Skip to main content

tv   Former Lawmakers Discuss Modernization of Congress  CSPAN  March 4, 2021 3:14pm-4:47pm EST

3:14 pm
we want to move on nominations quickly is the reason for the squeeze time period. with that, thank you. and hearing adjourned. thank you all all. you are watching c-span3, your unfiltered view of government. c-span3 was created by america's television companies. and today we're brought by these television company who is provide c-span3 as a public service. >> week nights this month we're feoffing american history tv programs as a preview of what's available every weekend on c-span3. tonight a look back to the civil war confederate generals. james buddy robinson talks about robert e lee's ties to virginia and the various military campaigns that took place throughout the state. he compares general lee's life after the war to other veterans. the shenandoah foundation hosted
3:15 pm
this event. watch tonight. and enjoy every weekend on c-span3. former congressman tom graves and brian baird gave insight now on ways to modernize congress. they spoke at an event hosted by the american enterprise institute. welcome. i'm zachary coarser. co-director of the lab at clairmont college. my pleasure to welcome you all here today to a conversation about mod nation in congress. a follow-up discussion to october 16th where we had the opportunity to discuss congress's diminished role in the constitutional system. i'd like to thank you you for hosting this event. and george thomas for sponsoring and organizing this event as well. we're very fortunate to hold this because the timing is
3:16 pm
certainly right. we started talking about this in october. we had some rather, you know, broad discussions of article 1 powers and the kind of, you know, well-worn thesis about congress, how it had withdrawn from the separation of powers that had been dominated by the executive. and we began to discuss reform ideas. and we hadn't yet had the final report of a select committee on modernization suggesting reforms. and becertainly hadn't had the general election and of course we could have never anticipated i think the events of january 6th as they unfolded. so now i think is a very critical moment for this discussion. and we're very fortunate to bring together sort of two sides to this argument. one is an academic perspective. one that is political science in nature. and another that is actually more experiential. those who have actually worked in congress and had the opportunity to see from the
3:17 pm
inside how the institution works. and how it doesn't work. in certain cases. so before i get to introductions, i just wanted to set the table a little bit about our discussion. in bringing together both sides, there is one idea that i think can shape our discussion or our approach to this. and it is a very american idea. when by think back to the founders and the constitution and its framing, one of the ideas that motivated the founders and was at the center of the constitution is that the idea that the way in which we shape our institutions shape ours politics and our behavior. i was looking through some former writings about previous eras of reform, constitution reform. and i ran across a really good quote from hugo hecklove, a politically scientist, he said first we reshape our institutions and then our
3:18 pm
institutions reshape us. so as we talk about congress and reform we should be thinking about our institutions in the sense of the incentives they create, the behaviors they shape and how this is a fundamental principle of american political scientists. and that in our hopes of discussing reform in congress, we're hoping to in the end improve our democracy. so let me introduce our panelists. let me start with our a.i. affiliated speakers. first john fortier who is recently of the policy center. he's come back to the american enterprise institute. we're very fortunate to have john. he's a long history working in government reform. john was executive director of the continuity of government commission which was a joint bi commission formed in wake of 9/11 to discuss continuity in government issues. also co-director of commission on political reform in 2013 that bpc organized.
3:19 pm
and so he's a lot of experience in washington thinking through and working through ideas about necessary reforms. we're also joined by kevin kosar. also a scholar at the american enterprise institute. kevin has worked in congress for the congressional research service. kevin and i have been working together on a project on article 1 spending powers and directed spending of congress. and of course kevin is the coed or the of a volume entitled "congress overwhelmed" which is a collection of essays by political scientists that are evaluating the different ways in which congress is overwhelmed in terms of capacity and suggestions about how they can improve and reform.
3:20 pm
and representative tom graves, spent a year working through testimony, discussing with colleagues and coming through with a final report discussing various aspects of ways in which congress has helped to define problems and also helped to define solutions in a way forward. and this committee on modernization has been reauthorized for another year. and so we're hopeful too that our conversation might help to set the stage for next steps of the modernization committee could consider in the coming year. and then lastly but certainly not least, we're joined by representative brian baird, of washington state. brian also had extensive background in discussing government reform. he served as chair of another select committee in congress on the continuity of government that came out of an idea that he had that was inspired by the 9/11 attacks, that discuss similar issues actually to the commission that john was working with, and has experienced
3:21 pm
working in congress about a decade there. and has also spent time thinking through congressional reform. so we have an exciting panel who has a lot of experience, sort of --. so why don't we get started. first questions i want to pose are to our former congress members. brian -- that is a question about, you know, whether or not there is a discontinuity between how political scientists see what's wrong with congress and what actual members see as what's wrong with congress. and this is sort of well-worn territory but i'll rehearse it for our audience. to say that political scientists have converged on congress' problems being, first off, a lack of capacity. this is an idea that's in congress overwhelmed but
3:22 pm
congress is understaffed, that it lacks the expertise necessary. the idea that congress has allowed its institutional prerogatives to go undefended. things like its spending power or the fact that the executives so easily seems to encroach on dock and its powers. and lastly the effects of the polarization. gridlock, partisan ran kor, it is difficult for members to work together. does this match up with your experience of congress. >> it is a great question and first let me thank everyone for this great panel you put together. and tom good to see you and i know you did so much good work with my friend derek kilmer, and fellow washingtonian. let me said seth the stage a little pit. i thought about comparing the work tom and derek did to hercules clearing out the aegean stables but a mor contemporary analogy is in seattle with have a place called pike place
3:23 pm
markets well known and alleyway next to it called a gum wahl and ever since 1993 people have been sticking pieces of gum on the thing. completely disgusting. like 50 feet long and 8 feet high and covered in gum. and some respect that is how the government processes work. if you look at the budget process werks go from appropriations, budget to appropriations and thors. when you first get there you think this should make sense. people have been at it a long time and ought to work pretty well. and there's a lot of structural issues we can improve dramatically. so there is only truth to the idea that we've got to change the structural things. but there is more fundamental problem. and that is that people are getting power -- the connection between what it takes to get in office and what it takes to serve well in office is pretty distant. the as different skill set.
