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Why Government Fails, and What We Should Do About It

by Lee H. Hamilton

As election season approaches, I’ve been pondering a crucial issue about the role of government in our society. It’s that our government often fails — and that we need to address this. What’s odd is that while the frequent failures in government’s performance are very much on ordinary people’s minds, politicians don’t talk much about fixing them.

True, you might hear a few words about the

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Get Ready for More of the Same

by Lee H. Hamilton

I felt a brief surge of hope about Congress a few weeks ago. It was returning from Easter recess, and Capitol Hill was filled with talk about immigration reform, a minimum-wage bill, a spending bill to keep the government operating, and maybe even funding for transportation infrastructure. But, as I said, it was brief.

That’s because the talk turned out to be just that. Immigration reform

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The Justices and the Scramble for Cash

by Lee H. Hamilton

Editor’s note: Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years. We frequently provide space for Mr. Hamilton for his insight and unique perspectives. On this particular topic, Mr. Hamilton says “Over many years both inside and outside Congress, I saw very little outright corruption. But frequently I saw money’s

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Government as Innovator? You Bet!

by Lee H. Hamilton

Five years ago, the federal government spent $169 billion to fund basic research and development. This fiscal year, it’s down to $134 billion.

People who believe in public belt-tightening applaud drops like that. I understand why: there are many reasons to reduce government spending. But in this case they’re wrong. We need to boost the government’s investment in R&D, not slash it.

Let’s begin with the

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Time to Fix Government

by Lee H. Hamilton

In 1965, the chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, Wilbur Mills, brought legislation establishing Medicare and Medicaid to the floor of the U.S. House. That was my first year in Congress, and I remember vividly the moment when Mills came to the Democratic caucus to explain his plans.

Many of us had been swept into office in the 1964 Democratic wave that accompanied Lyndon

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Fixing Congress

by Lee H. Hamilton

These are hard times for Congress. Its approval ratings have seen a bump from their historic lows of a few months ago, but it’s a small one. Our representative democracy’s keystone political institution is widely derided as ineffective, unproductive, irrelevant, and sadly out of touch.

It is no coincidence that this comes while Congress has developed a taste for so-called “unorthodox lawmaking,” wandering far outside its

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Where Congress Falls Short … And Where It Doesn’t

by Lee H. Hamilton

At a public gathering the other day, someone asked me how I’d sum up my views on Congress. It was a good question, because it forced me to step back from worrying about the current politics of Capitol Hill and take a longer view.

Congress, I said, does some things fairly well. Its members for the most part want to serve their constituents and the country.

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An Alternative to the Imperial Presidency

In his State of the Union speech to Congress last month, President Obama drew widespread attention for pledging to use his executive authority to advance his priorities. He insisted he intends to act with or without Congress, and listed well over a dozen actions he plans to take by executive order. “Wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families,” he said, “that’s

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Balancing Liberty and Security a Never-Ending Challenge

by Lee H. Hamilton

Every few days, we learn yet one more way in which government’s expanded surveillance powers intrude upon our privacy and civil liberties.

Recently, it was the revelation that spy agencies in the U.S. and Britain have been snagging personal data from the users of mobile phone apps. Before that came news that the NSA was tracking our social connections; that it was delving into our contact

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