ICYMI: Senatorial Scrums Make Members into Rubber Stamps

Source: Wikipedia.

Source: Wikipedia.

James Wallner writes at the Library of Law and Liberty:

"Look behind every major legislative success the U.S. Senate has had in recent years and you will find a small group of senators who negotiated quietly in private. Working under the supervision of party leaders, these groups are tasked by the collective, explicitly or implicitly, with resolving difficult issues, writing legislation, and helping to structure the process by which the Senate considers important bills.
"They resemble scrums in rugby. They are highly competitive, also decisive (eventually), and also opaque to anyone outside of them—which happens to be most everybody.
"The  Oxford English Dictionary defines a rugby scrum as a formation used to restart play. Once one has taken shape, a ball is tossed into the middle. The other players on the field watching their teammates struggle over it have no direct knowledge of what is happening inside the scrum. Eventually, the ball emerges, at which point it is picked up by a player who charges down the field toward the other team’s goal line.
"Instead of competing over a ball, the members of a senatorial scrum are crafting legislative proposals that can make it through the chamber largely unchanged. And just like the non-participating rugby players who hang back from the action, waiting for the ball to come out, the other senators try to discern what is happening from the outside, waiting for an agreement to emerge so that they can cast their votes.
"Senatorial scrums are useful in dealing with controversial issues in the context of must-pass legislation. But this has distracted from the fact that their regular use undermines the Senate’s deliberative function. Making decisions in this way inevitably limits the policy ideas given serious consideration to those supported by the scrum’s members. Importantly, it entails a floor process (by which the full Senate considers compromise agreements) that is structured so as to obstruct other members from amending the bill. Restricting the policies considered in this way makes it more likely that the bill will not be fully vetted before it is signed into law."

Read more at http://www.libertylawsite.org/2017/08/02/senatorial-scrums-make-members-into-rubber-stamps/

 

Latest Edition of the Healthy Congress Index Issued

"The Bipartisan Policy Center’s Healthy Congress Index provides Americans with crucial metrics for evaluating Congress’s ability to effectively legislate and govern. It compares results against past Congresses and will be updated on a quarterly basis. The index represents a new, long-term effort to bring accountability to Congress and answer the question: how is Congress governing?

"The period covered by this installment is January 2017 through June 2017 and the numbers presented here are cumulative.

"New in 2017, two additional elements of the index will further examine how well the current Congress is functioning relative to those in the past. We will track 1) programs receiving appropriations after authorizations have expired and 2) progress on the budget and appropriations processes...."

Read more at https://bipartisanpolicy.org/congress/#working-days

ICYMI: How Great Is Congress' Investigative Authority?

David Frulla writes in The Hill:

"Congress' power and authority to oversee the executive branch's execution of laws date back to 1792 when then-Rep. James Madison led the first congressional oversight investigation. And the legislative oversight's historical antecedents stretch back even further, beyond the Enlightenment in the late 1600's through the early 1800's.
In fact, the Enlightenment idea of the consent of the governed animated in large part both the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. It was James Madison in Federalist No. 39 who fortified the notion this new government would not only be 'of the people' and 'for the people' but answerable to the people in varying, strategically differing ways. He thus explained the 'House of Representatives [would] derive its powers from the people,…the Senate, its powers from the States,…and the executive power [would] be derived from a very compound source....'”

Read more at http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/politics/344396-how-far-does-congressional-investigative-power-go

ICYMI: How One Senator Helped His Colleagues Get Answers from the Executive Branch

Source: https://www.grassley.senate.gov/

Source: https://www.grassley.senate.gov/

Charles S. Cook writes at Government Executive:

"The White House is no longer rigidly defending a Justice Department opinion that the Trump administration was using to instruct agencies to respond only to majority party committee chairmen when answering oversight questions.
"Giving some ground in an area that has been a bone of contention with Democratic lawmakers who feel ignored, White House Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short in a July 20 letter assured Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, that agencies will broaden their responsiveness.... One reason Grassley was able to draw out the White House, according to staff investigative counsel DeLisa Lay, is that he had placed a hold on President Trump’s nominee to head Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel, Steven Engel. Engel, Grassley noted, has now promised to review the OLC opinion that justified the Trump approach of having agencies respond only to committee chairmen...."

Read more at http://m.govexec.com/oversight/2017/07/white-house-gives-ground-agencies-selective-responses-congressional-oversight-queries/139827/

 

Why Does the Senate So Rarely Consider a Budget Resolution?

The share of amendments to the budget resolution that are symbolic, 1993-2015. Source: Molly Reynolds, "Considering the budget resolution in the Senate: Challenges and consequences of reform," May 2017.

The share of amendments to the budget resolution that are symbolic, 1993-2015. Source: Molly Reynolds, "Considering the budget resolution in the Senate: Challenges and consequences of reform," May 2017.

By James Wallner

Congress is running out of time to fund the government for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins on October 1.

In July, the House of Representatives passed four appropriations bills bundled together in a so-called minibus. But senators left town for their August recess rather than take up that spending package.

And there won’t be much time to do so when they return in September. The Senate currently is scheduled to be in session for only seventeen days next month. The House and Senate will be on the job at the same time for only twelve of those days.

Twelve days doesn’t leave a lot of time for the Senate to take up and debate the House-passed minibus, much less the other eight appropriation bills that have yet to be considered by the full House or Senate. A short-term continuing resolution to keep the government open while Congress finishes its work appears inevitable.

Often overlooked in reporting on this state-of-play is the fact that Congress has yet to pass a budget resolution for the fiscal year beginning at the end of next month. This is significant because the budget provides the framework in which the appropriations process unfolds. That is, it governs annual spending decisions in the House and Senate. As such, its consideration is meant to precede that of the appropriations bills.

But that rarely happens these days.

Instead, Congress routinely fails to pass a budget at all. Congress has passed only two budgets in the seven years since 2010. And only one of those (in 2016) can be thought of as a budget in any meaningful sense. Congress passed the other one (in 2017) simply to make it possible for Republicans in the House and Senate to repeal and replace Obamacare via reconciliation. Members were focused on the budget’s reconciliation instructions and not its top-line spending, revenue, and debt numbers.

A recent paper from Brookings Institution Fellow Molly Reynolds tackles this phenomenon and, in the process, provides valuable insight into why the Senate has been reluctant to take up a budget in recent years.

According to Reynolds, two developments are to blame. First, the budget process has become a partisan exercise. This aligns with how we typically think about the resolution itself. That is, as a symbolic document reflecting the priorities and governing agenda of the majority party. It is also hard to imagine a policy area that generates a comparable degree of conflict on such a consistent basis given the controversial nature of our budgetary politics today.

As a result, budget votes have become party-line affairs, where senators from one side of the aisle reflexively line up in opposition to those on the other. In this environment, members of the minority party rarely cross over to support the majority’s budget.

One consequence of this is that it is now harder for Senate majorities to pass a budget when they are divided. Achieving party unity is made even more difficult with the strict statutory limits placed on defense and non-defense discretionary spending by the Budget Control Act of 2011.

Given that Senate minorities cannot obstruct budget resolutions, this dynamic also provides insight into how we should expect the institution to operate if a majority uses the nuclear option to eliminate the legislative filibuster in the future. If recent experience with the budget is any guide, empowering a majority to pass measures in the Senate unencumbered by the minority will not necessarily guarantee a sudden burst of legislative productivity.

Reynolds also suggests that the Senate’s reluctance to consider the budget resolution may be driven by the broader breakdown in the institution’s decision-making process more generally. Members increasingly offer more floor amendments during the consideration of the budget because it represents one of the few instances when they know they will have the opportunity to do so.

Overall amendment activity in the Senate has declined. While the number of amendments that are filed to legislation considered on the floor has remained relatively consistent, the number of those amendments that are eventually offered (i.e. made pending) to bills has dropped considerably. The reason is that leaders from both parties have utilized a complex assortment of rules and practices to exert greater control over the Senate floor than at any point in the institution’s history. The principal means by which they establish such control is their ability to fill the amendment tree, or offer the maximum allowable number of amendments to legislation. No amendments are in order once all the extant branches on the tree are occupied. As a result, senators are blocked from offering their own amendments.

 

But it is harder for leaders to block amendments during the budget’s consideration because members can continue offering amendments during the so-called vote-a-rama period once all debate time on the resolution has expired. The budget thus offers members a relatively easy way to engage in credit-claiming and position-taking activities on the Senate floor.

In highlighting these problems, Reynolds underscores the various ways in which the contemporary budget process is in tension with itself. Acknowledging the tradeoffs inherent in such contradictions is an important first step in designing reforms that can help reverse Congress’s current trend of not considering a budget.

