This is a continuation of challenge no. 4. Part 1 can be found here.
My next two procedural reforms are inspired by a recent exciting find, a year-and-a-half-old group who calls itself No Labels. It all started with a speech I read somewhere deep inside the Internet (read the whole speech here), given by one of the founders of that group, William Galston, at the hearing on "Raising the bar for Congress: Reform Proposals for the 21st Century" in the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
In that speech, Will got my attention quickly, by saying poignant things such as, "Our mission can be stated in a single sentence: we want to help move our country from the old politics of point-scoring toward a new politics of problem-solving," AND, "In our view, our elected representatives are public-spirited individuals
trapped in an increasingly obsolete and dysfunctional system of
congressional rules and procedures designed for a very different era.
The correct response, No Labels believes, is to fix the system."
Ambitious, yes. I may know nothing about this man or this group (and who knows, they very well might be evil and proposing preposterous things) but initially I am on board with what they believe the problem is. So I dig further. Following the path of political crumbs led me to a booklet called "Make Congress Work," which outlines a very easy to understand 12-point plan.
Out of this comes my next two procedural reforms:
3. MONTHLY BIPARTISAN GATHERINGS.
"Flip on cable news and it quickly becomes clear that Democrats and
Republicans in Congress don't like each other. Even more troubling is
that they barely even know one another. After the Super Committee
failed last November, another Republican member said he couldn't have
picked one of his Democratic colleagues 'out of a lineup' before the
negotiation process started. Although partisanship has always been
and always will be a part of Congress, there was a time when members
actually made an effort to build relationships with people from the
other party. Today, they're more likely to glare at each other from the
comfort of their partisan bunkers. It's easy to demonize and hard to compromise with someone you barely know."
This reform is simple: bring members of each party together, socially.
"Like any workplace, Congress depends on good human relationships to
function. When there are no relationships, there's dysfunction. To get
members talking to one another, both the House and Senate should
institute monthly bipartisan gatherings. The gatherings would be off the
record and not be televised. If both sides agreed, outside experts
could be invited in to brief members on topics of concern."
4. EMPOWER THE SENSIBLE MAJORITY.
"A not-so-hidden secret about Congress is that much of the legislation
it considers is designed to embarrass the other party or score
political points. Legislation can be considered by the full House or
Senate only if it's first sent there by leadership or committee chairs,
who often see political benefit in keeping Democrats and Republicans at
one another's throats. One member says flatly, 'The leaders [of
Congress] often don't want us to work together.' Meanwhile, legislation that is supported by a sensible bipartisan majority often dies in a leader's office or in committee.
We need to democratize decision-making in Congress to break the
gridlock. If a bipartisan majority wants to get something done, they
shouldn't be held back by party leaders who prefer to organize Congress
into warring clans. That's why the House should allow members to
anonymously sign discharge petitions, which allow a majority of members
to override a leader or committee chair's refusal to bring a bill to the
floor. Once a majority of members have signed, the names of the signers
would be made public. Under current rules, discharge petitions are
allowed, but signers are made public from the start. Members are
reluctant to buck party leaders who may retaliate by pulling members off
of important committees, bottling up legislation they support or
withholding critical campaign help. Our reform would allow members to
sign a discharge petition knowing at least half their colleagues are in
the same boat with them. A similar reform could be undertaken in the
Reforms #5 and #6 will be posted next Monday. And since maybe 2% of you have actually read to this point, you get a reward: