October 27, 1992
The Heritage Foundation 21 4 Massachusetts Avenue N.E. Washington, D.C. 20002-4999 (202) 546-4400 A U.S. Congress Assessment Project Study REFORMING THE lMpERIAL C ONGRESS INTRODUCTION Despite scandal-pnnnpted pledges of change, the rcfm rcco!d of the 102Ild con gress, whicticompleocd work on October 6, is abysmal.The most imptmant r&xms such as term limits, wen not cvcn consiw minor refms announced as complete in t h e House of Representatives wue not implemented, and ampessional leaders de layedestablishmentofacommitteeasnrdyandconsider~f~.Coagnssschief pmbh is the neglect of legislative duties in favor of efforts to same lcelection and expandindividualpowcr.Fourprin ciples shouldguidcnfarm dfom thele should legislate, it should be accountable, it should conml spendin& and its members should act as npresentatives rather than rulers.
RdocusingCan~onitsle~venris~will~~f~b~stoaop mucb of what it now does. must curb micrrr management ofthe executive suspend the wholesale punuitofoanstinrent strvicc in ordatodinctmare en ergy toward major policy issues; it must abstain from pork barnel spending andend upolicy pmccutions, the practice of avoiding policy debates by addressing issues in a one-sided, prosecutorid fashion.These steps arc not intended to redua coagnssiollal ruthopity, much less to qlace it with an imperial Resident, but to mcolltagt Can anent Band-Aid approach ofoonstitucnt ScNiCc.
A return to legislah, which nqub open debate and votes, will itselfgrreatlypm motein tothevatffs.Congressthenfvffem~~thelegisla tive process to make it mare fair, meaningful, and orderly. The number ofcongm si& committees and subcommirpees should be drastically cut. Congms must open its l egislative, financial, and adminikh actions and records to mter public scru tiny.The power to tax and spend is the first among Congresss enumerated powers gnsstoexescisepowerthrough~~ti~,legislativerneans.Thenesuttislikelyto be fargrca~attention to making gwernment programs workpraperlyratherthan the Note: Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the Views of The Heritage Foundation or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before Congress. 1 c md the area in which C ongress has most obviously and strikingly failed Major re Forms are needed in the congressional budget process to emphasize spending control md ultimately a constitutional aniendment is needed to force Congress to face the diffi ult choice of balancing co mpeting spending demands.
Congress has lost its moorings to the Constitution and to the voters becauseits mem bers have become a ruling class, viewing their mission as governing rather than repre senting the American people. The most glaring example of thi s attitude is the congres sional practice of routinely exempting itself from the laws it imposes on the rest of the government and the private sector. The huge congressional staff and a plethora of perks also demonstrates this imperial attitude. While vot e rs should demand that Con gress obey the laws it passes, end the perks and cut the staff, term limits may be the most ready and effective step to re-establish links between legislatars and those they represent, and to set the stage for other, necessary re forms.
Voters appear ready to replace up to a third of the House, electing as many as 150 new Representatives, and a dozen Senators. Even incumbents are running on reform platforms. But new blood alone will not be enough. Voters must demand that the new Congress deliver on its reform promises. As Congress and the public sort through the many speci fic reform options, four fundamental principles should be kept in mind I) The Legislature Must Legislate. The fundamental reason Congress doesnt work is that it doesnt legislate, expending its energies instead in non-legislative pursuits.
Congress should a dhere to its constitutional charter as the legislative branch 2) Congress Must Be Accountable. The activities of Congress should be visible to all Americans. Votes must be meaningful, records must be public 3) Congress Must Begin to Exercise Fiscal Respon s ibility. The power to tax and spend is lodged in the Congress, and major reforms in congressional spending and bud geting procedures are necessary to get federal spending, and the deficit, under con trol 4) Congress Must Return to Representation. In order to repsent their constituents Congressmen must share their concerns and problems. As a fmt step, Congress should do unto themselves as they do unto others by obeying the laws they pass Perks, large staffs, and long tenure serve to separate representatives fnnn the com munities they represent.
Some proposals which fulfill these principles include d Termlimits d Limits on congressional sessions d Cuts in congressional staff d A balanced budgeuspending limitation constitutional amendment d A line4em veto 2 t/ Covering Congress with the laws it passes t/ Ending wholesale constituent service t/ Reforming the schedullng process t/ Establishing falr parliamentary procedures t/ Reducing the number of committees THE REFORM RECORD Introducing Senate Concurrent Resol u tion 57 to establish a committee on congres sional reform on July 31,1991, Senator David Boren, the Oklahoma Democrat, stated that Congress is in trouble as an institution. No one doubts it. In poll after poll, Ameri cans describe Congress as inefficient, wasteful, and compromised by the way it fi nances campaigns. Senator Bmn delivexed these words months before scandals in the House Bank and Post Office rocked the House of Representatives. Since that time public regard for Congress has hit an all-time low , with many polls showing an ap proval rating lower than 20 percenf2 Despite public outrage and the expressed support of a majority of Senators and Rep resentatives, Borens proposal (and a companion House measure, H.Con.Res. 192 was delayed for months, fir s t by House Speaker Thomas Foley and then, according to Borens staff, by Senate Pxesident ProTem Robert C. Byrd. Though the reform study plan was passed on July 30,1992, the committee is still not operating. Foley and Sen ate Majority Leader George Mitchel l delayed appointing members to the new Joint Committee on the.Organization of the Congress until after Congress recessed in Octo ber. As a result, this effort merely to study and recommend refarms cannot get started until sometime in 1993.
Delays and Wris t Slaps. The pattern of promise and delay is common. In March of 1992 Speaker Foley announced the suspension of a number of House Members perks and the creation of a non-partisan professional administrator to take over the patronage ridden and scandal-pla gued House Sergeant at Arms and House Post 0ffces.The House Administration Committee failed to implement fully the perk refms, however and several of the Members-only favors will still be available when the new Congress convenes in January of 19
93. Also awaiting the new House apparently will be the ap pointment of a House Administrator despite two deadline extensions, no one has yet been hired for the new position.
Congress is infamous for its unwillingness to discipline its Members, even those caught in flagrant wrongdoing. The Senates Keating Five scandal resulted in a token wrist slap to only one offender, who was planning to retire. The Senate also promised 1 2 Congressiod Record, July 31,199 1, p. S 1 1582.
Tk New YorkTimes, April 2,1992 p. D21 3 new constituent service guidelines, but the rules issued after months of delay will do little to prevent future abuses. House committees investigated its Bank and Post Office scandals for months and professed themselves unable to find significant wrongdoing though public outrage finally fmp disclosure of the number of checks Representa tives bounced at the House Bank. New information, such as the qssibility of bad checks being used to cover gambling debts, is still coming to light.
