ICYMI: Top reads on Congress

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Image source here

By Marian Currinder

Congress, some optimism!

Daniel Stid, “Why I’m optimistic about U.S. democracy – even Congress!” Hewlett Foundation:

“At a fundamental level, my optimism rests on the structural safeguards of the Constitution’s separation of powers, and the underappreciated and essential role that Congress, reinforced by the electorate, plays in checking and balancing the president.”

Bradford Fitch, “Washington – good or evil?,” The Hill:

“These types of stories, of Congress actually working, run counter to the general narrative that Washington is evil. But in this media environment, it’s pretty difficult for a good news story about the Congress to break through and reach audiences.”

Congressional dysfunction

Burgess Everett, “’It sucks’: Senators fume over McConnell’s tight grip,” Politico:

“The body has taken just 25 roll call votes on so-called binding amendments so far during this two-year Congress, a sharp decrease from the 154 amendments voted on by this point during the 114th Congress under Barack Obama. Each year since McConnell took over, the Senate has voted on fewer nonbudget amendments: 140 in 2015, 57 in 2016, 19 in 2017 and six so far this year.”

David Davenport, “’It sucks:’ The Senate, the world’s most deliberative body, no longer deliberates,” Washington Examiner:

“There is a growing sentiment that the Senate needs to return to “regular order,” to the kind of process McCain described, but it will not be easy. Legislating in Washington has become about winning, not finding the best policy solutions. Votes are taken to best position legislators for re-election, not to enact the best bills. At a time when America has an impulsive president, it seems especially important that the Senate play its full deliberative role.”

Dan Nowicki, “Flake, Kyl denounce dysfunctional Congress' hyper-partisanship, blame the media,” AZ Central:

“U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake and former Sen. Jon Kyl last week lamented the hyper-partisanship that has paralyzed Congress, blaming the dysfunction on a combination of a 24/7 "media culture" and a lack of Capitol Hill leadership.”

Kyle Feldscher, “Trey Gowdy: ‘Congress has proven itself incapable of conducting serious investigations,’Washington Examiner:

“Gowdy said on CBS’ “Face The Nation” Congress’ investigations are inherently political, leak like a sieve, and only seek to confirm the biases of the majority of members. He included the House Intelligence Committee probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election, an investigation he helped lead, in that assessment.”

Casey Burgat and Daniel Schuman, “The cautionary tale of the House Intelligence Committee’s recent failures,” Brookings Fixgov:

“To right Congress’s course before it is too late, the legislative branch must reinvigorate itself. It must provide its committees and members sufficient staff, abundant resources, knowledge about its inherent powers, and the opportunity to understand how and when to use them. It must find ways to transform rank partisanship into political dialectic. And it must act, and not merely react to the executive branch—or entirely fail to act at all.”

Philip Wallach, “Self-Government Cannot Live While Congress is Moribund,” Law and Liberty:

“The surest way to empower citizens’ judgments is to reenergize Congress. That requires restoring functionality, direction, and a sense of self to a body that has clearly become adrift in recent years. It also requires that Congress never see itself as subordinate to the executive branch, even in those situations in which it finds it convenient to follow the president’s or bureaucracy’s lead.” 

Patricia Murphy, “Opinion: It Shouldn’t Be This Hard to Serve Your Country,” Roll Call:

“We owe a great deal to the people who have told us the real reasons they’re leaving their jobs recently, and not just for the work that they’ve done for the country for as long as they have. They are warning us of what’s to come if we don’t find a way to change course — that eventually the only people willing to run for office, volunteer for public service or accept a position in this White House will be egomaniacs and people with no shame or conscience. In other words, precisely the ones who shouldn’t be in the mix at all.”

Budget and appropriations

Carl Hulse, "Broad Spending Bills Here to Stay as Long as Congressional Dysfunction Reigns," New York Times:

“Given the current state of political warfare and congressional dysfunction, the too-big-to-fail omnibus bill seems here to stay, absent some momentous change in culture and process.”

James Lankford and Tom Coburn, "21 Trillion Reasons to Fix the Budget Process," National Review:

“The current structure under the Congressional Budget Act, created in 1974, was designed to create a more transparent budget and appropriations process. But in reality, it created a budgeting process so incredibly difficult to work through, it’s been done correctly only four times in 45 years. To say the budget process is broken is an understatement. It’s time for a change.”

