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OPERATIONS OF THE CONGRESS: TESTIMONY OF CURRENT REPRESENTATIVES ON THE STRUCTURE OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 4, 1993
UNITED STATES CONGRESS,
JOINT COMMITTEE ON THE ORGANIZATION OF CONGRESS,
Washington, DC. The Joint Committee met, pursuant to call, at 10:00 a.m., in room 2172 Rayburn House Office Building, Hon. Lee H. Hamilton (co-chairman of the committee) presiding.
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. LEE H. HAMILTON, A U.S.
Chairman HAMILTON. The meeting of the Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress will come to order. Today we will be hearing from 44 Members of the House. We have asked the Members to appear in response to an open invitation from the Joint Committee to all of the Members, asking for their testimony; and we are asking them today to appear roughly in the order of seniority, although, clearly, we will have to make some adjustments as we go through the day's schedule to try to accommodate activity on the Floor and the schedule of Members.
We did want to hear first from David Price, however. He is a nationally recognized scholar of the Congress, has written a book about it, taught congressional politics at Duke for two decades, and I guess has written not just one, but several books on the subject of congressional operations. So as a Member and as a scholar, he has an extraordinary view of this institution, and we welcome him here today to begin the testimony of the Members.
In several cases as we move along, Members have indicated to us that they would be testifying on the same topic, so we have tried to group some of these Members together in order to give coherence to the testimony.
Mr. Dreier, do you have any opening comments?
Mr. DREIER. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Let me first congratulate Mr. Price for not only being here, but for Duke's great victory, and also to say that I would like to extend apologies from my colleague from Missouri, Mr. Emerson, who very much wanted to be here, but unfortunately, due to the fact that he was one of the co-chairmen of the prayer breakfast, he is meeting with
a number of delegates from around the world here in town, and he is unable to be here this morning, but is hoping to be here later.
I also, Mr. Chairman, would like to enter into the record at this point an opening statement from my colleague, the distinguished Ranking Republican on the Rules Committee, Mr. Solomon.
Chairman HAMILTON. Without objection, that will be entered into the record.
[The statement of Mr. Solomon is printed in the Appendix.] Chairman HAMILTON. Mr. Price, welcome, and you may begin.
STATEMENT OF THE HON. DAVID E. PRICE, A U.S. REPRESENTATIVE FROM THE STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA Mr. PRICE. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Dreier. I appreciate your warm welcome and also the congratulations, although I would have to say that whenever Carolina plays Duke in central North Carolina, we win either way. And I particularly feel that way as a Representative from that area.
I am glad for the chance to appear before you today and to discuss with you the way Congress might be more effectively organized. Your committee is taking on a critical task at a critical time. The American people are experiencing great frustration with governmental ineffectiveness and paralysis. We know we can do better, and an important part of doing better is to improve the performance of this institution.
This morning I have one main purpose in mind, and that is to urge you, as you begin your work, to take care to distinguish genuine congressional reform for much of what is being peddled these days under that label.
I also will highlight a few areas of needed change, mainly pertaining to the House of Representatives, the chamber in which I
Prior to my first election to the House, I worked as an aide to the late Senator Bob Bartlett of Alaska, I wrote a lateral dissertation, and then spent some 17 years as a political scientist writing and teaching about Congress. These were the years, early on, that produced books with titles like Obstacle Course on Capitol Hill and House Out of Order by our own champion of reform in the House, Richard Bolling. The policy frustrations and failings of the early 1960s in particular suggested the need for a performance-based critique and reform agenda, a need that was lessened, but not totally removed by the post-1964 spate of congressional productivity.
This strain of reform, which was kept alive by such Members as Bolling and Morris Udall, helped produce positive changes, particularly after the arrival of the post-Watergate class of 1974; the reining in, for example, of the House Rules Committee and its establishment as an arm of the leadership; strengthened leadership control over committee assignments on both sides of the aisle; strengthened leadership control over bill reversals, Floor operations, and a measure of accountability by committee chairs to the party caucus.
