Bipartisan Policy Center Releases Plan to Improve Democracy in America

What does the Bipartisan Policy Center have in common with the Berlin Wall, 9/11, the First Amendment, and the Civil Rights Movement? They all represent major news stories important enough to be featured at The Newseum, one of the top attractions in Washington, D.C.

On June 24, 2014, the BPC unveiled the long-awaited recommendations from its Commission on Political Reform (CPR). The presentation at The Newseum was the culmination of an 18-month-long series of events and working with various political groups, leaders, and the general public.

We are here today as Americans with the conviction that our nation, unique in history, can find its way through these difficult times...
BPC's Commission for Political Reform
The event featured former U.S. Senators Tom Daschle, Trent Lott, and Olympia Snowe, former Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman, and others from its 29-member commission. These members introduced the CPR’s report, Governing in a Polarized America: A Bipartisan Blueprint To Strengthen Our Democracy.

The CPR was launched 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.”

Their recommendations are nothing short of providing real solutions to the divisiveness, political stalemate, and congressional gridlock that has pervaded American politics in recent years. The findings are inherently newsworthy and The Newseum was a highly relevant venue for the release of the multi-pronged strategies for reform.

Senator Snowe, in her introductory remarks at the event, spoke of how she had observed firsthand how the environment in Congress became more polarized and divisive.

“There was never a ‘Golden Era’ of bipartisanship, and consensus building was always extraordinarily difficult,” she explained.

The launch of these reforms comes at a “compelling moment” in our history, Snowe stated.

“We are here today as Americans with the conviction that our nation, unique in history, can find its way through these difficult times and continue to shine as an example of democracy for the rest of the world.” –Letter from the co-chairs of BPC’s Commission for Political Reform

The CPR recommendations center on three main areas:

The Electoral System

“Our first set of recommendations concerns the electoral rules of the games, by which men and women are elected to serve their neighbors.”

  • Creating a fairer, more open, and more transparent process
  • Making the redistricting process fair for both parties
  • Engaging Americans in primaries
  • Fixing voter-registration lists
  • Promoting disclosure of campaign finances

Congressional Reform

“Our second set of recommendations focuses on the institution that is at the epicenter of today’s polarized politics: the U.S. Congress.”

  • Transforming Congress into a Higher-Performing Organization
  • Promoting regular order
  • Strengthening inter-branch dialogue
  • Empowering members and committees
  • Reforming the filibuster and guaranteeing minority amendments
  • Adopting a two-year budget cycle

A Call to Service

“Successful democracies require an educated citizenry that actively participates in civic life.”

  • Calling for a more engaged citizenry
  • Committing to one year of service
  • Repairing an overburdened appointments process
  • Incorporating public service into the classroom
  • Scaling up service opportunities
  • Encouraging Americans to run for office

However, the commission is mindful of how difficult it will be to enact reform in a deeply divided environment.

“Our proposals are not a magic elixir that will somehow restore America’s body politic to health. That is simply not going to happen,” Daschle remarked during the presentation

He continued to explain how the proposals taken together have the potential to create “a stronger, more unified country that is better equipped to meet the challenges of our time.” Daschle said they were also aware that their recommendations needed to be rooted in pragmatism and not be “a bridge too far” in the short term.

But can these recommendations be put into practice or are they just lofty theoretical dreams? And what are the chances that they will be accepted by the partisan extremes that are at the root of the problem? These are the questions that will ultimately prove the success of the BPC’s efforts.

The commission’s next steps are to bring their recommendations directly to the 114th Congress.

“It is our hope that congressional leaders from both parties can embrace the commission’s recommendations to improve debate in Congress,” the report states. “To compromise is not to dance with the devil: it is the lubricant of our democracy.”

The BPC also plans a series of events aimed at promoting public awareness and education.

“Many of the recommendations depend on the support of average citizens not elites in Washington institutions.”

Perhaps someday this era of polarization and partisanship will be relegated to a minor chapter in the history books. The BPC’s efforts to strengthen our democracy may mark a new chapter for a brighter future.