NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Republicans Should Revive Congressional Committees

November 11, 1998

Republicans in Congress clearly need a new strategy to recapture the initiative and make themselves a significant political force. Under Democratic control of Congress, the committee chairmen set the agenda. Hearings, General Accounting Office (GAO) investigations, Congressional Budget Office and Congressional Research Service studies, the press and other avenues of influence were all manipulated to pursue legislative agendas.

Often the process started with a committee staffer's idea. The chairman would commission a GAO report, with the scope of the investigation very carefully negotiated with GAO to ensure it would come to the desired conclusions. When the report was near completion a friendly reporter might be tipped off and encouraged to write or air a story timed to appear just in advance of hearings, thus ensuring maximum press attention. Inevitably, this would lead to swift legislative action. And by the time critics and opponents had the opportunity to question the premises or facts supporting it, the legislation had often already become law.

After Republicans took power in 1994, committee staffs were slashed, responsibilities reshuffled, and ultimate power vested solely in the leadership. Often the leadership would bring up bills that had never even been considered by the committee of jurisdiction.

This speeded passage of the "Contract With America" in 1995, which was made up of proposals that were already familiar and thoroughly thought through. But once Republicans needed new proposals they found they had gutted the committee system that had existed precisely to create them. The Administration's vast, experienced bureaucracy easily beat back ill-considered, weakly supported proposals from Congress.

Therefore, it is essential that Republicans in Congress next year move quickly to rebuild and resuscitate the committee system. Chairmen should be encouraged to make their committees more active analysts, critics and originators of policy.

Source: Bruce Bartlett, senior fellow, National Center for Policy Analysis, November 11, 1998.


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