The reforms of the 1970s were not driven solely by a desire for efficient and responsive policymaking, but there were other goals: a desire to democratize the chamber, a desire to distribute authority
and resources more widely. These also fueled major changes. But there was a general intent to produce a stronger Congress turning out an improved policy product that underlay most of what was achieved, as well as some of the major reform efforts which fell short, such as the attempted recasting of committee jurisdictions in 1974.
Unfortunately, self-styled proponents of congressional reform do not speak with even this degree of clarity and agreement today. That makes the job of this Joint Committee especially difficult. It makes it imperative at the outset to sort out the goals and the criteria of true reform. The situation is complicated, I believe, by the rise in recent years of a particularly virulent strain of institutional criticism, what sometimes is aptly termed "Congress-bashing." This mode of criticism, with its withering cynicism about all things congressional, encourages a defensive detachment from the institution on the part of Members; it encourages an exposé mentality on the part of the press; it encourages public distrust and alienation. What tends to get crowded out, unfortunately, is any serious attempt to understand how Congress actually works, as well as the sorts of proposals for change that could improve institutional performance. Indeed, much current Congress-bashing actually helps prevent positive change.
We need to consider what kind of distribution and concentration of power will make the institution work effectively. But current criticism tends to stigmatize all exertions of power as though it were mere personal aggrandizement. We need to consider what sorts of support services Congress needs to function efficiently, but too much criticism regards such accoutrements indiscriminately, simply as "perks."
We need to strengthen Members' incentives to contribute to the work of the institution, to dig in around here, but the critics often view legislative dealings with a jaundiced eye and encourage a selfrighteous aloofness from the institution. All of this fuels one's suspicion that many contemporary critics of Congress are aiming— some deliberately, some inadvertently-not for a more assertive and competent institution, but rather for the opposite.
The excesses of Congress-bashing do not gainsay the needs for a lot of changes for mitigating the endless scramble for campaign funds, for preventing the abuses of the resources of incumbency, for placing the management of Congress on a more professional and businesslike footing. In areas such as these we have already made some promising changes, and more remains to be done especially in the area of campaign finance reform. It is equally important, however, to remember that earlier reform agenda aimed at a stronger Congress, holding its own with the executive branch in the constitutional balance of power and producing good public policy. This is the kind of reform that is threatened by the Congress-bashers and by their preferred nostrums, such as congressional term limits or the line-item veto. It is a remarkable sign of the times that self-styled conservatives-those erstwhile critics of concentrated presidential power, those erstwhile critics of bureaucracy-should endorse such measures as term limits and line-item vetoes. But it is surely imprudent for them or for anyone else to base such far-reaching institutional changes on short-term political
advantage. Those who seek to "delegitimize" and weaken Congress today could be in for some sober second thoughts later if a strong and resilient institution is not there when they need it.
A more positive formula for change, I believe, would attend to the need for strengthened party operations in Congress. I welcome the end of divided government-and I say that not merely as a partisan Democrat anticipating the novel experience of serving with a President of my own party; I say it as one also aware of how the parties, which historically have been the bridge between the checked and balanced organs of government-the parties have in recent years exacerbated the gridlock. So we anticipate a shift downtown of much policy initiative and heightened—we anticipate heightened party discipline in passing the President's program, but we still need to attend to the roles of our parties, the resources of our leadership in the House of Representatives. We need to strengthen our leadership's capacity to develop and promote a policy agenda and to nudge committee decision-making in consistent directions. Too often whip operations become exercises in damage control or last-minute modification, dealing with problems that should have been anticipated and dealt with earlier. Party caucuses need to be strengthened as organs of policy discussion and debate; the leadership must be able to overcome committee fragmentation and parochialism in bringing proposals to the Floor; and strong vote-gathering operations must be maintained.
