Three simple ways to make Congress work

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Free Harambe!
A/V Subscriber
Feb 28, 2007
Three simple ways to make Congress work

By John Avlon, CNN Contributor
updated 10:22 AM EDT, Thu March 15, 2012
John Avlon says reforming the way Congress works could change Washington's political culture.
Editor's note: John Avlon is a CNN contributor and senior political columnist for Newsweek and The Daily Beast. He is co-editor of the book "Deadline Artists: America's Greatest Newspaper Columns."
New York (CNN) -- It's not your imagination: Our dysfunctional divided Congress is the least productive and least popular in recent history.
Some congressmen walk the halls like members of rival gangs. The simple job of reasoning together seems out of reach. A few good men and women -- like Sens. Joe Lieberman and Olympia Snowe -- have decided to retire rather than subject themselves to this disheartening Kabuki theater. The system is broken. But what can we do to fix it?
The good news is that it doesn't have to be this way. In the past, divided government presided over ambitious accomplishments like the Marshall Plan and the creation of the interstate highway system.

Ronald Reagan's accomplishments occurred while liberal Tip O'Neill ran the House of Representatives. President Bill Clinton and then-Speaker Newt Gingrich didn't get along at all personally, but together they achieved welfare reform and balanced the budget.
We need to change the culture of Washington to encourage more constructive and more civil behavior -- and that means changing the way the game is played. Congressional reform might not sound all that sexy on the surface, but if you are frustrated with Washington's chronic dysfunction, you should care enough to help propose new solutions.
That's why it was heartening to see a Senate hearing by the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee this week devoted to congressional reform. It had the overly officious name "Raising the Bar for Congress: Reform Proposals for the 21st century."
But beneath the congressional-ese were some strikingly common sense ideas, some of which were first proposed by the organization No Labels, which I helped co-found in 2010. It is a group of Democrats, Republicans and independents united in the belief that hyper-partisanship is hurting our country because it is stopping us from solving the serious problems we face. Here are three of the ideas proposed that could help heal the hyper-partisan gridlock afflicting Washington.

1) No Budget, No Pay -- This proposal would provide some personal incentive for senators and representatives do to something basic: Pass a budget on time. But the sad fact is that it has been more than 1,000 days since Congress passed a joint budget resolution, which is why we keep playing chicken with a government shutdown over continuing resolutions. What's worse is that this failure has become standard operating procedure. Congress has passed a budget on time only four times since 1952 and, for the past decade and a half, annual budgets have been an average of four months late. Some members of Congress complain that having their $174,000-a-year salary docked until they pass a budget would unfairly penalize them. But we need to apply some reasonable pressure to focus Congress' collective mind. No Budget, No Pay is a good place to start.

2) Filibuster Reform -- Think back to the classic movie "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" and you'll remember the filibuster scene, the high drama of watching Jimmy Stewart stand alone on the Senate floor trying to alert the nation to a miscarriage of justice. But the filibuster has turned in recent years from an extraordinary event to a routine parliamentary maneuver, designed to block legislation from ever receiving an up or down vote without a supermajority in favor.
Opinion: Imagine a Congress that can do great things
Here's a reality check. In the first 50 years of the convening of Congress, the filibuster was used 35 times. In the last two years, it has been used more than 100 times. The system is broken and being abused. "Back in the 1960s, senators had to risk their bladder to filibuster," Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tennessee, once told me. "Now no senator has skin in the game. They just ask a staffer to file paperwork." A simple procedural rule change to return the filibuster to its roots would mean an end to gridlock.

3) Up or Down Vote in 90 Days -- Since the Clinton era, we've seen an increase in White House nominations getting blocked before they ever get a chance to have an up or down vote. In 2010, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, single-handedly blocked 70 nominations to get more spending for his state.
In 2011, more than 200 presidential appointments were left open, including the directorship of FEMA and key positions at the Fed and Treasury as well as federal judgeships. Both parties do it. The Democrats disgracefully blocked President Bush's judicial nominees, including Miguel Estrada. Failing to confirm federal appointments leaves important offices unfilled and good people who want to serve their country stranded on the sidelines. The solution is a rule change that would give the Senate 90 days to advise and consent -- but if they can't get their act together, the nominee would be automatically approved so government work can go on.

These are just a few congressional proposals that have been put forward. You should start proposing a few of your own. After all, no party, person or organization has a monopoly on good ideas. The key is to focus your frustration with Congress in a constructive direction.
With their approval numbers at a historic low, who knows?
They just might feel enough pressure to start taking citizens' advice. As Sen. Joe Lieberman said at the hearing: "We can't just hope and pray for a miraculous political awakening. There's not going to be some spontaneous cultural change in Congress. It's got to be forced."


Legendary Cowboy
Aug 31, 2007
Stupid about AGW!!
The best congresses are the least productive.
isn't it the truth, everything they pass that gets set to the POTUS to be signed into law takes a little bit more freedom away and progresses this country just that much further into debt and puts more strain on the middle class tax bracket.

Regardless of who the POTUS is...we have to remember that 99% of the Laws, taxes, spending, etc etc comes from our Congress and 100% of their pay raises come from themselves as well...guess that is why they haven't taken a pay cut in 77 years

From 1989 to 2011 Congress received an automatic pay raise of 2.2% every year regardless..and then ocassionaly would vote themselves an additional raise on top of their automatic one...The automatic pay raise law for congress was killed in May 2011 by Obama

Sounds like a heck of a job to have


Free Harambe!
A/V Subscriber
Feb 28, 2007
How about term limits?

I would suggest our highly partisan President has a lot to do with an unproductive congress.
Term limits are not legal, I wish they were.

Congratulations, it only took 3 posts to ignore what this is about, No Labels.

But beneath the congressional-ese were some strikingly common sense ideas, some of which were first proposed by the organization No Labels,
There is an entire paragraph about working together for the greater good, I guess you skipped that.


Federal Marshal
Feb 7, 2007
Tulsa, OK
Ironic that this article talks about ways to help Congress work together but wants to change the filibuster law which just happens to be one of the few things that actaully forces members of the senate to reach across party lines. I can't imagine how much worse of a mess this country would be in right now if not for the filibuster.

And while on paper the no pay without a budget proposal sounds good, in reality I think you'd have a bunch of politicians agreeing to something they normally wouldn't just to make sure they can afford their Range Rover payments. Now a no pay without a "balanced" budget, that might be an idea but then they'd never ever get paid.


Bookface/Instagran legend
A/V Subscriber
Mar 31, 2004
Buffett recommended we pass a law that says that anytime there is a deficit of more than 3% of GDP, all sitting members of Congress are ineligible for re-election. That idea could be tied to congressional pay instead of re-election. Even if they were paid some amount (say 50%) but had to meet that target for full pay. And it isn't a difficult target. With a 14.59 trillion dollar GDP, they could still run a deficit of over $400 billion and get paid. Personally, I think that is too generous.
Aug 7, 2009
Oklahoma City
Term limits and a national referendum system would be quite helpful. The former limits the squatter/bloodsuckers in Congress and the latter shifts considerable power to the people especially in cutting edge social matters, e.g. how much chance would gay marriage have if it required a vote of the people? And BTW I don't have anything particular against gay union but I do have a problem with the term "marriage" being hijacked.

As deeply divided as we are, we probably should shift everything possible to the individual states and expressly prohibit it from being nationalized, e.g. abortion, state administration of its energy policy including so called federal land and limitation of taxes accruing to the Feds with the lions share being held at state level.