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New study suggests a ‘healthier’ Congress

USA TODAY

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The new Congress is showing early signs that lawmakers are working more and allowing more input from both parties in the Senate, a new report finds.

“I think it’s fair to say we’ve made a little progress this year,” said former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, a cofounder of the Bipartisan Policy Center, which is examining the workings of Congress. “I’m encouraged by what we found, and I’m certainly encouraged to the degrees there’s been more open debate and consideration of issues.”

The center on Monday will launch the Healthy Congress Index, a new quarterly report tracking various metrics on the legislative branch, including days in session, amendment votes, filibusters and others.

The criteria are based on recommendations offered last June by the center’s Commission on Political Reform, which argued that a breakdown of the legislative process had helped fuel polarization over time.

The initial report shows this Congress narrowly spent more days in session in the first quarter on legislative business than the previous two. In the Senate, with a new Republican majority, some 202 amendments — 97 from Republicans and 105 from Democrats — were considered either by roll call or voice vote, or by unanimous consent. In the first quarter of the previous Congress, 134 amendments had been considered.

BPC member and former senator Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said the amendment process in particular is “extremely vital to the institution” finding legislative solutions and encouraging across-the-aisle relationships.

KEYWORDS: 114TH CONGRESS, COMMISSION ON POLITICAL REFORM, HEALTHY CONGRESS INDEX, JOHN BOEHNER, MITCH MCCONNELL, OLYMPIA SNOWE