A Rehab To-Do List for Congress in 2014
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The Fiscal Times
December 30, 2013

This year was a horrible one for Congress. Harsh bipartisanship led to a toxic environment on Capitol Hill, culminating with the government shutdown in October. A poll released by CNN last week shows that two thirds of Americans give the 113th Congress the worst grades ever.

"That sentiment exists among all demographic and political subgroups. Men, women, rich, poor, young, old — all think this year's Congress has been the worst they can remember,” Keating Holland, CNN Polling Director, said. 

Related: Top 10 U.S. Foreign Policy Blunders of 2013 

Yet for those who believe that Congress can work, the end of the year provided a sliver of hope. For the first time in years, Congress agreed to and passed a budget.

Is this rare feat of bipartisanship a sign of things to come, or a flash in the pan? That remains to be seen, but whatever the case, there are a number of things Congress can do to improve in 2014. Here are eight suggestions:

Pass immigration reform. - This year was a roller coaster for supporters of immigration reform. It's been a game of hurry up and wait -- the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration bill in June, but the House has failed to act on it.

After House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) pushed back against the far right of his party to help clear the way for the two chambers to pass the budget deal, there’s hope for a 2014 deal on immigration reform.

Fix tech security and oversight.  The disastrous Obamacare rollout has revealed just how poorly the government manages technology. The failed web site has left the American public distrustful of the government's ability to implement cost-efficient technologies and secure consumer data, including personal Social Security numbers. 

Congress could act to fix this. Right now, there are bills in the House and Senate that would give lawmakers more oversight and accountability over tech projects. Passing these laws would show the public that Congress takes their concerns about data security to heart.

Don't threaten the economy. Numerous times in recent years, Republicans have threatened not to raise the debt ceiling to pay the nation’s debts. This year, the fight over the debt limit and the government shutdown were low points in an otherwise positive economic year. A new fight over the debt ceiling is expected early next year. A quick resolution could go a long way toward winning back some good will with the public and Wall Street.

Get control of the Pentagon's budget - Despite an expected decrease in defense spending next year, DOD still loses billions through waste, fraud and abuse. To remedy this, Congress could pass the Audit the Pentagon Act of 2013 requiring DOD to get its books in order or face steep spending cuts. This might make Pentagon brass angry, but it would go a long way toward preventing out-of-control spending.

Fix the contracting system - CGI was hired to build the federal Obamacare exchange despite a long record of poor performance. But they aren't the only company to fail up with the federal government; a host of other companies, including giants like IBM, have failed to produce viable results for the government but continue to receive contracts.

Congress is now considering two bills that would radically alter the way the government awards technology contracts. Passing those bills would give the American people the reassurance that their tax dollars aren't being spent on failure. 

Be more accountable - Lawmakers are constantly passing the buck back and forth, blaming the other side of the isle for inaction. They showed themselves willing to shut down the government, putting thousands of federal employees out of work, while continuing to get paid. Passing the Hold Congress Accountable Act, introduced by Congressman Kurt Schrader (D-Or) in October, would change this.

"In the real world if you don’t do your job, you don’t get paid. It should be no different for lawmakers," Schrader said. "I hope that this bill serves as a wake up call to my colleagues that it is inappropriate to shut down the federal government and threaten the livelihoods of millions of Americans for the sake of political posturing."

Pass more laws.  This year, lawmakers spent a lot of time talking about legislation. But they spent very little time actually passing it. According to GovTrack, the 113th Congress passed only 66 laws this year, the lowest tally in four decades. Despite support from the public, it failed to take up gun control legislation or immigration. Taking action would help to kill the perception that lawmakers are wasting taxpayer’s time and money.  

Play nicer with each other and restore civility.  A recent Rasmussen Report found that the vast majority of the American public doesn’t believe either party represents their interests. Constant bickering, both within the Republican Party and between Republicans and Democrats, reinforces that idea. Toning down rhetoric and showing a willingness to cooperate and compromise would help to change this perception.

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An editor-at-large for The Fiscal Times, David Francis has reported from all over the world on issues that range from defense to border security to transatlantic relations.