As the public has caught on to Congresss unwillingness to reform or discipline it self; the term limits movement has caught fire. Term limits were approved in 1990 for state legislators in Oklahoma and California, and for state and federal legislators in Color A very strict, retroa ctive term limits measure was narrowly defeated in Washington in 19
91. Fourteen states, including California, Florida, Ohio, and Michi gan, representing about one-third of the seats in Congress, have term limit initiatives on the ballot on November
3. B ut even with term limits, subsequent reforms in the in ternal operations of Congress will still be necessary. Once its members axe appointed the new Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress may be a useful vehicle for achieving some necessary chang e s. Unless voters remain vigilant, however, the new committee could become a ruse for Congressmen to claim they are reforming while continuing business as usual. While the details of reform packages may vary, the princi ples of legislation, accountability, spending control, and representation should guide any genuine reform effort A LEGISLATING LEGISLATURE Voters are unhappy with Congress because legislators have failed to effectively ad dress problems such as the economy, crime, and education. Congress can n ot because it has largely abandoned legislation. Take, for example, Congresss approach to transpor tation.The 1991 highway bill was a monument to pork barrel politics and congres sional self-promotion. One Senator named a boat ramp after his father. Local i ties in Tennessee, Ohio, and Wisconsin got new bicycle paths, and the Staten Island Ferry hauled in an extra $2.7 million. At least two Representatives brought home over a quar ter of a billion dollars in grants and subsidies for their districts. The bill was a monu ment to complexity as well: 298 pages of small print text with a 186-page report add ing more details.
Compare this with the bill that created the interstate highway system. The Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 was a mere 32 pages. The section d escribing how the inter state highways would be funded and built took up only eleven pages. No state, county or locality was mentioned in the bill. Yet the 1956 Act revolutionized Americas trans portation network. There is little danger that anyone will m ake a similar judgment about the 1991 transportation bill 35 years fn>m now 150 billion will have been spent to little effect 5 3 4 5 Two Justice Department investigations are taking more serious looks at the House Bank and Post Office matters.
See remarks of Representative Robert Walker, Congressional Record, p. H 9982, September 30,1992.
Officially known as The Internodal SurfaceTransportation Efficiency Act of 19
91. PL. 102-240 4 Instead of legislating, Congress has organized its structure and staff around non-leg islative activities, aimed principally at reelection. Foremost among these is constituent service To revive the practice of legislation, and the power t hat comes with it, Con gress must limit or end most of these non-legislative activities cerns, but to "casework" or constituent service. Forty percent of House staff works in district offices, nearly exclusively on casework, and a large percentage of Wash i ng ton-based staff is dedicated to that task as well. The percentage of Senate staff based in state offices has almost tripled, from 12.5 percent in 1972 to 35 percent in 1990.7 But Congressmen do not help constituents out of charity, they do it because i t helps them get reelected. In a fecent survey, 56 percent of House administrative assistants (staff who manage congressional offices) identified constituent service as the most important factor in solidifying their Memben' political bases, while only 11 p e rcent identified a Member's legislative record8 Constituent service goes far beyond finding lost Social Security checks. Pork barrel spending and regulatory manipulation are two of its most damaging forms. Legislators often intervene with federal regulato r s on behalf of powerful constituents and cam paign contributors. In one instance, Washington State Republican Representative John Miller put a hold on enforcing a law regulating a boat's stability at the request of Arc tic Alaska Fisheries Carp. Shortly a fterward, a fishing boat operated by that company sank in the freezing waters of the Bering Sea. Investigators for theTransporurtion De partment claimed that f talities might have been avoided if the Coast Guard had en forced the relevant law.
Not the Exce ption. The collapse of the savings and loan industry was largely a re sult of regulatory changes and pressures by Congressmen who actively lobbied on be half of failing S&Ls in the name of constituent service Three major House figures former Speaker Jim W r ight, formerwhipTony Coelho (who had also served as the Democrats' chief campaign fundraiser and former Banking Committee Chairman Fernand St. Germain, left Congress in the 1980s under clouds of scandal owing to in volvement with financial industries lobb y ists and Egulators. The Senate's bating Five scandal also involved pressure on regulators to ease up on S&L kingpin Charles Ikatin who was also a significant fundraiser for each of the five Senam in volved?l The importance of these cases is that they are t he rule, not the exception Those Senators did exactly what every Senator is called on to do every day,"lyid'Sen ate Ethics Committee Chairman Terry Sanford, the North Carolina Democrat. Sena Most staffers working directly for Congressmen are dedicated not to legislative con 6 b 6 Nannan Ornstein and Thomas Mann, Viral Sfatistics on Congress, 1991 -1992 (Washington, D.C American En- Institute, 1992) p. 128. 7 1bid.p. 129 8 Richard H. Shapiro, Frontline Management (Washington D.C Congressional Management Fou n dation, 1989 9 Ihe Limits of Constituent Service Governmen! Execurive, June, 1991, p. 28. 10 "Wmh Intervene With Bank Regulaton Roll Cull, May 7,1990, p. 24. 11 Separate report by Senator Jesse Helms of the ethics commitfee investigation of Senator Alan C r enstan, p. 42 p. 94, Fig. 6-1 5tor Dennis DeConcini, one of the Keating five, claimed that at least twenty colleagues told him, There but for the grace of God go I.13 The Pork Barrel spending. Allocating spending based on political ties rather than on nee d or merit is a crime when practiced by executive branch officials. It is standard operating procedure for legislators. The scandal that took place at the Department of Housing and Urban Development during the late 1980s exemplifies this double standard fo r congressional influence peddling, and shows how little congressional oversight has to do with good management.
The HUD scandal involved allegations of influence peddling to control the award of housing grants. Documents obtained by The Heritage Foundatio n under the Freedom of Information Act show that HUD received an average of 2,425 phone calls month from Congress during the period that questionable grants were made.%espite the thousands of calls, dozens of reports by HUDs Inspector General detailing th e problems, and as many as 11 1 congressional committees with some jurisdictional claim over HUD,15 Congress failed to notice the scandal until it blew up in the newspa pers. In other words, congressional oversight authority was not being used to oversee t he Department.
What, then, were all the calls about? According to Charles Dempsey, HUD Inspec tor General from 1977 to 1985, Congress was more interested in getting favors from HUD than in overseeing its operation.16 Seventy percent of the letters to HUD b e tween 1986 and March of 1990 request favors from HUD, usually funding for a proj ect, but also jobs for friends and waivers of regulations.
