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Mr. DREIER. I guess what I am asking, Ike, is are you prepared to make some of these tough decisions? We are going to have to make the decisions here. In our recommendations are we going to reduce the number of committees and subcommittees in the Congress? Are we going to make a major reduction in the number of people who work here?
Mr. SKELTON. I think we already have.
Mr. SKELTON. I think we already have, and I think the issue of the subcommittees will be before you, and I think that is going to come to pass, and they will be eliminated as well.
But we have already cut back on the subcommittees, at least on the two committees in which I serve, that is a step in the right direction. I don't think you will find people hesitating to make tough decisions. We have to make this place more deliberative, more reflective, more responsive; and I again say, the best way to do this, sir, is to give the Members a few more minutes a day to think and reflect on our own.
Mr. DREIER. OK. Thank you very much.
Chairman HAMILTON. Any further questions for Mr. Skelton? Thank you very much, Mr. Skelton.
Chairman HAMILTON. The Chair is going to have to leave in order to join in hosting-in order to see one of our foreign visitors for a few minutes. I will ask Mr. Dreier to take the Chair.
Mr. Porter, we are delighted to see you. I have already had an opportunity to read your testimony. That, of course, will be submitted into the record in full. You may proceed.
STATEMENT OF THE HON. JOHN EDWARD PORTER, A U.S.
REPRESENTATIVE FROM THE STATE OF ILLINOIS Mr. PORTER. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Dreier, Mr. Spratt and Mrs. Norton, thank you for being here and listening to all of us today.
I think you can define frustration as this is for a person that is used to getting things done--frustration can probably be defined by being elected to a legislative body. That is the first point. The second one, having no seniority, and each of us have gone through that; and finally—and David will relate to this, as I do—being in the Minority Party. Those three for a new Member, and two of them for those in the Majority Party maybe, define frustration; and I want to talk about two things that I think reflect the need for an outlet for the creative energies of our Members.
Bill Frenzel was in here and I think told you that we ought to eliminate legislative service organizations. Now, I agree with Bill Frenzel on lots of things and our voting records, when he was here, were very, very similar; but I disagree vehemently with Bill about legislative service organizations.
Ten years ago I founded the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, one of the largest caucuses in the Congress now, 220 Members. It does wonderful things, and it has provided a wonderful outlet for its Members who are concerned about human rights abuses all across this world, for young Members to get in, get rid of their frustrations and address the very bedrock issues on which this country was founded, the rule of law, living according to basic human rights standards all across the world. And the Human Rights Caucus does briefings for its Members and their staffs, reports on human rights situations; it interfaces with human rights organizations where Members can learn what is going on across the world. It intercedes for individuals whose rights are being abused everywhere in the world with the force that only Members of Congress working together can have. It tracks thousands of cases through a computer system to continue to keep pressure on-and each of us, each of us in our lives as Members of Congress have interceded and worked together on human rights issues.
So my experience has been one that is very, very positive, and I think the Members of the caucus have had a very, very positive experience in being able to actually work on something and make a difference, even though you may be a young Member of Congress with no seniority, working in the legislative body that is at times filled with frustration, or being a part of the Minority.
I do believe that this group ought to look very carefully at putting legislative service organizations under the direct control of House Finance, of divorcing them in some cases where there is some kind of relationship with outside organizations, and defining them as strictly legislative service bodies within our body, and defining exactly what their role is more carefully, so that all of us know what they are—what we are supposed to do and not supposed to do. And I think those kinds of criticisms are, in many cases, very relevant and you ought to pursue it.
The other thing I want to talk about very briefly is a similar frustration. I believe that we ought to seriously consider putting term limits on the time that a Member can serve as Chair or Ranking Member of a committee or subcommittee. I would suggest 6 years is a good term limit. I think one of the great problems of this body is the frustration of serving long, long times under other chairs who remain in office for 10 and 20 and 30 years with no change at all. It destroys the dynamic nature that the body ought to have, and we ought to have a system not of creating more subcommittees, but of moving people through the subcommittees and through the committee leadership positions in some defined way. It seems to me that 6 years is an ample time for anyone to get their agenda adopted in the Congress, and then make way for a new Member to take over and work their agenda for the next 6 years.
