Sunday, February 21, 2010

Deliberation and Congress

Our chapter on Congress discusses the need for deliberation. In recent days, scholars have offered ways of improving the Senate's deliberative character. In the Washington Post, Norman Ornstein proposes a change in the congressional schedule:
Instead of coming in Tuesday afternoon and closing down Thursday afternoon, go to five days a week, from 9 a.m. Monday to 5 p.m. Friday, with three weeks on and one week off to go back home and maintain direct contact with constituents.

This would provide a major incentive for senators to bring their families to Washington. Before the mid-'90s, most lawmakers kept their families in the capital area and would see and interact with their colleagues much more frequently. It is much harder to demonize your colleagues if you stand next to them watching your kids play soccer on Saturdays.

It would also provide time to have a more deliberative process -- no longer would there be a need to cram five days' worth of work into 2 1/2 . That would mean more time with colleagues in the Capitol and more opportunities to build relationships and dialogue across the aisle.

At the Huffington Post, Steven Croley suggests replacing the procedural "silent" filibuster with the traditional "talking" filibuster:

The problem with the silent filibuster is not simply that filibustering has become too easy and thus too frequent. Rather, the silent filibuster is undemocratic because it impedes rather than fosters democratic deliberation. That is, the traditional--"talking"--filibuster focused the attention of the public on the matter at hand. The talking filibuster thus raised the salience of the legislation it targeted, as well as the merits of the opposition to it. The talking filibuster inspired debate over whether the majority's policy was desirable, or whether the filibusterers' protests were justified. In other words, the traditional filibuster fosters democratic deliberation, and not merely within the Senate as its defenders emphasize, but beyond it.