Congress is the forum for our country to grapple with the challenges of our time, give voice to the views of citizens, and to decide who we want to be as a nation and the direction we want to move in. That function is desperately needed now as we confront the deep-rooted racial and economic disparities that have been brought to the fore by the horrific killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and so many others.
Yet, we also must recognize that as an institution, Congress has not always given voice to everyone’s views. The voices of people of color have too rarely been centered in debates, particularly on those issues most important to them. As the House and Senate, and all of our political leaders, move toward healing the nation, we must better live up to America’s core values and hold our elected officials accountable to their duties and obligations.
On June 10th, the House Judiciary Committee will hold an oversight hearing on “Policing Practices and Law Enforcement Accountability.” This is likely the first of several hearings that will precede consideration of expected policing reform legislation.
The Congress Project of the Bipartisan Policy Center does not expect these debates to be apolitical or devoid of conflict and disagreement. We do believe, however, that the debates can be more productive than those of recent years. Some committees have regularly set the example for how to achieve this. Their practices should be followed by all and include:
- Consultation between the majority and minority on hearing topics
- Joint briefings between the majority and minority prior to hearings to establish a common understanding of facts and an understanding of disagreements
- Seeking agreement on the purpose and goals of a hearing
- Bipartisan agreement on the selection of witnesses
- Before identifying solutions, focus on surfacing a diversity of experiences in society and the facts of the problems
The House Rules Committee recently demonstrated this model in a hearing on constitutional responsibility and authority of the legislative branch. Additionally, for the past year and a half, the House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress has been a model for thorough legislative factfinding and productive legislating. House and Senate committees should follow their leads.
Americans’ faith in our institutions may be shaken, but Congress can and has to do better.