Beyond polarization: Why fixing a broken Congress matters

We often blame partisan politics for dysfunction in Congress. But that’s not the whole story.

Despite public perception that the legislature has too many staff and employees are overpaid, cuts to staff and budget over the years have actually hollowed out Congress’ capacity to do its work. A study by the nonprofit Congressional Management Foundation shows only 6% of senior congressional staff think members have enough time and resources to work on legislation.

Long days and low pay have also made Congress a less-than-ideal workplace, especially for the nation’s best and brightest. Why deal with the grind on Capitol Hill when lobbying firms and the private sector offer better opportunities?

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Like any business, Congress needs a well-supported staff to do its job, which requires a careful balance of crafting smart laws, responding to constituents, and keeping a check on executive power. “[A]t the end of the day, if you are a voter and you care about reducing the power of special interests, and you care about making sure that Congress has the ability to assert itself against the executive branch, you want a stronger, better-resourced Congress,” says Molly Reynolds at the Brookings Institution.

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