Congress can finish more work fast
According to one of the most recent national polls, the approval rating of Congress hovers at less than 24 percent, with more than 70 percent of Americans disapproving of the way the first branch has been handling its job. Deadlock, inactivity, and the general sentiment that the House and Senate lack the ability to get anything done are their main frustrations.
But in the last two months, the House may have broken away from this negativity. The impeachment investigation, subsequent hearings, and associated votes have flown through the chamber at a breakneck pace. Whether they meant to or not, members have shown that Congress can in fact move quickly on a timeline, as long as a crisis calls for it. Now with the federal budget, the prescription drug legislation, and the infrastructure package still pending, not to mention the other 4,900 bills introduced in the House this session, Congress has no shortage of legislative items to get done. Members face backlash at home for failing to put big ticket policy items up for a vote, which is often largely out of their control.
But they can return home for the holidays with quite a feather in their caps. The impeachment investigation and resolution took only three months to complete in the House. The process started in September, when Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared the launch of the impeachment inquiry. A little more than one month later, the House voted on rules to govern the investigation. The inquiry began in November, followed by nearly a dozen hearings within weeks. In December, the resolution text was released and the House voted for impeachment three days later.
The impeachment investigation required significant coordination and resources in the House, including staff and committee time, legislative drafting and amending, and even the hiring of outside legislative counsel. During the impeachment inquiry and the official proceedings, Congress held 10 hearings that spanned more than 40 hours of committee time, nearly 20 witnesses, and a handful of outside investigative counsel to ensure the facts were discussed and understood every step of the way.
Notably, there was also high member attendance at all the hearings. This marks a rarity at a time when their schedules are often overbooked. These numbers do not include any of the House activity on the special counsel report, which consisted of an additional five hearings. This marks a huge accomplishment for the first branch, especially in an era when Congress has largely failed to make significant progress in the legislative realm.
Impeachment was a House priority that led to fast action and fast results. Given this demonstrated ability to get things done, why does the House not give other problems facing our nation similar priority? Imagine if the House debated an infrastructure package or considered changes to our immigration system. Imagine if hearings were held and special counsels were brought in to discuss climate change or student loan reform with as much commitment to reach a conclusion as there was for impeachment.
Perhaps if Congress had the same resolve for the challenges facing our nation as it did in launching impeachment proceedings, it could check more important items off its to do list and send its members home with more to show for their efforts. The hitch is the lack of bipartisanship, yet every step of the impeachment process has been made along party lines. The House has now demonstrated that it has been capable of action all along. It simply has not given the time or resources toward ensuring the same progress on legislative matters as it has done with impeachment.
It is time for the people to demand more from their representatives. It is also time for members of Congress to gain back the confidence that they can quickly and effectively deliberate on legislative solutions, bring those policies before committee, and finally send them to the floor for a vote.
Aubrey Neal is federal affairs manager at R Street Institute in Washington.
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