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Need to Know, December 9, 2011: Making Congress work

How can we make Congress work? This week on Need to Know, host Jeff Greenfield moderates a bipartisan panel discussing various proposals to get our government working again. The panel members include Tennessee Democrat Jim Cooper, former Republican Oklahoma representative Mickey Edwards and Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute.

Also: Novelist Walter Kirn weighs in on our Fixing America series with his ideas for fixing Congress.

Watch the individual segments:

Making Congress work

A bipartisan panel offers detailed proposals about how to make Congress work. Their ideas include: non-partisan primaries; mandatory voting and campaign finance reform.

Fixing America: Walter Kirn

Walter Kirn, who wrote the novel “Up in the Air,” says the way to fix Congress is to make all the representatives live fulltime in their districts. That way, he says, they would be forced to deal with their constituents after each controversial vote.

Watch more full episodes of Need to Know.


  • Tameekas

    when doos obama mail us the checks wes suposeed to bees getin? 9 kids and baby daddy bees in da joint

  • Sallydorst

    you want us to vote on the question can Congress be fixed, but nothing shows up on this site. My answer is that it might be possible if the democrats win. 

  • Arlene

    Excellent show on Congress.  I’m for a 6 yr term for senators and president – service once only.
    NO re-election non-sense fund raising constantly.  Problem is, change is so slow. Status quo is so
    pervasive in Washington DC.

  • Stevenw Smith

    Cannot find poll but yes, congress can be fixed. It is scary when three panel members across the  political spectrum agree we are in crisis. As citizens we must be more mature than our congress members by electing those who WILL work together. That means we must do a better job of screening those we send to DC. We MUST find a way to amend the Constitution to eliminate the influence of money and lobbyists. Such an amendment should reform campaign funding and duration to preserve more time for our representatives to work on our behalf in DC, not fund raising and campaigning. Rome was not built in a day and this correction of course will take years. We can begin in 2012 by booting the worst offenders from both parties from office. This requires vigilance and commitment on our parts to be part of the election process. Let’s get started.

  • Stevesaalman

    With 99% Americans owning TVs, 82% owning cell-phones and 75% owning a
    home computer, its past time we considered a constitutional amendment,
    changing the profile of the Legislative Branch of our government, back
    to what they intended,’the voice of the American Citizens’ or an

    The remaining Executive and Judicial Branches would certainly remain
    to prevent “mob rule” and preserve our Liberty. Not only will we save
    $billions$ in political salaries, perks and corrupt lobbyist payoffs,
    but our new ‘citizen legislatures’ votes, can’t be bought off by special

    This ‘social electronic legislature’ is a medium that must occur
    before elite special interest groups finish taking control of our
    country and crush our Republic! We need to be represented by ourselves
    instead of by those whom we have no choice but to vote for, but only
    represent special interests. This has to end!

  • Stephen Sprague

    Tonight, I heard many good ideas for changes to our Congress.  I especially like making our representatives stay in the district they represent during their terms in office; rather than gathering in their private club in Washington D. C..  I submit that we need to remove politics from the work of governing in our nation; it is OK for people to let groups support their campaigns for public office.  However, on the day a candidate is confirmed as being the officer-elect and for the duration of his or her term in office: 1) the officer-elect may say or do nothing of a political nature or for a political purpose.  The officer-elect got the job now he or she must focus on that job.  In subsequent elections, their name will appear on the ballot and be identified as an incumbent; supporters of the incumbent may conduct campaigns on behalf of the incumbent; and accomplishments of the incumbent will be published online and in the newspaper of public record; 2) the officer-elect must devote his or her work activity to producing the most beneficial results for the greatest quantity of the People.
    The work of governing in our nation consists in doing just six things: form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity; everything else done in Congress today is theatre.

  • Rmusgrave

    I cannot find the poll, but my answer would be no, Congress cannot be fixed – unless the entire process is revamped to prevent the money-focused, incumbent-favoring, filbuster-manipulating Congressional process and election cycle.

  • salome

    Cant find the poll mentioned during the presentation but yes congress can be fixed by voting out the present members especially the republicans they need to go and this is across the board here in NM . 