3:24 pm
it is a different --s to not a merit system. and once you get power you want to hold power the same way you got it. and that makes reforms especially difficult. and i'm not sure someone who hasn't run for office in an academic realm fully gets that, especially if you didn't run in a swing district. if you run in a swing district where you have to deal with both sides that is a transformative experience. >> i want to ask the same question to you, tom. you have had a lot of time to think through what's wrong with congress and think about reform. do you think these political scientists have a good sense of what's wrong with congress? how does it match up with your experience in congress? >> that's a great question. it is an academic question. and before i get into it, i do want to tell you how good it is to join y'all. and working with john and kevin over the last two years through this time. and all the various groups that were involved in offering great
3:25 pm
ideas, suggestions and counsel as we went through the process but it wouldn't have been possible without derek kilmer. and you are right about the herculean effort it seemed like, brian. and derek, his demeanor, his spirit, his -- his ability to just bring folks together is so unique. and if anything should be modelled it should be his leadership style to bring together a committee that quite frankly was set up to fail if you really think about how it was set up during this time. most realize it was an quali divided committee that was six republicans and six democrats. and if we were to pass anything out of the committee it required super majority vote. there was no way to get anything out unless it was bipartisan. and in the history before us on special select committees was not very good. because about every two decades or so congress finds out that there is a challenge, there is a problem. and they order a special select
3:26 pm
committee to try to fix it. and the track record has not been that good of recent time. so we were running uphill battle from the beginning with our hands tied behind our back. and somehow through impeachment, through the longest government shut down in the history of our country and through a pandemic, you found a committee that was working away and found a way to join hands together and to find areas where you can agree and actually have success. and so i say all that to say is that political science, there is really no science to politics. there is no absolutes. it is -- you know, it is very fungible, movable, pliable. it is all over the place all the time. and so the phrase trying to skate to where the puck is going is about as close as you can get. but i would hope that the highlight would be, is that
3:27 pm
there is a way. it is possible if members really roll up their sleeves and are committed to a single purpose and in our case it was trying to make congress function a little better for the american people. >> tom and brian, i got a brief follow-up question for you both. because in certain ways you have led parallel lives. you both spend a decade in congress. brian left congress just as tom entered congress. i guess you guys had a brief overlap. and brian, you know, you challenged an incumbent who came in on the '94 gop wave in your first run. and then you won in a swing district. and you stayed there until 2010 at the beginning of tea party movement at which time you stepped down. and tom you came into the congress just at the beginning of the tea party movement. and, you know, you have left -- you retired from congress in october. and your seat is now held by marjorie taylor green. and it is a sort of interesting, you know, thinking about the
3:28 pm
bookends to both of your times in congress. how did you see the institution change in that decade? how did you understand your job or your role change? and did that change have anything to do with your decisions to step aside? so brian i'll start with you. >> all right. well, you know, it's -- you could -- you could see the -- the portents of what we have now back in the tea party movement. back then if you recall we were dealing with the affordable care act and other things and there were systematic websites based on how to disrupt town halls. you could go online and don't let them have a intellectual discussion. shout them down. interrupt every chance you get. flood the zone. crowd the room. a determined, deliberate effort to disrupt town halls. and i've had 300 plus town halls.
3:29 pm
2009 and 10 at one point we had a rock amphitheater. that would hold 15 enthuse. we had 3 and a half,000 people in a town hall and many were really dedicated and interested in learning about the affordable care act and other policies but there were a substitute that had really strange agendas. one person got up and shouted the affordable care act would allow unauthorized people to come into your home and demand you indoctrinate your children in a certain way. another gentlemen asserted the amer core was barack obama's secret army that he was preparing to take over the country with. and there were the portends of this sort of normalization of paranoia and the level of anger and vitriol was really pretty remarkable. so we saw some of that, which is just amplified with social media and with the divisiveness. so we've seen these trends for a while. and they are not good.
3:30 pm
and interested in the things tom has seen in his district as well. >> he really laid it out well. certainly has changed in a lot of different ways. and i think what you see are there is just different different methods to how one get elect order approach their job. in my case i wanted to be effective. i wanted to influence outcomes in a positive way. and took me a little while to sort that out to be honest with you. i was elected in a tea party movement. i was sent with, you know, a mandate to change things. and took a while to learn how i best effect change. i can't do it all. i can't do it over night, but how can i as a single person with a voice have a reputation
3:31 pm
of a policy maker but also the persuasiveness through the politics the to try and drive an outcome i felt like was consistent with where my district wanted to go. and that is not easy. because there is a lot of pressure from your districts a lot of third parties out there with a lot of money, monetizing quite frankly a lot of these movements where these efforts or slogans or phrases that motivate people to bring funds into offices. and it -- there is a point in time i think in every member's career where they realize that they are the voice of their district. and sometimes that doesn't mean they have to do -- they have to view it in a populous perspective. but they have more information. they have more facts in front of them them and tlek listen to the district but ultimately they have to make a decision based on temperature snfgs in front of them and sometimes that's contrary to where the movement might be in your district.
3:32 pm
and then you have to really learn how tocontrary to where t might be in your district. and then you have to really learn how to message that back to the district and help them understand the decision making. one thing i have noticed probably we picked up on in the modernization committee is that there is an importance on one, the you are the voice of your district, absolutely. but simultaneous we're noticing now that districts actually amplify your voice. so what you are saying, or what you are going on tv to message often times is amplified back in your districts. so depending what you want that to be, you can help your district with that. you can have a calming, considerate, thoughtful conversation on air with somebody you might disagree with and that helps reflect back in your district that same kind of discourse as well. >> thanks, tom, and brian. let's bring some or our political scientists in the conversation and talk more about
3:33 pm
the modernization committee's report. sort of app area of common ground between the committee and political science is this idea about congress's spending powers. and how they have diminished over the years. particularly to the executive. i want to pose a question to kevin. relating to this idea that, you know, congress has very clear authority in article 1 over spending. and the final report from the modernization committee points this out. but yet they seem to consistently seed the field, as it were, to the executive branch. and so i'm curious, what are ways in which we can help congress to sort of wrest this power back or even recognize that they have this power? >> well, that is a big question. and it is a complicated one. and the loss of congressional power over the purse has been something that has grown over a long period of time. you know, breaking it down the
3:34 pm
basics. the power of the purse requires that somebody in congress or multiple persons in congress care about what an executive agency is doing and then exert themselves to turn off the money if the agency is failing to do what congress wants. it is a principal/agent relationship. and the way our system is set up, that can happen there either the authorizations process or the appropriations process ms. but one gets the impression that it is not happening a whole rot through either. and there is a variety of factors that contributed to this. one obvious one is lobbying. any time government creates a new program, the program creates a constituency, constituency then tends to get lobbyists or to organize and demand the program keeps going. and that is just kind of a natural part of representative democracy. particularly one with a robust first amendment. second issue is, and this is where congress really struggles,
3:35 pm
is just government gigantism. beginning 20th century to where we are now, government is unrecognizable huge. you know, beginning of the 20th century, you know, a member of congress could roughly apprehend the whole of the federal government. today this is a just impossible. you know even before covid our government was a $4.5 trillion operation with 180 executive agencies. and just innumerable programs. just how cognitively do you grasp all of that? you just can't. so congress is just overwhelmed on that count. and the appropriations process and the reauthorization process is simply broken down. reauthorizations are not getting done. members just don't seem to have the incentive to do them. the appropriation process. we watched that train wreck almost every year now. or instead of passing 12 separate bills where you scrutinize issue areas and
3:36 pm
apartments and programs and try to figure what's working and what's not and puts your money where it makes the most sense and do all that negotiation. now it is last second omnibus bills thousands of pages long being rushed through congress to avoid a government shut down. and then you get presidents who have also weakened the process, or congress's control over the purse. i mean, they have this ability to just do stuff. which then you have 535 members of congress have to respond. so, you know, think about when president trump, you know, congress made it clear democrats were in control that they were not going put money up to build a new border wall. trump just did. he just ordered money that was appropriated for another purpose and started building. and, you know, trying to get that power of the purse back is going to be really hard. it is going to require people to start in congress to actually
3:37 pm
start caring. one way that the committee t select committee identified to get people to care is to reempower individual members of congress to actually have a say over where money is spent, particularly in their home districts. right now your average member of congress feels pretty helpless from what i can tell, about directing where the money goes. they feel like the proprietors pretty much have all the power. second thing that congress could do is probably think better about the whole way you budget. you know, we've got an authorization process. we have an appropriation process, suppose to have budget resolution. that as really complicated thing. trying to get all that done in the first six, nine months of a year is proven impossible task these days. so just blowing up that process and simplifying it, select committee recommended stretching the budget resolution process to a biennial process.
