September 25, 2020

Kilmer’s Committee to Fix Congress Passes Final Round of Recommendations to Make Congress Work Better for the American People

97 total recommendations have been passed in the committee’s 20-month lifespan

Fifth package would help reclaim Congress’ Article One responsibilities, improve the congressional schedule and calendar, boost congressional capacity and reform the budget and appropriations process  

Washington, D.C. – This week, the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress (“Select Committee”), led by U.S. Representative Derek Kilmer (WA-06), passed its fifth and final package of recommendations to make Congress work better for the American people. The 40 new recommendations were passed unanimously by the Democrats and Republicans on the Select Committee, which has been nicknamed “the Fix Congress Committee.” The recommendations include reforms to help Congress reclaim its Article One responsibilities, improve the congressional schedule and calendar, boost congressional capacity and reform the budget and appropriations process. The final vote brings the total recommendations passed by the Select Committee to 97 this Congress.

“Through bipartisan collaboration and a commitment to reform, this committee has delivered nearly 100 recommendations to make Congress work better for the American people. Today’s recommendations will help the legislative branch reclaim its Article One responsibilities, reform the broken budget and appropriations process, and ensure the People’s House has the capacity to meet the needs of those we serve. We are grateful to our committee members and those who have championed our mission to make the legislative branch more efficient, effective, and transparent for all Americans,” said Select Committee Chair Derek Kilmer (D-WA) and Vice Chair Tom Graves (R-GA).

In a tweet, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi praised Rep. Kilmer and the Select Committee for continuing to “lead the way on making Congress work better #ForThePeople through bipartisan solutions to modernize the Congress.” Similarly, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer thanked the Select Committee “for the important work they are doing to make government work better for the people it serves,” and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn applauded the Select Committee for the effort “to reform Congress for the benefit of the American people.”

“Our democracy is under incredible strain. It is encouraging to see leaders from both parties working together and offering real ideas to strengthen Congress,” said Jason Grumet, President of the Bipartisan Policy Center. “The Modernization Committee’s leaders—Reps. Derek Kilmer (D-WA) and Tom Graves (R-GA)—have proven that Democrats and Republicans can work together to develop big solutions to major problems under trying circumstances. The committee was efficient, collaborative, and focused despite a much-delayed start, the impeachment of the president, and the ongoing public health and economic crises. The committee’s own resilience sets an example for the rest of Congress. If enacted, the bold proposals released today will create incentives for lawmakers to collaborate more effectively and unburden Congress from a series of well-intentioned rules that have weakened its deliberative capacity.”

“The House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress is a tremendous success and its final 40 bipartisan recommendations, should they be implemented, would in the aggregate make the House of Representatives more effective in conducting its legislative, oversight, and constituent service responsibilities,” said Daniel Schuman, Policy Director of Demand Progress. “In particular, the Modernization Committee’s recommendations that address staff retention, technology modernization, and support for the deliberative process represent a big step forward and we hope the House will put them into effect.”

“Wow! The Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress has done it again!” said Brad Fitch, President and CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation. “The latest recommendations from the Committee are the boldest and most creative set of ideas to improve the Congress in a generation. These proposals, coupled with the previous recommendations, will tangibly improve the House’s public policy process and enhance services to constituents. Most noteworthy are the Committee’s proposals to restore some of the so-called “Article One” powers - constitutional authority which resides in Congress - which have been diminished, delegated, or allowed to atrophy in recent decades. These recommendations will strengthen Congress, allow constituents to have a greater voice in government spending, and help restore the proper balance of power between the executive and legislative branches of government.”

A summary of the recommendations is outlined below. The full list of recommendations can be seen here.

Reforming the Budget and Appropriations Process:

When it comes to the annual budget and appropriations process, since Fiscal Year 2012 not a single standalone appropriations bill has been signed into law. Since 1977, Congress has only passed all 12 appropriations bills before the end of the Fiscal Year four times.  American taxpayers have been harmed by frequent government shutdowns and continuing resolutions.

Recommendation highlights:

  • Establishing an annual Fiscal State of the Nation, to better inform policy making and ensure taxpayers know how their dollars are being spent.
  • Requiring a biennial budget resolution.
  • Ensuring that Congress adheres to a more realistic budget timeline.

Reclaiming Article One Responsibilities:

Over the past several decades, Congress’ standing as a co-equal branch of government has softened, while the executive branch has expanded in size and scope of power. Ongoing cuts to the legislative branch hurt congressional capacity, ultimately hurting the American people if Congress is unable to execute at its best or remains overly-reliant on lobbyists.

Recommendation highlights:

  • Recommending the creation of a Community Focused Grant Program that harnesses the authority of Congress under Article One of the Constitution to appropriate federal dollars.
  • Encouraging bipartisan oversight, retreats, trainings and policymaking at the committee level, similar to the way the Select Committee has operated.
  • Increasing capacity for policy staff and congressional support organizations.

Enhancing Congressional Capacity:

The Select Committee talked with hundreds of congressional staff about ways to improve retention and recruitment on Capitol Hill. The average time staff stay in a position in Congress is roughly 2 years. Constant turnover hurts the institution and the people it’s designed to serve.

Recommendation highlights:

  • Reevaluating the Members Representational Allowance (MRA) to ensure Congress can meet current and future challenges, like the ongoing pandemic and the importance of retaining top policy staff.
  • Establishing a voluntary, nonbinding pay band system.
  • Increasing options to health insurance for congressional staff.

Improving the Congressional Schedule and Calendar:

One of the topics the Select Committee heard about the most was the need for a more predictable, modern work calendar. Committee schedules, in particular, often have conflicts, hurting attendance and eroding the ability of policy committees to solve problems collaboratively. What’s more, the Select Committee believed members should spend less time traveling and more time legislating.

Recommendation highlights:

  • Establishing a block calendar system for committee scheduling.
  • Creating a common committee calendar portal to help with scheduling and reduce conflicts.
  • Creating “committee activity only” work days, similar to how Congress has operated in the last few months.