Posts tagged ‘A Better Congress’

Four Out of Ten Books Published by TheCapitol.Net Receive High Honors at Benjamin Franklin Awards

How many presses can claim 40 percent of their books as winner or finalist in one of the publishing industry’s most prestigious awards? TheCapitol.Net is one that can. The Virginia-based DC-area publisher has published ten titles, all on understanding how the federal government, Washington, and the media actually work. Four of them have received recognition at the Benjamin Franklin Awards–the premier award in the independent publishing world.

Benjamin Franklin Awards, Finalist Benjamin Franklin Award, Winner

Organized by the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA), and selected, in 2011, from some 1300 entries, the Benjamin Franklin Awards often go to much larger publishers, such as John Wiley & Sons, Dorling Kindersley, and Harvard Common Press.

Yet, at IBPA’s 23rd annual award ceremony held at Book Expo America (BEA) in New York recently, The Capitol.Net’s Testifying Before Congress: A Practical Guide to Preparing and Delivering Testimony before Congress and Congressional Hearings, by William N. LaForge, took top honors in the Professional and Technical category, while A Better Congress: Change the Rules, Change the Results, by Joseph Gibson, was a finalist in the Politics and Current Events category.

These two books, honored at the 2011 awards ceremony, join previous finalists Congressional Deskbook (2006) and Common Sense Rules of Advocacy for Lawyers (2005) in achieving this honor.

Publisher Chug Roberts commented, “I’m thrilled that the quality of our books continues to be validated by this group of very tough judges. We’ve always tried to create books that complement our courses and are truly useful to those trying to get something done at the federal level, and this recognition demonstrates that we’re succeeding.”

Common Sense Rules of Advocacy for Lawyers, by Keith Evans Congressional Deskbook, by Michael L. Koempel and Judy Schneider Testifying Before Congress, by William LaForge A Better Congress: Change the Rules, Change the Results: A Modest Proposal - Citizen's Guide to Legislative Reform
Common Sense Rules of Advocacy for Lawyers Congressional Deskbook
Finalist, 2005
Congressional Deskbook
Finalist, 2006
Testifying Before Congress
Winner, 2011
A Better Congress
Finalist, 2011

To see more information about TheCapitol.Net’s books, go to TCNBooks.com

TheCapitol.Net is a privately held, non-partisan publishing and training company based in Alexandria, VA. For over 30 years, TheCapitol.Net and its predecessor, Congressional Quarterly Executive Conferences, have been training professionals from government, military, business, and NGOs on the dynamics and operations of the legislative and executive branches and how to work with them.

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House Committee on Repeals

New laws and programs are often initiated as a way of resolving problems. At the same time, new laws and programs serve as “accomplishments” for members of Congress. Unfortunately, more often than not, such “accomplishments” do not actually differ that much from programs and laws that are already in existence. As a result, the federal code is filled to overflowing with statutes that are outdated and obsolete.

Woh oh...It's Magic, You Know
Creative Commons License photo credit: Rory Finneren

While many laws might have made sense at the time they were passed, after years or decades many of these laws no longer serve any contemporary purpose. In many instances, such laws remain on the books because they serve to benefit a particular favored interest group. In other instances, they remain simply because Congress fails to take action.

The momentum of Congress tends to run toward the direction of passing new laws instead of getting rid of obsolete laws. That dynamic could be changed through the creation of a committee that held jurisdiction that extends only to bills that repealed existing laws.

In 1995 a practice of setting time limits for A Better Congress: Change the Rules, Change the Results: A Modest Proposal - Citizen's Guide to Legislative Reformsecondary committees in the House was established. That practice continues today. It has effectively eliminated the standoff that previously took place whenever a bill fell within the jurisdiction of more than one committee. Prior to that change, either committee could effectively bottleneck a bill. The deadline works by forcing the secondary committee to reach some type of compromise with the first committee.