3:38 pm
you could have two years to put together a spending plan instead of trying to get it all done in one year. i think there is promise in that. and i think there is promise in just generally rethinking how the process can be made easier. made simpler and also can devolve some authority to individual members so they feel they have a skin in the game. >> one big change between brian and tom in your careers was the ending of earmarks. brian you left just as earmarks were reformed and then banned and then tom most of your time in congress there were no earmarks. and i'm just kind of curious, is your perspective as members, you know, in thinking about spending power, how did that change do you think the role of individual members and this idea of congress having power over spending? >> yeah, i want to riff a little bit on what kevin said. earmarks are crumbs, by and large. it is nice to have some crumbs if you don't have anything else. but one of the structural problems is you have got authorizing committees and then
3:39 pm
you have appropriating committees. and a very small percentage of members of congress are on an appropriation committee. and they are known as cardinals because they wield that kind off power as the cardinals of the catholic church. and that makes everybody else a supply cant. you go and supp lirks icant. if we were to say let's make every member of congress an proprietor and compile committees together and you have a more circumscribed area in which you have real expertise, and if you are going spend the money or if you are going to authorize you also have control over spending and if you are going to spend you also have responsibility for oversight. so everybody in a smaller area would be able to focus on what they know best and get some
3:40 pm
expertise in that. and then i think some degree of earmarks because ideally, we know our district better than anybody else. but you have to put some guard rails on that so we're not doing political favors for earmarks and so that one chairman can't have an 80 million dollar bridge while the other supplicants get a little tiny scrap. but i really think, as cech said f we blew up the process and we said eliminate the authorizing appropriation distinction, have two year budgets as the committee said, i then you would get lot more engagement and actually better legislating and better appropriating. >> tom, please. you have a comment as well. >> just follow up a little bit. so i did not serve when there were earmark. so i can't really speak to -- i was cardinal, as you would
3:41 pm
say, quote, "cardinal" of several committees. i served on every sub comey but one in appropriations.mittee but one in appropriations. so i know that committee inside and out. do -- let me just step back a second. and derek and i have in full agreement on this. there is really not one silver bullet or solution to fixing congress. it is going to be a series of a lot of changes and reforms and adaptations and civility and lot of things. so there is not any one silver bullet. but certainly there is a breakdown in the funding process. we've had more government shutdowns in the modern history than we've seen in extensive history prior to that. so how do you sort of unlock that or dislodge and allow the government to function a little bit? so we stepped into that. derek and i both are proprietors too. i didn't even think about that. derek is an proprietor
3:42 pm
appropriator as well. many things we appropriate haven't been authorized in years and years but yet they are still appropriated. so that is a clear breakdown between committees and communication and work. so our recommendation, and again, coming from the tea party perspective, conservative republican and probably the third most conservative district in the country, i put forth a recommendation to the committee with derek's council on how we could bring back that article 1 power. and how could we do that in responsible way from a conservative perspective. and it really starts with what we felt like was at the local level. it wasn't members of congress telling local communities what they need but it was more like local communities requesting assistance and the member being an advocate for or the conduit and trying to help sheppard something for them. but to tie it back to the authorizers just for a second -- this is all washington speak, i get it.
3:43 pm
but it -- we required in our recommendation that if an appropriator was to appropriate something that would be considered what we were calling community focused project grants, that's what we wanted to refer to them as, because they are for the communities and we're granting them to them, much like i think congressman baird was on the transportation committee, you know, there's tiger grants that -- and other transportation grants. generally don't have a problem with grants. and so we wanted it to be developed around a program much like we have success in other programs. but it couldn't be appropriated unless it had been authorized. and we felt like that was really, really important because we wanted all committees to work together to break down these firewalls that are in between the committees. and there's, you know, these turf models between authorizing committees and appropriators. break those down. because it is about we've got to bring members together. republicans and democrats working together on things they agree on. and knowing that hey, i would like to help you, you know,
3:44 pm
through our committee. but your committee needs to complete their side of it. you complete your side of the transaction or the lenler, then we can fulfill our side of the ledger as well. so i felt that was a powerful part of what we recommended in the final report as it relates to bringing back some grant opportunities for members to use in their local communities. >> john, i think it is a good time to bring you in the conversation. one of the recommendations that was in the report that you helped to put out as co-director of this commission on political reform was also an idea about biennial budgeting. and that was back in 2013. so some of these ideas are rather persistent but they just don't seem to get traction actually in congress. even though as we hear from former members and discuss amongst political sooinltss these are definite problems and these seem to be a plausible solution. based on your experience as
3:45 pm
executive director and work in reform generally, are there ways which academics and politicians can partner? and are is there successful strategies for actually getting these reforms adopted? >> well thank you, zach. and first of all, also thank you to aei, as zach mentioned, started mid career here and now i'm back recently. and had the opportunity back in my earlier time to work with brian baird on continuity issues and will be doing that again a little more in a bit. but i do want to say, really praise, the modernization committee. and think about all the ways it could have gone. and i think that relates to your question, about how outside recommendations are just recommendations generally might get some traction and how they sometimes have problems. representative graves mentioned the history of committees of reform and joint committees and others, and it hasn't been that great. sometimes it is an idea
3:46 pm
generating focus but doesn't really get implemented. and you know one thing i think that the modernization committee began with is that it focused on the house. there were certainly lots of opportunities lots of suggestions that we have a joint committee. frankly those joint committee, bringing in the senate as well. they bring in a whole other set of problems and aside from the republican/democratic differences or member differences, bring in these strong institutional differences and frankly at loof committees were sometimes the house wanting to tell the senate what it should do to itself. and i think it was a good focus that the house took a look at itself with its members who really knew the body itself. i also think the focus on modernization. that is not just all small matters but the idea of just starting with the concept that this body is really out of date in certain ways and some of those things were more
3:47 pm
technical, literally tech and policies, and other things that might have greater bipartisan support. but also got into larger areas. so i just think both of those. and finally the leadership. and again representative graves and kilmer and the others, took this in the right spirit. so i think it is very hard to do reform. but those were very good elements. let me mention just a few things which certainly the committee touched on many, many areas and got at lo done. and the going to hopefully do some more. three areas. one that is dear to my heart and brian's heart is continuity issues. and that the committee did get into and certainly really did push the ball forward in thinking about staff and the workings of people in a remote way, e at least more the staff and daily work level. but, you know, there are some bigger issues which the committee was starting to get into and i really do think we need to come back to of issues we raised after 9/11, real deep
3:48 pm
issues about what happens to the body if there's god forbid a terrible attack, many members dead or incapacitated? and of course our pandemic, or perhaps even worse versions of it where members have a hard time coming together in person. and yes we did have experiments with this. and there were some disagreements between the parties and even some disagreements as to, "was this the right mode to go to proxy voted?" or would there be another mode? but i do think those issues are really important. two other things i'll quickly mention. one is, a perennial problem, which i think the committee tried to deal with, which it should deal with but is difficult is the question of the congressional schedule and how much congress is in washington and working on washington issues. of course members have two jobs. or more. but certainly back of their district and washington. but things have changed very much over the years where there
3:49 pm
is the ability to go home every weekend. families are left in the districts. that there is often two career couples in congress with a member and having a spouse who might have a job in the district. all of these things make it very very difficult to have the types of reforms and politically scientists have pushed over the years. i do want to kind of re-up one that the apsa, a group which i was part of, put forward, which was to think about perhaps kind of a super week, a one-time a month where the whole -- congress is there from tuesday to maybe the next thursday. they span the weekend. and that allows them to go back to the district more at other times. but you lose so much time because of the shortness of the time that we're in washington and the travel back and forth and the disconnected nature of it. and so sort of trying to find a creative way to move in that direction. very very hard. i don't want to take up too much time. the last one i want to put on the table is i think all the capacity issues have been very important. but there are more. and i do think congress when it focuses on that, how do we have
3:50 pm
the tools to do the job we need to do, the members may disagree on how to use those toombs but thinking about giving the resources the information to congress that it needs. i think one area that maybe touched on but might be worth touched on, but might be worth thought is, how does congress monitor what happens to all of its laws, not just the fact whether things are authorized but what about the court decisions, the decisions made that congress has a harder time tracking because the executive is so much bigger. how do we build that into the committees themselves or another institution so that congress is aware of what's happening to the laws it's passed and the decisions there. another area of capacity, which i think was very important for this committee that they could deal with looking forward. and you know, i really applaud everyone for the work they've done. >> thanks, john. speaking of capacity, kevin, i wanted to ask you a question.
