into a two-year affair. The first year would be focused on appropriating federal dollars, and the second year would focus on scrutinizing federal programs “to determine if they are working and deserve continued funding,” according to Isakson’s prepared testimony. Some agencies, including the Department of Veterans Affairs, already undergo a two- or multi-year budget process and several other lawmakers and outside groups have called for a more thoughtful, prolonged review of federal spending.

— Consideration of presidential nominees: This is a proposal that wouldn’t require a law, just a change in Senate rules. No Labels — and other groups, including the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service — want all presidential nominees to receive a confirmation vote within 90 days of the Senate formally receiving the nomination. A nominee would be confirmed by default after three months if he or she didn’t earn an up or down vote. Former Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), who supports the proposal, says in his testimony that the 90-day rule would bring “some closure to an often unending process.”

— Fixing Fillibusters: Davis, a co-founder of No Labels, believes that if a senator wants to halt action on a bill, he or she should come to the Senate floor and hold it through sustained debate. Davis also believes that filibusters should be banned on motions to proceed. “This step alone would cut the number of filibusters in half in one fell swoop,” Davis says.

Do you like these ideas? What would you do to fix Congress? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Follow Ed O’Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost

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Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.
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