How it Works
Scoping the Problem
BPC launched the Commission on Political Reform in 2013 to investigate the causes and consequences of America’s partisan political divide and to advocate for specific reforms that will improve the political process and that will work in a polarized atmosphere.
The Right People
The commission was formed to shine a spotlight on the sometimes arcane processes and traditions that enable our government to work. Led by former Senate Majority Leaders Tom Daschle and Trent Lott, former Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman, former Governor of Idaho Dirk Kempthorne, and former Senator Olympia Snowe, the commission included an array of prominent national, state, and local political leaders. But improving democracy requires expertise and passion from outside the political process. Recognizing that national challenges require many different and diverse voices, the commission also included individuals from a variety of sectors, including the military, faith, business, and academic communities.
In all, 29 members came together to resolve the big questions our democracy faces.
Analyzing the Numbers
BPC’s work is informed by objective analysis and research. For the commission, analysis was conducted on a number of key topics, including redistricting, political primaries, and congressional rules, among many others. In addition, BPC and USA TODAY conducted four polls over the course of the commission’s deliberations.
The polls focused on political polarization, the electoral process, public service, and on Congress itself. The first poll revealed a deeply polarized America, where voters take their cues from the political parties even when they do not realize it. While polarized on specific policy issues, the polls showed that there are potential areas for broad policy agreement.
Confirming expectations, three out of four of those polled say that U.S. politics has become more divided in recent years. Only 14 percent of Americans said that they would be interested in running for public office. Further, two out of ten people approved of Congress—but more than half still supported their individual members of Congress. The information collected by these polls was key in helping the commission to define the problem and focus its efforts.
The commission, in partnership with USA TODAY, hosted town halls across the country at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library, the National Constitution Center, the Ohio State University, and the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in collaboration with the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate to engage with the American public and to gather insights from experts and political leaders. With the help of interactive technology and social media, the commission reached more than 220,000 people through these events. Many shared their views about the sources of today’s political dysfunction and proposed specific solutions.
The Art of Compromise
Many of the topics considered elicited strong views from commissioners. At times, some questioned if the group would ever be able to reach consensus on key aspects of election reform and congressional rules changes. After numerous meetings, dinners, and emails, sharing insights and diverse opinions, the group worked through its differences and agreed to proposed reforms to increase public engagement and strengthen the political process.
For instance, one of the commission’s most challenging debates occurred over the use of the filibuster. For several months, former Senate Majority Leaders Daschle and Lott guided the commission’s debates over the appropriate use of the filibuster. While the debate in Congress broke down—resulting in the use of the “nuclear option” in November 2013—BPC’s commission proposed a reasoned solution: the filibuster should remain available when Congress is voting on the substantive aspects of a proposal, but it should not be allowed to delay the procedural vote to move legislation to the floor. Moreover, the minority must have a meaningful opportunity to offer amendments (at least five) in any substantive debate.
Smart, Practical Recommendations
In June 2014, 15 months after the first town hall meeting, the commission released its carefully researched, bipartisan recommendations for strengthening U.S. democracy. In a time of deep ideological divide in Washington and around the country, the commission’s more than 60 recommendations aim to increase confidence in U.S. elections, restore congressional debate and deliberation, and embrace Americans’ enthusiasm for public service.
From Thought to Action
Following the release of the commission’s report in June, commissioners spread out across the country to raise awareness about its recommendations—with visits to Harvard University’s Institute of Politics, the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, the Ohio State University, the Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas, the University of Central Florida, and South Dakota University (home of the Senator Thomas A. Daschle Congressional Research Study). The recommendations also focused on critical state issues, and BPC staff has actively been involved in redistricting reform in Ohio and other states. Throughout the fall, BPCAN continued to advance the recommendations with members of Congress through meetings and briefings. BPCAN also continued its dinner series for Senate Legislative Directors, fostering bipartisan relationships that will help move Congress forward. The commission continues to encourage the input of everyday Americans through its Citizens for Political Reform effort, which empowers people to create positive civic change.