The more Congress restricts access to the legislative process, the more most Members have little incentive to participate, so says Congressional Institute President Mark Strand in an opinion piece that published on The Fulcrum. Strand noted that “municipal legislatures and councils have a more robust amendment process than the House.” That’s really nothing to be proud about.
Referencing the House Rules Committee’s “Survey of Activities” for the 116th Congress, Strand noted that there were no open or modified open rules for that entire Congress. That means that lawmaker participation was severely limited. So what are idle hands to do? Obstruct even legislation that could pull support from Members on both sides of the aisle. Strand wrote:
Members who want to influence the outcome of legislation have an incentive to work with their colleagues on both sides of the aisle. Yet, over the last few decades, both parties have made it more difficult for individual members to legislate and then we act surprised when we see a lack of collegiality and collaboration.
The floor itself is where we see this most starkly as members are no longer free to offer amendments, and special rules are either closed to amendments or overly restrictive. … [E]very member, down to the newest freshman, speaks for constituents who are owed no less vigorous representation than powerful committee chairs or even the speaker.
It’s not just the House Floor, though, where significant reforms need to be made. “[C]ommittee rooms are natural places for Republicans and Democrats to work together on commonsense solutions and overcome rampant partisanship and polarization,” Strand wrote. But it’s been years since the committees have done their fundamental work of authorizing much of the Federal Government and conducted appropriate oversight.
The Congressional Institute has been advocating for congressional reforms that would make the House effective and return lawmakers to the proper place as legislators and not just voting drones giving an “aye” or “nay” to whatever the majority leadership wants. Among the ideas in the oped to return Congress to regular order and create opportunities for Members to actively participate in legislation:
- Allow for privileged consideration of legislation that has 300 cosponsors;
- Require a supermajority of 60 percent to have a closed special rule on authorization and appropriation bills;
- Enforce current House rules banning the appropriations for unauthorized programs or require a supermajority to waive Rule XXI (prohibition on unauthorized appropriations); and
- Penalize appropriation bills by limiting spending by 2 percent to 3 percent over the prior year appropriation if a program is not authorized.
Read the full piece here.