Episode 33: Future Congress

Is the ‘Great American Experiment’ over?

We have always been innovators. It is in our nature as Americans. Heck, democracy itself was born here, as part of what the 19th century French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville called the Great American Experiment.

But with the average age in Congress at around 60, plus a legislative process that has come to a grinding halt in the past several years, could the United States be losing its experimental edge?

Sure, it may feel like our civic lives are advancing with the Internet age, what with the massive proliferation of ways you can contact your representatives in Washington — email, Twitter, Facebook, and so on. The problem is, the people on the receiving end of those messages — Congress — hasn’t really put in place ways to deal with the modern onslaught of messages.

In fact, unless you take great pains to be clear that you live in the district of the lawmaker you’re contacting, the truth is, by and large, members of Congress ignore your messages.

By contrast, consider Finland. There, lawmakers are experimenting with a bold new way of reforming a law: crowdsourcing — meaning turning the legislative process over to the people.

Or consider Brazil, where there is now an experimental computer lab smack in the middle of the Parliament’s committee rooms. There, official staff hackers throw together apps and games and data visualizations to help Brazilians — and the members of Parliament — understand the legislative process.

Today on the DecodeDC weekly podcast, we explore these forward-looking examples of legislative innovation, and ask the question of our own lawmakers here in Washington, DC: What’s the future of Congress?

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