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mittee staff is a matter of basic democratic principle. I wouldn't lead to that fight. I think appropriately it should come from the minority, but you have at least one majority Member who would support you.
Mr. DREIER. Thank you very much, gentlemen. We greatly appreciate your testimony. Doesn't look like there are a lot of Members who are here, but I will assure you that your testimony will be distributed to all who are on this committee and I think you make some recommendations which should be incorporated in our final package.
We thank you for that.
Mr. McHALE. Mr. Chairman, I am sure more Members are here but they are probably at their committee meeting.
Mr. DREIER. Believe it or not, that is a joke we have heard several times during this meeting. Thank you very much.
And we now have Mr. Linder, Mr. Zeliff, Mr. Canady and Ms. Fowler here. So if you all would like to come forward. And Mr. Kim has just joined us, so we would like to have Mr. Kim join the panel if he would, and we are trying to stick by this five minute requirement. We will only be in session, the House, until midnight tonight, so we—and you are in fact our last panel for today, so we will start our timer, but I think we will be rather lenient with it. So if you would like to begin, Mr. Zeliff.
STATEMENT OF THE HON. WILLIAM ZELIFF, A U.S. REPRESENTATIVE FROM THE STATE OF NEW HAMPSHIRE Mr. ZELIFF. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate the opportunity to testify today. I certainly congratulate your efforts to reform Congress. It is vitally needed and very timely, and it gives all of us great hope for the future. As some of you may know, I am a small businessman who never held public office before being elected to Congress 2 years ago. I was shocked when time after time we voted on major pieces of legislation with no copies of the bill available for individual Members to study or even to scan.
For example, we passed the $95 billion bailout of the FDIC and the RTC with one copy available for all 435 Members to examine early in the morning hours the day before Thanksgiving.
Another example is when we passed H.R. 11 in the final hours, I believe it was some 4:30 in the morning, of the 102d Congress. I don't believe there was a single Member on the Floor that night who knew what was really in the bill. And when we deal with major tax bills that affect many millions of people and certainly the jobs out there, I think it is very critical that we know what we are voting on.
In the business world, a CEO or board member who proposed a major undertaking of that important nature, without making written copies available for each participant, would be fired on the spot. My legislation, House Resolution 26, simply amends the Rules of the House to prohibit putting the question on final passage of any measure until printed copies of that measure have been available to all Members for at least one day.
This measure makes so much sense that within a very short period of a few days, we have already got 46 cosponsored Members
with very little salesmanship or effort on my part. This simple change in the rules allows Members an opportunity to review the provisions of a bill before they vote on the measure. Guaranteeing Members this right to be informed of legislation we are voting on would move us light years ahead.
My bill also contains a provision which allows this rule to be suspended only on the joint request of a Speaker and minority leader based upon a determination of a national emergency and affirmative vote of two-thirds of the Members. I have heard from many freshmen Members who were surprised that there was not a provision in the rules requiring that printed copies be made available.
Many of them came here from State legislatures who have this rule in force. I know that my State of New Hampshire has the same rule. State legislators I have talked with said that at first implementing this rule caused some problems for staff and old school politicians but it was so well received by rank and file members and media and public interest groups that it is enthusiastically complied with today.
I hope that the members of the Joint Committee will endorse this simple rule change and support a measure aimed at true reform.
Mr. Chairman, thank you again for this opportunity to testify, and, again, I would like to echo some of the comments I heard earlier. This pin that I wear, I worked awfully hard and am very proud to wear it. I am looking forward to the day that we can all change some of those ratings because it is kind of funny. We have some interns that volunteer for our staff and it is amazing their impressions on the way in versus the way out. There is an awful lot of dedicated, hard working people here, and I think that the opinions need to be changed and should be changed and I look forward to working with you and I congratulate you for your efforts. Mr. DREIER. Thank you very much,
Mr. Zeliff. Ms. Fowler.
STATEMENT OF THE HON. TILLIE FOWLER, A U.S.
REPRESENTATIVE FROM THE STATE OF FLORIDA Ms. FOWLER. Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee for allowing me to address you today for what I think is paramount to the future of this institution, congressional reform.
During my campaign, the salary of the deputy doorkeeper here became an issue. The voters of my district could not believe that this position paid $104,000. And everywhere I went, whether it was Rotary, Kiwanis, Chamber of Commerce, League of Women Voters, were outraged and expressed time and again about the abuses of the system and this just being one of the examples.
On the tail of bounced checks, unpaid meal tabs and the Post Office scandal, I think the voters are demanding that we do more than just hire an administrator for the business of the House. They expect us to implement real reform. This is the only way that we will be able to regain their trust and be able to get on with the business of being citizen representatives.
Citizen representation, that is what this House is supposed to be all about, but how can we be true citizen representatives if we have a system that allows committee chairmen to serve an unlimited amount of time? I would urge my colleagues on the other side of the aisle to adopt rules similar to those adopted by the Republican Conference stating that committee chairmen can only serve 6 years.
As you may know, I support term limits for both the House and the Senate. In fact, I have filed a bill limiting Members of the House to 8 years and Members of the Senate to 12 years. I would urge Members of this committee to promote term limits for committee chairmanships as well.
Thomas Jefferson recognized the importance of rotation in office. Today more than ever I believe we need to heed President Jefferson's wise advice. Yesterday I was witness to another needed reform that needs to be instituted. Members, Republicans and Democrats alike, should be able to have access to the committee report for a bill. We don't even get the bill, we don't get the committee report. We should at least get it three days prior to vote on the final passage, or at least 24 hours.
