In a year that began with the longest shutdown in U.S. history and ended with the impeachment of the president, at first glance 2019 might seem to have been a legislative wash. However, despite these deeply partisan occurrences, the first session of the 116th Congress did see bipartisanship on many key issues. From increased investments in clean energy innovation and child care to greater access to retirement plans for Americans and continued congressional modernization efforts, Congress made progress despite the partisan headwinds (check out a roundup of these wins from BPC Action here!).
From the onset, 2020 appears to be a similarly challenging year between the Senate impeachment trial and an election year. However, it’s imperative that Congress doesn’t make 2020 a lost year. Instead, it should come together after the Senate impeachment trial to continue its work for the American people. Here are five things we’d like to see by the end of the 116th Congress:
1. Pass an On-Time Budget
For nearly a decade, Congress has often been down to the wire when it comes to passing all 12 spending bills that fund important government programs. This uncertainty has become the default and has resulted in three government shutdowns in the last six years alone. While an improved budget and appropriations process is long overdue, a significant first step would be for Congress to pass fiscal year 2021 appropriations on time this year.
2. Move Modernization Committee Recommendations
At the end of 2019, the House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress passed its third set of recommendations aimed to combat dysfunction on Capitol Hill and create a more efficient Congress. These recommendations followed the committee’s introduction of legislation, the Moving Our Democracy and Congressional Operations Towards Modernization (ModCom) Act, including its previous, nearly-30 recommendations aimed to make Congress work better for the American people. Now it’s time for the House to move this legislation forward to ensure that these common-sense solutions aimed at improving congressional efficiency, effectiveness, and transparency are implemented.
3. Expand the Legislative Branch’s In-House Science and Tech Capacity
Congress is behind the times when it comes to getting crucial science and technology advice in developing policy. As complex issues—from artificial intelligence to biotech to digital privacy—continue to rapidly emerge, Congress needs resources, support, and understanding to develop well-informed legislation around these life-changing issues. It’s time for Congress to close the science and tech gap and increase this critical capacity.
4. Adjust the Congressional Schedule
A Bipartisan Policy Center study found that on just one morning, 131 House members had a total of 158 scheduling conflicts among the 19 committees or subcommittees on which they serve. The consequences? Our elected officials can’t spend meaningful—or sometimes any—focused time weighing in on critical issues at committee hearings and meetings. A new schedule will help ensure the overall efficiency of Congress. Last year, the Modernization Committee explored ways to realistically remedy the congressional schedule. One idea? By implementing a synchronized five-day workweek schedule between the House and Senate, more legislative work will be accomplished, and members of Congress will have additional time in Washington to develop beneficial, interpersonal relationships of trust with their colleagues.
5. Increase Civility
Nothing is possible without a commitment to civility and working across the aisle. In a hyper-partisan era—and election year, when mudslinging is all too common—it’s crucial that our legislators prioritize productive partisanship and focus on what unites rather than divides to get things done for the American people. We call on Congress to prioritize civility this year.