By No Labels
Much is written about how little gets done in Congress. And it’s true that lawmakers have yet to act on countless reforms with broad public support including immigration, border security and gun safety, lawmakers have yet to act.
But that’s not the whole story. Congress passed many vital bills last year, though not all were splashy issues that drew extensive media coverage. While the tax overhaul rightly got much of the attention as a major change that will impact almost every American adult, Congress quietly addressed some important topics in the last 14 months.
Moreover, it did so despite Congressional rules that severely discourage bipartisan cooperation. At No Labels, we believe there is a strong case to change the rules that govern Congress. If lawmakers did so, there might be a lot more vital legislation.
So, what did Congress do that was worthy of applause? Well, it overhauled the GI Bill, which entitles military veterans to educational benefits. The new “Forever GI Bill” eliminated the 15-year window that veterans had to exercise educational benefits. Now, there is no time limit at all. The bill included many other initiatives that expanded benefits as well.
Congress also reauthorized the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for the first time in almost seven years. Included in that bill was a requirement that the agency create a plan to conduct a manned space flight to Mars by 2023. Congress also overhauled the nation’s weather forecasting system for the first time since the 1990s, dedicating money to help weather prediction and tracking, storm planning and disaster response.
Never heard of any of these bills? Don’t be too hard on yourself. Most did not receive a great deal of coverage, certainly nothing like the budget battles, tax reform, immigration and other major issues. Heck, the weather bill didn’t even get a signing ceremony.
Congress could do a lot more of this, but it would require lawmakers to change the rules they follow, particularly in the House. Lawmakers can change House rules any time they like, simply by voting. New rules could encourage bipartisan cooperation and make Congress more productive.
For example, in the current system, the Speaker generally relies on votes from just one party to get elected. It requires a simple majority of the House (218 of 435), and the majority party wins that race. They elect a Speaker who carries only their agenda, the opposition party is essentially locked out of the process and there’s nothing to encourage bipartisan cooperation.
But the system would be different if a rules change required a 60-percent margin to elect the speaker (261 of 435). A Speaker candidate would be all but required to reach across the aisle for support. The new 60-percent Speaker would then have to set an agenda and allow legislation that meets the approval of both parties. Bipartisan cooperation would be encouraged, even necessary.
This idea has broad support, according to a recent poll, and No Labels is encouraging lawmakers in both parties to support this change and others that can make the House more bipartisan and more productive. November’s election will bring new lawmakers and a fresh slate. It will be a new House. Lawmakers should empower it with new rules.