One secret of the modern Congress is that many members simply do not know each other very well, or at all. As the Commission on Political Reform noted in its report, “Members do not eat together, their families do not interact, and consequently they do not get to know each other very well.” This is a marked change from the past, when such interaction was commonplace. Personal relationships were at the heart of some of the most significant legislative accomplishments of the 20th century.
Congress typically begins its work week on Tuesday morning and concludes Thursday afternoon leaving just one full day for legislating. In these two half days and one full day, members must attend committee hearings, business meetings, address matters on the floor of the chamber and meet with constituents while also squeezing in an ever-increasing amount of fundraisers. The demands of fundraising and the perpetual campaign occupy “most free moments in Washington,” according to the Commission. “Under these circumstances, it is hard to imagine how members of opposing parties can find the time to make real overtures to each other on issues of shared interest.”
The Commission has put forward a series of reforms to help address this issue and create an environment more conducive to developing positive working relationships among members of Congress, including:
- The House of Representatives and the Senate should schedule synchronized, five-day workweeks in Washington, with three weeks in session followed by one-week state and district work periods.
- The joint leadership in the House of Representatives and the Senate should each plan periodic, informal gatherings for their members that are centered on a particular theme or speaker to allow for more relationship-building across the aisle.
- Joint party caucuses should be scheduled in both chambers at least once a month to discuss potential areas for legislative cooperation.
KEYWORDS: COMMISSION ON POLITICAL REFORM