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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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Hold the Congratulations for Congress

by Lee H. Hamilton

Now that Congress has its immense, $1.1 trillion bipartisan funding bill in hand, Capitol Hill is breathing easier. They ended the specter of a government shutdown for the moment, and funded the federal budget for most of the year. The media has been commending Congress for finally doing its job.

This praise works only in the context of recent history, however. The bill that congressional leaders

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Trust… But Definitely Verify

by Lee H. Hamilton

Of all the numbers thrown at us over the course of last year, one stands out for me. I hope we can avoid repeating it this year.

That number is 12. It’s the percentage of Americans in a December Quinnipiac poll who said they trust the government in Washington to do what is right most or all of the time. It’s a depressingly small number —

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Congress Still Isn’t Being Responsible

by Lee H. Hamilton

Congress wound down its historically unproductive session with a small flurry of activity. It was a welcome change, but so long overdue that it can’t possibly make up for what should have been accomplished on Capitol Hill this year.

The problem is that for too long, members of Congress have been working hard at everything except the one thing they should have been working hard at:

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Why Can’t Congress Aim Higher?

Editor’s note: Unlike the pablum some elected officials dole out for us to read, the following goes beyond merely identifying problems but actually making points to encourage solutions. It is written as a public service by Lee Hamilton, Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

Congressional budget negotiators are moving to meet a Dec. 13

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