According to Freedom House, American democracy has been in decline for “the last seven years.” The next Congress has an important opportunity to start to reform our institutions. The next Congress should look to history, in particular, the Watergate and post-Watergate periods, which were incredibly creative times of legislative and oversight activity. Sam Berger and Alex Tausanovitch at the Center for American Progress have described many of these reforms.
Issues such as war powers, dysfunction in the congressional budget process, civil service reform, campaign finance reform, protecting agencies from White House interference, intelligence community oversight, among many others, were litigated in public and in Congress, and we continue today with the structures built then. Much of that legislation emerged after robust Congressional oversight and investigations that gave contours to the problems and eventual solutions.
It is time for Congress to begin the process of oversight and legislation to protect our institutions with these models in mind.
To this end, Protect Democracy is proposing a package on congressional oversight and investigations and a package of legislative reforms to protect democratic institutions.
First, we have developed a package of congressional oversight and investigations for the 116th Congress to adopt. By exposing and understanding the specific threats to our democracy, Congress will not only deter further abuses, but will pave the way for democracy reform legislation. We propose fourteen investigations in three categories: (i) abuse of presidential and executive powers, (ii) corruption and politicization of democratic institutions, and (iii) failures to protect the American people. Each proposal contains a summary of the issue, the legal framework, and a detailed investigation plan, including documents to request and witnesses to question.
Second, we propose a package of twenty-one legislative measures in five categories. The first three categories focus on the branches of government: (i) strengthening Congress’s capacity to fulfill its constitutional role; (ii) constraining abuses of executive power; and (iii) protecting the courts as a check on the other branches in order to uphold the constitution. The other two categories focus on public participation in our democracy: (iv) protecting inclusive and fact-based democratic dissent, debate, and participation and (v) modernizing our campaigns and election system to protect and enhance participation and accurately reflect the views of voters. Parts of this package have been endorsed by figures from the right and the left, as the Washington Post has noted.
Members of Congress of both parties have long criticized the executive for taking power from them. Now is the time to show that they mean it.