Fixing Congress: suggestions by Rep. Jim Cooper and others

Jim Cooper, Democrat of Tennessee, wrote an article for the Boston Review on how Congress can’t function anymore. Several political scientists (including myself) and others wrote brief responses. (This seemed to me to be a rare chance to write something that would be read by at least one congressman.)

U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper: Congress is willfully blind to our nation’s worst problems. Has it always been this bad? How did it get this way? What can we do to change it?

Kenneth A. Shepsle: Congress has enjoyed periods of reduced partisanship, but they never last.

Norman J. Ornstein: Ban fundraising in Washington, D.C. while Congress is in session.

John Samples: Allow a supermajority of states to write, propose, and ratify constitutional amendments.

Kathryn Pearson: Every speaker since Gingrich has sought to maximize the influence of party leaders.

John G. Geer: Polarization has some real upsides.

David W. Brady: Leaders need to build majorities supporting their views, not tinker with rules.

Nick Nyhart: In March, amid joblessness, a new war, and a budget crisis, members of Congress hosted more than 300 D.C. fundraisers.

U.S. Rep. David E. Price: Strong leadership and committees can be mutually reinforcing, producing better bills.

Stephen Ansolabehere: Americans once yearned for disciplined parties, but the results are not what we expected.

Andrew Gelman: Getting Congress to act responsibly on economic issues goes against what society teaches us.

Jim Cooper replies: Isn’t it disturbing that no one can say for sure where members of Congress stand on key policies?

5 Responses to Fixing Congress: suggestions by Rep. Jim Cooper and others

  1. Phil Perspective May 13, 2011 at 2:34 pm #

    Jim Cooper replies: Isn’t it disturbing that no one can say for sure where members of Congress stand on key policies?

    Jim Cooper? The same corrupt, DLC/Turd Way hack Jim Cooper who represents a Democratic-leaning district but who votes with Republicans just as much as he votes with Democrats? The same guy who whines about budget deficits and such yet votes for things like the Iraq War?

  2. Eric Brown May 13, 2011 at 2:40 pm #

    2 simple, albeit very difficult to implement, fixes:

    1. Publicly funded federal and state elections. Remove the need for campaign fundraising and the corrupting influence of large corporate donors.

    2. Senate reforms – removal of the filibuster, cloture rules, anonymous holds on executive branch nominations, etc, from Senate rules.

    The first change should make Congress members more accountable to citizens and less to big donors. The second change should make Congress more democratic, majoritarian, and transparent. It also allows the executive to receive up-or-down vote on important appointments, such as federal judgeships.

  3. signsanssignified May 13, 2011 at 3:08 pm #

    My problem with this discussion is that it’s framed in terms of institutional mechanisms, obscuring the historical context. The problems with Congress stem from larger problems with our society. Combine (a) the increased need for funding implied by the centrality of TV to modern campaigning; (b) the overwhelming fundraising advantage of the GOP in the late 70s & 80s, due to the GOP’s willingness to shape its platforms to the interests of corporate power; (c) the willingness of the Dems, after Carter’s defeat, to tailor their positions to suit corporate interests in pursuit of funding parity; (d) the transition of TV news from public service to corporate cost center after the Vietnam War; (e) the fact that 80% of the public gets all its news from TV, which essentially means that 80% of the public gets almost no information at all about the issues; (f) the fact that the GOP has become increasingly extreme since 1980 (but especially since 2001) while news organizations have become increasingly unwilling or unable to report on that fact; (g) the fact that the GOP has been willing to obstruct virtually everything proposed by the Dems, using filibuster threats as their mechanism; and (h) due to all the factors just mentioned, the public is largely unaware of that. The result is a completely dysfunctional Congress. No amount of tinkering is going to change that significantly. Oh, I left out the pernicious effects of Buckley v Vallejo & Citizens United. Have fun.

  4. Cooper's rose colored glasses May 13, 2011 at 4:44 pm #

    Cooper longs for the halcyon days of bipartisanship under Tip O’Neill?

    One of the reasons that Democrats accomplished things is that they had such overwhelming majorities, yet the southern Democrats were a voting bloc willing to vote with Republicans on some issues. This led to the feeling of “false moderation” because southern Democrats were not voting as conservatively as their white constituents preferred and were voting much more conservatively than their black constituents preferred on a number of issues.

    Cooper longs for the day where the Congress was filled with “boll weevil” Democrats and northeastern liberals.

    In addition, he is viewing past Congresses with rose-colored glasses. My guess is didactic behavior (telling other members how they should act) is not popular in the current U.S. House.

  5. fausto412 May 13, 2011 at 6:49 pm #

    It sure would be nice to have real intellectuals and people of ideas running the show. Politicians are a joke…even the ones i agree with.

    it would be nice if someone had an idea and then it was discussed and details constructed, the idea was studied and eventually implemented. instead we get people screaming at each other on tv.

    it would be nice if opposing parties helped the ruling party do better and it would also be nice if politicians were more honest about their policy goals. if you are confident the public supports your idea then tell them “my budget plan ends medicare as we know it and passes the rising costs of healthcare to citizens serviced by this new medicare. that’s how i balance the budget, on the back of people who can least afford it. also i do nothing about controlling the rising costs of healthcare and i keep some elements of obamacare in place because frankly they are republican ideas.”

    so sick of our government, not because i don’t get my way but because they do not represent democratic ideals in the way they conduct themselves on a daily basis.