Several of these reforms are reviewed in the paper, including setting an overall limit on the number of amendments a senator may offer during floor consideration and creating a cloture-like filing deadline for those amendments to give members more time to review them before having to cast their votes.

Another possible remedy is to revise the contents of a budget resolution to include more information to help rank-and-file members and their staff independently assess the budget. Currently, budget enforcement mechanisms are tied to committee allocations, but few members (and few staff outside of the leadership and budget committees) fully understand how those allocations relate to the functional categories in the budget resolution text. They are not publicly available until they are published in the conference report’s statement of managers at the end of the process. Requiring the budget’s major functional categories to be replaced in the text, or at least supplemented, with specific committee allocations for budget authority, outlays, contract authority (where appropriate), and revenues (where appropriate) would enhance senators’ ability to evaluate the impact of any amendments offered, as well as the underlying resolution itself, on their priorities for the upcoming year.

Reforms like these would certainly make it easier for members to weigh the merits of various amendments and the budget resolution itself. But Reynolds concludes with the astute observation that such changes may be insufficient so long as senators are not able to freely offer amendments to other measures on the Senate floor. That is, the budget resolution and vote-a-rama are likely remain an outlet for pent-up member demand to participate in the legislative process without changes to how the Senate makes decisions more generally.

James Wallner is a senior fellow of the R Street Institute and member of R Street’s Governance Project and Legislative Branch Capacity Working Group teams.

Congress May Be More Bipartisan Than You Think

By Casey Burgat

At the Library of Congress’s Congress and History conference, political scientists James Curry and Frances Lee presented their working paper “Non-Party Government: Bipartisan Lawmaking and Theories of Party Power in Congress.” In the paper, the authors examine the degree to which increases in polarization and power centralization in Congress have resulted in strictly partisan lawmaking.

In short, they want to know if the common characterization of Congress is accurate: in our current era of hyper-polarization and confrontational politics, do majorities in Congress skip bipartisan legislating and pass bills over the strong objections of the minority?

Turns out---not so much. Curry and Lee “find that lawmaking today is not significantly more partisan than it was in the 1970s and 1980s.”

Such a conclusion is a bit counterintuitive given seemingly constant claims that parties are unwilling and unable to work together. Both parties have accused the other of ‘ramming legislation down the throats’ of the minority without even a semblance of compromise or debate. Democrats have most recently leveled that charge at the GOP’s maneuvers regarding the American Health Care Act.

The perception that majorities run roughshod over minorities is based on a couple observable characteristics of recent Congresses. First, institutionally, increased polarization has diminished overlaps in policy preferences between parties, theoretically decreasing the likelihood of reaching bipartisan agreements. Additionally, stronger, more cohesive political party organizations have developed, which have subsequently centralized power in leadership offices in order to facilitate partisan lawmaking. As articulated by the authors, “Members have provided their leaders a bevy of procedural and agenda-setting tools to structure the legislative process in ways that stand to benefit the majority party.” Among these tools is the bypassing of the traditional committee-driven legislative process in exchange for leadership-managed policy creation, and granting leadership a near monopoly in deciding what issues come up for a vote.

Both of these factors --- polarization and more cohesive parties with centralized power --- lead observers to hold two important expectations: 1. Bills that are actually signed into law are likely to be passed without bipartisan support; 2. The majority party is more effective at realizing their legislative agenda in spite of the minority opposition.

Curry and Lee, however, show that both of these expectations are not supported by the data.

For their analysis, the authors compile all passage votes in both chambers for bills that became law in the 93rd - 113th congresses (1973-2014). Additionally, Curry and Lee use a subset of bills identified as ‘landmark legislation’ by fellow political scientist David Mayhew, to examine if these more significant bills received less bipartisan support due to their increased impact and salience.

A brief discussion of three key findings within the paper are below, all of which suggest that lawmaking in Congress still generally requires, and receives, bipartisan support.

Most laws, including landmark legislation, are passed with strong bipartisan support. The above figure shows the average percent of minority party support on all bills that became law during each congress from 1973 to 2014 in the House of Representatives. Contrary to expectations, the figure shows no clear trendline of decreased minority support. On all bills that became law during this period, over 60% of minority lawmakers voted in favor of passage on average, and in many congresses over 80% of the minority voted yes. In fact, in the most recent congresses where polarization is most intense, we find the percentage of minority support is even higher than in less-partisan congresses of previous decades.

