Congress has generally been performing quite poorly and ineffectively for a number of years and this needs to change. Evidence of this is widespread and both Democrats and Republicans can be fairly blamed. Part of the evidence is found in their inability to come up with long needed, supportable comprehensive legislation on reform of Social Security, Medicare, health care, energy independence, global warming and immigration. Part of it is the manner in which a majority of members supported President Bush's Administration to go to war in Iraq, not really questioning expected duration, nation rebuilding issues, costs and casualties. Another part is Congress' approval in May of a new wasteful Farm Bill continuing to provide billions of dollars in commodity price subsidies to farmers at a time of record crop prices and a large federal budget deficit. Still another part of the evidence is found in public opinion polls.
According to a recent Rasmussen Reports poll, a national survey indicated that as many as 47% of voters think Congress is doing a poor job, and another 34% that Congress is doing just a fair job, while only 13% think Congress is doing an excellent or a good job. Only 13% of voters think Congress has passed legislation to improve life in America within the past year. Even worse, 71% of voters think members of Congress are more interested in furthering their own political careers than helping people! That's very little confidence in our members of Congress!
Both major political party presumptive nominees, Senator McCain and Senator Obama, have made it clear in their respective presidential campaigns that they want to see substantive changes in the way our federal government is functioning, though they have major differences of opinion on many key political issues, including on the Iraq War, international dialogue and diplomacy, taxes, energy policy, global warming, health care, and social issues such as abortion, sex education, gay rights, and gun rights.
Like most voters and taxpayers, they both want to see better relations between the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch, and more "reaching across the aisle" and bipartisanship between Republicans and Democrats in Congress. I think that's very desirable and important. For too long too many of our representatives in Congress have worked primarily to support party platforms, legislation sponsored or favored by their party leaders, and what will help keep their jobs in Congress, as opposed to working for what's in the best interests of the country and our citizens.
However, to my disappointment, I have seen little clear evidence so far of either candidate making any kind of a strong comprehensive statement about needed reforms in the Congress, reforms which I believe the majority of Americans would support and that would likely lead to better performance. The likely reason for this is that they don't perceive this as a priority in the minds of most voters, and they would be concerned about their colleagues' adverse reactions, including support from the Congress when one of them becomes President. The right candidate won't be deterred by that.
Briefly stated, here are some of the reforms I think are needed to have a more effective and efficient, better performing Congress:
1. Spending limits on election and reelection campaigns to restrict influence of lobbyists and special interests who are seeking legislative favors.
2. Tougher restrictions on trips, meals, tickets and other expenses paid by lobbyists and specal interests.
3. No more pork barrell politics or earmarking, i. e. sneaking funding for clearly unworthy pet projects into bills considered by appropriations committees, as a means to gain support of constituents or campaign contributors.
4. No more filibustering, i. e. extended speeches on the floor of the Senate to stall legislative procedures with the intent to stall or thwart a bill members oppose.
5. Changing the current practice of Congress approving their own compensation and benefit packages, which already are quite generous. Instead these should be reviewed and considered by an independent outside agency or compensation consulting firm, based in part on performance.
6. Requiring that Congress members forfeit at least a significant percentage, say 25-35%, of their pension and related retirement benefits in event they are convicted of a felony or are expelled by their fellow members due to unacceptable behavior.
I'd also like to see leaders of Congress make a strong, publicly shared commitment to work harder on a bipartisan results-oriented basis, and with the President and his staff, to achieve early approval of legislation on key issues that will serve the best interests of the country and the American people.
These needed reforms won't have a good chance to be adopted without effective pressure from the media, business leaders, and, especially, the voters. A great many more voters need to contact their representives in Congress and make their views known to the media. Stand up and be counted! It will take a significant effort, but the return on investment can be substantial.