Now, our House Democratic Caucus has already taken some steps in these directions. That may be the appropriate arena for most of these party-strengthening changes, the Democratic Caucus and the Republican Conference. But to the extent the Joint Committee focuses on improving the Congress's policymaking capacities, the need for strengthened parties will, I believe, loom large. I also urge you to consider major changes in the way our committees operate. We have already begun to deal with some of the excesses of committee proliferation, subcommittee proliferation-we are discontinuing, for example, select committees and turning their functions over to the standing committees; we are trimming back the number and size of subcommittees, and limiting the number of units on which any Member may serve. It is important for a legislative body like ours to retain numerous points of initiative, places where Members can be active and productive, but the pendulum has swung too far. It has swung too far in the direction of decentralization and diffusion. By reasonably consolidating subcommittee and committee operations, we can save money, we can reduce the overextension of Members, we can encourage a focus on general as opposed to particular interests, and we can increase the overall coherence of our policymaking.
We also, I believe, need to revisit what proved to be the most difficult and least successful reform effort of the 1970s, namely the simplification and rationalization of committee jurisdictions. Jurisdictional anomalies do have serious policy consequences. As Mr. Dreier knows very well, strong banking reform measures might have passed-might well have passed in 1988 and in 1991 had the House Banking Committee's jurisdiction matched that of its Senate counterpart. That is not the only factor, but it was an important factor. But the bifurcation of banking and securities regulation in
the House has stymied reform legislation time and again and has led, in effect, to the forfeiture of Congress's leadership role to the regulatory agencies and the courts.
I realize there will be a price to pay in terms of internal conflicts. I am aware of the arguments of defenders of the present system. But even conceding those arguments, the present systemscattering of jurisdiction over key policy areas, its generating of overlapping and competing claims, its provision of multiple checkpoints for obstruction and delay-all of that has gone far past the point of diminishing returns. There are many anomalies and disparities in the way jurisdictional lines are drawn in both Houses, among the Appropriations subcommittees as well. But if the Joint Committee doubts the feasibility or the wisdom of taking all this on, I have a minimalist strategy to suggest-which would be difficult enough, I believe and that is to concentrate on resolving House/Senate disparities.
Whatever one thinks of the jurisdictional divisions among Appropriations subcommittees, the worst sorts of problems are avoided because those subcommittees in the House and the Senate have the same jurisdictions. If we can approximate that degree of synchronization among the standing committees in the House and Senate, we would have taken a major step forward.
I also hope the Joint Committee will examine the way committee and subcommittee leaders are chosen. Again, most of these changes might come through party caucuses, but I-while I appreciate the virtues of the seniority system in preventing a continuous jockeying for positions, in protecting the smaller States, and so forth. I think the limited moves that we have made away from pure reliance on seniority has improved congressional operations, have improved committee leadership, and have made our chairmen more responsive to the majority of Members. I believe we could profitably take some more steps in this direction. Surely we could allow, for example, Members of equal full committee seniority to contest subcommittee chairmanships when they initially become available. But when a full committee chairmanship becomes available, why not permit a balloting among the most senior Members, allowing a greater element of deliberate choice to the selection.
Changes such as these, I believe, could measurably improve congressional operations. The key litmus test, I am suggesting, for these and any other congressional reforms is whether they would leave the Congress stronger and make it a more competent and effective institution, able to produce better policy.
In closing, though I would suggest that we must not overestimate or oversell the potential for reform, all the tinkering that you doall the tinkering we do will not compensate for an absence of political will or public consensus. What the November 3 election has produced may well surpass in importance anything this Joint Committee does, as we experience the end of divided government, the emergence of a clearer popular mandate, the breaking of gridlock, the advancing of major policy initiatives. Most Americans, after all, are far more concerned that we address our country's problems than that we address Congress's internal operations. But our immediate task-while our immediate task is to meet these policy changes, taking full advantage of the mechanisms already at our