I think turnover is very, very essential for real participation in this body. And everyone will tell you—and I think it is true that where you get entrenched leadership in a committee or subcommittee chair, essential interests that deal only with that entrenched leadership, and the bureaucracy that does the same thing, you have a body that is not responsive to the public needs and really ought to be changed.
So I strongly suggest to this body that you look into the situation of how we can move people into positions of leadership more rapidly, and not have the frustration of waiting years and years and years for someone to step aside so that one can have any degree of participation at a leadership level.
I only suggest to you that I think it is not a real thing, and this is not a criticism in any way of the Dean of the House, but Bill
Natcher has served on the Appropriations Committee for almost 40 years and is now 83 years of age before he has a chance to serve as chair of this committee. It seems to me that something is wrong when you have a system that allows people of talent to sit in waiting for that long a time, and we could easily correct that with some good, sensible rules about moving people through more rapidly.
Mr. DREIER (presiding.] Thank you very much, Mr. Porter. Your testimony is very helpful.
I am very pleased that you advocate at the very least reform of LSOs. It seems to me that the debate which we have embarked upon is frankly very similar to the one on the select committees. I am very honored to be a Member of the Human Rights Caucus serving under your leadership. But at the same time I do believe that we need to make-I personally would advocate elimination of LSOs.
I have cast that vote and we have addressed that. But that doesn't in any way diminish my respect for your work, the work of Mr. Lantos and other legislative service organizations. But I will say that I am pleased that you at least do advocate reform in those areas so that we can, in fact, again at the very least improve them.
Thank you for your testimony.
Mr. Porter, your comments on term limits are very interesting to me, and when I was out in my district I shared-last year I heard a lot of comment from folks who believe that connected to term limits, if you limit terms of Members of Congress or terms of committee chairmen, has you have just suggested, that you put a great deal of power into the hands of staff.
Could you explain to us how this works, and whether the limiting of committee chairmen might also create a turnover in the staff?
Mr. PORTER. Well, I think that there is a difference between limiting the terms of Members, how long they can serve in the Congress, and limiting the time during which a Member can serve as chair of a committee or subcommittee. In almost every instance that I can think of, it takes some number of years for a person to work their way up in seniority to reach a position where they would be the Chair, so that they have had experience; they know the subject matter by the time they arrive there; and the staff influence, it seems to me, is lessened by the fact of the knowledge of that Member.
Now, if you talk about Members being run through in a revolving door through the body itself, where you come in and serve for 6 or 8 years and you are gone, there I think you really have to worry about the power of staff simply taking over; because it does take a period of time in order to get knowledgeable in general and in specific areas, and there the staff I think would have inordinate power. And I oppose that, very frankly. But here we can internally, without thinking about amending the Constitution, without thinking about even passing a law, simply amend the rules of the House and the Senate, and create a much more dynamic body, and it seems to me, gain a great deal of what people see out there across the country in terms of a body that is stagnant and not responsive. In other words, the whole movement for term limitations seemed to be based on—we can achieve most of what is desired simply by changing the rules of the House.
Ms. Dunn. Can I ask a followup?
Ms. DUNN. I think what I would also like to ask you is, do the chairmen of the committees, do they hire the staff, and when a new chairman comes in, would a new staff come?
Mr. PORTER. I have never been a chairman, so you are asking the wrong guy. I believe that the chairman has a right to choose his staff, but in many cases the chairman will keep the same staff on, simply because he knows that they very knowledgeable and have a lot of experience that he would want to rely upon, and by the time he gets to be chairman or she gets to be chairman, they know that staff and know the people they want to keep.
