Donald Fry: Bringing compromise back to the legislative process

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By Donald C. Fry: 

Maryland Congressman John Delaney was one of 30 newly-elected members of the House of Representatives who in March voiced frustration with “gridlock and dysfunction” in Congress and called on leaders of both parties to stop focusing on partisan battles and to instead negotiate “responsible compromise” to address the nation’s challenges.

The ranks of the disenchanted in Washington, D.C. appear to be growing. Last week, Delaney was among 81 members of Congress participating in the bipartisan “No Labels’ Problem-Solvers Coalition” that proposed a legislative package designed to break through the gridlock on Capitol Hill and to “make government work.”

Two key factors shape good policy – incentives and compromise, says Delaney, who represents Maryland’s 6th District and is the only member of Congress who is a former CEO of a publicly-traded company.

Contrary to less-than-positive public opinions of Congress, the people there are, for the most part, smart and have the right kind of motivations, says Delaney. But there is “a bad set of incentives in government, in terms of how people behave and how they approach situations,” he recently told CEO members of the Greater Baltimore Committee.

Successful government policy must be framed around “good ideas that are rooted in compromise,” Delaney told participants in the GBC’s Chesapeake Conference of CEOs, a day-long session of workshops held on June 12 to advance potential strategies to make Maryland more competitive for business growth.

The legislative package offered by the Problem-Solvers Coalition to restore incentives and compromise to the legislative process on Capitol Hill includes the following principles:

• No Budget, No Pay. If Congress cannot pass a budget and annual spending bills on time, members should not get paid.

• Take the Time, Save the Dime.
Move to a two-year budgeting process.

• Don’t Duplicate, Consolidate.
Get rid of duplicate agencies and programs identified in 2013 by the U. S. Government Accountability Office.

• Buy Smarter and Save.
Enforce strategic sourcing so that separate divisions within a single federal agency do not make independent contracts for common items.

• No Adding, No Padding.
Stop assuming automatic year-to-year spending increases in agency budgets

• 21st Century Health Care for Heroes.
Merge the electronic health records of the Department of Defense with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

• Stay in Place, Cut the Waste.
Cut 50 percent of agency travel and replace it with video conferencing.

• Wasted Energy, Wasted Dollars.
Reduce energy waste in federal buildings by incentivizing private companies to identify energy savings. The contractors would be paid with the dollars saved, instead of new taxpayer dollars.

• Plan for Efficient and Effective Government.
Create a new Commission for Government Transformation to oversee and effect the transformation of federal government programs so they will be more economical, efficient and effective.

Congressional participants in the Problem-Solvers Coalition include almost equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans from 34 states. Delaney, a Democrat, is the only member of the Maryland delegation to participate in the coalition.

At the GBC’s June conference on competitiveness, CEOs from the Baltimore region similarly called for strategies to strengthen accountability, compromise and competitiveness at the state level to create a political balance better conducive to problem-solving. Potential strategies raised by CEOs included comprehensive examinations of Maryland’s tax and regulatory structures and state government spending.

CEOs also suggested exploring how Maryland might more independently conduct its legislative redistricting process. The GBC plans to issue a report in September on priority recommendations from the CEO conference.

Meanwhile, it’s good to see the creation of the fledgling, but passionate Problem-Solvers Coalition of lawmakers who champion bringing the legislative fundamental of compromise back to Capitol Hill. This group’s common-sense proposals deserve serious consideration and the strong support of constituents everywhere.

The disappointing irony is that a number of elected leaders in Washington today are developing a “work-around” because they feel that Congress – the national problem-solving body created 237 years ago by our founding fathers – appears to have become the problem.

Donald C. Fry is president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee. He is a regular contributor to Center Maryland.

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Donald C. Fry has been the president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee (GBC), the central Maryland region's most prominent organization of business and civic leaders, since November 2002.

Under Don’s leadership, the GBC is recognized as a knowledgeable and highly credible business voice in the Baltimore region, Annapolis and Washington, D.C. on policy issues and competitive challenges facing Maryland. Its mission is to apply private-sector leadership to strengthening the business climate and quality of life in the region and state.

Fry served as GBC executive vice president from 1999 to 2002. From 1980 to 1999 Fry was engaged in a private law practice in Harford County. During this time he also served in the Maryland General Assembly. He is one of only a handful of legislators to have served on each of the major budget committees of the General Assembly.

Serving in the Senate of Maryland from 1997 to 1998, Fry was a member of the Budget and Taxation Committee. As a member of the House of Delegates from 1991 to 1997 Fry served on the Ways and Means Committee and on the Appropriations Committee.

Fry is a 1979 graduate of the University of Baltimore School of Law. He earned a B.S. in political science from Frostburg State College.