A committee on repeals could have jurisdiction over a bill to create a sunset commission on federal government agencies. The purpose of a sunset commission is to periodically review the activities of government agencies and make recommendations regarding whether that agency should even continue to exist. Such a statute exists in Texas, with law providing a specific date on which an agency will cease to exist unless it is reviewed by the Texas legislature and renewed. As that particular date approaches, the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission makes a thorough review of the activities of the agency and makes subsequent recommendations to the legislature regarding that agency.

Source: A Better Congress, by Joseph Gibson, Chapter 16 The Committee on Repeals.

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“Accomplishments” in Congress

“Accomplishments” in Congress are often collected and touted to fuel reelection bids. Every two years representatives face the grind of election while senators face election every six years. During the interim, members continue to run reelection campaigns. The question of “what have you done for me lately?” hangs over the heads of all Congressional members. When faced with that question by their constituency, members naturally want to point to an “accomplishment.”

Eamon Gilmore and Aodhain ORiordain with mobile billboard
Creative Commons License photo credit: The Labour Party<\center>

As legislators, members are able to accomplish something when they pass a new law. This often brings out a natural consequence of legislators tending to view every problem as requiring a new law. They often define each new law as an accomplishment regardless of the actual effect. Along the same lines, they also often see each new effort to pass a law that is not actually successful as a failure, even if that is not the case. Some problems actually resolve themselves while they are still pending. This could occur because of dynamics within the market, court decisions, breakthroughs in technology or any number of other external factors. Many times, such factors may cause a proposed law to become outdated before it even passes.

Whenever a member passes a law that does not work, they often tinker with it even further rather than try to repeal it. It is a rare occurrence that anyone in Congress A Better Congress: Change the Rules, Change the Results: A Modest Proposal - Citizen's Guide to Legislative Reformviews getting rid of a program or a law, even if it is obsolete, as an accomplishment. There is often an implicit assumption that all government programs and laws should simply continue in perpetuity. Doing away with programs and laws is often assumed to carry too much political cost.

This is certainly not to say that all government intervention is unnecessary or harmful. Laws are often needed and frequently work well. Due to the drive for reelection, whenever Congress views a problem, there tends to be a strong bias toward passing a new law to resolve that problem. This often takes the form of government intervention, with a new law providing members with an accomplishment they can take back home and tout. In this case, the actual substance of the law as well as its effect becomes secondary.

Reference: A Better Congress, by Joseph Gibson, Chapter 7 Accomplishments.

To learn more about ways in which you can change Congress and receive better results, consider these Capitol Learning Audio Courses: How to Work the Hill Like a Pro, and Making the Most of a Site Visit with a Member of Congress.

To learn more about persuading Congress, consider our course Strategies for Working with Congress: Effective Communication and Advocacy on Capitol Hill, and Capitol Hill Workshop.

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For more information about working with Congress, see these resources from TheCapitol.Net:

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The Power of the Majority Party in Congress

There is no getting around the fact that members of the majority party typically decide the most crucial questions presented to Congress. Furthermore, members of the majority party also primarily control what will be considered by their chambers on a daily basis. In the end, the fact that a member can vote does not really matter as much if he has no control regarding what the questions will be.

Nested Brass Scale Weights
Creative Commons License photo credit: Theodore Scott

Members of the minority in both chambers do have some powers they can utilize in order to slow down or even stop the movement of legislation.

Senate
The minority party can threaten extended debate in the Senate. The majority party must gather 60 votes in order to cut off debate, if that should happen. Provided the minority party has 41 seats and all of that party’s members vote together, it is possible to stop any measure.

Minority party senators additionally have the freedom to provide a variety of amendments to bills on the Senate floor. Amendments are not required by Senate rules to relate to the subject matter of the underlying bill. In addition, minority party members may also utilize amendments for forcing their proposals onto the agenda. Practically speaking, Senate majority leaders do have procedural tools available that can be used for effectively blocking the efforts of the minority to offer amendments.

House
In the House, minority party representatives face a much weaker situation. The House majority determines the bills that are considered in committee as well as on the floor. Whenever a bill comes up on the floor, majority party A Better Congress: Change the Rules, Change the Results: A Modest Proposal - Citizen's Guide to Legislative Reformleadership can exercise complete control over the amendments that can be offered by House members.

