The new push for bipartisan compromise came into stark relief last week when the Democratic leadership scheduled a vote on a continuing appropriations resolution to keep the government operating through Dec. 11. Unfortunately, the Democrats had not negotiated the terms of the CR with either House Republicans or the White House, and the measure was pulled in favor of a new bill that gave Republicans and some rural Democratic members the farm assistance they wanted in return for more food assistance for those hit hardest by the pandemic. The compromise measure handily passed under a suspension of the rules (requiring two-thirds vote), 359 to 57 on Sept. 22.
The following day House Democrats unveiled a bill titled, “The Protect Our Democracy Act,” that was aimed specifically at reclaiming many of the powers of Congress the president had siphoned away, quite often by ignoring congressional demands for administration witnesses and documents. The legislation was reminiscent of the many reforms enacted in the wake of the Nixon Watergate scandal, characterized by White House “stonewalling” of Congress.
Then, on Thursday, Sept. 24, the bipartisan House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress met to report its final set of some 40 recommendations to strengthen the capacity of the House to do its work better. The select committee was formed at the beginning of the current 116th Congress with the full backing of the leadership and a recognition that important institutional changes can only be fashioned and successfully implemented with the full backing of both parties.Under the strong leadership of Chairman Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) and Vice Chairman Tom Graves (R-Ga.), the select committee held numerous hearings over the last two years, taking suggestions from current and former members, staff, and an array of public interest groups dedicated to making the First Branch stronger and more effective. All told, the committee produced 97 recommendations on everything from budgeting, technology and staffing, to bipartisan retreats and greater legislative transparency. Although the select committee did not have authority to report legislation directly to the House, Kilmer has promised to introduce a bill embodying the reforms and will likely have a broad bipartisan cohort of co-sponsors.