3:51 pm
you wrote recently about legislative branch support agencies. and you've, of course, worked for the congressional research service. how do these agencies contribute to this idea of increasing congress' capacity and are there reforms that you'd recommend to improve them? >> sure, yeah. no, one of the virtues and bugs of our representative democracy is that anyone can run for congress. we don't have so much sort of mandarin class who's selected and goes to all the right training schools so that they can govern in a wise sort of way. no, anybody can run for congress. and that's what makes -- gives the kind of populist energy and popular connection to our governance system. but the problem is when they come to d.c. they're quickly confronted with an absolutely
3:52 pm
mind blowing situation. again, government is huge, it's fantastically complex, there are tens of thousands of pages of regulations, thousands of pages of laws, trying to understand how things work to say nothing of make them work better is a daunting challenge. that's where the legislative support agencies come in. they are places you have civil servants at the government accountability office, the congressional research service, congressional budget office, these are folks who are civil servants and who can help you do your job. they can do research for you. they can provide you analysis, they can provide you legal opinions. they can give you the tools so that you, as the popularly elected individual can then choose what you want to do. and so these agencies are kind of a critical but little understood piece to the well
3:53 pm
being of our governance system. unfortunately if you look at the trend line since the 1980s, the number of staff at the legislative support agencies has gone down. and today we actually have one less support agency than we used to. in the mid 1990s, the office of technology assessment, right before the dawn of the internet age and various other complicated technological developments, it was zeroed out and its 120 employees were, you know, sent away. and so, government has gotten bigger over the last four years, the challenges have grown more complex, but we have kind of fewer nerds and experts down here who are waiting for congress, you know, and able to help them. so i think one thing that's worth doing is that, you know, congress should make sure that it fully funds these agencies so that it has the support that it needs. because again, governance is
3:54 pm
fantastically complex and members are harried and pulled into tons of different directions. so having more people around them who can help them figure out things i think is a positive. >> can i jump in on this, zach, really quick? >> please. >> kevin observed accurately so that the government has expanded. some people say yeah, that's the problem, shrink the size of government. but the issues have expanded. the issues that members of congress and that the country has to deal with now are more complex than they were 20 years ago. if you shrink, the numbers of people grow which they have, we all represent more people now than we used to by far, at least members do. and the issues from the internet to dna to the level of complexity of all sorts of other things and yet you're somehow still supposed to manage that
3:55 pm
complexity. but if you have more complexity, more people and fewer staff and smaller resources, you're going to have problems. and so, it's not just let's shrink the size of government. let's make sure government staff are adequate to the job in their professionalism and in their numbers. i tell you, if you're limited to 18 total staff members and by the time you deal with service for medicare, medicaid, social security, veterans affairs, that's your constituent service side, then you have a handful, seven or eight, legislative staff to deal with the entire spectrum of issues that you deal with, you're really hard pressed to keep up with stuff, just in a single district the local issues you have if you have a complex district as i think zach, tom and i did, and that's a challenge. and kevin's right, we need to resource the government staff and administrative branch.
3:56 pm
>> i'd like to sort of build on that. we really spend a lot of time, as a committee, discussing this. and oftentimes you'll discover, when you dig deep into a lot of the challenges you're facing you'll find out the house of representatives and most offices is really not set up to succeed. there are barriers put in place, restrictions put in place, capacity, limitations as brian mentioned to 18 staff members, that includes your district office as well. and depending on your district office, you may have one, if you're in a compact area, say an urban area but a rural area you may have three or four offices that are all having to be staffed and serviced by your limitation of people you can employee. the limitations is a head count. it has nothing to do with your budget. and so -- then you have the constraints of your budget. and so, one thing that did happen in the early, you know,
3:57 pm
2000, i guess -- i guess it was 2011, 2012, the house of representatives and you have to remember then, barack obama was president and i think harry reed was the senate majority leader at the time and the republicans had control of the house. but it was a tough time from a budgetary perspective. so what did we do as house members? we cut our budgets by, i think it was, about 22% over a series of a couple of years. and with that, you limit your ability to do what we felt like our committee's goal was, and that is to identify how can we better serve the american people? we found out we made it much more difficult to carry out that goal and objective, when, in fact, the senate did not cut their staffing budgets or their office budgets at all. so we had, as a house, thought we were taking moral high ground, we were going to balance the budget by shaving off a few million dollars here and there, when it's a, you know, hundreds
3:58 pm
of billions of dollars problem we felt like that was going to help. it didn't help. it made things more difficult, made it harder to represent our districts, do the constituent services. as a member of congress, there's a lot more than voting, showing up on fox news or cnn. it's actually impacting people's lives in your district who are calling your office and when they call your office with a concern, whether it's social security or veterans affairs or medicaid, it is generally, you're their last call. they've tried everything they can do and now they're at their whit's end and they need your help and if you don't have the resources to help them you're not serving your constituents. that's been a challenge. so one recommendation we did make was removing that cap. allowing offices to staff their offices like any business would do that best fit your district.
3:59 pm
if you want to have 18 people, great. if you want to take the same amount of money and spread it across 25 people and you can manage that and it balances your committee assignments and work, do that. it was an arbitrary restriction that we couldn't identify where it came from, other than a d.c. fire code that limits the number of people per square foot in a building but we couldn't identify it. that leads to space challenges and space requirements. but one thing we learned from the pandemic is you don't have to all be in the same area and work and meet the needs of your district. if you can meet the needs, hire the people and they can work remote, you can meet the needs of your district. we learned a lot the last year about staffing. >> did you have another comment? >> yes.
