Is Congress broken?

By Jade Sells

Jason Grumet, founder and president of the Bipartisan Policy Center, described Congress as an out-of-tune piano while introducing the Bipartisan Policy Center to the seminar participants at The Washington Center. He explained that Congress is not broken; it simply needs a thorough tuning.


Jason Grumet answers a question from a Washington Center seminar participant.

Grumet offered a few solutions that don’t require a well-trained ear on how, exactly, to tune Congress.

“You can’t run Congress on a Wednesday.”

The first step was to have members of Congress be on site and spend more time on Capitol Hill. America cannot be governed one day a week; it takes time and commitment to get things done. The founders designed the congressional process not to be easy, but to be thorough. Therefore, we should expect our elected officials of Congress to take the time to complete this thorough process because that is their job.

“Give power back to the committees.”

It is because the congressional process can be so lengthy and thorough that committees offer a collaborative team to share the responsibility. Committees also are more productive during the congressional session and therefore produce better results. If you want something done, you cannot always do it yourself.

“Bring back earmarks.”

You may have cringed after the word “earmark” and rightfully so. However, Grumet argues that earmarks, when controlled and managed in moderation, offer an incentive for members of Congress to get things done. Earmarks are items or provisions in bills that allot federal monies to projects in various places. An example would be the several millions of dollars Iowa Rep. Tom Latham secured for Iowa State University and other Iowa colleges and organizations in 2010. Those closely involved in the bill process usually decide the project and place that receives this additional funding.

The opposite of transparency is not corruption; it is privacy.”

Grumet gave the example of choosing which in-laws to visit over the holidays. The decision would be completely different (and not always the best) if the in-laws were in the room. The same can be true for Congress and the American public.

Many Americans strongly believe that Congress and politics in general are grossly corrupt, which has led to complete transparency. Members are worried about saying or doing something that could cost them their office, which has led to members doing nothing to keep their office.

In some cases, Grumet argues, Congress needs privacy to make decisions on what is right for the nation. The decision-making process should remain public record after the decision has been made. However, the actual decision-making should be more private and not broadcast live. This gives officials space to decide what is right for the nation to maintain office.

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