Yes, it would create a bit of a problem in that regard. But once again, in our economy, we have winners and losers; that is what makes it work. And having a dynamic turnover in this body is not necessarily for that reason a bad thing.
Mr. DREIER. Thank you very much, Ms. Dunn, and I think that this line of questions demonstrates the importance of having a new Member of Congress on this Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress.
Thank you very much for your testimony, John, and we look forward to working with it.
And Mr. Shaw, if you would come forward, and we will take the duo of Floridians; and if you want to begin, Mr. Hutto. STATEMENT OF THE HON. EARL HUTTO, A U.S. REPRESENTATIVE
FROM THE STATE OF FLORIDA Mr. HUTTO. Mr. Chairman, it is a pleasure to be here with you this morning to testify before this group, and I wholeheartedly sup ported Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Gradison when they came up with this legislation creating your commission on the reorganization of Congress. I also want to applaud you on the selection of your staff director. Kim Wincup, before he went over to the executive branch, did an outstanding job as the staff director of the House Armed Services Committee.
Mr. DREIER. It is nice to get that word there, because I had some doubts.
Mr. HUTTO. Mr. Chairman, from our very beginning, Congress has not been universally loved, as you know. I get a kick out of Will Rogers's humor about Congress. But I think that the respect for Congress has probably reached a low ebb, and I think it time that we do something about it.
I think that your committee has a wonderful opportunity to make some very significant changes in our Nation, and so I know that you are receiving a lot of input, and I am confident that what you come up with is going to improve Congress a great deal.
One of the things that I have felt for a long time and have intró duced legislation to do, and that is to provide for a longer budget cycle. I believe we ought to have biennial budgeting. I think that it would provide for more oversight; we wouldn't always constantly be looking at a new budget. The agencies of government would not always be what_not always be trying to spend what they have, so that they can get more for the next time. I hope you can consider that.
I certainly endorse the proposal to cut down on committees. I think that we could do that, but more than that, I think that we ought to have groupings of committees, because of the conflicts in scheduling that we have.
Oftentimes as you know, we have markups at about two or maybe three subcommittees at the same time. My suggestion would be to look at the possibility of grouping committees. I know in the Florida legislature when I was a member, we had Groups 1, 2 and 3, and you could not serve on more than one group or one committee. And so Group 1 would have a scheduled time to meet; 2, another time; and 3, another time. I think that that ought to be looked at.
I also would state to you that I believe that we ought to have nonpartisan staffs, because I think a lot of the gridlock and the partisan bickering perhaps comes through the committee system. I don't mean that that is the major source, but I think that we ought to look at that. I believe the Armed Services Committee has through the years had good success at that sort of thing. So I certainly think that you ought to look at that.
I believe the time has come to extend the terms of Members of the House of Representatives from 2 to 4 years. I realize that our founders back then wanted one body to be close to the people, but how close can you be?
Now, back then it took forever to get home, I guess, the horse and buggy days didn't even have telephones, much less television, but now you have jet travel and instant communications. I think the situation has changed a great deal.
I believe we ought to have a constitutional amendment to increase the terms to 4 years and stagger those terms. I realize that in so doing you would probably have to put a provision, and you have to get it through the Senate, that no Member of the House could run for another office during his term without resigning. Otherwise, a Member of the House could get a free ride by running for the Senate if that term was up, without having to give up his term. That is something I believe that should be looked at.
I support some changes in the other body, and as I think most of us would, the germaneness rule. We have taken a lot of flak for riders that have been added onto bills without these measures having been through the committee process, and I think that has been one of the sources of our problems.
Campaign spending limits, I believe, should be forthcoming, and I know we would have to have a constitutional amendment, but I believe it ought to be done. I do believe that we should continue to allow PACs; I think that is better than having corporations to give, for example, but I support the limitation of the amount that a PAC can give to an individual candidate.
And, of course, enhanced rescissions I think is very, very important. We came very close to passing that. We did pass it in the House; the Senate did not.