Two congressmen offer a bipartisan plan to 'drain the swamp'
USA Today | Reps. Mike Gallagher and Ro Khanna
You’d be hard-pressed to find two congressmen more dissimilar than us. We come from different parties, and we represent very different districts. One of us taught economics in the technology hub of Silicon Valley; the other is a Marine veteran from the dairy farming capital of the country. One of us campaigned against the Iraq War; the other served in it. Though we may not agree on everything, we do agree wholeheartedly on a key takeaway from our first few months as members of the U.S. House of Representatives: Congress is in critical need of reform to reduce corruption and diminish the power of special interests.
While the phrase “structural reform of Congress” often gets pushed aside to seemingly more urgent debates about domestic and foreign policy, we ignore this issue at our peril. The comedic newspaper The Onion ran an article in 2010 with the satirical headline “American People Hire High-Powered Lobbyist To Push Interests In Congress.” We aren’t sure if people would even recognize that as satire anymore.
Whether in Cupertino or Green Bay, we have heard loud and clear that our constituents want a fairer system of government, less money in politics, more bipartisanship and fewer lobbyists in Washington. Each of us have core values on which we will never compromise, and our voting records reflect that. However, 83% of Americans believe that Congress should find common ground on issues in order to get things done.
If voters want us to work together to solve problems, then why the years of gridlock? Put simply, because the system supports the status quo and resists real change.
We are at a historic opportunity to change that and institute reforms that will reduce corruption in our government and the influence of money in politics. The new administration, whatever your views on it, came to power pledging to drain the swamp. Bernie Sanders, whose populist message inspired millions, agrees with that goal, if not the method. The current freshman class of House of Representatives, which includes 27 Democrats and 28 Republicans, is more receptive to these ideas than any before.
As two of those 55 new voices in the House, we are proposing a series of reforms that will diminish the influence of special interests in politics, as well as encourage new voices to embark on the path we have taken to public service.
- Nonpartisan redistricting is essential to ensure politicians aren’t allowed to gerrymander their districts and choose their own voters. The less competitive a district becomes, the more general elections become formalities. This practice is already at work in Arizona, California, and Iowa and having independent, nonpartisan commissions commonplace across the country will ensure our congressional districts are drawn by the people, not politicians.
- Congress should not be a career. The longer people stay in Congress, the more adept they become at making the system work for them and not their constituents. That is why we and a number of our fellow freshmen support legislation that would set term limits of 12 years for Representatives and Senators.
- People should also run for Congress to serve, not to profit. That is why we call for a five-year ban on lobbying after a member of Congress leaves office. We hope that our colleagues all have successful careers after they turn in their voting cards; however, that success should not come from the “revolving door” between the Capitol Hill and K Street.
This is just a modest start. We hope to talk to many of our constituents and colleagues from both sides of the aisle in the weeks and months ahead to gather more proposals to encourage a culture of reform in Washington. We want to challenge the administration to live up to its campaign promise about “draining the swamp.” We also want to challenge ourselves and our colleagues to put self-interest aside and start putting forth reforms that reduce the power of special interests.
And, most importantly, we want to challenge voters to demand that their elected representatives support these efforts, or else find others who will.
Draining the swamp is not enough. Unless you structurally change how the swamp is fed, it will fill right back up. So let’s start on that structural reform and lay a pathway for tomorrow’s leaders to unite the country and confront the problems of the 21st century in the only manner we have a chance at solving them: together.