While doing some research on gridlock and broken government, I came across an interesting Senate Hearing held on March 14, 2012. The hearing was called “Raising the Bar for Congress: Reform Proposals for the 21st Century.” The hearing was held by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs, Chaired by then Senators Joe Lieberman (I-CT) with minority chair Olympia Snowe (R-ME). At the time, both had announced their intention to retire. [Link to the hearing and webcast below]
Most interesting was the testimony from
Donald R. Wolfensberger, then with the ,
who chronicled his 50 years of working on congressional
reform efforts dating back to 1965. Woodrow Wilson
Center & Bipartisan Policy Center
Reflecting on his experience and the Congress in 2012, he said:
“For in looking back on those years it seems that no matter how much Congress reformed itself to adapt to changing times and public pressures, the more it has seemed to slip backwards into more difficult times and circumstances for which no measure of change would seem adequate. Notwithstanding occasional bursts of reform and legislative productivity, Congress seems to be stuck in a perpetual state of popular disfavor because of perceived gridlock and partisan bickering. Today Congress’s job approval rating hovers somewhere between 9 and 13 percent—the worst I’ve ever seen it. The people are reacting to an institution they see as unable to tackle even its most basic responsibilities.”
[Mar 9, 2016: In the U.S., 13% approve of the job Congress is doing, in line with approval ratings ranging from 11% to 16% since August. The current rating is just four percentage points above the record low of 9% recorded in November 2013.]
It all sounds very familiar and, unfortunately, has become even worse in the last 4 years. Mr. Wolfensberger offered a list of ten guiding principles or objectives for use in shaping worthwhile reforms:
· End the gridlock;
· End the bitter partisanship and incivility;
· Restore public confidence in the institution by making it more responsive to national problems;
· Strengthen the legislative branch vis-à-vis the executive branch;
· Better balance committee and party leadership powers;
· Restore the regular order of fairness and deliberation;
· Make Congress more efficient and productive;
· Address problems that really matter versus those that only have a political purpose;
· Enhance Congress’s oversight role; and
· Better inform the public about the activities of their government.
This blog focuses on the last principle do to the necessity of having an informed public to effectuate change. It is exceedingly difficult to achieve change from within the House or Senate because, as we have discussed previously, both political parties benefit from the chaos they have created and use it to their advantage to move their own political agenda.
Intense bipartisan political pressure, combined with assistance from a few remaining Congressional statesmen and outside political leaders with the highest integrity may be the only means of achieving reform. In an upcoming post, I will discuss the urgent role of President Barack Obama in addressing the issue of Congressional gridlock.
Raising the Bar for Congress: Reform Proposals for the 21st Century; Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs; March 14, 2012 10:00AM