Disgraceful Double Standard. The new Secretary of the Department, Jack Kemp called it disgraceful for Congress to take those monies that ought to go to helping homeless people or fighting poverty and distributin them without any competition without any merit, other than political influence.It is doubly disgraceful to do so in the midst of criminal investigations, in i tiated by Congress, of HUD officials for doing exactly the same thing ments can be so embarrassing that Congress has actually tried to prohibit departments from keeping records of such contacts. When one agency began keeping records of Equally scandalous, and perhaps more damaging in the long run, is pork barrel r The discovery of what Congress is really up to when it calls executive branch depart 12 A Status Report on the Keating 5 Scandal, Roll Cull, April 2,1990, p. 5 13 Keating 535, Five are on the Gri l l, but Other Lawmakers Help Big Donors,Too. The Wall Smet Jowd, January 14 Based on phone mrds of D Congressional Affairs Office 15 Commiuees exercising HUD jurisdiction were determined based on Rules of the House of Representatives, Rules adopted by the C omltees ofthe Howe of Representurivcs, and Standing Rules of the Sew, as were committees and subcommittees to which HUD legislation has been referred 16 Congress Busywork Constituent Service has Replaced Governing, The Washington Post, January 28,1990, p. C 4 17 Based on a review of D summaries of congressional correspondence 18 Kemp Lashes Out at Hills Projects, The Wushington Post, November 27,1989 10,1991, p. 1 6 contacts from Members of Congress, the House Appropriations Committee attempted to prohibit the record-keeping practice," eventually backing down only under threat of a veto.
The focus on pork and constituent service narrows Congressmen's attention from broad, national concerns to minutiae. The resulting micromanagement of executive agencies can be debilitating and the implications criminal. Even worse, the practice has now reached the point where Congressmen have a perverse incentive against ad dressing systemic problems in favor of applying Band-Aids to festering sores. Con gress grants sweepi n g powers to bureaucrats, then stands ready to claim cdt for eas ing the Gsulting pain. Constituents are supposed to express gratitude by voting for them. This process removes any incentive for Congress to limit the size of government or to fix the problem s that cause voters so many headaches. In fact, bad government gets Congressmen reelected. Without constituent service, Congress would have to focus on getting federal agencies to do the job right the first time Micromanagement Congress has increased its i nfluence over the executive branch in a variety of ways.
Though at first this might seem an intra-governmental spat of no immediate concern to the general public, in fact it represents a fundamental breakdown of representative gov ernment. The constitution al principle of separated powers is being replaced by clandes tine interactions between Congress, interest groups, and the executive bmaucracy.20 Congress effectively runs large parts of the executive branch from qnnel and pol icy to "the size and styles o f calendars on the walls of agency offices Oversight hearings, in which Congress investigates and second guesses executive agency decisions, have increased both in absolute terms and as a pant of committee activity. There was a 300 percent increase in the number of days committed to over sight hearings from 1961 to 19
83. During that time, oversight as a nt of total hear ings rose from 8.2 percent to 25.2 percent of the committee workload. A large part of the time, then, Congress is not even pretending to legislate.
One of Congress's favorite ways to control what the executive branch does without actually writing a law is to require detailed reporting. Reports to Congress by Cabinet agencies between 1980 and 1988 climbed by an average of 93 percent. Hardes t hit dur ing that time was the Department of Defense, with an increase from 168 to 545 re quired reports-a 224 percent in~rease.2~ A DOD analysis of the effects of this con gressional hyperactivity complained "every working day entails an average of almo s t three new General Accounting Office audits of DoD, an estimated 450 written queries 19 HR. 2788, Interior appropriations bill for FY 1991, Sec. 120, as reported in the House 20 See Mark B. Liedl and Douglas A. Jeffrey, "Congressional Ethics and the Admi n istrative Sm Heritage FoundationBackgrounder No. 743, December 13,1989 21 he Cost of Congressional Micro-Management The Wall Street Journal, October 18,1984 22 Joel Abe!$bach, Keeping a Watchful Eye: The Polilics of Congressional Oversight (Washington, D. C Bmkings Institution, 199O),Table 2-1, p.35 23 Fm "Reports to be Made to Congress annual list of reports made to Congress compiled by the Clerk of the U.S.
House of Representatives, 1980,1988 7 and over 2,500 telephone inquiries from Capitol Hill, and nea rly three separate reports to Congress, each [of them] averaging over 1,000 man-hours in preparation and ap proximately 50,000 in cost.24 Thin Skin. While Congress defends oversight as necessary to ensure that agencies comply with the law, sometimes the r e ason is pure pettiness. In response to a Park Ser vice newsletter that contained a joke about Congress, a staff member on the appmpria tions committee eliminated funding for the newsletter the following year. In another in stance a Representative reported ly tried to get a federal employee fired for wri ng a critical letter that was published in a newspaper in the Congressmans district.
Othertimes, Congress micromanages agencies to keep federal =venue in their dis tricts. Outspoken advocates of defense cuts fought to keep military bases in their dis tricts from closing, for example To prevent an FBI Field Office in Butte, Montana from being downgraded to a satellite office, Montanas Senators placed an amend ment in a bill that prohibited the entire Justice Department from spending any money to relocate, reor anize, or consolidate any office, agency, or function anywhere in the United States.
One analyst has concluded that congressional oversight has inhibited, sensitized and chan ed [federal] agencies, somet imes with a thoroughness bordering on the dra matic.8lists of hundreds of questions (known as Dingellgrams) from Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell have been known to paralyze entire agencies for days or weeks28 Some Members of Congress a pe that Congress is bogge#own in detail, missing the big picture and slow to respond to our real prob lems.
Micromanagement is also expensive. According to a report by the Project on Mili tary Procurement, a combination of 42 pork earmarks, and program res trictions im posed by ConFss will added over $800 million to the cost of defense programs in just one year Show Trials Committee hearings increasingly are the vehicles for publicity seeking, showcasing experts such as the Grateful Dead or Ben and Jerry of ice cream fame. One hearing this year in a House Agriculture subcommittee featured videotaped testimony from ac tress Kim Basinger, Bob Barker of the TV game show The Price is Right, and actor Richard Kiley on the subject of animal rights. Such hearings p r oduce little in the way of policy change or legislation, but they frequently manage to get Congressmen on the evening news 8 56 24 DoD is Preparing Presidential Report on Congress Policy Gridlock, Due Oct. 1st. Armed Forces Journal, July 25 Congressionul R ecord, July 24,199t.p. H-5774, and The Washingfon Times, July 29,1991, p. A6 26 H.R. 2402, Dire Emergency Supplemental Appropriation, Sec. 105 27 Christopher H. Foreman, Jr Signals From rhe Hill (New Haven and London: Yale University Ress, 1988) p.84 23 I , Ding& Woe tolhosewhose Interests Conflict, The Wall Srreer Journal, February 17,1989 29 Stateanent by Senator David Boren on introduction of Congressional Reform Initiative 30 pentagon says Hill adds Cost, The Washington Times, December 11,1989 1989 pg. 1 0 8 Ctiminalizing Disputes. Hearings are also used to persecute agencies or individuals in the executive branch, or anyone else who crosses a Congressman. While the mere threat of a congressional inquisition is often sufficient for a powerful Congressman t o get his way, when disputes heat up, Congress threatens executive officials with an inde pendent counsel. Enacted as part of the Ethics in Government Act of 1978, the inde pendent counsel procedure usurps executive branch functions and violates fundamen t al rights of the accused. Even more fundamentally, in practice the independent coun sel statute has little to do with real ethical violations. Instead, it is used to criminalize disputes between the executive branch and Congress In one notable instance,Th e o dore Olsen, formerly a top Justice Department lawyer, was finally exonerated after being handed for three years by an independent counsel over a dispute with Congress involving the release of EPA documents. Olsen was accused of misleading Congress but t h e real issues were environmental policy and executive privilege. Fighting on those grounds with the Reagan Administration, however, Congms almost certainly would have lost so Congress turned to an independent counsel in an effort to cow Ad ministration of ficials into submitting.
