The 116th Congress began with the House creating a Select Committee on Modernization of Congress for the purposes of considering reforms. Committees on reform are one of the traditional ways that Congress implements significant changes when they are needed. Congress only occasionally creates reform committees, so the members of the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress might be at a loss for how to proceed in their work. As the Select Committee sets out, its members can learn a great deal from the last major reform committee, the Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress, which was created in 1992 and met the following year.
When the 103rd Congress adjourned, it should have looked much different than it did when it opened on January 3, 1993. In the summer of the previous year, Congress created the Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress, a bipartisan, bicameral committee to explore ways the Legislative Branch could be reformed. However, the 1993 Joint Committee could be considered a failure, on a couple levels. The House and Senate did not issue joint recommendations as they should have, and the bills called the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1994 did not receive Floor consideration in either Chamber. On another level, their work was not entirely in vain, as the Congress especially the House, implemented some of the recommendations when the Republicans took control of both Chambers in 1995. Thus, the 1993 Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress is worth examining for those interested in reforming Congress today and in the future.
This case study of the 1993 Joint Committee examines its strengths and weaknesses. It is based on interviews of those involved in the Joint Committee process, members and staff who spoke with report co-author Timothy Lang in November and December 2018. The insights that these participants shared may help those who wish to strengthen Congress through the creation of a reform committee, whether or not it includes both Chambers. Their experience exposes numerous obstacles in the reform process and following their suggestions may improve the odds for successful reform – odds that are never very high to begin with.
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