Lawmakers Pitch Civility as Big Spending Spats Take Center Stage

  • Two lead bill sponsors, behavior scores among plans floated
  • Chair says Congress shouldn’t be like Jerry Springer’s talk show

Allowing lawmakers of differing parties to be chief sponsors on legislation and requiring committees to adopt civility standards are two of the proposals being floated for lowering the temperature on Capitol Hill.

The Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress held a hearing on the topic Thursday, as the chamber is beset by partisan and intraparty tensions over raising the debt ceiling, big-spending bills, and even blueberries.

“There is some value in just trying to get a better sense in how we engage one another in a way that looks a little less like ‘The Jerry Springer Show,’” said Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.), the panel’s chair.

Kilmer said he’d gotten nearly a dozen ideas from the hearing that he could see becoming recommendations the committee will put forward later this year. From there, other committees or offices would need to either implement the recommendations or put them into legislation.

The lawmakers on the panel also discussed giving more members credit for legislation. Currently only one member can be a lead sponsor. Other ideas included scoring members on their behavior and compiling a database for lawmakers interested in a specific issue to see which of their colleagues are also interested.

Lawmakers want to work across the aisle more, said Alison Craig, an assistant professor at the University of Texas who studies Congress and politics. But lawmakers and staffers she’s spoken with often don’t think it will be worth the time and effort.

“Over and over again what I hear is that members want to collaborate more, they want to work across the aisle, but they don’t think they can find someone in the other party to work with,” she told the committee. “They assume it’s not going to be worth the hassle.”

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