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The committee to 'fix Congress' has ideas, and Derek Kilmer hopes they'll take root

Facebook Privacy Scandal Congress
Alex Brandon/AP
A congressional committee room is set up before Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's appearance at a hearing of the Commerce and Judiciary Committees on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Washington. The House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress, chaired by Rep. Derek Kilmer, is tasked with making Congress more effective, efficient, and transparent. One of the committee's ideas, which its practiced itself, is to change seating arrangements. They don’t sit by party, but in alternating Democratic and Republican seats. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer knows how much people love Congress.

“I’m aware that I’m part of an organization that, according to recent polling, is less popular than head lice, colonoscopies, and the rock band Nickelback,” he said.

Derek Kilmer
The Associated Press
U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer

Kilmer, a Democrat, represents Washington’s 6th District, which includes part of Tacoma, most of the Kitsap Peninsula, and all of the Olympic Peninsula. And he chairs a committee aimed at fixing some of that. The House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress was formed in 2019, and it’s tasked with making Congress more effective, efficient, and transparent.

They don’t sit by party, but in alternating Democratic and Republican seats. They don’t limit speaking to five minutes each, so people have to engage in a conversation rather than wait for their turn to make a speech.

“It doesn’t mean we set our strong principles or our party’s ideology at the door, but it does mean we try and find some common ground,” Kilmer said.

The committee has a lot of ideas, including 140 recommendations on how to fix little things – like how to make better use of technologies – to more, shall we say, ambitious goals, like making Congress more collaborative and functional.

It’s a problem as old as the country itself. Listen to his entire conversation above, or read some selected quotes below.


On changing Congressional habits:
“When you show up to Congress, just like when you show up in college, you go through orientation. Historically … it is divided by party from the beginning. Some of my colleagues tell stories of showing up and being told, ‘OK, Democrats get on this bus, and Republicans get on this bus.’ One of our recommendations was ‘stop doing that.’ If we want to actually promote collaboration, there has to be some relationship building, trust building, and ability for people to have dialogue across the political divide.”

On how bipartisanship will affect the serious issues facing the country, and people’s lives:
“There’s going to be differences between the parties. The founders didn’t think that we were all going to hold hands and sing Kumbaya around the table and agree on everything. There is concern, though, that even on areas where there is agreement, Congress has largely lost the page on even being able to move forward on those things. … The fact that two-thirds of Americans think we’re simply incapable of solving big problems because we are so polarized – I think that should be concerning to everybody, not just members of Congress, but folks outside of Congress, too.”

The founders brawled and dueled. So, in the grand arc of things, are we getting better at this or worse?
“I don’t know. What gives me pause is obviously having been locked in my office on the 6th of January of last year. That didn’t suggest that we’re really figuring it out. Having said that, there is a lot that happens that doesn’t get a lot of attention on cable news, that isn’t going viral on social media, where there is some common ground where you have Democrats and Republicans actually working on stuff together. … Our options are to throw up our hands and say ‘This can’t be fixed,’ or to get engaged and try to fix it.”

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