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A Brief History of Congressional Reform Efforts

Congress has undergone many changes since World War II, some as a result of major reform efforts, such as the Legislative Reorganization Acts of 1946 and 1970, and others through more targeted efforts aimed at particular problems such as the 1973 War Powers Act, the 1974 Budget Act, and the 1989 Ethics in Government Act. Still other changes have been accomplished through simple House and Senate rules changes or through party caucus rules changes.

In each case the changes have been in response to perceived institutional shortcomings or scandals, either to make Congress a more capable institution in handling its various responsibilities or to address low levels of public confidence and trust in the legislative branch. While not all changes produced the desired results, and some even had unintended consequences, taken together they evidence a willingness, albeit, often a reluctant inclination, to adapt to changing circumstances to keep the institution relevant, dynamic and worthy of public support.

The purpose of this report is to briefly trace the history of those reform efforts over the last 66 years—what precipitated them, what they aimed to accomplish, and how well they succeeded (or failed). Finally the report will discuss some of the current problems Congress is having and how various reform efforts have contributed to them.

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2013-02-22 00:00:00

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