When I worked on the Hill 20 years ago, committee reports came with the bill. It is beyond my comprehension why Members today cannot receive a committee report in a timely manner. This Congress has more than doubled the staff in the past 20 years, but it can't seem to perform the same level of work. Does the fault lie with the staff or a system that has become victim to political manipulation depriving Members access to information?
I also think that a complete review of committees, subcommittees and their staffs should take place. A zero based budget approach, if you will, should be implemented to review each committee, subcommittee and its usefulness. I believe that this Congress would be able to operate just as efficiently with a few less committees and subcommittees and less staff.
Mr. Chairman, I commend you and the members of this committee for taking time to solicit our views. As I see it, you lead one of the most serious tasks facing this Congress. I wish you well in your deliberations and look forward to working closely with you to institute the reforms needed to give the American people a Congress which they can be proud of it, a Congress that is truly responsive to the needs of the American people.
Mr. DREIER. Thank you very much, Ms. Fowler.
STATEMENT OF THE HON. CHARLES T. CANADY, A U.S.
REPRESENTATIVE FROM THE STATE OF FLORIDA Mr. CANADY. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, distinguished members of the committee. It is a privilege to be here today and I want to start by praising the mission of this committee and congratulating you on your selection to serve on this committee. I am convinced that the work of this committee is some of the most important work that will be undertaken by this Congress this year or certainly during this 2-year session of the Congress, and I come today to focus on one particular issue that has already been addressed in the last few moments, and that is the issue of limiting
the length of time a Member may serve as chairman of a given committee.
Many of my colleagues in the House of Representatives were sent here on a mission similar to your own. The mission of reforming Congress.
This mission was defined by a rolling tide of voter dissatisfaction with the Congress. Evidence of that dissatisfaction can be found in the broad-based support of the people for limiting the length of service for their elected representatives. It has often been observed that public office is a public trust.
As such, public office must be used only for the good of the country, and not for individual benefit. That message echoed resoundingly in the land just this last November. It is time for us, the Members of Congress, to listen to that message.
Thus far, 15 States, nearly one third of the Union, have enacted some form of term limits on elected officials. In my own State of Florida, a term limits referendum passed with overwhelming support. Seventy-seven percent of the voters, three-and-one-half million people, voted in favor of limiting the length of time any one politician may hold a particular office.
I am here today to speak on behalf of those people in urging you to consider reforms of our rules that will be in line with their sentiments. If elected officials have the public trust, then we owe it to the people to be worthy of that trust.
We owe it to the people to insure that the committees serve the will of the people and not the whim of individual Members. We have all seen committees that have been dominated by the same chairman for many years. Chairmen obtain a proprietary interest in the subject matter of their committees. They dominate policymaking in a given area over extended periods of time.
Such committees often become fiefdoms for the individuals who chair the committee. Rather than it working exclusively for the public good, the committees often become mired turf battles, and the petty infighting serves only to promote the personal desires of the Chairman. Such an environment is not conducive to considering new ideas and it certainly hampers efforts to end old ideas that have outgrown their usefulness.
We can reduce one of the causes of legislative gridlock if we put an end to the fiefdom building that comes with unlimited terms of service for committee chairmen. If we take the general lesson of the ballot box this past November in support of term limits and apply it to our own rules, we will make this institution more responsive to the people.
I would urge that this committee focus its attention on this critical issue, because I believe this is an issue that the people have clearly spoken on. We need to heed their call for reform in this critical area.
Mr. DREIER. Thank you very much, Mr. Canady.
STATEMENT OF THE HON. JOHN LINDER, A U.S.
REPRESENTATIVE FROM THE STATE OF GEORGIA Mr. LINDER. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
First of all, let me disabuse you of any notion that Mr. Canady and Ms. Fowler and I got together on this issue. We happened to pick the same targets.
Thank for letting me appear here today. I appreciate the opportunity to offer testimony as this committee works towards its mandate of reforming the Congress. During the debate over the ratification of the Constitution, James Madison wrote that one of the main concerns of the American public was that the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties and that measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minority party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.
In constructing the foundation of our Federal Government, the Constitution resolve fears of tyranny of the majority. In the United States Congress, however, the unlimited terms for committee chairmen and ranking committee members, Democrat or Republican, continue to perpetuate the existence of an overbearing and unchecked power.
In order to contain the uncontrolled power of committee chairmen and ranking committee members, I propose a rule on the Republican rules package to limit ranking committee members to three executive terms in their position. By adopting this measure, Republican Members have imposed restrictions on our own party leadership, even though the majority party would not consider it for the committee chairman.
The rule, I must confess, has been called the Linder rule in my local papers. I wish it was called that more often and in more papers, but the fact of the matter is, it was passed by all the freshman class who worked behind it. That rule is going to achieve the desired effect of term limits by reducing unchecked power without having to go through the process of amending the Constitution or passing a law.
This proposal would end cozy relationships with special interests, create the free flow of new and innovative ideals between all Members in the committee system, and conclude the days of entrenched career politicians holding needed legislation hostage for their personal agenda. This plan would trim the influence of special interest groups by reducing long-term fiefdoms which give the chairman omnipotence over survival of legislation.
Countless proposals that could make a real difference in the lives of the American people are languishing hopelessly in Congress' committee system. As elected representatives, we have a responsibility for change in this system stifled by entrenched power and return our government to the people.
I know that placing limits on your own leadership is not easy in any business, especially in Washington. But our business is the well-being and liberty of an entire nation. It is our responsibility to create a working Congress that is more interested in the future of our own Nation than in maintaining power and securing future elections.
It is unfortunate that this proposal was never allowed on the Floor for a vote, much less a discussion. And I hope that this reform issue will receive a better response in the future.