In recent years, Congress has had record high disapproval ratings and record low productivity levels. If it is to recover its vitality and esteem, it must change significantly. To do so, it should create a bipartisan Joint Committee on the Congress of Tomorrow with the authority to propose revisions to the rules, procedures, and structures of the Congress. The Congressional Institute, consistent with its mission to help Members of Congress better serve their constituents, has initiated the Congressional Reform Project to provide a forum to discuss a Joint Committee on the Congress of Tomorrow, a history of congressional reform, and proposals to fix the legislature’s problems. As part of this project, the Institute is publishing a series of white papers on various aspects of reform, including the budget process, House and Senate rules, legislative-executive relations, and civility.

This page is a repository of the Institute’s white papers. It will be updated as new papers are published.

Budget Process

  • Everyone Seems To Want It So What Is The Hold-Up On The Biennial Budget?
    • The main function of Congress is undoubtedly the power of the purse–yet the budget process is utterly broken. Implementing a biennial budget as part of a comprehensive budget reform will vastly improve how Congress makes spending decisions.
  • Happy New Year: The Fiscal Year Should Start on January 1st
    • Changing the beginning of the fiscal year from October 1 to January 1 is an idea that has been discussed for many years and has broad support in Congress. Changing the date of the fiscal year to the calendar year would improve the current system, as it would extend the entire time frame for Congress to complete its work.
  • How Congress Can Make the Earmark Process Work (Published in the Stanford Law and Public Policy Review Online)
  • The Case for Earmarks: Were They Really That Bad?
    • Congress eliminated formal earmarks a number of years ago, but many have called for their return. Indeed earmarks, when used judiciously and with effective transparency safeguards, are an important way for Members of Congress to represent their constituents.
  • Fixing the Authorization Process: Restoring Checks and Balances
    • As the branch of government closest to the people, Congress has the obligation to set national policy through authorization bills. In recent decades, Congress has too often failed to complete the authorization process. Congress can reverse this trend by adopting new procedural mechanisms, like those proposed in the Unauthorized Spending Accountability (U.S.A.) Act.

House Rules

  • Should the House Follow Its Own Rules?
    • The House of Representatives adopts rules at the beginning of Congress, but routinely waives them. Waivers can be used as shortcuts around important parts of the legislative process, so the House should consider requiring a supermajority to waive them.
  • Open House: How the House Can Reinvigorate the Amendment Process
    • Offering amendments is a crucial way for Members of Congress to represent their constituents, but over the last few decades both parties have clamped down on opportunities to amend bills in the House. To promote the amendment process, the House should require a supermajority to limit amendments.

Senate Rules

  • The U.S. Senate Filibuster: Options for Reform
    • The U.S. Senate filibuster, an attempt to use various parliamentary tactics to slow or stop debate, is perhaps the best known and most controversial legislative practice Senators can engage in. Many people are frustrated with the practice and look for ways to reform it. If Senators decide that the filibuster should be reformed, several options they could choose are presented here.

Congressional Reform History

  • Lessons Learned from the 1993 Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress
    • The 116th Congress began with the House creating a Select Committee on Modernization of Congress for the purposes of considering reforms. 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.
  • Joint Committees on the Organization of Congress: A Short History
    • In the 20th century, Congress created three bipartisan joint committees to examine how the institution should be reformed. Each panel led to significant changes and they serve as models of how Congress can reform again.
  • A Determined Minority: The House GOP in the 110th Congress
    • Despite the House’s majoritarian bent, in the 110th Congress, a determined minority was frequently able to prevent the majority party from working its will, contradicting established assumptions of minority power in the House.  The Republican minority excelled at using the motion to recommit, the discharge petition, the veto strategy and procedural disruption to overcome the House majority and significantly influence the outcome of legislation.