Civility and Congress aren’t two words that frequently appear together. In fact, Congressional Institute President Mark Strand writes in Washington Monthly that relations between the two parties is nearing a nadir. He writes:
“As we have seen incivility increase, the government has become less effective, and the country’s governing processes have become more restrictive. In the House, majority parties have increasingly relied on “closed rules” for debating legislation on the floor. This is a procedure where the majority party votes to limit what amendments, if any, might be offered to a bill. Excessive and routine use of closed rules disenfranchise members of the political minority, who are unable to offer amendments supported by their constituents. As a result, their only option is to obstruct the process to inflict some pain on the majority for depriving them of their legislative prerogatives.
“And the Senate – which had been famously known as the ‘World’s Greatest Deliberative Body’ – was reduced in the last Congress to becoming the least productive legislative body in history.”
While we’re nowhere near the fisticuffs that broke out in Congress in the run up to the Civil War, the dysfunction in Congress is reflected in the anger of voters. From the piece:
“In the year of angry voters, and the equally angry candidacies of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, a plea for civility might seem out of place or even passé. But perhaps it is more important than ever to remind ourselves that it is the traditions of civil society – as expressed in a liberal democratic republic through a system enabled by our Constitution – that allow people to express their anger and frustrations in a manner that allows for the peaceful resolution of legitimate grievances. This civility is what Congress is now in danger of losing – and taking with it hope of progress toward legislative change.
“‘Civil debate’ is not another way to describe “politically correct” speech, nor is it an effort to force ideological moderation. It is the victory of liberal democracy over other forms of government because it allows for, and indeed expects, the ability of a government to hear from the diverse opinions of its entire population as expressed through elected representatives.”
There is a solution, though, that will end the political gridlock and get Congress back to work, which will go a long way toward restoring the faith and trust of the American public in their lawmakers. The Congressional Institute has been advocating for the formation of a Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress that can recommend significant reforms to the institution. From the column:
“The Joint Committee could consider numerous good ideas, including some promoted by House Speaker Paul Ryan. Some worthwhile proposals would limit the use of closed rules; restore the power of authorizing committees (the committees where bipartisan oversight and review allow the Congress to hold the Executive Branch accountable, eliminate ineffective programs and create new ones); and bring sanity to a failed budget process. Creating a Joint Committee on Congressional Reform now is a way to make sure the next Congress and the new President are empowered to do the work they will be elected to do—and to do it in a civil manner.”
Go here to read the full column.