It is only in committees that minority party members in the House are able to offer amendments without obtaining the approval of at least some of the majority party members. Even in that case, the amendment must relate in some way to the same subject matter as the underlying bill.

If a committee amendment is devised that is troublesome to the majority, the chance to offer it can be cut off by simply skipping committee consideration and the bill being taken directly to the House floor.

Between Chambers
The way in which chambers resolve differences between Senate and House bills is also determined by the majority party. Majority party members can elect to send amendments back and forth between chambers. Regardless of the method used, the minority has little to no say in the matter and has no choice but to sit back and watch.

Reference: A Better Congress, by Joseph Gibson, Chapter 5 Procedures Designed to Divide.

To learn more about ways in which you can change Congress and receive better results, consider these Capitol Learning Audio Courses: How to Work the Hill Like a Pro, and Making the Most of a Site Visit with a Member of Congress.

To learn more about persuading Congress, consider our course Strategies for Working with Congress: Effective Communication and Advocacy on Capitol Hill, and Capitol Hill Workshop.

Also see

For more information about working with Congress, see these resources from TheCapitol.Net:

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Some Problems with Current Campaign Finance Laws

Current campaign finance laws came about as a result of the Watergate scandal during the 1970s. Supporters of these laws enacted them with good intentions, of course. They primarily believed that campaign contributions resulted in the corruption of politicians. It was thought that a law that limited contributions would limit political corruption. Unfortunately, we have now reached a situation in which campaign finance laws limit contributions in a complex manner that creates consequences that were never intended.

House Chamber

Campaign finance laws currently protect incumbents, while simultaneously creating traps for candidates who spend extraordinary amounts of time fundraising. Furthermore, these laws also prevent individuals who are not skilled in fundraising on a large scale from winning elections.

Looking at the problems of current campaign finance laws, the question of whether campaign contributions necessarily result in corruption must be posed. Some of the most well known cases of congressional corruption in recent years involved members who took cash bribes. These cases did not involve campaign contributions. For instance, former Representative Duke Cunningham of California was said to maintain a menu for bribes that revealed the official actions that would be taken by him in exchange for various amounts of cash. He was convicted of corruption.

A Better Congress: Change the Rules, Change the Results: A Modest Proposal - Citizen's Guide to Legislative ReformEven so, it can be much more difficult to determine whether campaign contributions are actually corrupting. Almost every member of Congress accepts contributions from interests. Those members must then vote on legislation that will affect those very same interests. Unfortunately, it is not possible to know whether the politician votes a particular way because of contributions or whether contributions come about because the interest group knows the member would have voted that way regardless.

Putting aside any corruption aspects, limits on campaign fundraising naturally mean that candidates must spend significant amounts of time in fundraising efforts if they wish to compete. For the incumbent candidate, this means they are not able to spend time making wise policy decisions. For the challenger, this provides a strong disincentive to even consider running for office. If they do make the decision to go ahead and run, the time spent on raising money is time they cannot devote to developing strong policy ideas.

As the cost of campaigning continues to increase; the campaign fundraising issue only becomes worse.

Are you interested in learning more about persuading Congress? Sign up for TheCapitol.Net’s 1-day course Strategies for Working with Congress: Effective Communication and Advocacy on Capitol Hill and their 3-day Capitol Hill Workshop.

Reference: A Better Congress, by Joseph Gibson, Ch. 1 The Fortress of Incumbency

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For more information about working with Congress, see these resources from TheCapitol.Net:

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How the Ordeals of Running for Congress Affect the Results of Congress

Running a campaign for Congress can require resources that are typically out of reach of most average Americans. As a result, the pool of people that can realistically even consider mounting a campaign to run for Congress is naturally small.

Start
Creative Commons License photo credit: cburns1

In order to mount a congressional campaign, potential candidates must be prepared to devote their lives to campaigning on a full-time basis. This period of campaigning can last from one to two years. Campaigning can require leaving your livelihood for an extended period of time, something most people simply are not able to do. Running for Congress requires a significant amount of sacrifice.

