Editor’s note: This post was republished with permission from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation’s Policy Dialogue blog.
Last week, I wrote about the real sense of economic stagnancy many Americans feel and some ways in which policy focused on entrepreneurship can create broad-based, inclusive economic growth. But great ideas are not worth much if they cannot be implemented.
In recent years, “gridlock” has become the word to define the state of our politics and for many voters, “compromise” has been viewed as shameful. Bipartisan passage of legislation or cooperation between the President and Congress on issues of significance are Washington’s threatened species.
If we are to renew entrepreneurial growth in America, we must start by bringing entrepreneurial energy and innovation back to policymaking.
Here are three steps to take:
Boost Congressional Resources
Each year, the economy and the laws that govern it become more complex. Yet, the capacity of Congress to write laws governing our society has diminished.
This article, by New Entrepreneurial Growth contributors Lee Drutman and Steve Teles, has several interesting graphs showing the declining numbers of congressional committee staff. When Newt Gingrich became speaker of the House in 1995, House committee and legislative support staff was reduced by a third, where it has basically remained since.
To solve many of the problems facing our country, we need to equip Congress with the tools to solve them. That means more staff to help elected officials craft good policy.
Remember Relationships Matter
According to former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, “all politics is local.” But I’ve also heard it said that all politics is personal.
The oil that greases relationships is trust. If members of Congress do not trust one another and if trust does not exist between the executive and legislature, chances are slim that big, challenging problems will be solved.
In years gone by, it was common that after being elected to Congress, representatives and senators would move with their families to Washington. Now, it is almost more common for members of Congress to sleep on the couch in their office on the nights they are in D.C.
A false narrative has been established that to be a good congressman you must spend as little time as possible in Washington. Otherwise, you risk becoming too comfortable inside the Beltway Bubble and losing touch with those back home.
Of course, voters do benefit when they bump into their elected official at the grocery store or see her at church on Sunday morning. Members of Congress also benefit by having their pulse on constituent sentiment. But with all of the technology available today—from social media to email to tele-town hall meetings—members of Congress can still keep in touch with their constituents while spending more time in Washington.
When members of Congress are not rushing out of the capital after the last votes of the week to catch a plane, they have time to build relationships with one another and the space to get to know their colleagues on a personal level.
A former Congressman I know, who lived with his family in the D.C. area in the 1980s, has stories of seeing other members of Congress at his children’s school during parent-teacher conferences. That type of community facilitated the formation of relationships and trust that made cooperation much easier on Capitol Hill.
Encourage Policy Entrepreneurship
Finally, we need to encourage entrepreneurial energy in policymaking.
Many people think of entrepreneurship as an individual pursuit. Sometimes it is; but often a small group of people work together as a team to bring new business ideas to life. The input of others and iterative process make the business better. Moreover, successful ventures benefit from an environment that provides support and constructive insights.
This is Congress at its best. Representatives and senators introduce legislation, which committees review and modify before the entire chamber has the opportunity to further perfect the legislation by offering amendments.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way. A return to regular order would create more opportunities for policy entrepreneurship in the legislative process.
Policy entrepreneurship can also be encouraged in novel ways. In November 2015, the Kauffman Foundation sponsored a “Legithon” with the Gruter Institute for Law and Behavioral Research, the Vermont General Assembly, and Vermont Law School. Similar to a hackathon, the Legithon brought citizens interested in innovation and public policy together with law students and legislators to develop policy proposals over the course of a weekend.
And next month, at SXSW Interactive, the Kauffman Foundation will announce a new tool that can be used by entrepreneurs and policymakers to identify specific actions that will help ensure entrepreneurship contributes to a new era of growth and prosperity in America.
Entrepreneurship is embedded in the DNA of Americans. From the founding of our nation (a very entrepreneurial act!) to the latest startup, Americans give life to new ideas and solve problems with ingenuity and tenacity. Summoning that same spirit will allow us tackle the challenges of today and the future.
Jason Wiens is the lead policy engagement manager in Research and Policy for the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. His responsibilities include making federal, state, and local policymakers aware of the work done by the Kauffman Foundation in addition to writing policy briefs and developing policy engagement strategies.
Find Wiens on Twitter: @JWIENZ.