Vol. 57, No. 1

In this edition

With our nation approaching the third anniversary of the COVID-19 lockdown, the latest edition of The Ripon Forum examines the state of pandemic preparedness in America and the fact that our country has fewer doctors than virtually every other developed country in the world.


The United States has fewer physicians per capita than virtually every other developed country. At first glance, our lack of physicians is a puzzle. 

Protecting the Doctor-Patient Relationship

Many health care practices we consider essential are slowly becoming things of the past or recent memory.

We Are Not Ready for the Next Pandemic. That’s A Choice.

Hundreds of Americans are still dying each day from COVID-19, while the next pandemic could strike at any time – and be much more deadly. In many ways we are even less prepared than before COVID-19.

Not Accountable

Philip Howard returns with a new book about government dysfunction and a bold recommendation for reform.

Keys to a Successful Congress: Leaders who lead, and Committees that are allowed do all the work

The new 118th Congress convened last month amid searing speculation about what good will come out of it. 

Our Laboratories of Democracy Can Improve the Republic

How states are leading the way on election reform 

A Mechanism to Reduce Spending That Once had Joe Biden’s Support

“When adopted,” then-Senator Joe Biden stated, “it will provide Congress with an essential tool for reviewing the need for Federal programs.”

Don’t Repeal the Law That Created the Internet

Without Section 230, as one leading appellate judge (a Republican appointee) put it, websites would “face death by ten thousand duck-bites.”

Section 230 is the counter-productive U.S. policy and law that makes Big-Tech unaccountable.  

As the Internet evolves, so must the law and policy regarding it.

Ripon Profile of Darin LaHood

The Representative of Illinois’ 16th Congressional District discusses his time in Congress and his legislative priorities.

Keys to a Successful Congress: Leaders who lead, and Committees that are allowed do all the work

The new 118th Congress convened last month amid searing speculation about what good will come out of it.

You guessed it:  Congress is preordained to fail.

There is every good reason in the gray matter of conventional thinking to accept that prognosis.  Here are a few of them:

1)  House Republicans have a thin 5-vote majority. The Senate has a very thin 2-vote majority. There are factions in both parties in both houses that could further destabilize that balance of power.

2)  People are angry with and tired of the dysfunction of government and they have little faith in their representatives.  They feel frozen out of Congress by partisanship, special interests, and a skewed elective process.

3)  Issues that were once problems are now grave crises that defy resolution in an ideologically polarized atmosphere and a gridlocked Congress.

4)  The obsessive preoccupation with the 2024 presidential election will detour members of Congress and the media from public policy to public theater.

New leadership on both sides of the aisle in the House offer prospects for some, if not much, bipartisan cooperation…

There is a very important reason, among many, underlying those complaints.  Americans are badly informed about how the government functions and how they can have more influence. They are drowning in a sea of misinformation, manipulative propaganda, just plain lying, and, most importantly, a sad lack of education.

Some can’t name the three branches of government, or their congressman and senators, or the powers granted them in the First Amendment to the Constitution.  They don’t know the rudiments of how a bill becomes a law or how to influence it.

Citizens are equally lacking in their knowledge of history.  “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” philosopher George Santayana reminded us 100 years ago.

Too many do not know the difference between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  A 2018 study by the Institute for Citizens and Scholars found that only 28 percent could name three of the original 13 states; 12 percent said Gen. Dwight Eisenhower fought in the Civil War.  Only one in three Americans could pass a U.S. citizenship test.  A 2019 survey of 41,000 Americans by the Woodrow Wilson Foundation found that only 27 percent of those under 45 had a basic knowledge of American history.

“Unfortunately, the…Foundation has validated what studies have shown for a century: Americans don’t possess the history knowledge they need to be informed and engaged citizens,” its President, Arthur Levine, said.

So why would anybody expect anything of value emanating from the Capitol?  Good question, but isn’t all doom and gloom.

New leadership on both sides of the aisle in the House offer prospects for some, if not much, bipartisan cooperation, less personal partisanship, and subdued vitriol, although the State of the Union did not exactly clear the air.   House Republicans with a new majority have aspirations that can alter the prognosis in significant ways.

The widely scorned scrap to elect a Speaker should have short-term and long-term benefits.  In the short-term, it may unify Republicans by bringing responsible factions to the table.  In the long-run, it was a hop, skip, and a big jump toward congressional reforms that are badly needed to improve the productivity, fairness, openness, and responsiveness of the legislative process. Process reform has never had much sex appeal and the press ignores it, but these process changes will mean that critical issues will get the greater attention they deserve. They can put cracks in the gridlock.

An example:  Among the first pieces of legislation to come before the new Congress was H.R. 21, a bill to restrict drawdowns on our Strategic Petroleum Reserve.  It was brought to the Floor under the first open rule in seven years. That means members were actually able to legislate. More than 140 amendments were offered, there were nearly 50 roll call votes, and they finished in time for dinner.

Republican leaders are committed to restoring regular order in all committees. That is a big deal. 

That’s a big deal if Republicans allow more open and modified rules.  It was a return to regular order, the time-honored procedures that have governed the flow of legislation and political behavior.  Republican leaders are committed to restoring regular order in all committees. That, too, is a big deal.

There are by some counts over 200 full and sub committees — standing committees, select committees, special committees, joint committees and committees on committees.  They are what former congressman Vin Weber calls the “indispensable obstacles to progress.”  They may slow down action, but they are the lifeblood of the legislative process and when they are neutered by overbearing leaders, the blood drains and the legislative body is weakened.

It is in committees that partisans are more inclined to work together.  It is in committees that the guts of issues are triaged in hearings, private deliberations, and real open debates.  It is in hearings where members become experts and a resource for other members who have no time to learn the intricacies of complex subjects.   It is where many problems can be resolved before they reach the Floor.

Committees are the workhorses that pull the plow that tills the soil that brings forth the fruit of political labor.

Restoring their rightful authority, with more balanced membership in the process is another big deal.

There are many more major changes in store that may improve the appropriations process and prevent huge, unreadable bills.

Divided government actually can be more productive than the autocracy of one-party rule if leaders lead.

The Republicans’ problem is they still don’t effectively communicate to the public the importance of what they want to do and how they intend to accomplish it, setting aside the glittering generalities and divisive vitriol.  True, much of it is the conspiratorial fault of the legacy media.

Another problem, maybe a crisis, is that good governance is extremely difficult without the trust and faith of engaged citizens.  Good governance is supposedly what members of Congress signed up for — not good politics, but good governance.  Public patience is gone.

Republicans and Democrats can help restore public trust by leading and by empowering the citizenry so they feel a sense of inclusion.   The business guru Peter Drucker said once that, “No executive has ever suffered because his subordinates were strong and effective.”

No political leader will ever suffer because he or she has educated and informed the citizenry.

The public prognosis for this Congress does not have to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Mike Johnson is a former journalist who worked on the Ford White House staff and served as press secretary and chief of staff to House Republican Leader Bob Michel, prior to entering the private sector. He is coauthor of a book, Surviving Congress, a guide for congressional staff.