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Rep. Gallagher: Let Congressional Committees Run Themselves

'You have to be willing to allow things to come to the floor that force you to take hard votes. That's why we are here.'

Mike Gallagher / Youtube
• June 5, 2019 4:40 pm

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In a conversation at the Hoover Institution Wednesday afternoon, Rep. Mike Gallagher (R., Wis.) offered solutions to reforming Congress, which he said has "strayed far from the Framers' vision" for the legislative branch.

Gallagher expounded upon ideas laid out in an article he authored in the Atlantic last fall entitled "How to Salvage Congress," which argued for reforming the congressional calendar and vastly overhauling how committees function.

Gallagher diagnosed the current dysfunction of Congress as originating in the 1970s and then "accelerated in the 1990s" as "power has gone from committee chairs and members to the top," in reference to congressional leadership. One of Gallagher's proposals would be to reform how committee chairs are selected by diminishing the power of the House Steering Committee and instead have committee members vote on the chairs of their respective committees.

Currently, the House Steering Committee selects which members oversee and sit on what committees and, as the House leadership team controls a significant amount of votes on the committee, Gallagher said committee assignments have become a "way leadership exercises its authority."

This system has created a perverse incentive for members who want to eventually become chairman of their respective committees, Gallagher reflected. Instead of members focusing on their legislative duties and exhibiting their policy acumen to their committee colleagues, members who aspire to chairmanships are selected based on their fundraising abilities and willingness to vote with leadership.

Lamenting the role of fundraising in determining committee assignments and chairmanships, Gallagher told the Washington Free Beacon he would be in favor of potential reforms to the campaign finance system that respected the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC while creating a more transparent system.

Gallagher recognized that attempting to convince his colleagues and the House leadership to weaken its power over committee assignments would be an uphill battle. Gallagher told the Free Beacon he offered up one of his proposed reforms in a caucus rules meeting before the beginning of the 116th Congress. The suggested amendment failed by approximately 100 votes according to Gallagher's recollection.

"Leadership definitely mobilized everyone against it," Gallagher said.

When asked by the Free Beacon how he intends to continue to convince his colleagues and leadership of the value of his reforms, Gallagher said, "In order to wield power effectively, you have to be willing to give it up."

Echoing themes similar to those espoused by conservative intellectual Yuval Levin in a Wednesday New York Times op-ed, Gallagher told the Free Beacon, "You have to be willing to let the committees work. You have to be willing to allow things to come to the floor that force you to take hard votes. That's why we are here."

"If Congress is going to reassert its legislative power, it will need to strengthen the committees that are its foremost legislative instruments," Levin wrote.

Gallagher worried that if reforms are not put in place to improve the current system, voters will continue to be disillusioned with Congress and suggested "the legislative process is going to get more ossified."

Gallagher said he proposed the above reforms because he believes Congress has been failing its basic duties laid out in the Constitution and said his reforms would hopefully "channel the natural ambition of everyone who is going to be a member of Congress into the legislative process" instead of television appearances and fundraising duties.