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Friday, February 18, 2011

Days of Deliberation

At The Wall Street Journal, Kimberly Strassel notes that deliberation has returned to the House floor, at least for now:

The 112th House of Representatives spent the week debating how to fund the rest of fiscal 2011. In sharp contrast to his recent predecessors, Speaker John Boehner is sticking to his vow to make the chamber more open and accountable. His committee chairmen having presented a base spending bill, Mr. Boehner threw open the floor for full discussion. Some 600 amendments came pouring in.

"Chaos," "a headache," "turmoil," "craziness," "confused," "wild," "uncontrolled" are just a few of the words the Washington press corps has used to describe the ensuing late-night debates. There's a far better word for what happened: democracy. It has been eons since the nation's elected representatives have had to study harder, debate with such earnestness, or commit themselves so publicly. Yes, it is messy. Yes, it is unpredictable. But as this Presidents Day approaches, it's a fabulous thing to behold.


Americans got to see what happens when members of Congress exercise their collective knowledge of the federal government. Mr. Issa put forward amendments to prohibit the National Institutes of Health from spending money studying the impact of yoga on hot flashes in menopausal women. Minnesota Democrat Betty McCollum offered to strike funding for the Department of Defense to sponsor Nascar race cars. Indiana Republican Todd Rokita proposed getting rid of money provided for dissertation research under a 1970 Housing Act.

Neglected questions were once again asked. Should we get rid of federal funding for the arts? Should the government be designating federal monuments? What's the role of NASA? And Congress finally got to air some dirty secrets.

One of this week's more symbolically rich cuts came from Arizona's Republican Jeff Flake, who won an amendment erasing $34 million for the National Drug Intelligence Center in Johnstown, Pa. The center, despite serving no real purpose, had been protected for decades, via earmarks, by the late Defense appropriations chair John Murtha.