  • Ruth Hruby

    I was really surprised that no one on the panel brought up the ever pervasive destruction of Grover Norquist—Government is the problem—Read my lips—Oliver North and the Contras—No new taxes pledge—Tom Delay, money laundering, K Street Project.  His behind the scenes power tactics remind me of the effects of the notorious forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, had on the Russian pograms, Hitler’s final solution, and on the Cold war.  Truth is stranger than fiction.  There can be no justice without truth. S. Hessel’s TIME FOR OUTRAGE is a must read essay—30 pages can hardly be called a book (which I bought from a London bookstore because the sellers on Amazon never delivered.)

    Perhaps is an answer to our 2012 presidential campaign.

  • Washoogirl

    Congress can be saved, but only by adding a third party. 

  • MWReed

    I am absolutely convinced that the former Republican congressman on Need to Know tonight (12/09/11) is correct:  This country is for, of, and by the PEOPLE of the United States.  Not big business, not labor unions, not special interest groups.  Just REAL people.  You take out all of the money that these other groups that overpower the PEOPLE, and we’ll get rid of the bias towards the rich and powerful.  After all, all of the other groups are trying to keep up with Big Business and the wealthy (1%) who run it.

    Give the country back to the people.

  • Don Light

    An excellent discussion. Very thoughtful, strong, fresh. It woke me up more than my coffee!

  • WBTinSF, Green Party

    Wait a minute, Reed. GIVE the country back?  Who will be doing the giving?  Are “we the people” so childlike, powerless and pacified that we need our super-rich big daddy minority masters to give back what we already own and which they stole by hook and crook, lies and deceit and perpetual “government by crippling crises”?  Assuming the constitution is still the law of the land. Obviously we Take It Back.  Who are 400 super-rich macho men against 200+ million adults, most of whom are out of work.  Be careful what you bought and paid for super-rich!  You may have bought more than you can pay for. 

    But at least, Reed, you acknowledge indirectly that “we the people” no longer own or control the country.

  • WBTinSF, Green Party

    IMHO the panel was yet another “clever” exercise of the falsely “compassionate, understanding” mis well educated conservative right (and the one Dem from Tennessee, let’s remember, who is a blue dog Dem) to deceive the rest of us.  They introduced more fear, uncertainty and doubt into a typically reframed-right discussion of issues in their 18 minutes of air-time.  Those issues, believe it or not, the Occupy people have been and I hope the Green Party will be making more clear and compelling to the 99%.  At least the 3 conservative panelists demonstrated how rich and comfortable, self-assured, unthreatened and jocular they are in these hard times.

  • WBTinSF, Green Party

    Congress members can all be replaced.  The miscreants in congress obviously all think we don’t have the guts, intelligence and discipline to do it.

  • Traudis

    You posed a wrong question by asking: “Can Congress be fixed?”  Anything can be fixed if one comes up with the solution(s).  In you thoughtful discussion you put the right solutions on the table.  So the question now ought to be:  ”What can we do to implement these solutions.”

  • Anonymous


  • J.V. Hodgson

    Perhaps I am simplistic or naive or even both, but I do believe that from little acorns huge oak trees grow.
    Therefore, within the hallowed walls of the House and Senate.
    1)  There should be a common dining facility and common meeting areas/club if you like that are used by Republicans and Democrats.Andhalf jokingly but serioisly one lectern where whatever party you stand for you speak to the people about your views and desires.The speaker can announce you!!
    2) Shorten the electoral cycle, house districts to 3 months before election date and senate to 4months Elections for governor 4 months. And presidential elections to 9 months.
    TV and media must be free and give equal time to each party So if you have a presidential candidate debate on X issue, then the same time must be given to Democrats to hold a similar debate same topics, same rules.
    3) During those election periods a  Republican invited to speak on X must debate with a democrat or a democrat be given a similar air time to respond.
    Those are the acorns on which to build, a more realistic political system not fed by money and special interests.
    None of this prevents pacs/ corporates outside election periods only petitioning or lobbying IN WRITING TO THE DNC OR RNC FOR THIER views, but may not demand pledges to support, and both parties organisations must receive a copy.
    Then onto the more difficult bits:-
    A) Any state election may only collect donations within that state from registered living sentient donors/ voters and limit the funding to say $1,000 per election per individual and a corresponding $1000 to the national DNC or RNC. Pacs or corporates may if registered in the state make a one off maximum contribution of $10,000 locally in each election and $10,000 to DNC/ RNC nationally.Presidential elections funded federally for each parties single candidate and fixed limits for DNC RNC contributions. Limited pac and corporate contributions and only to federally registered organisations and corporates whose tax liability is primarily in US and more than 51% owned in US.
    B) Filibuster rules need changing as they are being used to prevent debate and create gridlock.
    C) Vote buying add ons to legislation = EARMARKS ARE BANNED and filibusters must stick to the core Bill objectives and end up with proposed amendments that must then be debated in committees first and then on the floor, to follow with up down votes. in committe and Senate.
    D) There has to be away to overturn that ridiculous and egregious decison called Citizens United in the supreme court . If it cannot legally be issued a voting paper Corporate or Pac, then its subject to funding laws of the congress.
    E) take census re-districting out of state goverments hands and give it to an independent commission for each statecomprising say 2 stae senators from each party plus an independent if there is one plus two judges from out of state.
    Get that far and I see huge difference.