4:00 pm
the house has certainly adopted rules and policy that is have made it harder for individual members running their personal offices to be as effective as they might. unfortunately, the house's poor decisions go beyond that. if you look at the congressional committees, you know, again 40 years ago, they had more staff than they do today. and congressional committees are supposed to be the places where policy is being crafted. and there are fewer people. again, as brian eluded to, the issue space has gotten broader and broader. it's not surprising that a result of that is struggling to get bills done. and power ebbing away to the executive branch. >> it's also a power consolidation within the leadership of any house or committee as well that we've noticed. >> i wanted to start shifting the conversation slightly. we've talked, you know, indirectly or directly about the
4:01 pm
recommendations of the modernization committee. many of which have to do with concepts like capacity. increasing expertise, increasing funding, increasing the number of staff, having better benefits for staff, making sure they can stay longer and become more expert and support the mission of members and the congress as a whole. but there may be a question, a nagging question at the back of everyone's mind is that if we give congress all these capacities, will they actually employee them? will they take the opportunity that's given to them to fundamentally improve the capacity of congress and meet some of the challenges we've identified? for example, defending their spending prerogatives with the executive. you know, making itself a more relevant player in the budgetary process in washington. and so, tom, i wanted to -- you
4:02 pm
know, since you spent so much time thinking about these issues, i'm curious what you think. if you have these rule changes and we have some institutional tweaks where we spend more money on congress, do you anticipate that we'll actually see changes in congress or do you think what we're seeing now is sort of outside of congress' control, what's happening in the districts, what's happening with our politics, and what's happening with polarization is what's standing in the way of congress reforming itself? >> as i was saying earlier, it's really no silver bullet. we made 97 recommendations that were largely brought to us from members. you know, we had a member listening day, it was our very first hearing and so many members, republicans, democrats, house leadership on both sides of the aisle, you know, came and gave their ideas. and we took all of those ideas and sort of room nated on them
4:03 pm
and worked through the process and 97 came out favorably in our committee. if all 97 are implemented, will that fix things? i don't know that it fixes everything as we know it today. does it move us in the right direction? i think it will. we've already seen some success. many of the concepts have already been adopted. it's not something you're going to see on the headlines of the news, it's not going to go viral on twitter just as none of our hearings did because they actually were working. people were getting along and having conversation. tell you a funny highlight that derek and i had in one committee, y'all might have witnessed this. we were in a committee room, having a hearing on -- i don't remember what. i think it might have been a lot of budget tear stuff. and out of nowhere a group of students walk in the back and they're there visiting from a school and just wanted to witness a hearing in place. they didn't know what the committee was. and they stayed there for a while.
4:04 pm
and the committee adjourned, and it was a long, you know, committee debating and discussing a lot of different concepts that there's not full agreement on. afterwards derek and i thought we would go talk with the students, see where they're from, learn more of what their interests were. in that conversation i said, tell me, do y'all know who's the republican, who's the democrat? when you're watching the committee can you tell who is from which party? they looked at us and couldn't. that was sort of our objective as we handled the committee. as we went through the recommendations, that was a -- it was a nice little bright spot for me and derek because we knew we were managing -- we had students watching congress work and they couldn't tell who the republican was, who the democrat was. so as a result of that, that kind of collegiality we had as a committee, the recommendations came out. so one of the first one was --
4:05 pm
unfortunately there was a pandemic in place but having newly elected members have their freshman orientation together, bipartisan. both parties joining together. the irony when i first showed up, republicans were told to get on this bus, democrats on that bus. and you're both taught by your own parties in how to do your job and maybe how to scuttle the other team. so from day one you're encouraged not to collaborate with the other party. and so, we saw that implemented, you know, in this freshman orientation. as well as from a capacity component and staffing. there's a big challenge with when you're newly elected in november and there's this gap of time of seven weeks, eight weeks before you're sworn in that you were never allowed to hire anyone, there was no budget and yet you're supposed to be setting up an office, going through these orientations and trainings that come with doing the job before you're sworn in.
4:06 pm
we made a recommendation that actually came from, i want to say it was ms. porter from california, that recommended can't we have a -- can't we hire one person to help us for those -- as we transition through that time. so during this freshman orientation, each member had a staff member that was paid for them to help them better set up their offices and get better prepared so they could better serve the american people. calendar, we talked about calendar earlier, the new calendar came out, reflected our recommendations as a committee. a lot has happened in the month of january that's disrupted that calendar, they've had to recalibrate it a bit but the recommended calendar had the super week in there. it might have been had a few of them in there, but it was about allowing members to spend more time together, bridge a weekend. so maybe you go out to dinner with somebody you haven't spent time with before. maybe you go play golf with a member of the other party,
4:07 pm
whatever it might be. but more importantly your focus is on your work. so when we studied the calendar, and williams timminutes was the champion. there was one more travel day than full days in congress, that doesn't make sense. so the new calendar we were recommending provided more time back in the district but more time doing the job in washington d.c. and half the travel days. and that keeps members out of the airport more and instead doing their job. so that new recommendation came out. so there were a lot that did come out. the question is, how do we transition out of this pandemic into these new recommendations. and what will be the recommendations that come in the future? i think, personally, where that all is going to come down to is how do we build an environment where members collaborate. where they spend more time getting to know one another, developing relationships, where
4:08 pm
they're not spending a lot of time talking about the things they disagree but instead focussing on the things they agree on a little bit more. it's going to take more time for that culture to redevelop. it's been there, we've seen it, brian's seen it but it's going to take time for that to come back. >> brian, do you have perspective on that? >> tom you're right about the schedule. i advocated that when i was in office. people would say where do you live? i said, three days a week in washington d.c., three days a week in washington state and one day a week over the airspace of north america. it's true, when you're flying every week, you figure out the time to the airport, from the airport, flying, better part of the day each week was in the air. it gave me the advantage that i could read a lot, which was a blessing. the other thing i want to quickly go back to what kevin eluded to earlier and tom
4:09 pm
mentioned. you know, if you don't staff the members of congress, who else is going to write the legislation? it's going to be lobbyist or career folks, it's going to be the committees or it's going to be leadership. but if you don't empower your representative to represent you, then somebody else is going to do it. somebody else is going to have the expertise, your staff won't have time to read the legislation and say, how is this going to affect the people that i represent? we had a number of times a bill came forward or my staff or i would call affected businesses or industries or hospitals and say, what happens if we pass this law the way it's written? they would say thank goodness you called because we need this. if we don't have the resources to reach out to our constituents because in the name of shrinking government we disempowered ourselves we've disserviced the people we're supposed to serve. and so, tom's last point is so critical. it won't be easy.
4:10 pm
finding a way for people to find common ground. kind of all the things that used to bring people together have been attacked. i'll give you a couple examples. the mere fact that you partner with a member of the other side to pass legislation can be held against you, not as a vir which you but something that proves that you're a rhino or dino because you talked to someone. but people also get together when they travel. congressional travel you spend a lot of time on airplanes, go to interesting places, but you get to know each other. nowadays if you travel, that's a sign you're going on a boondoggle at the public expense. if you stay in d.c. over the weekend you've gone hollywood and don't care about your constituents. i don't know about your time, tom, but i hardly ever was in d.c. if you met another member on a weekend in d.c., you felt the
4:11 pm
need to apologize to them, i'm here for an important meeting that's why i'm not in district. they did a survey at one point when i was in office, how much time have you spent in a non-official capacity with members of the other party? it was minuscule. except the congressional baseball game or a few other things like that, we don't have the opportunity and that then fuels the an mouse that divides us. >> it really does. you're right. i think now in the modern age, there were so many flights available, members were racing in and racing out as fast as they can out of washington d.c., and it just doesn't serve their district well to do that. one, it creates fatigue, but you're in travel mode all the time. i'm an east coast traveler and i have flights available every hour and a half every day. and so, there's an expectation
4:12 pm
that you should be back in your state. you should be back in your district. and yet, it's a four -- i guess maybe five-hour turn around door-to-door each way. that's time that could be better used doing your job. and spend a little more time with other folks that you want to do your work with. it's really interesting what i'm noticing. the question comes up, if there was one thing you could change, you could wave your magic wand, what would it be? i know it's something that can't be implemented or enforced in any way, but it would be you require a person when they run for a federal office they had to be willing to move their family to the city. you know, and relocate. it's something i didn't do. something i wish i had done because it's much more difficult to attack or talk negatively against someone that your children might go to school with, right that's in your community.
