The Hollowing out of Congress Continues

Another moderate centrist in Congress finds what we used to call “the world’s greatest deliberative body” so dysfunctional that continuing to serve in it would be a waste of her time.  Three-term Republican Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine is one of the few in that body who could work across the aisle on important national issues. Yesterday, in her departure announcement, she says, “I find it frustrating that an atmosphere of polarization and ‘my way or the highway’ ideologies has become pervasive in campaigns and in our governing institutions. … Unfortunately, I do not realistically expect the partisanship  of recent years in the Senate to change over the short term.”  It’s the same sentiment that Democratic Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana expressed two years ago when he made the same decision (see his quote on the Home page of this site) and many others who had been previously able to help shape sensible political compromises.

Experts tell us that our Congress has never in living memory been so polarized.  The results of their work over the past several decades bear that out.  The diagnosis is straightforward – lack of sufficient incentive to legislate common sense solutions to the growing backlog of problems.  And the answer, as Ronald
Reagan would have said, is “simple but not easy.”  “Simple” in that a single Constitutional amendment, the Public Check on Congress, would change the entire magnetic field surrounding the decision-making incentive system in Congress to make a quantum difference in their ability to serve the public.  “Not easy” in the sense that it will take some heavy lifting to pass that amendment.  And yet, with 310 million lifters in America who will benefit enormously from a well-functioning government, the task would, once again, become simple.

Some Quick Hits from “No Labels” to Improve Congress’s Performance

For the past year I have been sharing the Public Check on Congress with a broad range of audiences.  Virtually everyone sees the need for fixing Congress and most see the advantages of the systemic fix this proposal offers.  A frequent lament, however, is what can be done in the meantime while a Constitutional amendment works its way through the process of Congressional and state ratification?  One response, of course, is that as soon as the possibility of PCC registers with members of Congress they will not wait until it is fully ratified to begin changing their behavior.

We now have another response to that question.  The non-partisan organization No Labels has introduced a very impressive suite of recommendations that Congress can immediately implement itself through its own procedural rules.  These twelve modifications to Congressional procedures will help break the gridlock, promote constructive discussions, and reduce polarization.  Check out the details at:  http://nolabels.org/make-congress-work  .  After the year we have just been through, and the early signs for the year ahead, we need some “quick hits” to get our government to take some sensible actions.