Is This Why Congress Can’t Get Anything Done?

Is This Why Congress Can’t Get Anything Done?

iStockphoto/The Fiscal Times

The question just keeps popping up: What can Congress get done this year? With a long to-do list and a relatively short list of legislative accomplishments this year, lawmakers are under pressure and public approval ratings for Congress remain in the tank.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell recently dismissed the Senate’s failure to repeal Obamacare and the challenges his party has faced in power as simply the result of our governing process. “Well, welcome to the democratic process,” he said.

But there may be more to it than partisan politics, as a blog post from the Brookings Institution suggests. The post highlights a recent survey asking 184 senior staffers on Capitol Hill to gauge their satisfaction with congressional performance. These are the people who, as Brookings’ Casey Burgat writes, “are most familiar with the demands and deficiencies of Congress, and are in a unique position to provide experience-backed answers as to why the national legislature increasingly fails to execute its role in our democracy.”

The results of the survey by the Congressional Management Foundation call into question whether lawmakers and their staffs have the resources necessary to function properly and deliver results for taxpayers. The conclusion from the original survey report: “Congress may not be working well because it does not currently have the capacity to work well.”

Brookings’ Burgat crunched the survey data further and found that, while staffers “are largely dissatisfied with many crucial aspects of their job and don’t have much confidence in the body’s ability to perform its required duties,” some issues are viewed as more critical than others. Among the problems seen as most threatening to Congress’ ability to function: technology infrastructure and members’ lack of adequate “time and resources to understand, consider and deliberate policy and legislation.”

Here’s Burgat’s summary:

“Congress has hamstrung its legislative capabilities by cutting staff, despite facing more informational and policy demands than ever; that it faces huge staffing turnover and compensation problems, which inevitably lead to increased lobbyist influence and executive branch legislating; and that the first branch hasn’t invested nearly enough in the technology required to be a responsive political body in the 21st century.”