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sound reforms in the operations and structure of United States Congress. The paper also discusses the reasons why reforms are needed in this powerful institution of our country.
REFORMING THE CONGRESS
Congress may be the most powerful institution in the United States government but it is certainly not the most efficient. The powers that Constitution has granted this body have resulted in the creation of an oversized inefficient institution, full of self-serving politicians who are quite out of touch with country most pressing problems. It is extremely important to bear in mind that reform of Congress has been proposed a million times which indicates that the clash between public and the Congress is not something new. Yet the lack of any sound measures has only added to public anger and frustration. There are several important ways in which Congress can be reformed but we must first be familiar with the reasons why changes are needed in Congress structure, policies and operations. American public needs solutions to their everyday problems without the burden of ever increasing taxes and significant cuts in Medicare money. But since they find it impossible to make their concerns reach the Congress, most of their problems remain unresolved. Here we need to ask ourselves why public is unable to reach Congress when their representatives are present both in the House of Representatives and the Senate. The answer is simple. The Congress Districts are so large that they are unable to adequately represent the public. If there is one representative for some 600,000 people, how can we expect the Congressman to influence the whole institution? There should thus be more districts covering a smaller area in order to increase the power of an individual voter. Similarly with fewer representatives for a large percentage of American population, the real problems of each district hardly ever reaches the Congress and even if they do, no quick action appears. The Congress has also been severely criticized for the way candidates amass funds for their campaigns. It is widely believed that there are some special-interest groups supporting their chosen Congressman. They also invest heavily in the election campaigns of their candidate. This obviously casts a negative influence on the performance of the candidate once he enters the Congress. Some people also feel that term period for Congressmen should be reduced because longer terms are promoting lethargy and self-interest.
These are some of the accusations against the Congress and we now need to study them carefully to see which steps would effectively resolve the problem of alienation and apathy and make Congress behave in a more responsible manner. It is true that longer terms of service can often give enough time to Congressmen to promote the interests of some special groups without having to worry about the problems of the general public. But shorter terms are unlikely to change the situation and it is not really a very sound measure. The more important thing is to develop a system, which would effectively monitor the activities of Congressmen in order to minimize abuse of power. Some of our most well-known members of Congress served more than one consecutive term and yet proved to be highly productive. One such person was Rep. Howard Buffett who remained in Congress for three consecutive terms back in 1940s. But he was a man of integrity and thus was one of the very first few people who spoke in favor of reforming the Congress. He made it clear that Congress' biggest problem was over-spending and not exactly longer service periods. Strangely enough, more than half a century later, this problem persists and is the main cause of Congress' inefficiency and irresponsible behavior.
He wrote an article proposing sound money reforms for the Congress, certain portions of which were reprinted in Freemarket Gold & Money Report in 1998, "Today Congress is constantly besieged by [special interest] groups seeking benefits from the public treasury. Congressmen find it difficult to persuade themselves not to give in to pressure groups. With no bad immediate consequence it becomes expedient to accede to a spending demand. The Treasury is seemingly inexhaustible. Besides the unorganized taxpayers back home may not notice this particular expenditure - and so it goes. Because [a politician's] continuance in office depends upon pleasing a majority of the pressure groups," there is a natural propensity for over-spending. Rep. Buffett recognized this reckless tendency to be a political fact of life, with predictable and discouraging results if left uncontrolled." (Freemarket Gold & Money Report, 1998) 3
Overspending or acting in a 'fiscally irresponsible' manner only adds to the troubles of American public, which certainly cannot afford such Congressional measures for economic stabilization. Therefore it is clear that we need some important changes in this area, which would help curtail reckless spending. Apart from that we also need some changes in the Committee system. The way committees operate and debate various bills and issues should be improved so that sound actions would emerge within a given time-period. This can significantly reduce the time Congress takes to achieve specific targets.
Thomas E. Mann (1994) director of governmental studies at the Brookings Institution and co-director of the Renewing Congress Project writes, "The defeat in the Senate of a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution and the ruling by a federal judge in Seattle declaring unconstitutional the Washington State law to limit the terms of its representatives in Congress are widely viewed as setbacks to the cause of congressional reform" these setbacks should not however render other proposed changes ineffective or unworkable. He further adds that we must support... "the current effort to reform the internal organization and procedures of Congress. Many of the objectives of this round of reform are critically important to the operation of Congress but they engender little public or media interest. Increasing the quality of deliberation and debate, in committee and on the floor, and strengthening the ability of Congress to set an agenda and act upon it are laudable goals. Changes are needed in the committee system (to better focus attention on important problems and to improve the quality of work)." (2)
Apart from changes in the fiscal behavior and committee setup, we also need to keep specific interest groups from interfering in Congressional matters. But that could be done only if we are able to find some positive alternative to the way campaigns funds are amassed. It would be foolish to assume that without an alternative proposal, the Congress would be able to impose an effective ban on 'gift-money'. I believe that the best thing is to let at least 80% of money come from the district or state of the candidate. This means various organizations and people working or operating in one particular state should openly provide funds for the candidate's election campaign. There is another reason why public funds should be used for these campaigns. The Congressmen when elected would be under more pressure to serve their people than they are today. Secondly, they would be more willing to address the issues concerning their people in order to get elected for a consecutive term.
Tom Kean (2001) writes, "Members of Congress are on trial. For years they've told constituents they favor campaign finance reform, confident that their leadership would never allow a bill to be posted for a vote... For most of the last half century, Democrats controlled the Congress. Republicans claimed they wanted to change the system. Democrats in power blocked every move. Suddenly, Republicans took control and positions were reversed. Democrats pushed campaign finance reform. Republicans, now in position of power, resisted. In fact, most incumbents in both parties were happy with the system.
After all, almost all the money went to those in power so with regularity, year after year, those in power found ways to maintain the status quo. Committees bottled up reform efforts and people threatened filibusters so that most members never even had to vote in public to kill the offending bills." (1)
It is also extremely critical to bear in mind that the public anger and frustration will only increase with the passage of time if noting is done to change the way Congress conducts itself. Apart from various internal structural problems, the Congress should actively allow impartial bodies to investigate various allegations against it. This way it will be able to clear some of the blame that public has placed on its shoulders. We know people do not trust politicians anymore and they have little respect for the most powerful institution in the United States. The best way to introduce reforms is to first allow impartial investigation into various bribery scandals, which would pave the way for more changes in the Congress. It is ridiculous to assume that public would take the Congressmen's word on the issue of illegal campaign funds and thus forget about it completely. Such scandals would keep haunting the Congress unless something concrete is done to stop the flow of money from special interest groups.…[continue]
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