House leaders need to modernize Congress for the sake of America

Stefani Reynolds

When is the last time you saw both Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy put politics aside and testify before the same committee? You would not know it from watching the cable news, but they did so last week at the first hearing of the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress. In fact, they were joined by more than 30 members from both our parties, veteran lawmakers and freshmen alike.

The committee attracted such a politically diverse group because it is tasked with addressing the systemic dysfunction plaguing Congress, and member statements shed light on a diverse array of concerns about the legislative branch, running the gamut from staff salaries and retention, outdated technology, and even office furniture, to broader questions of systemic partisanship and federal appropriations. A key takeaway is that there is an unmistakable bipartisan hunger from within to make Congress work better. But the six Democrats and six Republicans now have one major question before them: What should a modern Congress look like?

{mosads}There is near universal agreement that Congress must act to update its technological infrastructure, create incentives to attract and retain staff expertise, and streamline tools for engaging with and understanding the concerns of constituents. These matters are essentially low hanging fruit. However, if all the committee members do is look at wires and networks, they will have missed a golden opportunity, leaving the American people with the same bad and broken Congress, just with better cell reception. The legislature will never be efficient or modern if it cannot even legislate, and Congress will continue to lose leaders until the issues that fundamentally prevent it from functioning are actually addressed.

Rank and file members of Congress already a daunting list of problems, including constant pressure to raise money, incessant gridlock, votes directed by leadership, and the lack of any real power to change things. Couple that with the outsize role of lobbyists in influencing legislation, a lack of real committee oversight, transactional giving, power struggles with the executive branch, pay to play politics, and the unpredictable schedule, and it is no wonder we have heard again and again from our elected officials that the job is a drag. Whether you sympathize with their plight or not, you should care about how the committee can address this dysfunction and what this truly means for our democracy in the long run.

A modern Congress means a first branch of government that meaningfully reflects the will of the American people, as conceived by our Constitution. It is critical for committee members and House leaders of both parties to work in good faith to call attention to fundamental operational flaws. The selection of Representative Derek Kilmer to chair the committee is a good start. His last job was literally “shaking up” institutional systems to run more efficiently. The Republican vice chair, Representative Tom Graves, took a strong first step last week to follow through on his enthusiasm to work with his colleagues for some “much needed” change to the House.

The great opportunity of the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress does not come around often within the legislative branch. To renew the faith of citizens in our democracy, our representatives must venture out of their comfort zones to envision a Congress of the future.

Meredith McGehee is the executive director of Issue One.

Tags Congress Derek Kilmer Government Kevin McCarthy Nancy Pelosi Tom Graves

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