On landmark laws we see more variation in minority support across congresses, but still find that on average over 65% of minority lawmakers vote in favor of these laws. Only in two congresses, the 103rd and the 111th, does the percentage of minority support fall below 50%. Similar patterns are found in the Senate, though not discussed here. (Please see the linked paper for the data and analysis for the upper chamber.)

Burgat Curry Lee 2 08-2017.png

Only rarely does the majority pass laws over the opposition of a majority of the minority party. The above figure shows the percent of laws which were passed in the House despite a majority of the minority voting no --- this is referred to as the minority getting rolled by the majority. On average, the minority roll rates were less than 15% for all laws passed during the period under study. In only a handful of congresses does the roll rate get above 25%, with the 103rd congress showing the highest rolle rate of over 30%. Again, we see no upward trend in roll rates despite stronger parties and increased centralized power in leadership offices.

Roll rates are moderately higher in the House of landmark laws, particularly in more recent congresses. However, even on these major bills, the majority is rolled only about 30% of the time. Of notable exception are the 103rd and 111th congresses where the minority was rolled on over 70% of landmark laws.

In the Senate, there is more variation in roll rates across congresses, but on average, the minority is rolled on less than 15% of all laws. On landmark laws in the Senate, there is only a slight increase in roll rates with 19% of major bills being passed with the majority of the minority voting no.

Despite increased majority party tools, Congressional majorities do not pass a greater portion of their legislative agenda than congresses in less partisan eras. In addition to looking at levels of minority support on legislation and roll rates, Curry and Lee also asses the degree to which majorities are able to enact their legislative agendas. Because of the increased cohesion of parties and tools granted majority leaders, we would expect to find that majorities are more effective in realizing their policy goals. Instead, the authors find that “congressional majorities rarely are able to enact new laws addressing priority agenda items that achieve most of what they set out to achieve. Far more frequently, majorities achieve none of what they set out to achieve or just some of it.”

The figure above displays the percentage of majority party agenda items enacted from 1973 to 2017, and it categorizes majority success in accomplishing some, most, or none of their policy goals on prioritized issues. While there is notable variation in the majority party’s ability to implement its agenda, the majority was unable to realize none of its legislative goals most frequently. Only rarely does the majority get most of what it wants on agenda items, particularly in more recent congresses. Even in congresses with unified party control the majority struggles to get even some of what its after. Having congressional majorities, as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R, KY, and Speaker Paul Ryan, R, Wi, could tell you, does not automatically translate to the majority dictating policy terms to the minority. Instead, it appears the majority must make concessions on policy goals to ensure passage.

In spite of stronger, more cohesive parties, as well as more powerful leaders with tools to execute partisan lawmaking, laws passed in Congress are mostly done with large percentages of the minority voting in the affirmative. Contrary to consistent claims of majority party dominance over the minority, laws, including landmark bills, are typically passed with majorities of both parties in support.

Here’s the bottom line in the words of the authors: “After decades of partisan change and institutional evolution in Congress, lawmaking remains a process of bipartisan accommodation.”

Casey Burgat is a governance fellow at the R Street Institute in Washington, D.C.

ICYMI: How to Make the Senate Work Again

Source: https://www.lankford.senate.gov/

Source: https://www.lankford.senate.gov/

Sen. James Lankford, R-OK, writes in the Wall Street Journal:

"James Madison explained that the Constitution’s authors considered the Senate to be the great “anchor” of the government. The upper chamber has become an anchor, but I don’t think today’s dilatory Senate is what the Founders had in mind.

"Many Americans see the main issue in the Senate as the filibuster rule, the 60 vote requirement to move on legislation. The Senate should not go to a 51 vote majority for every vote. Because the Senate is the one entity in the federal government where the minority view is heard and deliberation is protected.

"But the Senate isn’t working. First, the minority party has for months abused Senate rules to stall the nomination process and therefore the entire Senate calendar. Second, the arcane rules of the Senate always force a painfully slow legislative pace...."

