By Ray Smock
Each year political scientists, historians, and other Congress watchers participate in “grading” Congress in a number of key areas. This survey is conducted by the Center on Congress at Indiana University, under the directorship of the distinguished former Congressman and congressional scholar Lee Hamilton. It will not surprise readers to learn that Congress’s grades are pretty low. But this study goes into institutional differences between the House and Senate and also includes a grade for “we the people,” the citizens who elect Congress. Overall the public does not fare much better in the grading. Perhaps we do get the Congress we deserve and we will only get a better House and Senate if more citizens engage in the process of voting and understanding in basic ways just what Congress is and does in our system of government.
I will summarize just a few of the findings and leave you with a link to the full survey, where you can see the full report card for yourself. How does it stack up with your views of Congress?
The House gets below average grades in allowing the minority to play a role in its deliberations. This is always a bone of contention, especially when the House, more so than the Senate, is controlled by its majority party. The Senate goes better in this category with 64% giving it a B, mainly because the Senate is not often a body that runs by a sheer majority, but rather by the consensus of its members.
Not surprising the House is scored hard for its excessive partisanship, with more than 43% giving the House a D, and more than 39% giving it an F. The Senate fares a bit better in excessive partisanship with more than 46% giving it a C, and almost 43% giving the Senate a D in partisanship.
How about the people who elect members of Congress? The survey suggests that citizens do contact their representatives and this is a good sign with an above average grade. But the survey participants grade the public down to average to below average when it comes to participation in voting.
We are in the midst of a very big election year, where all 435 seats of the House and one-third of the U. S. Senate seats will be decided, not to mention a most unusual and dramatic presidential election in the offing. Please get involved and participate in this incredible, strange, and profound process that we go through to make our democracy work.