Lee Hamilton:

Back in 2019, the House created the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress, with an equal number of members of both parties. In the time since then, it’s made recommendations on everything from making Congress more accessible to people with disabilities to finding better ways to retain staff to reforming the budget process. But the committee will fold at the end of this year. Instead, I favor a permanent committee on reform in Congress, one that is able, year after year, to work to improve the operations of Congress. It should tackle problems incrementally, rather than trying to create a big reform package that generates a lot of heat and conflict and—if the past is any guide—doesn’t get very far. Congress needs to take how it operates seriously, but also recognize the political reality that small changes are easier to swallow than dramatic ones. There are any number of issues a committee like this could address. One key focus would be the budget process. In the end, congressional power lies in its imprint on the federal budget, and at the moment rank-and-file members have fewer opportunities than they once did to affect the budget. In part, that’s because they have fewer opportunities than in the past to affect legislation in general. A standing reform committee could certainly improve Congress’s democratic functioning by finding ways to restore elements of what’s known as the “regular order”—the hearings, investigations, vigorous amendment process, debate, and room for compromise that used to mark its process.