On the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress Recommendations
The vision statement of the Center for Effective Lawmaking points toward a Congress “comprised of effective lawmakers” and featuring a “strong institutional capacity.” It is in this light that we viewed the work of the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress with great anticipation and enthusiasm. We were pleased to meet with members of the Select Committee and committee staff in a variety of forums and to offer our suggestions to the committee as they formulated their recommendations and final report. We are even more pleased to see that many of their recommendations reflect central themes arising from the research of the Center.
In particular, in reading through the Select Committee recommendations, three themes emerged that resonated with our key recent findings. The first is bipartisanship. Despite rising party polarization and increases in members of Congress focused on their primary battles over general elections, our research points to the lawmaking benefits of bipartisanship. Those legislators who reach across party lines to include a larger share of opposing party members among their cosponsors are much more effective, and more likely to see their proposals move through committee, advance on the floor, and become law. The Select Committee was thoughtful in considering the many ways to build bipartisan relationships among members and their staffs, as well as how to promote civil discourse.
Second, CEL research points to the benefits of members gaining policy expertise. Those legislators who specialize in a small number of areas are more likely to see their proposals advance through the lawmaking process. Furthermore, placing committees back at the center of the lawmaking process promises to grow expertise and to lead to more effective lawmaking. Several of the Select Committee’s proposals engage with issues that are related to building expertise among members and committees – such as with dedicated days and times for committee work – as well as among staff and support agencies, like the Office of Technology Assessment and the Congressional Research Service.
Third, much of the capacity of Congress is built upon the efforts of congressional staff. We show the importance of staff in lawmaking through a focus on staff experience on Capitol Hill. For example, new members of Congress who hire legislative staff with extensive prior Hill experience are much more effective in their initial lawmaking endeavors than those who hire less experienced staff, performing comparably to legislators with many more years of seniority. The Select Committee’s focus on staff salary, working conditions, and opportunities for greater involvement in the lawmaking process all raise the prospect that experienced staff will forego outside opportunities and maintain their careers in the halls of Congress.
Beyond these areas that closely match the research of the Center for Effective Lawmaking, we were pleased to see recommendations that also aligned well with the report that was issued by an American Political Science Association Task Force. In addition to the three areas that we emphasize above, the Select Committee has put forth important reform proposals that relate to issues of constituent communications, continuity of operations, and budgeting. In total, the Select Committee’s proposals reinforce our view that well-conceived and well-executed scholarly research can helpfully inform governmental reforms.