Read more at https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-to-make-the-senate-work-again-1501624336

Two Former House Members' Plea to Return to Regular Order

Former Reps. Cliff Stearns, R-FL, and Martin Frost, D-TX, write in The Hill:

"The average rank-and-file member, which means the vast majority of senators and representatives, no longer has any true input when it comes to major bills. Committee hearings where both sides of the aisle can invite and interview experts now mostly happen to produce hyper-partisan sound bites to satisfy the 24-hr cable news cycle.
"Our experience was different, professionally much more satisfying, and produced better results. Via regular order members could introduce legislation, which then would be referred to committees with jurisdiction. Then, the members of Congress serving on those appropriate committees—who had a certain degree of expertise on the subject matter and were supported by professional staff that dealt with corresponding issues on a daily basis—would examine the strengths and weaknesses of proposed legislation. The process allowed for Democrats and Republicans, in a vigorous clash of ideas, to debate the merits of each piece of the bill, examine expert witnesses, and offer amendments during markup...."

Read more at http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/politics/344233-congress-must-listen-to-john-mccain

ICYMI: Sen. John McCain's Speech on the Senate and Regular Order

Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, delivered this speech on July 25, 2017.

"“I’ve known and admired men and women in the Senate who played much more than a small role in our history, true statesmen, giants of American politics. They came from both parties, and from various backgrounds. Their ambitions were frequently in conflict. They held different views on the issues of the day. And they often had very serious disagreements about how best to serve the national interest.
 
“But they knew that however sharp and heartfelt their disputes, however keen their ambitions, they had an obligation to work collaboratively to ensure the Senate discharged its constitutional responsibilities effectively. Our responsibilities are important, vitally important, to the continued success of our Republic. And our arcane rules and customs are deliberately intended to require broad cooperation to function well at all. The most revered members of this institution accepted the necessity of compromise in order to make incremental progress on solving America’s problems and to defend her from her adversaries.
 
“That principled mindset, and the service of our predecessors who possessed it, come to mind when I hear the Senate referred to as the world’s greatest deliberative body. I’m not sure we can claim that distinction with a straight face today...."

The full text may be found at https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2017/07/25/full-text-john-mccains-senate-floor-speech/509799001/

Congressional Pit Stop: How Legislative Dysfunction Deters Young Talent

By Megha Bhattacharya

Young people yearn to enact change and make their mark upon the world. Many of them, however, no longer see government as a viable arena in which to do so, in no small part due to congressional dysfunction.

Nurtured in a country constantly at war for most of my life, and thrust into maturity in the worst financial crisis in decades, my generation has grown a well-developed sense of political skepticism. Large swaths of young Americans no longer possess faith in political institutions and processes, and view the government as powerless to combat injustice or solve problems.

Yet without fail, throughout the school year, the University of Chicago Institute of Politics invites a myriad of political speakers to campus. From members of Congress to idealist activists, their message remains unanimous: There is an unmet need for a new generation of public servants.

Each summer, DC is inundated with an influx of young student interns and staffers looking to make a difference. And while Congress remains a powerful attraction, more people are pursuing options beyond the Hill: turning down competitive government internships in favor of more fulfilling private sector opportunities. As someone who’s made this exact decision, I am a part of the problem. The decision should not come at a surprise when many congressional internships have become dreary positions filled with administrative work and little connected to professional development.

And while interning itself is a temporary commitment, the disinterest in long-term governmental work among young people is indicative of a larger problem amongst congressional staffers. Surrounded by high disapproval ratings, political gridlock, and hyper-partisanship, the frustration within government is palpable, particularly among individuals my age. The decline of faith in political institutions, combined with a growth of opportunities to enact societal change outside of government, has led to millennials choosing private-sector missions in growing numbers.

Though many of the staffing positions will have little trouble being filled, a serious underlying issue remains: are positions being filled by the most qualified candidate? Feelings of pessimism make it harder to attract young people to serve Congress, and even harder to retain them. As a result, it is difficult to generate institutional growth if each new wave of public servants view their time in our national legislature as a stepping stone to other opportunities with more meaning.

Congress is supposed to be the foundation upon which the rest of the government edifice rests. It is the first branch, and was designed to be the driving force of policymaking, the repository of national powers, and the channel of popular energy. Article I assigned Congress diverse and immense powers to govern so as to properly reflect property, people, and political communities. Congress was once the bedrock institution but has fallen victim to its vices.

Established to make policy and respond to shifting social and economic needs, our national legislature is gridlocked by ideological strife. Because of this, Congress does not offer younger candidates an environment conducive to sustainable or meaningful growth. But more than that, the inability to govern signals a lack of congressional demand for the ready supply of ideas and talent --- talent that therefore flows to workplaces off Capitol Hill.

