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‘We’re in a hurry’: ModCom makes 23 new recommendations and revisits an old one in 3 minutes flat

One proposal would allow two sponsor names on bills

Chairman Derek Kilmer, right, and Vice Chair William R. Timmons IV attend a Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress markup last year.
Chairman Derek Kilmer, right, and Vice Chair William R. Timmons IV attend a Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress markup last year. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The “fix Congress” committee moved quickly Thursday to approve a new set of recommendations aimed at improving the legislative branch — and finally gave its blessing to the only one the panel had ever publicly defeated. 

“We’re in a hurry. I just want to thank everybody for all their hard work. And with that, let’s do it,” said William R. Timmons IV, vice chair of the House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress. The whole proceeding took just about three minutes.  

The so-called ModCom approved by voice vote 23 recommendations aimed at streamlining constituent services and how the House develops and adopts new technology. The final recommendation of the day had been shot down in December, but this time it also got the panel’s verbal OK. 

Two lawmakers at a time should be allowed to list their names as first sponsors on a bill, according to that recommendation. The catch: Each member of the pair must come from a different party. The idea is to boost bipartisanship and spread around the glory. Right now, only one name can appear as a first sponsor on a bill, which means some lawmakers are left feeling they didn’t get credit where credit was due.

Four Republicans had voted against the recommendation in December and two members missed the vote, denying the eight votes required to approve it.

Timmons, R-S.C., and Derek Kilmer, the panel’s chairman, said they felt it was important to revisit the recommendation as part of the committee’s push to make Congress a more civil and collaborative space.

The panel prides itself on comity and requires a supermajority to make recommendations, though it doesn’t have the power to move actual bills. 

Kilmer sounded enthusiastic about the two-name proposal and said sponsorship can be a point of pride. While members can always sign on to a piece of legislation as an original co-sponsor, it’s not the same as seeing your name get top billing.     

“There are bills that get introduced with 150 original co-sponsors. They weren’t all holding the pen,” Kilmer said. But he pointed to one elections bill he worked on with former GOP Ohio Rep. Jim Renacci. Though the pair spent months crafting it, the legislation bore only Kilmer’s name.

“It was the Kilmer bill,” the Washington Democrat said. “It wasn’t the Kilmer-Renacci bill, even though we wrote it together.”  

The panel has put out 195 recommendations on a rolling basis since its creation at the beginning of the last Congress, and it plans to hold one more markup before the committee dissolves at the end of this term. 

Those recommendations are likely to revolve around using technology to reduce the number of scheduling conflicts members encounter. Kilmer said the panel expects to send a letter to House Chief Administrative Officer Catherine Szpindor in the coming days to encourage her office to expedite a new scheduling system. 

The recommendations are just that — recommendations. There’s no guarantee that House leaders will take the ball and run with it. But the panel has one last proposal to make that is close to Kilmer’s heart. They plan to say what should happen to their mission once ModCom is no longer around.

During a hearing earlier this month, lawmakers appeared to favor the idea of creating a modernization subcommittee on the House Administration panel. 

Despite the committee’s current form rapidly coming to a close, Timmons is optimistic. He pointed to previous modernization efforts that were long dissolved before some of their suggestions were put into practice and predicted there would be many people with a vested interest in keeping ModCom’s work going.  

“It’s not just members on this committee, it’s not just House Admin, it’s not just leadership,” Timmons said. “There are tons of outside groups that are pushing this forward, and they’re going to continue to work extremely hard to make sure that all these recommendations get implemented.”

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