CFRB, "The Omnibus Spent More than Either Side Asked For," CFRB:

"Put simply, the BBA and omnibus increased discretionary spending by more than either side asked for. And because it wasn't paid for, the BBA increased the deficit by $320 billion and set the stage for a $1.7 trillion increase if the bill is extended without offsets."

Lindsey McPherson, “Republicans Mulling Budget Gambit to Avoid Spending Some Omnibus Funds,” Roll Call:

“President Donald Trump and congressional Republican leaders, frustrated they had to work with Democrats to pass a fiscal 2018 omnibus spending measure, are mulling a way for their party to effectively cut some of the funds they just approved. The idea would be to deploy lesser-used provisions of the 1974 budget law to roll back spending by impounding some of the appropriated funds.”

James Wallner, “Sorry Trump, earmarks will only make budgeting harder for Congress,” Washington Examiner:

“But proponents’ narrow focus on earmarks as a way to make it easier to fund the government overlooks the real problem underlying today’s dysfunction: the centralization of power under party leaders in Congress.”

Congress, sexual harassment

Katherine Tully-McManus, “Lawmakers Rekindle Efforts to End Harassment on Hill but Face Uncertain Future,” Roll Call:

“A renewed push is underway to more forcefully address Capitol Hill’s sexual harassment problem, just as the latest scandal has led another lawmaker to retire. It’s not yet clear if a bipartisan call from female senators will be strong enough to prompt Senate leadership to take up legislation to protect staff on Capitol Hill when lawmakers return Monday from a two-week recess.”

Amber Phillips, “Another member of Congress lost her job over workplace misconduct. So why hasn’t Congress passed a bill to fix it?,” Washington Post:

“This year, it seemed as if Congress was going to do something to make it more difficult for lawmakers to use their power for sex or mistreatment in the workplace, and to prevent an environment in which their top aides do the same. But that momentum has stalled, even as lawmakers continue to lose their jobs over workplace misconduct — be it their behavior or that of others.”

Elise Viebeck, "Former congressional staffers urge Senate to address sexual harassment," Washington Post:

"Congress Too, formed in the wake of the #MeToo movement, is circulating a letter demanding improved “transparency, safety, and accountability” in the prevention and handling of sexual harassment cases on Capitol Hill."

Congress miscellaneous

Tara Golshan, “Why so many Republicans think Paul Ryan is ready to quit Washington,” Vox:

“Underlying the chatter among Republicans is an understanding that the speakership has always been a thankless job, and has become all the more fraught under the Trump presidency. When Ryan took over the post, his ascendency was meant to usher in a new era in GOP politics, unified behind Obamacare repeal, tax cuts, and dismantling the welfare state. Instead, Ryan has placated a president who has no interest in his agenda, and who in many cases — like on immigration, trade, and entitlement reform — breaks with the party altogether.”

Don Wolfensberger, “House majority rules spark minority fights,” The Hill:

“Rules are lightning rods for controversy because the majority often uses them to short-circuit the regular order and limit the minority’s participation in the process. The minority, in turn, uses debate on a rule to pummel the majority for abusing its powers and to prick-away at the conscience of the majority king’s caucus --sometimes even succeeding in peeling-off some of the king’s minions.”

Molly E. Reynolds, "Trump's Problem Isn't the Filibuster. It's the Republicans," New York Times:

"The need to overcome a filibuster in the Senate on spending bills, and the influence that gives Democrats, was a primary cause of the protracted budget conflict that produced a brief government shutdown in January. But the greater cause of many Republican headaches is substantive divisions within the party." 

Paul Kane, “Why Senate Republicans aren’t listening to Trump’s pleas to ‘go nuclear,’” Washington Post:

“President Trump might need to hire a vote counter in the West Wing. That person would be able to explain to the president why Senate Republicans are in no rush to eliminate the legislative filibuster despite his constant pleas.”

Jason Chaffetz, “10 things Congress should do but won’t,” Fox News:

“Congress is on the clock.  Time is ticking.  Here are ten actions Congress should take now to truly do the work of the American people, but they won’t.”

Roslyn Layton, “Agency authorization: Something to please those who want less government but also those who want more,” AEIdeas:

“Two decades ago, Congress appropriated $35 billion, about 10 percent of the budget, to federal programs and agencies that lapsed in their authorization. By 2016, the number ballooned to $300 billion (25 percent of the budget). The situation may be even worse in light of the gargantuan $1.3 trillion budget just passed.”