How Congress Works and Why You Should Care, written by Lee Hamilton, introduces the functions and vital role of the U.S. Congress. The founding fathers introduced a representative democracy with three branches of government that have equal power. The creation of Congress was one of the most important institutions of the American government: creating laws, enacting taxes, and providing for the common defense and the general welfare of the United States. In current times many citizens have the misconception that Congress does very little and does not function well. Lee Hamilton addresses the areas where Congress can work better and where the American people can become more involved. Congress provides balance in the federal government and reflects diversity but it is necessary to change certain areas of its processes in order to increase civic participation and its approval rating around the United States.
One area of constant outcry for reform is regarding campaign finance laws. Lobbying and campaign donations are essential when running for Congressional office. One phrase used by experts when assessing political races is “Follow the money.” If races are close, then the one (candidate) who has raised the most money usually wins. The cost to run for political office has skyrocketed. Running for the U.S. Senate, for example, may cost up to 6 million dollars or more. The American people begin to doubt their favored candidates on the belief that those candidates will only serve the needs of the largest donors. Lee Hamilton describes the campaigning process when he says: “Our lack of effective campaign laws in this country represents a major failure in American public policy. It diverts members’ attention, makes races less competitive, and raises doubts about the integrity of the legislative process”. Hamilton describes the issues brought by the campaigning process when money is supreme. In order to fix this issue Hamilton suggests providing total disclosure of campaign contributions and to have partial public financing of congressional elections. Once the American people understand how much money influences the processes of our government they will agree with Hamilton. His solution levels the playing field so that powerful interest groups cannot control elected officials. This open process will in effect support the general public who do not believe its needs are met.
After an election, Congress begins its work with the crises at hand. When describing the busy schedules of government workers Lee Hamilton recalls asking Tony Lake — President Clinton’s national security advisor — about his work: “Those files all deserve immediate attention. They cannot wait,’ he replied. Then I noticed an even larger stack, probably twice as high, piled up behind him. ‘Those,’ he said, ‘are extremely urgent”. This shows that day-to-day issues consume the government and they cannot look ahead at future challenges with ease. Not only does day-to-day challenge immerse government officials, but oversight controls the Legislature as well. Oversight is largely used by members of Congress to investigate fellow legislators and the President. Presently, Donald Trump’s allegations regarding Russia’s involvement in the 2016 presidential election affirms the fact that the Legislature is living in the past. However, this oversight is justified considering this could be an incriminating offense, nevertheless, oversight has enveloped the government. In order to solve future problems for generations to come, Lee Hamilton believes that they must change legislation. He proposes to have the President report to Congress about the challenges the nation will face in the next few decades and have biennial budgeting. Also in order to fight the time wasted on personal investigation oversight, Hamilton suggests that oversight needs to be done in a more bipartisan way. Hamilton’s ideas would make the Legislature more efficient, civil, and bipartisan.
Bipartisanship is very important when it comes to Congress. The problem that Lee Hamilton has described is that the Democratic and Republican representatives do not have civility with one another. Declining civility threatens the efficiency of Congress. Personal attacks and strong partisanship has made it very difficult for members to come together and fix our nation’s problems. Hamilton tries to explain that when Congress is not fighting one another then they can really make a difference. Presently, there have been issues with how the House of Representatives operates. When bipartisanship is at its height, reform is easier to make. For example, a bipartisan committee called “The Problem Solvers”, made up of 24 Democrats and 24 Republicans, came together to come up with new reform that can change how Congress conducts its business with the legislative process. Hamilton knows that when members cooperate with each other then they can accomplish much more.
Working for over three decades in Congress, Lee Hamilton understands the ins and outs of the United States government. He knows the issues of Congress and he knows how to fix them. Learning how to fix lobbying and campaign donor rules, looking into future reform for generations to come, and promoting civility among congressional members would be a great start to a new era of American government. His solutions could potentially increase civic participation in government and support of Congress. The efficiency of Congress, the branch of government that represents the American people, will strengthen our nation and promote common goals of the people for generations to come.