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But Mr. Chairman, my primary goal in appearing before this committee today is to urge your consideration of two specific reforms that I believe are critical to regaining the people's trust.
Mr. Dreier, I would like to thank you especially for inviting me personally to make this presentation. You will recall that I appeared before the Rules Committee a year ago with my colleague, Mr. Zimmer, to seek a vote on these two proposed reforms on the Floor of the House, and I hope fervently that this committee will address these two issues today, and in its deliberations toward reform.
The first proposal pertains to open meeting rules as they are applied to committees of the Congress. And the other pertains to financial disclosure requirements for Members of Congress and candidates for Congress. While there have been laudable improvements in these areas in recent years, the fact remains that both our meeting and financial disclosure rules are riddled with loopholes. Closing these loopholes and increasing the openness of the Congress, in my view, are essential to our efforts to regain the people's trust.
I am from Florida, and in Florida we believe in government in the sunshine. In fact, in Florida we invented government in the sunshine in the 1960s. In the past two decades this Congress has made remarkable progress in opening up hearings and markups that had routinely been closed to the public. However, our current rules still contain a giant loophole in that committee Members can vote to close meetings for any reason.
Personally, I was appalled 2 years ago when a subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee
behind closed doors voted to delete funding for the space station Freedom. This was funding that the House had just, days before, approved overwhelmingly in an authorization bill.
Now, separate and apart from the separate issue of whether we should have a space station and I think we should—there is the very real issue of whether such a decision should be made behind closed doors; and I believe that it should not.
I am refiling legislation to allow meetings to be closed for only two reasons: Disclosure of matters to be considered that would endanger the national security, or if evidence or testimony at an investigative hearing would defame, degrade, or incriminate any person. I believe that the public's right to know is fundamental and overrides any other reason for a closed meeting. After all, it is the people's business that we are conducting.
Secrecy can be especially dangerous at a time when there is so much public concern that government is working for special interests and not for the people. One way to help restore public faith in the integrity and accountability in the Congress is to improve our rules governing open meetings, and I might add, open records.
Mr. Chairman, finally, my second concern involves our financial disclosure rules. In 1976 when I was working as a young aide to Reuben Askew, then the Governor of Florida, I helped him in a State-wide petition drive in which we collected more than a quarter of a million signatures from the people to put full financial disclosure as a constitutional amendment on the ballot in Florida and we passed that. That was the first time that an initiative of the people had ever been passed in Florida, and we mandated full financial disclosure through the sunshine amendment in our State.
In Congress we need to do something akin to that. Currently Members of Congress are required only to list assets and liabilities within broad categories of value in our annual disclosure forms. The ranges are so broad that it is impossible to tell from a report whether a Member received a large increase in income from particular sources.
I am refiling legislation to require much more detailed financial disclosure by Members of the Congress and by candidates for Congress as well. This bill calls for the listing of exact amounts and sources of all assets and liabilities down to the last cent. It also would require Members and candidates to file an annual statement of net worth and also copies of their tax returns from the previous year for public scrutiny.
I have made such full financial disclosure voluntarily as a candidate for the House; and as a Member of this House, I have not suffered personally from having done so. And I believe it has added to my credibility and my ability to serve the people.
These changes in our financial disclosure laws would provide the public with information that ensures that Members of Congress are not benefiting financially from holding this office. The public deserves to know what we own, what we owe and who we owe down to the last penny. Only then will we know that we are working for them and not for ourselves or for some special interest.
Mr. Chairman, I commend these two pieces of legislation to this committee for your deliberation. I applaud you for your work, and I thank you for this opportunity.
Mr. DREIER. Thank you very much, Mr. Bacchus. We clearly will be spending time looking at those two proposals, and I congratulate you for having been on the forefront of this issue of reform as a Member of your class. And I do recall very well when you came with Mr Zimmer before the Rules Committee last year, and I appreciate your thoughts.
