If Congress Were a Business…

by Congressman Darin LaHood, 18th District of Illinois,

If 73 percent of your customers are deeply displeased with your business, if you fail to deliver your product on time, if the work culture is driven by constant infighting, and if no one is being held accountable for results, it’s safe to say that your business is going under.

Unfortunately, this describes the U.S. Congress. As the first branch of government established by Article One of the Constitution, Congress is charged with hefty responsibilities, like funding the government, providing for the military and legislating. But as the American people well know, Congress is failing at doing its job. The body “of the People,” voted in “by the People,” is not working “for the People.”

As a freshman in Congress, I have experienced the dysfunction in Washington firsthand—but the facts show that this dysfunction has stretched for decades, regardless of which party has been in control. Congress has not passed all 12 appropriations bills since 1996. More than $300 billion in federal programs and agencies have not been reauthorized. When was the last time Congress passed a budget through regular order on time—not days before the fiscal deadline? I genuinely cannot remember.

So, what do we do about a dysfunctional Congress? Unlike a business, its customers cannot refuse to pay for services by withholding our taxes. Unlike a business, we can’t just scrap it and start over. The past three Congresses have shown that even “firing” leaders and hiring new ones won’t completely fix the issues and challenges at hand. If the rules of the game stay the same, the results won’t change.

It is time for an overhaul.

That’s why I was proud to introduce legislation this month with Congressman Dan Lipinski (D-IL) to take the first steps toward reforming Congress. Our legislation calls for a joint committee, composed in equal part of both Republicans and Democrats from the House and Senate, to study Congress. This body would be charged with a mandate to hold up a magnifying glass and a stethoscope to the institution of Congress and propose comprehensive reforms to make the institution efficient, effective and accountable to taxpayers.

The joint committee would first evaluate the legislative rules and procedures that control how Congress functions. Second, it would seek to change the behavior of the legislators themselves, empowering them to participate in the legislative process, debate issues, compromise, introduce amendments and enact laws. Finally, the joint committee would focus on restoring three important relationships: the relationship between members of Congress and their constituents, the relationship between the House and the Senate, and the relationship between the legislative and executive branches.

Such committees have been effective before. In fact, every generation or so, Congress has had to reevaluate itself and make big changes in order to be effective and responsive to the American people. Each previous joint committee ultimately led to radical and necessary changes in Congress. Actually, the fact that votes on the House floor are recorded—so America knows how their representatives are voting—is a result of one of these endeavors. But the last time a joint committee was held to reform Congress was 24 years ago… in 1992.

Central Illinois prides itself on the rich history of leaders that have served in public office. Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan, former Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen, and former House Minority Leader Bob Michel have led the way in rising above partisanship to meet the significant demands they faced. We would all do well to follow their example.

As Abraham Lincoln once said, “The best way to predict your future is to create it.” We have an opportunity to reshape Congress to be a representative body that leads our country to a prosperous and safe future. We have to seize it. iBi

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