While recent attention has been focused on President Trump’s inability to fill high-level government positions, the bigger story is that decades of disinvestment in Congress have left rampant staffing problems within its daily structure. Legislative branch staffing has not grown proportionally with the expanding size of the government or the U.S. population, which has weakened the most democratic branch of government.  

Experienced staff is a conceptual rarity. By the time congressional staffers gain a high level expertise, they’ve typically initiated the process of cycling out of the institution to pursue other prospects. The continuous influx of bright and energetic staff is not an ideal replacement for staffers with policy experience. Disinvesting in the legislative branch talent pool has lead to a dependence on external resources ---mainly interest groups--- which have smarts but inevitably have an agenda. The decay of institutional knowledge is hampering effective governance.

Congressional reform should focus on battling the external pressures and strengthening the crumbling institutional structures through an increase in motivated staff with a focus on retention. While social and political issues continue growing in complexity, Congress remains unable to properly address them. The government is responsible for processing more information than ever before, and is doing so with even fewer resources. Why should Congress continue to rely on private research, elite op-eds, and corporate lobbyists when it can strengthen itself from within?

Young professionals are demoralized by the behavior of Washington officials, but their disengagement is rooted in frustration, not apathy. It is misinformed to fault millennials for remaining unengaged in the Hill when the government itself has repeatedly and publically divested from young talent. However, without a clear solution, the dysfunctionality of Congress is condemned to further spiral. Instead, Congress should invest in creating long-term paths and educational opportunities to continuously educate staffers. This is what congressional internships should be about.

A job on the Hill should be more than a pit stop. But it won’t be until Congress reforms itself.

Megha Bhattacharya (@MeghaCBhat) is the outreach and communications policy research assistant at the R Street Institute.

Senator Ron Johnson on Nominations Reform

Sen Ron_Johnson,_official_portrait,_112th_Congress.jpg

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wi, writes in the Washington Post:

"As of July 22, the Senate has confirmed only 50 of President Trump’s 229 executive nominations. Put another way, less than a month from the August recess, the Senate has confirmed only 22 percent of those nominated to serve in the Trump administration. By the same point in President Barack Obama’s first term, the Senate had confirmed 53 percent of Obama nominations.

"This situation is clearly the result of a breakdown in the Senate. The rules for nomination allow any senator to use hours — sometimes days — of precious Senate floor time to debate the confirmation of that nominee. But that rule is being abused, as evidenced by the first six months of the Obama and Trump administrations...."

Read more at https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/washington-is-dysfunctional-this-senate-rule-change-could-help-fix-it/2017/07/28/d62fb1de-731c-11e7-9eac-d56bd5568db8_story.html?utm_term=.07ae06200c17

Video of Meeting on Congress and Evidence-Based Policy

The July 17, 2017 meeting of the Legislative Branch Capacity Working Group examined the use of data and analyses in policy-making. Questions considered included: "What are the challenges Congress faces in attempting to implement evidence-based policymaking?" and "How can increasing congressional capacity lead to more (and better) evidenced-based lawmaking?"

This video carries the presentations given, and concludes before the start of the question and answer session with attendees. The featured speakers were Lucas Hitt (Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking), Andrew Reamer (George Washington University), Timothy Shaw (Bipartisan Policy Center), and Kevin R. Kosar (R Street Institute).

Collectively, the panelists described that Congress always has sought data and evidence to help it make policy, but that legislators will disregard that evidence for at least a few reasons: values, parochial and other pluralistic interests, and distrust of the evidence. 

In autumn 2017, the Commission on Evidence-Based Policy will release its report, which will advise Congress on how to increase the use of data and research in legislating and oversight.

Materials on evidence-based policymaking

Bipartisan Policy Center, "Congress and Evidence-Based Policymaking: Creating a 21st Century Legislature"

Commission on Evidence-Based Policy website

Sandy Davis and G. William Hoagland, "Bipartisanship? It may be possible thanks to this little-known group," The Hill

Andrew Reamer presentation on "Congressional Attitudes to Evidence-based Policymaking: An Historical Review"

Are Long Weekends Cutting Into Congress's Productivity?

The typical congressional schedule finds members in legislative session beginning Tuesday morning and returning to their districts or states Thursday evening for constituent-related work. Members also have district work periods throughout the year, including the entire month of August, during which they remain in their home states. Many people—even members themselves—argue that such a schedule simply does not allow enough time to legislate effectively.

