Remarkably, Congress has continued to reduce its capacity. House GOP leaders have cut their own funding by 20 percent since taking back the majority in 2011. As then-Ways
and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., put it during a February 2014 House Administration Committee hearing: “The committee needs to add staff, particularly in tax, health care and the economics fields.” For Congress to legislate effectively, it needs staffers who understand policy.
It’s up to Congress to decide how much capacity it wants.While the politics of adding capacity are difficult, given Congress’ general unpopularity, the reality is that the vast
majority of members of both the House and the Senate hold very safe seats; primary challenges are far rarer than the media makes them out to be. Members also ought to realize the reason Congress is so unpopular is because it’s unable to accomplish much, in part because it lacks the capacity. Much of what it does accomplish is the product of special interest business lobbying. Consider that the one big recent bipartisan achievement in the House this last autumn was a discharge petition to renew the Export-Import Bank, an entity beloved by huge corporate interests.
Congress should vote itself more resources. It should hire more staff, especially at the committee level, and pay them more. It should also boost resources for its support agencies, especially the Congressional Research Service and help the CRS to modernize for the 21st century.
The bland truism is that knowledge is power. A Congress without much knowledge is a powerless Congress, one dependent on other sources for its power. It’s a Congress
that can’t perform its constitutional duties.