At more than halfway through the year, Congress is lagging— from floor amendments to bills being reported by committees — especially when it comes to the cross-party cooperation that’s necessary to create forward momentum. The Bipartisan Policy Center’s latest Healthy Congress Index findings reveal that members of the House were unable to offer amendments to more than half the bills that came to the floor the first half of this year.
Why does this matter? Amendments are a vital part of the legislative process. They are the main opportunity through which most members are able to make changes to legislation and incorporate their constituents’ needs and interests. What’s more: The Healthy Congress Index also finds that House committees reported a mere 95 bills between January and the end of June 2019, the second-lowest among recent years. This is concerning, as committees are the legislative engines that keep Congress running. They are responsible for crafting and debating legislation and are the channels through which Congress carries out its business.
Despite these findings, there are still examples of what a Congress that works can achieve. Although it does not always make headlines, there are members actively working across the aisle to make progress on a variety of issues, and a committee in place to solidify ways to make Congress function better. Here’s a look at several bipartisan bills that have passed the House—evidence that Congress can move forward if members continue to work together and the legislative processes are functioning properly.
It’s happened to everyone: you pick up the phone, and an unfamiliar or robotic voice asks you for personal information. Spam calls are becoming more and more common, and they’re getting more advanced, now even disguising the origin of numbers. The call might appear on caller ID to come from a trusted source—the Social Security Administration, a hospital, or a friend or loved one.
The Stopping Bad Robocalls Act—which passed the House with broad bipartisan support in July after being introduced by Reps. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Greg Walden (R-OR), Michael Doyle (D-PA), and Robert Latta (R-OH)—aims to combat the latest advancement in robocalling. The bill would require phone companies to use new technology to authenticate calls before they ever reach their destination. The STIR and SHAKEN protocol, developed by the telecommunications industry at the FCC’s suggestion, verifies that the displayed number is not falsified. Verified calls are then marked as such on the recipient’s phone, so cell phone users can be sure whoever is calling is who they say they are. This is a positive development that is now before the Senate.
Producing energy can require the use of a lot of water, whether it’s turned into steam to spin turbines or used for crop irrigation to produce biofuels. Water use in energy production can lead not only to water depletion but to thermal pollution and other negative impacts on aquatic ecosystems. The Energy and Water Research Enhancement Act of 2019 requires the Department of Energy (DOE) to incorporate water use consideration into its existing programs and to develop a plan to reduce water consumption and increase water use efficiency in energy production. The bill also directs DOE to explore the use of nontraditional water sources to minimize negative impacts on waterways and bodies of water.
The Energy and Water Research Enhancement Act of 2019 was introduced on a bipartisan basis by Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Frank Lucas (R-OK) and was passed in the House by a voice vote without amendments before Congress adjourned for August recess.
In today’s modern world, fast and reliable Internet access is important. In order to run a small business, start a career, or complete schoolwork, Americans of all ages rely on the Internet for vital information. However, for many Americans, particularly from rural areas, high-speed broadband is not yet a reality.
In February, Reps. Paul Tonko (D-NY) and Leonard Lance (R-NJ), along with a bipartisan group of cosponsors, introduced the ACCESS BROADBAND Act, which places emphasis on the federal government’s role in promoting broadband access. The bill requires the Department of Commerce to establish the Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth and simplifies the process through which schools, communities, and small businesses apply for access to federal broadband support and resources. The ACCESS BROADBAND Act passed the House via voice vote in the spring.
The Healthy Congress Index findings illustrate the significance of the Modernization Committee’s work and the immediate need to ensure the institution is working better on behalf of the American people. At the same time, these three pieces of legislation show that, despite today’s polarized political environment and the internal hurdles in Congress, there are still members who are willing to bridge divides to work toward solutions.
With a stronger commitment to cooperation and a structure that elevates it, Congress can get more bills like these enacted, improving the lives of millions across the country. With the House Modernization Committee ready to improve the institution’s structure to work better on behalf of the American people, we’re on our way to a Congress that works!