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New Blueprint for Reform Will Improve Governing In a Polarized America and Strengthen Democracy

Washington, D.C. – A bipartisan commission of former members of Congress, cabinet secretaries, governors, local leaders, and advocates unveiled a new blueprint to strengthen American democracy today. In a time of deep ideological divide in Washington and around the country, the commission’s more than 60 recommendations aim to increase confidence in U.S. elections, restore congressional debate and deliberation, and embrace Americans’ enthusiasm for public service.

The Bipartisan Policy Center’s Commission on Political Reform is co-chaired by former Senate Majority Leaders Tom Daschle and Trent Lott, former Senator Olympia Snowe, former Secretary Dan Glickman, and former Governor Dirk Kempthorne, and includes 24 other leaders from diverse professional and political backgrounds.

“With such deeply held contrasting principles, we as a country must ask: ‘Can our democracy function effectively in such a partisan era?’ We believe the answer is yes,” said the co-chairs in the report. “We come here today with the hope that our democracy will once again be able to respond to national challenges, despite our ideological differences.”

The report, Governing in a Polarized America: A Blueprint to Strengthen our Democracy, proposes redistricting commissions that have bipartisan support from the legislature and the electorate. The report also calls on states to increase the number of voters who cast ballots in primary elections from 20 to 35 percent of eligible voters by 2026, to create a common congressional primary date in June, to conduct more open primaries, and to eliminate low-turnout methods of candidate selection, like caucuses and conventions.

Through these reforms, the plan would tackle the sense of distrust that permeates the electoral process and reverberates into legislating in Washington.

Congressional gridlock is weakening America. The commission offers several reforms to encourage Congress to govern despite the sharp divisions between the parties. These include concurrent five-day work weeks for the House and Senate, a strengthened role for congressional committees, and a biennial budget process. To reorient the rules, procedures, and precedents of the body to improve deliberation, the commission calls for guaranteed consideration of a minimum of ten amendments offered by the majority and the minority and eliminates the filibuster on motions to proceed.

“The polarization in the United States runs deeply through its institutions, affects the ways Americans elect political leaders and how the institutions of government operate, and even puts in danger Americans’ deep-seated desire to serve their nation,” according to the report. “Engagement by the American people will be necessary to encourage policymakers to solve problems,” continued the co-chairs.

To engage more people in civic life, the commission encourages all Americans ages 18 to 28 to commit to one year of service that could be met by serving in programs like Americorps and the Peace Corps, running for political office, or serving in appointed office. The federal government must leverage additional resources to increase the supply of available positions in successful government-service programs that currently turn away countless applicants.

The administration should also open political appointments to the widest possible pool of applicants and not impose undue burdens on those seeking positions in public office. For federal appointees, only the top policymaking roles in the various departments and agencies should require confirmation by the Senate. To ensure that efforts are made to foster young leaders in politics, ample training and resources should be provided to young candidates running competitive races at the local, state, and federal level.

“We present a series of ideas that can generate true bipartisan support while remaining mindful of the political divisions that define the country and the political imperatives that influence the decisions of elected leaders,” writes the commission. “Taken together, these recommendations have the potential to transform the nation’s politics and civic life. The result will be a stronger, more united country that is better equipped to meet the challenges of our times.”

To read the full report of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Commission on Political Reform, click here.