Monday, August 6, 2012

Government Procedural Reforms: Part 2

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:


"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."


"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 Senate."

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:

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