Disclaimer: I wrote this a few weeks ago as part of a competition sponsored by The Washington Post. Over 1,400 people entered the contest, but only 10 finalists were selected. I didn’t make the cut (top 0.7%), so I decided to share my thoughts with you. I will mention how members of Congress focus too much on re-election. This may seem odd considering that it is election season and their focus should be on getting re-/elected, but as you read, consider the 22 months outside of election season. Hopefully you’ll enjoy this more than the panel of judges at the Post.
President Woodrow Wilson once said, “If you think too much about being re-elected, it is very difficult to be worth re-electing.” Apparently, Congress didn’t get the memo; its members always seem more focused on the next election than on working together to provide significant results. That’s likely why only 11% of Americans have a “great deal/quite a lot of confidence” in the institution, according to a recent Gallup survey.
This constant focus on Election Day politics is the reason why Republicans offered their “Pledge to America” five weeks before Election Day instead of sitting down and doing the hard work of helping the Democrats to govern earlier during the 111th Congress. It’s also why congressional Democrats brought up a vote to end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell before the military completed its review, which is scheduled for release in December. This unyielding drive to “one-up” the other party, raise money for re-election and feed the news media’s insatiable appetite is damaging to our country.
Another president, Harry Truman, offered some insight that, if practiced, could improve the legislative process: “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” So in that vein, I offer these proposals to our legislative branch:
- Craft legislation in private during joint party meetings comprised of members who have backgrounds in or who are policy experts on the specific legislative initiative. Of course, all members should offer healthy debate on final legislation before passage.
- Close congressional debates and hearings to media cameras. Allow only note-taking by reporters.
- Allow only members in party leadership positions to give interviews with national media (local media from their state or district is fine for all members).
- For complex laws, vote on each provision separately for final passage.
- Report the final vote count in terms of overall votes “for” and “against” a bill instead of breaking it down by party or individual member. Release the comprehensive numbers after a 30 day period.
Before you knock the lack of openness in these proposals, remember that the Declaration of Independence was drafted and debated in secret. These proposals have the potential to help members of Congress create more thoughtful laws, promote lawmakers communicating to their specific constituents, allow party leadership to deliver consistent national messages, eliminate showmanship and promote more reading of the news. Maybe then, we’ll regain confidence in the so-called “People’s Branch.” What do you think? Join the Discourse!