The independent counsel law shows how Congress has been able to breach the sepa ration of powers in its extra-constitutional activities. Justice Antonin Scalia notes that Congress had taken the prosecutorial power not by legal means but through political o nes. Under the new system an administration could either keep helplessly investigat ing itself in one case af er another or to see itself portrayed as a bunch of crooks and obstructors of justice."J' Fortunately, the performance of Iran-Contra independent counsel Lawrence Walsh may have been the undoing of the law. A last-minute effort in September to extend the independent counsel law past its scheduled December 15 1992, expiration was unsuccessful Legislation Abandoned As Congress has increased its non-l e gislative activities, the number of substantive laws passed has declined steadily, from 627 in the 91st Congress (1969-1970) to 517 in the 96th (1979-1980), to only 418 in the lOlst Congress. At the same time, more bills are being introduced, largely for p ublicity reas ns. Of the 6,973 bills introduced in the lOlst Congress, only 3 percent were enactedP2 And many of the bills passed are meaningless. In 1989, Congress considered 1,359 bills commemorating days, weeks or months, and passed 287 of them. Among t he winners were National Drinking Water Week,Tap Dance Day, and Radon Action Day. Almost 35 percent of all laws passed in the fmt year of 102nd Congress were commemoratives, up hm under 10 percent in the 91st Congress twenty years The cost of each such bi l l is estimated to be in excess of $300,000.34 31 Suzanne Garment, Scandal: The Culture of Mistrust in the American Government (New Yok Times Books, 1991 32 Senator David Boren, Congressional Record, July 31,1991, p. S 11582 33 "A Day (or Month or Year) in the Sun The Washington Post. January 13,1991 34 "Commemorative Fight Gets Testy Roll Call, February 8,1990 p.106 9 .c ACCOUNTABILITY By conducting most of its activities throughmon-legislative and extra-constitutional means Congress frustrates accountabil i ty. Congressmen trumpet their constituent ser vice records rather than their stands on issues, they seek to control the government through continual micromanagement and investigations rather than through legislation By doing so, they can avoid taking a fm stand on the issues themselves, leaving vot ers with little substantive basis on which to judge a Congressmans perfomance.
When they do have to vote, Members use a variety of ruses to stake out positions on both sides of an issue, voting one way while doi ng the opposite, even not voting at all on contibversial issues The Conference Conspiracy ate versions of a bill. But all too often conference committees come up with entirely new provisions, or eliminate sections agreed to by both Houses. The compromise w orked out on the 1991 highway bill, for instance, split the difference between the House version, containing $5.4 billion worth of pork barrel demonstration projects and the Senate version, which contained none, by adding fifty projects worth an extra $1. 1 billion. Because conference deliberations are carried on in secret, no one is responsible for the added pork, and no justifxation need be provided. Even Senator Robert Byrd the West Virginia Democrat, notorious for slipping extra funding forWest Virginia into appropriations bills, once offered an amendment regulating lobbying, complaining that certain appropriations line items were appearing in the bill during conference committee debates even though neither house had voted on the specific contract, grant orawmi 35 Conference committees are supposed to resolve differences between House and Sen Because there are no open roll call votes in conference, it is also used to extricate Congress from sticky situations when it is forced to vote on things it does not like such as a 1989 amendment by Iowa Republican Senator Charles Grassley to apply a major civil rights law, the Americans With Disabilities Act to Congress. Despite votes in both the House and Senate to apply the law to Congress, the derence committee re p orted a provision which technically covered Congress, but without any real enforce ment procedures The conferees were able to get away with this in part because the House and Senate had passed slightly different versions of the so-called congressional cov e rage amendment A similar ruse was used in 1991 to kill Senator Jesse Helmss amendment prohibiting federal funding for obscene or sacrilegious art. In that case con ferees simply ignored a House vote to agree with the Senate-passed Helms amend ment In both cases, Congressmen wanted to vote one way on a political hot button issue, yet have the outcome be the exact opposite. Conference committees are often called upon to do the dirty work in such cases 35 I& tk White House, October 3,1991, p. 17 10 a Posing W i th Holy Pictures Conference committees are not the only means for Congress to do what Congress man David Bonior has called posing with holy pictures: casting cosmetic votes that have no real meaning In the House, King of the Hill rules, allow Representati v es to vote in favor of several competing proposals, knowing that only the last amendment adopted really counts. Normally, passage of one amendment on a subject precludes adoption of competing approaches. With a King of the Hill rule, Representatives can h ave several varieties of cake and eat them too. Unfortunately, the purpose is to fool voters into thinking their Congressman voted just the way they wanted when in fact he did not.
In addition to voting both ways on an issue, Congress can pass legislation without any votes at all. Such was the case with a 1991 bill raising the Senates pay from 101,900 to $125,1
00. Ohio Republican Representative John Boehnerdemanded a House vote on the pay boost, but could not get one. Normally roll call votes are nearly a utomatic under a procedure which requires a recorded vote when called for if a major ity of Members are not present on the House floor. Usually, only a dozen or so of the 435 Members of the House are on the floor at any given time. Getting wind of Boehner s plans, however, party leaders made sure a majority was present and then dis couraged them from supporting Boehners request for a vote. The House has formal ized such shenanigans with something known as a self-executing rule. With this de vice a supposedl y procedural vote can be stretched to include adoption of various sub stantive amendments and even passage of important legislation, including a $6 billion welfare reform package, which was included in a rule for the G uaypd Deficit Re duction Reconciliati on Act voted on in the House October 29, 19
87. The House also has a standing (permanent) rule which approves increases in the federal debt limit with no votes at all Ignoring the Rules. Other times, House leaders avoid controversial amendments with a proc edure known as suspension of the rules. If leaders can muster a two-thirds vote, bills are passed with no opportunity for amendments to be offered. The procedure also allows the House to ignore its own rules, including budget restrictions. Over half of al l House legislation is now passed this way. If they lack a two-thirds majority House Democrats still can manage to avoid controversial votes by securing a special rule from the House Rules Committee. Such rules are used to govern the procedms for debate on the House floor, but inmasingly the Rules Committee has limited what amendments can be offered. Such restrictive rules were used only 15 percent of the time in the 95th Congress (1977-1978 rising to 55 percent in the lOlst Congress 1989-1990).