I want to thank our colleagues for presenting these ideas. I regret that I was detained in another meeting this morning, but I am going to read all of this testimony and also the excellent written statements that have been sent to us by those that could not testify in person.
We had a very good day on Tuesday with a number of sitting Senators coming before us, and I think getting the input from our sitting colleagues in the House is extremely important.
As has been said, this committee intends to get something done. We are not here to pass out some cosmetic proposal and call it reform and say our work is done; we intend to do something major. We were urged by Senator Byrd, for example, who is not known as one who would be overly critical of this institution, to make sweeping changes by reducing dramatically the number of committees and subcommittees—for example, rationalize jurisdiction. And I asked him, should we do it incrementally or should we do it in a sweeping way. He said, you will have a better chance to do it in a sweeping way. So I was elated to hear that.
And I think there is a growing sense from the Members of this committee that we really have a chance to get something done.
So I want to thank both of you for being a part of this panel, and I wanted to take this opportunity to especially welcome my colleague from Oklahoma, Congressman McCurdy, and to express appreciation to him for testifying. We have had an opportunity over the last 2 years to work together on Intelligence reorganization, and Chairman McCurdy during his tenure as Chairman of the Intelligence Committee made a very major contribution in that area, to modernizing the community so it can do its job better and so it can do its job at lower cost to the taxpayers as well.
It was a real privilege to work with him in that endeavor, and I am especially pleased that he is here to testify today and to give suggestions for reorganizing and making some reforms and changes in this institution; and I look forward to working with him on this issue, just as we worked together on Intelligence reform.
So Congressman McCurdy, we welcome you to the panel today.
STATEMENT OF THE HON. DAVE McCURDY, A U.S.
REPRESENTATIVE FROM THE STATE OF OKLAHOMA Mr. McCURDY. Thank you, Mr. Dreier.
First of all I want to thank you, and obviously thank my colleague from Oklahoma, Senator Boren, for his comments, but more importantly for his efforts in bringing about this special committee in order to look at, review and reform of the process here in the Congress.
It is fitting that Mr. Bacchus testified before me because, since 1990, I have been meeting with him and a number of moderate Democratic colleagues called the Mainstream Forum. We are united by a desire to make a difference in Washington in a way that our constituents can understand and support. We want to be relevant in their daily lives.
Today we are frustrated. Our constituents feel detached from Congress. Washington is a confusing array of debate and work product. We announce deadlines and then break them. As individual Members, we keep impossible schedules, running from one appointment to another, but our institution appears to move at a glacial pace. Thus, the ideas that I bring today are aimed at efficiency and accountability.
I first want to reiterate what a growing chorus of Members and congressional experts have previously stated regarding the need to reform House committee structure. I could not agree more with the comments of Senator Boren in reference to rationalizing the jurisdiction, the size, and the number of committees. I personally have supported for some time the idea of eliminating secondary committees and only having primary committees, but making those real committees of real jurisdiction that are relevant to the concerns of today.
While I acknowledge that the House agreed last month to limit the number of subcommittees, this achievement has had virtually no impact on the problems of redundant jurisdictions and excessive demands on the time of Members. With the latest reduction of subcommittees, we still have 22 standing committees and more than 120 subcommittees. In addition, House Members serve with Senators on five joint committees, each containing more subcommittees. The House also has five select committees.
My colleagues, I am afraid, we don't make decisions any more; we simply put the issue to a committee. Committee jurisdiction remains outdated and improperly aligned to respond to current policy challenges in a timely manner. During the last Congress, the comprehensive energy reform bill was properly originated in the Energy and Commerce Committee. However, the bill was subsequently referred to eight additional committees for modification. In some cases, it is difficult to find the committee with proper jurisdiction.
