Dingell: Congress can 'only improve'

Retiring Rep. John DingellJohn DingellDemocratic lawmakers, 2020 candidates pay tribute to Conyers Energy efficiency cannot be a partisan issue for Washington Polling director: Young voters swayed by health care, economy, gun control MORE (D-Mich.), the longest-serving member of Congress in history, called for reducing the size of committees to help congressional productivity. 

Dingell, who has served in the House since 1955, said in a Friday speech at the National Press Club that the institution was at the lowest point he had seen.


"I have cast some 25,000 votes. I have served alongside more than 2,400 colleagues. And I've sat in the chamber of the House of Representatives to witness some 51 State of the Union speeches from all of the American presidents with whom I'm served," Dingell said. 

"I want to make it clear this is not to brag about my accomplishments. It's simply to show there was a time when Congress could and did work," Dingell said.

The dean of the House said that many of his fellow lawmakers had never been part of a Congress that passed major bipartisan legislation.

"In these days, I often remind my colleagues of the very definition of the word Congress: It means 'coming together'," Dingell said. "Sadly, however, it has not been doing much coming together lately."

But Dingell argued the low rate of productivity in Congress couldn't get much worse.

"So while I'm troubled," Dingell said, "I'm comforted to know that they can only improve."

Dingell, the former chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, suggested that one way to help move legislation through committees would be to reduce the number of members. 

He noted that some House committees have nearly 100 members, and each lawmaker has only five minutes to ask questions at hearings. Consequently, he argued, the competition for time to speak impedes the ability of committees to engage in thorough discussions of policy.

"What do you think the chances are for intelligent debate of important national concerns?" Dingell asked. 

Asked what was the biggest highlight of his nearly 60-year congressional career, Dingell cited the passage of the 2010 healthcare law. Dingell and his late father, Rep. John Dingell Sr. (D-Mich.), introduced legislation at the start of every Congress to create a national health insurance system.

Of the law's rollout so far, he said, "It's working, given the circumstances, as well as it could" in the face of steep GOP opposition.

"We didn't get a nickel's worth of help from the Republicans. They sulked," Dingell said of the negotiations over ObamaCare.

Dingell, who first came to know Capitol Hill as a young child while his father served in the House, from 1933 to 1955, said he would miss the institution after more than half a century.

"I am sad to leave the Congress. I love the Congress," Dingell said. "I am proud that I have been able to be a part of the body and to be be a child of the institution."