4:13 pm
we don't really have a sense of community at all as members of congress. we're all in our silos, we're racing back and forth, brush past each other in a hallway or tunnel and know very little about one another but our families don't interact either. and that lack of community, you know, if there was some way to have that feeling of community, and being together, i think that would go a long way to improving some of the relationships and to maybe dial back some of the rancor we see today. >>. >> i just want to highlight in the report, too, there are many recommendations made on this score. that is to say, breaking down barriers between parties and trying to have members thinking of themselves more as an institution and less as either representing only their district or only their party. and, you know, i -- i think that personally, you know, thinking about congress as an
4:14 pm
institution, something distinct from the executive, from the judiciary, thinking about ways in which it could coordinate its activities, defend itself and act within the separation of powers as intended, to me thinking more about congress people considering their position as members of an institution, like you're saying, creating this sense of common purpose that you're, you know, you may have different perspectives obviously coming from different areas of the country but united in a mission. you know, that this idea that, you know, madison talks about in federalist ten, we come together in washington to refine and enlarge the public views, not to narrow and divide them. and that seems to be the current trend in washington is to do the ladder. latter. john, just -- it's been a little while since i turned it over to
4:15 pm
you. do you have perspective on this idea about congress as an institution and how reform can help congress people to think of themselves more as an institution? >> well, i think the earlier question you posed too is also important. and that's really are all of these forces that are affecting congress within congress' control by reforming, polarization, you know, the changes in which we live, two career families, ease of travel, lots of things are hard genies to put back in the bottle. but i think the committee was sensible in that it did try to get all of these things knowing it wasn't going to erase polarization or fix the problems on travel but still have practical matters. but again i come back to capacity, which is sometimes thought of as a very simple thing, you get more but i think the committee addressed it in an appropriate way. and also i think we can do more in this direction that there are all sorts of ways which you can
4:16 pm
think about capacity. the members of congress aren't going to agree on how to do the tools, but do you need more staff for members? arguably yes. do you need more for committees? yes. do you need some bipartisan staff for committees, yes. but also some partisan staff, do you need independent institutions, or institutions that are aside from the members' offices of committees like crs and others we can create. do you need better policies for retaining staff or making sure staff has the resources to do a better job. so all of those things i think are core to congress being able to play a larger role. in these other questions of the executive versus congress. those are difficult. executive is working very hard to put its position forward. a lot of forces in our world have given it more power. but i do think focussing on this capacity that congress shouldn't
4:17 pm
try to do these things on the cheap and should think about all the parts, not just helping back ventures get more money, leaders get more money but all these areas, to me that's where the committee made a difference and i think also going forward there's more to be done there. it's not something they should stop at. >> zach, can i expand on a little bit this theme? it's a topic we haven't talked about but we have to really. it has to do with fund-raising and campaign finance. we can institute all sorts of reforms that we talked about today, but as much time as we spent in airplanes we spend more time on the phone begging people for money. not only the individuals for money but expanding mechanisms, party funds, et cetera. one of the other things we have to do if we 'going to get congress to work right is
4:18 pm
address campaign finance. one way i think is to encourage corporate and large individual donors to stop, guest from my son -- guest appearance. buddy, i'm on a webinar, can i get some space? you have to exit the room. >> how long? >> okay. well, i actually wanted to take a moment to say if you have questions. we're going to stop in about ten minutes with our discussion and take some of your questions. if you have a question that you'd like to post to our panel or a particular panelist you can email them to nicole.pen, that's or you can send a message aei modernize congress. submit questions by email to
4:19 pm
nicole penn or at that hashtag. i want to round up the conversation talking about modernization. thinking about ways which we can move forward and suggestions and thoughts we might have about how congress cannot only adopt the recommendations that this committee has put out but also thinking about other things they should be considering. you know, brian brought up this idea of including campaign finance, for example, and thinking about ways in which we can improve congress. i also know that john and brian, you've also worked in past efforts at reform. and so, have the perspective on how we can engage congress to actually maybe undertake these. so i wanted to pose the sort of same question to all of you. i'll start with kevin. sort of thinking about what's the way forward here? what should congress be doing to increase the likelihood of passing what the modernization
4:20 pm
committee has done and what ideas do you have for this next year of talking about modernization? >> well, i think, you know, we saw a pretty successful play run last year where the select committee, you know, they went and reported out these recommendations, but then members of the select committee themselves got together and put together a bill and got that resolution across the line. and i think that is a kind of rinse and repeat type exercise. that can be repeated. and should be repeated. i'm a big fan that, you know, the modernization of congress should be an ongoing activity. it shouldn't be something that happens once every 30 or 50 years. any organization in the private sector regularly has to do things in order to stay in business and to stay on top of their game. congress should do likewise. so, in terms of what it should tackle next, boy, you can throw a rock and hit problems.
