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Reforming Congress?

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  1. Reforming Congress?

  2. Problems with Congress Policy Gridlock- too many competing interests and a failure to compromise has led to gridlock Representatives don’t represent constituents Take advantage of perks Too busy running for reelection

  3. Policy Gridlock Congress was designed as powerful It was created for deliberative action Today’s critics want a Congress that can enact legislation quickly (but there is inherent danger in that because they could do harm quickly, too)

  4. Representatives Don’t Represent Framers wanted the representatives to refine public views not reflect them Today’s public wants representatives that are closer to our own views Do we want a representative or direct democracy? Direct would imply citizen legislators for short term assignments Representative is what we have- professional legislators with expert staffs and no term limits

  5. Take Advantage of Perks Franking privilege- ability for members to send mail free of charge to constituents - Critics say this is taxpayer money for candidate’s reelection Pork barrel legislation- bills that contain money for projects in a congressmen’s district - While the critics have a point, this money is actually not large compared to other gov. spending (like entitlement programs- welfare)

  6. Too Busy Running for Reelection 95% of incumbents in Congress get reelected Term limits have been brought up as a way to avoid this Beginning in the 1990s some states began voting on limiting the terms of their reps. The Supreme Court said it was unconstitutional Term limits mean there would be a lot of novices in Congress and this may not lead to greater productivity

  7. Quick Quiz on Ethics Which of the following things are okay? Senator speaks at a university and receives payment for it Representative goes out to lunch with a lobbyist and the lobbyist pays Former Congressmen lobbies for a bill to be passed Senator receives a gift from a close friend exceeding $100

  8. Ethics : “We have the best Congress money can buy” • Divided power= divided responsibility and more opportunities to influence • Both the House and the Senate have ethics committees • Both have rules on things such as: gifts, fees, outside earned income, mass mailings, travel, lobbying when you leave office • No ethics code can really address the bargaining that goes on within Congress • Some scandals include: • 1980-81 Abscam scandal where a group of congressmen convicted of accepting money from a wealthy Arab seeking political favors • 1997 Newt Gingrich- speaker of the House- fined $300,000 for illegally raising money

  9. An Attempt at Reform: Contract with America • 1994- Republican majority in House- promised the American people to reform congress in first 100 days • In show of party discipline they managed to get a lot of their promises passed • House reform • Reduced number of committees • Restricted committee chair terms • Changed rules of House, making it easier to offer amendments • In the end the Senate stymied much of the process but approval ratings of Congress increased