Apr 24, 2018

Congress Gets a Physical: How Healthy is it?

We all understand intuitively that Congress isn’t functional.  But it isn’t just our imagination.

The Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) created the Healthy Congress Index (HCI), a quarterly measurement to provide Americans with the facts and transparency essential for us to gauge the performance of Congress and demand accountability.  The Index focuses on metrics based on key findings and recommendations identified by BPC’s Commission on Political Reform as essential to an effective Congress.

HCI measures the number of working days in Congress, how open the Senate is to debate and amendments, and how effectively Congress has followed regular legislative order by allowing a substantial committee process and robust floor debate.  It also tracks progress on the budget and appropriations processes. And, according to BPC, “the first year of the 115th Congress mostly saw breakdowns in the legislative process and Congress’s ability to function.”

As the analysis stated: “Neither chamber gave its members many opportunities to offer amendments to legislation. The Senate was not gridlocked by many attempts to filibuster legislation, but as BPC determined, the cause seems to be more that the Senate considered few controversial bills that could be filibustered rather than any trend away from reliance on the filibuster. This may also explain the low utilization of conference committees to resolve differences between the chambers.”

Moreover, “Congress’s ability to carry out its most basic functions, the budget and appropriations processes, seem to have completely atrophied, and could be considered failures. Though the Senate spent ample time working in Washington, the House continued to lag behind in this area.”

The conclusion? “Halfway through the 115th Congress, there is much room left for improvement.”

We saw evidence of this reality once again with recent discussions about so-called “rescissions.”  According to Politico on April 13, “The White House is…moving ahead with plans to cut billions of dollars from the massive spending bill that Congress passed in late March…”  It continued:  “…officials anticipate the White House could propose slashing anywhere from $30 billion to $60 billion dollars from the $1.3 trillion spending bill passed this year…”

Regardless of where one stands on government spending and the levels of funding in the legislation passed in March, this kind of policy uncertainty and governing by fits-and-starts is no way to run a country. If the regular processes of Congress had been followed, and budgets and separate appropriations bills passed on-time for each of the government’s major functions, priorities could have been responsibly set and there would have been no need for a single, colossal spending package that is now – just one month later – being re-litigated.

Congress isn’t operating as intended and it certainly isn’t working for the American people.  The gears of Congress require a badly-needed overhaul that the Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress would provide.

Is Congress Working for You?