Congress needs to remember how to make policy
I’ve noticed a recurring question as I talk to people about Congress. What can be done, they wonder, to get Congress back on track? It’s an institution with very little to show for its efforts.
There’s a reason for this. Few legislators know how to make it work any more — respect the legislative process and know it intimately, have mastered the substantive and procedural details, and have the political savvy and skill to move a bill to enactment.
How can Congress improve? A few procedural fixes might help, but the real answer is actually pretty simple: change the way members of Congress work.
First, they need to put in more time legislating on the major challenges facing the country. Only twice this year has Congress been in session for four weeks straight. Its members spend too much of each week at home campaigning and meeting with constituents, and don’t use their limited time in Washington well. The time-consuming, difficult work of legislating on complex issues is becoming a lost art.
Capitol Hill should be an engine of creative policy-making and inquiry, not the place that dynamic lawmaking withers. This can’t happen, however, if members of Congress continue putting politics ahead of policy making. Many of the bills passed today in one chamber or the other are not even taken up by the other body. They are posturing, not legislating.
If lawmakers want to reverse this, they need to re-order their priorities. They’ll rein in their partisan instincts. They’ll spend less time asking for money and more on building relationships among colleagues who can help them enact legislation. They’ll learn how to do rigorous oversight, with truth-seeking hearings that are fair and balanced.