Should a five day work week be mandated? Well.... Read more at http://www.rstreet.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/RSTREETSHORT42.pdf

The Strange Appearance of No Confidence Votes in Congress

Donald Wolfensberger writes at The Hill:

"If you can’t pull a rabbit out of your own hat, use someone else’s. On July 19, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) and 28 of his House Democratic colleagues introduced a resolution “objecting to the conduct of the President of the United States,” which they pitched as being a resolution of “no confidence.”  It was a dazzling display of magic as they yanked a baffled bunny from a hat that wasn’t theirs.  It was a Victorian top hat, no doubt borrowed from the cloakroom of the British House of Commons...."

Read more at http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/politics/343401-cohens-no-confidence-resolution-lacks-legal-standing?rnd=1500870436

 

Why Amending Obamacare Under Reconciliation Will Be Hard

James Wallner writes at the Examiner:

"Changing a reconciliation bill in the Senate is harder than you think. And the reason why has nothing to do with healthcare policy.
"While senators are correct to note they have a "virtually unlimited opportunity" to offer amendments to reconciliation bills, the special rules governing that process make it less likely that alternative proposals will receive serious consideration on the floor. Given this, senators should not be quick to assume that beginning debate on the healthcare bill this week will lead to a different outcome if their amendments are not allowed to be debated openly and do not receive up-or-down votes on the merits. Ensuring this requires senators to know exactly what it is that they are amending...."

Read more at http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/under-reconciliation-itll-be-harder-than-you-think-to-amend-the-senate-healthcare-bill/article/2629559

Confused by Reconciliation? Read This.

Molly Reynolds writes at the FixGov blog:

"With Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) planning to try to begin debate on the Republican health care bill Tuesday, lots of eyes will be on the chamber—a place famous for its complicated rules and jargon. Want to understand what’s happening? Here are four things you might see—and why they matter...."

Read more at https://www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2017/07/24/what-to-expect-with-a-reconciliation-bill/

Rep. Darin LaHood On Creating a Congress of Tomorrow

Rep. Darin LaHood, D-Il, writes at the Ripon Forum:

"Simply put, the body “of the People,” voted in “by the People,” is not working “for the People.”
"So what do we do about a dysfunctional Congress? When the governing process fails to function, reform is necessary. It is time to return to performance-based governing, restore order and effectiveness, re-establish a balance of power and re-create an environment in which Congress is trusted by the People. Significant change in the legislative branch will require real actions and real work by those currently serving. Recognizing this, I have introduced with my democratic colleague, Congressman Dan Lipinski, the “Congress of Tomorrow Project.”
"Our legislation, H. Con. Res. 28, was introduced on February 16th earlier this year and...."

Read more at http://www.riponsociety.org/article/creating-a-congress-of-tomorrow/

Short Video Series On How to Conduct Oversight

The Levin Center at Wayne State University's law school has released a series of short videos on how to conduct oversight. Many topics are included, such as "structuring a hearing," "designing an effective document request," and "handling a difficult lawyer." You may watch the videos at https://law.wayne.edu/levin-center/training-videos

ICYMI: Rep. Isakson Introduces Biennial Budgeting Bill

Rep. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga, writes at the Ripon Forum:

"Over the last 37 years, since 1980, Congress has passed all 12 annual appropriations bills on time only twice. Too often, the current appropriations process results in a chaotic spending spree each fall when both chambers wind up hastily passing a temporary funding measure up against an end-of-the-fiscal-year deadline to avoid a government shutdown. This is no way to run a business, and it is no way to run the government.

"To help achieve a more efficient and effective Washington that would also tackle the core drivers of our debt, we need to change the system by which Congress appropriates federal dollars because the current process is clearly not working. I have introduced legislation that would move the federal appropriations process to a system known as biennial budgeting.

"Biennial budgeting is a commonsense concept that has been endorsed by both Republican and Democratic presidents and by numerous federal budget experts. Its value is proven daily in the 19 states where it is currently in use.

"U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., has worked with me to advance the Biennial Budgeting and Appropriations Act, S.306, because she has seen the results firsthand as governor of a state where it has operated with great success...."

Read more at http://www.riponsociety.org/article/biennial-budgeting-a-positive-idea-for-americas-bottom-line/