About the o nly way House Members have around all these procedural hurdles is a discharge petition. If a majority of House Members sign a document demanding it committees are bypassed and a bill is brought directly to the House floor. However the petition is kept sec r et, allowing Members to support a measm publicly without 36 Congressional Record, May 24,1988, p. H.3579 11 signing the petition. Again, voters are misled by representatives who say they support a proposition while failing to do what is necessary to get i t passed Bill Bloat Senator Boren has observed that Bills are five times longer on the average than they were just as recently as 1970 with a far greater tendency to micromanage every area of g~vemment Omnibus bills covering multiple subjects, and especial l y mas sive continuing resolutions containing most of the governments appropriations for a year, are open targets for legislators wanting to slip a little something into a bill pork, nmow tax loopholes, pet projects. Over the years, [the continuing resolut i on becamea huge legislative dumpster into which members could throw what remained of their in-baskets at the end of the year, a kind of sanitary landfii for the safe burial of some of the years more odiferous ideas.38 Aside from making it easier to insert stealth provisions, Representative Chris Cox the California Republican, points out, such bills make any vote defensible before al most any audience, because anyone can find items he supports and items he opposes among the hundreds of provisions. Perhaps e v en worse than making representatives un accountable, the process through which omnibus bills are assembled and passed denies even most Congressmen any real knowledge about the legislation. In the wee hours of the day beforeThanksgiving 1989, Congress pass e d a Reconciliation Bill covering over 1 trillion without anyone ever having read it.The bill was brought to the House chamber in a large cardboard box, over a thousand pages of uncollated, unindexed pages fresh from dozens of printers throughout various o ffices and wrapped by twine.
There were no other copies for Members to look at. Representative Cox recalls being permitted to walk down into the well and gaze upon [the bill] from seve# angles and even to touch it. But not a single person knew all the bill contained.
Sometimes the Congressmen even seem not to care. Late at night the eve of passage of another unread thousand-plus-page bill, the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990, Representative Bill Richardson, the New Mexico Democrat, gave what he b e lieved to be the three most compelling reasons for passing the second largest tax in crease in American history: So we can go home so we can go home so we can go home An Army of Aides When elected representatives do want to exercise more responsibility, the size and activities of Congresss huge staff often prevent them. Senator Bmn observes that large staffs tend to generate their own agendas.A0 In fact, unelected committee staff often wield more power than many elected representatives themselves. A stud y of the influences on committee oversight agendas shows that top staffers and Members alike agree that staff members have more say in setting committee agendas than minority 8 37 Senator David Boren, Fixing Whats Broken in Congress, The Washington Tims, A u gust 9,1991, p. E2 3# Dmming of a Continuing Resolution? Lacking Usual Vehicle, Senators Try to pack Riders OntoTax Bill, The Wudingron Post, October 12,1988, p. A17 39 Congressman Christopher Cox, Why Congress Doesnt Work Heritage Lecture No. 406, June 2 5 ,1992 40 CongressionufRccord, July 31,1991,p. S 11582 12 party members. In the vast majority of cases, ranking minority members do not have or even tend to share) major influence.A1 Senator Boren recollected a conference committee meeting where staffers t a lked to each other for an h UT and a half before Former Senator Barry Goldwater observes that Todays Hill staffers write most of the legislation and speeches, they do all kinds of work that the members of Congress should be doing. In fact, it is safe to s a y that the U.S. Congress is now run by paid staffers, not by people elected to do the job.lA3 According to some veteran Members this has not been necessarily to the betterment of legislation. House Minority Leader Robert &lichel recalls, In the nearly 32 y ears that I have been in Congress we have seen a five-fold increase in committee staff but a 70 percent decline in legislation moved out of committees. The bigger we get, the less we do 600 percent, from 2,000 in 1947 to 12,000 t0day.4~ The total congress i onal staff now amounts to 3 1 OOO aides, the largest legislative staff in the world nine times over!6 Many of those staffers are well paid, too. Over 300 House staff are paid salaries in ex cess of $100,000 a year, as are many staff in the SenateP7 The Co n gresss own budget has grown over 3,500 percent since 1946, over four times the rate of inflation!8 The staff explosion has clogged the legislative process and robbed elected representatives of a grasp of legislation. It has a!so been instrumental in conve r ting Congress into the administrator of the executive bureaucracy. Observes White House Counsel C. Boyden Gray, Thirty thousand congressional staffers are all very bright and well-m aning Committee Congestion Long before anonymous staffers wrap massive bi l ls in twine, and before Congress men dodge votes on the House or Senate floor, the work of Congress goes on in its committees. Committees produce legislation or bury it, their hearings generate public ity, and the staff micromanages the executive branch. Committee positions am the source of much of a Congressmans power and prestige. Unsurprisingly, committees and committee staffers have proliferated and their jurisdictions expanded.
Following a major committee reform, the 79th Congress (1945-1946 had fifte en Senate and nineteen House Committees, with few if any subcommittees. The 102nd Congress has 295 standing, special, and select committees and subcommittees. Com allowing lawmakers to complete work in about five minutes A2 In introducing his reform propo s al, Senator Boren noted that Senate staff had grown and they have to do something. What they do is run the executive branch A 41 Joel D. Aberbach, Keeping D Watc/#id Eye (Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution pp. 126-128 42 Reforming Congress by Com m ittee, The Washington Post, August 1,1991, p. A15 43 Barry Goldwater quoted in In the Shadow of the Dome: Chronicles of a Capitol Hill Aide (New Yok William Marrow, 1990 44 Congressional Record, May 24, 1988, p. H.3576 45 CongtessionalRecord, July 31,1991 , p. S.11582 46 Luis Saenz, The Costly Congress Becomes More Costly, Heritage Foundation Backgroundcr No. 832, May 30 1991, p 4 47 Numberof House Staffers Paid $lOO,OOO or More Soars to 304, New Survey Finds, Roll Call, July 20,1992, p. 21 48 Vitd Statistic s on Congress, 1991-1992,Table 5-9, pp. 136,137 49 Richard E. Cohen, The Game Begins, Government Executive, January 1989, p.13 13 mittee staff has grown from 399 in 1947 for both House and Senate to around 3,000 today, a 750 percent increase. Today the ave rage Senator is a member of twelve full committees or subcommittees, and one Senator sits on no fewer than 23 such panels.
The mean number of committee assignments for House Members has more than dou bled, from three to nearly seven slots per Member. The r esulting schedule overload means that committee meetings generally are not well attended. Staff does much of the work, and most votes are taken by proxy. That is, a chairman or senior minority rep resentative is allowed to cast votes for absent committee members. This practice, com bined with the fact that minority Members are often underrepresented on committees frequently allows panel chairmen to control votes singlehandedly.