4:21 pm
there's so many out there. i would like to see them keep working at the budget process. they put out a whole series of recommendations on that. the trick now is to put in the time to engage further in conversations. we got a lot of new members. more than 40 or 50 of them, and bring them into this and to try to -- that's going to require passing a statute. it's also going to require doing a number of things that will require a lot of people to stay yes. and so, that's time consumconsu. it's not glorious work. but it's absolutely critical. keep working on the budget process because what we have right now looks worse and worse every day. i also would hope they would continue working to, you know, delve deeper into the staffing issues. and making sure that the people
4:22 pm
that they do have on the hill, whether it's in the committees, their personal offices or the legislative branch support agencies are empowered to be as effective as they possibly can. to just take one trite example, congressional staff now, if they want to use like a committee room, they have to walk around with like clipboards and papers and go through this whole process of trying to get access to use a room. this is the 21st century. why? their valuable time is being squandered in so many ways due to ar-kay schisms in the systems. identifying those things and wiping them away so that people are able to do what they're supposed to do is i think another thing. >> thanks, kevin. john, thoughts that you have? >> i'm going to re-up the -- i hope the committee can really do some more work on continuity
4:23 pm
issues. that is a difficult set of issues that the committee made a great start. one other thing about the committee i think that helped it and hopefully helps it going forward is it did draw from members who were on other committees who are relevant to these issues, like house administration and rules. which, of course, will want to be a part of that discussion as well. but i see no reason why the committee shouldn't try to dig in more. yes, it's been able to dig in a little bit more at the staff level, at the operational level of the way in which we tell work, but do you have these two big areas i would say. ones that brian and i and others talked about after 9/11, really thinking about deeper issues of catastrophic attacks, members dying, being incapacitated, members dying, and, of course, the pandemic issues that could be in worse form, the question of can members come together,
4:24 pm
physically come together, and if they can't, what are the alternatives? these are controversial issues but i think the committee made a good start in areas that there was some consensus, i think it could broaden it and do some more. of course, i do think it's going to have to bring in some of the other committees or jurisdiction. i think those issues, given all that's happened building off the good work it's done earlier, would be useful to address. >> brian, your thoughts? >> john is absolutely right. the issue -- when we talk about continuity of congress, let's be clear what we mean. we mean can the institution still function in a constitutionally valid way. and there are two unbelievable threats that we are completely unprepared to deal with. the first is the 9/11 type major attack from a terrorist organization or foreign actor. if the number of the members of the house drop below the quorum,
4:25 pm
it's frozen. the constitution requires a majority to do business. yet the first order of business of the house of representatives nowadays is to swear an oath to uphold and defend the constitution. the second order is to defy and break that oath by supporting a rule that's unconstitutional. the current house rules say if large numbers are lost we'll have a quorum call and whoever responds, however few that is, would be the congress. which means have is a quorum and have is a majority. so if a terrible event happens and the president and vice president is dead, you will now have a micro fraction of a micro fraction, they will choose the speaker of the house and that person become it is president of the united states. that is not a situation we should have, but it is a situation. the other is this, if god forbid the attackers of january 6th had succeeded in killing a couple
4:26 pm
members of the united states senate or ten members of the house, they could have changed the balance of power in the u.s. congress. that is almost an incentive -- certainly not a disintensive for political assassination. i hate to put it bluntly but i don't know how to get people's attention. not a single branch of the government is adequately prepared to have its own branch -- none of them are capable and ready to continue running in a valid manner. if that's not priority one, i don't know what would be. >> tom, we'll give the last perspective for you as the outgoing vice chair. what's your advice or thoughts for the future of modernization? >> yeah. i don't disagree with anything i've heard. you know, i would hope that the committee will look at assisting with implementation of previous recommendations. don't let go of the good work
4:27 pm
that's been done but put energy and effort into the follow through on the implementation side. i know the resources are there. we were actually able to get funding in the legislative branch appropriations bill for the implementation of many of these issues. we should recognize the challenges today are very, very different than when the committee was first formed and brian touches on one of them, we were in mid stride when it all developed with the pandemic. we were addressing continuity of congress issues privately and it sort of took a life of its own how the house had to respond and react because there wasn't a plan. so i think they'll probably look at that. but i think the best thing they can do, best help to provide congress is be an example. this is a very difficult time for congress. everybody is displaced. there's not a lot of congregating but this committee can be an example of success,
4:28 pm
how congress can work, individuals can get along, different points of view can be respected and refined to come to a positive outcome with ideas. i think that's a great example to show not all committees have to be partisan. you don't have to act in a partisan way. you don't have to choose partisan staff. you can jointly run a committee and have success and it's built on trust, and that's a great example. and then the last thing that they might do is just highlight opportunities where there can be bipartisanship and to resist the tendency to go partisan and i think about the covid package being discussed now and the process that's being discussed as reconciliation, which is a very partisan process. actually the covid packages of the past have been bipartisan, they've been all supported by republicans and democrats. so when you have a bipartisan
4:29 pm
opportunity, it's a good chance to stand up and say, let's give it an effort, a try, see if we can do this. and not take the partisan avenues when you have agreement in so many different areas. i think they have some good opportunities to be an example for congress in this next term. >> well, we're going to turn over to start -- to field a few questions from our audience. i want today remind you all if you have questions for us, you can e mail them to nicole.penn at or send it via twitter. we've already received a few questions here. this one is from bob and it's for you, tom. kind of relates to the last question and the last thing you are talking about. there are many recommendations that came out of the select committee and bob is curious to know, which of the
4:30 pm
recommendations would you most like to see acted upon in the coming year? if you had to prioritize and sort of put a one, two or three at the top of the list, what would it be? >> that's a great question. derek and i, we got that question a lot. there's really no favorite. we know that it's a -- you know, it's really a collage of ideas that come together to draw a better picture. but for me, i mean, i know the budgetary stuff is really important as an appropriator, i get the idea we have to fix that broken process and that's important. but i think personally what really struck a cord with me, it was a testimony and it was, you know, from reed ribbel, we had a panel of form ermembers, some had left voluntarily, some had not. the question was asked -- he left on his own and he left early. very talented business person,
4:31 pm
and had great ideas, he was a policy guy, wasn't a political guy, he left, got frustrated. i said what would have kept you here one more term? the country needed you one more term, what made you leave? his answer was, i didn't have purpose. my party controlled the chamber, my -- you know, my party had the speaker, i was on the committee that i wanted to be on that was controlled by my party. and, in fact, i think might have been the chair at the time, and he said i had an idea, hi over 200 -- i forget what it was, i had 30, 40 co-sponsors, it was bipartisan and i couldn't even get a hearing. i couldn't get my own bill heard in a committee controlled by my party, my friends, that was bipartisan. and i didn't want to be in a place where i just couldn't make a difference and i didn't have purpose. so for me it's about the recommendations that can bring
4:32 pm
purpose and fulfillment back to the job. and a lot of that is going to go back to the civility, the relationships, the working together, cohesiveness, collaboration, whatever can draw that back and give members that purpose and focus, that fulfillment is so needed in this job. it's a difficult job. you're away from your family, raising money as brian said all the time, all these pressures are on you, you should at least find fulfillment and purpose in what you do. >> another question from quinton wilson, this is for brian and tom. you're both former members of congress, he's curious about what former members can do to help guide and support reform efforts like this? are there ways in which former members can come together, share their experience and help in this modernization effort? >> i'll jump in on that. first of all, tom, i thought what you just said is absolutely true. a few years ago i did a survey of former members, an informal
4:33 pm
discussion, i asked them one of the hardest things about leaving congress? they said that loss of purpose. but more and more i'm hearing what you say, which is members are not finding that sense of purpose in office. they're feeling stymied and frustrated and locked. wait around for a year, at the end of the year, vote for something you haven't read and then go home and raise more money. that's not service, that's not satisfying. there are a lot of great way former members served. we go to congress to campus events and talk to young people about civic education. there's a group called the reformers caucus and issue one which works on campaign finance reform and civility issues. there are a number of things and forums like this. so former members bring a lot to -- they bring a passion and love for the institution, the country. they bring a knowledge of how things can work and should work.
4:34 pm
and it's interesting, a lot of times members are more collie jal after they're in office than when they were in office. if you're not having to run for re-election again. suddenly when you say, my friend, you actually mean my friend. so there's a lot former members can do. the former members under the demand progress got together and did a mock hearing over zoom that sort of demonstrated to the congress that it could be done and showed how and learned -- we figured we could be the test pilots. if we screw up we don't lose an election and embarrass ourselves or if we embarrass ourselves who cares, but that test platform was helpful so there's lots of ways members can and will be engaged. >> i think about that. say we were talking to a panel of former members or a group of former members. i would say don't disengage. more than ever members of
4:35 pm
congress need your engagement, your encouragement. they need your council. so many members are new, so many never served in an elected body. they're learning on the job and they're learning through their favorite cable news network oftentimes. i think we owe it to sitting members and newly elected members to just be engaged with them and encourage them and be available. because i know the difficulties and the challenges that they're facing. and they could use, you know, some insights at least. you don't have to tell them what to do or how to do their job. but i know reflective insight how it has been and can be is always welcome. >> former members association as you may know just sent a letter to leaders of both chambers, both parties, pleading for civility. it was former democrats, republicans, independents, house and senate members, joined togtd and said, look, you're tearing
4:36 pm
apart your own institution, we have to do better than this, how can we help? that kind of statesmanship is what hopefully former members can bring and hopefully it won't fall on deaf ears in the institution. >> to say another encouraging word about this former members of congress as an organization, i had an opportunity this summer to work with a group of students to interview former members of congress about earmarks. and they -- it was -- you know, when you talk about having more civility and more friendship and collegiality after you leave the chamber, i was bowled over at the generosity and desire and passion that former members had about the institution. and how willing and able they were to provide a really important perspectives on reform. so there's a big role for former members to play, i think, moving forward in terms of this reform effort. >> we have another question here.
