Small Group of Former Lawmakers Tackle Big Problem: Washington Gridlock

By Benjamin Siegel

Jun 24, 2014 6:03pm
 Small Group of Former Lawmakers Tackle Big Problem: Washington Gridlock

(ABC News)

How do you fix American politics? A group of former senators believe they have some of the answers to the gridlock and partisanship fueling Americans’ lack of faith in Washington and Congress’ historic levels of inaction.

Working with the Bipartisan Policy Center, former Sens. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, Trent Lott, R-Miss., and Tom Daschle, D-S.D., unveiled their bipartisan blueprint today to move governing forward in Washington.

“Frankly, Congress is reaching a tipping point in its ability to effectively legislate,” said Snowe, who retired in 2012 due in part to frustration with partisanship.

The blueprint’s recommendations are divided into three subjects — elections, legislation and civic engagement. While the report is “not an elixir,” Daschle said, it has the “potential to transform our nation’s politics and civil life.”

Here are a few of the ideas the former lawmakers are floating:

Redistricting Reform: In many states, including Texas, Florida and Wisconsin, state legislators preside over redistricting — an “overtly political process,” according to the report.

Instead, non-partisan redistricting by independent commissions would make seats more competitive and lead to candidates who “represent the breadth of the electorate,” Snowe said.

Make Primaries Broader: Opening up primaries to independent voters or members of opposing political parties could help raise voter turnout, according to the report.

In 2012, voter turnout declined in 44 states from 2008, according to a 2012 report from the Bipartisan Policy Center.

“There’s a minority of the population determining who is serving in the House of Representatives and the Senate,” Snowe said.

Mandatory Public Service: Requiring one year of public service for Americans between the ages of 18 and 28 would help create “better citizens,” said Dan Glickman, a former Secretary of Agriculture in the Clinton administration who helped author the report.

The report’s definition of public service is diverse — from military service, to nonprofit volunteering — but it calls for increased government spending on AmeriCorps  and the Peace Corps, so that they can accept more applicants.

“When you get people involved with their community, colleagues and countrymen, they’ll more likely believe that government works,” Glickman said.

The Filibuster: The legislative stalling measure brings up memories of Texans in sneakers speaking through the night, but the former lawmakers all agree on its utility.

Daschle and Lott, who served as Senate majority leaders, described it as “integral to the process” of legislating, but also called for “restraint” in its usage.

 

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