Public Works and Transportation Committee, for instance, has no authorization responsibility for railroads. Transportation Committee doesn't have authorization responsibility for railroads. The number of committee staff has ballooned to over 2,000. It is likely that rather than helped to cope with the demanding workload, excess committee staff is creating more work. Reduction of overlapping committees and elimination of make-work procedures should clear our schedules for substantive challenges of the day.
I draw your attention to my proposal, reintroduced every year since 1985, to transfer the responsibility of commemorative designations from the Congress to a commission similar to the postal stamp panel. The designation of special days, weeks, months and years is an act of Congress which requires too much staff and too much time and too many taxpayer dollars. Commemoratives amounted to 25 percent of all public laws passed by the 102d Congress. Designations like National Dairy Goat Awareness Week are crowding our legislative schedule. The proposed 11-member commission will give a more complete and impartial review of proposals that are generated by a wide variety of interests.
I would also appreciate the committee's attention to my proposal to limit the terms of committee chairs and Ranking Members, and make their appointment by their respective party leaders in the House. While I recognize that this is not a popular idea with committee chairs, it is not intended as a commentary on the performance of any Chairman. Instead, it recognizes the abundance of political talent that exists within this body and provides more Members an opportunity to serve in a leadership role. More importantly, it provides the Speaker and Minority Leader with the necessary tool to demand accountability from committees for which they, in turn, will be held accountable by the respective caucuses on the progress of legislation.
In their recent report, “Renewing Congress”, the American Enterprise Institute and The Brookings Institution
examined the relationship between the Speaker and committee Chairs, and while I have offered a different solution, I wholeheartedly agree with their premise that, quote, “strengthening leadership in Congress involves strengthening accountability of the committee Chairs and Democratic Caucus,” unquote.
Unlike outside term limits, which would strike down all seniority and the power of the staff, my proposed rule would change and require change that preserves continuity in the institutional memory of senior Members. Rather than being forced to leave Congress, a committee Chairman whose term has expired, remains eligible to serve on another committee or remain on the committee he or she once chaired.
Before I close, I would also like to voice my support for creating a mechanism to ensure congressional compliance with all labor, civil rights and other employment-related laws. That is important. We have discussed it a number of times. I know that the Joint Committee is hearing considerable testimony on the importance of setting and keeping a legislative schedule. Some of us, after last night's schedule until 11:00 p.m., probably would agree with that, particularly with regard to budget and spending legislation.
However, I will only say that Congress's inability to meet deadlines is a critical factor in our loss of credibility with the general public. Incredibly, Congress has met its October 1st deadline for completed action on all appropriations only once in the last 14 years.
I want to thank the co-Chairmen and the Members of the Joint Committee for the opportunity to participate in this forum today, and I especially appreciate the positive environment for change that you have established.
[The statement of Mr. McCurdy is printed in the Appendix.]
Mr. DREIER. Thank you very much, Mr. McCurdy. It is very helpful testimony.
You referred to the fact that we have so many committees. Senator Boren-I was going to say "enjoyed saying”—but he has often said that there are 299 committees and subcommittees in both Houses of Congress. I would like from you-do you have any recommendations as to what kind of numbers we could see as far as reduction?
Mr. McCURDY. Well, I think you have to be anyone who attacks reform has to look at it probably two different ways and perspectives. One is, if you start just whittling down, then I don't think you accomplish your goal. If you really want to make a difference—and this is the same way in the executive branch as it is here in Congress
if you want to be relevant to the 21st century demands on jurisdiction, you need to rationalize jurisdictions in a way that is suited for today.
So rather than having the 22 standing committees, both secondary and primary, I think you could reduce those numbers probably by at least a fourth, maybe a third, and make them permanent committees.
Now maybe they will be large, and that is a problem in the Armed Services Committee—my colleague from Colorado is distinguished subcommittee Chair, we are larger than most State senates in the States. However, by breaking down the subcommittees, the subcommittee I chair has a jurisdiction-Congresswoman Schroeder chaired it before me—a jurisdiction of almost 20 billion, about