The proliferation of committees had led to overlapping jurisdictional claims. T he re sult is legislative gridlock and disjointed oversight. Some legislation is referred to as many as ten committees and subcommittees? prompting a leading Senator to com plain that I cant tell you how many pieces of le islation go nowhere because they g ot divided up and disappeared among committees. For example, the number of com mittees and subcommittees holding hearings with DoD witnesses climbed from 24 to 11 1, between 1964 and 1987, a 460 percent increase When every committee with a finger in every pie, frequently issuing conflicting di rectives, no one is responsible. Up to ll 1 committees had jurisdictional claims on the Department of Housing and Urban Development, but Congress failed to pick up the scandal. Congressionally rnan&ed reports by HUD I nspectors General detailing abuses were ignored, leading a former IG to complain that Congress, when it enacts legislation and mandates reporting requirements, should at a minimum read the reports A 953 CONTROLLING THE PURSESTRINGS The single most importa n t responsibility entrusted to Congress, short of declaring war, is control of the federal purse. Most of Congresss power is derived from its con stitutional prerogatives of laying and collecting taxes, and the authority to spend funds from the Treasury. B ecause it is quantifiable, it is also the congressional responsibility most easily judged. A look at the condition of federal finances demonstrates that Con gress is failing miserably with its fduciary duties.
Despite record-breaking revenues of $1.09 1 tr illion last year, the federal deficit was also a record $400 billion. The total federal debt is in excess of $4 trillion. America is going into debt at a rate exceeding $1 billion per day (including Sundays and holidays approximately $20,000 per second. O v er three-fifth of all personal income tax col lected goes to interest payments on the national debt. Congress has virtually autono- d 50 Watergate Helped Field Army of Hill Reformers But Class of 74 Now Draws Some Fire, The Wmhgfon Posr June 15,1992 51 Wo r ming Congress by Committee, The Washington Post, August 1,1991, p. A 15 52 Infamation compiled by the DoD Office of Legislative Affairs 53 Congress Lax About Oversight, Inspector General Says, Congressional Quarterly, May 12,1990, p. 1481 54 National Taxp ayers Union, Hello Sucker Washington, D.C National Taxpayers Union, 1992) p. 12 14 4 mous control of and responsibility for federal finances. The ovemding problem is Congresss inability to rein in spending.
In the face of these alarming figures, and in the midst of the current recession, Con gress has taken no substantive action on the economy, choosing instead to stick to the failed 1990 budget agreement. A balanced budget amendment was defeated this sum mer.The House went so far as to turn down legislati o n to keep the S&L bailout agency, the Resolution Trust Corporation, functioning, in part because doing so would have required increasing the federal debt limit, likely reopening the 1990 deal. Delay ing the shutdown of insolvent thrifts costs $6 million p e r day, adding at least $2 billion in costs before the next Congress gets around to paying the bills The Budget Act process (though in recent years it has given way to an ad hoc summit process in which congressional leaders and the President agree on spend ing and taxation levels).
The enumerated purposes of the Act are: to assure congressional control over the bud get process; to reduce the Presidents ability to impound (withhold) funds; to establish national budget priorities; and to give Cong ress access to executive branch budget in formation? In other words, the budget act virtually removed the President from the federal budget picture, and put virtually all power in the hands of Congress. The Resi dent is still required to submit a budget, but it is regularly declared dead on axrival on Capitol Hill.
Nowhere in the purposes of the budget law is there mentioned the notion of control ling spending or balancing the budget. Because the Budget Act consists primarily of in ternal congressional rul es, rather than statutes, the few restrictions that do exist can be violated at will. In the lOlst Congress, for instance, the House waived Budget Act re strictions ninety times. Even the annual Congressional Budget Resolution, which sets overall spending and taxation levels, is not a law (and thus cannot be vetoed or signed by the President making the budget process Congresss most outrageous non-legisla tive exercise. Setting spending targets by statute would make it far more difficult for Congress to cir cumvent the limits. Doing so would require a change in the law, signal ling the public that the budget was about to be busted, and giving the President an op portunity to veto the increases.
The budget process has proven to be a machine to increase spendin g rather than a tool to control it. With ineffective controls on overall spending and taxation, spending decisions are made on a case-by-case basis, a process which guarantees that only spending advocates are heard. It is by no means impossible to design a system which either automatically limits spending or forces Congress to make difficult decisions. In fact, two different versions of the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Deficit Reduction Act which altered the 1974 Budget Act in 1985 and 1987, were quite effective; but when the limits began to pinch, Congress just changed the rules. The most flawed of those changes, made in the 1990 budget deal, reinforced the cmnt services baseline sys The Congressional Budget Act of 1974 is the basic framework far the federal budg e t 55 Ihe Congressional Budget Act of 1974 (Public Law 93-34 Sec. 2 15 tem of automatic spending increases. Indeed, any limitation in the growth of these bu reaucratic wish lists is advertised as a spending cut It is clear that the Congressional Budget Pro c ess needs a major overhaul. It is equally clear that any workable solution will involve some limitation on Congresss spending power, either by restoring a significant presidential role in the budget process or by imposing constitutional limitations on the Congress RETURN TO REPRESENTATION One of the most frequent complaints about Congress is that it has lost touch with the American people, that Congressmen have become a ruling class. One of the most saik ing evidences of the truth of this observation is th e regularity with which Congress ex empts itself from the laws it passes. This matter of simple equity has a profound effect on the legislation Congress produces. Its not just that Congress considers itself above the law, but that as a result it Writes law s without sufficient consideration of their ef fects. Covering itself under the language of legislation, but not the enforcement, as Congress has begun to do, only compounds the duplicity of the practice. The author of the Constitution, James Madison, warn e d that unless rulers live under the same laws as common citizens, every government degenerates into tyranny safety, and environmental laws. So too with good government measures. The Freedom of Information Act, and key provisions of the Ethics in Governmen t Act, apply only to the executive branch, not Congress. Promises that Congress will comply with the spirit of the law, or will provide equivalent enforcement ring hollow. The ~ewd of ethics en forcement in both houses, for instances, is demonstrably lax. A recent inspection of a few congressional work areas under OSHA standards revealed significant safety viola tions for which Congress would be subject to nearly $1 million in finesS6-except, of course, that Congress is exempt from the law.
Consternation in Congress. After years of attempting to get Congxess to apply vari ous laws to itself, then-Representative Steve Bartlett was successful with the Minimum Wage Act of 19
89. Then-Chairman of the House Administration Committee Rank An nunzio, the Illinois D emocrat, averred that the provisions would be an accounting nightmare. Members are finally beginning to find out what its like to run a small business in this country-the aperwork and economic burdens that attend every ex tension of each new right.*57Honi fied Congressmen wanted to repeal or amend the laws application to Congress, but Annunzio himself came to their rescue when his committee ruled that the vast majority of congressional employees were exempt from the law under other provisions.
Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) to Congress in 19
89. Senators rushed to the floor to denounce the possibility of executive branch meddling in congressional af Congress exempts itself, actually or effectively, from most civil rights, worker The same consternatio n gripped the Senate when Senator Grassley tried to apply the 56 OSHA: Uneven Protection Provided to Congressional Employees, GAO Report of October, 1992, HRD 93-1 57 "Pectic Justice, Roll Call, April 9,1990, p. 4 16 fairs, and Majority Leader Mitchell de c ried this phony argument that we ought to be treated just like everyone else.58 The amendment sent many Senators back to see for the first time what was actually in the bill. While Senators had declaimed in general and glowing terms about the bills benefi t s for disabled Americans, most had no idea of the crushing costs it contained. Grassley s amendment was finally gutted by a con ference committee, as usual by deleting enforcement provisions, leaving the employer Congress) as the court of last resort for employee complaints.
Another easy measure of how Congress has lost touch is to look at where Congress men live. The vast majority live permanently in the Washington, D.C ma. When leg islators move from their home communities, pull their children out of sch ools, stop commuting, shopping, and working among the people they represent, they inevitably lose touch with the views and everyday concerns of their constituents. The culm of Congress, the perks, the power, the staff, the lobbyists and the media attentio n , tend to distort the representatives view. In fact, several studies have shown that Congressmens voting records change in a predictable direction the longer they stay in office.The longer a Congressman stays in Washington, the more likely he is to see go v emment spending or government programs, as the solution to problems A Program for Reform Congress does not work because it has stopped legislating, preferring instead to in fluence policy through management, publicity, investigations, and similar means. As a result, Congress fails in its assigned duties. Avoidance of legislation reduces account ability and ultimately unravels the representation principle at the heart of democracy.
This explains why the American people are not just angry with Conpss, they feel alienated from their own goveminent. Reforming Congress, then, will quire adher ence to four basic tenets: legislation, accountability, spending control, and repmenta tion.
Congresss unique constitutional role. While it is easy to see why congression al ms passing on executive branch turf would annoy the President, the failure to legislate hurts everyone, Congress most especially. Congress passes vague laws hoping to avoid political controversy while controlling the ultimate outcome through mimmanage m ent of the bureaucracy. The result is either an explosion of regulation or requirements so vague that lawsuits are required to nail them down. The Americans With Disabilities Act, for instance, requires that employers make reasonable accommodations for ha n dicapped workers as long as there is no undue burden. Congress specifically turned down efforts to define these vague terms more explicitly. Congress goes to the other extreme when pork is involved, producing monstrosities like the 1991 Highway Bill which do little for transportation policy but lots for individual Congressmens ree lection 59 Legislation is foremost among the reform principles because legislating is 58 Congress Sweetheart Justice, The Wall Street Journal, November 1,1991, p. A 14 59 James L . Pap, The Culture of Spending (San Francisco: ICs Press, 1991) p 81. See also Cut Federal Spending Limit Congressional Terms, The Wall Street Journal, August 19.1991 17 The non-legislative activities on which Congress spends most of its time investiga tio n s, publicity-oriented hearings, micromanagement, and constituent service ax^ at best distractions from Congresss more important duties. An honest reform package then, would both encourage legislation in the true sense and discourage or eliminate non-legis lative activities.
Accountability is an early casualty in the congressional flight from legislation, If all that Congress passes are either vague mandates or self-serving spending bills, voters have a difficult time judging their representatives. While ret urning to legislation is the first step in restoring accountability, the legislative process itself must be refarmed to make CQngressmens actions and stands more evident to the public. This requires re forms in legislative procedure and shedding more ligh t on the internal workings of Congress than is now the case.
Spending control is essential to restoring the American economy. Record deficits and a federal debt exceeding $4 trillion are the premier legacies of the modem Con gress. Congress must find a way to inject fiscal discipline into a process that has no po litical or procedural constraints on spending.
Representation will be promoted by increased accountability. But Congress also needs to stay in closer touch with the American people, not through po lls, but by living with the everyday problems of business and government. That means living some where other than Washington, or at least going back after a time, and it means living under the laws, just like everyone else.
The f ollowing ten reforms meet the test of these principles 1) Term Limits. By ending congressional careerism, term limits will enmurage atten tion to larger legislative issues.With a career Congress, voters face an appmnt di lemma: Paying taxes to Washington a nd getting them back in the form of park and enti tlements is a bad bargain, but as long as the system is rigged, it makes sense to vote for the incumbent to ensure a fair =turn. Congressmen face a similar dilemma: Take the easy road to reelection or face the often difficult choices of balancing local and na tional interests. Take away the cmr mindset and both representatives and voters can make choices based on philosophy and the merits of each case.
Given the historic congressional turnover of 1992, some ask whether term limits are moot: Have not the bums already been thrown out? Despite the mover, at least two thirds of the House and an even higher percentage of the Senate will return. Twenty thirty and even forty-year incumbents remain in key positions where they can frus trate reform and tame the reformers. More important, unless incentives change, new Members will be lured, some slowly and some more quickly, into the paths that have produced todays problems 2) Session Limits. Term limits may not be en o ugh. The number of days spent in Washington is as damaging as the number of years. Better representation, and better representatives, will result if Congressmen return for some time each year to their own communities and occupations. Doing so would not re q uire any sdice of legislative duties. It was not until July of 1992, after a year and a half of day work weeks intempted by some long vacations that the 102nd Congress went on a five-day schedule. Congress should replace three-day weeks with a five-day sc h edule, and com press their year-round sessions into six months of honest work. A definite end to ses 18 sions will also communicate to Congressmen that they are representatives rather than managers of the permanent bureaucracy 3) Cut Staff. As a panacea f o r congressional ills, staff cuts rank just behind term lim its. Reducing the size of the staff would help reduce incumbent electoral advantages trim the length and complexity of legislation (and encourage legislators to read it cut the volume of midnight d eals in conference sessions and committee reports; and limit improper interference with regulatory and other executive branch functions. With fewer aides, lawmakers would have to do more legislative work themselves To make a real difference the cuts need t o be large. Bill Clinton has proposed a 25 percent Cut in congressional staff, and George Bush has offered to slash a third. Even those numbers are probably not enough. House Republicans have proposed a 50 per cent cut in committee staff, but committee ai d es represent only 10 percent of all con gressional employees. Cuts must be applied across the board, including personal staff to force Congress to reassess how it operates and change its behavior. Staff should be cut by at least 25 percent immediately and eventually by 50 percent 4) A Balanced BudgetlSpending Limitation Amendment. A constitutional amendment is the only way to bring discipline to congressional spending. Any other limitations will either be ignored or changed. A constitutional amendment will quire Congress to set a spending level first, and then divide up the pie among competing needs. While the amendment should limit spending, it must not allow automatic tax increases-an idea the House Democratic Leadership proposed in the spring of 19
92. A utomatic taxes would make a mockery of any spending limit. Given the choice between voting to cut spending (and taking the heat) and failing to act, thereby triggering an auto matic tax increase which each legislator can disavow individually, Congress wil l go for the tax increase every time.