  • Frank Keim

    This was such a good discussion by four reasonable political thinkers, my wife and I watched it twice. I highly recommend it, especially for those who have brought our government and nation to a complete standstill. 

  • Gdcrist

    Jeff Geenfield had correct observation.  Congress divisions started with Republican takeover in 1994 because three powerful forces went ballistic.
    First the liberal (mexican PRI-like party) Democrats did like being out of power for the first time in 40 years.  And they sought their revenge using two of their powerful allies.
    The entrenched lobbyists were used to the same Demo party hacks in power and did not like the new Republican upstarts.  The public employee unions and others plotted their revenge.
    Finally, the old media (pre-internet) also cultivated their Demo cronies for years, and also did not like any change, so started the media drumbeat on the new ineffective (i.e. Republican) Congress.  So they looked for scandal in the forms of Gingrich’s elderly mother or any other inappropriate place they could find, and fanned the flames of their newly found “divisiveness”.  They then spent years “reporting” a story which they created.

  • whatthe

    The way we take our country back is by TAKING AWAY THEIR POWER which is not the same as money.

  • Robert Baillie

    OK, so now we know that three conservatives think.  I’d still like to know what a progressive member of Congress thinks about the situation and how to fix it.

    Need to know staff: next time, can you please find progressive voices to balance conservative ones?  Is that too much to ask?

  • Freedog70

    what happened to the fairness doctrine?

  • Traudis

    Robert, did you miss Elmo, the progressive? He suggested:  HAVE PLAY DATES!  Have Republicans and Democrats share food and ideas together. But seriously, what you are suggesting is precisely one of the things that’s wrong with congress. To fix this mess does not need conservative and progressive opinions, but bipartisan goodwill, followed by strong actions. Even that’s not enough, it seems. We now need us voters to put some fire to their behinds.      

  • NHK

    Great discussion in that you could actually listen to each person. Perhaps the question should not be, “Can Congress be fixed?”, but “Will Congress be fixed?” Not likely in this poisonous atmosphere.

  • Ruth

    The discussion about what is wrong with Congress and some ways to change it was very interesting, but the ending comment–and I know it was a joke–was very disturbing. People need to become much better informed and engaged. We need a new “League of Women Voters” to get young people to be involved and active from the local to the national level. Perhaps there should be a “League of New Voters” that students would be encouraged to join in high school, or a civic requirement that every student needs to pass before graduation that actually teaches how the system really works and requires students to understand how to judge all the information thrown at them before they can graduate or get a voter registration.

  • Traudis

    Ruth, your comment is an excellent suggestion, so far the only one that could and would lead to moving things along.  What a big job this would be: imagine our students would actually learn things about the country they live in. How do you think this could be implemented?

  • Vince

    Change a Senator’s term to One (1) 6-year term thereby eliminating the need to take money from special interest to run re-election campaigns.  This idea is not a real stretch, folks… after all, the President is only allowed 8 years… and, he’s gotta run to win the second four of the eight. (If you think that’s not important, just ask George Herbert Walker Bush.).

  • Vince

    Allow lobbyists to do only what the Founding Fathers intended them to do… walk the lobbies of the Capitol building and sell their ideas and recommendations to members of the Senate and House while walking the lobbies with the various members. Make it illegal (and prosecute violations) to go to parties hosted by special interest and especially to take these so-called fact-finding trips to exotic islands, etc.  No fraternization… and all calls to the office of Senators and Representives, taped and kept for a good length of time. And, last but not least… not one word of a bill written by a lobbyist or lobbying company. Not one word. Laws must be written by the people we send to Washington to do that job. Period!