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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 Committee jurisdiction remains outdated and improperly aligned to respond to current policy challenges in a timely manner.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
$20 billion. The jurisdiction she has now is probably about $35 billion.
Now we have 20 Members on our subcommittee, but if Members would show up and we could-I think we could handle that jurisdiction pretty well, and so the size of the full committee would not be as relevant.
The proxies are dealing with a symbol, and I know that is what people have focused on. The issue is, how much time can you devote to one committee? When I took a leave to chair the Intelligence Committee, I gave up my subcommittees and the Science Committee because I knew I couldn't handle those subcommittee responsibilities and at the same time chair another committee.
The fact of the matter is, we should only have relevant, major committees. We-giving up jurisdiction is not-to give you an example, rather than offend my colleagues in the Congress, you don't make your stars to become a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the military by eliminating jurisdiction of your service, and yet that is what they need to be going through is the roles and missions debate.
We in the Congress ought to have a roles and missions debate here. What committees best fit the jurisdictions of today? Does Banking? Should Banking have should there be a Financial Committee as opposed to having Banking competing with_Housing. Take the Appropriations you could almost just do it in the Appropriations Committee, and this will make me very popular there.
But you look at the subcommittees, the way they are organized. We have veterans' programs competing with space programs, housing programs, just because of the artificial designation of the jurisdiction of the subcommittee, as opposed to the reasonable jurisdiction as identified in national priorities and needs.
So I think you need to start from the ground up, and my former colleague, Mr. Bolling, attempted that. That was not very successful.
I only implore you in this regard: Two years ago I made a commitment to help change-have some impact on the White House, because I felt that breaking the gridlock, we had to have a change there, because we weren't going to do it in the Congress. Congress, with 535 Members, cannot lead. We can deliberate. In the Federalist Papers, I think it was Hamilton said that promptitude of action in the legislature is more often an evil than a benefit. We deliberate.
The leadership has to come in cooperation with the executive branch. But I really believe, truly believe this committee has an opportunity to do something that may far outlive this session of Congress, this decade, because it is time now more than ever to change the structure and the way we operate in a way that makes us relevant. If we don't do it, my colleagues, we are in real danger of becoming irrelevant to the American public.
Mr. DREIER. I agree with that very much. I think that now we do have a chance to bring about reform, because there is a greater public outcry for reform than there has ever been with the reformed committees that have existed in the past.
I thank you very much, Mr. McCurdy.
Chairman BOREN. Thank you very much, Mr. Vice Chairman. I think that Congressman McCurdy has hit on several points that are important.
One, I do favor your proposal to rotate the chairmanship of committees. I think it makes great sense. I-we have done that in the Intelligence area. I ended up, because of the length of service of other Members on that committee, having a chance to serve there for 6 years. Six years was enough for me to serve as Chairman of the Intelligence Committee, quite frankly. You need new people with new ideas coming forward, a fresh approach. You don't needyou do not need to have people get too comfortable with the various interest groups that relate to particular committees, so that if someone is Chairman of a committee for 20 years, they become too comfortable with it.
And also I think they don't become open to new ideas.
They begin to think that, well, all the good ideas, we have thought of them. And so when someone comes up with a new idea, they sort of with a cynicism say, oh, well, you know, I guess that has been tried before, or that is impossible. Like some people have said, we have tried the reform of Congress before, so let's give up; it hasn't worked before, so let's give up.
I think we need a fresh approach. I think it also would encourage other Members to know that they wouldn't have to stay here for 40 years before they became chairmen of committees. So I think that the talented men and women that are coming into Congress should have some hope that while they are in their prime and while they have their enthusiasm that they will have a chance to serve as Chairs of committees. So I think that is a sound and solid proposal, and I think it would bring some fresh necessary to the institution. I wouldn't rotate every 2 years or every 4; I think you need to have, probably, 6.
Mr. MCCURDY. We had 8 years.
Chairman BOREN. Eight-6 or 8 years I think is the right time, so that you develop expertise. You need some continuity, but I think it makes great good sense.
I also like your idea on commemorative observances. I think a commission of some kind is a good thing, and then rationalizing jurisdiction.
One of the things, as I was listening to you talk, it occurred to me that and this has been mentioned by several on the Senate side, because we now serve on an average of 12 committees and subcommittees each. Twelve. There is absolutely no way in the world you can do that. And if we limit ourselves to two standing committees, we have A committees and B committees and not more than one or two subcommittees; if every person was limited, that is it. You can serve on two standing committees and two subcommittees, no more.
We would have smaller committees for one thing, because we wouldn't have all these people serving on extra committees, enlarging the committees; and we would be able to schedule them and be able to attend. We probably wouldn't even worry about the proxy voting issue anymore, because we could actually go to our committee meetings and stay there. If we put a very strict limit on not only the number of committees, but also the number of subcommit
tees upon which Members would serve, that in itself would shrink the size, particularly of subcommittees and that might be another thing that we could add on to it, and then of course not having overlapping jurisdictions.
Our colleague from Oklahoma, a former colleague, Jim Jones testified before us. He brought with him a study done by the National Institute on Public Administration, which indicated that in one area-I believe it might have been nuclear waste the committees and subcommittees have partial jurisdiction over the issue.
How in the world can the President of the United States sit down-if he wants to be a partner with Congress, how in the world can he or she sit down and have a partnership with maybe 200 people from 44 committees? On the other hand, you could sit down with a dozen people from two or three key committees that had jurisdiction and really make Congress a partner.
And when you say Congress is becoming irrelevant, that is part of the reason. I think we are so fragmented and so fractured and so distracted from our real mission, and we have such overlapping jurisdiction that even when we have a White House that wants to be a working partner with Congress. And that has not always been the case; I think it is the case right now. It is going to be difficult, because with whom in Congress do you sit down?
So I appreciate your testimony very much, and I think you have given us some excellent food for thought.
Mr. MCCURDY. I know my time has expired, but if I could make just one last comment.
The Chairperson to my left here, Mrs. Schroeder, and I are very familiar with the process called the Base Closure Commission. It is a painful process. We have jurisdiction over the installations that face it, but there is some merit to it. It is difficult when you are attacking very painful problems that affect the livelihoods of people, that you have a process, that you accept a proposal-all or none that you don't have the opportunity to go and pick it apart. I would hope that you would consider that mechanism when you are looking at the reform, because I think you
Chairman BOREN. Exactly.
Mr. MCCURDY. The opportunity to actually accomplish what you seek and and the security of knowing that you can be bold, I think will be much stronger if you can approach it in a similar fashion.
Chairman BOREN. I would be very curious to hear, as they testify, your two colleagues at the table also comment on that, but it has been my theory we should come out with a major, bold, comprehensive reform of Congress legislation. Let the American people-not one piece of legislation-let the American people know that their Representatives and Senators are going to be voting on this and hold us accountable. I, for one, firmly believe-I firmly believe that if we did do that, we enhance the chances of passage.
I think something else: If we do that and the Congress refuses to pass a reasonable reform proposal, I think we will have term limits imposed upon this institution; and I think, frankly, if we don't reform Congress this year, after all we have heard from the American people, we deserve to have term limits put upon us. We deserve to be blown out of here with a stick of dynamite.