Given the congressional proclivity for higher spending, a balanced budget amend ment needs a provision making it harder to raise taxes. Wisconsin Republican Senator Bob Kasten and Texas Republican Representative Tom De Lay, for instance, have pro posed a balanced budget amendment which includes a requirement that any tax in crease be approved by a 60 percent majority. Raising the barrier far increasing taxes would make it more difficult to assemble a coalition of spendi ng advocates to provide political cover for new tax schemes.
A constitutional amendment also would help restore an appropriate presidential role in the budget process, through implicit or explicit presidential enfarcement authority.
The ability to impound funds to stay within established budget limits, for instance should be restored. Annual budget targets should be set by law, and signed by the Res ident, replacing the existing system of internal congressional promises which can be ig nored or changed on a whim 5) A Line-Item Veto. A presidential line-item veto would help limit spending, though less significantly than a balanced budget amendment. More important, an item veto would allow the President to limit unreasonable congressional encroachments on ex e c utive authority, and would enable him to excise pork and other mked deals con cocted by committee chairmen, or even staffers, against the will of the congressional majority. This would greatly limit the degree to which conference committees, for in stan c e, could be abused to approve unpopular provisions in unaccountable secrecy. An 19 c item veto does not equal unlimited executive power. Knowing that legislation was sub ject to challenge piece by piece, lawmakers no longer would paste bewilderingly large bills together with pork. Instead they would perfect simpler, clearer statutes that could not be pried apart easily 6) Make Congress Obey the Laws. The attitude of being above the law conupts the legislative process at its heart. Incumbents claim that Con g ress must be exempt from the law so as not to fall under the control of the executive or judicial branches. This makes no more sense than arguing that Congress should not be allowed to pass legisla tion affecting judges or cabinet members, lest those offi c ials become subservient to the legislawe. In most cases there is no constitutional issue in applying the law to Con gress. It is difficult to see what constitutional damage would wrought by, for instance OSHA inspectors visiting congressional offices. Mak i ng Congress subject to the laws it approves would provoke more attention to the problems a well-intentioned law may present. More important, making Congress live under the laws it passes would drive home a point that too many legislators have forgotten: t h ey are not rulers but servants formation Act. Congress gets away with many abuses simply because no one can find out about them. If Congressmen and their staffs were required to keep adequate re cords and to make them available, to the public, congression a l behavior would improve overnight, and questionable actions would be subject to the informed judgment of vot ers 7) End the Constituent Service Racket. Casework, helping constituents solve prob lems with the government, is Congresss number-one occupation . Stopping it would do wonders to restore a legislative focus to Congress. For those inevitable cases where paperwork is lost or constituents confused, an ombudsman system, either within agen cies or as an arm of Congress, would be far preferable to the cu rrent arrangement.
Short of stopping, Congress could come clean about casework. All manner of scandal ous political favors are covered by the little-old-lady-with-the-lost-check ploy. Con gressmen should be Equired to report all communications with executi ve agencies pe riodically in the Congressional Record. If it is all just honest casework, Congressmen should be proud. If it is not, they must have something to hide 8) Reform the Scheduling Process. Frustration over failure to advance major legisla tion h as led House Democrats to propose that their party caucus set an agenda at the beginning of each Congress. But the schedule would specify only topics and not spe cific bills, and would be difficult to enforce since caucus decisions exclude the 40 per cent or so of House Members who are not Democrats If there is a single law that most needs be applied to Congress it is the Freedom of In A better system would give every lawmaker a voice, and a stake, in setting an agenda. Early Congresses conducted a brief d e bate on legislation when it was inm duced. Simple bills were approved, silly ones disposed of, and complex ones sent to a committee The Senate retains vestiges of this system: an objection to referral of a bill to committee forces it onto the calendar imm e diately.) Reviving this procedure would allow Congress to decide on an agenda openly and enforce it. In referring a bill, Mem bers could instruct committees to act within a given time or indicate what sort of amendments are needed. If debating every bill i s too much, Congress might allow the procedure to be invoked selectively by the leadership of either party or by a significant number of Members 20 9) Establish Fair and Open Procedures. The House Rules Committee, which sets ground rules for debating bill s on the House floor, too frequently bends procedms in favor of the majority, especially by blocking politically contentious amendments.
While some variation may be necessary, a few standard procedures should be devel oped to cover most bills. Changes in t hose standard rules should quire a super-major ity 60 percent or more) vote. Absent an agenda reform, significant minorities within the House should be given a greater voice in what legislation is considered. Discharge petitions should be made public, and the threshold for forcing action should be low ered to one-third of House Members. Senate rules, which already give more protec tions to minorities, need fewer revisions. In fact, the Senate should avoid mimicking the more centrally controlled House proce dures.
Rules in both bodies should be revised to make votes more meaningful. The House practice of approving legislation or amendments without votes (deeming) should be prohibited. Conference committees, which are supposed to work out differences be tween House and Senate versions of bills, should not be allowed to delete provisions both bodies have agreed to or add new material neither had approved 10) Cut Committees. The number of congressional committees should be cut in half or more. Proxy voting in co m mittee should be ended. To avoid concentration of power in the hands of fewer chairmen, Congress should impose term limits on those chair men. Oklahoma Democratic Representative Dave McCurdy has proposed changing House rules to limit tenure, but it is the Republican and Democratic caucuses in each body that designate chairmen and ranking members. Those party organizations should move on their own to limit the service of chairmen, or even of all Committee members CONCLUSION The 102nd Congress failed to deli v er on its promises of reform. Now, through elec tions and referenda the American people have an opportunity to pass judgment on the performance of the Congress. The likely results-a record number of new members many with limited terms-will be helpful, but further steps will still be needed..The principles of legislation, accountability, spending control and repmentation should guide congressional reform efforts, whether by the new Joint Committee on the Organi zation of Congress, by party caucuses, or thro ugh other means.
Limits are a major answer to Congresss problems limits on terms, sessions, staff committees, spending, and pork. In addition, Congress must obey the laws it passes, re form its schedule, open up congressional procedure, and junk the casewo rk scam. This is an ambitious program, but one that will work, one that can be achieved through con tinuing public pressure.
Reclaiming Responsibilities. These limits will not weaken Congress, they will reju venate it, and the American government with it. Congressmen will argue that these ac tivities are necessary to control the huge federal bureaucracy, and they are probably right. But rather than giving up control, and leaving bureaucrats roaming at will, Con gress must limit the powers delegated to tha t bureaucracy. Only by mlaiming its legis lative responsibilities can Congress restore its political dignity 21 When Congress legislates through fair and open procedures, representatives become accountable to voters. An accountable Congress will, by defini tion, do the right thing p A Congress that legislates no longer will be in need of reform.
David M. Mason Director U.S. Congress Assessment Project Steven Schwalm Congressional Analyst 22