We have followed the work of the House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress with great interest. Since serving together in the United States Senate, both of us have been focused on the kinds of reforms that the Select Committee is charged with considering. Each of us has written a book recommending institutional changes that would help Congress better serve the American people.
The Select Committee has done outstanding work. Everyday Americans are also impressed. The National Institute for Civil Discourse (NICD) recently released a poll on the Select Committee’s work. The survey was unique in a few ways. First, in this era of partisan polarization, we found overwhelming consensus. Each of the 97 Select Committee recommendations that we asked about were supported by at least 65 percent of the respondents. The vast majority of the recommendations received more than three-quarters support.
Several Select Committee recommendations garnered nearly unanimous support, including several reforms for which we have long advocated. For example, 97 percent of respondents support creating more full working days by reducing travel time in the congressional calendar. Today, most weeks in session begin on Tuesday morning and end on Thursday afternoon when most members travel back to their district or state. Poll respondents were particularly supportive of a schedule with two full work weeks in session, followed by a full work week back in members’ districts.
Creating more time for members of Congress to form constructive relationships across the aisle is one of several advantages to changing the congressional calendar. Modifying the schedule is one of 13 recommendations the Select Committee has made to foster greater bipartisanship and civility. Considered together, 98 percent of survey participants support these 13 reforms.
A second way that the poll was unusual is how much the respondents studied the topic before weighing in. The participants are members of NICD’s CommonSense American program. To join, each committed to spending 90 minutes each year reviewing a brief. The reported results come from the more than 1,200 members who first reviewed our congressional reform brief. Over 20 pages long, the brief provides a thorough description of the Select Committee’s recommendations. It includes the strongest arguments for and against each recommendation, making the overwhelming consensus supporting the Select Committee’s recommendations even more remarkable.
Since NICD launched CommonSense American in January 2019, more than 28,000 Americans have joined. They come from every state in the country. They are also balanced politically, with 25 percent identifying as Republicans, 47 percent as independents, and 24 percent as Democrats.
The third unique feature of the poll on the Select Committee’s work is how actionable the results are. The House of Representatives has already adopted about a third of the committee’s recommendations. We applaud the House for adopting these reforms. We and a strong, bipartisan majority of CommonSense American members encourage the work to implement the rest.
The poll results are also actionable for the Senate that we both love. Of the more than 1,200 responding, 94 percent supported having the Senate establish a similar modernization committee. The same percent supported the establishment of a Joint House and Senate Modernization Committee. Pursuing an institutional reform agenda through a select committee can contribute meaningfully to the Senate fulfilling its reputation as the world’s greatest deliberative body.
Finally, the poll results are actionable for everyday Americans. Joining CommonSense American is a potent and constructive way to engage Congress. Membership gives citizens a powerful role in identifying and championing practical federal policy solutions wise enough to attract broad, bipartisan support. Congressional reform is the second issue CommonSense American has addressed. The first was surprise medical billing. The results from our members were seen as an important part of Congress passing legislation ending surprise billing last December. We invite all Americans to be part of the solution by joining at CommonSenseAmerican.org.
If the House, the Senate, and the American people each do their part, we can engage our partisan differences more constructively. Nothing is more important to realizing a fuller measure of the promise of American self-government.
Tom Daschle represented South Dakota in the Senate from 1987 to 2005, including serving as Senate Majority Leader the last time there was a 50/50 Senate. He is the co-author with Trent Lott of “Crisis Point: Why We Must—and How We Can—Overcome Our Broken Politics in Washington and Across America.” Olympia Snowe represented Maine in the Senate from 1995 to 2013. She is the author of “Fighting for Common Ground: How We Can Fix the Stalemate in Congress.” Daschle is co-chair and Snowe is a member of the National Institute for Civil Discourse’s National Advisory Board.