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How to Make the New Congress Work for Us


Changing the majority party in Congress won’t change how Congress works. The American people consider both parties out-of-touch, and they demand a change in the very culture of Congress.


Unless citizens demand that newly-elected Congressmen act immediately during November, they cannot expect to fix the broken system in Washington come January. Key decisions will already be made before new members take office.

How can the system be fixed? The first step is stop yielding excessive power to party leaders, who then control legislation by dominating chokepoints like the House Rules Committee. Party leaders have been given too much control over the committee process.

The four years under House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D, CA) demonstrates how consolidating too much power has led to ignoring the voice of the American people. The Constitution intends that individual members of Congress would retain their autonomy from party leaders; they designed the House to be the body closest and most responsive to the people.

The Heritage Foundation has analyzed how power has been surrendered to party leaders via the internal processes of the U.S. House–and how it can be reversed. This happened through an internal process that few Americans even realize exist. Even before the House of Representatives adopts its own rules or committee structure, closed-door decisions have already allocated power through closed-door meetings of the House Republican Conference and the House Democrat Caucus. Those will meet and decide on these the week of November 15th. Only newly-elected members and returning members attend these key sessions.

The corrective plan proposed by The Heritage Foundation would retain authority for rank-and-file members of Congress instead of yielding it to party leaders. This reconfiguration would bring about a broad-based, bottom-up House of Representatives that follows the Constitution’s design for a true “people’s House,” replacing the current top-down system dominated by party leaders such as Pelosi.

It is in the private party caucuses that party leaders are granted authority not found in the formal rules of the House. The Constitution grants no express authority to the Speaker, to the Senate’s President pro tempore, nor to any other person in the legislative branch, so their powers are based solely upon what Representatives and Senators choose to yield to those officers.

Heritage’s reform plan is entitled, “Four Immediate Reforms to Change the Culture of Congress.” Adopting these reforms would do what elections alone cannot.

Here is how the current system works: Rules of each party give party leaders excessive leverage over committee and chairmanship appointments in general, and over major slots in particular. Each party’s Steering Committee, which nominally makes appointments to standing committees, is by design dominated by party leaders and their here) is simple. Individual party leaders should no longer be given direct control over selecting who will serve on any committee–including Rules. Nor should they be allowed to dominate appointments to the Steering Committee that picks the members and chairmen of the other committees. Restoring a more open and democratic process–removing it from control by a few–will open up the operations of the House and prevent any leader from acquiring Pelosi-like power.

Other key appointments bypass the Steering Committees and are even more tightly controlled by party leaders. The head of each party–not the Steering Committee–personally chooses who will serve on the “select” and “joint” committees.

The Rules Committee is a key part of this control because it governs what happens on the floor of the House. As its own website proclaims, the Rules Committee functions as an “arm of the leadership” rather than being accountable to the entire Congress. The current party rules give the Speaker and Minority Leader personal control over all members of the Rules Committee.

For example, House Republican Conference Rules 12 and 13 grant sole appointive power to their potential Speaker-Designee over the chairs and all GOP members of the Rules Committee, the Administration Committee, and all select and joint committees of the House.

Likewise, the Speaker and minority leader decide who serves on the House Administration Committee, which handles operations and budgeting within the House and how resources of funds, space, and staff are allocated or denied to Members.

Heritage’s proposal (online here) is a useful guide to how this party-run system operates now and how it should be corrected to make the House more responsive to the will of the American people.

When party leaders have too much power over Congress, it plays into the hands of special interests who need sway only a few at the top to do their bidding, instead of developing broad support. for whatever they seek.

Citizens have been complaining that Congress needs to be more responsive to the public and less controlled by Washington’s ways. This proposal is a solid first step.

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