WASHINGTON — AND the survey says ... the vast majority of members of Congress who have responded so far to a poll believe the institution needs "major improvements."
That's good news for the American electorate, which has held Congress in record low esteem over the past year.
The survey, conducted by the Congressional Research Service and the Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress, identified the budget process as the No. 1 area needing change, followed by committee structure and assignments, public understanding of Congress, and floor procedure and scheduling.
Only about one-fourth of the members have responded so far. But Sen. David Boren (D) of Oklahoma, co-chairman of Congress's pro-reform Joint Committee, maintains that this is a good preliminary response. He adds that the committee has heard from about half the membership, either via the survey, by letter, or in testimony at one of its 34 hearings.
Senator Boren and the other committee leaders also say they are encouraged by a retreat the panel took at the Naval Academy June 26 and 27 to talk reform. No decisions were taken at the meeting; rather, the members aired their ideas and goals.
"I certainly come away from the retreat more optimistic than ever that we are going to be able to come out with a very significant result," Boren said at a press conference June 28. "No one in either the House or the Senate from either party is satisfied with the status quo. All seem committed to the right kind of progressive change to renew and revitalize Congress, and I think that's what the people wanted us to do."
Rep. Lee Hamilton (D) of Indiana, the other committee co-chairman, said the committee expects Congress to consider reform legislation in September.
The survey showed strong support for reform in areas including:
* The budget process. More than 70 percent of respondents favored eliminating 1 of the 3 steps: budget resolution, authorizations, and appropriations. Respondents also favored a biennial budget process with multiyear authorizations.
* Subcommittees. About 87 percent of respondents favored reducing the number of subcommittees that standing committees set up.
* Limiting committee assignments. House members want to be limited to two committees and two subcommittees. Senators want to limit total committee and subcommittee assignments to six. Currently, members find themselves too pressed for time to handle all their assignments.
* Applying federal laws to themselves: Three-quarters of the respondents believe a constitutional way should be found to do this.
* Quality time with the issues. Members complain that they don't have enough time to study and read about the issues on which they legislate. On a question regarding amount of time spent on various activities, "studying the issues" came in fifth, behind returning home to meet with constituents, attending hearings and other meetings, meeting with constituents in Washington, and meeting with colleagues, lobbyists, and government officials.