4:37 pm
this is from mike stern. you know, i -- we've seen this i think in any walk of life in america that the pandemic has really reshaped what we do and how we do it, and what we do right here, for example, instead of meeting in washington at a.i. we're doing this virtually via zoom, he asked the question, do zoom and webex and other technology that is we've now adopted and become used to provide new opportunities for congress to get information and advice, but also maybe to engage with constituents? i know that tom, brian, you both mentioned the fact that you're constantly shuttling in person back and forth from your districts to washington. do you think that in part of modernization could be more virtual interactions rather than in-person interactions? >> i absolutely do. i represent a pretty large -- represented a large geographic area i was on the phone with my
4:38 pm
friend greg wadden, who represents all of eastern oregon. we were talking about what it used to take to talk to all the county commissioners -- sorry for the phone in the background -- now you can zoom with everybody right away and that's really effective. >> i'll pick up on that. it creates some efficiencies certainly with, you know, meeting with people, meeting with constituents and such. and maybe committee meetings and other things. but it does create some disadvantages as well. you know, it creates a separation that, you know -- i think about committee meetings and how much work happens in a committee meeting that's in person. when you get up and walk across the room and talk to a colleague about an amendment, there's that personal interaction of being able to get information and make decisions on, you know, real time. so that might be one
4:39 pm
disadvantage. obviously it's necessary in pandemic mode right now, but it creates efficiencies that are really helpful. it does streamline the calendars. it allows you to do a little bit more in a day, and i think members enjoy that. i think i'm the first member that left congress in the pandemic mode and how staffs were operating and how meetings were occurring and the challenges that everybody was dealing with and the connectivity, but watching it come together has been really fascinating. >> let me elaborate on that interpersonal stuff. one way when we were doing the remote hearings which we advocated, which i don't think has been implemented, when you're on the floor in a real vote on the floor itself, sometimes you walk in and think you have your mind made up and your three most trusted colleagues are going the other way, you can go to them on the floor, i was leaning yes, you're no, help me understand this. under the proxy system you can't do that necessarily.
4:40 pm
you can't -- unless we show the members in real time who's voting how and give a way for them to connect in real time as the vote's in process, i think we miss a fundamental element. there were several times i thought i had a bill figured out and i talked to somebody and they said, did you know this was in the bill? sometimes you don't know it all. so you really need that interaction in real time. you can do it remotely but we need to structure it so it's possible. >> maybe i can just add. i know, brian, again, when we were post 9/11, thinking about continuity issues, there was certainly talk about a remote congress. and at that time i think it was not as well thought of, because there are some disadvantages or worried we were talking about before making sure members can come together, be in washington, maybe everyone would just mail it in, stay home. but with the pandemic, of course, we see, you know, the -- the need for something.
4:41 pm
i know there's disagreement and the house has to, what should be implemented when. but we were in a situation which was pretty bad now but you can imagine a worse situation where maybe more universally people agreed they couldn't come together. and so, balancing the idea of having the tools to be able to do something and figuring out what the procedures are remotely but also making sure you keep the personal nature when you have the regular congress, i think that's a good task and that's what i hope congress will really wrestle with, clearly we need modernization, we've seen some, but we have to figure out how to use it well and also make sure to have the personal interaction that's necessary for congress. >> you're right. if we don't deal with the possibility of continuity issues and deal with the possibility of meeting remotely, the very institution that's supposed to help the country solve its problem becomes incapacitated by
4:42 pm
the problems it needs to solve and we need to fix that. remote sessions combined with continuity are part of the solution. >> we have a few more minutes. one last question. this is interesting comparative question for somebody who works for the european parliaments liaison office in washington. that's a comparative perspective, has the modernization committee or will it think of the experiences of other parliaments or legislatures around the world that may have faced similar problems or are facing similar problems? is there something we can do for congress to engage internationally, and see if there are maybe parallel problems and solutions to the problems we're facing here in washington, in congress? >> great question. we did do that, particularly with some of the continuity issues as we were beginning that process, looking at other bodies
4:43 pm
and how they operated, including states. we heard testimony from states as well. that's important for us to learn from. that's -- oftentimes we think we have all the answers and somebody else is not doing it as well as we are, and, in fact, we're finding out, there are better ways to schedule, to calendar, to do block scheduling on committee meetings. amazing to washington the block committees organize, i come from state, they're in session 40 days a year. and somehow they can figure it out and get it done in 40 days. they don't seem to have the same challenges. smaller but they're running a budget, 11 million people in the state. so we did learn -- i think washington state was a great example of how things could be done, if i remember right, brian. >> yeah. one thing on the remote thing, tom. when we did the mock hearings we had testimony from a member of the brazilian parliament. we had a member of the spanish
4:44 pm
government, we had them all remote. they didn't have to fly on airplanes to come to us and in real time we had the chief advocate in the british parliament was able to testify in our hearing from the uk, in real time. and they had a lot to teach us. so it's a great question. i appreciate the person asking it. the technology does allow us to bring in new perspectives, more efficiently, conveniently and globally. >> look, i'm a big supporter of the efforts to get more resources to congress and more capacity. but one thing we should remember is our legislative branch is better funded and has many, many more staff than almost any parliament around the world. from that perspective people do envy us. again we could be more efficient. we still need more, but the staff that individual members have, the staff the committees have, there are a lot of
4:45 pm
parliamenty systems which are very, very small staffs, relying on the executive in a bigger way than we are. so we could be a lesson to them in some ways and we still need to do more. >> well, unfortunately we've run out of time. but i wanted to thank our panelists for a really engaging discussion for the former members, for their passion for their institution and for improving it and to our scholars from ai for their even efforts to improve congress and for hosting this discussion. thanks to everyone who submitted questions and stayed with us. we appreciate your attention. and we hope to see you again in another panel soon. >> thanks, everybody. tom, great to work with you. >> likewise. you're watching cspan3, cspan3 was created by america's cable television companies.
4:46 pm
today we're brought to you by these companies who provide cspan3 free to viewers as a public service. weeknights this month we feature a preview of what's available. tonight a look back to the civil war confederate generals, james bud robertson talks about robert e. lee's ties to virginia and the various military campaigns that took place throughout the state. he compares general lee's life after the war to other veterans. watch tonight beginning at 8:00 eastern. and enjoy american history tv every weekend on cspan3. congress tom emmer compare of the congressional committee talked about 2022 midterm elections with politico. >> good morning, i'm eugene daniels au


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on