Just over 18 months ago, the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) published recommendations by its Commission on Political Reform (CPR) to address the hyper-partisanship characterizing American politics.
BPC initiated its Healthy Congress Index last year to measure progress on several key issues, including the number of days Congress spends in session; the openness of the Senate debate and amendment process; and the strength of “regular order” in the congressional committee process, floor debate, and conference committees.
This week—on the heels of the Republican congressional retreat designed to outline priorities and issues for the remainder of the 114th Congress—BPC released its latest quarterly assessment of Congress’s ability to effectively govern.
The diagnosis? There are signs of hope, but still too little function in the system.
Based on the metrics of the Index, even with the upheaval of a new Speaker, the 114th Congress has made some progress. The ability of committees to make policy and resolve differences has improved.
The number of days the House and Senate were in session fell short of the CPR’s recommendations and House Rules still allowed for fewer amendments to be offered, but the Senate spent more days working in Washington.
The Senate also considered many more amendments compared with recent years—bearing out Majority Leader McConnell’s stated desire to return to “regular order.”
At the recent GOP retreat, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Leader McConnell outlined their respective plans for the year. These included a more ambitious policy agenda on Ryan’s part, and a shared commitment by the two leaders to return to a more functional Congress—one that exercises its power of the purse on time in the annual appropriations process, conducts more effective oversight, and produces agreements on key legislation. These are also positive signs.
Time will tell whether they will be able to deliver—and whether we will continue to see progress in BPC’s “Healthy Congress” assessment—in the coming election year.