For Congressman Ken Buck (R-CO), and members of a recently established Select Committee, the effort to modernize Congress is serious business. But what passes as “modernization” seems more like good old-fashioned commonsense to Buck, his constituents, and millions more Americans across the country.
Seemingly simple things like appointing Members of Congress to committee posts based on their unique backgrounds, professional expertise, and collective experience – instead of the amount of money they raise for their party’s campaign committees – passes muster for modernization these days.
In testimony before the Select Committee, Buck said in part that, “Chairmanships and “A” Committees require an even greater dedication to fundraising for the party. This should not be the way we do business. Our constituents didn’t elect us to raise money, they elected us to solve problems. This practice must stop.”
But Congressman Buck, also the newly elected Chairman of the Colorado Republican Party and conservative firebrand, has shown to be all in for this sort of effort despite the fact that many of the proposed reforms are what Americans would already expect from their elected representatives, not to mention they may find it a bit ridiculous that Members are having these types of seemingly obvious conversations.
While many Members of Congress may agree with some of the proposed “modernizations”, most will condemn the committee’s work as a PR stunt and not worth the circular discussions regarding legislation they feel would be dead-on-arrival – especially with Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the helm. Much of her power has been obtained via the very processes which committee testimonials have identified as problematic.
Still others will criticize the efforts pointing to the irony of Congress proposing fixes to itself. But that kind of mentality speaks to the jadedness many in Congress feel. As Rep. Buck pointed out, “Too often, Members arrive in Washington expecting to make a difference, but quickly lose faith after realizing that their ability to make a difference is tied to their fundraising prowess.”
When the Member, especially a new one, loses faith in their ability to lead, propose new ideas, advance legislation, convince their colleagues, build relationships, or forge bipartisan coalitions to tackle big issues, he or she inevitably realizes their existence is mostly relegated to the binary options of either succumbing to the whims of party elders and unelected, self-interested party operatives or work from the political fray and wear the label of “outsider” or “wrench thrower.”
However, Buck rarely accepts binary options and is known for embracing the crucible of today’s political climate which means he’s willing to go the distance with additional measures like enacting five-day work weeks. What a novel concept – Congress working as least as many days as the average American they represent.
Sarcasm aside, it’s easy to dismiss these kinds of “modernizations” as overly simplistic, even sophomoric when cast in the backdrop of the world’s oldest and most esteemed democracy. But five-day work weeks have the ability to fuel our representatives in another not-so-tangible way.
“We would have more time to foster those relationships that allow us to effectively legislate. It will also give Members more time in committee to learn their roles and build out their legislative ideas. This might just stop us from the current system where committees are all but bypassed to rush bills to the floor,” says Buck.
Curious how we got Obamacare? Or why they can’t seem to pass any comprehensive reform packages for immigration or unauthorized spending practices exploding the national debt? This is the root cause.
The priorities infused into the day-to-day processes of serving as a federally elected representative are misaligned. Members spend more time on politics than policy when their primary responsibility is to fully execute on the latter.
Compounding these chronic ailments is a severe brain drain among congressional staff. The demands of modern governing far exceed the capabilities of a lone Member and even a few key staff to manage on their own. Still, Members operate on a handful of mostly dedicated staff members who help them navigate a portfolio of hundreds of issues and thousands of constituent service needs. But with uncompetitive salaries and lack of benefits, staff often leave for more lucrative offers from the private sector. The result is a loss of institutional knowledge and connectivity which exacerbates the problem of effective policymaking.
While Congress shouldn’t need a select committee to enact commonsense reforms on itself, it does have fighters like Buck who are still willing to look past its vanity and engage with Members interested in bettering its processes, its people, and ultimately a better product delivered to the American people.