Issue One – in partnership with the Rebuild Congress Initiative – has been aggressively pushing for the creation of the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress that was just passed with overwhelming bipartisan support from 418 Republicans and Democrats who all acknowledge that the legislative branch needs to be brought into the 21st century.
“The House Democratic leadership should be commended for making the Select Committee a reality. We are heartened to learn that Congressional Reformers Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA) will chair the Select Committee which has the unique opportunity to modernize the First Branch of government and renew Americans’ faith in democracy,” said Issue One ReFormers Caucus Co-chair former Amb. Tim Roemer (D-IN). “We believe this committee should focus on reforms that will strengthen the efficacy and integrity of the institution, encourage cross-partisan compromise and reduce the role of fundraising in the legislative process.”
“Congress has taken a critical first step to show that they have heard the American people and will begin getting their own house in order. This has the potential to bring real change to the body as a whole for the first time in more than 30 years,” said Issue One ReFormers Caucus Co-chair former Rep. Zach Wamp (R-TN). “As co-chairs of the largest caucus of former members working to fix the broken political system, Amb. Roemer and I have been urging for the creation of this committee. Now, leadership in both the Republican and Democratic parties should appoint members to the Select Committee who want to ensure rank-and-file lawmakers have a voice in how the country is run.”
“This is the first opportunity for the legislative branch to examine and fix some of the systemic problems plaguing Congress in a bipartisan fashion,” said Issue One Executive Director Meredith McGehee. “We were pleased to work with the Rebuild Congress Initiative – a joint project with the Harvard Negotiation Project – that reached out to a broad range of cross-partisan members who made it clear that a committee like this is much needed.”
The Select Committee is tasked with holding public hearings and developing recommendations that would modernize Congress. The committee should look at the issues of staff retention and capacity, systemic processes of the operation of Congress that will bring it into the 21st century, and ensure members of Congress have an opportunity to focus on their representational duties as opposed to spending hours each week dialing for dollars.
The panel would be the first of its kind in nearly three decades and it will consist of 12 members of Congress from both sides of the aisle — six appointed by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and six appointed by Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). Two members must be freshman lawmakers, two must serve on the House Administration and two must serve on the House Rules Committees. The Select Committee is also required to hold a Member Day hearing to receive input from sitting lawmakers directly.
In the 20th century, Congress created three bipartisan joint committees to recommend reforms that would modernize the institution as a whole. These committees met in 1945-1946, 1965-1966, and 1992-1993, according to the Congressional Institute. These previous bipartisan panels addressed the committee system, budget process, ethics, scheduling, and floor procedures, among other issues.
A recent joint Issue One-R Street report — “Why We Left Congress” — highlighted how more than 50 members of the 115th Congress voluntarily chose not to run for re-election due in part because of systemic institutional dysfunction plaguing the legislative branch.
Additionally, Issue One commends the Democratic and Republican lawmakers who supported the newly-passed House rules package that strengthened ethics, accountability, and transparency in the 116th Congress. Many of these rules were recommended and supported by Issue One and the Rebuild Congress Initiative.
Among other changes, the House rules now:
- Prohibit members of Congress from serving on corporate boards (a measure similar to a bipartisan bill introduced in 2018).
- Mandates annual ethics training for all members.
- Require lawmakers to reimburse the U.S. Treasury for any settlements paid out related to their own discriminatory misconduct.
- Require indicted members to step back from leadership and committee positions.
- Bans members and committee staffers from having sexual relationships with one another (a feature missing in the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 Reform Act).
- Include a provision that automatically establishes an investigatory subcommittee for ethics investigations, aimed at ensuring investigations are carried out rather than delayed indefinitely (as detailed in Issue One’s report “Ethics Blind Spot”).
- Amended the discharge petition process to encourage more bipartisan work between members of Congress.
- Require legislative text to be available a full 72 hours before being considered in the House.
- Established an Office of Diversity and Inclusion to “recruit, hire, train, develop, advance, promote, and retain a diverse workforce.”
- Established a Whistleblower Ombudsman to craft best practices when it comes to handling whistleblower submissions and training staff to maintain confidentiality of issues and sources on Capitol Hill.
Read more about the new rules package.