House of Representatives taking a good look at itself Last-day legislative logjams, subcommittees, committee chairmen are targets of reform plan

November 19, 1992|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- A special House panel is recommending tha the authority of powerful committee chairmen be sharply curtailed as part of a wide-ranging package of reforms designed to make the legislative system more efficient and accountable.

The proposals, which also would establish deadlines for adoption of major legislation to avoid end-of-session logjams, were disclosed yesterday by Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., chairwoman of the House Democratic Caucus Committee on Organization, Study and Review.

Her panel also recommended elimination of 16 subcommittees, a three-hour limit on televised after-hours speeches by members of Congress and stronger powers for the speaker of the House in scheduling votes on potentially controversial issues.

Congress came under heavy fire last year for the way it conducts business, with critics going beyond the House bank and post office scandals to accuse the House of having a bloated staff and too many committees doing too little work.

Anticipating the need for change, the Slaughter committee was established to recommend ways to smooth House operations. Earlier this year, in response to public outcry, House leaders shut down the House bank, ended the political patronage system and named a non-partisan administrator to run non-legislative services.

"Our proposals will enable the House to streamline its daily operations, improve accountability and save millions of dollars in administrative costs," Ms. Slaughter said.

"Adoption of these reforms will go a long way to assure both the president-elect and the nation that House Democrats recognize the need for constructive change," she added.

While some of the proposals were sure to draw opposition within the 258-member Democratic Caucus, they were reported to have the support of Speaker Thomas S. Foley, D-Wash., and his top lieutenants. Thus, they were likely to be approved by the new Congress.

If they are adopted by the Caucus, the Democrats who control Congress would then be bound to back changes in House procedural rules needed to put the reforms into effect.

Republicans, with only 176 votes, would not be able to block the action. But they were expected to denounce some proposed revisions that would give the speaker more authority to control the timing of votes, even on privileged resolutions that GOP lawmakers have used in the past to challenge Democrats.

One of the most far-reaching proposed changes would allow the Democratic Caucus to unseat chairmen of committees or subcommittees by a majority vote if their ouster was approved by the leadership-dominated Steering and Policy Committee.

There is no formal procedure to remove these chairmen in midsession, even if they resist the Caucus' direction or sabotage what the party leaders regard as major legislation.

Another major recommendation would create a "Democratic Policy Council" appointed by the speaker to establish a legislative timetable for the coming year and, in effect, set deadlines for action on key bills.

One of the most far-reaching proposed changes would allow the Democratic Caucus to unseat chairmen of committees or subcommittees by a majority vote.

The panel should be composed of committee chairmen, members of the House Democratic leadership and rank-and-file lawmakers, the Slaughter panel suggested, to ensure that major bills are not stalled in committee or delayed so consideration has to be rushed in the final hours of a congressional session.

In a move to save money and streamline the congressional structure, more than 10 percent of all House subcommittees would be eliminated, and House members would be allowed to sit on only five subcommittees.

Getting the House in order

Congress was roundly criticized last year for the way it conducts business. Here are some of the recommendations of a House panel established to make the legislative system more efficient and accountable:

* Establish deadlines for adoption of major legislation to avoid end-of-session logjams

* Eliminate 16 subcommittees

* Place a three-hour limit on televised after-hours speeches by members of Congress

* Strengthen powers for the Speaker in scheduling votes on potentially controversial issues.

* Make it easier to unseat chairmen of committees and subcommittees by a majority vote if approved by the leadership-dominated Steering and Policy Committee.

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