Throughout the campaign period, candidates must spend a tremendous amount of time traveling to various political events. The rigors faced on the trail can include unpalatable food, little time to rest and continual separation from family. There are inevitably emotional ups and downs that do not make campaigning any easier.

As if that were not enough, candidates need to spend a significant portion of their time raising money. Not only must the candidate raise large amounts of money, but due to campaign contribution limits, he or she must also raise money from many different people. This naturally requires time as well as money, persuasive skills and an extensive network of friends and associates.

In order to establish credibility, candidates must begin raising money relatively early within the campaign. If a candidate is wealthy, there is always the option of funding one’s own campaign either in part or in whole, but this can result in a significant personal financial burden.

When candidates are not raising money, they must also spend time mastering the skills necessary to succeed, which may be skills they previously did not possess. He or she must become familiar with their district and the concern of the voters in that district.
A Better Congress: Change the Rules, Change the Results: A Modest Proposal - Citizen's Guide to Legislative Reform
The personal life of a candidate is also open to intense scrutiny from the press. Candidates can be assured that if they have any skeletons in their closet, they will be revealed at some point during the campaign. Any disgruntled former love interests or employees will invariably make an appearance. Business dealings that may have had even a hint of being less than above aboard will come to light.

The ordeals faced throughout a campaign most certainly affect who ultimately decides to run for office. While there may be numerous people who would like to serve in Congress, once those ordeals are taken into consideration, many people determine it is not worth the cost. As a result, the choices of voters and the quality of results are often directly influenced by the ordeals faced on the campaign trail.

Reference: A Better Congress, by Joseph Gibson, Chapter 2 The Ordeals of a Campaign

To learn more about ways in which you can change Congress and receive better results, consider these Capitol Learning Audio Courses: How to Work the Hill Like a Pro, and Making the Most of a Site Visit with a Member of Congress.

To learn more about persuading Congress, consider our course Strategies for Working with Congress: Effective Communication and Advocacy on Capitol Hill, and Capitol Hill Workshop.

Also see

For more information about working with Congress, see these resources from TheCapitol.Net:

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“Joseph Gibson on how to improve Congress”

In general I find Congressional reform A Better Congress: Change the Rules, Change the Results: A Modest Proposal - Citizen's Guide to Legislative Reformproposals, including filibuster abolition, difficult to evaluate. There is no simple model at hand. Sometimes the median voter model is useful, but in most cases it implies the reforms don’t matter, a conclusion which I would not wish to accept so readily. Multi-dimensional cycling models often imply that either a) it still doesn’t matter (the agenda setter remains in charge), or b) it matters some huge amount in a way which is difficult to forecast but the entire political equilibrium can shift and not just locally.

Joseph Gibson on how to improve Congress,” by Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution, December 30, 2010

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“Quick fix for Congress: Speak English!”

In his new book “A Better Congress: Change the rules, change the results,” Joseph Gibson proposes a A Better Congress: Change the Rules, Change the Results: A Modest Proposal - Citizen's Guide to Legislative Reformnovel idea, why don’t members of Congress use plain English when they write legislation. “If bills were drafted in clearer language, perhaps more members would read and understand them. If the bills then became law, the public might understand them better as well. Of the 460 public laws passed during 2007-08, seventeen were technical corrections bills that fixed drafting mistakes in prior laws — that Congress needed to pass so many of these bills illustrates the problems that complexity introduces.”
. . .
Gibson has a bunch of other useful suggestions for improvement but given Congress’ tendency to make things more, not less, complicated, what are the odds they’ll take his advice? Perhaps as a Christmas gift each member should get his book as a stocking stuffer.

Quick fix for Congress: Speak English!” by Abby Wisse Schachter, New York Post, December 15, 2010

Echoes this suggestion from a reader:

“Makes a great gift for your representatives in Congress!”

