Former officials from different branches of the federal government advocated for structural reforms within Congress and greater public participation in the political process to relieve political gridlock at an event hosted by the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Commission on Political Reform Wednesday afternoon at the Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.
The event was part of a series of “National Conversations on American Unity” sponsored by the BPC in partnership with USA Today held across the country. It consisted of two panels on Congressional reform.
The first panel, chaired by Harvard Institute of Politics Director C.M. Trey Grayson ’94, was made up of officials from past presidential administrations who discussed the process of confirming presidential appointments and the confirmation process’s role in Congressional gridlock.
“There is no question that the appointment process is broken and takes too long,” Grayson said.
Andrew H. Card, chief of staff under President George W. Bush, added that the fact that appointments requiring Senate confirmation number in the thousands compounds the problem.
Panelists concurred that a close relationship between the White House and Congress is crucial to relieving gridlock.
“A President who is willing to engage Congress can change the world,” said John H. Sununu, former governor of New Hampshire and chief of staff under President George H. W. Bush. He added that President Obama could do a lot more to strengthen relations with legislators.
Former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott noted that discord between the two houses of Congress also contributes to the gridlock.
“The Senate and the House of Representatives today are like two ships passing in the night,” Lott said. “People need to put their positions on the line and lead aggressively to get a result,” rather than being preoccupied with reelection.
The event’s second panel, consisting mostly of former members of Congress, also noted that the President has a responsibility to improve relations with legislators, while mentioning other factors that contribute to partisanship.
Some panel members noted that today’s hyper-partisan political atmosphere is not conducive to increased civility among legislators, for whom association with the other party is risky.
“A picture with the President could cost some representatives the primary,” former Texas Congressman Charles A. Gonzalez said.
Gerrymandering is also still a rampant problem, according to members of the panel, who agreed that independent redistricting committees would increase the number of competitive House seats and placate extreme political positions.
The panel also discussed introducing two-year budget deals instead of the typical one-year deal so that the budget would not be debated during election years. It also touched on reforming campaign finance in light of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and enticing legislators to spend more time in Washington, D.C.
Both panels concluded by emphasizing the significance of public participation in the political process, particularly by young people.
“We need a whole new generation thinking about the issues that matter to us all,” said former U.S. Senator Olympia J. Snowe, of Maine.
–Staff writer Karl M. Aspelund can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @kma_crimson.