A recent article in The Washington Times perfectly encapsulates what’s been happening in the U.S. House:
While bitter partisan clashes over impeachment were consuming Capitol Hill, a small congressional task force quietly hammered out bipartisan plans to make the institution more efficient throughout the past year.
The Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress has been quietly working on some big changes, and the Congressional Institute applauds their hard work – particularly because the committee members have shown their commitment to bipartisan solutions. It really shows how the atmosphere in Washington has declined when that is the exception. Congressional Institute President Mark Strand spoke to the Times about this:
In November, the House voted to give the select committee another year to continue its work. Getting an extension in Washington is usually a sign of low productivity, but Strand … said the opposite is true in this case.
“The first part of this year demonstrated they can work with unanimity and consensus,” he said. “Now the extension allows them to go a little further and address bigger issues.”
Mr. Strand said a large focus has been improving the behind-the-scenes operations of Congress, particularly with Human Resources including updating when staffers can get paid and creating an office of diversity.
… As to why this committee is such a rare example of productive bipartisanship? Mr. Strand said it’s what members intend to come to Washington to do.
“The vast majority of members want to legislate. They don’t mind getting along with the other party,” he said. “This is a breath of fresh air.”
Throughout 2019, the Modernization Committee has shown that lawmakers can work together to make meaningful changes that will allow the U.S. House to function effectively. They have made recommendations that aim to create a more professional working environment for staffers and lawmakers, make it easier for citizens to understand how amendments can change legislation, institute HR practices that have been in the corporate sector for some time, and promote a better working environment that paves the way for a return to civility and bipartisanship.
Going into 2020, committee Chair Derek Kilmer has identified “two big ‘sticky but important’ issues they want to tackle: reforming the budgetary system and improving the House’s scheduling issues.”
Reforming the budget could be one of the most impactful changes the committee cold undertake. The 2018 committee comprised of House Members and Senators looking at budget and appropriations reforms made great progress, but ultimately devolved into partisanship and ended without making any legislative recommendations. The Modernization Committee could look at that work as a foundation.
The Congressional Institute has advocated for budget reforms that would eliminate the threat of shutdowns and give Congress time to get its work done. Read more about those reforms here.