A Better Congress is available for purchase at this NYC bookstore: Crawford Doyle Booksellers, 1082 Madison Avenue, New York, NY

Journalists: To request interviews, contact Sandy Trupp at Planned Television Arts, trupps@plannedtvarts.com or 202-974-5002.

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“A Better Congress” Author Joseph Gibson Interviewed on The Jim Bohannon Show

It’s one of the persistent complaints about our government: Why can’t Congress get anything A Better Congress: Change the Rules, Change the Results: A Modest Proposal - Citizen's Guide to Legislative Reformdone? Actually, getting issues debated and voted on is much simpler in the House of Representatives, where only a majority vote is required. But, in the Senate, the process can be much more difficult. Over the past two years, and in fact, over the past few Presidential administrations, the filibuster, which used to be more of a last-ditch tactic, has come into play more and more as our nation has become more closely divided in its views. It takes 60 votes to allow an issue to be debated before the full Senate, making it difficult to advance legislation on controversial issues. Plus, individual Senators can put a hold on some Senate actions, further grinding things to a halt. What can be done to get the Congress to work more efficiently? We’ll ask Joseph Gibson, an attorney who has worked in all three branches of the Federal government, and written the book “A Better Congress: Change the Rules, Change the Results: A Modest Proposal” (published by Two Seas Media). It’s not only a critique of how Congress currently works – or doesn’t work – it contains some bold proposals on how Congress can be changed so more of the people’s business can be accomplished.

Joseph Gibson, author of A Better Congress, interviewed on The Jim Bohannon Show, December 8, 2010

From a reader:

“Makes a great gift for your representatives in Congress!”

Journalists: To request interviews, contact Sandy Trupp at Planned Television Arts, trupps@plannedtvarts.com or 202-974-5002.

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How to Fix a Broken Congress: A Radical Workable Guide, A New Book from Two Seas Media and TheCapitol.Net

ALEXANDRIA, VA – Irrespective of which party controls the majority, existing congressional practices will A Better Congress: Change the Rules, Change the Results: A Modest Proposal - Citizen's Guide to Legislative Reform, by Joseph Gibson remain in place. Without significant change to those practices, they will produce the same old results. Those same old results have driven the country into a dire situation. It is time to correct for this. It is time — and it is possible — to turn things around. Congress needs to reform its own ways of doing business.

Joseph Gibson’s newest book, A Better Congress: Change the Rules, Change the Results, proposes a completely new approach to running Congress. Call it a radical return to basics. Radical? Yes, but doable. Gibson, a congressional insider, knows what can be accomplished. He also knows how to make it happen.

A few of his radical, yet workable ideas:

  • Limit the number of bills members can introduce, limit the number of pages per bill, and require each member who votes to read the bill.
  • Ban fundraising when Congress is in session.
  • Make serving in Congress a part time job with the expectation that members would hold other full time jobs.
  • Allow the minority party to control some part of the agenda.

In Gibson’s view, the reforms in his book would lessen the partisan divide, limit the time wasted on frivolous legislation, keep the members focused on wise policymaking rather than simply winning elections, and increase the pool of worthy candidates who will actually run for office.

Gibson has served as House Judiciary Committee chief minority counsel, chief legislative counsel, chief antitrust counsel, parliamentarian—and Chief of Staff to a prominent Texas Congressman. He is also the author of Persuading Congress: A Practical Guide to Parlaying an Understanding of Congressional Folkways and Dynamics into Successful Advocacy on Capitol Hill, published earlier this year by TheCapitol.Net.

Two Seas Media and TheCapitol.Net are privately held, non-partisan publishing and training companies based in Alexandria, VA. For over 30 years, TheCapitol.Net and its predecessor, Congressional Quarterly Executive Conferences, have been training professionals from government, military, business, and NGOs on the dynamics and operations of the legislative and executive branches and how to work with them.

Journalists: To request interviews, contact Sandy Trupp at Planned Television Arts, trupps@plannedtvarts.com or 202-974-5002. To request review copies, contact the publisher: publisher@thecapitol.net or 703-739-3790, ext. 0.

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