July 11 — The way congressional districts are drawn should be overhauled and legislative earmarks should be brought back as part of an effort to renew Americans' faith in government, a top House Democrat said.
“Washington is too often dysfunctional, and Americans are angry about it—as they should be,” Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.), the second-ranking Democrat in the House, said in a July 11 speech at Georgetown University Law Center. “We need to give our people hope that we can fix what’s broken in Washington—that we can restore their faith in Congress, renew their faith in government to be an institution that plays a positive role in their lives.”
The speech was hosted by the law center, the McCourt School of Public Policy and the Beeck Center for Social Impact.
Hoyer said both parties have used congressional redistricting by partisan state legislatures to try to gain advantage at the federal level, but need to move away from that model.
“Today, in most parts of the country, congressional district boundaries are drawn by the politicians themselves. I know. I’ve done it. We all have, and I understand that neither party wants to be the first to step away from doing so, leaving itself vulnerable to the other,” he said. “That’s why we need a national solution that applies the same rules to everyone. This system isn’t going to end unless both parties work to end it together.”
Hoyer also said the campaign finance system needs to be overhauled by reversing the Citizens United decision and requiring political action committees to disclose their donors. He also renewed his call for the Voting Rights Act to be reauthorized.
Hoyer also said earmarks—provisions in annual funding bills meant to prioritize spending on projects in lawmakers' home districts or states—should be brought back. Republicans largely prohibited the practice in the House after taking over in 2011, saying it encouraged unneeded spending.
“Members know far better than administration officials what the immediate and long-term needs of their districts are, which is why our Founders gave Congress the ‘power of the purse' to determine budget priorities,” Hoyer said. “I believe Republicans’ decision to eliminate earmarks altogether has proven unwise. Let’s put the people’s representatives back in control as our Founders intended.”
Other steps Hoyer said would help restore faith in government included better use of technology, such as a website for users to rate government agency interactions—a “ ‘Yelp' for government,” in Hoyer's words—and a $3 billion fund to help the government upgrade its technology and cybersecurity.
“If we can make government as responsive to citizens as our best online businesses are to their consumers, we can renew the faith our people once had that government is here to help them improve their lives,” Hoyer said.
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